Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Abortion: Mehdi Hasan has highlighted a dilemma that liberals fear to face

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In the UK in recent weeks, the abortion issue has flared up again, thanks to the call by Women’s Minister Maria Miller to lower the legal time-limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks after the start of pregnancy; the statement of the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that he favours a limit of 12 weeks; and the surprise article in the Huffington Post by Mehdi Hasan, former political editor of the flagship left-wing periodical New Statesman, arguing that being ‘pro-life’ does not prevent him from being left-wing.

As an atheist from a left-wing background, my ‘pro-choice’ loyalties were once clear. But as on so many other issues, greater learning and personal experience have forced me to reevaluate my position on this one as well. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has seen pictures or ultrasound scans of even 12-week-old fetuses can be quite so categorical that they are not little human beings, rather than just disposable ‘clumps of cells’. This does not invalidate the contemporary feminist call for women to have control over their reproduction and be spared the horrors of backstreet abortions. But it does require some reconciling of the rights of adult women vis-a-vis those of unborn babies. As the pro-life feminist writer Rachel MacNair has written, ‘There should not be a conflict between women and unborn children. The rights of both must be asserted against a society that is cruel to both.’

Unfortunately, while ‘pro-life’ groups and websites do frequently address the issue of women’s rights and interests – albeit from a standpoint that is sometimes a bit too right-wing or religious for my own taste – ‘pro-choice’ writers in liberal publications such as The Guardian remain brutally categorical in their refusal to recognise the humanity of unborn children. Yet there are reasons why hardline ‘pro-choice’ advocacy clashes with genuine liberal and, indeed, feminist values.

To begin with, abortion is a practice that is quite literally used to exterminate large numbers of female human beings, forming a central element in what is known as ‘gendercide’. In China, as many as 9 million abortions, possibly as many as 13 million, are carried out every year. These abortions disproportionately target baby girls. According to the website All Girls Allowed, which campaigns against China’s One Child Policy, there are 120 boys born in China today for every 100 girls. The One Child Policy, combined with the traditional preference for boys over girls, ensures the mass killing of baby girl fetuses through abortion, resulting in a vast gender imbalance in favour of men over women. According to the same source, in 2005 there were 32 million more men than women under 20 in China. Abortion is not the only reason for this imbalance; outright infanticide, too, is practised. Thus, in China’s Liaoning province, a newborn baby girl was discovered this summer in a plastic bag in a rubbish bin – her throat cut, but still alive. Sometimes the border between abortion and infanticide in China is a fine one: ‘In other cases, midwives have been reported to deliver “stillborn” girls by strangling the female infant with the umbilical cord as she is delivered.’

In terms of the legal time-limit for abortion, China is more ‘liberal’ than the UK, and abortions are legally allowed up to twenty-eight weeks after the start of pregnancy – and frequently performed later than this. This is not, it should be said, always on the basis of the ‘woman’s right to choose’ – woman are frequently forced to undergo involuntary late-term abortions, as was the case for Feng Jianmei, who was abducted earlier this year by family planning officials seeking to uphold the One Child Policy. Dragged bodily to a hospital, she was physically restrained while she received an injection to kill her seven-month-old fetus. Feng describes how she was held down while ‘I could feel the baby jumping around inside me, but then she went still’. The baby’s corpse was then left on the bed next to Feng, for her family to dispose of.

India, China’s fellow misogynistic giant, is developing a similar gender imbalance, as girls and women are killed through a combination of sex-selective abortion, infanticide and bride-murder – prompted largely by the expense of providing dowries for daughters, or by the failure of families to pay them. A bride whose family fails to pay her dowry may be tortured or murdered; even burned to death by her in-laws. According to women’s right’s activist Ruchira Gupta, ‘It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India’. One woman, who was punished by her family for giving birth to girls instead of boys, and forced repeatedly to undergo abortions, describes her experience: ‘Kulwant still has vivid memories of the first abortion. “The baby was nearly five months old. She was beautiful. I miss her, and the others we killed,” she says, breaking down, wiping away her tears. Until her son was born, Kulwant’s daily life consisted of beatings and abuse from her husband, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Once, she says, they even attempted to set her on fire. “They were angry. They didn’t want girls in the family. They wanted boys so they could get fat dowries,” she says.’

