Friday, October 22, 2010

Eyes Wide Open in Brockley

This is slightly late in the day, but the Brockley Jack Film Club is screening Eyes Wide Open on Monday night. Details are here.

Aaron a married orthodox Jew in his thirties gives an enigmatic young man (Ezri) a job in his Jerusalem butcher’s shop.   Working alongside Ezri unlocks long repressed desires and the two men embark on a sexual relationship.  Slowly the community begins to suspect what is happening, and so begins Aaron’s conflict between his faith, community and desire.  With a restrained pace and muted colours Tabakman’s film captures the  oppressive atmosphere of a closed society and the cost of breaking a great taboo.
“‘A gripping tale of a man fighting with himself, his community and religion’
Time Out
“Tabakman manages to break taboos without resorting to a heavy-handed attack on religion. His film is sparse, sombre and curiously compelling.” ****
Sunday Times
Watch the trailer
Haim Tabakman / Israel 2009 / 90 min / Hebrew & Yiddish with subtitles / Cert: 12

Queer haredim on screen in SE4! I am told this is one of the real gems of the current Israeli cinema, under-going something of a renaissance with films like Samuel Maoz's Lebanon, Eran Riklis' The Lemon Tree, Ari Folman's awesome Waltz With Bashir, Tatia Rosenthal's $9.99, Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit and Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's Ajami.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anti-fascism in a new era

Waterloo Sunset has published a very helpful critique of Searchlight’s announcement of a brave new era for anti-fascism. Like WS, I agree that there is some truth in the analysis of the changing situation put forward by Nick Lowles and Paul Meszaros, and like WS I am far from convinced of either the newness or the wisdom of the new course they chart. I differ from WS in being less sure of what the right course is.

As WS points out, the aspects of the new Searchlight analysis which are correct were actually set out very clearly a decade and a half ago by London Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) in its Filling the Vacuum document, which led eventually to the self-dissolution of AFA and a turn to community politics. In short, the battle against the BNP on the streets had been won by the early 1990s, but the BNP were winning a cultural war in the communities where white working class people felt let down and abandoned by mainstream society, and in particular by the left and the Labour movement.

But, as WS also points out, the way to engage those communities is not to enter the political mainstream, or to do the Labour Party’s business and re-connect the electorate in those communities with the political machine which abandoned them. That only further sacrifices our credibility.

The way to fill the vacuum, instead,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Suburban stupidity

First, Coatesy’s latest blog round-up gives me (and some of my favourites) a namecheck.
Other Blogs worth noting: Shiraz Socialist – for its against-the-grain attacks and good sense about Islamism. Rosie Bell, raising the cultural tone. Bob From Brockley offers an indispensable round-up of left Blogging, and recently wrote a superb history of the RCP/Living Marxism. Poumista covers with rigour the kind of left the Tendance comes from. The Spanish Prisoner does great film reviews, and – a real source of new information – explains life on the Dole as an American leftist. Entdinglichung covers such a range of European leftist news, history and theory, that one wonders how he manages it. Beyond the Transition is essential reading on the former Eastern Bloc.

Among those, Rosie has a post on the RCP, which also kindly links to mine, but says it a lot more succinctly and wittily.

Phil, A Very Public Sociologist, has taken up my “Influential left-wingers” meme, except he’d done it in the style of my “political influences” series, which is far more interesting. In his lovely post, he celebrates his Nana, a working class Tory and a fine woman. Thank you Phil.

Modernity’s “A Few Things” is chock-a-block with tasty morsels, such as Yaacov Lozowick’s review of Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People, and a report on Gazans fighting back against Hamas by brewing their own wine! His subsequent roll-around is even more replete. I’m still digesting it, but have so far gotten to Flesh on fairness, Martin admitting to stealing my template, SAFA on the Scottish Defence League, Mira on Tony Greenstein’s antisemitism (because of comment moderation, I didn’t see until now that Tony calls me “Bob from boring Bromley” – how low can a man go?), and Max on Liu Xiaobo.

Just quickly, a few other things. A shockingly good article published at Counterpunch on American activists admiring Ahmadinejad by Bitta Mostofi (hat tip Rob). A post on the EDL in Leicester from a militant anti-fascist (hat tip WS). WS himself on the resignation of a prominent EDL activist over far right infiltration.

And this week’s new favourite blogger is Ross Wolfe of The charnel-house, among whose posts are this one on Columbus Day, this one on what Lenin would say about the leftists who say Hamas are anti-imperialist, and this one on regressive activism at the G20 summit. But my favourite post of the week is not from Ross, but from Nick at Just Opinions, on Jewishness.

