Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From Bob's archive: George Galloway, racial nationalist

I'm still off-line, so here's another one from the archive (lightly edited), from September 2006. It seemed appropiate in the current moment, when sections of the left are romaniticising Gaddafi as an "anti-imperialist" hero.

HP posted a link to a recent interview with George Galloway in the Morrocco Times.
“I am for Morocco's position (on the Sahara issue), and I always have been”, he said, stressing he is against “the balkanisation of the Arab region”.

“We should not balkanise the Arab region … I am against the partition of Morocco,” added the British deputy, affirming that “there is no room for small entities”.
This is a great example of Galloway's volkish ideology: he dreams of a world neatly partitioned between a few great nations (the Arab nation, the Slav nation, the British nation*, etc) led by their respective fuhrers (Saddam, Milosovic, Galloway, etc), who intuitively embody the volks' racial essence, so effectively that democracy is not needed. (In this world, of course, there would be no space for rootless cosmopolitans like Jews or Bosnians.)

Reading it reminded me that last summer, when I got his book out of Deptford Library, I wrote the below, which I never got around to posting.

As you know, I have been having the delight of reading George Galloway’s memoir, I’m not the only one.

One thing that strikes strongly me in the book is Galloway’s tendency to see the world in terms of primordial racial categories. If humankind were a village, he says, it would look like this: 57 Asians and 21 Europeans, 30 white and 70 non-white, and so on. And this is really how Galloway views the world: neatly divided into essential, distinct racial categories.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

From Bob's archive: Germain Greer versus Monica Ali

I'm away so, as is my habit, I'm posting something from my archive. This is from July 2006. It attracted no comments theren - any thoughts now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jewish Hero or Israeli Criminal?

This is a guest post by Michael Ezra

Below I copy a reasonably lengthy extract (pp.286-290) from a book, originally published in 1961, about the First Indochinese War: Bernard Fall’s, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina (Stackpole Books, 1994).   I would not normally copy such a lengthy extract, but the self-contained section that I have copied is, I believe, so remarkable, that it should be read in full. I would urge everybody to take the time to read this piece. I am particularly interested in any views in the comments boxes that provide an opinion, based on the facts presented, on the judges’ final sentence.
The last chapter of the [French] Foreign Legion’s colorful history in Asia was written, in, of all places, the drab surroundings of an Israeli Navy court-martial in May 1958.

The defendant was a 25 year old man, in the neat white uniform of the Israeli enlisted seaman. Eliahu Itzkovitz was charged with desertion from the Israeli Navy, but his case was not an ordinary one, for he had deserted from a peacetime hitch in Haifa to a twenty-seven month ordeal with the Foreign Legion in Indochina.

Eliahu had grown up in a small town in eastern Rumania when the country threw in its lot with the Nazis at the beginning of World War II. Soon, the Rumanian Conductoral (the “Leader”) Antonescu began to emulate all the tactics of the Nazis, his own version of the Brownshirts calling itself the “Iron Guard” and practicing mass murder on a large scale. In fact, according to the British writer Edward Crankshaw in his book Gestapo, they “offended the Germans on the spot by not troubling to bury their victims; and they offended the R.H.S.A [the administrative section of the Nazi police in charge of mass exterminations] by their failure to keep proper records and by their uncontrolled looting.”

The Itzkovitz family did not escape the collective fate of the Rumanian Jews. Eliahu and his parents and three brothers were sent to a concentration camp, no better and no worse than most Eastern European camps; one lived a few days to a few weeks and died from a wide variety of causes, mostly beating and shooting. Rumanian camps were not as well equipped as their German models, the “death factories” of Auschwitz and Treblinka with their sophisticated gas chambers. Again, according to Crankshaw, “the Rumanians showed a great aptitude for mass murder and conducted their own massacres in Odessa and elsewhere,” and the Itzkovitz family paid its price – within a short time, only Eliahu, the youngest boy, survived.

But he had seen his family die, and he remembered who killed it. It had been one particular brute, not the coldly efficient SS-type but a Rumanian not too far away from his own home town who enjoyed his new job. And Eliahu swore that he would kill the man, if it took all his life to do it. More than anything else, it was probably that hatred that kept him alive; he was a skeleton but a living one when the Russians liberated him in 1944. Eliahu then began his patient search from town to town. Of course, Stanescu (or whatever name the brute had assumed in the meantime) had not returned to his home town for good reasons, but Eliahu found his son there and took his first revenge; he stabbed the son with a butcher knife and in 1947, a Rumanian People’s Court sentenced him to five years in a reformatory for juveniles.

