Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Free speech, political correctness and solidarity. posted by lenin

I promise I don't want to bang on some more about these blasted cartoons. It's just that the discussion around them has occasionally left the original samples behind and shifted onto interesting territory which is worth probing. And whatever else you think about it, it is simply unarguable that these cartoons wouldn't have been revelled in and defended with such vigour and tenacity if it had been another group targeted, as Subject Barred illustrates.

However, it occurs to me that there is an undeclared but more or less open alignment forming here in reactions to cases where 'political correctness' rears its policeman's head and 'free speech' is somehow implicated. Just over two years ago, Jenny Tonge MP got in a huge amount of trouble for saying that she sympathised with the plight of Palestinians to the extent that she could understand why some would resort to suicide attacks and might find herself in a same position under similar conditions. It was not condoning, and was in fact not much stronger than similar sentiments expressed by the lachrymose prosecutor of poll-tax non-payers, Cherie Blair. Disgust at Tonge's remarks was ubiquitous. Outrage! Infamy! How dare Tonge utter anything other than liberal pieties over this issue! She lost her job, to general applause. Little was said in her defense.

Shortly before that, there had been the most enormous fuss made about Kilroy's right to free speech after he expressed his grotesquely racist views toward Arabs. The political Right was in an extraordinary huff about this. Some said that, after all, the poet Tom Paulin had been allowed to make derogatory remarks about the Jews - whereas what in fact happened was that Al Ahram attributed comments to him describing American colonialists in occupied Palestine as "Nazis" who should be "shot". He denied having made the comments, but the fury resounded all the more because of it. Still, the defenders of Kilroy battled on. His position at the BBC untenable, he nevertheless found a multitude of supporters for his right to utter racist lies. He was given political patronage and a pile of cash for writing about his kampf in the express.

At the end of last year, there was the case of Nasser Amin who was publicly vilified for supporting the Palestinians' right to use violence against their oppressors. He has been, and continues to be, treated disgracefully by his college who ought to be defending him. He did not defame anyone, and his words were deliberately misrepresented by an American pro-Zionist student who had decided to whip up an 'antisemitism' hysteria about SOAS. Some publications, including the FT, tried to insidiously link him to the 7/7 attacks, and one pro-war Labour MP tried to get him jailed. He has also been on the receiving end of death threats. Anyone care to raise a point or two about free expression here? It's one thing if John Malkovich threatens to kill Robert Fisk for some articles he has written, since Fisk can easily write an article about that and embarrass the berk, but Nasser Amin does not have those resources. Only a few non-Muslims have actually cared to defend him. Why, I wonder, might that be?

And Chabert reminds us of the most glaring recent case of what is usually called double standards (which, of course, advert to a single hidden standard): Abu Hamza is to go to jail for seven years over his speech, while Nick Griffin and Mark Collett of the BNP have just walked free. See Dave Renton for an informed account of the latter trial proceedings here.

So, isn't the real political correctness (if I may call it that) as follows: you may dispense insults, racism, lies and innuendo against Muslims or Arabs, but the second you attempt to behave as if they are humans beings too, there is a strict prohibition in operation. Discourse does not take place in a neutral space, in which everyone's speech is equally efficient: torturers and victims are not equally empowered to speak, for instance (about which, more later). This is all related in one way or another to John Derbyshire's statement on the National Review Online the other day. Okay, Derbyshire was being honest about his empathic propensities. His immediate sympathy is for Americans (even though he is English, as an e-mail correspondent pointed out to me), and beyond that identification he doesn't care much at all. On the one hand, it would be ridiculous to suppose that everyone thinks like Mr Derbyshire; on the other hand, of course, few people are actually consistent in how they weigh human suffering. What Derbyshire's comment reveals is the precise contours of the ideological screen separating privileged Westerners from the suffering Other. It is this which facilitates the blase dismissal of mortality figures from Iraq, for instance. It is this which allows one to tuck the mortality figures from Afghanistan which, one some estimates, were close to double those accrued on 9/11, safely away from one's purview. Zizek noted in Welcome to the Desert of the Real that Americans, having had their fantasy of immortality and reposeful seclusion ripped apart, would have to decide whether to take another step and identify with the rest of the world or to retreat back into the 'innocence' of identification with the status quo, nationalism and an aggressive reassertion of US power. Clearly, American reactions have polarised along these lines, with a large number of people sympathising with the suffering of Iraqis and, in increasing numbers, Palestinians, and another group of people preferring to revel in a religious and nationalistic reflux whose guiding principle is death-dealing aggression toward the Others whom 'we' had been simply too soft on in the past. However, what is noticeable is that even while American reactions have changed, at an official level the discourse remains exactly the same. When mainstream news organisations speak of war casualties, they are almost always referring to the number of US soldiers being returned in caskets or on stretchers. The Washington Post specifically accentuates its commitment to American nationalism in exactly this fashion.

