Thursday, February 21, 2008


I will not be blogging for a week or two, so, while I'm gone, if you need a Bob fix, please have a look through my longer posts which you never got around to reading, some of the better ones of which are here in "Bob's picks". I look forward to renewing the conversation.

The idiot left

This interesting post on an ideology chart by Bill Weinberg at World War 4 Report generated quite an interesting discussion, including my comrade the New Centrist. (While you're there, click on the link to the test to find out if you're a fascist; I'm a "liberal airhead".) It led me on to a whole series of posts there worth reading on the ascendancy of the "idiot left".

(P.S. Did you notice my perfect use of a semi-colon above?)

Previous: trad left, rococo left, leftover left, the left's old neighborhood.

Previous quizzes: Left or right?, Who is your inner humanitarian celebrity?, Are you George Galloway?, What kind of anarchist are you anyway?, Is your world view exactly the opposite of what you think?, Are you middle class?, Love America or leave it?, What on earth is going on in the world today?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thank you, now who’s up for a Pimms?

In praise of the semi-colon

An e-mail from Jogo:
This is a lovely story about a NYC public servant who composed a sentence for a subway placard using the semicolon aptly, dare one say perfectly.

Fine stewards of English, such as Lynne Truss and Louis Menand, praised this man. But Noam Chomsky did not. As you'll read in the story, he had something entirely different to say about it. His evil and inhuman coldness have never been better illustrated than by the few words he spoke when asked for his comment. I know that you comprehend the depth of his monstrousness. May you teach your children well.

House-keeping and recycling

No, not my long-awaited response to Andrew's household management meme, but some bits and bobs (no pun intended) that I've been meaning to post about the last week or so

1. I meant to dedicate this post to the late Tom Lantos, a man who was a committed fighter for the kind of cosmopolitan, democratic approach to international affairs that I am advocating here, while also maintaining a strong sense of social injustice at home. Read appreciations from Contentious Centrist and Jeff Weintraub.

2. And, as a post-script to my brief comments on the fifth anniversary last week of the monster anti-war march, read Jim's take.

3. Kosova's declaration of independence. I don't have anything of my own to contribute, just to share the enthusiasm expressed by my comrades Marko AH, HLNK (and here), Will (and here), Hak Mao, and FiG. A rather different view is presented by Andy at Socialist Unity and, a bit more measured, Splintered Sunrise. (The latter is a blog on my blogroll -the story of that fact can be found here and here-, so it is encumbant on me, at some point soon, to respond in some way to this piece by Marko Attila H.)

4. Another thing that I want to respond to at some point, when I have more time, is this piece at the Cedar Tree Revolution on the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA). I was loosely involved in the IWCA in the late 1990s, due to my heavy involvement in Anti-Fascist Action, which gave birth to the IWCA. There are lots of impressive things about the IWCA, as well as lots of problems with it, although not exactly the problems identified in this post. Closely related: this piece by Dave O on anti-social behaviour and violence in working class communities, which concludes: "if socialists ever want to be taken seriously be the people at the sharp end of this one, we need either to put forward some joined-up social policy thinking or risk leaving the field to the demagogues of all parties. After all, it's not kids in Belgravia or the posh bits of Cheshire and Surrey that are doing the dying."

5. Chinese totalitarianism. There was a very interesting programme on Radio 4 this morning, with John Simpson interviewing various veterans of Tiananmen Square in the year the Chinese dictatorship eases up on foreign press restrictions for the Olypmics. What a disgusting, brutal regime. Read Dave O on boycotting the Olympics.

6. A new blog to me: Twiddly Bits, found via Flesh is Grass. Read her inside take on the LSE student "radicals".

7. Buried in Derek Wall's account of the Palestinian boycott motion at Green Party conference was some shocking news: Mark Steel has left the SWP!! (Presumably not to follow Ahmed Hussain into the Tories.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Conservatism, realism and the anti-war movement

I have managed to irk Dave Semple, a young veteran of the Stop the War movement, enough with my post last week on conservatism in the anti-war movement to get a fairly detailed response on his blog, albeit one which describes me (I think) as a "pro-war commissar" and my writing as "piffle". I have written a response in his comments box (part 1, part 2, postscript), as he invited a reply (I'm sure I could have done a better job on Saturday, when I first read his post, but I ran out of time and don't have the verve today). [Since then, David has written a series of extremely considered and intelligent replies to my response, and I have responded again.]

