Hit the streets? Did they really say 'hit the streets'?
For the time being, at any rate, Stop the War’s exhortation - though impossible to fault as a desideratum - is unlikely to be met with much vim.
We face an absurd situation. A war that is already, on its face, a sort of defeat. Liberal and left intelligentsia once more carolling support for ‘humanitarian intervention’. From the political class, the feast of reason and the flow of the soul, as always.
And the anti-imperialist camp, if such a thing exists, divided over issues of principle. Such as? Well, don’t you think this nastiness could have been avoided had imperialism not weakened Assad in the first place? This is a claim which, though it has a reassuring tincture of knowing realpolitik, is babyishly oblivious of the salient role of imperialism in shoring up the dictatorship these few years. It is also exactly the claim that Peter Hain makes this morning in support of war, in which he invites Obama, Putin and Assad to form an alliance of convenience. Far from ideal, then, as an anti-imperialist slogan. What else? Well, isn’t it about time - isn’t it always time? - to arm the rebels? The bearers of this slogan are a living illustration of an old axiom about the proximity of liberalism and ultra-leftism, for they are ultimately as dependent upon the happenstance benign behaviour of imperialist states as those who call for direct military intervention. And then, what else? A solidarity campaign. Fundraising, petitions, protests outside Downing Street, a workers’ convoy of aid to the Kurds. If the Iraqi left is non-existent, its working class weak, let the imperishable British left substitute for it. And behold the mortal dread, the fear of the risen proletariat, in the looks of ISIS.
Look, I may sound frankly tired and cadaverously grim about the prospects, but don’t let that fool you: I very well am both tired and grim. Actually, things are much, much better than this time thirteen years ago when, in a world of - give or take - twelve billion seeing eyes, some antiwarriors earnestly cuckooed that ‘an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’. Thank god we don’t have to listen to those fucking hippies any more. Any old way, this is merely to gently advert to the divisions on the Left opened by the Arab Spring and its sequels, divisions accelerated by the Left’s wider crisis and fragmentation since the credit crunch, and divisions which I do not scruple in this case to piss upon from aloft.
Beyond the weakness of the Left, which has not inhibited mass movements from erupting over Gaza, the several reasons for the likely weakness of any antiwar response to this venture include the fact that this is a war of extraordinarily limited deployment from the point of view of the United States and its allies. The call for ‘boots on the ground’ now issuing from Blair and the more psychopathic elements of the military (a distinction which I merely underline), is unlikely to be heeded. Bombing from the air presents no danger to British and American soldiers, aerial assault being a typical case of ‘risk transfer’ war in which the probability of death is transferred to civilians in ‘enemy’ territory, and thus rendered almost invisible.
Moreover, it is part of a reassuringly multilateral response to ISIS, with the US, Russia, the EU, Australia, Canada and Japan - in a word, the imperialist states - roughly acting in concord for the moment. No adventurist stunt, this action is offered as a broad-based defence of the regional state system. Nor is it an action taken in isolation from a wider strategic repertoire, centrally including the arming of Iraqi Kurds who had until lately depended upon military aid from Iran.
There is, as mentioned, the susceptibility to ‘humanitarian intervention' to consider. As we have seen, this is an old impulse, as old as colonialism; and it is one that has always resonated powerfully in parts of the Left. Now, it is without question that success for ISIS heralds the triumph of the most reactionary and sectarian tendencies in the region, which entails possible death for anyone identified as a Shi’ite or a Kurd in an area likely to be dominated by ISIS. Any country that ISIS extends its reach into is in trouble. This is a fact, and everyone can see it. Additionally, to a lay person the situation seems rather urgent. The most precious currency in the humanitarian purse is that of urgency - no one has time to think, to learn, to critique. People are dying this immediate second. We cannot stand by. We must do something. This immediate second.
It would be tone dumb, as well as in factual error, to counter this by saying that military action is illegal. No such axiom will do. The answer to the ridiculously simple slogans of humanitarian intervention cannot be shibboleths of our own. One could always spend hours detailing the ways in which the supposed rescuers have been implicated in barbarism of a greater magnitude than ISIS, but - as opposed to the immutable evil of the Islamic State - American brutality is always somehow judged aberrant, a lapse, and always in the past. This might be Iraq, but it isn’t Iraq. It is also the case that ‘we’ shall do nothing, that any sense ‘we’ have of doing something by virtue of the bombs hitting the streets of Mosul is purely vicarious. It’s like saying ‘we won’ when your Manchester Bulldogs or your City Wanderers or whatever the fucking hell they’re called win a football match. But then a vicarious sense of being and doing has always been at the heart of imperialist ideology: it is its peculiar charm. If people believe that a bombing campaign is a good answer to ISIS’s IRL trolling, it is above all because there is precious little known about ISIS or the wider geopolitics. And the best answer to facile moralism is the concrete analysis of concrete situations - which, however, I do not pause to offer here.