And, of course, that screen is flexible, so that the suffering of New Orleans and the immense burden of the crimes committed there by the US government can be made sort of invisible. If you paid attention to the mainstream news organisations in America, you would have no idea that the residents of New Orleans have just had to fight a lengthy battle to force the state to comply with the law, to even enforce their property rights. And so it is unsurprising that when Ray Nagin instructs officers to kill looters and refuses to provide help for the city's poor despite foreknowledge of the likely effects, he is just seen as doing his job - but when he says New Orleans must be "chocolate brown" (which basically means allowing the city's residents to keep their homes and what is left of their property), suddenly he's an anti-white racist who must be roundly condemned. There again, a radical right-wing bigot who described New Orleans residents as "scumbags" is rewarded for his efforts with a CNN contract, while Bill Bennett remains in his job with the same network after remarking that "you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down", and is allowed the freedom to continue to defend those remarks. But Kanye West says George Bush doesn't care about black people, a fairly mild way to put it, and outraged gasps abound.

Free speech, then, is in material terms, in this climate, and at this conjuncture, the freedom to denigrate black people, Muslims, Arabs and just about anyone liable to come on the wrong end of Western power. So cut it out. It's not funny any more, just quit it. The laughter track on this 'free speech' gig is wearing thing. Even if, for some bizarre medical reason, you still refuse to acknowledge manifest and obvious racism, don't persist in the insulting pretense that issues of free expression emerge in an ideological vacuum. Don't pretend there aren't institutions with their own interests at work, states, corporations, corporate media and so on. And certainly don't pretend to be even-handed about it.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Workers' unity in Northern Ireland. posted by lenin

After reading about Royal Mail management's bullying of CWU strikers here, the following news in my inbox is heartening.

Hundreds of postal workers from across Belfast marched with local residents up the Shankill and down the Falls today showing the kind of unity that socialists have been dreaming of for years. The march culminated in a rally, addressed by local CWU activists and Eamonn McCann. The meeting voted overwhellmingly to remain out on strike.

Over 800 postal workers are now out on unofficial strike across Belfast and Mallusk, and they have been out for 7 days in what is becoming the longest and biggest strike we have seen in years. The strike is over management bullying and harassment. This was escalated by Royal Mail issuing letters to four key activists threatening them with legal action and the bill for the strike.

You can support the strikers by e-mailing:

Meanwhile, I just had a read of this from Iranian leftists, arguing that the antiwar movement should oppose any sanctions that may be imposed on Iran, and should show solidarity with ordinary Iranians fighting back against a state that has more in common with Bush than automatically appear to be the case, particularly through actions like this. Just thought I'd pass it on.

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Charming. posted by lenin

That was the weather, now here's John Derbyshire for the National Review:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don't care about Egyptians.

God bless America.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Craven. posted by lenin

Not to go on about the cartoons again, but I think it's just worth mentioning that - of course - the reaction of leaders of Arab states to this event is totally cynical and hypocritical. They, and the more pliable elements of the ulama that they employ (particularly at Al-Azhar) didn't make half as much noise about the invasion of Iraq as it was happening. And it is ironic that this much pressure has been applied, that the Saudi government went so far as to threaten a boycott on Danish dairy produce and yield a threatening reaction from Peter Mandelson, just as the leading Gulf states are totally capitulating to the US/European agenda on Iran. For instance:

OPEC members said they had agreed to maintain their current policy and keep pumping oil at 25-year record levels, rejecting earlier calls from two members, Iran and Venezuela, to pare production.

The conference of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is to begin on Wednesday at the group's headquarters in Vienna, but the decision to maintain production levels had already been widely expected by oil analysts. Prices in New York remain just $2 below last summer's record of $70 a barrel.

The decision, if formally adopted, would mean that OPEC, which accounts for a third of the world's oil production, would keep producing at a level last seen in the early 1980's to help build commercial stocks and keep "ample" supplies on the markets, said Edmund Daukoru, Nigeria's oil minister and the president of OPEC this year.

"We are unanimous in our view of the market," Mr. Daukoru told reporters here. "We are a bit uncomfortable with the price."

There was little mention Monday of a possible cut in production, even in the second quarter, a time of the year when demand typically declines. The idea had been first pushed by Iran last week.