There has been a fair amount of blog reaction to the the David Miliband speech I referred to, a speech advocating a "citizen surge" and a more cosmopolitan, less realist, foreign policy. Bob Piper is right to identify the double standards involved in trumpeting a "democratic imperative" in Iraq while realpolitik constrains similarly muscular action on China and Pakistan. But it is wrong to dismiss the democratic imperative itself, and use it as a standard by which we judge our rulers' actions and inactions'. Piper's cynical take inevitably shades into a Little England isolationism: "David Miliband could then gather his forces at Dover and prepare to invade unless nation states agree to consult their people before sovereignty is transferred to Brussels or their currency to Bonn." It is worth noting that this kind of Little Englandism is another of the politics uniting the Bennite trad left, the likes of Andrew Murray and the Daily Telegraph readers who Murray saw marching on February 15 2003.

Meanwhile, Freemania provides an excellent defence of Miliband against his detractors, a motley crue of anti-democrats who include Living Marxism's Brendan O'Neill as well as the loathsome Simon Jenkins. See also Cassilis and Robin Simcox for more.

Freeman ends up with this: "David Cameron, who idiotically opines that “you cannot drop a fully formed democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet,” could learn a lot here. But I’m not sure he’d want to." Cameron's isolationism (he calls it "liberal conservatism" as opposed to Blair's "liberal interventionism") is conservative realism by another name, neatly illustrating the perverse alliance of anti-democratic forces that link the trad left to the Conservative right.

William Sjostrom of Atlantic Blog pierces the fatuousness of Simon Jenkins' Cameronite position here. The post deals with another Jenkins article, where he attacks Brown et al for not taking democracy to Beijing, even though he attacks them for trying to take it to the Middle East. Elsewhere Sjostrom takes on my other hate-figure, Jonathan Steele: "We should all be grateful Steele is not designing airplanes, preferring instead to write apologetics for murderers." (While I'm here, I'd also like to recommend some other posts on Altantic Blog: on the whiteness of Israel, on Bush in Africa, and on Saddam's innocence.)

The realism that Miliband was attacking has a lot of influence today. For example, Walt and Mearsheimer's Israel Lobby "analysis" is based in a realist understanding of international affairs. Realists like Walt & Mearsheimer and internal relations experts close to them like
Zbigniew Brzezinski exert a conservative influence too on the Democratic Party. Barack Obama, despite his positioning against the White House elite associated with Hillary Clinton, packs his staff with establishment wonks like Brzezinski, a "reality-based" community who want to re-create the reality of the pre-Reagan phase of the Cold War. (More hopefully, Obama is also advised by Samantha Power, whose fantastic "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide is a powerful resource for cosmopolitanism and against realism. Power, incidentally, has been cruelly and inaccurately described as an adherent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis by right-wing anti-Obama-ites like Paul Mirengoff and Noah Pollock.)

One of the things I say in my comment at David Semple's site is this: Realism is probably the least important of the three things I looked at in the article [I meant post!]; maybe I’m overstating my case in dwelling on it. Little Englandism, anti-Americanism, conspiracy theory, faith in the sanctity of the nation-state (or, at least, the Palestinian nation-state), support for right-wing dictatorships because they are putatively “anti-imperialist”, casual alliances with deeply reactionary theocrats on the principle of my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend: these are all far more pernicious, and far more common. When the left accomodates itself to these forces, either it is abandoning the ethical values that made the left what it once was, or it is time to leave the left. The hyperlinks on this paragraph are to images which illustrate that these were strongly present on 15 February 2003.

Finally, I have been very much enjoying the spectacle of Tower Hamlets Respect councillor Ahmed Hussain joining the Tory party (see Splintered Sunrise, Dave Osler, I Intend to Escape, Bob Piper, Chris Paul, Quaequam). I think, among other things, that this strengthens my case about the essential conservatism of at least one major element in the Stop the War coalition...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Which side of the Spanish Civil War do they most remind you of?

Jeff W:
If there were any remaining doubts that Norman Finkelstein's visceral and obsessive hatred of Israel (along with his clearly deep-seated psychological problems) have left him thoroughly unhinged, this illuminating recent interview on Lebanese TV (via MEMRI) should be enough to dispel such doubts.
Read the rest, including the stomach-turning language in which Fink gives his solidarity for their "resistance". While the Lebanese interviewer gently suggests that Hezbollah might not be the genuine voice of all Lebanese people, Finkelstein goes on the offensive. Finally, he says: "You have no self-respect... How can you expect other people to respect Arabs is you show no respect for yourselves?" What he means by "having no self-respect" is basically "not all of you silly little Lebanese people are man enough to die fighting against the Nazi Zionists". Although that is a paraphrase, it is no exaggeration. This man is completely off the deep end.

Being offensive in a different register, Fink invokes the spirit of La Pasionaria, the Spanish anti-fascist. Jeff shows some grim pics of saluting* Hizbollah militants, and asks "Which side in the Spanish Civil War does this remind you of?"

