Posts Tagged ‘BBC 2’

Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

November 3, 2020

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.

BBC 2 Programme Next Week on Possibility of Life on Pluto

July 2, 2020

Way back in the 1970s David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust asked if there was life on Mars. Things have advanced since then, and a new programme on BBC 2 next Monday, 6th July 2020, ponders the possibility that life might exist on the dwarf planet traditionally at the edge of our solar system: Pluto. From being a dead world, Pluto is geologically active and possesses organic chemistry, the building blocks of life. Which raises the question of whether life of some sort exists there.

The programme’s titled Pluto: Back from the Dead and the  blurb for it on page 62 on next week’s Radio Times for 4th – 10th July 2020 reads

New discoveries from the edge of the solar system are transforming what is known about Pluto, thanks to the New Horizons space probe that took the first-ever close up images of the dwarf planet. This Horizon documentary reveals that Pluto, once thought to be geologically dead, is an active world of stunning complexity, with mountains carved from ice, a nitrogen glacier that appears to be moving and a recently active volcano. The data sent back has led some scientists to speculate that there may even be life on Pluto today.

David Butcher’s piece about the programme on page 60 adds

There might be life on Pluto. It sounds far fetched, but that’s the conclusion some scientists have reached, and its one of the unexpected new angles explored in this intriguing edition of Horizon.

The insights come courtesy of New Horizons, a tiny spacecraft that travelled 3.26 billion miles to the edge of the solar system, and sent back amazingly detailed imagery.

It reveals a geologically fertile world with, among other features, a nitrogen glacier and a recently active volcano. Moreover, Pluto’s abundant supply of organic molecules and liquid water suggest some form of alien life might exist.

Pluto isn’t alone in possessing mountains of ice. They also exist on Titan and the other moons of the outer solar system. Titan also possesses organic chemistry, which is why scientists are particularly interested in it for clues about the origin of life on Earth. And it was also at one considered that it too may have life. Carl Sagan also suggested that it might even have volcanoes of frozen gas. There’s an illustration of Titan with one such volcano erupting by the astronomy/science Fiction artist David A. Hardy in his and Patrick Moore’s The New Challenge of the Stars. I don’t know if such volcanoes actually exist there. I haven’t seen anything about the Huygens probe to Saturn and its moons finding any.

Scientists also began speculating that life might also exist in the frozen wastes of the outer solar system after someone suggested that the difference of a few degrees’ temperature between light and shadow on them might be enough to provide the energy to drive life. The quantum physicist and SF author Stephen Baxter expanded this into a short story in his Xelee sequence, collected in the his short story anthology, Vacuum Diagrams. I think that story, however, was set further out in one of the dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt.

After all this time searching the solar system, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there’s life on Pluto. But who knows, perhaps I’m wrong. It would be truly epoch-making if I was and Pluto did possess a biosphere, even if it was only simply microbial organisms.

The programme’s on BBC 2 at 9.00 pm on Monday, 6th July.

 

BBC Shows Horizon Programme from 2006 Next Week on Threat of Global Pandemic

April 2, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, BBC 4 is showing an edition of their science programme, Horizon at 10.00 pm next Wednesday, 8th April 2020. First shown in 2006, the documentary is about the-then Labour government’s plans against a killer pandemic and its catastrophic consequences. The blurb for it in the magazine runs

This feature-length documentary from 2006 focuses on the chilling scenario outlined in the government’s Influenza Contingency Plan, that the next mass outbreak of flu could kill up to 750,000 in Britain. It also predicts that hospitals and emergency services would be overwhelmed by a new, virulent strain of flu, leading to widespread panic and breakdown of law and order.

This bears out an article Mike put up on the 26th of last month, reporting that the British government under Labour knew and were prepared for a lethal pandemic. However, their reports and plans, the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies, the UK Pandemic Communications Strategy and the Guide to Dealing with the Fatalities of the Pandemic, weren’t updated. Further more, the organisation within the Department of Health responsible for tackling such a crisis, the Pandemic Influenze Preparedness Team, appears to have been disbanded after 2011 or thereabouts. It’s because the Tories evidently decided that the threat wasn’t serious, and were more interested in imposing savage cuts in government and welfare provision in order to give their rich corporate donors tax cuts. This has meant that we were left unprepared for the Coronavirus outbreak, and have had to model our strategy on what other countries have been doing. Time has been wasted and lives, that may otherwise have been saved, lost.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/26/the-tories-axed-their-defence-against-coronavirus-years-before-it-arrived-deaths-were-inevitable/

I doubt, and hope very much that the death toll does not reach anywhere near as high as 3/4 of a million. The worst scenario I’ve heard being talked about is 200-250,000, which is still waaaaay too much. It will be an indictment of this government if there are that many casualties.

