Wednesday, December 31, 2008
This isn't the time to speak of ethics, but of precise intelligence. Whoever gave the instructions to send 100 of our planes, piloted by the best of our boys, to bomb and strafe enemy targets in Gaza is familiar with the many schools adjacent to those targets - especially police stations. He also knew that at exactly 11:30 A.M. on Saturday, during the surprise assault on the enemy, all the children of the Strip would be in the streets - half just having finished the morning shift at school, the others en route to the afternoon shift.
This is an important insight. Israel's control of the situation is immense. They have detailed intelligence, sattelite imagery (which they like to show off at press conferences), sophisticated guidance technology, etc. It has planned this assault for months in advance, and its leadership is ostentatiously proud of how all the branches of military and intelligence, from Shin Bet to the Southern Command, have gelled in this attack. If an assault on major public facilities is timed to coincide with children being in the streets, this is not accidental: it is intended to leave a number of children lying in their own blood, and terrorise others.
So far, we have been given the impression in media reports that the majority of those killed have been in some sense not civilians. The UN has suggested that of its estimate of 320 deadths, about 62 are civilians (see chart embedded in this news story). I had assumed that this was because the majority of those killed were policemen and, for some reason, we are all going along with Tel Aviv in not considering this a civilian profession. However! Apparently, I was under-estimating the creativity of the statisticians, for here's a weird thing (spotted by Keith): the UN's tally of the civilian dead "does not include civilian casualties who are men". There is no such thing as a civilian adult male in Gaza! According to this supposed scourge of Israel, any Gazan male with a bit of size on him is fair game.
Israeli power is, of course, extremely creative in determining the fields of law, morality and knowledge within which it operates. After all, when the IDF slaughtered women outside a mosque in plain view not only of the public but of the cameras, it was immediately explained by Israeli spokespeople and their apologists that the women were in fact part of a cunning Hamas military operation to stop morally upright Israeli men from killing morally degenerate Palestinian men. So, they were a legitimate target. And besides, it was hinted, why do they get to wear the veil? What are they hiding? So, if needs must, the very category of civilian, adult or child, male or female, can be conjured out of existence. And then Lt Gen Ashkenazi can come out to the podium and explain: "our intelligence shows that 1.5 million terrorists were eliminated today..."
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Much of Hamas' current military strategy is based on training received from Hezbollah in the early 1990s. Prior to that, their range of tactics was quite crude, the weapons technology as primitive as a few knives. The expulsion of 415 Hamas members from Gaza following the First Intifada led to them being taken under Hezbollah's wing in southern Lebanon. There they acquired the means of resistance that eventually enabled Hezbollah to free (most of) southern Lebanon of Israeli occupation: the Katyusha rockets, suicide attacks and the kidnapping of opposing soldiers. When the exiled cadre were able to return to Gaza in 1993, they put those tactics to work.
They could measure the success of such means not only by the effect they had on Israeli opinion, but also on whether it improved their standing among Palestinians, especially in light of the serious deterioration of Fatah and the creeping death of the 'peace process' under which colonisation was proceeding apace. At the same time as Hamas was establishing itself as the ideological successor to one-state nationalism, it also announced itself as the bearer of popular armed struggle, asserting the seriousness of its position through successful attacks and raids. Its suicide attacks proved that poorly funded and armed Palestinian groups could inflict substantial casualties on IDF troops as well as 'soft targets', killing dozens in a single attack. Between 1993 and 1997, the first wave of Hamas' campaign, 20 suicide attacks killed 175 people. As Robert Pape has shown, Hamas attacks were sometimes effective in achieving limited, tactics goals, such as a partial withdrawal from Gaza in 1995, or the release of political prisoners. This didn't always happen: the 1997 attacks only produced a new wave of repression under Netanyahu, which was able to do some substantial, if temporary, damage to Hamas' political and military infrastructure.
Throughout the Second Intifada, from September 2000 to November 2006, Hamas combined all three methods: suicide attacks, the abduction of Israeli soldiers, and rocket attacks. Suicide attacks were sometimes co-ordinated with others groups such as Islamic Jihad or the PFLP, but mainly carried out independently of any other group. They were sometimes in retaliation for Israeli assassinations, but their supposed deterrent effect was mainly intended to undercut support for Israel's repression more generally, as well as to destroy infrastructure, attack settler-colonists, and kill troops where possible. The abduction of soldiers included, obviously, the successful capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, whom we are all supposed to feel sorry for. And the rockets have been used periodically, largely in response to renewed Israeli offensives. Like suicide bomb belts, they are cheap and easy to make. Unlike suicide bombs, they don't need live humans attached as mobile guidance systems. Of course, these were not the only methods used. Hamas repeatedly demonstrated a knack for peace offensives, as when in June 2003, at the height of Israel's repression, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad called a 45 day unilateral armistice.
Hamas has not claimed responsibility for a suicide attack since January 2005, when four people were killed at a Gush Katif checkpoint. The last major abduction was Shalit. Rockets have been used mainly in Gaza during the period of occupation, and since then in clustered attacks responding to Israeli assaults. In the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal from Gaza, the rocket-fire diminished dramatically. The number of rockets fired soared following a new round of Israeli incursions into Gaza in mid-2006, which culminated in the murder of the Ghaliya family, and during Israel's war on Lebanon, and then again during subsequent assaults on Gaza. Obviously, the recent six month 'lull' was the occasion for another decline in their use.
One cannot treat the rocket fire in isolation, or as simply a desperate military gesture of lobbing missiles in the hope that someone, somewhere cops it. As Mishal and Sela have pointed out (The Palestinian Hamas, 2000), Hamas' military leadership is entirely instrumental about the use of violence: if its immediate ends can be obtained through peaceful measures, they will opt for those; if Israeli leaders make that impossible, they will use whatever military means are at their disposal. The rockets are expected to create fear in proportion to their number and their pervasive effect. Within a certain radius, they can hit anywhere and anyone. They are one component of a strategy designed to put pressure on Israeli society and undermine the government, showing that it cannot protect its citizens if it chooses to kill Palestinians.
