Thursday, April 24, 2014

The rising tide of violence against European migrants

This week sees the trial of Exeter men alleged to have thrown a Polish man in the river Exe in unprovoked attack. "Howard allegedly told police at the scene:”If someone gets chucked in the river, I’m just going to stand there all day laughing. He punched my mate and he chucked the Polish blokey into the river. I was in stitches’.”

In Northern Ireland, with Loyalist gangs playing a large part, the violence against migrants has become pandemic. Earlier this week, two young Eastern European people, a man and a woman, assaulted with golf clubs by 15-strong gang in East Belfast. A Polish family were driven out of their home in Loyalist Mount Vernon, Belfast. There was a also a gun attack on a Traveller family in West Belfast this week, being treated as a hate crime. Racist attacks are now running at two a day in Belfast.
It seems to be getting worse, although it isn't often front page news. But the tide has been rising now for some time. Here are just the results of a few quick google searches:

  • March 2014: A Polish man pelted with stones in unprovoked attack in Edinburgh.
  • March 2014: A family believed to be Eastern European driven out of their home in Derry in petrol bomb attack, with two other similar incidents targeting Romanian families. 
  • February 2014: Two different Eastern European families attacked in their homes in Belfast. 
  • January 2014: Arson attacks on Polish, Afghan and Slovakian families in Belfast.
  • January 2014: A Polish man attacked by a gang of fifteen in Dagenham. "The group allegedly shouted xenophobic abuse as they pushed him off his bike, tried to rip his helmet from his head and punched and kicked him on the ground."
  • January 2014: Seven attacks on European migrants in ten days in (See IRR's overview from January to March.)
  • November 2013: Polish woman badly beaten in Northampton by a group of three. One attacker shouted there are“too many Polish people living round here”.
  • February 2013: Two Romanians beaten up in Brighton. "The men who attacked them were with two women and asked the Romanians where they were from before punching them. They chased the victims before punching them again and kicking them."
  • 2012-13: Of the 350 documented racist attacks in Bristol, a tenth were targeted at Eastern Europeans.
  • April 2011: A Polish man in Exeter attacked by three men who beat him unconscious and left him requiring extensive surgery on his face. Three men subjected two Bulgarian students in Plymouth to racist abuse before assaulting them.
  • December 2010: A Romanian taxi driver picked up four white men and an Asian woman in Plymouth who subjected him to racist abuse before punching him repeatedly. 
  • 2010: IRR document dozens of violent attacks on Eastern Europeans, in Somerset, Lincoln, the Isle of Wight, Bristol, Edinburgh and elsewhere.
  • June 2009: More than a hundred Romanian families driven from their homes in series of attacks in South Belfast.
  • January 2009: London Polish YouTube star street sweeper attacked a threatened by fascists until he leaves the country.
  • 2008: Polish community organisation records 42 attacks on Polish workers in the UK, mostly in small towns.
What point am I making? I'm not sure. It's just pretty awful. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lewisham's future

[Post updated 15.05.2014 15:53]

Tonight - Tuesday  Tuesday 15 April 2014 - the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign will be holding its AGM. It will start promptly at 7.30 in the Lessof Auditorium* at Lewisham Hospital. Details are here on the campaign's website. I'm not sure I can go, but you should - and here's why.

The Lewisham Hospital campaign has mobilised a large proportion of the local community and had some important victories, saving the A&E and maternity services from the threat of closure, and, through the courts, successfully defeating Jeremy Hunt's un-democratic decisions. These victories have been won by working with Lewisham council and its Labour leadership.

The campaign has also faced defeat, as Hunt responded to his court defeats by pushing through dangerous legislation (Clause 119 of the Care Bill) that would give the government arbitrary powers to overrule local decision-making and close hospitals at will. 38 Degrees put considerable effort into supporting a Lib Dem amendment that would have mitigated the worst aspects of this. However, the Lib Dems moving the amendment were bought off with empty assurances and an offer of a chairmanship of a parliamentary committee. In the event, there were more Tory rebels voting/for the amendment than principled Lib Dems (Leeds' Mark Mullholland was the only Lib Dem voting against Hunt). This leaves Lewisham - and other hospitals across the country - very vulnerable. And the Tories are also moving to "clamp down" on judicial reviews such as that which defeated Hunt, making government even more unaccountable.