But the proposal, which gained only the backing of Venezuela, was defeated by other producers, led by Saudi Arabia, who believed that prices were too high to consider any cuts in production.

In recent assessments of Bush's State of the Union address, it has been noted that the US imports around a fifth of its oil from the Middle East and only 16% from the Gulf states (no one's given that figure, but I calculate it from the figures provided by the US government to be approximately 16%). The important thing to recognise here is that the US dependency on Middle East oil has been increasing. Oil imports from the Gulf states seems to have peaked, significantly enough, in the period 2002-4, but it remains higher than it has been for a while. The same is true of imports from OPEC as a whole, which includes Venezuela. The fact that these states have simply refused to use the only leverage they have is indicative of just how dependent their regimes are on Western support. Hosni Mubarak, I suggest, wouldn't survive for very long as dictator of Egypt if he didn't receive aid and arms from the United States. The Saudi government relied for years on US troops, and now relies on US mercenaries.


After years of hesitating, Persian Gulf states are joining the call for tougher action on Iran's nuclear efforts, increasingly worried that a nuclear Iran could set off a regional arms race.

In recent weeks, Saudi officials and other gulf leaders have called for Iran to abandon its nuclear research, without demanding that Israel disarm first.

Separating those two demands is a major policy change, and many experts see the shift as a sign that Iran's Arab neighbors may even back United Nations sanctions against Iran.

"For the past couple of years, they have been ambiguous, giving conflicting signals," said Riad Kahwaji, managing director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. "Now we're seeing a unified stand."

"If they are asked to vote on this in the U.N.," he added, "they would not vote in favor of Iran."

It is tempting to see the public entreaties of Arab leaders as a hysterical acting out that dramatises their total abasement before Western power. It is also somewhat more than tempting to conclude that there is no 'Muslim world' - the Saudi regime is bitterly hostile to the Iranian one, albeit they both legitimise themselves with reference to some form of Political Islam. For that reason, it is not hard to see how pliant Gulf states are more interested in retaining good relations with the US than defending its embattled neighbour.

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Revelations. posted by lenin

What a waste. If only >Christopher Hitchens had asked, I could have written his article for him in advance. I knew, you see, that on this issue he would somehow find himself incapable of detecting anti-Muslim racism (because he is an anti-Muslim racist); that he would insist on the right to 'make fun' of religion (which he can if he really will and must, with my personal permission); that he would miss every single point of importance here; that he would take to vilifying Muslims; and that he would recall his better days when defending Salman Rushdie.

Here are a few snippets - treat it as a montage of predictable Hitchensian tics:

[T]here is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general.

The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute.

I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object.

The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. … In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege.

When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses...[blah blah blah]

Rest assured that I am fully aware that some of my readers will look at Hitchens' article and agree with every word. Some of you, poor creatures, will actually admire what he has said, and repeat it to others as if it represented some form of adult wisdom. To you, I can only offer the hospitality of correctional facilities in my comments boxes. It's too easy to take Hitchens apart these days. Consider the assertion that Sunni Muslims are 'reluctant' to condemn attacks on Shiite mosques or affirm that virgins and paradise are not a reward for martyrdom in Islam. A second of thought might have told him not to be so ridiculous. However, a bit of research would have forcefully beaten it into him. You have to work pretty hard, in fact, not to be aware that Muslim religious leaders have condemned suicide attacks very forcefully, particularly the one that took place on September 11th. So, why must they plead innocence before Hitchens' tribunal? Why is it Muslims' responsibility to ensure they are not demonised? Do Jewish people have a similar responsibility to ensure they are not depicted as controlling Hollywood and the media etc? Do black people have a responsibility to ensure that they are not depicted as rapists and muggers? Or is one's first reaction to racism unconditional condemnation? Or take his assertion that the edict against depicting Muhammed is absolute: where, when? Is it hard to find depictions of Muhammed? Have they not been in circulation for centuries? Why have no protests been mounted over those? Why does the painfully apparent escape the one-man United Front Against Bullshit?

Hitchens is not the only one demanding that Muslims shape up and fly right. Thomas Friedman has been at it (again), and is ably despatched by Juan Cole. It's the same old business: demanding that Muslims prove their innocence, proclaiming madly that they haven't done enough yet. Of course, Muslim leaders haven't done enough. They will never do enough. They can't possibly do enough to satisfy the lust for abasement from those who applaud the destruction of whole cities (in Friedman's case whole nations) yet find that sense deserts them upon sight of a conflagration in the Danish embassy. Violence belongs, so much is apparent, to the White Man. Violence in 'our' hands is rational, instrumental, necessary, noble, compassionate even. In 'theirs' it is no more dignified than a tantrum, and no more compassionate than ritual sacrifice. It is a result of infantilism or some such thing.

