Friday, February 25, 2011

From Congress House to Green Square

I wrote most of this post late on Tuesday night and was about to publish on Wednesday morning when I decided it was more important to read Toby Green’s guest post on institutional antisemitism in the Green Party, which is far more important (please read it), so I delayed this, risking that events in Libya would overtake it.

“Progressive” politics and North African fascists

I posted at the weekend on Ken Livingstone’s misnamed “Progressive London” shindig. I’ve since noted a number of items related to what I wrote in that post.

First, Johnny Guitar was on a similar wavelength to me. His post, entitled “How bizarre”, begins:
“it is a bit hard to see how a motley crew of SWPers (Weyman Bennett), Stalinists (Kate Hudson and Andrew Murray) and Islamists (Ismail Patel and Dilwar H Khan) can, with some help from Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn, construct an alliance capable of giving Cameron and [Osborne] sleepless nights. I could be proved completely wrong, though I seriously doubt it.”
However, he focuses on one Mitchel McLaughlin, a Sinn Fein veteran who spoke for it when the IRA was slaughtering civilians and now knows a thing or two about implementing harsh spending cuts in a right-wing coalition government. (By the way, “ProgressiveNasserite Andy Newman is calling for the Irish to vote for Sinn Fein...)

Meanwhile, HP provides a little more information about another of the speakers, Intissar Kherigi, who I simply noted was a representative of the British Muslim Initiative, a Muslim Brotherhood front. Turns out she is also the daughter of Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s En-Nahda party. HP give a taste of his politics: “declaring other Muslims to be “kuffar“, trying to get secularists sackedsupporting suicide bombing, and accusing intellectuals (falsely) of defaming Mohammed.”

Shiraz Socialist publish a couple of shameful articles from the vaults of News Line, the paper of Gerry Healey’s Trotskyist cult the Workers Revolutionary Party. The articles, from 1983, exhibit a particularly disgusting brand of anti-Zionist antisemitism, portraying a reactionary Zionist web that stretches from the “rich Jews” who colluded with Hitler right through to rival Trot group Socialist Organiser, a conspiracy that silences opposition by playing its “anti-Semitic trump card” – phrases that have become all too common on the left. Anyway, the articles are relevant now because they contain a defence of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi as anti-imperialist: try and swallow the words “in support of the Libyan masses under their leader Muammar Gaddafi.” And it is relevant to the “Progressive London” post because it generously quotes Ken Livingstone defending the WRP. Ken claims News Line “gives you an objective presentation of the news and political developments and supports the base struggles of the working class in industry and the community” and describes his enemies in the Labour Party as “agents of the Begin government”. I had forgotten how far back Ken goes with this “anti-imperialist” swamp. More on this sort of thing from Andrew Coates, David Osler and Michael Ezra and (from the archive) Sean Matgamna and Paul Anderson.

Regime change from below?

I have been totally unable to keep up with the overload of exciting news coming out of the Middle East. Here are some of the things I’ve managed to catch. Some splendid and very to the point vitriol on Libya from Terry Glavin. Francis Sedgemore focuses on the relationship between the realpolitik and the reality. Terry and Francis both highlight the disgrace of the West’s recent toadying up to Gaddafi, a relationship (pictured in full glory by Doug Saunders and Darren Red Star, and further unearthed by Francis) which can be summed up well in three words: blood for oil.

Francis says: “it makes me want to vomit, in much the same way as the fact of Henry Kissinger’s continued existence.” The Kissinger reference is apposite, as Kissinger’s “realism” is the intellectual justification for this type of un-ethical foreign policy. The hypocrisy of Blair and Bush using the idealist pro-democracy rhetoric of the neo-conservatives in Iraq while boosting the regime of someone not so dissimilar to Saddam in Libya. Time for a more thorough break with the “reality-based community”.

David Cameron, speaking in the Middle East, is (a bit like New Labour in 1997) making some encouraging noises on the need to break with the old realism, and refuse the choice between repression and extremism. But how does he show it? By taking a bunch of UK arms mongers to Kuwait with him to flog Made in Britain weaponry to a bunch of repressive oil monarchies.

One of the facets of the Western love-in with Gaddafi that seems to be less reported is on immigration. In one of the most obscene manifestations of the corruption of European human rights culture, the EU, while not maintaining formal diplomatic ties with Libya, outsourced much of its immigration policing to Gaddafi’s brutal security forces. He violently contained the flows of black Africans seeking a liveable life north of the Mediterranean so that Europe would not have to bloody its lily-white hands. (The lobbying company Nick Clegg’s wife works for, DLA Piper, is helping Gaddafi try to get millions of Euros in trading concessions from the EU for this service.) Arguably, this is on a par with the disgraceful freeing of al-Megrahi the Lockerbie murderer at the behest of the oil lobby.

In a brief mention of this, the Evening Standard manages quite extraordinary verbal gymnastics: “Human rights law currently prevent European countries from deporting illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers back to the Arab country as they are routinely tortured and imprisoned by Gaddafi’s regime.” For starters, the issue is not the migrants who get through but can’t be sent back, but Gaddafi’s own part in not letting them get here. And how you can acknowledge that his government tortures with impunity while still thinking asylum seekers fleeing his regime are “bogus” I don’t know. And the Standard tries to blame human rights law, while it is the flouting of its spirit by the European countries that sign up to it that is reprehensible.

On the other side of the political spectrum, here’s someone else disgusting: journalist and semi-academic Nir Rosen, who tittered on Twitter about the assault in Cairo of CBS’s Lara Logan. As Michael Weiss shows, Rosen is a prime example of the reverse-Orientalism of the Western left, which approves of sexual and other violence against women if it is perpetrated by “unleashed brown natives”. He also thinks, like “Progressive London” speaker Lindsey German, that fascist Hezbollah is  democratic, pro-social justice, anti-imperialist and wonderful. (See also J-P Pagano. Update: Also Terry Glavin, Michael Totten.)

Relevant to that, and to my “Progressive London” post, is Spiked’s Brendan O’Neil with an excellent article in The Australian on Palestine as the obsession of the radical West and not Arabs.

Optimism (“this is not an Islamic revolution”) about Islamism in Egypt and Tunisia from Olivier Roy. Extra cause for optimism from this report which describes a 15,000-strong anti-Islamist demo in Tunis. Pessimism, on the other hand, from Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

On Western responses: insightful thoughts on commentary on Egypt and on “Egyptics” from A Jay Adler. Peter Ryley on the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. Marko Hoare writes about Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam and his LSE connection (note: the late, great Fred Halliday emerges as a man of integrity; liberal cosmopolitan David Held as a man of low integrity). Michael Weiss on the human rights whitewashers.

