Friday, March 31, 2006

It's the Sun Wot Won It posted by Meaders

Struck by the contrast between comments deposited about the pensions strike at the (nominally left-leaning) Guardian site, and those left at the Sun. Bloody liberals.

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Demanding the possible posted by bat020

Remember that populism debate a few months back? Regarding the possibility of a "non-hysterical demand by the popular masses", I wrote:

Here I'd suggest that the answer lies in the direct converse to the famous (and eminently hysterical) situationist graffito "Be realistic, demand the impossible!". Rather than formulate realistic but impossible demands, our "demands" must be unrealistic but nevertheless possible.

... which prompted this response from K-Punk. Anyways, with all that in mind, this photo from the ongoing French anti-CPE protests caught my eye...

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Racism, guilt and self hatred. posted by Richard Seymour

Curious thing: every time I write a post about imperialism or racism or colonialism, there is someone there to say that I am self-hating or that I am trying to foist 'guilt' on white people or (even more bizarrely) the white working class. Now, this would be comprehensible as a literal reply to something I've written, if I had in fact written that white people or the white working class or Londoners or something should feel especially guilty about the state of the world today, or about colonialism, or about racism. It so happens that I haven't. I can't help but feel that this reaction is a form of projection, in which the troll - often either a pro-war leftie or (as with a certain unpleasant character that deposited some filth here last night) an outright fascist - berates me for encouraging him (always a him) to feel bad about these things, to feel complicit in them. The only conclusion is that the feeling was already there, precisely because the person is complicit in them. There is no reason for anyone who is not a racist or an apologist for imperialism to feel implicated, to feel infested by these various discussions.

Similarly, there's a certain kind of indolent sniggering about my provenance. I am from Northern Ireland, the whitest of whitebread countries (which probably isn't true anyway), where racism is commonplace (which certainly is true), and therefore I must feel enormous revulsion and self-hatred. The obvious reference, it has to be said, is to the mythical 'self-hating Jew' whom Elie Weisel describes as a 'renegade Jew' for not supporting Israel. So when a pro-war 'muscular liberal' makes a charge of self-hatred, he is actually calling me a race traitor - and what an interesting charge to make. As it happens, anyone who knew me could tell you that I have no more self-hatred than anyone else, and probably a great deal more self-love than most people (but I spread the love around). Still, isn't it odd that some people take my anti-racist and anti-imperialist stance - which is hardly heterodox for a Marxist and even has a certain quality of common sense about it these days - and contrast it with my whiteness, as if such a stance is perverse, self-hating and so on?

There's an additional sneering sort of commentary that simply fabricates, falsely imputes statements such as "I understand the brown mind" or "I like Ska" or similar words and sentiments. Not only have I never played Ska (I don't do winter sports), I couldn't begin to formulate such a phrase as "I understand the brown mind" because a) "brown" as a reference to a group of human beings is relevant only as an artefact of the racist imagination (a brutally direct reference to those whom it is easy to bomb from 20,000 feet, or shoot in the middle of the night, or execute in front of their children), and b) since I have strenuously argued that there is no such thing as the brown mind or the black mind or the white mind or the Jewish mind or the Muslim mind or the Arab mind, it's hard to see what there is to understand. Again, one suspects that the idle troll is unwittingly displaying his own mental categories and prejudices. At the last analysis, the invention of such statements involves an implicit charge - comes down to saying that I am a "n*****r-lover". And that, too, is a very interesting charge to make.

PS: And pay attention, because this is important. Don't bother trying to explain yourselves, trolls. My 'delete' button works very well and requires a very minimal expenditure of effort. Just give it a fucking rest, eh?

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Discourse on Colonialism posted by Richard Seymour

In dealing with this subject, the commonest curse is to be the dupe in good faith of a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misrepresents problems, the better to legitimize the hateful solutions provided for them.

In other words, the essential thing is to see clearly, to think clearly - that is, dangerously - and to answer clearly the innocent first question: what, fundamentally, is colonization? To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law. To admit, once and for all, without flinching at the consequences, that the decisive actors are the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extent to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies.

Pursuing my analysis, I find that hypocrisy is of recent date; that neither Cortez discovering Mexico from the top of the great teocalli, nor Pizarro before Cuzco (much less Marco Polo before Cambuluc), claims that he is the harbinger of a superior order; that they kill; that they plunder; that they have helmets, lancets, cupidities; that the slavering apologists came later; that the chief culprit in this domain is Christian pedantry, which laid down the dishonest equations Christianity = civilization, paganism = savagery, from which there could not but ensue abominable colonialist and racist consequences, whose victims were to be the Indians, the Yellow peoples, and the Negroes.


First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a centre of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and "interrogated", all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but sulrey, the continent proceeds toward savagery.

And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers standing around the racks invent, refine, discuss.

People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: "How strange! But never mind - it's Nazism, it will pass!" And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps and trickles from every crack.

Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire.

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Pensions: Scottish Executive Folds? posted by Richard Seymour


The Scottish Executive had previously insisted there could be no movement on plans to raise the age at which hundreds of thousands of public sector workers could retire without any financial penalty, from 60 to 65.

But just a day after 200,000 local government workers took nationwide industrial action over the issue, Tom McCabe, the finance minister, has signalled a change of heart.

Mr McCabe revealed that he was considering seeking an exemption from the European law which ministers claim has forced them to end the so-called "Rule of 85" retirement provision.

My feeling is that The Scotsman could be jumping the gun, but given how solid and massive the strike was I wouldn't be surprised to see capitulation, at least for now. And if that's so, it seriously weakens the Westminster government's case and makes it more difficult for them to continue.

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Human Zoos: liberalism, enlightenment, racism. posted by Richard Seymour

The rationalised 'dominion' model of earth, the effect or perhaps the cause of the new empirical science, the Baconian method, transformed the environment (and the people on it) into a resource, a treasury, a barely explored chest of goods, which - if thoroughly excavated - would not only yield crucial benefits to the feudal ruling class and the rising bourgeoisie, but also direct one to the mind of God, whose presence was writ large in the patterns of matter and motion in the cosmos. Carolyn Merchant's valuable feminist critique of Francis Bacon problematises the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment: it is phallogocentric, patriarchical, based on the increased repression of women in terms of employment, family units and the growing importance in the early modern period of (male) standing armies. The new science instrumentalises humanity as capital and on behalf of capital. The Rennaissance neo-Platonists and magical adepts such as Giambattista Della Porta (for whom the masses were not to be trusted with such knowledge) were in many ways the archetypal sages who would populate Francis Bacon's frigid, cruel and oppressive New Atlantis. Bacon himself was a clerk for Queen Elizabeth I and King James (about the former, why is it that her preposterously romanticised life story is becoming so popular in film and television dramatisation these days? Why is this cruel tyrant embalmed in platitude and a million and one literary cliches as some kind of fragile, feminist hero or a fighter for religious tolerance? She might have been a 'feminist' in the same sense that Lady MacBeth was, but what does it tell us that this is increasingly a teevee model of female emancipation, in which the death-dealing machismo of Margaret Thatcher is celebrated, in which the ruthlessness and opportunism of the patriarchical male is actually what is celebrated?). Della Porta insisted just as much as Bacon did upon discovering 'such things as lay hid in the bosom of wondrous nature'. The magi engages in their experimentation for princes and merchants-who-would-be-princes who would patronise them, and who would in return receive objects and spells and things that they could collect in displays, as objects of wealth in themselves and as symbols of their total autocratic power, their complete sway over their apportionment of nature and humanity, by virtue of which the power of the magus was theirs. Similarly, much of the new science was developed in the new urban workshops, where 'dominion over nature' was a matter of commercial success. And this dominion would find its expression in the Atlantic slave trade and the colonial subordination of the civilising mission as much as the trade of spices, textiles, sugar, and cotton. This is, obviously enough, to problematise rather than reject science; to (very roughly and curtly) trace a lineage rather than to issue a J'accuse. It is to say nothing more than that the conceptual operations that accompanied the transformation of feudalism into capitalism are imbued with class relations, racial subjection and male domination. At the same time, of course, these provided the resources for their own critique, first as radical Enlightenment then as revolutionary socialism.