Eliahu had served his time but did not forget. His family’s murderer was still at large and he had sworn to kill him. In 1952, he was finally released and given permission by the Communist authorities to emigrate to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army in 1953 and assigned to the paratroops. Training was rigorous in the sun-drenched barracks and stubby fields south of Rehovoth, and thoughts of revenge had become all but a dim memory. There was a new life to be lived here, among the people from all corners of the world who still streamed in and who, from Germans, Poles, Indians, Yemenites or Rumanians became Israelis. To be sure, Eliahu still met some of his Rumanian friends and talk often rotated back to the “old country,” to the war and the horrors of the persecution. Camps and torturers were listed matter-of-factly, like particularly tough schools or demanding teachers and Stanescu came up quite naturally.

“That s.o.b. made it. He got out in time before the Russians could get him,” said a recent arrival, “then he fled to West Germany and tried to register as a D.P. [displaced person] but they got wise to him and before we could report him, he was gone again.”

Eliahu’s heart beat had stopped for an instant, and when it resumed its normal rhythm, he had shaken off the torpor of peacetime army life. The hunt was on again.

“Do you know where Stanescu went then? Do you have any idea at all?”

“Well – somebody said that he had gone to Offenburg in the French Zone, where they recruit people for the French Foreign Legion, and that he enlisted for service in Indochina. The French are fighting there, you know.”

On the next day, Eliahu’s mind was made up. He reported to his commanding officer and applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy; he liked the sea, had learned something about it while in Rumania, which borders on the Black Sea, and would be happier aboard ship than as a paratrooper. A few days later, the request was granted and Eliahu was on his way to the small force of Israeli corvettes and destroyers based in Haifa. A few months later, the opportunity he had been waiting for came true; his ship was assigned to go to Italy to pick up equipment.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday miscellany

Another round-up post I'm afraid.

The Middle East

Libya and the complexities of liberal intervention: Bill Weinberg on questionable reports of Polisario fighters in Gaddafi's camp.Mick Hume on the PR war over Libya. James Turley on the rebels. SR Gardner on how the left got it wrong.

Talking of tyrantsThe Hitch on Mugabe.

Looking back on the revolution in Egypt: Joshua Muravchik. Meanwhile, the counterrevolution continues: Global Voices on the jailing of Maikel Nabil.

And on the wider revolutions in the Middle East, an interesting symposium at JRB, featuring Shlomo Avineri, Michael Walzer and others.

 Iz/Pal: Following the slaying of Juliano Mer-Khamis comes the killing of an Italian ISM activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, by Islamists in Gaza. Reading: Nathalie Rothschild on the Goldstone semi-U-turn. Good to see False Dichotomies back from intermission, with two interesting Iz/Pal posts: one on Arab Israeli national service, and one on Omar Barghouti, the high priest of the BDS movement. From TULIP, Eric Lee on what Palestinian trade unionists told UNISON's delegation. And a huge amount of material to chew on in this great news round-up from Green Engage.

Islam and intolerance

On Monday, France introduced its ridiculous and authoritarian burka banJim wrote: "France introduces its new bill to emancipate women by arresting two women. Rest assured they are now fully liberated in the cells." In Spiked, Brendan O'Neill is smart and sensible on the burka ban, with a smarter response from David Osler. Also see Carl.

Moving from uncovering flesh to burning booksMs Flesh on the Qu'ran-burners.

Closer to home

The likes of us: I intend to get around to watching Michael Collins on council housing on the old iPlayer. See comment thread (including me) at Paul's place. Here's a review by Steve Hilditch (via Jim).

Sectariana: The SPGB on Chris Bambery's departure from the SWP.

UK politricks: The BNP are not looking like they will do too well in the forthcoming elections - Hope Not Hate have good coverage (via Jim). I have still not completely decided how to vote in the AV referendum. Gordon says Yes To AV is middle class fantasy politics.

British Islam: Check out the very good and rapidly improving newish blog of the Muslim Institute.

