Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bob from Brockley causes an international diplomatic incident

I live in south east London, and frequently go to a vegetarian cafe in New Cross called Cafe Crema. Over the years, I have used this blog to plug various events there (see, e.g., here and here). When its landlord, Goldsmiths University, threatened it with eviction, I signed a petition in its defence. The food is OK, the cakes are gorgeous, the coffee is good, the ambiance is nice. In particular I like the music: its proprietor, Chris Boddigton, shares my tastes in Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Blind Boys of Alabama. His staff are on a more world music (and especially Brazilian) tip.

The cafe has always worn Chris' pro-Palestinian policies pretty prominently on its sleave. It sells Zaytoun olive oil. There are maps of the encroachment of the Settlements on Palestinian lands. Earlier this year, a blackboard which changes its content regularly started saying "Please boycott Israel. Thank you." Then, a few weeks ago, as I noted here, this changed to something like "We don't sell any Israeli goods. We are not anti-semitic; we are anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else." While I believe that any private individual or business has the right to buy or not buy from anyone they choose, there was something about that "Jews are as welcome here as anyone else" that made me feel really uncomfortable. My posting provoked a (for this blog) extensive debate.

Chris replied here, rather perfunctorily and intemperately. This prompted a long response from David Hirsh, a customer of the cafe, articulating more or less my view.
"But now I don't feel as though I'm welcome there anymore, in spite of the sign which says that Jews are welcome. Or perhaps because of that sign."
I think that Chris took some of the responses to heart, including the way a "Jews welcome" sign makes people feel. He replied:
"Fair enough, I can now see that it was a mistake to write ‘Jews are as welcome here as anyone else’ in that it has been taken, by many people, in exactly the opposite way that it was intended (but perhaps I should have foreseen that – I apologise)."
However, he didn't get a lot of the other points.

David also posted his comment on Engage, and that elicited a very heated debate. Chris' response provoked even more. Then the issue was taken up by the Jewish Chronicle and the Jerusalem Post - the latter mentioning this blog. Predictably, anti-Zionists like Deborah Fink and Mark Elf are now going to Cafe Crema to demonstrate their solidarity. The latter describes this site as "the blog of a zionist", which might make some of my Zionist readers chuckle. (I recently posted a comment asking what made him think I'm a Zionist: still awaiting moderation.)

Equally predictably, some Engage readers are calling for a boycott of Crema, or for pressure to be put on Goldsmiths as their landlord to get Chris to change his policy. I think this is utterly wrong. As David says, "most people involved in the boycott campaign are not Jew-haters. They have just stumbled into antisemitic politics." I believe in winning the arguments, persuading people - not in issuing counter-boycotts or using indirect legal pressure.

I have also been thinking about what it means when someone takes a particular interest in an issue, in a lop-sided way. Chris acknowledges that Palestine is his passion, his issue - but also that it is not necessarily the most important issue. My sister used to be very involved in Central American politics, and if there was such a thing, say, as Contra wine, she would have boycotted it - without claiming that Central America is the most important issue in the world. People have the right to have these sorts of passions. Unfortunately, though, there is a cultural matrix by which Israel-Palestine has become unlike other regional issues. It has become a shibboleth, a cultural code by which certain sorts of people recognise each other. This is partly what makes Chris' stance hard to deal with but important to respond to.

P.S. More from Modernity (1 & 2).

Back in gear?

Antisemitism and the left
Louis Proyect: Anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, anti-Dogmatism. Mainly about the American SWP (not to be confused with the British SWP), but also includes swipes at two of my hate figures, Alexander Cockburn and James Petras. Proyect is on a different page to me on this issue, but perhaps not in a completely different book. Related, Tendance Coatesy has a thoughtful review of Denis MacShane's New Antisemitism book. Re Caryl Churchill, here's Shalom Lappin's Five British Children.

South London
The Dissident sound of New Cross. Three from Transpontine: the closure of Greenwich market, on Bermondsey's Jade Goody and the MSM's "thick prole" meme, on some Brockley graffiti. Swastikas on a Goldsmiths website? John Hutnyk on a Cultural Studies controversy. Brockley Central's shameless middle class food thread, and nice pics of Crofton Park in blossom. Green Ladywell: three years of civic blogging.

