Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

How ‘progressive’ is the campaign against Rebecca Long-Bailey over her comments on abortion?

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Rebecca Long-Bailey, one of the frontrunners in the contest for the Labour leadership, has come under fire for saying that she personally believes the time-limit for the abortion for disabled foetuses to be the same as for non-disabled foetuses (24 weeks into pregnancy), and that in case of any changes to Britain’s abortion law, she would ensure that the views of the Catholic Church were heard. Long-Bailey is widely regarded as the ‘Continuity Corbyn’ candidate and has the backing of the Momentum movement, so we are in the very strange position of seeing Labour centrists attacking a Corbynite politician for not being left-wing enough.

There is a cognitive dissonance between Labour centrists attacking Corbynites, probably correctly, for losing the election by being too left wing, then attacking a Corbynite leadership candidate for being insufficiently left-wing on abortion. While support for a radical liberalisation of Britain’s already liberal abortion laws is strongly supported by many Labour members, including those with moderate or centrist views on other issues, it is not popular with the British public, which would actually be sympathetic to a moderate change to the UK’s abortion law along the lines Long-Bailey suggested. And support for such a change is higher among women than men.

For many Labour centrists, radical abortion-law reforms are an obsession equivalent to the Labour left’s obsession with Palestine: a ‘progressive’ cause that may or may not be worthy, but is certainly not a major concern for most British people. Ironically, just as the Corbynites’ Palestine obsessions led many of them into the murky waters of anti-Semitism, so the abortion obsessions of certain Labour ‘moderates’ are leading them to outright anti-Catholic bigotry; most notably in the statement of Paul Mason, a supporter of rival Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer, who tweeted that ‘I don’t want Labour’s policy on reproductive rights dictated by the Vatican’. Such tropes reflect the same sort of ‘dual loyalty’ insinuations regarding Catholics that some Corbynites and others have directed against Jews.

But just as left-wing anti-Zionism turns out not to be quite so ‘progressive’ when you look a little more closely, so too with the cause Long-Bailey’s critics are championing.

Continue reading at Large Blue Footballs

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 Posted by | Abortion, Genocide, Liberalism, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dragan Markovina’s falsehoods about my book ‘The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War’

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Dragan Markovina, the founder and first president of the New Left (Nova Ljevica) party in Croatia, has written a commentary on my book ‘The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War’, which I here reply to.

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1) Markovina writes: ‘Ključni je pak, nezanemariv i neoprostiv problem ove knjige u tome što se u najbitnijem ni po čemu ne razlikuje od revizionističke historiografije u Srbiji, koja prodaje priču o dva antifašistička pokreta, i u Hrvatskoj, o tome kako je jedino zbog čega bi partizane trebalo honorirati činjenica da su stvorili federalnu Hrvatsku. Hoare zapravo tvrdi doslovno isto, da su postojala dva muslimanska oslobodilačka pokreta, koja su se zbližavala i udaljavala, da bi se na koncu ipak ujedinila u partizanskoj vojsci, a sve sa zajedničkim ciljem stvaranja federalne Bosne i Hercegovine. Ovaj autor to radi daleko pametnije od njegovih pandana u Srbiji i Hrvatskoj, na način da ne falsificira činjenice, ali bit ostaje ista.’

Neither of these claims regarding my thesis is correct. It is untrue that I claimed that the Muslim autonomists were some sort of anti-fascist resistance movement, and also untrue that I claimed that the two movements – the Partisans and Muslim autonomists – united to form a single movement. My thesis was that a) the Muslim autonomists were NOT an anti-fascist resistance movement, and were a resistance movement only insofar as they were anti-Ustasha, while being very much collaborationist in relation to the occupying powers; and b) that elements of them were coopted into the Partisans and NOP, but certainly NOT the autonomists as a whole, against which the Partisans fought throughout the war.

As regards the first of these claims, I am going simply to repeat what I wrote in response to Xavier Bougarel, who mischaracterised my thesis in a similar way:

i) I wrote ‘Although the Muslim autonomists were not a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier – they were none of these – they were a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-Ustasha and anti-NDH’ (p. 10). They were a ‘specifically Bosnian anti-Ustasha (though not anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier) current of resistance, that paralleled and overlapped with the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement (NOP)’ (p. 14).

ii) I described the Muslim autonomist leader Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic as ‘the de facto leader of the pro-German but anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim elite’ who ‘adopted a back-seat role in channelling Muslim autonomist opposition to the NDH’ (p. 41).

iii) I discuss the efforts of Muslim autonomists ‘who were anti-Ustasha but nevertheless ready to collaborate with the occupiers’ (p. 40) to seek ‘direct German military administration over the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina’ (pp. 40-41); the stated desire of Murat-beg Pasic, a Muslim autonomist notable from Bijeljina, to ‘fight for Bosnia-Hercegovina, albeit under German military protection’ (p. 44); and the attempts of Muslim autonomists in Hercegovina to ‘express the loyalty of the Muslims of Hercegovina to the Kingdom of Italy’ and seek ‘the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina under Italian protection’ (p. 50).

iv) I described in detail the Muslim Memorandum to Hitler of November 1942 as ‘the culmination of activity on the part of the pro-German, anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim autonomist movement. Up until the summer and autumn of 1943, Muslim autonomist activity aimed predominantly at direct collaboration with the Germans to bypass the Ustashas, rather than at direct resistance activity.’ (p. 51).

