Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Mad Right-Winger Alex Belfield Attacks GB News as Based in France and Part of Murdoch Empire

June 1, 2021

This is very interesting. Alex Belfield, the mad right-wing internet radio host, who believes the lockdown should be immediately lifted, hates the immigrants coming over from France in their dinghies, and wants the NHS to be handed over to private management, apart from other high Tory policies and talking points, has just posted up a video today laying into GB News. This is supposed to be the patriotic, private news station, fronted by former editor of the Economist, the Scotsman and the Sunset Times, now head of the company in charge of the alt-right Spectator, Andrew Neil.

And this is Belfield’s first criticism of the station. Neil lives in France, and will be broadcasting from across the Channel. Which looks very bad for a company claiming to be Great Britain News, the patriotic alternative to the ‘wet, woke BBC’. The claim is that Neil has been stranded across La Manche because of the lockdown, although Belfield points out that he’s probably there since the weather’s warmer and the food and wine better. In fact, Neil’s been living in France for years. When he was editing one of the papers he used to hold the morning’s editorial meetings via Speakerphone, which caused the staff no end of embarrassment and doubtless hilarity when they are the sounds of Brillo struggling with his dog, Napoleon, which bit him.

But a more important criticism is in the second half of this video. Belfield points out that GB is not patriotic. It’s part of a multinational, the Murdoch empire. And while its broadcasters will tell us – he means fellow right-wingers like himself – what they want to hear, they aren’t us and are not on our side.

Quite.

This is what the Left and even some Tories have been saying since forever and a day. When Murdoch made moves to buy the Times in the late ’70s or early ’80s, there were Tories who objected to its acquisition by the smut merchant who has ruined journalism and coarsened culture across the civilised world. But Thatcher wanted his support, and so gave in to his request. As did her intellectual heir in the Labour party, Tony Blair, and now the Tory administrations of Cameron, Tweezer and BoJob.

There are of course solutions to the problems of the multinationals. These are to nationalise the utilities to make sure that they receive proper investment and work to serve the British public, rather than provide profits for their foreigner owners and management; end the offshore shell companies which allow the superrich to avoid paying tax; and pass legislation preventing foreigners owning British papers. This is what the Americans did in their country, and its why Murdoch moved to America and took out American citizenship in order to retain Fox News and other parts of his empire over there.

But all this is anathema to the elite who run our country and political parties, who are neoliberals to the core and have personal interests in many of these firms. This includes Keir Starmer, who wants to return the Labour party to being the servant of wealthy, corporate donors rather than a party for ordinary working people.

But in the meantime, this video is interesting as it shows that Belfield is aware that something is seriously wrong with globalisation. He just thinks that somehow it can be resolved within laissez-faire capitalism.

The Satanic Rites of Glossop Tories

May 29, 2021

Ho ho! We suspected as much! People as evil as Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVile have to be in league with the forces of darkness. Now there’s the proof that at least one local Conservative club has had truck with the Evil One. ‘Cause archaeologists dug up the occult image they were using, as well as the remains of candlewax, chicken bones and other paraphernalia from their diabolical ceremonies.

A friend of mine helps run a psychic research society. Unlike the ghost hunters you see on TV, who every week seem to encounter real, unquiet spirits and run around screaming that they’re possessed, his organisation is very serious about investigating the paranormal scientifically. Quite a few of them have backgrounds in the medicine and the sciences. There is a very sizable academic literature on parapsychology and the proper investigation of paranormal events, including the proper scientific protocols to rule out misperception, fraud and false results. The paranormal is now regarded by very many people as something as a joke, but it was taken very seriously at one time. The founders of the British Society for Psychical Research included some of the most prominent politicians, academics and scientists of the 19th century.

As they’re unable to meet in person due to lockdown restriction, my friend’s been arranging a series of Zoom talks about the paranormal. He asked me if I’d like to give one. I agreed, and chose the archaeology of magic as the talk’s topic. There’s been a revival of interest in the history of magic and witchcraft by historians since the 1960s. This was pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s by French historians, who wanted to investigate the ‘mentalites’ – the mental worldview – of previous ages. Interest in witchcraft and the witch craze of the 16th and 17th is immense, because of the parallels between them and the persecution of minorities by the horrific totalitarianisms of the 20th century – Nazism, Fascism and Stalinist Communism – as well as parallels to the Cold War and ‘reds under the bed’. They’re also investigated because of what they say about these centuries attitudes towards women. Feminists are thus particularly interested, including activists who believe that the witches weren’t servants of Satan, but female adherents of an ancient mother goddess cult. Historians are also interested in witchcraft because it marks the transition from the enchanted world of the Middle Ages, when the universe was occupied by angels, demons, fairies and magicians, to secular modernity and the rationalism of the 18th century. And finally there’s the modern occult revival, which began in the 19th century, which has been particularly investigated by Dr Ronald Hutton of Bristol University.

Archaeologists have been rather late to the party. I think this is partly because archaeologist tended to identify anything with a vaguely supernatural use as ‘ritual’, rather than religious. There was an attitude that archaeologists could not reconstruct the religious ideas of past societies from their material remains, although in the case of temples and shrines, that’s clearly not the case. But it can be difficult without textual information. Also, many archaeologists didn’t want the sensationalism that came with the words ‘magic’ and ‘supernatural’. The first major book on the subject was Ralph Merrifield’s The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic. The kinds of items and remains investigated by archaeologists as magic include human and animal remains buried under houses, possibly as foundation sacrifices, charms and amulets, curse tablets, witch posts – carved posts in houses to stop witches or the walking dead entering – witch dolls and bottles, as well as items of clothing like shoes also left behind walls in houses. One of the books I’ve been using is The Materiality of Magic, edited by Ceri Houlbrook and Natalie Armitage (Oxbow: 2015). This is a collection of papers on archaeology and magic that came out of an interdisciplinary course run by the University of Manchester.