The Miners' Strike
History is Made at Night is publishing some stuff on 1984: on the chant "Here We Go", on his own recollections from Kent.

Top round ups from Poumista and Anti-German, and a good Carnival of Socialism from AVPS.

Friday, March 27, 2009

From Bob's archive: Opposing patriarchal murder is "orientalist"

I'm away this week, so I'm posting some stuff from the archive, from May 2005. My greatest hits that never were, because no-one read me then. Please leave comments in the present.

Jews sans frontieres says:
"A friend of mine told me that Peter Tatchell was again at the Free Palestine demo yesterday. Apparently he was with a group of about thirty people (with a police escort) bearing placards saying 'Stop the Honour Killings'. The expression 'honour killings' is usually used to refer to domestic murders of women deemed unworthy. It's used by western Orientalists to suggest that there is something worse about this than the two women killed by men every week in the UK. So why is Tatchell using the expression to condemn the killing of gays in Palestine? And why does he see fit to demonstrate against Palestinians at a Free Palestine rally? When he first invade the demo last year he bore a placard with the inane slogan 'Israel stop persecuting Palestine - Palestine stop persecuting queers'. Now by conflating homophobia in the third world with extreme domestic violence, and putting as orientalist a spin on it as he could think of, he's crossed the line from seeking to embarrass Palestinian officialdom to full-blown anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia."
So, Jews Sans Frontieres (henceforth JsF) thinks that to use the words 'honour killings' by definition (at least 'usually') makes you an 'orientalist', by definition means that you don't care about domestic violence committed by white people. This is obviously absurd. Surely anyone with a working moral compass should oppose domestic violence and murder, whether it is committed in the Arab world or the western world. Drawing attention to domestic violence in Arab countries does not detract attention from domestic violence here.

I hear the term "honour killings" primarily from feminists rather than, say, from Tony Blair. I googled the term, just to check. The first hit was from Gendercide Watch, who campaign against the killing of women across the globe not just the Arab world - current news items draw attention to Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Congo and India - as well as Sudan and Iraq. And when drawing attention to "gendercide" in Iraq, their source is OccupationWatch.org, the anti-occupation group. The second hit came from Spotlight, an anti-zionist outfit. The third hit is Kurdish Womens Action Against Honour Killings (KWAHK) (although maybe JsF thinks they're orientalist too, because they call for a secular Iraq). Then we get to an Aljazeera item on Palestinian women decrying honour killings. And so it goes on...

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From Bob's archive: The American drama [Jogo guest post]

I am away this week, so am posting a couple of old ones, from May 2005, to provoke some debate. Please leave comments. This one is a guest post by Jogo

Did you know that Sgt Mike Strank, the leader of the little squad of six Marines who planted the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, was born in Czechoslovakia?

Three of the six (including Strank) died on Iwo Jima. Of the three who returned home only John Bradley was able to put his life back together – married, had eight children, prospered in business ... He died in the same tiny town he was born in – Antigo, Wisconsin

The reason I defend American privilege – hopefully never with my actual life, although I would do so – is that I believe our privilege has been earned. It is not mere accident, nor a triumph of wickedness, that we are who we are. Not only is our privilege earned, it has been shared – unlike the privileges of, say, La Raza, Magyar, Teuton, Gaul or Hutu. In fact, a big part of our painful American journey, a core of our Drama, has been precisely towards more sharing of the privilege. You might say it is “what we are about."

But commieprofs would rather dream about the Ku Klux Klan and others who have stood in the way of this flow. They would rather dream about the Rosenbergs and J Edgar Hoover, or about Mossadegh, or about US-backed counter-insurgencies in Latin America. For them, Emmett Till is eternally lynched in an ever-repeating fractal present. They choose not to dream dreams of love for America.

In the past, I think Communists had a sense of the essential legitimacy of America. The fact that theft, or exploitation, or even slavery, are stones – huge, unmovable, weight-bearing stones – in our Foundation did not, somehow, diminish this legitimacy in their eyes. It is a curious thing. Read or listen to "The Lonesome Train" and you may get a sense of what I am saying. If Communists believed capitalism was wrong, or that the Capitalist Class needed to be opposed and their assumptions challenged, I think most of them also understood that American Greatness was real (i.e., not a manufactured, tin-plated idea).