A Jay Adler and  Carl Packman analyse the situation in Tunisia and in Algeria, Egypt and Yemen, both writing in the spirit of Albert Camus. Hardt and Negri hail the multitudes in Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi as a new eruption of democracy, sweeping away the myth of the clash of civilisations.

Commentary on the Libya from David Osler, including the left’s romance with Gaddafi. James Bloodworth on the pathetic admiration of the Latin American left for Gaddafi (some of the money quotes from Rebecca).

Finally, round-ups from Kellie and Modernity. Martin notes that For the latest from Libya, this site seems fairly reliable, and Mona Eltahawy continues to do a great job of pulling together all the news from the democratic awakening in the Arab world. And, to conclude, a big fuck you from Little Richardjohn.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So, the time has come not to renew membership of the Green Party

This is a guest post by Toby Green

This is something that gives me no pleasure at all. When I joined the Green Party ten years ago, I did so in the genuine belief that it might offer an alternative to the place-seeking politics that have come to characterise so much of Western democracy. To discover that the Green Party is no different is a saddening moment, though of course it should come as no surprise. Its members are human beings, after all. But how did this come about, and why does it matter?

The crisis in the party is caused by several factors. The first is that the active membership is really very small - definitely less than 1000 people. In this situation, it is very easy for a relatively small interest group to hijack it for its own ends. This is what has happened with GreenLeft. I have nothing against the Left, and indeed consider myself Left, in the sense that it is clear that most of the sadness and misery of the world today is caused by inequalities. But GreenLeft is mainly simply a rehashing of old Trotskyite views in a new environmental clothing. The problem with this being that Trotskyism never accepted that while Marx´s critique of capitalism was broadly accurate, the solution was an utter disaster (and indeed, unGreen - viz Soviet Union); one of the tragedies of the 20th century being that in spite of the violence and destructiveness of capitalism, in the Cold War the better ideology won. GreenLeft is, in general, populated by angry people whose personal ties - or lack thereof - allow them plenty of time to devote to meetings, email lists, and entryism. As they have more time than most GP members, GreenLeft members have taken over many of the administrative posts in the party and their positions are increasingly the default policy options of the party.

Why does this matter in Britain? It matters because of the peculiarly rabid anti-religiousness of the British Left. This is the intellectual critique which has followed the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, and others, who fail to recognize that secular ideologies in the 20th century proved even more violent than religious ones. They blame the violence of human societies on religion, rather than on humans. In Britain, almost more than in any other country, this position has become the default one of most leftist intellectuals, filtering through to groups such as GreenLeft. However, there are many problems with such a stance, not least the fact that the majority of human beings are deeply religious - and it is therefore extremely presumptuous of people to claim to act for "the people" when they despise the ideology of a large part of "the people".

How has this affected the toleration and indeed covert abetting of anti-semitism within the UK Green Party? The key lies in John Gray´s masterful 2007 book Black Mass, where Gray noted the tendency in secular liberal society for the emergence of repressed religious manifestations, and put this down to secularism´s repression of what is in fact a deep human need, the belief in myth. To take a leaf out of Freud, where deep emotional needs are repressed, they return. If, in a Christian society, religion is repressed, the deep human need for myth may emerge in a secular form: Christianity´s long-standing difficult relationship with Judaism and Jerusalem means that this manifests itself in a hatred of the secular form of Judaism, the political state of Israel, and in a repressed form of anti-semitism that dare not speak its name.

This has become abundantly apparent in the Green Party´s abject failure to address clear anti-semitism (and indeed other forms of prejudice) within the party. There appears to be a crass and touchingly self-congratulatory view that if someone is a member of the Green Party, they therefore can´t be prejudiced. This sort of self-regarding drivel is a symbol of one of the worst aspects of the party, which is that all too many members of the party belong because they want to feel good about themselves, not because of what they might achieve. Take the example of fair trade: a recent edition of Green World held what was essentially a two-page advertorial for a fair trade company. Fair trade is on the rise, more available in British stores than in other countries. Why? Because British leftist consumers like to feel good about themselves. Kit Kats are labelled Fairtrade in Britain but not in many other countries for instance. Fair trade is of course better than slave labour, but it does not address the fundamental issue that siphoning off agricultural surpluses from poor countries for the economies of the developed world can do very little to help redress global economic inequities; this was indeed a cycle which began with the Atlantic slave trade, when African societies had agricultural surpluses requisitioned to feed slaves on the middle passage.

Essentially, much of the membership of the party is therefore grounded in a sort of superior bad faith. And so of course, members of the Green Party can´t be prejudiced. If they accuse members called "Levy" of being Israeli academics in disguise defending Israel, they can´t be rehashing old Jewish conspiracy theories. If they circulate emails from David Duke, a key figure in the Klu Klux Klan, on how "Jewish Zionists" are shaping American policy in Israel in alliance with Obama (thereby rehashing not only anti-semitic myths but also an alliance of this with anti-Black racism), they can still work in Caroline Lucas´s office and be on the list for the European elections. If they circulate emails accusing Jewish members of parliament of double loyalty (to Israel and the UK), there´s no need to suppose that they are re-hashing the anti-Catholic discourse which surrounded JF Kennedy´s run for office in 1960. If they talk of the "squealing zionists", there´s no reason for them not to be respected party figures.

To be fair, after all of this, the party did recognise that there was an issue. A report commissioned by the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC - a powerful decision-making body in the decentralisd power structure of the party), and written by two non-Jewish members, said that these were examples of a toleration of low-level anti-semitism, and that therefore a working party on anti-semitism was recommended to be established. Although kicked into the long grass at first, it started work when a senior figure recommended an article by a known holocaust denier on his blog. But the working party was quickly an impossibility. I should know: I was the chair, a position I only adopted when no one else was prepared to. Replies to very calm, polite emails asking for input came there none. Ever. Weeks would go by without any discussion, and if I as chair then asked for input this was always slack. One member only ever sent one email to the group. Eventually, a crisis came when a new GP member posted emails to a list confirming that the epithet of "squealing zionist" was justified. Since this was one of the phrases criticised in the original report to the GPRC, I brought this to the attention of the group - at which point one member resigned.

This should perhaps not be surprising, since the member who resigned was the very same member who had first used this phrase. The fact that the Green Party put him on the group at his own request (total membership: just 6) speaks volumes for their attitude to it. Especially since, in a subsequent email which this member circulated, he said he had long told the party that the group would be used as a means to change the party´s policy on Israel. That is, this member never had any intention of supporting the work of the group, and people in the party hierarchy knew this.

