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

Dressing chauvinistic hatred up as ‘class warfare’ or ‘anti-imperialism’ does not make it a good thing

One of the most insidious things about the radical left-wing discourse of class warfare and imperialism is the way in which it is increasingly providing a cover under which the worst forms of bigotry, even murderous or genocidal bigotry, can masquerade as something ‘progressive’. So effective is this propaganda technique that today it is increasingly being adopted by members of the right and far right as well. Indeed, right-wing and left-wing opponents of our contemporary, cosmopolitan, global civilisation are increasingly resembling each other, dressing up anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as resistance to imperialism or capitalism.

Take the example of anti-immigrant racism. The BNP regularly presents its racism in class-warfare terms: ‘The only political party in Britain that is opposed to the immigration racket and its devastating effect on British jobs is the British National Party. We are poised to throw the entire weight of our campaigning machinery into action in support of striking British workers. We, unlike the unions and Lib-Lab-Con, will stand by our own people no matter what the cost. For decades we have had a simple slogan explaining our position: BRITISH JOBS FOR BRITISH WORKERS!’

But even less crude opponents of immigration are ready to play the class-warfare card. In the words of Jeff Randall, writing a couple of years ago in the Daily Telegraph: ‘By lowering wages, migrants enable the middle classes to hire more home-caterers, dog-walkers, house-cleaners and hedge-trimmers for less cost than before. Very nice, if you’re an investment banker in Kensington. Not so hot, if the last job you had was polishing his Bentley.’ Of course, working-class families might also benefit from Polish plumbers charging less than British plumbers, but this particular Telegraph columnist has learned the value of dressing up his right-wing viewpoint in quasi-Marxist clothes.

He is far from alone. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Bernard Dinneen complains that in permitting mass immigration, ‘Labour politicians were the culprits; they betrayed the working class. ’[] Sue Reid, in the Daily Mail, wrote an article entitled ‘The great white backlash: Working class turns on Labour over immigration and housing’. She argued that in light of increasing ‘white working-class’ receptivity toward the BNP, ‘Perhaps this should serve as a timely warning to Hazel Blears and the rest of the New Labour hierarchy, who many feel have let down the ordinary people who put them in power.’

The problem is not that the language of the left is being cynically misused by racists and right-wingers, but that the links between left-wing discourse of ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ on the one hand, and racism and anti-Semitism on the other, are much deeper than leftists are often ready to admit. When Ukrainian peasants rebelled against their Polish aristocratic landlords in 1648, their ‘class warfare’ was directed in particular against the landlords’ Jewish estate-managers; in practice against Jews in general, tens of thousands of whom were slaughtered. I hope it is unnecessary to point out that anti-Semitic slaughter of this kind does not become acceptable simply because it is an expression of ‘class struggle’.

For modern socialists and anarchists, hostility to capitalism frequently went hand in hand with hostility to Jews, as evidenced by the anti-Semitism of Proudhon, Fourier, Bakunin and others, including Marx himself. Fascism itself had radical socialist origins, as the brilliant historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell has demonstrated. Early fascists replaced the class struggle with the national struggle as the weapon for attacking liberalism and democracy; they believed redistribution of wealth and power should occur between nations, rather than – or in addition to – between social classes.

The most radical ‘national socialist’ experiment was, of course the one undertaken by Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party. As Hitler said: ‘We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.’ Hitler saw the task of his National Socialists as freeing the German workers from the influence of ‘Jewish’ international socialism, and of freeing the German economy from the control of ‘Jewish’ international capital. In power, the Nazis expropriated the wealth of Jews and of other nations, redistributing it in favour of Germany and German ‘Aryans’.

Yet genocidal impulses are scarcely an aberration in the revolutionary left’s tradition. Notoriously, Marx and Engels believed in the existence of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ fit only to be exterminated. In 1849 Engels called for a ‘war of annihilation of the Germans against the Czechs’ as the ‘only possible solution’; he described the Croats as a ‘naturally counter-revolutionary nation’ and looked forward to the day when the Germans and Hungarians would ‘annihilate all these small pig-headed nations even to their very names.’

Left-wing radicals, unrestrained by any belief in the virtues of moderation and restraint, will frequently slip down the slope from aggressive radicalism into outright chauvinistic hatred, with their radical ideology simply a means by which their inner rage against particular groups of people can find socially acceptable expression. And in recent years, the more the prospect of revolutionary social change in the direction of socialism has receded in the advanced capitalist world, the more radical leftists and their fellow travellers have been ready to descend into the gutter of chauvinism directed against ‘counter-revolutionary nations’.

During the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s, a considerable portion of left-wing opinion in the West made it abundantly clear that it did not respect the right of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ such as the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians even to exist, let alone to receive solidarity in their struggles for national survival. The genocidal campaigns of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic were invested with an ‘anti-imperialist’ content, so had to be defended against ‘Western media bias’ and ‘demonisation’. What was chilling at the time was that, once the nations in question had been marked as ‘pro-imperialist’, their only legitimate option – as far as the ‘anti-imperialists’ were concerned – was to lie down and die. Any attempt at resistance to their national destruction on their part was condemned as a crime equivalent to – indeed worse than – the original Serbian assault on them, while any expression of solidarity for them by others in the West was condemned as ‘support for Western intervention’.

The Western leftists who defended Milosevic’s genocidal campaigns internalised the Serb-nationalist ethnic stereotypes of Croats as ‘Ustashas’, Bosnian Muslims as ‘fundamentalists’ and Kosovo Albanians as ‘criminals and drug smugglers’. There were plenty of ironies in the sort of arguments used to deny the right of these peoples to national existence. Opportunistic anti-Semitic statements made by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman in his book Wastelands of Historical Truth were cited to tar the entire Croat nation with the brush of fascism by leftists who have consistently turned a blind eye to – if not actively apologised for – the far more extreme and integral anti-Semitism of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah or of the Iranian and other Muslim regimes. The Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, who never expressed any chauvinism toward Christians or Jews and who presided over a secular state, was condemned as a reactionary Muslim by leftists who would soon be supporting ‘resistance’ to ‘imperialism’ and ‘Zionism’ in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on the part of genuine murderous Islamists, or uniting with British Islamists to form the ‘Respect’ party.

Leftist stereotyping of Kosovo Albanians as drug smugglers and criminals is simply the same stereotyping as that employed by the BNP against Albanians and other immigrants or ethnic minorities. Thus, the Socialist Unity website cited popular left-wing blogger ‘Splintered Sunrise’ to back up its own opposition to Kosovo’s independence, quoting him as saying ‘I’m opposed to independence for Kosovo because the place is run by a bunch of mafiosi, its economy is based on the trafficking of drugs, arms and women, and giving this basket case the attributes of statehood will make a bad situation worse.’ The BNP, too, opposes Kosovo’s independence on similar grounds, arguing ‘Albanians are spread all over Europe and especially in the criminal underworld. They are notorious for their effectiveness, unpredictability and incredible cruelty. Their main advantage to the other organized crime [sic] is the fact that they speak language [sic] nobody understands, their organization is based on family ties and if someone dares to speak out that person is being brutally murdered. In Europe, today the Albanian mafia is the main engine of traffic of drugs and humans, theft and falsification of passports, weapons and human organs trade, abductions, extortions and executions. In London these people control the entire network of prostitution, in Italy and Greece they deal with weapons and drugs’ smuggling. There are entire towns in Italy where the business is controlled by Albanians.’ However, ‘Splintered Sunrise’ attributed the BNP’s support for Serbia over Kosovo not to anti-Albanian racism, but to the Albanians’ own alleged sins: ‘the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters’.

What is horrifying is not that the leftists in question are accusing Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovar leaders of things they are often not guilty of, or that the leftists in question are inconsistent or hypocritical. It is that such accusations are simply so many pretexts to support the destruction of the nations in question. These leftists do not want to give solidarity to progressive Croats who oppose anti-Semitism, or progressive Bosnian Muslims who support secularism, or progressive Albanians who oppose organised crime, with the goal of making Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo better places. On the contrary, the leftists are seeking to provide ammunition to those who would like to wipe these countries off the map altogether.

But for all the venom directed by ‘anti-imperialist’ leftists at the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, there is one state that they hate even more. Israel, in their eyes, is the ‘counter-revolutionary nation’ par excellence; its Jewish majority citizens condemned as ‘settlers’ (unlike immigrants in the West, who are not so condemned); its academics boycotted. Such leftists will line up with the most murderous and bigoted elements in the Muslim world against even the most progressive nationally conscious Jews on an ‘anti-Zionist’ basis; their need to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and state trumping any opposition to anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, misogyny or homophobia they might be expected to have. Once again, they oppose Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank or discrimination against its Arab citizens not because they wish to align themselves with progressive Israelis who also oppose these things, but because they would, fundamentally, like to see Israel destroyed altogether.

The pretext for this left-wing hatred of Israel is that it is a ‘hijack state’ based upon the dispossession of most of the Palestinians who lived there until the 1940s. But this ignores the fact that other states are based upon similar or even larger-scale dispossessions of national groups, without their right to exist being called into question. For example, the Czech Republic’s relative ethnic homogeneity stems from the Czechs’ expulsion, following World War II, of two and a half million ethnic Germans from what was then Czechoslovakia. Likewise, modern Turkey is founded upon the extermination of a million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1910s and 1920s, and the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands more. But nobody claims the Czech Republic or Turkey is an illegitimate nation-state. It is Israel alone which is deemed to have forfeited its legitimacy as a nation on account of its leaders’ crimes of decades ago.

