Friday, May 24, 2013

After Woolwich: two footnotes and some links

I wrote last night some of my immediate reactions to the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in nearby Woolwich, South East London. If you read one of mine about it, read that one. Tonight, I have quickly added two footnotes. The first is on Mohammed Saleem, whose killing at the end of April in Birmingham I mentioned, but in a way that was not accurate, so I have corrected myself. The second is on Lewisham Islamic Centre, as I noticed my post on it from some time ago has had some traffic, because of the alleged connections of Michael Adebolajo to the Centre, and I thought I should update. Those two posts are immediately below this one. (29 May: I have updated both posts again today.)

While I'm here, a couple of other links. I recommend Les Back, a local writer:
London is both the stage for divisions and violence and also a meeting place where those differences are routinely bridged and made banal... The blood-stained headlines will not be easily forgotten but they will inevitably become yesterday’s news, and the rhythm of multicultural life in south-east London will find its balance again.
Les mentions the wars in the Middle East, but in a very careful way:
what we are seeing is a manifestation of the social damage of war erupting in the very ordinary spaces of British life.
Other commentators have made the connection rather less intelligently, and have rightly been taken to task for doing so. Alan Johnson says we need to talk about Islamism. Terry Glavin attacks the excuse-makers, fibbers and causation-seekers. Rob Marchant explores Ken Livingstone's stupidity on the issue. Jim Denham republishes Clive Bradley's 2007 destruction of the banal blowback theory. The morally literate Francis Sedgemore adds some essential footnotes.

Finally, one other thing that has angered me is the way that the mainstream media (BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 news) have trotted out utterly un-representative publicity-seeking Anjem Choudary as some kind of voice worth hearing in relation to the Woolwich killings. (Even worse, they pitted him against sauve Islamophobe Douglas Murray.) It seems Lee Rigby's killers (like Charles Manson in 1969) wanted to precipitate war through their spectacular bloody acts. Putting Choudary on TV at a time like this is doing their work for them. Anyway, I'm sick of it all, and am going to try and turn off the internet for the weekend.

The Woolwich killings and the Lewisham Islamic Centre

UPDATE: The fascist BNP are planning to march from Woolwich to the Lewisham mosque on Saturday 1 June. They should be opposed. Details at the bottom of the post.

The Daily Mail, Evening Standard and other outlets are reporting that Michael Adebolajo (the British-born man whose image with bloody hands and knife in Woolwich has circulated widely in the last two days) "is believed to have attended the nearby Lewisham Islamic Centre mosque, which police visited yesterday". 

The mosque, like many others, has put out a statement condemning the killings:
"We are deeply shocked by the tragic and disturbing events which unfolded in Woolwich on May 22. 
It is further disturbing to hear that these individuals were Muslims. From our perspective, we would like to clarify and confirm categorically, that these actions are in no way, shape or form from the teachings of Islam. 
Islam’s position on the sanctity of life, the concept of justice and the value of human life is such that the Quran equates the taking of one human life unjustly, with killing all of humanity - thus the Quran prohibits murder in clear terms...
It is inevitable at times like these that various groups will seek to drive a wedge between communities. We believe our community in the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) is an excellent one that has an outstanding record with respect to community cohesion within and beyond LBL.
We sincerely hope that the heinous crime that has taken place will not lead to long term discord within the borough or beyond."
I don't know anything about the current leadership of the mosque, which is a fifteen minute walk from my home. But I do know that under previous imams, the mosque has harboured some very unsavoury politics.

We are all equal in death, but not all deaths are the same

In my post on the Woolwich killing yesterday, I said this:
 It is worth remembering those attacked and killed by racists for being Muslim, like Mohammed Saleem, 75, slaugtered in Birmingham, by vanload of white men earlier this month. But we mustn't score those attacks off against this attack, out of masochistic self-indulgent self-hatred or in some obscene zero sum identity politics game.
I had said roughly the same thing on Twitter earlier. Helen Gray, an old blogospheric friend, pointed out to me that noone knows who killed Mohammed Saleem, and that it certainly wasn't a vanload of white men. I got the van from the Guardian report, which mentioned a van, but did not say what I inferred:

Officers want to trace a white man, aged 25-32, of medium height and build, spotted on CCTV footage running near the scene of the attack around the time it happened, just before 10.30pm. Police also want to trace a seven-seat people carrier captured on CCTV, driving near the mosque with the two male occupants, both white and in their 30s, who are considered "significant witnesses".
Police are not ruling out "a racial motive", but nor are they saying it was a hate crime. Locally circulating stories have spoken about a family feud, for instance. I made a huge leap, and was wrong to do so. I am amending the post (correcting my typos at the same time!).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thinking about death, six miles from Woolwich

Flowers lie outside Woolwich Barracks on May 23.
I have really nothing to say about the horrible atrocity yesterday five miles down the road from my house in Woolwich, South London. There is nothing to be said. It was a horrific act, performed for the video cameras and for social media. It was an act of insanity, justified by a perverse and evil Islamist ideology. The responses of the EDL and other bigots - attacking mosques in Gillingham and Braintree, for example - were less atrocious but also mindless.

Against this we stack the the keep calm and carry on response of multicultural Woolwich, the bravery of passers by, the immediate denunciation of the atrocity by ordinary Muslims, the local anger at EDL opportunism.

One part of the left has been (once again) banging on about "root causes", i.e. what we do, which is like saying the "root cause" of rape is short skirts. CND trotted out a lightweight version of the same stupidity, describing the vicious butchering of a man for wearing the wrong T-shirt as some kind of inevitable "consequence" of Tony Blair's war.