Every year in India, as many as 11 million abortions are carried out and as many as 20,000 women die every year from complications arising from the procedure. Female fetuses are fed to dogs by doctors. On one recent occasion, children were found playing with a five-month-old female fetus they had found in a rubbish dump and mistaken for a doll. All of which makes very prescient the question once posed, in relation to abortion, by the veteran US suffragist Alice Paul (1885-1977), who had previously played a decisive role in securing the right to vote for American women in 1920: ‘How can one protect and help women by killing them as babies ?’ (quoted in Angela Kennedy, ed., Swimming against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion, Open Air, 1977, p. 23).

In the poorer and more rural parts of India, unwanted children are often dealt with without the restraint of pesky conservative time limits for abortion, through the practice of infanticide after birth. According to one account: ‘Largely it is women—the mothers themselves, midwives, mothers-in-law or paternal grandmothers—who preside over the murders, sometimes with the stoic indifference of pagan goddesses, at other times with the limp desperation of sacrificial victims. They talk about the intolerable shame of not having produced a son or the unbearable future of daughters and they push the rice grain into the baby’s windpipe, or shake it until its neck snaps, or drown it in a bucket of water.’ Liberals in the West would probably lament the tragedy of Indian women being forced to behave in this way, not celebrate their ability to do so as a sign of emancipation. But we would be hypocritical, for our own system for getting rid of unwanted babies is merely more moderate, not fundamentally different, and we have not liberated women from the huge economic and social pressures that lead them to engage in it.

Thus, here in the UK, we have not succeeded in making unwanted pregnancy less terrifying for many women. We have not removed the stigma or shame from unwanted pregnancy. We have not provided enforceable guarantees that women’s careers will not suffer from having children. We certainly have not provided working women with proper childcare provisions. In short, we have not pressed society to adapt to support pregnant women and mothers. Instead, the pressure is on women to stifle their reproductive powers and maternal instincts, and for unborn babies to be stifled altogether, more or less literally – nearly 200,000 abortions are performed in the UK each year. This is spoken of in terms of the ‘women’s right to choose’. It is a moot point just how much ‘choice’ a British woman struggling to support existing children on a limited income, with an unsupportive family and non-existent male partner, really has.

One of the consequences of portraying abortion in terms of a ‘woman’s right to choose’ is that it absolves fathers of any responsibility for unwanted children. Without legalised abortion, an unwanted child is the responsibility of the man who impregnated the woman, as much as of the woman herself. With legalised abortion, the man may feel that it was solely the woman’s ‘choice’ to proceed with the pregnancy, and feel no compulsion to support her motherhood. Or he may feel he is legally entitled to pressurise her into having an abortion. Catherine Spencer has written of her guilt and remorse in allowing pressure from her partner and fear of single motherhood to lead her to seek a termination: ‘I am a woman who had an abortion after intense pressure from my partner. In other words, there was an unborn child – or if that word seems too emotive, too shocking, a potential child – and the parents of that child, or potential child took a decision for it to die… As I write, the “understanding” and the rationalizations are back in place and I once more feel the compassion for myself that I have trained myself to feel. Yet somewhere within, beyond the reach of my rational mind, the sense of horror continues unabated and is apt to resurface.’ (Catherine Spencer, ‘Obstinate Questionings: An Experience of Abortion’, in Kennedy, Swimming against the Tide, pp. 96-97).