In each of the examples presented here, extremists try to dress up their bigoted hatred of whole ethnic groups or nations in radically progressive clothes. So the BNP will present its hatred of immigrants in terms of ‘supporting the British working class’, and radical leftists justify their hatred of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ on the basis of ‘anti-imperialism’. Chauvinistic hatred does not become progressive simply because it is dressed in progressive clothes, and it is always worth looking beyond the window dressing to see what the agendas of such groups and individuals really are. Equally, it is time to acknowledge the problematic nature of such radical left-wing concepts as ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, and the reasons they lend themselves so readily to abuse. When they are increasingly becoming the justification for the most extreme reactionary politics, something is very wrong.

This article was published on 10 August by Engage.

Friday, 14 August 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Red-Brown Alliance, SWP, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry’s Place and anti-Muslim bigotry: A reply to Islamophobia Watch

Scylla1I recently criticised Harry’s Place over its comments moderation policy. The occasion was a post by David T of Harry’s Place, defending the latter from an attack on it by Lindsey German of ‘Stop the War Coalition’. German described Harry’s Place as ‘a disgusting kind of blog which is very very much against Muslims’. David responded that ‘it is highly defamatory to those of us who run Harry’s Place to claim that we are “against Muslims”. That is a pretty outrageous lie.’ He went on to define Harry’s Place’s position as follows: ‘It is true that Harry’s Place has been highly critical of named Islamist and jihadist groups and their extreme Left enablers. We have, however, always been strongly supportive of the rights of all people, irrespective of their ethnicity, culture and religion.’

posted the following comment in response to David’s post:

German’s accusation is totally unjustified, and you have every right to resent it. She – like many extremists on both sides – can’t tell the difference between being anti-Islamist and being anti-Muslim. HP’s regular posters are invariably enlightened and distinguish carefully between the two.

Having said that, the comments boxes here are frequently flooded by extremely nasty bigots who really do hate all Muslims. Their visceral expressions of chauvinistic hatred all too frequently seem to become the dominant theme in any discussion here. And to be honest, I think you’re far, far too reticent about tackling them. It allows people like German and Will Rubbish to claim you secretly agree with them.

Bob Pitt of Islamophobia Watch, a long-standing opponent of Harry’s Place who takes an almost diametrically opposed position on matters relating to Islamism, then quoted my criticism and commented on it at some length.

Before I respond to Pitt specifically, I should say a few words about the matter that is at issue here.

I consider Harry’s Place’s regular bloggers to be friends and comrades. In particular, I feel that David T and I are engaged in essentially parallel enterprises. As those familiar with my work know, I am a historian specialising on the former Yugoslavia who has devoted considerable effort to exposing and refuting the propaganda and disinformation put about by the supporters of Serb fascism and the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic. In particular, I have tackled the edifice of lies about the former-Yugoslav conflict erected by left-wing authors in the West who support or apologise for Serb fascism: their denial of Serb atrocities; their attempts to blame the war on various ‘Western imperialist’ conspiracies; their demonisation of the victims and opponents of Serb fascism, including its Serb victims and opponents; etc.

Similarly, David is an expert on Islamic extremism and in particular on its British exponents and apologists, and he has devoted considerable effort to exposing and refuting their propaganda and disinformation. He has tackled the edifice of lies about Islamism, Islamist terrorism and repressive regimes in Muslim countries erected by their left-wing, ‘anti-imperialist’ apologists in the West. Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes both the Serb fascists that I tackle and the Islamic fascists that David and Harry’s Place tackle is that they both have well established networks of Western, particularly Western left-wing, apologists and supporters. In fact, the two groups often share the same such apologists and supporters – groups such as Britain’s Socialist Workers Party, to which Lindsey German belongs; or Ramsey Clark’s International Action Centre in the US.

In other words, David T and the Harry’s Place bloggers and I are anti-fascists engaged in essentially the same anti-fascist project. However, one of the ways in which our opponents try to discredit us is by smearing us, respectively, as ‘Islamophobic’ or as ‘anti-Serb’. Yet, such smears stand the truth on its head. The Harry’s Place bloggers devote a lot of time to writing in support of Muslim victims of oppression and injustice; and of progressive groups and individuals in Muslim countries. They frequently write posts directed against non-Muslim fascists and bigots, such as the white-racist BNP as well as Jewish and US Christian extremists. Similarly, I devote a lot of time on my blog, Greater Surbiton, to writing in support of Serb democrats and anti-fascists. I frequently write posts directed against Croat, Turkish, Greek, white British, Islamic and other fascists and bigots. Some opponents will nevertheless try to insinuate anti-Muslim/Serb bias on our part by asking, ‘Ah, but why do you concentrate so much on those particular groups of bad guys ? Why don’t you focus more on other groups of bad guys ?’ They should ask themselves why such huge edifices of lies have been constructed by left-wing apologists for both Islamic and Serb fascism that some of us have to spend so much time demolishing them.

To determine if someone is a principled opponent of Islamic/Serb fascism or an anti-Muslim/Serb bigot, you need to ask the following questions: Does the individual in question support Muslim/Serb anti-fascists and democrats, or do they equate all Muslims/Serbs with fascism ? Do they claim that Muslim/Serb fascism is simply the counterpart of the fascism produced by other groups, or do they claim that Muslims/Serbs have a unique propensity toward fascism ? In sum, are they attacking Muslim/Serb fascists because they are fascists, or because they are Muslims/Serbs ?

David T, Harry’s Place and I pass the test, and this is the point I made in my comment about Lindsey German, quoted above. To repeat, I wrote:

German’s accusation is totally unjustified, and you have every right to resent it. She – like many extremists on both sides – can’t tell the difference between being anti-Islamist and being anti-Muslim. HP’s regular posters are invariably enlightened and distinguish carefully between the two.

When he quoted me, Bob Pitt left out this, the first part of my comment, which refuted the charge that Harry’s Place is guilty of anti-Muslim bigotry. Had he included these sentences, my comment would have undermined the accusation that Harry’s Place has an anti-Muslim agenda.

Pitt continues:

The failure of Toube et al to subject these repeated outpourings of hatred to any sort of moderation is certainly a disgrace. But perhaps the more fundamental question Hoare should address is why these Muslim-hating bigots are drawn like flies to Toube’s site in the first place.

This, too, requires some comment.

Where I strongly disagree with David and with Harry’s Place is not over politics, but over the question of comments moderation policy. Harry’s Place, broadly speaking, has an open comments policy with very little moderation. The result is, as I pointed out, that ‘the comments boxes here are frequently flooded by extremely nasty bigots who really do hate all Muslims. Their visceral expressions of chauvinistic hatred all too frequently seem to become the dominant theme in any discussion here.’

The reason why, to use Pitt’s phrase, ‘these Muslim-hating bigots are drawn like flies to Toube’s site in the first place’, is not that Harry’s Place is sympathetic to them, but because they are taking advantage of a widely-read blog that posts on issues relating to Islam and Islamism, and that has an almost entirely open comments policy. The problem is not, therefore, with Harry’s Place’s politics, but with its comments moderation policy. But it is unfair to single out Harry’s Place in this regard, when this is a general problem intrinsic to blogs that have open comments policies. For example, plenty of extremely nasty, bigoted and abusive individuals – anti-Semites and others – turn up to comment on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site, without having their comments deleted. But it does not follow from this that The Guardian is anti-Semitic; merely that its comments moderation policy is too lax.

I believe that when faced with the problem of bigoted or abusive individuals flooding your blog, you should do one of two things: either simply delete their comments ruthlessly and restrict the discussion to civilised people, or systematically take them apart. Otherwise, you are essentially providing a forum in which such individuals can promote their hate-propaganda to a wide audience. However, the first of these options leaves you open to the charge of being undemocratic, while the second is extremely time consuming (Personally, I simply am not willing to devote the time that would be needed to respond to comments on my blog – blogging is an extremely time-consuming activity as it is –  which is one of the reasons why I don’t have comments at all. I don’t mind if I am consequently accused of being undemocratic. But this is not an option for a much larger blog such as Harry’s Place, which is intended to be a discussion forum).

I believe that, given the scale of Harry’s Place, its bloggers – who need to work and eat – can’t reasonably be expected to spend their lives fighting with the bigots, over and over again. But I believe that the need to prevent bigots and malicious individuals in general from hijacking a blog and using it to promote hatred against an ethnic or religious minority should outweigh any abstract belief in the principle of open comments.

The purpose of a discussion on a political blog such as Harry’s Place should be to enlighten and inform its participants and readers. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained from anti-fascists and bigots slugging it out, again and again, over the question of ‘are all Muslims evil ?’ A minimum of common values needs to be held by participants in a discussion for the discussion to be meaningful. I believe there is no point in talking to people who do not support rights for, or who are hostile to, entire categories of people – as defined by ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I would favour excluding such people from discussions at Harry’s Place.

(NB Anti-Muslim bigotry is NOT to be confused with criticising Islam as a religion or opposing special privileges for Muslims, both of which are entirely legitimate. The boundaries may not always be clear, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try to draw them). 

