Monday, January 31, 2005

Livingstone and the Left

Another post relating to Oliver Kamm, this time regarding Ken Livingstone and the Islamists. Ken, like George Galloway, has been opportunistically courting reactionary voices within Islam. Kamm's post relates to the visits to London, invited twice by Mayor Livingstone, of Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

The London Community Coalition, a group of faith and other organisations organised to express concern at Ken's embrace of the sheik, put together a dossier about this, and Ken has now responded with a counter-dossier.

Kamm notes that Ken's defence has been produced at the taxpayers' expense. The press release from the Mayor's office claims:

The [counter-]dossier launched today demonstrates that Dr al-Qaradawi is, as the moderate main umbrella group of Muslim organisations, the Muslim Council of Britain has argued, 'the most authoritative Muslim scholars in the world today'.

This, according to the LCC's original dossier, of a man who has said things like:

“Anyone who thinks that [female] circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it. I support this, particularly in the period in which we live” Chernitsky, B., The Egyptian Controversy Over Circumcising Girls 07/11/2003 (Quoting Dr Qardawi’s book – Modern Fatwas) http://coranet.radicalparty.org/pressreview/print_250.php?func=detail&par=7121 Accessed on 01/09/2004

“…if this [non-violent] approach fails, it is permissible for him [husband] to beat her [wife] lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts.” Muslim Clerics on the Religious Rulings Regarding Wife-Beating, MEMRI Special Report No. 27 http://memri.org/bin/opener.cgi?Page=archives&ID=SR2704 , 22/3/04; quoted from Yusuf al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (Kuwait: International Islamic Federation of Student Organization), 1984

“[Homosexuality is] a reversal of the natural order, a corruption of man’s sexuality, and a crime against the rights of females…concerning the punishment for this abominable practice…should both the active and passive participants be put to death? While such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements.” Al-Qaradawi’s Visit Stirs Controversy in Britain and Egypt 12/07/2004 http://www.gayegypt.com/july2004.html Accessed on 19/10/2004

“We cannot say that the [Israeli suicide bombing] casualties were innocent civilians. They are not civilians or innocent”; “The Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the children bomb.” ‘Life and Religion’ discussion programme, Al-Jazeera TV 28/4/02 As transcribed and translated in Al Jazeera programme debates Arab stand on infitadah, suicide bombers BBC Monitoring 30/4/02

“O God, destroy the usurper Jews, the vile Crusaders, and infidels. O God, destroy them along with their supporters.” Sermon at Umar-Bin-al-Khattab mosque, Doha, Qatar, 01/10/2004, broadcast live on Qatar TV; transcribed and translated in Near/Middle East: Round-up of Friday Sermons 1 Oct 04’ BBC Monitoring 06/10/2004.

“Iniquity on the part of the Jews is a great iniquity, grave iniquity, iniquity that is incomparable and overt…we should not conduct a dialogue with these [Jews] while their hands are stained with our blood.” Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi : There is no Dialogue Between us and the Jews Except by the sword andthe Rifle, MEMRI Special Dispatch Series No. 753, 27/07/2004

Although Ken's dossier counters these quotes with more benign ones, they do not refute any of these.

Kamm also discusses the opposition to the Sheik having been led by Peter Tatchell, who has been given a guest slot on Harry’s blog. Tatchell is a slightly unlikely bedfellow of anti-Islamic right - he is a left-wing queer rights activist. Kamm admires his "disinterested advocacy of human rights", but takes him to task for his direct action approach.


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Nello

Oliver Kamm deploys one of my personal heros, CLR James, against 'cultural materialist' academics. The post is very good and well worth reading. Kamm quotes from a book on James by Farrukh Dondy. Here is an extract:
One of the persistent myths thrown up by the Black Power movement and by a particularly pernicious and ignorant stream of 'black studies' was that Shakespeare, being one of the iconic white male figures of literature, was a racist, an anti-semite, and various other things. In Britain this reactionary ideology took the form of patois poetry in the sixties and seventies, offered nor simply as developments in pop but as political challenges to Shakespeare or Keats.
The idea of 'relevance' was taken up by a section of school teachers and editors who argued for the poets of the English canon to be replaced with the verse of Maya Angelou and with other poets who wrote in West Indian dialects, the Jamaican or Trinidadian patois.
This was a view from which CLR profoundly dissented. To him Shakespeare and Keats stood for the expression of civilising value, the centre of the cultural endeavour of humanity to which he belonged.
The dust jacket of the book says:
CLR James was a Marxist philosopher, intent on paper at least on world revolution. But later in life, he rejected the incendiary rhetoric of his youth. He was an unabashed elitist, but at the same time fought discrimination of any sort.
Kamm comments:
The invocation of 'elitism' refers, and can only refer, to James's belief in the civilising value of art. That is not elitism; it is a recognition of objective standards of aesthetic excellence. Elitism, on the contrary, is the denigration of art and its consequent maintenance as the preserve of an affluent and educated minority. Elitism is, in fact, the characteristic of those supposedly radical theorists who elevate 'cultural studies' over art, music and literature.
I agree that elitism is the wrong word for James and the right word for some of the radical academics. But I think Kamm is wrong to say that there are objective standards of aesthetic excellence, or that James thought there were. I think that a common consensus in a culture around the worth of a Shakespeare or a Keats does not amount to an objective standard. It is also worth stressing that James valued the poets of the vernacular too, such as the great calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow.