More round-ups at Poumista: Poumelated and Poumicity. And one more from Barkingside21.

Note: title of this post taken from Tony Greenstein's description of me at Greens Engage. To celebrate suburban stupidity, here's Bromley's own David Bowie, soundtracking Bromley's own Hanif Kureishi:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An enormous EDL post

The English Defence League rioted again in Leicester (which happens to be my father’s hometown) last weekend. Something like 1200 or more EDL activists were bussed in, despite a (silly) official ban on the march, and the predictable result was a fair amount of low-level violence and intimidation. The majority of EDL demonstrators were effectively penned in for the day by the police and spent most of their energy shouting “come on then” to UAF supporters over the cops’ heads; meanwhile, smaller bands of possibly independent and sometimes local thugs given courage by the EDL marauded around town, looking for trouble, making random attacks on Muslim-looking passers-by and businesses.

John Cruddas has suggested that the EDL is now a bigger threat than the BNP. This has prompted Mira to re-post about June’s Dissent blog post on this – also cross-posted at Harry’s Place, where it attracts an audience of EDL apologists, despite the best efforts of Gene and other above-the-line commentators. However, it seems to me that HP, to his credit, has made it clearer and clearer through the week that it has no time for this audience. Shiraz Maher at Standpoint is very good on the politics at stake here.

As far as I can tell, there have been five main political responses, all of them inadequate – although I don't know what an adequate response would look like. Hope Not Hate organised populist unity events the days before and after, urged residents to stay out of the city, and told people to leave the EDL to the police. (As the voice of HnH, see Nick Lowles in the JC.) This seems to me unsatisfactory, because it effectively gives the EDL a victory in advance, and disempowers residents. Unite Against Fascism have made a big deal of being the “militant” alternative to HnH, and mobilised people in a counter-demonstration, but only managed to get a few hundred out, who I believe were kettled in by the police in a predictable set piece. Although I can understand why this seems more morally satisfying than the HnH route, I can’t see it as being a more effective response. The long Socialist Unity comment thread on this was depressing, with both sides wheeling out stale clichés from bygone ages to justify their positions, with Andy Newman and other HnH supporters trotting out the usual accusations of “ultra-leftistm” and “squadism” and the UAF supporters responding with “popular frontism”, is if the right course was settled eight decades ago.

Third, residents in Highfields and some of the neighbourhoods of Leicester that expected to be targeted by the EDL did what Jewish and black communities have done in Britain from the Cardiff riots of 1919, to Cable Street in 1936, to the Leeds and Manchester pogroms of 1947, to the Notting Hill riots of 1958, to the NF wave of terror in East London in the late 1970s. That is, they organised themselves to defend their neighbourhoods. Luckily, the EDL didn’t get that near them, and there was relatively little violence. I have seen a couple of reports of independent anti-fascist activists from places like Lincoln avoiding the official demos to link up with them, which seems like a decent enough approach. (See the report of the AWL.)

Fourth and fifth, there now seem to be two rival groups called the Muslim Defence League. The MDL mirrors some of the EDL “divisions” in that they don't have much concrete organisational existence off of Facebook groups organised by anonymous people. I can’t get much sense of how much they actually mobilised on the day, although they do seem to have had some presence – any readers who have a better picture than I do, please comment. I understand the motivation behind them. Hannah Arendt, who had little or no Jewish cultural consciousness, said when you’re attacked as a Jew you defend yourself as a Jew. For the Asian youth of Leicester, mostly working class second or third generation Midlands with Gujerati Indian routes, they fee under attack as Muslims. In other words, the presence of the EDL drives a Muslim identity politics that mirrors the EDL’s belligerent identitarian practices. As far as I can tell, one wing of the MDL (associated with the Facebook operator Chechnyan Wolf) openly embraces essentially fascist Muslim identity politics, dripping with antisemitism, anti-Hindu hatred and glorification of jihadi terror – almost like cartoon bogeymen the EDL have dreamed into being. The other MDL, “MDL United We Stand Divided We Fall”, which seems to have some connection to the SWP/UAF, has disassociated itself with that sort of fascism. (As an aside, my internet digging suggests to me that a chilling, widely circulating, heavily edited YouTube video of EDL thugs attacking terrified women in Big John’s kebab may be local thugs not directly connected to the EDL hierarchy hunting down MDL activists who had badly messed up their logistics on the day. Any authoritative comments on that incident are welcome.)

