Posts Tagged ‘Gulf War I’

Losing Patience with the Anti-Corbyn Bias in Private Eye

August 7, 2016

I’ve finally lost patience with the persistent bias against Jeremy Corbyn in Private Eye. I read the magazine regularly, and much of it I agree with and admire. It has over the years published some superb pieces attacking privatisation, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the persecution of the severely disabled by Atos and its successor Maximus. It has also shown itself quite willing to challenge British foreign policy. For example, it has published numerous pieces rebutting official claims that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and instead pointed the finger at Syria, who were not accused as George Bush senior needed their help during the first Gulf War. It has also done admirable work defending the bereaved relatives in the Deepcut inquiry, challenging the official story that all of the victims committed suicide and attacking the Army’s and police’s apparent cover-up of what looks very much like murder on an army base that was out of control, with rampant bullying and the sexual abuse of female squaddies.

And yet, despite all this, the magazine has joined the rest of the press pack in attacking Corbyn as ‘unelectable’, mocking, smearing and denigrating his leadership at every turn. For the past few weeks, it has been running a strip, ‘Focus on Fact’, which appears to have been written by the Blairites, and mostly revisits spats with Jeremy Corbyn and the extreme Left back in the 1980s. They’ve also published other pieces firmly showing their pro-Blairite bias. For instance, in this fortnight’s issue, there’s a piece defending Angela Eagle’s claim that Corbynistas threw a brick through her window, and attacking the good folks on the internet that have attempted to refute it as ‘conspiracy theorists’. They’ve also decided to criticise Corbyn because – gasp – he’s dared to appear on RT and Press TV. I intend to blog more deeply about both these issues. However, for now I’ll just say that the story about the brick thrown at Eagle’s office is false. It didn’t come through her window, and the area is marked by vandalism. There’s no evidence linking it to the Corbynites, and the entire accusation just comes from Eagle. As for RT and PressTV, this is more or less a return to the ‘red baiting’ of the Thatcherites in the 1980s, when they attacked Ken Livingstone and his group as Communists. This included members of the left-wing Tribune group, who had written articles for Soviet and Marxist magazines, but were themselves not Communists. RT stands for Russia Today, and is the Russian state broadcaster, while PressTV is run by the Iranian state. Both of these are extremely authoritarian countries which are notorious for their persecution of independent journalists. But I’ve used material from RT, because it gives a genuinely left-wing perspective on politics and events in America and the West, such as American imperialism and the exclusion of radical voices from official American politics. Very few others broadcasters are going to discuss these issues, with the noble exceptions of internet programmes like The Young Turks and Democracy Now. They put on the stuff that you won’t read about in our papers, or see on BBC TV, and increasingly not on Channel 4.

So what has prompted the Eye to attack Corbyn? I can’t be sure, but it strikes me that it’s probably due to the very upper middle class background of the magazine itself, and the fact that, despite its excellent record in many areas, none of its founders were in any sense radicals. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and John Wells were all stout fellows, but they were very ‘establishment’. They were public schoolboys, a point I can remember being made by the panel at an event on the late Peter Cook one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. John Wells, who in my opinion was one of the funniest of British comedians and comic actors, was the former French teacher and headmaster of Eton. You don’t get much more establishment than that. I once heard Humphrey Carpenter describe Auberon Waugh as a ‘Tory anarchist’, presumably meaning he that he was instinctively a man of the Right, but was also acutely aware of their stupidities and failings as well. I think this characterisation probably applies much more to Peter Cook. Cook seemed to me to be resolutely cynical in his politics. When he was at university, he joined all three mainstream political parties so he could laugh at them equally. By contrast, Waugh, who also wrote columns for Private Eye, always struck me as just a sarcastic right-winger sneering at the Left. Ingrams was notorious for having a bitter hatred of gays. After leaving the editorship of Private Eye, he founded the Oldie, a magazine for the elderly. I asked my mother once if she’d read it. She had, but didn’t like it, declaring it to be ‘snobby’. The only genuine left-winger on the team was Paul Foot, and he fitted in because he came from the same privileged background, and had the same very upper-middle class tastes in food and drink as the rest of them.

Ian Hislop, the current editor, is no different. He’s very public school, and his father was some kind of army officer or colonial administrator in Nigeria. And he also shares other parts of the accepted political wisdom. A few years ago on Have I Got News For You he declared that, regardless of the attacks the Tories were getting for their austerity policies, Labour would also be required to cut spending on the welfare state. This is very much the standard view, which is also followed slavishly by Beeb broadcasters. The Kushners attacked it, and the media consensus surrounding it, in their book Who Needs the Cuts?, which contains numerous examples of BBC broadcasters and journos uncritically repeating what is basically Neoliberal propaganda. Hislop wasn’t mentioned, but he was clearly another who had uncritically accepted this view.

And Corbyn isn’t the only Left-wing politician to be have been unfairly attacked by the Eye. Tony Benn was regularly pilloried as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, despite the fact that the people, who knew him said that he wasn’t a fanatic, but a thoughtful man who carefully considered what the people around him were saying and consulted their opinions before reaching a decision. But the received, Fleet Street wisdom in the 1970s and ’80s was that Benn was a fanatic and a madman.

As was ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was also attacked as a ‘Communist’, despite the fact that he wasn’t. He used them, and occasionally used the same type of language, but wasn’t, in fact, a Marxist. But hasn’t stopped the Eye from calling him Ken Leninspart. And most of what Livingstone talked about in his interviews with the press when he was head of the GLC was boringly mundane. However, this was routinely ignored, and the only parts of the conversation – which in actual fact were only very small parts of what he said – which were printed and repeated were those which presented him as an extremist – profoundly anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-gay. Which was too much for a Britain that was much more traditional and conservative in its attitudes towards race and gender than today. This was a time when the Black and White Minstrels were mainstream TV with a mass audience, despite being based on 19ith century parodies of Black, slave entertainment.

