Sunday, July 29, 2012

From Bob's archive: Provocation/mini-skirts

This is another from the archive, from June-July 2007, when Salman Rushdie was made Knight Bachelor by the Queen. It was originally two posts, but the second followed on closely from the first.

The clerical fascists of Pakistan and Iran, and their supporters in the UK like Lord Ahmed, have spoken of Rushdie (or, in this case, the British state for honouring him) provokingMuslim anger, even violent anger, including suicide bombings. I didn’t think that many people here would treat that notion with anything but contempt, until I read discarded copies of Wednesday’s Times and Independent on the train today, and saw lots of letters from people with very British names, including relatives of British soldiers serving in Iraq, expressing exactly that view.

The idea of provocation has been expressed many times by western leftists and liberals. The idea that 9/11 was an example of “chickens coming home to roost” or that 7/7 was “blowback” for Iraq are variations on this theme.

A similar logic is at work in the claim that “we” (the West) are responsible for the tens of thousands, or indeed (if you accept the rather contentious Lancet methodology) hundreds of thousands (or even, if you have Lenny Lenin’s “dialectical” grasp of maths, “nearly a million”) deaths in Iraq. Clearly, the Coalition is directly responsible for many deaths in Iraq– insurgent combatants, but also far, far too many civilians killed as a result of criminally stupid blunders, tactical errors, excessive uses of force, mindless displays of muscle. But, the argument goes, “we” are also responsible for those killed by the insurgents and the sectarian gangs and the Al-Qaeda operatives and so on, because we removed Saddam, or simply because we are there.

These claims about provocation and responsibility say something about agency. Specifically, they say that “we” (the West, white folk) have agency – and “they” (the Muslims, the brown folk) don’t. “We” rationally calculate our actions – they simply respond mindlessly. This view is profoundly racist; it infantilises Muslims. It is time “we” gave Muslims enough respect as to hold them morally to account for their actions.


At the every end of yesterday's Today programme, a nice lady, a journalist, I didn't catch her name, was asked why this is such a dangerous time for journalists (a propos of the welcome release of Alan Johnston). She answered (and these are not exact words): "Because of our foreign policy", followed immediately by: "journalists are not distinguished from their countries' governments". There are two problems with this.

The first is simply that most of the journalists who are in danger are not from "the West" (which is presumably the "us" she refers to). Just to take Iraq, over 100 journalists have been killed since 2003 (70 murdered, 38 caught in the crossfire), of whom 86 were Iraqi. Most of these were killde by insurgents (62 confirmed). (And this does not count the 39 media support workers killed - all Iraqi except for one Lebanese). The overwhelming majority, in fact, work for Iraqi news organisations (63 of the journalists, 23 of the support workers). In fact, one Western journalist has been killed in Iraq this year, Russian Dmitry Chebotayev, killed along with American soliders in a roadside attack. Prior to that, the last were Paul Douglas and James Brolan, killed in May '06, killed by an insurgent bomb.

Globally, 85% of journalists killed are local correspondents, not foreign correspondents. The second most dangerous place for journalists is Algeria, where in fact it is often Islamist journalists targeted by the government, then Russia, where government-backed thugs kill dissident journalists with impunity, then Colombia, where journalists are at risk from right and left. In other words, the idea that it is "our" journalists "they" are killing is predicated on an ethno-centric view of the world.

The second, and more important point is about that word "because". Concentrating solely on Western journalists killed by insurgents, the journo's second statement, that the killers don't distinguish between "good" Westerners and "bad" Westerners is surely the correct "reason". That is, the racist, murderous, anti-Western ideology of the insurgents is what drives them to kill, not "our" foreign policy. Blaming our foreign policy is like blaming a rape victim for wearing sexy clothes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From Bob's archive: Where is Sarf London?

I am away, a long way from South London, hopefully somewhere warmer. So, as is my wont, I am posting some things from the archive while absent. This is from June 2007, although I've added a little. What would you add?

Daniel, in a comment on my last post, and an American reader about a year ago to whom I never replied, ask "What or where is 'Sarf London'?" The short answer is that this is the generally accepted phonetic rendering of how people from South London say "South London". Of course, if you don't have a London accent, then the way you'd naturally read the letters S-A-R-F would not sound like it should; I think the correct transcription is "sæːf". (Savage London produce clobber branded "Souwf London", which seems more accurate to me, but Lambeth-born Michael Caine endorses the SARF spelling.)

