Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The trouble with Harry’s Place

I posted the following comment yesterday at Harry’s Place:

As someone who has written posts in defence of HP on more than one occasion, and who stood up for you when you were driven off the internet by a libel threat, I don’t think I can be accused of political or personal hostility to you. But the more familiar I become with this blog, the more distasteful I find the atmosphere here and the more questionable I find your ethics.

For me, the turning point was having threats repeatedly posted against me by Mettaculture: he threatened me physically; threatened me with a libel suit; threatened to contact my employers. He also attacked me for the colour of my skin, and tried to intimidate me with graphic descriptions of anal sex, having previously tried to bully me into silence with references to my class background and foreign name. Not to mention all the vicious personal abuse (‘whore’, ‘douchebag’, etc.).

I’m not intimidated by this; Mettaculture’s kind is a dime a dozen, and I’ve had my share of such creatures attempting to intimidate me. But it does constitute harassment; it has nothing to do with ‘freedom of speech’. Not only does HP not condemn such behaviour, it encourages it, providing a forum in which every little anonymous internet psycho or stalker can engage in such activities. When I tried to defend myself by outing Mettaculture, I found that I was the one whom HP censored.

Horrified as I am by the fact that someone like Mettaculture can be tolerated here, I am even more horrified by the kids’ glove treatment that Ken ‘The Exile’ Bell receives. A man whose blog is a veritable misogynistic hate-fest is pampered by HP. Bell calls Oliver Kamm a ‘cockroach’, and when I complain about this, David T defends this as just one of Bell’s endearing little character foibles. David subsequently writes a whole post inviting people to make fun of Oliver’s name. Bell turns up and says the most disgusting things imaginable about Oliver’s mother – how he trained her to give blow-jobs and to swallow his semen. Bell’s behaviour is then defended by Wardytron – another HP blogger – again, as further evidence of his endearing eccentricity. Another great day for HP.

Then there’s Morgoth – a man who, on at least two occasions here at HP, called for the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from the West Bank, without being rebuked, let alone banned. Morgoth calls for Conor Foley to be beaten up, and Conor’s wife is reduced to tears reading his comment. HP actually has the cheek to complain that Conor is unreasonable for being upset about this. Of course, your anger is never directed at any one of your revolting, anonymous little groupies, but only at the people who have the temerity to complain about their behaviour.

I even found myself sympathising with Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour when he was repeatedly under attack here for being overweight. And sometimes for having a ‘funny’ accent as well, if I recall. I can’t stand Seymour, but I find it beyond belief that someone should be attacked on the basis of their physical appearance like that – no matter who they are. No doubt the people who did so all looked like Johnny Depp, but their pictures aren’t on the internet and they’re mostly anonymous, so we just don’t know, do we ?

Now Laurie Penny is under assault from a whole pack of attack-dogs for being a 23-year old middle-class woman. Her attempts to defend herself from the sexist insults are rejected on the grounds that sexist insults are simply what working-class people use to express themselves, something that she’s supposedly too middle-class to understand. Yeah, right ! ‘Moral relativism’ is the term that springs to mind.

Racism, misogyny, incitement to violence – all can be overlooked when a member of your sad little circle of groupies is the guilty party. But God forbid that anyone should hold you accountable for what appears in the comment boxes of your own website, or that anyone interfere with the right of freaks and psychos to defame and abuse whomever they want while cowering behind anonymity.

They make a desert, and they call it peace.

They make a cesspool, and they call it ‘freedom of speech’.

Addenda:

Here are examples of the sort of thing ‘Mettaculture’ has been directing at me:

‘We are all racist’s [sic] according to the pasty white boy. He know’s [sic] you see, being a spolit middle class narcissistic solipsistic pasty white brat.’

‘No I am really fucked off and am out of here. I am out of here for my Turkish lesson where I hope to learn the correct conjugations of fuck, fuck my ass, suck it etc. Then I go to dinner with a new beau, he’s Anatolian and very dark and speaks a funny language only if you are a moron or are scandelighted by saying it. When he is sliding his very dark dick into my ass at my recently learned Turkish encouragement, i shall think of your pasty smug face and your prim white ass and what it is evidently missing. Now clutch your pearls in horror why don’t you.’

Here is what Ken Bell wrote about Kamm’s mother:

‘It’s the way I am, Gimlet. A nice gentle bloke who explains things patiently. Many years ago – probably before you were born – there was this bird named Anthea who used to polish my knob. I learned patience with her, and believe you me I needed every ounce of it: teaching her that blow is just a figure of speech was not easy. Still we got there in the end and she learned to swallow every drop.’

Update: Flesh is Grass makes a number of intelligent points on this matter.

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Friday, 20 November 2009 Posted by | Marko Attila Hoare, Misogyny, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance | | Leave a comment

Reasons to be optimistic

greenlandIf 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.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008 Posted by | Armenians, Balkans, Denmark, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Greece, Greenland, Macedonia, Middle East, Political correctness, Racism, Rwanda, Scandinavia, Spain, The Left, Turkey | Leave a comment

Greater Surbiton first birthday post

rulingclass1

‘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).

Hak Mao, in response to my Normblog profile:

‘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’.)

Daniel Davies, in response to my post ‘Weighing Obama versus McCain’:

I wrote:

‘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:

holbrooke

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 ?

Friday, 28 November 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

Extremists are poisoning my trade union

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.

For more on the attack on Harry’s Place, see Modernity, Engage, Bob from Brockley, Max Dunbar, Cafe Turco, Flesh is Grass and Ignoblus. See also Harry’s Place’s response.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Palestine, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | 4 Comments

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

This is a guest post by Nadja Stamselberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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