Our NHS, locally and nationally, faces other challenges, including outsourcing, privatisation and the burden of inherited toxic PFI debts.

The AGM will vote for its officers and steering committee. There will be an election for the chair, between the incumbent Louise Irvine and challenger John Hamilton**. Irvine has led the campaign up til now, working closely with 38 Degrees. Hamilton is also a Lewisham mayoral candidate for People Before Profit, while Irvine is standing in the European elections for the National Health Action (NHA) Party.

Hamilton's nomination statement starts by attacking Irvine, saying she has "compromised the independence of the campaign by pandering to Labour apologists for PFI". It is true, I believe, that part of the problems faced by Lewisham Hospital have been due to the legacy of bad PFI deals set up under the Labour government. But in my view that does not mean that the campaign should focus its energy on fighting against a Labour council which has defended the hospital. Considering that the accusation against Irvine is that she has been too willing to work with others, the final words of Hamilton's nomination statement seem ironic: "Sectarianism will be our undoing." Indeed.

In the elections for the steering committee, there are several candidates associated with the Labour Party and NHA. My understanding is that they have worked well together, although they will be in different corners in the Euro electoral race in May. Broadly speaking, my sense is that these candidates will maintain the campaign in more or less its common form, based on a broad popular local base, while also rising to the new challenges the coming period poses. I think this probably includes: Toyin Adeyinka, Tamsin Bacchus, Jos Bell, Carol Brown, Kathy Cruise, Anita Downs, Beverly Ejimofo, Vicky Foxcroft, Louise Irvine, Barry Mills, Staurt Monro, Jill Mountford, Marilyn Murray, Tony O'Sullivan, Vicky Penner, Janet Scott-Philips, Hugh Shrapnel and Barbara Veale.

They will be challenged by People Before Profit candidates (including Hamilton, Cheryl Coyne and Richard Proctor), who I personally would vote against, as I think they would take the campaign in a very divisive, sectarian direction.

I would also vote against candidates from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), whose record has been to destroy almost all the broad-based campaigns they have gone anywhere near. I think Ian Crosson, Mark Dunk and Maggie Palmer are SWP candidates.*** Their strategy motion, calling on the campaign to defend migrant workers' rights, is a good example: while I also oppose "the Government scapegoating migrants, and blaming them for the cuts in the health service", committing a broad-based campaign to this might be seen as a distraction from its core aims.

I write this as something of a spectator rather than activist, so I welcome corrections, comments, disagreements, alternative views.

Short version: if have been a supporter of the Hospital campaign, go along to the AGM tonight and use your vote.


In posts over the next month or two leading up to the Euro, mayoral and local elections on May 22, I hope to post more on both local and national campaigns, including my take on Lewisham's mayor and why I think the NHA party is a bad idea. If you have an idea for a guest post on these topics, get in touch (bobfrombrockley at gmail). Along with other local bloggers, I will be using the hashtag #Lewisham2014 for debate on Twitter.

Finally, I want to note with sadness the passing of Jean Kysow, a great Lewisham activist, at the age of 85. Jean, a Downham resident, will be well known for her role in FELTRA (the Federation of Lewisham Tenants and Residents Associations), Justice for Pensioners, and Defend Council Housing. Jean also stood for the Socialist Alliance and other left groups in local elections over the years. She was a wonderful woman, a larger than life character despite her small size, and a great voice for justice for ordinary people locally and nationally. She will be greatly missed.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Brandeis University and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This is a guest post by Sarah AB

The headline chosen for Toby Young’s recent Telegraph piece pulls no punches:
The case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali: cowardly Brandeis University capitulates to Islamist pressure
However, I am not sure you have to be an Islamist, or even a Muslim, to find some of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s statements about Islam quite startling. 

