Brussels: The danger of under-reacting

By Jake Wilde

 

In the days after the cowardly, murderous and unjustifiable attacks upon Brussels, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, stood out for me as the one European leader prepared to address the enormity of the challenge facing Europe. Valls said:

“We are at war, in Europe we have been subject for several months to acts of war. And faced with war, we need to be mobilized at all times.”

 

After the Paris attacks Valls said that France’s war against Daesh would take place both abroad and domestically. In respect of the former the method was clear – military action in Syria and Iraq. As part of the latter Valls warned that Europe must take strong measures over border controls:

“It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt.”

 

Valls was at the European Commission on 24 March renewing his push for a Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive, a measure that would oblige airlines to hand EU countries their passengers’ data. Although nobody thinks of this measure as a panacea on its own it would be an important step in applying controls over free movement.

 

On the same day Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian of politicians being driven by the prospect of there being “big money” to be made out of “terrifying” the public, and of “megaphoning” the attacks to “promote” Daesh’s cause, He mocked the warnings of the security services and talked of England “becoming old East Germany”. Jenkins instead called for “a quiet and dignified sympathy”, to “downplay” the attacks and not to “alter laws”. In other words, to do nothing.

 

The problem with Simon Jenkins’s approach is that it assumes that a love of freedom and democratic principles flows intrinsically through the veins of the whole population of Europe. There might have been a time when, in liberal elitist circles untroubled by exposure to extremist religious and/or political ideology, this was an easy assumption to make.

 

Here’s where Simon Jenkins is wrong and Manuel Valls is right. For too long Europe has simply assumed that the brief post-war interlude of peaceful, progressive liberalism – Western Democracy™ – was a benign contagion. That the belief in its principles was so inherently powerful that all who grew up in, migrated to, or became part of through “expansion”, Europe became automatically imbued with them. Or, put another way, that integration just worked without having to do anything. That is simply untrue now, if it ever was.

 

In 1961 Ronald Reagan said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

 

Reagan’s words have not been heeded. Perhaps they were assumed to be a relic of a Cold War era rhetoric. That somehow they no longer applied because communism, in Europe at least, has been defeated. We have stopped fighting for freedom in Europe because we think we won.

 

The threat of Islamism is no different to the threat that communism posed. Individual human rights; freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and expression; democratic elections; an independent judiciary; the right to a fair trial; legal protection for minorities and independent trade unions. All of these rights, the hallmarks of Western Democracy™, cease to exist in an Islamist society in just the same way as they did in communist ones. Yet we have failed to recognise this threat or, if we have, then we have not taken it seriously.

 

Jenkins’ article exemplifies the attitude that we have, as Valls says, “turned a blind eye to terror”:

“We closed our eyes – everywhere in Europe including France – to the progression of extremist ideas, Salafism, neighbourhoods which through a combination of drug trafficking and radical Islamism perverted, and I’ll use this word again, a part of the youth.”

It is no longer necessary to look far to see gender segregation, calls for blasphemy laws, and the oppression of female and Jewish political activists. And that is in just one UK political party.

 

Just as with communism there are both external and internal threats. The attacks by foreign nationals that characterised the Al Qaeda methodology have been replaced by the use of radicalised national citizens of European countries to undertake Daesh’s bombings and shootings. In his article Jenkins draws a comparison with how UK governments handled the IRA (though some may dispute his recollection of events). I think this comparison is wholly invalid. The IRA were trying to force the UK government to cede territorial control of a defined geographical area. Daesh are not. Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.

 

After every atrocity there is a routine, outlined by Douglas Murray in The Spectator recently:

“All of the ‘models’ [have] failed.  So here we are – stuck with a problem our politicians have given us and to which they have no answers. Perhaps all this pointless chatter is just what people do to distract themselves before they have to face up to that fact.”

 

We can no longer under-react. We should listen to Manuel Valls and finally start to fight the war we are in.

Owen Jones’ choice

By Saul Freeman and Jake Wilde

Over the last week we have written an article each on Owen Jones. Although Owen and us are “of the left”, it’s fair to say that Owen occupies a different section to us two most of the time. We are variously described as Red Tories, Blue Labour, Blairites, liberal interventionists and neocons. Owen is none of those things. However Owen wrote an article on 15 March where he stated “anti-Semitism is a menace”. Condemnation of anti-Semitism is a binary choice and you either do or you don’t. So Owen’s condemnation was to be welcomed and here was something that we thought would unite Owen and us..