I would also absolutely ban vulgar or abusive comments or those that defame individuals. As things stand, open comments policies – combined with the sense of impunity resulting from the cult of blogging anonymity – are gradually turning public discussion into a sewer.

Having said all this, I understand not just the Harry’s Place support for the principle of open comments, but also what Harry’s Place is reacting against. Harry’s Place is reacting against a left-liberal culture that seeks to apologise for, and stifle criticism of, Muslim fascism and reaction; that justifies Islamist terrorism as a somehow understandable response of Muslims to ‘Western imperialism’ or ‘Zionism’; that solidarises with repressive Muslim regimes in Iran and elsewhere on an anti-imperialist basis, rather than with their progressive domestic opponents; that seeks to restrict freedom of speech in order to suppress criticism of Islam that might ‘offend’ Muslims. It is reacting against liberal moral relativists who seek to stifle protests in the West at sexism, misogyny and homophobia among Muslims on the grounds that such protest is ‘racist’. It is reacting against a creeping anti-Semitism that masquerades as ‘anti-Zionism’.

Harry’s Place has broken the left-liberal taboo about criticising Muslim fascism and bigotry. It is in this context of taboo-breaking that it has, in my opinion, opened the door too wide, and provided a forum in which not only can Muslim fascism and bigotry be scrutinised and condemned, but anti-Muslim bigots can turn up and spew hatred against Muslims in general.

There is no point in criticising Harry’s Place unless you recognise that this taboo needed to be broken. Unfortunately, Islamophobia Watch devotes a lot of effort to precisely the sort of moral-relativist exercises that Harry’s Place is legitimately reacting against: repeated, uncritical defences of the anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi combined with wholly hostile polemics against genuine progressives and human-rights activists from the Muslim world or Muslim backgrounds, such as Maryam Namazie, Irshad Manji, Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Al-Qaradawi’s and his supporters’ statements about Jews are broadly equivalent to the statements about Muslims made by the anti-Muslim commenters at Harry’s Place that are here under discussion (Some might say: ‘Oh, but we don’t really hate Jews/Muslims; we’re just criticising Zionism/Islam ! And that’s an ideology, isn’t it ?! So it’s ok to attack Zionism/Islam as viciously as possible…’ – yeah, right…). There is a big difference between merely allowing anonymous bigots to post comments on your blog without challenging them, and actually writing whole posts in uncritical defence of a prominent bigot.

Harry’s Place is, in large part, a response to the rise of Islamic fascism and left-liberal appeasement of it. It does some things wrong. But there is no point criticising the form that the solution takes if you yourself constantly contribute to the problem.

Saturday, 4 July 2009 Posted by | Islam, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shiraz Stalinist

Trnopolje

‘Movements for human rights across the planet should inspire us. We, the left, should be at their forefront. That instruments like the International Court of Justice, or the present Tribunal on Yugoslavia, are flawed, may be the case. But our role should be to improve them, to build a society where justice and rights are real. Not to dismiss them because their claims to universality are blemished.  Or still worse, to run with the twisted apologists for nationalist murder and the ‘anti-imperialists’ who deny the very possibility of universal rights and freedoms.’

So wrote Andrew Coates at Shiraz Socialist last year, and I agree with every word. Yet I can hardly believe the sheer hypocrisy and chutzpah.

During the war in Bosnia, Coates was outspoken in his praise of the ‘apologists for nationalist murder’ and the ‘anti-imperialists’. In August 1992, Living Marxism magazine published a letter by Coates, in which he said:

‘Three cheers for Living Marxism‘s courageous stand on Serbia. At last some proletarian internationalism has seen its way into print.’

He went on to complain that in the Western ‘official media’, a ‘totally distorted picture of the Yugoslavian conflict has been presented’.

Living Marxism, for those who don’t remember, was a publication whose principal activity during the Bosnian war was to deny that Serb atrocities were taking place, and to claim that they were ‘fabricated’ by the Western media. Living Marxism denied that ethnic cleansing or genocide was occurring, denied that Serb forces were running concentration camps or rape camps in Bosnia and denied the Srebrenica massacre. It blamed Germany for engineering the break-up of Yugoslavia and claimed the Croats were an ‘invented nation’. In 1993, Living Marxism promoted a Serbian-government-funded Belgrade exhibition, which claimed that it was the Serbs who were the victims of genocide in Bosnia. In 1997, it sympathetically interviewed Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, allowing his statements to go unchallenged. Living Marxism went on to deny the Rwandan genocide as well.

Coates’s letter to Living Marxism was published at around the time when the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia was discovered by the Western media. It is as if, at the height of the Holocaust, someone had written a letter to Der Stuermer, praising its ‘courageous stand on Germany’ and its ‘proletarian internationalism’.

Not only did Coates praise the supporters of Serb fascism, but he demonised those who opposed it. His letter to Living Marxism was also an attack on my parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, who were prominent campaigners against the genocide and aggression in Bosnia. Coates described them as an ‘unsavoury pair’ guilty of ‘demonising the Serbs’ and ‘crude racism’. He didn’t produce any evidence to support these accusations, which were sheer libel. Subsequently, under the threat of legal action, Living Marxism was forced to publish an apology to Quintin and Branka and to retract the accusation of racism.

Today, Coates appears to want to rewrite his personal political history, and pretend his stance on Bosnia during the war was less shameful than it actually was. Last year, he wrote:

 ‘For the record I defended the Yugoslav Federal state,against the break-up when it began. I suppose it’s because I had some residual sympathy for Tiitoism and a very much alive Austro-Marxist vision of federated nationalities. I would deeply resent if that position – which was not that rare – were conflated with any liking for Milosovic etc. Indeed as readers of the old Red Pepper site will know myself , and others, such as John Palmer, stopped posting there when it got flooded with neo-Stalinist cack disputing the atrocities carried out under Karadzic’s regime.’ [all typos in original]

Of course, abandoning a position as shameful as the one that Coates once held is to be welcomed. And to be sufficiently embarrassed about the former position to want to keep it under wraps, while pretending one actually had a different position, is entirely understandable.

Unfortunately, while now claiming to oppose Serb war-crimes and to have always done so, Coates has not ceased to make periodic defamatory attacks on me and my family, of which the most recent is this one. Never having raised a finger to oppose the genocide and aggression that were taking place in Bosnia in the 1990s, he continues to defame those who did, while now pretending to have been one of the good guys all along !

Andrew Coates is a liar and a hypocrite.

Update: Phil Edwards of The Gaping Silence, who knew Coates personally at the time of the war in the former Yugoslavia, has this to say about him: ‘he backed Milosevic more or less from the off, and (I can hear the hackles rising from here) in this case I really do mean he backed Milosevic; during the siege of Vukovar he said we should look forward to the day when the red star of Yugoslavia flew over Zagreb.’

Wednesday, 3 June 2009 Posted by | Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , | Leave a comment

Was Franjo Tudjman a Holocaust denier ?

tudjman1When faced with claims made by revisionist writers concerning the wars in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, that they present as ‘challenging accepted wisdom’, it is generally a safe working assumption that they are all falsehoods, unless the writers in question actually present hard evidence to back them up. This can be shown by even the most casual glance at the ‘sensational revelations’ that these writers have been making since 1991: that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 1991; that the Croatian chequerboard symbol was a ‘fascist’ symbol; that Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; that Izetbegovic’s regime reestablished a five-thousand strong SS ‘Handzar Division’ in Bosnia in the 1990s; that the Western media ‘fabricated’ the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia; that the Bosnian Army was guilty of shelling its own civilians in Sarajevo in order to provoke Western bombing of the Serbs; that the US imported mujahedeen or Wahhabi fighters into Bosnia during the war; that Izetbegovic was a friend and ally of Osama bin Laden and shared his politics; that the fighting and massacres in the Srebrenica region were initiated by the Bosnian Army; that there is ‘no proof’ that the Srebrenica massacre occurred; that Croatia’s Operation Storm was the ‘largest single act of ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav wars’; that there was no Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosovo before the NATO bombing began in 1999; that no mass graves of Kosova Albanians were found in Kosova after NATO moved in; that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has focused disproportionately on Serb war-crimes suspects; and so on and so forth –  all these claims, and others, have either been shown to be complete fabrications or, at best, wild exaggerations, or they remain entirely unsubstantiated. Generally, only a bit of research is necessary to reveal each new claim of this kind as yet another falsehood.

On this occasion, I should like to turn to one of the older claims made by the members of the Milosevic-Karadzic lobby and by others who defend Milosevic and the Great Serbian record: the claim that the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’. This claim has generally been linked to Tudjman’s turgid, rambling, 1989 study of genocide and mass violence, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja [Wastelands of historical truth: A discussion of the history and philosophy of violence] – citations here are from the first edition, Nakladni zavod Matice Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1989.