Ephraim Kishon

DZ writes:

Do you know Ephraim Kishon? He died today in his 80s and is currently out of print in the UK, which says perhaps something about the position of Israeli writers in the contemporary anglophone Western intellectual conscience. True, What makes Kishon hard to digest to some is his defending of the Israeli position for example in the Suez crisis. He is an Israeli of the old school. Nevertheless he had hoped for the implementation of the Camp David peace initiative, and felt that Palestinians were put against Israelis by Arab leaders using the Palestinians for political gains, rather than to allow a peace with Israel. He called them a greatly talented people yet to emerge. Once, in the 50s, 60s and 70s Kishon was more popular, as the memory of the shoa was vivid and an interest in the Jewish state more sympathetic. This fact explains why Kishon was popular and loved until today in Germany where holocaust memories are very much alive and with it a genuine want to know more on Israel and not just Palestine.
Whatever your position I recommend to those of you who escaped Kishon, and who are still open minded on Israel, to order some books by him. His very comical satrires of life in Israel are a key to understand something of the Israeli psyche, albeit mostly pre Intifada. At the end of the day you will have something to laugh at, for Kishon attacks ridiculous bureaucracy, hard core positions in Israel, fascism up to the the religious and that ever character you may have.
Kishon was born in Hungary as Ferenc Hoffmanand and his family and himself were heavily taxed by the Nazi expansion and prosecution of Jews. One of his first satires dealt with this period, where he invented a state that prosecuted bold-heads. Kishon emigrated to Israel after the war where he first lived in a Kibbutz. He spent his last years of life in Switzerland since 1981.
Some of the filmed books can be bought
here (trusted site I bought from there).

Iraqi elections

Jogo writes:
The headline in the NY Times reads
Defying Threats, Millions of Iraqis Vote.
It ought really to read thus:
Defying Threats -- and confounding the perverse hopes & expectations of the Bush-hating Left -- Millions of Iraqis Vote.

Resistance?

It's looking like half of all Iraqis went out and cast their vote yesterday. This despite the people killed just for voting, the people killed just for making voting possible. And what of the killers? Allawi and Bush call them 'terrorists', the BBC calls them 'insurgents', the anti-war movement calls it 'the resistance'. Iraq Resistance, for example, issue a Call For Solidarity With The Struggle Of The Iraqi People They say:

Now, the reality shows us that there are two tendencies in competition in Iraq. On one side, the Iraqi people is resisting against the occupation of its country, using very diversified means of struggle, based on pluralistic opinions. This resistance of the Iraqi people can come in very different forms of struggle and is organized by very different patriotical political tendencies. On the other side, US imperialism is trying to control the country with the help of a local dependent government made of collaborators reminding us other moments of the world history, such as the situation existing during the nazi occupation.

This manichean, with-us-or-against-us logic exemplifies the thinking of the mainstream of the anti-war movement: despite the mention of diverse means of struggle, there is no real conception of the multiple perspectives that might exist on the ground in Iraq, some emancipatory, some reactionary, just one single 'the Iraqi people'. The Leninist left is so entranced by the nineteenth century logic of the nation-state that supposedly internationalist revolutionaries priase the 'patriotism' of this monolithic people. The violence against those involved in the micro-machinery of the ballot is justified - these Iraqi citizens are apparently like the collaborators in Nazi-occupied Europe.


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Friday, January 28, 2005

FrumTeens.com: the lessons for multiculturalism

A propos of FrumTeens.com - Torah for Teenagers, Jogo writes:
From the posts at frumteens.com I get the impression we seeing a fairly small portion of the frum-teen world -- that part which is online with ease and familiarity, and has a certain hipness. There are only 7082 registered users of this BB. But does it mirror the nature of the larger frum world? I think it does.

A very strange thing about frumteens is there is no statement of ownership or responsibility. Who is the moderator, and what is his authority? If I were frum I would want to know who my children were getting their religious advice from.

From the questions that are asked you can tell these are very frum children, and learned in Jewish ideas and texts. There is a kind of sweetness in contemplating them, envisioning them as they navigate between their hermetic ways and the larger world. I enjoy the mix of girl-slang, email slang, Talmud hebrew, English ... and of course, poor spelling.