It remains questionable how effective they are, however. The fact that the occasional person might actually get killed by such a weapon is unlikely to result in pressure on Tel Aviv to adopt a more humane policy toward the Palestinians: quite the reverse. Indeed, there can be such popular support for war on Gaza only because it is tacitly acknowledged that the provoked response is unlikely to be very deadly or frightening. If Israelis were really that terrified of the rockets, they would be considerably less gung-ho about blowing the shit out of Ay-rabs. The basic inefficacy of Qassams means that the IDF has always had an array of ultra-violent responses available to them. Back in 2004, before the Gaza pull-out, the doctrine espoused by Major-General Shamni was "stimulus and response": the IDF would try to stimulate attacks and then, with the evil-doers exposed, assassinate them. You don't provoke attacks in that fashion if you think the rockets are truly that menacing. Today, it seems that the doctrine of "stimulus and response" has been elevated to a whole new plateau: having provoked Hamas into renewing rocket fire after months of ceasefire, they created an excuse to launch this vicious operation. The current assault is demonstrating, inadvertently, that the rockets are becoming more effective, with longer reach into Israel. Five Israelis have been killed during the assault, one a soldier. However, this is little compared to Israel's ability to turn dozens of sites to rubble overnight, and kill hundreds in a few days.
The best hope that Gaza has is if the riots and protests still erupting across the West Bank turn into a full-scale Third Intifada, the protests in Egypt become the basis for the final demolition of the Mubarak regime, and the rest of the Middle East explodes in rebellion.
Stop Gaza Massacre
Hands Off Gaza: Stop the Bombing: Free Palestine Nearest tube Embankment.
Assemble 12:30pm Embankment, WC2
Called by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, British Muslim Initiative and many other organisations.
Israel has launched a terror bombing against the people of Gaza, with over 350 dead and many more injured.
Not content after 3 days of devastating slaughter, the Israeli government promises more barbarity to come.
The head of the Israeli military says, "This is only the beginning".
The people of Gaza are asking, if this is only the beginning, what will the end look like?
Israel's decision to launch its devastating attack on Gaza on a Saturday was a "stroke of brilliance", the country's biggest selling paper Yediot Aharonot crowed: "the element of surprise increased the number of people who were killed". The daily Ma'ariv agreed: "We left them in shock and awe"
Ran HaCohen reports some of the same cheery elan:
Yediot Ahronoth had six columnists on its front page and several more inside. The war's cheerleaders. Nahum Barnea, an over-appreciated "critical" journalist, expressed his view about the bloodbath rather succinctly: "better late than never." Dov Weissglass, "closely linked to the peace process" as Wikipedia puts it, was similarly outspoken: his column was called "Do Not Stop," with an exclamation mark to make things clear. "It should be just the beginning," he advises to the very government that has just vowed "it's just the beginning."
Well, apparently, "the element of surprise" was amplified by the fact that Israel attacked during a 48-hour truce brokered with Hamas. There is a bit of evil, Machiavellan genius in this: break one truce, blame the other side for breaking it, then promise to honour another truce, then use the interval provided to launch a devastating series of attacks - and then blame the other side for having brought it on themselves with some feeble rocket fire. Olmert now says he won't even talk about a ceasefire, and intends to pursue Hamas with an "iron fist". And when he's done pulverising Gaza, he will explain, poker-faced, that he regrets he has no partner for peace.
Last night Israeli aircrafts targeted more than 20 places in Gaza city, let alone other areas. Let me tell you what I knew from those bombings:
1- A thirds attack on my neighbour the former preventive security department. One missile did not explode and fall in front of my apartment building just meters from the ambulance station.
2- Two major building were leveled to the floor at the Islamic University of Gaza. One building was main laboratories and the other was lecture rooms buildings. Each building was 4 floors high and a basement.
3- A home next to the home of Ismael Haniyeh at the Beach refugee camp was leveled to the ground by attack from air and sea simultaneously.
4- Two mosques were leveled to the ground by air raids. 10 people died inside, among them were five daughters of Anwar Balousha as they might have took refuge is the mosque as their home was unsafe! So far, six mosques have been demolished
5- A building for passport department at the ministry of interior was put down this morning.
6- The building of the Ministry of Culture was leveled to the floors this morning.
7- A building for the Prime Minster's office was totally demolished in an air raid.
8- The main building of Civil Administration has been totally demolished.
9- Several attack were executed on places that I did not know and the local media could not cover. I saw helicopter launching their attacks at night.
10- Jabalia youth sports center (UNRWA facility) was hit directly from the air.
11- An empty house near Sarayya government center was demolished by air raid.
12- A moving vehicle was targeted and destroyed killing two men and a child in Zaitoun neighbourhood.
13- Two sister in the high school were returning home from school died together by air bombing.
14- Several police stations were hit again.
15- Journalists and reporters were officially informed by Israel to stay in their places and offices otherwise they will be targeted. This is to stop media coverage of what is taking place in Gaza.
16- Two hospitals were targeted. Fata hospital is still new and did not start working but hit from air, another small private hospital, Al-Weaam in Tel el-Hawwa was targeted as well!
17- Biet Hanoun municipality building was destroyed last night.
18- Rafah governorate building was demolished last night.
19- Rafah municipality building was targeted last night.
20- Hashash neighbourhood in Rafah was attacked twice last night. Each time with two missiles. The second hit demolished 15 adjacent homes. Many people died in the attack.
21- A playground in zaitoun neighbourhood was hit by a missile.
22- Israeli aircraft targeted 40 tunnels at the Rafah border, destroying all of them.
23- Beach Camp police station was totally destroyed.
24- The palace of the former Egyptian governor of Gaza was totally destroyed from air and sea missiles!
Department of English
Faculty of Arts & Humanities
Al-Azhar University of Gaza
Monday, December 29, 2008
The slogan of West Bank protesters, who have been attacked and injured in the dozens by Israeli troops. Protests took place in Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria. In London, and cities across the UK, there was a repeat of yesterday's demonstrations. There were also protests in Paris.
Btw, anyone expecting a fair hearing of protests in the media should consult the News Sniffer, which tracks changes in online news stories. It caught the BBC 'disappearing' 1,300 protesters yesterday.