One of these papers, by A.J.N.W. Prag, ‘The Little Mannie with his Daddy’s Horns’, recounts how Manchester museum acquired a devil figure – so they thought – in the 1970s. The museum was running an exhibition of Celtic heads, and the cleaner at the local Tory club in Hollingworth had discovered one when she was cleaning the cellar. The museum experts came down, examined it, and found the remains left from the last time it was used. Which was apparently in 1916 to benefit the troops at the front. The museum quickly arranged to purchase it from her, partly because they were afraid that Satanists, especially American, would get wind of it. However, after they acquired it, their staff suffered a series of accidents. People who hadn’t had a car accident in their life suddenly scratched both sides of their vehicles, one worker cut his head open and then managed to lock the keys in the car of the colleague who took him to hospital. Eventually it got to the point where no-one really wanted to touch, until one of the women took to soothing it physically. But there was a further surprise when they were about to put it on display. A visiting expert on Africa told them that it wasn’t actually Celtic, but African. Specifically, it was a nomoli figure from the Mende people of Sierra Leone. This raises the question how such an exotic item found its way to a Tory club near Glossop. The paper speculates that it may have been brought to Manchester by one of the Jesuits involved in the exorcism of the possessed nuns at the 17th century French convent, which formed the basis for the Aldous Huxley book, The Devils of Loudoun, and the Ken Russell movie, The Devils, with Oliver Reed. It’s possible that the image, brought to the convent by a missionary clergyman, may have been at the heart of the accusations of witchcraft.

The idea of the local Tories practising their Satanic rites sounds like something from Last of the Summer Wine. Back in the 1980s there was an episode in which Sid and his wife at the local cafe were catering for a Masonic-style secret society, the Bullocks. As Foggy and Clegg are talking about it downstairs with Sid and Ivy, Compo comes down from their upstairs room where they’re holding their secret ceremony. He calls them a load of pansies, or something similar. When asked, they’re all there stamping their feet like hooves and holding their fingers in front of their heads like horns, chanting ‘Who’s a pretty bullock then, moo, moo? Who’s a pretty bullock then, you, you.’ Later Clegg and Compo embarrass Foggy by stealing their banner and running across one of the hills with it, so it proclaims to all and sundry, ‘Bullocks’.

Is this the kind of thing that’s going on in Tory clubs up and down England, we wonder? I find the whole thing peculiar and funny, and it inspired me to make this painting of Thatcher as the Satanic figure, Baphomet. If you can’t quite make out the text, it’s supposed to read ‘The Satanic Rites of Thatcher’. Hope you enjoy it and don’t have nightmares.

One Struggle: The People Oppressing the Indian Farmers Are Also Donors to the British Tories

May 5, 2021

As I’ve mentioned previously, last Friday I went to a Virtual pre-May Day rally on Zoom, put on as part of the Arise festival of left Labour ideas. It lasted for nearly an hour and a half, and featured great speakers from across the world, including our own Jeremy Corbyn. The international guests included Daniele Obono, a Black socialist politician from across the Channel in France, and peeps from Ghana, India and Latin America. They spoke about how people everywhere had to fight against exploitation from their own national elites, as well as combating racism, colonialism and the legacy of slavery. One of the speakers graphically showed how the poor African countries are very much at the mercy of the big multinationals with a story about Kenya and Vodaphone. The Kenyan government had asked the phone company not to give its shareholders their dividends this year, because the pay out would bankrupt the African nation.

I was also very much interested in the talk by an Indian lady about the appalling policies of Modi’s Hindu Supremacist government. This is the Indian nationalist BJP, which is extremely right-wing and bitterly intolerant of Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, as well as liberal Hindus, who believe in a secular, tolerant, pluralist India. The BJP are trying to privatise the state purchasing mechanism for the agricultural sectors. This was set up to guarantee a fair price to India’s farmers. However, the BJP are neoliberals and so want to hand it over to private entrepreneurs. This will force down prices, sending millions of farmers into abject poverty. There have been mass demonstrations and strikes against it right across India. She said that it’s the biggest protest movement in the world, number 250 million people. And Modi and his crew have reacted brutally, sending the police in to break up the protests, beat demonstrators and arrest the journalists covering them.

And guess what? Some of the businessmen backing Modi’s privatisation are also donors to the Tories over here.

This also shows how multinational capital is operating across the globe to impoverish and exploit working people.

A few months ago we had as guest speaker at a Virtual meeting of my local Labour party here in Bristol a member of Sikh community to talk about Modi’s attacks on the Indian farmers. Most of the farmers affected are Sikh, and so there are Sikh charities in this country which are giving aid to their coreligionists in India.

But it’s also very clear that working people across the world also need to unite to tackle the poverty and oppression created by capitalism because of the impact of globalisation. I am very definitely not a Communist, but Marx made this very clear in the slogan on the Communist Manifesto.

We really do need the workers of the world to unite. Because if we don’t, we will be in chains.

