Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Backlogged links

Some very backlogged...

Ethnic cleansing globalised
I'm not sure if I've already blogged this, but if you haven't read it you have to: Rebecca L on Buddhists, Myanmar, Incitement to Murder, and Responsibility for one's own actions.

Blog recommendations
I'm not sure how many posts at Jacobinism I've recommended before, but please read them all, especially the last two: Bullets, Books & Pens (on Malala and more) and Day of the Demagogue (on anti-Muslim violence and The Apocalyptic Fantasies of the Liberal Left and the Far-Right). Also check out Homo Economicus, including this indictment of Mo Ansar's marriage advice and this rebuttal of Assed Baig on Malala. Which leads neatly on to:

Secularism, Islamism, the left - in the West and in MENA
Everywhere: Peter Ryley: Moderates (must read).
UK: From One Law For All: Siding with the Oppressor: The Pro-Islamist Left, by John Miller, with a postscript: The politics of betrayal, by Maryam Namazie [pdf]. Read the postscript here too. Kenan Malik on the pleasures of pluralism and the pain of offence. James AVPS on the left and Islamism.
From Bangladesh to East London: Delwar Hussain.
Tunisia: The tightening grip of Salafism in Tunisia: an interview with Habib Kazdaghli. Defending the revolution in Tunisia.
Egypt: Mariz Tadors: J'Accuse the West.
Pakistan: Bina Shah on the Malala backlash.

The Protocols of the Interest Rate Lobby
On the conspirationists in Turkey's AKP and opposition.

AJ Adler: “It goes without saying”: the Further Rhetoric of Terrorist Apologia. Liel Leibowitz on Greenwald's bizarre anti-American/anti-Israel conspirationism. James Bloodworth on internet freedom on Snowden's flight path.

Objective pro-fascism?
The Overgrown Path on Benjamin Britten, pacifism and the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Britain's spycops
A strange kind of glory: Paul Stott on life undercover. The Socialist Party on the Peter Francis and the 1990s infiltration of anti-racist groups and Militant fronts: Scandal of police attempt to denigrate Lawrence family.

UK anti-fascism
South London Anti-Fascists Statement of Principles. Flesh is Grass: Unite Against Fascism. Sam Morecroft and Chaz Lockett: Far-right EDL march in Sheffield: class-based response needed. Paul Stott: Assessing the British far right and the ground it stands on. Matthew Bromfield: EDL LGBT, the dark side of the rainbow.

Antisemitism watch
Tory Patrick Mercer. Judge Frederik Harhoff. Lib Dem Jenny Tonge. Lib Dem David Ward. Lib Dem Sir Bob Russell. (Hmm, is there a trend here?)

Trade unionist Emine Ibrahim on supporting progressive forces. David Hirsh on the left and Israel. AJ Adler on the uncanny John Mearsheimer.

Sultan Knish: We are all George Zimmerman.

Liberal interventionism
Marco Hoare on the case for arming Syrian rebels.

The left is fucked
Automnia: Left for dead. Platypus/Endnotes: What is to be done with the left?

Bob's Beats
Soundscapes of Bahrain, by Ari Akkermans. The dangers of being retro: revivalism in dance music.
Çapulcu Şarkılar: Music of the Turkish spring. Crooners and their dictators.

And also...

Image credit: Kathy Winkler.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A lot of bullshit about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

The George Zimmerman verdict has sure brought out a lot of stupidity from the smart people I follow on Twitter, and especially the smart Europeans who don't actually know much about Florida.

I know that Martin's death was tragic; a young man's snuffed out so needlessly. I agree with Gary Younge that "it appears that the only reason the two interacted at all, physically or otherwise, is that Zimmerman believed it was his civic duty to apprehend an innocent teenager who caused suspicion"  by his presence in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I know that neither I, nor most of the people angry at Zimmerman's acquittal, know much more than that. 

So, I urge you to do as I have done, and read about what the court actually heard, about Zimmerman's defence in court, about what Zimmerman actually said to the 9./11 dispatcher. Read about his campaign for justice for Sherman Ware (a homeless black man beaten by a cop's son). Read about Zimmerman's multiracial family, about his low-income multi-ethnic neighbourhood plagued by anti-social crime. Read about who Zimmerman is, who he votes for. Finally, try and find a way in which on the evidence we have (and despite a jury who wanted to convict him and a judge who bent over backwards to thwart the defence case) that Zimmerman can have been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.

The more you read, I think, the more you'll see the inadequacy of reducing the story into the two simple unambiguous elements of black victim and white perpetrator. 

In fact, if Zimmerman had been the victim in a different situation, the heroic anti-racists would not have had any trouble claiming him as black.

