Friday, July 28, 2006

I am here to glorify the resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify the leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

Contents of duplicated post deleted. Please go here. Was having a bad tech day.

I am here to glorify the resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify the leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

The title of this post is taken from a speech George Galloway made at a demonstration at the weekend against the war in Lebanon - or, rather, against the Israeli side in that war. Until today, I have had almost no web access for a week, so didn't know about this.

We are living in a time when the Guardian allows Hezbollah scum op-ed space. The groups who dominate the Stop the War coalition are Islamofascist fellow travellers. Look at the grotsquely anti-semitic and pro-terrorist placards from the demonstrations here and here.

The worst offenders:

1. George Galloway, newly bearded vaguely socialist "MP"Galloway calls Hezbollah, along with Iran theocracy, the "resistance". This discourse, of terrorism as resistance, is what links the moonbat white left with political Islam.

Listen to his speech at "anti-war" site deutsche. Listen to the crowds go wild, particularly when he says he wishes more of the leaders of the Arab world were like Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Gene: "This wasn't an antiwar rally; it was a pro-fascist rally."
Adele says one "cannot find a single word that could describe the grotesque beast of nature that is George Galloway". I can think of lots of words, mostly with four letters.

2. The Socialist Workers Party, "Marxist" fringe cult

The SWP also glorify Hezbollah using the discourse of "resistance". Harry: "'Socialist Worker' also gives the game away when it approvingly refers this week to Hezbollah as being part of an "arc of resistance stretching through Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine." Think about what that means for a minute." Gene analyzes this use of the word "resistance" here.

In a "fact" sheet about the conflict, the SWP say:
The US and Israel claim that Hizbollah is a “terrorist” group. In fact Hizbollah is a Shia Muslim resistance movement that grew out of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s.
The resistance spearheaded by Hizbollah forced the Israelis out of the country in 2000.
Today it has 23 MPs and provides a rudimentary welfare network running schools and health centres.
Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is admired across the Middle East because of his stand against Israel.
And they actually publish Galloway's glorification of terrorism. How far will they go in their appeasement of political Islam, as Pete Radcliffe asks?

See also Daniel here. Lots of video of the demo, by the way, has been posted on YouTube by SWP hack Leninology.

3. The Muslim Association of Britain

Here is Voltaire's Priest at Shiraz Socialist on MAB leader Azzam Tamimi:
Azzam Tamimi, speaking at a meeting of the UK's largest "peace" movement, the Stop the War Coalition:

"Israel cannot exist in peace with anyone. Israel, the Zionist entity, is made of evil."

For some more utterances from this Great Man Of Peace, watch and listen here. Note the loud cheering from assembled "peaceniks". Who presumably have forgotten what the word "peace" actually means.

You know, I dig my heels in and argue with people like the Eustonites (and Jim!) who think that the UK anti-war movement is a sick joke. After listening to and seeing that godawful spectacle, I wonder why I bother.
See also Gene.

4. Yvonne Stockholm Syndrome Ridley, blonde, hijab-clad "journalist" who converted to Islam after being held hostage by the Taleban

Yvonne Ridley is another Respect leader who exemplifies the disease eating at liberal Britain. Here is her homage to Basayev, one of the most viscious terrorist thugs of our time, a Chechen Wahhabi death cultist. Again, the discourse of "resistance: "Basaev led an admirable struggle to bring independence to Chechnya and resorted to targetting Russian civilians in the latter years of his struggle to try and bring the plight of the Chechen struggle to the wider world." (Via Wardy.) And here she is attacking pop music. How can a party that claims to be socialist have someone like this as a candidate and spokesperson?


While I'm on a kind of Lebanon tip, here are two good posts from Simply Jews: The mask is coming off and An open letter to the Lebanese bloggers. Here's statement by the Workers Advice Centre in Israel.

And, finally, just to repeat the point I made yesterday that, however wrong Israel's way of waging this war, Hizbollah are not an "anonymous guerrilla movement" as Voltaire's Priest thinks. They are the region's third most effective military force, a heavily organised army. On this issue, also read "Context overlooked" at Never Trust a Hippy.


I am here to glorify the resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify the leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

Contents of duplicated post deleted. Please go here. Was having a bad tech day.

Ministry of Truth on the BNP

Read this long article at Ministry of Truth about the BNP.

I disagree with the first half, agree with the second.

Hat tip: B4L.

Books burning, rockets falling

Here are some extra links around the issues I've been posting on recently.