So where did this leave the situation? The Working Party was dissolved. Members of the GPRC said they would come up with their own recommendations, and recommended the adoption of the EUMC definition of anti-semitism. This created uproar, and the decision was revoked by the GPRC through a process that was specially expedited outside the ordinary parameters of the functioning of the council. The GPRC instead adopted a policy that they would not develop a policy on anti-semitism, in spite of their own report. Thus, GPRC has accepted that there is a problem, and decided to do nothing about it.

In the midst of all this farce, a wild card entered the process, which was the joining of the party of a Jewish member who was a leading light in Jews for Justice for Palestinians. This member took to making violent ad hominem attacks on Jewish and non-Jewish party members who were concerned at anti-semitism. In what would seem to me to be clear instances of projections of their own obsessions, they expressed surprise that there could be non-Jewish members who had these concerns, and accused people of having no interest in global politics except Israel (and defending the Israeli position). As someone who has always tried to find a balance between twin unacceptables - Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and anti-semitism - and who moreover had repeatedly voiced elements of criticism of Israel on public email lists in the party, this simplistic drivelling verbal violence was hard to take. I remained in the party. However, this individual then launched a formal complaint against a Jewish party member who has been prominent in condemning the toleration of anti-semitism in the party, accusing them of entryism - even though in the accuser´s own emails it has become clear that this is what they themselves are guilty of, since they talk of how before joining the party they had been told by people how the "Zionist lobby" was "infiltrating" the party; that is, their joining the party appears to be a clear decision to enter it to fight what they perceive as wrong.

So, what was the attitude of GPRC to this accusation? Although their own report has accepted that there is a problem with anti-semitism, and although anyone looking at these email lists can see the violence of this member´s almost daily tirades, the accusation has not been thrown out as trivial. Instead, a full tribunal of inquiry has been established. The idea put around by this new member is that, as a Jew, they can see through the anti-semitic myths. But what is lacking in this whole debate is an understanding of Jewish culture. Jews are notorious for disagreeing with each other - there are four synagogues in Gibraltar alone. And Jews are loud. Just because (a very small minority) of Jews disagree about what constitutes anti-semitism in this case, it doesn´t therefore mean the whole issue should be dismissed.

Far from it. After four years of this charade, it has become clear that the Green Party is institutionally anti-semitic. Its institutions have not dealt with clear evidence of anti-semitism. They show no evidence of wanting to, and indeed now seem to have decided to target perceived "problem" members of the party who have raised this issue. This is fundamentally a political decision: the Green party has decided that it is increasingly a hard left party, allied with enemies of Western capitalism. Rightly, it thinks that Islamophobia is one of the more dangerous phenomena to have arisen since 9/11, and in reaction against this it turns a blind eye to discrimination against perceived enemies of Islamic peoples, Israel, and the Jews. This is a classic case of projection: horrified at their own government´s attitudes towards Islamic countries, and wanting no part in it, this mentality projects this violence onto a scapegoat - Israel and Jews.

Fundamentally, therefore, not only is the Green Party institutionally anti-semitic, but for deep-seated political and emotional reasons it is incapable of dealing with this. Projection, bad faith, repression of basic belief structures needed by the human psyche, unthinking reaction, and anger to political forces of the 21st century: this is a potent, unhealthy and toxic mix which leads to bad policies, bad decisions, and a party which no thinking person can belong to any more. Certainly it cannot bring about a greater peace and stability in the world, which is one of the core things that the Green Party is supposed to stand for.

Friday, February 18, 2011

“Progressive London”: A Popular Front for reactionaries

I have an aversion to the word “progressive”. My grandparents were lifelong Stalinists, and used the word to refer to those who were not actually Party members but were sufficiently fellow travelling for their tastes (“useful idiots” being the less polite behind-the-scenes designation).

Today in Britain, the Cameron/Clegg Coalition government has annexed the term to refer to the social liberal, One Nation Tory and civil libertarian veneer thinly stretched over their slash and burn neo-liberal policies, further devaluing the word.

Ken Livingstone is among those seeking to recapture “progressive” for the mothballed left that used to own it outright. He is hosting a big shindig of the old left at Congress House today entitled “Progressive London”, under the strapline of “protecting London, opposing Tory cuts”.

I agree almost word for word with Ken’s criticism of the Cameron government and Boris Johnson city hall. The Tory cuts bite harder on London than on many parts of the country, and already London is seeing higher transport fares, chaos for commuters due to staff shortages and mismanagement, and cuts in the number of police on the streets. Boris has defended the interests of high finance, been needlessly belligerent with transport workers, and dismissed the interests of the large number of FE and HE students in the capital who are financially affected by the cuts.

But Ken’s “Progressive London” tent presents a poor alternative.

Ken is facing two wrong directions at once. On the one hand, he has secured nomination for Labour’s candidate for London mayor, so he needs to play to the party, and so speakers include Labour local authority mayors and MPs. Local Labour parties are in an unenviable position. The Coalition cuts are allocated politically, and fall disproportionately on Labour authorities (averaging 7%, as oppose to 6% for Lib Dem councils and 5% for Tory councils). As people feel effects of reduced council services much more immediately than they feel effects of cuts in central government budgets, and the Comprehensive Spending Review asks councils to start their cutting much quicker than it asks government departments, citizens will feel resentment against the councils who will be withdrawing their services. A situation reminiscent in some ways of the Thatcher years, when Labour councils had the job of implementing the hated Tory poll tax. In these circumstances, an anti-cuts campaign that puts Labour councils at its heart has very little scope for making a difference.

On the other hand, Ken’s big tent seems to have the most room for forces outside the Labour Party and indeed on the extreme right. While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is co-opted into a military junta that is seeking to crush working class militancy, Ken has Salma Yaqoob speaking, a representative of the Brotherhood’s UK franchise, the Muslim Association of Britain, and its electoral front, Respect. While the theocratic regime in Iran cracks down on democratic and trade union dissent in a wave of arrests and executions, Ken has Mehdi Hasan speaking, an apologist for the Ahmadinejad regime.