v) I cite the Memorandum’s enthusiastically pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic words addressed to ‘Our Führer !’: ‘Nobody, not a single ethnic group, not a single tribe, likewise not a single nation in all Europe has with greater devotion felt and understood your gigantic movement to establish a New Order in Europe as have we Bosnians, Muslims of Bosnia. We have in the principles of National Socialism, your movement, felt that it alone brings justice, order and peace to Europe, which has been blighted and ruined by democracy.’ (p. 52) I cite the Memorandum’s reference to the fact that ’the Jewish problem among us has finally been solved…’ (p. 52).

vi) I describe the opposition of the leading Sarajevo Muslim autonomists Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic and Mehmed Handzic to collaboration with the NOP (p. 82); the fact that Handzic was the ‘most powerful opponent of both the Partisans and the Ustashas among the Muslim autonomists’ (pp. 247-248) and that the NOP may have assassinated him; the execution by the Partisans of the Tuzla Muslim autonomist leader Muhamed-aga Hadziefendic (p. 137); that Nesad Topcic, leader of the Muslim autonomist ‘Green Forces’, directed his activity primarily against the Partisans (p. 189) and was eventually killed by them (p. 257); that Tito considered Muslim autonomist leader Hafiz Muhamed efendi Pandza, with whom the Partisans collaborated, to have been ‘an agent of the Gestapo all along’ (p. 153); and the Partisans’ execution of Srebrenica Muslim autonomist Ismet Bektasevic after he abandoned them for the Ustashas (p. 143).

 

2) Markovina writes: ‘Hoare, jednako kao i hrvatski državotvorni povjesničari potpuno zanemaruje ideju socijalne revolucije kao konstitutivnog dijela dio te borbe, koju jedva da spominje, a i pritom posredno, ali očito u potpunosti relativizira moralne izbore. Kao da je potpuno svejedno da li je netko bio od početka i svo vrijeme antifašistički opredijeljen ili nije.’

Markovina doesn’t explain what he means by ‘the idea of social revolution’, and by linking it to the assertion that it was not ‘potpuno svejedno da li je netko bio od početka i svo vrijeme antifašistički opredijeljen ili nije‘, he suggests that he himself doesn’t know what he means. Because the whole point is that a social revolution and an antifascist movement are NOT the same thing.

Does he mean a social revolution in the countryside, among the peasantry who comprised most of Bosnia’s population ? But the real social revolution there had already been carried out by the royal Yugoslav regime after 1918, and involved radical agrarian reform to the benefit of the Bosnian Serb peasantry and at the expense of the Muslim landlords and their families, reducing many of them to poverty. Taking this radical social change a step further to encompass actual extermination or expulsion of the Muslims was what the Chetniks attempted to do, while the Partisans followed the more conservative policy of trying to preserve Bosnia’s traditional multiethnic coexistence.

Does Markovina mean a social revolution in the towns, among the proletariat ? But their socio-economic circumstances did not naturally lead them to support the sort of guerrilla uprising the Communists wanted to wage, involving destroying industrial assets to prevent the occupiers using them. In Zenica in July 1941, one veteran of the struggle recalled that local Communists feared ‘If we destroy the steel mill, the workers will become unemployed en masse and their hostility to Pavelić will be turned against the Communists’. When the Partisans destroyed the industrial assets of Drvar in September 1941, one Partisan recalled ‘To be honest, it has to be said that the best part of the people could not immediately understand and accept the meaning of this action. The majority of the population, which lived from their earnings from these factories, did not approve of their burning.’ Thus, the Partisan movement cannot be seen simply as some sort of outgrowth of pre-existing working-class struggle.

Does Markovina mean an idea of social revolution that existed in the Communists’ heads ? But the revolution in Bosnia wholly failed to unfold according to such pre-existing conceptions of what Communists thought it should look like; for example, richer peasants (‘kulaks’) were on the whole more likely to support the Partisans and poorer peasants to support the Chetniks. When the Communist leadership did shift in the direction of the ‘second stage’ of the revolution – of going from an anti-fascist struggle to a proletarian struggle – it had disastrous consequences for the Partisans in Hercegovina, where it led to systematic extermination of ‘kulaks’ that drove the local population into the arms of the Chetniks. The Hercegovinian Partisan Ljubica Mihić later recalled entering the struggle in the villages ‘with all the bookish, dogmatic prejudices concerning kulaks, middling peasants and poor peasants, and there I found a totally unexpected situation. Instead of by class, the division was national, and our ideas were not even accepted by the poor’.

The reality is that the Communists called the struggle they were waging a ‘Narodnooslobodilacka borba’ – National Liberation Struggle or People’s Liberation Struggle. They did not call it a ‘Klasnooslobodilacka borba’ or ‘Socijalnooslobodilacka borba’. They fought and won a national-liberation struggle using patriotic and anti-fascist rhetoric, not a class-liberation struggle using class rhetoric. The national struggle and the genocidal threat, represented in Bosnia by the Ustashas and Chetniks, were far more important than any social or class factors in mobilising people into the NOP. That is why the NOP took much stronger root among the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia than in Serbia, and stronger root among the Croats in Dalmatia (annexed by Italy) than among the Croats in northern Croatia, irrespective of prewar social conditions. And it is why the Muslim Bosniaks, who had mostly voted alongside their own ‘bourgeoisie’ for the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation before the war, were ready to join the NOP en masse.

 

3) Markovina writes:Autorova tendencioznost vidi se i po još jednom detalju, a to je izostanak priče o Mostaru, koji je spomenut izravno ili posredno tek na 5-6 mjesta, a isto vrijedi i za Hercegovinu generalno.’

