Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman formerly called Nathan Upton, is believed to havecommitted suicide earlier this month, following a media witch-hunt. In December, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn published an attack on her that aimed to hound her out of her job as a primary school teacher. He claimed that having a woman teacher they had formerly known as a man would have a ‘devastating effect’ on Meadows’s pupils; apparently, she was trying to ‘project his personal problems on to impressionable young children’, while Meadows’s school, which supported her, was seeking to ‘elevate its “commitment to diversity and equality” above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.’ Littlejohn concluded that if Meadows ‘cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job’. The ensuing media frenzy involved personal pictures of Meadows being published in the national press, and paparazzi camping outside her home, forcing her to leave for work early and return late to avoid them. She complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the Littlejohn piece, but ultimately found the harassment unbearable.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
The Sunday before last, Britain’s leading liberal Sunday paper, The Observer, published an article by professional troll (‘columnist’) Julie Burchill, consisting of anti-transsexual hate-speech (‘a bunch of dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’; ‘a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look’; ‘But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do.’; ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’; ‘Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you.’; etc.)
A barrage of complaints ensued from readers, not all of them trans. Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the British government, tweeted that Burchill should be sacked. The Observer removed the article from its website, with the editor, John Mulholland, apologising for ‘the hurt and offence caused’. Burchill’s ‘censored’ article was then republished by Toby Young, a columnist for the conservative Daily Telegraph. The readers’ editor of The Observer then published a fuller statement, which again stressed the ‘offence’ caused by the article. A counter-barrage then ensued from right-wing and libertarian elements in the commentariat, who claimed that the removal of Burchill’s article from The Observer‘s website proved that Britain is a totalitarian state on the model of the Soviet Union, with its very own Thought Police to persecute the Politically Incorrect.
Vile, bigoted and hateful as Burchill’s article was, it was actually the least shocking element in this whole sorry story, which reveals the full extent of the moral degeneration of the British chattering classes. Much more shocking was the fact that one of our leading liberal newspapers would publish hate-speech directed against a vulnerable and widely persecuted minority. Not only did The Observer commission Burchill to write the piece in the full knowledge of what she was likely to say, it allegedly encouraged her to make the article more extreme and offensive than she might otherwise have done, in order to provoke a greater storm and increase its own viewing figures.
Perhaps still more shocking was the fact that many supposed liberals who should know better, seemed to be less concerned that The Observer had done this, than that the article was removed, since this was supposedly a grave violation of ‘freedom of speech’; moreover, of the ‘right to offend’. The real villain of the piece, some of them felt, was Featherstone, on the grounds that a government minister calling for a columnist to be sacked was a step towards Britain becoming North Korea.
This being so, it’s time to deal with a few of the straw men that the right-wing-libertarian commentariat-mafia has thrown up:
1) Burchill’s column was not ‘offensive’; it was hate speech. The principal problem was not that it ’caused offence’ to transsexual people (though this factor should not be dismissed as unimportant) but that an article of this kind, appearing where it did, served to legitimise and encourage persecution and harassment of transsexual people, thereby hurting much more than their feelings. For if our leading Sunday newspaper considers it acceptable to speak of trans people as ‘dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’ or ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’, readers may draw the conclusion that this is a minority which it is right to ridicule and despise. And that when, for example, members of this minority are harassed in the streets by transphobic thugs, it is legitimate for bystanders to stand back and do nothing or even cheer on the attackers.
2) Repackaging hate speech as something that is ‘offensive’ is deliberately to prettify and sanitise it. The word ‘offensive’ has positive connotations; it makes one think of young people in the 60s growing their hair long and listening to rock and roll; or lesbian kissing on prime-time television; or sex scenes graphic enough to upset Mary Whitehouse; or punk haircuts and the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’; or anything that might once have affronted the conservative mainstream.
Now that liberal values have conquered the mainstream, right-wing columnists would like to present themselves as mere iconoclasts challenging prudish liberal conformity. Whereas what they are really trying to do is to turn the clocks back to an era where it was acceptable to call black people ‘gollywogs’ and gay people ‘poofs’ and sexually emancipated women ‘tarts’. They would like to rehabilitate discourse that disempowers women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, gay people, transsexual people, and so on. If they succeed in making it acceptable once more to employ bigoted language against such categories of people in the mainstream press – the liberal press, no less – it will become acceptable once more to persecute them. Decades of legislation against discrimination and harassment in the workplace and public sphere will be undermined.
3) The ‘freedom of speech’ argument in defence of Burchill is a red herring. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has suggested that the state should take action to censor her or prevent her from writing or publishing wherever she is able. Protesters were, rather, urging that The Observer should not be hosting such articles. It should not need spelling out that in a democracy, in which people enjoy freedom of speech, they have the right to urge newspapers or other media outlets not to publish or host material that they consider inappropriate; and that the media outlets in question have the right not to publish or host material that they do not wish to publish or host. What the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ seem to be arguing is that an independent newspaper like The Observer has no business removing an article from its website, and that its readers have no business urging it to do so. They are, in other words, a bunch of hypocrites.
4) Britain is not a totalitarian state or a state in which government ministers have the power to have journalists or columnists sacked from newspapers. Since Featherstone had no power to threaten The Observer or bring about Burchill’s dismissal (Burchill is, incidentally, a freelance writer rather than a sackable Observer employee), her call for Burchill to be sacked cannot be interpreted as an attempt to control the media, but was simply her expression of her personal opinion, which she has the right to give, since we live in a democracy in which even elected politicians enjoy freedom of speech. Again, the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ are not as unequivocal in their defence of this right as they would like to pretend.