The following day, Thursday 9th April, the Beeb is showing the first part of a two-part Horizon documentary on the Coronavirus at 9.00 pm on BBC 2. It might be interesting to see how the current pandemic compares to the scenario the Blair government envisaged and prepared for. Hopefully it will be nowhere near as bad as predicted.

But nevertheless, the programme’s existence itself shows that Labour took the threat of a devastating pandemic seriously. Dave Cameron, Tweezer and, initially, Boris did not. And the result is needlessly lost lives and mass poverty.

 

Melanie Philips Pushing the Anti-Semitism Smears Again

March 7, 2020

Okay, it’s the beginning of March, Boris Johnson’s government has settled into its new round of incompetence and personal vindictiveness, and the Tories have been caught in another islamophobia scandal. According to the Mirror, 20 Tory members were expelled for their horrendous views on Islam. BBC Politics Live in its wisdom decided to discuss the issue of race. Unfortunately, one of the guests they chose to talk about it was Daily Heil hack Melanie Phillips. The author of Londonistan, which claims that London is now seething with Islamist terrorists and that Muslims are intent on destroying western society, her views on race are closer to Tommy Robinson than Dr. Martin Luther King. And like the rest of the Israel lobby, she confuses anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. According to Zelo Street, she began by expressing her views on the leading contender for the Labour leadership. Keir Starmer, she opined, was a ‘very decent guy’, and she was sure he was going to put in eye-catchingly good measures to get rid of people, who have not been got rid of.  As for Rebecca Long-Bailey’s response to questioning the day before, she declared that Long-Bailey was trying to avoid the fact that she had gone along with something she should never have gone along with, along with many other members of the Labour Party. Which was, she then explained, that Starmer wasn’t going to get on top of this problem. And that problem went beyond the Labour Party and permeated progressive politics. And it was all about hostility to Israel. She said

It’s wrapped up in attitudes to Israel. It’s wrapped up with beliefs that what’s being talked about isn’t really anti-Semitism, it’s not really prejudice, it’s simply an attempt to stop criticism of Israel. In other words, even among people of goodwill, there is a very widespread failure to understand quite what this thing is that has come out of the woodwork, and until and unless people are prepared to acknowledge precisely what it is, and acknowledge the enormity of it, and the depth of it, no-one’s going to get on top of it”.

As Zelo Street points out, not only is Phillips highly presumptuous in arrogating to herself the authority to define what anti-Semitism is, she expands it so that it includes legitimate criticism of Israel. Even the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which includes amongst its examples criticisms of Israel, also allows legitimate criticism.

And Zelo Street also pointed out that Philip’s opinions were at variance with the facts. After all the evidence of anti-Semitism was passed to the cops, the rozzers only charged one person. Five were arrested, but four of them – three men and a woman – were released and told they would face no further action. That’s out of a party with nearly half a million members.

The Street concludes

‘If what Melanie Phillips was talking about “goes very deep”, how come only one person was charged with an offence? After all that evidence was handed over to the Police? After all the hype, if there was such a serious problem, wouldn’t one expect the numbers to be rather more significant than that? It’s almost as if someone was exaggerating.

Not that one could ever accuse Melanie Phillips of such behaviour. Perish the thought!’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/melanie-phillips-racism-hypocrisy.html

