On ‘Anti-Zionists’ Damian James Read (@CockneyActivist), Jason Schumann (@debatingculture), Alison Chabloz and Charles Frith
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’.
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
PS Since this article was first published, Damian James Read has been busy deleting and ‘unliking’ the incriminating tweets. But I have kept screenshots and printouts, for anyone who is interested 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Sunday before last, Britain’s leading liberal Sunday paper, The Observer, published an article by professional troll (‘columnist’) Julie Burchill, consisting of anti-transsexual hate-speech (‘a bunch of dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’; ‘a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look’; ‘But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do.’; ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’; ‘Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you.’; etc.)
A barrage of complaints ensued from readers, not all of them trans. Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the British government, tweeted that Burchill should be sacked. The Observer removed the article from its website, with the editor, John Mulholland, apologising for ‘the hurt and offence caused’. Burchill’s ‘censored’ article was then republished by Toby Young, a columnist for the conservative Daily Telegraph. The readers’ editor of The Observer then published a fuller statement, which again stressed the ‘offence’ caused by the article. A counter-barrage then ensued from right-wing and libertarian elements in the commentariat, who claimed that the removal of Burchill’s article from The Observer‘s website proved that Britain is a totalitarian state on the model of the Soviet Union, with its very own Thought Police to persecute the Politically Incorrect.
Vile, bigoted and hateful as Burchill’s article was, it was actually the least shocking element in this whole sorry story, which reveals the full extent of the moral degeneration of the British chattering classes. Much more shocking was the fact that one of our leading liberal newspapers would publish hate-speech directed against a vulnerable and widely persecuted minority. Not only did The Observer commission Burchill to write the piece in the full knowledge of what she was likely to say, it allegedly encouraged her to make the article more extreme and offensive than she might otherwise have done, in order to provoke a greater storm and increase its own viewing figures.
Perhaps still more shocking was the fact that many supposed liberals who should know better, seemed to be less concerned that The Observer had done this, than that the article was removed, since this was supposedly a grave violation of ‘freedom of speech’; moreover, of the ‘right to offend’. The real villain of the piece, some of them felt, was Featherstone, on the grounds that a government minister calling for a columnist to be sacked was a step towards Britain becoming North Korea.
This being so, it’s time to deal with a few of the straw men that the right-wing-libertarian commentariat-mafia has thrown up:
1) Burchill’s column was not ‘offensive’; it was hate speech. The principal problem was not that it ’caused offence’ to transsexual people (though this factor should not be dismissed as unimportant) but that an article of this kind, appearing where it did, served to legitimise and encourage persecution and harassment of transsexual people, thereby hurting much more than their feelings. For if our leading Sunday newspaper considers it acceptable to speak of trans people as ‘dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’ or ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’, readers may draw the conclusion that this is a minority which it is right to ridicule and despise. And that when, for example, members of this minority are harassed in the streets by transphobic thugs, it is legitimate for bystanders to stand back and do nothing or even cheer on the attackers.
2) Repackaging hate speech as something that is ‘offensive’ is deliberately to prettify and sanitise it. The word ‘offensive’ has positive connotations; it makes one think of young people in the 60s growing their hair long and listening to rock and roll; or lesbian kissing on prime-time television; or sex scenes graphic enough to upset Mary Whitehouse; or punk haircuts and the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’; or anything that might once have affronted the conservative mainstream.
Now that liberal values have conquered the mainstream, right-wing columnists would like to present themselves as mere iconoclasts challenging prudish liberal conformity. Whereas what they are really trying to do is to turn the clocks back to an era where it was acceptable to call black people ‘gollywogs’ and gay people ‘poofs’ and sexually emancipated women ‘tarts’. They would like to rehabilitate discourse that disempowers women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, gay people, transsexual people, and so on. If they succeed in making it acceptable once more to employ bigoted language against such categories of people in the mainstream press – the liberal press, no less – it will become acceptable once more to persecute them. Decades of legislation against discrimination and harassment in the workplace and public sphere will be undermined.
3) The ‘freedom of speech’ argument in defence of Burchill is a red herring. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has suggested that the state should take action to censor her or prevent her from writing or publishing wherever she is able. Protesters were, rather, urging that The Observer should not be hosting such articles. It should not need spelling out that in a democracy, in which people enjoy freedom of speech, they have the right to urge newspapers or other media outlets not to publish or host material that they consider inappropriate; and that the media outlets in question have the right not to publish or host material that they do not wish to publish or host. What the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ seem to be arguing is that an independent newspaper like The Observer has no business removing an article from its website, and that its readers have no business urging it to do so. They are, in other words, a bunch of hypocrites.
4) Britain is not a totalitarian state or a state in which government ministers have the power to have journalists or columnists sacked from newspapers. Since Featherstone had no power to threaten The Observer or bring about Burchill’s dismissal (Burchill is, incidentally, a freelance writer rather than a sackable Observer employee), her call for Burchill to be sacked cannot be interpreted as an attempt to control the media, but was simply her expression of her personal opinion, which she has the right to give, since we live in a democracy in which even elected politicians enjoy freedom of speech. Again, the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ are not as unequivocal in their defence of this right as they would like to pretend.
5) There is, probably, no group of people in the world who enjoy greater freedom of speech than British professional columnists of the Burchill variety, who are actually paid to write what they like and guaranteed vast audiences, irrespective of how little research and effort they put in (usually very little). The idea that members of this – in freedom-of-speech terms – ultra-privileged minority is in any way restricted in their freedom of speech is a joke. Their whining, on this score, is like the claims of persecution and exploitation made by members of the Republican mega-rich in the US at suggestions that they pay a higher rate of tax. Newspapers like columnists who ’cause offense’ because they create controversy, draw attention to the newspapers and sell more copies. Therefore, columnists boost their own market value by ‘causing offence’. Their talk of ‘freedom of speech’ in this case is simply a fig-leaf masking their defence of privilege and vested interests.