But when we read his article we, independently of each other, found things that made us nervous. One week on and we have decided to write this conclusion to the discussion jointly.

In 2004/5 Owen Jones was a student at Oxford. Although he describes his time at Oxford as a period where he didn’t really get involved in party politics he did take the time to edit Wikipedia entries on Israel, Hamas & Palestine.  He has written today about those entries and sought to provide context, the main one being that he was very young (19) at the time.

In these entries Owen did some of the following:

  • He identified other contributors as Zionists and used this as the basis to refute the value of their contributions on the subject of Israel.
  • He proclaimed that Jews were not an ethnic group, referring to “the notion of Jewish ethnicity” as “a lie” and used this as a device to undermine the case for Israel as the Jewish state, representing Jewish self-determination.
  • He dismissed reference to Hamas suicide bombings as “West-centric”.
  • He removed reference to Hamas war crimes as “unnecessary and out of place”.
  • He stated that the main reason Israel’s boundaries are disputed is down to the occupation of the West Bank & (as it was then) Gaza, with no reference to other more structural causes from neighbouring states.
  • He stated that “The Israeli occupation is one of THE most important issues of this period. Historians in the future will simply not understand the modern era without referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Arab nationalism, Muslim-West hostility, Islamophobia, September 11th, Islamic terrorism, the “war on terror”, both Gulf Wars, the Afghan war – all of these issues which dominate our time cannot be understood without reference to the occupation of Palestine.”

In these posts, edits and commentaries, we think Owen exhibited just about every one of the views and behaviours associated with the anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic Left. You can read Owen’s version of events and decide for yourself though it is unclear from his piece today whether he does or does not hold these views any more.

However it seems that Owen’s general view, as expressed today, of these Wikipedia entries is that, because they were over ten years ago, they have no relevance today and discussion of them is a sign of “grudge”. Now at face value that might be a reasonable (if dismissive) approach.  

So let us get closer to the present day. Owen claims to have impeccable credentials and points to his articles and writings since his Oxford days as evidence of him having put clear blue water between himself and the elements of the UK Left that propagate an anti-Israel agenda. An agenda that has helped land us where we are today – a UK Left riven by anti-Semitism.

There are some problems with his claims. Owen says he has never campaigned for BDS but in March 2015 he is billed on a panel to deliver “workshops on building powerful BDS campaigns”. His recent article on the government’s’ proposed ban on boycotts specifically mentioned BDS. He made the effort to denounce anti-Semitism but then rather spoiled it all by quoting Barnaby Raine, an issue addressed in more detail here.

Owen has also contributed articles for, and shared stages with, the Stop the War Coalition, who have a sickeningly long and very current history of publishing anti-Semitic articles and, on occasion, bad poetry. These recently deleted gems can be found at http://therealstopthewar.wordpress.com

He has also published a condemnation of Israel for killing a child and then refused to retract it when independent evidence proved his mistake.

And he has indulged in the modern version of the blood libel with an obsessive reference to Palestinian children injured or killed by Israel during the 2014 conflict with Hamas yet makes no reference to the thousands of Jewish Israelis (many, of course children) targeted by Hamas rockets during the same period.

We worry that such behaviour looks like tolerance of anti-Semitism. Yet if Owen understands anything about the nature of current Left wing anti-Semitism he will appreciate that his student Wikipedia posts are almost a textbook example of how we have got here. Owen’s place in the cycle is clear. At Oxford Owen was also a member of the Oxford University Labour Club, currently the subject of an investigation by the Labour Party into allegations of systemic anti-Semitic bullying and abuse. He is neither the root cause of nor to blame for OULC’s descent into the anti-Semitic pit. But if Owen cares about eliminating Left wing anti-Semitism he could use a public disavowal and forensic demolition of his “former” views as a once in a lifetime opportunity to lay bare the roots of this left-wing disease, and try to break the cycle.

The alternative is that, in ten years’ time, the “new Owen Jones” will write an article condemning anti-Semitism on the left without being able to locate it, and will dismiss evidence of their previous anti-Semitism as “naïve ramblings” while simultaneously sharing platforms with anti-Semites.