5) There is, probably, no group of people in the world who enjoy greater freedom of speech than British professional columnists of the Burchill variety, who are actually paid to write what they like and guaranteed vast audiences, irrespective of how little research and effort they put in (usually very little). The idea that members of this – in freedom-of-speech terms – ultra-privileged minority is in any way restricted in their freedom of speech is a joke. Their whining, on this score, is like the claims of persecution and exploitation made by members of the Republican mega-rich in the US at suggestions that they pay a higher rate of tax. Newspapers like columnists who ’cause offense’ because they create controversy, draw attention to the newspapers and sell more copies. Therefore, columnists boost their own market value by ‘causing offence’. Their talk of ‘freedom of speech’ in this case is simply a fig-leaf masking their defence of privilege and vested interests.
6) In mounting their assault on liberal values under the cover of defending ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘right to offend’, the right-wing and libertarian commentariat is not so much seeking to restore traditional conservative values – which are largely dead, and in which they themselves do not particularly believe – but to promote a valueless society, in which every opinion is as valid as any other. They want a society in which well-off people pay as little tax as possible and are free to pursue self-enrichment and self-gratification with the fewest possible restraints, unfettered by any responsibilities or obligations to the wider society. For them, ‘freedom of speech’ is not so much about people being allowed to say what they think, but more about the entertainment provided by ‘offensive’ columnists and their own right to be so entertained. Public discourse is just a game to them.
Readers of this blog will be disappointed if I don’t somehow bring this issue back to the former Yugoslavia. So I’ll note that among the pioneers of this model of cynical and offensive commentary as entertainment masking an assault on liberal values was the magazine Living Marxism, which during the Bosnian genocide supported the Serb perpetrators, whose atrocities, it claimed, were fabricated by the Western media. Living Marxism and other such publications and individuals helped to make genocide denial acceptable in the mainstream media, and helped to ensure that the West would not intervene to halt the Bosnian genocide. Living Marxism was forced to close in 2000 after it was bankrupted in a libel case brought by the British media company ITN, over its accusation that the latter had deliberately deceived viewers in its coverage of the Serb concentration-camp Trnopolje, which Living Marxism claimed was not a camp at all, but a ‘detention centre’.
Among Living Marxism‘s supporters at that time was a certain Toby Young – today, the republisher of Burchill’s anti-transsexual rant. After being forced to close, Living Marxism re-emerged as ‘Spiked Online’, a website whose hallmark is to denigrate every liberal value as a reflection of racism or elitism (e.g. opposition to the far-right English Defence League is merely an expression of liberal-elitist hatred of the working-class; opposition to Japanese whale-hunting is an expression of Western anti-yellow racism; and so on). Spiked Online has also republished Burchill’s article, retitled as ‘Hey trannies, cut it out – Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough ?’ Burchill herself supported the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO at the time of the 1999 Kosovo War (‘gorgeous, integrated, independent Yugoslavia’), in an article sprinkled with racist comments about Germans and Croats (‘scratch a Croat, find a Kraut’). She threw in a defence of Fidel Castro’s Cuba against ‘Uncle Sam’ for good measure.
From support for murderous regimes and genocide denial to anti-transsexual hate-speech; the progression is a natural one. I really don’t give a damn about the ‘right to offend’ of this pampered, privileged, malicious clique of paid loudmouths. Just as, thanks to people like them, ‘anti-imperialism’ became the defence of fascists and ethnic-cleansers, so they are turning ‘freedom of speech’ into the legitimisation of bigotry, hate-speech and abuse.
Stuff freedom of speech. As far as I’m concerned, the Politically Correct Thought Police can arrest a few of them and toss them in a gulag for a few years; it will give them something real to write and complain about for a change.
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.
The Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik appears very interested in the Balkans. A lot of space in his ponderous 1,518-page ‘manifesto’ is devoted to discussing Balkan themes. This is not limited merely to praising Radovan Karadzic (‘for his efforts to rid Serbia of Islam he will always be remembered as an honourable Crusader and a European war hero’), supporting the past Serb ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Albanians, condemning Kosovo’s independence and demanding that all Bosniaks and Muslim Albanians be deported from Europe (while the Muslim Turkish populations of Cyprus and western Anatolia are to be deported to central Anatolia). It involves also lengthy ruminations on hundreds of years of Ottoman and Turkish history, in which Breivik demonises all aspects of the Ottoman heritage.
Some commentators have argued that this psychopathic mass-murderer represents such an exceptional case that his actual beliefs are irrelevant to understanding his actions. According to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, ‘The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics.’ As a rule, Jenkins is absolutely wrong about everything, and this is no exception. Breivik represents the exemplar of an extremely dangerous trend in Western and European politics, and his interest in the Balkans – or rather, in his own mythologised narrative of Balkan history – flows naturally from this.
Breivik’s actions are exceptional, but his views are not. His views on Islam and on immigration are in some important respects typical of the right-wing Islamophobic current, some of whose prominent members and groups he cites or sympathises with in his manifesto: Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Srdja Trifkovic, Mark Steyn, the English Defence League (EDL) and others. He sees immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, coupled with liberal multiculturalism and political correctness, as a mortal threat to European or Western society. Such views are often justified by their holders as being ‘pro-Western’, whereby ‘the West’ is counterposed to ‘Islam’, as if the two were binary opposites. In reality, the very opposite is true: modern European civilisation was built upon foundations that were Islamic as well as Christian, Jewish, pagan and others. The Enlightenment gave rise to a Europe in which the sectarian religious animosities that characterised the pre-Enlightenment age could be transcended; modern Western liberal and secular values are founded upon the principle of religious toleration.