Finally, there is of course another element to the story that gets spoken more rarely. Gary Younge and others have suggested it is now open season on black boys in Florida. But of course it has been open season on black boys in Florida - and all over urban America - for many years now. Not many of the shooters are Neighbourhood Watch members and not many are NRA members; most of the shooters are black boys or black men. This is an important tragedy, but one too complicated and intractable for the simplistic heroism of the Twitter campaigners.

Some of the more bullshit-free pieces about the case are: "You Are Not Trayvon" by William Saleton (my favourite)*; "Law and Justice" by Andrew Cohen; Jonathan Turley's legal commentary**; and Jason Riley's "Race, Politics and the Zimmerman Trial" (although I don't agree with all of that)***. One other text I found refreshing and compelling was from a more surprising source: Rush Limbaugh. Here, he argues that the class and not race was at the heart to the killing: "I think the precarious economy -- hardworking people trying to hold onto what they got -- is the key to this." While my explanation of why the economy is precarious is profoundly different from Limbaugh's, he's right about that.

Credits: *David Adler; **Glyn Welshbeard; ***Sohrab Ahmari.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From Bob's archive: Alice Walker, loving the people

This one is from September 2008, but seems very relevant right now, although Walker no longer thinks Obama loves us. Couple tiny edits to update. 
“I feel the grief of all people who love fairness and justice coursing through my body, deep into my soul.” – Alice Walker, emphasis added.
“David Icke reminded me of Malcolm X. I was thinking especially of Malcolm’s fearlessness. A fearlessness that made him seem cold, actually, though we know he wasn’t really. All that love of us that kept driving him to improve our lot.” – Alice Walker, emphasis added.
“I love the Jews really only en masse, en détail I strictly avoid him.” – Wilhelm von Humboldt, quoted by Hannah Arendt

Luckily, Alice Walker will almost certainly never read this blog post. “Sometimes,” she says, “reading a blog, which I do infrequently, I see that generations of Americans have been crippled, and can no longer spell or write a sentence.” Oh well.

Ms Walker provocatively opens her recent piece on the American presidency like this:
I remember seeing a picture of Fidel Castro in a parade with lots of other Cubans. It was during the emergency years, the "special period" when Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union had collapsed and there was little gas or oil or fertiliser; people were struggling to find enough to eat. It was perhaps Cuba's nadir, as a small Caribbean island nation considered a dangerous threat by its nearest neighbour, the United States - which, during this period, tightened its embargo. Fidel, tall, haggard, his clothes hanging more loosely than usual from his gaunt frame, walked soberly along, surrounded by thousands of likewise downhearted, fearful people... 
However poor the Cubans might be, I realised, they cared about each other and they had a leader who loved them. A leader who loved them. Imagine. A leader not afraid to be out in the streets with them, a leader not ashamed to show himself as troubled and humbled as they were. 
A leader who would not leave them to wonder and worry alone, but would stand with them, walk with them, celebrate with them - whatever the parade might be.
This is what I want for our country, more than anything. I want a leader who can love us.
Now, I have some admiration for Fidel Castro and what he has achieved, against all the odds. And I think that the US trade embargo on Cuba has been a cruel, counterproductive, vindictive policy, which has done nothing to further democracy and only helped immiserate the people of Cuba.

However, Castro’s regime has been a brutal authoritarian dictatorship. If Castro loves the people of Cuba, his love does not extend to letting them choose who should rule them, or letting them listen to or read any dissenting voices, or letting them access the internet or have a free press or borrow books from their libraries which challenge his worldview. If Castro loves the people of Cuba, his love is expressed through a system of neighbourhood informers who ensure political conformity, through the imprisonment of dissidents, through the outlawing of homosexuality, through allowing the sex tourism industry to flourish to bring in hard currency. If Castro loves the people of Cuba, he does not love them enough to let them form free trade unions, to let them go on strike or to let them travel abroad.

Whatever Bush’s faults, none of these things can be said about him. But Bush, Walker says, is all about “killing, under order, folks we don’t know; abusing children of whose existence we hadn’t heard; maiming and murdering animals that have done us no harm.” That, she says, is how we know Bush loves neither us nor himself.

John Kennedy, in contrast, Walker says, did love the American people. Maybe I've read too much James Ellroy and Gore Vidal to have a clear view of Kennedy, but he was the man who ordered the ridiculous Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro’s government, the man who declared a war on Communism and turned a tiny military operation into the Vietnam war, the man who authorising the bombing, burning and napalming of Vietnamese civilians. In other words, sending Americans to kill folks they don’t know, abuse children, and, yes, maim animals.

Regardless of which picture is more accurate, though, I don’t think it is right to ask for a president who loves the American people. As soon as someone invokes The People, with that definite article, I get worried.