The immigration debate: I haven't yet digested David Cameron's latest immigration speech. The left in general are accusing him of "playing the immigration card", which is true in one sense, but my first impression of the speech is that it is considerably more sophisticated and sensible than previous attempts to do so, and actually cuts through some of the myths perpetuated by the anti-migration lobby. It may even be a step towards a de-toxified debate. For some responses from the pro-migration lobby, see Don Flynn and Owen Jones, and slightly more nuanced positions from Dan Hodges and Zrinka Bralo. For an intervention from a different angle, see Sarah Spencer on integration. I also liked this pithy comment from Evan Harris: "Oi Cameron! if "Real communities..bound by common experiences..knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub" [then] why let schools segregate by relig/race?"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Old soldiers, broken promises, class prejudices

John WatsonMick Hall’s socialist blog, Organized Rage, regularly re-posts obituaries of the unsung heroes of radical struggle, often from the Guardian’s lovely “other lives” series. He published the obituary of John Watson, a British soldier, and a fascinating man:
“His battalion was posted to Palestine in 1948, as the British Mandate came to an end. Watson was appalled by the imminent destruction of the new state of Israel – attacked as it was on four fronts and wholly undefended by the British army. He thought it morally wrong that Jews, who had experienced so much already, should be slaughtered, again. Rifle in hand, he went over the wall to volunteer with Haganah and take part in front-line combat. In the siege of Jerusalem he was wounded. After the conflict he worked on a collective farm, where he met Ora, the woman he married. They went on to farm for four years.

In 1954 he and his wife resolved to return to Britain. He informed the authorities and on his arrival he was arrested and court-martialled for desertion, which he candidly admitted, and sentenced to a year in military prison, which he accepted as his due. The "glasshouse" was notoriously tougher than civilian prison. He was released, for good conduct after eight months and returned to the Suffolk Regiment.”
This was particularly interesting thinking about the recently screened Channel 4 drama series, The Promise, with its representations of British soldiers who served in Palestine, one falling in love with a Jewish girl and thus betraying his British comrades, another falling in love with an Arab people and thus honourably fighting alongside them against the Jews. I also learnt, talking to my father about it, a couple of facts about his father. Like John Watson, my granddad was a working class career armed forces man, in the Navy, who rose to petty officer (the equivalent rank, I think of Waton’s warrant officer, and often the highest rank that working class people could reach). Having an Irish mother, he was not sent to Ireland after WWI, but (and this was one of the things I hadn’t known) to Mandate Palestine instead.

Mick Hall introduces his post on Watson like this:
If anyone wishes to understand what a class prejudiced swamp the UK is, then they need look no further than the obituaries pages of what are laughing called the ‘quality dailies.’ They are full of middle class worthies who have played a role in making the United Kingdom the most unequal nation in western Europe, be they civil servants, judges, politicians. No matter what, your obituary is assured if you are a member of this elite, even if you have spent your life as a tax dodging business man, a judge who sentenced countless innocent people, a TV executive producing crap, politician who lie out of habit and self interest, or military officers whose campaign medals include such illustrious victories as the six counties of Ireland, Suez, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
True the odd middle class lefty may get a look in, along with luvies and musicians by the score, and just so we do not forget the empire where the sun never set, the occasional Gurkha squadie who during WW2, killed 81 Japanese solders in a single afternoon.
I once asked the editor of an obituaries page why he rarely published obits of ordinary people who have experienced or done interesting things in the lives. “Ah Mick,” he replied, you simply do not understand, I would love to, but you must remember we rarely have photos of such people in our libraries and an obit cannot go out without a picture alongside”
I nodded and turned away thinking, does he really believe such crap. Of course I am over egging the pudding here, but not by that much, the Guardian now has the excellent Other Lives, but even its title suggests a certain amount of class prejudice, it is as if there are those who deserve by right to be in the papers obituary page and those who lived other lives and do not.
Below is an example of what I mean, few people lived a more interesting life than [John] Watson, a man who fought tenaciously for sovereign and country, but also when a situation arose, turned away and fought for a people who he believed needed his help. His causes are not mine, but I defy any honest man not to raise his cap to this old solder.”
I agree with most of Mick’s sentiments here, but one thing slightly disturbed me: the implication that Mick’s leftist audience are likely to disagree with his assessment of John Watson, because he served in the military and because he was on the Israeli side in 1948.

Another resonance: it is Christopher Hitchens’ 61st birthday on Wednesday this week, and I am glad that he will live to see it. I am reading the new paperback edition of Hitch-22. I found the first chapters, about his parents, incredibly moving, but then found the account of his privileged education rather tedious. The Hitch’s father had a number of similarities to my granddad. As well as some geographical coincidences, both were working class men who gave their lives to the British armed forces (my granddad lied about his age to join the Navy when war began in 1914; he was just 14). Both remained committed to their sovereign and country, and saw the empire and Commonwealth as Britain’s true friends, not the Atlantic alliance. Hitchens beautifully captures the tragedy of their working class Tory worldview (“so little to be Tory about”, as he notes). 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday miscellany III

Sorry, another round-up post.