As ever, Modernity has some of the best coverage of the EDL, including: a piece by Adam Levick cross-posted from CiFWatch, which is essential reading for anyone who is tempted by their anti-Islamist veneer. I have a slight difference of interpretation from Modernity. He stresses the fascist and even Nazi connections of the EDL, which is rhetorically useful in winning over readers of CiFWatch and Harry’s Place who might be tempted by the EDL’s apparent anti-Islamist message. But I am not sure it is useful in analysing the nature of the threat posed by the EDL, which seems to me to be something other than fascist and requiring a new framework for understanding.

The other blogger with the best EDL coverage is Malatesta. He has a similar line to Modernity, stressing the essentially Nazi nature of the EDL. Another angle he stresses, which in my view is more significant, is their relationship with terrace culture. Contra John Cruddas, he also downplays their electoral potential. Finally, this is a good summary of his analysis.

A related issue is the EDL’s international connections – both across the Atlantic to right-wing ideologues like Pamela Geller and the Tea Party movement, and across the channel to Geert Wilders and his like. (I spotted a Swedish flag in one of the YouTubes of the weekend’s EDL riot in Leicester.) LFF has a post on Melanie Phillips, which, much as I dislike Phillips, I think overstates the case. Worth cross-referencing with what she actually says. The Observer also looks at the EDL’s American links, as does Alex Meleagrou-Hitchens in Standpoint, while the Guardian looks at the European links. CiF also publishes Charles Johnson, of LGF, on Pamela Geller.

On the American links, one bizarre news item is the bizarre American Rabbi, Nachum Shifren, who is a Tea Party electoral candidate in California. Although it is not clear what he knows about them, he is apparently coming to the UK to do a gig for the EDL. This is another sad symptom of the embattled clash of civilisations mentality that has gripped many Jews since the rise in the new antisemitism a decade ago, driving many into the arms of cranky right-wing movements few Jews would have touched a few years ago.

The Jewish Chronicle, true to form, has a poll: should rabbis be involved in the EDL? Anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein urges people to vote yes, to show they are as bad as each other. This, it seems to me, is an act of unbelievable and unforgiveable stupidity, because it will fuel the idea that Jews in general hate Muslims in general, and thus feed the kind of venomous politics represented by the MDL. As with his earlier dishonesty about the Zionist Federation, Tony is playing a dangerous game here, with very serious consequences which he ought to be mindful of. Update: since I wrote this, HP picked up the story. Lippy sums up why this is so wrong: “Rabbis should support EDL – and rabbis are Jewish, not Zionist. So, the opposition to that would be antisemitic, not anti-Zionist. The more Jews join the EDL, the more that justifies Muslim backlash against Jews. (Not Zionists.) The more Jews join the EDL, the easier it is for EDL to say they are not racist, Nazi etc. So, the more other people (be they white, Hindu, whatever) will join the EDL. So, Greenstein’s deceit is a recruiting sergeant for EDL and incites more antisemitism and more Islamophobia. And this from an “anti-racist”???” Later, the JC themselves noticed, and eventually suspended the poll.

One of the things that feeds the EDL and its like is the anti-immigrant narrative that dominates the British political and media landscape. Groups like MigrationWatch talk about an “open debate” on immigration, and claim that the establishment stifles debate about the real issues. (A similar point is made by Walker Morrow of Defend Geert Wilders at The Propagandist, about the debate in mainland Europe.) But the reality, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite: talk about immigration is ubiquitous, and overwhelmingly negative. In fact, in recent weeks, it has been MigrationWatch stifling the debate, using Britain’s archaic and ridiculous laws to try to silence the sensible and courageous Sally Bercow. On this, see Jack of KentIain Dale and Richard Wilson.

Meanwhile, we have to remember our slightly older enemies, the BNP, who may be in disarray but are not yet dead. For two different perspectives on the BNP, see Malatesta and the CST.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Political influences no.3: The Spartacist League – Defeat clerical fascism! Down with little England demagoguery! Complete the American revolution!

 A blogger once wrote that there was “a whiff of Spartishness” about me.  He wasn’t completely wrong.

At some point as a precocious and no doubt very irritating kid, I went on some national demo, probably with my parents, probably anti-nuclear. I collected leaflets and other freebies right, left and centre. I was fascinated and mystified by the array of political positions. In an act that I now recognise as almost certainly clinically insane, I wrote to a number of them asking them to explain their unique selling points, and for their views on particular topics.

One of the groups I wrote to was the New Communist Party, a tankie breakaway from the Communist Party which left because the CPGB no longer saw Stalin as a wholly good thing. I was cursed then for years with a weekly visit from a deeply lonely and dysfunctional NCP member who had a geographically very widely dispersed paper round of about three addresses. I never had the heart to tell him that his paper was unimaginably dull and had no resonance with my politics.