6) In mounting their assault on liberal values under the cover of defending ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘right to offend’, the right-wing and libertarian commentariat is not so much seeking to restore traditional conservative values – which are largely dead, and in which they themselves do not particularly believe – but to promote a valueless society, in which every opinion is as valid as any other. They want a society in which well-off people pay as little tax as possible and are free to pursue self-enrichment and self-gratification with the fewest possible restraints, unfettered by any responsibilities or obligations to the wider society. For them, ‘freedom of speech’ is not so much about people being allowed to say what they think, but more about the entertainment provided by ‘offensive’ columnists and their own right to be so entertained. Public discourse is just a game to them.
Readers of this blog will be disappointed if I don’t somehow bring this issue back to the former Yugoslavia. So I’ll note that among the pioneers of this model of cynical and offensive commentary as entertainment masking an assault on liberal values was the magazine Living Marxism, which during the Bosnian genocide supported the Serb perpetrators, whose atrocities, it claimed, were fabricated by the Western media. Living Marxism and other such publications and individuals helped to make genocide denial acceptable in the mainstream media, and helped to ensure that the West would not intervene to halt the Bosnian genocide. Living Marxism was forced to close in 2000 after it was bankrupted in a libel case brought by the British media company ITN, over its accusation that the latter had deliberately deceived viewers in its coverage of the Serb concentration-camp Trnopolje, which Living Marxism claimed was not a camp at all, but a ‘detention centre’.
Among Living Marxism‘s supporters at that time was a certain Toby Young – today, the republisher of Burchill’s anti-transsexual rant. After being forced to close, Living Marxism re-emerged as ‘Spiked Online’, a website whose hallmark is to denigrate every liberal value as a reflection of racism or elitism (e.g. opposition to the far-right English Defence League is merely an expression of liberal-elitist hatred of the working-class; opposition to Japanese whale-hunting is an expression of Western anti-yellow racism; and so on). Spiked Online has also republished Burchill’s article, retitled as ‘Hey trannies, cut it out – Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough ?’ Burchill herself supported the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO at the time of the 1999 Kosovo War (‘gorgeous, integrated, independent Yugoslavia’), in an article sprinkled with racist comments about Germans and Croats (‘scratch a Croat, find a Kraut’). She threw in a defence of Fidel Castro’s Cuba against ‘Uncle Sam’ for good measure.
From support for murderous regimes and genocide denial to anti-transsexual hate-speech; the progression is a natural one. I really don’t give a damn about the ‘right to offend’ of this pampered, privileged, malicious clique of paid loudmouths. Just as, thanks to people like them, ‘anti-imperialism’ became the defence of fascists and ethnic-cleansers, so they are turning ‘freedom of speech’ into the legitimisation of bigotry, hate-speech and abuse.
Stuff freedom of speech. As far as I’m concerned, the Politically Correct Thought Police can arrest a few of them and toss them in a gulag for a few years; it will give them something real to write and complain about for a change.
In the UK in recent weeks, the abortion issue has flared up again, thanks to the call by Women’s Minister Maria Miller to lower the legal time-limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks after the start of pregnancy; the statement of the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that he favours a limit of 12 weeks; and the surprise article in the Huffington Post by Mehdi Hasan, former political editor of the flagship left-wing periodical New Statesman, arguing that being ‘pro-life’ does not prevent him from being left-wing.
As an atheist from a left-wing background, my ‘pro-choice’ loyalties were once clear. But as on so many other issues, greater learning and personal experience have forced me to reevaluate my position on this one as well. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has seen pictures or ultrasound scans of even 12-week-old fetuses can be quite so categorical that they are not little human beings, rather than just disposable ‘clumps of cells’. This does not invalidate the contemporary feminist call for women to have control over their reproduction and be spared the horrors of backstreet abortions. But it does require some reconciling of the rights of adult women vis-a-vis those of unborn babies. As the pro-life feminist writer Rachel MacNair has written, ‘There should not be a conflict between women and unborn children. The rights of both must be asserted against a society that is cruel to both.’
Unfortunately, while ‘pro-life’ groups and websites do frequently address the issue of women’s rights and interests – albeit from a standpoint that is sometimes a bit too right-wing or religious for my own taste – ‘pro-choice’ writers in liberal publications such as The Guardian remain brutally categorical in their refusal to recognise the humanity of unborn children. Yet there are reasons why hardline ‘pro-choice’ advocacy clashes with genuine liberal and, indeed, feminist values.
To begin with, abortion is a practice that is quite literally used to exterminate large numbers of female human beings, forming a central element in what is known as ‘gendercide’. In China, as many as 9 million abortions, possibly as many as 13 million, are carried out every year. These abortions disproportionately target baby girls. According to the website All Girls Allowed, which campaigns against China’s One Child Policy, there are 120 boys born in China today for every 100 girls. The One Child Policy, combined with the traditional preference for boys over girls, ensures the mass killing of baby girl fetuses through abortion, resulting in a vast gender imbalance in favour of men over women. According to the same source, in 2005 there were 32 million more men than women under 20 in China. Abortion is not the only reason for this imbalance; outright infanticide, too, is practised. Thus, in China’s Liaoning province, a newborn baby girl was discovered this summer in a plastic bag in a rubbish bin – her throat cut, but still alive. Sometimes the border between abortion and infanticide in China is a fine one: ‘In other cases, midwives have been reported to deliver “stillborn” girls by strangling the female infant with the umbilical cord as she is delivered.’
In terms of the legal time-limit for abortion, China is more ‘liberal’ than the UK, and abortions are legally allowed up to twenty-eight weeks after the start of pregnancy – and frequently performed later than this. This is not, it should be said, always on the basis of the ‘woman’s right to choose’ – woman are frequently forced to undergo involuntary late-term abortions, as was the case for Feng Jianmei, who was abducted earlier this year by family planning officials seeking to uphold the One Child Policy. Dragged bodily to a hospital, she was physically restrained while she received an injection to kill her seven-month-old fetus. Feng describes how she was held down while ‘I could feel the baby jumping around inside me, but then she went still’. The baby’s corpse was then left on the bed next to Feng, for her family to dispose of.