But now commieprofs do not understand this, they have no sense of it. Not only that,
they teach and write against this idea. Ward Churchill is a perfect example of the tragic, frightening demise of American radicals – a journey, frankly, from Love to Hatred, to put it in very simple, though surely arguable, terms. You may see Ward Churchill as an aberration, but I see him as a Standard-Bearer, or warrior, of his ilk. He displays tremendous physical courage, and says – defiantly and without apology – what other commieprofs also think, but will not say. This is the reason for his high stature in the commieprof community.

Other 2005 posts on the American drama: The American scene and Europe's sickness, Pat Buchanan, archaic type, Head and Heart, Four-letter words: a view from America, The Supreme Chutzpah.
Other 2005 CommieProfWatch posts: Chomsky, Shahak and co, Fisking Chomsky, Messianic thought, Swooning with rapture.

Monday, March 23, 2009

From Bob's archive: Thomas Sowell on black rednecks and white liberals

I am away this week, so scheduling a couple of items from the archive. This post was originally published back in May 2005 here: Thomas Sowell on black rednecks and white liberals I didn't have many readers then, so thought it worth re-injecting into the public sphere. I am not happy with the way I formulated my thoughts, but I think one key point is important: that we need to hold in play both cultural and structural explanations for social problems; the neglect of either leads to skewed politics. Please leave a comment.

Important read: Thomas Sowell in OpinionJournal.

I think Sowell's first premise is interesting and worth thinking about - that southern blacks absorbed redneck culture and brought it north - but I don't follow his second premise - that this is what holds blacks back. I think that cultural factors are one of the reasons African-Americans lose out, but that structural reasons, to do with racial divisions in the housing market and labor market in the post-slavery years. So, I might like to read Thomas Sowell alongside Thomas Sugrue.

On redneck culture, Sowell argues that it was formed before the whites got into boats to cross the Atlantic. This is obviously partly true, but needs to be complicated a little. Australia's white population came from the same roots, but white Australians perform well educationally, so you need more than the culture to explain it - for example, the plantation system, the relationship between the agrarian South and the industrial North.

Similarly, Sowell is right to draw attention to the historic economic disparities between southern and northern whites. But again, culture can't be the main factor. The difference between an agrarian economy and an industrial economy is also key. He also doesn't speak about the huge disparities within the white population of the North.

Sowell's arguments have some relevance to the British case, and the emergence of what is seen as a new poor white underclass. In Britain's cities, white working class boys do worse educationally than any non-white ethnic group, enter worse jobs, are less likely to end with any job. This is something that needs thinking about, and perhaps Sowell offers some help in doing so, but probably only on half of the story.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Not quite a smorgasbord

Let's start with some music. Rough Francis: Detroit City black punk rock from 1974 (h/t Jogo)

Eric Lee of LabourStart was recently in my manor to debate Israel/Palestine. Here he reflects on his "Shylock moment" at the debate.

Related: Stanley Fish on boycotting Israel (h/t Jogo). Norman Geras responds.

Unrelated: I don't agree with Alex Callinicos very often, but I quite liked this rebuke of Zizek and his celebrity "idea of communism" conference (h/t Perverse Egalitarianism). Also from PE, Alain Badiou and the word "Jew".

On the BNP, Glyn Ford in Tribune is good. Reading Gombeen Nation on a day out in London with Anti-Fascist Action (1, 2) brought back some memories for me. Meanwhile, a bizarre outbreak of agreement has occurred between the "bourgeois anti-fascists" of Harry's Place and Andy Newman of Socialist Unity, that hitting a BNP thug with a claw hammer is a squaddist own-goal. As an ex-squaddist (albeit a nervous one), I think the more pertinent point is that the BNP in Leigh physically attacked anti-racists. (I join the comment threads here and here.) My response if broadly that of Eric Lee: "At what point does it become appropriate to take them seriously, and to defeat them on every front - electoral, in the media, and in the streets?"

Updates on some issues we've been following here. A little more on Chas Freeman from David Adler. A little more on Seven Jewish Children and the BBC from David Hirsh and from David Adler. And I've also been updating the links from my Miners' Strike post.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Historical irony

Jogo sent me this photo. Not sure where he found it. The irony is almost irresistible.