George Galloway took the opportunity to smear the Syrian resistance, likening its Islamist strain to that which manifested in Woolwich - ignoring the thousands killed by Assad, ignoring his own previous cheer-leading of al-Qaeda linked terrorism in Iraq, ignoring his own stirring of the embers of perceived Muslim grievance in "Muslim lands". (No doubt he will stir further tonight, when he appears on the Iranian terror state's propaganda outlet to pontificate about what happened.)

Left Unity responded to the terror by talking about the "real" terrorism, i.e. what the West is doing, which may or may not be true (in my view it isn't) but is beside the point when most ordinary people here are shocked and grieving for Drummer Lee Rigby - about as sensitive as telling someone whose mother is dying of cancer that the real killer is car crashes.

And then some of the lefties I follow on Twitter seemed a lot more bothered by the racism that came out in response to the killing than by the killing itself, talking about "this shitty country" when all the evidence points to a pretty shitty world, which may not be the worst reaction but troubled me somewhat. It is worth remembering those attacked and killed by racists for being Muslim. For example, Mohammed Saleem, 75, was killed in Birmingham on his way home from prayers at his local mosque, and the motive may have been racism. But we mustn't score those attacks off against this attack, out of masochistic self-indulgent self-hatred or in some obscene zero sum identity politics game.

Grieve for this brave soldier in Woolwich, grieve for Mohammed Saleem, grieve for those killed in Iraq, for those killed by drones and by Islamists in Pakistan, for those killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria, for the victims everywhere of preachers of hate and death.

That's all.


To donate to Help for Heroes go here. To report or get help with an anti-Muslim hate crime go here.

James Bloodworth's response was very sensible, as always. I liked Little Richardjohn's complex response. Darryl writes from close to ground zero. Aloevera's response to Glenn Greenwald is very pertinent. And below the fold are some of the more pertinent Twitter responses:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For Norm

Norman Geras's blog Normblog is, believe it or not, coming up to its tenth birthday. I was heart-broken to read this post, talking about his illness. Norm has been a huge inspiration to me, as well as to the whole world of blogging and to that part of the political world that is genuinely decent, in the real sense of the term. Although never having met him, I have come to think of him as something of a friend too, although I know I am among thousands who would say the same. What made reading the post even more poignant was that the night before I had been reading a book by Adèle Geras, Norm's other half, to my five year old, and I had meant to get in touch with her to tell her how much we loved it.

David Hirsh at Engage has posted a list of favourite Normblog links, all of which bear re-reading. The Soupy One posted a list of his favroutes on Twitter, which I reproduce below. I'm sure others are doing the same.

Back in 2010, I nominated Norm as a "good influence" on the left:
Norman Geras - a pioneer of political blogging (and therefore influential in opening up on-line audiences to left-wing cranks and crackpots like me), but also a profound thinker of Marxism and its limits, and an inspiration to those of us who like to think that left-wing values of justice and freedom are compatible with moral sense.
At the end of the year, I returned to the theme, with a post on influential left-wing ideas, to which Norm responded, so I'll nominate that post as my special Normblog post, and reproduce it here:
Bob from Brockley has tagged me, among others, for the exercise of suggesting five ideas for the left that are a good influence, five that are a bad influence, and five that aren't influential enough. I plead the season and the need to do some late Christmas shopping this afternoon as my reason for chickening out. As a token of goodwill towards the project, however, I comment below on one each of Bob's own suggestions
National sovereignty Bob has down as a bad influence, and he has no trouble alluding to bad usages of that concept, such as the notion of a 'clerical-fascist's right to use his country as a personal fiefdom'. However, I disagree with Bob that the idea of sovereignty is a bad influence. Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have. Maybe one day they will be replaced by a more effective global community, but that doesn't look like happening any time soon. Maybe some different institutions than the state will in due course take over its functions. Meanwhile statelessness threatens those afflicted by it with a nightmare. Bob's opening implication that the idea of sovereignty presupposes some metaphysical national 'self' doesn't have to be accepted. All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory. 
Class analysis, Bob says, from once having been too all-encompassing on the left, at the expense of other types of identity, is now not influential enough. Without it the notion of social justice 'goes adrift'. I agree. 
The one-state solution... Bob gives it the thumbs-up. But, to my mind, he does so on the basis of a misplaced premise; which is (as I read him between the lines) that the idea could come to be accepted voluntarily by Israelis and Palestinians and thereby become consensual. If so, then well and good. But the two-state solution rests on the assumption that this consensus does not obtain, or obtain yet. While it doesn't, a one-state solution can only be coercive and therefore violate the right to self-determination of one or both peoples. We need influential ideas for different possible states of affairs and not only for ones that look out of reach at the moment.
Norm always makes me think again.

Get well soon Norm. Here's a song for you, Emmylou Harris singing Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again", from your favourite Emmylou album.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Just read this and this

My run of bad blogging might come to an end soon, but in the meantime read this superb take-down by the Unrepentant Jacobin of the unspeakably awful Glenn Greenwald, who is inexplicably given a platform in the increasingly dishonourable virtual pages of the Guardian. Here is a choice extract, describing GG's world view:
a half-understood kind of dime-store Third Worldism; a gruesome combination of a thoroughgoing Western masochism with an ostensible compassion for the wretched of the earth that masks the same racist condescension and contempt typified by the worst kind of colonialist paternalism.
The other must-read (and somehow related) piece I've read recently is Eve Garrard's "The Pleasures of Anti-Semitism", which argues that hating Jews is fun. "There are (at least) three principal sources of pleasure which anti-Semitism provides: first, the pleasure of hatred; second, the pleasure of tradition, and third, the pleasure of displaying moral purity." She details each of these, with her customary lucidity and rigour. (It comes from the new edition of Fathom, which I've not looked at yet but which looks impressive, with contributions from Michael Walzer and others.)

While I'm here, I will link to some other stuff I've read recently: