Friday, May 29, 2009


(Stealing Jim's formula again, except I do it as the week ends, and he does it as the weekend ends.)
And, finally, something beautiful: Bebo and Cigala's "Lagrimas negras":

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How the left turned to the right

Freedom of expression cannot be sought invidiously in one territory, and ignored in another. For with authorities who claim the secular right to defend divine decree there can be no debate no matter where they are, whereas for the intellectual, tough searching debate is the core of activity, the very stage and setting of what intellectuals without revelation really do... the [campaign against the fatwa] is not really about offence to Islam, but a spur to go on struggling for democracy that has been denied us, and the courage not to stop. Rushdie is the intifada of the imagination." Edward Said
Oliver Kamm had a short essay in the Times at the weekend, attacking, in his usual sharp and well-evidenced way, the propensity of the liberal left to let reactionary attitudes off the hook because of the false notion that the ideals of freedom of speech are eurocentric and because of a false notion that ethnic and religious groups should be protected from offence.

The example of Bernie Grant's response to the Rushdie fatwa, as related in Tony Benn's diaries, is quite shocking:
“Bernie Grant kept interrupting, saying that the whites wanted to impose their values on the world. The House of Commons should not attack other cultures. He didn’t agree with the Muslims in Iran, but he supported their right to live their own lives. Burning books was not a big issue for blacks, he maintained.”
The emphasis is mine, on a statement that is one of the most disgusting I've read recently.

However, as is often the case, I think Kamm over-states his case in conjuring up a monolithic "left". He gives just five examples: Grant, a Danish journalist writing in the Guardian, Baroness Shirley Williams, Ken Livingstone, and Verso Books. Do these examples really sum up "the left"? Livingstone is (or at least has been) a significant figure, but does anyone listen to Shirley Williams these days, let alone Jacob Illborg? And in what sense is the centre-right politician Williams to the left of Christopher Hitchens, who Kamm positions as the voice of reason in debate with her? And how many actually existing left-wingers outside universities really talk about eurocentrism?

On the Rushdie affair, at the heart of his argument, it is of course true that there were left-wing appeasers of the fatwa-ists, informed by a reactionary version of multiculturalist dogma. On the whole, however, the right utterly failed to defend Salman Rushdie - conservatives like Roald Dahl and Immanuel Jakobovits (mentioned by Kamm) were among his attackers, while the Thatcher government made little effort on his behalf.

Who was it that did defend him? Well, sections of the left. On the one hand, there were writers and intellectuals organised by International PEN, including people like, yes, Tariq Ali, Harold Pinter, Edward Said. On the other hand was what we can loosely call the black left: the broad, grassroots, secular and feminist organisations in the postcolonial communities of Britain, groups like Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism.

Ruthless criticism of cultural relatavism is important and necessary, as is ruthless criticism of the liberal multiculuralist dogma about "causing offence". But such a broad brush dismissal of the whole left on this basis is premature.

1990s hip hop, West Coast edition

A great mix from the TNC*.

*Just realised that's wrong, as the T in TNC is "the", but The TNC sounds much more dope than The New Centrist.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What is to be done?

If you didn't read Eve Garrard's guest post at Norm's place, "What is to be done?", about the rise of European antisemitism, please do (and then, if you want, read the comment thread at Engage). It's a great piece of writing. Although the best writing is in the first half, I want to extract here from the second half:
There is, however, one further strategy [for Jews] which can be canvassed. We should bear in mind that Jews are not friendless, even on the left, and we should try to build on that. There is a distinct section of the liberal-left* which sees what is happening, and doesn't like it - within the blogosphere, and beyond that domain as well. Some of these people are heroes, who have themselves been the object of hostility and condemnation for the stance which they've adopted. They don't think that Jews should be singled out for special obloquy for supporting the Jewish state, nor do they see Jews as exercising sinister powers in expressing that support. The anti-racism of these people doesn't make an exception for anti-Semitism; they and their views form the basis for a genuinely universal struggle against discrimination uninfected by the traditional prejudices which are once again crawling out of the shadows. One strategy for Jews is to work with these figures and others like them to revive a universal anti-racism, alongside support for other universal rights and values, as well as more particular ones appropriate for individual situations and commitments.
I thought this was important. Another cause for hope is the launch last week of TULIP, Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, subject of a future blog post here.