Here’s one of her responses to David Cohen, taken from a 2007 interview published in the Evening Standard:
Violence is inherent in Islam – it's a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder. The police may foil plots and freeze bank accounts in the short term, but the battle against terrorism will ultimately be lost unless we realise that it's not just with extremist elements within Islam, but the ideology of Islam itself.' 
And here's an extract from another interview given in the same year. 

Reason: Do you think Islam could bring about similar [i.e. positive] social and political changes?
Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. … There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Reason: Militarily?
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

Since 2007 Hirsi Ali has expressed herself in more measured terms, and is quite justified in feeling let down by Brandeis University, who should have researched her views more carefully (or stood by their original decision if, as some have suggested, they were in fact aware of her controversial statements.)

And some Muslims (and indeed non-Muslims) do seem intent on introducing blasphemy taboos by the back door, and some – as Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself knows only too well – are driven to violence by those who criticise or mock their religion.

But to question whether Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an appropriate recipient of an honorary degree is not an attack on freedom of speech.  One might be perfectly happy for her to speak at the university, to share her views in a debate – yet have misgivings about seeing those views formally and flatteringly endorsed. 

Toby Young seems to confuse the issues of free speech and endorsement here:
Whether you agree with Hirsi Ali's Manichean view of Islam, she's entitled to express it without being bombarded with death threats or accused of "Islamophobia" which, in this context, amounts to "hate speech" since it's precisely that charge that has led to threats on her life. You would think that an American university would be a staunch defender of Hirsi Ali's right to free speech and wouldn't capitulate to a mob of politically correct Muslims at the first sign of trouble. If the same institution had offered an honorary degree to Richard Dawkins, it's simply inconceivable that it would change its mind after being attacked by Christians.
Of course she is entitled to express her views without receiving death threats, but Toby Young seems to be trying to chill our speech a little by insinuating that criticism of Hirsi Ali amounts to ‘hate speech’ because it might incite others to violence.  Brandeis has said she is still welcome to speak at the university – so it is misleading of Young to imply that it is depriving her of free speech in any way, shape or form.

It is often noted that Islam is not a race, and that people must be free to criticise any ideology.  But Islam isn’t the only idea about which people are passionately protective.  One can imagine that honouring someone with strong pro-life views or a well known supporter of BDS might also spark controversy. 

There need not be any absolute disjuncture between signing up to all the recent secularist causes (most, such as opposition to gender segregation on university campuses, involving Islam) and sympathising with those Muslims who didn’t welcome the decision to honour Hirsi Ali. The problems she identifies and campaigns against are all too real, and do indeed need to be combated resolutely.  But her own recent shift in rhetoric – towards talk of reforming rather than crushing Islam – is itself perhaps an acknowledgement that her earlier approach excluded Muslims who agreed with her on pretty much all substantive points.  Maajid Nawaz is one example – watch his response to her on just this issue here (from about 52:00).

I have seen a comparison made between the Brandeis case and the campaign against Maajid Nawaz (for retweeting Jesus and Mo).  But there is quite a gulf between asserting one doesn’t find a cartoon offensive and declaring that an entire religion is an evil ideology which must be defeated.  I am rather uncomfortably aware that many people I respect are more unambiguously critical of Brandeis’ decision than me – and quite a few of these actively admire Hirsi Ali, without (much) reservation.  I’m also aware that many loathsome people loathe her.  But it shouldn’t be assumed that all of the ‘mob’ (to use Toby Young’s word) who opposed her being honoured will be either extreme or illiberal in their views.

Monday, April 07, 2014

What's wrong with the left, etc (Dead Bloggers Society special edition)

In which, once again, we list some of the things wrong with today's left.