Retired Generals Call for Military Dictatorship to Save France from Islamist Terrorism

April 28, 2021

Here’s another landmark on the march of militant populism across Europe and the ominous threat of the return of real Fascism. Mahyar Tousi is a right-wing, pro-Brexit YouTube, who regularly denounces the left. Normally I wouldn’t watch his videos, but last night he posted a grim one which reported that a group of twenty former French generals had signed a letter, published in the right-wing news magazine, Valeurs Actuelles, calling for a military coup if President Macron failed to stop the disintegration of France by Islamists. The first signature was that of Christian Piquemal, a former head of the French foreign legion. Macron’s government condemned the wretched letter and compared it to the failed military coup which tried to topple President de Gaulle during the Algerian war of independence sixty years ago.

The letter declared that France ‘is in danger. Several mortal perils threaten her. Even in retirement we remain soldiers of France and cannot in the present circumstances remain indifferent to the fate of our beautiful country.’ According to its signatories, the country was disintegrating with the Islamists of the hordes of suburbs – banlieus – who were detaching large parts of the nation and turning them into territory subject to dogmas contrary to the constitution’. They accused the government of sparking hatred because of the brutal police treatment of the Yellow Vest protesters two years ago. They warned that if nothing was done, there would be an explosion and then intervention by our comrades on active service in the dangerous mission of protecting our civilised values and the safety of our compatriots.’

Marine le Pen, the head of the National Rally party, has come out in support of a coup. Tousi calls this ‘a bit crazy, because France is still a democracy at this point’, and he doesn’t know why people are getting so emotional. His video also show a graph of the various parties’ support according to the opinion polls. These show Macron and Le Pen neck and neck at 26 per cent, Xavier Bertrand, an Independent centre-right candidate at 15 per cent, Jean Melenchon of the Far Left at 11 per cent, and Anne Hidalgo of the centre left at 6 per cent. The report on which Tousi draws for his coverage of the issue states that the generals’ letter has especial resonance following the murder a few days ago of a woman working in a Limousin police station by a Tunisian Islamist.

There are several remarks to be made here. There’s been much anti-Arab racism in France for sometime now, just as there’s racism here across the pond. About twenty or so years ago the Independent’s and I’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown complained about the racism her family experienced when on holiday in south of France. However, she subsequently wrote an article several years later about how the situation had changed for the better when her family went back there on holiday. And a few years ago there was a series of mass protests under a slogan that translates into English as ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’ of White French young people attacking this racism in solidarity with their Arab friends.

I think the racial situation on the other side of the Channel has got worse due to recent Islamist atrocities, such as the attack in Marseilles a few years ago and the mass murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. The spectre of this attack returned a few weeks ago when a French schoolteacher, Thomas Paty, was murdered by an enraged Muslim for showing a classroom of children one of the blasphemous cartoons from Hebdo which provoked the attack. Paty was teaching a lesson about freedom of speech, and had warned his Muslim students that he was going to show the cartoon. If they were going to be offended, then they were allowed to leave the room. Some of them stayed, told their parents, and someone at the local mosque then put Paty’s details up on the Net. This prompted a raft of legislation against Islamist terrorism, and I’ve seen videos on YouTube claiming that, to show his defiance of the Islamists, Macron not only gave Paty a state funeral, but he had the cartoon displayed on public buildings. According to Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, and his mates over at the Lotus Eaters YouTube panel, the legislation provides for the deportation of the foreign-born parents of any child who protests over cartoons. If this is correct, then the French government is coming down very hard, and because of this there have been counterdemonstrations against the new laws by Muslims.

Many of the Islamist terrorists came from the banlieus. Muslims are generally underprivileged across Europe, and from what I was taught in geography while I was at school, the banlieus are grim places of tower blocks, unemployment, despair and nothing else. They don’t, or at least didn’t, have any basic services because their planners believed they weren’t necessary. Their residents could simply travel into the centre of town for whatever they needed.

The rhetoric about parts of France being detached and governed by dogmas against the constitution clearly mirrors the concern here in Britain and the rhetoric about the growth of parallel societies and Muslim ‘no-go areas’ governed by sharia law. Laicisme – secularism – is the official stance of the French state towards religion. It’s why the authorities there tried to ban the wearing of the hijab in school by Muslim schoolgirls. There are real issues about the rejection of French secular values in Arab and Muslim areas. A little while ago French television screened a documentary about the very strong pressure in these areas against women appearing in public and going to cafes. This disapproval even extended to western women living in those areas. The documentary followed the efforts of a group of female protesters to assert their right to go about in public and visit the cafes.

As for Marine le Pen coming out in favour of a dictatorship, she has just shown her true colours. the National Rally was originally the Front National, an avowed Fascist organisation, and her father, le Pen senior, made his living selling Nazi memorabilia. Marine Le Pen managed to win massive support for her party by dropping some of the Fascist symbolism and giving a more moderate, centre-right image. It was still anti-immigration, but a Black female rapper performed at one of their rallies on the grounds that she was still a patriotic French woman. And like UKIP and the former Brexit party over here, now Reform, it’s very much against the EU. It’s picked up much of its support from the elements of the French White working class, who’ve been left behind by neoliberalism and ‘centrist’ welfare cuts, and who also feel threatened by immigration and the European Union. The poor performance of the centre left in the polls also appears to bear out what I’ve heard and read elsewhere about the collapse of the centre left across Europe due to their embrace of neoliberalism. This could very well happen in Britain if Starmer and the Blairites keep their grip on the Labour party. The extreme right – the BNP, National Front and similar organisations – have all collapsed in Britain, or been banned as terrorist groups like National Action, although tiny little Fascist grouplets still remain. Nevertheless, the rise of National Rally in France does indicate that there could be space for a similar populist right-wing party over here.