(*I imagine the folks at Shiraz Socialist didn't like the word "liberal" being allocated to their hyperlink!)


Talking of antisemitism, here are a couple follow-ups on the Ken Loach affair. Notwisconsin at the Daily Kos; Mira V at Engage; Alec again.


It might be a bit arcane for some of my readers, but Waterloo Sunset and Contested Terrain (with a couple of contributions from Mike and Mod) had a very interesting debate about nationalism, anti-nationalism and anti-Germanism here. I learnt a lot from it.

This recent Hitchens piece, on Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, is relevant to those issues.


Euronationalism/unsavoury alliances watch: Modernity (via Jim and Fiachra Gibbons) bring news of Libertas' unpleasant alliances with antisemitic Polish nationalists.


Good causes: Here's some causes you might want to take action in relation to. Defend Florence Hartmann. Union rights for Iranian workers. Harassment of broadcasters in Chavez's Venezuela. Iranian political prisoner Behrouz Javid Tehrani in danger of death. Help fight the Taleban in Pakistan. Palestinians displaced by Operation Cast Lead still living in tents. Tamils in London continue to protest, without much far left support.


Finally, here's Modernity's Normblog profile

Soundtrack: Kutiman and evil Zionist funk. Early Ike Turner rumpshakers. Swine flu cumbia. And, from the wonderful Mudd Up: Matoub Lounès, profane Berber rebel martyr; Chaabi and reggada from the Maghrebi diaspora; Morroccan gnawa dub. Oh, and (via Jogo, but placed here with Daniel in mind) a bird digging Ray Charles.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Tamil diaspora: a footnote from South London

Thanks to Ken for his comment on a post about Sri Lanka and Loampit Vale. At his blog, he writes of the closure yesterday of the local Tamil shops here. Extract:
These people are watching their world end and we’re just walking past on the way to the bus-stop. Maybe we pop in to buy a packet of fags or a few lemons. Well, not today we couldn’t.
P.S. I've added Ken's blog, The View From Nunhead, to the Sarf London section of the blogroll. I also liked this recent post: The micro-ethno-geography of football.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Left antisemitism and its deniers

Matt at Ignoblus takes up the Indymedia item noted here. He rightly questions my characterisation of the less virulently anti-Zionist poster as "more sensible": more sensible only in a very poor field. He concludes that, in these circles,
to oppose antisemitism is understood as 'coming out' as a Jew. Like a straight guy who won't put up with homophobic jokes. The explanation is that the straight guy is gay. Or the anti-racist who becomes a "nigger-lover." Whether antisemites use the straightforward "Jew" or the more circumspect "Zionazi" doesn't much matter - that dynamic is more important.
A variation, in other words, of the Livingstone formulation.


At Anti-German's comments, Contested Terrain brings more bad news from Austria (and more bad moderation from Indymedia NYC).


Shalom Lappin at Normblog: Therapists to the Jews: Psychologizing the 'Jewish Question' (on Caryl Churchill, Jacqueline Rose and Tony Lerman).

Norman Geras on Marx's undeniable antisemitism.

Anti-German Translation: resources against left antisemitism.

Carol Gould's groundhog day: British journalists for Palestine. (h/t Jogo)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reasons for and against hope

Jonathan Wittenberg, the much-loved rabbi, who I saw an inspiring presentation by at last year's South London Limmud (and who spoke at the Strangers into Citizens event), has a powerful article in the JC on ethics and solidarity after Gaza.

On a banal but important level, "There Must Be Another Way", the Hebrew/Arabic Eurovision collaboration between Yemenite Israeli singer Achinoam “Noa” Nini and Palestinian Israeli citizen Mira Awad (which came 16th last night), is an example of the sort of thing Wittenberg is talking about. Mira and Noa are active in OneVoice, for which they have been condemned by some anti-Zionists. Awad featured in the acclaimed Plonter and in Lemon Tree, the latter being paradoxically screened by my Israel-boycotting local cafe Crema.

On a related note, across the Atlantic, Fiesta Shalom is a cool-looking LA street festival aimed at bridging Latino and Jewish cultures, taking place today. Don PalabraZ reports that Quetzal, "the seminal East Los Angeles band", won’t be there. Apparently, Quetzal gave numerous reasons as to why they felt it obligatory to pull out from performing at Sunday’s Fiesta Shalom including: “Decades of Chican@ solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle for Self-determination” and “Decades of solidarity with the non-zionist, non-imperialist peace-loving Jewish community.” Don PalabraZ also posts an mp3 of their song "Intifada".