Still, the myths persisted throughout the assaults on Jenin and Rafah, throughout the bulldozings and massacres, until Arafat died under seige. Mahmoud Abbas is so craven that it is difficult to depict him as a sinister rejectionist. Instead, Sharon insisted that Abbas use the scant resources of the Palestinian Authority to pursue a war against Hamas, even as the settlement building continued and the wall was erected, with Palestinian farmland being destroyed and the economy crushed. This was itself one of the causes of the surge in support for Hamas which, contrary to prevalent misconceptions, was far more pragmatic in its ability to work with other forces, such as the PFLP (despite the latter's occasional sectarianism).
Since Hamas sees the whole of historic Palestine as an Islamic waqf, and does not concede the legitimacy of Zionism's claim to any part of the territory, it was easy to construe them as rejectionist. They adhere to the principles of the old Palestinian national movement, before the PLO embarked on its long swerve to accomodation, those of Palestinian nationalism and popular armed struggle. So, when Ismail Haniyeh was sworn in as Prime Minister of Palestine, it was simple to dismiss him and the movement he represents as a terrorist, enemy of peace, etc. Yet, everything about Hamas' subsequent conduct demonstrates their pragmatic attitude, including the attempts to forge a national unity government with Fatah despite the latter's acceptance of Israeli weapons and money in its pursuit of a civil war against Hamas.
Despite an international blockade and opprobrium from the Israeli leadership, Hamas repeatedly signalled its willigness to accept a two-state settlement. It imposed a unilateral ceasefire on its own cadre, refusing to be drawn by repeated Israeli provocations. A crippling blockade, habitual violence and naked attempts to destabilise the elected government did not deter Hamas from this course. Only this year, after a US-Israeli sponsored armed coup attempt in Gaza, a successful putsch in the West Bank, and repeated incursions by the IDF, Hamas offered Israel a ten year ceasefire if it could abide by the terms of a two-state settlement: this offer, just like every other peace overture, was contemptuously dismissed. And now, most recently, a ceasefire agreed on in June has been flagrantly overturned by Israel. No one noticed, at least no one who writes for a newspaper. The myth that Hamas ended the truce as just the latest example of its innate rejectionism now underwrites a depraved assault which has killed 300 people and is about to become a ground invasion. Israel's intransigence, brutality, recklessness, refusal to work with anyone or negotiate in any meaningful way, will continue to be projected onto its opponents for as long as Israel has the superior propaganda resources, and for as long as the colonial trope of 'native fanaticism' governs discursive responses to occupation and resistance.
Update: Dennis Perrin notes "how all the excuses for slaughtering Palestinians when the PLO was Hitler are now being used to tar Hamas. They reject compromise, are bottomless Jew haters, are addicted to death, want to drive Israel into the sea, etc."
The Qassam rockets were being used as one component of an array of military tactics deployed by Gazan groups before the pull-out, the Gush Katif colonies being the prominent target. This was a response to a wave of violence and expulsions in which, for example, 13,350 residents of Rafah had their homes and life belongings destroyed in the year preceding the withdrawal, courtesy of Israeli tanks and Caterpillar bulldozers. Parts of Gaza came to resemble Grozny. The Israelis frequently attacked ambulances, at one point using the argument that UNRWA had allowed Qassam rockets to be loaded on board one such vehicle (this turned out to be a lie, but it is still repeated on many a media outlet and website). The vast majority of casualties from their use date back to the period of formal colonialism. After the withdrawal, the rate at which these were used diminished dramatically. Their use has spiked in response to serial atrocities against Palestinians, such as the slaughter of the Ghaliya family on the Gaza beach, (in which Hamas broke an eighteen month unilateral ceasefire).
There were few such rockets fired during the six-month ceasefire, even though Israel didn't respect its terms, but their use was increased again as Israel broke the truce on November 4th (burn that date into your brain and remember it next time someone tells you that those nasty Hamas thugs wouldn't renew the ceasefire). Now, there are legitimate arguments about both the efficacy and ethics of using such weapons. To my mind, they have very little going for them as a tactic of resistance. But the apparently widespread belief that Qassam rockets are the vindictive and jubilant response of sneering Palestinian jihadists to Israeli mushiness is not justified by any evidence. In fact, if the aim were truly to end Qassam rocket fire, the logical option would to be engage in a unilateral ceasefire and invite Hamas to enter into a process of dialogue. But that brings us to another myth, the myth of Hamas rejectionism, which is for another post.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
But there are always grounds for hope. Before yesterday’s attacks, there were some signs that disillusion with Hamas was setting in among the people of Gaza. Partly because of the continuing Israeli blockade, Hamas has failed to deliver higher living standards. Some Gazans even complain that life was better under the Israeli occupation. (via Jamie)
The paper that likes to sermonise about Third World hunger and poverty now openly advises us that the deliberate imposition by blockade of malnutrition and miserable poverty on 1.5m people, which has been condemned by the same relief groups and UN personnel that the Indie often relies on in its exhortations, provides "grounds for hope". So atrocious was the blockade that it made some Gazans compare it unfavourably to Israeli occupation, when there was at least an economy to speak of, and this is "grounds for hope". It is important to recognise that the tolerance for such barbarity, the ability to say such things in public without embarrassment or shame, is a function of the dehumanisation of Hamas. Those who imagine they can defend Palestine while conceding the lies about Hamas - that they are fascist, murderous brutes who reject dialogue, rather than a legitimate resistance movement who have consistently offered dialogue and ceasefire even under the most unpromising circumstances - are the victims of some strange illusions.