Tousi in his video says that the generals’ letter is strange and wonders if Marine le Pen will lose or gain support by backing it. It’s a good question. Tousi says that Macron’s government has come under criticism from both the left and the right, and the generals’ complaint is that while Macron talks tough, and he hasn’t followed this up with action. As for supporting any kind of Fascist dictatorship, the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane in the Haute Vienne department of the Limousin provides a very stark, grim reminder of why no-one should. This was a village where all but 18 of its 660 inhabitants were butchered by the Waffen SS in June 1944 as a reprisals for kidnappings, attacks and sabotage by the resistance. It’s been preserved as a memorial. It’s a graphic reminder of the utterly horrific nature of Fascism – torture, mass murder and butchery on an industrial scale. Given the atrocities committed by the Nazis across Europe, and particularly in France and Poland, it astonishes me that any self-respecting French person or Pole could ever vote for or support such a party.

Hopefully no-one will take this call for a coup seriously and France will remain a democracy. But it does indicate that democracy is very fragile. And we have absolutely no reason to feel complacent over this side of the Channel. In the mid-1970s groups of politicians and industrialists, including the editors of the Times and the Mirror, wanted to overthrow Harold Wilson’s government and replace it with an emergency government or military dictatorship, to save Britain from the left and the trade unions.

We have to fight Fascism wherever we find it. And we need to take seriously the fact that it always presents itself as defending society from the absolute forces of evil.

If it rises again in France, how long before the sound of jackboots marching will be heard in Britain.

Oradour-Sur-Glane as it is today following the Nazi Massacre of its people. From Richard Harper, Abandoned Places – 60 Stories of Places Where Time Has Stopped ( Glasgow: Collins 2014) 68-71.

I’m not going to link to Tousi’s video, as he is a man of the right, but if you want to see it on YouTube, it’s title is ‘Retired Generals Call For Military Takeover In France’

Why I Won’t Vote for Cleo Lake as Bristol’s Police and Crime Commissioner

April 23, 2021

Cleo Lake is one of the candidates standing for election as Bristol’s police and crime commissioner, and I very definitely will not be voting for her. One reason is that she’s a member of the Green party, and is their councillor for Cotham. The other reason is that she introduced the motion a few weeks ago urging the payment of reparations for slavery to all ‘Afrikans’ – both people of West Indian and those of African descent. It was seconded by the Labour deputy mayor and head of equality, Asher Craig, and passed by just about all the parties on the council with the exception of the Tories. They objected on the ground that the motion, although it came from a good place, was divisive. Unfortunately, they’re right.

I’ve blogged about this several times, as well as writing to councillors Lake and Craig about it. I haven’t received a reply or even an acknowledgement from them. I have also submitted an article about it to the papers, but this has also been rejected without any reply or acknowledgement. But here are my arguments against the motion again.

I don’t doubt that people of African heritage in Bristol don’t suffer from the same issues of racism and marginalisation as the wider Black community. However, they are not equal victims of western slavery. By and large the White slavers didn’t do the actual, nasty work of raiding and enslaving Black Africans. They bought them instead from other African peoples and states. The British generally took their slaves from the west African states of Dahomey, Whydah, Badagry and what is now Lagos in what is now Ghana and Nigeria, as well as from tribes in Senegal and Gambia. These kingdoms profited immensely from the vile trade. In the 18th century, Duke Ephraim of Dahomey took in £300,000 per year, an income that exceeded many English dukes. It has therefore been said that, when it came to reparations, it should be Black Africans paying compensation to Black West Indians and Americans.

Slavery had also existed for centuries previously in Africa, and Africans were enslaved by a number of other peoples, such as the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch. But they were also enslaved by Muslim Arabs, the Ottoman Turks and Indians, and exported further east to what is now Indonesia. The first Black slaves in Europe were in al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. The east Africans enslaved were captured by other African peoples, such as the Yao, Marganja and Swahili, as well as Arabs. Ethiopia, which was never conquered by us, also raided the surrounding states for slaves.

Part of the rationale for the British invasion and conquest of Africa was the extirpation of slavery. Even before the invasion, Britain was active forging treaties against the slave trade with naval patrols guarding the African coast. We also paid subsidies and compensation to some slaving peoples in order to give them a financial incentive for abandoning the trade. And in the 1850s we actually fought a war with King Guezo of Dahomey to stop slaving by that state.

At the same time that Europeans were enslaving Africans, Muslim raiders from north Africa, the Barbary pirates, were raiding and carrying off White Europeans, including people from Britain.

It’s therefore inappropriate to pay slavery reparations to Africans, as these included the very peoples that actually enslaved them.

The payment of reparations also sets a precedent for Blacks and other people to demand similar reparations from other nations, including other, non-European states as Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, India and the Arab states. White Europeans are also entitled to demand compensation from the two states of the Barbary pirates, Algeria and Morocco. But there has been no recognition of this from either Lake or Craig. They just call for Britain to pay reparations to its ‘Afrikans’, which is quite a narrow focus.

