Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Anti-racism has to go beyond a facile representation game

I managed to miss this piece by Priyamvada Gopal on the Celebrity Big Brother furore and what it means for anti-racism. I don't agree with all of it, but I think it's definately worth a read.

P.S. Unfolding debate, all too rare on my blog, on the Hitchens/Steyn piece.

P.P.S. The Jan/Feb issue of the always well worth reading Catalyst found its way to my desk this week. So far I've just read the first piece, Denis MacShane's predictions for 2007, which is good. Here's a snippet:
A bit more tolerance between those two wunderkinds of the 1968 era – Ken Livingstone and Trevor Phillips – would also be welcome. Both have a long record of being ahead of their time on many issues, of fighting against racism in all its manifestations, and of being shameless self-promoters. (As a practising politician, my last comment is not condemnatory.) Both have reached top pinnacles in public life. So why is Ken so silly when talking about Trevor, with the fatuous accusation that he is close to joining the BNP? Why does Ken hug Islamist ideologues who preach death to gays, and other evils? And why does Trevor organise conferences on important themes with foolishly provocative titles, or denounce MPs who warn the public about Islamist extremism? Organisations like Relate exist to help patch up marriages. Is there a liberal-lefty political version that could bring Ken and Trevor together?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


This year, my trade union, UCU, will once again debate an academic boycott of Israel. A trade union which has no consistent international policy, which does not condemn abuses of academic freedom in Iran or Saudi Arabia or Cuba or countless other places, contains a sizeable number of activists who think that the best way to deal with the Middle East crisis is ostracising Israeli lecturers. Is this because Israel is the most evil nation in the world? Or is it perhaps that hatred of Zionism has utterly skewed the moral compass of its membership?

Leading the fight against this is Engage, a collective of left-wing union activists who understand that boycotting Israel would be counter-productive to peace in Israel/Palestine, would be racist in practice, and would be a violation of democratic values.

David Hirsh, Engage's editor, has been interviewed in the Independent, a good introduction to Engage's political position. His excellent letter to the Jewish Chronicle further stakes out this position: against both the hysterical Zionism of some of the Jewish communal leadership and the hysterical anti-Zionism of that leadership's official opposition.

Enage's letter to the union leadership is here, and further discussed by Eve Garrard at Normblog.


Londonism/Sarf Londonism

It's been a while since I did my last Sarf London blog round-up (especially now Andrew does his regular Lewisham blog round-up, and my Sarf London is pretty much Lewisham...) So here, we are.

Tags: ,

Reality TV

Having completely failed to watch (let alone blog about) Celebrity Big Brother, I'll pass on James C's suggestions for some new reality TV shows. Here are the three best:

"Reality TV" A group of TV execs sit around a table coming up with ideas for a reality TV programme. Each week the one with the worst idea is voted off, the winner gets their programme made.

"Pro Celebrity Boxing" Copying the successful format of pro-celebrity golf, profestional heavy-weight boxers go ten rounds with some of the country's favourite "celebs". Nikolay Valuev vs Gorgeous George Galloway would get the series off to a good start.

"Helmund" Labour Defence Ministers spend six months in Southern Afghanistan being shot at by a highly motivated and experienced enemy. Viewers ring in to vote for the Minister they want to send home. The one with the most votes stays exactly where he is and gets on with the job in hand, as do the rest.

Footnote: my favourite referral this week was a google search for "celebrity big brother jewish"
Previous: George licks pussy
Tags: , , , celebrity, entertainment, television, tv

Politricks, faith and reason

gHamer at the British Bullshit Foundation comes up with a great irregular verb for the day:

This is for all of you who were listening to the Today programme [on Thursday], and heard the debate on the thorny issue of the Catholic church wanting to opt-out on anti-discrimination laws in relation to gay adoption (won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?).

I am a man of conscience.
YOU are a man with beliefs that are incompatible with British values.
HE is a religious extremist.

On a similar topic, Jim passes on a great letter (in the Weekly Worker of all places) on George Galloway's puritan disapproval of strip clubs and lap dancing establishments close to places of worship. Read it.

Bonus links: Labour Humanist blog, Zefrog

On Doonesbury, cheap anti-americanism and selling out to barbarians

On a similar theme to this post, I came across this from Tom Paine, which I really liked. It expresses a similar ambivalence to mine about George Bush and his haters, and calls Segolene Royal on her cheap anti-Americanism, while also giving due credit to the great Gary Trudeau.

tags: Bush

Monday, January 29, 2007

Islamism and multiculture

Christopher Hitchens on Mark Steyn, Martin Amis, Jack Straw, and the Islamist threat (via Jogo)
This is good stuff. It shows how the right's fears of the Islamist danger is partly right, but it also shows where they are wrong.

