Friday, July 01, 2011

This week's stuff

Or is it still the same week? Anyway, here we go.

Website of the week: Deterritorial Support Grouppppp, who rumbled Johan Hari. For what it's worth, I find Antonio Negri's writings overwrought, his influence on current politics ambivalent, his analysis of the multitude and Empire problematic, but find it objectionable that Hari should have contributed to the utterly discredited notion that Negri was any kind of Red Brigade terrorist.

Post of the week: Rosie Bell's list of good and bad hoaxes.

The toxic world of the academy: In the UK, Sarah Brown with More on the UCU and the EUMC Working Definition of antisemitism, David Hirsh on UCU's tipping point and on Eric Pickles' embarrassing intervention, and Colin Shindler on SOAS, the Tories and Arab money. In Canada, Anti-Semitism and a Classroom 'Jew Count' at University of Toronto's Social Work Faculty. In California, the Angry Arab of the Lenosphere attacks Zizek - and Carl replies eloquently.

Islamophobia and other racisms: Andrew Brown in the Graun on today's anti-Muslim racism, oddly titled "Islamophobia and antisemitism", even though that's not what it's really about. This is a little heavy and hard-going, but has some interesting material: Nira Yuval-Davis on The dark side of democracy: autochthony and the radical right in Europe.

The cheek of it: George Galloway calls Salman Rushdie a coward.

Angry White Men and the BNP: Matthew Goodwin's newish book on the BNP is reviewed by Anthony Painter here and by Patrick Hayes for Spiked. Goodwin is interviewed here, and has a thinkpiece at Policy Network.

Also: Howard Jacobson on Alice Walker in Gaza and Nathalie Rothschild on the flotilla riding on a wave of narcissism (h/t CC); Max Dunbar on housing, where politics becomes real; Carl Packman on Owen Jones on chavs; Kellie Strom on Iran; James Bloodworth on Bono; and Robyn Rosen on how the Israeli dog-stoning story went astray.

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway: I do not necessarily agree with or endorse the texts I link to, and even less the sites they appear on. And that especially goes for Spiked.

Finally: Martin's book club, for a little light relief.

And some more South London music to close out the show.

16 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Contentious Centrist said...

Sorry. I am reposting the comment, slightly edited. There was a dangling modifier somewhere which grated on my nerves.

___________________


I don't understand what the big deal is about Zizek. The man is incapable of making arguments that sound reasonable or even produce one fact which can be said to be accurate or verifiable. In the past I heard him claim, in two different fora, that Israelis are being sadistic to Palestinian farmers in the WB. His example? They are not allowed to dig more than three inch- deep wells! What are they afraid of? He asked contemptuously. Weapon-smuggling Tunnels?

3-inch wells? Weapon smuggling tunnels in the West Bank?

In a recent "debate" on Al-Jazeera with Tariq Ramadan, he went out of his way to express views that made Ramadan look like the embodiment of good sense and moderation, by claiming with the utmost sycophancy that American Evangelicals are much more dangerous and frightening than the Islamists.

Don't forget this:

"Regarding Islam, we should look at history. In fact, I think it is very interesting in this regard to look at ex-Yugoslavia. Why was Sarajevo and Bosnia the place of violent conflict? Because it was ethnically the most mixed republic of ex-Yugoslavia. Why? Because it was Muslim-dominated, and historically they were definitely the most tolerant. We Slovenes, on the other hand, and the Croats, both Catholics, threw them out several hundred years ago.

This proves that there is nothing inherently intolerant about Islam."

If he is so clever and all that, why can't he understand that "tolerance" and "social harmony" are easy to achieve by having inferiority inscribed into law. When you know that any breach of your inferior status may entail painful judgments, even death, you are not likely to walk with your head held high when you pass your Muslim neighbour in the street. Nor are you likely to pursue justice in court when your Muslim partner cheated you, since by law, your testimony counted for half the value of your adversary's. When a system is slated against you, legally, you adjust your ways and expectations and forgive a multitude of insults, slurs and crimes committed against you. This is the kind of "tolerance" Zizek is praising.

Since Zizek emerges as a person who does not seem to understand the basic meaning of the term "tolerance", why, then, would I give much credit to anything he has to say about antisemitism? To me it seems that his intention, in accepting the prevalence of antisemitism, was to make the point that Christian Zionists were antisemitic. First he established that he was an authority on antisemitism and then he cashed in on that authority by including Israel's greatest supporters in America in his version of anti-Semitism. Too clever by half, ain't he?