But they are also very insular Jewish children whose relationship with the world -- even as it is curious -- is mistrustful and hostile. The posts in the thread "on the goyim" are fascinating. It is almost unblievable that people raise their children to have such ideas.

One poster asks, innocently, if it's OK to celebrate Thanksgiving. The moderator goes into a long academic rant about the history of the holiday, with no understanding of its social-bonding role among neighbors and fellow citizens in today's United States. He displays no affection for society in general -- i.e, the society that is everyone-but-Jews. He sees nothing of value there. So he has no reason to encourage children to participate. Moderator is more interested in determining whether Thanksgiving is "religious," because it if is, then it is assur (forbidden) for Jews to partake in.

Frum Moslem children are undoubtedly getting similar advice from their clerics. In fact, I did see one time an online Islamic discussion of Thanksgiving, and whether it is Islamic to participate.

As charming as this stuff is, there is a layer in it that is not in harmony with the general contours of the democratic tolerant society. The frum people (including the Moslems) benefit from the tolerant society and are quick to invoke its protections, but actually have no wish to participate in it. In fact, they think it's a bad thing.

I think Jewish multi-culturalist ideologues and fanatical believers in not "evaluating" cultures should read some of the discussions in frumteens.com -- even linger there a while -- because it might be easier for them to understand the value of evaluation if it is their own people being viewed, and they are freed from fear of being anti-somebody (apparently in some circles this is so great a fear as to be almost irrational).

The moderator of frumteens is completely comfortable teaching that Christians will "burn" because they are doing avodah zarah (evil work). You can just imagine what Moselm children are being taught, right under your noses. So this is a bad scene. Multiculturalists need to wake up.

This is why I say there are quasi-religious, faith-based aspects to a number of important, foundational liberal/postmodern positions. You can fairly call some of them "beliefs." They need to be interrogated, not swallowed whole and regurgitated in University classrooms as though they were fact.

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Democracy in the socialist movement

The site of the Socialist Alliance UK Democracy Platform has reports on Respect here, as well as several important reports on the Socialist Alliance.

Related recent post: Whose side are you on?

Lest we forget

On the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz and Holocaust Day in the UK, I want to recommend this wonderul on-line exhibition about Jewish labor in the US and its response to fascism and the Shoah: Jewish Labor and the Holocaust.

Previous related posts: Harry the Nazi update 3 Diaspora Kinda Life

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Harry the Nazi update 3

Via Arieh, this is from a British trade union, UNISON:
UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis has sent Prince Harry a copy of a film that recounts the personal story of a holocaust survivor.
AREK, produced by UNISON, is the story of holocaust survivor Arek Hersch. It was premiered in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in front of 1200 people last summer and is being sent to every secondary school in the UK. It is part of the union’s campaign to fight back against the rise of the extreme right and racism and fascism in the UK.
Dave Prentis said: “Prince Harry clearly has a gap in his education. I am sending him a copy of this film about a holocaust survivor to fill that gap. He should learn from it the true meaning of wearing a swastika and the catastrophic human suffering which resulted.”

Last post on this topic: Harry the Nazi update 2

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The paradoxes of Zionism

Via JeW*SCHooL, a report from Ha'aretz that young leftist diaspora jews are using Birthright Israel to get to Israel to get active in the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
In the meantime, both Max and Jessica admit that the birthright experience affected them deeply - even if it wasn't what birthright officials may have hoped for. Max, for one, says he saw the soldiers as human beings, not simply as "symbols of militarization and occupation" as he had viewed them before. And Jessica says that she developed a "greater sympathy for Jewish nationalism."

Kosher Eucharist: Diaspora Kinda Life

Diaspora Kinda Life at the blog Kosher Eucharist is well worth checking out. Reporting on this story:
Eight ultra-Orthodox Jews have been injured, some seriously, in a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the London district of Stamford Hill over recent weeks, a senior Jewish official in Britain told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

He also revealed that gravestones in the Jewish section of a municipal cemetery in Aldershot, Hampshire, including those of ex-servicemen, were desecrated over the past few days. This was the second such incident at the cemetery in two months.
The blog suggests that
Britain may have just surpassed France in amount of news produced that does not bode well for Jews. First 60% of British young people have never heard of Auschwitz, then that survey that showed the extent of British hatred for Israel, then their prince and his Nazi costume, and now the beating of Jews in the street.