One finds a curious parralel between the displays of the powerful in early modern Europe and the Colonial Exhibitions in the period of Empire. These festivals of white supremacism showed off the wares, the ill-gotten gains of Empire (much like the British Museum does today), and often featured Human Zoos or "negro villages". The first such displays, fittingly enough, were actually associated with PT Barnum, the great exponent of the capitalist confidence trick. But they become very popular from the 1870s onward, particularly with the rise of 'racial' science. These zoos would feature wild beasts alongside Nubians and "Sami people" - offered as the subjects of Hobbes' "state of nature", wild, violent, cruel; and selected to accentuate difference, to suggest monstrosity and bestiality. Paris' World Fair of 1889 featured a village nègre, while the later Exposition coloniale of 1931 featured the "indegenes" in cages. Following the defeat of the Philippines by the United States, the World Fair in St Louis featured captured "primitives". Denmark, in its 1905 Colonial Exhibition sponsored by the bourgeoisie and supported by the Royal Family, featured "two negro kids" from Danish West Indies in cages - it was the most popular exhibit and saved the enterprise from financial ruin. London, Milan, New York, Barcelona, Hamburg - all the top fashion spots had one of these displays at one point or another. Brussels had one as late as 1958. The most recent of these exhibitions was held in Germany in 2005.

Thematically, the displays were arranged as dioramas illustrating the polyegenic hierarchy of 'races', in which the "vigorous sexuality" of the captives was of interest to the theorists of biological degeneration in the Occident; in which depictions of the 'monstrous' - dwarves, hunchbacks and albinos alongside "negroes" - served to reinforce the superiority of white, Occidental civilisation. Its liberalism, magnanimity, self-restraint, Christianity, altruism, piety, heroism, intrepidity, inquisitiveness and so on were instantly espoused by virtue of contrast with collections of 'genetic failure'. And since the Other is monstrous, bizarre, anomalous, the European (or more properly the Northwestern European and his offspring in the United States) is the norm - rather, because the European is the norm, the non-European is monstrous, grotesque, bizarre, subnormal, deserving of discipline, exploitation or extinction. Even a different species (so excluding them from the declaration that 'All Men are created Equal').

The de-legitimisation of direct racist discourse following World War II and the destruction of the colonial system has obliged the purveyors of pernicious, racist, Othering fantasy to become more sophisticated. A human zoo today is unnecessary to the culture of imperialism: why have cages when you have video frames, IP telephony, and airbrushed photography, infinitely reproducible (and reproduced) with only the slightest expenditure of energy? Whatever the racist immortaliser of Empire wishes to depict, he can do so with a bank of Google images, or with the services of a photographer or by paying Associated Press, or by contracting a squadron of cartoonists. But if there was to be a human zoo floated from London to Milan to New York, it might consist of a few hundred Muslims, Arabs, Africans, South American Indians. One could imagine the diorama - Muslims in various exaggerated states of beardiness, brownness, sexual repression, seethingness, wild-eyed fanaticism; Africans as comical or demonic dictators, pock-faced starving subjects gratefully receiving Western alms, tribalist (or Islamic) fanatics; South American Indians as an excitable but amusing brown rabble, occasionally given to selecting leaders whose expression and demeanour, because insufficiently domesticated and Westernised, is construed as bestial (One recent featured shot [on] showed Chávez as an ape on an F.B.I. "Ten Most Wanted" poster). The booty displayed alongside such zoos would of course be impressive (all the riches in the world, or almost all of them), and the supporting narratives would be supplied in the newspapers, the magazines, on the blogosphere, on television and in Hollywood, in postcolonial criticism and Anglo-American philosophy, in the Harvard histories and Chicago economics (Homo economicus is white, and bourgeois), in genomics and political science.

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"Hajis", shovels and the march to New Orleans. posted by Richard Seymour

I first read that "Haji" was being used as a derogatory nickname for Iraqis by US troops in 2004, similar to the use of the word "gook" in Vietnam. According to former troops interviewed in this Newsnight documentary about an antiwar March to New Orleans (which you can still watch until this evening, I guess), the word is burned into the brains of troops by military higher-ups at all levels: they're not humans, they're just "hajis". Further: "the message was always: 'Islam is evil' and 'They hate us.' Most of the guys I was with believed it." "They basically jam into your head: 'This is hajji! This is hajji!' You totally take the human being out of it and make them into a video game."

This made it so much easier to kill: "if you start looking at them as humans, and stuff like that, then how are you going to kill them?"

And kill they do: "When IEDs would go off by the side of the road, the instructions were - or the practice was - to basically shoot up the landscape, anything that moved. And that kind of thing would happen a lot."

Further: "Well, I mean, I have seen innocent people being killed. IEDs go off and you just zap any farmer that is close to you. You know, those people were out there trying to make a living, but on the other hand, you get hit by four or five of those IEDs and you get pretty tired of that, too."

Killing was easy, too: "you could basically kill whoever you wanted - it was that easy. You did not even have to get off and dig a hole or anything. All you had to do was have some kind of picture. You're driving down the road at three in the morning. There's a guy on the side of the road, you shoot him ... you throw a shovel off." The point being that you throw a shovel or perhaps an AK next to someone you've just shot and make it look like they were aiming a weapon or planting a device.

And there's this endearing tendency for guys named George to say you shouldn't talk about this, because it's lowering troop morale and placing people in danger: "I scraped dead bodies off the pavements with a shovel and threw them in trash bags and left them there on the side of the road. And I really don't think the anti-war movement is what is infuriating people."

The day after the March to New Orleans began, the US raided a house in Abu Sifa, and - according to various forensic evidence, several witnesses and Iraqi police officials - bound and shot the eleven occupants, including five children, through the head. In fact, there are reports that the bodies had multiple shot wounds. Because they were hajis.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Galloway & the Fake Sheikh (updated) posted by Richard Seymour

The News of the World has been caught out trying to entrap George Galloway by 'offering' him illicit funds for Respect via two journalists claiming to be Sam Fernando and Pervaiz Khan, who also tried getting him to agree to antisemitic statements and Holocaust denial. Galloway has sought a police investigation, while alerting the Speaker of the House of Commons. It seems the pair, particularly one journalist named Mazher Mahmood, have been trying this on with a number of other MPs, including Diane Abbot. Here's the press-release:

The Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway, has today referred an attempt to criminally implicate him to the Metropolitan police and also to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The attempt was made on Saturday evening when two men – claiming to be Sam Fernando and Pervaiz Khan – said that they could provide illicit funding to him and to the party. He rejected the overture. The two also made anti-Semitic remarks which they encouraged Galloway to share. He did not.

It transpires that the two men were actually working for the News of the World and that one of them was Mazher Mahmood, otherwise known as the ‘fake sheikh’.

‘This was a blatant and outrageous attempt to suborn a member of parliament,’ Galloway said. ‘But it was so heavy-handed that I immediately smelled a rat. The two claimed to be Muslims but were ignorant of Muslim customs and practices. The press have, of course, an obligation to investigate corruption but this was a blatant attempt to create it and is completely unacceptable.’

Galloway said that he had a photograph of Mahmood – from which he was able to identify the ‘fake sheikh – and that he now intended to make it widely available. He is also demanding that the News of the World now make available all their material, including tape recordings made of conversations.