Years ago, when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I was advised to be careful when writing to Black organisations, as West Indians and Ghanaians disliked each other. The Black British writer, Caryl Phillips, discussed in one of his books how, when he visited Ghana, he found that West Indians were looked down upon there as former victims of the slave trade. This was in the ’90s, and I think Phillips’ book may be somewhat older. I have to say that there seemed to be no such hatred between West Indians and Ghanaians in the organisations I dealt with. If this friction still exists, then it puts quite a nasty light on Lake and Craig’s inclusion of Africans as well as West Indians as victims of White slavery. Because it then looks like they are trying to create a unified Black community by putting the blame for slavery solely on Whites.

I also have serious objections to her eccentric spelling of African. She spelt it ‘Afrikan’, claiming that this was how Africans themselves spelled it before the coming of the Europeans. This looks like a piece of Afrocentric pseudo-history. I’m an archaeologist and historian, and so considers history immensely important. Which is why I profoundly object to the way the Tories are trying to pervert it for their propaganda purposes. But Lake and Craig are also pushing a highly ideological, selective interpretation of history.

This leads me to suspect that Lake wants to become police and crime commissioner, because she also feels, like BLM, that the police unfairly pick on cops and wants to stop it. Now the St. Paul’s riots of 1981/2 was directed very much against the police. One of the rioters later gave a quote in the press that there was a feeling that the police were occupying St. Paul’s. But I haven’t heard any such criticism since. I’ve relatives and friends, who are and were members of the Avon and Somerset police, and they aren’t remotely racist.

I leave it up to you to decide for yourself, if you’re a Bristolian, whether you want to vote for Lake or not. But because of her historical views, which I consider false and racist in their own turn, I won’t.

Hitler’s Propagandakompanien and the Media Support for the Iraq War

April 14, 2021

Postscript are a mail order company specialising in books. Leafing through their catalogue for December 2020, I found one on the propagandakompanien, the Nazi reporters, photojournalists and film crew, who were placed in the German armed forces to provide positive coverage of the War. The book’s entitled The Propagandakompanien: Preparation, Development, Training and the Beginning of the Conflict, by Nicholas Ferard, published by Histoire & Collections. The entry for it in the catalogue reads

Formed in 1938, the ‘Propagandakompanien’ (Pk) comprised motorized units of reporters, film cameramen and photographers, all with military training and attached to Wehrmacht, Waffen SS or Luftwaffe forces. Reproducing many of the unit’s wartime photographs, this volume gives a full account of the organisation of the Pk and describes their work in print, film and radio during campaigns in Poland, France and the Eastern Front.

This is chillingly relevant to contemporary media manipulation and particularly the methods used by the American military-industrial complex to ensure media support for the Iraq invasion. Because they’re almost exactly the same. In their book End Times – The Death of the Fourth Estate, Alexander Cochburn and Jeffrey St. Clair of the radical American magazine Counterpunch collect a series of articles describing the way the American media censored itself and produced biased, propagandistic reporting in order to whip up public support for the Iraq invasion and George Dubya’s wretched ‘War on Terror’. And this included embedding journos in military units so that they would develop a positive sense of fellowship with them and so produce favourable reports.

One of the documentaries about the Nazis shown on the History Channel years ago had the simple title The Nazis – A Warning from History. It’s a good title, and far more relevant than I think the series’ producers realised. Because more and more aspects of the Nazi and Fascists regimes are being adopted by the current right-wing and ‘centrist’ administrations in America and Britain. A few days ago Mike on his blog listed the number of features of Fascism that were in Johnson’s Conservative party. It was a long list, and showed very convincingly that Johnson and the Tories are definitely Fascistic, although obviously they’re not quite appearing in uniform and holding torchlight rallies. Well, not just yet. One of the left-wing, anti-racist YouTubers said in an interview that he noticed several years ago that the Tories were adopting policies previously advanced by the BNP as British politics moved rightward. This is true. We are heading towards a Fascist dictatorship, especially with the Tories’ wretched Crime and Policing Bill which seeks to ban any kind of public demonstration if someone thinks its a nuisance or offensive.

And they’re using the same techniques the Nazis’ used to manipulate the media. Except that in Tory Britain, the media is a willing partner.

My Proposed Article on Bristol’s Slavery Reparations – Ignored and Rejected by the Press?

April 14, 2021

Okay, I’ve blogged about it before when Bristol City council first passed the motion all those weeks ago. These were a couple of pieces about the motion, brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake, and seconded by Labour’s deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Green, calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to all of Britain’s ‘Afrikan’ community. I criticised this because this motion effectively means the payment of reparations to the African peoples responsible for the raiding and enslavement, and their sale to outsiders. It wasn’t just European, who purchased and enslaved the continent’s peoples, but also Muslims, Arabs and Indians. The motion falsifies history by reducing a complex situation to simple Black and White – White Europeans versus Black Africans. I believe Lake and Craig are playing racial politics here by trying to create a unified Black British community by presenting all British Blacks as the victims of White, European, British slavery when this was not historically the case.

The motion also raises other issues by setting the precedent for formerly enslaved peoples to sue their former captors. Thus Black Africans could also demand reparations from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey and the successors to the great Arab caliphates of the Middle Ages – perhaps Saudi Arabia? – Oman and other states for their enslavement. As could Europeans. 2.5 million White Europeans were carried off into slavery by the Barbary pirates from Morocco and Algiers. Would the councillors, who supported and passed Lake’s and Craig’s slavery reparations motion also support similar motions for the payment of reparations to these people from their former masters?