Benn and Livingstone were both attacked by the media because they were left-wing Socialists. Benn advocated extending nationalisation to a further 25 companies, as recommended in a report by his own party. One journo for the Sunday Times said that this was probably the reason why the press hated him, because editors and proprietors feared that eventually he would nationalise them. And ‘Red’ Ken was similarly reviled because he was in favour of industrial democracy and worker’s control, which shocked and outraged the media. The press did not, however, try to refute their ideas, and so took the tactics of sheer ad hominem abuse. My guess they were afraid to, because either they couldn’t, or they were afraid that simply discussing them would make them popular with the proles.

And I think this is true of the press today and its attacks on Corbyn. They’re motivated by the same fear of genuine Socialism after the neoliberalism and privatisation of the Blairites. And this terror is shared by Hislop and Private Eye, which despite its subversive tradition of satire and exposing abuse of power, isn’t really a radical magazine. Hislop and no doubt many of his contributors come from the upper middle classes, which own industry and continue to expect to take a leading role in British government and society. Jeremy Corbyn threatens them, just as Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone did before him. And so Private Eye joins in the abuse sneering and smearing him.

Vox Political on Chilcot’s Damning Verdict on Blair, and What His Readers Think

July 7, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has reblogged a piece from the Guardian by Owen Jones, laying out how damning the Chilcot report is of Tony Blair and his decision to lead the country into war. Owen Jones is a fine journalist, who clearly and accurately explains the issues. I’ve read and quoted from his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, which is very good, and has rightly received great praise. He also has another book out The Establishment: Who They Are and How They Get Away with it. I’ve been thinking about that one, but have avoided buying it so far on the grounds that it might make me too furious.

Mike also asks what his readers think of the Iraq War. He asks

Do any of you believe the war was justified, as Ann Clwyd still does (apparently)? Have any of you come to believe that? Did you support the war and turn away? Do you think Saddam Hussein had to go, no matter the cost? Do you think the war contributed to the rise of new terrorist groups like Daesh – sometimes called Islamic State – as laid out in the ‘cycle of international stupidity’ (above)? Do you think it didn’t? Do you think Blair wanted a war because they put national politicians on the international stage? Do you think he improved or diminished the UK’s international standing? Do you think the UK has gained from the war, or suffered as a result?

The Issues, Arguments and Demos against the War at its Very Beginning

Okay, at the rest of alienating the many great readers of this blog, I’ll come clean. Back when it first broke out, I did support the war. I can’t be a hypocrite and claim that I didn’t. This was despite many other people around me knowing so much better, and myself having read so much that was against the war. For example, one of the 1.5 million or so people, who marched against the war was my local parish priest. One of my friends was very firmly against the war. I was aware from reading the papers and Lobster that the dodgy dossier was fake, and a piece of propaganda. I also knew from watching Bremner, Bird and Fortune that there was absolutely no connection between Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath regime, which was Arab nationalist, and the militant Islamism of Osama bin Laden, and that absolutely no love was lost between the two. And as the war dragged on, I was aware from reading Private Eye how so much of it was driven by corporate greed. The Eye ran a piece reporting on how Bush had passed legislation, which gave American biotech companies the rights to the country’s biodiversity. The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East in Turkey, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and what is now Israel, as well as Arabia and Iran, was the location for the very first western civilisations. Iraq, Syria and Turkey, I believe, were the very first centres where humans settled down and started domesticating wheat. The ancient grains that supported these primitive communities, like emmer and so on, still exist in abundance in these countries, along with other crops and plants that aren’t grown in the west. They represent a potentially lucrative field for the biotech companies. And so the American biotech corporations took out corporate ownership, meaning that your average Iraqi peasant farmer could be prosecuted for infringing their corporate copyright, if he dared to continue growing the crops he and his forefathers and mothers had done, all the way back to Utnapishtim, Noah and the Flood and beyond. More legal chicanery meant that American corporations could seize Iraqi assets and industries for damages, even if these damages were purely speculative or had not actually occurred. It’s grossly unjust, and aptly illustrates how predatory, rapacious and wicked these multinationals are.

And then there were the hundreds of thousands killed by Islamist militants, Iraqi insurgents, and the bodies of our squaddies coming back in coffins, along with a line of the maimed and mentally scarred.

All this should have been a clear demonstration of how wrong the war was. And it is a clear demonstration of its fundamental wrongness.

Hopes for Democratic Iraq Despite Falsity of Pretext

But I initially supported the war due to a number of factors. Partly it was from the recognition that Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug. We had been amply told how brutal he was around Gulf War I, and in the ten years afterwards he had brutally suppressed further rebellions – gassing the Kurds and murdering the Shi’a. In the aftermath of the invasion, UN human rights teams found the remains of his victims in vast, mass graves. The Financial Times also ran a piece on the massive corruption and brutal suppression of internal dissent within his regime. So it seemed that even if the reason for going to war was wrong, nevertheless it was justified because of the sheer brutality of his regime, and the possibility that a better government, freer and more humane, would emerge afterwards.

That hasn’t happened. Quite the reverse. There is democracy, but the country is sharply riven by ethnic and religious conflict. The American army, rather than acting as liberators, has treated the Iraqi people with contempt, and have aided the Shi’a death squads in their murders and assassinations of Sunnis.