Anyway, I've had enough of this topic. It has been rewarding, if I may put it like that, for the general revelations that it has induced. Liberals discovering that they don't mind a bit of Muslim-bashing (actually find themselves mildly amused by it); the AWL finding itself seduced by the thrill of same; putative Marxists and right-wing provocateurs conglomerating on the same bandwagon; otherwise calm and sensible commentators doing their nut at the sight of the rising brown tide.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Metastasis & Enjoyment posted by lenin

One of the wonderful things for racists about the recent 'cartoon' controversy is the opportunity to kick Muslims twice: first by demonising them, and taking a certain amount of enjoyment in their demonisation, second by demonising the reaction of Muslims, and gloating about that too. As Gary Younge put it:

As a result they are vilified twice: once through the cartoon, and again for exercising their democratic right to protest. The inflammatory response to their protest reminds me of the quote from Steve Biko, the South African black nationalist: "Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked."

But there is another, more subtle opportunity for racist baiting - namely, one reminds Muslims of the "values" that "we in the West" hold, and those dearly, in contrast to their non-secular societies. According to Henry Porter in today's Observer, the publication of these pictures can "be seen as an assertion of the values handed down from the pioneers of the Enlightenment. A little nervy perhaps, a little too red in the face , but sincere none the less." Indeed, one doesn't doubt the sincerity of the racists who produced and published these caricatures, and it is entirely plausible that they thought they were upholding some 'values' of the Enlightenment (which ones, however?). Porter adds: "Muslims must allow for the error in a continent of free but flawed societies. They should understand that our societies are not simply based on godless consumption and self-indulgence, but on one or two deeply held convictions." He makes one or two other points that the would-be Defenders of Enlightenment in the blogosphere should have probably liked to make, and so you couldn't hurt yourself too much by reading the whole article. But there it is - Muslims are being told exactly how to interpret their demonisation. Le Colonel Chabert wrote a few days ago about a technique known as "Gaslighting", in which the oppressed are told that they are not oppressed, that what they are experiencing is their own excessive paranoia and sensitivity. According to Henry Porter: "Heightened Islamic sensitivity is something we are going to have to take on board." From Chabert:

But for people of colour, in the US, and especially for women of colour, the backlash has involved, since the 80s, a vast media and cultural conspiracy of "Gaslighting."

Its tactics are designed to enrage and infuriate, because being enraged is debilitating, exhausting, embarrassing. The subtle racist is a swaggerer. Confident he has all the artillery of white supremacist patriarchy at his back. Obstinate and bullying and putting on a show of fearlessness. Confident that his or her own point of view is in itself a kind of evidence while the other's point of view is in itself worthless and can only achieve value through convincing proof and his or her own consent. "Oh, he didn't mean that." No further analysis offered, no evidence, no offer of a persuasive alternate reading, no real explanation, because the defender/possessor of white privilege accepts no obligation to justify that norm. What lies behind the smug assertion of innocence and good intentions is power, the consciousness of power, the flaunting of power, the subtle reminder of that power and your (our) - black folks', women, leftists - position on the receiving end of domination, of doubt, of marginalization, your not-sharing in that power and presumption of rationality, acuity and credibility.

As Edward Said wrote, the notion of the White Man that emerged in the era of colonialism and exemplified in some of Kipling's doggerel ("Now this is the road that the White Men tread/When they go to clean a land..."), involved "a particular way of taking hold of reality, language, and thought". As Said writes: "Underlying these categories is the rigidly binomial opposition of 'ours' and 'theirs', with the former always encroaching upon the latter (even to the point of making 'theirs' exclusively a function of 'ours'). This opposition was reinforced not only by anthropology, linguistics, and history but also, of course, less decisive - by the rhetoric of high cultural humanism. What gave writers like Renan and Arnold the right to generalities about race was the official character of their formed cultural literacy. 'Our' values were (let us say) liberal, humane, correct: they were supported by the tradition of belles-lettres, informed scholarship, rational inquiry; as Europeans (and white men) 'we' shared in them every time their virtues were extolled." (From Orientalism. Emphasis added).