India, China’s fellow misogynistic giant, is developing a similar gender imbalance, as girls and women are killed through a combination of sex-selective abortion, infanticide and bride-murder – prompted largely by the expense of providing dowries for daughters, or by the failure of families to pay them. A bride whose family fails to pay her dowry may be tortured or murdered; even burned to death by her in-laws. According to women’s right’s activist Ruchira Gupta, ‘It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India’. One woman, who was punished by her family for giving birth to girls instead of boys, and forced repeatedly to undergo abortions, describes her experience: ‘Kulwant still has vivid memories of the first abortion. “The baby was nearly five months old. She was beautiful. I miss her, and the others we killed,” she says, breaking down, wiping away her tears. Until her son was born, Kulwant’s daily life consisted of beatings and abuse from her husband, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Once, she says, they even attempted to set her on fire. “They were angry. They didn’t want girls in the family. They wanted boys so they could get fat dowries,” she says.’
Every year in India, as many as 11 million abortions are carried out and as many as 20,000 women die every year from complications arising from the procedure. Female fetuses are fed to dogs by doctors. On one recent occasion, children were found playing with a five-month-old female fetus they had found in a rubbish dump and mistaken for a doll. All of which makes very prescient the question once posed, in relation to abortion, by the veteran US suffragist Alice Paul (1885-1977), who had previously played a decisive role in securing the right to vote for American women in 1920: ‘How can one protect and help women by killing them as babies ?’ (quoted in Angela Kennedy, ed., Swimming against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion, Open Air, 1977, p. 23).
In the poorer and more rural parts of India, unwanted children are often dealt with without the restraint of pesky conservative time limits for abortion, through the practice of infanticide after birth. According to one account: ‘Largely it is women—the mothers themselves, midwives, mothers-in-law or paternal grandmothers—who preside over the murders, sometimes with the stoic indifference of pagan goddesses, at other times with the limp desperation of sacrificial victims. They talk about the intolerable shame of not having produced a son or the unbearable future of daughters and they push the rice grain into the baby’s windpipe, or shake it until its neck snaps, or drown it in a bucket of water.’ Liberals in the West would probably lament the tragedy of Indian women being forced to behave in this way, not celebrate their ability to do so as a sign of emancipation. But we would be hypocritical, for our own system for getting rid of unwanted babies is merely more moderate, not fundamentally different, and we have not liberated women from the huge economic and social pressures that lead them to engage in it.
Thus, here in the UK, we have not succeeded in making unwanted pregnancy less terrifying for many women. We have not removed the stigma or shame from unwanted pregnancy. We have not provided enforceable guarantees that women’s careers will not suffer from having children. We certainly have not provided working women with proper childcare provisions. In short, we have not pressed society to adapt to support pregnant women and mothers. Instead, the pressure is on women to stifle their reproductive powers and maternal instincts, and for unborn babies to be stifled altogether, more or less literally – nearly 200,000 abortions are performed in the UK each year. This is spoken of in terms of the ‘women’s right to choose’. It is a moot point just how much ‘choice’ a British woman struggling to support existing children on a limited income, with an unsupportive family and non-existent male partner, really has.
One of the consequences of portraying abortion in terms of a ‘woman’s right to choose’ is that it absolves fathers of any responsibility for unwanted children. Without legalised abortion, an unwanted child is the responsibility of the man who impregnated the woman, as much as of the woman herself. With legalised abortion, the man may feel that it was solely the woman’s ‘choice’ to proceed with the pregnancy, and feel no compulsion to support her motherhood. Or he may feel he is legally entitled to pressurise her into having an abortion. Catherine Spencer has written of her guilt and remorse in allowing pressure from her partner and fear of single motherhood to lead her to seek a termination: ‘I am a woman who had an abortion after intense pressure from my partner. In other words, there was an unborn child – or if that word seems too emotive, too shocking, a potential child – and the parents of that child, or potential child took a decision for it to die… As I write, the “understanding” and the rationalizations are back in place and I once more feel the compassion for myself that I have trained myself to feel. Yet somewhere within, beyond the reach of my rational mind, the sense of horror continues unabated and is apt to resurface.’ (Catherine Spencer, ‘Obstinate Questionings: An Experience of Abortion’, in Kennedy, Swimming against the Tide, pp. 96-97).
There is no straightforward correlation between the legal ‘right’ of women and girls to do things and their emancipation; we need only think of the ‘right’ to marry a man who is already married, or the ‘right’ to marry a much older man while still in one’s early teens – ‘rights’ that are available to women in some non-Western countries. Nor do we necessarily view ‘the right of women to control their own bodies’ as reflecting their emancipation. For example, the ‘right’ to have breast implants; the ‘right’ to starve oneself half to death in order to pursue a career as a model; the ‘right’ to sleep with men in exchange for money. The French porn star Lolo Ferrari controlled her own body by having such huge breast implants that they prevented her from breathing properly, which helped her career but possibly contributed to her death at the age of thirty-seven, as Germaine Greer has written. Generally speaking, the ‘right’ of women to undergo brutal, frequently traumatic and potentially harmful surgical procedures that are medically unnecessary is not seen as indicative of their emancipation.
Abortion is, therefore, something of an anomaly for liberals and feminists. Yet it was not always so: up until about the 1960s, feminist opinion predominantly saw abortion in negative terms, from Britain’s Mary Wollstonecroft and Sylvia Pankhurst to the US’s Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. In the words of the left-wing suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), ‘It is grievous indeed that the social collectivity should feel itself obliged to assist in so ugly an expedient as abortion in order to mitigate its crudest evils. The true mission of society is to provide the conditions, legal, moral, economic and obstetric, which will assure happy and successful motherhood.’