In the longer run, at any rate, this war will lose support. Obama has been knocked off his strategic course. He had hitherto succeeded in extending the subtle net of US power through a range of secret programmes operating under the rubric of ‘counterterrorism’, from drone strikes and special forces incursions to an assassination programme so discourteous as to include juveniles in its list of targets. Who needs a spectacle war, an expensive ground battle in a delimited territory for regime change and state-building, when it is possible to change the calculus of social and national struggles through the secretive and potentially limitless deployment of long-distance firepower? Yes, yes, Libya - but the administration hardly dashed enthusiastically into that one.
The bombing is to that extent a win for ISIS, not because “that’s what they want” (as if everyone didn’t already know that), but because it’s what Obama doesn’t want. Withal, it a) signals that the Iraqi security forces trained under Petraeus cannot retake the territory, b) proves that the Iraqi government cannot reorient itself to absorb Sunni grievances (Maliki's resignation will probably make no difference), and c) bolsters the fragile alliance between ISIS and Sunni Arab allies if the major forces fighting them are the Kurdish forces who have committed their own ethnic cleansing raids and whose land grabs will be hard to reverse (there is another incipient state), and the sectarian death squads affiliated to the Iraqi government.
It seems vaguely impossible that ISIS can succeed, and establish a permanent new state. It, likewise doesn’t seem probable that they will be decisively defeated, by military means at least. The prospect which the British government is shamelessly vaunting, that they can defeat ISIS in three years, is about as believable as any other ‘cakewalk’ scenario. So the most likely future is a prolonged, interstitial state in which the phrase 'the Iraqi government’ is more of an aspiration than a reality, and not necessarily an aspiration shared by all ‘boots on the ground’. Civil war, then, in both Iraq and Syria, for the foreseeable future.
As usual, I have no solutions.
Splendid guest post by Jamie Allinson:
Only two major urban centres in Scotland voted ‘Yes’ in the independence referendum and, tellingly, they were the most working class ones: Glasgow and Dundee, my home town. Or I thought it was, but upon visiting Dundee at the weekend I found that the dreich post-industrial city of my upbringing had been replaced by something else. The casual visitor to the city square last Saturday would have come across a spontaneous gathering of hundreds of Yes supporters barely twenty-four hours after their defeat. It was the most working class political gathering I have ever encountered. There were two main arguments visible which, although Dundee had an exceptionally high ‘Yes’ vote, are also present in the rest of the Yes movement as it discusses where to go. The SNP from the platform, telling people to join their party and work for the 2015 General Election and the 2016 Holyrood Election, to either make sure new powers are delivered or a mandate for a new referendum is gained, and angry folk getting up and saying the whole thing is rigged and they want a recount. In some ways the hashtag 'the 45' (hopefully provisional given its implication of permanent minority status) captures some of the mood that the referendum was a beginning rather than an end. Here is my take:
I. There will not be a recount, but there will be a fair chunk of people who essentially do not accept the legitimacy of the state ruling them. This felt particularly the case in Dundee, but even if it's less than 5% of the Yes vote, that is still tens of thousands of people. Like previous instances where working-class people come face to face with the British state, they are now alienated from institutions that previously took their trust for granted: the BBC and the Labour Party, most noticeably. Where this mood goes after it becomes obvious there will be no recount and the promises of more powers are revealed as simply devolving austerity, I don't know. Some might wonder how anyone can believe that the result, with a 10% 'no' majority, can be questioned. I think it's obvious the vote was fair, and probably quite representative of politics in Scotland at the moment: but say you are a 17 year old in one of Dundee's larger schemes such as Charleston, Fintry, Kirkton or Whitfield. You belong to an age cohort that is about 72% Yes; your parents are from an age group 54% Yes; you live in an area 70-75% Yes within a town that was majority Yes. If you ever go to the 'pan-loafy' areas that voted No, people probably do not ask you about politics. Britain died in these parts of Dundee (and for that matter, Glasgow) in the 1980s. Once the hate-bombing from Westminster starts, the results will be even worse than that dismal decade. The notion that a majority of your compatriots would condemn you to such a fate because they were worried about interest rates is a bitter medicine to swallow: easier to believe that the 'No' majority simply does not exist. Unfortunately, the former seems to have been the case. A recount is not going to happen. In fact, if it were needed, why wouldn't they just rig that too?
II. The alternative put forward by the SNP is to join the party and campaign for 2015 at Westminster and 2016 at Holyrood. Thousands are taking this advice, and you can see why: the SNP is already there, it has a party machine, and it is credible in the everyday sense that parties are seen to be in capitalist parliaments. Another option being put forward is a pan-Independence alliance with the SNP. I think this would be a step back to pre-referendum politics, and away from the kind of movement that raised support for Yes by twenty percentage points. That support came from people who did not see Scottish independence as the be-all and end-all of politics, but something that expressed the desire for social justice. Was all that really just to have a Saltire flying over the food banks rather than a Union Jack? What would have been gained then? The SNP are not the 'Tartan Tories' of old - they have gained support by humane, mild, social democratic policies for which they deserve credit - but they are constrained by capitalist politics. When it comes to the crunch (and it will, see below) the pressure on them to remain 'credible' by enforcing cuts will be huge. Identifying a yes vote with them in that case would be likely to reduce it again from 45% to 25%.
