Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Spirit of 45 in Forest Hill (and a couple of things tangential to that)

Chris Flood has asked me to pass on details of this screening in my manor tomorrow night, which I've left a bit late due to being away from my machine:
The Spirit of '45 leaflet
Friday, 28 June: Special Question and Answer showing of The Spirit of 45 Film by Ken Loach hosted by Lewisham Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC)
The Spirit of '45 is a documentary, interviewing people who remember the mass movement to create the welfare state following World War Two. Ken Loach was asked after the film showing in Cardiff why he made the film.
"I want people to be angry," Ken Loach said. "This is not about history. It's about the fact that society doesn't have to be this way.
We can seize control of the economy, protect the environment, share out the work. You can only plan what you own - collectively for the benefit of all! Another world is possible. My god, we have to change it."
The film shows the contrast between the poverty of the 1930s and the hopes and aspirations of the working class that there should be no return to these conditions.
One contributor from Liverpool described his living conditions before the war, with all the children getting into a bed every night which was crawling with vermin. The happiest moment in his life was moving into a new council house.

Doors open 7pm
Friday, 28 June
Venue: The Hob
7 Devonshire Road, Forest Hill, SE23 3HE (nearest station Forest Hill)
Q&A after the film, followed by live music
I've been a fan of Ken Loach's films since I was a teenager. Riff-Raff, Raining Stones and Land and Freedom are probably my favourites. I haven't managed to see The Spirit of 45 yet, so am sorry that I can't make it tomorrow.

Here's an extract from what Flesh is Grass wrote about it:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Blood on the streets

I have not had time to blog in the last few weeks. Here are just some of the things I've been reading and thinking about.

Everywhere is struggle, everywhere is #Taksim
The events in the last weeks in Istanbul - and increasingly in Izmir, Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey - are truly inspiring. With passing similarities to the Occupy movement, the protests have in fact been socially diverse, joined by trade unions, women in headscarves and a huge cross-section of the Turkish urban population. There are good accounts at The Centre Left; the Gezi Park/Taksim Protests posts at Istanbul & Beyond; and elsewhere.

The repression has been appalling. And Turkish media's reportage of it has been muzzled, of course - but the BBC has not given itself much credit in its repeated descriptions of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails, without mentioning the large amount of evidence pointing to the possibility the throwers were agents provocateurs.

Thankfully, noone on the left seems to have stooped so low as to support Erdogan. I keep expecting the SWP or Alexander Cockburn or Tony Benn or John Pilger or MRZine to jump up and call OccupyGezi "bourgeois" (as they did with Iran's Green Revolution) or the AKP "objectively progressive" (as they do with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood). Ken Livingstone's buddy Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi has supported the AKP state, though, so perhaps they'll soon follow.

No, sadly, it is on the Zionist right that I found the worst response to the protests. Influenced by the Islamic sect of Adnan Oktar, the reactionary Yori Yanover makes a truly appalling case against the protests by a bizarre analogy with Israeli politics.

The sultans
Erdogan is an exemplar of the time we are living in: the age of the democratators, the elected leaders who bend state power to their authoritarian will, suppressing dissent, buying consent, chipping away at their constitutions to maintain their power. One of the hallmarks, taken to absurd degree in Erdogan, is the tendency to talk about themselves in the third person. Here are some extracts from Sultan Erdogan's recent speeches:

"If you call this roughness, I'm sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won't change."

"To those who... are at Taksim and elsewhere taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings: I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents and I send you my love. But for those who want to continue with the incidents I say: 'It's over.' As of now we have no tolerance for them. Not only will we end the actions, we will be at the necks of the provocateurs and terrorists and no-one will get away with it."

"[They say] Tayyip Erdogan is a dictator. If they call one who serves the people a dictator, I cannot say anything... We will build a mosque in Taksim and we do not need the permission of the CHP [Republican People's Party, the main opposition party in Parliament] or of a few bums to do it."

Other democratators include Morsi in Egypt and perhaps Maduro in Venezuela (whose friends recently bought the only TV station that would air interviews with the opposition, which oddly now doesn't) - but the archetype is surely Vladimir Putin. Luke Harding draws the Putin/Erdogan parallels well here. The taming of the media is another parallel.

I read the print version of this David Aaronovitch article about Russia and thought it was brilliant, but I can no longer remember what it says behind the Murdoch paywall, but I still recommend it. I remember the wonderful term "phallocrat" to refer to Putin.