Unwillingness to Criticise Blair and Labour

Some of my support for the war was also based in a persistent, uncritical support for Blair and the Labour party. Many of the war’s critics, at least in the West Country, were Tories. The Spectator was a case in point. It was, at least originally, very much against the war. So much so that one of my left-wing friends began buying it. I was highly suspicious of the Tory opposition to the war, as I thought it was opportunist and driven largely by party politics. When in power, the Tories had been fervently in favour of war and military action, from the Falklands, to Gulf War I and beyond. Given their record, I was reluctant – and still am very reluctant – to believe that they really believed that the war was wrong. I thought they were motivate purely from party interests. That still strikes me as pretty much the case, although I will make an allowance for the right-wing Tory journo, Peter Hitchens. Reading Hitchens, it struck me that his opposition to the war was a matter of genuine principle. He has an abiding hatred of Blair, whom he refers to as ‘the Blair creature’ for sending so many courageous men and women to their deaths. He’s also very much a Tory maverick, who has been censured several times by his bosses at the Mail for what he has said about David Cameron. ‘Mr Slippery’ was one such epithet. Now Hitchen’s doesn’t respect him for liberal reasons. He despises him for his liberal attitudes to sexual morality, including gay marriage. But to be fair to the man, he is independent and prepared to rebel and criticise those from his side of the political spectrum, often bitterly.

The Corrosive Effect of Endemic Political Corruption

My opposition to the war was also dulled by the sheer corruption that had been revealed over the last few decades. John Major’s long administration was notorious for its ‘sleaze’, as ministers and senior civil servants did dirty deals with business and media tycoons. Those mandarins and government officials in charge of privatising Britain’s industries, then promptly left government only to take up positions on the boards of those now private companies. Corporations with a minister or two in their back pocket won massive government contracts, no matter how incompetent they were. And Capita was so often in Private Eye, that the Eye even then was referring to it as ‘Crapita’. Eventually my moral sense was just worn down by it all. The corporate plunder of Iraq just seemed like another case of ‘business as usual’. And if the Tories are just as culpable as Blair and his allies, then there’s no reason to criticise Blair.

The Books and Film that Changed my Attitude to the War

What changed my attitude to the Iraq War was finally seeing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 on Channel 4, and reading Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the Counterpunch book End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, as well as Bushwhacked, a book which exposes the lies and sheer right-wing corruption of George W. Bush’s administration. Palast’s book is particularly devastating, as it shows how the war was solely motivated by corporate greed and the desire of the Neocons to toy with the Iraqi economy in the hope of creating the low tax, free trade utopia they believe in, with precious little thought for the rights and dignity of the Iraqi people themselves. End Times is a series of article cataloguing the mendacity of the American media in selling the war, US politicians for promoting it, and the US army for the possible murder of critical journalists. Other books worth reading on the immorality and stupidity of the Iraq War include Confronting the New Conservativism. This is a series of articles attacking George W. Bush and the Neocons. Much of them come from a broadly left-wing perspective, but there are one or two from traditional Conservatives, such as female colonel in the Pentagon, who notes that Shrub and his coterie knew nothing about the Middle East, and despised the army staff, who did. They had no idea what they were doing, and sacked any commander, who dared to contradict their stupid and asinine ideology.

And so my attitude to war has changed. And I think there are some vital lessons that need to be applied to the broader political culture, if we are to stop others making the same mistakes as I did when I supported the war.

Lessons Learned

Firstly, when it comes to issues like the invasion of Iraq, it’s not a matter of ‘my party, right or wrong’. The Tories might be opposing the war out of opportunism, but that doesn’t mean that supporters of the Labour party are traitors or somehow betraying the party by recognising that it was immoral, and that some of the Tories, who denounced it did have a point.

Secondly, the cynical attitude that all parties are corrupt, so it doesn’t matter if you turn a blind eye to Labour’s corruption, is also wrong and misplaced. Corruption has to be fought, no matter where it occurs. You almost expect it in the Tory party, which has always had a very cosy attitude towards business. It has much less place on the Left, which should be about defending human rights and those of the weak.

Blair: Liar and War Criminal

And so I fully support the Chilcot report, and Jeremy Corbyn’s denunciations of Blair. He was a war criminal, and surely should have known better never to have become embroiled in the Iraq invasion. I’ve heard the excuse that he joined the war only reluctantly and was a restraining force on George Dubya. It’s a lie. He was eager to join the invasion and get whatever he thought Britain could from the spoils. And the result has been 13 years of war, the destruction and occupation of an entire nation, and the spread of further chaos and bloodshed throughout the Middle East.

Vox Political on Blair’s Defence at the Chilcott Inquiry

June 7, 2016

Mike this morning put up a piece pointing out the profound differences between Corbyn’s supporters and Tony Blair. Corbyn’s fans are planning a tour of rock musicians, poets and comedians, culminating in an appearance at the Labour Party conference in September. Blair, by contrast, is planning his defence against the allegations that his invasion of Iraq was illegal.

Apparently, the old warmonger wishes us to consider, as part of his defence, what would have happened if Saddam Hussein had been left free to develop weapons of mass destruction, and the destabilising effects of al-Qaeda in the Middle East. He will claim that it wasn’t failures in post-conflict planning, which has resulted in Iraq descending into an anarchist slaughterhouse, but intervention in the country by Iran and the above Islamists.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/06/the-difference-fans-plan-concert-to-honour-corbyn-while-blairites-prepare-defence-against-chilcot-report/

The man’s an inveterate liar, and absolutely nothing that he says about the causes of Gulf War II should be trusted. Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. They had all been dismantled, and there’s no evidence he was doing anything to change that. Furthermore, Hussein had not ventured outside Iraq since Gulf War I. And when he did in that conflict, it was because the Americans told him that they would not do anything to stop his annexation of Kuwait and its oil supplies.