Later in the day: I just watched the actual clip (it was down when I read Jeff's extract). It is actually even worse than I thought. Asked if there is any alternative for Lebanon than military resistance, Finkelstein emphatically says no. Then, he says, "unless you want to be their slave". Later, he makes it clear who the "they" is: "the Jews", not Israel. Fink is utterly offensive towards the pro-democracy movement in Lebanon, calling them "human freaks" and "disgusting" for not wanting constant war against Israel. And again and again in the interview he directly compares Israel to Nazi Germany. Final words of the interview: "Israel has to be defeated".

Oddly, though, the only time he loses his rag and departs from his strange cyborg psychopath pattern of speech, however, is not when talking about Israel, but when he mentions George Bush: a name he cannot pronounce without getting apopolectic.

And on Monday: Another thing of note in the interview is the way the Fink always uses the definate article about Jews - "the Jews". Hmmm.

*Erratum: I wrote that the Hezbullah fighters were "goose-stepping" when in fact they were doing fascist salute, as Jeff W kindly noted to me in an e-mail ("As you know, fascism was quite popular in that part of the world during the inter-war period ... and it has continued to be popular in some quarters since then, but in most cases there have been efforts to clean up some of the more obvious historical roots. In Lebanon, however, the good old 1930s-style symbolism is apparently still in style.")

Disclaimer: this blog does not endorse hero-worship of La Pasionara; she was a Stalinist who wanted to sell out her country's revolution to another totalitarianism that would have been nearly as bad as Franco's. But that's another argument.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The conservatism of the anti-war "radicals"

Item 1: Andrew Murray, of the Communist Party of Britain, Morning Star and Stop the War, and formerly of the Soviet Novosti news agency, wrote an op end in yesterday's Grauniad celebrating the fifth anniversary of the massive 15 February 2003 stop the war march. I'm not going to comment on the piece in general, apart from noting one thing. This is from early in the article:
In the wake of February 15, Washington told Blair he could stand down our army if he wanted to. The prime minister ignored that offer and the people he represents alike.
And this is from later on:
Emily Churchill, a Birmingham school student at the time, described the experience as "trying to steer the course of our country with our own hands". Of course in 2003 other, American, hands were on the wheel.
In other words, Blair clearly came to the decision that engagement in Iraq was the right thing independently of Washington, yet still America's hands were "on the wheel". When the evidence within the article itself demonstrates that there was no conspiracy or coercion, we are obviously dealing with a paranoid conspiracy theory.

What Murray is exemplifying here is one of the defining features of the anti-war movement - a movement, as the article itself makes clear, of Daily Telegraph readers, British Muslims and wishy washy Lib Dems. What links Little England Tories, Little England Stalinists and partisans of the umma is an irrational, reactionary, anti-modern hatred of America. And, in this case, a hatred of America which expresses itself in deranged conspiracy theories.

Item 2: Simon Jenkins, in the same issue, attacking David Miliband's zeal for liberal interventionism, which Jenkins likens to old-fashioned imperialism.

Jenkins seeks to parade his learning by liberally quoting Immanuel Kant, but demonstrates his lack of learning by not being able to tell the difference between self-determination and sovereignty.
Self-determination, warts and all, has been the defining essence of the nation-state throughout history, which is why the UN charter qualified it only in cases of cross-border aggression and humanitarian relief.
Actually, of course, what he's talking about here is not the self-determination of peoples, but the sovereignty of nation-states. A dictator like Saddam Hussein does not represent the determination of any self other than the dictator. (Lenny Henry sketch about a Mugabe-like figure: "I introduced the policy of one man, one vote. I was that one man.") Liberating Iraq from Saddam was not denying its self-determination, but making its self-determination possible.

In my view, self-determination must always trump sovereignty, and if a sovereign is governing without the consent of the people, then fuck sovereignty.

As with Murray's anti-Americanism, Jenkins' fundamentalist faith in the sovereignty of nation-states is essentially conservative, not radical.

Item 3: A couple of weeks ago, the Gruaniad staged a mini-"debate" on CiF about some pronouncement of failure on the Iraq adventure by their resident foreign policy idiot Jonathan Steele. (I say "debate"; all but one of the contributors agreed with him. They included a Chatham House Arabist, a member of the Council for Arab British Understanding, a Tory grandee, a member of a US "progressive" thinktank, a King's College cold war don, and, as the lone voice of dissent, Oliver Kamm.)