Thuggish Islamists and the tsunami in Indonesia

Indonesia: According to The Socialist,
Relief work [in Aceh] is being sabotaged by the military's continued hunt for [Acehnese seperatist] Gam rebels and suspected "infiltrators" in the refugee camps...
Gam deplores the provocative entry of new thuggish elements into Aceh. These are the so-called Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who were formed by the generals as a vanguard of thugs and petty criminals against the Indonesian pro-democracy movement in 1998. Also present are elements of the Indonesia Mujahedin Council (MMI), who want to turn Indonesia into a theocratic dictatorship.
According to Bakhtiar [of Gam], 250 'aid workers' from these organisations were flown into Aceh by military Hercules planes. According to Gam these organisations have no roots in Aceh and are hostile to the tolerant attitudes of Acehnese Muslims.
Previous tsunami posts: Allah and the tsunami, How we made the tsunami worse

No disrepect: the Kilroy of the left

The Weekly Worker have archived all of their critiques of the so-called Respect party, George Galloway's merry band of fundamentalists and opportunists.

A reader of Solidarity reviews Galloway's book here:
George Galloway writes much drivel about being a “British Patriot” and capitulates to nationalism while casting Middle East culture in romantic imagery. He says, for instance, “I came to love Iraq the way a man loves a woman.” This it will be remembered is a man who is personally anti-abortion in a party (Respect) that takes no concrete stand in favour of abortion or homosexuality. Then there is the remarkable piece of xenophobia where he blames Kosovo for importing drugs, prostitution, people trafficking, crime and fundamentalist terrorism to England.
Meanwhile, The Scottish Socialist Party has also attacked Galloway's dishonesty, ignorance and misinformation.


Finally, via Harry's Place comes this register of MPs' interests: information on Galloway's hefty salary from the right-wing rag The Mail on Sunday.

Debating Iraq

At ZNet, Gilbert Achcar of the LCR (France) and Alex Callinicos of the SWP (Britain) are debating Iraq. Achcar makes two important points. First, he analyses some of the forces contending the elections. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani's motivations, Achcar writes,
were no more a "pure," "Jeffersonian" (as they like to say in Washington) attachment to democracy than Bush and Bremer's were. His calculation was simple: the Shia constitute the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population, almost two-thirds, and yet they have always been downtrodden by various kinds of despotic rulers. Instituting an electoral mechanism would allow the Shia to legitimately dictate the fate of the country. The electoral process is the best channel through which the Shia can exert their majority rights and sort out the balance of forces among them at one and the same time -- since there is no more or less unified Shia political movement in Iraq comparable to what existed in Iran under Khomeini's leadership. Sistani -- who never adhered to Khomeini's doctrine of velayat-e faqih ("leadership of the jurisprudent," a formula pointing to the pyramid-like rule of the Shia quasi-clergy) -- would still see to it that the laws and regulations of the country conform to Islamic rules (the Shariah, his own most rigorist fatwas, etc.). On this issue, too, Sistani is intransigent.
Second, on the nature of the so-called resistance:
The so-called Iraqi resistance is a heterogeneous conglomerate of forces, many of them purely local. For a major part, these are people revolted by the heavy-handed occupation of their country, fighting against the occupiers and their armed Iraqi auxiliaries. But another segment of the forces engaged in violent actions in Iraq is composed of utterly reactionary fanatics, mainly of the Islamic Fundamentalist kind, who make no distinction between civilians, Iraqis included, and armed personnel, and resort to horrible acts, like the decapitation of Asian migrant workers and the kidnapping and/or assassination of all kinds of persons who are in no way hostile or harmful to the Iraqi national cause. These acts are being used in Washington to counterbalance the effect of the legitimate attacks against the US troops: the task of presenting the "enemy" as evil is thus made very easy.
This means, incidentally, that any unqualified support for the "Iraqi resistance" as a whole in Western countries, where the antiwar movement is badly needed, is utterly counter-productive as much as it is deeply wrong (when paved with good political intentions). There should be a clear-cut distinction between anti-occupation acts that are legitimate and acts by so-called "resistance" groups that are to be denounced. One very obvious case in point are the sectarian attacks by Al-Zarqawi group against Shias. This being said, it has been clear until now that the most fruitful strategy in opposing the occupation is the one led by Sistani, and that attempts at derailing the elections and de-legitimizing them in advance can only play into the hands of the US occupation.

Previous post on this topic: The real axis of evil Not Vichy on the Tigris

Whose side are you on?

Labour Friends of Iraq call upon the Stop the War Coalition to unequivocally condemn the murder of Hadi Saleh.

The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has issued a statement condeming the murder Hadi Saleh's murder.

Workers' Liberty say:
The run-up to Iraq's elections on 30 January has seen an escalation of bombings and shootings by Sunni ultra-Islamist militias, groups whose leaders condemn polling stations as "centres of atheism" and the whole idea of elections as "pagan".
Although these militias draw support from Iraqis embittered by the brutality and cynicism of the US/UK invasion and occupation, many of their attacks are against Iraqi political groups taking part in the elections, such as the Shia-Islamist SCIRI; against Shia as Shia; or against trade unionists and socialists. The militias' campaign is reactionary.
They ask the crucial question: whose side are the Stop the War Coalition on? (See also this article in Worker's Liberty on the 'resistance'.)