Friday, May 15, 2009

Relevant to some of our recent discussions

Two from Workers' Liberty:
  • On the politics of the AWL, answering questions like Israel is like apartheid South Africa isn't it? and Oppressed people like the Palestinians can never be imperialists can they?
  • Sri Lanka: the left must stand for consistent democracy.
I think I've linked to this before at LibCom, but Bataille Socialiste have recently published Solidarity's classic 1971 pamphlet, "Third Worldism or Solidarity", sparked by an earlier round of violence in Sri Lanka. (Via entdinglichung.)

Added Monday: also relevant is Andrew Coates' Marxist analysis of the Euro-elections, specifically the bit about Marx versus Mazzini.

Red, green, black

Red Maria at the Dolphinarium (a fellow contrarian) reports on an outrageous deportation, on left bloggery about Strangers into Citizens, and about patriotism in strange places ("a rather diverting thread over at Socialist Unity, where the well-intentioned but ever so slightly priggish Andy Newman uses a book review as a springboard for launching into a prolonged bout of patriotic mysticism, apparently prompted by a walk in the countryside"). Also here on Hope Not Hate's campaign against the BNP.


Green Ladywell councillor Sue Luxton on a local meeting about the Sri Lankan situation. Good for Sue for raising this important issue.


Following my brush with the anarcho-nationalists at Anarkismo: after Anti-German's noting of a judenrein hotel in Austria (noted here), Contested Terrain posted it to Indymedia NYC, where anti-Zionist nutjobs take the opportunity to slag off Jews. Sample:
"Hey you Zionazi shit. Its not like anyone here visits Austria or intends to visit Austria, or we are going to want to stay in that crummy hotel. Nor we are unaware, the reason you post this is to digress from the fact you are an zioracist apologist for ethnic cleansing and terror. Or that you attempt to defile the Jewish religion, by using it as justification for your racism. Slime back down to the LGF sewer."
A more sensible poster comments:
hey indymedia, this is why no one gives a shit about this site! for the millionth time, anti semitism (or provacteur bullshit like this, which amounts to the same thing and means you are actually probably also doing free pr for israel's foreign policy by letting it be posted)

[antisemitism] does exist, independent of whatever israel does or does not do, existed before israel and is as bad as racism in addition to dumbing down and poisoning the well for any kind of intelligent political debate. THIS IS WHAT WILL ALWAYS HAPPEN unless you take a stance on it, like I assume you would if someone wrote "who cares if a bunch of fag niggers got fired from a hotel". )
Sadly, it goes without saying that no moderator has yet removed the racist comments, after four days.


Incidentally, for the anarcho-nationalists of Anarkismo, one of the received truths is that Zionism is an imperialist project. Earlier this month marked the 88th anniversary of the Jaffa riots, in which Yosef Haim Brenner was murdered. Point of No Return highlights British imperialist complicity in the anti-Zionist violence.


A good round-up of posts from the TNC, including a link to Roland's demolition of Abe Greenwald at Commentary and his premature obituary for liberal hawks. Roland also has his own obituary: for the American Green Party, focusing on Cynthia McKinney, the Ron Paul of the left. He writes:
I worked as a regional campaign manager for the Green Party during the 2000 election, and it disappoints me to see how far the Party has fallen into extremism and paranoia since then. Making the repulsive Cynthia McKinney their presidential pick was the final nail in the coffin, and they seem unable to back away from this woman and her nutty ideas. She continues to write her Alex Jones worthy diatribes on the Green Party's official website, making her words indistinguishable from the organization as a whole.

I can only imagine what some old comrades of mine who happened to stay with the party after 9/11 think of it now.
I had a look at the latest Cynthia skreed. Quoting Matthias Chang, leading Bilderberg nut, the man who wrote The Zionist Anglo-American Empire Meltdown. Talking about finance capital and the shadow money lenders, notably all examples having names like Rothschild and Greenspan... They don't call it the socialism of fools for nothing.