Quite a spectrum of opinions, but all united (all except Kamm that is) in a commitment to a realist approach to international politics. This realist position is well summed up in the Miliband speech that Jenkins attacks:

We must resist the arguments on both the left and the right to retreat into a world of realpolitik. The traditional conservative ‘realist position’ is to say that values and interests diverge, and interests should predominate. This will not do. Yet in the 1990s, something strange happened. The neoconservative movement seemed to be most sure about spreading democracy around the world. The left seemed conflicted between the desirability of the goal and its qualms about the use of military means. In fact, the goal of spreading democracy should be a great progressive project; the means need to combine soft and hard power. We should not let the genuine debate about the ‘how’ of foreign policy obscure the clarity about the ‘what’.
Miliband is correct to call the realist position conservative, and the basic conservatism of the position is demonstrated by the leftist Steele's approving quotation of Douglas Hurd, and then by Hurd's ringing endorsement of Steele.

Hurd, of course, an old Etonian, was part of the war cabinet during the first Gulf War, a war that was about oil and defence of the sovereignty of the reactionary Kuwaiti monarchy (and which, in true realist fashion stopped short of unseating dictator Saddam and in fact helped him crush the Marsh Arabs' insurgency against him). Hurd was a leading advocate of refusing to allow the Bosniaks to defend themselves against Serbian ethnic cleansing (saying that allowing them to arm would create a "level killing field"; he preferred an uneven killing field in which genocidaires are allowed to flourish). Hurd retired from politics to be a director of the NatWest (in which capacity he spent time in Yugoslavia, courting Milosevic, the man who benefited from the uneven killing field Hurd had promoted).

Once again, anti-war "radicalism" is revealed as a conservative project.

All posts on: Simon Jenkins, Jonathan Steele, Andrew Murray.

Bonus link: Another realist prick (by Graeme at DST4W)

Free speech, Zionism and antisemitism

Terry Glavin, who blogs at Transmontanus, has fallen foul of the liberal commissars of the Canadian library system.

First, read this article. Then this blog post. Then this one. Then this one and this one and this one. And finish with this one, which I'll quote as it is so good.
I do not want to live in a society that bans books, imprisons journalists, persecutes writers and closes down newspapers. In that sense I am a free speech militant. However, we should notice something here. The writers trying to weasel their way to acceptability tell lies and seek to suppress truth. They are the book burners and the censors in the making, using 'intellectual freedom' as a cover. To support free speech is not a neutral act, it is to be a partisan for truth. Above all, it is to be a partisan for humanist values.

Partisans do not meekly surrender to lies. Partisans do not wallow in the fake neutrality of 'balance'. That is cowardice. Partisans contest, challenge and ridicule. They may not ban it, but they treat nonsense with contempt. They refuse to legitimate the vile filth of murderous prejudice, rooted in lies and dripping with irrational hatred. And they most certainly do not allow public institutions to host rabid nonsense in the name of 'free speech'.
Previous: Cuban books in search of a library, Friends of Cuban Libraries

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cool songs 2: Isaac Bashevis Singer

(This is another P.S. to this post, with all the biographical tracks from Vinyl Villain and some tenuously Jew-ish music from Ribot, Kutiman etc.)

Featuring: "Isaac Bashevis Singer" by The Owls

This is in a lovely New York playlist from the great Motel de Moka.

Said the Gramophone, writing on Erev Xmas '07, wrote:
Isaac Bashevis Singer: author, humourist, Nobel Laureate, Jew. Were he still with us he would probably be doing the same thing as I'm doing on this Christmas Eve: noshing on mixed nuts, Ferrero Rochers, waiting at a loved-one's house for a matriarch to return with some cabbage rolls. It's a good life.

But one of the things I like to do with this song, this tender portrait, is to disconnect it from the "real" Isaac Bashevis Singer, the I.B.S. known and beloved, and instead to give the song to an anonymous Isaac: one who aged and died in NYC without ever becoming famous, who smiled and shook his head whenever he read an article about the famous writer who shares his name. Our Isaac, this gentle bachelor who works as a watchmaker or a newspaper seller or a watercolourist, this guy too has a wide circle of friends, has lady callers and superstitions and on Christmas Day he throws a feast for all his cherished ones, gentiles and Jews and a solitary Hindu, serving fruitcake and gefilte fish, kosher wine and Austrian bubbly, Ferrero Rochers and mixed nuts. And his turntable never stops spinning.

[buy Daughters and Suns, absolutely the most diverse & pretty a group of pop-songs you'll hear before the end of the year]

Links: The Owls web page, The Owls at Magic Mark Records, Isaac Bashevis Singer: American Master. Image above from Findagrave.

Marc Ribot post script

This is a p.s. to this post. [Most song titles link to mp3s at Undomondo - let me know if that's unethical or illegal!]

