It’s good to talk (about the burka)

By Nora Mulready

This is a cross-post, reproduced by kind permission of the author, from the original.

Every human being has the right to wear what they want. That includes people who choose to wear the burka or the niqab. However, to portray the debate about the burka and niqab as one solely or even predominantly about the individual choices of grown women is to miss the far more fundamental question at the heart of this debate. What are the values we are prepared to see morally normalised in British society? The burka and niqab are the physical manifestation of the belief that women should not be seen in public, and that we must cover every inch of our bodies & hair if we are to step outside. Regardless of the individual choices, (where they are choices), made by women, are we happy as a society to let such a regressive idea of how women should live go publicly unchallenged? I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that we should so casually throw away hard won gender equality at the altar of religious sensitivity.

Many people have suggested that ‘white men’, or even all non-burka/niqab-wearing Muslims, should stay out of this debate, that it is not their place to comment. This is a matter for the women and the women only. This is utterly wrong. Britain is a society where people from a huge range of backgrounds, cultures and personal beliefs live together, side by side, and, in most part, we do so in a cohesive and harmonious way. We have celebrated the idea that we are diverse yet united for a very long time. This has been rooted in the belief that we are fundamentally one society, where we all have equal rights and an equal stake in what happens. The question of whether, as a society, we are prepared to either tacitly or explicitly support the view that women should not be seen in public is a profound philosophical debate and everyone – male, female, Muslim and non-Muslim – is fully entitled to participate in this discussion. The values we choose to publicly uphold, as a collective, shared society, impact on us all.

There is an unfortunate tendency in Britain of mainstream politicians, particularly on the left, opting out of public discussions about regressive, and even abusive, cultural or religious practices on the basis that it is somehow not their place to comment. The mindset of cultural relativism, “it’s their culture”, continues to shut down important discussions about child veiling in state primary schools and the puritan curriculum taught in deeply conservative religious schools, just as it used to shut down important conversations about forced marriage and FGM, long after they began to percolate the consciousness of mainstream British society. Nimko Ali, FGM campaigner and survivor, recently wrote on twitter, “the act of FGM as painful as it was for me was never as painful as the dismissal of my experience as culture when I know it was abuse and a violation of my human rights.” By largely shying away from public discussions on these topics, hugely important conversations, which should have been happening in the mainstream of British politics were, and are, pushed to the fringes. Political capital is then made out of these issues by extremists, who use the silence of mainstream politicians to push the ideas that 1. people are no longer allowed to speak openly in British society, and 2. that entire communities can be demonised. In the long run, staying silent does not help create a better, kinder, more inclusive society. It only breeds resentment, tensions, anger and extremism.

This must be remembered now. Although triggered by the deliberately unpleasant “post box” and “bank-robber” comments by Boris Johnson, the debate currently happening about the burka and niqab is a good thing. There is clearly an appetite for the conversation in the country, so let’s have it. Bring the discussion out into the open, and into the mainstream, take the debate out of the hands of extremists on all sides. This discussion is not about challenging the clothing choices of individual women, it is about whether there is a moral imperative – or even, at least, a moral right – in a free, democratic and secular country to challenge the normalisation of the idea that women should not be seen in public, for whatever reason. In a shared society, it is only through genuine, sincere and open discussion, in which everyone – everyone – from burka/niqab-wearing Muslim women to “white men” – has a right to participate, that we have a hope of both upholding important principles and, somehow, finding a shared way through. It’s good to talk (about the burka).

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The Third Law of Politics

By Jake Wilde

I. A different kind of politics, apparently

After so many decades spent spewing speeches, motions, pamphlets, newspapers and online columns into the world, only to have them relentlessly ignored by everybody but themselves, it’s little wonder that those currently in charge of the Labour Party should be so full of vengeance. For the crime of not taking them seriously when they occupied the dark fringes of political landscape, our punishments are to be many and varied.

For now, without any real power, they are having to limit themselves to complaining about hats and conducting purges of the party. Their method is the usual one, laying down a complex set of rules that must not be broken but are only applicable to those outside the tent. In broad terms this amounts to “If you’re not one of us then what you think is wrong, irrelevant and intolerable.” Thus those who’ve campaigned and worked for the party for many years, under many different leaderships, can be and are discarded, as all eventually will fall foul of the unwritten rule of “not one of us”.

There’s no nuance behind the politics of vengeance being readied for the country should real power fall into their hands. Despite the rhetoric of collectivism, policies are decided by the small group at the centre under John McDonnell, and then distributed to the lower ranks not for discussion, but enthusiastic endorsement. There’s nothing particularly left wing about this, it’s just how authoritarian regimes operate. It’s on the first page of the manual.

On the second page is the most important rule after that: “Don’t tell everyone what you’re really going to do.” Jeremy Paxman was on to this in the 2017 election. His botched attempt to make Corbyn confess that the manifesto was a sham probably still haunts him, but if there’s one thing Corbyn is good at its lying about what he really thinks. Any man who can claim he’s not antisemitic while working for the planet’s most antisemitic regime has some front, and Corbyn is as adroit at deception as any con man.