To return to Enlightenment for a second, it is ironic that Porter describes Marx & Freud of all people as having inaugurated "blinkered secularism" - I don't know if anyone problematised Enlightenment secularism more than Marx did. Freud, whatever else he was, was not a naive upholder of blinkered Enlightenment. Both would have some fairly dyspeptic things to say about the evocation of the Reformation as a means of demonising those reacting to racism (but this did not stop some people claiming to be "real socialists" e-mailing me to explain that Marx was against religion, stoopid). Indeed, one would have to be living in a cuckoo clock not to notice that Enlightenment itself has its own dark side. Its origins in Renaissance magic and religion, as well as colonialism, mercantilism and the demands of a developing capitalism, it developed as a movement in sync with these changing priorities. With progressivism came the notion that other (Asiatic) societies were static, hidebound, incapable of change, lacking in subtlety and reflection. With the development of philology contiguous with colonial expansion came the discourse of race, polygenic hierarchies of human lineages and so on. With the development of genetics coterminous with the death knell of the bourgeoisie as a progressive class came eugenics and extermination. Enlightened earth, as Adorno and Horkheimer wrote, radiated disaster triumphant.

We share in the virtues of Enlightenment every time its values are extolled, but not its vices. It is no longer a surprise that the 'left' imperialists appeal to an unproblematised Enlightenment in order to justify their subventions, although it remains a shock to see it invoked in response to a straightforward instance of racism. And if the discourse of 'tolerance' had seemed before to be rather useless in fighting the racists and the far right, it now seems positively beneficial to their cause: for now it is a fairly simple matter to say that Muslims are 'intolerant' of Western racism.

In this BBC interview, Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee debates (and thoroughly takes apart) Roger Koeppel of Die Welt and spots the ruse right away: this, he says, is not about debate, free speech and so forth. This is about demonisation. There are thousands of images of Muhammed available on a quick Google search, but none of them have precipitated this outrage. It is because the images suggest that Muslims are either terrorists or followers of a terrorist or likely to take a sword to you for glancing at a woman and so on. In the present geopolitical situation, Muslims are being persecuted all over the world. The outrage has not emerged because Muslims are dogged reactionaries incapable of understanding 'Western' notions of liberalism and free speech. Some people have demonstrated impressive purblindness in refusing to acknowledge this, restlessly imbibing and regurgitating the news-filtered images of fires blazing here, stones thrown there, placards with repellent messages on them jostling elsewhere. The media is invaluable for immunising one against the basic perception that what has happened is that a major European newspaper launched a provocative attack on Muslims, and most Muslims have responded with considerable restraint (unless you really believe that small sample of images you have seen recycled on television and in newspapers is representative of 1.2bn people).

There is always, at the last scrape of the barrel, the suggestion available that Muslims are merely being manipulated and stirred up by a would-be religious hierarchy, an oppressive caste of clerics and so forth. This unimpressive and child-like perception of the situation, for from positing a postcolonial hybridisation of Islam, involves reducing Muslims to no more than a passive substrate on which Evil Doers can operate. It reminds me of a White Van Man lament on the BBC's late (and much lamented) Kilroy show, in which a complacent lower-middle-class man wondered why in the wake of the Oldham riots, if it was just a few Muslims spoiling it for the rest of them, did we not simply lock up and deport the ones that are riling up all the others. And, of course, it totally neglects (or more accurately represses knowledge of) the fact that we are dealing with 100% proof racism, and the response to it.

Said, when he wrote about Orientalism (which I quoted from above), noted that antisemitism shared a strange, secret history with Orientalism. The philological divide between the Semitic and European languages, the divide between the good (long forgotten) Orient of Indo-European civilisation and the bad (present) Orient of Semitic civilisation - both Orientalism and antisemitism could be found in the same text, deployed the same strategies of domination, and served the same interest of defining Europe as superior to its Other. Indeed, even ardent Zionists like Churchill who advocated gassing Iraqis and treated the Palestinians with contempt during his period as Colonial Secretary under the Mandate, were often raving antisemites. Churchill fulminated about the International Jew, the Bolshevik Jew, the conspiratorial Jew who brought down European civilisation even as he expressed his sympathy for Zionism. Said later told an interviewer that he was disappointed that Israeli readers had not taken this on board, even though the irony would be immediately apparent to any Palestinian Arab. He suggested that Israelis had adopted the purview of the Orientalist as directed against Arabs, and were therefore incapable of noticing the connection. What, I wonder, would he have made of the recrudescence of this imperialist shit, with almost the exact same strategies of justification as before, in the heart of Europe?