Far from being ‘pro-Western’; our contemporary right-wing Islamophobes, in seeking to rekindle the religious divide between Christians and Muslims that characterised pre-Enlightenment Europe, reject Western values in favour of pre-Western values. During their successful Vienna War of 1683-1699 against the Ottoman Empire, Austrian Habsburg forces slaughtered, plundered, expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity the Muslim population of the Hungarian and Croatian territories they reconquered, which were forcibly de-Islamised; the Austrians burned the Ottoman Bosnian city of Sarajevo to the ground. The subsequent Ottoman Bosnian victory over Habsburg forces in the Battle of Banja Luka of 1737 saved the Bosnian Muslims from their destruction as a people that an Austrian conquest of Bosnia would have involved. Yet when the Austrian Habsburgs did finally succeed in occupying Sarajevo and Bosnia in 1878, they protected the Muslim population and respected the Islamic religion. Europe, in the interval, had experienced the Enlightenment. It is the pre-Enlightenment Europe to which today’s right-wing Islamophobes look back nostalgically; something symbolised in the name of the anti-Islamic hate-blog, ‘Gates of Vienna’, named after the Ottoman siege of Vienna of 1683 and cited approvingly by Breivik. Hence Breivik’s own obsessive demonising of the Ottoman ‘other’ and its history, all the way back to the Middle Ages.
The right-wing Islamophobes are the mirror-image of the Islamists they claim to oppose. Nineteenth-century opponents of liberal secular values frequently became anti-Semites, seeing the Jews, as they did, as the beneficiaries of these values, to which the Jews owed their emancipation. Today’s Muslim opponents of the Enlightenment have inherited Christian anti-Semitism, whereas the Christian reactionaries have transferred their animosity to a different – Muslim – minority. Apologists blame individuals like Breivik and groups like the EDL and British National Party (BNP) on supposedly ‘objective’ problems of aggressive Islam and immigration that mainstream politicians are supposedly failing to tackle. Just as apologists for Islamism blame it on supposed ‘root causes’ to be found in US imperialism or the behaviour of Israel. Just as earlier apologists for anti-Semitism blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews. The Islamophobes point to Muslim support for Islamic extremism as their anti-Semitic predecessors once pointed to Jewish support for communism. As their Islamist counterparts point to Jewish support for Zionism. And so on.
Such chauvinistic ideologies are not caused by the minority or foreign groups that they target. Undeniably, popular anti-Semitism before World War II tended to be strongest in countries with large, visible Jewish populations, like Poland and Romania, just as popular Islamophobia today is often strongest in West European cities that have experienced large-scale Muslim immigration, but this does not mean that the victims of the bigotry are to blame. Muslim immigration does not automatically give rise to Islamophobia, any more than Zionism automatically gives rise to Muslim anti-Semitism, or ‘US imperialism’ gives rise to Islamist terrorism. Right-wing Islamophobia, Islamism, anti-immigrant racism and modern anti-Semitism are all, in their different ways, expressions of a more general reaction against, and rejection of, modernity and what it implies.
Interestingly, Breivik, who apparently never had a proper girlfriend and lived with his mother until he was thirty, shares Islamism’s extreme misogyny and gender insecurity. His manifesto rails against the ‘feminisation of European culture’ and the supposed emasculation of the contemporary European male, complaining that Muslim immigrants are systematically raping white European women, but that ‘As a Western man, I would be tempted to say that Western women have to some extent brought this upon themselves. They have been waging an ideological, psychological and economic war against European men for several generations now, believing that this would make you “free”… Western women have been subjected to systematic Marxist indoctrination meant to turn you into a weapon of mass destruction against your own civilisation, a strategy that has been remarkably successful.’ But of course, not all Islamophobes are straightforwardly conservative; some oppose Muslims and Islam on the grounds that the latter are sexist and homophobic. Such syntheses of liberalism and illiberalism are nothing new; European fascism and its sympathisers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s had their liberal roots and tendencies too, however paradoxical that might sound (readers are recommended to read Julian Jackson’s excellent France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, that describes the synthesis of liberal, conservative Catholic and radical right-wing currents that found expression in the 1940s Vichy regime in France).
What our contemporary Islamophobes share – conservatives and ‘liberals’ alike – is conformism, xenophobia, fear of change, hostility to diversity, paranoia about minorities and a longing for the order and certainties of a lost, idealised ‘golden age’ that, in some cases, may not even be very long ago. In the Nordic countries, home of the Jante Law, where an apparently model liberalism frequently masks extreme conformism and insularity, where foreign guests and immigrants usually find it very difficult to fit in (in a way that they don’t in London or New York, for example), and where virulent anti-immigration parties such as the Danish People’s Party and Sweden Democrats have enjoyed success at the polls, this takes its own particular form. Far from needing to be shielded from greater diversity, my feeling is that the Nordic world would benefit from more of it; that even if Norway has no pressing economic reason to join the EU, immersion and participation in the common European project would benefit it culturally and spiritually. But for all that, the sickness that created Breivik is a European and global sickness, not just a Nordic sickness.
This brings us back to the Balkans, a region that resembles the Nordic world in the extent of its often stultifying insularity. For all that Serbia appeared to pursue its own sonderweg during the late 1980s and 1990s, at another level, the Serbian nationalist right and anti-democratic left were exemplars and pioneers of what became an all-European anti-immigrant and Islamophobic trend. Serbian nationalist and Communist hardliners railed against the restrictions supposedly placed on Serbia by membership of a multinational community – the Yugoslav federation. They railed against high Muslim and Albanian birth-rates that were resulting in the Serbs being ‘out-bred’, while lamenting the lower birth-rate among Serbs as symptomatic of national decline. They railed against the supposed mass immigration of ethnic Albanians from Albania into Kosovo; against the supposed Kosovo Albanian cultural ‘otherness’ and refusal to assimilate; against Kosovo Albanians allegedly raping Serb women while the authorities stood idly by. They lamented the supposed corruption and decline of their national culture while indulging in medievalist escapism. All these themes have now been taken up by nationalists in other European countries. For example, in Breivik’s words, ‘The Muslims in Bosnian Serbia; the so called Bosniaks and Albanians had waged deliberate demographic warfare (indirect genocide) against Serbs for decades. This type of warfare is one of the most destructive forms of Jihad and is quite similar to what we are experiencing now in Western Europe.’