III. The results, in so far as we can analyse them with only one exit poll, bear the above point out. The SNP made a number of concessions to conservatism with a small 'c' (keeping the monarchy, NATO, currency union and so on) that seem actually to have failed to bring their more conservative vote with them. The key divides in the referendum were age and class. Dundee and Glasgow voting 'yes' we know about, but at the counting station level the class divide was even starker. The age profile is telling: with the exception of a curious 'No' bump in the 18-24 range, if you had some of your adult life before Thatcher you were probably 'No'. If you didn't, you were probably 'Yes'. It seems reasonable to infer that neo-liberalism, rather than Scottish identity, is the underlying issue here. A local perspective clarifies matters further: why was Dundee 'Yes', and its hinterland of Angus 'No'? Dundee has become SNP in the past decade, but before that a lump of wood in a red rosette would win an election: indeed, one might quip, the experiment was carried out with repeated success in Dundee West. Angus is pure SNPshire. They have fourteen members on the local council: Labour has one. The Nationalists have had two decades to build hegemony there. Yet Angus was 'No'. Why? At a guess, the SNP council has looked after the farmers well, but not towns such as Forfar, Arbroath and Montrose. Yet those same farmers were solidly 'No', from the look of the signs in their fields. Angus council has imposed some niggling, petty cuts, especially in education: at an anecdotal level, those cuts were a reason for people to vote 'No', identifying the 'Yes' position with the SNP. Strengthening that identification would surely be unwise.
IV. Austerity Max is coming. David Cameron is almost certainly sincere when he promises more powers. One can always be sure that a Tory will serve the interests of his party, and the super-rich: Cameron will do this with 'English votes for English laws', and a large measure of fiscal devolution. However, with his braying backwoodsmen and UKIP adding Scotland to the bestiary of parasites on the true-born Englishman, this will be accompanied by the end of the Barnett formula and not a penny of the oil revenues. Until 2016, and probably after, the SNP will be the ones administering the hugely reduced public spending that results. The SNP had enough wriggle-room to defy the bedroom tax: that will be very unlikely with what's coming. It will be extremely difficult to mobilise the energy of the Yes movement to fight those cuts if it is in, or allied to, a party that is carrying them out even under duress.
V. Scottish Labour do not realise the magnitude of what they have done. Working class people in Dundee, and surely elsewhere, are filled with hot, spitting fury for them. Nothing can shake them from their complacency: somehow they see the result as a victory, when 51% of Glasgow – Glasgow for God’s sake - voted against their position. They think their voters have no memories. This illusion will be robustly dispelled when they canvass the streets of Possil, Menzieshill and Easterhouse next year. Yet nothing says that those people must necessarily swing instead to the SNP. Why not have a serious, pro-independence left party as is already being suggested at the grass-roots? There are precedents, such as Podemos in Spain, for the establishment of such a force.
VI. But, some may object, the Westminster election is in a few months and the important thing is to punish the sinners, and elect pro-independence candidates whose vote could be split by a Left pro-independence party. The thing is, the only way that makes sense for such a strategy would be if SNP (or 'Scottish Alliance') MPs won a majority on an abstentionist ticket, in the manner of old school Sinn Fein. Surely no-one envisages that actually happening: even to make it SNP policy would require entering and taking over the party, when that energy that could be used to make something new. It also seems unlikely that people who have just voted 55% ‘No’ would swing to support such a radical position in eight months. Holyrood 2016 is a different matter, but the Scottish Parliament has proportional representation that allows smaller parties to grow without the 'don't split the vote argument'.
To the switherers, who are thinking of throwing their energies into the SNP, I would simply suggest this - give it a week, go along to one of the RIC or other meetings about the way forward. You might find, or find yourself able to make, something better.
The Unionist side won, decisively, on a big turnout.
However, it did not win because it prevailed in the 'battle of ideas', such as it was. The utter cluelessness of the Unionists was apparent from day one. It was evident in the futile insistence of Scottish Labourites that "we are as Scottish as anyone else", as if anyone had ever queried it or - frankly - given much of a shit. It was evident in the little brainstorm Ed Miliband experienced toward the end of the campaign, whereupon he invited the English to wave the saltire, thus proving to the Scots that they are far better off in the company of UKIP-voting Clacton than living under the regime of that man off the television. And is still clear today when Scottish Labourites such as Douglas Alexander murmur with faux innocence about how dangerous it is that politicians - the Westminster elite, let us call them - are obviously held in such contempt. They have no ideas, and no idea.