This is what my index says:

‘Mostar: 15, 17, 30, 32, 46, 47, 50, 118, 124-5, 176, 185, 193, 225, 339, 276, 277, 291, 350, 360, 368, 377; Muslim Resolution of (1941), 42-43, 360; Chetnik activity in, 49, 106-7, 112; early NOP activity in, 67-69, 79-81, 82; liberation of (1945) 266–9’

In other words, Mostar appears in rather more than five or six places.

 

4) Markovina writes: ‘Zašto mislim da je izostanak šireg prikaza stanja u Mostaru planski izostao? Pa zato jer s mostarskim slučajem, u kojem je gro Muslimana, pa tako i moja baka bio u radničkom pokretu i činio najznačajniju bazu partizanske vojske i gradskih ilegalaca od prvih dana okupacije i rata, pa sve do kraja, sve Hoarine teze padaju u vodu. Mostarski muslimani su u najvećem broju, od početka i bez ikakvih kalkulacija bili u antifašističkom pokretu zato jer su bili komunisti. A Hoare se ponaša tako da kad mu nešto ne odgovara, jednostavno prešuti. Tako mu je svugdje drugo važan nacionalni sastav partizana, samo za Mostar spominje generalno jak antifašistički pokret, bez spominjanja nacionalnog sastava.’

What is notable here is that Markovina cannot simply criticise the book for (as he sees it) neglecting to discuss something sufficiently that he considers important. No, he has to make the accusation of deliberate bad faith, or suppression of evidence, on the historian’s part. Which, to put it as politely as possible, reflects his own authoritarian-Communist intolerance and small-mindedness when faced with anything that does not confirm his own biases and cliches. When I am constantly and repeatedly attacked by Twitter Chetniks for supposedly exaggerating the Muslim Bosniak participation in the NOP, it very strange to be suddenly attacked with the opposite accusation: that I am supposedly downplaying Muslim Bosniak support for the NOP !

In my book ‘Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia’, I wrote the following: ‘The Hercegovinian capital of Mostar was the large town in Bosnia-Hercegovina where during the 1930s opposition to the Belgrade regime was strongest, and perhaps the one subsequently where support for the NOP would be most pronounced. In the words of Čolaković: “For Mostar it is characteristic that there the Muslims are the main basis of our movement. Few Muslim homes in Mostar are not tied to our movement, not only those of the poor but those of the notables.” According to Humo: “In Mostar a broad People’s Liberation Front was created and the Partisan families contributed a lot to its cohesion and activity. Almost every family had someone in the Partisans, and the Party involved all those families in its work. The solidarity of the citizens was such that illegal agents could freely move about without worrying that someone would reveal them. Every house was ready to hide anyone in danger.” Finally Vlado Šegrt, former commander of the 29th Hercegovinian Division, said of Mostar: “Rarely could one find any other town with a greater percentage of the population ready to involve themselves actively in the Partisan movement. There were towns in which the great majority of the people sympathised with the Partisans and were just waiting for the time when we should come and bring freedom, but there were few towns like Mostar in which so many people were ready to accept such difficult and dangerous tasks. These claims are supported by the testimony of the Ustasha police, which reported powerful Communist activity in several areas of public life in the city: pupils of the Mostar Gymnasium were “over 80% Communist oriented”; in the tobacco factory Communists were “spreading Communism unhindered among our workers”; Mostar citizens, Croats as well as Muslims, were demanding the release of Communist prisoners and the return of sacked Serbs into the administration; and there were several Communists and sympathisers among the Mostar Home Guards. The NOP was present also in the German munitions factory NSKK, where its agents siphoned off weapons and uniforms for the Partisans. Even the mosques in Mostar could serve as a hiding place for the NOP’s armaments. That the Communists were able to operate so easily in Mostar owed something to the Italian military presence, for the Italians did not wish the Ustasha state to consolidate itself in their zone of the country and did not allow the Ustasha police to act freely against the Communists. In total, Mostar contributed nearly two thousand Partisans during the war. After the war, the NOP in Mostar was made the subject of an epic poem, entitled ‘Poem about Mostar’, by Hamza Humo, the great Mostar poet.’ (‘Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia’, pp. 213-214)’

In other words, I have already written about, in an earlier published work, all the things that Markovina accuses me of deliberately suppressing and being silent about. (NB But note also the exaggeration in Markovina’s claim that ‘Mostarski muslimani su u najvećem broju, od početka i bez ikakvih kalkulacija bili u antifašističkom pokretu zato jer su bili komunisti.’ The Mostar Muslims were mostly anti-fascist from the start, but they were not mostly Communist.)

I do not of course expect Markovina to be familiar with my earlier book. I cite this passage to show just how false and, indeed, disgraceful is his accusation that I suppressed evidence of the antifascist sympathies of Mostar’s Muslim population.

 

5) Markovina writes: I na koncu, da bi čitatelju raspršio sve iluzije, autor glavni dio teksta, prije zaključka, završi ovako: “I baš kao što su komunisti, koji su bili mala i progonjena sekta tridesetih godina prošlog stoljeća, poveli borbu za oslobođenje Bosne i Hercegovine protiv Sila osovine i njihovih saradnika, tako će i bivši ‘Mladi Muslimani’ i njihove pristalice, na čelu s Alijom Izetbegovićem, povesti Bosnu i Hercegovinu u sljedećem metežu tokom devedesetih godina. Bosanska revolucija, koja se ugasila četrdesetih godina, rasplamsat će se ponovo pola stoljeća kasnije”. Pet puta sam ovo pročitao, svaki put ne vjerujući vlastitim očima, da je netko tko ima toliko podataka i znanja, u stanju mrtav-hladan zaključiti kako je Alija Izetbegović nastavio revolucionarnu partizansku i Titovu borbu. Besramno.’