Andrew Gilligan, writing in the Telegraph, has claimed that the danger posed by far-right (i.e. white, Christian) terrorists like Breivik is simply not on the same order of magnitude as that posed by al-Qaeda: ‘Over the last 10 years, nationalist terrorists, even counting Breivik, have killed about 200 Westerners; al-Qaeda has killed about 4,000… The white Right should not be ignored by the security authorities – but it would be dangerous to divert our attention from the real threat.’ But this is wrong: tens of thousands of Muslims were killed by white Christians in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya in the 1990s. Breivik has praised the killers, both Radovan Karadzic and Vladimir Putin; the numbers of their victims in Europe dwarf those of al Qaeda.
The danger is that Breivik is the harbinger of a trend. Extremism and chauvinism among the majority will always ultimately be more dangerous than extremism and chauvinism among minorities. Right-wing populists such as Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen may not themselves incite violence, and cannot be equated with a killer like Breivik. But the climate of intolerance they are promoting threatens to give rise to many more Breiviks. The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A rather incoherent and highly abusive personal attack against me has been posted by Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’) on Harry’s Place. Lloyd claims – without providing any evidence and solely on the basis of conjecture – that my issues with him and with Harry’s Place amount to a personal vendetta. This is not true. I hope anyone reading the post below will understand the real issues involved.
A great struggle is brewing all over Europe and beyond. On the one side stands the liberal order and its defenders, representing the values of secularism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, pluralism and respect for human rights. On the other stands the forces of reaction, which itself is composed of two rival but essentially similar wings. Extremist Muslims (an unrepresentative minority among the Muslim communities of the democratic West) and certain fellow travellers on the extreme Left represent one wing of the anti-liberal reaction, and assault the liberal order under the banner of anti-Semitism (or ‘anti-Zionism’), anti-Westernism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism.
But it is the other wing that is the Western liberal order’s more dangerous enemy – if only because non-Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims, so there is a much larger constituency for this current of reaction to draw from. This current represents the white nativist reaction against the liberal order: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-EU, often anti-secular, but above all extremely nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the Western liberal world.
The new far-right is populist; it employs the language of the gutter and upholds the morality of the mob. Anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant prejudice are merely the means by which it seeks to attack the liberal order, but the real target is the liberal order itself. Borrowing from the lexicon of the radical left, it speaks in the name of the ‘people’ and the ‘working class’ – or more revealingly, of the ‘white working class’, whose values it claims to be defending from a decadent liberal elite. It presents anti-racism, religious tolerance and political correctness as elitist values, against which it asserts its own form of moral relativism: it champions racism and Islamophobia among the native white majority – sometimes termed euphemistically the ‘white working class’ – as expressions of a healthy aversion to liberal elites that allegedly are soft on Muslims and allegedly favour immigrants over natives. It repackages the far-right parties’ vulgar, racist voters as noble rebels against multiculturalism.
Into this equation we now bring the Eustonite or ‘Decent’ Left. This political current of leftists and liberals arose in opposition to the left-liberal mainstream’s betrayal of liberal values – a betrayal manifested variously in apologias for Islamist terrorism, sympathy for dictators and ethnic-cleansers and flirtation with anti-Semitism. There is a superficial confluence between the Decent Left and the new far right, in that both arose as critiques of the Western liberal mainstream. But these two critiques are opposites, for whereas the Decent Left criticises the liberal mainstream because it doesn’t uphold liberal values properly, the new far right attacks the liberal mainstream because it does uphold liberal values. The Decent Left wants a better, tougher liberalism; the new far right opposes liberalism altogether.
Nevertheless, the blog Harry’s Place provides a forum that brings the two currents of opposition to the left-liberal mainstream together. Harry’s Place bloggers are Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left-wingers, and focus in particular on exposing and opposing radical Islam and human rights abuses in the Islamic world (and elsewhere), and their Western left-wing apologists. However, the comments boxes of this blog attract members of both groups opposing the liberal mainstream: the Decent Left and the new far right. And although the two groups are in principle antithetical, there is a very real danger that this will be forgotten and that a synthesis will be formed, in which case Harry’s Place will have acted as incubator for a monster.
Apart from their common hostility to the liberal mainstream and to Islamists (or to Muslims in general, as the case may be), the Decent Left and the new far right have one other uniting factor: some members of both currents sometimes speak in the language of class, or champion the ‘working class’. But unlike for the traditional left, in this case the language of class is used not to uphold social justice, but on the contrary, to justify ignorance, vulgarity, racism and xenophobia among the white majority, now repackaged as the ‘white working class’. In a new manifestation of moral relativism, any objection to white racism or Islamophobia can be portrayed as elitist anti-working-class snobbery. Just as some will condemn as ‘Islamophobic’ any criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism or misogyny, so others will condemn as ‘elitist’ any criticism of white-working-class racism.
Harry’s Place is a blog in which comments have been posted and left undeleted by the moderators, calling for ships carrying illegal immigrants to Britain to be torpedoed, or equating ordinary Muslims with Nazis, or calling for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Leaving such comments undeleted may be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech, but I have come reluctantly to believe that one or two of the HP bloggers are somewhat unwilling to fall out with the far-right commenters who frequent the blog – and by ‘far right’ I don’t mean the actual BNP, but the Muslim-hating, immigrant-hating bigots who are one step away from it.