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Friday, February 03, 2006

The Muslims are coming (again). posted by lenin

The Muslim Scare is with us again. Look at the pictures of them swarming in Jakarta. Look at the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade announcing its wrath. Look at the Iraqis protest. An hour long fracas in Gaza, where a German tourist is reportedly kidnapped and then released. All because some cartoons in Denmark depicted the Prophet Muhammed in the right-wing Danish newspaper Jyllands-Postens. And you're supposed to think from the television and newspaper reports: a bit excitable aren't they? 'We' would certainly never get this agitated over some similar offense to Christianity. Mocking images of the Christ would not induce this torrent of outrage. The whole issue is being presented as a simple matter of "free speech" and urbane satire versus crazed theocrats expostulating in tongues. Reporters Without Borders is worried about press freedom after one French editor was sacked for reproducing the images.

You can easily find a link for these images, although I won't provide one here. They are variously dull, racist caricatures and hideous slanders that evoke nothing so much as the images of Jews circulated by antisemites and Nazis in the early to mid 20th Century. One portrays Muhammed as a beard attached to a globular black bomb, embossed with an Islamic logo. Several others depict him as a hook-nosed, swivel-eyed, glowering Oriental with a large unkempt beard, often brandishing a sword. One has horns sprouting from his head. One, by Lars Refn, makes fun of the whole exercise, by portraying a Danish Muslim schoolboy called Muhammed who has written in Persian on a blackboard: "Jyllands-Postens journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs". The paper rebukes this cartoonist for "cowardice" and his refusal to acknowledge the "Muslim threat to free speech".

"Free speech". What a lugubrious phrase. It's a logocentric fallacy, for what is under discussion is a form of expression that is not speech. The phrase invites us to think of such expression as being nothing more serious than words falling into offended ears. But, okay, let's call it speech, then - what do these cartoons "say"? That "these Muslims are bloodthirsty, sword-wielding, limb-choppers, suicide-bombers, fanatics, sand-dwellers, despotic, lazy, corrupt, hidebound, medieval (for in 'Asiatic' history, there is no progression, unlike in Europe)". This is being presented as a mere religious jest - why shouldn't we "make fun" of others' beliefs? Malicious, racist slander is, then, nothing more serious than comedy. Get a sense of humour (racists always seem to believe themselves to be uniquely blessed with that quality). In what environment did the editors of a Danish newspaper commission these depictions? is one in which Pia Kjærsgaard, as leader of the far right Danish People's Party - which in the last elections took 13.3% of the vote to become the third biggest party in Denmark - is encouraging people to heed a "call-to-arms" against "Islamism", which they describe as a "world revolutionary movement" seeking to impose Shari'a all over the globe. (This could be related to a conspiracy theory propounded by some regarding a Muslim Brotherhood document allegedly located in Switzerland, which advertises a conspiracy to take over Europe - and thence the whole world! Cue evil laughter). Similarly, Queen Margrethe in her recent authorised biography urged the Danes to "stand up" to Islam. Louise Frevert of the DPP suggested that Muslims believe that it is their right to rape and assault Danish people and asserted in a pamphlet that the Muslims were conspiring to take over Denmark. Rape - the eternal crime of the aggressive, maladaptive Other. Instead of being a function of misogynistic society, it is cunningly made out to be a manifestation of some pathological anomaly among non-white communities

These lies are issued for a reason - much the same reason as the lies about New Orleans blacks a-raping and a-looting, or Haitian gun-toting "gangs" - and that is to justify violent repression either by the state or by vigilantes. It is the same reason that the BNP distributes literature claiming that there are "Asian gangs" raping white children in the north of England. Before the Oldham riots, similar lies were issued: Chief Superintendent Eric Hewitt told the press that Asians were responsible for the majority of racist violence. He said, in fact, that of 572 racist attacks in Oldham, "8 to 10" Asian youths were responsible for 343. He had done this before. In 1999, he said that out of 250 racially motivated incidents in one year, the majority involved violence on whites by Asians. He told the Oldham Evening Chronicle that "There is evidence that they [Asians] are trying to create exclusive areas for themselves. Anyone seems to be a target if they are white." The BBC and other national news organisations uncritically reported these claims. As the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism pointed out at the time, Hewitt's figures were cobblers. Hewitt is unsurprisingly seen by many Oldham residents as a racist. The BNP newspaper, British Nationalist, siezed on Hewitt's claims and proclaimed that there was ‘Ethnic cleansing in Britain’. In 2001, BBC radio reported once again that there were "no go areas" for white people in Oldham, and suggested that there was graffiti daubed on buildings to adverise this: no such graffiti existed, as the police later admitted. On Saturday 21st April 2001, two people were attacked: one was a white 76 year old man, who was cruelly beaten by some young Asian men; the other was an Asian taxi driver, who was stabbed. The first was reported, and falsely. The second was not reported at all. The first was reported as a racist attack upholding a "no go" area. This is how the BBC, the Mirror and the Daily Mail explained the beating. It made no sense to those who understood the case, not least the family of the beaten man because he had never indicated that it was racist and they didn't believe it had anything to do with that. It made no sense because the area in which the attack occurred was not "claimed" by any local gangs of any background. Yet, the police insisted on "believing" that it was a racist attack, and so the headlines followed from there.