This is what Tudjman wrote in Bespuca (p. 153) about the Holocaust:

After Hitler’s military forces had foundered in the Soviet expanses, together with the myth of German invincibility in the Blitzkrieg, there disappeared also for Germany the possibility of a territorial solution of the Jewish question outside of Europe. Already from the very start of the German-Soviet war, from the summer of 1941, the persecution of the Jews was increased, with fanatical propaganda about the need for the merciless uprooting of all members and supporters of Jewish-Bolshevism. Since with the development of the war the possibility of expelling the Jews to Madagascar had vanished, and the conquest of large Polish and Soviet expanses in the East had opened other possibilities for a territorial solution, so Hitler, at the start of 1942, with the goal of a ‘final solution’, took the decision on the resettlement, that is the expulsion or ‘deportation’ of the Jews to the East. Although the Berlin (Grossen Wannsee) confererence (21.01. 1942), at which Heydrich gave instructions to the high Nazi officials on the execution of Hitler’s new orders, spoke only of ‘evacuating’ the Jews from all European lands to the East, it was obvious that the final solution of the Jewish question in this way aimed at achieving their step-by-step annihilation. H. Frank had, before German functionaries in Krakow, spoken more directly of the ‘final solution’. Mentioning that in Poland there were now almost 2.5 million Jews, and including the mischlings perhaps up to 3.5 million, he would say that they ‘cannot all be executed or poisoned’, but that it was necessary ‘to take measures that would bring about their annihilation’, because the war would not be a complete success if Jewry survived.

Thus, in the third year of the Second World War (1942), began the period in which the Third Reich would attempt through the ‘final solution’, that is, the exclusion of the Jews from the life of Germany and the other European nations, to achieve their step-by-step extermination. But, as that goal could not be announced to the world public, and was in the form of a secret directive notified to only a narrow circle of Nazi confidants, this was also kept hidden from the majority of Germans, who took the deportation of the Jews to the East to be their resettlement in the Polish-Russian territories, and held the concentration camps to be work camps and not death camps.

Thus, the accusation that Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’ is simply untrue. But nor is it quite true that the accusations came completely out of nowhere: in this case the lie contains three grains of truth:

1) Tudjman cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims (pp. 155-156):

Regarding the total number of Jewish victims in the Second World War, in world literature there is still not even an approximate scientifically determined fact. On the one hand, estimates range from about four million (G. Reitlinger, 1953) to up to six million (J. Lestchinsky and the American Jewish Congress, 1946, and N. Levin, 1968 and 1973). Raul Hilberg, whose book (1961 and 1973) in terms of comprehensiveness and quality exceeds that of Nora Levin, judges that the total losses exceed about five million or about one third of the pre-war Jewish population, but in his statistical overview alleges that of 5,100,000 deaths there are records for the deaths of 900,000, and casts doubt (putting question-marks) on some other numbers in the framework of the total figure. Those are, presumably, the reasons why there is a need to mention that, on the other hand, some consider the figure of six million deaths to be highly ‘exaggerated’.

This passage has frequently been misquoted to accuse Tudjman of putting the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims at only 900,000, though Tudjman was in fact claiming that a leading Holocaust scholar, Raul Hilberg, had put the figure at 5.1 million and the number of those for whom records existed at 900,000. However, Tudjman then argues (p. 156)

That the mentioned estimates of up to six million dead are based too much, both on emotionally partisan testimony, and on one-sided and exaggerated figures of the postwar settling of accounts for wartime misdeeds and retribution against the defeated perpetrators of war-crimes…

After discussing differing estimates of Jewish, Polish and other casualties at Auschwitz, Majdanek, and elsewhere, Tudjman nevertheless concludes his discussion of the Holocaust (p. 158):

Of course, these examples – whether unconfirmedly indiscriminate or highly contradictory – of giving different figures, do not bring into question the enormity of the war losses of particularly the Jewish and Polish, as well as some other peoples, and in particular are not important for an overall condemnation of the genocidal acts of their perpetrators.

2) Tudjman cites self-evidently anti-Semitic sources to try to show that in the Ustasha death-camp of Jasenovac, Jewish inmates had enjoyed a privileged role in relationship to other groups of prisoners, including Serbs and Gypsies, and had even participated in the persecution and killing of the latter (pp. 316-320). Typical of the way Tudjman gives credence to anti-Semitic testimony against the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is his citation of an anti-Semitic Bosnian Serb former Jasenovac inmate, Vojislav Prnjatovic, whose statement Tudjman quotes (p. 318): ‘A Jew remains a Jew, even in Jasenovac. They have retained all their vices in the camp, only these are now more apparent. Selfishness, cunning, unreliability, avariciousness, treacherousness and a propensity to snitching are their principal characteristics.’

Tudjman then comments (p. 318):

This judgement of Prnjatovic’s reeks of exaggeration; we could say an anti-Semitic inclination, but similar things are said by other witnesses. Some of the Jewish camp officials were armed and participated in the killing. Furthermore, in their hands was, to a large degree, the ‘selection’; i.e., the separation of prisoners for ‘liquidation’, and partly even their actual execution.

Tudjman did not deny the crimes of the Ustashas against Jews in Jasenovac, but his discussion of the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is dominated by their supposed role as perpetrators, rather than their suffering and loss of life. 

3) Tudjman moves straight on from his discussion of the Holocaust to a discussion of Israel and Palestine, in which he compares Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews (p. 160):

After everything that it had suffered in history, particularly that terrible suffering in the Second World War, the Jewish people will in a very short space of time carry out against the Palestinian people such a brutal, genocidal policy that it has justly been termed judeo-Nazism.

Tudjman described Israeli policy as tending toward a ‘“final solution” of the Palestinian question‘, and complained:

And all this is taking place in the middle of the nineteen eighties, when world Jewry still has the need to recall its losses in the ‘Holocaust’, and even to try to prevent the election of the former general secretary of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, as president of Austria ! (p. 160)

Tudjman had fought as a Yugoslav Partisan during World War II, against the Croat Ustasha fascists; his ‘anti-Zionist’ views concerning Israel and Palestine should be attributed not so much to any right-wing Croat nationalist tendencies on his part, but primarily to his formation as a Yugoslav general under Josip Broz Tito’s fiercely pro-Arab and anti-Israeli Communist regime, with its close links to Nasserite Egypt and the Non-Aligned Movement.

In sum, therefore, Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier, but he cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; went out of his way to portray Jewish inmates of the Jasenovac death-camp as perpetrators rather than as victims; and relativised the Holocaust in a manner that can only be deemed deliberately offensive and provocative toward Jews – by comparing it to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Tudjman was a crude Croat chauvinist who was entirely ready to write offensively about Jews, as he was about other groups, and to repeat anti-Semitic cliches about the role of ‘world Jewry’ in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to its alleged use of the memory of the Holocaust. But hostility toward Jews was not central to Tudjman’s worldview, as it was for ideological anti-Semites in the mould of Hitler, Corneliu Codreanu, David Duke, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmud Ahmadinejad or other contemporary Islamic radicals. What was central was a profound cynicism and callousness with regard to questions of genocide and its victims, which led him to veer in the direction of anti-Semitism.

Originally a hard-line doctrinaire Marxist, Tudjman began his evolution into a Croat nationalist through his work as a historian, in which he had attempted to evaluate Croatia’s World War II history more positively; this involved emphasising the Croatian contribution to the Partisan movement. But it also involved challenging the view favoured by some Serb intellectuals, that the Croats were a ‘genocidal nation’, and challenging the high figures given by Yugoslav and Serb historians of Serb victims in the Ustasha genocide, in particular at Jasenovac. These were legitimate gripes: the widely accepted figure of several hundred thousand dead at Jasenovac was indeed a gross exaggeration; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington today places the figure at 56-97,000 (though Tudjman’s own estimate of 30-40,000 was too low). Likewise, the overall figure for Serb deaths in the Ustasha genocide has frequently been put at around a million or upwards. But studies of war-losses carried out by the demographers Bogoljub Kocovic and Vladimir Zerjavic, a Serb and Croat respectively, have shown that the total number of Serbs killed on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia during World War II – including battlefield deaths and civilians killed by the Germans, Italians, Chetniks, Partisans and other non-Ustashas – was somewhat over three hundred thousand. These and other sources suggest a total figure of somewhat under three hundred thousand Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide.

As a historian, therefore, Tudjman was entirely justified in questioning the figures for Serb casualties in mainstream accounts of the Ustasha genocide, particularly where Jasenovac was concerned. But this bee in his bonnet then mutated into the highly cynical and offensive general theory set out in Bespuca, with its anti-Semitic overtones, in which genocide was relativised and the distinction between victims and perpetrators was deliberately blurred. This involved, as we have seen, a questioning of the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; a portrayal, based on anti-Semitic sources, of Jewish inmates of Jasenovac as perpetrators rather than as victims; and a description of Israeli policy toward Palestinians as ‘Judeo-Nazism’. Tudjman had moved seamlessly from skepticism about mainstream evaluations of the Serb death-toll in the Ustasha genocide and resentment of the image of Serb victimhood in it, to skepcitism about the figure of six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and resentment of the image of Jewish victimhood in Jasenovac.

The type of anti-Semitic views expressed by Tudjman in Bespuca, particularly where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerned, was of a kind that is today not unusual among supporters of the UK’s ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and ‘Respect’ party, or among speakers at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual conference. They reflect, in part, Tudjman’s background as a Yugoslav general under Tito’s fiercely ‘anti-Zionist’ Communist regime. But Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier. The accusation that he was, of course, is frequently made by radical leftists in the West, such as supporters of the SWP, who are themselves often apologists for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime – all incomparably more anti-Semitic than was Tudjman. Such radical leftists hold views on Israel and Palestine that are generally similar to, if not more extreme than Tudjman’s, and share his hostility to the Bosnian Muslims, to the idea of a united Bosnia, and to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Of all the revisionist myths that such radical leftists peddle about the former Yugoslavia, the myth that Tudjman was a Holocaust denier is particularly cynical: insofar as it has any origins in reality, it derives from him having said the sort of things about Jews that they do themselves.