Here's the letter to the police commissioner, Ian Blair:

Dear Commissioner Blair,

I am writing to bring to your notice an urgent and important matter concerning an attempt to break the electoral laws of this country over foreign funding.

As you will see from the enclosed, I was targeted by Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World, otherwise known as the ‘fake sheikh’, and his colleague, going by the name of Sam Fernando. They sought to implicate me in what would be illegal political funding and sought my agreement to anti-Semitic views, including Holocaust denial. I learnt subsequently that they were seeking a meeting for the same purpose with my parliamentary colleague Jeremy Corbyn MP.

I have today written to the Speaker of the House of Commons as I believe this attempt to subvert the political process constitutes a breach of parliamentary privilege.

I am releasing this material to the media simultaneously.

I believe you should treat this matter seriously, especially as the Deputy Assistant Commissioner is already holding two investigations into funding of political parties.

I have a picture of Mr Mahmood, which I am considering circulating to all Members of the House of Commons and more widely in order to protect others from this unscrupulous individual. I look forward to hearing from you.

And here's the letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons:

Dear Speaker’s Office,

I am writing to bring to your notice an urgent and important matter concerning parliamentary privilege on which I ask that you launch an immediate investigation in order to protect the integrity of the House of Commons, its members and the political process.

As you will see from the enclosed I was targeted by Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World otherwise known as the ‘fake sheikh’ and his colleague going by the name of Sam Fernando. They sought to implicate me in what would be illegal political funding and sought my agreement to anti-Semitic views, including Holocaust denial.

I learnt subsequently that they were seeking a meeting for the same purpose with my parliamentary colleague Jeremy Corbyn MP. The same Mahmood has on a previous occasion deceived parliamentary staff and my colleague Diane Abbott MP for similarly nefarious purposes.

I have today written to Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, as I believe this attempt to subvert the political process constitutes a criminal offence.

I am releasing this material to the media simultaneously.

I believe you should treat this matter seriously; on this occasion I was the intended victim, but further Members of the House could potentially be set up in this way. I have a picture of Mr Mahmood, which I am considering circulating to all Members of the House and more widely in order to protect others from this unscrupulous individual.

I look forward to hearing from you.

On the same day it emerges that Blair aides, and the Prime Minister himself, face a police probe over the cash-for-peerages scandal, it is delicious to find the News of the World on the wrong end of a possible police investigation. How ironic that they're busily trying to fit up left-wing MPs while the scum at the top of the New Labour pile are festering in their own cesspit of corruption.

Update: Galloway has a hilarious post about this on his blog, with some new detail.

Further update: Pictures.

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The Sun promotes pensions strikes shock posted by Meaders

The Sun is inviting its readers to "HAVE YOUR SAY" on the pensions strike yesterday, below a story about Unison leader Dave Prentis going to watch Arsenal. The Sun, predictably, condemned "town hall pen-pushers already on rich retirement pickings".

The comments on the website are (presumably) carefully edited. And yet:

For the first time in my life I went on strike yesterday. I viewed the strike action as a last resort to put pressure on the Local Government Association and Government to see common sense and stop playing politics with my pension. When I first started paying into my pension scheme, the Government at the time allowed local councils to have pension breaks - hence the mess we are left with today.
Donna Abrahart

I fully support the strike. Local government workers have been paying into the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) for their whole careers on the understanding that when they retired they would get the benefit of those contributions. Now the government is trying to change the terms of the contract they made with those workers to cut the payments and make it harder for people to get what they have paid for.
Stephen Booth

Pensions should be improved for all not worsened! Britain is the fourth richest country in world. But we have officially over 1 million pensioners who are poor. What sort of society do we want?
Tim Ellis

Why shouldn’t he go to the football?
Jim Webster

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Report from the Cairo Conference. posted by Richard Seymour

An excellent guest post (with his own pics) by Guy Taylor:

The Cairo Conference: a wonderful vibrant and hectic event, where timetables make less sense than those for a London bus, and manners and respect for one another is pleasingly prevalent. Four years ago both John Rees and George Galloway were invited to speak in conferences in Cairo at the same time. They managed to pull the two together (from London!) and the birth of the Cairo Conference - a meeting of activists from the secular and Muslim worlds - took place. The impact on the movement in Egypt has been extraordinary.

We started on Thursday, with overseas delegates given a walking tour of Islamic Cairo, which for the Tomb I'll not go into. After a briefing over food we trooped down to the opening session. We were greeted with a protest at the doors of Muslim activists demonstrating against the closure of Afaq'Arabia, a radical Muslim publication. In previous years delegates have been greeted by a strong police presence at the doors to the conference, this time the cops were as evident as Blair or Mubarak. Given that the majority of protests get repressed in no uncertain terms in Egypt, the conference has provided a place which has at least some immunity around it - mainly because of the presence of a significant number of overseas delegates.

It was the sort of opening session that you may dream about and have nightmares on at the same time. The speakers list was A List, leaders of Islamic movements, trade unions, and political groups, MPs from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt - oh and Britain. And international antiwar activists from UK, Denmark, Korea and Canada. The problem being 30 speakers in an alloted 3 hours, with no chair brave or foolish enough to call the speakers on time, we got a bit concerned when a 15 minute break was called a full 2 hours after the scheduled end of the meeting! The session eventually overran by two and three quarter hours.

After an all-too-large helping of Islamic radicalism, the interesting speakers for this blog were, unsurprisingly John Rees and George Galloway.

John Rees issued a call for unity. "We are here because we are all here. The Muslims, the Nasserites, the socialists and the communists and other nationalists and those who fit into none of those categories. This unity allows this conference to happen." He went down a storm.

Galloway was in excellent form. Not pandering to some opf the more 2 deminsional rhetoric of the local speakers. He welcomed he election of Hamas but pointed out
"You can't have a free Palestine without Hamas, but you can't have a free Palestine with only Hamas". He noted that there are non-corrupt people in the PLO and Fateh, and called for uniting with those and getting a broad and radical front against Israel. His attack on the west and it's reaction to the Hamas victory was incisive (paraphrased): "When the victorious party in an election is called upon to take the position of the party which they had just defeated, and defeated for the reasons of those positions, it is a travesty of democracy". The reception he received was enthusiastic and impressive.

Hamas' Information Minister was uncompromising in his attitude to Israel, stating repeatedly they will not recognise the occupying forces of the state of Israel. His talk seemed a little at odds with other statements coming from the Palestinian government in other arenas.

The Iraqi delegation was notable by its absence, unable to obtain documentation from the Egyptian authorities to enter the country. We were handed a letter from the Wahaj El Iraq (Patriotic Forces Rejecting the Occupation) Command: "We received with great pleasure & gratitude your invitation to attend your respectable conference, but we were surprised by a lot of security complications and requirements in order to get the visa... Which represent a kind of disapproval (in a diplomatic way)." Couldn't have put it better myself.

The Cairo conference is now being run in conjunction with the Cairo Social Forum, which begins at 3pm each day, and ocassionally finishes by midnight. We've discussed everything from peasant politics and problems to 'Arab Communities Abroad'. 'Art, Power and Resistance', 'The Myths of Zionism' and 'Different Governments, Same Torture' were all on the agenda. Most meetings had simultaneous translation, though not all.

The Myths of Zionism meeting introduced by John Rose was fantastic, with Muslim Brotherhood members discussing with Jewish people the meaning and intent of Zionism, where one hijab wearing sister declared that you couldn't put "all Jews in the same basket" and needed to look at the question again. It was a open and serious debate, with criticism and understanding of the various viewpoints in the room.