It’s been the revelation of his leadership, far more so than the overstated impact upon the so-called youth vote. In truth the ranks of the Labour Party have been swelled not by hundreds of thousands of newly inspired teenagers, but by the middle aged, middle classes who previously spent their time on the fringes and, in all too many cases, under rocks. Labour is now a party creaking with conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamists and armchair revolutionaries, all of whom have found a home they never thought would exist for them – in one of Britain’s major parties.

Labour claims to have six tests on Brexit, but has only one rule: “Don’t get the blame”. This has applied from the start, hence the non-committal approach during the referendum, and the comical attempts to ride two horses with one arse since. You’d be hard pressed now to remember Labour’s official position during the referendum and, in the 2017 election, polls showed that Labour had managed to convince both ardent Leavers and Remainers that the party supported each of their viewpoints. Duplicity on such a scale is rare, and to be commended if you like that sort of thing.

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II. The Myth of the English Socialist Dream

For many years the UK civil service has resisted attempts, generally by the right, at politicisation. Margaret Thatcher so regularly complained about civil servants thwarting her efforts to radically change the UK’s economic and political structures that for most of the early 80s it seemed only a matter of time before a US-style system was introduced. This desire to remove the blockers in the civil service is currently being taken up by the Brexiteers and it will be shared by the Labour Party should their current leadership get into power.

Whether it’s the courts making the “wrong” decision, the police “taking sides” or civil servants being “obstructive”, the truth is that the institutions are there to ensure democracy means more than just absolute power for the temporary occupants of the executive. In simple terms western society has built structures to stop anyone from doing anything too nuts, or from pointing ominously at the crowds at their backs.

Thus politicians that promise radical change are, generally, hawking a fantasy. The Labour manifesto of 2017 was not about winning a general election. It was about retaining control of the party. It was a sentimental appeal to Labour members, supporters and voters, pushing emotional buttons so as to bolster support after defeat. I call this fantasy the English Socialist Dream, the fiction most commonly pushed by Corbyn at his rallies.

I’ve come to the view that the majority of so-called ordinary members of the Labour Party – the ones who aren’t entrists and have backed Corbyn twice now – have bought into a vision of socialism that predates even the Second World War, even before Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World.

Corbyn talks relentlessly in niceisms; that all our problems can be solved if everything is just nicer and that the state has a key role in being the nicest of all. The state will provide nice railways, nice energy, nice foreign policy, nice policing, nice immigration, nice housing, nice healthcare and so on. There’s no need to worry, the state will look after everything. Yes of course it’s all costed, now just stop asking questions, take your soma and support Jeremy.

Brave New World is about how a utopia is in fact dystopian because the people in it no longer ask questions. Rather than having Big Brother relentlessly controlling information, Huxley envisaged a world of “painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus”, said Christopher Hitchens when comparing Huxley’s vision with Orwell’s 1984:
“For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.”

And so we’re told now that there is nothing to be learnt from history about Labour’s planned economic programme, that no-one should have any sense of foreboding about the party’s treatment of Jewish members, activists and MPs, and that any past associations that the leadership had with terrorists are irrelevant (or even, preposterously, positive). Do not delve too deeply – there is nothing to be learnt by forensic examination.

In just the same way as Tony Benn never asked his famous Five Questions of Tariq Aziz over tea, you do not need to know the details behind Corbyn’s support of the mass murder of white South Africans during the apartheid years. Nor how his support for the violent expression of Irish nationalism has been transformed into an alternative history of a neutral, bilateral support for the peace process, to the bemusement even of former IRA commanders.

You knew, everybody knew, that those numbers in the manifesto didn’t add up. They didn’t even come close. We also all know that confidence, that most valuable of commodities, would evaporate with John McDonnell at the helm of the economy. And all of those spending plans would be just sand flowing through his helpless fingers as the wealth and income he needed to tax took flight. You knew, when Paxman pushed Corbyn on why all the things he believed in were not in the manifesto, that his genial smile was a clever trick, an in-joke between the Labour leader and his supporters. Corbyn was never going to admit it and he didn’t need to because his followers knew the game he was playing.

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III. Antisemitism in the blood

Corbynism, if such a term can be used, relies less on an intellectual analysis of the faults in society and proffering a rational set of proposals to remedy said faults, than on identifying the villains and telling everyone you’re going to punish them. That Corbyn should be the leader of dim-witted punishment politics will come as no surprise to those that have followed his career. But it’s simply no different to scapegoating. That scapegoating is traditionally the preserve of the far right doesn’t seem to matter to Labour Party members these days, they’ve found a leader who will tell them who is to blame, who needs to be punished and that once that’s done everything will be better. This is one of the reasons why Labour has an antisemitism problem, because Jews have a long-standing role as scapegoats, stretching back millennia. Perhaps this is also why Corbyn protests that he isn’t antisemitic – because he doesn’t limit his scapegoating to Jews.