Hannah Arendt was famously rebuked by her friend Gershom Scholem for not loving the Jewish people enough. She replied (addressing him in her letter, I think, by his original German name Gerhardt): “I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective – neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love ‘only’ my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons… I do not ‘love’ the Jews, nor do I ‘believe’ in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.”

As I’ve said before, those who most love Humanity en masse, as von Humboldt puts it, in the abstract – The People – are those who least love actual humans en détail, in the flesh – who care least for real people, including real Americans. In fact, those who most love The People in the abstract are often those most able to kill and abuse and maim real people in the flesh.

Alice Walker, it seems, is a woman who cannot love her own daughter or grandson, yet loves the whole American people, despite their inability to write a sentence, despite them being “racist and sexist and greedy above all”. If I were an American, I would not want a president who loved me as Fidel loves the Cuban people or as Alice Walker loves the American people. I would want a president who loves her friends and her children.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mixing pop with politics 2

This is another from the unpublished archive, where it's been languishing for several months, which makes the chronology in the post a little odd, e.g. the use of the word "recent"... Just noticed several typos and a missing BB King video, so will try and deal with that.

So, here we are in part 2 of this series (originally planned over three installments, now probably four). In the first installment, we looked at the musical habits of some of the grand old men of political blogging. Here we look at three that are probably less well-known, but deserve to be very well-known.

Luxemburger Anarchist: Both kinds of music
I love this blog, and you will too. I don't know why I don't visit more often. I'm going to add it to my "top blogging" feed (over there on the right). Actually, I guess the reason is that it's mostly not in English and I am woefully monolingual. Politically, obviously it's Marxist-inflected anarchism. Musically, it's country and western plus a bit of punk and some other stuff. Recently, among the gems were: a lovely George Harrison Beatles song I'd never heard before, some of my favourite country rock, Hank Williams Jr (who also featured in the last instalment of my series)  But I think this outlaw country song really exemplifies what the blog is all about.

Johnny Paycheck: You can take this job and shove it

And this is one of my favourite songs, which I think I've featured here before, probably as sung by Dolly Parton:

Emmylou Harris: Boulder to Birmingham

I note I am listed in the blogroll amongst "AUFKLÄRER, SKEPTIKER USW" - "enlighteners, skeptics, etc". Which I like. (Have I got the translation right? Google says "reconnaissance", "scouts" or "spotters" where I put enlighteners.)

Entdinglichung: Musik
Staying in continental Europe, Entdinglichung is an excellent radical blog, from a very non-sectarian Marxist perspective, very strong on internationalism and on socialist history, among other things. Musically, there is more non-overlap than overlap with my taste, but there is also some fantastic stuff. It is mostly played on a Sunday. Here's some recent numbers.

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Reality Poem

Hesperion XXI: Sephardic Song

(More about this here.)

Os Afro Sambas / Vinicius de Moraes & Baden Powell: Canto de Xangô

New Appeal to Reason: Blues on Saturday/Country Club
So Entdinglichung plays music on a Sunday. Stuart, of New Appeal to Reason, does it on a Saturday. There the politics is democratic socialism, the location is Kansas, and the music used to be blues. The blues series included underrated artists such as Jimmy McCracklin or Magic Slim, who died in February, as well as more recognised greats such as the awesome Buddy Guy. I'll play a song he played in September 2012, Taj Mahal's rendition of LeadBelly's "Bourgeoisie Blues", because it fits well into our theme of mixing pop and politics...

... and a song he's not played, but is by the musician we most have in common, BB King, "I Believe to my Soul", live from 1974, arguably his peak.

Since March, Stuart's taken a break from blues, and switched to country music, taking the title of his series, "Country Club", from Travis Tritt. There's great stuff like Freddy Fender or Johnny Cash with Joni Mitchell. But the one I'll play is for the pop and politics theme again. As with Johnny Paycheck above, Stuart manages to find a lesson in political economy from Western Swing star Bob Wills: "Little bee sucks the blossom, big bee gets the honey. Darkie picks the cotton, white man gets the money."

Sunday, July 07, 2013

From Bob's (unpublished) archive: On Murdering People Whose Politics You Disagree With

I've got no time for blogging at the moment, so thought I'd publish a few things from my archive, but with a slight difference: these are posts I never got around to finishing, let alone publishing. This one is from just over a year ago, May 2012. I've cleared up the typos but not edited it into a coherent post. It seems kind of relevant now, as political violence seems to be on the rise again in the UK. 