I wrote to Lake and Craig raising these issues, and so far have received no reply. Perhaps they’re too busy. Craig has received 6,000 racially abusive messages, which I condemn, so perhaps she hasn’t looked at it because it’s been lost in all the other mail she’s received about it.

I tried to get the press interested in this issue, and so submitted an article about it. I first sent it to the Guardian, and then to a number of right-wing newspapers when I heard nothing from the Groan. I thought the right-wing press would be perhaps be more likely to publish it, and it contradicts some of the attitudes and assumptions of the pro-Black activists that newspapers like the I, Independent and Observer share and promote. Along with the article itself, I sent the following cover message.

Dear Sir,

I would be very grateful if you would consider the attached article laying out some of the problems with the motion passed a few weeks ago in Bristol calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to the Black community. There are a number of difficult and complex issues raised by this, which I do not believe have been adequately discussed in the press. One of these is that the motion calls for both Africans and Afro-Caribbean people to be granted reparations. While I’ve no doubt that Black African people are as disadvantaged as people of West Indian heritage, there is a problem here as historically it was African peoples who did the dirty business of slaving, selling them not just to Europeans, but also to Muslim, Arab and Indian slavers. It would therefore be unjust for people the British enslave or who actively collaborated in slaving to receive compensation for slavery.

Other problems with the motion are that it sets a precedent for other peoples to demand reparations for their enslavement. White Europeans would, following this logic, also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of 2 1/2 million Europeans by the Barbary pirates. And Black Africans would also be entitled to ask Muslim and Arab nations for reparations for their enslavement of them.

I also consider the motion to be racially divisive, as it seeks to create a unified Black community, who are represented as equal victims, against Whites, who are considered slavers, thus simplifying a complex historical issue.

I hope you will consider the article suitable, and look forward to your reply.

Yours,

And here’s the article itself.

Slavery Reparations: Not All Blacks Were the Victims, Some Were the Slavers

A few weeks ago Bristol Council passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations to the Black British community for their enslavement. The motion was introduced by Cleo Lake, a former mayor and the Green Councillor for Cotham in the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the city’s deputy mayor and head of equality. The reparations were to be both financial and cultural. It was moved that they should take the form of proper funding for projects to improve conditions for the Black community and raise them to the same, sustainable level of equality with the rest of British society. These projects were to be led and guided by Black organisations themselves. And the reparations should include all ‘Afrikans’, by which eccentric spelling Councillor Lake meant both Afro-Caribbean people and Black Africans. The motion was passed 47 to 11. It was supported by the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems. Only the Tories opposed it. They said that while it came from ‘a good place’, the motion was ‘divisive’. In fact, there are a number of reasons why it should be opposed. The most important of these is that Black Africans were hardly innocent of slaving themselves.

Slavery existed in Africa long before the European invasion, and Britain wasn’t the only country that traded in enslaved Africans.  So did the Arabs, Ottoman Turks, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. The first Black slaves in Europe were enslaved by Arabs and taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. In addition to the transatlantic slave trade, there was also an Islamic slave trade to north Africa and Muslim nations in Asia. Although there were exceptions, Europeans did not directly enslave their African victims. Before the 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, powerful African states prevented Europeans from penetrating inland and seizing African territory. The European slave merchants were largely confined to specific quarters, rather like European ghettos, in these state’s main towns, from whom they purchased their human cargo. By the 19th century powerful African slaving nations, such as Dahomey, Whydah and Badagry had emerged in West Africa. In East Africa, the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples enslaved the people of other nations to sell to the Arabs. Some were purchased by the Imaum of Muscat, now Oman, for labour on his immensely profitable clove plantations in Zanzibar. It was to prevent Indian merchants from importing enslaved Africans into British India that the British government opened negotiations with the Imaum to halt the east African slave trade.

Part of the rationale for British imperialism was to stamp out the slave trade and slavery at its point of supply, and this was one of the causes of African resistance to British expansionism. The Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, for example, was caused by the British attempting to abolish the Arab enslavement of Black Sudanese. It was to halt slaving by Dahomey that Britain fought a war against its king, Guezo. In some parts of Africa, slavery continued up to the 20th century because these countries had not been conquered by Europeans. The slave trade to Morocco continued to 1910 because the European powers had blocked the European invasion of that country. Slavery also persisted in Ethiopia, whose armies also preyed on the peoples of the surrounding African states, prompting a British punitive expedition in the 1880s.

This obviously presents problems for the payment of reparations to all sections of the Black British community, because some African nations weren’t the victims of White enslavement. They were the slavers. Someone once remarked on this situation that if reparations were to be paid, it should be by Africans compensating the Black peoples of the Caribbean and Americas.

And there are other problems with slavery reparations. If reparations were paid to Blacks for the enslavement of their ancestors, it would set a precedent for similar demands by other ethnicities. For example, up until the conquest of Algeria by France in the 19th century, White Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algiers. About 2 ½ million people, including those from Bristol and the West Country, were carried off. The demand for reparations for the Black victims of slavery means that, by the same logic, White Europeans would also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors from those countries. At the same time, Black Africans would also be entirely justified in claiming reparations from the Muslim nations that enslaved them, such as perhaps Turkey or Saudi Arabia. But there have been no such demands, at least to my knowledge.