Corbyn’s own views represent the strand of thought that led him and others to form the Stop The War coalition ten days after 9/11. This group of people, who decided they needed a specific vehicle to oppose whatever the United States’ response to the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, are united by a hatred of the West, of liberal democracy, of capitalism and of what they see as the forces that prevent the working class from rising up and creating a socialist utopia.

It should not be surprising that antisemitism is an important part of Stop The War’s DNA. Numerous different antisemitic conspiracy theories have been promulgated through Stop The War, some so abhorrent they were even cleansed from their website when Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. Some of those deleted posts were just simple racism, others offered justification for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. However they all have one thing in common, they have Corbyn’s approval. He was a founder, a member of the steering committee from the start, and chair from 2011 until 2015.

This is the reason why antisemitism is innate to Corbynism. There’s not a single Corbynista who doesn’t believe, on some level, that the United States deserved to be attacked on that terrible September morning. Not one who doesn’t think it was the consequence of United States’ own foreign policy, and of its support for Israel. When this is inherent in a political belief structure, atrocities such as 9/11 become political exchanges, not acts of mass murder.

This is why I argue that the hardcore Corbynites are best described as the alt-left. Polytechnic revolutionaries with an NVQ in Political Theory and avatars of their favourite mass murderers, they know Corbyn and McDonnell support terrorism and they’re delighted by that. They know there’s an ongoing war against the wrong kind of Jews and uppity women, because it’s them waging it.

They’re often described as masters of social media, but this just means that they have taken the traditional bullying techniques of the unpleasant left and adapted them for use online. Melts, gammon, pile-ons; it’s not exactly sophisticated. One of the advantages for these social misfits was that they could hide their real identities, their awkwardness, and their losing personalities in the online world that they create, but they have started to believe their own propaganda.

They now demand a more prominent place on broadcast media, especially television, and I fully support that. The demise of the National Front can be directly traced back to the moment Nick Griffin, bulbous-eyed and sweating, babbled incoherently through Question Time. Revealed for who he truly was, the impartial BBC did more to fight fascism in that one night than thousands of nights of furious clicking by the alt-Left. Live TV will do for them just as it did for Griffin, but there is no escaping the fact that they are representative of the party, and popular with the membership.DgNnra7UYAAl0fH.jpg

IV. When did things go bad, exactly?

Over the last two years I’ve written about why I joined the Labour party, my sense of pride at being a member of a party that took record numbers of children out of poverty, introduced the minimum wage, and liberated the victims of tyranny and genocide. I’ve written about how the alt-left came to unite around a man who has achieved nothing in a thirty year career as a politician, precisely because he’s achieved nothing. Corbyn’s the closest thing there is to a blank canvas on the far left, upon which all manner of cranky versions of “socialism” can be projected, including the mythical version beloved by long-standing members. This blog is an archive of the torment that I and others have been through as we have tried to rationalise our choices, be they to leave, stay, come back, or leave again.

I have now reached the point where I cannot foresee being able to vote Labour, let alone rejoin the party that had achieved so much during my twenties and thirties. A party that is determined to renounce and denounce its own achievements with more fervour than anyone, and that espouses views that hitherto seemed to be forever confined to the darkest fringes. Labour has a membership that yearns for a Britain that never existed, and never must, and is a party that we now know has harboured a dark secret for years, a secret tolerance for antisemitism.

So I understand why people wish to stay in Labour and fight from within, but this is misplaced and mistaken. They are the human shields of politics, helping to prevent a fatal strike against a party that only retains them for their collateral usefulness.

Up until now the two parts of the centre left community has been viewed as merely differing on strategy. Those who’ve chosen to stay in Labour believe the party can eventually be restored once they wrestle back control from the far left. That the damage during the period that started in September 2015 and will end god-knows-when can be repaired. That, eventually, the majority of the membership will see the error of their ways. And then there’s the rest of us, who think that’s as deluded as hell. Even if the far left could be defeated from here would they wouldn’t be expelled, they’d be accommodated, while the membership would continue to yearn for the fantasy Corbyn offers.

The signs that Labour’s problems run deeper were there long before Corbyn was elected. From the incomprehensibly widespread belief that the likes of Tony Benn represented Labour’s conscience, to the day that Ed Miliband condemned thousands upon thousands of Syrian people to die. People like you and me, who just wanted freedom and democracy. I am ashamed I did not leave the Labour Party on that day.

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What the last two and half years have shown me is that the majority of Labour Party members have an unacceptable hierarchy of values. That they are prepared to sacrifice fundamental human rights for dogma, core values of liberal democracy for a mythical socialist dream. Labour is not a party that should be saved.

V. Nemesis

The worst thing about political homelessness is the lack of a sense of community. While it’s better, electorally, for your community to be as large as possible, it’s size is less important than its existence. Without it you can’t be sure if it’s just you that thinks such things.