I used to write guest posts for Harry’s Place, and I frequently tried to tackle the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigots who frequent its comments boxes, but I found myself repeatedly undermined by some of the regular HP groupies, and by one or two of the bloggers themselves. In the debate on a splendid guest post by Andrew Murphy concerning Greek neo-Nazis and their hostility to Muslims and immigrants, the greater number of comments were expressing sympathy for the neo-Nazis on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant basis. I struck out at the Nazi sympathisers, and in doing so earned my very own far-right stalker, in the form of a certain ‘Mettaculture’. This individual believes that immigrants add nothing to British culture; that they are in fact destroying British culture and working-class communities; and that bigotry is a proud part of our national heritage. In an earlier attack on me, he said that as someone called ‘Attila’, I should go back to Mongolia. He also objected to my use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ and to my talk of moderate Muslims. Apparently affronted by my vocal support for immigration and my assault on the anti-immigrant bigots on the thread about Greek neo-Nazis, he then proceeded to attack me whenever I appeared at Harry’s Place, posting increasingly vicious and vulgar strings of personal abuse about me – attacking my skin colour, class background, name, etc. – descending at times to threats of violence, libel action and contacting my employers.
The reason for this particular thug’s obsession with attacking me was, I believe, that I was trying to steer Harry’s Place away from the influence of the nativist-populist, ethno-chauvinist, anti-elitist champions of the ‘white working class’ - such as himself - and to break the embryonic alliance between elements of the Decent Left and the anti-immigration far right (Mettaculture himself is a product of this synthesis – a self-declared ‘socialist’ and ‘communitarian’ who doesn’t like immigration or Muslims).
However, the problem for me was not so much that I had attracted this particular stalker – I’ve had others, and it’s something you have to put up with if you tackle controversial subjects on the internet. The real problem was that certain HP bloggers, above all Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’), but also Andrew Ward (‘Wardytron’) would step in against me each and every time I tried to defend myself against him. Though Graham would never challenge any of Mettaculture’s threats and abuse, he would invariably present my efforts at self-defence as constituting an offence equivalent to the threats and abuse themselves – though I had never once initiated any of the exchanges with Mettaculture; never been the first to use strong language; never threatened him.
The final straw for me was when Harry’s Place deleted my response to one of Graham’s snide remarks, but left Graham’s remark standing. It was completely clear to me then that any further cooperation with Harry’s Place was impossible, as I was simply being prevented from commenting freely, or from defending myself.
Wardytron is someone who believes people who vote BNP are not racist, but merely expressing a righteous and justified opposition to political correctness, and that the solution to the BNP problem is to reduce immigration. Graham, meanwhile, is someone who regularly uses ‘middle class’ as a term of abuse to bully into submission anyone who disagrees with him (while claiming himself to be ‘working class’); he uses terms like ‘rancid little middle class dickheads’. He also has a particularly nasty line in personal abuse, and has called Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour ‘fat’ and Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch ‘ginger’. When Laurie Penny was called a ‘silly cow’ on an HP thread, and complained at this use of sexist language, another HP poster claimed that using terms like ‘silly cow’ was simply the way some working-class people spoke, and that Penny’s objection to the term was an expression of her middle-class inability to understand the English working-class. Graham agrees; he described her as a ‘silly little girl’ and a ‘rather stupid spoilt little girl’ (and as plenty more besides – see update), and has more recently claimed that ‘I don’t care about someone being called a silly cow – that was rather the argument – that it wasn’t any big insult in a working-class area but cultural imperialists wanted it to be one everywhere.’ So, another moral-relativist defence of the use of sexist language, on the grounds that it’s ‘working class’, and that to say otherwise is an expression of ‘cultural imperialism’ ! Some may find Graham’s new incarnation as an anti-imperialist rather amusing.
I recently called Graham to account for his frequent resort to personal abuse; he responds by claiming my ‘prime motivation is to defend the rights of the already privileged in society’. We can expect more of this kind of non sequitur in the future, from him and others like him. Any attempt to speak out in defence of immigrants and Muslims; to condemn racism and sexism among the white majority; or to uphold civilised values generally against the ethics of the lynch mob and the language of the gutter, will invariably be painted as an expression of elitism. We had better prepare ourselves.
Update: I have managed to locate the texts of the two HP comments threads about Penny (‘Penny Shares’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’), and it appears that Graham is right on one point: he did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’. These are some of the things he did say about her:
‘Oh well looks like a silly little girl demanded the right not to be called a silly little girl, stamped her feet a bit and ended up looking more like a silly little girl than ever.’
‘I’d be less disposed to sneer not at someone’s class but rather at the idiots that turned up in vast numbers to defend this rather stupid spoilt little girl when they realised how ridiculous her article was…’
‘Speaking personally, I would never call Judy or Amie a “silly cow” (however silly they may get) because they have both earned my respect. I feel no such problem with calling someone that I have never seen before such a name.’
[In response to the following comment: 'As is Marcus, the sole basis of whose argument seems to be “it’s alright to call people silly cows round my way, so quit complaining”. It’s the pub misogynist line. We’re close to “only having a laugh love” and then on to “stuck up bitch”.']
‘This is all a bit silly but even to get the analogy to hold water you would have to concede that “the pub misogynist” would only be behaving that way because a silly little middle class girl flounced into the bar and called him a racist.’
‘This Penny is also an absolute out and out racist.’
‘Couldn’t she have asked daddy to buy her a newspaper to edit ?’
‘Spoilt little girl seems to me to be a simple description which does exactly what it says on the tin.’
‘I will criticise this spoilt little girl in any way I want.’
So, yes, Graham, I stand corrected: I concede your point that you did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’, and apologise for suggesting that you did and for any hurt and distress that my unwarranted accusation may have caused you (though I can’t help noticing that you didn’t exactly volunteer to make clear what you did say about her; if you had done so, the misunderstanding might have been cleared up a bit sooner).