Steyn makes the same mistake as did the late Oriana Fallaci: considering European Muslim populations as one. Islam is as fissile as any other religion (as Iraq reminds us). Little binds a Somali to a Turk or an Iranian or an Algerian, and considerable friction exists among immigrant Muslim groups in many European countries. Moreover, many Muslims actually have come to Europe for the advertised purposes—seeking asylum and to build a better life. A young Afghan man, murdered in the assault on the London subway system in July 2005, had fled to England from the Taliban, which had murdered most of his family. Muslim women often demand the protection of the authorities against forced marriage and other cruelties. These are all points of difference, and also of possible resistance to Euro-sharia.

The main problem in Europe in this context is that many deracinated young Muslim men, inflamed by Internet propaganda from Chechnya or Iraq and aware of their own distance from “the struggle,” now regard the jihadist version of their religion as the “authentic” one. Compounding the problem, Europe’s multicultural authorities, many of its welfare agencies, and many of its churches treat the most militant Muslims as the minority’s “real” spokesmen. As Kenan Malik and others have pointed out in the case of Britain, this mind-set cuts the ground from under the feet of secular Muslims, encouraging the sensation that many in the non-Muslim Establishment have a kind of death wish.

Little Richardjohn: British Identity Lessons...
This is also good stuff.
British identity is like the ever growing family quilt, where each generation makes their contribution, no matter how tedious or brilliant or immoral or saintly... [Britain] has never benefited from attempts to pickle its identity. And the attempts to do so are generally forgotten or ridiculed.

Added Tuesday:
Here's a few links on the Ken Livingstone/Daniel Pipes clash of civilisations debate: Jonathan Hoffman at Adloyada, David T at Harry's, Oliver Kamm, Ami at Harry's

Friday, January 26, 2007

Respectable prejudices

Here are some of the things I've been reading in my hiatus from blogging.

Howard Jacobson had a superb piece in the Independent on the bien pensant prejudices of the liberal classes. This article captured my views perfectly. It's not that I like Bush and Blair and "their" war, it's just that I can't stand the other people who don't.

Robert Fisk
revealed his deep cultural conservatism in this article, possibly one of the least original articles ever written. Fisk rehashs the familiar Grumpy Old Man/Daily Mail complaints against the jargonisation of contemporary life, in a mildy entertaining way. For examlpe, Fisk doesn't like the fact that lady writers can't be called "authoresses" any more. What an iconoclast.

One passage stood out for me as slightly objectionable:
who, I ask myself, invented the false reflexive verb? [...] "stressed". In northern Iraq in 1991, I was once ordered by a humanitarian worker from the "International Rescue Committee" to leave the only room I could find in the wrecked town of Zakho because it had been booked for her fellow workers - who were very "stressed". Pour souls, I thought. They were stressed, "stressed out", trying - no doubt - to "come to terms" with their predicament, attempting to "cope".
I get the Lynne Truss lite point about nouns that shouldn't be made into verbs. But note the self-importance in thinking that a journalist has better right to a room than an aid worker actually helping people out in a terrible time of crisis. Note the smug scare quotes around "International Rescue Committee" , as if it is not a serious organisation. Note the self-aggrandizement in the implication that Fisk, the seasoned atrocity tourist, is immune to stress.

At the less liberal end of the spectrum of overfed cultural conservatives is Chris Patten, the Tory the liberals love. In an q&a, he is asked by one Mary Seaton of London, "isn’t Europe’s influence on America’s Middle East policy relatively weak compared to the weight of America’s Israel lobby?" The FT says, "Do you think she has a point?" Patten says, "I do, particularly if Europe doesn’t speak up." That darned Israel lobby.

A Guardian reader free of the liberal intellegentsia's respectable prejudices is Denis MacEoin, who wrote this letter a while back:
Only the Guardian could write, "Hizbullah's Katyusha counter-strikes were about as effective as throwing pebbles at a firing squad" (end of year review, December 30). If Katyushas ever start raining on London, you will all be on the first train to Edinburgh.

And, finally, a fairly sophisticated view from Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, in the Indy again, in what at first seems likely to be an opportunity for yet more wittering class anti-Americanism, but isn't.

Hopefully, normal service from Bob From Brockley will resume after the weekend.

Previous: Chirac and the cheapening of the language; Loveable Tory
tags: Bush, ,

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday random

Ghetto Plotz:

Second thoughts on Iraq:

All religion is superstitious nonsense:

Zimbabwe, American liberalism, anti-semitism, Somalia, Juan Cole:

Representing South Asians

An interesting report [html/pdf] has just been published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on South Asian communities in the UK, based on research in Bradford. Not suprisingly, the so-called South Asian "community" is found to be "culturally and socially fragmented, reflecting caste, gender and generational hierarchies deriving from place of origin. These hierarchies often impacted significantly on participation and on which voices were heard". The minorities within the "community" face internal injustices.