There’s Ismail Patel of the British Muslim Initiative and friend of Hezbollah; Intissar Ghannoushi, their speaker on Tunisia, also comes from the BMI, i.e. representing the Islamist movement in Tunisia and not the pro-democracy movement. There’s Sarah Colborne of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; Bob Lambert, Moonie-funded ex-copper and apologist for Islamists. Also speaking are Kate Hudson of CND and John Haylett of the Morning Star, both members of the Communist Party of Britain, which is progressive like Joseph Stalin is progressive. We have ambassadors from Bolivia and Cuba, members of the ruling oligarchies of an authoritarian and totalitarian state respectively. We have Viva Palestina, an organisation closely tied to the fascist Hamas. And we have Lindsey German, representing Stop the War, a woman who has described organisations of the far right, like the Iraqi insurgency, Hamas and Hezbollah, as “the resistance”, and equated them with democracy, and who described gay rights as a “shibboleth” created by Zionists. There is the London correspondent of Al-Jazeera, a former PLO representative to the UN,

So, a whole host of speakers who make the word “progressive” at best a joke, at worst a swearword.

Also pertinent is the question of what these speakers have to do with London. An internationalist viewpoint is essential, and London’s radicals have always been connected to liberation struggles elsewhere (from the time of the London Corresponding Society in the 1790s, which closely followed the French revolution, to the South London draymen who threw the Austrian general who crushed the 1848 revolution into the river Thames, to the Reclaim the Streets activists who made common cause with the Zapatistas in the 1990s). But it seems highly imbalanced to devote such a large part of an event supposedly about “protecting London” to an eclectic collection of distant struggles.

Actually, although eclectic, the selection is not arbitrary, but reflects Ken’s pet passions, which in turn reflect the cultural code of the most cobwebbed part of the left from which he comes. Hence no representatives of Tamil resistance to Sri Lankan genocide, no representatives of Iran’s Green movement, no one speaking for the Pakistani women locked up for blasphemy, no one speaking about the horrific conflicts across Africa, no delegations from Chinese trade unions.

I’m not sure about a “progressive” London, but it seems to me that a radical London needs to take as its starting point the everyday issues that ordinary Londoners are dealing with: endless waiting lists for council housing, libraries and children’s centres being closed down, the socially divisive secondary school situation that means children are travelling miles every day, hospitals in need of sustained investment, a transport system crumbling under the weight of so many million commuters, the constant danger of terrorist attack, the degradation of our public spaces, gang and knife culture among our youth, the processes of gentrification that are driving us out of our neighbourhoods, the slow death of our pubs, the fatal funding cuts faced by our community organisations, the vulnerability of those employed in the largest sectors in the capital such as cleaning and hospitality, the growing gap between the lifestyles of the rich and poor.

Previous: Carnival of socialism; Internationalism and other left-wing ideas; Boris, Bob, Ken and social cleansing; Harryism and the Ken clique; Ken's finest moment; 2010 election analysis London.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mid-week miscellany

Post of the week

Owen Jones: The left needs to watch its language.

One, two, many Tahrir Squares

So, Tahrir Square has been cleared by the military junta, which has banned strikes. Instead of the constitutional assembly demanded by the revolution, the junta have tasked a technocratic committee (with one Muslim Brotherhood representative) to write something in the next ten days. Is the revolution dead? The working class continue to be defiant, with wave after wave of now illegal strikes, while the middle classes seem to have gone home. While viral protests in Iran and elsewhere have been heartening, I am not optimistic about Egypt.

There was a really depressing photo in this week's Morning Star (no, not my usual reading I know!), depressing for a number of reasons. I don't think it's in the on-line edition, although the letter it illustrated is. The caption said "Joy: Celebrations in Gaza City after Mubarak fell". Rarely have I seen such a joyless photo. It showed a densely packed static crowd of men and teenage boys, bundled up against the cold, looking forwardly grim-faced. (One boy was turned away and smiling at his friend.) Next to them, seperated by a thin strip of space, was a slightly more densely packed crowd of women, all wearing neat white hijabs. I found it depressing to look at, and depressing to think the Morning Star thought it represented joy.

Now for some links. Raven: The women of Tahrir Square. // We're all neocons now! Melanie Phillips quite rightly points out that the left have embraced in the case of Tunisia and Egypt the "regime change" they so bitterly scorned in Iraq. Max Boot makes a similar point. // Yet another state of emergency in Italy: Nando Sigona on using the Tunisian refugees to deflect attention away from Berluscon's political emergency. // The Guardian misreports Hamas' rejection of democracy. // Martin Thomas: The Muslim Brotherhood are a real threat. // Mary Kaldor on the revolutions of civil society 1989/2011.// Richard Littlejohn: The revolution will not be televised on the BBC/Jan Palach and Mohamed Bouazizi. // New Appeal to Reason: Two myths about Egypt. // Partial readings: Emancipation.// Jonathan Tobin: The ugly side of Egyptian political culture. // Jackson Diehl: The upside of the revolution. // Natan Sharansky: Putting our trust in freedom.// David Pollack: What Egyptians think.// Ian Johnson: Washington’s Secret History with the Muslim Brotherhood. // Manar Ammar: Women, Democracy and Change in Egypt

Antisemitism, Ziocentricity, anti-Zionism, denialism and other irrationalities

My latest post at Contested Terrain on antisemitic incicendents in Britain, and on "ziocentrism". // ChomskyWatch: Modernity on the MIT gnome's relationship with Holocaust revisionist Lou Rollins. // 9/11 Truth is denialism. // Who has killed more Americans, al-Qaeda or the 9/11 Truth movement? //  Keith Kahn-Harris: When antisemitism goes hand in hand with philosemitism.

Multiculturalism and its much-vaunted demise

Everybody hates a tourist: Old state multiculturalism in new bottles. // Sunder Katwala: Sorry, but it can't have been multiculturalism that failed in France.// Bruce Bawer: On the Guardian's reportage of the Bradford faith school incident. // Malise Ruthven: Why are the Mohammed cartoons still inciting violence?

Local affairs

Transpontine: Immigration raids in South London. // Depford visions: A New Cross fire memory (sorry - I should have included that here.) // Carnival Against Cuts: In Lewisham this Saturday. // 853: Why is Boris taking money from Tehran to advertise George Galloway?


David Shulman: Israel & Palestine: Breaking the Silence. // Nada Abdelsamad: The lost Jews of Beirut. // Elder of Ziyon: What the Palestine Papers reveal about land ownership in the occupied territories. // Eric Lee: Countdown to general strike in Israel? // TULIP: Workers pact for peace and justice in Is-Pal. // Louise Gold and Rosie Huzzard on The Promise and The Ultra-Zionists.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Faith schools and free schools: a footnote

Faith is just the bathwater; ethics, compasion, social awareness -those things make up the baby. I can cope very well with an unwashed baby. - James Bloodworth on Twitter
This post is basically a footnote to yesterday's, so please read that one first (or, if you only read one, read that one). Three items in today's paper amplify the argument I made: on Islamic schools, on Mohammed Sidique Khan and on Michael Gove's free [sic] schools.