(Note: many of these links come from the excellent Butterflies and Wheels. Links added since I first posted marked with a red star*.)

On faith schools and identitarianism (original post:
Neo-liberalism's assault on civic culture)

The great Amartya Sen has brought out a book called Illusions of Identity that looks very good, making the same sort of points about identitarianism that I have on this blog (although obviously he does it a lot more intelligently and authoratively!). Kenan Malik talks to him in Prospect.

Among other things, Sen attacks faith schools, which a nice article by Stuart Jeffries picks up on. Butterflies and Wheels has been posting on Sen: 1 and 2.

On Monica Ali's Brick Lane (original post: Germaine Greer versus Monica Ali)

When I wrote that post, I didn't know anything about the idiots protesting against the filming of the book. I thought I might have a little sympathy for them. Reading this Guardian article, with a promise of burning her book (Satanic Verses style) this weekend, I have no sympathy for them at all. Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi and others weigh in sensibly here, pointing out that it is a tiny minority of Brick Lane Bangladeshis who are protesting. They refer to this very good report from Asians in Media.

Rohin at Pickled Politics has a good post on the issue, and Butterflies and Wheels has been posting on it. A juicy example:
Authoritarianism and do-what-I-tell-youism raises its nasty scaly pustulant head again, brandishing its usual coercive banner of The Community to put a sanctimonious gloss on the revolting thing. And - gee, what a coincidence - yet again the author being told what to do is a woman. Fancy that. What do you know. 'Behzti' 'offended' a 'whole community' and got slapped around and shut down and now it's time to do the same to 'Brick Lane'. It's doubly if not triply or quadruply offensive when a woman 'offends' 'The Community.' Why isn't she locked up somewhere instead of running around in the world writing books or plays and getting them published and offending The Community? It's an outrage. Up go the blockades.
Also very good is Scribbles' post at DST4W, comparing the "willy wavers" of Spitalfields with the macho jerks who feature in Guy Ritchie films.*

On communautarisme and political Islam (original post: Representing Muslims)

Martin Bright, of the New Statesman, made a very good documentary screened a week or two ago, on exactly the same lines as the Radio 4 slot I commented on. It went further than the R4 slot, as it showed the culpability of the Blair government, and one young advisor in particular, in empowering the Muslim Council of Britain. Here Bright responds to his critics.

Here's a report on the founding of the Sufi Muslim Council, an event to be welcomed.

I haven't given as much weight to one of the other faces of communautarisme: Hindutva, Hindi fascism. Here's an excellent report on the RSS, one of the main Hindutva groups, at Pickled Politics.

On Hizbollah (original post: What about proportionality?)

First, thanks to Jason for picking up my post and saying nice things about it!

Of the vast amount of comment on the issue, Fred Halliday in OpenDemocracy is worth reading. If you like this, get more Halliday here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Germaine Greer versus Monica Ali

An article in the Guardian earlier this week by Germaine Greer makes my blood boil with almost every sentence. That’s Germaine Greer’s job, I suppose – being contrary and “controversial”. But usually, however wrong she is, she’s smart, whereas in this article she’s silly and sloppy. Anyway…

Monica Ali’s acclaimed novel Brick Lane, set not on Brick Lane but in the council estates of East London, is to be made into a film. Some people in the area, of Sylheti Bangladeshi origin (the ethnic background of a large percentage of the people around Brick Lane), have long had it in for Monica Ali, who is not Sylheti but the daughter of a white woman and a middle class Bengali man, and Oxford-educated to boot. Ali doesn’t live anywhere near Brick Lane, but South of the river, in well-heeled Dulwich.

Brick Lane gently pokes fun at the patriarchal culture brought from Bangladesh, gently pokes fun at the political Islam of the London-born youth, and finally endorses a rather utopian liberal feminist vision of Asian women determining their own lives rather than being defined by their menfolk.

The book is quite good, although not worth the hype it got – hype which got some of its colour, shall we say, from Ali’s (and her characters’) exotic ethnicity and from the trendy buzz that’s surrounded Brick Lane for quite a few years now.

I don’t know enough about the animosity to Monica Ali in the East End to comment on it, so I‘ll turn to Greer’s endorsement of their objection.