I was much luckier with the Sparts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From the Vaults: Jews Against the Vietnam War

[Intro by Bob: I am pleased to publish a guest post by Michael Ezra, who more regularly publishes at Harry's Place, where he is best known for his "From the Valuts" series. This particular blast from the past obviously resonates with some of the themes we focus on here.]

This is a Guest Post by Michael Ezra

Below I enclose the full text of an undated leaflet by a group calling itself “Jews Against the War in Vietnam.” I suspect it dates from at some point between 1969 and 1972. What is interesting is that the address of the group, published at the bottom of the leaflet, is exactly the same address as that of the UK branch of Mapam, the socialist Zionist Israeli political party.


(i)                   the struggle for freedom and self-determination of the peoples of Vietnam
(ii)                 The withdrawal of foreign armed forces from Vietnam and an end to Great Power interference.
(iii)                Victory for the National Liberation Front.
“The Government of North Vietnam acknowledges the right to existence of the State of Israel and the necessity of peace in the Middle East based on the rights to self determination of all the peoples in the region”.

Declaration of Mr. Tram Ding Dung, Representative in Paris of North Vietnam, to the Chairman of the Israeli Committee for Peace in the Middle East.

WE call on the British Left to SUPPORT:


Monday, October 11, 2010

Starting the week

First, we mourn the passing of the great Solomon Burke, one of the most awesome and underrated soul singers of his (or any) generation. Nice tributes from Nestor, Funky16Corners, Breath of Life, Fifty Cent Lighter, Muzzle of Bees, Radio Exile and Ethan Jayne. This is one of my favourite of his songs, already posted by Stroppy:

The only reason I’ve not linked to this excellent post before is I wanted to write something more substantial about it, but I haven’t yet, so please just go and read it: Chris Dillow on Ed Miliband on immigration. On a related topic, see Martin Ruhs and Bridget Anderson on Britain’s economic dependency on underpaid migrant workers.

A radically different view on the Tea Party from the one we normally get from the Guardian. [UPDATE: Just notice Carl already posted on this. My view is slightly different from his, as I may write more fully one day if I manage to find time.]

Michael Ezra on our shared obsession: Chomsky and Cambodia. Because of Harry’s Place’s irritating policy of deleting comment threads, I add here a link dug up by Tim B, of Margaret Thatcher interviewed on Blue Peter (a BBC children’s TV programme) from 1988, which is truly disgusting.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


On the Sweden Democrats and the continent-wide rise of right-wing Euro-nationalism: Yascha Mounk in Arguing the World (interesting, but slightly flawed), Markha Valenta in OpenDemocracy (very interesting, but more flawed) and our friend Johnny Guitar (more interesting, and not at all flawed). There is also a post by Gene at HP which notes an antisemitic speech by one of the senators of the governing right-wing People of Liberty party, condemning the post-fascist Gianfranco Fini, who has broken with Berlusconi's bloc: “Has Fini’s grouping already ordered the kippah?” Ciarrapico asked, referring to the Jewish skullcap” Gene concludes: “Yet another reminder to those who insist that antisemitism these days is virtually the exclusive preserve of the Muslim world and the far Left: you’re wrong.” Antisemitism and fascist ideology are not far beneath the glossy surface of the new European right, however much it protest that it is a “friend” to Israel. Related, and very important, is what Modernity says in the comment thread on his most recent EDL post.

As a footnote to my post on the Furedi cult, Helpful Herbert has a post on the RCP’s further infiltration in Boris Johnson’s Conservative City Hall.

Londonism: Talking of City Hall, a poll shows that Labour is more popular than the Tories with London voters (39% to 36%) but Boris is more popular than Ken (44% to 35%). Friends tell me that Oona couldn’t have beat Boris but Ken can; I hope they are not proven wrong. On a different London politics topic, Dave Osler has a well-written post on Lutfur Ali in Tower Hamlets, and old Labour’s traditions of municipal clientalism and Ted Jeory has a post on a Jewish Tory who seems to have been victim of racist corruption in the same borough.

I have been trying to follow the story of the police mutiny/failed coup in Ecuador, where police officers discontented with President Rafael Correa’s austerity measures stormed the presidential palace and the state broadcasting company last week. Correa was saved by the army and the coup seems to be dying down, although a state of emergency has been extended to the end of the week. On this, see Carl and Carlos de la Torre in OpenDemocracy. On the intimidation of the media by the golpistas and, to a lesser extent, Correa’s government, see CPJ and RSF. For my views, follow the comment trail below.

My new favourite blog: MabinogBlog, a left-leaning Green Party blogger with a very fine sense of humour. And also, sensible views on the Middle East. Talking of which, my post of the week is probably “Pissing in the Wind” by Weggis. And, talking of green stuff, here's Flesh on 10:10's bad day.