Jewish-owned shop, Norway, circa 1940. The writing in the window reads "Palestine calls. Jews are not tolerated in Norway."

Friday, March 13, 2009


LoveRemembering: A beautiful post by Martin, on his mother. Harry Barnes also has a lovely piece about his mother.

Music etc

In times of war: Locust Avenue is up to 1915 - god he's good. || The path of love or the path of hate? Mira at Engage on PACBI's response to Mira Awad and Achinoam Nin's Eurovision entry. || Winter Music: TNC with some supercool music, including something from one of the best albums ever, by Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron. || Sublime Frequencies: Syrian folk and pop across the river, from Under the Net. || Music for antisemites: Coming up soon is a guest post by Jogo on Gilad Atzmon. In the meantime, read David Adler. || Narcissism: Have you read my last two music posts yet? This one is on American music as interracial music; this one is on Yiddish beats.

PoliticsUses and abuses: Poumista on the right-wing appropriation of George Orwell and Norman Thomas. || Do you want death with that? Hak Mao on the IRA's war on Polish pizza deliverers. || Schadenfreude: Egyptians attack Galloway's convoy and daub vehicles with anti-Hamas slogans. || Narcissism 2: I've added links to my Miners' Strike post and my Steve Cohen appreciation. And I have just noticed that Dave O has stolen my "broken Britain" point in a more recent Miners' Strike post. (Not that I was being that original I guess...)

YiddishA battle for survival: recommended documentary series at BBC Radio 3. || For all the cat-lovers on my blogroll (why are there so many?): A Cat in the Ghetto.

Chas Freeman
The last couple of weeks have seen an interesting instance something I've frequently commented on in this blog: the strange alliance of left liberals with right-wing "realists". The Nation and others have been making much of the resignation of Obama intelligence appointment Charles W. Freeman, Jr. Why should they care? Freeman is a conservative in the GW Bush/Nixon/Kissinger mould. He was a defender of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, an apologist for the plutocratic/theocratic regime in Saudi Arabia, and a friend of various bloated Middle Eastern monarchs. The Nation and others, however, have peddled a conspiracy theory version of his resignation: pushed by the so-called Israel Lobby. Some sensible response from Snarksmith, Ben Cohen, the Post, James Kirchick, Plenty more at CC and Ignoblus. Oh, and the debate has passed over to this side of the Atlantic, via, of course, The Independent - see Mark G at Engage.

“Brian went and kicked Wendy Brown who’s a friend of Kate’s. This was understandable, as Kate had been flirting in an unseemly way with blokes down at the pub.” Rosie on Ken Loach on antisemitism.

Goldsmiths/New Cross
I seem to be getting a bit of traffic around the interrelated issues of the anti-Israel campaign at Cafe Crema and Goldsmiths. For anyone new to this blog, here's the key posts, in reverse chronological order: Crema: "Not anti-semitic, just anti-fascist"; Deptford Town Hall occupation; "Israel must lose"; NX history, Goldsmiths imperialism and Cafe Crema; Jennifer Jones; cool film at Crema; Disreputable Lib Dems in the Goldsmiths Politics department; Goldsmiths' Muslim chaplain; Yiddish anarchists at Crema; Prangsta and South London caffs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Today's snippets

Steve Cohen
A nice obituary for Steve Cohen (to add to the ones I linked to here) from Ionnek at Indymedia London (currently the lead item on the front page, which is gratifying), which includes a bibliography of some of his writings.

Just good blogging
My two favourite blog posts of the week: the Fat Man on George Orwell, and Terry Glavin on the Kuchis of Afghanistan. In the former, a few clear well-written paragraphs and well-chosen quotes demolish some of the myths about Orwell; in the latter a tiny number of words and a perfect juxtaposition of image and video makes a profound, subtle point. (Added: Rosie also has a good piece on the Julian Barnes Orwell article.)

I'd planned to ease off on this sort of thing. After all, Engage, ZWord, Greens Engage, CC and others do it far better than me. But I went for lunch at the cafe I often frequent, Cafe Crema in New Cross, and found the blackboard no longer says "Please boycott Israeli goods. Thank you." It now says "We do not use any Israeli products. We are not anti-semitic but anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else." So now, in my world, Israel is not just bad, it's bad and fascist.