“Ali did not concern herself with the possibility that her plot might seem outlandish to the people who created the particular culture of Brick Lane.” Well, I imagine she did concern herself with that. But who are these people anyway? Not one homogeneous group of identikit Sylhetis, as Greer imagined, but a range of competing interests: the savvy Sylheti restaurateurs who got together to market Brick Lane to white consumers as “Banglatown”; the moderate Muslims who pray at the former synagogue on Brick Lane; the hardcore Islamists who go to the East London Mosque across Whitechapel High Street; the shopkeepers who sell Hindi-language videos from India featuring very un-Islamic dance scenes; the British-born children of Sylheti immigrants who go clubbing, take drugs, couldn’t give a shit about Bangladesh; the white people who run the fashion boutiques and coffee bars that line upper Brick Lane; the Orthodox Jews who own lots of the freeholds on the street even though they themselves have moved up to Hackney; the taxi drivers that buy bagels on Brick Lane at three in the morning before going home to Mile End or Redbridge; and plenty of others too. I have friends and acquaintances in a few of these categories (mostly in the drug-taking clubbing one) who enjoyed the book and didn’t find it that outlandish.

“As British people know little and care less about the Bangladeshi people in their midst, their first appearance as characters in an English novel had the force of a defining caricature.” So, the category “British people” can’t include anyone of Bangladeshi origin? And white British people don’t flock to Brick Lane in their masses to consume some version of subcontinental culture in the restaurants there, and in the clubs that play “Asian underground” dance music? And if they couldn’t care less about Bangladeshis, how comes so many of them bought Brick Lane in the first place? And, for that matter, all the other English novels that have actually featured Bangladeshi and British Bangladeshi characters, ranging from the more obscure (The Mapmaker of Spitalfields) through to the fairly hyped Foxy-T by Tony White* to the classic (Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, one of the truly great masterpieces of the English novel, which prophetically described Bangladeshi kids and white kids and black kids listening to dub reggae in the old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane).

“Brick Lane is a real place; there was no need for Monica Ali to invent it.” That’s kind of like saying New Jersey is a real place; there was no need for Philip Roth to invent it. Or Prague is a real place; there was no need for Kafka to invent it. Novels are meant to be fictions Germaine!

“Bengali Muslims smart under an Islamic prejudice that they are irreligious and disorderly, the impure among the pure, and here was a proto-Bengali [sic] writer with a Muslim name, portraying them as all that and more.” Here, Greer designates Ali’s sin as not portraying Sylhetis as sufficiently fundamentalist – whereas if she’d portrayed them as bomb-making Al-Qaeda operatives, that’d presumably be OK. In fact, one of the distinguishing features of East London’s Bangladeshi community was always that it was fairly secular and cosmopolitan; it is a younger generation, as Ali correctly identifies, who have been seduced into an austere, sectarian Muslim Brotherhood form of Islam that comes from the Middle East and has little to do with the relaxed forms of Islam their parents and grandparents brought from South Asia.**

“The community have the moral right to keep the film-makers out [of Brick Lane].” Here, Greer sums up a deeply pernicious form of identitarian logic that I’ve attacked before on this blog. Identitarian logic states that: “cultures” are absolute and absolutely different from each other (you can’t be British and Bengali); cultures and territories are the property of ethnic “communities”; some people have the authority to define and police and represent (in politics or in fiction) cultures and others don’t. In literature, the outcome of this logic literature is that you can only write about people absolutely like yourself. More importantly, the outcome of this logic in politics is that people of cultures or communities designated as other than British have to kept out of the universal public sphere and managed instead by authoritarian, reactionary bosses and elders (always male, often clerics) who are identified as having the authority to represent “their” community.

And I’m not even going to bother dealing with Greer’s claim that Londoners watch Coronation Street and not EastEnders.

*My Foxy-T example might undermine my argument – it was published in 2003, the same year as Brick Lane. Not sure which came out first.
**I’ve paraphrased in that sentence from Chetan Bhatt talking on Martin Bright’s 30 Minutes documentary the other week about the Muslim Council of Britain.

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Israel/Lebanon – What about proportionality?

I suppose I’m going to have to blog about the horrific state of affairs in the Middle East, if only to respond to Adele’s question “what about proportionality?” I guess I’ve got two things to say.

The first is that the way Israel is prosecuting its war in Lebanon and in Gaza is absolutely morally wrong, as well as strategically short-sighted and bad for Israel. It is morally wrong because there must always be a presumption against fighting a war that leads to massive civilian casualties, that kills more innocent families in their homes than it does enemy combatants. This is not to say that a state at war should never kills innocent civilians, but it must minimise these deaths and it must only use methods that lead to this scale of civilian casualties when it is faced by a serious existential threat, such as Israel is not in fact now experiencing.