As the citation above makes clear, I did not write that Alija Izetbegovic continued the revolutionary struggle of Tito and the Partisans. I wrote that Izetbegovic and his group led Bosnia in the next upheaval, and that the Bosnian revolution which wound down in the 1940s flared up again half a century later. There was no suggestion that the political goals or ideological character of the two parties that led Bosnia in each of its revolutionary phases were equivalent, merely an observation on the structural similarities, whereby in each case a dedicated, persecuted sect assumes a leadership role in a revolutionary upheaval. I certainly made no moral judgement about whether either group was ‘the good guys’, because that is not the task of the historian.

The trouble here is that Markovina, given his own ideological background, cannot understand the phenomenon of revolution except in terms of the Communist party. Being a Communist in Bosnia during World War II meant being a revolutionary. But being a Communist in Bosnia, or elsewhere in Communist-ruled Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s meant being a conservative; a supporter of the status quo. It was anti-Communists who were the revolutionaries in the 1980s and 1990s; the ones who tore down the Berlin wall. Markovina is offended by comparisons between Communists and anti-Communists. He cannot step outside his ideology and look at the course of history objectively, or judge his own and other political currents by the same standard. That is his problem.

Saturday, 18 January 2020 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Conservatism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On ‘Anti-Zionists’ Damian James Read (@CockneyActivist), Jason Schumann (@debatingculture), Alison Chabloz and Charles Frith

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Last autumn, a group of ‘anti-Zionists’ launched a harassment campaign against me. Charles Frith, a notorious Holocaust denier and particularly vicious Jew-hater, who had over 32,000 Twitter followers until Twitter suspended his account, telephoned my employers, Kingston University, posing as a job-seeker. After finding out the name of my immediate manager from an unsuspecting colleague, he sent a series of abusive and defamatory emails to me and my senior colleagues, accusing me, among other things, of ‘Zionism’, and turning Kingston into a centre for ‘child abuse’. Frith is someone who refers to the ‘fake 6m Holohoax figures’. He has tweeted that ‘the Auschwitz chambers were delousing stations in Germany and France’; that ‘Israel’s Mossad did 9/11’; that ‘Jewish Al-Sisi Runs Egypt; Now an Israeli-Occupied Territory’. He has blogged that the figure of six million Holocaust dead was fabricated before World War II, and that the real figure is ‘somewhere in between half a million to a million’. He has referred to David Cameron as a ‘Rothschild-Zionist tea boy’ and accused a senior British Jewish journalist of ‘milk(ing) the Holocaust gravy train like a 6 million lottery payout’. His last email to my university colleagues contained a disgusting war-porn picture, apparently of a graphically mutilated child, which he claimed was ‘Zionism in action’.

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Pic.: Holocaust denier Damian James Read aka @CockneyActivist

Frith had been set on me by his political fellow-travellers. One of these was Damian James Read, who Tweets under the name ‘@CockneyActivist’. Read is a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and apparently a Labour Party member, and he likes posting pictures of himself online, dressed in Palestinian flags. When David Cameron tweeted in remembrance of the ‘millions murdered in the holocaust’, Read tweeted back that ‘I think you mean 300,000. An horrific event I agree. But not 6 million is it’.

Continue reading at Engage

Update: We have finally got round to posting a selection of screenshots from the Twitter accounts of Read and of Jason Schumann (@debatingculture) demonstrating their anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

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Pic.: Holocaust denier Jason Schumann

Thursday, 15 September 2016 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Fascism, Genocide, Holocaust denial, Israel, Jews, Palestine, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Srebrenica genocide denier David N. Gibbs praises Donald Trump on foreign policy

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We have had periodic cause to comment here on the fourth-rate scholar and Srebrenica genocide denier David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona, author of the propaganda tract First do no harm, which attributed the break-up of Yugoslavia to a German conspiracy and blamed Srebrenica on its Bosniak victims. He has now popped up on ‘OpEdNews’, where he has given an interview entitled ‘Trump Might Actually be Right about NATO’. This is what he says:

‘Well, let me start out by saying that most of Donald Trump’s positions are classic demagoguery and are quite dangerous. But on some foreign policy issues he does occasionally make sense, especially with regard to the issue of NATO. He has repeatedly questioned the value of NATO to US security, as an overly expensive extravagance, and this is a very legitimate issue to raise. To my knowledge no other candidate in recent years, not even Bernie Sanders has been willing to address this issue.’

‘Mostly, NATO seems like an expensive extravagance, a military alliance in search of a justification. Candidates for president should be debating NATO’s value. So far, only Trump is willing to engage the issue.’

‘While Hillary Clinton has been on the hawkish side of the spectrum, the mainstream of both parties has been strongly supportive of NATO, and has favored efforts to find new enemies and new missions to justify the alliance. Until Trump’s recent statements on the issue, there has been almost no criticism of the alliance, and no real debate. Hopefully that will change.’

‘Trump is far from an ideal candidate to be raising the issue of NATO’s lack of value. He is rightly viewed as a racist, divisive figure. But no other candidate is addressing the issue that NATO is a huge taxpayer expense to America’s taxpayer, while providing no real benefit in terms of enhanced security.’

The sort of ‘left-wing’ ideology that leads Gibbs to deny the genocide of a European Muslim people, leads him also to praise the foreign-policy position of someone he admits is a racist; a supporter of banning Muslims from entering the US. He goes so far as to suggest that Trump’s views on NATO are preferable to those of the radical left’s own Bernie Sanders.