There is no straightforward correlation between the legal ‘right’ of women and girls to do things and their emancipation; we need only think of the ‘right’ to marry a man who is already married, or the ‘right’ to marry a much older man while still in one’s early teens – ‘rights’ that are available to women in some non-Western countries. Nor do we necessarily view ‘the right of women to control their own bodies’ as reflecting their emancipation. For example, the ‘right’ to have breast implants; the ‘right’ to starve oneself half to death in order to pursue a career as a model; the ‘right’ to sleep with men in exchange for money. The French porn star Lolo Ferrari controlled her own body by having such huge breast implants that they prevented her from breathing properly, which helped her career but possibly contributed to her death at the age of thirty-seven, as Germaine Greer has written. Generally speaking, the ‘right’ of women to undergo brutal, frequently traumatic and potentially harmful surgical procedures that are medically unnecessary is not seen as indicative of their emancipation.

Abortion is, therefore, something of an anomaly for liberals and feminists. Yet it was not always so: up until about the 1960s, feminist opinion predominantly saw abortion in negative terms, from Britain’s Mary Wollstonecroft and Sylvia Pankhurst to the US’s Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. In the words of the left-wing suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), ‘It is grievous indeed that the social collectivity should feel itself obliged to assist in so ugly an expedient as abortion in order to mitigate its crudest evils. The true mission of society is to provide the conditions, legal, moral, economic and obstetric, which will assure happy and successful motherhood.’

Feminist supporters of female reproductive freedom championed contraception as an alternative to abortion. In the words of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), the founder of Planned Parenthood in the US, ‘While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization… If the laws against imparting knowledge of scientific birth control were repealed, nearly all of the 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 women who undergo abortions in the United States each year would escape the agony of the surgeon’s instruments and the long trail of disease, suffering and death which so often follows… For contraceptive measures are important weapons in the fight against abortion.’ According to Marie Stopes (1880-1958), the British pioneer of contraception, ‘The desolate effects of abortion and attempted abortion can only be exterminated by a sound knowledge of the control of conception. In this my message coincides with that of all the Churches in condemning utterly the taking of even an embryonic life.’ (Marie Carmichael Stopes, Wise Parenthood: The treatise on birth control for married people – a practical sequel to Married Love, 8th ed., Putnam, London, 1922, p. 10). It is ironic that both Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International are today major providers of abortion.

As indicated above, sex-selective abortions in India and China are used overwhelmingly to kill baby girls. Yet even in these brutally anti-woman, pro-abortion societies, sex-selective abortions are formally illegal. In the UK, which does not suffer such a gender imbalance, they are similarly not permitted. Somehow, the callousness with which Western liberal opinion treats unborn life does not quite extend to supporting the right to abort a baby just because it is a girl and the parents wanted a boy, though if one really believes that a fetus is just a clump of cells and that all that matters is the mother’s right to choose, it is unclear why not.

Yet if we do not deliberately target girls for extermination through abortion, there is another underprivileged group we most certainly do target: the disabled. Here in the UK, the overwhelming majority of unborn babies screened as having Down’s syndrome, spina bifida or cerebral palsy are aborted. British law discriminates against unborn disabled babies, whose lives can be legally terminated beyond the normal 24-week limit and all the way up to birth – even if their ‘abnormality’ is very minor. A decade ago, the Reverend Joanna Jepson, a woman born with a deformed jaw and whose brother has Down’s syndrome, sought justice for a 28-week-old fetus who was aborted because it had a cleft palate; a baby that could have been born, grown up, gone to university and had a career and a sex life, instead had its life ended, because it had a minor deformity that could have been easily corrected by surgery. In Jepson’s words: ‘This law needs to be tightened, it isn’t right that babies lose their lives for trivial reasons.’ Yet instead of improving our society to give due respect and freedom for disabled people, we usually kill them before they are born. This is the same Britain that indulged in an orgy of self-satisfaction this summer over our Paralympic Games.

Image: Mandeville probably would not have survived his mother’s pregnancy in the UK.