Sarf London is not exactly geographically co-terminous with South London, if the latter term is taken to mean any part of London south of the river. For example, Sarf London excludes most of Clapham (or "Claum" as it is reputedly called by its gentrifying denizens), a territory colonized by 
the rich and stupid of North London. But it includes the estates like Winstanley, Surrey Lane and Doddington around Clapham Common, the areas that gave us those archetypal Sarf Londoners The So Solid Crew. I don't know the southern reaches of the Northern Line very well, places like Tooting and Wimbledon, so I'll reserve judgement on them - but I'd like to include them, in order to include Tamil food, Jamie T and To The Tooting Station. And it absolutely doesn't include Richmond, which is basically Surrey as far as I'm concerned.

In the east, I'm not sure where Sarf London shades into Kent. Years of connections through hop- and fruit-picking, caravan holidays, and white flight have blurred the borders there. Blackheath, one of the places in South London that North Londoners are likely to have heard of, has always seemed like an interloper to me.

I suppose, more than a place, Sarf London is a state of mind, a structure of feeling. 

It is Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine, Jamie Forman. It's Freddie Forman, Charlie Richardson, Mad Frankie Fraser, the Great Train Robbers. It's Jade Goody, Charley UcheaMillwall Football Club, Charlton Athletic. It's bear-baiting in Southwark and Christopher Marlowe's death in Deptford. It's Graham Swift's The Last Orders, Michael Winterbottom'sWonderland, Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth, Hanif Kureishi's Buddha of Suburbia. It's Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Saxon Sound SystemKirsty MacColl, Squeeze, speed garage and jungle music, Alabama 3, Topcats and Ska Cubana. It's Electric Avenue and Deptford High Street, pie and mash shops, the Dog and Bell in Deptford ("woof/clang"), the Brixton riots and the Battle of Lewisham, Jah Shaka at the Moonshot, Club Multepulciano at the Rivoli Ballroom, and perhaps even the Flying Pickets at the Albany Empire.

Readers, feel free to nominate more truly Sarf London things in the comments below.

Extra links: TranspontineSlightly Lost in Sarf LondonEd Barrett "The making of London's 'white trash'" (on Michael Collins' The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class);Will Self "Southern Discomfort"Darcus Howe "Welcome to the Republic of Sarf London;Simon Jenkins "Nuffink wrong wiv accents guv"Wikipedia "Southern English Dialects";Cockney English"Sarf London Lily" (on Lily Allen).

Image via Soccerprint.

Friday, July 20, 2012

War criminals?

A great post by James Bloodworth asking why Tony Blair is singled out for protest. This is the second half:
It is worth for a moment contrasting the level of vitriol directed at Mr Blair with the general indifference shown towards former Conservative Prime Minister John Major. Mr Major was the leader of the Conservative Government at the time of the infamous Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst war crime since 1945. During the Bosnian war, 8,000 Bosnian Muslims from the town of Srebrenica were rounded up and killed by the Bosnian Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladic. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia described the events as follows:
“They [members of the Bosnian Serb army] stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.” 
Nato did eventually intervene in Bosnia, but not until a good deal of blood had already been spilled. Robert Hunter, the US ambassador to Nato from 1993 to 1998, believes the government of John Major was partly to blame for the massacre for obstructing intervention by the UN or Nato. “The failure of Nato to reach agreement on serious military action,” Mr Hunter says, “can be attributed to the efforts of one allied nation: Great Britain.” 
“Britain,” he adds, “has a huge burden of responsibility for what happened at Srebrenica.” 
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Defence Secretary under the Major government until July 1995 and thereafter Foreign Secretary, was one of the architects of Britain’s disastrous policy in Bosnia. Responding to a proposal by the US Senator Bob Dole to lift the arms embargo and allow the Bosnian government to defend itself, Mr Rifkind told him that “You Americans don’t know the horrors of war”, not realising Dole had fought in the Second World War and been left permanently disabled. 
As far as I am aware, none of the events that Mr Major has attended as a prestigious after-dinner speaker have ever been besieged by placard-waving anti-war protesters. The first question which strikes you then is: is war only bad when the Americans and the British intervene? That certainly appears to be the position of the Stop the War Coalition, who forget a lesson most of us learned in the school playground as children: inaction is often the same as intervention on the side of the aggressor and against the victim. Getting this point across to anyone who considers a bullet from a British or American gun to be the world’s greatest abomination will undoubtedly be like trying to fill with water a bucket that has a hole in it. But then it is quite possible that a concern for human life is not the main motivation for those screeching obscenities at Tony Blair anyway, in which case an argument like this will always be one that is wasted.
Previously: An extraordinary claim - the comparative appallingness of the West during the Bosnian crisis; The backlash and where it will take us; The conservatism of the anti-war "radicals"; Conservatism, realism and the anti-war movement; Loveable Tories.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I am away next week, and going to post some "from Bob's archive stuff" while I'm away. Looking through, I found two pieces by Jogo kind of relevant to one of the conversational threads in the great circumcision debate of last week: this one on Israeli antisemites, and this one on Gilad Atzmon. Note: link on Israeli antisemites fixed.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some links on Islam, Islamism, Islamophobia