From there to the declaration that Zionism is not the worst evil in the world is but a tiny step. Again, consider the sleight of phrase! Zionism is an evil, but he Zizek, is so generous and objective in his assessments as to acknowledge that it is not the GREATEST evil!

Islamic regimes in the Balkans were an example of multicultural tolerance but Zionism is an evil, though, mind you, not the only or greatest evil.

Excuse me for thinking the man is an uberschmuck.

john perry said...

Don't forget this too:

"According to the Jewish tradition, Lilith is the woman a man makes love to while he masturbates alone in his bed during the night - far from standing for the feminine identity liberated from the patriarchal hold, her status is purely phallic: she is what Lacan calls La femme, the Woman, the fantasmatic supplement of the male masturbatory phallic jouissance."

Žižek is a running joke.

Rosie said...

Thanks for the link, Bob - very flattering.

Waterloo Sunset said...

A few observations on the Hari situation.

Firstly, Laurie Penny must be feeling pretty vulnerable right now. And Toby Young is a cheeky wee fucker capitalising on this, considering his own attachment to factual reporting is widely considered less than complete.

Secondly, Hari has screwed himself with the "everybody does it" defense. Whatever people are saying in public, journalists are not going to forgive him for trying to drag the rest of them down with him. And journalists bear grudges.

Finally, the relation with decency is interesting here. While the Harryites are enjoying their own bit of schadenfreude at the 'traitor', it misses the fact that some of what look to be Hari's most significant misrepesentations took place firmly in the service of decency, which is a subject that many decents are understandably evading. Specifically, two of the most dubious bits of Hari's writings are the Chomsky interview and the claim that unnamed Iraqis told him they wanted an invasion. This was pointed out back in 2003, by Private Eye. And I can find absolutely no decent discussions of this from the time, although I obviously haven't seen everything. Only turning on Hari (who I've always mistrusted, even if that does sound somewhat like the benefit of hindsight to others) when he's no longer fitting your agenda is rather telling.

His stuff on E was always dodgy to those with 'knowledge' of the area as well, although many of us just put it down to poor writing at the time.

Anonymous said...

Julian Assange and Slavoj Žižek -- Live From London

http://youtu.be/_VdFtb4zNXE

Rosie said...

Secondly, Hari has screwed himself with the "everybody does it" defense. Whatever people are saying in public, journalists are not going to forgive him for trying to drag the rest of them down with him. And journalists bear grudges.

That's interesting, because I've been amazed at the people sticking up for him eg Peter Preston at the Guardian. If they wave it aside as a peccadillo does it mean that they're all up to it as well?

I was reminded of when the MP expenses story broke - a load of MPs got very huffy and clubby and seemed to think it was their own affair and nothing to do with the public.

Waterloo Sunset said...

I don't think it's that they're all up to it. And we shouldn't really give Hari that one- this isn't standard journalistic practise despite what his defenders may claim.

I think there are several other factors at play.

The first is simple tribalism. A lot of the most staunch defenders are coming from either the Indy or the Guardian/Observer crowd. And I suspect that a lot of that is that whatever they may think, or even say, in private, there's no way they're going to give their rivals the satisfaction. Especially at the Telegraph, where a lot of their writers seem to be dining out on this one.

Linked to that is a whole "not in front of the children" attitude. Many journalists and editors are very sniffy about online stuff anyway and they certainly aren't going to want to give a scalp to a largely Twitter led campaign.

Finally, there's the old question of cui bono. Even when freelancing, Hari won't have worked entirely in isolation. His work will have been checked by editors. Possibly it will have been subedited by other journalists. And they let it go through. That especially applies to editors. Allegations about Hari's journalistic practise are nothing new- they're at least 8 years old. And the Independent has had complaints, despite current claims otherwise by Kelner. So the question is not just if people knew what Hari was doing in his writing, it's if they should have known.

bob said...

On Zizek, I think he has the occasional flash of great insight, some interesting contrarian takes on some things, and is often very thought-provoking. But I really don't see any way in which he has anything really to offer apart from entertainment.

I saw Alan Johnson of Democratiya/Dissent perform a superb critique of Zizek at a conference this year (paper here, html version here), which I strongly recommend. It builds on an earlier series of posts at Dissent on authoritarian Marxism: 1, 2, 3. And on a still earlier critique In Dissent which I've not read.