Undomundo says the Marc Ribot tracks posted are from Ribot's "more accessible projects" but "Kalmiya", from Asmodeus (the second Masada songbook) is actually very hard to listen to, in that John Zorn thrash/free jazz way; much as I want to like it, as it resonates with my passions so closely, I just can't. "Kedem", another Zorn/Masada piece, works for me because it is slower and quieter: maybe I'm getting old. (Soundsandtexts compares it to Bert Jansch.)

Similarly, "Midost" from Ceramic Dog is hard-going hard rock. "Yo I Killed Your God" from his Shrek project is more accessible, if you are into, say, the Dead Kennedys, but not my cup of tea, despite its cool lyrics. "Black Trombone" from the very hip Tzadik record Great Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg is also not so hard work,

"The Wind Cries Mary", from Ribot's his debut 1990 album Rootless Cosmopolitans is much better: a deadpan and very New York David Byrne-ish punk/funk/pop take on the Hendrix classic.

I first became aware of Ribot because of his role in Tom Waits' music, including Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Year. More recently, he was involved in Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's uneven but interesting Raising Sand. (Listen to "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" or "Stick with me Baby".) He has worked with the great Susana Baca too (listen to "Another collaboration is with Alessando "Asso" Stefana (listen at Polaroid), another is Shahzad Ismaily (who has also worked with the Master Musicians of Jajouka and Tom Waits), and another is Jenny Scheinman.

But my number one Ribot recommendation would be his Cubanos Postizos work - check some out, again with Undomundo. And for a Tzadik/Zorn thing that really works, listen to "Shadrakh", his awesome contribution to Rashanim, which is kind of ancient Aramaic ritual music meets spaghetti western surf rock meets Andalucian flamenco.

Links: Marc Ribot's homepage; WFMU's field guide to modified guitars; Art Decade: Masada Guitars.

Related: Don Byron Spins the Dreidel (via Mickey Katz).

Monday, February 11, 2008

UCU election, vote for a change

I pasted in something from my e-mail inbox. Flesh is Grass gives a thoughtful and accurate commentary of her own. If you are a UCU member, read it and vote.

Rowan Williams is a stupid, dangerous, reactionary idiot

Jim at Shiraz Socialist skewers Rowan Williams' apologists, who claim he didn't actually mean what he sounded like he said. You should also read what Flesh is Grass has to say.

A couple of addenda to what I've already said.

First, Rowan Williams is not wrong for the reason that lots of conservative commentators within the Anglican Church who have been given airspace on Radio 4 (e.g. on Saturday's Today programme) say he is wrong: i.e. that he is challenging the Christian (or, a phrase I hate, "Judeo-Christian") roots of English law . English law is a hybrid, monstrous beast, with Protestant tradition being part of its story. If it is worth defending, or rather, those parts of it which are worth defending, don't have an awful lot to do with Christian tradition.

Second, Rowan Wiliams was wrong to use words like "inevitable", partly because it adds fuel to the growing paranoia of many people in Britain and elsewhere that the Muslim presence is some unstoppable juggernaut hell-bent on subordinating Britain to dhimmitude, which I still believe is an irrational position. Rowan Williams was not "opening up debate"; he was (presumably stupidly, unwittingly) stoking the flames of the culture wars.

Third, it seems clear that the majority of British Muslims think Rowan Williams was wrong. The Muslim Council of Britain, who adequately represent only themselves, reliably defend the old codger. But ordinary Muslims in the street interviewed on most news programmes think he's wrong. Tariq Ramadan, who, with all his strengthes and flaws (and he has many of both) probably does represent the mainstream of European Muslim opinion, has been sharply critical of Williams. More on Tariq Ramadan at the Flesh is Grass post mentioned above.


I am coming around to thinking that I was too hasty and knee-jerky in my response to the multiple marriage issue. What, actually, is so bad about multiple marriage? I might post properly on this, but in the meantime, comments welcome!

Cool music

The Vinyl Villain brings a cornucopia of mp3 joy, including a great Bill Bailey skewering of radical patriot Billy Bragg to accompany the bard of Barking waxing lyrical about the A13; "England's Dreaming" by Cornershop; and the god-like Jerry Dammers' homage to the not-so-god-like Nelson Mandela and the ace Scottish indie band, Sons & Daughters' homage to the even-more-god-like Johnny Cash (as well as the, er, interesting Scritti Politti song about Jacques Derrida).

Undomondo posts some great music by Marc Ribot, a superb musician, whose incredibly eclectic ouevre ranges from klezmer to salsa to avante-garde classical, to surf rock. Also: some nice Yemenite oud music here.

I've been in a Fela Kuti mood recently, so it was good to come across this 45 at Benn loxu du taccu.