Last night's Dispatches, which I didn't watch, went undercover in Islamic schools and found some examples of pretty horrific goings on. It may be that violent punishment and viscious denigration of Hindus, liberal Muslims and unbelievers are not the norm in Muslim schools, but it shows why seperate schools for seperate faiths is a bad idea.

The story about Khan (the main 7/7 bomber) is more complex. He worked in a comprehensive school, where he tried to convert children Islam, invited "fervent" Islamic preachers into the school, and later went on to "radicalise" the teenage boys who deployed the suicide bombs in London. This is not an issue of segregated faith schools at all, but of the way all our schools welcome "inspirational" religious figures (Muslim and Christian) within what should be secular space.

The government's new Education Bill gives the Secretary of State the discretion to reserve all teaching posts in Voluntary Controlled schools that convert to academies. Voluntary Controlled schools are the local authority schools with links to the Church of England and other denominational groups, but are not strictly faith schools; the Education Bill allows them to become more like faith schools as part of their semi-privatisation as academies. In other words, more Mohammed Sidique Khans teaching our children, not less.

(Paradoxically, Khan - like most of Britain's other Islamist terrorists - was not a product of the "parallel lives" Cameron promotes fears of: he grew up in a "very liberal" family and studied at university.)

And then there are free schools. Four of the most recent eight free schools to be given approval are faith-based: the Etz Chaim Jewish primary school in London, the I-Foundation Hindu primary school in Leicester, a Church of England primary school – St Luke’s – in Camden, and the Anglican Discovery school in West Sussex. And of the ten just previously given permission to develop business plans and seek approval seven are faith schools, including Tauheedul Islam Boys' High School in Blackburn, as well as one preaching transcendental meditation and one run by the puritanical Free Church.

As Jackie Ashley writes, David Cameron "wants faith groups to set up their own schools, with taxpayers' money. Is it really in the national interest to have more Muslim-only, Catholic-only and Jewish-only schools, where children can be insulated from the realities of the Britain around them? Is this what happens when you announce the death of multiculturalism – a maze of competing and mutually uncomprehending little monocultures?"

Meanwhile, the community anchor organisations that sustain the real, existing big society is under threat from the austerity cuts. "Hammersmith and Fulham Council has confirmed it will sell seven buildings that are being used by charities and community groups, including Palingswick House, which houses 21 third sector organisations." Palingswick House is used by several different refugee organisations, a place where they come together and interact with others of different cultures (many, in fact, provide citizenship education, teaching the Life in the UK programme). And what is happening to the building? "The council has issued a public statement saying Palingswick House is one of two locations that "may become available" for the West London Free School, which is being set up by the author and journalist Toby Young."

Monday, February 14, 2011

BigSoc, faith and cohesion

Paul Mason has an excellent post about the Big Society, which starts with his local library in Kennington, South London. Like my local library, his is an arts and crafts building, built in the golden age of philathropy, a testament to an age when the state did not provide. And, like my local library, it also now
embodies a promise: that young mums will always have somewhere to meet; that the digitally disconnected will always have somewhere to go online; that the elderly will always be able to find a large print book; that the cold and lonely will have somewhere dry to sit. Above all that the poor and marginalised will have access to literature.
David Cameron defined Big Society for us today:
"devolving power to the lowest level so neighbourhoods take control of their destiny; opening up our public services, putting trust in professionals and power in the hands of the people they serve; and encouraging volunteering and social action so people contribute more to their community."
As a libertarian in favour of a small state, autonomy, mutual aid and voluntary co-operation, those are all things I believe in.

The other weekend, Cameron also set out his position on security and multiculturalism. He attacked a state multiculturalism that fosters segregated lives and tolerates reactionary values, calling instead for a muscular liberalism. Again, although not muscular myself, I have been accused of muscular liberalism, and I have some sympathy for this position.I particularly endorse this:
we should encourage meaningful and active participation in society, by shifting the balance of power away from the state and towards the people. That way, common purpose can be formed as people come together and work together in their neighbourhoods. It will also help build stronger pride in local identity, so people feel free to say, ‘Yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londonder or a Berliner too’. It’s that identity, that feeling of belonging in our countries, that I believe is the key to achieving true cohesion.

But what is the Cameron government doing to bring about a muscularly liberal Big Society, where we are cohesive instead of segregated? Where are the spaces, vacated by the shrinking state, where people can come together?

Five of the thirteen libraries where I live, the London Borough of Lewisham, including Crofton Park, where I take my kids perhaps once a fortnight, are due to close on 28 May, as Sir Steve Bullock's New Labour council implement the Con-Dem cuts. Via Caroline's Twitter, I see the Londonist reporting on what may happen to them.The Sydenham Society has published the relevant council report (pdf), summarised here by the Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance blog.
Expressions of interest in the buildings have been received from 13 parties, including an IT recycling and refurbishment company, a GP surgery, a handful of charities proposing community centres, a PFI company and a faith group.
The list gives a good insight into who will be taking over council services in Cameron's Big Society: big professionalised charities not much less bureaucratic and out of touch than local authorities, for-profit businesses closing in on a potentially lucrative market, fly by night small businesses, and churches. The community sector will not be more empowered, and actual communities still less: we will just be less well served.

The role of the faith sector is particularly worth noting. As Paul Stott tweated today, "Cameron's big society likely to be a beanfeast for religious groups - weakening social cohesion by further dividing communities." People of faith have been a great force for good in contemporary history, and a great force for evil too; I have no problem with the faith sector as such. But I have two concerns.

First, when services are provided by faith groups then users start to get divided by faith, and the spaces where we might come together - where we might say "Yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londonder or a Berliner too" - become more scarce. We've already seen this with education, where the kind of principles the Tories now want to spread to all our public services have already been in place for some years, and left us with a school system segregated socially and ethnically, with faith schools playing a major role in that. (The Cameron bambino attends a Church of England school, not their local school.)