Previous posts on this topic: The real axis of evil Not Vichy on the Tigris

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Jerry Springer: The Soap Opera, episode #1

pA report on Jerry Springer being invited to speak at a United Jewish Israel Appeal function. Jerry has been described by a rabbi as “a kind of pornography” and said the UJIA might as well have considered “a lap dancing evening”.

Harry the Nazi update 2

From Totally Jewish, a sample of British Jewish opinion on the Harry the Nazi issue here Sensible suggestions include a Jewish boycott of the Prince's Trust...

Totally Jewish also have a survey on whether we should ban swastikas. Currently the yes vote is running at 60%. Personally, I am completely against such bans, not least because they would outlaw a great deal of anti-fascist material, which uses Nazi images in a negative way. (I believe records by the anti-fascist band Blaggers ITA were banned in Germany for this reason.)


Friday, January 21, 2005

Freedom's flames

Victor Davis Hanson in National Review On-line, via Jogo:
FREEDOM AND IDEALISM
This is the first time that an American president has committed the United States to side with democratic reformers worldwide. The end of the cold war has allowed us such parameters, but the American people also should be aware of the hard and necessary decisions entailed in such idealism that go way beyond the easy rhetoric of calling for change in Cuba, Syria, or Iran: distancing ourselves from the Saudi Royal Family, pressuring the Mubarak dynasty to hold real elections, hoping that Pakistan can liberalize without becoming a theocracy, and navigating with Putin in matters of the former Soviet republics; all the while pressuring nuclear China, swaggering with cash and confidence, to allow its citizens real liberty.

I wholeheartedly endorse the president's historic stance, but also accept that we live in an Orwellian world, where, for example, the liberal-talking Europeans are reactionary-doing realists who trade with anyone who pays and appease anyone who has arms -- confident in their culture's ability to package that abject realpolitik in the highest utopian rhetoric. But nonetheless the president has formally declared that we at least will be on the right side of history and thus we have to let his critics sort out their own moral calculus.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Refuseniks

Two men who have, in very different ways, borne witness to the totalitarianism that marked the twentieth century's dark noon are Natan Sharansky and Leonid Tsypkin. Tsypkin was the subject of a beautiful article by the late Susan Sontag, published this month in The Guardian. Sharansky has been recommended by Condoleezza Rice:
"The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the 'town square test': if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a 'fear society' has finally won their freedom."
File under:

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Spinoza in arabic

A nice piece on creating civility and democracy in Syria: Building a Civil Society.

Does Pakistan still love a man in a uniform?

Pakistan - one of the real rogue states

Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival

Readings and re-readings: a very nice, measured critique (short of a fisking) of Chomsky

Optimism

From Dutchblog Israel in December:
"What keeps me optimistic regarding the question whether or not Israel will still be occupying Gaza in another year or so is the pure hatred and frustration displayed by settlers and their supporters towards Ariel Sharon, feelings that might point at a honest determination on the latter's side to finally get us out of there. When official representatives of the settler movement publicly sing the praises of both passive and active unlawfulness, we should not be surprised when settlers, who for years were made to believe that they themselves are the law, start harrassing soldiers, or worse. Once again it is being proven that Palestinian terrorists and our own, homebred fanatics have at least one goal in common: finishing off Israel as it was meant to be by kost of its founding fathers: a Jewish, democratic state. No matter how annoying and dirty the coalition building games are, if one of the results is going to be an end of the occupation of Gaza ( and, G'd willing, of other occupied territories ) it will all have been worth it."

Libertarians East of the Mediterranean Sea

Alternative views on the Middle East:
Libertarians East of the Mediterranean Sea

Worldwide Intifada - Palestinian Autonomy? Or the Autonomy of Our Class?

Aufheben: Behind the twenty-first century Intifada


Swooning with rapture

The Situationists, way back in 1967, accurately diagnosed some of the failings of the left, in this article on the Six Day War:
The absence of a revolutionary movement in Europe has reduced the Left to its simplest expression: a mass of spectators who swoon with rapture each time the exploited in the colonies take up arms against their masters, and who cannot help seeing these uprisings as the epitome of Revolution... wherever there is a conflict it always sees Good fighting Evil, "total revolution" versus "total reaction."

The attachment of this spectator consciousness to alien causes remains irrational, and its virtuous protests flounder in the tortuous paths of its guilt.
Previous posts on Palestine: A World Without Israel, One state or two

The real axis of evil

The real axis of evil

No doubt the liberal left will be outraged at the identification of a new rollcall of rogue states by Bush's new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice:
"To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent, ... in Cuba, and Burma (Myanmar), and North Korea, and Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe," .
But let's take a look at this list.