In fact nearly all the allegations of galloping anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are fact-free. The people accused and expelled, like Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Martin Odoni, Mike Sivier, Cyril Chilson and many others, were smeared because they were supporters of Corbyn and/or critics of Israel. They are all genuine anti-racists, but the whole point of the anti-Semitism witch hunt is to close down criticism of Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians, regardless as to truth or legitimacy. Eleven years ago Peter Oborne, a former Telegraph journalist of immense integrity, who just before the election announced his support for Corbyn, present a Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 on the Israel lobby. He talked to former Groaniad editor Alan Rusbridger, who told him that whenever the newspaper published a piece on Israeli atrocities, the head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews would turn up with his pet lawyer, moaning that coverage of such events would result in a rise in anti-Semitism. He also discussed how the Board had accused the Beeb of anti-Semitism because it dared to cover the massacre of Palestinians by the Lebanese Christian Phalange in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during that country’s civil war. The Phalange were allied to Israel, and therefore the coverage was anti-Semitic. And so were the very respected Beeb foreign correspondents, Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin, who reported it. When the Beeb tried to defend them, the defenders, in true witch hunt fashion, were also accused of anti-Semitism. And that included David Attenborough, the very well respected wildlife presenter and former head of BBC 2 many decades ago. The documentary interviewed the Oxford academic Avi Shlaim, an expert on Middle East affairs, who revealed that the Board’s complaints had been examine by the broadcasting regulators, and rejected except on a minor point. The Beeb’s reportage had been correct.

But this is immaterial to the Board and the rest of the Israel lobby. What matters is defending Israel, whatever it does. Even when that includes shooting nurses and unarmed protesters dead and torturing children. And the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is an important weapon in its defence. Because it states that some criticism of Israel may be anti-Semitic. This is expanded to mean all, or as many as the Israel lobby can get away with. It’s why Kenneth Stern, the Zionist American academic, who was one of those who formulated the definition, has criticised it for having a chilling effect on free speech about Israel.

The Tories and the Israel lobby are terrified of legitimate criticism of Israel. So terrified in fact, that they ignore the fact that anti-Semitism is far more prevalent in right-wing parties, and that almost all of it in this country comes from the far right. And so Melanie Phillips and her ideological ilk have precious little to say about members of the Met police having connections to real Nazi organisations, or Tommy Robinson greeting his supporters with ‘Shalom’ and appealing for more money to overthrow the White race – a clear reference to the real anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

No, they’re far more worried about a united, resurgent Labour Party. A party that would allow legitimate criticism of Israel. And that says much about their racism and hypocrisy.

 

 

Comedian David Baddiel Presents Show Attacking Holocaust Denial

February 13, 2020

Next Monday at 9.00 pm on BBC 2, the Beeb is showing the documentary, Confronting Holocaust Denial with David Baddiel. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Despite being one of the most documented events in history, one in six people worldwide believes the Holocaust has been exaggerated or denies that it ever took place. Here, David Baddiel anatomises that denial, from the Nazis’ bid to hide what they were doing to the roles of the British establishment in downplaying the extent to which Jews were the victims and of social media in affording anti-Semitism a platform. David also visits Chelmno, where tens of thousands died, and meets Rachel levy, one of the Holocaust’s few remaining survivors.

I absolutely don’t have a problem with confronting and refuting Holocaust denial whatsoever. It was one of the most monstrous crimes of the 20th century, and the people who deny or minimise it do so in order to sanitise Nazism in the hope of some day getting it back into power. They’re despicable. But I do have issues with this programme, because I’m afraid of a hidden pro-Zionist agenda that will boost the anti-Semitism smear merchants.

Part of this is their choice of presenter. David Baddiel is a brilliantly funny comedian. I went to see him once at the Cheltenham Literary Festival talking about his new book, and he had the room in stitches. He’s also ferociously intelligent with a double first and doctorate from Oxford. But he’s also one of Groaniad’s commentariat, who pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. He appeared on various TV shows making these claims. He also wrote a piece in the Guardian claiming that Corbyn was a terrible anti-Semite because he pronounced Jeffrey Epstein’s name ‘Epshtein’. This was supposed to be an attempt to make the deceased magnate and paedophile less English or, rather, American, by stressing his non-English-speaking origins.

It’s a rubbish argument. Unless you’re aware that Epstein, or others with the same name, are Jewish and pronounce it differently, the name looks German. And Corbyn gave it the German pronunciation. There’s nothing inherently racist in that. Consider the number of gentile Brits with foreign names, like the Eurosceptic politico Mark Francois. Presumably his surname is given the French pronunciation, but this is not taken to mean that Francois is less British. Although it is ironic that someone with a continental name should have such a hatred of the European Union. Similarly, Mike and myself have also had people pronounce our surname incorrectly as if it were French. It isn’t, and that’s not how we say it. But I don’t believe that the people mispronouncing our surname did so deliberately or were consciously trying to denigrate us as somehow not really British or English.