Still, this is comparatively civilized. Soon, the tanks that are gathering around the borders of Gaza, this "enemy entity", will be rolling in. As hundreds of deaths turn into thousands, the argument will be heard that no nation can tolerate missile attacks being launced against its civilians (exactly the same argument that was offered to justify the slaughter in Lebanon, and just as disingenuous). The racist logic of this argument is obvious enough: it will never occur to these people to ask why Palestinians should tolerate being occupied and confined, subject to regular killings and a military blockade. We will also be reminded that Hamas broke a six-month ceasefire, although Israel never respected its terms and finally broke that truce on 4th November long before Hamas declared that it wouldn't be renewed (as there was no longer a truce to be renewed). Perhaps as the war grinds on, someone will call for "lights out in Gaza" until the Qassam missiles stop and Gazans depose their Islamofascist masters. "You want 1948, we can bomb you back to 1948." Etc. Maybe we will be advised that Gazans are being collectively punished because they bear collective responsibility for supporting Hamas' slow-burning genocide against the Jews. Maybe someone will say that not enough people are dead, because too many jihadists are still alive. There might even be a benefit concert for poor, captive Sderot, with Paul McCartney singing about freedom and Maureen Lipman channelling Joyce Grenfell. Public discourse is about to get very ugly.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Here is a seasonal treat for the yapping terriers of the Israel fan club: Israeli air strikes have killed
Consider: according to the UN, the Israeli blockade has resulted in Palestinians receiving running water only once every five to seven days. UNRWA ran out of flour some time ago, and Gaza's bakeries have warned they will have to close down. No more bread. 70% of Gazans already had no reliable source of food. Poverty is soaring, with nine out of ten Gazans living below the poverty line. Gazan families have been forced to eat grass to survive. And if those people aren't sufficiently careful in their selection of pasture, they may end up taking home a poisoned batch, because raw sewage has been pumping out into the streets and into the soil since the blockade was first imposed.
The purpose of this sadistic policy, punctuated by frequent bouts of blood-letting, is supposedly to produce an end to the Qassam rocket attacks. If this appears to be a feeble excuse for imposing such misery on one and a half million people, bear in mind that at least the Qassams - unlike Saddam's WMD arsenal - actually exist. By the standard of our times, Israel's casus belli is indisputable. And if sanctions on Iraq killed up to a million people, what is a little 'diet' in Gaza? As for legality, the policy has been supported by the Israeli supreme court, whose impartiality in the matter could hardly be more obvious. Am I over-doing it with the heavy irony here? The true purpose of the blockade is the same as that which lay behind the blockade first imposed upon the election of Hamas, with the support of the Quartet. And it is the same as that behind the coup-plotting that led to Dahlan's gangs being booted out of Gaza while Fatah seized control of the West Bank. It is to force the population of Gaza into changing their political behaviour and voting for a tame leadership that will, as Fatah did throughout the 1990s, tolerate Israel's regular incursions and the growing network of colonies meshed together by 'Jewish Only' roads (not to mention Jewish Only land). It is to accomplish by gradual and insidious means what the brutes of the Israeli far right would like to accomplish in another six day war: politicide. The final, successful destruction of Palestine as a potential nation.
The options for a 'Jewish state' determined to maintain itself as such, with a majority no lower than 80%, are few. Obviously, any recognition of Palestine as a free nation is anathema to a wide swathe of Israeli opinion, including much elite opinion. And Israeli leaders have never shown any sign that they are willing to contemplate this. Just as surely as Gaza is an "enemy entity" today, a truly independent Palestine would be a mortal enemy entity, calling into question by its very existence the whole narrative and rationale behind a 'Jewish state' built out of blood and iron in an Arab country. However, the incorporation of a Palestinian Arab population into Israel would undermine the labyrinthine racial hierarchy that Israel's leaders have so assiduously constructed. What commentators are apt to describe as the "demographic timebomb" is a colonial one: how to get the territory and at the same dispose of the troublesome population. In a previous era, it might have entailed little difficulty just to drive them out in a bloody purge and force the surviving refugees to try and integrate as discarded untermenschen into societies run by bribed police states. As Benny Morris has said, it would have been much easier for Israel had it simply completed the task in 1948. Now, they've got to answer to the soft-headed humanitarianism of modern television audiences, and they've got to pretend to be the victims. All they have to assist them in this task is a few measly rockets being lobbed into southern Israel to little effect. They don't even have the suicide attacks that characterised the Second Intifada, during which time the decontextualised focus on explosions ensured that people in the West largely missed the fact that Israel was knocking of Palestinian civilians at a much higher rate than the suicide attacks were killing Israelis. With so little to assist its PR plight, no wonder Israel needs its overseas contingent of berserkers more than ever. Just watch, and wait: as Israel ramps up its attacks on Gaza, the permanently livid fellowship of offshore Middle Earth colonists will be spitting about Sderot, about terrorism, about Islam, about the world's unfair bias against the plucky little Levantine racists, about anything in the world except what is being done and what has been done, deliberately and brutally, to Palestine.
Update: Protest tomorrow, 28 December at 2pm, outside the Israeli embassy.
Friday, December 26, 2008
American Football by Harold Pinter
We blew the shit out of them.
We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!
Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.
Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.
We did it.
Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
"Sooner or later, black, Iraqi, Mexican, Indigenous, and Palestinian children will emerge from dank hotel rooms, sweatshops, bunkers, and colonial prions. They will link arms and compose the following letter:
'Dear Concerned Liberals: We are humans who do not want to be props in ungenerous moral formulations. We are margin-dwellers. We are the dispossessed. We are your familiar strangers. We carry silent histories on our shoulders. We have tons of behalfs that you would like to speak on. We are entrapped in gruesome oxymora. We eagerly await the day when the powerless cease to be indispensably expendable.'" (Steven Salaita, The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, Zed Books, 2008)
I'm afraid I was too late with my entry to the ReadySteadyBooks symposium, but I did want to draw attention to David S Roediger's How Race Survived US History. It is an extremely timely argument about the enduring significance of 'race' in American society, as well as a sophisticated polemic against the complacent assumption that the Obama phenomenon spells the end of American racism. As the title implies, Roediger is interested not only in the origins of racism, and the way that it has been perpetuated and resisted, but particularly in how it managed to weather challenges, from the revolution to the civil war and 'jubilee', to the civil rights movement and its long-term results, including the election of Obama. After all, as he points out, "black males born 27 years after the most important civil rights acts, are estimated to have a 29% chance of imprisonment, more than seven times that of whites born in the same year". 224 years after the Declaration of Independence with its "created equal" clause, blacks and Latinos suffered poverty almost triple that of the white population. Over half a century after Brown v the Board of Education, 'apartheid schools' still flourish in America. Obviously race does matter, despite the emotional eulogies that followed Obama's victory.