I've posted something on Israeli funksters Kutiman some time in the past. Here's more, from the lovely Ugly Talented blog.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Drink-Soaked Trots

Three gems from the Popinjays:

1. By Peter:
Will sent me this. A good piece on yet another bunch of ‘leftists’. I am getting tired of the same old ‘anti-imperialist’ hogwash.
Let’s get this straight. Not only does this shit hurt Israelis, it hurts Palestinians. They are used as the objects of the anti-Semitic fantasies of people who don’t give a toss about them. Palestinians have always been cursed with awful leaders. The election of Hamas was a disaster - on a minority vote but still a disaster. Their lives are wrecked by the fascist coup in Gaza. Their minds are fucked by conspiracy theories and other shit. Yet still, what do the majority want? Yep, a democratic Palestinian State with close political and economic ties with Israel. It is called peace.
These tossers want the war to continue. They love it. They are nowhere near it. They don’t sweep up the body parts. They don’t weep for their mutilated relatives. They call themselves defenders of human rights but they are the rats carrying the bacillus of anti-Semitism to infect places that they will never visit and cause the deaths of people they will never meet. And oh how self-righteous it makes them. And to think that these people have the effrontery to call themselves a peace movement.
If you want peace don’t play games with others’ lives. It is the least the Palestinians that you claim to love so much deserve.
2. By Terry:
Dr. Sima Samar, the “voice of the voiceless” in Afghanistan: “It is about the protection of humanity. This is a human responsibility. It isn’t possible to escape this kind of responsibility.”
Compare that to the spoutings of Seamus Milne and you might get an inkling into why so many consider him an enemy of the people.
3. By Hak Mao:
Having previously proven himself completely incapable of grasping the simplest of scientific theories, the serial gobshite and religious nutter Galloway has again demonstrated that while he may be as cunning as a shithouse rat, he is not cut out for brain-work.[... READ THE REST OF THIS POST HERE.]

Check their other blogs too: Fat Man on a Keyboard, Transmontanus, Hak Mao.

Rowan Williams and Sharia law 2

Then again, to treat individuals solely on the basis of their presumed religious identity is reductive - and patronising - in the extreme. Is the identity of 'Muslim' - whether adopted voluntarily or attributed by others - to be privileged above other identities - including that of British citizen? And what about those who are identified as Muslims but wish to have nothing to do with a legal code which, for all its trumpeted benefits, is undoubtedly patriarchal and illiberal?

As I argued here, many of Williams' recent statements reflect the same kind of envy/fascination with Islam to be found in the writings of other erstwhile liberal christians such as Madeleine Bunting, Karen Armstrong and William Dalrymple, in which a bend-over-backwards spirit of 'understanding' towards other religionists (however illiberal) overrides any lingering commitment to universal liberal principles. The Archbishop's statement today - like his argument last week for a new, improved law of blasphemy - is yet more evidence of his dangerous political naivety and further ammunition for those who wish to see religion's privileged role in the public square reduced.
More commentary: Shuggy, Mick H, R Joseph Hoffman, Ophelia B 1 & 2, Pickled Politics. And more: Francis Sedgemore.

UCU Unity Network

This post is to endorse the new Unity Network in my trade uni0n, UCU. This is the Network's statement, and endorsements in the current UCU Executive elections.

UCU Unity Network

We represent a broad alliance of UCU members who are concerned that the union is under threat from divisive political tendencies. We recommend that you vote for candidates who will seek to ensure that the National Executive represents the views and interests of our membership.

The results of the recent survey of members reveal that their true interests are remarkably focused on a range of traditional union values. Three matters in particular far outweighed all others in importance: the support UCU provides where members are under threat; our campaigning for better salaries; and the value in principle of belonging to a trade union. Members do clearly want us to engage in relevant work on international affairs; but emphatically do not appreciate overemphasis on Israel-Palestine, and the waste of resources on boycott campaigns that are the worst kind of gesture politics.

We urge you strongly to use your vote. The poor turnout in last year’s elections for UCU (only about 15% of members voted) led to a seriously unrepresentative NEC. In addition, the domination of national Congress by the far left minority has distorted UCU’s priorities. Even if you are not active in the union, your vote undoubtedly counts – both for national executive, and locally, for delegates to Congress.