Keith Kahn-Harris' piece at Prospect on Anglo-Jewry has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate, probably over-heated by its coinciding with a terrible article in the Indy by Tony Lerman. Discussion at Prospect blog, Flesh is Grass, Engage. I've intended ito weigh in, but am having trouble articulating my response. [Update: I have now "weighed in" at Engage and Prospect. Unfortunately, at Engage I accused Mark G of the CST of something he was innocent of but that Jonathan H of the ZF was guilty of, which is embarassing, and now contents are closed. In the unlikely event Mark reads this, sorry!]

Following Seven Jewish Children (opening tomorrow in Dublin, by the way) comes Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea. A debate at the JC between drama critic John Nathan and Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh. There's also a good review at the left-leaning Time Out. And, also at the JC, Israeli soldiers on the Operation Cast Lead experience.

In the New Statesman, Rhoda Koenig on English dinner party antisemitism. [Via Engage/ZWord]

A blog I've only just notice, but will be adding to the blogroll: Old World New Ideas.

One law for all!
A report on Saturday's anti-racist march and conference against Sharia law here, with videos and pics. (Added: a report, and some questions, here from Ms Flesh.)

Local matters
An anonymous report on the re-election of the SWP's Jennifer Jones to the Goldsmiths Student Union in the comments here.

Brockley a transition town? More here. And another good cause: cobblers.

Fighting the BNP
From Progressive Viewpoint:

the reason that people are inclining towards voting for the BNP is not because they have all suddenly become goose-stepping fascists, but because they are angry, alienated, afraid and ready to give mainstream politicians a kicking. People who have decided that the political mainstream is the biggest problem will not be impressed by efforts by the Labour Party in particular to lecture them on who not to vote for. The political establishment has been largely (but not exclusively) responsible for creating the conditions in which the BNP can prosper. The same political establishment may not be able to turn this situation around in short order. It is wishful thinking to believe otherwise.
See also Phil, with whom I broadly agree, although I think the "Bonapartist" analysis is a little too shallow.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Miners' Strike

It’s Monday night, and I’ve been watching BBC4’s documentary on the Miners’ Strike, which started a quarter century ago. The documentary, focusing on a small group of Hatfield strikers, is a well made piece, and a powerful experience. Most affecting are the men, the strikers – Dave Douglass, Dave Nixon, Harry Harle, Tony Clegg, Mick Mulligan: incredibly articulate, intelligent, reflective. They relate the stories with a vividness as if they are talking about yesterday, but you do not have the sense that these are stories they have told again and again. And they have an extraordinary nobility about them. It is palpable the extent to which the experience transformed them completely, how the hatred tempered them, how much courage it took to get through it, particularly as the strike came to an end and defeat became inevitable, a shameful, humiliating defeat.

Also clear is the level of solidarity and community that was present in the pit villages before the strike, and which also strengthened by the strike. As two of the men suggest, Thatcher’s victory over the miners was partly a victory for individualism over community. Thatcher’s successors like to point to our working class communities and the social fragmentation there – “Broken Britain”; but what broke these places? Thatcher’s war on the unions, with the confrontation with the miners as the central theatre of battle, broke the institutions of self-help and mutual aid, destroyed the culture of solidarity that bound such villages, devastated a working class moral economy which sustained these communities. 
The fact that this was a war is also brought home by the film. I don’t think that people younger than me can really appreciate how clearly the lines were drawn, how divided Britain was. The picket lines were incredibly violent, with most of the violence coming from the police, especially the Metropolitan police, who acted as an occupying military force in communities like Hatfield.

And this violence was linked to the way the police protected the fascist National Front in confrontations like Lewisham ’77; it was connected to the troubles in Northern Ireland, to the uprisings in many of Britain’s inner cities, to the violence on other picketlines (most notably at Wapping), to the clampdown of the travelling and festival cultures (most importantly at the Battle of the Beanfield). Britain was essentially in a state of civil war.