Bush and Blair had absolutely no plans for what would happen after the allies won. They relied almost totally on Ahmed Chalabi, a bullsh*tter with absolutely no support in the country, who managed to convince them that they would be hailed as liberators and he could be happily installed in the government.

As for Iran and al-Qaeda, these were effectively checked by Hussein when he was in charge of the country. His removal effectively opened the country up to them, especially as disaffected Sunnis from the armed forces soon joined the al-Qaeda militants. Also, America is deeply implicated in the bloodshed. Shi’a terror gangs were given full support by one of the American generals in the occupying army. These gangs were responsible for massacres of the Sunni population. The private military contractors hired by the Americans and British to aid in the invasion have also run amok. They are responsible for prostitution rings, and the brazenly casual murder of Iraqi civilians. There have been instances of mercenaries shooting Iraqi civilians in the street as they drove past in their cars, for absolutely no reason at all.

For information on the political manoeuvres leading up to the Iraq Invasion, and the real reasons for it, see Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse. I’ve put up a series of pieces on this blog from news channels such as Secular Talk, The Young Turks and so on about the atrocities committed by the mercenaries.

There is absolutely no doubt. Blair is a war criminal, and if there was any justice our German friends would reopen Spandau and shove him in it, so he could spend the rest of his days in captivity like Rudolf Hess.

The Guardian’s Attack on the Kuenssberg Petition and the Myth of the Liberal Media

May 14, 2016

Yesterday Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece reporting that one of the hacks at the Guardian had published a piece attacking the petition for Laura Kuenssberg to be sacked. Kuenssberg is the Beeb’s political editor, whose hatred of the Labour Party is so overt that an internet petition was launched demanding her removal. It garnered 35,000 signatures. The petition was briefly taken down for the alleged reason that some of the comments were abusive and misogynist. In fact, this has been shown to be very largely not the case. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop the Groan accusing the petition of carrying such sexist abuse, just like the Independent last weekend also carried a piece, also quoting a former Guardian journo, claiming that it did.

The Groaniad is one of the few left-wing papers in this country, the others being the Independent, the Mirror and the Observer. The problem is that despite the newspaper’s notoriety as a mouthpiece of the hard left in the 1970s, it’s actually questionable how liberal the British liberal press actually is. This scepticism also extends to the BBC, whose pro-Tory bias in its news reporting has been discussed and criticised by academics at Edinburgh university. Nine years ago Lobster carried a review by Richard Alexander of the book, Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media, by David Edwards and David Cromwell (London: Pluto Press 2006). The review begins

Since 2001 the two authors have run the website MediaLens, with its watching brief on the British mass media, putting out media alerts which encourage readers to contact the media to take issue with what they perceive to be inaccuracies, distortions, and omissions, in particular related to political and environmental matters. They take their inspiration from media analysts like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman and campaigning journalists such as John Pilger.

Their main, but not exclusive, focus is on the liberal newspapers, such as The Guardian and The Independent and the BBC. This is because the papers are allegedly writing from a viewpoint that is in some way critical of the powers that be, and the latter because it aspires to be accurate and public service broadcaster, not beholden to commercial pressure.

The book is structured around several key episodes in modern history: the second Gulf War and the build-up to it; NATO intervention in Kosovo and Serbia; US involvement in Haiti; the western invasion of Afghanistan; the Indonesian invasion and repression in East Timor and the West’s lack of critical response to it; coupled with global warming – or ‘climate change’ as it’s called to downplay the seriousness of the situation. These case studies say pretty much what anyone who has followed the stories would expect: the interests of the domestic state and capital are assumed to be paramount, mainstream criticism is muted and, generally, the role of the mass media in relaying what government and big business want their readers and viewers to see and hear is clearly outlined. Lobster 52, pp. 39-40.

The rest of the review describes how the writers wish to encourage the general public to change this situation by writing into the papers and the Beeb, and complaining. Alexander sees this as useless. All it accomplishes is that the letter writer is ultimately dismissed as a nuisance and a crank. Only a complete fundamental transformation of society is likely to change this situation, in Alexander’s view. He concludes pessimistically by saying that the people, who should read the book, won’t, and those who will largely won’t need to.

However, the book and its review does show that the liberal media in Britain largely isn’t that liberal, which puts into perspective the Groan’s attack on the petition against Kuenssberg. As for the Guardian, it urged its readers to go out and vote Liberal at the 2010 elections, showing that it was not quite the left-wing firebrand that it had been, but a centrist newspaper. And so it rushes to attack a petition, just on the basis on unsupported allegations, because it is supposed to contain misogynistic comments about an overtly Conservative broadcaster.

Mike’s piece about the Guardian’s attack on the petition can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/13/this-guardian-opinion-piece-is-so-wrong-it-borders-on-sickness/

Lobster on MI6 Using Islamist Terrorist to Kill Gaddafy

May 7, 2016

Remember David Shayler? He was the former spook, who spectacularly made a whole series of damaging revelations or accusations, depending on how you see them, about Britain’s spy agencies. He then fled to Switzerland, and started wearing women’s clothes, adopted a female name, and then started muttering New Age nonsense. A bit like Edward Snowden crossed with Grayson Perry and David Icke, but without the Reptoids.

Lobster 50 for winter 2005/6 carried the news that one of the Islamist groups that had been banned by the British government, had also, according to Shayler, been approached by the spooks to assassinate Colonel Gaddafy. Lobster’s editor, Robin Ramsay, wrote:

The broadsheets reported on 11 October on the Home Secretary’s list of groups that are being banned in Britain. Number one on the list was the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which, are told, is trying to overthrow Colonel Gaddafy’s regime. That name might ring a bell because this is the group, an al-Qaeda affiliate we are told, which, according to David Shayler, was paid by MI6 to try to assassinate Colonel Gaddafy. But this was back in the days when Gaddafy was ‘the mad dictator’, some time funder of the IRA and the head of the regime which organised the Lockerbie bombing. (P.31).

