Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top posts of 2015

Here are the posts with the most hits of the year.

1. Who is Milo Samuels?

I'm not sure why this is such a best-seller. It summarises the suggestion (made originally, I think, by Sadia Jabeen) that Martin Smith, the SWP's thoroughly discredited sax-playing "anti-fascist" organiser, might have re-invented himself as Milo Samuels and be funded by trade unions such as the NUT to write boring articles about jazz. If you like that post you'll like these ones.

2. Seymour on the Paris attacks

This was a guest post by my comrade Contested Terrain. It is a critique of Richard Seymour's response to the Paris attacks that opened 2015. I think it got so many hits (a) because we all became obsessed with Paris and Je Suis Charlie for a while, (b) because so many people like to see Seymour getting a (verbal) kicking, and (c) because Seymour linked to it and he has many more readers than I do.

This, from November, was a response to Stop the War's response to the growing calls in the Autumn, from across the political spectrum, for a No Bomb Zone in Syria, A No Bomb Zone was proposed as part of a coherent Syria plan, at a time when Cameron was promising (after four years of war in Syria) to come up with a plan. (Cameron's desperate attempt to avoid committing to anything has been perversely called a "rush to war" by people who should know better.) Spoiler alert: Cameron never came up with a plan and instead decided on effective but muscular-looking air strikes on ISIS. Anyway, the indefatigable Peter Tatchell, one of the advocates of a No Bomb Zone, championed this post on social media, which is why it got so many hits. If you liked that post you'll like these ones.

This post was a short response to Jeremy Corbyn's decision to make Stalinst fellow traveller Seumas Milne his head of communications and strategy. This was one of my most tweeted posts ever, tweeted almost entirely by despairing Labour party members. 

This was a response to the Lewisham East UKIP candidate, former left-secularist turned semi-intellectual outrider for the new far right. The post got some local juice during the election, and then another bounce when Waters teamed up with fake reformed proto-fascist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka "Tommy Robinson") in one of the many attempts the "counter-Jihadi" right has made to relaunch itself this year. 

This post looked at the links between the far right Lyndon LaRouche cult and the then new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and didn't like what it saw.

7. Assad v ISIS? Patrick Cockburn's economy with the truth

This was an attempt to fisk an article by Patrick Cockburn, widely considered (e.g. by both Tory "realists" like Julian Lewis and Jeremy Corbyn) an expert on Syria but in my view fundamentally dishonest and malignant. 

Another Syria post, arguing for us to help to really stop the war.

9. On extremism, jihadism and counter-jihadism

An excessively long post making a series of arguments about Islamist and far right "extremism", how they relate to each other, and how we might counter them. 

10. Strange alliances: Jeremy Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers

This is another Corbyn investigation, this time into his associations with a bunch of Holocaust deniers on the fringes of the anti-Israel milieu. If you liked that post, you'll like this one.

Nice that one celebratory post has snuck into the top 20 alongside all of these unpleasant negative posts. This one is about the revolutionary miracle that is Rojava, with loads and loads of links.

12. Kick George Galloway out of British politics

This was part of my May general election series. It is one of the few posts I've ever called for something to happen which subsequently happened: Galloway lost his seat in Bradford. Unfortunately, he seems to have not removed himself to a seraglio in Amsterdam or a retirement home in Tehran, as we might have hoped, but instead is attempting to insert himself back into London politics, standing against Sadiq Khan as the ultra-Corbynite candidate in the mayoral election. If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

Gratifying that this, a summary of a decade of blogging, made the top 13 posts. 

This entry in my May general election series now seems quaintly anachronistic, as it runs through a whole bunch of left-wing electoral alternatives to Labour, which have almost all now dissolved themselves into Corbyn's capacious church. I was grimly pessimistic about the left's chances then; I turned out to be wrong but now I'm pessimistic for the Labour party instead. Interesting comment thread. 

Briefly charts the concept of "Jewish privilege" as it travelled from American Jewish liberals to hardcore anti-Zionists to neo-Nazis. 

16, F*ck aspiration, we don't need another Tory party

This was a rant against the idea that Labour needed to turn right after its electoral defeat, but an argument for it having to re-connect with its working class roots as its English working class support leaks to UKIP. Obviously thousands of people read the first half of the post, joined Labour and elected a left-wing, explicitly anti-austerity leader - but failed to read the second half and have not yet worked out how to also reach out to the left behind and pissed off post-industrial proletariat in deepest England.