Although I am at the younger end of the Miners’ Strike generation, it was that moment which shaped me politically, which therefore made me who I am today. This is brought home to me by the visceral way, a quarter century on, that I find myself responding to this documentary. It strikes me now that – with the signal exception of the part we played in defeating the poll tax and getting Thatcher deposed at the end of the decade – all of the battles I’ve been heavily involved in have been defeated: the campaigns against the next round of pit closures in 1992, against student loans, against successive immigration and asylum bills, against the Criminal Justice Act, and so on. About five years ago, before I started blogging, I was a fan of the now defunct blog Socialism in an Age of Waiting. The title - I'm not sure if they took the phrase from someone else or coined it themselves - captured my imagination. Thatcher's revolution was almost total. The working class movement that fought so hard in 1984 barely staggers on. What does radical politics mean in such a time?

Steve Cohen z''l

I was shocked to read this morning at DST4W of the death of Steve Cohen. I first came across him in the very early years of my political development, when I was given a copy of his 1984 pamphlet That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic, a brilliantly written account of British left antisemitism, tracking it from its early days in Hyndman's day to the vicious debates of the 1970s and 1980s campus left. This was the period of the Sunderland Poly JSoc ban and of the Perdition controversy, and I had my first experiences of versions of left antisemitism in the anti-fascist and student movements I was involved in. Steve's booklet put its finger on what was wrong with the left in a way that instantly made sense, and provided the resources to challenge it. When Engage re-published it in 2005, it seemed incredibly timely.

Steve was also involved in No One Is Illegal, the campaign against immigration controls. (The phrase was taken from Elie Weisel, speaking to members of the Sanctuary movement in Arizona.) NOII exposed the connections between immigration controls and fascist politics in Britain, since at least 1905:
Immigration controls are not fascism. Detention centres are not extermination camps. However, immigration laws are different from other laws in one other significant way. They are the result, at least in part, of organised fascist activity. This countryÊs first controls were contained in the 1905 Aliens Act and were directed at Jewish refugees fleeing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia. A major, perhaps the major, reason for the implementation of this legislation was the agitation of the British Brothers League. This was a proto-fascistic organisation formed in 1901 specifically around the demand for controls, which organized major demonstrations in London's East End and which can legitimately be viewed as the main force behind the legislation.
Although in 1984 Steve was a Bundist, he became increasingly critical of all nationalisms. For this reason, he called himself an "anti-Zionist Zionist", a term I like:
I have started to assume the somewhat novel self-description of being an “anti-zionist Zionist”. I am an anti-zionist like no other (maybe I exaggerate) in that I refuse to accept anti-zionist myths and untruths. I am a Zionist unlike no other (here I don’t exaggerate) in that I am opposed to the state of Israel.”
Tributes from Hak Mao, from Jim at Shiraz Socialist, from David at Engage, from Ben at Z-Word, from Andy at Socialist Unity; from Ionnek at Indymedia London; and from TNC. The comments at all these posts give you some sense of Steve's importance, despite his relatively low profile. In particular, David Rosenberg of Jewish Socialist contributes some words here.

Friday, March 06, 2009


My sister told me this joke ages ago, which I'm not sure if I've quoted here before: Two Greek anarchists are making molotov cocktails. One says to the other: "So who will we throw these at then?" The other replies: "What are you, some kind of fucking intellectual?" Just found it at slackbastard, and it seemed appropriate.

Today's links:

Music: black, Jewish and American

I'm ashamed I've never heard of James Reese Europe, who Eubie Blake described as "the Martin Luther King of music". Locust Avenue, up to 1914 in his vinyl history of the world, features this great man here.

The post also features the pianist Felix Arndt, possibly George Gershwin's teacher, whose story exemplifies something that has been a sub-text of the series: the complex interaction between black musical culture and European (including Eastern European) musical culture in forging what we now know as American popular music.
His "Desecration Rag"'s title is an in-joke, as the piece performs "ragtime perversions" (as Victor Records called them) on Dvorak's "Humoresque," Lizst's "2nd Hungarian Rhapsody," Sinding's "Rustle of Spring" and Chopin's "Impromptu," "Militaire Polonaise" and "Funeral March."