Let us be clear. This is not about extracting an apology from Owen. It’s about grasping this opportunity to break the seemingly endless loop of left-wing antisemitism. Not about using smoke and mirrors to deflect criticism away from Jeremy Corbyn. Not about introducing false equivalence with Islamophobia, as Corbyn himself also did today.  The anti-Semitic left have denounced Owen leaving him with a clear choice to make. Either he follows through on his denunciation of anti-Semitism and refuses to have anything to do with those who indulge in it, or he provides cover for them. We hope he will choose the former and we will support him for it, whatever our differences on other issues.

 

But Owen, but…

By Jake Wilde

Owen Jones has today written a largely commendable article on what he correctly describes as the “menace” of antisemitism. As a prominent writer on the left he is also right to focus on what ‘the left’ should be doing about it. His condemnation of antisemitism, and those who espouse it, or tolerate it, is to be welcomed.

I had a mild row with Owen recently over his use of the word “but”. The thread can be found here. I say that up front as, having just praised Owen, I am about to use the word “but”.

There can be no doubt that Owen has two things in his mind at the moment. Firstly his utter horror at a genuinely left wing Labour Party being consumed by daily discussions around the deplorable behaviour and attitudes of its members, rather than talking about policies. Secondly that these behaviours and attitudes are threatening to engulf a leadership that Owen has personally endorsed and committed to. His column today is then both necessary and brave.

But (there it is) I have a number of problems with what Owen has written.

Firstly it is simply not true to say “The issue of antisemitism arises because of revelations centred on a Labour Party activist named Vicki Kirby.” To assert this is about as disingenuous as it’s possible to be. The charge of antisemitism, or at best the tolerance of it, has dogged the Corbyn leadership from day one. Indeed Corbyn’s relationships with known antisemites was the subject of regular discussion during the leadership election. The Vicki Kirby case is simply the latest in a long and regular stream of antisemitism scandals afflicting the Labour Party, and especially so since Corbyn’s election. If you think otherwise then there’s probably little point in reading on.

It is this false premise that allows Owen to excuse Corbyn from any involvement in the Vicki Kirby case:

“For those making it all about Jeremy Corbyn, it should be noted that both the suspension and its lifting took place under the old regime.”

Fine, Jeremy Corbyn was certainly a long way from having personal involvement in the “old regime”. Yet this attempt to place the blame onto Ed Miliband and ‘the moderates’ ignores the role of the NEC and our old friend Ken Livingstone, amongst others, in the “old regime”. Let’s not pretend that Ken is in blissful ignorance of the Vicki Kirby case and let’s not pretend that somehow Ken has no role in the ‘new regime’.

Nobody is making it all about Jeremy Corbyn as an individual. What people are making it about is Jeremy Corbyn as a leader of the ‘new regime’ and what message Corbyn, John McDonnell and Livingstone have sent, over many decades, to those members of society looking for a left wing home for their antisemitism.

The second problem I have is the equivalence that Owen chooses to give to the problem of antisemitism and what he calls “Islamophobia”. “Both forms of bigotry…exist within progressive circles and within the Labour Party.” There is no evidence at all that members of the Labour Party are expressing anti-Jewish views and anti-Muslim views in similar numbers. However there is clear evidence of sexism within the Muslim community with male Muslim Labour Party members intimidating and bullying female Muslim Labour Party members, forcing them to give up being activists and candidates. That, however, is not “Islamophobia” – that is sexism. An enquiry into sexism in the Labour Party would yield interesting results, with the starting point being the Shadow Cabinet. And that is before you get to the misogynistic abuse that the likes of Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy, Caroline Flint and Gloria Del Piero regularly receive from Labour Party members and their “affiliated supporters”. Yes, you know who I mean.

Finally I am always disappointed when I read phrases like this:

“It is possible to passionately oppose antisemitism one the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Israel’s government and support Palestinian national self-determination.”

That disappointment is not because of what is said (though a writer of Owen’s skill should surely be able to come up with a new way to say it) but what is omitted. Since Owen brought up the issue of Islamophobia it is surely not beyond his imagination to also say this:

“It is possible to passionately oppose Islamophobia on the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Hamas and support Israel’s right to existence.”

Just for once I would like to see a socialist make the argument for Israel’s right to national self-determination in the same breath as Palestine’s. Only then might we start to see some progress in forcing the antisemites out of the Labour Party and back under their stones where they belong.