I wish I could say I was shocked, but this is sadly predictable.

 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

David N. Gibbs’s bogus complaint

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Three years ago, as readers may recall, David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona responded to my criticisms of his Srebrenica-genocide-denying propaganda tract First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia with an article published on ModernityBlog, entitled – in his characteristically hyperbolic style – ‘The Second Coming of Joe McCarthy’. What followed was a public debate in the comment boxes of the blog, in which Gibbs was comprehensively defeated on every point: he was unable to counter either my criticisms of his work, or my refutations of his criticisms of my own work. So weak, underhand and disingenuous were Gibbs’s attempts at discussion that the proprietor of the venue – where Gibbs had himself chosen to publish – graciously apologised to me personally for allowing him to post there: ‘I made a mistake by allowing David Gibbs a guest post. At the time I thought he was a reasonable academic who deserved a right of reply, however, subsequently I have had time to reflect on my poor judgement.’

I then published further articles exposing the way in which Gibbs distorted and manipulated source material to construct his fictitious narrative of the war in the former Yugoslavia. I refuted his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia and his attempt to blame the break-up of Yugoslavia on a German imperialist conspiracy. I could have gone on to demolish the rest of his book as well, but that would have taken weeks of my life, and I felt I had sufficiently exposed its worthlessness as a supposed piece of scholarship. In January 2011, Gibbs admitted his inability to counter my refutations: ‘In what follows, I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’

Unable to win in a public debate, Gibbs then attempted to intimidate both me and my institution, Kingston University, in order to silence me. Out of the blue, nine months after our debate, he submitted a bogus complaint against me to my university containing fraudulent allegations. When Kingston inevitably failed to uphold his ‘complaint’, he published an attack on me, on Kingston and on my faculty dean on the far-right website Antiwar.com. He then sent increasingly threatening emails to my institution, which nevertheless continued to reject his ‘complaint’. Let us be clear on this point: despite what Gibbs insinuates, no part of his bogus complaint against me has ever been accepted by Kingston University. On the contrary, in dismissing Gibbs’s complaint, my Faculty at Kingston confirmed that my academic conduct had been impeccable.

This week, he is attempting yet again to intimidate Kingston University in the hope of silencing me, through a further bogus public complaint published on the anti-Semitic website Counterpunch .

The essence of Gibbs’s ‘complaint’ is that he is unhappy that I have I refuted much of his book. Instead of attempting to counter my arguments, he has simply restated his already refuted claims and portrayed my exposure of their fallaciousness as some sort of legitimate grievance. I am not going to waste my time re-stating points to which he was unable to respond the first time around. I have already refuted at length his wholly fantastical claim that the break-up of Yugoslavia was engineered by Germany; his wholly disingenuous claim to have engaged with existing scholarly literature by Michael Libal, Brendan Simms, Richard Caplan and others that contradicts his own arguments; his wholly spurious denial that he blames the Bosniak side for the Srebrenica massacre (I have dealt with his victim-blaming over Srebrenica twice already); and many of his other claims.

As regards arguments to which I haven’t previously responded, Gibbs’s formal statement condemning Milosevic is little more than a disclaimer in the style of ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. For those who are not familiar with the way these people operate: they rarely deny the crimes of Milosevic and the Serb forces altogether, but usually make an opening gambit along the lines of ‘Of course Milosevic and the Serb forces were guilty of terrible atrocities, but…’ before proceeding to regurgitate the Great Serb propaganda narrative putting the blame for the war on the Croats, Bosniaks and Western imperialism. There is little that is original in Gibbs’s version of this narrative; it has previously been presented in book form by Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, Kate Hudson and others, and before that via magazine format by the people behind Living Marxism.

Of course Gibbs does not devote much space in his book to explaining how Milosevic ‘made a central contribution to Yugoslavia’s demise’. No mention of the fact that Milosevic and the Serbian and JNA leaderships were the principal separatists in the break-up of Yugoslavia; that Milosevic’s ally Borisav Jovic recorded in his diary that he, Milosevic and the JNA’s Veljko Kadijevic agreed in June 1990 to work for the forcible expulsion of Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia; that Kadijevic in his published memoirs admits that the JNA was working from this time for the ‘peaceful’ exit of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia; that Serbia’s constitution of 28 September 1990 declared: ‘The Republic of Serbia determines and guarantees: 1) the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and its international position and relations with other states and international organisations’; that the following month Serbia imposed customs duties on imports from Croatia and Slovenia; that on 16 March 1991 Milosevic publicly announced that Serbia would no longer recognise the authority of the Yugoslav Presidency. Instead, Gibbs defends Milosevic as ‘a strong advocate of maintaining both Serbia and Yugoslavia as socialist’ (Gibbs, p. 65). And he makes clear that he blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (Gibbs, p. 87). And so on and so on.

Contrary to what Gibbs claims, I have never insinuated that he is ‘an extreme anti-Semite’. Gibbs pretends to deduce this supposed insinuation from my comparison of the myth that Germany brought about the destruction of Yugoslavia by engineering Croatian and Slovenian secession (a myth that he upholds) with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In other words, I am comparing an anti-German libel with an anti-Jewish libel, and Gibbs deduces from this that I am therefore accusing those who uphold the anti-German libel of being anti-Semitic. It really is difficult to believe that even Gibbs is quite so logically challenged that he can take his argument here seriously. Moreover, his faux outrage at the fabricated ‘insinuation’ is undermined by the fact that he has chosen to publish his latest attack in an anti-Semitic publication.