Throughout the conference, when sitting in the coffee area or wandering around the stalls, delegates were constantly approached by young Egyptian activists wanting to talk and find out about the movement in various places in the world. Questions about the 'average' person in your country "what are they like, just thinking about drink, drugs, football and sex with your girlfriend?" to "How long does Tony Blair have in office - why do you let him stand for prime minister so many times? I hate him" to more detailed enquiries about working class life and conditions in the UK. The resulting conversations were fantastic and extremely long at times.

The forum ended on Sunday as it had started with a protest outside the Syndicate of Journalists, the venue. This time it marked the massacre of Sudanese refugees by the Mubarak government earlier this year.

The movement here is growing in strength, number and confidence. Socialists are now selling papers in public after being underground for many years (the second edition of Socialist Worker's sister paper had amazing sales), many present had been imprisoned and some tortured for doing what happens in the UK as a matter of course. The election of the Muslim Brotherhood MPs last year has opened up space for organising and activity. The Cairo Conference is a place where dissenting voices from Egypt and around the world gather to organise and debate. We are seeing a new era in the resistance in Egypt.

Sifting through the leaflets and papers and contact details I picked up in the conference I am reminded of how intense and constructive the whole event was. One seasoned attender (this was the fourth such conference) said that the western delegates had a dual purpose, to intervene and to take the role of human shield as the Egyptian movement develops - I think he missed mentioning one of the most incredible learning experiences you can get. All set in one of the most historic and incredible cities on the planet.

Them pyramids aren't bad either.

Viva Cairo!

See also Simon Assaf's report back for Socialist Worker.

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Stunning. posted by Richard Seymour

Via Qlipoth. Okay, so the United States government has applied a stun belt to Zacarias Moussaoui to ensure that his testimony isn't, er, distorted by any outburts. The fuck? Seriously?

But yes, it happens all the time apparently. Check this out:

For the offense of talking too
much in court, a three-strikes defendant wearing an
electronic security belt was zapped with 50,000 volts by
order of a judge.

Ronnie Hawkins was acting as his own attorney when
Municipal Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani, angered by his
repeated interruptions, last week ordered her bailiff to
activate a stun belt that had been fitted under Hawkins'
jail jumpsuit.

"He made no aggressive movement toward anyone, he
was not a threat," Deputy Public Defender Matthew Huey
said Thursday, one of three bystanders in the courtroom
who complained.

Hawkins, 48, was facing 25 years to life during a
sentencing hearing held last week. He was convicted of
petty theft in April.

Zapped for interrupting. Amnesty International places this in the context of the US supplying electro-weaponry to other violent states. It is strapped to prisoners in court, who are told that in the event of their moving suddenly, shouting, refusing to obey a verbal command and so on. They are told that they might shit themselves and piss in their pants, and that they will certainly be incapacitated and fall to the ground (although it isn't mentioned that heart attack, vomiting and memory loss may also ensue). Two metal prongs positioned above the left kidney deliver the shock for eight seconds. Amnesty comments on the pain it delivers, quoting officers who had to take a short 'training' shock from the belt:

One officer in Maryland has recently described how it felt as if "you had nine-inch nails and you tried to rip my sides out and then you put a heat lamp on me." Another in Ohio said that "it felt like every muscle in my body short-circuited at the same time." It should be noted that prisoners, unlike officers who wear the belts for a few minutes in a training exercise, do not have the opportunity to prepare for the moment when the electro-shock will be delivered, and wear the belt for far longer.

And I bet those officers were thinking: "cool, can't wait to try this shit out!" This electrical shock treatment has been meted out to prisoners for some time. Here's what happened to one prisoner:

I woke up a short time later to very intense shocking pain running through my body. This electrical current was so intense that I thought that I was actually dying. I had not been causing any trouble, I was belly chained, shackled, seat belted in, and there was a fence between the officers and me, so there was absolutely no reason for them to be using this device on me... I think they shocked me a second time while I was still in the van. When we arrived, I was unloaded from the van and taken to a holding cell.... Once I was in the cell, several officers came into the cell and again I was shocked by the stun belt. This electrical blast knocked me to the floor, and I could hear the officers laughing and making jokes.

Speechless. Torture at the touch of a button. The US tortures its own prisoners as a matter of policy and now uses the threat of electrocution to discipline alleged felons in court? This is barbarism.

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Lies in the phoney "pensions debate". posted by Richard Seymour

Last night, Phil Woolas, a docile New Labour lamb and local government minister, told Channel Four news that the only reason that the attempt was being made to force workers on the LGPS to work longer hours was because of a six-year-old directive on age discrimination. This, the government claimed, made it necessary to 'level up' the retirement age. On the contrary, according to Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU commission's spokeswoman on employment, social affairs and equal opportunities:

"It's an artificial debate and is only going on in Britain. The directive has no influence on pension value or pension age. It is completely up to the member state. If they think it is reasonable for people to retire at 60, under EU law that is perfectly legal."

This claim from the government has been knocking around for three years, if not more. It was first invoked by Patricia Hewitt in 2003 to justify raising all pension ages, possibly to 70. It's plainly, demonstrably, easily a cover for the government's true intention, which is to structurally adjust the economy in the direction of longer working lives to accompany our increasingly long working days.

Woollas was also claiming that this was purely a dispute with the LGA, which the union leaders were also claiming until recently. However, Prescott is the Deputy Prime Minister, he is the one who wrote to local government unions saying he would overrule changes last year (before the general election), he could easily do so again. He has the power to overrule Local Government Authorities, so it's just nonsense to say that this is merely an issue between the unions and local government. The whole policy has been driven by the government from day one. To their credit, Unison - the largest union in this dispute and in the country - has recognised this and suspended its support for the government. One hopes members will push for the union to follow the lead of the FBU and disaffiliate.

Other thing is this repeated nonsense about the 'old age support ratio', in which there are too many old people and not enough workers to support them - all of which ministers keep going on about without being challenged by newscasters who all too often find themselves temporarily lodged tongue-first in the minister's rectum. In fact, a

report, prepared by thinktank Tomorrow’s Company, disputes the significance of the 'old age dependency ratio'.

This is the ratio of the number of people over 65 years old to those under 16 years, which is set to rise by 42 percent by 2041.

But just as significant is the total 'economic support ratio', the ration of the number of people not working to those in work. This is set to rise by just 1 percent.

Based on this measure, more generous pensions could be provided without significant tax increases, the report argues.

Furthermore, it says that efforts to address pension shortfalls through savings are largely misguided.

Too many of those who do not save are simply too poor to put money aside.

Phillip Mullin, one of the report’s authors, argues that by concentrating on old age dependency ratios, policymakers ignore the fact that workers are already supporting a wide variety of non-workers—caring for young children, students in college and the disabled, for example.

While the proportions of different groups of non-workers may change over time to include more elderly and fewer children, the overall burden may not be much greater than it is today.

'Despite the fact that it is so often quoted, the old age dependency ratio tells us nothing about the economics of an ageing population,” Mullin says. “It is misleading to the point of being meaningless.'

Some more on the pensions strike here, here and here. And some excellent coverage of the French upheaval here and here.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Bosses' Pension Vision posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by Leon Kuhn:

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Standstill. posted by Richard Seymour

The awareness that they are about to make the continuum of history explode is characteristic of the revolutionary classes at the moment of their action. The great revolution introduced a new calendar. The initial day of a calendar serves as a historical time-lapse camera. And, basically, it is the same day that keeps recurring in the guise of holidays, which are days of remembrance. Thus the calendars do no measure time as clocks do; they are monuments of a historical consciousness of which not the slightest trace has been apparent in Europe in the past hundred years. In the July revolution an incident occurred which showed this consciousness still alive. On the first evening of fighting it turned out that the clocks in towers were being fired on simultaneously and independently from several places in Paris. An eye-witness, who may have owed his insight to the rhyme, wrote as follows:

Who would have believed it! we are told that new Joshuasat the foot of every tower, as though irritated with time itself, fired at the dials in order to stop the day. (Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

U.K. Strike May Be Biggest in 80 Years as Local Services Close.