Caste and sexuality feature prominently.
Caste division is also severely limiting in terms of social mobility; judgements on the basis of caste are still being made by some young people born in the UK. Caste and status influences mosque leadership, with the mosque being a key locale for participation within the South Asian community. Caste also influences the character of political representation of areas such as Manningham, where residents from one area of Pakistan predominate...

Non-heterosexual South Asians (described absurdly in the report as "the" South Asian LGBT "community") face
religious and cultural intolerance, which is expressed as religious and family disapproval, social isolation, stigma and even violence. This has a major impact on the ability of people from this community to get involved in local consultation and decision-making.
No suprises there then.

Previous: Representing Muslims, New Generation, Neo-liberalism's assault on civic culture, The identititarian logic of multiculturalism, Books burning, rockets falling

Friday, January 05, 2007

Seymour Martin Lipset

Seymour Martin Lipset has passed away at 84. An important and interesting man, who went through that common migration of the anti-Stalinist left from Trotskyist to democratic socialist to... well, to something else. He has been called a neoconservative, but I think that is not exactly right. What he was above all was a humanist, a deeply humane man, a mentsh.

Like my grandfather, he was born in Harlem, sparking this nice anecdote from the NYT obit:
he wrote about meeting Gen. Colin L. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a cocktail party and telling the general that they had both been born in Harlem, grown up in the Bronx and graduated from City College.

“I did not add what was more relevant, that he joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps, while I joined the youth section of Young People’s Socialist League, Fourth International,” wrote Mr. Lipset, who remained a socialist through graduate school.

Here's an appreciation from Metta Spencer, who knew him from the 1960s, and comments on his "neocon" turn. Lots of interesting stories. And a nice appreciation from a former colleague, Jason, who also makes a case for the greatness of Union Democracy, as does Demosophist at Winds of Change. And, finally, a short appreciation from Rakesh Khurana.

UPDATE: Here's more from Metta Spencer.


On a related topic, I only just read Hitchens' sharp dissent from the general beatification of the late Gerald Ford. (Via Sisyphus, via Jeff W)

And, on another related topic, here's a lovely piece by Gus Tyler on his 75 years with The Forward, which also reads as a micro-history of the New York Jewish anti-Stalinist left. (Via Arieh)

Previous: Clifford Geertz, Hannah Arendt, Anti-Stalinist intellectuals, Leo Strauss, Irving Fields, Basketball in social democratic New York

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Obligatory Celebrity Big Brother Post

I can't believe it's that bloody time of year again, as if January isn't bad enough as it is we have to endure Celebrity Big Brother. And with no Germaine Greer or George Galloway to liven it up. Tommy Sheridan turned it down. Kilroy-Silk, the Sheridan of the right, didn't turn up. Donny Tourette, from the punk band Towers of London, is as good as it gets.

Oh well. Here's a completely gratuitous picture of Shipna Shetty from Stumbling and Mumbling.

Friday morning
Well, I succombed last night and watched 20 minutes. What a bunch of freaks and misfits! Except maybe that nice Danielle Lloyd, who thought Winston Churchill was America's first black president.

Previous: George as Pussycat
Tags: , , , celebrity, entertainment, television, tv

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Having been in withdrawal from blogging for a couple of weeks, I've kind of overdosed today. As most of us are too lazy to scroll, this is a digest of the day, so you can decide which posts to look at.
Is that clearer? That's it for today now.

Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom (event in London)

Forthcoming event:
Ranin and Noam from Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom, both young actresses will be speaking about their lives at the Jewish / Arab village Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom and growing up in the famous dual language Hebrew / Arab School. Ranin acted in the much acclaimed Israeli movie "The Syrian Bride," and on Israeli Arab TV, whilst Noam took further training at the New York Film Academy. You can read more details here about Neve Shalom / Wahat Salam here

Ranin and Noam will also be speaking to Amnesty International, the House of Lords and various other bodies. Don't miss them and their encouraging story of the possibility of coexistence.

There will be a talk on "Achievement in Ghettos" starting at 12.00 in the same room, if you are interested, you can get two interesting talks in one go.

10th January 2007 at 13.00
Room 101, Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Foster Court (opposite Science Library)
University College London
Gower Street London WC1E 6BT

More from Daniel

New Cross Synagogue

Transpontine, among many other quality posts, has a snippet about the New Cross Synagogue. I felt I had to link to it, as Jewish stuff and South London are two of my key themes...

Previous: Lewisham and Bromley Mosque, Yiddish anarchists in New Cross

Boys of the Taliban

Here's something for Hakim Bey to savour.