Second, the particular faith groups that are at the forefront of these sorts of initiative are often groups that, scratched a little, reveal a less than pleasant face. The fastest growing denomination in the UK, a scholar of religion recently told me, is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian-based Protestant sect who preach a "prosperity theology" based on financial reward in this life for those who follow the ways of the church. The UCKG now own the former cinema in Catford (the last cinema in the borough), and promised it would become some kind of community facility, which hasn't occurred. Possibly we should be thankful of that, as they were allegedly involved in the exorcism of Victoria Climbie, the Ivoirean girl who tragically died in the cruel care of relatives in Haringey. And the kind of "non-violent extremist" Muslim groups Cameron urged local authorities not to partner with are involved in delivering public various services to Muslim users across the country, as part of the faith-based agenda unfolded by Tony Blair. As the social arm of the state shrinks, the regulation that tempered these sorts of groups from taking over our services becomes toothless, and the grip of dangerous ideologies tightens.

The Big Society may yet kill the big society, and Con-Dem cuts threaten any genuine muscular liberalism.

Other reading: The FT: A quiet rebellion; Dave Rich on the Munich speech; Paul Stott on Cameron and Birmingham Central Mosque; David Osler: what to replace state multiculturalism with?; Tim Hunt: both a borrower and a lender be; Phil Dickens: Why I won't be signing UAF's petition on multiculturalism; Dave Hill: Tory London, council tenants and the 'big society'.
Previous: Snow, stones, trains, cuts, bullocks, etc; "Kosovo style ethnic cleansing"; Neo-liberalism's assault on civic culture.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Other people's thoughts

On the Egyptian revolution and the spreading conflagration
Coptic Christians protect praying Muslims in Tahrir square 2 Feb (Nevine Zaki, via TCF)
   The build-up: 31 Jan: Lee Smith: Bush's legacy; 2 Feb: Carl Packman: The streets of Cairo; 4 Feb: Paul Cotteril: Will this be the iconic image of the Egyptian revolution?; 6 Feb: Bruce Riedel: Al-Qaeda's strange silence; Azarmehr: The litmus test of Iran's sincerity; 7 Feb: Nigel Gibson: The Cairo commune; 8 Feb: Occupied Cairo: On food; The political carnival; 9 Feb: Lee Smith: Is Al-Qaradawi the Khomeini of Egypt?; 10 Feb: Wael Ghonim's Message of Solidarity for Iran's Green Movement; Eric Lee and Benjamin Weinthal: Trade unions: the revolutionary social network at play in Egypt and Tunisia; Jano Charbel: The role of the unions in Egypt.
   11 Feb: Kellie Strom: Gone. Next?; Peter Kohanloo and Sohrab Ahmari: The revolt exposes the isolationist left's delusions and hypocrisy; Lee Smith: Bush's victory?; Alan A: Egyptian solidarity with Iran, and our lack of solidarity with both; Francis Sedgemore: Hosni Mubarak is a murderer and a thief.
   The aftermath: 12 Feb: Ali Alyami: Fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover are overblown; Clive Shiraz: Don't be alarmist about the Brotherhood; 21! Feb: Reuel Marc Gerecht: Obama and the Egyptian army; Richard S: Thinking about Taheya Carioca; Terry Glavin: Liberté, égalité, fraternité; Tom Eley: The demonstrators dissappeared and tortured by the army that is now in control; Nigel Gibson: Fanon in Tahrir Square; Lal Khan: Winds of change, Islamism and imperialism.
   And now to Algeria: The Telegraph: Algeria shuts down on-line dissent; The Moor next door: Algeria takes to the streets.

On David Cameron's speech, multiculturalism and Islam
Carl P: Praise and concerns; A cheep shot by Mehdi Hasan; Jim Denham: Multicultural maze; Nick Cohen: Feminists for Cameron; Labour's working class problem; Johan Hari: Cameron's souffle of spin; Reuben Bard-Rosenberg: Like his liberal critics, Cameron wants to nationalise our customs.

On Israel/Palestine
Nathan Jafay: Immigration sparks class showdown; Adam Kirsch: Sari Nusseibeh's cost analysis; Roni Drukan: Is there hope for the people of Gaza?

Owen Jones: Patriotism and the left; Mark Easton: Why is Britain so concerned about immigration?; Edd Mustill: Carnival of socialism; Modernity: Smoke-filled rooms, antisemitism and the Greens.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The revolution of flowers: to thaw in dancing jasmines

A soldier stands with flowers in the barrels of his gun at a demonstration in support of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in downtown TunisFrom the FT: Tanks and heavily armed soldiers stand guard outside the headquarters of Tunisia’s former governing party. Below: Portugal, 1974.

An invitation to the dance 
Come to the corner of Cross and Sickle
At eight sharp Put on your masks Look to
your bayonets Don't mind the barricades
Take your lives into your Hands off the morning's
tall sun straight through the question
men will ask How did you fare Tell them
our loves was like a town with gods there
       Our love
was like the top of time and we above to look down

And were we sad or dead or simply tired
        Tell then
dynamos were toys and towers and joy joy was hired

---Kenneth Patchen, 1936
Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day – but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith...  On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the 21st century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Here is the rose, here dance!
---Karl Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Hosni Mubarak (with apologies!)
Marx's letters to his wife Jenny reveal a love of flowers, and this love of flowers finds its way into both his turgid poetry and into his more vivid philosophical and political writing. In his "Contribution to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right", he has the image of religion as a chain entwined with flowers, and says that the task is not to pluck "the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation" (a good characterisation of the modern militant secularism of the Hitchkins), but to throw off the chain so we can feel the living flower. In one of his dreadful poems, he writes this of the man in the moon: "He pines, he yearns to be a song,/To thaw in dancing flowers." In his bitter attack on Prussian censorship, he writes: "The most essential form of the spirit is cheerfulness, light, but you make shadow the sole manifestation of the spirit; it must be clothed only in black, yet among flowers there are no black ones."

I began a recent post with the following quote: Every revolution, Marx remarked, begins with flowers. I was not actually familiar with the original quote, and suspected it was taking a liberty. I had in mind the passage from Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire above, where Marx deliberately misquotes Aesop's fables. In Aesop's fable of The Boastful Athlete, an athlete claims to have jumped high in Rhodes, and a doubtful bystander says, "Here is Rhodes, jump here." Hegel uses the Latin for this as an epigram, but then translates it into German as “Hier ist die Rose, hier tanze”: “Here is the rose, dance here”. He is arguing that philosophy must deal with the concrete reality of the world, apprehend what is not what ought to be - the kernel of Marx's materialist worldview.

I have recently been in Portugal, and spent time reading about the carnation revolution of 1974, and more recently in Barcelona, where I was talking to people who remembered the democratisation in the late 1970s. And so when following the jasmine revolution in Tunisia, I had in mind the carnations of Lisbon.