I don’t doubt that Black Africans in Bristol or elsewhere in the UK suffer the same problems of marginalisation, poverty, unemployment and discrimination as the rest of the Black population, nor that there should be official programmes to tackle these problems. And it is only fair and proper that they should be guided and informed by the Black community itself. But reparations cannot justly be paid to the Black community as a whole because of the deep involvement of some African peoples in slavery and the slave trade.

Furthermore, there’s a nasty, anti-White dimension to Lake’s motion. By claiming that all Blacks, both West Indian and African, were equally victims of the slave trade, she and her supporters seem to be trying to create a unified Black community by presenting all of them as the victims of White predation, simplifying a complex historical situation along racial lines.

I’ve written to councillors Lake and Craig about these issues, but so far have not received an answer. In Councillor Craig’s case, it may well be that my message to her got lost amongst the 6,000 abusive emails she is reported to have received. It is, of course, disgusting that she should suffer such abuse, and she has my sympathies in this. But this does not alter the fact that reparations for Black slavery raise a number of difficult issues which make it unsuitable as a means of improving conditions for Black Britons.

Well, I haven’t heard anything from any of the newspapers I submitted it to, not even an acknowledgement. It seems the news cycle has moved on and they’re not interested. But this doesn’t mean that the arguments against the motion are any less valid, and I thought people would like to read these arguments again for themselves, as well as about my efforts to raise them in the press.

Students of Colour Object to Oxford Music Curriculum Because of Slavery

March 29, 2021

The Telegraph ran a story yesterday claiming that they’d received documents showing that Oxford University was considering changing their classical music course. This was because, following Black Lives Matter protests, students of colour at the university had complained that they were left very distressed by the course on European music from Machaut to Beethoven, because this was the period when the transatlantic slave trade was developing. They also made the same complaint about western music notation.

Now this comes from the Torygraph, part of Britain’s exemplary right-wing press, who are known for their rigorous commitment to journalistic truth and integrity, ho, ho. So you wonder if it true, or is the product of some Tory hack’s fevered imagination, like many of the stories about the Labour party produced by Guido Fawkes. Is this all made up to discredit Black Lives Matter?

Thinking about the issue, it seems very much to me that the problem isn’t the curriculum’s links to colonialism, but an attitude of entitlement and the cultural prejudices of the rich and monumentally uninformed.

Let’s deal with their objection that western musical notation developed during the time of the Black slave trade. As the Torygraph pointed out, it didn’t. It developed before the transatlantic slave trade from the church’s Gregorian Chant. This is absolutely true. The origin of the western musical tradition is in the music written for church services. This soon expanded to take in secular subjects, such as the courtly lyrics of the troubadours, the celebration of kings and princes, drinking, war, and just about every aspect of life. As a genre, the emergence of western classical music has nothing to do with the slave trade. Machaut, the French composer mentioned as the beginning of that part of the Oxford music course, lived in the 12th century, three centuries or so before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th. The modern system of musical notation was also developed in that century by Guido d’Arezzo. The scale, Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Te Do, comes from the initial syllables of a line in the Latin Mass. And whoever thinks that Beethoven is connected to the slave trade is clean out of their tiny mind. Beethoven, I think, was a German liberal with a profound sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution. His Eroica was originally dedicated to Napoleon, until the Corsican bandit invaded Austria. His Ode to Joy looks forward to a world where nations live together in peace and fraternity. Furthermore, it’s also been suggested that he may have had Black ancestry. Either way, I doubt very much that he had any sympathy for slavery or any other form of human servitude whatsoever.

The complaint about that part of the music course is just so wrong, that I do wonder about the motives of the people making these complaints. Assuming they exist, and that the complaints are genuine. Because the complaints are so wrong, and so ignorant, that either the complaint is some kind of mickey-take, or else the people making them are simply monumentally stupid and lazy. For example, what kind of individual, who seriously wants to learn music, objects to learning the notation? Yes, people can and do play by ear, and many non-western musical traditions don’t have a system of notation. But if you seriously want to play music, and certainly if you’re studying it an advanced level, then understanding its notation is very much a basic requirement. This includes not only classical music, but also Jazz, rock and pop. Much of this is composed through improvisation and jam sessions by the musicians themselves, and its form of reproduction is primarily through records rather than print. But nevertheless, they’re also published as sheet music. I’ve got several books of pop, rock and Jazz music on my shelves. They’re published as sheet music as people not only want to listen to some of these great pieces, but also play them for themselves.

So basic is an understanding of written music as well as the development of western music from the Middle Ages onwards, that I really do wonder if the people behind these complaints actually want to study music, or do so to the extent that they have to do some serious work that might stretch them. It doesn’t look like they do to me. I also wonder why, if they consider western music so intimately linked to colonialism and slavery that it causes them distress, that, if they’re foreign, they wanted to come to Europe to study it.

It’s therefore occurred to me that, if the complaints are real, the people doing the complaining may not actually want to study the subject. They just want the cachet of studying at Oxford. Years ago I read a history of Japan, which warned about giving in to the insularism and xenophobia of many Japanese. The Japanese highly value an education at Oxbridge and/ or the British public schools (God help them!) but they don’t like mixing with non-Japanese. Thus one or the other of Oxford or Cambridge was building a separate college to accommodate Japanese students so they wouldn’t have the inconvenience of mixing with people of other nationalities. Perhaps something similar is the case here? Do they want the prestige that goes with an Oxford education, but have their own racist prejudices about European culture and music?