The strategy only makes sense morally according to a racist moral calculus whereby some lives are worth more than others – whereby Jewish lives are worth more than Arab lives. This moral calculus is obscene.

And it is strategically short-sighted and ultimately bad for Israel because it further alienates Israel – on the Arab street and on the world stage – at a time when Israel could have had the moral high ground, after the kidnappings and rocket strikes by Hamas and Hizbullah. Israel’s status as a rogue state, as a neighbourhood bully, has rarely been so clear. It is the duty of Israel’s friends to demand a stop to this strategy immediately - and not in a couple of weeks.

The second thing I have to say about all this is that, however wrongly Israel is prosecuting this war, it remains the victim here. In the sort of left liberal circles in which I move, there is either ignorance or wilful amnesia about the literally thousands of rockets that Hizbullah and Hamas have been pumping into Israel, about the fact that Hizbullah is not some ragtag bunch of guerrillas but probably the third most effective armed force in the whole Middle East, that Hizbullah is armed to the teeth by Syria and Iran, that Syria and Iran are not peaceful little democracies but highly bellicose and brutal dictatorships. Thus, even if there is no clear and present existential threat to Israel, as long as Hizbullah and Hamas exist (and as long Ba’athism and Shi’ite theocracy exist), the spectre of such a threat continues to haunt the region, and there is no possibility of peace and co-existence.

Israel’s status as a rogue state is so taken for granted in left liberal opinion that the theocratic, inhumane, militaristic – in fact fascist – nature of Hizbullah and Hamas are completely denied. On the far shores of left liberal opinion, in fact, Hizbullah and Hamas are seen as plucky freedom fighters, as the legitimate voice of Arab self-determination, as essentially benign and progressive. It is the duty of truly progressive people to struggle against these malignant myths.

More: read this long post by Shuggy at Drink-Soaked

Keywords: Hezbollah, Hizbollah, Hezbullah, Palestine, Palestinian
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Against multiculturalist dogma

Two snippets of wisdom from two academics. Here’s Fiona Williams:
…the complex forms of racialized inequalities, cultural injustices and misunderstandings which permeated the case of Victoria Climbié… This revealed the awful consequences of allowing poor service delivery in the name of cultural sensitivity, and of investing minority ethnic workers with difficult responsibilities (and subsequent blame) on account of their ethnicity rather than their authority, experience and skills.
Here’s Chetan Bhatt:

The self-marginalising discourses of diaspora academics who have witnessed or experienced the racism of institutional academia can share much with the political spaces of official multicultural Britain that provide a niche from which to expound an ‘anti-Western’ victimology based on racial or religious ‘essentialism’ while claiming to do otherwise, claiming even to decentre the West through projects of home-grown multiculturalism.

Sources: Fiona Williams “What matters is who works: why every child matters to New Labour. Commentary on the DfES Green Paper Every Child Matters” 2004 Critical Social Policy Vol. 24(3): 406–427; Chetan Bhatt “Geopolitcs and Alterity Research” in Bulmer and Solomos, eds, Researching Race and Racism, Routledge 2004

Apologies for Absence

It feels a little arrogant to apologise, as if any of you have actually missed me, but sorry for not blogging for so long. I haven’t, as you might imagine, been on holiday in this gorgeously un-British heat, but so busy at work that I haven’t even had time to read most of my e-mails. Above you will find a couple of things I’ve written recently to make up for it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Israel's total war for survival

the pecking order: big ideas for ambitious minds » Should Israel Commit to Total War?
A powerful case for total war for Israel to defend itself against existential threat, but Louis Rene Beres. I look forward to Jason's rejoinder.

A New "New Left"?

FrontPage :: A New "New Left"? by Jamie Glazov
Jamie Glazov interviews Norman Geras and Nick Cohn about the Euston Manifesto; David Horowitz wades in.

I'm going to get round to posting about this some day, but in the meantime my view is neatly expressed by the Muscular Liberal.

Update: I just read it again, more slowly. Glazov miss Nick and Norm's points again and again - Glazov (not bright, thinks he's smart) just doesn't get it; Horowitz (clever, but malicious) gets it, but pretends he doesn't. More to come on this!

While I'm here, a welcome to Euston Manifesto Canada

What Jewish conspiracy?

Comment is free: What Jewish conspiracy?
David Hirsh disects the left-wing anti-semites who post to the Grauniad. [via BagRec]

Remembering the dissappeared

Ecomemoria and Southwark Council will be planting trees in Bermondsey on Saturday in memory of some of the victims of Pinochet's horrific regime. Simon Hughes and Jeremy Corbyn will speak. See here for information.