Shortly thereafter, there were a series of outbursts of violence from football fans in the city, particularly against Bangladeshi residents. White supremacists attempted to organised marches through the city, while the BNP announced it would stand candidates in the area. The level of activity of the far right shot up dramatically, but so did racism on the ground (usually referred to as "tensions"). One attack by around 200 white youths on a road outside the Glodwick Estate resulted from some high-pitch arguments between local parents. And that was when, after 18 months of unmitigated, ceaseless racist drivel from the police and press, and after repeated and serious attacks on Asian residents by white football supporters, a number of young Asian men fought with the police and racists, and set fire to a number of pubs they believed tolerated the racists. Riots erupted which were predictably blamed on the Asian community. A year later, a BBC2 programme called Hooligans investigated the activities of Combat-18 in the area, and how they had organised and instigated the attacks on areas like Glodwick. It passed without much fanfare. The lies were just too valuable.

So, to speak as if the 20th Century never happened, as if slavery never happened, as if colonialism never happened, when we look at racist images, we are looking at a justification for murder. We are speaking of terror, of life and limb. That sort of injuriousness is hard to mistake. We don't need to think of anywhere exotic to imagine how this works. In the UK it is precisely claims that the Quran justifies the killing of non-Muslim civilians and so on that corroborate thugs in putting Muslims or simply non-white people in the casualty wards every weekend. Therefore, it is the 2% of Denmark's population who are Muslim who are the victims here, not the reactionary provocateurs who have vilified them. It is they who will need solidarity. For all the guff about "the new antisemitism", it has never struck apologists for Israel that this is the new antisemitism. It isn't about religion any more than the vilification of Jews was about religion. Of course, the value-significations are reversed: Jews were accused of introducing cosmopolitanism, liberalism, capitalism, communism etc; Muslims are accused of opposing all of these things, of being insufficiently liberal, too traditionalist, too rooted in organic communities, not atomised etc. But Orientalism and antisemitism were never separated at birth. They are conjoined, two forms of the same sickness.

Orientalism Comes Home To Roost:

The resemblance of Gibson's rabble to the Israeli-apologists invention 'The Palestinians' is really striking, even more than to anything from the classic European anti-Semitic tradition. 'The Jews' were never portrayed by Nazis as a 'mob' out in the public square, but as a shadowy enemy presence, infiltrating slowly and steadily, cautious and cunning, rats scurrying by night in niches and nooks but by day sinister others successfully masquerading as peace-loving, integrationist, and harmless. Classic anti-Semitism - which Gibson's film also employs for the roles apart from the mob, and which he has exhibited personally in his whining about persecution - portrays Jews integrating, non-violently, while working through their conspiracies and secret worldwide financial channels to bring down the 'host' society. Invisible parasites, seducing society (not badgering it or overthrowing its rulers through open rebellion) to evil and degradation through decadence, art and literature, money, media, requiring flushing out and extermination if the host society is not to sicken and be overtaken by them. Never a wild howling angry mob whom a sufficient number of Cossacks or tear gas could disperse, as the Jerusalemite crowd appears in The Passion.

'The Jews' of anti-Semitic tradition are stateless, a minority, a parasite in Europe. The portrayal of Jews in Schindler, as Art Spiegelman noted, is quite close to the anti-Semitic tradition - the Jewish seductress, the financiers doing business in the church - far closer than the totality found in Passion. The hideous crowd in The Passion is an indigenous population in Palestine under foreign occupation.

That is unmistakably a crowd of Palestinians in the imagination of Israel apology, but the current 'inter-semitic clash' which identifies The Palestinian as the diametric opposite of The Jew disguises this Orientalist product from popular perception. In the anti-Semitism from which Caiaphas comes directly, such a crowd of Jews is unthinkable, even disruptive to the coherence of the collective slander. Even medieval European and 19th c. Russian anti- Semitism portrayed Jews as virtually unseen, committing crimes clandestinely, at night, whisperers and plotters, not the dirty thuggish nihilistic insurrectionary rabble which here is Gibson's manufactured enemy humanity. There is no precedent for these images of Gibson's Jewish mob from the anti-Semitic tradition, but in the years leading up to the filming of Passion, and especially during the filming, there have been thousands of precedents for these images in Israel-apology and US-apology in the mainstream media.