Also, Baddiel himself is hardly innocent of racism. Older readers of this blog may remember the show he and Frank Skinner had on the Beeb in the ’90s, Fantasy Football League. This was a bit of sport comedy. But one of the recurring ‘jokes’, in retrospect, seems at best tasteless, and at worse markedly racist. Baddiel used to appear in blackface wearing a pineapple and dreadlocks in order to mock the appearance of the Black footballer, Jason Lee, who was then playing for Nottingham Forest. He was taking the mick out of Lee’s hairstyle, which was a mixture of the corn rows and dreads. But this led to ‘pineapple head’ being used as a racist insult against Blacks with a similar hairstyle. Tony Greenstein included a piece about this from The Weekly Worker when he attacked Baddiel for pushing the anti-Semitism smears last year.

Baddiel invented the slur ‘Pineapple Heads’ for Black people with ‘Dredds & Cornrows’. Professor Ben Carrington details the strategic exploitative depths into which this campaign of the TV series Fantasy Football plunged and further extended its impact on other Black citizens. “David Baddiel ‘Blacked up’ (evoking the barely coded racist imagery of the minstrel shows) with a pineapple on his head out of which Jason Lee’s dreadlocks were growing – the ‘joke’ being that Jason Lee’s ‘dreads’ resemble a fruit on top of his head. This joke was then carried out with increasing frequency for the rest of the series, with young children sending in drawings of Jason Lee adorned with various fruit on his head. The pineapple joke was then taken up by football fans in the terraces who chanted songs about Jason Lee’s hair and significantly transcended the normally insular world of football fandom and entered into the public domain as both a descriptive term and a form of ridicule (‘Pineapple Head’) for any black person with dreads tied back”. 

Inevitably, many of those subjected to the abusive copy-cat street ‘ridicule’, Carrington identifies were children.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/11/david-baddiels-allegation-of-anti.html

Now I realise that this was a long time ago, and things were slightly different in the ’90s, but it was still pretty tasteless even then. I don’t know if Baddiel regrets the joke, but I doubt that he ever gave it much thought, to be honest. But with this on his record, he may not be the best presenter of a programme dedicated to exposing a particularly nasty form of racism.

And I really don’t want the programme to confer on him a spurious moral authority then next time he starts screaming about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Because people will believe his lies and smears simply because he presented a programme about Holocaust denial, and because he was correct about that, so he must somehow be correct about anti-Semitism in Labour.

One of the issues the programme tackles is the way the British authorities tried to play down the Jews as the victims of Nazi atrocities, because they feared that if they included them gentiles would not believe it. There’s a long article about the documentary in the Radio Times, which includes this

More unsettling is the document Baddiel examines at the National Archives in Kew, a memo from a British official warning that stories of Nazi atrocities will only be effective in the eyes of the British public if the victims can be shown to be “indisputably innocent”. That, writes the official, means the victims must include no violent criminals, and no Jews. To Baddiel, “that was a very serious form of denial. It was laying the ground for a general sense of disbelief towards the Holocaust.”

But there’s also a Zionist double standard here. The Zionist organisations initially also didn’t want Jews singled out as the particular victims of the Nazis. They were afraid that if they did so, it would mean that the world would regard the Jews as being too weak to have their own state. By that same logic, Zionism is also guilty of laying the ground for Holocaust denial. But Baddiel and the Radio Times say nothing.

He also tackles the problem of Holocaust denial among the Palestinians in Gaza. The Radio Times says of this

He hears a Palestinian scholar explain that high rates of Holocaust denial in Gaza owe more to a desire to hurt Jews in their most sensitive spot than a genuine refusal to believe the facts. Baddiel understands that logic – then admits to the camera that his own understanding has made him “uneasy” because, as he tells me later, “Where does understanding shade into legitimacy, into saying “This isn’t quite so bad”? The next thing you know, you’re accepting Holocaust denial.In the film, that the point at which I’m most uncertain.”