The Unionist side won due to a combination of Project Fear and imperial nationalism. Neoliberal subjectivity, most aptly summarised in Thatcher's phrase "there is no alternative", is predicated on a particular computation of risk. If you try to buck the market, this calculus says, the market will punish you. Interest rates, house prices, jobs, all will go loopily out of sync. Stick with the unjust, perilous, insecure, savage and worsening regime you're stuck with, grin and bear austerity, hope for the best. This was the subtext of the 'risk' talk coming from the Bank of England, the business press, EU austerians, and the Westminster elite. Even the risible defence of the British welfare state, after decades of decimating it, contained the implicit codicil, "stick with the neoliberalised British version, because the Scandinavian welfare system you want is just a pipe dream".
The most interesting thing about nationalism in this debate is that the most belligerent nationalism of all was simply invisible to some. Unionists could stand in front of a sea of red, white and blue, and decry 'narrow Scottish nationalism', with no apparent sense of irony. They can drop the "two world wars" meme one minute, and deride national chauvinism the next. This, of course, is itself a record of the peculiar power of British nationalism. Whenever an ideology is so pervasive that it one inhabits it, lives in it, such that it is simply taken for granted - when it is, in a word, naturalised - that is when it has achieved the peak of its success. But there's something else. British nationalism is 'global', precisely because it is imperial. To have a British identity is, for many, to have access to the world. This is the sense in which Scottish nationalism is, by contrast, 'narrow'.
What is perhaps most contemptible and laughable in all of this is that a section of the Left is convinced that something precious and progressive was saved by the votes of Scotland's older and richer electorate. That precious something, apparently inconceivable across borders, is class solidarity. But in making this case, they have been compelled to play a remarkable game of forgetting. George Galloway forgets that his job is to expose and oppose Tory austerity rather than to pretend it's over. Gordon Brown forgets that he began the privatisation of the NHS, and poses as its stalwart defender. They will do all they can to forget about the bigoted, authoritarian and reactionary forces that have been prepared over a decade of 'Britishness' pedagogy, unleashed in the course of this campaign, and victoriously rioting in George Square yesterday - though they have no right to deny the role of such anti-democratic nationalism in securing their victory. And if they can, they will forget that the English chauvinism and ressentiment now vocalised by Farage and pandered to by Cameron, is the heart and soul of 'Britishness'.
It is fitting and appropriate, then, that in Gordon Brown
, the 'No' lefties have found their ideal nemesis of narrow Scottish nationalism. For here is the famous champion of 'British vawl-yews', of 'British jobs for British workers', of pride in the empire. Here is a man who never shirked the bloody deeds necessary to Britain's continued global pertinence. Here is the chancellor who did more than any other to unleash the City of London, as the apex of 21st Century Britannia. Here, condensed in one man, is the central vice of Labourism: achieving everything one's apparent enemies would wish to achieve, only better. How right that Labour Unionists are creaming themselves with adoration over this tragic figure.
But to see him extolled as a champion of the welfare state, public services and social solidarity! Even I, with my perverse predilection for the darkest ironies, find that a bit much. He is capable and might well be able to win Scotland for Labour, particularly now that Salmond has stepped down. But if he does so, it will be in the name of austerity, privatization and decades of social wreckage that will make Thatcherism seem like a dewy-eyed dream.
Still. At least it can never be said of the British Left that it is inhibited by vulgar sentimentality.
Short question: why is nationalism in Essex such a paranoid, conspiracy-minded, UKIP-voting, weeping sore of bitterness, while nationalism in Glasgow is, faults admitted and proportions guarded, relatively progressive and democratic? Why is Scottish independence largely a cause of the left, while UK independence is a cause of the ‘fruitcakes’?
Short answer: I think it’s symptomatic of deep trends, which started to become visible in 2011 during the riots. People asked, why are we having these riots in England and not in other parts of the UK. The glib answer was, we have a Tory government, whereas they have devolution. But that was only itself a surface manifestation of something else. I think what is happening is that the national question is refracting the pathologies brought about by the secular decline of both Toryism and social democracy, the fatal weakening of consent of the governed as the state becomes less democratic, and the decline experienced by the social classes traditionally supporting them.
What seems to have happened is that some of the lower middle class and skilled workers who have been on a downward trajectory for some decades have turned toward an authoritarian, resentful nationalism. They believe that their fate is due to a sell-out of the country by a distant, cosmopolitan political class, and their losses and class injuries are compensated for by assertions of ‘Britishness’, and by identification with a pristine Britannia whose global omnipotence can be restored. Thus UKIP.