The rest of the article argues that Libya didn’t commit the atrocity, and that the real responsibility lay with the Syrians. However, the British and Americans couldn’t admit this, as they needed Syrian assistance in the Gulf War. And so Libya and Abdelbasset el Megrahi, were blamed. This is also the view of the incident taken by Private Eye, who produced a special section on the issue, if I recall.

Shayler’s allegation now, ten years or so later, does have a certain ring of truth. The Islamist groups were toppled and killed Gaddafy were receiving funds from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. It therefore doesn’t seem to be me to be remotely unlikely that MI6 would try and recruit one or two to kill someone, who did sponsor international terror networks at the time.

Poverty, Class Conflict and the Satanism Scare

November 2, 2014

It was Halloween on Friday, and the Beeb has been marking the season with a series of spooky programmes. For the past few weeks BBC 4 has been running a programme Gothic: Britain’s Midnight Hour, on the rise of Victorian Gothic architecture, art and literature, presented by the excellent Andrew Graham-Dixon. On Friday night itself, BBC 4 also screened a programme on Goth pop music, covering ’80s and ’90s stars of the genre such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and the other musical limners of the miserable, the uncanny and the undead. Yesterday, Strictly Come Dancing also presented a suitably Halloween-themed edition, with the celebs and their professional partners tripping the light fantastic dressed as ghosts, ghouls, zombies and witches. And tonight on BBC 4 again, the science broadcaster, Dr Alice Roberts, will be presenting a programme on the origins of the classic Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Roberts is professor for the public engagement with science at Birmingham University. A medical doctor, she was a regular member of Channel 4’s Time Team, examining the human remains excavated by the Team. She is, however, credited in the programme as ‘anatomist’. This is indeed what she was, a professor of anatomy at Bristol Uni before taking up her post in Birmingham’s great institution. It’s a suitable career description, considering the origins of the book’s monster in the charnel houses, and the book’s scientific basis in the dissecting rooms of the early 19th century. And so in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d write a suitably spooky piece for this blog.

The 1990s Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare

Some years ago I wrote a piece, ‘Satanism and Class Conflict’, for the sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia. Not only did Magonia critically examine the ‘modern myth of things seen in the sky’, to use C.G. Jung’s description, it also examined other forms of contemporary paranormal experience, vision and belief. This included the Satanism scare, which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s to disrupt and ruin the lives of many innocent children and adults. This was the belief that there are multigenerational sects of Satanists, responsible for sexually abusing and killing children in occult rituals. The F.B.I. investigated such claims and found that there was little evidence for such cults in America. In Britain the scare finally collapsed with the publication of the government’s Fontaine report, which also concluded that such a vast, occult organisation did not, in fact, exist. This was not before tens, perhaps hundreds of children had been taken into care, and parents, teachers, nursery teachers and religious ministers had been accused and sometimes jailed, often on the flimsiest evidence. Some of the testimony which provided the basis for prosecution was the product of false memories. These were confabulated memories created either through regression hypnosis or when the person remembering them was in a state of psychological shock and under considerable pressure. The F.B.I. had briefly experimented with hypnosis in the 1950s as a tool for recovering consciously forgotten memories, which they believed nevertheless existed subconsciously, from crime witnesses. They abandoned it because the process led to the creation of false memories. These could be produced from the unconscious promptings of the hypnotist and interrogator, who may not have been consciously trying to direct the witnesses’ testimony. In the case of the Satanism Scare, some of the questioning of the witnesses and victims was frankly farcical, consisting of leading questions from investigators who already believed they knew the answer. These included evangelical Christians and radical feminists, though much of the investigation that finally discredited the Scare was also done by Christian evangelicals. Many professional law enforcement officials were furious at the way these investigations were conducted. I remember reading that the Yorkshire police force were extremely angry after the case against one notorious paedophile collapsed. The man had been responsible for abusing something like twenty or thirty children. There was no religious or cultic dimension to the crimes. The abuser was a simple paedophile, and the evil he did was entirely human, not supernatural. Unfortunately, the Satanism hunters became involved in the questioning of a seven-year old victim, who then changed his testimony to state that he was abused as part of Satanic worship. As a result the trial collapsed, and the paedo escaped justice.

Religious and Ideological Reasons for the Scare

The immediate causes of the Satanic Child Abuse panic, and the related fears of terrible Satanic cults abusing and sacrificing children and animals were the fears of some Christian groups to the rise in secularism and atheism in the contemporary West, and the emergence of New Religious Movements, including modern pagan revivals like Wicca. Some feminists came to believe in these Satanic conspiracies through the work of social workers and child support agencies, which discovered that sexual abuse was far more prevalent than previously believed. This has led to some grossly inflated and frankly unbelievable claims of the scale of sexual abuse, such as that 1/3 of all girls have been sexually assaulted by their fathers.