Finally, a post close to my heart (my decision to feature the un-round top 17 posts of the year was made to be able to include it). This post is about the Palestinian city of Yarmouk, its slow and awful destruction by Assad's regime, and how the British left has failed to hear its cry. If you only re-read one of the seventeen, re-read this one. 

Google's Blogger platform is not as good as Wordpress for stats so it's impossible to see which posts (as opposed to which 2015 posts) were the most-read in 2015. However, one post seems to have been clicked on an awful lot, and has been among the most popular most weeks of the year. 

This was a guest post written back in 2008 by someone who studied or worked at Goldsmiths, University of London, where one Jennifer Jones was a student union activist, in response to Jones standing for the GLA. The post is quite a devastating indictment of her, of student politics, and of Galloway's Respect (then still tied up with the SWP). The comment thread, which I probably should have moderated more strictly, adds several allegations about her personal conduct, although some of them are probably motivated by misogyny or homophobia so should be taken with a pinch of salt. Anyway, I never encountered her directly, but felt that it was worth publishing as a local blogger to hold accountable someone standing for public office. I subsequently forgot all about her. About a year ago, I got in to a conversation or two on Twitter with one "Jen Izaakson", who then started making bizarre allegations about me, and then I twigged that her and Jones are one and the same person. As Izaakson is a mini-celeb on fringe-left Twitter, a kind of dumbed-down Laurie Penny, and as she bullies a lot of people online, I assume her victims google her and find this post; I have no other explanation for its perennial popularity. 

All, in all, quite a year folks. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 in first lines

I've been doing this every year for a while now (here's last year), after a habit of the late Norman Geras. There was one month (February) when I didn't blog at all, so I've included my first tweet, which actually relates to the last post of the previous month.

January: There is a strange pattern of intellectual retardation on the Left, when otherwise sophisticated individuals are encountered with the nexus of topics relating to anti-Muslim racism, antisemitism, political Islam, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, etc.

February: Celebrating ten years of blogging...

March: As an anonymous blogger, I recognise that there are lots of good reasons why someone might want to be anonymous online or to have multiple identities.

April: The last five years of Conservative-led Coalition government have, I believe, been disastrous for the country, in many ways.

May: From the moment of [George Galloway's] victory in what he called the "Bradford Spring", when he tweeted about his "Blackburn triumph", it was clear he couldn't give a monkeys about his new constituency.

June: I was very sad to read today of the passing of Morris Beckman, a great anti-fascist, mentsh and citizen historian.

July: As a London resident, I took the 7/7 attacks personally

August: This post is prompted by David Cameron’s recent speech setting out a new agenda on addressing the threat of Islamist violent extremism, and also by the recent launch of a whole series of “counter-jihadi” initiatives on the British right, including the planning of a Mohammed cartoon exhibition in London in September.

September: Lots of people believe that it is basically too late to do anything about Syria. It's such a mess.

October: You'll have heard by now that Seumas Milne has been appointed executive director of strategy and communications for the Labour party. This is a disastrous decision for (at least) three reasons.

November: Stop the War (StW) have a track record of denying a platform to Syrian voices when they hold events about Syria.

December: 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria? Never has a figure been so universally doubted.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

What Cameron said about 70,000 moderate fighters, what he didn't say, and what he should've said

70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria? Never has a figure been so universally doubted.

Some people doubt it because they simply doubt any number and specifically any politician who uses a number, especially in justifying a war. The last time a figure was used to justify a war, everyone knows, is Blair's 45 minutes, and we were wrong to believe that so we don't believe this.

Some people doubt it because David Cameron's been caught being economical with the truth before and, well, he is a Tory isn't he?

Some people doubt it because they don't really read about what's going on in Syria apart from the occasional headline about ISIS atrocities, so they assume there's nothing going on apart from that. They mistake their own ignorance for proof that Cameron is lying.

Some people doubt it because they have a basically racist view of Sunni Muslims and especially Arabs. They're all fanatical savages who like beheading people, so how can any of them be called "moderate"? (The same racism underlies the idea that they need strong men like Assad or Mubarak to keep their fanatical savagery in place.)