Thousands of pupils have been told to stay home as schools and some colleges close. Although teachers are not striking, support workers such as janitors, cooks and lollipop men will be involved.

In Liverpool, commuters faced disruption as the Mersey river tunnels shut and ferries stopped running. All buses and trains were cancelled in Northern Ireland and in London 70 percent of schools failed to open.

The Tower of London was also closed and the river Thames anti-flood barrier reduced to emergency staffing levels. One airport, the regional Leeds Bradford, suffered minimal delays.

One day strike paralyses Ulster

Sound of birds twittering...


And in France...

Hundreds of thousands protest in France.

France Deploys Police Amid National Strike.

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Support your local strike committee. posted by Richard Seymour

The picket lines are out, and more than a million workers will not be crossing them today. I had a sneaking suspicion that the atmosphere of the Winter of Discontent would be evoked. And, shatter my bowels, here it is:

The shockwaves from the one day strike are being felt across the country with schools closed, rubbish not being collected and bodies not being cremated.

Rubbish piled up in Leicester Square! The dead unburied! Hordes of children getting a day off school! Hell in a handbasket, I tell you.

What's remarkable - well, actually, highly predictable - is that the BBC noos presenters are trying their best to paint this as an attempt to increase council tax. The middle class presenter almost leapt out of her pink suit to exclaim at Dave Prentis: "This all comes back to ordinary council tax payers like me whose bills are going to go up!" The tendons in her neck almost snapped with outrage. Prentis retorted that it would not put taxes up a penny, since the result of any cut in Local Government Pension Schemes would be to force workers to rely on benefits and increased pensions from the state. But more important is that this pension scheme is being paid into by workers for the duration of their working lives. What the government proposes to do is to transfer approximately £100 billion from workers to the state, which they'll only go and spend on Trident, tax cuts for the rich and the next invasion. The whole purpose is to engineer a structural change in the British economy, radically altering working arrangements for every working person. 2.5 million people are on the Local Government Pension Scheme, which is about 10% of the workforce. Initiating such changes there will make it much easier to replicate among private sector workers. So this is hardly a sectional dispute: it's about fighting off an attack on the right of working class people to have a decent retirement, many of whom will not live until 65, who will literally be forced to work until they drop under these proposals. It is about an attempt by employers to increase the absolute amount of time we spend working for them and drastically decrease the amount of time they spend giving us back our unpaid wages, which is what pensions are. And of course, the government's attack targets some of the lowest paid workers, 70% of whom are women.

Meanwhile, a general strike has started in France, and it is expected that about 135 rallies will be held to demonstrate solidarity. Transport workers are already out which means that only a real scab commuter could actually get to work today anyway. Airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet have cancelled flights to France.

Some photos and narrative from the French upheaval here (via Long Sunday). And here they've taken to torching shiny cars, taking a leaf out of the book of the banlieue rioters.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Open Markets posted by Richard Seymour

Capital needs Lebensraum:

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused. (Woodrow Wilson, Lecture at Columbia University, 1907).

Protectionist sentiment is rife on the left; on the right, there are calls for "economic patriotism"; meanwhile some voices left and right, are making the case for free trade not just on grounds of commerce but of justice.

The true division in foreign policy today is between: those who want the shop "open", or those who want it "closed"; those who believe that the long-term interests of a country lie in it being out there, engaged, interactive and those who think the short-term pain of such a policy and its decisions, too great.
(Tony Blair, speech to the Foreign Policy Centre, March 21st 2006).

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

500,000 cram LA streets to protest Immigration Bill posted by Richard Seymour

You Heard The Man:

Immigration rights advocates more than 500,000 strong marched in downtown Los Angeles, demanding that Congress abandon attempts to make helping illegal immigrants a crime and to build more walls along the border.

The massive demonstration, one of half dozen around the nation in recent days, came as President Bush prodded Republican congressional leaders to give some illegal immigrants a chance to work legally in the U.S. under certain conditions.

Saturday's march in Los Angeles was the largest in a series of demonstrations across the country. Police Cmdr. Louis Gray Jr. said aerial helicopters estimated the crowd.

Many marchers wore white shirts to symbolize peace and waved U.S. flags. Some carried the flags of Mexico and other countries, and wore them as capes.

Elger Aloy, 26, of Riverside, a premed student, pushed a stroller with his 8-month-old son at Saturday's Los Angeles march and called the legislation "inhumane."

"Everybody deserves the right to a better life," he said.

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Kapital posted by Richard Seymour

I mentioned elsewhere once the ill-conceived pr campaign the NY State chamber of commerce ran very briefly some years ago. They had an ad on television boasting of the rate of exploitation in NY State. It said "NY workers produce five dollars for every dollar they are paid" or something like this. People were really annoyed: "Wait, you mean every time I make a dollar, the company makes five dollars?" "Four." "For what I did they make five dollars and give me one." "Right." "So there are a hundred of us, we each make a dollar every five minutes, and the boss make four hundred dollars every five minutes?" "Right." Capital schmapital, risk shmisk, that is not fair! The ads disappeared in three days.

Beyond petroleum, beyond work, beyond capital, beyond profits...

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Behead Those Who Insult Voltaire! Tiny Muslim-Bashing Rally Fizzles Out. posted by Richard Seymour

So where is it? Are they actually here? There's supposed to be a rally against Islam - sorry, for 'free expression' - but no one seems to be... is that it? That cluster of maybe 300 people over there? Apparently so.

I was disappointed, I tells you. You want to know how pathetic the turnout was? The BBC had to illustrate their coverage with a picture of the 20,000 strong rally against anti-Muslim racism last month. 300 people - this is the might of the petit-bourgeoisie when organised. As you can see, it's overwhelmingly white and very very ugly.

The BBC misreports a little, by the way. It says: "Initial plans to print the controversial cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad onto banners as a way of expressing support for the Danish cartoonists were shelved." Not quite. Although organiser Peter Risdon backed down from begging people to bring samples of the racist pictures to the protest, they certainly appeared. Take a look to your right. The person holding up that placard with the Danish cartoons on them is an associate of the hysterical Islamophobe, Maryam Namazie, who has described the Muslim hijab as "comparable to the Star of David pinned on Jews by the Nazis to segregate, control, repress and to commit genocide". There was a bit of a frisson when it turned out that someone (possibly one of the Nazis present) had complained about his conduct and he'd been taken aside for a word with the filth. Namazie loudly exclaimed into the mic that it was because of his placard, and so they insisted on holding it up for photos and urging people to pass it around. The police scowled. I overheard a couple of them gossiping: "it's got fuck all to do with that". Anyway, this martyr for free speech was soon back in the crowd, possibly hugging his home-made placard.

Aside from the obvious knuckle-draggers from the Master Race, who are somehow quite conspicuous even without their Blood and Honour badges and various marks of rank, the bulk of those present appeared to be right-wing libertarians and ageing middle class 'secularists' who are perpetually re-fighting the battles of 19th Century Liberalism. Trouble was, the right-wing element was certainly the bulk of the crowd. Tatchell paid a heavy guilt tax - having insisted that he would be present alongside the far-right Freedom Association, the BNP front-group 'Civil Liberty' and the right-wing Liberty Alliance while at the same time demanding that the Muslim Council of Britain be banned from the Unite Against Fascism conference, he tried putting a nice left-wing gloss on it, saying he supported the right to incite hatred of the monarchy and the Church of England, and even hatred against racists, at which point he started to get heckles from people demanding that he stick to free speech, not go on about racism.