I can't believe this woman was ever elected to Congress, that the Green Party would want someone like her to represent them. Not to mention that the British Green Left continues to endorse her, when even (should I say even?) Andy Newman can see she's lost the plot. Among other things, by the way, McKinney thinks that Zimbabwe is a "stable democracy"...

Snoopy comments:
I think that the lack of socialized health services in US is to blame. In many other places she would have been certified and put in a padded room a lot of time ago ;-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Man on Wire in Brockley

Next week the Brockley Jack Film Club is screening Man on Wire, the very highly rated documentary. Here's the details:

Monday 18 May 2009 at 7.30PM

Man on Wire
James Marsh / UK 2008 / 93 min / cert: 12

Winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Documentary, Man on Wire tells the incredible story of what some observers dubbed as “the artistic crime of the century”. One day in August 1974, after months of preparation, a young man called Philippe Petit attempts to walk on a wire between the New York's twin towers, then the world's tallest buildings.

Edited like a heist film and with a evocative soundtrack by Michael Nyman, the film presents rare and fascinating footage of the actual event together with stylish re-enactments and interviews of Petit and some of the co-conspirators.

“Simply exhilarating.” ***** The Times. Read the full review here .
“One of the most beautiful and thrilling documentaries ever made ” The Daily Telegraph

Official website

The Film Club always precedes the main feature with a local short. This month, the short will be Voice of the Voiceless, an excellent documentary about the 1970s/80s reggae sound system scene in New Cross and Deptford, featuring two veterans of that scene, Lez Henry and Les Back, as well as archival footage of, I think, Jah Shaka at the Albany Empire. One of the film-makers made the Guca documentary I highlighted here, although this is a much tighter and stronger film.

I see at Transpontine that Cafe Crema is screening Lemon Tree on 21 May, a film that looks well worth seeing. I am not sure how a boycott of Israeli goods squares with showing an Israeli film, but there you go...

Bonus links: TheJC on Man on Wire's Simon Chinn; Transpontine on film; Novelty shoe (SE4 film blog); Gordon Brown in Brockley; Brockley Nick interviewed at Londonist.
Previous: New Cross past and future; Deptford cinematic.

Fill in the blank

Chaos Marxism quotes this:
Those individuals who adopt fill in the blank because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority. ... People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions.
And then adds:
The original article filled the blank with "Islam", but as you can see if you throw "Marxism" in there it works just as well.
That's so true! Of course, there's lots of isms we could fill the blank with...


I've stupidly joined in another debate about Zionism, this time with "anarchists" at anarkismo: The Palestinian struggle and the anarchist dilemma. It's effectively a rehash of the same debate as this one, except it is with people who ought to know better. Go join in, if you have the energy.

Today's miscellaneous links:

Gershon Baskin: Will Israelis ever accept the Arab Peace Initiative? (More from Greens Engage.)

Jeremy Seabrook on the BNP in Labour's working class heartlands. Meanwhile, the BNP violently attack No2EU activists in Carlisle. (Here, incidentally, are who the BNP in Cumbria are.)

Gene at HP: Cynthia McKinney descent watch continued.

James William Kilgore, the last arrested Symbionese Liberation Army killer has been released. Jogo comments: "Did six years easy prison time for bombs, mayhem and accessory to murder. Sentence shortened for being of the White Race (could join BNP if he wanted to). Defendent made no objection to White Race-induced short sentence. Heh-heh, it's great to be a member of the White Race when you get caught."

No Jews Allowed: Anti-German reports on another depressing manifestation of hate in Austria.

Monday, May 11, 2009


*Legal disclaimer. That's not actually true.

Friday, May 08, 2009


I'm stealing Jim's formula for this post, minus the YouTube, so I'll start off with two links to him:
OK, here is a YouTube actually. And it's not Pete Seeger. Mavis Staples. The guitar is Ry Cooder. One of my son's favourite songs.

Elsewhere elsewhere

A Bob From Brockley endorsement of Roland's web round-up: go there and then read them all. Especially these:

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gurkha clarity/Ethics of hospitality

Further to this, here's Hak Mao:
There is a genuine news story about the right of former Gurkha servicemen to remain in Britain, the politics of immigration controls, and the policies (and hypocrisy) of Labour, Tories and the Liberal Democrats, although sundry news ‘outlets’ have missed it. The story is only interesting to the press insofar as it relates to Gordon Brown and his ‘humiliation’. The Gurkhas are a cypher, a convenient hook — on another day, Brown would be ‘humiliated’ if the government had admitted the Gurkhas without demur.