I know that just being anti-the-far-left isn’t enough. Back in the early 2000s I formed a faction to oppose the far left leadership of my trade union. We were, in the main, left-of-centre Labour Party members, united by our opposition to the ruling faction that, unusually, consisted of both the Socialist Party and the SWP, as well as handful from the then tiny Bennite wing of Labour. The Socialist Party were very much in charge, but that didn’t stop John McDonnell, a regular visitor to NEC meetings and annual conference, fawning over them, more critical of his own party and his own colleagues than actual electoral opponents. While we found it easy to define what we weren’t (i.e. “them”) and what we were against, it was much harder to fashion a coherent policy platform to show what we were in favour of.

The same is undoubtedly true of us who oppose the current leadership and direction of the Labour Party and, lest there be any doubt, of the Conservative Party too. We know what we’re against, but unifying around an alternative proves elusive. I’ll illustrate what I mean by using Brexit as probably the best current example.

It’s reasonable to assume that the purpose of a second referendum is to overturn the result of the first, but what then? To attempt to answer that question would cause an unravelling of the curent, very broad, alliance of EU enthusiasts and Brexitsceptics. I voted Remain, but the issue of what it might mean to remain troubled me in 2016 as well. Briefly, my personal view of the EU is that it is at its best in three broad ways.

Firstly, when being a trading bloc for goods and services. Secondly, and as a group of nations rather than as an entity in itself, as a champion for liberal democracy and human rights. Thirdly, as a guarantor of security, both between individual EU countries and from those outside.

Where I think the EU goes wrong is in holding that labour should be treated as a commodity in the same way as goods and services. In much the same way as the single currency, the consequence is a democratic deficit that effectively transfers power to unelected bodies, whether they be employers or banks. I believe strongly in enlargement but equally strongly oppose a more federal Europe.

There are tremendous positive benefits in welcoming countries with young democracies into the EU, primarily for the people who live in them. In order to be admitted those countries have to prove their commitment to robust democratic structures, such as an independent judiciary, police and armed forces. The spread of democracy by peaceful means is the EU’s greatest achievement.

However I think that the internal democracy of the EU is a sham, that powers should be repatriated to national governments and parliaments, the EU Parliament abolished and scrutiny of the EU Commission performed directly by the governments of member states.

I am under no illusions that any of that will ever happen. Nor will my views particularly find favour with either Remainers or Leavers, but I use them to demonstrate that there are no purely binary options when thinking about our relationship with the EU. For some the EU, in any form, will always be unacceptable, for others nothing less than full integration will do. As John Rentoul observed last week, “all the noise is being made by those who want to be completely in or completely out”. What noise would a new centre ground party make?

One of the lessons of history is that Newton’s Third Law applies to politics as well. For every political philosophy there is an opposite force, for every type of leader there is a nemesis. Jeremy Corbyn becoming the leader of the Labour Party was undoubtedly a consequence of the reaction against previous leaders of the party, and there will be someone who emerges as a reaction to him. Equally there will be a reaction against Corbynism. But the opposite force to Corbynism is not another extremist view, such as a British form of Trumpism, but the liberal centre. 

A broader centre now exists in British politics, defined not by our attitudes to the EU, or Washington or Moscow, or who runs the railways, but by the more fundamental values of freedom of speech, equality, tolerance, liberal democracy and human rights. The very principles that are under threat from Corbynism. This is why the next leader need not be from within the Labour Party. More important is their ability to build consensus across the centre, to champion those values that we hold in common, to be able to convince us of what is possible and what is not, to, for example, answer the Brexit question satisfactorily. In the meantime those fundamental values are what sets us apart from the modern Labour Party and we should use them to start to define ourselves, to be Corbynism’s opposite force. We don’t need to wait for a leader to emerge to start to do that.

 

 

 

Featured image – Nemesis, by Gheorghe Tattarescu (1853)

Novichok for the Soul

Jeremy Corbyn and the murder of the Russian spy

People with unpalatable opinions rarely broadcast them in all their glory to the world. Instead they obfuscate by making impossible demands for evidence; deflect with whatabouttery, and make false equivalences with vague references to historical wrongs. The casual observer can never glean their true motives and opinions without undertaking more than a little work.

George Galloway, for example, would rage eloquently against the mendacity and double standards of the capitalist West for the BBC’s cameras without ever disclosing his own rotten values in full. A well-meaning viewer with a casual interest in politics might easily have caught Galloway on Question Time in 2004, in the midst of one of his famous tirades on the hypocrisy of US foreign policy — as it suffocating Iran with sanctions while simultaneously lining the pockets of Saudi Arabia with oil money and gorging itelf on arms deals — and think, “the man’s got a point”. You had to dig a bit deeper to find Galloway’s fawning interviews with the holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Press TV, or personally slobbering over Saddam Hussein in his palace.

Those who have followed the career of Galloway’s old friend Jeremy Corbyn know that he too is a veteran of the same section of the hard left that spent a generation in the political wilderness before launching its successful conquest of the Labour Party two years ago. But where Galloway’s narcissism, bullying and outright enthusiasm for fascism eventually revealed him for the fraudulent crank he is, Corbyn’s total lack of ambition prior to 2015 and gentle, fuddy duddy demeanour have shielded him from the same level of exposure.