Gibbs claims ‘I have never objected to serious condemnation of Milošević’s crimes, in the media or elsewhere.’ But this is untrue. Gibbs wrote in his book: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (Gibbs, p. 216) So Gibbs has accused the Western media of having ‘exaggerated’ Serb atrocities and presented them in a ‘sensationalist fashion’ (NB Gibbs’s claim regarding Izetbegovic rests not on any credible source, but solely on the self-serving testimony of Bernard Kouchner, who had been a minister in France’s pro-appeasement government during the war in Bosnia).

Gibbs claims ‘Another one of Hoare’s techniques is the use of faked quotations, wherein he fabricates quoted statements, which he attributes to me.’ This is another falsehood, and represents Gibbs’s desperate attempt to deflect attention away from my point-by-point refutation of his book. Here is what he writes:

‘In the above Modernityblog posting, for example, Hoare attributes to me the phrase “creating the hatred,” which he presents as a direct quotation. The implication is that in my view the Bosnian Muslims were “creating the hatred” in the Srebrenica area. In fact, this is a fake quotation. This phrase “creating the hatred” appears nowhere in any of my writings. Then in a later posting, he attributes to me the quote “created the hatred,” which once again implies that in my view the Muslims had created the hatred in Srebrenica. But the quoted phrase appears in none of my writings, and the essence of its meaning corresponds to nothing I have ever said.’

Naturally Gibbs doesn’t provide any link that would allow his readers to check whether indeed I had said what he claims. In fact, this is what Gibbs wrote in his book: ‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [etc.]“‘ (Gibbs, pp. 153-154).

So Gibbs quoted an UNPROFOR commander as saying that the actions of Naser Oric’s Bosnian army ‘created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region…’. Gibbs treated this claim uncritically, using it to substantiate his attribution of blame for the Srebrenica massacre to Oric’s Bosnian forces. He is now trying to conceal the fact that he wrote this passage, perhaps because he is aware of how shameful it is.

I cited this passage from Gibbs in my first ever post about him, and gave the quote in full. Readers are invited to check what I wrote about him against what he wrote in his book, to see if I cited him accurately. The discussion at Modernity blog was Gibbs’s response to that post. Readers are invited to read the exchange and judge for themselves whether my subsequent references to his statement were accurate or not.

Gibbs continues: ‘And there is yet a third fake quote, in the title of one of Hoare’s reviews: “First Check Their Sources 2: The Myth that ‘Most of Bosnia Was Owned by the Serbs Before the War.’” The first part of the title (“First Check Their Sources”) is a play on words from the title of my book, which is First Do No Harm. The embedded phrase in Hoare’s title (“Most of Bosnia Was Owned…”) is presented as a direct quote, with quotation marks. This quote is yet another fabrication, which falsifies both the literal wording of my book and also the substance of my stated views.’

As Gibbs knows very well, the part of the title in quote marks was not ‘presented as a direct quote’; nowhere did I claim that Gibbs had used those exact words. It was an entirely accurate paraphrasing of the position common to Gibbs and others like him, who do indeed claim that ‘most of Bosnia was owned by the Serbs before the war’. The exact words Gibbs uses are provided in detail in the article in question, with page numbers given. Again, readers are invited to read the article and decide for themselves if it was an accurate paraphrasing. Readers will note that Gibbs was wholly unable to respond to that article, so we may reasonably assume that apart from his quibble over my use of quote marks in the title, he accepts the validity of what I wrote there.

Finally, Gibbs claims ‘Due to Hoare’s tactics, the public understanding of Yugoslavia’s breakup has been fundamentally distorted, due to a climate of intimidation and fear, which has prevented genuine scholarly debate.’ But my ‘tactics’ simply involved writing a negative extended review of Gibbs’s book, exposing its poor scholarship and genocide denial. By contrast, here are Gibbs’s tactics, in his own words: ‘Every time in the future that I am forced to respond to Hoare’s attacks, I will emphasize the role of Kingston University in helping to make these attacks possible. I will especially emphasize the roles of Vice Chancellor Weinberg and Dean McQuillan, who are Hoare’s academic supervisors. Up to this point, there has been too little accountability with regard to Hoare’s conduct. It is time to correct the problem.’

I leave it to readers to make up their own minds about who is guilty of trying to intimidate. Gibbs has revealed himself as a bully with no respect either for truth or for freedom of speech. Neither Kingston University nor any other university worthy of the name will uphold a bogus, malicious complaint published on an unsavoury extremist website; one aimed solely at distracting attention away from an unanswerable refutation of poor scholarship, and at silencing legitimate criticism through threats and smears. But I am not going to be intimidated. I should like to take this opportunity to reaffirm what I have written about Gibbs, and to assure readers that it will not be retracted or taken down.

Saturday, 12 April 2014 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does it mean to be left-wing today ?

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The Daily Mail’s leaking of Mehdi Hasan’s letter to Paul Dacre did not reveal Mehdi’s hypocrisy, merely an uncomfortable truth: these days, if you want to write for any outlet, you will probably have to disregard profound political differences with it while capitalising on the ground you share. That a left-wing journalist like Mehdi should admire some of the Mail’s values while loathing others is almost inevitable. For though the model of a simple binary political division between the Left and the Right may have appeared plausible during the 1980s, today it no longer does, and boundaries are increasingly blurred.