Looking at the repression of basic freedoms carried out by the Erdogan and Putin regimes, I find it hard to get excited by the data-mining carried out by the US NSA which has occupied the twitterati lately. The bizarre "whistle-blower", Edward Snowden, has taken in refuge in China, a country which locks up nearly as many journalists as Turkey, and Russia has suggested it might consider offering him asylum. (For how Putin's Russia treats whistle-blowers, see some of these articles by the great Miriam Elder.) The involvement of the vile Glen Greenwald in the whole affair makes it even fishier for me. And the data mining seems to me (and David Simon) like no big deal. Amidst the hype, I've only seen sensible commentary from Francis Sedgemore and, obviously, The Onion.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Murray's Greenwaldian logic

This is a guest post by Sarah AB

‘Forget “Islamism”:  Let’s Tackle Foreign Policy’ has been the subtext of a number of responses to Woolwich.  These have (rightly) been torn apart by many commentators.  Now Douglas Murray, in a piece entitled ‘Forget “Islamophobia”: Let’s Tackle Islamism’ appears to be deploying Greenwaldian logic in order to ‘explain’ anti-Muslim bigotry.

I find Murray an infuriating writer because I do actually agree with at least part of what he says, and have myself written about both the more obviously extreme Muslim groups and individuals, and about ones that might seem rather more mainstream such as FOSIS and IERA.

Murray complains that the term Islamophobia is employed as a smear, and that it is wrongly equated with antisemitism.  He describes how a ‘leader from the Jewish community … could not answer my question of how you could condemn Islamic anti-Semitism without committing an act of "Islamophobia".’ (p.2) It seems perfectly easy to me – Mehdi Hasan has written about the topic for example – just as one can discuss a possible intersection between Zionism and Islamophobia – as Klingschor does in this video (3:14) - without being antisemitic. 

Murray goes on to assert that ‘in so far as there is a definition — it includes insult of and even inquiry into any aspect of Islam, including Muslim scripture’.  This is completely wrong, I think.  Yes, insulting an aspect of Islam might be deemed Islamophobic, certainly – which doesn’t mean such insults should be banned or censored.  But although some intolerant types may shout ‘Islamophobia’ at dispassionate historians or scholars of religion, many more, who clearly take Islamophobia seriously, would not. 

Murray goes on to claim that anti-Muslim bigotry doesn’t come from nowhere, but can be explained with reference to terrorism committed by Muslims.  Although he contrasts this with antisemitism, in fact it is often noted that there is a link between the actions of Israel and spikes in antisemitic incidents.  Just as with Greenwald and co, using a similar logic but different politics, a hint that violent hatred might be justified by root causes just hovers around this article, however strenuously, and I am sure sincerely, Murray insists this is not the case. I don’t accept his theory that Islamophobia can all be traced back to terrorism or non-violent extremism – that may be the case for some, certainly, but for others it is obviously just a handy handle for old style racists to latch onto. 

On page 5 of Murray’s piece I read how:
 The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim umbrella group, has similar form. In the wake of earlier terrorism investigations, CAIR distributed a poster which read: "Build a wall of resistance. Don't talk to the FBI."
I think this is rather misleading. Here is another account. As I searched for Sheila Musaji’s rebuttal, it occurred to me that Douglas Murray’s approach has some unintended consequences.  I’m agnostic about CAIR, and am generally happy to pounce on the failings of apparently mainstream Muslim organisations – if I see them.  But in a few short pages Murray had induced in me a confirmation bias effect in CAIR’s favour.  And yet I have posted myself about the problems with Warsi’s approach (the topic he turns to next), and agree fully that the views of Sarfraz Sarwar (p.7) are just horrendous.

Murray puts ‘Islamophobia’ in repeated sneering scare quotes and weakens his account of genuine bigotry faced by Muslims by juxtaposing it with the extreme views of Sarwar. Now, Mehdi Hasan cautions here against overstating the problems faced by Muslims, and I have no quarrel with the many people who prefer not to use the term Islamophobia.  But if Douglas Murray’s goal is to encourage Muslims to speak out against extremism and cajole soppy liberals into recognizing that some Muslim groups are problematic – he really doesn’t seem to be going the right way about it.

I don’t think that standing up to Islamophobia needs to go hand in hand with ignoring the dangers (not just physical) posed by religious extremists and theocrats.  Hope not Hate, for example, has recently launched a petition which denounces hate from both camps.  I was going to end on that note, but think I must acknowledge a reasonable mild objection to that petition which I have just read – that it only criticizes violence from Muslim groups, not hateful views.  Even though Douglas Murray would agree with me – I don’t think it is Islamophobic to wish to stand against illiberal attitudes as well as violence. After all many EDL supporters don’t go so far as to carry out, or approve of, acts of violence – and we have no problem saying we find their views deplorable.