Friday, 6 March 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | , , , | Leave a comment

Richard Seymour’s ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’

seymourThe blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb‘, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), published his first book last year, entitled The Liberal Defence of Murder (Verso, London, 2008). Rather than review the whole of the book and make points that other reviewers are likely to make, I am going to focus on the section (pp. 190-212) dealing with my own area of special interest: the former Yugoslavia, to see how Seymour’s thesis holds up. I should declare a special interest, in that I am myself quoted critically in passing in this book, and my own parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, come in for particular criticism in it. Despite this, and despite the fact that I am not exactly a fan of Seymour, his politics or his party, this will be a review in measured tones, as I would like the facts to speak for themselves.

Seymour explains the title in his opening sentence: ‘This book seeks to explain a current of irrational thought that supports military occupation and murder in the name of virtue and decency.’ Broadly speaking, this book is a critique of liberal and left-wing supporters of humanitarian military intervention, as in the cases of Bosnia, Kosova, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the section of the book dealing with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia (pp. 190-205), Seymour is unable to provide any evidence that any of his liberal targets did, indeed, support ‘murder’ – unless simply being in favour of Western military intervention automatically makes one a supporter of ‘murder’. Even so, there are no quotations in this section dealing with just how, or in what way, the liberals in question did indeed support military intervention. Seymour tells us, in his own words, that Ken Livingstone ‘called for force to be used against the Serbs’; that Michael Foot ‘pleaded for a British humanitarian intervention’; and so on. There are no examples provided of any bloodcurdling war-cries, or calls for the Serbs to be bombed back to the Stone Age, or the like. Seymour does a bit better in the section on Kosova (pp. 206-211), where he does provide a couple of quotes, one of which actually comes across as quite bloodthirsty – by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who is quoted here as supporting attacks on the Serbian civilian infrastructure. But that really is just about it: Seymour has no case whatsoever that liberal interventionists supported ‘murder’ in Croatia or Bosnia, and only one quote by one individual that arguably supports his case with regard to Kosova. So we are left with a tautology: support for military intervention is defined as support for murder, therefore any liberal who supported military intervention is evidence of a ‘liberal defence of murder’.

Why, you may ask, did it then take Seymour a whole twenty-one pages to make this point ? How does he fill up those pages ? Well, Seymour’s main argument is not that liberals supported military intervention that might have or did kill Serb civilians. Rather, he attempts to argue that military intervention was wrong because 1) Serb atrocities, and Milosevic’s regime, were not as bad as liberal interventionists made them out to be; and 2) that the Croatians and Bosnians were not worthy of being defended by Western military intervention, because their governments were just as bad as Milosevic’s – possibly worse – and were guilty of the same atrocities. So far from writing a polemic on the evils of Western military intervention, or on the bloodthirsty character of its supporters, Seymour has written a polemic playing down the evils of Milosevic and Serb nationalism, playing up the evils of Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic and Croat and Muslim nationalism, then condemning those liberals who – as he sees it – got the balance wrong. The only quotations he actually produces for his prosecutor’s case against the ‘liberals’ in the entire section on Bosnia and Croatia are quotes expressing condemnation of Serb atrocities, or of Western complicity in them. So we have Alain Finkielkraut quoted using the term ‘Guernica’; Bernard-Henri Levi quoted calling for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnians; Christopher Hitchens quoted as claiming that Serbia and Croatia were led by ‘fascist parties’; Michael Ignatieff quoted describing what was happening as ‘genocide’, and so forth. But as Seymour makes clear, he does not believe that Milosevic and his Serb forces were fascist, or that genocide occurred, or that the Serb forces ran concentration camps, etc.

This, then, is the case for the prosecution: not that liberals actually supported murder, or even that they supported military intervention, but that they made Milosevic and Serb ethnic-cleansing out to be worse than they were, when really, they weren’t bad enough to justify military intervention. Before we turn to Seymour’s actual methodology, it is worth pausing to examine what the premise of this argument is. Seymour is saying that if you used terms like ‘fascism’, ‘genocide’, ‘concentration camps’, etc., to describe Milosevic and his forces and what they were doing, you are a liberal supporter of murder. The correct response, in Seymour’s view, to news and images of Serb ethnic-cleansing and atrocities (which Seymour does not deny took place) is not to demand action in defence of the victims, but to ensure that the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing and these atrocities get a fair coverage and are not condemned in too strong terms. So it really doesn’t take much to be a liberal defender of murder: if you react to images of Serb persecution of Muslim civilian prisoners in camps by using the term ‘concentration camp’, or if you describe a Serb ethnic cleanser as a ‘fascist’, you’re one of the bad guys. Whereas if you try to moderate liberal condemnation of the concentration camps and the ethnic cleansers, as Seymour does, you’re one of the good guys.

Consequently, what Seymour has written is a defence of the Milosevic regime and Serb ethnic-cleansing from their liberal critics. Complaining about the Western media’s treatment of the conflict, Seymour writes that ‘while Izetbegovic was deified, Milosevic received no credit for taking risks with his support by urging the Serbs in Krajina and the Republika Srpska to accept various deals to end the conflict.’ (p. 205) Thus, Seymour condemns Western journalists for failing to portray Milosevic as the peacenik that, in Seymour’s eyes, he really was (as for actual evidence that the Western media ‘deified’ Izetbegovic – Seymour doesn’t provide any).

Seymour’s critique centres not on actual liberal support for military intervention, let alone murder, but on what he sees as a mistaken liberal analysis of what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, and on inappropriate terminology. He condemns the liberals not for having the wrong principles, but for applying them incorrectly. Since there is no real clash of ideals between Seymour and his various liberal targets expressed here, his case rests on how effective his piecemeal demolition job of their case turns out to be.

Rather than bore the reader by going once more into the rights and wrongs of the former Yugoslav conflict, I am going to analyse Seymour’s case entirely in its own terms, by looking in turn at his principal charges against his liberal targets.

1) ‘Backing secession’.

Seymour begins with a critique of my parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare. He quotes a source as saying that ‘when Branka went to visit Zagreb, she flipped over to Croatian nationalism. I mean, she simply backed secession.’ (p. 192) Seymour doesn’t draw any conclusion from this assertion; he simply allows it to speak for itself.

Who is the source in question ? None other than Peter Gowan, a former friend of my mother’s and father’s who parted company with them over the former Yugoslavia. Gowan isn’t by anybody’s standards an expert on the former Yugoslavia; he’s merely a left-wing writer who broadly shares Seymour’s ‘anti-imperialist’ political views and has similar views on the former Yugoslavia. The source is given as ‘author interview with Peter Gowan’.

What Seymour is saying is that he had a chat with his mate Peter, and Peter used to know Branka, and Peter said that Branka supported Croatian nationalism and Croatian secession. We’re talking ‘man in the pub’ scholarship here. But leaving aside the fact that Gowan has zero credibility as an objective judge of Branka’s political evolution, the accusation that Branka ‘backed secession’ is a rather unfortunate one for Seymour to make.

On 31 March 1990, Seymour’s party paper, the Socialist Worker, itself ‘backed secession’ when it wrote: ‘The Lithuanian masses overwhelmingly rejected Russian rule given a chance to vote for the first time recently. They want independence. That is their right. Every socialist should support them.’

On 13 July 1991, the Socialist Worker ‘backed secession’ in Yugoslavia as well: ‘First, the mass of people cannot gain by forcing an ethnic group to stay in a state where it doesn’t want to. That means recognising the right of any national minority to separate from the state if it so wishes, and opposing the murderous activities of the Yugoslav army.’

In other words, Branka is condemned as a liberal defender for murder because she supported exactly the same thing for Croatia – the right to national self-determination – that Seymour’s party supported for Lithuania, and which it initially supported for the Croats as well.

2) ‘Unfair accusations of fascism’.

Seymour accuses his liberal targets that they ‘consistently demonised Slobodan Milosevic as a “fascist” or its equivalent, which was a false and unnecessary embellishment when he was merely a bureaucratic thug’ (p. 194). This complaint comes from someone who routinely describes the British far-right party, the ‘British National Party’, not merely as fascist, but as ‘Nazi’; I don’t particularly object to this, but it is clearly a ‘false and unncessary embellishment’ of the kind that apparently makes one a liberal defender of murder. The only explanation for this double standard is that Seymour supports action against the BNP but retrospectively opposes any action against Milosevic.