Meanwhile, the Hindu far right in India continues its ascent, while authoritarianism deepens in Sri Lanka.

Comment trail: On defining the failed coup attempt in Ecuador, a condensed version of the same, and a variation on the same in response to Andy Newman’s ridiculous posting of broadcasting complete nonsense.(Having said that, the footage in the video of one of the most un-impressive solidarity demonstrations I’ve ever seen is mildly amusing.)

Beautiful, uncool music: Finally, unrelated to anything in this post, one of my very, very favourite songs, Waylon Jennings' version of "Gentle on my Mind", originally by the highly underrated songwriter John Hartford.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Political influences 2: Roy Hattersley, Tony Benn and Michael Foot – socialism of the heart

This post is the second in a series. For the introduction to the series, see here; for the first instalment here.

I dreamed I saw a tree full of angels, up on Primrose Hill
And I flew with them over the Great Wen till I had seen my fill
Of such poverty and misery sure to tear my soul apart
I've got a socialism of the heart, I've got a socialism of the heart
– Billy Bragg “Upside”

I was brought up in a Labour Party household and later joined the Party the moment I was eligible, on my fifteenth birthday. In those days – this was the period of public service cuts, of mass unemployment, of the miners’ strike, of police brutality in the inner cities, of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, of the Battle of the Beanfield, a period overcast with the imminent threat of nuclear war – it was clear who the enemy was. Thatcher and her Conservative Party personified all evil, the SDP who had split the Labour vote were traitors who enabled her, and the Liberals were at best a distraction. What was less clear was who our side was.

It took me a while to think that maybe the Labour Party wasn’t who our side was (later, for a while, I came to see the Labour Party as part of the enemy). In my early teens, the question was: what should the Labour Party be? In the time I was learning about politics, the battle for the soul of the Labour Party had three contestants, the “right” personified by Dennis Healey and Roy Hattersley, the “soft left” personified by Michael Foot, and the “hard left” personified by Tony Benn. (There was an even harder left personified by the Militant Tendency, but I was barely aware of them, and by Labour Briefing, who I only encountered later, when I actually joined the party.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Meme progress report//Quick links

I've been meaning to update on the Influential leftists non-meme. Louise was quick off the starting block, and then Carl and James came up with their lists. Interesting to see the overlaps and contrasts - we all like Evo Morales, but are divided on Norman Geras and Slavoj Zizek, for example. I'm still waiting with baited breath for Phil and Jim. No-one really tagged anyone else, so probably this is dead as a meme, so if you feel like taking it up, please do.

Quick links:

Same as it ever was: the 18th Brumaire and the Tea Party movement.

A tale of two EDL supporters.

Some views on the Taliban from the Pakistani and Afghan left. In particular Farooq Sulehria: Three myths about Taliban (Viewpoint):
„The anti-imperialism currently on display in the Muslim world is symbol rather than substance, signifying a new phase in the relations between two estranged lovers, fundamentalism and imperialism. The anti-imperialism of religious forces thus actually serves imperialism in the current global scenario. It is the anti-imperialism of fools, if at all.“
Sally Berkow: sued for libel for talking sense about immigration.

Karl Pfeifer on the Hungarian far right.

Marko on the Chetniks and the Jews.

I never knew Jackie Wilson was Jewish...

More links here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Gnome Chomsky 11: and Zippy and Bob

When I scheduled this, it had a tattoo from the official merchandising of Kelder’s Farm and Homegrown Mini-Golf, home of the world's largest garden gnome, Chomsky, but even my equally world record-breaking googling skills could not find the tattoo, gone from the web. Instead, then, here's Chomsky, with Zippy - and even Bobism.

Yes, that's Chomsky, from the back, in the comic strip Zippy by Bill Griffith on December 10, 2006.

Maybe one more next month.

However, more seriously, and pertinent to Bobism, please read this post by Ignoblus, "Of imperialism and second campism", on Noam Chomsky's response to Mearsheimer and Walt.

(And don't forget to read my long post on Spiked - the connection being that both Spiked and Chomsky have followed the logic of anti-imperialism down the road of genocide denialism in the Balkans, Spiked in endorsing Thomas Deichmann's claim that the Trnopolje internment camp was a benign refugee reception centre, Chomsky in endorsing Diane Johnstone's claims that the Srebernica massacre was exaggerated. Johnstone made her claims in Ordfront, which at least one Spiked writer also writes for (the generally sensible Nathalie Rothschild). For documentation on both cases, see Balkan Witness.