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Why Superman is a reactionary fuck

The Daily (Maybe): Why Superman is a reactionary fuck

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Habermas On Web 2.0//Chomsky in Iran//Hardt & Negri on Cuba

The Great Seduction: JURGEN HABERMAS ON WEB 2.0
via ~C4Chaos: Jurgen Habermas On Web 2.0
"Use of the Internet has both broadened and fragmented the contexts of communication. This is why the Internet can have a subversive effect on intellectual life in authoritarian regimes. But at the same time, the less formal, horizontal cross-linking of communication channels weakens the achievements of traditional media. This focuses the attention of an anonymous and dispersed public on select topics and information, allowing citizens to concentrate on the same critically filtered issues and journalistic pieces at any given time. The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralised access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus."
Not sure what I think of this. Is it refuted by the fact that intellectuals like Big Norm and Noam Chomsky are popular bloggers? My main problem is Habermas' usual obsession with "intellectuals" - which he shares/d with other leading successors of the liberal Enlightenment like Edward Said and Chomsky. What's so good about "intellectuals"? Or, in other words, why aren't the plebs' voices just as valid?

While I'm on the subject of intellectuals, big thumbs up for Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji. Except he's decided to hang out with Noam Chomsky, as well as the above-mentioned Habermas.
While Mr.Ganji was on hunger strike last summer, Mr. Chomsky signed a petition urging his release. Mr. Chomsky then traveled to Lebanon this spring to meet with leaders of the Syrian-funded terrorist group Hezbollah, which Iran created in the early 1980s. The areas of southern Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah resemble the Shariah state Mr. Ganji is now dedicated to overturning in his native Iran.

Yesterday, one New York-based Iranian-American activist, Banafsheh Zand Bonazzi, said she was disappointed that Mr. Ganji was meeting with Mr. Chomsky. "Because he has been sitting in Iran and has not had to live with Noam Chomsky, he does not know what people like Chomsky do," she said. "He is looking at Chomsky as a hero worshipper, and that Chomsky no longer exists."

One reason for the visit is Mr. Ganji's interest in Western philosophy. His manifesto is laced with references to Karl Popper, the thinker who coined the concept of the open society. In Berlin last month, he met with a German liberal theorist, Jurgen Habermas.

While I'm on the subject of Chomsky, ModernityBlog has been fisking away at him recently. Work backwards from here. Regular readers will now I hate him (Chomsky that is, not Mr Modernity). But not as much as Candace de Russy hates him. It was her blog at Phi Beta Cons (hat tip Jogo) whereby I reached the Ganji article.

As David Horowitz writes in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Chomsky is known for his “ferocious anti-Americanism and cavalier relationship with the factual record.” His basic message has long been that "whatever evil exists in the world, the United States is to blame." According to Chomsky, all presidents since World War II have “’been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes.’”

Ganji’s manifesto in behalf of freedom in Iran cites Karl Popper, the champion of the open society. Someone should remind Ganji before his encounter with Chomsky that the professor has been involved with neo-Nazis and holocaust revisionism and that he supported Pol Pot. Ganji should repudiate Chomsky, who perhaps above all American academic militants has advanced the closed society.
That's a bit of a confused assessment in my view. Chomsky did not support Pol Pot, even though he relativised away his genocidal crimes. And his "involvement" with holocaust deniers was in fact in the libertarian/liberal spirit of Popper's open society: defending their right to free speech. Analogous, I think, with the Horowitzians' defence of, say, the Danish cartoonists' free speech. Being very illiberal myself, I don't actually give a shit about free speech. (See here, here and here for that argument.) But you can't have your open society cake and eat it too.

Candace's attack on Hardt and Negri is also somewhat ill-informed.
as Adam Kirsch writes, some Western intellectuals are so morally obtuse as to continue to this day to cultishly admire such “liberators” as Fidel Castro. How incomprehensible, he remarks, that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt could wax enthusiastic in their widely acclaimed book, Empire, about “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.”
While I hate Castro even more than I hate Chomsky (Castro actually kills people; Chomsky doesn't), Hardt and Negri hate him too. The "communism" they talk about (small c - a world without exploitation) is precisely the opposite of the "Communism" (big C) Castro's Cuba exemplifies. Which is why Stalinists and crypto-Stalinists - Louis Proyect, Monthly Review - hate Hardt and Negri. (More nuanced Marxist views here and here.)