In sum, abortion is a tragic symptom of society’s failure to support mothers, babies, the disabled and the poor. Criminalisation is not the answer; as a general rule, women who seek abortions should not be judged, let alone put in a position where they feel compelled to break the law. A gradual solution may perhaps be sought through better education about sex, reproduction and ethics, and social improvements for pregnant women and mothers. But this will not happen so long as liberal opinion views abortion as reflecting women’s emancipation, rather than the incompleteness of their emancipation.

Monday, 22 October 2012 Posted by | Abortion, India, Marko Attila Hoare, Misogyny, Political correctness, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Britain’s mistreatment of immigrants plays into al-Qaeda’s hands

This is a guest post by Nadja Stamselberg

For the past eight months I have taught English as a second language to teenagers coming form Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Iranian Kurdistan. Out of the ten pupils, three were girls and seven were boys. Aged between sixteen and nineteen, all but one were here without their families. Two boys from Afghanistan and a boy from Pakistan are orphans, whilst another three Afghan boys and an Ethiopian girl don’t know where their parents are or whether they are still alive.  Most of them have been trafficked to England. Put on a lorry by a relative who couldn’t afford to look after them, they were sent off to a better future. They survived weeks of inhumane conditions, cramped at the back of airless containers, their limbs numb, their hearts brought to a standstill each time a lorry slowed down or stopped. Some of them even saw their friends and fellow passengers die of exhaustion and dehydration.  Nevertheless, when talking about their perilous journey, their faces light up as if they are remembering a great adventure. Perhaps it is a privilege of youth to gloss over most the horrendous experiences and refer to them with nostalgia, or perhaps a mean of survival. One of the boys often talked about Rome, a city he spent a week in whilst the local mafia negotiated with the traffickers before letting them continue their journey. The city made quite an impression on him. It was the first sight of Europe that he saw. The ancient squares and churches were as beautiful, if not even more so, than the ones in his hometown of Herat in Afghanistan. More importantly he was able to experience a place he read and learnt about in school in Iran. Growing up in a refugee camp outside Tehran, he would often imagine these faraway places, and now he was in one of them.

Once in the United Kingdom they applied for asylum and were housed either with foster families, or were put in shared accommodation with other adolescents from similar backgrounds. Each one was assigned a social worker to help them to adjust to their new life. They were also enrolled at a college where they would study English, basic numeracy and IT. With few exceptions, most of them had never been to school. Growing up in war-torn countries robbed them not only of their childhoods and their parents, but of their education as well. Nevertheless, most of them could read and write in their own languages, with a number of them being multilingual, able to speak several languages and dialects. Literacy, however limited, was courtesy of the madrasas. Religion in fact has been the only stable, positive factor in their lives. It provided them with discipline; purpose and most importantly hope that better times were to come. Many of them battle depression and have anger issues and difficulties coping with their new lives. The Afghan boy, whose trafficking experiences took him on an unwilling yet fascinating journey across Europe, broke down in one of the tutorial classes. Only sixteen at the time, he felt that his life was not worth living. He was alone, his parents were killed by the Taliban upon their return from exile in Iran; an only child, he had no one to lean on. Coming from a Hazara background, most of his family has been killed and displaced. The only living relative, his aunt’s husband who paid for his journey to England, was never heard of again. He would often miss college to go to the Refugee Council. A French lady who worked there became like a surrogate mother for him. He spoke of her with so much tenderness, always mentioning that she said that he was like a son to her. Humane contact and genuine emotions are what these children crave the most.

The ones who have successfully been placed with the foster families often thrive. However, as soon as they turn eighteen they are no longer allowed to stay with the families, nor in the shared accommodation. Upon reaching legal adulthood they, often with as little as fifteen minutes notice, have to move. We had cases where the key worker would call the college and ask for the student to be sent home to move as a cab was coming to his place to pick up his stuff. If they did not make it in time, their things would be packed by the key worker and sent to the new address. They were promised that their relocation to hostels and B&Bs was temporary until they were allocated a more permanent abode. Very often they would spend months living in minimally furnished rooms, sometimes not even having bed sheets. Robberies were regular occurrences, their rooms broken into and their few precious possessions stolen. 