Feminist supporters of female reproductive freedom championed contraception as an alternative to abortion. In the words of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), the founder of Planned Parenthood in the US, ‘While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization… If the laws against imparting knowledge of scientific birth control were repealed, nearly all of the 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 women who undergo abortions in the United States each year would escape the agony of the surgeon’s instruments and the long trail of disease, suffering and death which so often follows… For contraceptive measures are important weapons in the fight against abortion.’ According to Marie Stopes (1880-1958), the British pioneer of contraception, ‘The desolate effects of abortion and attempted abortion can only be exterminated by a sound knowledge of the control of conception. In this my message coincides with that of all the Churches in condemning utterly the taking of even an embryonic life.’ (Marie Carmichael Stopes, Wise Parenthood: The treatise on birth control for married people – a practical sequel to Married Love, 8th ed., Putnam, London, 1922, p. 10). It is ironic that both Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International are today major providers of abortion.
As indicated above, sex-selective abortions in India and China are used overwhelmingly to kill baby girls. Yet even in these brutally anti-woman, pro-abortion societies, sex-selective abortions are formally illegal. In the UK, which does not suffer such a gender imbalance, they are similarly not permitted. Somehow, the callousness with which Western liberal opinion treats unborn life does not quite extend to supporting the right to abort a baby just because it is a girl and the parents wanted a boy, though if one really believes that a fetus is just a clump of cells and that all that matters is the mother’s right to choose, it is unclear why not.
Yet if we do not deliberately target girls for extermination through abortion, there is another underprivileged group we most certainly do target: the disabled. Here in the UK, the overwhelming majority of unborn babies screened as having Down’s syndrome, spina bifida or cerebral palsy are aborted. British law discriminates against unborn disabled babies, whose lives can be legally terminated beyond the normal 24-week limit and all the way up to birth – even if their ‘abnormality’ is very minor. A decade ago, the Reverend Joanna Jepson, a woman born with a deformed jaw and whose brother has Down’s syndrome, sought justice for a 28-week-old fetus who was aborted because it had a cleft palate; a baby that could have been born, grown up, gone to university and had a career and a sex life, instead had its life ended, because it had a minor deformity that could have been easily corrected by surgery. In Jepson’s words: ‘This law needs to be tightened, it isn’t right that babies lose their lives for trivial reasons.’ Yet instead of improving our society to give due respect and freedom for disabled people, we usually kill them before they are born. This is the same Britain that indulged in an orgy of self-satisfaction this summer over our Paralympic Games.
Image: Mandeville probably would not have survived his mother’s pregnancy in the UK.
In sum, abortion is a tragic symptom of society’s failure to support mothers, babies, the disabled and the poor. Criminalisation is not the answer; as a general rule, women who seek abortions should not be judged, let alone put in a position where they feel compelled to break the law. A gradual solution may perhaps be sought through better education about sex, reproduction and ethics, and social improvements for pregnant women and mothers. But this will not happen so long as liberal opinion views abortion as reflecting women’s emancipation, rather than the incompleteness of their emancipation.
The justice or injustice of a cause may in large part be measured by the ethics displayed by those who uphold it. The ongoing campaign to whitewash the former regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic and to justify their genocidal crimes against the Bosniaks is about as unworthy a cause as it is possible to imagine; consequently, the people who wage it do so in the most dishonest and malicious manner possible. Their campaign is fundamentally an expression of hatred – for Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians, anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and others who opposed the genocide. So their tactics are of the most hateful kind, involving systematic character assassination and racist and anti-Semitic abuse of those who speak about the genocide and the ideology that gave rise to it.
‘The Jews have had a disproportionate impact’
Most recently, a libellous and racist hate-campaign has been waged by the genocide-deniers – above all, Islamophobic far-right elements in North America – against members of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC), which among other things, campaigns against Bosnia genocide-denial. This campaign has accelerated following the decision last month of the Canadian authorities to deny entry into Canada of Srdja Trifkovic, a man who regularly engages in hate-speech against Islam and Muslims. Trifkovic had been invited by a Serbian students’ organisation at the University of British Columbia to give a speech at one of their meetings, but was barred from Canada because he had been an official of the wartime regime of ‘Republika Srpska’, hence ‘for being a proscribed senior official in the service of a government that, in the opinion of the minister, engages or has engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide, a war crime or a crime against humanity within the meaning of subsections 6 (3) to (5) of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.’
[I had personally written to Professor Stephen J. Toope, President of UBC, urging him to prevent Trifkovic from giving his talk. While I respect the right of genocide deniers to engage in genocide denial, I draw the line at allowing inciters of hatred against ethnic or religious groups to speak at universities, as I consider this an infringement on the rights of staff and students at the universities in question to work and study free from the fear of persecution or harassment. However, it was the Canadian authorities, not the UBC, that ultimately prevented Trifkovic from speaking.]
Supporters of Trifkovic responded to their setback with a campaign of personal defamation directed against members of the IRGC. The anti-Muslim hate-site ‘Gates of Vienna’ denounced the IRGC as ‘Jew-haters’, though without being able to quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by any of its members. This smear was a repeat of one levelled by Trifkovic himself against Professor Emir Ramic, the IRGC’s chairman, on the website of an extreme right-wing organisation, ‘The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, run by former Canadian ambassador James Bissett. Trifkovic accused Ramic of being a ‘Jew-hating jihadist’ – again, without being able to produce a single piece of evidence that Ramic was either anti-Semitic, or that he supported jihad [since the articles in question are extremely libellous, I’m not going to link to them].
The basis for the accusation was the claim that Ramic was a member of the editorial board of a Bosnian journal called ‘Korak‘, that has published some viciously anti-Israel articles. The articles in question were, indeed, viciously anti-Israel. But Ramic is not a member of the editorial board of the journal in question, so the accusation is totally false. The second basis for the accusation is that Korak‘s editor, Asaf Dzanic, is a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. Yet, as anyone can see from the IRGC’s website, its board of directors is very large and diverse, numbering over 120, and includes several eminent Jewish members, including the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Most of these members, including Dzanic, are in the capacity of an ‘International Team of Experts’. The website also carries a powerful defence of the IRGC from the smears of Trifkovic and the ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, written by the Israeli writer Marjan Hajnal – also a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. The smearing of the entire institute as ‘Jew-hating’ and its director as ‘jihadi’ is, therefore, a desperate clutching at straws on the part of the Srebrenica deniers.
The ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’ has also accused Ramic and the IRGC of ‘Holocaust denial’. Again, not a single piece of evidence was produced to substantiate this very serious charge. In fact, the charge of ‘Holocaust denial’ was made after the IRGC had weeks earlier published, and prominently displayed on its website, an article marking Holocaust Memorial Day and paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, which made clear ‘The Holocaust of World War ll was the despicable, systematic process of torturing and murdering nearly six million European Jews, by German Nazis. Approximately two-thirds of nine million European Jews were murdered throughout that particular Holocaust.’
The irony of such smears is all the greater in that Trifkovic himself, unlike Ramic, is on record as having made anti-Semitic statements. Trifkovic has stated:
‘To claim that the traditional Right is “anti-Jewish” is to imply that it is gripped by an irrational prejudice. Such accusation is untrue and unfair.
It is true, however, that the traditional Right is inevitably antipathetic to certain modes of thought and feeling, to a peculiar Weltanschauung and the resulting forms of public and intra-communal discourse, which are quite properly perceived as specifically Jewish.
Historically, Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on the Jews’ racial uniqueness — emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism and on its view of Christians as idolaters — has ensured that a Jew steeped in his own tradition could not view traditional European or American conservatism with sympathy. His tradition was a form of elaborate survival mechanism based on the zero-sum view of a world divided into “us” and “them.” The Gentile was “the Other” ab initio and for ever.
In addition, since the late 1800’s the Jews have had a disproportionate impact on a host of intellectual trends and political movements which have fundamentally altered the civilization of Europe and its overseas offspring in a manner deeply detrimental to the family, nation, culture, racial solidarity, social coherence, tradition, morality and faith. Spontaneously or deliberately, those ideas and movements — Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc. — have eroded “the West” to the point where its demographic and cultural survival is uncertain. The erosion is continuing, allegedly in the name of propositional principles and universal values, and it is pursued with escalating ferocity.’
‘Even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses’
The extreme right-wing and viciously racist and Islamophobic American commenter Julia Gorin has apologised for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism in the following manner:
‘While virgin eyes (mainstream readers and anyone not experienced in sorting out the intricacies and boundaries of what is and isn’t OK to say about Jews) will read the paragraphs as “anti-Semitic,” the views expressed aren’t unlike what I and any number of other Jewish conservatives have written in an effort to tame the Jewish predisposition toward cynicism about, and dismantling of, the traditional values of, yes, white-established societies… It’s not reading that would be palatable to the mainstream, but conservative readers — including Jewish conservatives — are known to have a slightly higher tolerance for truth, even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses.’
Thus, Trifkovic and Gorin have no problem with anti-Semitism, but do have a problem with those, like Ramic and the IRGC, that oppose Srebrenica genocide denial. Gorin’s apologia for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism was made in the course of an article denying the genocide at Srebrenica. Again, unlike Ramic, Gorin is an unabashed anti-Albanian, anti-Croat and anti-Bosniak racist. Commenting on a recent obituary of the Croatian journalist Chris Cviic, a long-standing resident of the UK and recipient of the OBE, which stated ‘He is survived by his widow, Celia, and a son and a daughter’, Gorin commented ‘Yayyyy! More little Ustashas running rampant in the West.’ In response to a story in the British rag-sheet The Daily Star about the alleged activities of Kosovo Albanian immigrants in the UK, entitled ‘Kosovan squatters stole my loo’, Gorin commented ‘Ah, the Albanian specialty: invading someone’s home and stripping it bare. (See Kosovo, Serbia.) Then they get to do it again at the UK government’s expense. What the hell are they going to do with the toilet? Do they even know what it’s for?’ Racists like Gorin typify the Srebrenica deniers. Another Srebrenica genocide denier, Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com, has also made racist statements about Albanians, describing them as ‘medieval barbarians‘.
Srebrenica denial and anti-Semitism frequently go hand in hand. The anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and associate of Julian Assange who goes by the name of ‘Israel Shamir’ is a Srebrenica denier and has written ‘Many war atrocity stories are just stories – from Srebrenica to Kosovo “killing fields”, from Saddam Hussein’s WMD to Belgian babies on German bayonets of the WWI, from Kuwait’s incubator to anti-communist inventions of the Black Book.’ Shamir was one of a group of Srebrenica deniers, including Edward S. Herman and Diana Johnstone, who wrote an open letter to the Serbian parliament calling on them not to recognise the Srebrenica massacre.
‘This self-serving Jew’
Srebrenica genocide denial tends to go hand-in-hand with the denial of the genocidal crimes carried out by Serbian Nazi quislings and collaborators during World War II. When the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes waged their war for a Great Serbia in the 1990s, a major element in their propaganda was the equation of the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas (Croatian fascists) of World War II. The reality was that the Serb, Croat and Bosniak nations during World War II were all divided between anti-fascists and quislings or collaborators. Thus, the Nazi-quisling camp included Croat Ustashas, Serb Nedicites and Ljoticites and Muslim soldiers of the SS Handzar Division, while the anti-fascist Yugoslav Partisans comprised Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. But the Great Serbian nationalists of the 1990s waged a hate-campaign against Croats and Bosniaks, seeking to equate the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas.
One man who saw through this propaganda early on was the Jewish American medical doctor Philip J. Cohen. As Philip told me when I met him back in the mid-1990s in the US, he approached the Bosnian genocide as a Jew who knew the history of the Holocaust and the failure of the world to prevent it, and felt strongly that something similar should not be allowed to happen again. He was not in the slightest bit taken in by the Serb-nationalist campaign to equate all Croats and Bosniaks with the Ustashas, and responded to it by researching and writing the book Serbia’s Secret War. This book traced the history of anti-Semitism in Serbia and the role of Serbian quislings and collaborators in the Holocaust. It therefore demolished the myth that in the former Yugoslavia, it had only been Croats and Bosniaks who had produced quislings, or engaged in anti-Jewish actions. And although Cohen was not a professional historian or academic, the book is very good.