But this also raises the issues of Zionist double standards and the way they have manipulated the Holocaust for their own political ends. The Palestinians have their own counterpart of the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. This is the Nakba, an Arabic word for disaster or catastrophe, which the Palestinians use to describe the foundation of Israel and its consequent massacre and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population. The Israeli state, in contrast to its historians, admits that some villages were massacred, but the reality is that there were many, many more. The victims included unarmed men, women and children, including those walking towards the Zionist soldiers with gifts of food, and seeking shelter in mosques. The Israeli state also maintains that the Palestinians were told by their own leaders to flee, but subsequent research has shown that this again is fake history, and these instructions or the rumours of them were manufactured by the nascent Israeli spy agencies. But this is also consistently denied by the Israelis.

And the Israeli state does exploit the Holocaust as a political symbol. In one Holocaust Day ceremony, Israeli troopers marched into the arena in which the commemorations were being held. But as soon as Orla Guerin, the Beeb’s Israel correspondent, mentioned this, she was attacked as an anti-Semite by the Zionist shills, including the Beeb’s former head of programming. Baddiel is right to call out Palestinian Holocaust denial, but it does need to be put in context as a reaction to their history of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish state. It is not simply an act of malicious spite just for the sake of it.

Baddiel and the Beeb are doing a good job by tackling Holocaust denial. But I am afraid that the selection of Baddiel as presenter, and the programme’s omission of Zionist complicity in it, and in ethnic cleansing in Palestine, will act to give it a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist slant. And Baddiel’s own racist jokes about Black hairstyles could be seen as showing the Beeb has double standards of its own. Racism against Blacks is acceptable, while anti-Semitism is not.

But racism is racism, whatever the colour or ethnicity of the person perpetrating it.

 

 

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.

Brian Cox Reveals Great Cthulhu on Pluto

June 27, 2019

Brian Cox’s astronomy series, The Planets, shown on BBC 2, came to an end on Tuesday. After taking the viewer on a tour of the solar system and its creation and history, looking at Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, it finished by looking at the planets in the freezing depths of space almost at its limits – Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the various other dwarf planets believed to have come in from the Kuiper Belt, like Quaeor, Varuna, Eris, and one of the strangest objects discovered in the group, Ultima Thule. This last has a dumb-bell shape, formed by two spherical asteroids collided and fused. It also showed some of the spectacular photographs sent back by recent NASA probes into that almost unimaginably remote part of the Solar system.

Far from being a featureless ball of ice, Pluto was shown to be a world of mountains, with craters like the Moon and a heart-shaped plain. This was believed to have been created through liquid water welling up from beneath its icy crust, smoothing over any impact craters on the surface. And one of these topographical features had a name to delight fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s SF/Horror fiction: Cthulhu Macula. Of course, the cold, dim, icy edge of the solar system is very suitable for a place named after one of the malign cosmic gods of the Cthulhu mythos, the Great Old Ones, who seeped down from the stars. Like Great Cthulhu himself, sleeping in his house in the sunken island of R’lyeh in the Pacific, they are dormant, just waiting their chance to return and once again subdue humanity to their hideous power. It also shows how there must be at least one person in NASA, if not the rest of the Astronomical Union, who’s into Lovecraft.

But there’s another, historical reason why this part of Pluto should have been named after one of Lovecraft’s monstrous fictional creations. One of the evil extraterrestrial races in his short stories is the Fungi from Yuggoth, otherwise known as Pluto. These are space travelling giant insects, at least in appearance, who have established bases on Earth. They are masters of surgery. Unable to bring their agents to their homeworld complete, they surgically remove their brains, keeping them in a suitable life-support container when they fly through the depths of space. Lovecraft wrote the story in which they make their appearance the year Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, and so wrote the newly discovered world into the story.

The Planets has been an excellent series, not least for its computer recreations of scenes from the solar system’s remote past. It also had a fitting choice of band for its signature music: Muse. The Bournemouth band have written a series of hits about space and physics, like ‘2nd Law’, ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, while the video for ‘Sing For Absolution’ had them as astronauts fleeing an Earth in the grip of a new Ice Age, to travel into a future when the Sun is hotter and the Earth a burned cinder.

I don’t know if there will ever be a crewed mission to Pluto. Given that it’s five decades since we put men on the Moon, and are only now considering returning there, it’s not going to be any time soon. And I really doubt that we will find Great Cthulhu himself there when we do. Perhaps that’s what was need to keep up interest in space exploration: we should have found Cthulhu there, in his city where the angles are wrong, waiting for when the stars are right.

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu R’lyeh ftagn!