To understand this, Roediger investigates the origins of 'possessive whiteness' as a legal and political doctrine that helped circumvent class struggle in the Virginia colonies and elsewhere, the Lockean arguments for slavery and colonialism, and the use of 'race' to manage and stratify the labour market. He takes issue with the simplistic arguments of the free market right, that racism was somehow inappropriate for capitalist development, acting as fetters to successful accumulation. According to the neoconservative canon, capitalism undermines racism by promoting abstract labour (everyone's muscle is the same regardless of skin pigmentation), and preferring supposedly more efficient free labour, But capital, Roediger notes, has profited most not by reducing the workforce to 'abstract labour' as per a certain blinkered marxist orthodoxy, but through the production of differences within labour - differences organised by gender, nation, race, and religion. This is crucial for the development of 'white republicanism', in which the egalitarian aspirations of white, working class Americans were successfully redirected into support for a hierarchical and exploitative system based on white supremacy. As for preferring free labour, slaver capital generated immense profit from the commodities whom they worked and traded. Northern capital also benefited, as did some of the North's elite universities. Northern liberals were as a result unwilling to seriously challenge that structure - so much so that in the early years of the Civil War, Lincoln insisted that defecting slaves were in fact nothing more than "contraband" who should be restored to their owners. It was only the pressures of military necessity on Lincoln, and a mass strike by slaves themselves, with some 200,000 of them leaving their erstwhile masters and rallying to the Union cause, that effecrtively guaranteed abolition.
Capital, north and south, would come to bitterly regret the experiment in democracy in the Reconstruction period. Though it was not possible to re-impose slavery, the new nationalism of the turn of the century did unite liberals and reactionaries in support of depriving African Americans of the vote (and thus of means to ameliorate their situation), and introducing segregation. There is, of course, a great deal of bad news for liberals in this book. Drawing partially on the work of Ira Katznelson, Roediger details the impact that official liberalism's collusion with white supremacy meant that federal programmes advocated under the New Deal were also means by which forms of segregation and deepening racial inequality were advanced. The racist components of the New Deal and, later, the Fair Deal are given a robust airing here. Even the exigencies of the Cold War, and the need to respond to decolonization, did not lead to mainstream liberals being willing to fundamentally challenge the one-party, racist southern power bloc until LBJ took bold measures that both abolished legal segregation and introduced reforms to undermine the poverty that, as he knew, was partly a legacy of past Democratic administrations. Though inherently self-limiting because these programmes depended on prolonged growth, and were deprived of the billions that were wasted on committing genocide in Vietnam, these reforms mattered enough that the Republican party made itself their most aggressive opponents. It was at this point that older racist discourses were re-coded in the language of the market, with welfare and affirmative action treated as 'reverse racism', as if existing inequality was meritocratic. Moreover, racial inequality was reinterpreted in terms of the mythology of the bootstraps, in which all immigrant groups in America do eventually embrace the American way of doing business, gain status and become mainstream: those that do not must be dysfunctional. It became an article of faith among rightward-moving liberals and the right, especially after Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report on inner city unrest, that black families lacked the virtues that made their white counterparts more efficient. Thus, a whole set of discriminatory practises in the economy and in criminal justice were naturalised as the efficient product of a free market and a just society, and by and large the Democrats capitulated to this discourse.
One odd weakness of the book is that the focus on domestic US history tends to leave the international, or rather imperial, component of American racism under-examined. Roediger is quite clear that racism was forged in a context of empire. However, the discussion of racism in US foreign policy, though by no means marginal to the topic, is rather slight in the book. A crucial aspect of liberal nationalism in the 'Progressive' era was the overcoming of American sectionalism by binding the Southern racial order to an imperial policy largely driven by Northern liberals. Roediger lucidly details the complex relationship between Cold War anti-communism and anti-racism, in a way that is much more sophisticated than Mary Dudziak's arguments. However, ne aspect of that anticommunism in power that Roediger overlooks was the way in which racist tropes permeated foreign policy thinking. One of the major headaches of post-war US governments was the achievement of what they frequently referred to as "premature independence". Eisenhower insisted that Arabs could not understand "our ideas of freedom or human dignity". This style of denigration returned in a 2003 State Department document which insisted that "the towel heads can’t hack" democracy. In this connection, it is surely telling that Obama has been more often vilified as an 'Arab' or a 'Muslim' than as an African American. Imperial culture must have a great deal to do with the survival of race in American history. Even with this caesura in mind, however, Roediger’s book provides a compelling and concise answer to the question of how race has persisted, and why it will survive the Obama phenomenon.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Vanity, trying to arouse a good opinion of oneself, and even to try to believe in it, seems, to the noble man, such bad taste, so self-disrespectful, so grotesquely unreasonable, that he would like to consider vanity a rarity. He will say, "I may be mistaken about my value, but nevertheless demand that I be valued as I value myself", but this is not vanity. The man of noble character must learn that in all social strata in any way dependent, the ordinary man has only ever valued himself as his master dictates (it is the peculiar right of masters to create values). It may be looked upon as an extraordinary atavism that the ordinary man is always waiting for an opinion about himself and then instinctively submitting to it; not only to a "good" opinion, but also to a bad and unjust one (think of all the self-depreciations which the believing Christian learns from his Church). It is "the slave" in the vain man's blood- and how much of the "slave" is still left in woman- which seeks to seduce to good opinions of itself; it is the slave, too, who immediately afterwards falls prostrate himself before these opinions, as though he had not called them forth. Vanity is an atavism. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil).