HP has rather hastily closed the comments on Graham’s post, so I cannot say any of this there.
The text of my original post has been updated accordingly.
Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.
Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.
I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.
In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.
However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.
Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.
My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.
Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.
I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.
I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*
This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.
For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.
Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.
There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.
In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers, or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.
By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.
*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .
I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.
If there has been one cause that has long inspired me above all others, it is the cause of small nations struggling to free themselves from oppression or domination by larger ones. Even before the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia made me interested in the politics and history of that region, when I was in still in school, I was greatly moved by the history of the Irish struggle for freedom and independence from Britain. I have long felt that the cause of freedom for oppressed nations has not figured as prominently as it should in progressive political thinking, and have always found national-chauvinistic ideologies that justify the suppression or forced assimilation of subject peoples to be uniquely horrifying. In the most extreme cases, such ideologies underpin acts of genocide – the most extreme form that national oppression can take. And for myself and kindred political spirits, genocide is the greatest evil humanity has produced.
Progressive thinking has, likewise, traditionally paid insufficient attention to the phenomenon of genocide. The inability of the Left to respond adequately to genocide was made abundantly clear by the events in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s. For some of us, this deficiency has been a catalyst to our disenchantment with left-wing politics in their traditional form. Not just because genocide-prevention has usually been assigned a lower priority than ‘class’, ‘anti-war’ or ‘anti-imperialist’ causes, but because it presupposes outside intervention, something to which a large proportion of ‘progressive’ opinion has traditionally been averse.
Yet for all this, an unprecedentedly large number of nations have achieved national independence since the early 1990s, and the cause of genocide-prevention has entered the progressive consciousness in a way it never did before. In the spirit of the Christmas season, I’d like to highlight recent developments in these fields that should give us cause for optimism; developments that I really should have written about more fully and promptly, if only one had unlimited time as a blogger…
1) While the youth of Greece is still battling on the streets for its social and economic emancipation, a quieter, but perhaps ultimately more significant movement for progressive change is taking place in neighbouring Turkey. More than 22,000 Turkish citizens have signed the following apology: ‘My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.’
To apologise for the Armenian genocide should be, for Turkey, a matter of national honour. But it is also a matter of self-interest for any Turkish citizen who wants to live in a democracy. In Turkey, as in Serbia, Croatia, Greece and other South East European countries, national-chauvinist ideology is the single biggest enemy of democracy; the taunt of ‘traitor’ is used to silence dissent, while minority rights are trampled over in the name of the ‘nation’. Yet in the words of Cengiz Aktar, professor of EU studies at Istanbul’s university of Bahcesehir and one of the principal organisers of the Turkish campaign to apologise: ‘From now, anyone who speaks about the Armenian question will have to take into account this expression of consciousness. It’s a new element in the debate.’ Readers of this blog will be aware that I do not support the campaign for the US or UK officially to recognise the Armenian genocide, or any other historic genocide that has taken place in a foreign country, for reasons that I have explained in detail. The organisers of the campaign in Turkey likewise appear ambivalent about such campaigns in the US and elsewhere. It is only through a democratic campaign in Turkey itself that the country can gradually come to recognise what happened to the Armenians.
2) While progressive Turks are striking a blow against genocide ‘from below’, a blow has been struck ‘from above’, with the conviction and jailing for life of Theoneste Bagosora, the mastermind of the Rwandan genocide, and two of his collaborators by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Described by prosecutors as ‘enemies of the human race’, they were found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war-crimes. The record of the war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia has been less than perfect, but in this instance, at least, justice has been done.
3) A new genetic study apparently proves that twenty per cent of the population of the Iberian peninsula has Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and ten per cent has Moorish ancestry. Another study proves not only that the ethnic origins of the Balkan nations are extremely mixed – which everyone knows, of course - but that the populations of Greece and Albania are genetically more Slavic in origin than the Slavic-speaking populations of neighbouring Macedonia and Bulgaria. Scientists have already proven the genetic kinship of Jews and Arabs.
The myth that ethnic differences are based on genetic differences remains surprisingly pervasive, not just among nationalists – of whom we expect no better – but among ‘educated’ opinion in general. Ethnic differences or identities that are disapproved of are frequently counterposed to ‘real’ ones in discussions about civil wars and other conflicts. Just as nationalists like to imagine their own group has been ethnically pure since Antiquity or earlier, so leftists are frequently fond of portraying ethnic differences as having been ‘invented by imperialism’, or some such nonsense. Yes, the modern nations of the world are largely the products of imperialism, colonialism and genocide, and many ethnic identities have been deliberately fostered by imperial overlords or other interested parties. So what ? All ethnicities are ultimately human constructs, with little or nothing to do with genetic differences. They are only as ‘real’ as their members or their persecutors feel them to be. The more that scientific studies undermine the disgusting, racist myth of ‘real’ ethnic differences, the better for human enlightenment and emancipation.
4) Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland, voted last month to increase its autonomy from Denmark, in what may be a step toward full independence. The Greenlandic independence movement is fuelled both by economic factors and by simple national feeling on the part of the predominantly Inuit population. I am fascinated by the Nordic world, not least because it has proven adept at managing the transition to independence of its constituent nations in a peaceful and civilised manner. It is up to the people of Greenland alone to decide whether they want to secede from Denmark, of course; nobody else can or should exercise a veto over this process. But should they choose to, the peaceful acceptance of their decision that Denmark will undoubtedly demonstrate should serve as a model for states all over the world, from Spain to India.
On this note, I wish readers a very merry Christmas and happy New Year.
‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love
Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.
I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.
While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.
It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.
Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.
Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.
If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists’; ‘anti-Zionists’; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.
Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.
Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum. But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.
Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.
Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).
‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’
This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.
The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.
Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.
Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.
Here’s a joke for the comrades:
Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?