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

The Rights’ Conflation of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism and the Erasure of Left-Wing Jewish History

March 19, 2019

Just as the Jewish Chronicle may have itself been guilty of anti-Semitism by denying that one of the signatories to the letter of support for Corbyn and the Labour party sent to the Sunday Times, so other members of the right may also be aiding anti-Semitism by their repeated use of the conspiracy theory that the Jews are the real force behind capitalism.

Three days ago, on 16th March 2019, David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, an ardent campaigner himself against racism, anti-Semitism and thus Zionism, put up on his blog an article discussing this very point, which had been published that day in the Morning Star. He began by commenting on the statement by Blairite Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh to John Humphrys on Radio 4 that ‘anti-capitalist politics are at the root of anti-Semitism’. Rosenberg states that it’s an appalling slur against everyone fighting against the poverty and inequality of Tory Britain, but it also revealed that the Right, even those, who think they are pro-Jewish, still believe anti-Semitic stereotypes, as McDonagh obviously thinks that Jews are rich capitalists.

He goes on to discuss how this is at the heart of the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that sees the Jews as using their wealth to control the banks and governments. A theory that was pushed by Henry Ford, an Episcopalian Christian and founder of the car manufacturer that bears his name, in his paper the Dearborn Independent. Ford believed that the Jews caused World War I, and published the infamous Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And someone else who believed this poisonous nonsense, and was Ford’s biggest fan in Europe, was one A. Hitler.

Rosenberg goes on to discuss how there are Jews, who identify the Jewish community with capitalism, banking and property and so accuse the anti-capitalist left as anti-Semites. He then cites Richard Mather, who claimed in an article in the Jerusalem Post that ‘the Labour party’s call for the seizure of property’ was part of ‘anti-Semitic class warfare’, and pieces written by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, and one of his journos, Alex Brummer, who both claimed that Corbyn was an anti-Semitic threat to Jewish capitalists, with Pollard harking back to Corbyn’s attack on the bankers that caused the financial crash ten years ago. Rosenberg tweeted in response to this nonsense that of Pollard and Corbyn, one of them thought all bankers were Jews. And it wasn’t Corbyn.

Rosenberg goes on to say that

In my 61 years I’ve never met a Jewish banker. I’ve met unemployed Jews, Jewish decorators, post-office workers, van drivers, taxi drivers, shopworkers, social workers, secretaries, teachers, pharmacists, and several comedians.

He reinforces this point by describing how Arnold Brown, a Jewish comedian, who came from a poor background in Glasgow, tore up the floorboards at his home one day after the other schoolkids told him that all Jews were rich. He also makes the point that the racist Right use the stereotype of the rich Jewish capitalist to divert popular anger away from capitalism to particular Jewish figures, who are supposed to be responsible for its ills, such as Rothschild and Goldman Sachs to George Soros today, demonised by Trump and a slew of extreme right-wing regimes because he funds agencies for migrants and refugees and anti-government demonstrations.

But he also makes the point that this stereotype also erases the strong history of Jewish left-wing anti-capitalist activism, writing

When McDonagh, Mather and Pollard repeat stereotypes of Jews as capitalists, they not only feed these conspiracy theories, but also erase an outstanding tradition of Jewish anti-capitalism. People know the famous Jewish revolutionaries, like Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemberg, Emma Goldman, but it was in mass Jewish workers’ movements such as the Bund, and among the Jews so numerous in socialist and communist parties over the last 120 years, that anti-capitalism was ingrained. In 1902, a Russian Jewish bookbinder, Semyon Ansky, wrote a Yiddish song to honour the Bund’s struggles for social justice. The movement adopted it as its anthem. One powerful verse translates as:

“We swear to the heavens a bloody hatred against those who murder and rob the working class. The Tsar, the rulers, the capitalists – we swear that they will all be devastated and destroyed. An oath, an oath, of life and death.”

He goes on to say that he is going that day to march and speak with the Jewish Socialist Group on a national demonstration in London against racism and Fascism, including the anti-Semitism that is rising in central and eastern Europe and Trump’s America with the Pittsburgh shooting.  He concludes

At street level, far right organisations concentrate physical attacks more frequently on Muslims, Roma, migrants and refugees, but when they want to explain to their supporters who they believe holds power in the world they fall back on Jewish conspiracy theories as surely today as they did in the 1930s. The fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-migrant propaganda are absolutely linked and we must combat them together.