We recommend that you vote for those listed below:

Geographically-elected members of the NEC

Wales, higher education (1)
  • Andrew Morgan (University of Swansea)
North East, higher education (3)
  • Dr Joanna de Groot (University of York)
  • Mr Andrew Feeney (Northumbria University)
  • David Miller (University of Leeds)
  • Dr Gavin Read (University of Leeds
North East, further education (2)
  • Jon Bryan (Newcastle College)
  • MRS Julie Kelley (Hull College)
London and East, higher education (3)
  • Simon Renton (University College London)
  • Amanda Sackur (London Metropolitan University)
  • Jill Jones (University of Westminster)
London and East, further education (2)
  • Jim Thakoordin (Bedfordshire College)
  • David Armstrong (Barnet College)
UK-elected members of the NEC

HE (7)
  • Terry Hoad (University of Oxford)
  • Mr Dave Guppy (University College London)
  • Jon Pike (Open University)
  • Dr Steve Clark (Nottinghanm Trent University)
  • Stephen Soskin (Buckinghamshire New University)
  • Dr Lesley McIntosh (Robert Gordon University)
  • Pauline Collins (Open University)
  • Dr Gavin Reid (University of Leeds)
FE (2)
  • Jim Thakoordin (Bedfordshire ACE)
  • Mr John McCormack (Northumberland College)
Equality Seats

Disabled members (1)
  • Mr Roger Walters (Open University)
  • Mr John McCormack (Northumberland College)
Women members in HE (3)
  • Ms Pamela Beevers (Goldsmiths College)
  • Professor Mary Davis (London Metropolitan University)
  • Dr Renee Prendergast (Queens University Belfast)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rowan Williams and Sharia law

Rowan Williams being foolish again.

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK "seems unavoidable". Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 4's World at One that the UK has to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system. He says Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

To be fair, he stresses that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well".

But Dr Williams says the argument that "there's one law for everybody... I think that's a bit of a danger".

One law for everyone is of course the foundation of the very possibility of law in the sense that we understand it. Different laws for different sections or estates of people - as was the case in the ancien regime, when, for example, the Jewish kehilla was responsible for the legal regulation of Jewish subjects - is something that was done away with in the post-1776 era as the radically modern doctrine of equality before the law spread across the globe, mostly through violent revolutions which overthrew the ancien regime, emancipating estates like the Jews and the serfs. The survival of formal inequality before the law in places like apartheid South Africa is rightly thought of as an outrage against modern notions of justice.

Of course, there have long been political philosophies attacking the mis-fit between law and personal morality. Anarchists, for example, think that, in the "stark alternative" between morality and "state loyalty" (to use Williams' phrase), there is no contest - a position I have considerable sympathy for.

But Williams is not talking about personal morality or natural law, he is talking about "cultural loyalty". And here, surely, we are on very dangerous ground. What are we to say if a given population, for example, claims that marital rape or female genital mutilation or polygamy is the morality of their "culture", and that given the "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty" they choose cultural loyalty? Surely we should contest that right, rather than say it is "inevitable" that there need to be plural legal frameworks.

Previous: Rowan Williams on good and bad imperialism, Germaine Greer on bastardy in Islam, Gang rape in Pakistan, Is the phrase 'honour killing' orientalist?

Popular frontism, Stalinism, opportunism - sound familiar

I just read this fascinating piece by Dave Parks on the British left in the 1930s. The manoeuvrings (ultimately disasterous) of the Communist Party of Great Britain eerily foreshadow the recent SWP/Respect shenanigans...

Arab Jews continued

We've already gone a round or two about Arab Jews, and this post continues the theme, with two things Jogo sent me, the second found via Jeff W.

The Jewish Chronicle: Uncool to be Ashkenazi in Israel

Point of No Return: Jewish Refugees from Arab lands

To count the dead they ride motorbikes, charter planes and wade through snake-infested rivers

AlertNet article on the people whose job it is to provide accurate data on bodycounts, from Iraq to the Congo.

Staple Singers: Cottonfields/This Land

As I seem to be very slow in following up Andrew's domestic management meme, I'm posting a link to the absolutely wonderful Joe de Vivre audioblog, and, specifically, as I know he is a Staples fan, a post which has two zingers from the Staple Singers, "Cottonfields" and "This Land". In fact, more or less every track is fantastic. Jogo might particularly like the song by the under-rated Syl Johnson.

Previously on Bobfrombrockley: Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, Funky Woody Guthrie, Is it coz I'm black? (featuring Syl Johnson), Clash of fundamentalisms 1 (the backbeat) and 2 (Swan Silvertone).

Ethical cocaine

Flesh is Glass writes:
One reason I don’t do drugs is because I don’t want to fund pimps, assassins and people traffickers. But now we have one less drug to worry about in that respect.
The link is to HP:
Chomsky-reading, bien pensant 'progressive' gak heads used to face a terrible dilemma. What is the point of buying fair trade bananas and attending Mark Steel gigs in support of Castro, if you then spend Friday nights buzzing your tits off on Colombia's finest: funding the evil 'capitalist' gangsters who - probably in association with the CIA - have utterly corrupted South and Central America?
Well, worry no more.
From now on, you can buy Ethical Cocaine.
Read John Carlin's piece in today's Observer, and discover how FARC and Chavez are working to make cocaine politically acceptable again.
Soundtrack to this post: "Cocaine socialism" by Pulp (download mp3 from Stop Me If...)