Unfortunately, these are not the only insecurities they face. Their long-term stay and settlement in the United Kingdom is questionable, with their right to remain reconsidered once they turn eighteen. In fact, for the duration of their stay in the United Kingdom they face uncertainty and the possibility of being sent back to their country of origin. Since quite a few countries are now seen as ‘safe enough’, a number of the adolescent asylum seekers will most certainly face deportation.  Having to deal with these issues manifests in different ways. Some of them resolve to self-harm, some get in trouble with the law, others grin and bear it making the most of their lives here. Sadly, they are often expected to transgress. The overworked and jaded social workers tend to have little sympathy for their plights. At a parents’ meeting, I had one student’s social worker refer to him as a ‘little sod’ who keeps getting into trouble with the law.  Upon inquiring further I was told that he was booked for dodging the bus fare and for sitting in the driver’s seat of a car without having a licence. Furthermore, their life stories are not believed. The Home Office regards most of their asylum applications as fabrications designed to fool the British system. Their dates of births are also often dismissed as fakes and many are given new ones, the most popular being 1st of January.

At the same parent’s meeting, another social worker told me that I should be careful with believing everything the students tell me as they come form a culture, in this particular case form South Asia, where it is a norm to tell people what they want to hear instead of the truth. He was trying to show understanding for my naiveté, but stressed that I will soon realise myself that this student’s story was questionable, constructed for the benefit of staying in this country. The story that his parents were killed by his uncle in a dispute over land was questionable. His subsequent crime of beating the same uncle to death by a wooden stick whilst sleeping could not be confirmed and the account of both him and his brother spending two years moving from one place to the other all over Pakistan running from relatives was unsubstantiated. Furthermore, he was illegally in this country for two years before applying for asylum. Having turned eighteen, the Home Office is due to reconsider his case. Aware of this, he was filled with terror by the prospect of being sent back to Pakistan. Ever since he was twelve years old he has been on the run. He had a deep hatred and fear of the country where he found no protection from the law and saw no justice served. He was so grateful to be able, for the first time in his life, to go to school and have some semblance of a normal life, and was looking forward to making his life here.

My initial reaction when he told me that if he gets sent back home he will join al Qaeda was to dismiss it as another provocative remark. Looking for a reaction, some of the students would talk about al Qaeda, Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, boasting about their support for their cause and playing up to the stereotypes imposed on them by society. However, I was soon to realise that his statement was not a childish attempt at attention seeking, but an option he was seriously considering. His motifs were neither a religious fervour nor a dislike of the West and its values. On the contrary, they were a frantic plea for some structure, direction and security, whatever that might be. Feeling let down by his own family, country and eventually by the United Kingdom, which had supposed to provide him with a safe haven and another shot at the normal life and education he so desperately craved, he would be a perfect target for recruiting. Preying at disillusioned youth with no jobs and no hope, al Qaeda offers to fill the vacuum left by poverty, lack of education and displaced and destroyed family units. Youth, inexperience and feelings of hopelessness make al Qaeda’s newfound followers susceptible to all sorts of anti-Western sentiments disguised as ‘anti-imperialist’ ones.

Back in the United Kingdom, Islamophobia (systematically promoted by some sections of the political elite and the media); poor treatment of the immigrants; and attempts to manage community diversity to suit certain economic interests best, all deepen divisions within the popular classes, creating more resentment toward the young asylum seekers. Consequently, some of the students are faced with bigoted comments and insults. Many of them also complain about their treatment by the Home Office officials. All of this in turn provides a valuable service to reactionary political Islam, giving credibility to its anti-Western discourse. This makes it possible to lure and draft the deported asylum seekers. Despite everything, most of them love living in the United Kingdom and are very grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it offers. Casualties of the wars we waged on their behalf, our broken promises and their own societies’ inability to provide them with protection and a future, these vulnerable young people need our help.  Instead of treating them as parasites on our economy and a threat to our society and values, the Home Office should recognise these young persons’ strengths and potential. Giving them an opportunity; a much-deserved chance to rebuild their shattered lives; we will not only gain valuable members of our society, who will enrich and contribute to it, but also deprive various terrorist organisations both of their mission and of many of their potential followers.