Sorry to come over all left-wing.

All too western

I am against the 'war of civilizations' approach to the war with Islamism for many reasons. For a start, it seems to me that the most murderous wars of recent times have not been at the fault-lines between 'civilizations', as Huntington argues, but between groups where the cultural differences are smallest: Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, Muslims, Croats, Serbs, etc in the former Yugoslavia, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, Muslims and Hindus in India, arguably Arabs and Jews in Israel. The way that minor differences (cf Freud) are elevated to a cause for war in such circumstances is the extreme version of the "communautarisme" I spoke about here.

A second reason I am against the clash of civilisations thesis is hinted at here, that political Islam is a product of the West and of modernity, not some atavistic, medieval anachronism. Courtney, of Neo-Jacobin, makes this point very well in a comment on the excellent ModernityBlog:
Generally, the rule for suicide bombers is 1) be born in the West, 2) be educated in the West, 3) convert to Islam in the West, 4) lash out at a powerful symbol of the West (US and UK soldiers will do quite nicely), and 5) have no ideological commitment to any other political position.

There are some noticable exceptions to the notion of masculinity, I'm thinking about the 38-year-old Belgian female by the name of Muriel Degauque, who was raised in the industrial town of Charleroi. She entered the history books as the worlds first white female suicide bomber. Muriel did try to kill American soldiers in Bagdad, but, thankfully, only managed to blow herself up to pieces.

Muriel conforms to my idea of what contemporary Islamic terrorism is all about. Often it's disaffected Western, or Westernised individuals who nihilistically lash out against something they hate, whether it's Bush, Blair, UK/US military, or Western societies and it's secular peoples in general.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sudan: slow motion genocide

Essential reading: Reuters' excellent humanitarian news service, AlertNet, has conducted a poll of aid experts and journalists, asking where in the world is most dangerous for children. Sudan came out as the worst. Click here for some harrowing facts about displacement, rape, conscription into child armies. Click around the links for some more.

The issue of Sudan comes in and out of fashion with our media, so this poll should hopefully get it back on the agenda. You can join the debate here, or via Global Voices here.

Meanwhile, the US, Israel, India, Pakistan, and those bastions of freedom Cuba and Iran have scuppered an already watered down proposal from Britain* and Kenya to control the trade in the small arms - "WMDs in slow motion" - that are responsible for so many of the deaths in Sudan, DR Congo and other places where children bear the brunt of stupid civil wars.

(*Brownie point for the Blair/Brown government, who I believe actually do care about Africa.)

Jeff Weintraub has a must-read excellent post on the "slow motion genocide" that is Darfur, asking: What happened to the genocide convention?

Tags: , Africa, Darfur, Uganda, Human Rights, genocide, Sub-Saharan Africa, UN.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Representing Muslims

While doing some work around the house yesterday, I half-caught a very interesting segment on Radio 4's World This Weekend about who represents British Muslims. You can listen here this week; it's about half-way through the programme. A number of British Muslims forcefully argued that the Muslim Council of Britain completely fails to represent the predominantly Sufi Sunni British Muslims, who do not have a Muslim Brotherhood worldview, but rather have a much more theologically open perspective. Crucially, the interviewees suggested that the issues that British Muslims really care about, on the whole, are day to day issues of living in shit estates, sending their kids to shit schools, having shit jobs - exactly the issues other working class people care about. The MCB's obsession with "foreign policy" issues (i.e. hatred of Israel and America) completely skews the debate. A new organisation is needed to better represent them.

An academic from Birmingham, Tahir Abbas, was particularly interesting and articulate. Interestingly, by the way, he points out that it was Michael Howard as Conservative minister back in the day as key in calling upon Muslims to set up a "representative body" to deal with the government. Particularly damning was the testimony with Haras Rafiq from the Sufi Muslim Council on the way post-9/11 (and especially post-7/7) the MCB has used the war on terror to channel funds to their corrupt, reactionary affiliates.

For me, the deeper issue is the ideology - central to the New Labour version of multiculturalism - that ethnic groups constitute homogeneous "communities" who can be "represented" by "community leaders". French republicans call this ideology "communautarisme", which points to its links to the philosophy of communitarianism that has been so influential on Blair, Blunkett, Miliband, et al. (See the Observatoire de Communautarisme if you read French.)