If this is the case, then it’s a scandal. It’s a scandal because education at one of Britain’s leading universities is being dumbed down for these morons. It’s a scandal because it cheapens the real problems of Britain’s Black community, which were behind many of the Black Lives Matter protests. For example, there’s a programme on the Beeb this evening investigating the reasons Black British mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Whites. It’s a scandal because there are doubtless plenty of kids of all colours in the UK, who would just love to study music at Oxford and have a genuine love of classic music. There’s a campaign at the moment to get more Black and Asians into orchestras. It’s been found that people from these ethnicities are seriously underrepresented. Hence there’s an orchestra, Chinikwe!, purely for non-Whites, in order to produce more Black and Asian orchestral musicians. This has also followed attempts to recover the works of Black classical composers. Back in the 1990s one of the French labels issued a CD of harpsichord pieces written by Black composers. Earlier this year, Radio 3 also played the music of Black classical composers. The best known Black British classical composer, I’m sure, is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who lived from 1875 to 1912. His father came from Sierra Leone while his mother was British. He was the composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on Longfellow’s poem, which is still performed by choral societies up and down the country. And yes, it’s written in western musical notation. But these attempts to encourage the performance of classical, orchestral music by Black and Asian performers, and to restore and include Black and Asian classical composers in the western musical tradition, has also been effectively spurned by what seems to be rich, entitled, lazy brats.

The fault therefore seems not to lie with the Oxford music course or with Black Lives Matter, but with an admissions policy that favours the wealthy, even when they are racist and xenophobic, over those from poorer backgrounds, who are genuinely dedicated and talented. If, on the other hand, the people making those complaints seriously believe them, then the response should be to educate them to dispel their prejudices, not accommodate them.

Video of Trevithick’s Steam Carriage in Bristol

March 14, 2021

I’ve an interest in the real, Victorian technology that really does resemble the ideas and inventions in Steampunk Science Fiction. This is the SF genre that, following Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other early writers, tries to imagine what it would have been like had the Victorians had cars, aircraft, robots, spaceships, computers and time travel. And at certain points the Victorians came very close to creating those worlds. Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, set in the Victorian computer age, was a piece of speculation about what kind of society would have emerged, if William Babbage’s pioneering computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built. And also if the 1820s Tory government had fallen to be replaced the rule of Lord Byron. The 19th century was a hugely inventive age, as scientists and engineers explored new possibilities and discoveries. George Cayley in Britain successfully invented a glider, in France Giffard created a dirigible airship, flying it around the Eiffel Tower. And from the very beginning of the century scientists and inventors attempted to develop the first ancestors of the modern car, run on coal and steam, of course.

One of these was a steam carriage designed by the Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, in 1801. This was built, but wasn’t successful. This did not stop other engineers attempting to perfect such vehicles, and steam cars continued to be developed and built well into the 20th century. The most famous of these was the American Stanley Steamer of 1901.

I found this short video on Johnofbristol’s channel on YouTube. It shows a replica of Trevithick’s vehicle being driven around Bristol docks. From the cranes and the building over the other side of the river, it looks like it was shot outside Bristol’s M Shed museum. This was formerly the site of the city’s Industrial Museum, and still contains among its exhibits some fascinating pieces from the city’s industrial past. These include the aircraft and vehicles produced by Bristol’s aerospace and transport companies.

A Real Steampunk Car and Motorcycle

February 19, 2021

Steampunk is a form of Science Fiction which speculates on what the world would have been like if they’d managed to invent cars, computers, aircraft and space and time travel. It follows Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s novel, The Difference Engine, set in an alternative past where Charles Babbage’s pioneering computer, the difference engine of the title, has been built and Britain is ruled by Lord Byron. It’s heavily influenced by early SF writers such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. But some of the machines and inventions in the genre are very close to reality. In fact there was a history book published the other year with the title The Real Victorian Steampunk, or something like that. George Cayley in Britain invented a glider, while a Frenchman, Giffard, developed a dirigible airship in the 1850s and successfully demonstrated it by flying around the Eiffel Tower. And from the first years of the 19th century onwards, inventors were busy developing the first antecedents of the modern car and motorcycle, driven by steam, of course.

I found these two videos on Wildlyfunny’s channel on YouTube. They look like they’re from a steam rally somewhere in eastern Europe, though the blurbs for them doesn’t say where and I’m afraid I don’t recognise the language. This one below is of the 1886 Baffrey Steam Car.

Steam car Baffrey 1886 / Parní vůz Baffrey – YouTube

This second video looks like it’s from the same rally, and is of the 1869 Roper steam motorcycle, invented by Sylvester Howard Roper and demonstrated at fairs and circuses across the US. According to a couple of the commenters, Roper became the first motorcycle casualty when he was killed in a race against seven, ordinary human-powered bicycles.

The FIRST Steam Motorcycle in the world, ROPER 1869 year! – YouTube

The sheer inventiveness of the Victorians never ceases to amaze me, and you do wonder what would have happened had these machines taken off before the invention of the modern internal combustion engine. One of the reasons why they didn’t, and it was only until the invention of the modern petrol/ diesel driven automobile in the later 19th century that cars became an effective rival to horse-drawn transport, is because steam engines weren’t a sufficiently effective power source. It’s also why they were unable to develop steam-driven airplanes. Nevertheless, these machines are still awesome in their ingenuity and a fascinating episode in the history of the automobile.