On tolerant Islam. I get the distinction between genuine tolerance and the highly stratified pluralism of the Ottoman millet system and other forms of dhimmitude. But Bosnia had not been under that sort of system since 1878. It had developed since then a very strong culture of cosmopolitanism and genuine tolerance, in a way that parts of the former Yugoslavia that were dominated by Christianity (and especially Orthodox Christianity) didn't, so I don't think Zizek is so wildly wrong. (Salonika is another place that seems to have had a particularly cosmopolitan culture under Ottoman rule, which I don't think can be reduced to dhimmitude, although I think it was actually majority Jewish, so maybe the example doesn't work in Zizek's favour.)

On Hari, just to note that decentist Aaronovitch seems to have been very forgiving of Hari, according to AaronovitchWatch.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob:

Zizek states that "This proves that there is nothing inherently intolerant about Islam." He provides the example of the Balkans as representative of this rather sweeping generalization.

Let me remind you of Albert Memmi's article in which he recounts his family's experiences living in a predominantly Islamic country:

"As to the pre-colonial period, the collective memory of Tunisian Jewry leaves no doubt. It is enough to cite a few narratives and tales relating to that period: it was a gloomy one. The Jewish communities lived in the shadow of history, under arbitrary rule and the fear of all-powerful monarchs whose decisions could not be rescinded or even questioned. It can be said that everybody was governed by these absolute rulers: the sultans, beys and deys. But the Jews were at the mercy not only of the monarch but also of the man in the street. My grandfather still wore the obligatory and discriminatory Jewish garb, and in his time every Jew might expect to be hit on the head by any Moslem whom he happened to pass. This pleasant ritual even had a name - the chtaka; and with it went a sacramental formula which I have forgotten. A French orientalist once replied to me at a meeting: "In Islamic lands the Christians were no better off!" This is true - so what? This is a double-edged argument: it signifies, in effect, that no member of a minority lived in peace and dignity in countries with an Arab majority! Yet there was a marked difference all the same: the Christians were, as a rule, foreigners and as such protected by their mother-countries. If a Barbary pirate or an emir wanted to enslave a missionary, he had to take into account the government of the missionary's land of origin - perhaps even the Vatican or the Order of the Knights of Malta. But no one came to the rescue of the Jews, because the Jews were natives and therefore victims of the will of "their" rulers. Never, I repeat, never - with the possible exception of two or three very specific intervals such as the Andalusian, and not even then - did the Jews in Arab lands live in other than a humiliated state, vulnerable and periodically mistreated and murdered, so that they should clearly remember their place."

http://www.sullivan-county.com/x/aj1.htm

Who do you think is in a better position to make an informed assessment about Islamic tolerance?
____________

I repeat, Zizek is not someone I would go to in order to be enlightened about history, antisemitism, or whatever. His mega-narratives are based on innuendoes, rumours, vaguely remembered historical accounts, etc.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Continued:

Here is another example:

He says:

http://www.filozofijainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=276:who-are-you-calling-anti-semitic&catid=48:philosophy&Itemid=60

"Jews were expelled from Slovene territory back in 1516, by the order of the mighty Habsburg Emperor Maximilian in Vienna, endorsing the demand of local estates (who saw the opportunity to be thus rid of their debts following the model of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492)."

It's one of things about him which makes me extremely wary of his analyses. He pronounces on subjects about which he knows very little and pulls out the one fact, or thread that sits well with his general theory. In this case it is his knowledge of the 1492 Expulsion of the Jews of Spain. The reason for it was not monetary gain, though it may have been a lubricant for the royals who signed the edict of expulsion. The root cause was the Inquisition which blamed what they suspected was the continued crypto-Judaising by hundreds of thousands of conversos on the physical presence of their erstwhile co-religionists. With Jews gone, so the rationale went, the New Christians would no longer be vulnerable to Jewish influence and interference in their assimilation. So, it was a combination of Christian fanaticism and the Castillian principle that created the conditions for the expulsion. Why would Zizek choose not to know this history better? Is it out of laziness? Or a need to preserve his ignorance at any cost?

bob said...

CC- I don't disagree at all about your comments on Zizek's partisan sloppiness about facts, and in the case of the Inquisition a kind of fancy version of a vulgar-Marxist reduction to materialist "root causes". However, I don't think that Memmi's Tunisia is comparable to any Yugoslav context post-1878, and am not even sure it is comparable to somewhere like Sarajevo or Salonika under Ottoman rule, especially after the reforms of the Tanzimat period after 1839.