First, I want to leave aside Cuba, as it is a complex question. Cubans ar undoubtedly oppressed, but it is also true that the US blockade makes things considerably worse there. (Anyone interested in Cuba should check out Sam Dolgoff's historical account of the Castro regime.)

Second, though, we come to Burma. Rice is absolutely correct in identifying Burma's rulers as one of the world's evil regimes. This is Human Rights Watch talking to an EU committee in August:
"The human rights situation in Burma remains appalling. Burma is the textbook example of a police state. Government informants and spies are omnipresent. Average Burmese people are afraid to speak to foreigners except in most superficial of manners for fear of being hauled in later for questioning or worse. There is no freedom of speech, assembly or association. State TV and radio are merely a crude propaganda tool of the regime, merely recounting what the top Generals did on any given day. To read the the English language “New Light of Myanmar” is to understand what George Orwelll feared when he wrote “1984.”... Torture continues to be routine in Burma. Disgustingly, rape has been documented as a political weapon in Shan state, with thousands of reported cases."
The mention of Orwell is apposite, as Burma is a totalitarian country in the strict sense of the term, as used by Hannah Arendt, who defined totalitarianism as rule by terror, which aims to expunge freedom as such by systematically destroying the boundaries between public and private, destroying the space for individuality and action. So, we must support Rice in her determination to stand by the oppressed people of Burma.

Third, North Korea. In North Korea,
"Radios and televisions come with government-approved frequencies locked in. Possession of a radio capable of picking up South Korean, Japanese or other foreign stations is a capital offense as is ownership of a cellular telephone."
Some Stalinists actually think North Korea is a beacon of freedom and hope in the world. Leading US anti-war group, ANSWER, is closely connected to the regime. ANSWER was set up by the International Action Committee (an outfit dominated by Ramsay Clarke, one of Saddam Hussein's defence lawyers). Deirdre Griswold, an IAC executive, declared that North Korea was a socialist success story because there was no poverty, famine, or homelessness in North Korea. The IAC in turn is a front of the Workers World Party, which supports the North Korean regime. Brian Becker is a Director of ANSWER and the IAC and a member of the Secretariat of the WWP of the United States. He denounced the U.S. during a press interview held in Pyongyang in 2002. The UK's Stop the War Coaltion (StWC) works closely with ANSWER. John Rees, of StWC, sits with Elias Rashmawi of ANSWER on the international committee of the Cairo Conference, sharing the vice-presidency of the International Campaign Against US Aggression which emerged at this conference. The London demonstration on March 19 this year is designed to co-ordinate with ANSWER's day of action in the US.

Fourth, Iran. About the best thing you can say about the Iranian regime is that they pardoned a woman sentenced to death for defending herself against a rapist after she agreed to pay $62,500 compensation to the man's family. However, they will still hang a mentally disabled woman for prostitution. The victim started working as a prostitute when she was 14, and has two children now being cared for at a state orphanage. Amnesty had said the woman's mother forced her into prostitution when she was eight. It said the girl was raped repeatedly and gave birth to a baby when she was nine.

Belarus has been less in the press than the rest of this real axis of evil. It seems benign compared to Iran, Burma and North Korea. But it is under an oppessive regime. According to Human Rights Watch:
"The government of Belarus failed to ensure free and fair election in 2004, in large part by attacking the independent media and undermining freedom of association. The situation worsened in the months leading up to October 2004 parliamentary elections and a simultaneous referendum to remove presidential term limits. Several independent newspapers were closed, and journalists jailed on libel charges. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent trade unions were given warnings or closed. Many opposition politicians were prevented from registering as election candidates. Some were arrested on trumped-up charges."

Finally, Zimbabwe. According to the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust in December:
"During the 2002 election the government enacted laws sharply curbing freedoms of the press and public assembly, citing national security. Now, with new national elections looming in March, new laws and other measures promise to silence the remaining independent press and activist groups that have been vehicles for dissent. In November alone, Zimbabwe's Parliament enacted legislation mandating a two-year prison term for practicing journalism without a license. A second law made it illegal to conduct voter education without government approval, requiring most election workers to register and clear electioneering materials with the state. A third law, passed in early December, effectively places nongovernmental groups, churches and charities under state control, empowering the government to investigate their finances, to restrict their activities and, in many cases, to disband them at will. A fourth proposal would impose prison sentences of up to 20 years for 'materially false' statements or writings that impugn the state. Earlier this year, the government installed equipment on Zimbabwe's Internet service providers to monitor and censor e-mail messages. In July, it tried to bar the one cellphone company outside state control from routing calls outside the country, saying unsupervised foreign telephone calls were a national security threat."
(Some interesting articles on Zimbabwe: Land Invasions and lessons for the working class, Reading by Paraffin: Cracks in the Zimbabwean Mirror, Africa, neo-liberalism and anarchism)


I'd suggest that these are viable candidates for inclusion in the real axis of evil. Other countries should probably join them. Indonesia, for example, would have pride of place, a being rammed home now as the tsunami crisis dramatises its repressive practices. More on this in a future post!