For those that have followed Corbyn’s career, his attitude towards foreign despots has always been a source of anxiety. While he has never entered the same realms of brazen dictator worship as Galloway (with the notable exception of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro), Corbyn’s tendency towards tyrants of a certain nature has always been one of limp indifference at best and sympathy bordering on admiration at worst.

Corbyn’s reaction to the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal has shown him at his most troublingly — and publicly — equivocal over a dictator since he entered the spotlight of British politics. Since Theresa May confirmed her belief in Russian — and more specifically Vladimir Putin’s — culpability for the attack on Skripal, Corbyn has set to work busily debunking this logical conclusion with a level of conspiratorial scepticism and deflection that was once rarely seen in mainstream politics.

Corbyn has repeatedly cast doubt on “the evidence” that Russia and Putin were behind the attack, and, a week after May announced her conclusion, he still refuses to blame Moscow outright for commissioning it.

Corbyn claims to need “an absolute, definitive answer” on who supplied the novichok to murder Skripal before he rushes to judgment. But what grounds are there, really, for doubting Russian responsibility? Mr Skripal is a former spy and an enemy of the Russian state, who has been attacked with a chemical weapon created by the Soviet Union which is only realistically available to the Russian government. Russia has a history of similar attacks in Britain, and Vladimir Putin has a taste for ruthless displays of power and manufactured foreign threats — particularly at election time. Add to that the total absence of any other plausible explanation, and it is difficult to see how anyone could conclude that there was any reasonable doubt as to Russia’s guilt.

But this is apparently not enough to satisfy Corbyn. What would? Corbyn has remained vague and faintly ridiculous on this — absurdly suggesting that trustworthy Russia should be allowed to test the novichok used in order that they can confirm their culpability once and for all. The fact that Russia has already been given an opportunity to engage constructively with the UK, and has responded with contemptuous scorn and sarcasm, has apparently not swayed Corbyn from believing in the wisdom of this course of action.

Not content with this unmerited scepticism, Corbyn has also deflected attention away from Russia and Putin at every opportunity he has been given, either through the classic hard left tactic of raising the straw man of Western hypocrisy, or through simply talking about something similar but unrelated. Rather disgracefully, following Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Labour called into question the reliability of our own chemical weapons intelligence, making a not-so-subtle and totally specious comparison to the fabricated evidence used to justify entering the Iraq war. The fact that the two situations are not remotely analogous (for those seeking clarification: Russia attacked the UK; Iraq did not) would not deter him from, again, deliberately casting doubt on Russian responsibility.

Corbyn has also raised the two red herrings of war with Russia and Russian oligarchs. In an article for the Guardian, he urged the UK not to “slide into war” with Russia or to “create a division where none exists” before making more phoney calls for “dialogue”. The reality that in fact the only mainstream politicians mentioning war at all are Corbyn and his acolytes has not prevented him from using it as yet another way of deflecting attention away from the seriousness of the attack. Corbyn’s sudden interest in Russian oligarchs who stash their ill-gotten gains in London property is equally misleading: this is a good cause to raise at any time in Parliament except now, because whatever else they are guilty of (and that is a long list), “the oligarchs” are not responsible for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal — and if any are, then they are accessories to Putin and his inner circle.

What is so frustrating about Corbyn is his ability to disguise his conspiracism in the language of measured, calm rationalism. In isolation, his words seem reasonable. As with Galloway, the casual observer could easily be forgiven for hearing Corbyn’s measured calls for “caution” and “evidence”, his warnings against war and subtle references to previous government failures that seem superficially relevant but actually aren’t, and think “the man’s got a point”.

But if one takes any time to think about it, it is clear that Corbyn’s reactions have been anything but rational. For what rational person could reach the conclusion — on no evidence whatsoever — that “mafia-like groups” are as likely to have obtained novichok and used it to murder an enemy of the state as Putin and his government cronies are? What rational person responds to a deliberate chemical attack on British soil, that puts the lives of several British citizens at risk, with whatabouttery? What rational person sees the expulsion of some diplomats — in response to a chemical weapon attack — as a disproportionate act of war?

It takes some effort to see Corbyn’s comments for what they really are. Unlike Galloway, Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it. He does not directly voice support, or make open apologies for Putin, but he does his work for him when he casts doubt on clear evidence of his guilt and employs open apologists like Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray as advisers. His foggy and equivocal stance on Russia should not be compared with the Theresa May’s — instead it should be compared to the clear and unambiguous terms in which he (often justifiably) condemns the USA, calls for immediate sanctions on Saudi Arabia and Israel and slams the Tories on domestic policy.

This makes being a Corbyn critic hard work. The task of first researching and then explaining his history to those with better things to do is long and arduous. Corbyn and his supporters maintain a veneer of respectability that makes it difficult for people with only a passing interest in politics to understand their insidiousness. As his critics work themselves into a frenzy over the morsels they are given, latching on to his associations with terrorists, anti-Semites and fascists that no one can remember anymore, in a desperate attempt to persuade an apathetic public that actually his “failures to condemn” and the people he calls his friends MEAN something, the majority laugh them off as the cranks, rather than the mild, kind-bearded leader of the opposition.