(via Jogo)

Nadia Eweida mark 2

Pub Philosopher on another daft whinging religious zealot

And, in related news, a secular-progressive gets his just reward (via Jogo)

Previous: Nadia Eweida and the Adams Family

Breaking news: Hitler was Jewish

From Jeff Weitraub


Here's a few new year posts I liked:
Unrelated, but frivolous, I'm a rock god. Well, a rock start, according to the test I found at Bryan Robson's blog. (I got four percent less than him, but I must be somewhat older as I only just in the top 50 percentile of my age and gender category...)

Also in the miscellaneous category, Andres Kupfer proves Israel is more liberal than Britain. And a lovely post about Great-Grandmother Lilian's z"l Latkes from Esser Agaroth. And if you want more Jewish posts, feast on this Haveil Havalim 100th Edition at Bagel Blogger.

Previous: 2006

The new realism

Good article by Timothy Garton Ash on the oscillation in American foreign policy between the immorality of so-called "realism" (the realpolitik of the Henry Kissinger-George Bush Sr-James Baker school) and the blind faith in illusions of the Wilsonian idealism that the neoconservatives sold to George Bush Jr after 9/11.

This is important because so much of the left, in an eagerness to beat Bush with anything available, fall into a dangerous alliance on "realists" like Walt and Mearsheimer and Ken Clarke.

More Wilsonian idealism please!
tags: Bush

Saddam Hussein's execution 2

In my list of good things about 2006, I should have added the death of lots of dictators and former dictators (Milosovic, Pinochet, Stroessner, Saddam) .


DSTFW have lots of good posts on this: Death glee from Will, Shuggy's discussion of the death penalty, Hak Mao on the way the execution fucks up the second Saddam trial.

I guess you should also read what messers Kamm and Hitch have to say too.


Not suprisingly, Saddam makes Cunt of the Week this week.

David Hirst's obit in The Guardian is also pretty good.
[Saddam] was commonplace and derivative. Stalin was his exemplar. The likeness came from more than conscious emulation: he already resembled him in origin, temperament and method. Like him, he was unique less in kind than in degree, in the extraordinary extent to which, if the more squalid forms of human villainy are the sine qua non of the successful tyrant, he embodied them. Like Stalin, too, he had little of the flair or colour of other 20th-century despots, little mental brilliance, less charisma, no redeeming passion or messianic fervour; he was only exceptional in the magnitude of his thuggery, the brutality, opportunism and cunning of the otherwise dull, grey apparatchik...

The small-town thug possessed all the personal qualifications he might need to earn his place in the 20th-century's pantheon of tyrants...

In theory he remained a Ba'athist to his dying day, but for him Ba'athism was always an apparatus, never an ideology: no sooner was command of the one complete than he dispensed entirely with the other. For next to brutality, opportunism was his chief trait. Not Stalin himself could have governed with such whimsy, or lurched, ideologically, politically, strategically, from one extreme to another with quite such ease, regularity, and disastrous consequences, and yet still, incredibly, retain command to the end.
There's plenty more! (via Mick Hartley).

Or read this alternative obituary at As A Dodo.


Most leftish people seem to be blaming this on the US, e.g. the proliferation of conspiracy theories from the likes of David Peterson, the Juan Coleniks, etc. But of course, the mis-trial and execution fiasco were the fault of the Iraqis, not the Americans, as Gail notes.

On similar lines, Fightin' with Grabes talks about why it needed to be messy Iraqi justice, not rational Western justice.


Finally, this liberal thinks Saddam "carried himself at the end with strength and courage and a good amount of anger"...

Previous: Right outcome, wrong process

Scholarly behaviour

A couple of weeks back, The Guardian published a hagiographic article about Blair's legacy by his biographer Anthony Sheldon. I noticed this letter published by someone describing himself as a Visiting Lecturer in Politics at Goldsmiths College:
If Anthony Seldon's article were submitted on one of my courses, it would merit at best a third, probably a fail.

Was this because the article was badly written or poorly argued? No, it was because the lecturer disagreed with it:

Had Blair gone in 2001, there would have been a legacy to be proud of: devolution, the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, peace in Northern Ireland (more or less) and a huge injection of much-needed cash into health and education.

But since 2003, Blair has not only got the UK centrally involved in one of the most disastrous wars in its history, with no end to the misery and slaughter in sight, but has also destroyed Labour's links with the socialist international, preferring instead to cosy up to the European far right: José Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi (both now defeated). What a legacy for a Labour leader!
An admittal that lecturers fail students for disagreeing with their politics.

(Goldsmiths Politics department, incidentally, is run by the former Director of Policy of the Liberal Democrats and includes a former Greenwich Lib Dem councillor...)

Previous: The Goldsmiths Islamic chaplain