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Take Back the News - participatory journalism?

Take Back The News A News Sharing Community has recently been launched, promising, in the words of the Blogs of War, an adventure in "participatory journalism". Participatory journalism is an interesting concept. To what extent does it mean the loss of the quality control associate with the journalistic profession? Or do we no longer trust the journalists enough? At any rate, we have already seen participtory journalism at work, in Indymedia and AlterNet, two of the most unreliable news sources out there.

(AlterNet: not to be confused with AlertNet, one of the most reliable sources out there. It must annoy AlertNet how many people get them mixed up, due to a slip of the fingers. As with this example, sending people to completely the wrong place:
Marie Stopes International - WW - Useful links: "AlertNet - http://www.alternet.org/
AlertNet provides global news, communications and logistics services to the international disaster relief community and the public. AlertNet is funded and run by Reuters Foundation -- an educational and humanitarian trust created by Reuters, the global news and information group."

Friday, January 14, 2005

Allah and the tsunami

MemriTV records some charitable responses to the tsumani from Arabic-language TV stations:

Retired Saudi General Dr. Anwar Ashqi saus US knew about tsunami; committed "Passive Murder," and isn't generous

a Friday Sermon by Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi on Qatar TV describes the disaster a punishment for sex tourism

Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Munajjid says much the same thing, adding that it was also punishment for drunkenness at Christmas

Ibrahim Al-Bashar, advisor to Saudi Justice Minister, says the punishment was for lying, sinnning and being infidels, as well as witchcraft, sorcery, deceitfulness, and abomination

And so on.

These may not top the Westboro Baptist Church's thanks to God for the 3000 dead Americans and 5000 dead Swedes. (See their Tsunami faq here.) But they are probably typical of public opinion in their respective nations than the Westboro Baptists are in theirs. Indeed, the imams of hate are on state TV saying this stuff, while the Westboro Baptists are way out in the margins of the public sphere in the US.

A World Without Israel

In this article, Foreign Policy: A World Without Israel, Josef Joffe argues that a world without Israel would - contra much left/liberal thinking - mean a more peaceful Middle East. He describes some of the versions of anti-Israeli thought current today, such as
the “root-cause” theory in its many variations: 'Because the “obstinate” and “recalcitrant” Israelis are the main culprits, they must be punished and pushed back for the sake of peace. “Put pressure on Israel”; “cut economic and military aid”; “serve them notice that we will not condone their brutalities”—these have been the boilerplate homilies, indeed the obsessions, of the chattering classes and the foreign-office establishment for decades. Yet, as Sigmund Freud reminded us, obsessions tend to spread. And so there are ever more creative addenda to the well-wrought root-cause theory. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians is a “tremendous obstacle to democratization because it inflames all the worst, most regressive aspects of Arab nationalism and Arab culture.” In other words, the conflict drives the pathology, and not the other way around.'
While Joffe is right to oppose the Israel-is-the-root-cause-of-terrorism thesis, he is off the mark in his attack on Lieven. Lieven's interview is well worth reading. In this particular passage, he is not saying that Israel causes reactionary Arab nationalism, but that the way Sharon's Israel was playing the situation (and the interview dates from last June) exacerbates the reactionary elements withing the Arab nationalist cause - just as, arguably, acts of Palestinian terror galvanize the most reactionary elements within Israeli society.

Anyway, having dispense with the root-cause view, Joffe takes a look at what the world they want would actually look at, and finds that the Middle East would still be full of violence, along a number of lines: States vs. States, Believers vs. Believers, Ideologies vs. Ideologies, Reactionary Utopia vs. Modernity, and Regimes vs. Peoples. It is this last one that is the most important to me:
'The existence of Israel cannot explain the breadth and depth of the Mukhabarat states (secret police states) throughout the Middle East. With the exceptions of Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf sheikdoms, which gingerly practice an enlightened monarchism, all Arab countries (plus Iran and Pakistan) are but variations of despotism—from the dynastic dictatorship of Syria to the authoritarianism of Egypt. Intranational strife in Algeria has killed nearly 100,000, with no letup in sight. Saddam’s victims are said to number 300,000. After the Khomeinists took power in 1979, Iran was embroiled not only in the Iran-Iraq War but also in barely contained civil unrest into the 1980s. Pakistan is an explosion waiting to happen. Ruthless suppression is the price of stability in this region.
Again, it would take a florid imagination to surmise that factoring Israel out of the Middle East equation would produce liberal democracy in the region. It might be plausible to argue that the dialectic of enmity somehow favors dictatorship in “frontline states” such as Egypt and Syria—governments that invoke the proximity of the “Zionist threat” as a pretext to suppress dissent. But how then to explain the mayhem in faraway Algeria, the bizarre cult-of-personality regime in Libya, the pious kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia, the clerical despotism of Iran, or democracy’s enduring failure to take root in Pakistan? Did Israel somehow cause the various putsches that produced the republic of fear in Iraq? If Jordan, the state sharing the longest border with Israel, can experiment with constitutional monarchy, why not Syria?'