In Scotland, however, nationalism has taken on a ‘national-popular’ character (see this Paul Mason article
for a compelling example of what the 'national-popular' in this sense looks like). It is not just that centre-left nationalism offers an alternative to a decomposing social democracy predicated on Unionism; it is that it forms part of a popular/populist rejection of the entire political establishment as represented by the British state. That is why the real factor in uncertainty in the referendum is the turnout from the council estates, for that is where the ‘Yes’ vote is highest - the generations of workers and unemployed who have voted Labour since the Fifties, but are no longer represented.
And ever since the credit crunch, these processes have been accelerating, so that now all the unfolding problems of democracy, political representation and the class system are concentrated in the national question.
During the festive heyday of the antiwar movement, I stood with a noisy Stop the War contingent in a wanly sunlit south London street, with a Tony Blair mask on. For some reason, the mere appearance of this grinning visage angered people. More than one person came close to smashing my/his face in. If you hadn't been there, it would be hard to convey how visceral the popular hatred of Blair was. But don't take my word for it. Look at him. Look at that face. Stare into those eyes, and see if you don't end up smashing something.
There was always, though, a minority - usually well-placed, well-heeled, and well-connected - that was doggedly loyal to Blair, and sought to shield him against the views of the ignorant public. I imagine they were hugging themselves with glee when Blair was named 'philanthropist of the year' by GQ.
Now, the editor of GQ, Dylan Jones, is a metro-conservative who writes for the Daily Mail, and is responsible for the appearance of a book called 'Cameron on Cameron', in which the author fawns, simpers and throws softball questions. In writing about Cameron, he described
him as "strong" "steely" and "a lot tougher" than people think, in addition to being - what else? - "a doting husband and father". He was also, it should be said, down with the New Labour project back in its glory days of Britpop and Peter Mandelson and domes. (You remember all this, right?) So, there is absolutely nothing incongruous about GQ giving an award to Tony Blair for his philanthropic work in its 'man of the year' awards, or about the website hosting a glowing tribute to Blair
in connection with this. It is expected, and will be as long as the levers of cultural power are held by tedious sycophants - and, which is almost a tautology, as long as we have 'man of the year' awards.
Nonetheless, the reaction of the twitterati
, its collective jaw-drop, is impressive. That Blair is a war criminal has remained embedded deep in the popular common sense. That he did not scruple to defend Mubarak at the height of the Egyptian revolution, or that he was cheered when the young democracy was drowned in blood, is less well-known but it's on the record. Likewise, the recent discovery that he made some of his wedge by smoothing over the murder of 14 protesters by the Kazakhstan dictatorship
would seem to any civilised person to taint him permanently. Finally, those who followed Pillar of Defence closely will know that Blair, far from being negligent in the battle as some accused him of being, intervened early on to produce the fraudulent 'ceasefire deal' whose failure was used by Israel to legitimise its ground invasion. So he isn't just a perfect scumbag, but is still deeply imbricated in the administration of imperialist violence.
GQ's defence of the award is of the order of "he does a lotta good work for charidee, mate". (Though even they would blush to add that he doesn't like to talk about it.) They cite his faith foundation, and above all his Africa governance initiative. Assume for the sake of argument that their eulogy is entirely and rigorously accurate as to the details of Blair's foundation activities, and that there is no murkiness to be discovered in his activities. What is the point here? Are we supposed to fall onto our knees every time someone with wealth and power uses some of that accumulated lolly to advance their own political and moral goals? This is a prerogative of power, an aspect of wielding power and being productive in the world. This is true as much for Bill Gates today as it was for Andrew Carnegie back in the day. And Blair's foundations in particular are a manifestation of soft power - the velvet glove - entirely coherent and consistent extensions of the doctrines he implemented as Prime Minister and continues to pursue as a global power-broker. The money he deploys and administers comes from the US Treasury or from friendly oligarchs.
It isn't, therefore, that Blair is a bad example of philanthropy and didn't deserve the award. The problem is that he's a perfect example of philanthropy in action, and is fully entitled to this piece of shit award, and that we should stop revering philanthropy.
This stunningly arrogant, conceited article
by an American cop about events in Missouri, illustrates something very important about the potent intersection between the professional ideology of the police and popular authoritarian ideology. It says:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
You don’t know what is in my mind when I stop you. Did I just get a radio call of a shooting moments ago? Am I looking for a murderer or an armed fugitive? For you, this might be a “simple” traffic stop, for me each traffic stop is a potentially dangerous encounter. Show some empathy for an officer’s safety concerns. Don’t make our job more difficult than it already is.
Now this can be taken as, simultaneously, a statement of 'unvarnished' truth, and also a profoundly ideological claim. Insofar as it is 'unvarnished' truth, it basically reiterates what has been well known for some time: nothing is more likely to provoke a violent reaction from police than to challenge their right to define the parameters of the situation
. This is why most of those who get beaten up are innocent of any offence. Burglars don't get beaten up because they accept the rules of the interaction, and don't question. They don't muddy things up by demanding that their rights or perspective be acknowledged, but submit entirely to the perspective of the state. This officer therefore speaks a more profound truth than he knows.