Tatchell yielded little applause for his remarks on Guantanamo, and there were a lot of stern, offended faces and stiff, unclapping hands when he referred to gay rights. The only thing he was roundly welcomed for was his denunciations of Islam, in particular his claims that "Muslim leaders" had issued death threats to the family of a liberal imam in order to prevent him from attending the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund. Evidence for which came there none - Tatchell has made this claim a couple of times before. He never specifies who these "Muslim leaders" are, although he has implied that they are "members of so called moderate, mainstream Muslim organisations". This anecdote helpfully dramatised the resentment of the protesters, who were certain that Islam was cracking down on free speech. And of course, it was all about Islam. Tatchell averred that he was really trying to protect all humans, and that "this is the difference between them and us".

Evan Harris MP made an incoherent and very tenuous speech along the lines that he is not a free speech absolutist and that certain kinds of speech should be prohibited if it calls for violence or if it demonises on group unfairly, er, or, er... He hinted darkly that there was a very large and efficacious "lobby" trying to clamp down on free speech and that the threat was bigger than it had been since the 1930s. As proof of this, he complained bitterly about the alleged threat to close the Birmingham Repertory Theatre which had featured the play Behzti which was met with protests by some local Sikhs, suggesting that the Home Office was backing the closure. In fact, the Home Office's line was exactly the same as his: that the play had a right to proceed as did the protests against it. He knows this, because the Home Office explained this view in response to his parliamentary question about it. So, what's with the big conspiracy theory about a sinister lobby of brown people taking over Whitehall?

Maryam Namazie (in menacing black and white, above) did her usual hectoring routine about Political Islam being the new Fascism (brown is the new black-shirt), and I'm not going to waste any time deconstructing her ridiculous pontifications. I did, however, want to take a step back in a future post and revisit what led to this. Before I do, though, can someone tell me if that pudgy, boyishly handsome chap with the notebook to the right is actually Johann Hari? It is, isn't it? And I wasn't even trying to take a picture of him either - it's just that his face sticks out like a very big, red, sore thumb.

Update: the BBC has obligingly edited out its own reporters' estimate of the crowd strength (about 300) and highlighted the organisers' estimate (of 600), even at the expense of the police estimate (of 190). Now, why doesn't the Stop the War Coalition get service like that?

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The "Hitler State", and other confected controversies. posted by Richard Seymour

Just by way of introduction: Rachel Corrie - even so harmless, so blonde, so white, so American and therefore pure a figure as she - is controversial in death. Having had her spinal chord severed and the life crushed out of her by an Israeli military bulldozer that was intent on destroying the home of a Palestinian family, her story is perhaps the only one that could persuade a large number of Americans that Israel is capable of serious wrong-doing. Her story is hardly more controversial than that, and yet quite predictably the knives were out from day one. She was a dopy, pampered, upper class, irresponsible liberal at best, a member of Hamas, a terrorist-lover, someone who actually burned America's flag. Israel turned on its own fog machine: the ISM were terrorists, or criminals, or protecting terrorists, and it was all an accident anyway, or it was actually a concrete slab that killed her, or they weren't really trying to plough the house down anyway, and so on. Partly because of this pack of lies, and partly because of cowardice and a blizzard of lobbying and hysteria and contrived outrage, the would-be New York stagers of a play about Rachel Corrie's life pulled it.

Such is the state of debate about the issue that even a film about the moral torment of some Israelis by Steven Spielberg sets the neoconservative op-ed writers into a flutter. These pillocks have always been assisted, of course, by charlatan left-Zionists like David Hirsh of Goldsmith's College, Norman Geras of the University of Manchester, Linda Grant of The Guardian and the idiots at Engage. I dealt previously with some of the bullshit that these slanderers are liable to put about, usually in the context of claims about rising antisemitism in Europe and allegations that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, either in theory or in practise or both. One thing that some of these creeps accused George Galloway of was describing Israel as a "Hitler State". Jaws yammered at that one for some time, although Hirsh resentfully admitted that he hadn't in fact said it.

Still, it occurs to me - what right would the defenders of a racist, murderous state founded on ethnic cleansing, and which preserves itself on the very principle of that ethnic cleansing, have to moralise about such a statement even if it had been made? Obviously, this line of complaint dovetails with the standard left-Zionist contention that criticism of Israel is unduly vigorous, excessive, and at the expense of attention to more compelling matters, which is no more impressive than the kind of special pleading that some made for Afrikaaner white supremacy during the 1980s. Aside from having ethnically cleansed the Palestinians, stolen their land and property, butchered them, oppressed them, waged aggressive wars against surrounding states and partaken of the spoils of others, stolen more land, exploited Palestinians where it has not simply driven them into militarised ghettos, usurped their water, bulldozed their houses, raided their refugee camps, bombed their towns and villages, committed repeated massacres with ongoing complicity, support, diplomatic cover, military and economic assistance from the West - aside from all of that and much more besides, Israel now stands poised to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from the West Bank by stealth, appropriation and expropriation, to segregate and/or drive out those Palestinian Arabs who reside within Israel and to subject those who remain in the smaller and smaller pockets of space left for them to starvation and immiseration. Meanwhile, child-killers are rewarded, torture centres are maintained, Israel threatens the use of its nuclear weapons on neo-Biblical pretexts, and open threats of ethnic cleansing are made with widespread support. Look at this:

A poll of attitudes among Israel's Jews towards their country's Arab citizens has exposed widespread racism, with large numbers favouring segregation and policies to encourage Arabs to leave the country.

The poll found that more than two-thirds of Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab. Nearly half would not allow an Arab in their home and 41% want segregation of entertainment facilities.

The survey also found 40% of Israel's Jews believe "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens", a policy advocated by some far-right parties in the run-up to next week's general election.


Among the poll's other findings was that 63% of Jewish Israelis consider their country's Arab citizens a "security and demographic threat to the state". Some 18% said they felt hatred when they heard someone speaking Arabic, and 34% agreed with the statement that "Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture".

This disastrous neo-colonial project with its ideology of blood and soil has almost finished off the Palestinians, is becoming more and more religiously and racially extreme, poses a mortal and enduring threat to surrounding countries, and even ultimately to itself (so the Christian fundamentalists hope, and so the purveyors of the Samson Option must believe). And we're supposed to worry about exactly what to call such a state? What would you prefer: The Volkish State? The State of Racial Purity and Blood Honour? Apocalypse Now? The Land of the Dead? You want to waste time claiming that Messrs Mearsheimer and Walt are antisemitic because of their slightly exaggerated estimation of the Israel lobby? That Finkelstein is "self-hating"? You really think it's important that opponents of Israel sometimes use intemperate language? Could you possibly be more puerile, and purblind? Could your idle sanctimony be more misplaced, more ridiculous, more thoughtless and parasitic on common complacency and racism? Could your casuistry and divagations in support of this repellent polity be more idiotic and transparent? Why be so obtuse? Why not just be honest: for you, Israel's morally upright supporters, the situation is no more urgent than your morning paper review. So, you have the luxury of fantasising about Israel's moral probity, its genesis in progressive idealism, its corruption because of those pesky Palestinians. You have the advantage of being able to wring your hands and pompously asseverate on the vices of Israel's opponents while the racist fanatics of the IDF do your dirty work for you. You can extemporise on Israel's victimhood, knowing that the media discourse will genuflect to this perfect absurdity almost without fail. You can attend rallies against the 'threat' posed by various Muslims, and not a hair on your head will worry. It's sick and stupid and racist, but because of the immense resources of your more reactionary allies, few will call you on it. Seriously, stop the waffling and just come out and say it.