Given the scale of the doubt, it's worth looking at what Cameron said, what he didn't say, and what he should have said. First, this is what he did say, first as a written statement then out loud in parliament:
"Although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.” 
"we believe there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally the Free Syrian Army, who do not belong to extremist groups and with whom we can coordinate attacks on ISIL."
Note what he didn't say:
  • that we have an exact figure for these fighters
  • that all of them are moderate
  • that they form a single cohesive fighting force
So, what should he have said to be even more accurate? Something like this:
Although the situation on the ground is complex, it can be estimated that there are well over 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.  
The word "moderate" is relative, and therefore pretty meaningless. However, although some of them are far from "moderate", these groups are sharply opposed to Daesh and are credible allies in our fight against Daesh and legitimate partners in building a post-dictatorship Syria.  
They do not form one single cohesive force, but we can work with them to make them more cohesive. 
Their motivation to work with us increases if we show that we are serious about removing Assad and if we show that any air-borne intervention we undertake is not reckless with Syrian civilian lives. 
At the core of these are some 45,000 fighters in the two main FSA coalitions, the Southern Front and the Northern Free Syrian Army. Among these are the 14 Free Syrian Army units vetted by the CIA. (If you read Arabic, many of these groups are on social media, e.g. the Knights of Justice Brigade or the Falcons of al-Ghab,) 
There are dozens of other groups, making up a further 30,000 fighters or more, some in large effective coalitions, which are on the spectrum towards al-Nusra but which are first and foremost about creating a free Syria. This analysis from the Institute for the Study of War shows which ones are independent (marked in green) or allied to or separable from al-Nusra (marked in yellow). 
Add to these several tribal or ethnic militias. An example would be the Turkmen regiments (with 3,000 or more fighters) who came to Western notice the other week when they shot a Russian pilot. 
In addition, there are Kurdish fighters. Most of the Kurdish fighters in Syria are part of the YPG/YPJ, the male and female militias of the political party PYD, although there are other smaller groups too. Estimates of  the size of the YPG/YPJ force vary between 25,000 and 50,000, but the more plausible claims are at the lower end of that scale. It has proved to be the most effective and reliable force against ISIS, and it has allied with four major Syrian predominantly Arab groups and a number of fighting groups in the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, which now has some 14 units giving allegiance to it and has made important advances in the North,  with US support. However, the Kurds are not interested in advancing into non-Kurdish territory, which means we cannot work with them alone.  
Finally, there are a further 15,000 fighters in Islamist-dominated coalitions which have worked with other rebels but are also allied with al-Nusra. It may be possible to work with them, but we need to be very wary.
In short, not all "moderate", not a cohesive force, but definitely real, and definitely worth our solidarity.

That doesn't mean Cameron is right about anything else, that his Syria plan is the right one, or that everything is cool. Air strikes alone will not solve the problem and may be counter-productive. Our first solidarity should be with Syrian civilians and the non-violent resistance which represents them. But the anti-government, anti-ISIS fighters described here are a key part of any solution.

Cartoon by Chris Riddell, Guardian 29 November 2015

Further reading:

Monday, December 07, 2015

"Zio-trolling gets you bitchslapped onto the death camp train"

This is a brief account of an unpleasant experience in Twitter I had on Friday night. I thought it gave a fascinating insight into the convergence of various kinds of bigotry. Warning: not for the squeamish.

So, one of the main issues I follow on Twitter is the war in Syria. I have been a strong supporter of the Syrian Revolution, and opponent of the Assad dictatorship. One of the arguments made by supporters of that dictatorship is that Syria faces a choice between Assad and jihadism, the latter represented by ISIS or, in some accounts, by all Sunni Arab rebels.

The blurring of that last distinction - i.e. between ISIS and other Islamist rebels, and between Islamist and democratic or nationalist rebels - has been a major weapon in that pro-Assad propaganda arsenal. The blurring is widely accepted because of the prevalence of a basically racist worldview about Sunni Muslims and especially Sunni Arabs, which imagines them as all essentially fanatical savages. The success of the narrative was evidenced in the widespread scepticism about the UK government claimed that there are 70,000 "moderate" fighters in Syria - which is actually a wholly credible claim.

It has been bitterly ironic to watch "anti-war" activists now embracing the rhetoric of the War on Terror, which they so stridently opposed in 2001 and 2003, to try to discredit Syrian revolutionaries as jihadi savages.