Continue reading at The Guardian or at Left Foot Forward

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 Posted by | Abortion, Conservatism, Environment, European Union, Immigration, Islam, Israel, LGBT, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Marko Attila Hoare, Political correctness, Racism, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parliament has sent a clear message to Assad: he can go on killing without fear of British reaction

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We live in small-minded, mean-spirited times. More than two years into the Syrian civil war, with 100,000 dead and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah openly supporting Assad’s murderous campaign, Britain’s parliament has narrowly voted to reject Cameron’s watered-down parliamentary motion for intervention. This motion would not have authorized military action; merely noted that a ‘strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons.’ Cameron would still have needed a second parliamentary vote before he could have authorised the use of force. Parliament’s rejection of even this feeble step sends a clear message to Assad that he can go on killing without fear of British reaction.

The strength of isolationist, Little Englander feeling in Britain has been demonstrated. Cameron was defeated by the same uncontrollable ‘swivel-eyed loons’ of the Tory backbenches and grassroots who tried to sabotage gay marriage and want to drag Britain out the EU. It was perhaps too much to expect a parliament that is so savagely assaulting the livelihoods of poorer and more vulnerable Britons to care much about foreigners, particularly Muslim foreigners.

Continue reading at Left Foot Forward

Friday, 30 August 2013 Posted by | Arabs, Britain, Conservatism, Genocide, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East, Syria, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Margaret Thatcher turned the left upside down

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When I was growing up in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was the incarnation of evil. I came from a left-wing family and was an activist from an early age, joining the Labour Party Young Socialists at fifteen or sixteen. I was active in support of striking teachers and ambulance workers and against the poll-tax; I attended the great London demonstration against the poll-tax of 31 March 1990. In those days, political rights and wrongs were very simple: right-wing was bad and left-wing was good. Thatcher, along with the US’s Ronald Reagan, was the number one left-wing hate-figure; most demos involved the ritual chant of ‘Maggie ! Maggie ! Maggie ! Out ! Out ! Out !’ Her fall in November 1990 was a time of joy.

My two-dimensional political world began to collapse in 1991, when Serbia’s fascistic dictator Slobodan Milosevic launched full-scale war in the former Yugoslavia, from where my own mother came. The crimes of Milosevic’s forces, culminating in the genocide in Bosnia, made the real or supposed crimes of Thatcher and the Tories – the sinking of the Belgrano, the crushing of the miners, the poll tax, etc.  – pale in comparison.

Continue reading at Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 11 April 2013 Posted by | Bosnia, Britain, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Julie Burchill: What is behind her supporters’ talk of the ‘right to offend’ ?

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The Sunday before last, Britain’s leading liberal Sunday paper, The Observer, published an article by professional troll (‘columnist’) Julie Burchill, consisting of anti-transsexual hate-speech (‘a bunch of dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’; ‘a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look’; ‘But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do.’; ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’; ‘Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you.’; etc.)

A barrage of complaints ensued from readers, not all of them trans. Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the British government, tweeted that Burchill should be sacked. The Observer removed the article from its website, with the editor, John Mulholland, apologising for ‘the hurt and offence caused’. Burchill’s ‘censored’ article was then republished by Toby Young, a columnist for the conservative Daily Telegraph. The readers’ editor of The Observer then published a fuller statement, which again stressed the ‘offence’ caused by the article. A counter-barrage then ensued from right-wing and libertarian elements in the commentariat, who claimed that the removal of Burchill’s article from The Observer‘s website proved that Britain is a totalitarian state on the model of the Soviet Union, with its very own Thought Police to persecute the Politically Incorrect.

Vile, bigoted and hateful as Burchill’s article was, it was actually the least shocking element in this whole sorry story, which reveals the full extent of the moral degeneration of the British chattering classes. Much more shocking was the fact that one of our leading liberal newspapers would publish hate-speech directed against a vulnerable and widely persecuted minority. Not only did The Observer commission Burchill to write the piece in the full knowledge of what she was likely to say, it allegedly encouraged her to make the article more extreme and offensive than she might otherwise have done, in order to provoke a greater storm and increase its own viewing figures.

Perhaps still more shocking was the fact that many supposed liberals who should know better, seemed to be less concerned that The Observer had done this, than that the article was removed, since this was supposedly a grave violation of ‘freedom of speech’; moreover, of the ‘right to offend’. The real villain of the piece, some of them felt, was Featherstone, on the grounds that a government minister calling for a columnist to be sacked was a step towards Britain becoming North Korea.

This being so, it’s time to deal with a few of the straw men that the right-wing-libertarian commentariat-mafia has thrown up:

1) Burchill’s column was not ‘offensive’; it was hate speech. The principal problem was not that it ’caused offence’ to transsexual people (though this factor should not be dismissed as unimportant) but that an article of this kind, appearing where it did, served to legitimise and encourage persecution and harassment of transsexual people, thereby hurting much more than their feelings. For if our leading Sunday newspaper considers it acceptable to speak of trans people as ‘dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’ or ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’, readers may draw the conclusion that this is a minority which it is right to ridicule and despise. And that when, for example, members of this minority are harassed in the streets by transphobic thugs, it is legitimate for bystanders to stand back and do nothing or even cheer on the attackers.

2) Repackaging hate speech as something that is ‘offensive’ is deliberately to prettify and sanitise it. The word ‘offensive’ has positive connotations; it makes one think of young people in the 60s growing their hair long and listening to rock and roll; or lesbian kissing on prime-time television; or sex scenes graphic enough to upset Mary Whitehouse; or punk haircuts and the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’; or anything that might once have affronted the conservative mainstream.