First, Sarah Ditum on why displaying our own liberal cleverness is always a worse strategy than sharing human stories. Ditum exposes the left-liberal intelligentsia's masturbatory performances of smartness as bad politics in a human world, suggesting that such performances won't win people over even when the facts are on our side, as with welfare reform and migration. In relation to migration, this is a point Jill Rutter has made recently too:
"economic arguments will not persuade a sceptical public about the merits of immigration... most of the UK-born do not see immigration in terms of its economic benefits. Most people I interviewed struggled to articulate the benefits that immigration might have brought them, even those from higher income brackets.The economic impacts – for example – on food prices, or fiscally, are abstract and difficult to quantify. At the time of a squeeze on living standards, most people do not ‘feel’ the benefits of immigration to their everyday lives, except on a superficial level in relation to a wider choice in food or cursory gratitude to migrants working in the NHS."
Second up,  Michelle Goldberg on what's wrong with the anti-liberal left: Goldberg analyses the converse, anti-intellectual folly of the new illiberal left and its culture of "repressive tolerance". By this she refers to the use of trigger warningscall-outs and no platforming to deny free expression in the name of some spurious idea of social justice: the politics of the hashtag attack dogs.

The liberal fallacy and illiberal folly they invoke have this in common: both dis-engage the unconverted from politics; both play to a gallery of clued-up insiders. And thus both help maintain the disenchantment and sense of hopelessness of the majority, and both help maintain the grip of elites on our body politic. (See also James Bloodworth ()Want to defeat UKIP? Then get more working class people into politics.) And the repressive tolerance Goldberg describes also plays into something Nick Cohen and Kenan Malik have written about many times: the culture of taking offence that has gripped our world.

On our next pathology of the contemporary left, the anti-imperialism of foolsNick Cohen (recently wrote a superb deconstruction of Noam Chomsky's position on Crimea, showing how Chomsky's take exemplifies the double standards of the "anti-imperialist" left. Somewhat updated, but still very incomplete: this long resource list includes several texts on  left antisemitism, conspirationism and left-right convergence, and a few on philo-Islamism, vicarious social patriotism, Third Worldism and the anti-imperialism of fools. Some of the more recent ones include: Nick Cohen How the left turned against the Jews (2012), Sean Matgamna The SWP and Israel (2013), Colin Shindler  The European left and its trouble with Jews and The Left and Israel: A Tortured Path (2012), Pham Binh The Anti-Imperialism of Fools and the Syrian Spring (2012), Allan Massie Israel, Palestine and the anti-Semitism of the Left (2012). (Here's a couple more, not on that page: Padraig Reidy on Katy Perry and the Illuminati.)

Alan Johnson, meanwhile, argues that the 20th century's anti-imperialism of fools is giving way to a 21st century "anti-establishmentism of fools" (illustrated by the alliance around the quenelle). Paul Evans () linked to that piece back in January, along with a great article by Sean Wilentz on the cross-party cult of Assange/Snowden/Greenwald. Paul suggests that perhaps the old disciplined orthodoxies of Leninist democratic centralism were in some ways healthier than today's believe-in-anything political culture. I fear he might be right. Or, as Public Enemy puts it, 'If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything'.
Before I finish, I want to stress that while this post (like a lot of this blog) has focused on what's wrong with the left, there's plenty wrong with the right. In fact, some of the things wrong with the left are also what's wrong with the right. The culture of complaint we see in the #CancelColbert version of intersectionalism is mirrored by a conservative panic about our young being desensitised and corrupted by all the bad stuff out there (a tendency Padraig Reidy (), in an excellent recent post, called "declinism"). And the tankie left's anti-imperialism of fools mirrors the isolationism of the Europhobic hard right, an isolationism that leads to the likes of Farage taking more or less the same objectively pro-Putin line on Russia and Ukraine as Stop the War and its ilk, a line long taken by mainstream Tories like Malcolm Rifkind. And so on.


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Dead Bloggers Society reading list; Beyond left and right; Blog recommendations for homeless leftists.