Today is the day the burka ban kicks in in France. Much as I hate the burka, a ban on it is an absolutely inhuman, illiberal, authoritarian response, and France should be deeply ashamed of imposing it. See Timothy Garton Ash, Norman Geras and Kenan Malik for the arguments why. Meanwhile, Rosie Bell on the idiocy of the Qu’ran burning BNP chap and of the police for arresting him and of the observer for facilitating the whole thing. Leo Igwe on which Muslims value more, the Qu'ran or human life.

Rosie again on how Julian Assange seemed to fit a hero-shaped whole on the left, and why he didn’t fit it after all, and on an imaginary Assange in 1940 (highly recommended!). And, again, from the RCPWatch category, on a prediction about Spiked and the EDL that has sadly come true. Jim Denham on why it is not worth paying money to the New Statesman to get crap like Jemima Khan. Adam Holland on another periodical to un-subscribe to: the Nation, still touting antisemitic nutcase Helen Thomas.

History is Made at Night remembers Brixton 1981.

Flesh is Grass on horizontality, politics 2.0 and why it’s kicking off everywhere. Nick Cohen on liberal prejudice, double standards and Libya (highly recommended). Darrell Goodriffe on anti-imperialism, democratic rights, Libya and the Labour left. The Contentious Centrist and the Angry Arab outside the Israeli enemy embassy in Cairo. A new jihadi group with missiles aimed at Ashkelon. Mr Tear on a journey to Morocco and a mystery gnawa cassette. Meanwhile, it is depressing to see the unfolding of the counterrevolution in Egypt, with the military junta firing on pro-democracy/anti-corruption protestors.

Johan Hari on the hypocrisy of liberal interventionism in Libya. (Note: he emphasises the Coltan dimension to the Congo conflict, which I mentioned in my post on liberal interventionism here, but he draws opposite conclusions, arguably from a much more robust evidence base than I was using.) Two more very different takes on stuff I've posted here lately: the Flying Rodent on Jonathan Freedland and Avi Shavit.

Peter Ryley on Madeline Bunting, Blue Labour and the politics of nostalgia.

On AV, two useful items at Jim's place. Here is a link to the New Economics Foundation's safe-o-meter, showing Joan Ruddock will remain safe in Lewisham Deptford (my constituency). The other Lewisham seats remain safe for Labour, but Lewisham West and Penge less so. That's Jim Dowd's seat, where the Lib Dems came second last time. My crude calculations show that there and in Heidi Alexander's Lewisham East the Lib Dems would take the seat from Labour under 2010 voting patterns. And here's a debate between Rupert Read (pro-AV) and Darrell Goodriff (anti), which is quite good for someone like me who needs a pretty basic introduction to the debate.

As I write this, the adverts Google is putting on my Blogger dashboard include for cheap flights to Libya...

Friday, April 08, 2011

End-of-week miscellany

Sorry that all my blogging lately has been either just links, or in the comment threads. Here's another batch of the former.

Instead of starting with Libya, as my recent posts all seem to have, I will start closer to home, with the lovely Les Back. Listen to him talking about dub, reggae and sound system culture; and read him about bombing  - the latter highly recommended.

Middle Eastern revolutions
A roundtable on the war in Libya and the Arab spring, from Reason.com. Two from the AWL: Ira Brekovic on the left on Libya and Gerry Bates on the battle for democracy in the Arab revolutions. Two from Dissent: Todd Gitlin on Tahrir Square and Feisel Mohamed on the Muslim Brotherhood. Another piece I missed in February, by Andre Glucksmann. Might have already posted this, but here is Hitchens still on form, on the Iraq effect.

Libya: Libyan perspective from Tasnin. Uri Avnery on Gaddafi.

Syria: Not about revolutions, but about tyranny and its unexpected fellow travellers: Vogue to Syrians: Eat Shit 1 and 2. Michael Totten on the tyrant of Damascus.

Egypt: Patrick Cockburn on the fight to keep the revolution alive in Egypt. Amani Maged on Salafi violence in Egypt.

Liberal interventionism/responsibility to protect
Ian Williams on armchair anti-imperialism. Sunder Katwala on the Ivory Coast. Paul C on Rebecca Hamilton on Darfur (with an interesting comment thread, including a Sudanese nationalist recommending the appalling Mahmood Mamdani). Wilson Pruitt on Mamdani and Badiou on Libya, and Aziz Meshiea's response to  Mamdani's anti-imperialist diatribe.  JM Smith on the unexpected liberal hawks.