As I mentioned alreadyLaban Tall has blogged about one of my old posts (actually Michael Ezra's old post, and specifically Waterloo Sunset's comments there). It's about the morality of killing fascists, basically, and the morality of even debating the morality of it. Peter Risdon, another right-of-centre libertarian blogger who I have considerable respect for, made similar points in the comment thread last week, so I have him in mind as much as Laban in this reply. 

Personally, I can't really imagine killing anyone ever, and wouldn't tactically or morally condone killing British fascists. However, I do support a certain level of physical violence against fascists, at least in certain contexts, and think that we shouldn't wait until they are actually in power when it would be too late to stop them.

And I do think there are at least some circumstances when actually killing for political reasons is justifiable. I don't think that there is any real danger of fascism coming to power in the UK in the near future, but looking at the growth of far right politics across Europe I don't think we can be too complacent.

I don't for one minute imagine convincing Laban - or, for that matter, people like Sarah or Flesh, who participated in the comment thread - of this position. However, I wonder if I can make the argument that it's not just homicidal immoralists that think using violence for political reasons is worth discussing. I don't think it is that odd to think it is OK to use violence politically. I can't think of a single ideology (apart from pacifism of course) that can be said not to endorse violence.

Among Laban's political heroes, according to his Normblog profile, are Winston Churchill and Tony Martin. Tony Martin, of course, was a killer. Whether he was right or not to kill one of the burglars who broke into his house is something that can be debated. Considering him to be morally justified is well within the bounds of normal discourse. In my view, it is similarly appropriate to debate the morality of killing people who advocate racist violence.

Winston Churchill is an even better example. Churchill was an appalling person in many ways, a great one in others. One of the reasons he deserves to be regarded a hero is for his recognition that the only way to stop the rise of fascism in the 1930s was through violence. But he also advocated  - and used - violence for political ends at other times. He believed that Bolshevism should be strangled in its cradle, and attempted to do so by sending British forces to fight on the White side in the Russian civil war and then arming the Polish army when it invaded the Ukraine. I believe he also was instrumental in setting up the Black and Tans to strangle the Irish republic in its cradle, and defended its policy of reprisals. He famously also attempted to strangle Arab and Kurdish freedom in its cradle, advocating air attacks and possibly gas attacks on rebellious tribes. These are all essentially political, and not in the least acts of self-defence.

In 1926, Churchill "was reported to have suggested that machine guns be used on the striking miners... he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country" and claimed that the fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world," showing, as it had, "a way to combat subversive forces"—that is, he considered the regime to be a bulwark against the perceived threat of Communist revolution. In short, if you're outraged about even imagining killing people for political reasons, then Churchill is an odd choice of hero.

Two months before Laban nominated Tony Martin as his political hero, incidentally, Martin (a nephew of pioneering British fascist Andrew Fountaine) had publicly endorsed the BNP and its policy of voluntary repatriation for immigrants. Among other things, Martin was reported as saying: "There is going to be a dictator in this country, but there are such things as benign dictators. Too much liberalism is worse than too little. The politicians as we know them are already anachronisms. There are things that want doing today, right now. A dictator is the way to go. For instance, we must keep out of Europe. We are a unique island people."

This adds some context to a remark of Laban's that particularly bothered me:
the idea that the BNP, English Democrats, UKIP or any other of the anti-immigration, anti-EU parties can in any sense be compared with the Nazi Party, amounts to a disgusting libel on the British people. The kind of vileness in that comment thread is an affront to the peaceful tradition of British, and especially English, political history since the Civil War.
No-one in any comment thread here has ever argued for violence against UKIP or compared them to Nazis. While some foolish leftists do see UKIP as basically fascist, anyone with any historical or political sense would see a fairly strong contrast between UKIP and the BNP, with the latter being rather more than simply an "anti-immigration, anti-EU" party. The BNP are part of a very British tradition of fascism (a tradition that included Martin's uncle Fountaine), some parts of which (including many BNP members) have been actively pro-Nazi. We are not too decent to have bred fascists.

And nor is our political history since the Civil War exceptional in its peacefulness. It's simply that a lot of the violence we perpetrated (as in Churchill's story) happened overseas. Our industrial revolution was built on the profits of a slave trade in which millions were killed. We bled India dry, killing or allowing millions to die through economic policies that directly led to mass starvation. In counter-insurgencies, such as Ceylon in 1818, Kabul in 1842 or Kenya in the 1950s, we massacred civilians.

The imperial nostalgia that animates today's Churchillians has to repress this story, just as those in the political mainstream who try to make excuses for the BNP and EDL as simply honest salt-of-the-earth anti-immigrationists have to repress the story of British fascism. These stories do not necessarily justify political violence by anti-fascists, but we need a bit more honesty and historical perspective if we want to debate it properly.