Nadja Stamselberg has recently finished a PhD in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She wrote her thesis on practices of exclusion and European identity. She is currently working on a book, which traces the historical precursors of exclusion in Europe, connecting it to the subsequent concepts of hospitality and cosmopolitanism.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Immigration, India, Iran, Islam, Kurds, London, Middle East, Pakistan, Racism | 1 Comment

Left-wing unity with thugs and rapists

I recently posted about the shameful reaction of a number of Western left-wingers to events at Nandigram in West Bengal, in which villagers attempting to resist being evicted from their land to make way for a foreign-owned petrochemical plant were attacked, raped and murdered by the paramilitary thugs of the Communist government of West Bengal. The Western left-wingers, who include Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and Victoria Brittain, wrote an open letter to Indian critics of the Communist regime, warning them against trying to ‘split the Left’, imploring them to restore unity with the regime in the higher interest of opposing the US, and expressing their satisfaction with the Communist regime’s supposed readiness to curb its abuses: ‘This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.’

The anger and disgust that this open letter provoked among Indian leftists has spurred Chomsky, Ali and some of its other signatories to respond with a second open letter, attempting to justify the first one. They write:

‘We are taken aback by a widespread reaction to a statement we made with the best of intentions, imploring a restoration of unity among the left forces in India –a reaction that seems to assume that such an appeal to overcome divisions among the left could only amount to supporting a very specific section of the CPM [Communist Party of India - Marxist] in West Bengal. Our statement did not lend support to the CPM’s actions in Nandigram or its recent economic policies in West Bengal, nor was that our intention. On the contrary, we asserted, in solidarity with its Left critics both inside and outside the party, that we found them tragically wrong. Our hope was that Left critics would view their task as one of putting pressure on the CPM in West Bengal to correct and improve its policies and its habits of governance, rather than dismiss it wholesale as an unredeemable party. ‘

Chomsky, Ali, Brittain and co. are, in other words, again asking Indian left-wing critics of the Communist regime in West Bengal for a ‘restoration of unity’ with a regime that has murdered and raped villagers attempting to resist its brutal policies. They do not view the murders and rapes in question as ‘criminal’ or as ‘brutal’, but merely as ‘tragically wrong’ - the sort of term one might use in reference to something that happens in a Shakespeare play, such as Juliet’s faking of her own death or Hamlet’s failure to kill Claudius when he first had the chance. They present the task of Indian leftists not as overthrowing the government responsible for the crimes or as bringing the murderers to justice, but merely as ‘putting pressure on the CPM in West Bengal to correct and improve its policies and its habits of governance.’

They go on:

‘We realize now that it is perhaps not possible to expect the Left critics of the CPM to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it, unless the CPM itself takes some initiative against that sense of disappointment. We hope that the CPM in West Bengal will show the largeness of mind to take such an initiative by restoring the morale as well as the welfare of the dispossessed people of Nandigram through the humane governance of their region, so that the left forces can then unite and focus on the more fundamental issues that confront the Left as a whole, in particular focus on the task of providing with just and imaginative measures an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism that has caused so much suffering to the poor and working people in India.’

The goal, therefore, is for the CPM to remain in power in West Bengal and engage in the ‘humane governance of the region’ and for its critics ‘to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it’. The goal is not, of course, to show solidarity to the ordinary people resisting the regime and its policies and fighting to defend their livelihoods; nor is it to encourage Indian leftists in their campaign against the regime’s abuses. Indeed, this campaign is dismissed as being less important than the ‘more fundamental issues that confront the Left as a whole’.