Monday, February 04, 2008

I hate to use the phrase "political correctness gone mad", but...

Multiple wives will mean multiple benefits
Hap tip: Jogo

McCain Derangement Syndrome

Jeff Weintraub has been posting fascinating material on the various "derangement syndromes" that plague American politics, including Clinton Derangement Syndrome, Bush Derangement Syndrome and, more recently, McCain Derangement Syndrome. I sent this piece on Ann Coulter's symptoms of the latter to Jogo, and this is what came back:

Yes, it's true what that writer says. If you listen to American talk-radio you hear a milder (or less crazy) version of McCain Derangement Syndrome. MDS is all over the dial and it's passionate. One can understand it, in a way. Conservatives want a conservative, goddammit, and in so many ways McCain is offering such a soft version of it that he might as well be a Democrat. They want a principled conservative, like Reagan was. Someone who -- it is clear to see -- operates on conservative principles. That McCain has ascended so high in this race is, for many rightwing conservatives, a very dismal prospect.

I am a well-known Ann Coulter fan. I think she is an ironist, to the point where she seems nutty. As jogo seems nutty sometimes. But really, you have to filter so much of what she says through an ironic filter; for example, when she says that we should invade all the Moslem countries and convert them to Christianity. It's totally absurd and impossible, and I am amused when liberals ltake her as a serious Nazi (which she surely isn't; not in ANY way). Liberals did the same thing when she said that Jews needed to be "perfected" -- which is not ironic, of course, but is merely an unabashed statement of what almost all Christians actually do believe.

Plus -- if you think for five minutes about converting all the Moslems to Christianity, it's not really totally crazy, is it? I mean ... if we could actually DO THAT, wouldn't it be a good thing? It WOULD be a good thing, but no one except Ann Coulter has the balls to say it.

However, when Ann Coulter says "McCain has no honor," well, this is going much too far. It's not irony. It's insulting. Maybe she is actually a nut. Still, I like her. I think people should take the stick out of their asses.


Speaking of the "imperfection" of the Jews, Pope Benedict, in response to Jewish protests, just revised the Good Friday prayers of the Tritentine Mass, removing references to our people's "blindness" and "darkness." But don't all people, to an extent, walk in blindness and darkness?


Amazing how even an intelligent friend, if talkative enough, can become tedious, even unwelcome. I recently cruised Christopher Hitchens' site, looking at all the columns, interviews and debates I had missed in recent months. Many are about religion. Who cares? Bo-rrrr-ing. I feel sorry for Hitch -- over and over again he pounds his points home. Not long ago I read everything Hitch wrote. I was so interested to know: what he thinks about this, what he thinks about that.

All posts on: Ann Coulter, Pope Benedict, John McCain

The forward march of global labour

Eric Lee of LabourStart with some good news:
In the last few weeks we've asked for your backing for online campaigns in support of a jailed activist in Bangladesh, striking workers in Russia, and baristas in a Tel Aviv cafe. You responded magnificently, and today I want to report on three bits of good news.

Mehedi Hasan, the workers rights activist in Bangladesh, was released from detention on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the 4,000 of you who sent messages and spread the word. Bangladesh remains a concern for all of us, and you can continue to follow these issues on the website of Labour Behind the Label and on LabourStart's Bangladesh news page.

And as we reported earlier, your generous donations to the striking Ford workers in Russia have produced some concrete results -- today a majority of workers at the plant voted to accept the agreement on a pay increase and additional benefits which was reached following the historic 20-day strike, the longest-ever in recent Russian history.

The lowest paid workers are getting a 21 percent increase, and on average the factory workers will earn US $1,030 per month. According to reports we're getting from Russia, "the conflict is over with a great victory of workers, whose courage and international solidarity made the company engage in serious negotiations, leading to the setting up of new pay standards for the whole booming Russian auto industry."

We recently asked for your support for the IUF's global online campaign backing striking workers at the Coffee Bean cafe in Israel. According to reports in the media today, the trade union federation (Histadrut) and management have agreed to end the two-week strike and begin negotiations.

Three campaigns - three victories. This has been a good week. Thank you!

Save our pubs, South London

Following on from this, this and this, read Andrew Milton on "a small beacon of hope in Hither Green" in the battle against rampant property speculation, against the spread of Clone Town Britain, and against what Sharon Zukin calls "pacification by cappuccino" (or what Class War used to call "economic cleansing").