Monday, December 22, 2008
Most commentators lack the chutzpah to keep that foolishness up, and many are reduced to mourning what might have been had Iraqis not been so ungrateful and so unready for self-government. But it is worth noting that the language of 'liberation' is not merely an accidental echo of WWII. It was consciously settled on as one of the propaganda planks in the run up to invasion. When the White House decided to convoke the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq under the direction of former Lockheed Martin boss Bruce Jackson in 2002, it had not even decided what its rationale for war would be - but policymakers knew that the language of 'liberation' would be central to it. This is why it doesn't necessarily work when people say that 'liberation' was invented as an excuse for war after the fact, when the promised WMD mysteriously failed to materialise. Clearly, the promise that American troops would become a rescue squad for oppressed peoples was secondary to the fear factor. But, just as clearly, the moralistic language of the neoconservatives and liberal hawks was crucial to galvanising one potential layer of supporters. Those who can no longer contend, poker-faced, that the last five years have been in any sense a 'liberating' experience, will at least have new wars to look forward to. Articulate progressives in the US media show little sign of resisting Obama's escalation in Afghanistan, or his disgraceful position on Israel-Palestine. They will even be positively gushing with enthusiasm for the bloody 'liberation' of Darfur from the clutches of Ay-rabs. However, it seems that a rear-guard of hardcore defenders of the Iraq war will continue to operate in the meantime, robotically defending the indefensible until the ideological climate improves for them, and people of their faith.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The woman in question was merely asserting her rights in a secular state, yet I have an almost clairvoyant sense that someone, somewhere, will already be preparing a 'secular' defense of the judge's actions. Those who have defended the actions of various European states in banning the veil, foulard or sluieren, in different contexts, are perfectly placed to do so. In lieu of an engagement with that kind of argument, I should just like to briefly state a position. As much as I detest - and I really want this word to count - most of those who loudly proclaim their secularism, I would critically defend the principle. Thieving copiously from the armoury of arguments elaborated by the great Alasdair Macintyre*, whose writing is valued as much by Muslim intellectuals as by marxists, I endorse a secularism that contests the state's right to uphold values of any kind, 'Western' or otherwise. The state's role should be restricted to delivering certain public goods, but it has nothing whatever to do with morality.
Yet, it is interesting that the specific work done by the invocation of what is defended as a universal principle can be strangely exclusionary - and also, in an odd sense, particularist, eventually boiling down to a defense of 'Western values'. The self-congratulatory hyphenation 'Judeo-Christian' is no more justified than 'Islamo-Christian', but it is the former that purportedly properly encompasses said 'values', while the very texture of the veil apparently contains, woven into it, a threat to them. Of course, such a threat is part of the fabric of the veil to the extent that 'Western values' exclude the right to practice a religion that is held in low regard by a broad coalition comprising liberals and reactionaries. In other words, the argument that the veil is in some sense a challenge to 'Western' norms boils down to a confession that such 'Western' norms are sectarian, bigoted and irrational, (as opposed to rational, humane and universal).
The way in which secularism is both asserted as a universal value and as part of the family of 'Western values' is a hangover from Europe's colonial era. For example, when those French soldiers were marauding in the Algerian countryside, their deference to universalism compelled them to remove the veil first before raping and killing the women. And when the Algerians rebelled, the veil was seen as both an expression of and subterfuge for 'native fanaticism', proof and advertisement of their separatism, and their rejection of French universalism. Subsequently, in the debates about 'integration', the veil was just one symbol of the incompatibility of North African Muslims with the secular French republic. That was as true of the discussions around mass postwar migrations that made up for a decimated labour force as it is today of arguments about the discontented banlieues.
One last thought. What is the abjuration of the term 'Islamophobia' symptomatic of? There are so many people who insist that it means nothing, or that it is dangerous. They say it protects iniquity from criticism and forecloses serious inquiry. Yet, such arguments rarely go on to elaborate an alternative way of discussing the way in which Islam is unfairly singled out as deviant, as an abberation from cherished values, as the ultimate source of much or most global violence etc. The documented racist violence against Muslims as Muslims, the ceaseless acres of verbiage denouncing Islam and purveying false accusations of 'extremism' (which really is a meaningless term), the hysteria manufactured by newspapers who apparently learned all the wrong lessons from the Dreyfuss Affair... all of this doesn't deserve a name? Isn't this disavowal really an expression of guilt? Doesn't the unease about the term simply reflect the fact that many liberals distrust their own criticisms of Islam, that they don't trust their own motives, and suspect that if all of this viciousness was given a name (or 'christened' if you like), they would be incriminating themselves on a regular basis? They know very well that the misuse of a term doesn't make it invalid. Unfair accusations of antisemitism are extremely common - far more so, in my view, than unfair accusations of Islamophobia - but most of those so branded don't decide that the term itself can have no meaning. It is accepted that there are parameters for sensible discussion and that the accusation of antisemitism should be taken seriously. It is uncontroversial that some criticisms of Israel, never mind Judaism, can be antisemitic in tone and content. The argument is almost always over what does and does not constitute antisemitism, not whether the charge is even worth listening to. So, why are some people so timorous, unless they doubt their ability to defend their arguments from a charge of Islamophobia?
*This infamous, delicious quote is relevant: "Modern nation-states which masquerade as embodiments of community are always to be resisted. The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one's life on its behalf; it is like being asked to die for the telephone company." (Alasdair Macintyre, "A Partial Response to my Critics", in John Horton and Susan Mendus, eds, After Macintyre: Critical Perspectives on the Works of Alasdair Macintyre, 1994).
Against: United States.
Friday, December 19, 2008
We, the undersigned, view the circumstances surrounding the Iranian authorities' arrest of Hossein Derakhshan aka Hoder, one of the most prominent Iranian bloggers, as extremely worrying. Derakhshan's disappearance, detention at an unknown location, lack of access to his family and attorneys, and the authorities' failure to provide clear information about his potential charges is a source of concern for us.
The Iranian blogging community is one of the largest and most vibrant in the world. From ordinary citizens to the President, a diverse and large number of Iranians are engaged in blogging. These bloggers encompass a wide spectrum of views and perspectives, and they play a vital role in open discussions of social, cultural and political affairs.
Unfortunately, in recent years, numerous websites and blogs have been routinely blocked by the authorities, and some bloggers have been harassed or detained. Derakhshan's detention is but the latest episode in this ongoing saga and is being viewed as an attempt to silence and intimidate the blogging community as a whole.
Derakhshan's own position regarding a number of prisoners of conscience in Iran has been a source of contention among the blogging community and has caused many to distance themselves from him. This, however, doesn't change the fact that the freedom of expression is sacred for all not just the ones with whom we agree.