A. Karl Marx
(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)
‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’
Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:
‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’
This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:
‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’
Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.
As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:
You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.
Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.
Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.
What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?
Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?
According to a popular left-liberal viewpoint that has become widespread since the run-up to the Iraq War, US unilateralism threatens an otherwise stable global order that rests on international law underpinned by the UN. The latter, so the argument goes, is the institutional safeguard protecting the world from the unhindered exercise of power by the US; the guarantor of weak or independently minded nations that rightly fear American imperialism.
Some of us, however, suspected that this ‘multilateralist’ viewpoint was, more often than not, expressed insincerely by those who were much more interested in opposing the US than they were in upholding international law. We have only had our suspicions confirmed by the tepid international reaction to the Russian assault on Georgia. This unilateral invasion of a sovereign state, occurring without UN Security Council authorisation, has provoked rather less left-liberal outrage than the US invasion of Iraq, though it represented by any standards a much greater violation of the principle of state sovereignty – involving, as it did, territorial dismemberment and the unilateral redrawing of international borders - and though it was directed against a state that, unlike Iraq, represented no threat to its neighbours and was a democracy, albeit highly flawed. There has been no million-strong demonstration in London against the Russian invasion of Georgia. Still more pointed has been the support for the Russian aggression expressed most strongly by the very states, left liberals might have argued, that are most in need of the UN as a safeguard against the US.
The defection of the Libyan regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi from the ‘Axis of Evil’ has often been cited as one of the achievements of the Bush Administration and its tough policy on rogue states. Yet Libya has welcomed the Russian assault on Georgia. ‘What happened in Georgia is a good sign, which means America is no longer the sole world power setting the rules of the game,’ Seif al Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader and head of the Gaddafi Foundation, has been quoted as saying; ‘There is a balance in the world now. Russia is resurging, which is good for us, for the entire Middle East.’ Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who in the 1980s successfully sued the US at the International Court of Justice, is the first head of state apart from Russia formally to recognise the ‘independence’ of the break-away Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, denouncing as he did so ‘political hegemonies’ that were ‘trying to surround Russia’. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed the US, Georgia and ‘Zionists’ for the war in the Caucasus: ‘In our opinion, if Georgian officials had acted properly and not allowed outside forces to interfere, the situation wouldn’t have taken on its current dimensions’. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, too, supports Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia: ‘Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests.’ Chavez has announced that Venezuela will host Russian troops and warships and carry out joint military exercises with Russia. According to Cuba’s Raul Castro, ‘It’s false that Georgia is defending its national sovereignty’; he went on to claim that the ‘Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia historically formed part of the Russian Federation’. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, in the course of offering to host Russian missiles on Syrian territory, stated ’I think that after the crisis with Georgia, Russia has become only stronger’; furthermore, ‘It’s important that Russia takes the position of a superpower, and then all the attempts to isolate it will fail.’
Thus, far from seeing the UN and international law as desirable safeguards against ‘US imperialism’, those states – one or two of them headed by left-liberal icons – that are actually most in conflict with the latter are rushing to demolish these supposed safeguards. Russia is providing a banner behind which the West’s enemies can unite, even if this means tearing up the UN Charter and colluding in the invasion and dismemberment of a UN member-state.
Yet if the closing of ranks of the West’s enemies behind a nuclear-armed aggressor is a reason for consternation, we can draw comfort from a definite success story: one former rogue state, at least, appears definitely to have reformed. In Serbia, pro-Western parties emerged successful from parliamentary elections this spring; the new government appears to be cooperating with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, and has arrested the fugitive former Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic; the leading Serbian anti-Western political force, the neo-Nazi Radical party, has imploded. The Serbian case is particularly significant because it is over Serbia that the Western alliance has frequently been condemned for acting ‘unilaterally’; i.e., without UN authorisation. That is, NATO went to war with Serbia in 1999 without UN sanction, then the US and most NATO and EU countries recognised the independence of Kosovo this year, again without UN sanction.
It is NATO and the EU, rather than the UN, than have proved the motors of change in Serbia; the promise of a European future has been the bait that has lured Serbian voters away from the nationalist parties, and the Serbian government toward collaboration with The Hague, while it was the question of whether to support Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU that occasioned the split among the Radicals. Far from the recognition of Kosovo’s independence driving Serbia into the arms of the nationalists, it has hastened the nationalists’ political decline. True, Serbia is still seeking to have the International Court of Justice rule the recognition of Kosovo’s independence illegal. But while we may deplore this move, it nevertheless represents a civilised way of conducting a dispute; a tremendous step forward from the rioting and attacks on foreign embassies that took place in Belgrade in February in response to international recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
The Western approach to Serbia has therefore proved a successful one: stick and carrot; military firmness combined with economic incentives and democracy promotion – mostly conducted independently of the UN. An approach of this kind is often stereotyped by its critics, whether from conservative-isolationist or left-liberal schools of opinion, as amounting simply to military aggressiveness. Yet the military-deterrent aspect of the Western policy that has guided Serbia toward Europe has ultimately proved less decisive than the economic carrot of EU integration. That this is so is highlighted by the failure of Western policy regarding a coutry that should, logically, be firmly in the Western camp but that may be slipping away: Turkey. Although Turkey is a loyal NATO member of long-standing; although it has long been committed to joining the EU; although it has responded relatively well to diplomatic and economic incentives to democratise; and although it historically fears Russian imperialism, yet Turkey is developing increasingly friendly relations with both Russia and Iran. Ahmadinejad visited Istanbul last month, and Ankara and Tehran reached agreements on a number of areas, though a full energy pact was not signed on account of US objections.