But there is no need to trawl through Seymour’s blog to find evidence of his double standards: he devotes nearly a full page (pp. 196-197) to describing the fascist affinities of Croat nationalism. In the space of this one page, he uses the terms ‘fascist’, ‘Nazi’ and ‘Ustashe’ (Croatian fascists) six times in relation to Croatia. It’s true he does not actually describe the Tudjman regime as ‘fascist’ outright. But nor does he mention any equivalent fascist phenomena in relation to Serb nationalism. He does not mention the fact that Serbian paramilitaries called the ‘Chetniks’ – after the Nazi-collaborationist, anti-Semitic, Serb extreme-nationalist movement of World War II – formed part of the Serbian forces, under Belgrade’s control, that assaulted Bosnia in 1992. Or that Milosevic’s sometime collaborator, Vojislav Seselj, was a friend and ally of France’s Jean Marie Le Pen, and had received a decoration from a Chetnik warlord who had fought alongside the Nazis and Ustashe in World War II. Or that the Bosnian Serb nationalists armed and funded by Milosevic’s regime openly embraced the Chetnik heritage. Seymour thus simultaneously defends Serb nationalists from the charge of fascism while accusing Croat nationalists of embracing fascism. He condemns liberals as defenders of murder when they accuse Serb nationalists of the same thing of which he accuses the Croat nationalists.

3) ‘Abuse of the term “genocide”‘

Seymour denies that Serb forces were guilty of genocide, even suggesting that the International Court of Justice may have been guided by political motives when it defined Srebrenica as an act of genocide (p. 204). But while condemning his liberal targets for using the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Milosevic’s Serb forces, he has no qualms at all about tarring Tudjman with the brush of genocide: ‘His [Tudjman’s] position on the question of genocide had been made very clear: “Genocide is a natural phenomenon… Genocide is not only permitted, it is recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty.”‘ Seymour is quoting Tudjman to show that he supports genocide (p. 196).

Where did Seymour get this quote by Tudjman from ? Why, from none other than the book To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, written by Michael Parenti, head of the US section of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM). Parenti’s book, like Seymour’s, was published by Verso. Its Serbian-language edition had a foreword written by Slobodan Milosevic himself ! Needless to say, Parenti, like Seymour, hasn’t read anything Tudjman has written; he doesn’t even provide a reference for the quotation.

I, on the other hand, have read what Tudjman wrote in the Croatian original (Franjo Tudjman, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja, Zagreb, 1989, p. 172):

As we were able to conclude from the preceeding study, in the very (Judaic) origins of all our later, Western, civilisation, in that ancient age when the apex of historical-philosophical human thought was expressed by the word of the biblical god Yahweh, genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon, consistent with human-social and mythological-divine nature. It is not only permitted, but even recommended, moreover even found in the words of the all-powerful Yahweh, always when it is necessary for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen people, or for the maintenance and spread of their one true religion.

Tudjman, writing as a (third-rate) historian and scholar of genocide, is claiming that the Old Testament god Yahweh endorsed genocide. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that he himself supported genocide. Seymour, however, misquotes Tudjman to suggest that he upheld genocide as an ideal. He does this on the basis of a quotation he got from a book written by an American supporter of Milosevic who has never read anything by Tudjman.

Finally, later in the book Seymour claims that the US’s ‘atrocities in Indochina were certainly closer to genocide than anything that happened in the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 219).  Since he provides no evidence or argument whatsoever in support of this tendentious claim, it would appear his expressed concern at the supposed casual misuse of the term ‘genocide’ by liberal interventionists is not quite sincere.

4) Dodgy source materials and ‘imperialist propaganda’

Since Seymour’s case against liberal interventionists really just boils down to the accusation that their analysis of the Yugoslav conflict and use of terminology were flawed, it is worth examining Seymour’s own scholarly apparatus. Owen Hatherley, the SWP supporter who reviewed Seymour’s book for the New Statesman, claimed: ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder is probably more valuable as history than as polemic.’ But would a genuine scholar have made a judgement about Tudjman’s views on genocide on the basis of a third- or fourth-hand misquotation from a Milosevic lobbyist ?

Indeed, Parenti’s grubby little propaganda book is entirely characteristic of the source material that Seymour relies upon. Seymour cites the opinion of ‘George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia desk officer’, that the Western diplomacy that preceded the Kosovo war was ‘equivalent to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which had been used to justify escalation in Vietnam’ (p. 208). Seymour fails to inform his readers that Kenney was a Milosevic sympathiser, who wrote to Milosevic in prison to tell him ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments’.

Seymour cites the views of Edward Herman and David Peterson in support of his argument (p. 203); he does not tell his readers that the two are organisers of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, a lobbying group set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre. One of Seymour’s principal ‘sources’ for his claim that ‘the SDA [Muslim nationalist party] was one of the nationalist parties seeking to use secession and military conflict to amplify its own power’ is Kate Hudson’s book Breaking the South Slav Dream: The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Hudson is the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a member of the Communist Party of Britain, whose newspaper The Morning Star backed the Serb side during the Bosnian war and still publishes Srebrenica-denying articles. Hudson’s book, a propaganda tract that casts doubt on the fact of the Srebrenica massacre, is entirely typical of Seymour’s source material: his endnotes are filled with references to articles by Diana Johnstone, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger and other authors who have no genuine expertise on the former Yugoslavia but who share his political views, and whose unsubstantiated claims are treated as ‘evidence’ for his case.

Thus, for example, Seymour claims: ‘Izetbegovic later confessed to having confected Serb death camps in order to precipitate bombing raids.’ (p. 200) The ‘source’ for this claim is an article in the American far-left magazine Counterpunch by the Srebrenica-denying Paris-based writer, Diana Johnstone, in which she claims that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a case of Serb soldiers killing Muslim soldiers in battle, and that it was anyway engineered by the Muslims. Johnstone’s source for Izetbegovic’s alleged ‘confession’ was the memoirs of the French politician Bernard Kouchner, but Seymour doesn’t bother to consult the French original; he merely takes Johnstone’s article as a sound source on which to base his argument, as he did with Parenti.

Even if one assumes Johnstone has cited Kouchner accurately, one wonders how Seymour can criticise liberal interventionists for poor methodology, when he takes every single accusation made by Western politicians against Izetbegovic and the Muslims at face value. Never mind that Kouchner’s French government was aiding and abetting Milosevic’s destruction of Bosnia, and maintaining an arms embargo against the Bosnians; we are supposed simply to believe his accusations against Izetbegovic.

Likewise, Seymour cites ‘Philip Corwin, the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of 1995’ as a witness to the fact that ‘following the Dayton settlement, thousands of Serbs were vindictively “cleansed” from areas of Bosnia by state police forces.’ Seymour continues approvingly: ‘Corwin was relentlessly critical of the media depiction of events…’ (p. 201). What Seymour doesn’t tell his readers is that Corwin was one of the ‘advisors and contributors to the work of the Srebrenica Research Group’, Edward Herman’s Srebrenica-denying outfit, and therefore had political views that might lead a genuine scholar to question the objectivity of his account.

Indeed, one of the unintended achievements of this book is that it marshals enough evidence to demolish convincingly the view that Seymour himself appears to hold: that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was the party favoured by ‘Western imperialism’ while Milosevic and the Serb ethnic-cleansers were the victims of imperialism. Seymour writes (p. 204):

Other stories barely examined [by the Western media] include what might be described as ‘false flag’ operations, such as the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at the Markale market in 1994, which helped precipitate the Nato bombing of Serb positions. Many UN officials believed that the shelling had come from the Bosnian army, and Unprofor accused Bosnian government forces of ‘firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire.’

So the representatives of Western imperialism in Bosnia accused the Bosnians of massacring their own people in order to blame it on the Serbs, and of ‘provoking’ Serb attacks on hospitals and public buildings. Seymour’s endorsement of these claims means that his argument cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as ‘anti-imperialist’ – on the contrary, he upholds the claims made by Western imperialist officials against the victims of Western intervention; that they were to blame for their own suffering. This is, it seems, the only way he can construct his critique of the defenders of Bosnia.

5) ‘Inflated casualty figures’

Seymour devotes some space to trying to show that liberal interventionist estimates of Bosnian or Muslim casualty figures in the war have ‘not stood the test of time’ (p. 203). This is taken as evidence of the weakness of the liberal-interventionist case. Consequently, Seymour cites the evidence of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, that calculated the total number of people directly killed in the Bosnian war on all sides, both civilian and military, to be in the region of 100,000, or considerably less than the ‘up to 330,000’ deaths claimed, according to Seymour, by the liberal interventionists.

This being such a key element in his argument, how does Seymour himself deal with the casualty figures for Serb victims ? With regard to the Srebrenica massacre, Seymour writes: ‘In the run-up to that atrocity, a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs.’ (p. 204). Yet according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre itself, which Seymour himself cites, the total number of Serb civilians killed in the entire wider region of Podrinje,  where Srebrenica was located, during the whole of the war was 849. In other words, the figures that Seymour himself cites – and which were not available to liberal defenders of Bosnia during the war – disprove his own claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’ killed ‘thousands of Serbs’ near Srebrenica. In fact, the Research and Documentation Centre has specifically refuted the claim that ‘thousands’ of Serb civilians were killed in the atrocities Seymour cites; it calculates the total number of Serb civilians killed in the locality in question during the war to be 119.