See: https://rebellion602.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/the-anti-antisemitism-that-actually-promotes-jew-hating/

Absolutely. Rosenberg’s blog is particularly fascinating for the pieces he publishes about the Bund, the socialist party of the eastern European masses in the Russian Empire. It’s a history that I doubt many non-Jews know about, as the Yiddish-speaking communities the Bund represented were murdered by the Nazis. If people outside the Jewish community know about it at all, it’s probably because of the movement’s connection to the Russian Socialist movement. The Bund were, with the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, part of the Russian Social Democratic Party, the parent organisation of the Russian Communists. It was their withdrawal from the party conference in 1909, when Lenin demanded that there should be no separate organisation for Jewish socialists, that made the Bolsheviks the majority faction and gave them their name, from ‘Bolshe’, the Russian word for bigger.

But the articles by David Rosenberg and other left-wing Jewish bloggers and vloggers reveal a rich, lost history of Jewish anti-capitalist struggle. One of the remarkable consequences of the anti-Semitism smears is that this history is being rediscovered and brought to public attention as Jewish Marxists and socialists refute these smears. Jon Pullman’s film, The Witchhunt, attacking these smears and particularly the libelous hounding of Jackie Walker, includes a brief mention of the Bund, including black and white footage of their demonstrations and banners. If Channel 4 had kept to its original charter as an alternative BBC 2, the Bund and its legacy would be a very suitable subject for a documentary. It could also easily be screened on BBC 4. But I doubt that this will ever happen because the stereotype of the rich Jew is too important a weapon against the anti-capitalist left for it to be refuted by such a thing as actual history.

And if left-wing Jewish history, like that of the Bund, is being forgotten, some contemporary works on the Jewish community may inadvertently reinforce the stereotype of the rich Jew. Back in the 1990s an aunt gave me a book about the Jewish community in Britain, The Club. It was a mainstream book by a very respectable mainstream publisher, but from what I can remember about it, it was about the elite section of British Jewish society, the top 100. I think it was written from an entirely praiseworthy standpoint – to celebrate Jewish achievement, and to how how integrated and indeed integral Jews were to British society and culture. But books like it can give an unbalanced picture of Jewish society in Britain by concentrating on the immensely wealthy and successful, and ignoring the ordinary Jewish folk, who live, work and whose kids go to school and uni with the rest of us, and whose working people marched in solidarity with us.

It’s fascinating and necessary that the history of Jewish socialism is being rediscovered, and that activists in the Bund’s tradition, like Rosenberg, continue to write, demonstrate and blog against racism and anti-Semitism as part of the real struggle by working people.

 

 

Woo-hoo! China Mieville’s ‘The City and The City’ Coming to BBC 2 Next Friday!

March 29, 2018

Next Friday, 6th April 2018, BBC 2 screens the first part of its four part adaptation of China Mieville’s SF novel, The City and the City. The blurb for it in the Radio Times read

Detective thriller based on the novel by China Mieville, starring David Morrissey. A dead girl is recovered at Bulkya Docks on the border between Beszel and Ul Qoma – two cities with a division like no other – and inspector Borlu is surprised by the similarities to an old case that still haunts him. The entire series will be available on iPlayer. (p. 114).

There’s more information on the series earlier, on page 112, where the series is declared ‘pick of the day’ by the magazine. David Butcher’s description of the show runs

Imagine a kind of double city where citizens on either side are forbidden from looking at each other, and the frontier between the two – a frontier of the mind, partly – is ruthlessly policed. That’s the premise of China Mieville’s fantasy novel, adapted into a queasy, unsettling drama.

It has the air of a slow-motion Philip K. Dick fable, layered with retro seediness. David Morrissey plays a hangdog copper investigating the murder of an American woman stabbed with a glass shard. But he is haunted by the loss of someone dear to him and by parallels between her case and this one. “I knew there was another city I dare not see,’ he growls, ‘Just on the other side of where I was permitted to look.”

Gradually, we gather what the characters mean by words like “unseeing” and “Breach”,, so it’s best not to explain too much here. As a procedural, the plot moves through treacle, but the look and feel of the story create an oppressive mood that is hard to shift.

This looks very interesting, and I need my dose of TV SF now that the X-Files and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams have ended.