Harry the Nazi update

Re Harry the Nazi: Apparently, Harry's brother William was in on the act, helping him choose the Nazi outift to wear to the fancy dress party. And he's been ordered to join bro in making a disciplinary repentant pilgrimage to Auschwitz. Catholic Friends of Israel comment: The twenty year-old prince should certainly know better than to wear a Nazi arm band, but the heated reaction by British elites [...] is a bit odd, given their tendency to demonize the Jewish state. Perhaps Harry has been watching the BBC apologize for Arafat and Hamas so much he actually lost track of whether those who murder Jews are the good guys or bad guys.

How we made the tsunami worse

The Guardian invited a mini-panel of experts to comment on how the Tsunami changes things. The second contributor is Vandana Shiva. In a serious and sobering short peice, she describes the damage we have done to the coast of the Indian ocean, through various forms of monoculture:
"Respect for the fragility and vulnerability of coastal ecosystems has been sacrificed for hotels and holiday resorts, shrimp farms and refineries. Mangroves and coral reefs have been relentlessly destroyed, taking away the protective barriers."
Her second point is that the Tsunami gives us a glimpse of the world global warming will give us:
"This is what sea-level rise will look like, this is how entire societies will be robbed of their ecological space to live in peace on the planet."
This should, she says, be a wake-up call to the followers of the Bjorn Lomborg, guru of the global warning deniers.

(The Lomborg controversy is a whole interesting issue in itself. To dip into it, Disinfopedia, at the Center for Media and Democracy, have a good section on Lomborg. More on this topic in a future post!)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Not Vichy on the Tigris

Joe Lockard, in an excellent article, “Iraq, the Anti-War Movement, and Anti-Romanticism” (in the superb on-line periodical, Bad Subjects) takes aim at Susan Watkins’ essay, Vichy on the Tigris, in New Left Review:
The language that Watkins and many others like her employ… emerges from a mixture of political manicheanism and oppositional romanticism. Another ‘evil empire’ and its minions must be brought to their knees by any means necessary: Iraq is an opportunity to bring the fight to the Yankee devils… There will be a winning side in Iraq, the one fueled and driven by a hatred of American conquerors in Humvees. The US invasion has all but guaranteed this result, whether in a few years or many years on. Romanticizing that bloody process is nauseating.”

The struggle for land

"At a mass rally of 10,000 people on Monday January 10, Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez announced a new decree aimed at speeding up land reform. He was speaking in front of a massive banner with the slogan of 19th century peasant war leader Ezequiel Zamora “Free land and men – War against the latifundia”. This comes after the Christmas period, during which a number of regional governors, elected in the October 31st elections, passed regional decrees along the same lines."

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US corporate power destroys Colombia

"Early in the afternoon last Oct. 10, as Ramírez Cuéllar walked from his home to have lunch with two nieces, two men on a motorcycle approached him.

The man on the rear was holding a gun and looked straight into the union leader's eyes. Ramírez Cuéllar was able to take cover behind a pole. Luckily, the traffic light changed, drivers honked impatiently, and the motorcyclists were forced to continue on their way. That was the seventh time there has been an attempt on his life."
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The Uses of Diversity

The Uses of Diversity by Clifford Geertz: Unfortunately, whoever formatted this for uploading managed to make it less readable by inserting various weird symbols. Nonetheless, it makes for important reading for anyone trying to think seriously about ethnocentrism, moral relativism and multiculturalism.

Angry Writing on the American Ghetto

His homepage also has links to other papers.


One state or two

The best defence of the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine situation:

Two Nations Two States | Workers' Liberty


For the alternative, the one state solution, see here:

One State.org

Michigan Boys

Michael Moore John Sinclair and Me

The rabid anti-communist Gerald L Atkinson, who runs the bizarre and fascinating site, The New Totalitarians, happens to come from the same small Michigan town as beat poet/White Panther/MC5 manager John Sinclair, as well as the left-wing clown Michael Moore.

No alliance with fundamentalism!

No alliance with fundamentalism! | Workers' Liberty

A Trot sect talking sense

Harry the Nazi