Perhaps the Skripal episode will change people’s minds. But it probably won’t.

 

Photo source:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/ikrd/the-hat-the-hat-the-hat-the-hattttttttt?utm_term=.wvPNBBZP7o#.ldYj44y5KD

From Foucault to Corbyn: the Left’s sordid relationship with Iran

By Jack Staples-Butler

The Islamic Republic of Iran was born in a hostage crisis which has never really ceased. Since 1979, the Iranian regime has repeatedly employed the abduction and arbitrary arrest of foreign nationals, frequently targeting those with dual Iranian citizenship, as a matter of state policy. There are several interpretations as to the rationale. The most obvious is material cynicism; prisoners arrested on bogus charges of espionage are a source of bargaining power with the international community; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband believes his wife was taken as leverage in Iran’s dispute with the UK over an arms deal dating back to the 1970s. Alternately, there is evidence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards have escalated the taking of foreign hostages as part of an internal power struggle with other parts of the regime. The most disturbing interpretation is one of the regime’s millenarian convictions; when Iran accuses Zaghari-Ratcliffe or hundreds of others of being CIA or Mossad agents, the charges are not entirely bogus fictions but sincerely-held delusions of a regime governed by thought disorder. It represents a disturbed pattern of thinking which has many sympathisers in the rich world. Any government that institutes ‘Death to America as an official public slogan can reasonably expect a little help from left-wing friends in the West.

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 was an early harbinger of what would later be dubbed the ‘regressive left’ or more fittingly, the ‘tyrannophile left; the emergence of a Western socialist left so desperate for allies against capitalism and liberalism that it saw embracing a neo-feudalist theocracy as a virtuous act. A regime led by a Supreme Leader and unchallengeable priesthood which executed trade unionists and social democrats by firing squad, hanged gay people from construction cranes and banned countless books and works of art became a cause célèbre for some of the most vaunted intellectuals and political figures on the left. Michel Foucault, the godfather of post-structuralist theory which has saturated academic departments since the 1980s, declared the mullahs of the Islamic Revolution could execute and torture whoever they liked, because Islam does not “have the same regime of truth as ours.” Foucault, the architect of queer theory now proverbially applauding the mass execution of gay men, was not alone. David Greason’s article ‘embracing death: the Western left and the Iranian revolution, 1978-83 covers much of this deeply unsettling ground, as do the themes of Paul Hollander’s recent book on ‘Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship‘.

Jeremy Corbyn’s hosting of a phone-in show on Iran’s state-controlled Press TV, a gig which netted him a total of £20,000, was not merely motivated by greed or vanity (the more likely motive for Alex Salmond taking a lavish new hosting job with Russia Today). Corbyn might have found presenting gigs or newspaper columns elsewhere; working for the anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist information arsenal of the Islamic Republic was just too appealing. George Galloway, a long-running presenter on the network, described the English-language propaganda channel Press TV as a “voice for the voiceless”. The voices of Iran’s political prisoners were unavailable for comment. Press TV’s website published lurid Jew-baiting editorials by Holocaust deniers before, during and after Corbyn, Galloway former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone were on their payroll – perhaps the network’s fixation on ‘Zionism’ earned Livingstone’s goodwill?.

Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-American journalist whose imprisonment, torture and false confession was facilitated by Press TV at the same time Corbyn was presenting his talk show. After Ofcom revoked Press TV’s right to broadcast on UK satellite and cable channels due to its involvement in Bahari’s torture, Corbyn continued his presenting gig for another six months. Bahari’s description of Western leftists, including Corbyn, Livingstone and Galloway, was of a new generation of “useful idiots”, adding:

“These are people who have a grudge against the US government or capitalism as a system, and as a result, they embrace whoever is against the American government. This means that sometimes they embrace regimes with atrocious human rights records like the one in Iran.”

Most British discussion of the imprisonment and maltreatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe this month has focused on the careless talk of the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and subsequently Michael Gove. However, a regressive myopia has affected discussion of the issue, wherein Johnson’s bungled response is believed to hold greater importance than a dictatorship’s policy of arbitrarily imprisoning and executing civilians using show-trials. The height of this disorder of accountability was the granting of an Observer editorial to none other than Jeremy Corbyn, who demanded Johnson’s resignation for, among other things, potentially condemning a British citizen imprisoned in Iran. The regime in Tehran has long proved it will domestically do what it wants, when it wants. Although Johnson’s words are now being quoted with delight on Press TV, the greater material prize for any propaganda channel is always the enthusiastic Western voices lining up to praise the regime. The selective myopia and amnesia of left-wing politician and their surrogates now attacking Johnson would be comical if not undercut by the sordidness of their own involvement with the Islamic Republic and its state media.

Celebrating a century of anti-totalitarianism

By Oscar Clarke

This year is the hundredth since the victory of the totalitarian idea in Russia. And there is little to be thankful for about the world that was called into being by Lenin a century ago. The Revolution promised salvation, and a large part of the European intelligentsia embraced it with a religious fervour. It produced leader-worship, famine and slavery, all the while hunting heretics with an assiduity which renders the Papal inquisition inappropriately tame as an historical comparison.