We therefore categorically condemn the circumstances surrounding Derakhshan's arrest and detention and demand his immediate release.
Signed, in alphabetical order:
Hossein Bagher Zadeh
This statement first appeared in Pedram Moallemian's blog Eyeranian.net on 18 December 2008. The links to the text of the statement are added for informational purposes.
But on 4th November, Israel blocked all crossings into Gaza, preventing both trade and aid, and launched a series of raids into Gazan territory. Some people might take this to be an act of war, and it certainly escalated aggression against Gazans collectively, which in other circumstances might be described as a war crime. Richard Falk, the UN human rights rapporteur, argued that it constituted a "crime against humanity". Israel seems to be taking to pains to demonstrate its contempt for such qualms. Earlier this week, it was reported that Falk was prevented from entering Gaza, detained and then expelled. Yesterday, Israeli jets launched another raid on Gaza. Hamas, who have arguably been unreasonably patient for more than a month, fired off ten rockets and advised the media that as there was no truce to speak of, it could not be renewed.
What is interesting about this is that the truce, such as it was, ended on 4th November, but no one noticed. How could this be? Israel did not exactly cover its tracks - it was flagrant, brazen, openly violating the terms of the truce. Even Gordon Brown, whose government has been party to Israel's blockades and putschism, reportedly asked Ehud Olmert to stop the seige. Israel would seem to have been going out of its way to ensure the resumption of full combat, perhaps the better to proceed with its reported plans to depopulate the north of Gaza. So, how did this state of affairs elude the media, so that they are now largely convinced that Hamas is responsible for ending the truce?
The clue, perhaps, is that Israel doesn't regard its violations as violations. Thus, Ehud Barak maintained a few days ago that the "lull" was still in place, just as its renewed siege was generating serious international criticism. And perhaps this is the underlying assumption of many reporters: Israel's crimes are expected, because they are the overwhelmingly dominant force. They can impose mass starvation on a population of 1.5m, and it is just business as usual, certainly not something that should result in retaliation or that should be considered a break in the 'lull'. This is a view that is challenged in some of the Israeli press. As a Ynet op-ed points out: "the lull between Israel and Hamas, which lasted about five months, was violated in the wake of Israeli military activity within the Gaza Strip that prompted Qassam barrages. This operation served as further testament that Israel still views the Gaza Strip as an area under its absolute control in every way, and reserves the right to do whatever it wants there; a sort of occupation by remote control."
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Update: More freedom of expression - US Troops Open Fire On Fallujah Students at Shoe Rally.
South Korea's police are conducting a search for Kim Kwang-Il, a socialist and antiwar activist, and leading member of the socialist group 'All Together'. (You can read an interview with him here.) As a leader in the 'Candlelight Movement' sparked by the government's neoliberal policies, he is the only one not yet captured. After mass, peaceful protests all summer that had been sparked by the government's decision to resume the import of US beef suspected of carrying 'mad cow' disease, the government is harrassing the Left with a series of raids and arrests and, using repressive anticommunist laws from the dictatorship era, the cops have already arrested the chair of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. They have the offices of the 'All Together' movement and placed it under constant surveillance. The government is also interfering in academic freedom, the better to bury the emerging revisionist histories that potentially bring the state's legitimacy into question. Socialist Worker is carrying an appeal in support of the opposition, which they encourage people to circulate and sign.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Israel’s siege of Gaza, largely unseen by the outside world because of Jerusalem’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid workers, reporters and photographers access to Gaza, rivals the most egregious crimes carried out at the height of apartheid by the South African regime. It comes close to the horrors visited on Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs. It has disturbing echoes of the Nazi ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I will tell you what this is all about. David T of the Harry's Place blog is attempting to get someone fired for reviewing a book I wrote, positively, in The New Statesman. Now, this could be because the reviewer namechecked the Harry's Place blog in passing. It could be because, so far, Mr T has not found a way to get me fired from anything. It cannot, however, be the result of any personal animus. I know this because David T would like nothing more than to be friends. Every now and again, he will send a missive to invite me to his birthday party, or to try and get a rise out of me in some way. He will coyly approach if he spots that I am available on Google chat, and try out a new opening line. This despite the fact that I had made it perfectly clear online that I regard him as something of an unstable creep. Even after I 'outed' him, when he launched a witch hunt against selected academics for thought crimes, he still didn't turn off the charm. Only the other day, he wrote to say that he had dreamed about me the previous night - me and him doing lawyer talk, apparently.
True, I didn't agree to go to his party, and it is only because of my weakness for taunting imbeciles that I didn't block his e-mail address, but you would be a fool and a communist to make anything of it. There is no personal element to David T's latest inquisition. He just doesn't like the fact that I have written a book, that it has been reviewed positively, and that as a result of the review and subsequent coverage (some of it, ironically, on Harry's Place), the book's UK Amazon sales rank soared, leaving said supplier with only one book left to sell. Unfortunately, David T is arguably even less equipped to properly review my book than the strict orthographer, Oliver Kamm. However, since he has developed a taste for vindictive attacks on individuals whom the Harry's Place mob have any reason to dislike at all, he decided to attack the author of the first review to appear in a major publication. Describing the reviewer, Owen Hatherley, as the "Dilpazier Aslam" of the New Statesman (recalling a case in which a trainee journalist was fired from The Guardian, having written an article that included praise for Hizb Ut-Tahrir while he was a member of said organisation), the post on Harry's Place claims that Owen Hatherley is a member of the Socialist Workers' Party. He is not, and never has been. But it is on the basis of this single fabrication that the author of the post launches a lengthy diatribe effectively demanding that the New Statesman publish a correction and fire the reviewer. It is a small irony that, while in effect demanding a purge on the basis of an invention, David T fantasises that it is SWP members who are 'totalitarian'.