And, on a different side of humanitarianism, Jewlicious on how money for orphans in Malawi ended up at Madonna's kabbala cult in Beverley Hills.

Lewisham libraries in the age of austerity
Transpontine has the latest on New Cross Library. See also The Future of New Cross. When our libraries are closed down by a Labour council carrying out Con-Dem cuts, and they are replaced by "social enterprises" running "community libraries", staffed mainly by BigSoc-style volunteer labour - what is the correct political response? Answers on a postcard please, or in the comments box below.

East London Pride
Sarah AB and Lucy Lips on the complex politics of triangulating Islamophobia and homophobia.

Also at HP: on Lee Jasper, Andy Newman and the Terry Fitz affair. (Say what you want about Andy Newman, but you have to admit he has superb taste in music.)

Malcolm X: bisexual
Malcolm X mugshot, 1944
Read Peter Tatchell and Ron Radosh on the late Manning Marable's posthumous biography.

The immigration debate
Chris Dillow on immigration and productivity. Ruth Grove-White on immigration rules and domestic violence. John Grayson on fear and hope. Zoe Williams on the cap.

Food for thought
Three fascinating readings suggested by Noga, on Hitler-loving Jews, Arab Jews and the right of return. CiFWatch on the Orwellian Orwell prize nominees.

The life and death of Juliano Mer Khamis - reflections on a tragic death, which bear on the issue of binationalism we looked at a while ago: from Ralph Seliger, Avi Shavit (h/t Engage), Gideon Levy and Jonathan Holmes. I will not link to the Angry Arab or Harry's Place posts on this death, because I found the atmosphere at both rather unpleasant. Here, however, is one of the comments from HP:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Mid-week mini-miscellany

The revolutions in the Middle East
Kellie on making excuses: highly recommended. Fascinating bit of citizen journalism here, with Twitterers debunking a myth about Israeli weaponry being used in Libya. Related: Fred Halliday on the left and jihad. And I missed this Kenan Malik piece on the Arab revolutions, from February.

Geoffrey Alderman on Benny Morris on Ilan Pappe. Freedland asks Where's the Goldstone report into Sri Lanka, Congo, Darfur – or Britain?

I really don't know how to vote in the referendum, and think I will end up not voting. I had decided to vote for, and then read this post and this post by Marko, and changed my mind.(Marko: "the still more important reason for voting against AV - the overriding need to kick Nick Clegg.")

Crofton Park Library
A bit of detail on the future of the library here.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The case against liberal interventionism

A version of this piece has been cross-posted at Though Cowards Flinch.

I think the two most powerful cases against liberal interventionism I’ve read recently are “The Innocence of the Liberal Hawk” by Gary Younge in the April 11 edition of The Nation, and “Thoughts on Libya and liberal interventionism” by Mike Marqusee at his website. The two pieces have different contexts – one by a British writer transplanted to the US, aiming at mainstream liberal US commentators like Thomas Friedman, the other by an American transplanted to the UK, aiming at more left-wing British opinionists like Jonathan Freedland. But they reach similar conclusions and make overlapping arguments.

Many of their strikes against liberal interventionism hit home. Marqusee correctly argues that liberal interventionism relies on the great powers, who they treat as neutral agents. He argues that liberal interventionism has a technocratic vision of military power, seeing it as a tool like raising taxes, which can be implemented in a time-limited, surgical way. He argues that liberal interventionism is blind to the imbalances in wealth and power between the states that intervene and the regions where they do so. Both Marqusee and Younge point to a logical fallacy in the interventionist position: the imperative to “do something” considers only one “something”, military intervention, dismissing or failing to conceive of other forms of solidarity.

However, a number of their strikes go amiss.

Gary Younge's dishonesty and condescension

This is a guest post by Jogo.

Gary Younge is such an attractive person, so obviously intelligent, and such a good writer, that you don't realize what a dishonest reporter he is.

Take this clip from the Guardian's youtube channel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPYpsDt8zkc

The caption: Gary Younge witnesses a heated confrontation between two people outside a Barack Obama rally in Las Vegas and talks to them about issues that divide US voters: from immigration to the healthcare system.

Call me naive, but I actually thought that's what I was going to see when I unfolded the clip -- Gary taking these two people aside and "talking to them." But that is not what happened -- or, certainly, is not what is shown on the clip.