Poverty and Economic Origins

Fuelling the anxiety were more secular, economic fears. The communities which experienced such panics were often poor, with a poorly-educated population, threatened with economic decline, joblessness and the failure of their businesses. Faced with these stresses, some in these communities began to look for scapegoats in illusory Satanic conspiracies. There was a paper in the academic modern folklore journal, Contemporary Legend, tracing the origins of one such Satanism scare in Louisiana in the 1990s. The paper described the state’s folk as ‘conservative and hard-working’. Louisiana was an oil-producing state, and it used the income from the oil industry to subsidise its citizens’ housing. Sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s the state’s oil economy collapsed. As a result, house prices and mortgages shot up far beyond what many Louisianans could afford. Many were forced to pack up and leave, and it was not unusual for the banks to receive the keys to certain properties they had mortgaged posted to them and the homes themselves left vacant by their former occupants. In this atmosphere of real economic fear and anxiety, some of the state’s people were left vulnerable to fears of a Satanic threat to their communities. Thus, when dismembered animal carcasses appeared, they were blamed on the activities of Satanists, and the scare escalated from there.

The Satanism Scare and Conspiracy Theory

The sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor, in his book on the Satanism Scare, Satanic Panic, also notes that society’s need to find a scapegoat to persecute, whether Satanists in the 1990s or Jews in Nazi Germany, occurs during economic depressions when there is a widening gulf between rich and poor. This was certainly the case in post-Thatcher Britain and America. In many of the rumours, the Satanists abusing and killing the unfortunate children and animals were wealthy businessmen. These in turn were connected to fears of the occult orientation of particular companies. Proctor and Gamble, for example, were rumoured to be Satanists, based on no more than the design of their company’s logo, which shows a moon and thirteen stars. They attempted to counteract this by redesigning their symbol, and through a very aggressive legal campaign against those repeating the accusation. The Satanism scare was also part of a wider set of fears about the malign nature of the American government itself. George Bush snr notoriously referred to the world after Gulf War I: Desert Storm, as a ‘new world order’, echoing the words of Adolf Hitler, who also referred to Nazism as his ‘new order’. It also connected to conspiracist fears and theories about the origins of the American Revolution. The back of the dollar bill shows an eye in the pyramid, the symbol of the Freemasons, along with the slogan ‘Novo Ordo Saeculorum’ – New World Order. This has been seen as evidence that not only were the American Revolutionaries Freemasons, but that the Masons have been secretly manipulating the country and its leaders ever since for their own malign purposes. When Bush launched the First Gulf War, this was seen by some as part of the global ambitions and schemes of the ruling Masonic elite. I can remember reading a piece in the small press magazine, Enigma, claiming that the Gulf War was caused by a malign secret alliance of Freemasons and Satanists.

Fears of the Underclass in the Blairite ‘Jago’

At the other social extreme, the Magonians themselves noted several times in their articles that the Satanism Scare represented a return of Victorian social fears about the working classes and the emergence of the contemporary underclass. Just as the Victorian upper and middle classes viewed the lower orders with suspicion as ignorant, superstitious, vice-ridden and potentially seditious, so the underclass have been cast as malign, feckless, immoral and a threat to good social order but the guardians of contemporary respectable morality, like the Daily Mail. You can recognise a kinship between the Edwardian novel, In the Jago, written by a radical journalist about the Peaky Blinder street gangs terrorising the slums of London about the time of the First World War, and modern journalists describing the horrors of contemporary sink estates. Unfortunately, there is a difference between In the Jago and modern treatments of the underclass. In the Jago viewed the street gangs and their members as the products of the human misery created through the poverty and desperation of the slums and contemporary Edwardian society. With the notable exception of Owen Davies’ Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, most contemporary journalists seem content simply to declare that the poverty and despair faced by today’s poor is simply their fault. At its very worst, this attitude has produced the garish freak show of Jeremy Kyle, in which a succession of the extremely dysfunctional poor and maleducated appear to accuse each other of stealing each others partners.

Real ‘Pseudo-Satanic’ Crime

The type of occult crime described by the Satan hunters doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, there are occult-tinged crimes that sociologists like Victor have described as ‘pseudo-Satanic’. These are perpetrated by sick and twisted individuals, either from their view of the world or simply to add an extra thrill to their abuse of children or animals. Some of these are maladjusted teens, sometimes from repressively religious families, who have come to believe that they themselves are evil and that evil is stronger than good. You can add to this category the extreme elements of the vampire subculture. At one level, it’s simply a subculture of otherwise well-balanced young people, who like dressing up as vampires and enjoy horror literature, like the kids who go to the Goth weekend at Whitby. Others have become convinced that they really are vampires, and have created an entire parallel society like that in Anne Rice’s novels. And a minority have committed murder, based on their conviction that they are indeed members of the undead.

Satanism Scare as 1990s Phenomenon

Looking back, it seems such fears of Satanic conspiracies, whether global or local, are a distinctly 1990’s phenomenon. Valerie Sinason and some of the others responsible for the Scare in Britain are continuing their work, unrepentant about the immense harm they have done, and occasionally drawing the attention of Private Eye. Yet despite the renewed war in the Middle East and the massive escalation of poverty and the gap between rich and poor under Blair/Brown and then – and especially – Cameron, there hasn’t been renewed panic about Satanists. Some of this may be due to the decline in organised religion in Britain and America. It may also be due to the increased acceptance of alternative religions, at least amongst young people. The Mind, Body and Spirit sections of bookshops include books on Wicca and Western witchcraft, and the religion has been presented sympathetically in a series of fantasy film and TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also in the 1990s. There was some hysteria amongst some, mostly American Fundamentalist Christians, about the supposed occult content of Harry Potter, but this mostly seems to have died down. The Pope even thanked J.K. Rowling for her books’ role in stimulating children’s imaginations.