Insofar as it is in ideological claim, it is so because it asks people not simply to submit to authority but to see things from the point of view of that authority. Leave aside that the actual danger involved in a police officer's job is vastly over-stated
by 'thin blue line' propaganda which passes for infotainment and news. What is important is that people believe that the police officer does an extremely difficult job of mainly - with some exceptions - holding back a tidal wave of social evil. And that therefore, not only ought they be obeyed unquestioningly, but that it is the responsibility of the citizen, the 'civilian' and not the 'trained professional' wielding firepower, to minimise the danger of a confrontation. What the policeman is doing here is asking people to see things from the cop's point of view and to judge situations like Ferguson accordingly. And many people will, and do.
In Ferguson, Missouri, there are 'outside agitators'. On this, the reactionaries and liberals
agree. Of course, there are all sorts of racialised rumours flying around in the guise of reporting about what is taking place in Ferguson. We are well used to this. We remember Katrina.
There will be time to sift through all that. For now, I simply want to ask a quick question: what is an 'outside agitator'? The metaphor of exteriority, of being outside, has two salient connotations. First, one is transgressing the spatial ordering of the state. It is states which constitute social spaces like districts, wards, counties, etc - a process that is historically far from racially innocent in the US. Second, one is 'outside' the polis; one's political being as such is 'outside', one is traitorous and disloyal. It is not just that one travelled from one city to another - that's fine, provided the political agenda one brings is benign for the system - but that one brought ideas that are not only not native to the destination, but actually foreign to the nation, the free world, civilisation itself.
Understandably, then, this language is very common in racial situations. The 'outside agitator' mytheme reeks of good old boy vigilantism, the commingling of race-baiting and red-baiting that was typical of Southern countersubversion in the dying days of Jim Crow. (The enforces of apartheid were also obsessively concerned with 'Edgy Tighters', as cartoonist Steve Bell rendered it with superlative accuracy.) Because racial situations unfold in heavily structured political spaces in which the definitions and boundaries of the 'local' serve the existing forms of dominance. And because racial situations are defined within the 'common sense' of white supremacy which, if it is to be seriously challenged, must be challenged from a point of view somewhere far outside that 'common sense', a point of view almost inimical to what the dominant ideology considers the moral and intellectual foundation of civilisation.
Of course, this implies that 'locals' are themselves otherwise not susceptible to radical disturbance. Indeed, the considered point of view of segregationists during the civil rights era was that 'their' African Americans were either content or too dumb to rebel by themselves, and that therefore if there was unrest it was the fault of the Jewish outsiders and their 'freedom rides' and connections to the global red conspiracy. The obvious liberal response to this sort of line was that injustice anywhere was a problem everywhere, that all citizens had moral agency and a stake in freedom, that there is nothing sacrosanct about 'the local' (and appeals to it are usually reactionary), and that red-baiting had proved itself to be an attack on all democratic forces. At least since Massive Resistance, that was the obvious liberal response. And it took no time at all to think it up, everyone already knew the lines.
So what does it say that a great many of today's liberals unthinkingly regurgitate the stuff about 'outside agitators' in Missouri?
This is a guest post by Arié Alimi, a lawyer defending two suspects in the Sarcelles riots.
I have never before publicly written anything in defense of my values or my clients; my professional tradition, like my religious one, is above all an oral one. However, I now feel it necessary to express the thoughts that have been weighing on me since Tuesday, July 22, when I chose to defend two young men in the Municipal Court of Pontoise whom many have associated with the anti-semitic violence which took place on Sunday, July 20, in Sarcelles. Since that court hearing, many people--close friends, colleagues, or people claiming to represent the Jewish community--have told me of their incomprehension, or even disgust, at my choice. They object not only to my defense of the two young men arrested in Sarcelles, but also to my defense of a young man accused of having traveled to Afghanistan for "jihadist" purposes.
How, I am asked, can I--a practicing Jew born in Sarcelles whose ancestors lived in Algeria, a former student of Sarcelles' Otsar Hatorah school and a congregant of that city's synagogue, a man who still lives in this place where a casual hatred of Arabs is the norm--how can I of all people defend a "jihadist" and "anti-semitic rioters" who attacked my fellow Jews? The question seems to have provoked the wildest theories in some circles.
I am accused of self-hatred--more specifically, of being a self-hating Jew. This slur is used every time a person who either claims a Jewish identity or has one imposed on him or herself fails to show solidarity with his or her community. This issue becomes more complicated whenever the Jew in question fails to show solidarity with Israeli policies, particularly those dealing with the bloody conflict with the Palestinian people. I have always proudly proclaimed my name, my tradition, and my attachment to Israel. I have done so in my capacity as president of the Union of Jewish Students at my law school; as someone who has always fought all forms of racism and anti-semitism; as someone who abides by kosher dietary restrictions; and as someone who feels the spirit of Judaism flow through my body and soul when I visit Jerusalem on vacation. This feeling was stronger still this past Monday in Sarcelles when I felt myself choke up at the sight of the broken storefront windows of businesses felt to be "too Jewish," or again when I saw the burned-down pharmacy at the local shopping mall which had been run by an elderly Jewish woman for the past forty years. Images of pogroms sprang back to life for me, like an eternal and inexorable return to square one.