Note Memmi talks about Jews in Arab lands, not Jews in Muslim lands. When, for example, were Jews in Bosnia last required to wear "obligatory and discriminatory Jewish garb", apart from under Nazi occupation? (Wikipedia's "Jewish hat" article says that Bat Ye'or (2002) Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide says that "Discriminatory clothing was not enforced in those Ottoman provinces where Christians were the majority, such as Greece and the Balkans.") Did tchaka, which I've seen no reference to apart from Memmi, exist in Bosnia?

--

On the other hand, Zizek is also making a claim about Christian Slovenia, his own native nation, being reactionary, and more reactionary than Muslim majority states.

Whether he gets his facts right or not about the expulsion, again Wikipedia tells me that there was a series of expulsions of Jews from Slovenia with the last as late as 1718. Certainly, Jews in Slovenia lived at the whim of both local feudal lords and distant emperors, amongst a hostile peasantry, and where they could live was strictly limited by arbitrary decrees. This was not the Middle Ages, but the early modern period.

So, again, it seems to me that Zizek has a strong case that Muslim Bosnia was massively more hospitable to the Jews than Catholic Slovenia, and this suggests something about what we can say about Jews under Islam in general.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"So, again, it seems to me that Zizek has a strong case that Muslim Bosnia was massively more hospitable to the Jews than Catholic Slovenia,"

No. If you read my comment a little more carefully, you would have noted that I made some allowances for his example in the Balkans (some...) but he does not restrict his conclusion. He makes a generalizing leap to: "This proves that there is nothing inherently intolerant about Islam."

You might want to check out on the the way the Ottomans treated Jews in Jerusalem or Hebron, for example, and compare it with Zizek's dangerously misleading optimism, before you claim that he makes a strong case suggesting "something about what we can say about Jews under Islam in general."

______

http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archive/2007/07/jews-under-the-ottomans/#more

"Inside the towns, Jews and other dhimmis were frequently attacked, wounded, and even killed by local Muslims and Turkish soldiers. Such attacks were frequently for trivial reasons: Wilson [in British Foreign Office correspondence] recalled having met a Jew who had been badly wounded by a Turkish soldier for not having instantly dismounted when ordered to give up his donkey to a soldier of the Sultan. Many Jews were killed for less. On occasion the authorities attempted to get some form of redress but this was by no means always the case: the Turkish authorities themselves were sometimes responsible for beating Jews to death for some unproven charge. After one such occasion [British Consul] Young remarked: “I must say I am sorry and surprised that the Governor could have acted so savage a part- for certainly what I have seen of him I should have thought him superior to such wanton inhumanity- but it was a Jew- without friends or protection- it serves to show well that it is not without reason that the poor Jew, even in the nineteenth century, lives from day to day in terror of his life”.

_______

My point about Zizek's Spanish example was not to dispute what he had to say about the expulsions of Jews from Slovenia but to point to the his need to make historical analogies that show an absence, or insufficient, of knowledge and understanding of the earlier cases he cited by way of boosting his own theories.

bob said...

I agree with the criticism of the way Zizek uses "facts". And I agree that it is wrong to generalise from the Ottoman Balkans. But Zizek's generalisation is a negative, "nothing inherently intolerant about Islam", rather than a positive one, "something inherently tolerant about Islam". And I am inclined to agree in the following way. The specific instances, though relatively few, where Islam, or Muslim-majority states and cultures, has been tolerant, in a fairly strong sense, refute the fatalistic view of an inherently intolerant Islam.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"The specific instances, though relatively few, where Islam, or Muslim-majority states and cultures, has been tolerant, in a fairly strong sense, refute the fatalistic view of an inherently intolerant Islam. "

I need a translation to understand this statement.

Irshad Manji is trying to promote a view of tolerant, open-minded Islam that relies on one kind of interpretation considered by most Muslims to be a marginal and inconsequential trend. She is resisted and despised by most Muslims for her efforts.

https://www.irshadmanji.com/Project-Ijtihad

bob said...

Sorry it was a convoluted sentence. OK, what I'm trying to say is simply that Islam is not inherently intolerant. It is true that historically Islam has often been - but not always. And this "not always" means it is not true that Islam is inherently intolerant.

I am not optimistic, but I don't think we should be fatalistic.

It is true that the Irshad Manjis are marginal, but they do exist.