I am sick of hearing politicians say "The Muslim community wants X", "The gay community is Y", "The Asian community feels Z". These definite articles imprison us, over-emphasising differences between "communities", under-emphasising differences within "communities", hiding the oppressive nature of "community leaders" who define what each "community" thinks, feels, is. We need to escape from this foolish and dangerous notion!

Links: Nick Cohen, Butterflies and Wheels, Kenan Malik, Pickled Politics
Archive: Daniel Pipes a year ago
Previous: Faith schools and civic culture; Islam, multiculturalism and 7/7; The identitarian logic of multiculturalism; Whales and leftists.
Tags: , , War on Terror, UK, Politics, Islamism, , , , , ,

Trackback: Butterflies and Wheels

Neo-liberalism’s assault on civic culture

Ken Livingstone a couple of years ago made one of his typically pugnacious and offensive comments to the effect that global capitalism had killed far more people than terrorism. Of course, capitalists do not set out to kill people, so cannot be judged against the same moral calculus as terrorists, who do set out to kill people. But the substantive point is undoubtedly correct. Neo-liberalism – that is, the abdication (whether forced by unaccountable institutions like the IMF and World Bank, or chosen by tax-cutting politicians) by the state of its duty to provide basic care for its citizens – kills.

In this post, though, I want to focus on one very small aspect of the evil of neo-liberalism: the assault on civic culture through decimating the universal services provided by the state. I believe that the foundation of a civic culture is universal entitlement to certain key services, equitably delivered according to universalist values. Inequality of provision implies inequality of civic status, while equality of provision provides for a shared experience of the state that can be the basis of a shared citizenship, an equal stake in a community of citizens.

Neo-liberalism is the rolling back of the state in its care for the citizenry. We are now not citizens but consumers, faced with a ‘choice’ of providers in the marketplace. Sometimes, of course, the new provider can be a community enterprise, deeply rooted in a neighbourhood, empowering local citizens through its provision of services. The state is not necessarily the best provider of services.

More often than not, of course, providers enter the marketplace to make a profit, and the best service consumers can choose is likely to be the one few can afford – either because few have enough money, or because few have enough resources (‘social capital’ as the jargon of today) to navigate the obstacles to accessing it. For example, the Roman Catholic London Oratory School, where Blair’s offspring were sent, interviews prospective students and their parents to test their piety – and their middle class dispositions.

It is into this vacuum that faith-based initiatives, as Bush calls them, have stepped. In India, the neo-liberal abdication of the state’s responsibility to provide decent education has meant some 30,000 madrassas teach Muslim children who live below the poverty line. But what do they teach them? A curriculum – Dars-e-Nizami – that has remained unchanged for three centuries. Even more poor children go to schools run by voluntary sector organisations which are part of the Hindutva machine – the ‘saffron fascist’ Hindu right. Here, according to various investigations, “the texts taught… are exclusivist, even violent, distort history, and are driven by prejudice and rancour against particular sections of the population.” (Setalvad).

Europe and America don’t face exactly that challenge – though the Blair government’s neo-liberal Academy programme gives control of curriculum to the philanthropists who buy the Academies, such as Reg Vardy, the Creationist second hand car salesman who runs several schools in the North East of England. Faith schools thrive in Britain’s cities because the so-called choice of a secular state school is an under-resourced disaster that parents will do anything to avoid their kids going to. If everyone had access to a decent neighbourhood school, hardly anyone in Britain would choose a faith school – just as the Indian poor would not send their children to madrassas or their Hindu nationalist equivalents.

Like Bush and Blair, and unlike most of my fellow ‘muscular liberals’, I have great respect for religious faith and the sacrifices people of faith will make to contribute to the communities. I am not against faith-based initiatives as such.

But my worry is that the universal values of public culture – values such as free inquiry and tolerance for different faiths – are under threat from the marketisation of public services. While the rich can choose quality, the children of the less than rich are segregated along lines of faith or community, and many placed in the hands of the some of the most reactionary, authoritarian, bigoted people imaginable, to the detriment of a culture of common citizenship.


Sources for this piece include articles by Stephen Hoare and Teesta Setalvad in “God in the Classroom” section of Catalyst January 2006, “City schools could be front for evangelists” Education Guardian, Know Your Enemy Red Pepper

Previous: Blair’s Thatcherism: the choice agenda

Keywords: neoliberalism, neoliberal, education, prayer in schools, faith schools, national curriculum, citizenship, globalisation, multiculturalism, integration, cohesion, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism.

Friday, July 07, 2006

7/7 Anniversary

A year on from the London bombings. London heals. The fears abate. The survivors, the injured and the families of the victims heal more slowly.