On Tony Blair's bad faith secularism: Paul Stott with a bingo moment from Terry Sanderson.
"What is really unhelpful is the inherent contradiction in Blair's approach, shown up in his opinion piece and your interview, by which he recommends stronger secular democracy in countries riven with religious conflict at the same time as greater reverance for religion in the secular West. This is no way to win support from doubters from either culture"
Two great pieces by Nick Cohen: on Assange followers' paranoid style and on the truly radical Muslims. The latter, entitled "Tales of Hope", refers to Maajid Nawaz and Alom Shaha. Nawaz returns in a Shiraz Socialist post, relaying a New Statesman debate between him and the awful Mehdi Hasan. One thing too trivial for Nawaz to call Hasan on is the following claim:
Forget Milne. Consider instead the verdict of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden tracking unit and the author of three acclaimed books on al-Qaeda.
I posted this when Hasan first quoted Scheuer:
He quotes as an authority one Michael Scheuer, Ron Paul's foreign policy adviser, who recently called for Osama bin Laden to nuke America ("The only chance we have as a country right now"). Here, Scheuer is returning a favour; Bin Laden once said ""If you want to understand what's going on and if you would like to get to know some of the reasons for your losing the war against us, then read the book of Michael Scheuer in this regard." Scheuer is also, unsurprisingly, part of the Walt and Mearsheimer "Israel Lobby" conspiracy theory fantast world:

GARY ROSEN: If you could just elaborate a little bit on the clandestine ways in which Israel and presumably Jews have managed to so control debate over this fundamental foreign policy question.
SCHEUER: Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress—that’s a clandestine activity, a covert activity. You know to some extent, the idea that the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust. I find—I just find the whole debate in the United States unbearably restricted with the inability to factually discuss what goes on between our two countries.[source]
Read Adam Holland if you want to know why I call Scheuer a crypto-fascist.

However, here's one thing I strongly agree with Hasan about:
Multiculturalism has little, if anything, to do with the rise of Islamist-inspired terrorism. Otherwise, how would you explain the presence of extremist groups inside monocultural societies such as Saudi Arabia or the Gaza Strip? 
Remember: the 7 July bombers were, by any conventional definition, integrated into wider British society. None of the four spoke English as a second language; one of them was a convert to Islam. The ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, once nicknamed “Sid”, was a teaching assistant who had refused to have an arranged marriage. Shazad Tanweer, the Aldgate bomber, was an avid cricketer who worked part-time in his father’s fish-and-chip shop. Their actions were horrific and unforgivable but their grievances were political, not cultural.
I said something similar here.

From Islamism to "Islamophobia". Did I ever link to James Bloodworth's excellent attack on that word? Here it is. On the other hand, let's not forget that Daily Telegraph columnists are not an oppressed minority.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Shabes mixtape

[cross posted from Bob's Beats]

First and last
The series is nearing its end. Last week it was just me, playing Bruce Springsteen and James Last on cassette. This week, CDs and radiator (who now blogs here) reflects on the rise and fall of the independent record store and explains his daughter's name, and TNC (who too infrequently blogs here) explores heavy metal's homoerotic underbelly and hip hop's late period. You have a couple of days to add your first and last CDs, and next week we move into the future with mp3s.

Infra-global: The Devil's Anvil
Anti-Gravity Bunny posts on the super-cool New York/Near Eastern psychadelic hard rock outfit The Devil's Anvil, a glimpse into an alternative Middle Eastern future past, perhaps.

Infra-global: Biafra
Having something of an elective affinity for the Biafran cause, I was very interested in this post on the music of the Biafra independence movement, on Likembe, a wonderful African music blog I will be adding to the blogroll.

Jazz is...
Jumpin Jive for July 4th

Monday, July 02, 2012

Foreskin politics continued

Three updates on the German circumcision ban.

1. As Rebecca reports, a Berlin hospital, i.e. outside the jurisdiction of the court that made the ruling, has now suspended doing circumcisions for religious reasons after the court ruling. She quotes Walter Russell Mead: "As of this moment in Berlin, it is against German law to live as a Jew."

2. Frank Furedi, Spiked's guru, has written a much longer and more sophisticated critique of the law than the one put forward by Brendan O'Neill. Read it.

3. Reuben of Third Estate has a good post arguing that the German court was right but that anti-circumcision folks need to have a sense of proportion. His briefly made argument for the law is this: "Children do have rights. And, contrary to what Brendan O’Neill appears to believe, parents are not entitled to absolute sovereignty over their households." I absolutely agree with that point, but simply do not see infant circumcision as a violation of those rights. Parents do not have absolute sovereignty, but the state should generally only intervene against parental authority to protect children against actual harm, and I don't see the case that this is an example.