As Labour and the Tories compete to be perceived as ‘harder’ on immigration, there is a surfeit of humiliation to go around.
[See also Martin M]

And further to this, here's a taste of the left bloggery around Strangers into Citizens:
  • Voltaire's Curate: a critical view from a No Borders perspective (see also discussion thread)
  • Liam: a sympathetic view from a Socialist Resistance member
  • David Broder: a sympathetically critical view from The Commune (response from SiC here)
  • Jim Jay: a sympathetic view from our Green socialist comrade (gets extra points for going off to the Tamil demo)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Elizabeth Cotton, Pete Seeger and YouTube

We've mentioned old Stalinist Pete Seeger a few times here. I was brought up on his sweet, clear, warm voice. I sing "Hobo's Lullaby" to my kids, in the version I learnt from him. My son also likes to sing "Shake Sugaree", the song written by Elizabeth Cotton, who cared for Pete's younger half-siblings when they were kids. The Elizabeth Cotton story is amazing: a self-taught genius who only reached an audience when she was over sixty. It was pure coincidence that Cotton found little Peggy Seeger when she was lost in a department store, which led to the Seegers employing her as some kind of housekeeper or maid, after which she rediscovered her childhood passion for guitar and began to record and play live.

Without the Seegers, she would have been unknown to the world of music, and the world in general would be a poorer place for that. But there is also something a little icky, a little colonial, about their patronage of her, with which I am uncomfortable. However, even my heart was melted by this lovely YouTube clip of Elizabeth with Pete, posted yesterday by Paulie, with her telling the story of and singing her classic, "Freight Train".

This clip, to me, alone justifies the existence of YouTube.
Image from Recall Music.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Quickly now

Some quick links:

Noga on Roma rights in Hungary (plus more here).

La Brigada with an evocative typo.

Rosie on Seven Jewish Children, and taking us back to the 1930s.

Just got around to listening to the mp3 of a prank caller to the BNP, which David Herman linked to in a HP comment thread, found via the Modster. The BNP like to present themselves as shiny new nice people, but they are deeply fascist through and through. This guy, for example, says we are all the slaves of "the Jews", that we might need concentration camps if voluntary repatriation of immigrants doesn't work and that the Holocaust was a hoax. The way I think of the BNP is esoteric/exoteric - all housing concerns and "are you thinking what we're thinking" on the outside, but you don't have to scratch too deep to get to the genocidal conspirationist madness at the core.

Ronald Radosh on "academic freedom" (criticising Alan Wolfe's defense of William I. Robinson's Gaza=Warsaw Ghetto analogy e-mail) and on folk-songer Bob Cohen on Stalinist Pete Seeger. [h/t Jogo]

On the "neverthelessery" we looked at already, Modernity spots a particularly bad example at Jim's place.

May day

A couple of Mayday posts:

Friday, May 01, 2009

Leonard Cohen, Antisemitism and Neverthelessery

Three via Engage:

1. Jonathan Freedland on the boycotters' ignorant exhortation to Leonard Cohen not to go to Israel. Interestingly, Chris from Cafe Crema is a big fan of Leonard Cohen, who is also featured by my fellow "contrarian" Poumista here.

2. Norman Geras on the "It doesn't matter if criticism of and attitudes to Israel are anti-Semitic, so long as they are also anti-Zionist" attitude, as expressed by various Guardianistas.

3. David T takes up the theme, describing it as "neverthelessery", and uses it to argue for a re-founding of the anti-racist movement. Extract (some hyperlinks added):

There are some who are prominent within anti-Zionism who are also opponents of anti-semitism. Andy Newman, and even George Galloway, have been fierce in their condemnation of anti-Jewish racism. Yet, when it comes to the crunch, they’re enthusiastic “neverthelessers”. You can’t cheer on Hamas - hand money over to Hamas, even - but either ignore or attempt to explain away their genocidal antisemitism, and still claim to be an anti-racist.

This, incidentally, is why a new anti-racist politics - one that will never, ever tolerate strategic racism - is more vital now, than ever.

Pic from NYT, h/t Graeme.
See also Martin M.