On the one hand, all of this is immensely encouraging. If the deranged political cult of liberal bombers didn't find the book in some sense threatening, they would not waste so much energy on vain attempts to undermine it. On the other hand, this petty, spiteful attack comprises a maniacal McCarthyite troika. It not only seeks to have a positive review of my book retracted and a 'correction' published. It also attempts to hound someone who did absolutely nothing wrong out of a livelihood, and to establish an ominous precedent of surveillance for actual and supposed members of the Socialist Workers' Party on the basis of ignorant claims about it made by David T and his cohort. A while ago, you will remember, Harry's Place launched a frantic campaign of vilification against one Jenna Delich. It resulted in a complaint to the site's service provider, which decided that the libellous nature of the posts meant that the terms of its agreement with the blog's authors had been breached. The site was taken down, and the Harry's Place posse complained of oppression, declaring that their 'free speech' was under attack. Some websites foolishly extended their 'solidarity' to these corrupt and unscrupulous opponents of free speech. I hope that after this episode it will be obvious even to them that Harry's Place deserves no comradeship, especially from those who might themselves be the targets of such an attack if the occasion arose.
Among helpful and charitable people, one almost always finds the awkward craftiness which first gets up suitably him who has to be helped, as though, for instance, he should "merit" help, seek just THEIR help, and would show himself deeply grateful, attached, and subservient to them for all help. With these conceits, they take control of the needy as a property, just as in general they are charitable and helpful out of a desire for property. One finds them jealous when they are crossed or forestalled in their charity. Parents involuntarily make something like themselves out of their children--they call that "education"; no mother doubts at the bottom of her heart that the child she has borne is thereby her property, no father hesitates about his right to HIS OWN ideas and notions of worth. Indeed, in former times fathers deemed it right to use their discretion concerning the life or death of the newly born (as among the ancient Germans). And like the father, so also do the teacher, the class, the priest, and the prince still see in every new individual an unobjectionable opportunity for a new possession. (Beyond Good and Evil)
Nietzsche's greatest contempt, of course, was reserved for "socialist pity", the "common herd" and "the rabble", but I just quote this passage because it seems to me to sum up a certain attitude that is sometimes confused with "solidarity".
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Yesterday's referendum brought an end to the campaign that has dominated Manchester politics for months. An overwhelming majority (around 80%) of a fair turnout of voters (over 50%) rejected the government's plan to make Manchester "a 21st century city".
In a scheme that was to be repeated across the country, the plan was to put up £3bn from the government's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) into public transport infrastructure, and then pay it back over 30 years with revenues from a congestion charge. The Labour Party and their allies have really thrown themselves into the campaign, as have the Greens and environmental campaign groups like People and Planet, with lacklustre and opposition coming from the Tory party and their allies, as well as reactionary Clarksonite interest groups with names like The Motorist Alliance, bravely standing up to any suggestion that hardworking, Daily Express-reading families might have to cough up a bit of cash for the losers and sponges taking up seats on the bus. As with the Lisbon treaty, the mainstream "no" campaign did a spectacular job of missing the point, but on this occasion the Greens managed to outdo even them.
When I accuse yes campaigners of supporting what is a flat tax, the response is almost invariably to say that normal working class people can't afford cars, so this is really a progressive scheme to redistribute wealth from the motorised middle classes to the pedestrian proles. I am vaguely aware that somewhere in the provincial backwater that lies outside the M60, a congestion charge has already been in place for a few years, and I can sort of believe that the kind of logic being used here works in Central London. I can't really conceive of taking a car to the heart of the tube network without also being shortlisted to join the panel on Dragons' Den. But London this isn't. The area covered by the Manchester scheme would have been vastly more vast, and as one earnest environmentalist informed me, the poorest third of families therein don't have a car. Meaning that two-thirds of us do, and two thirds of us are not the middle classes . My mum, before she retired, worked as a nurse. She drove to work. When I spent a summer working at the box factory, it wasn't the bosses who filled the car park at the start of each shift.
For the issue isn't one of motorists' "rights", as the Jeremy Clarksons of the world would have it, but nor is it one of unsustainable privileges and lifestyle choices, as an obnoxious but vocal tendency within the Green movement seems to believe. Driving to work is a source of much pollution, yes, but it's also its own punishment. No-one comes out of the commute in a state of beatific relaxation, much less in hedonistic abandon. It's a source of great stress that most people would happily do without. The way in which capitalism runs our cities involves mass diurnal displacement on the part of the workers, and the way in which transport is organised on a private and mostly individual basis puts the burden of paying for this on the workers too. Piling a congestion charge on top of this only adds to that burden.
Another recurring theme from more reluctant chargists is the idea that only by accepting this deal will we ever see investment in public transport on any serious level. At its best, this is defeatism, at its worst, blackmail, and it really doesn't wash. One doesn't have to be a revolutionary to see what difference the money going into the banks could have made to public services, and in any case isn't this supposed to be the era of "Yes We Can"? Apart from that, though,it is misleading and dangerous to pose the situation as a choice between social justice and environmental action. Given that the plan involved the congestion charge remaining operational and lucrative for 3 decades to pay back the TIF-incurred , it would have locked mass car use into the city's budget for that time as well - another of those concrete government policies, like airport expansion and a post-NUM return to coal power, that make a mockery of the government's nominal emissions targets.
At the end of the day, Manchester needs public transport, for the health of its inhabitants and for the future of the planet. But what it has, and what would have received a cash injection from the TIF, is private mass transport. Subsidies from the public purse amount to little more than corporate welfare for companies like Stagecoach, which has increased some of its fares by around 40% over 2008 and takes a notoriously hard line on unions and the busting thereof. (By the by, I'd wager that Manchester's favourite article in Socialist Worker over the past few months was the news that strike action forced the owner of Stagecoach to drive his own bus for a bit). Just as it is the priorities of private capital that drives the commute, it is the priorities of private bus companies that draw up the bus timetables: and that means a scarmble over the most profitable routes and neglect of the "sink estates" where people actually live. Accordingly, most of the improvements proposed by the TIF were about beefing up the links between Greater Manchester's main market towns; another focused on the Oxford Road corridor, which is already the busiest bus route in Europe. The journeys that are currently a nightmare, remain a nightmare.
The print and televisual media are already berating those of us who didn't vote (and by the way, registring was a nightmare) for contributing to an historic missed opportunity for public services and the environment. In reality, this is the heartfelt rejection of another attempt to dump the bill of capitalism onto the workers, and a serious setback for the latest "Brown bounce" in the heartland of the Labour party.