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Ungrateful victims. posted by Richard Seymour

The locusts stripping Iraq bare are insulted. General Sir Michael Jackson, a Bloody Sunday criminal, a Kosovo war criminal and now a loyal goon in the mobbing of Baghdad, told ITN that he was "saddened that there does not seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives". ITN arranged a phone-in programme about the release of Norman Kember and the Christian peacekeepers who were with him. The question: "Do you believe Norman Kember was right to put his life in danger for the sake of the Iraqi people? Or, do do you believe he's been irresponsible?" Such a question has its own pre-written answers. It calls upon ingrained cultural prejudices, sullen racism, resentment against do-gooders, those who have the temerity, the audacity, to actually consider the lives of Iraqis worth protecting and respecting. The answers: "What did he hope to achieve by going to Iraq? Our troops are already there to keep the peace!" "He put the lives of our troops in more danger." "How much has his rescue cost the taxpayer?"


Asked to comment on the rescue of Briton Norman Kember, readers of Britain's Daily Telegraph generally excoriated Kember and the two Canadians as "irresponsible." A typical email read:

"No civilian has a `right' to enter a war zone to protest that war or dig up stories of abuse against the soldiers who are fighting it. These same soldiers must then go in and rescue these ridiculous people from certain death at the hands of their captors and risk their own lives doing it."

Terry Waite, whose own saintliness is matchless, has been called upon to question the tactics of the Christian peacemakers. And the Telegraph reports, Released hostages 'refuse to help their rescuers'. For The Times, the release of the hostages underlines "the warning against naive attempts by well-intentioned Western peace activists to ignore Iraq’s brutal politics and risk their lives."

Forget, if you like, that these peacemakers and pacifists specifically request that no military action is undertaken to release them in the event of a kidnap. The phoney excuses for this campaign of vilification are an affront to human intelligence. Heroism played no part in their release, unless you consider the folding of the mercenary group that held them an act of heroism. No risk - none at all - befell the troops who went in to the place of captivity and found the three hostages sitting alone and unguarded. If the activities of a group intent on protecting the human rights of Iraqis invites greater risk for the troops there, what does this say about the conduct of the troops? The crime, for these snivelling wretches, these utterly pathetic whiners, is to locate evidence of and draw attention to the crimes of the imperialists, to be insufficiently grateful to the warmongers, to refuse to be pliant and play the role of saps, media darlings who will testify to the brutality of Iraq, shower praise on the hired thugs, and tell tales of woe and regret. Surely, what General Jackson should ask for is an apology, not thanks. An apology from the irresponsible elements, the unruly pacifist dreamers, who dared to interfere with so delicate and responsible an operation as the pillaging of Iraq. The only Christian do-gooders welcome in Iraq are Franklin Graham's proselytisers, the Islam-is-evil cult that fulfils the historical mandate of the civilising mission. Christians for Bush, in short. Billy Graham led Bush to Christianity, Franklin delivered the invocation at his inauguration, and the missionaries they have dispatched to Iraq sanctify the holy war against evil, testify to its virtuosity, salute the brave boys and girls who bring death to the Lord's enemies, and fervently await the glorious rapture that is sure to come now that Israel has been established for almost sixty years into the age of television. Only they, with their masturbatory fantasies of Divine Genocide, are meritorious, they who will either convert the untermenschen or say amen and bow their heads respectfully as the Lord's conduits crush them. Christians for peace? Christians for human rights? Christians against racist war? Christians against the apocalypse? Don't you know how irresponsible that is?

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Unison Suspends Labour Link. posted by Richard Seymour

Red Pepper columnist Dave Osler reports:

Local government superunion Unison has finally twigged that there is a contradiction between pushing for the re-election of Labour councils at the same time as leading strike action against them. Here's a statement from Unison Labour Link, the body which handles Unison's relations with New Labour:

'In the circumstances of the union taking national industrial action against the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, named as regulator and decision maker regarding the LGPS [Local Government Pension Scheme - DO], it is felt that it is not appropriate or politically sensible to be organising, on one hand, for industrial action by the union while sending out letters and leaflets to many of the same members asking them to vote Labour.

'The decision has been taken to suspend our election campaigning work for Labour in the May elections while the industrial action is going on.

'Labour Link will not be giving any further donations or support to the campaign until we reach a solution to the present LGPS issue.'

Osler says that this is significant because Unison are effectively Labour loyalists and therefore "rank and file disaffection must be palpable". He's right, but I'll be more impressed if the union leadership calls a strike during the elections.

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ASBOs, "community", atomisation and a few other things for New Labour to choke on. posted by Richard Seymour

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) exist to criminalise behaviour that is not in fact criminal: the make imprisonable conduct that is perfectly legal and often relatively harmless. The remit of the law concerning ASBOs is so broad and vague that a judge might outlaw practically any kind of legal behaviour if it is deemed to have caused any form of "harassment, alarm or distress" to an onlooker, a pedestrian, a neighbour or anyone who does not reside within one's own household. For example, a suicidal woman who tried to throw herself from a bridge and had to be rescued by a passerby (who was undoubtedly distressed by the incident), was banned from going near railway lines, multi-storey carparks, rivers and what have you. Is an attempt to commit suicide anti-social? Apparently so. Is the tendency of young people to congregate at certain sites anti-social? It seems to be, for that too can be banned under an ASBO. And anyone who breaches an ASBO can be imprisoned. What about a fifteen year old boy with Tourette's syndrome given an ASBO instructing him not to swear? (The flesh-sizzling stench of behaviourism is never far away: the council claimed that the order had improved the boy's behaviour). Or - for those of you who imagine Britain to be a haven of free speech and secularism, what about a man threatened with an ASBO for joking about the death of the Pope? Or a ban on a teenager wearing a hoodie? Surveys show that many people are being imprisoned for behaviour that has not been imprisonable in the past, including begging and prostitution. The press reporting on this is misleading, since it tends to confuse an ASBO with a prohibition on behaviour that is already illegal, and also to imbricate reports of the use of ASBOs with resentful stories about Neighbours From Hell (See this collection of stories, for instance).

The policy of ASBOs is cruel and absurd, and is so in part because the definition of anti-social behaviour is so broad, so nebulous, so impenetrably miasmic that practically any form of behaviour can be made effectively illegal. These are the powers of a dictatorship, not a democracy. Louise Casey of the government's Anti-Social Behaviour Unit, offered this excuse: "We know for a fact that people perceive there to be high levels of antisocial behaviour; that this perception is greatly magnified in deprived areas - and we also know that perception is most often based on actual experience. We recently asked over 1,800 people in the most deprived wards of three cities if they knew what was meant by antisocial behaviour: 90% said they did. Most people living with antisocial behaviour would not, I think, thank us for filling these pages with a discussion about its definition. They know only too well what is meant by it and they want something done about it." Roughly translated, I take this to mean that since Ordinary Decent Hardworking Law-Abiding People perceive there to be antisocial behaviour and think they know what they mean by it, the government does not feel obliged to define it in order to outlaw it - it's an insulting non-sequitur, leavened as always by a prolier-than-thou, sentimentalised version of the kinds of salt-of-the-earth working class areas that the government pretends to be serving. (Actually, they daren't say "working class" any more as the phrase is too soiled with the notion of class politics. They prefer the whiter-than-white, Daz-sponsored "deprived communities"). And of course, the attention to public perception is quite telling: for what other reason would the law permit newspapers to "name and shame" individuals given ASBOs, to publish photographs and personal details about those served with an order, even children?

Hoodies wearers demonstrate in Elephant and Castle.