First, what is it that happened? It looks to me as though we, the viewer, come upon the last seconds of a nasty argument between a young brown girl, and an older white woman. A young brown man wearing an Obama t-shirt attempts to comfort the girl, whose feelings had, clearly, been hurt-- "she's ugly, you're beautiul," he tells the girl as he leads her, protectively, away. How dear/sweet of him. How sexist. How disgusting. What a creep of a young brown man.

The white woman retorts with a bit more lip, deprecating the both of them, and then the brown man explodes: this is not your country, read your history, it belongs to the Indian, go back to Europe, you're a fucking whore.

Well, that's pretty bad. That's about as bad as anything you hear from Jew-hating or immigrant-hating scum. Not only is it bad, it's WRONG. It's against everything Bob From Brockley believes. And you'd think it's against what Gary Younge believes, too. Will Gary "talk to" both of these people -- the young man, the woman -- about what divides them?

No, he won't. He will only talk to one of them -- the white woman. And what a weird bird she is.

She is dressed quite crazily, inappropriate for her age. And she has an out-of-place, strong Boston accent, and this strange facial tic. Yes, she is somewhat ugly. Overall, she is not a pleasant character, even a bit hard to look at. But Gary -- Borat-like -- perserveres. Is she against everything Barack Obama stands for? What about health insurance? Wouldn't that be a good idea? Do you have health insurance? No, she doesn't have health insurance. But she isn't interested in discussing with Gary whether health insurance is a good idea or not ... because ... she is totally obsessed with illegal immigrants. She is so crazed by illegal immigrants that she can't even think about health insurance. She actually admits this to Gary! In other words, this woman is a fucking nut. But Gary tries to reason with her, anyway. He is such a good, kind, dear/sweet earnest young man.

Why has Gary plucked her out of the crowd? Because Gary thinks (and wants us to think) that this woman is probably typical of her ilk; typical of, say, Tea Party -- so it's important that Guardian-readers get a good look at her.

And now ... shall we get an equally good look at the young brown man? Will Gary interrogate him on his deeply racist/supremacist/hateful views? No, the young man has disappeared. We're left with the one impression Gary wants to leave us with -- the nutty, sad, foaming, irrationally immigrant-hating white lady on the sidewalk.

Finally, Gary closes with a liberal platitude (the same sort of platitude Bob noticed oozing from Simon Tisdall): Americans are going to have to learn to talk to one another. Gosh, darn, those excitable, polarized Americans.

Thanks, Gary.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Long List etc

At the start of the year, I wrote: "Having a vastly inflated sense of my personal worth, I cannot help myself from nominating myself for the Orwell Prize for blogging. Even though I can think of several people more deserving, like Rosie, Phil, David, the Beached Brigadista, Martin, Sarah D, Will, Paul." Well, I am not surprised or dissappointed to find myself missing from the announced longlist this week, and gratified that one of my own longlist did make it.

David Osler would be my first choice from the longlist (I think this is the second time he has made it there). He has Orwellian qualities (in the good sense): he is a democratic socialist, with a keen sense of class politics and a sincere hostility to left-wing forms of totalitarianism; he is a jobbing hack, with all the craftsmanship and professionalism that implies and none of the cynicism; and he is a pretty good writer, producing concise and thought-provoking blogposts.

In general, though, I am a little dissappointed at the longlist, which mostly includes the blogs of party political hacks. Among the politicos, I quite like Sunder Katwala's Next Left, and I recommend a couple of his nominated entries: Britain is the stuff of Red Tory nightmares, So, does ANYBODY count as truly British, Mr Dacre? Daniel Hannan, on the other hand, is truly appalling. It is no surprise to see the appearance of zeitgeisty and vastly overrated Laurie Penny.

I think that Paul Mason's Idle Scrawl and Channel 4's FactCheck blog are both excellent, but as productions of massive mainstream media corporations they seem out of place in an award for blogging. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some very personal blogs on the longlist, which I will be spending some time with, including Duncan McLaren's Visiting Mabel and Ben Gunn's Prison Blog.


While I'm here, have I recommended The Politics of the Hap before? An interesting, thoughtful blog, on a range of subjects, both intellectual/political and emotional. I feel a little out of place on its rarefied blogroll, but am not complaining.

And, relevant to some of the material above, I just read Andrew Coates' interesting Socialist response to Blue Labour. Two other reading recommendations: Julie Bindel on East End Pride; Henning Bertram on multiculturalism.