Likewise, Seymour claims that Croatia was guilty of the ‘ethnic cleansing of up to 300,000 Serbs during Operation Storm’ (p. 203). This figure of ‘up to 300,000’ is apparently taken from Hudson, who also writes of a ‘massive population flight of up to 300,000 Serbs’ resulting from Operation Storm (Hudson, p. 119). But what was the real figure ? According to Amnesty International, ‘In May and August 1995, the Croatian Army and police forces recaptured Western Slavonia and the Krajina region. During and after these military offensives, some 200,000 Croatian Serbs, including the entire Croatian Serb Army, fled to the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Bosnian Serb control.’ According to the ICTY’s indictment of the Croatian general Ante Gotovina: ‘The “Oluja” offensive resulted in the displacement of an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Krajina Serbs, who fled or were forced to flee, during, and in the aftermath, of the said offensive.’ The top figure of this range – 200,000 – includes the Krajina Serb army, which numbered about 40,000. The number of displaced Serb civilians was therefore closer to 150,000.

If exaggerating casualty figures is a crime that makes one a ‘liberal defender of murder’, then what does it make Seymour ?

In conclusion, it is really very difficult to work out what Seymour intends to achieve with this poorly researched, poorly sourced, repeatedly self-contradictory and entirely unsuccessful excercise in nit-picking, which amounts, as we have seen, simply to a series of spectacular own goals. But even if we were to concede Seymour’s main points (which we don’t, of course), and to accept that the Milosevic regime was not fascist, did not commit genocide and was not qualitatively worse than the Tudjman or Izetbegovic regimes, would he have a case ? Are people who reacted to the horrors of Omarska, Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo by calling for Western military intervention to halt them really defenders of murder ?

This is perhaps what is most shocking about Seymour’s whole, sorry ideological exercise: the perverse obsession with trying to prove that the people who wanted to stop the racist mass-murder and close the concentration camps were the bad guys.

Update: Seymour has written a response to me. He writes:

‘Hoare is scandalised that I impute “political motives” to the International Court of Justice: the problem is that I don’t. He is referring to page 204, which explicitly references the ICTY, a wholly different (and highly politicised) body.’

This is what Seymour writes, on p. 204:

‘Designed to ethnically cleanse the territory and capture it decisively for the Republika Srpska, the operation [against Srebrenica] is now considered by the US-sponsored ICTY and the International Court of Justice as the only instance of “genocide” that can be shown to have occurred. Serbia, however, was cleared of involvement in the massacre. Some scholarly opinion has cast doubt on the verdict of genocide, and it could be argued that the purpose of the judicial process was less to establish the facts of the case than to determine a politically convenient verdict.’

Carry on digging, comrade…

Update no. 2: In his response to me, Seymour is now attempting to justify his claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’  in the area around Srebrenica had killed ‘thousands’ of Serbs by insisting he was referring to Serb military casualties as well as civilians:

‘I did say “Serbs” and not “Serb civilians”, and the total number of Serbs killed in that area, according to Hoare’s source, is 5573. He might have been more attentive to what he was reading.’

Even if we accept the extremely dubious proposition that Serb military casualties should be counted as victims of a Muslim ‘wave of terror’, the figures still do not support Seymour’s claim.

Firstly, he has cited the wrong figure: 5,573  refers to the deaths of Serbs from Podrinje, including those killed in other parts of Bosnia. The number of Serbs killed in Podrinje, including those from other parts of Bosnia, is 4,848. But this refers to all Serbs killed in the whole of the Podrinje region during the whole of the war, not just those killed near Srebrenica.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Research and Documentation Centre, whose data Seymour relies upon to make his case, has calculated the total number of Serb civilian and military deaths in the ‘wave of terror’ that Seymour refers to. It puts Serb civilian deaths at 119 and Serb military deaths at 448. This puts the maximum possible number of Serb deaths in Seymour’s ‘wave of terror’ at 567, rather than in the ‘thousands’ that he claims.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | 1 Comment

Is Israel today like Serbia in the 1990s ? An exchange

gaza3I received today a critical response to my post yesterday about the conflict in Gaza from my friend Jasmin Ademovic, who is an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is from Srebrenica in Bosnia. With Jasmin’s permission, I am publishing his letter along with my response to it.

Marko,

Hope all is well. I just read your blog article on the Palestine-Israel issue, and felt that I had to comment, something I rarely do on websites such as the Guardian, New Statesman etc because ignorance or the belief of righteousness can rarely be defeated. Perhaps I’m just too cynical.

However, reading your article disappointed me, probably because it was from you. It seems that you’re willing to go further in condemning the Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo than you are in relation to the Israelis, which is somewhat upsetting because I see a level of similarity between the Republika Srpska and Israel, i.e the creation of an entity (with the hope of eventual statehood through policies of attacks and non-refugee return) and the state of Israel which has expanded over 60 years to what it is now. This has been achieved through ethnic cleansing; Ilan Pappe and my own former personal tutor Oren Ben-Dor describe it as genocide. However, after my dissertation I’m not as convinced as they are about this because of the difficulty in law in defining it.

Anyway, we can all agree on Hamas rocket attacks being probable war crimes and pointless. Personally I hope for the Palestinians to become more like the Black South Africans in terms of violence/non-violence as a tactic. However, saying that ‘given the equal justice of both…causes’ does not seem to be accurate – in 60 years’ time if Bosnian Muslims were firing rockets at the RS I would not be saying that the Serbs had a ‘just cause’ and neither would you.

And as far as the Hamas rejection of Israel – they have said they would recognise them (because it would be practical and necessary to do so) if they fulfilled certain criteria. Considering Israel always wants its criteria fulfilled before it ‘talks’ about ‘peace’ why should it be any different for the Palestinians after 60 years of aggression, repression and war crimes ?

I could go on forever, do another dissertation on this etc, so I’ll stop here. Hopefully you can make out some valid points, as I feel that was more of a rant.

All the best.

Jasmin

Jasmin,

I do understand where you’re coming from, and I used to feel that way about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict myself. But I think there are important reasons why one should be more even-handed with regard to Israel and Palestine than with regard to Serbia and Bosnia or Kosova.

Firstly, nobody in Bosnia or Kosova denies the right of Serbia to exist as a state, or denies the legitimacy of the Serbs’ national existence. Nobody is threatening to wipe Serbia off the map. By contrast, what makes the Israeli case unique is the way that wide sections of the Arab and Muslim worlds have linked the Palestinian cause with rejection of the legitimacy of Israel as a state and nation, and a belief that Israel ought rightfully to disappear

Secondly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t just about the Israelis and Palestinians. The international campaigns in defence of Bosnia and Kosova were for the most part benevolent, progressive and democratic. By contrast, while one section of the pro-Palestinian movement is indeed progressive and democratic, the Palestinian cause has unfortunately been to a considerable extent hijacked by some extremely poisonous elements: anti-Semites, Islamists and other members of the extreme right and extreme left in the West; people who hate the US and liberal democracy, and interpret the Palestinian struggle against Israel in anti-Western terms.

Very often, these are the same people who have supported Milosevic and the Great Serbian cause for the same anti-Western reasons. This is an entirely negative and reactionary category of people. By contrast, I feel I have a lot in common with liberal Zionists who support a two-state solution; many liberal Zionists have been staunch defenders of Bosnia, and opponents of the genocide in Darfur.

Thirdly, whatever the faults of the Izetbegovic regime, it was not on a par with Hamas, which is an explicitly fundamentalist, anti-Semitic organisation. Izetbegovic favoured Muslim coexistence with non-Muslims in Bosnia; Hamas would like to wipe out the Jews or drive them into the sea. Its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians have to be seen in this context.

I agree that there are some parallels between the Republika Srpska and Israel, but ultimately the differences greatly outweigh the similarities.

Firstly, the Serbs before 1992 already had their own national state – Serbia – and an independent multinational Bosnia was an entirely reasonable compromise solution to the Bosnian Serb national question. Bosnian Serbs had traditionally viewed Bosnia as their homeland and supported Bosnian autonomy, and a part of them did, indeed, accept Bosnian independence in 1992. But the Jews have no national state but Israel, and there was no realistic alternative for the fulfilment of their national aspirations; a bi-national Jewish-Arab state in Palestine was not a serious possibility.

Secondly, whereas it was the Serb nationalists who rejected the moderate option and started the war in 1992, it was the Arabs who rejected the UN partition plan of 1947, which was the most reasonable compromise solution. After losing the Israeli war of independence, the Arabs then refused to make peace with Israel or recognise it. They thereby ensured that the Palestinian refugees would remain refugees, and their implacable hostility led directly to the war of 1967, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Of course one should condemn the Israeli ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians in the 1940s and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, but it is ultimately the Arab side that bears the greater blame for the outbreak and persistence of this conflict.

Finally, there is a practical reason for being even handed: the world is bitterly divided over the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; international efforts to resolve it will only be effective and have legitimacy in the eyes of the world if pressure is put on both sides. But as for your point about the desirability of Palestinian resistance evolving to be more like Nelson Mandela’s black South African resistance; I entirely agree.

Best,
Marko

Thursday, 15 January 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Israel, Jews, Kosovo, Palestine, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia | 1 Comment

Don’t cry for Harold Pinter

Britain Pinter ObitHarold Pinter, the British playwright and Nobel Laureate, has died. At this time of loss, it is worth remembering with what empathy and compassion Pinter responded to the loss and suffering of others. And how did Pinter respond to the tens of thousands of dead in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s; to the tens of thousands of women and children raped or forced into prostitution; to the Sarajevans left without limbs as a result of mortar fire; to the pain and bereavement suffered by the widows and orphans of Vukovar, Srebrenica and Racak; to the hundreds of thousands forced into miserable lives as refugees ? By joining the ‘International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic’ (ICDSM), that’s how.