As Arndt was a New York-based piano player, his recordings may show the influence of the undocumented generation of regional pianists who were turning ragtime into stride jazz playing, such as New York's Richard "Abba Labba" McLean, Baltimore's "One Leg" Willie Joseph and John "Jack the Bear" Wilson, who played in Baltimore and NYC, and whose piano playing was a sideshow to his main interests of pimping, gambling and, later, opium.
Moving forward a generation or so, I have posted a few times on this blog on the great Jewish contributors to African-American music, such as Jerry Wexler (born 1917) and Doc Pomus (born in the 1920s). Soul Sides features another of these great men, Philly's Jerry Ragovoy (born 1935), who wrote many of the most-loved songs of soul music, including "Time Is on My Side" (made famous by the The Rolling Stones*), Garnet Mimms' "Cry Baby" (with a speoken word sequence that pefigured rap), Erma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart" (more famous for Janis Joplin), Howard Tate's "Get It While You Can". He frequently collaborated with also-Jewish Bronx-born Bert Berns (born 1929), who is responsible for a lot of the Latin influences in R&B music.

While I'm here, another underrated musical genious: Jabbo Smith. I remember when I was a kid getting into early jazz (Jabbo's rival Louis Armstrong was my first musical hero, and the first album I bought was by him), I was intrigued by the word "Jabbo" and longed to hear what he sounded like. If I'd been a kid now, I'd just have to click to YouTube...

Previous: Jerry Wexler, Who owns soul music?, Jewface 1908, The devil and the backbeat, Oriental Ellingtonia, Lattimore Brown and citizen scholarship.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Red Rosa versus Red-Pink Nadine

The first half of this post from Snoopy is on a Belgian "communist" who criticises "the European Left" for its conservatism on the question of Islamism. Nadine Rosa-Rosso, writing for the Beirut International Forum for Resistance, Anti-Imperialism, Solidarity between Peoples and Alternatives, held from January 16 to 18, 2009, says:
The vast majority of the Left, including communists, agrees in supporting the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression, but refuses to support its political expressions such as Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Left not only refuses to support them, but also denounces them and fights against them.
I'd like to think that Nadine is right about that, that it is only a handful of deranged faux "anti-imperialists" who support Islamist politics, given that Islamism goes against the core principles of the historical left - social justice, human emancipation, democracy. Indeed, when I make sweeping generalisations about "the left" as pro-Hamas, I am gently reminded by comrades like Dave that it is only a marginal segment of the left who follow that line.

However, Snoopy follows on from Nadine's article to the call she has initiated for the EU to remove Hamas from its list of proscribed terrorist outfits. Such a call is, I think, wrong, but not insane. However, it goes on to demand "that they acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and, by so doing, recognise, Hamas as a legitimate voice for the Palestinian people's aspirations for national liberation." Rosa Luxembourg would be turning in her grave to see what "communism" has descended to.

Rather belying Nadine's claim that "the Left" refuses to support Hamas, the signatories include a range of important leftists. There's Augusto Boal, someone I greatly admire; there's various Green MPs and Senators, as well as usual suspects like Jose Saramago, Tariq Ali and the disgusting antisemite James Petras. The UK signatories include Gilad Atzmon (of course), the IT manager of Pluto Press, famously "moderate" Tariq Ramadan, famously immoderate John Hutnyk and a number of other academics, "mad hatter" Mark Barrett, etc.

What's wrong with the demand? As Transpontine said in a recent comment here,
Can we develop a kind of solidarity with civilians who happen to be Palestian (rather than 'the Palestinian People') that recognises and opposes their suffering at the hands of war machines without all the baggage of making them into a unique case?
To repeat something I've said before, those who talk most of The People are those who care least for real people, including real Palestinians. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg said,
the famous 'right of self-determination of nations' is nothing but hollow, bourgeois phraseology and humbug... [When it has been achieved,] it was really not the "people" who engaged in these reactionary policies, but only the bourgeois and petit bourgeois classes, who - in sharpest opposition to their own proletarian masses - perverted the 'national right of self-determination' into an instrument of their counter-revolutionary class policies. But - and here we come to the very heart of the question - it is in this that the utopian, petit bourgeois character of this nationalistic slogan resides: that in the midst of the crude realities of class society, especially when class antagonisms are sharpened to the uttermost, it is simply converted into a means of bourgeois class rule.
One of the few things worse than nationalism, in my view, is what Maurice Brinton of Solidarity called "vicarious" nationalism: the easy, exoticised celebration of the nationalisms of distant national elites, however reactionary, in lieu of the harder work of genuine solidarity with the common folk of those places.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I hate it when bloggers use the word "random"

End racism and cultural relativism: This weekend, to mark International Women's Day is a march against Sharia law in Britain, organised by One Law For All.