The key questions remain. To what extent was the bombing about “Islam”? The fact that 1 in 8 British Muslims apparently think of the bombers as “martyrs”, the fact that hundreds of young Muslims protested the Danish cartoons with placards promising Europe more carnage, means that the suicide bombers cannot be described as a couple of misguided young men who “misinterpreted their religion”, as the Anglican priest wheeled on to BBC Radio 4 this morning claimed. But the fact that most Muslims were as disgusted as other British people by the bombs means that – contra Melanie Phillips et al – Islam as a whole is clearly not to blame.

Or to what extent was the bombing about the war in Iraq, chickens coming home to roost for Blair’s foreign policy? A ridiculous and morally vacuous notion, clearly falsified by the fact that September 11 was visited upon an America that had not yet gone back to Iraq. I continue to believe that what was under attack was the profane pluralism that has become so ordinary in London, a city (like new York, our twin across the Atlantic) that has always been a cosmopolis, but whose cosmopolitanism flourishes in conditions of the democracy and freedom that our enemies envy and loathe.

Secondly, what can we do about this “home grown threat”, as our official opinion formers constantly – and banally – call it? There is a strong call – from New Labour and points right – for a more assertive policy of assimilation. Yet on one level the “home grown” bombers were all too assimilated. Where their parents and grandparents were positioned as guests in Britain and acted deferentially to it, these young citizens are secure enough in their Britishness to hate this country as much as any young white SWP member. On another level, the assimilatory policies that operate – consciously and unconsciously – in our schools always position brown-skilled people as foreign and unable to measure up to the “real” British, which causes resentment to simmer.

Others call for a renewal of multiculturalism, for more “understanding”, for tolerance and interfaith dialogue. Good-hearted though this call may be, surely the notion that Britain is a patchwork of discrete, homogeneous, unchanging “identities” or “cultures” or “communities” condemns us eternally to a fractured civic culture. In particular, it freezes our so-called BME citizens in some anachronistic version of “their” culture, as defined by the reactionary, authoritarian patriarchs who are accorded the status of “community leaders”.

Moving around London during the World Cup, it was clear to me that most people can comfortably live with multiple identities – you can be proudly English, proudly Punjabi, proudly an Arsenal fan, proudly a Londoner, all at the same time – so long as you’re left to get on with it. Culture is always changing, fragmenting, fusing – but official multiculturalism refuses to recognise that, preferring to force it to fit unchanging recognisable shapes like “Muslim culture”.

And, finally, what of the policing and intelligence failures that allowed 7/7 to happen? It is the nature of this sort of terrorism that it is impossible to perfectly police. As the old Nihilist slogan went, the state has to be lucky all of the time; the terrorist just has to be lucky once. What is clear, though, is that the state should be transparent and honest about what they did and didn’t know and about what might have gone wrong. In the absence of honesty and transparency, the conspiracy theories that breed in our digital age fester and spread.


Survivors: Rachel from North London, Daniel from Kings Cross

Commentary: Pickled Politics, Yorkshire Ranter

My July 2005 bombing archive:

Tags:War on Terror, Terrorism, London, UK, Al Qaeda, Politics, Islam
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Trackback: Michael Weiss at Slate

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Augmentation surgery

I've made a start on updating my link list over to the right of the main page. Trimmed slightly, added some friends and favourites, augmented the "Funny you don't look Jewish" list, started on a new lefty section, got rid of some neo-con "food for thought" but added some more. Still more work to do - it's been an age since I worked on it.

Tail-ending Khomeini

So the SWP as chearleaders for Islamic theo-fascism is nothing new:

Tail-ending Khomeini | Workers' Liberty

Hitchens on blowjobs

Christopher deals with some weighty matters at Vanity Fair...

Sex and dating for philosophers

Enowning has picked up my post about theorists' MySpace pages:
Marty's got MySpace, and he's single again. Look out Hannah, Simone got her eye on him, and she swings.
I like Hannah Arendt's MySpace:
Interests: Being brilliant, chain smoking, philosophy, politics, responsibility.
Enowning has also found Heidegger on YouTube, slagging off Karl Marx in German. (If you like that sort of thing, here's some footage of a semi-paralysed Nietzche before he died...) Enowning:
You know Web 2.0 has arrived when you find stuff like this.

Previous: Hannah Arendt - Thinking with an open heart, Arendt quotes, The Cheapening of the Language,
Tags: , web 2.0, web2.0, Internet, , , ,