It seems to me ‘tragically wrong’ that, nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, left-wingers of the Chomsky-Ali variety should be unable to envisage a left-wing agenda as involving anything other than keeping brutal Communist regimes in power. It also seems to me ‘tragically wrong’ that a more honourable left-winger such as Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber should feel the need to leap to Chomsky’s and Ali’s defence by claiming ‘that Chomsky, Ali et al have now, in response to reactions to their first intervention, issued a second statement which is much more clearly critical of the CPM’. The second open letter discussed above can only be described as ‘much more clearly critical of the CPM’ by someone wearing the most deeply rose-tinted of spectacles. I respect Chris, but I am disappointed he should still feel the need to flog the dead horse of a unifed, ‘progressive’ left that encompasses defenders of brutal regimes.

Hat tip: Chris Bertram, TheIrie.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007 Posted by | India, Political correctness, The Left | Leave a comment

Western leftists attempt to silence left-wing critics of Communist atrocities in India

The Communists who run the Indian state of West Bengal are implementing a brutal Chinese-style development policy that favours the interests of big business over local people. They are attempting to turn over paddy fields at the village of Nandigram to a special economic zone for an Indonesian-owned petrochemical complex. Local protests have been met with violence; last month, Communist thugs raided Nandigram, murdered six people, raped local women and demolished homes. It is a case of state-sanctioned looting and rape by criminal militias. When Indian writers and artists demonstrated at Kolkata in protest, they were attacked by police.

West Bengal is today the site of a genuine, mass popular protest, backed by left-wing opinion throughout India, against a regime that is promoting the most brutal form of capitalism. So it is entirely natural and in keeping with their tradition that left-wing celebrities in the West, including Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and Howard Zinn, should sign an open letter of protest – directed not at the West Bengal authorities, but at the left-wing Indians who are publicising their crimes. The open letter warns the Indian leftists against splitting the left at a time when the US is threatening war against Iran:

‘News travels to us that events in West Bengal have overtaken the optimism that some of us have experienced during trips to the state. We are concerned about the rancour that has divided the public space, created what appear to be unbridgeable gaps between people who share similar values. It is this that distresses us. We hear from people on both sides of this chasm, and we are trying to make some sense of the events and the dynamics. Obviously, our distance prevents us from saying anything definitive.

We continue to trust that the people of Bengal will not allow their differences on some issues to tear apart the important experiments undertaken in the State (land reforms, local self-government).

We send our fullest solidarity to the peasants who have been forcibly dispossessed. We understand that the government has promised not to build a chemical hub in the area around Nandigram. We understand that those who had been dispossessed by the violence are now being allowed back to their homes, without recrimination. We understand that there is now talk of reconciliation. This is what we favour.

The balance of forces in the world is such that it would be impetuous to split the Left. We are faced with a world power that has demolished one state (Iraq) and is now threatening another (Iran). This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.’

Indian leftists have expressed their anger at this betrayal by supposed comrades in the West. Veteran Indian Trotskyist Kunal Chattopadhyay writes, in an open letter to Tariq Ali, ‘I read, and re-read, with a growing sense of wonder, shame and above all anger, the statement that some of you have signed.’ He then goes on to tear the Ali-Chomsky open letter to shreds, for its apologising for a brutal regime, its dismissal of the popular protests as ‘rancour’, its readiness to accept the Communists’ phoney assurances that grievances were being addressed and its talk of ‘reconciliation’. It would not do justice to Chattopadhyay’s damning letter to summarise it; I strongly recommend reading the original.

Chattopadhyay should not be surprised at this betrayal. When it is a question of showing solidarity with ordinary people defending their homes and livelihoods, or showing solidarity with a Communist or Socialist regime, no matter how brutal or murderous, a certain type of Western leftist will always show solidarity with the Communist regime. Time and again, this led leftists of this kind to minimise or apologise for the crimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Milosevic. They will never change.

Genuinely progressive politics are defined in opposition to leftists of this kind, and in opposition to all apologists for oppression and injustice.

Friday, 7 December 2007 Posted by | India, The Left | Leave a comment

   

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