In Russia in 1917, in Spain in 1931, in Portugal in 1974, across Eastern and Central Europe in 1989-91, there were moments of great flowering, often at the end of the winter, when huge numbers of people defied unbelievably brutal state machines to take to the streets and express their manifold demands. During this early phase, there is a high level of unity on the street, despite the vast range of demands expressed. It is during this period that we see striking examples of participatory democracy, such as in Tahrir Square, where the closing of the internet has opened up old ways of assembling and aggregating demands. The Muslim Brotherhood sits down with the feminists, youth and Coptic Christians; the bourgeois leaders like ElBaradei sit down with the striking workers. As Marx wrote:
“The February days originally intended an electoral reform by which the circle of the politically privileged among the possessing class itself was to be widened and the exclusive domination of the aristocracy of finance overthrown. When it came to the actual conflict, however – when the people mounted the barricades,... the army offered no serious resistance, and the monarchy ran away – the republic appeared to be a matter of course. Every party construed it in its own way. Having secured it arms in hand, the proletariat impressed its stamp upon it and proclaimed it to be a social republic... In no period, therefore, do we find a more confused mixture of high-flown phrases and actual uncertainty and clumsiness, of more enthusiastic striving for innovation and more deeply rooted domination of the old routine, of more apparent harmony of the whole of society; and more profound estrangement of its elements. While the [Cairo] proletariat still reveled in the vision of the wide prospects that had opened before it and indulged in seriously meant discussions of social problems, the old powers of society had grouped themselves, assembled, reflected, and found unexpected support in the mass of the nation, the peasants and petty bourgeois, who all at once stormed onto the political stage after the barriers of the July Monarchy had fallen.”
For "the old powers", read the Muslim Brotherhood and the politicians that were in bed with Mubarak yesterday but claim some distance from him today.

The demands are often incommensurate with each other, and the energy only lasts so long. As often as not the revolution is channelled into either the normal order of liberal democracy (as in Portugal), or turns against the revolutionaries as the vanguard parties - Jacobin, Bolshevik or Islamist - take over.

I have not found a reference, and I am not sure exactly what they mean, but according to some Marxists (including John Rees), Marx or Engels spoke about the first phase of the revolution as the "revolution of flowers", the period of democratic unity around the myriad incommensurate demands. I am not sure why this is called the revolution of the flowers.


Also read: History is Made at Night: Dancing in Tahrir Sqauare (highly recommended); Chris Harmon: The struggle goes on (1989); Roger Cohen: A republic called Tahrir; Nicholas Kristof: Militants, women and Tahrir Square; Dave Rich: Stars in their eyes
Harry Hagopian: Politics, religion and the Middle East; Yulia Tymoshenko: When revolutionary euphoria subsides: Lessons from Ukraine; Nick Cohen: Islam's appeasers on the run; Mahmoud Jabari: Wisdom is required.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Through the days of rage

On Egypt
Michael Totten: What if there's no way out? Principia D: The springtime of the peoples, 2011; Israelseen: Galloway endorses an Islamic revolution in Egypt; Zvi Bar'el: Facebook on the Arab street; Uri Avnery: A villa in the jungle; Lawrence Joffe: Is this Egypt's Israel moment? Kellie Strom: Greetings from the centre of the world; Jim Denham: Islamism, the Brotherhood and Egypt; Entdinglichung: More on Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and elsewhere.

The scent of jasmine in Gaza
Carl Packman: Lindsey German, do you remember what you said about Hamas? Nasser Lahham: Palestinian rivals turn to Facebook; Rami Almeghari: Feeling the effects on the Gaza strip; Elior Levy: Supporting a day of rage against Hamas; Xinhua: Hamas bans elections; Hamas bans Egyptian novels; Edmund Sanders: Unease and solidarity in Palestine.

Other topics

Antisemitism in Lewisham: Engage reposted Michael Harris' guest post on John Hamilton at Holocaust Memorial Day. Some good comments, and also depressing links to similar occurrences elsewhere: Stoke on Trent and Falkirk. (Classic quote: "Some of my best friends are Jewish.") (Oh, and does Reverend David Smith have something in common with Pastor Thomas Masoke?)

Holocaust memorial day in Bermondsey: Transpontine on Surviving History.
The left, the right and Islam: Phil Dickens: Dissecting the EDL mission statement; Fascism, fundamentalism and the left; Andrew Coates: On Paul Berman; Labour Partisan: Cruddas, class and culture: learning from the EDL; Hope and hate: how to fight the BNP without sharing a platform; James Bloodworth: The importance of language: the EDL and 'Islamophobia'; Modernity: Luton and the EDL.
Marxish: Werner Bonefeld: What is the alternative? Norman Geras: What does it mean to be a Marxist?
Zionism and anti-Zionism: The Contentious Centrist: The Guardian's shameful descent into fascist apologetics; Michael Ezra: From the Guardian's archives. TheJC: "Pro-Palestinian" protestors try and stop Bedouin speaker in Scottish university.
Antisemitism: Mark Gardner: Beneath the surface, the "old" antisemitism is growing.
KenWatch: Geoffrey Alderman: Rules seem beyond our Ken; Andrew Gilligan: This is what Iran pays Livingstone for; The Economist: Boris and Ken's Londonism.
TommyWatch: RCN statement on Sheridan.

Blogs to check out
I recently found, via Noga, Nizo's Blog ("a gay Palestinian muses on the Middle East") and via him the Happy Arab News Service. Check them out.

Keywords: Egypt, Gaza, Hamas

Friday, February 04, 2011

Let the scent of Jasmine spread

Every revolution, Marx remarked, begins with flowers.
Live from the revolution

Egypt: Sandmonkey’s last post; Mubarak’s assault on the press; Mubarak’s mob rule; Military and Intelligence at Egypt's Democratic Dawn; Political allegiances have shifted under repressive regime; Into uncharted territory.
Tunisia: Women play an equal role; Mothers of the jasmine revolution; The defeat of fear.
Where else? Will Yemen be next? China’s microblogs censor the words ‘Egypt’ and ‘Tunisia’; Will the Hashemites fall?
Live updates: More from Kellie on Twitter; Ashraf Khalil’s Uncut blog.


Alan A reports on the secular, liberal nature of the movement for freedom in Egypt so far, with a cautiously optimistic assessment of the chances of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining the upper hand from the chaos. He quotes Martin Bright, who takes the opportunity to show that Islamism’s fellow travellers in the West (including those linked to aristocratic Foreign Office Arabism, such as Frances Guy and the Conflicts Forum crew: “One of the most wonderful of many wonderful aspects of the anti-totalitarian uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt is that they have nailed the myth that Islamism represents the “authentic” voice of the Arab street. This was always a pernicious nonsense and the diversity of those demonstrating across the Maghreb and Egypt has been one of the most noticeable features of the revolt.” Other optimistic views come from Ghaffar Hussain, Seph Brown, and Maajid Nawaz.