Needless to say, Cohen does not in any way deny the crimes of the Croatian Ustashas against Jews, Serbs or others. But his exposure of the crimes of Serbian quislings against Jews in World War II led to his being the subject of an anti-Semitic denunciation by a Serb nationalist writer called Vasilije Todorovic, who published an open letter in 1996 claiming (falsely) that ‘Cohen, this self-serving Jew, has even managed to condone the killing of 60,000 Jews in WW II, by the very Croatians from whom he receives his major support. I believe you Jews call this, Chutzpah!’ And ‘How astonishing that for 46 years the Roman Church and its Vatican failed to recognize Israel. Now this upstart Jew, Philip Cohen, defends their actions.’ Todorovic extended his attack on Cohen into a general diatribe against Jews: ‘There are no Spielberg movies made about these brave Serbian families who saved Jews. At the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Serbs were totally ignored as the Museum honored a Roman Catholic woman for saving the lives of 6 Jews.’ Furthermore, ‘Cohen omits the documents that reveal that Jews also joined the Ustasha and the Partisans and murdered numerous loyalists Serbs. In Cohen’s personal secret war against the Serbs, no mention is made that many of the Croatian Nazi officers had Jewish wives.’ And so on.
Todorovic’s article was written fifteen years ago, but the attacks on Cohen for having the temerity to write of the activities of Serbian Nazi quislings have continued. Two years ago, the amateur Serbian-American historian Carl Savich attempted to smear Cohen by claiming that he hadn’t even written his own book:
‘Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war.’
Savich claimed that Serbia’s Secret War had actually been written by a Croatian historian called Ljubica Stefan. He offered not a shred of evidence for his allegations.
I can personally testify that Cohen is the author of Serbia’s Secret War. At the time he was writing it, I met him at a seminar at Yale University, where I was studying at the time, and he asked me to assist him in working on the manuscript to his book. Consequently, I read his manuscript, made comments on it, then stayed with him at his home for two or three days and helped him work through some of the documents he had yet to analyse. Although Philip did not read Serbo-Croat himself, he told me he had benefited from a lot of assistance, in translating documents, from the Croatian writer Anto Knezevic. Having spoken with him at length and seen his library and archive, I know for a fact that Savich’s allegations are complete fabrications.
‘Other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population’
Savich is not a real historian and has no qualifications in history other than a Master’s degree, so it may not be surprising that his treatment of historical fact is less than professional. But he is also himself ready to engage in anti-Semitic writing. Here is a comment he wrote on the history of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia:
‘One consequence of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia was that Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities were flooded with over 9,500 bureaucrats and administrators and commercial and trade interests. Many of these were Ashkenazi Jews. Austrian Jews sought to benefit from the annexation and occupation of Bosnia. Racism and bigotry are based in self-interest. The racist attack against Orthodox Serbs by the Jew Freundlich can be explained in this way. His moral outrage is selective and self-interested. Austrian Jews would gain economic advantages by the Austrian occupation of Bosnia. Remarkaby, Roy Gutman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Sontag, James Rubin, and other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population, i.e, professing a disingenuous concern for the human rights of the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, at the same time ignoring the genocide and repression of the Palestinian population by the zealous Zionist nationalist government in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which were being illegaly settled by Jewish settlers. There was little concern for the human rights of the Palestinians, Kurds, or Basques. There is a dictum: Follow the money trail. Self-interest goes a long way in explaining the bias. Thus, under Austrian occupation, there were thousands of occupation administrators and bureaucrats, many of whom were Jewish.’
Savich is himself an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime that ran German-occupied Serbia, claiming that it had ‘no choice in the matter of its collaboration’, that it was no different from the Judenraete in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, and that it played no role in running concentration camps. All these claims are false.
Savich’s smear, of course, targeted not only Cohen, but also Ljubica Stefan. Stefan is listed among the ‘Righteous among Nations’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a Croatian who protected Jews during the Holocaust. This is what Savich has to say about her (again, without producing any evidence whatsoever):
‘Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian, someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.’
So Savich, who has no academic qualifications beyond a Master’s degree and who is an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime, accuses Stefan, who was a tenured professor at a Belgrade faculty and who actually protected Jews during the Holocaust, of being a ‘pseudo-historian’ guilty of ‘historical revisionism.
‘Agent of imperialism’
Anti-fascist Serbs, as much as non-Serbs, can become victims of racism when they oppose the activities of the Serbian extreme-right. The Serbian human-rights activist Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a frequent victim of physical harassment and defamation at the hands of Serbian fascist thugs and their rag-sheets, is periodically denounced by them as a ‘lesbian’. But she has also been denounced for supposedly not being of pure Serbian racial stock. Thus, an anonymous Srebrenica genocide denier – whose genocide denial subsequently led to him being banned by the proprietor of Modernity Blog – challenged my description of her as ‘Serbian’ in the following terms: ‘Serbian, eh? Funny thing is, Sonja Biserko keeps her biographical details well hidden. A wiki page lists her as Croatian, whereas a poster on some forum claims that: her brother was a member of Croatian troops, so called “Zbor narodne garde” and was killed in fight with Krajina Serbs.‘
The anonymous creep in question challenged me to confirm or deny the truth of his rumours. This sort of malicious gossip always puts us in a difficult position, as however unlikely it is that such rumours are true, we cannot formally deny them unless we know for certainty that they are false. Readers may recall the rumour that former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim, so we have to assume that it is false, particularly given the seriousness of the charge. But I cannot say for absolute certainty that it is untrue.
However, having now researched the matter, I can say for absolute, 100% certainty that Biserko’s brother was not a member of the Croatian armed forces, and was not killed in combat with Serb forces. He was not even present in Croatia during the war. As for the claim that Sonja is ‘Croatian’ rather than Serbian; since she is a Serbian citizen, was born in Belgrade and since her father was an ethnic Serb, the smear entirely rests on the fact that her mother is an ethnic Croat. The suggestion being that any Serb whose background isn’t 100% ethnically pure is ‘not really’ Serb at all.