But there is, nevertheless, something to be celebrated in the sanguinary centenary of Bolshevism, which becomes apparent when I glance at my bookshelf. There I see Koestler, Serge, Borkenau and Silone, the four writers to whom Orwell referred when he coined the term “the concentration camp novel” to summarise the literature of nineteen thirties Europe. I also see Solzhenitsyn and Vaclav Havel, Sebastian Haffner and Victor Klemperer, Kanan Makiya and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. To wit, I see a whole genre of literature – anti-totalitarianism – that also got started in 1917, which produced some of the most indispensible works of the last century.

Had the Russian Civil War gone the other way, something doctrinally akin to Nazism might have emerged instead. For the White Russians, like Hitler, saw murdering Jews as a war aim. They were among the first true believers in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, by which theory Bolshevism – like capitalism before it – was simply a tool in the Jewish plan for world domination. It was White Russian emigres who brought the conspiracy theory, in the early nineteen-twenties, to Germany, where they also introduced political murder: Vladimir Nabokov – father of the novelist of the same name – was shot three months before Walther Rathenau.

Following a fascist triumph in Russia, Lenin, Trotsky and the other old Bolsheviks would have emigrated instead, perhaps to Vienna, where they once fraternised in the same cafes as a destitute Hitler. But more likely to Germany, homeland of Marx, Hegel and capital H History, especially if the Revolution of 1919 had brought the Communists to power there.

Such a counterfactual history would make for an intriguing novel. The author might proceed through the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, trying to divine how the twentieth century would have been altered by a fascist Russia and a communist Germany. But when, to get a feel for his subject matter, he came to study the literature of the period, he would likely be met by a revelation: history might not have diverged much at all from its actual course. For fascism and communism were two sides of the same coin.

One source for this lesson, composed around the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, would have been Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. At the beginning of the novel, Rubashov, a victim of the Moscow trials, is having a nightmare about his arrest, years earlier, by the Gestapo. In the dream, he is awoken and forced to dress, but he can’t quite manage to do so, because his body is overcome by the paralysis which nightmares often afflict us with in their most fearful moments.

Meanwhile, two men are banging on his door. Only this time they are not there on Hitler’s behalf, but on Stalin’s. In the final moments of Rubashov’s dream, someone pulls a plug and he hears water running down the pipes behind the wall. He wakes and has time to recover his sense of irony as he observes the portrait of Stalin hanging above his bed, then Stalin’s men break through his door to play the same roles as the Gestapo men in the dream. This time, Rubashov is able to dress, but somebody pulls a plug and water comes cascading down the pipes behind his wall.

The two totalitarian regimes had become mirrors of one another. In the final semi-lucid moments of his life, at the end of the novel, this truth dawns upon Rubashov. After receiving a shot in the back of the neck, his dream recurs:

Outside, someone was knocking on the front door, he dreamed that they were coming to arrest him; but in what country was he?

Whose colour portrait was hanging over his bed and looking at him?

Was it No.1 or was it the other – he with ironic smile or he with the glassy gaze?

A shapeless figure bent over him, he smelt the fresh leather of the revolver belt; but what insignia did the figure wear on the sleeves and shoulder-straps of its uniform – and in whose name did it raise the dark pistol barrel?

The two totalitarianisms were not only united by their penchant for political liquidations, but by their attempts to submit truth to their dogmas. It was Franz Borkenau’s book, Spanish Cockpit, which was at the centre of the famous rift between Orwell and the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin. Borkenau had been an agent of the German Communist Party, but had left after learning the lesson that Orwell would learn in Spain: that Stalin was actually keen to prevent revolutions abroad (he preferred Hitlers and Francos). Orwell had been asked to review the book for the magazine, and he praised its honesty. But this honesty offended the Stalinist orthodoxy of the time. Martin rejected the review, explaining that “it implies that our Spanish correspondents are all wrong”.

In Orwell’s postscript to Homage to Catalonia, he wrote:

I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie… and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.

Spain had taught Orwell about the most frightening aspect of totalitarianism, its disavowal of the concept of truth. Just as, in Germany, truth was what Hitler thought and Goebbels announced, truth in British newspapers, in the name of solidarity with the Russian Revolution, was what Stalin decreed. Orwell’s publisher, Victor Gollancz, co-founder and proprietor of the Left Book Club, and a conspicuous “fellow traveller”, rejected Homage to Catalonia.

In The Totalitarian Enemy, Borkenau compared Hitlerism and Stalinism explicitly. He picked up on a more obscure feature of totalitarianism, which will be familiar today to anyone who has spent any time perusing the English language magazine of the Islamic State, Dabiq, named in honour of the town where IS prophesy their victory in a final, apocalyptic battle with the unbelievers. This feature is messianism. With the revolutionary sects of the middle-ages, the anabaptists and the French revolutionaries, the totalitarianisms shared “the idea that some complete salvation could be worked on this earth through an accumulation of atrocities.”