Paul Stott, on the other hand, has a rather more pessimistic view.


Andrew reports on the movement for democracy in Algeria, sparked by the Tunisian uprising. Particularly inspiring is the Manifesto for Rights and Freedoms adopted by the opposition groups, which, among other things, declares for:  “Separation of the political and religious domains to guarantee individual freedom – the ground of political modernity.”


Grounds for cautious optimism too from Gaza, where the popular movement is a major threat to Hamas rule.


Shlomo Avineri: What Netanyahu should say to the people of Egypt; Gershon Baskin: Encountering peace.

Anti-Zionism and Marxism

One of the most depressing aspects of both events in North Africa, especially Egypt, and the leftist commentary on it, is the power of the anti-Zionist narrative. Take as an example this well-written Marxist analysis at 19th Brumaire. Here’s one sentence: “Ahmed Ezz, the personification of the unity of personal corruption, neoliberalism and abasement to Zionsim has resigned.” What does “abasement to Zionism” mean? Why “abasement” and not, say, “accommodation with”, given the Egyptian ruling class and the Israeli state clearly have interests in common? Why talk about “Zionism” and not about, say, the Israeli state? There is something about the demonic Z-word that takes this phrase out of normal political discourse into another space. The demonic Z-word is a blunting of materialist analysis. (For more on insane anti-Zionism, see Snoopy. One of the things that is clear is that anti-Zionist antisemitism also pervades the pro-Mubarak camp, which makes the leftist anti-Zionist nonsense even more pernicious.)

On the other hand, I like the clear class analysis presented in this post. It is a common theme of Western liberal accounts of these events to focus exclusively on the “Western” highly educated Twittering middle classes. (This was a common thread in coverage of the Green movement in Iran too, which nicely facilitated the vulgar materialist accounts from the objectively pro-Ahmadinejad left who dismissed the Green movement for the same reason the Western liberal media loved it.) In fact, it is clear that (as with the Green revolution), working class people of all sorts, unionised and non-unionised, better educated and less well educated, men and women, religious and secular, are taking the main role on the streets of North Africa.

I wish the Trotskyite left would take Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution more seriously. Trotsky argued that in “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries”, it fell to the proletariat to deliver the liberal democratic freedoms won in Western Europe and North America by the rising bourgeoisie. The cobweb left vaguely remember the bit about the proletariat, but forget about the value of the liberal democratic freedoms they fight for.


Yet another bad response from the left is the kneejerk Third Worldist support for authoritarian or “second campist” nationalism. This is manifested, for example, in Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity website, which worships Nasser and thinks the Egyptian army is the heroic saviour of the revolution.

Flowers after the winter

Another common narrative on the left which irritates me is the cynical way it uses phrases like “colour-coded revolutions”, often prefixed with phrases like “State Department commissioned”. In that narrative, the mass uprisings against despotism in Iran, Belarus, Ukraine and elsewhere are trivialised and denigrated. I have read a surprising number of bloggers who don’t like the phrase “jasmine revolution”, because it sounds too much like one of the colour-coded ones. But it recalls, for me, the carnation revolution of Portugal in 1974, which is in many ways a model for the uprisings going on now, seemingly impossible in a vicious totalitarian dictatorship which had absolutely no space for civil society, but bursting up from below to totally overwhelm the armed might of the state.

Realism and idealism

In my last post on the uprisings, I made some comments on the role of America, which I want to clarify a little. The dominant tradition of American statecraft in the last half century or so, exemplified by Henry Kissinger and equally by Zbigniew Brzezinski, has been to materially support authoritarian regimes (and even in some cases totalitarian regimes) as bulwarks against hostile regimes. Sometimes the hostile regimes were so vile as perhaps to justify a lesser evil impulse, but in more cases than not the results were disastrous.

The American state supported the brutal dictatorship of the Shah – so it is not surprising that anti-Americanism was one of the ingredients of the Iranian revolution in 1979. Western governments supported and armed the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan – and we have been reaping that whirlwind in the form of al-Qaeda and the Taliban ever since, from Pakistan to East Africa.  We supported Saddam’s fascist regime – and there is no need to mention the baleful consequences of that. We have enabled repressive military, quasi-military and soft Islamist regimes throughout the region. There was a brief moment in the wake of 9/11 when “neoconservative” figures like Joshua Muravchik, Paul Wolfowitz, Natan Sharansky and Condoleezza Rice articulated an alternative policy. But the exigencies of the war on terror itself kept America entangled with a new set of unsavoury lesser evils. And, increasingly, there was a turn against idealism, and the Obama administration, which benefited from that backlash in 2008, has tended towards the old ways rather than any ethical foreign policy.

The extent to which the Egyptian revolution, and all the other uprisings on the Arab street, have an anti-American dimension, however unpalatable, it is an anti-Americanism fuelled by the foreign policy tradition of Kissinger, a tradition from which Obama has utterly failed to make a clean break. (Similar things argued by James B, much more pithily, and Marko, more carefully. Oh, and it’s not just America: It’s France. It’s Peter Mandelson. It’s David “Mubarak is a friend of Britain” Cameron. It’s Tony “Mubarak is immensely courageous and a force for good” Blair.)

The position neoconservatives take on Egypt will reveal the extent to which their commitment to democracy in Iran, in Ukraine, in Belarus, in Syria and so on is real or mere rhetoric. According to Jeffrey Goldberg, some key neocons, such as Elliot Abrams, are supporting the revolution and sharply criticising the Israeli establishment for its support for Mubarak.

Also read

Marko Hoare: The West faces another Bosnia moment; Christopher Hitchens: The shame factor; Mohammed A. Bamyeh: The Tunisian Revolution: Initial Reflections; Poumista: Globalise the jasmine revolution; Abbas Milani: Iranian revolution echoes in Egypt; Rosie Bell: Changed, utterly changed; Peter Rison: An Arab renaissance; Sacha Ismail: What the British left is saying; Martin Thomas: How revolution can be confiscated by counter-revolution; Peter Ryley: Thoughts.

Keywords: Egypt, Tunisia, Iran.
Related posts: Between Burke and Paine in the twenty-first century; Revisiting between Burke and Paine in the twenty-first century; Decentism: Burke and Paine again; Decentism and defectors, lumpen and otherwise.