1. The pro-Hezbollah sectarian
Today's story starts with a tweet from Leith Abou Fadel, a Beirut-based pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah journalist, which basically says that supporters of anti-Assad fighters are supporters of Sunni Islamism:

Fadel has some form. You might recall the hoax he started about the Syrian refugee soccer coach, Osama Abdul Mohsen, who was kicked by a Hungarian camerawoman; Fadel smeared him as an Al-Nusra supporter:
Among those promoting the claim that Mr. Mohsen was a supporter or member of the Nusra Front was Leith Abou Fadel, the Syrian editor of a pro-government news site. Writing on Facebook and Twitter, Mr. Fadel drew attention to what he called evidence of Mr. Mohsen’s extremist sympathies on Sept. 13, five days after Mr. Mohsen was tripped by the Hungarian journalist Petra Laszlo while trying to avoid detention in Hungary.
The false story was of course widely circulated by right-wing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim voices in the West:
Two days later, the screen shot of Mr. Mohsen’s Facebook page shared by Mr. Fadel was presented as evidence of the coach’s support for terrorism by Ezra Levant, a conservative Canadian political commentator (who has been faulted in the past for failing to check his facts and going out of his way to insult Muslims).
As a side note, Fadel is often used as a source by Kremlin media outlets. And if you look at the tweet you see how much it is amplified by supporters of the LaRouche cult that we met back here.

2. The Ba'athist

Then another tweeter jumps on Fadel's tweet to introduce him to me, describing me as an FSA "fan boy":

This guy is the first person I ever blocked on Twitter, as he regularly sends me snuff porn pics of beheadings, purportedly to "prove" that all anti-Assad fighters are jihadi. I won't reproduce or link to them here for obvious reasons.

The picture he tweets, by the way, is of a former FSA officer photographer with the U.S. ambassador and then with an ISIS fighter, which presumably is meant to "prove" the CIA are behind ISIS and that ISIS and the FSA are the same thing. Or something.

Because I blocked him, I wouldn't have seen the tweet. (This is a major flaw in Twitter's harassment policy. Shouldn't blocking stop bullies tweeting at their targets, rather than just make the tweets invisible to their targets? Blocking actually encourages bullies to up the aggression.)

The tweet about me was hearted by Fadel, and by a woman whose Twitter profile describes her as a "commie pinko liberal feminazi", and retweeted by a Finnish leftist (her profile says "Loves Wikileaks OWS Anonymous") with over 25,000 followers.

3. The Holocaust denier

Then someone else joins in, with more photoshopped pics of fighters in Syria, purporting to "prove" that not just the CIA but also Mossad are behind ISIS. (I won't go into details here, but basically there's a guy in a red beard who is a Georgian ex-soldier who had some contact with US military trainers then was radicalised in prison in Georgia and joined ISIS. Add those dots together and clearly the whole Syrian revolution is a neocon/Rothschild plot.)

I then made the stupid mistake of one tweet engaging him. (Referring to the black person labelled "African" in his photoshopped pic, I said "because Africa is a country right?") I should have known better, as this unleashed a slew of invective, accelerating to Holocaust references immediately, in the tweet quoted in the title of this post. Although I'd not mentioned Israel one single time, my support for Syrian democrats was enough for me to be labelled a "Zionist" and "Ziotroll".

In a couple of tweets I was told I should get on the death camp train, given a choice between being made into a lampshade or being made into soap, and told to give his best regards to Ann Frank.

Not to mention this:

Within minutes, two more guys had piled in with him: one, who tweets that his "heart bleeds for Palestinians", who points out this isn't antisemitism because Jews aren't Semites, and someone whose Twitter profile is a link to the new-Nazi website Stormfront, calls the Holocaust a "narrative", and rants about "Talmudism" and such like:

Here are screenshots of the media tweeted by the the lampshade guy and the second guy who piled in. You'll see a full house of both classic and "anti-Zionist" antisemitic tropes, as well as 9/11 conspiracies... and an attack on Bernie Sanders.

So, in a couple of clicks we move between anti-Sunni sectarianism, anti-Muslim racism and Holocaust denying new-Nazis. That's the kind of folks who think Assad is the lesser evil in Syria.