Heavily dependent on Russian trade and energy supplies, Ankara has meanwhile refused to support Georgia’s membership of NATO, resisted talk of modifying the Montreux Convention limiting naval access to the Black Sea by the US and other outside powers, and barred two US warships from entering the Black Sea in support of Georgia. Ankara is meanwhile promoting a ‘Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact’ that would group together Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – its essential purpose is to enable Turkey to establish a working regional collaboration with Russia that bypasses the US. Ankara’s drift toward friendship with two of the Western alliance’s most dangerous enemies is an all-too-predictable consquence of the declining attraction of the EU option for Turkey, resulting from open French and German opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. Given events in Georgia, the Franco-German alienating of Turkey appears increasingly short-sighted. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, that goes through Turkey, is the only pipeline transporting Caspian crude oil that does not go through Russia. Turkey’s strategic importance is increasing exponentially just as Franco-German cold-shouldering is having its negative effect.
Events on the world stage this summer have shattered the multilateralist, soft-liberal dream of a post-Cold-War world presided over by the UN, in which UN members live harmoniously according to its rules. Instead, the UN is resuming its Cold War role as merely one, ineffectual forum in which the conflict between the Western alliance and the anti-Western bloc is played out. In these circumstances, there is no point in believing in illusions about a UN-governed world that our enemies do not share. As the Serbian example shows, democratisation and integration into the democratic family of nations are the best way to remove the threat from a rogue state; even when not overtly hostile, dictatorships - from Pakistan to Libya – make unstable, unreliable allies. We should be foolish indeed if we were to abandon our support for democracy and human rights abroad, through diplomatic, economic and where necessary military means. The enemies of liberal democracy will always play by their own rules; we should play by ours.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
As someone who believes that trade unions have a vital role to play in a democratic and pluralistic society, and as an academic, I am a member of the University and College Union (UCU), and was previously a member of its predecessor, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), which merged with another union in 2006 to form the UCU. The UCU/AUT has been responsible for raising the salaries of academic staff such as myself, and I feel that I and other academics should support it. Yet I am becoming increasingly worried that my union is being hijacked by political extremists who are less concerned with defending the salaries and working conditions of its members, and more concerned with promoting an extremist political cause that most of its members do not support. As a non-activist member, I periodically learn from outside sources about steps being taken by union activists to promote this cause, over and above the heads of ordinary members such as myself.
So it was, back in 2005 when I was working at the University of Cambridge, I and other non-activist members learned after the fact that, via its secretary, the Cambridge branch of AUT had voted in favour of an academic boycott of Israeli academics, when the AUT’s national council had voted to implement such a boycott. The secretary in question was a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a viciously anti-Zionist group that supports the destruction of the State of Israel and that has, in recent years, pursued a strategy of alliance with Islamists on a common ‘anti-war’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ platform, involving vocal support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and for the Iraqi ‘insurgents’. The decision of our branch secretary to support the boycott led to a ‘backwoods rebellion’ by non-activist members, who bombarded the branch leadership with complaints, prompting even the SWP-supporting secretary to admit he had been wrong to support the boycott in the absence of a mandate from the membership. At the special branch meeting called to discuss the matter, I and others voted overwhelmingly to overturn the branch’s decision to support the boycott.
The nature of the ‘boycott Israel’ movement requires some explaining. As someone who spent years campaigning against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, and in defence of the national rights of Kosovars, Bosnians and Croatians, it never occurred to me to support an ‘academic boycott’ of Serbian academics – indeed, I collaborated with mainstream Serbian academics while Milosevic was still in power. Likewise, as someone who has written and demonstrated in support of Palestinian national and human rights, I opposed the boycott of Israeli academics. The movement to boycott Israeli academics was the work of extremist left-wing elements, such as the SWP, which view not just Israeli treatment of Palestinians, but Israel and Israelis themselves as illegitimate. Whereas such elements may or may not be prepared to condemn other oppressive regimes in other parts of the world, it is Israel alone that they single out for condemnation not merely for its oppressive actions, but for its very existence and national identity. This racist hostility to Israel forms part of a generalised ‘anti-imperialist’ discourse; the campaign against Israel, ostensibly in support of Palestinian rights, is in reality part of a wider campaign against ‘imperialism’ and ‘globalisation’. UCU activists from the ranks of the SWP and other extremist currents would like to turn our union, from an organisation set up to defend members salaries and working conditions, into a forum for their anti-imperialist and ‘anti-Zionist’ crusade. To learn more about the nature of the boycott movement, see Engage.
Such left-wing extremist elements inevitably find common ground with anti-Semites from the ranks of the Islamists and white supremacists, who share their hatred of Western civilisation and the liberal-democratic world order. So it comes as no surprise to learn that a certain UCU activist, apparently in an attempt to justify support for the boycott of Israeli academics, recently posted a link on the UCU’s mailing list to the website of the US white-supremacist David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Harry’s Place, a blog for which I write periodically, broke the story that the UCU’s mailing list was being used to circulate material from a white-supremacist, anti-Semitic source. In response, the popular, world-famous blog appears to have been shut down after the company with which its domain name is registered was apparently threatened with a libel suit.
I should like to express my complete solidarity with my comrades at Harry’s Place in the face of this attack on their freedom of speech, and to thank them for bringing to my attention these extremely nasty goings on in a union to which I belong. While I completely sympathise with former UCU members such as Eve Garrard, who feel they can no longer belong to a union that behaves in this manner, I fear the consequences of abandoning this and other unions completely into the hands of the extremists; unions are a vital part of our democracy. Yet there is undoubtedly a structural problem, which is that extremists are likely to be those who will devote the energy to infiltrating and hijacking unions, giving them a voice within the union movement out of all proportion to their actual popularity among the members. Ordinary union-members should take note: a union run by extremists will not be a proper defender of their interests. Union activists should take note: a union promoting unpopular extremist causes will lose members and cease to be effective or credible as a union. It is time to put a stop to this violation of our union.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left