Stop Modi! Another good cause to march for: Narendra Modi, one of the architects of the Gujarat massacre in 2002, as well as a corrupt, Hitler-loving politician, is visiting the UK to attend the India Summit 2009, at the Marriot across the square from th US embassy. A counter-demonstration is planned. Background from Dal Khalsa UK (nb: link not necessarily an endorsement of their politics!).

Strange alliances: Three great posts from Jewcy - On Mexico-Gaza, the politics of an analogy; On the BNP's apparent conversion to Zionism; On the love affair between right-wing realists and left-wing liberals.

Preachers of hate: SPLC on Richard Williamson: Behind the Bishop - The Anti-Semitism of the SSPX. Meanwhile, Jams reports, a Catholic priest, Emmanuel Rudkundo, has been found guilty of genocide in Rwanda.

Excuse-making for the Soviet tyranny: Nick Cohen on Eric Hobsbawm and the Stalinist accommodation of Hitler.

Schadenfreude: Sid at Pickled Politics says Lord Ahmed is getting off lightly.

Quote of the day: on Pilger, Chomsky and Pol Pot (via Freeborn Peter).

Between totalitarianism and liberalism: I have to confess I'm linking to this before I read it, but am printing it out to read it properly: "a review of a review by Peter Ryley of a review by Nick Cohen of Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism".

Karl Marx's Whiskers Were Sixteen Inches Long: On A Raised Beach is looking for this Wobbly song - can anyone help? I'm intrigued.

Bullshit: I wish I had the time and energy to tell you why I think this attack by Gideon Levy on the brilliant Waltz With Bashir is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Decentism: New issue of Democratiya just out. It's a double issue, prior to an Autumn re-launch, so is bulging with content. There's a debate on one state versus two states for Israel/Palestine, featuring Walzer, Martin Shaw, Alex Stein, Ghada Karmi and others; there is interesting material on the rise of political Islam, including Hazel Blears' speech and an appreciation of Ian Buruma; Paul Thompson writes on Nick Cohen and the left; Eric Lee on Gaza and the labour movement.

Incidentally, looping back to the top of the post, the organisers of the anti-Sharia march on Monday are not impressed by Blears' speech: watch Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya on Hazel Blears and British government policy towards Islamic extremism, Geert Wilders and freedom of expression, at TV International. TV International's Reza Moradi is also critical of Wilder's Fitna. He writes: "Fitna, the Movie, however, doesn’t really criticise Islam and more importantly the political Islamic movement. Rather, it attacks immigrants, labels millions as ‘Muslims’, and implies their support for a movement that millions have opposed, resisted and fled from." He made Fitna Remade as a response. Mediawatchwatch say "It is not exactly a rebuttal of Fitna, more a refinement. Fitna was a rocket fired indiscriminately into a civilian population. Fitna Remade resets the coordinates to target the jihadist combatants and avoid collateral casualties." Freeborn John also approves.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Cosmopolitan intent

Some serious issues that deserve your urgent support:
Soundtrack to this post: "Allahi Allah" by Niyaz, "Kaddish" by Ofra Haza.


Poumista on mourning anti-fascist heroes, and on whether those heroes are quite so heroic. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, I am still hanging on the cliff's edge with Jams' on-going narrative of the life of Red Cushing.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Goldsmiths and the politics of anti-Zionism

A post of relevance both to my local readers and my far-flung ones. New Cross blogger Transpontine and anarcho-blogger Ian Bone have both posted on the student occupation of Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths, to demand scholarships for Palestinian students. An extremely reasonable demand.

Anti-German Translation puts a more negative spin on it in the comments here. Here series of posts entitled "The anti-Zionism of idiots" has lots more stuff on the occupations, drawing on On A Raised Beach and other friends of Bob From Brockley.

Meanwhile, Mira describes the poisonous unfolding of the Palestine Twinning campaign at Goldsmiths.