 

Don’t let’s be beastly to the North Koreans

By Citizen Sane (@citizen_sane)

It’s not surprising. Finding something ridiculous in The Guardian and being surprised is like peeling a banana and being astonished to find there’s a banana in there.

Avoiding Guardian articles is more difficult than it used to be. I stopped buying the damn thing years ago and only visit Comment Is Free when I’m feeling masochistic. But in this age of social media there’s a good chance you’ll see at least half a dozen links to their website on Twitter or Facebook every day. And that’s how you’ll come across something like this: Dangerous, isolated and primed for war? North Korean clichés debunked wherein Hazel Smith (professor of International Relations and Korean Studies, and director of the International Institute of Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire) will put you in the picture.

The piece purports to be a corrective to clichéd conceptions about the people of North Korea. Which would be fine, although I’m not convinced that people in the West particularly have any conceptions about the residents of the nation itself – more likely they pity the millions of people who have to live in a brutal slave state under the rule of a psychopathic dynasty. Instead most of the article reads like an apologia for the regime itself.

North Korea, you see, is “idiosyncratic”. Idiosyncratic. Never mind the substantiated reports of widespread torture, starvation, summary executions, political imprisonment and death camps (not mentioned once in the extract, by the way). These are just quirks. North Korea is a bit whacky that way, like an eccentric uncle or something.

First myth: North Koreans are different from you and me. North Koreans, argues Hazel as she constructs a straw man so big it can be seen from space (along with, funnily enough, images of a blacked out North Korea at night), are not educationally backward or lacking sophistication. Indeed, despite a “relentless socialisation campaign” (her words) glorifying the Kim family, North Korean society still isn’t completely closed off, despite the best efforts of a regime that, to quote Christopher Hitchens, treats Orwell’s 1984 as an instruction manual rather than a work of literature. Hazel goes on to point out that the DPRK has high levels of literacy and university enrolment but, alas, the government works hard to prevent the free flow of information, permitting access to foreign books and films only if a genuine “need” can be demonstrated. I’d like to see how many such requests there are every year and how many are granted (and how many citizens requesting the materials are seized in the night and sent to prison as enemies of the revolution). I wonder if North Korea has a Freedom of Information Act? Seems unlikely, but then by supposing that I may well be falling back on the lazy clichés that this article is so keen to upend.

Next myth: North Korea is a dangerous and irrational military power. You’d be wrong to think that, despite any evidence to the contrary. No doubt when the DPRK threatens to attack Japan or the United States it’s just being idiosyncratic. It’s just larks. High japes. Banter. The DPRK’s military is dilapidated and poorly funded, they couldn’t possibly be a serious threat to anybody (apart from their own people, of course. And still no mention of the death camps in the article. How curious). They only spent $4.38bn on defence in 2009, for example, a trifling 15.64% of its GDP. A totally reasonable sum for a – no doubt – peaceful nation. Besides, North Korea only has an estimated four to eight operational warheads whereas the United States has over 2,200. There you have it then. North Korea has nuclear weapons, the USA has nuclear weapons. It’s all the same.

Next myth: North Korea is a criminal state. There’s no evidence to support this, it’s all just whispers, smoke and mirrors. Besides, all our media reports are founded on “allegations from defectors and unnamed US officials”. Defectors! Pah! Who could trust those traitors? There’s no real evidence that the state itself is behind any of this.

But hang on. I thought the point of this piece was to show how our conceptions of the people of North Korea were wrong? Indeed, a response on Twitter from The Guardian’s very own Guardian North Korea Twitter account (yes, they really do have one) stated that the author is arguing that “North Koreans – rather than rulers of – are active agents of their own destiny”.

“Active agents of their own destiny.” Apart from those in the death camps, of course. Did I mention that this article doesn’t even refer to the death camps?

Far from debunking any myths, this article instead ignores a very obvious truth: that North Korea is a uniquely paranoid and dangerous regime and that the people it endangers the most are its own. Of course the North Korean people are not any different to the rest of us: they’re just unfortunate to live in a concentration camp masquerading as a country. This article, constructed around puncturing myths that don’t even exist, is nothing but a thinly veiled justification of that regime.

Where else but The Guardian could you read DPRK propaganda dressed up as a piece about challenging prejudices?

P.S. The article doesn’t mention the death camps. Can’t remember if I pointed that out.