The idea that someone’s patriotism can be called into question on the basis of their ‘alien’ ethnic background has been a favourite of the far right since the Dreyfus Affair. In reailty, people from ethnically non-Serb or mixed backgrounds, including ethnic Croats and Bosniaks, have often become hardline Serb nationalists, or supported the Milosevic regime – examples are Emir Kusturica, Jovan Zametica, Franko Simatovic and Mihalj Kertes. The Serbian fascist leader Vojislav Seselj was frequently accused of being an ethnic Croat, on the grounds that ‘Seselj’ is a Croat surname – he was pathetically reduced to obtaining a certificate from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (for which he allegedly paid a small sum in deutschmarks) to ‘prove’ he was ‘genuinely’ Serb.
As a footnote, the smear against Sonja was posted on the ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ malicious-gossip site, about which I have recently written, and is entirely characteristic of the sort of material that is posted there. Biserko’s smearer was actively encouraged to post malicious rumours about me as well by the blog’s proprietor, the Guardian columnist and Credit Suisse stockbroker Daniel Davies (interestingly, Credit Suisse is the same company for which the late Richard Holbrooke worked). Evidence suggests that Davies may not be entirely neutral in former-Yugoslav matters; he has spoken of his friendship with the blogger Splintered Sunrise, a sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party; and of Christopher Deliso, author of a viciously Islamophobic propaganda tract about Balkan Muslims significantly entitled The coming Balkan caliphate (which I have dissected), which itself draws heavily on the ‘work’ of Srebrenica genocide deniers, in particular Darko Trifunovic, but also Nebojsa Malic. Davies has also stated that during the war in the former Yugoslavia, ‘I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for the Serbian Republic (though not the Bosnian Serbs)’.
Davies’s friend Splintered Sunrise has himself described Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’ in a comment on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (the comments are no longer visible online, but I possess the print-out). A further example of demonisation and character assassination that is entirely characteristic.
Hat tip: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Daniel Davies (who writes under the names ‘Bruschettaboy’ and ‘Dsquared’), proprietor of the blog ‘Aaronovitch Watch‘, printed a ‘correction‘ after one of his anonymous pet trolls falsely accused me of having been a member of Gerry Healy’s ‘Workers Revolutionary Party’. Since Healy was a gangster, rapist and cult-leader who received money from the regimes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi, and was complicit in Saddam’s murder of members of the Iraqi Communist Party, this was fairly serious lie to tell. However, since Davies’s rather more ethical fellow blogger Dave Weeden (‘Chardonnay Chap’) had already deleted the comments in question after I pointed out that they were false, and since I had not requested any further action, Davies’s printing of the ‘correction’ was not motivated by considerations of decency. In fact, the ‘correction’ was a flimsy excuse to justify his pet troll’s attempted smear, and to launch a further personal attack on me.
This is entirely characteristic of Davies’s mode of operation. His blog is, simply put, a non-stop sectarian hate-fest, in which his readers are actively encouraged to sneer at other left-wingers of whom they disapprove – specifically, members of the Eustonite or Decent Left. This sneering frequently takes the form of outright malicious gossip, the factual accuracy of which is only sporadically checked by Davies. He is someone for whom clean political debate is systematically eschewed in favour of ad hominem attacks on individuals. The particular objects of his animosity are the British journalists David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen, every one of whose articles over a period of several years has been picked to pieces by Davies and his circle in a quite unrivalled display of personal obsession. But it is a wholly unrequited obsession, as Aaronovitch and Cohen very sensibly ignore him.
As for me, Davies has been attacking me from practically the day I launched my own blog. I made the mistake of thinking that he was someone with whom it was possible to have a constructive discussion, in consequence of which, I have become another butt of his inner rage. Frequently abusive and sometimes libellous comments are posted about me on Davies’s blog. As I have discovered on this occasion, if one complains – even if Davies is forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaint – it provides the occasion for him to make a further personal attack. The only possible deduction is that Davies is attempting to deter me and perhaps others from complaining about the sort of filth that appears on his blog. Because without the ad hominem sneering and the malicious gossip, Aaronovitch Watch would have no raison d’etre.
The basis for the smear that I was a member of Gerry Healy’s ‘Worker’s Revolutionary Party’ (WRP) was that in the 1990s I collaborated with members of a related but different group called the ‘Workers Revolutionary Party’ and contributed articles to its newspaper, ‘Workers’ Press’. I was not a member of this WRP either, but worked with some of its members in the context of a much broader trade-union-backed movement of solidarity with the people of Bosnia during the war of 1992-92. The movement was called ‘Workers Aid’, and most of its supporters were not WRP members. I shall say more about this shortly. Here, I note Davies’s claim that his pet troll’s smear, that I was a member of Healy’s WRP, was ‘most likely an honest mistake’. Yet Davies is very well aware that it was not an honest mistake, as the original WRP broke up into multiple fragments in the mid-1980s, when I was in my early teens, and Healy himself died in 1989, when I was seventeen. Davies’s pet troll’s accusation was an attempt to smear me by deliberately conflating the two different groups called ‘WRP’, and associating me with Healy’s. After I had already pointed out that it was untrue, Davies’s troll repeated the allegation – not the behaviour of someone who had made an ‘innocent mistake’. Anyway, what sort of person makes these sort of out-of-the-blue ad hominem allegations while themselves hiding behind anonymity ? (Answer: the sort of person that is drawn like flies to ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ by the offal put out to attract them).
Having whitewashed his troll’s attempted smear-job, Davies then tried to blame me for it: ‘Marko did not do himself many favours by not clearing this up himself and leaving it to others to mention the Workers’ Press articles’. What he is saying, is that he is providing a forum for anonymous trolls to tell whatever stories they like about me and other people they don’t like, and that the onus is then on us to correct the falsehoods that these invariably involve, by volunteering information about our personal backgrounds. Would you want to volunteer information about your personal background on that kind of blog ? Of course, if one does then post comments on Davies’s blog to correct the falsehoods, one is then subjected to further personal attacks – as happened to me in this case.