So then, my defense of these young men is due to self-hatred? Perhaps. But if so, it is a hatred of the part of myself which is rashly tribal and prone to making collective judgments, this self born of blood ties which can't find time to catch its breath in its bellicose charge against the indistinct mass of anti-semites or anti-Zionists--two groups between whom it is no longer permitted to make distinctions, in public or even in private, since the events of Barbès and Sarcelles, the government's ensuing diatribes, and the round of condemnations against the rioters.
Given all this, I chose to defend two young men arrested by police officers who viewed them as hooligans merely because they happened to be in the street when a glass bottle crashed on the ground near the officers. Some have chosen to see my choice as a matter of simple self-interest. I will no doubt shock their sensibilities more by telling them that I have no desire to be compensated for my defense work in this matter. Many have invoked the narcissism of the lawyer surrounded by cameras. And I must acknowledge that if the press has the great capability of rapidly transmitting ideas to the largest amount of people, these ideas should be transmitted by someone willing to put his image forth to make them heard.
Others have seen my defense of these men as just another form of provocation, after my defense of a "jihadist" (if this last term still even has a meaning). I admit that of all the proposed explanations for my rationale, this one actually seems the closest to my true intention: to provoke. To provoke a reaction, a debate, to do my small part to shake up two of the indistinct groups which emerge within the broader French community imbued with republican values. I speak, on the one hand, of the Jewish community, and, on the other, of the impoverished youth from the ghettos with whom they have been clashing, some of whom are blind with a rage which the policies of several decades have done nothing but feed.
In view of the dark days which seem likely to come for my country, and given the official racism and anti-semitism which are being cooked up behind the scenes, the private dialogue between a lawyer and his client, regardless of his particular anger or hatred, is already a gesture towards peace and renewed understanding. I will therefore continue to defend "jihadists," "rioters," and disadvantaged youths from "bad neighborhoods." Frenchman, lawyer, Jew, and product of the housing projects of the ghetto--I am all these things, but not necessarily in that order.
This is a translation of an article from Libération including an interview with a founder of the JDL. Thanks to Andrew Miller for translating.
The Jewish Defense League, an Extremist Micromilitia.
Libération spoke with one of the founders of this extra-legal organization whose members, fond of street brawls, adhere to a radical Zionism.
Loud and speaking informally, the man says his name is Itshak Rayman and that he's a spokesperson for the Jewish Defense League(JDL). Over the telephone, he tells me to meet him in a McDonalds in the République neighborhood of Paris "for the air conditioning." Once there, the unctuous sexagenarian lets me know that two of his followers are keeping watch over the restaurant and that he's well-aware of whom he's speaking with. As for the name that he gave, it's really just an alias, alongside "Michaël Carlisle," "Eliahou Tubiana" and "the old man." His real name is Jean-Claude Nataf. He is one of the organizers who, in 2001, founded the JDL with Pierre Lurçat. This pretty much sums up the ambiance of our encounter with this controversial organization which sees itself as the bodyguard of the Jewish community.
On Sunday July 13, a few dozen militants attacked pro-Palestinian protestors not far from the synagogue of La Roquette. Video evidence shows JDL militants pursuing their adversaries, brandishing chairs and bar tables while shouting "Palestine, we fuck you in the ass!" The next weekend in Sarcelles, they once again confronted pro-Palestinian protestors while armed with baseball bats, hammers, brass knuckles and tear-gas canisters in order to defend a synagogue which the police had already cordoned off.
In addition to protecting religious sites, the JDL doesn't hesitate to take on anyone it considers an enemy of Israel. In June, two of its sympathizers were sentenced to ten months in prison for having attempted use a home-made bomb on the car of a young Jewish man who had criticized Israel's policies on his blog. These heavy-handed methods are part and parcel of the movement; beginning in 2002, hardly a year after its formation, one of its sympathizers stabbed a young police commissaire on the edges of a protest. The officer was seriously wounded while his attacker fled to Israel where he is currently incarcerated for an unrelated offense.
While the JDL disassociates itself from the most extreme actions of its sympathizers, it nevertheless asserts the Jewish community's right to "self-defense." "The police expect a wave of (anti-semitic) attacks in France" claims Jean-Claude Nataf. "Yet there is no will to stop this and the Crif (the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions) refuses to put its foot down. We don't wish harm on any Muslims. But they better not come and fuck with us" would also work. The co-founder went on to illustrate the role of the JDL: "Fifteen days ago, we received a call warning us that a young Jew was being attacked at knife point at Beaubourg [ndlr: the neighborhood around the Centre Pompideau, close to but outside of the Jewish neighborhood of the Marais.] Five minutes later, we had five of our guys on the scene looking for the attackers." Marriages, protests, business deals... The organization "secures" wherever it chooses.