Hitler actually talked of the Third Reich lasting for one thousand years, just as Revelations promises the millennial reign of Christ. Trotsky, meanwhile, posited that a “man of the future” would be born when the Revolution had completed its work. In his memoir, Victor Serge recorded the following exchange between a Stalinist and a left oppositionist, which demonstrated the callousness by which the believers in this future sought to attain it:

“you can’t make an omelette,” says the Stalinist, “without breaking eggs.”

“I see your broken eggs”, comes the reply, “now where is this omelette.”

In antiquity, Borkenau observed, “there is no evidence that there ever arose… the idea that spiritual or material salvation could be won through the destruction of all higher civilization by inspired fanatics.” In the history of the Judeo-Christian world, by contrast, this idea has recurred again and again. Another of the great foes of totalitarianism, Albert Camus, left his readers to consider that thought, by concluding his allegory of the Nazi occupation of France, The Plague, thus:

And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

 

Twenty-Five questions to Owen Jones on his conduct regarding Venezuela

By Jack Staples-Butler

“What was frightening about these trials was not the fact that they happened… but the eagerness of Western intellectuals to justify them.”

– George Orwell, ‘Arthur Koestler – The Darkness at Noon’ – 1941

 

Hello Owen,

I hear you have finally broken your English-language silence of over 750 days on Venezuela. Some questions:

1) In 2008 Human Rights Watch was expelled from the country by force. Why didn’t you feel the need to mention this in any article you wrote?

2) Who paid for that ‘Election Observer’ trip you went on in 2012, and why was it not UN or EU-organised but one by Chavez-backed ‘UNASUR’?

3) Why did you consistently repeat Chavismo’s lofty claims about oil production, poverty rate etc despite many economists warning otherwise?

4) Why did you contribute to the demonisation of Venezuela’s opposition by repeating Chavismo propaganda tarring all with ‘CIA coup’ etc?

5) Did it ever cross your mind from 2012 onwards that Chavez referring to Kim Jong-il as a “comrade” he mourned might be a warning sign?

6) Did Chavez’s hero-worship of Fidel Castro and claims he wanted to turn Venezuela into ‘Venecuba’  ever cause you any concerns?

7) Did Chavez’s suppression of independent trade unions, social democratic parties and NGOs ever prick your conscience as a leftist?

8) Did Chavez’s hours-long rambling speeches which TV stations were forced to broadcast ever strike you as disturbing or suggest he was mad?

9) Did the fleeing of tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens to neighbouring countries strike you as odd or unsettling at all?

10) In your three years of writing praise and apologetics for Chavez, did you ever read any Human Rights Watch or Amnesty reports – at all?

11) Did you think it honest, decent and proper to take part in a propaganda tour in 2012 organised by the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.K.?

“… In addition to our Venezuelan guests plus Ambassador Samuel Moncada, a fantastic array of speakers includes: Owen Jones; Seumas Milne; Ken Livingstone; Esther Armenteros (Cuba); Alicia Castro (Argentina); Frances O’Grady (TUC) & Jeremy Corbyn MP.”

12) Did you ever tell people who went to those speaking events about the collectivos? Were you aware of the collectivos, Owen?

13) Did you support the Chavismo policy of taking street gangs, politically indoctrinating them then turning them loose with their guns?

14) Did you ever mention to your readers that Chavez was a 9/11 Truther, a Moon Landing hoaxer, and believed the CIA had given him cancer?

15) In other words, a psychologically disturbed crackpot whose spiritual successor is probably Donald Trump?

16) Did you think it ethical to propagandise on behalf of this regime, knowing as you did the history of the USSR and the Useful Idiots?

17) Given you mentioned the Useful Idiots and insisted you weren’t, did you read anything by Caracas Chronicles or a non-Chavismo NGO?

18) Do you feel any sense of moral responsibility for acting as an apologist and legitimiser for a regime now starving its people to death?

19) Do you feel any pangs of conscience? Do you feel a sense of remorse? Do you think of the people whose lives Chavismo has ruined?

20) Do you feel any obligation to your readers whom you spent 2012-15 misinforming about Venezuela only to then go silent on the subject?

21) Do you recognise that for your young and unworldly readers, you were their main source on Venezuela at the time? That they trusted you?

21) Did you stop talking about Venezuela in 2014-15 out of shame, guilt, embarrassment or just political expediency?

22) If yourself and Jeremy Corbyn had been listened to in 2012-15, the UK could now look like Venezuela. Why should you be listened to now?

23) Can you name a single Tory, Lib Dem or New Labour MP who said that Saudi Arabia was so amazing that it should be emulated in the UK?

24) Can you explain why you have deserted the subject of socialism in Venezuela and your ‘solidarity’ with it until forced to speak on it?

25) Finally, why did you live your life from 2015 onwards ‘as if’ nothing happened? As if you did not personally cheer on this catastrophe?

Those are my questions. Call me an Obsessive Angry Detractor if you want. Your right to self-righteous self-pity is now as bankrupt as Venezuela.