11:33:00 AM | Permalink | | | Print

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Education & black power. posted by lenin

Try this for emotional blackmail: critics of the government's education White Paper don't care about black children. Thus Trevor Phillips in today's Guardian:

I wonder if some who condemn the proposals wholesale, saying they work against the poor and disadvantaged, aren't once again ignoring the real experience of black Britons.

What do the critics say? The Audit Commission says that the policy works "against the interests of the most disadvantaged, least mobile and worst informed parents and children". The proposals include allowing a new breed of "trust schools", independent from democratic control, to have much more say in determining what pupils they include - and exclude. A recent Joseph Rowntree report notes that it is precisely on the matter of exclusions that education fails black students most. They are hampered by the low expectations of teachers and fellow pupils, treated as aggressive, and disproportionately expelled and penalised for behaviour that other pupils would be more likely to get away with. Not to put too fine a point upon it, this compounds the disadvantages to non-white pupils rather than reducing them.

Phillips' argument?

Look at one of the most popular examples of ethnic-minority involvement in recent years: the supplementary school. There, volunteers - some parents, some from the community - come together to supplement what has been happening in maintained schools. I sponsored a small study in north London three years ago which suggested that this extra effort can make a decisive difference both to young people's aspirations and their performance at GCSE. But these schools get by on a shoestring and often face the disapproval of mainstream schools, being seen as competition. That's why I think there could be a real opportunity in the idea of trusts, or something similar, to address black underachievement.

The rest of the article drifts off into a New Labour Fantasia in which the white power trio Ruth Kelly, Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair become advocates of black power. I have no idea what study Phillips refers to, but one thing I am fairly certain about is that he either hasn't read this White Paper or followed its history, or he is lying when he claims to be making an argument on behalf of black children. One of the first things that black activists and education experts noticed about it was that no assessment had been made of the impact of the proposals on race, despite such an assessment being a legal necessity. Of course, one reason might be that the described impact on poor and working class kids would be intensified among black students who are, of course, more likely to be poor. By removing control of admissions from LEAs (whose record is not without fault here, but who are at least subject to pressure from democratically elected institutions) and placing them in the hands of unaccountable trusts, the government is disempowering black students and their families. It then emerged that the Commission for Racial Equality, which Trevor Phillips heads, is now doing the government's job for it, ensuring it fulfils its obligations under the law. To put it another way, the organisation that is responsible for monitoring and judging the implementation of these policies is participating in their implementation. It is hard to see how the CRE will find itself at fault. In fact, it looks as if the organisation has been drafted in to clear up New Labour's mess: which is exactly what Trevor Phillips is doing.

If you really want to know what can be done to tackle the systematic exclusion and racism against non-white students in schools, try this, this and this.

8:10:00 AM | Permalink | | | Print

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Early Zionists as Pioneers. posted by lenin

So, anyway, I knew something wierd was on the way when Jonathan Freedland suggested a comparison between Hamas and the early Zionists:

Hamas's best bet might be to learn not from Fatah or the IRA, but from the early Zionist movement. Living under colonial military rule from the 1920s to the 1940s, it focused its energies on building the institutions of statehood: schools, bureaucracy, even an embryonic national health service. When independence came in 1948 they were ready. Israeli rule is not the British mandate, I know. But there is a lesson there all the same - and Hamas would make a revolution by seizing on it.

Okay, replace "living under" with the phrase "colluding with"; replace "building the institutions of statehood" with "expropriating the Palestinian peasantry"; replace "When independence came in 1948" with, "When the Palestinians were murdered and driven off their land by the hundreds of thousands" etc., and you begin to have an inkling of what Freedland really means. He's saying that what was visited on the Palestinians should be visited on the Israelis. He's saying Hamas should drive Israel into the sea! (Even as I write this, I hear Professor Geras' gums beating together in the distance: "Apologists among us!"). Either that, or he's eulogising about the "early Zionists" while carefully excising the more - ahem - embarrassing moments from their history. Yes, Freedland looks like an idiot, and writes like an idiot. But don't let that fool you - he really is an idiot.

1:39:00 PM | Permalink | | | Print

New Labour Century posted by lenin

Guest post by Leon Kuhn.

8:04:00 AM | Permalink | | | Print

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

100 posted by bat020

British death toll in Iraq reaches 100

Update: The Stop the War Coalition has called a protest for 5pm this evening (Tuesday 31 January) in Parliament Square. Stop the War has also called for protests in other city centres at 5pm tomorrow night.

10:06:00 AM | Permalink | | | Print

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