9/11 and Modern Conspiracy Fears

Some of the reasons why the Satanism Scare has not emerged again may be due to the real fears created by 9/11 and George W. Bush’s Neo-Con global campaign. Right-wing American fears that their government is still engaged in a malign programme of oppression, manipulation and exploitation of its own people, and expanding this to subjugate the other peoples of the world, is still very much present. It is the origin and raison d’etre of the ‘Truther’ campaign in America, and Alex Cox’s Infowars broadcasts. This is mostly secular, but it does take in some of the earlier fears about America’s supposedly Satanic elite. Part of this is based on the footage of the ‘sacrifice of dull care’, performed by America’s super-rich as part of their weekend of networking during the summer at Bohemian Grove. And rather than looking for the subversive activities of Satanists, much of the religious and cultural politics over the last decade has been taken up with the emergence of the New Atheism and its extremely aggressive attack on religious faith.

Threat of Radical Islamism, Immigration and UKIP

There has been the all too real threat of attack by radicalised Western Muslims, such as those responsible for the Boston bombing in America and the 7/7 bombing in the UK. This has served partly to direct Western fears of a terrible and subversive ‘other’ outwards, towards a global threat from militant, radical Islamism, and within to Britain’s Muslim minority. Finally, fear of a subversive threat from outside British society has also been concentrated on the continuing debate and controversy about immigration, and the rise of UKIP. Farage has regularly declared his party to be secular, non-sectarian and non-racist, but its major donors are all former Tories, and UKIP politicians have made a series of racist statements and comments while standing on an anti-immigration platform.

Real Need Now to Attack Poverty Caused by Cameron and Tories

Even if the Satanism Scare has largely vanished, there is always the possibility that it may revive, or the place of imaginary Satanists in causing abuse and destruction may be taken by another minority group. The material poverty and economic insecurity that created the pre-conditions of fear and anxiety that fuelled these fears is still very much present, and under Cameron getting worse. This needs to be tackled, and tackled now. Not by looking for Satanic conspiracies that don’t exist, and fearing your neighbour, but by fearing what the government will inflict next on the very poorest and most desperate in British society. It’s time to stop it.

Bill Hicks on Politicians as Serial Killers: Jesse Helms and Now IDS?

June 11, 2014

Cannibal Iain Duncan Smith

One of America’s funniest and most incisive comedians was the late Bill Hicks, who sadly died in 1992 of cancer of the throat. Dissatisfied with comedians, who were simply content to amuse their audiences with bland material – Hicks contemptuously referred to them as ‘joke-blowers’ – Hicks used his comedy to criticise and rail against everything he considered to be stupid, mediocre or immoral in society. This included pop stars with minimal talent, or who he felt had sold out to corporate interests. A frequent subject of his attacks were the Republican administrations of Reagan and George Bush snr, whom he denounced in the strongest terms for their war-mongering, their Christian fundamentalism and the atrocities they committed in South America. Talking about how Bush had armed Saddam Hussein, Hicks said ‘How do we know he’s got all these weapons? Easy! We got the receipt… When the cheque clears, we’re right in there’. Discussing the Republicans’ criticism that Bill Clinton would raise taxes, Hicks loudly proclaimed that there were other reasons not to vote for Bush than just taxes.

I don’t know what’s happened to us as a world – maybe twelve years of Republicanism has made us think this way. But the reason I didn’t vote for George Bush is because George Bush, along with Ronald Reagan, presided over an administration whose policies towards South America included genocide. (laughs) So, yeah, you see … the reason I didn’t vote for him is cos he’s a mass murderer. Yeah. I, yeah. OK. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll … I’ll pay that extra nickel on, you know, a litre of petrol just knowing little brown kids aren’t being clubbed to death like baby seals in Honduras so Pepsi can put a plant down there.

One of his targets was Jesse Helms, the stridently reactionary Republican senator and architect of Reagan’s presidential campaign, whom Hicks accused in one rant of being a secret child-killer.

Boy, Jessie Helms. Isn’t that a great one, i’n’t he? Just another little fevered ego tainting our collective unconscious. Cos you know, anyone – like Swaggart – anyone that far to the right is hiding a very deep and dark secret. You do know that, right? I’m an armchair f***ing psychologist, but anyone that – you know when Jessie Helms finally dies, he’s gonna commit suicide first of all in a washtub out back underneath a pecan tree. He’s gonna slash his wrists and he’s gonna write in blood, ‘I been a bad boy.’ But you know they’re gonna find the skins of young children drying in his attic. Swarms of horse-flies going in and out of the eaves, and on CNN, over and over, his wife going, ‘I always wondered about Jessie’s collection of little shoes.’ Anyone that far to the right is f***ing hiding a deep, dark secret.’

It’s an extreme, vicious metaphorical description of a venomously extreme Right-wing politico. And it’s also good, metaphorical description of Iain Duncan Smith. Except that in Smith’s case, it’s close to literal truth. He really is that Right-wing, and he really does have a deep, dark secret about the number of people he’s killed. A day or so ago I compared him to the Russian Ripper, Andrei Chikatilo, who raped, murdered and ate 53 adults and children before being finally caught and shot in 1991. IDS hasn’t actually killed anyone personally, but his welfare reforms – which really amount to little more than cutting unemployment and disability benefits off to an increasing number of people – have resulted in tens of thousands of people dying in misery and poverty. Mike and his commenters over at Vox Political have estimated that it’s about 220 per week, or one person every four hours.

And he has kept his crimes very secret. Everyone trying to obtain the numbers of people, who’ve died through his policies under the FOI have been denied the information, or given carefully massaged figures that relate to previous years. Their requests have been turned down as ‘vexatious’. Which to me, indicates that the government is fully aware about the carnage his policies are causing. They just don’t care, and indeed are trying to give him their full support. And as with Reagan’s squadristi and stormtroopers amongst the South American Fascists and dictators, people in this country also think he’s responsible for crimes against humanity under the precise meaning of international law. It ain’t just poor mestizo kids being clubbed to death in Honduras, but White, Black and Brown British kids, and their parents and grandparents being starved and forced out to food banks. If you want to see the faces of those, who’ve been killed through RTU’s vicious hatred and need to persecute the poorest in society, go over to Stilloak’s blog, and those of some of the other anti-austerity and disability activists.