The crushing irony is that New Labour's relentless production of its Master-Signifier - "community" - comes precisely as it destroys communities, and lays the basis for further atomisation and alienation. What is more, the policies that are formulated under this rubric are specifically designed not to solve the problem but to repress its symptoms with brute authoritarianism. Having abandoned meaningful reform of capitalism in the interests of the human beings most oppressed and exploited by it, New Labour tries to reform the most oppressed and exploited in the interests of capital (perhaps ideologically represented by a small shop-owner in New Labour's petit-bourgeois "community").

It used to be stereotypically held that depression was most common among middle-class housewives, whose aspirations had outrun their actual station, whose sense of worth was belied by a largely sedentary lifestyle that did not compare favourably to their dreams of opulence and status. It is now fairly conclusively established that depression is most common among the working class, and particularly among women. This is caused, some such as pop-psychoanalyst Oliver James argue, by an environmentally-conditioned low-serotonin state, one that is brought about by low status, and which correlates to higher levels of depression, aggression, paranoia, violence and alcoholism. While women are more inclined to turn their violence inward, men are likely to take it outside for a drink and a fight. Booze, fags and illicit drugs are a form of self-medication (often self-defeating, since alcohol, tobacco and MDMA tend to reduce serotonin in the long run). On top of which, the increasing competitiveness in schools imbues most pupils with an exaggerated sense of failure and worthlessness which they take into adulthood. It is not exactly controversial to suppose that since the worst off in society experience the worst of society most often, they will tend to suffer from more stress, more anxiety, more depression and therefore react in the quite predictable ways mentioned above. What the government has done is to take all the manifestations of that, including what are obviously conditions of medical distress and penury, and criminalise it - in such a way, moreover, that the burden of evidence is drastically reduced (from 'beyond reasonable doubt' to 'the balance of probabilities').


At the same time as their policies increase inequality, at the same time as they allow the destruction of the manufacturing sector to continue at great cost to working class communities. New Labour's education policies meanwhile encourage this sense of failure for most children: selection means rejection, and it usually means rejection for the poorest. By expanding the advantages already enjoyed by upper and middle class parents, New Labour will compound the correlation between the parents' wealth and the pupil's achievement. They will make education less worthwhile for many, and increase the rate of truancy - and that, too, they seek to countervail with callous authoritarianism, threatening the parents of truant children with jail - as if it was strictly and exclusively the fault of parents that many children look at their school and see nothing in it for them. To add to that, the growing culture of testing as a result of New Labour's policies is compounding the increasing trend of depression among young people. At the same time as this toxic policy mix rips off, represses and disables a generation of future adults, the ridiculous obeisance to the upper-bourgeois obsession with property values, and the attempt to destroy council housing, is creating a huge layer of hidden homeless, now in the hundreds of thousands and expected to continue to rise on current projections. If those homeless people have the audacity to ask someone for money, they can be served with an ASBO. If they breach the ASBO, even once, they can be jailed. This has already happened several times.

It is no surprise that a government wedded to neoliberalism, dedicated to waging a ruthless class war against the domestic working class, not to mention an imperial war for the preservation of Britain's vicarious Empire status in the world (as America's loyal lieutenant), has to resort to the old jackboot. And the explanation of this tendency in terms of the lingua franca of communitarianism (cf The Respect Action Plan) is also entirely predictable, reporting as it does an ersatz rejection of individualism even as the ideological coordinates of Thatcherism - economic individualism and social authoritiarianism - are conserved. The community is the state.

The mind reels, and the stomach churns. They dare, that disgusting shower of unctuous platitude-merchants and wealth-worshipping sycophants, to prate of "shiraz-quaffers", and "bruschetta-munchers", and "woolly Hampstead liberals". They dare to counterpose this imaginary cultural elite to the imaginary Ordinary Man on the Street for whom New Labour, according to Peter Hain, is "a lifeline" and who "wants something done" about crime so long as it is what New Labour wants, and who doesn't go in for the abstractions and argot of Guardian-reading intellectuals. Lock them up, I say. Let these ruthless social vandals experience the increasingly overcrowded prisons that their policies have created. Better still, let this crowd of sociopaths, careerists and fuck-ups eke out their days on the Big Brother house, from whence none of them will be evicted.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Daniel Bensaïd on the protests in France posted by bat020

Latest Socialist Worker includes an interview with Daniel Bensaïd, the Marxist philosopher, longstanding LCR activist and author of the fascinating book Marx for Our Times. Here's an edited excerpt:

As someone who took part in the mobilisations of May 1968, what do you think are the principal similarities and differences between those events and what’s happening today?

In 1968, the spark was a demonstration against the war in Vietnam. The themes were very internationalist – solidarity with Vietnam, and with the German and Polish students. Along with these issues were others like the question of mixed university halls of residence.

The present movement is directly based on a social question – the destruction of workplace regulations and the generalised casualisation of employment, which is common both to youth in education and to workers. The question of the link, and not just solidarity, between the two is therefore immediate.

The link is natural, and the labour movement is less closed, or even hostile, than it was towards students in 1968. At the time this hostility, or wariness, was fostered in particular by the workerist demagoguery of the Communist Party and of the CGT trade union federation, which controlled the big bastions of the labour movement. Today relations are not so closed.

Read the whole thing here. And there's shitloads more coverage here.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

US targets civilians. posted by Richard Seymour

That the US invaded and occupied Iraq and is therefore responsible for the deaths caused by that is a truism. That they also bear responsibility for the death squads (Special Police Commandos) that they created and dispatched is so straightforward that any controversy supposedly aroused by the proposition is entirely contrived. And that when the US sends drones into bomb civilian neighbourhoods and buildings, when it seals off cities and devastates what remains inside, when it attacks hospitals, destroys water and electricity and uses banned chemical weapons, war crime tribunals beckon.

Tonight, C4 complements the series of reports about US massacres that have been coming out of late, with some footage of its own. Doctors for Iraqi Society (now Doctors for Iraq) have been reporting much of this for months, but Western journalists often difficult - even where there is a will - to report these attacks. Some of the evidence is now becoming available. First, The Guardian notes that Iraqi policemen have reported a US murder of eleven civilians (referred to as an execution):

Iraqi police have accused American soldiers of executing 11 Iraqi civilians, including four children and a six-month-old baby, in a raid on Wednesday near the city of Balad, it was reported yesterday.
The allegations are contained in an Iraqi police report on the killings, obtained and published by the Knight Ridder news agency

An Iraqi police report. One assumes that it was not intended for this to be made public by the police, who are after all dependent on the US and work with them.

This comes as Time magazine has obtained footage showing fifteen bodies killed after a US attack, apparently shot to death by American troops in 'revenge' for an insurgent attack. The US initially tried to claim that the fifteen had been killed by a resistance bomb, but have been obliged to admit that this was not the case. The video footage shows that all of them were killed by gunfire.

C4 has its own footage from a hospital in Haditha which doctors there say was attacked by US troops. The hospital was blood-pattered and perforated with bullet-holes. Of course, Iraqi doctors and eyewitnesses have said for some time that hospitals and ambulances come under fire from US troops, and a number of these attacks have been brazenly admitted to - not least the Nazzal Emergency Hospital, which was bombed because it was supposed to be a "centre of propaganda" that "inflated casualty estimates". As I've pointed out before, the overrunning of another hospital in Fallujah was reported directly on the front page of the New York Times when it happened - but not as a war crime, which it is under the Geneva Conventions, and under the US War Crimes Act would lead to executions for all those who participated in the actions from top to bottom.

If the US openly admits to war crimes, the media doesn't feel like confronting that awkward fact. They'd much rather minimise it or displace responsibility. Hence, Time says of its revelations that the main question is whether the "Marines killing of 15 non-combatants was an act of legitimate self-defence or negligent homicide". That the question should be posed in this way - that there should even be a question - is a rough guide to how willing the Western media is to accurately report atrocities commited by 'our' side.

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