Now that liberal values have conquered the mainstream, right-wing columnists would like to present themselves as mere iconoclasts challenging prudish liberal conformity. Whereas what they are really trying to do is to turn the clocks back to an era where it was acceptable to call black people ‘gollywogs’ and gay people ‘poofs’ and sexually emancipated women ‘tarts’. They would like to rehabilitate discourse that disempowers women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, gay people, transsexual people, and so on. If they succeed in making it acceptable once more to employ bigoted language against such categories of people in the mainstream press – the liberal press, no less – it will become acceptable once more to persecute them. Decades of legislation against discrimination and harassment in the workplace and public sphere will be undermined.

3) The ‘freedom of speech’ argument in defence of Burchill is a red herring. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has suggested that the state should take action to censor her or prevent her from writing or publishing wherever she is able. Protesters were, rather, urging that The Observer should not be hosting such articles. It should not need spelling out that in a democracy, in which people enjoy freedom of speech, they have the right to urge newspapers or other media outlets not to publish or host material that they consider inappropriate; and that the media outlets in question have the right not to publish or host material that they do not wish to publish or host. What the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ seem to be arguing is that an independent newspaper like The Observer has no business removing an article from its website, and that its readers have no business urging it to do so. They are, in other words, a bunch of hypocrites.

4) Britain is not a totalitarian state or a state in which government ministers have the power to have journalists or columnists sacked from newspapers. Since Featherstone had no power to threaten The Observer or bring about Burchill’s dismissal (Burchill is, incidentally, a freelance writer rather than a sackable Observer employee), her call for Burchill to be sacked cannot be interpreted as an attempt to control the media, but was simply her expression of her personal opinion, which she has the right to give, since we live in a democracy in which even elected politicians enjoy freedom of speech. Again, the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ are not as unequivocal in their defence of this right as they would like to pretend.

5) There is, probably, no group of people in the world who enjoy greater freedom of speech than British professional columnists of the Burchill variety, who are actually paid to write what they like and guaranteed vast audiences, irrespective of how little research and effort they put in (usually very little). The idea that members of this – in freedom-of-speech terms – ultra-privileged minority is in any way restricted in their freedom of speech is a joke. Their whining, on this score, is like the claims of persecution and exploitation made by members of the Republican mega-rich in the US at suggestions that they pay a higher rate of tax. Newspapers like columnists who ’cause offense’ because they create controversy, draw attention to the newspapers and sell more copies. Therefore, columnists boost their own market value by ‘causing offence’. Their talk of ‘freedom of speech’ in this case is simply a fig-leaf masking their defence of privilege and vested interests.

6) In mounting their assault on liberal values under the cover of defending ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘right to offend’, the right-wing and libertarian commentariat is not so much seeking to restore traditional conservative values – which are largely dead, and in which they themselves do not particularly believe – but to promote a valueless society, in which every opinion is as valid as any other. They want a society in which well-off people pay as little tax as possible and are free to pursue self-enrichment and self-gratification with the fewest possible restraints, unfettered by any responsibilities or obligations to the wider society. For them, ‘freedom of speech’ is not so much about people being allowed to say what they think, but more about the entertainment provided by ‘offensive’ columnists and their own right to be so entertained. Public discourse is just a game to them.

Readers of this blog will be disappointed if I don’t somehow bring this issue back to the former Yugoslavia. So I’ll note that among the pioneers of this model of cynical and offensive commentary as entertainment masking an assault on liberal values was the magazine Living Marxism, which during the Bosnian genocide supported the Serb perpetrators, whose atrocities, it claimed, were fabricated by the Western media. Living Marxism and other such publications and individuals helped to make genocide denial acceptable in the mainstream media, and helped to ensure that the West would not intervene to halt the Bosnian genocide. Living Marxism was forced to close in 2000 after it was bankrupted in a libel case brought by the British media company ITN, over its accusation that the latter had deliberately deceived viewers in its coverage of the Serb concentration-camp Trnopolje, which Living Marxism claimed was not a camp at all, but a ‘detention centre’.

Among Living Marxism‘s supporters at that time was a certain Toby Young – today, the republisher of Burchill’s anti-transsexual rant. After being forced to close, Living Marxism re-emerged as ‘Spiked Online’, a website whose hallmark is to denigrate every liberal value as a reflection of racism or elitism (e.g. opposition to the far-right English Defence League is merely an expression of liberal-elitist hatred of the working-class; opposition to Japanese whale-hunting is an expression of Western anti-yellow racism; and so on). Spiked Online has also republished Burchill’s article, retitled as ‘Hey trannies, cut it out – Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough ?’ Burchill herself supported the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO at the time of the 1999 Kosovo War (‘gorgeous, integrated, independent Yugoslavia’), in an article sprinkled with racist comments about Germans and Croats (‘scratch a Croat, find a Kraut’). She threw in a defence of Fidel Castro’s Cuba against ‘Uncle Sam’ for good measure.

From support for murderous regimes and genocide denial to anti-transsexual hate-speech; the progression is a natural one. I really don’t give a damn about the ‘right to offend’ of this pampered, privileged, malicious clique of paid loudmouths. Just as, thanks to people like them, ‘anti-imperialism’ became the defence of fascists and ethnic-cleansers, so they are turning ‘freedom of speech’ into the legitimisation of bigotry, hate-speech and abuse.

Stuff freedom of speech. As far as I’m concerned, the Politically Correct Thought Police can arrest a few of them and toss them in a gulag for a few years; it will give them something real to write and complain about for a change.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 Posted by | Britain, Conservatism, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Marko Attila Hoare, Political correctness, The Left, Transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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