And unlike Helms in Hicks’ joke, RTU has shown absolutely no contrition or remorse for his crimes. He needs to be called to account now. He’s going to be on Question Time tomorrow, so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone asks him about the massive death rate his policies have caused. Though I bet they won’t.

Hick’s humour in frequently consisted of coarse, scatological invective and obscenity to the extent where Frankie Boyle seems mild in comparison. I can’t really reproduce the stronger material here. Here, however, is a piece where Hicks explains how America’s leaders are all corporate puppets. Enjoy.

‘To End All Wars’ Sample Page

April 3, 2014

Coward's War pic

Page from the story ‘The Coward’s War’ from the To End All Wars Graphic Novel

Yesterday I put up a piece about the article in that day’s edition of the I newspaper reporting the publication of a new graphic novel on the First World War. Introduced by 2000 AD’s Pat Mills, the comic aims to present the grim reality of the conflict, documenting some of the challenging, embarrassing and difficult facts and attacking the jingoistic lies told about the War by Michael Gove and similar Right-wingers. The article also contained the above sample page of artwork from one of the stories, ‘The Coward’s War’, about Thomas Highgate, the first British squaddie executed for cowardice in the War. I didn’t put it up yesterday, and so here it is today. It’s credited to Jonathan Clode, writer, Matt Soffe, artist, and with lettering by Jim Campbell. Enjoy!

This is not the first time comics have taken an anti-War stance. Back in the 1990s during Gulf War I there was a strip attacking that conflict, The Unknown Deserter, if I remember correctly. I don’t know if Alan Moore is anything to do with the above anthology, but he also wrote another anti-war comic, Real War Stories. This was intended to show the horrific reality of modern conflict. Moore wrote it in connection with a conscientious objectors’ group in the US, and based it on real soldiers’ accounts of combat, such as what it feels like to be shot and so on. This volume seems to be similarly meticulously researched, as you’d expect from a creative team that includes Mills, the writer of the classic comic First World War story, Charley’s War. I’ve reblogged Mike’s story about the forthcoming graphic novel adaptation of classic First World War poetry, and the news that Mills and his artist, Hitchcock, also have another First World War project, Brothers in Arms, waiting for a publisher. With all this coming out from the funny papers, it should provide something of an antidote to some of the views on the War being broadcast by the BBC. It’s also a reminder why David Cameron’s recommendation that people should commemorate the centenary of the War’s outbreak with street parties is such colossal, tasteless and offensive nonsense. Jeremy Paxman, away on a lecture tour of the Gulf States, criticised Cameron for that.

Unfortunately, Paxo didn’t get the reason why so much of British yoof arguably wouldn’t volunteer en masse as they did for the War. A few weeks ago the I reported that Paxo had complained that in today’s climate, the army would struggle to fill a trench due to the apathy and luxury of today’s young people. He claimed that most of today’s kids really wouldn’t know what to do with a military trench, and instead of doing anything militarily useful would probably stand around taking pictures of it on their mobile phones.

This is too cynical and dismissive a view of modern kids. Right through history the older generation have complained about the immorality of the younger. One old Soviet cosmonaut, when asked how he felt about Russian young people grooving in a disco held at the Moscow Space Museum the day before the collection was due to be broken up and the Museum closed, simply remarked that they’d found a complaint about how terrible the kids of today were scribbled on a wall in Babylon. He had no desire to complain about the young lads and lasses partying the night away there, but quietly sat there with his wife enjoying the evening. It’s a good attitude.

If today’s young people aren’t as ready and willing to volunteer to fight and die for their country as they once were, it’s because history has left them with fewer illusions than that generation. The lessons of history have all too often shown that the imperialism, which the British and other Western powers viewed with pride as bringing civilisation and justice to the benighted peoples of the rest of the world was all too often simply a pretext for invasion, carnage, oppression and exploitation. And people are now far more aware of the reality of warfare – the soldiers returning home with shattered minds and missing limbs, or who simply don’t come back at all. The illusion that you can somehow have a sportsman’s war that’ll be over by Christmas is extremely difficult to maintain. Hence the way the reporting of the harsh reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are very carefully concealed and managed by the military and civilian authorities. The American radical magazine, Counterpunch, did a piece on this a few years ago. They noted, for example, that unlike in the Vietnam War, the journalists covering the conflict are embedded within the troops themselves, so they get to feel part of the team, and rely on them for their own personal safety. It’s all part of a strategy of managing the War’s coverage to keep it as positive as possible, and avoid the negative coverage like that which turned American public opinion against the Vietnam War.

And with Pat Mills and his fellow artists creating these strips, the lessons of what war is really like in the case of the First World War, will be brought home once more. And its going to be grim. Wilfred Owen’s piece, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, anthologised in To End All Wars, contains some truly horrific descriptions of what actually happened. It describes the froth spewed from a stricken trooper’s lungs after he was gassed as like a ‘cud’ and ‘a Devil’s sick of sin’. This is ugly stuff, described in beautiful poetry and doubtless with beautiful artwork that’ll do the poem justice. And the fact that Paxo doesn’t understand why so many young people after the First World War are less than enthusiastic about joining the army for another one shows how needed such comics are. Except that it’s probably not the kids who need to read them, but the older generation of the establishment looking on and castigating them for a cynicism that has been ground into them by the bleak lessons of history the elders of the establishment don’t understand or share.