The JDL, which enjoys no legal recognition, has no known fixed headquarters in Paris. It is financed exclusively through private donations, affirms Nataf. Its financial cover is Solidarity Israel, legally incorporated in 2011 with Joseph Ayache as its president. This thirty-something former member of Betar (a youth Zionist movement) who completed a tour of military service with the IDF is considered by the police to be the principal leader of the JDL alongside David Bettey, 36. Below them on the hierarchy, "the core membership constitutes between 30 and 40 people" according to a police source. "But the movement has a strong mobilizing capacity and can marshal up to 200 people by tapping into the membership of the Betar and the SPCJ (the Protection Service of the Jewish Community, a security service under the aegis of Crif and of the Israelite Central Consistory of France) and from the young Jews from working-class neighborhoods."
For the political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, the JDL represents "the Jewish streets of East Paris and the Parisian banlieue where the situation can often be difficult for Jewish residents." Its militants come from a brawling culture, ardently practicing Mixed Martial Arts or Krav Maga. This method of close-quarters fighting, used most notably by the IDF, is designed for concrete situations, such as when one's adversary is armed with a gun.
The most zealous militants hold an ideology as severe as their training. "The major figure of reference for them are Vladimir Jabotinsky (1884-1940, a figure of radical Zionism, ndlr) and the Israeli-American Meir Kahane," explains Jean-Yves Camus. An extreme nationalist, Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990, created in 1968 the American Jewish Defense League, which the FBI classified as a terrorist organization in a 2001 report. He also founded the Kach party in Israel which was banned in 1994 due to its racism. Although the French branch of the JDL is technically separate from its American counterpart, they share the same name and emblem and the charters of both organizations cite Kahane as an inspiration. For Jean-Yves Camus, the JDL is clearly an "organisation identitaire." [ndlr: a xenophobic organization based around a single ethnic or religious group. The closest American term, "hate group" doesn't quite capture the same nuance.] For instance, in a tweet from April 2014, the JDL claimed that "assimilation and mixed marriages have cost the lives of more Jews than the Holocaust."
Blue-White-Red In 2001, in an article published on its site which was promptly withdrawn, the organization expressed "cautious support" for Marine Le Pen. A communiqué published soon after denied this support while still noting that the positions taken by the FN "against Islamization (remain) a significant step to solving the urgent problems in our country." Jean-Claude Nataf himself was present during a FN march on May 1, 2013. The vice-president of the FN, Louis Aliot, remembers having encountered him during the "Blue-White-Red" festival [ndlr: an annual FN gathering] in 2003. "We don't sympathize with the FN, but why ignore the real danger?" responds Nataf. "Nowadays, 100% of our attackers come from ' [ethnic] diversity.' "
Such are the principal reasons why the JDL is considered anathema to Palestinian sympathizers. "We're talking about a small, private militia" according to Dominique Cochain, a well-known lawyer and advocate for the Palestinian cause, who lists off numerous cases of "pure and simple assaults" attributed to the League. In July 2012 for instance, Olivia Zemor, President of the CAPJPO-EuroPalestine, was drenched in paint by JDL members claiming to be journalists. These attacks continue unpunished, claim the JDL's detractors, who accuse the authorities of turning a blind eye towards the JDL's activities. "Individual members are prosecuted and lightly punished, but the authorities never turn their sights on the organization" Dominique Cochain accuses. Nataf does not even attempt to deny charges of impunity; "We have nothing against the police. On the contrary," he says with a smile. "During the protests on July 13, we even worked with them; the police saw perfectly well who were the aggressors and who were defending themselves." He adds, "In any case, we have everything we could ask for with [Manuel] Valls.”
The JDL's radicalism has earned it severe criticism from other Jewish organizations. For the President of the Union of Jewish Students in France, Sacha Reingewirtz, the organization "is fundamentally opposed to the values of both the Republic and of Judaism. It maintains a violent and racist ideology which must be condemned in the same way as we condemn anti-semitism." For the President of Crif, Roger Cukierman, "the JDL does not present a positive image of Jews in France and I cannot condone its methods" However, he judges that "many Jews have the impression that the authorities do nothing to protect them. Before we consider banning the JDL, let's worry about those who attack the synagogues. Because there's a serious risk that they'll create their own private militias." As moderate as this criticism may be, it elicits only laughs from Jean-Claude Nataf: "Officially, we and Crif have no connection. The reality is that whenever they organize something, we're there to help protect- but from the exterior." And the "old man" gloats that the JDL has recently received more messages of support than ever before.
Translated by Andrew Miller