However, Davies’s underhand attempt at throwing mud at me personally is far from the worst of it. He then attempts to attribute further nefarious motives to me for objecting to being associated with Healy, and in doing so builds upon his troll’s conflation of the two different WRPs, thereby smearing members of the latter by equating them with a gangster, rapist and paid informant of Saddam Hussein: ‘I think the problem is that, since the WRP(WP) had very similar politics to the Healyites, accepting that Slaughter-good/Healy-bad was more or less how it turned out would kind of make it impossible to slag off other people and groups based on their own embarrassing figures.’ Furthermore: ‘Depending on the circumstances, it might or might not have been a sensible idea to have been involved with the WRP(WP) during the relevant period. However, with the passage of time, it’s become slightly embarrassing.’
Those who are at all familiar with the history of the original WRP know that Healy was a sadistic thug who ran his Trotskyist sect as a cult, in which he psychologically and often physically and sexually abused its members. There were many members of this party that had joined as principled and committed left-wing activists but had then become victims – in the very real sense – of Healy’s abuse. The break-up of the original WRP began with a rebellion against Healy by those members who strongly objected to his methods; some of these had themselves been victims of Healy’s abuse. When the party fragmented, some of the fragments remained loyal to Healy’s legacy to various degrees. But the fragment with which I subsequently worked in the Workers Aid movement in the mid-1990s was made up of the people who had rejected Healy’s methods and rebelled against him. Davies has sneeringly and ignorantly conflated them with the gangster and rapist whom they rejected and overthrew, and who in some cases had personally abused them. He thus drags in wholly innocent third parties into his own petty little personal vendetta against me and the Decent Left. Members of the WRP/WP did not abuse their fellow members, or receive money from Saddam Hussein, or inform on members of the Iraqi Communist Party to Saddam’s secret police. Davies’s claim that ‘the WRP(WP) had very similar politics to the Healyites’ is therefore a smear of the worst kind.
The members of the WRP (‘Workers Press’) with whom I collaborated in Workers Aid were among the bravest, most principled and most committed fighters for social justice and political liberation that I have ever met. When the Bosnian genocide was at its height and when much of the rest of the Western left was either sitting on the sidelines or actively sympathising with the perpetrators, these people built the Workers Aid movement to bring aid to, and show solidarity with, the people of the Bosnian city of Tuzla. This was an industrial city with a proud left-wing and working-class history, whose own miners had supported the British miners’ strike in the 1980s and whose citizens maintained a social democratic administration in power throughout the Bosnian war. Members of the WRP/WP and other supporters of Workers Aid – sometimes risking their own lives as they guided their convoy of rickety lorries along the broken roads of a country at war and through sniper zones – built a movement of solidarity between British and European trade unionists and Bosnian trade unionists that defied the ethnic cleansers and their Western backers.
That is the WRP with which I worked in the 1990s, and to whose newspaper I contributed. Although I have since mostly lost touch with them, I remember with particular respect and fondness Bob Myers, Dot Gibson, Charlie Pottins, Bronwen Handyside, Cliff Slaughter, the late Geoff Pilling and others, some of whose names I don’t recall. It was an honour to have worked with them and to have contributed to their newspaper, and though I suspect they might not approve of my subsequent political evolution, I would do so again. So no, I don’t find my past association with them ’embarrassing’ (I have advertised my former involvement with Workers Aid in the ‘About’ section of my blog since the day it was launched); they represented what was best in the British left.
For someone like Daniel Davies, an armchair leftist whose sole political activity seems to consist of running a blog devoted to smearing and rubbishing other left-wingers, the same cannot be said. He is something of a pillar of London finance capitalism, being a stockbroker and financial advisor working for the Credit Suisse Group, and personally on record last year for complaining about the imposition of new taxes on European banks and other financial institutions, describing them as ‘about as bad news for the sector as it could have been… The hostile regulatory environment continues to move on, and will continue to generate unpleasant surprises like this one.’ He was also an early supporter of a US invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein – provided it wasn’t led by the Bush Administration. In his own words in October 2002:
‘I retain my original belief that improvement in Iraq is politically impossible unless there is some sort of shooting war in the area culminating in the removal of Saddam Hussein. I don’t set much score by “national-building”, and don’t really believe that what the Gulf needs is more US client states, and I never believed any of the scare stories related to the “WMD” acronym which is currently doing such sterling duty in picking out weblog authors who don’t have a fucking clue what they’re talking about. I just think that Saddam needs to go, because it’s just one of those Damned Things which Has To Happen. I’m a fatalist, not a moralist.
So, how can we square these beliefs a) that something has to be done and b) that if something is done, it will be a disastrous imperial adventure by George Bush. Here’s how, and it’s so simple it’s beautiful:
The official policy of D-Squared Digest [Davies’s personal blog] with respect to Iraq is now that we support a policy of containment until after the 2004 Presidential elections, and after that, we will support immediate war with Iraq if and only if someone other than George W Bush is elected.’ [emphasis in original]
This makes his obsessive hostility toward the Decent Left somewhat easier to understand: it is not the hostility of an ideological opposite, but of someone whose own politics are highly similar yet not quite identical. A type of hostility, in other words, in the tradition of the hostility of the People’s Front of Judea to the Judean People’s Front. As for me, Davies admits he has a ‘grudge’ against me, arising from my having revealed that a blogger whom he described as part of ‘Aaronovitch Watch’s extended family’ was in fact a sympathiser of a neo-Nazi party.
Hat tip: Neil Clark.
Update 1: And just when you thought the gutter couldn’t be scraped any further by Davies and his disgusting pack of trolls, here are some of their comments aimed against a visitor who was much more polite and reasonable than I would have been:
‘he sure looks like something that lives under a bridge and accosts under age goats.’
‘are you William Hague’s love child? A tragically precious 20 something, with the mind of an aging fogey? If so, yes its true, we have been too hard on you. We should have treated you with kindness, referred you to specialists who could help with your tragic condition.’
Update 2: Anyone interested in further information about Davies’s alignments should look here.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II