For Pinter, it wasn’t enough that the people of the former Yugoslavia should suffer such loss; he wanted to deprive them of justice as well. On the ICDSM’s website, Pinter’s name appears eighth on the list of signatories to its petition, which demanded that ‘the Serbian authorities immediately release Slobodan Milosevic and all other Serbian patriots from jail.’ It went on: ‘We demand that neither Slobodan Milosevic, nor any other Yugoslav, be sent to the Hague Tribunal. We demand an end to the arbitrary kidnapping, arrest, harassment and persecution of Yugoslav leaders and soldiers and ordinary people whose crime was to set an example to the world by resisting NATO aggression. Free Slobodan Milosevic at once! End persecution of Mr. Milosevic and all Yugoslav patriots and soldiers at once!’

Lest it be forgotten, the Hague tribunal was established by a resolution of the UN Security Council. But in Pinter’s words: ‘ I regard this particular court as illegitimate and, in fact, with no proper international substance. I regard it as an American-inspired court, really. I mean, [former US secretary of state] Madeleine Albright kicked the whole thing off, so I think it’s a really partial court and has no proper legal foundation or substance.’

This is noteworthy, as Pinter also regarded the US invasion of Iraq as ‘demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law’, as he said in his Nobel lecture. And he accused NATO of ‘ignoring the UN’ by intervening in Kosova without its authorisation. Yet he had no qualms about himself calling upon Serbia to disregard the UN’s own war-crimes tribunal, in order to defend a mass-murdering former dictator from facing justice.

Nor was Pinter satisfied with attempting to deny justice to the victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing; he wanted to minimise their suffering as well. In his words: ‘When I say propaganda, there is an enormous amount of propaganda about Milosevic. We were told initially that he was responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people. That of course has never been proved, and is obviously not the case.’ But, of course, it was the case, and has been proved. When Pinter joined the ICDSM, The Guardian reported: ‘Although he believes that Mr Milosevic was “ruthless and savage”, he has long argued that he has been unfairly demonised as the “butcher of the Balkans”. He blames his former vice-president, the ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj – for much of the ethnic cleansing.’ A line of argument reminiscent of the Holcaust revisionist David Irving, who claimed that Himmler planned and carried out the Holocaust without Hitler’s knowledge.

Of course, apologists for Pinter will try to deflect criticism of his support for Milosevic by saying ‘Whatabout Tudjman ?’ But the fact is that nobody – NOBODY- on the British left did anything even remotely as shameful as setting up or joining an ‘International Committee to Defend Franjo Tudjman’. Those of us who supported the prosecution of Milosevic by the Hague tribunal also support the prosecution of Tudjman’s Croatian generals who have been indicted by the same body. Opposition to the Hague tribunal is something that united Milosevic supporters like Pinter with the Croatian-nationalist supporters of Tudjman. Readers may wish to contrast what I have written about Tudjman, or what my mother, Branka Magas, wrote about him, with Pinter’s defence of Milosevic.

So all in all, I am roughly as sad about Pinter’s death as Pinter was sad about the deaths of the tens of thousands killed by Milosevic or for the hundreds of thousands whose lives were ruined by him. Of course, it might be argued that, however obnoxious his politics or his actions were, Pinter deserves credit for being a great playwright. But I’ll never know if this argument is valid or not. I have never read or seen any of Pinter’s plays. And I never shall.

Saturday, 27 December 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, NATO, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | Leave a comment

Victory to the Greek revolution !

wide-greece-cp-5973209The uprising that is taking place in Greece should serve as a verdict on the corrupt and aggressive government of Costas Karamanlis and New Democracy. Rioting and violence are to be deplored, but they are symptoms of the deep malaise from which Greece is suffering. They should not be allowed to obscure the legitimacy of the Greek popular struggle that has broken out against poverty, corruption and police brutality. While I condemn all acts of violence and vandalism, I should like to express my complete solidarity with the youth, workers and other citizens of Greece who are protesting and striking peacefully. Democracy means that the government and state can be held accountable for a country’s woes. And when the youth of Greece is rioting on such a scale, in a manner that transcends social classes, it is a sign that the government and state have gone very badly wrong. Mr Karamanlis and his government should resign; Greek politics and the Greek state are in desperate need of a thorough rejuvenation.

For those of us who have been as bemused as much as horrified by the lunacy of Athens’s escalation of the ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia this year, we now have an explanation: Greece’s bullying of Macedonia has been the behaviour of a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who lashes out at colleagues, neighbours and family members. But this has not come from nowhere. In a Balkan neighbourhood of unhealthy, dysfunctional states, Greece is one of the sickest. And it is not a new sickness. As Maria Margaronis writes, in one of the best articles on the crisis, the contemporary order in Greece was built on the defeat of the anti-fascist movement in World War II and the Greek Civil War in the 1940s. In one of the most shameful episodes of the Cold War, Britain and the US backed the Greek rightists, their hands stained with collaboration with the Nazis, in their murderous campaign against the anti-fascist left, laying the basis for a post-war Greece whose political classes have behaved with almost unparallelled brutality and irresponsibilty, both toward their own people and toward their neighbours.

The right’s victory in the Greek Civil War set the seal on a post-war Greek state for which persecution of leftists and ethnic minorities would be intrinsic. The victory involved the renewed crushing of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece, and ensured the continuation of the pre-war fascist regime’s policy of its forced assimilation, culminating in the campaign in the 1990s to force the newly independent Republic of Macedonia to change its name. Fear of a centre-left electoral victory in 1967 provoked a military coup and the establishment of the Colonels’ junta, which persecuted leftists and democrats, murderously suppressed a student uprising in November 1973 and provoked the Turkish invasion of Cyprus by its adventuristic attempt to annex the island.

Thus, the same brutal, corrupt and unreconstructed Greek state has trampled on Greece’s citizens, ethnic minorities and neighbours alike. The fall of the junta in 1974 did not lead to a thorough democratisation of this state, which continues to this day to persecute its ethnic Macedonian (‘Slavophone’) and its Turkish (‘Muslim’) minorities. Regarding both minorities, Greece has been found guilty of violating their rights by the European Court of Human Rights. Whether in their support for Slobodan Milosevic’s Great Serbian imperialism, persecution of the Republic of Macedonia or obstruction of international recognition of Kosova’s independence, Greece’s political classes have long played a thoroughly regressive role in Balkan regional politics.

The mass mobilisation of youth, spearheaded by anarchists and other radical elements, in response to the police shooting of the teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Exarchia in Athens, is an indication of the extent to which the Greek state is viewed as an alien oppressor by some segments of the population; the police are hated by many Greeks as they are hated among some ethnic minorities in the US and other Western countries. Yet the corruption of the Greek political classes is not limited to the parties of the right; the socialist PASOK actually exceeded New Democracy in the extent of its anti-Macedonian chauvinism and support for Milosevic’s regime in the early 1990s. Nor does PASOK enjoy much greater public confidence than the ruling New Democracy: according to a recent poll, 55% of respondents said neither party appeared competent to handle the situation.

The Communist Party of Greece, for its part, is a Red-Brown party whose chauvinism and xenophobia exceed those of New Democracy and PASOK, as indicated, for example, by its championing of Milosevic and support for the anti-Macedonian campaign. Indeed, in Greece, perhaps more than in any other Balkan country, national chauvinism and anti-Western xenophobia seamlessly unite hardline left-wing and right-wing currents.

After Russia, Belarus and Turkey, Greece is the European country perhaps most in need of a democratic revolution to shake up its political classes and introduce a genuinely democratic culture that will respect the rights of its youth, workers, ethnic minorities and neighbours alike. In these circumstances, it would be a mistake to dismiss the Greek popular protests simply because of the destructive actions of the hooligans who have been smashing up shops, or because of the infantile politics of anarchists and other extreme left-wing elements. As Margaronis notes: ‘Anarchist groups dreaming of revolution played a key part in the first waves of destruction, but this week’s protests were not orchestrated by the usual suspects, who relish a good bust-up and a whiff of teargas. There’s been no siege of the American embassy, no blaming Bush, very few party slogans.’

Indeed, as Takis Michas points out, the unwillingness of the government to halt the violence is itself further indication of its irresponsibility and bankruptcy: ‘Anyone watching this absurd scene could be excused for concluding that a secret deal had been struck between the government and the rioters: We let you torch and plunder to your heart’s content, and you let us continue pretending that we are in charge.’ The political bankruptcy of the mainstream parties has allowed extremists to hijack popular discontent. Yet this does not mean that in Greece – where one in five lives below the poverty line and 70% of those aged 18-25 are unemployed – the people do not have genuine grievances. Only a thorough programme of both democratic and social reforms, an alleviation of social misery and a tackling of corruption, can rescue Greece from the hands of the extremists of both right and left and lay the basis for a functioning Greek democracy. It is to be hoped that the events of the past week will catalyse such a programme of change.

That is why I say: long live the youth, workers and citizens of Greece ! Victory to the Greek revolution !

Monday, 15 December 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, Turkey | 2 Comments

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