Posts Tagged ‘Mao Mao’

‘Florence’ Suggests I should Compile a Book about British & American Support for Fascist Dictators

November 12, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a video from the Aussie left-wing blogger, Democratic Socialist. This showed the Tory media’s double standard in reviling Jeremy Corbyn as a supporter of terrorism, Iran, and an anti-Semite, when he is none of those things. But the hacks of the Telegraph definitely did not make those accusations against their Tory molten idol, Maggie Thatcher, when she by association supported all of the above through her friendship with General Pinochet.

Corbyn’s support for Iran was based on an interview he made to an Iranian group, the Mossadeq Project. Mohammed Mossadeq was the last, democratically elected prime minister of that ancient and extremely cultured nation. He was no theocrat, but a secular liberal. He was also a Baha’i, a post-Islamic, syncretistic faith which embraces human equality, including that of men and women. The Shi’a Muslim establishment have hated them since the faith first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there have been terrible pogroms against them. This hatred is not shared by all Iranian Muslims, and I have personally known Iranian Muslims, who are heartily sick of the way their Baha’i friends are treated.

Mossadeq’s crime was that he dared nationalise the Iranian oil industry, then dominated by the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which became BP. This resulted in us and the Americans organising a coup, which toppled Mossadeq, and began the long process by which the Shah gradually assumed absolute power, ruling through terror and a secret police force, SAVAK.

‘Florence’, one of the many great commenters on this blog, commented

In the early 70s I volunteered to help type up translation transcriptions of reports from torture victims of the “Shit” of Iran, as Private eye called him. (It was as evidence for Amnesty.) Its not something you can ever forget. When the revolution happened, it was simply new bosses at the same slaughter houses. This is another lesson learned; the violence required by a state to terrorise its own people seeps into the culture, and remains for generations (maybe longer, its too early to tell in most of the cases you cover in this interesting and evocative piece). The violence of the state becomes symmetrical in the revolution in many countries, Iran, Iraq, etc. that follows such repression.

(For this reason I also worry that, for example, the almost visceral hatred of the disabled (and other poor) in the UK bred by the eugenics of neoliberalism for decades will not be so easily dislodged with a change in government. )

I see that the experience of having lived through those times is no longer part of the wider political education of the younger members of the left. In Labour the excesses of the neoliberals all but wiped out that generation and the links. I talk sometimes to our younger members in the Labour party and they are fascinated – but totally clueless. I do try to point them at this blog for this very reason. They are oblivious to who Pinochet was, why it mattered to us then and now, the refuge given to that butcher by Thatcher, the entire history of the Chicago school etc. The traditional passing in of this history, personal history too, through social groups in the Labour party has all but broken down.

As a suggestion, perhaps you could edit your blogs into a book we could use in discussion groups? You would help us be that collective memory board for the newer (not just younger) activists. It would help tease out the older members stories of their personal part in the struggles at home and abroad, but more than that your pieces on the collision of religious and political also show the rich complexities of life.

I am really honoured that my blog is so highly regarded and useful. While talking to Mike earlier today, I mentioned the idea to him. He was enthusiastic and supportive, making a few suggestions on how I should go about it. I told him I have had problems finding a mainstream publisher for some of my other books I have written. He suggested I should try Lulu again, and have the cover done by a professional artist. This would be a great help to actually selling the book, and he could put me in touch with some of the great comics artists he’s worked with.

I am therefore definitely going to look into this.

Now for the other points ‘Florence’ has raised in her comment.

As for the point about how a whole generation in the Left and the Labour party having an awareness and opposition to the various Fascist leaders run riot around the world thanks to British and American support as part of their political education, I think that’s how very many people got involved in politics. Private Eye covered these issues, as it still does, and there was the series of comedy reviews put on in support of Amnesty in the 1980s called The Secret Policeman’s Ball. These featured some of the greatest comedy talents of the day, such as the Pythons and the languid, caustic wit of Peter Cook. I don’t think you had to be particularly left-wing to be a fan, only a supporter of democracy and civil liberties. Very many of the other kids in my Sixth Form were into it, including those, who could be described as working-class Tories.

But come to think about it, we haven’t seen anything like that on our screens for many, many years. The series was becoming long and drawn out towards the end, but nevertheless there’s no reason something else like it, which could be launched. And I don’t doubt that there are young, angry, talented comedians out there, who are perfectly capable of stepping up to the mike and doing it.

And some of the absence of comment and criticism of the monsters, who ran amok across the globe thanks to British and American support does come from the victory of neoliberalism. Including its adoption by New Labour. Blair was an Atlanticist, and an alumni of the Reagan-founded British-American Project for the Successor Generation, or BAP for short. This was a group that trained up future British political leaders, sending them on free jaunts to the US, so that on return to Britain they would be enthusiastic supporters of the ‘Special Relationship’. And they did a superb job on Blair. Before he went on one jaunt, he was a supporter of unilateral disarmament. When he returned, after meeting the American nuclear lobby, he was fully on board with us supporting America’s siting of nukes in Britain, as well as our own, independent nuclear deterrent.

Much of the activism against these thugs came out, it seems to me, of the campaigns against the Vietnam War. This inspired the radical young people of the time to look more closely at what America and the West were doing in the Cold War, and the people we supported as the bulwark of ‘freedom’ – which really meant ‘capitalism’ and western big business – against the Soviets. And the brutal realities of Pinochet’s regime, and that of the Shah of Iran, and very many others, were extensively reported. Clive James in one of his TV reviews written for the Observer, acidly commented on an interview on British TV with some high level thug from the Shah’s Iran. This torturer was asked about the brutal methods of interrogation employed by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. There was no problem, said the thug. They were improving all the time. Oh yes, commented James, or something similar.

Incidentally, an Iranian friend of mine told me had some experience of the activities of the Shah’s secret police himself. Back in Iran, he’d been a footie fan. But he noticed that several of his mates kept disappearing. He then found out that one of his friends was a snitch for the secret police, and had been informing on them. It’s when you hear these experiences from the people, who observed what was happening, that really begin to understand why so much of the world is less than enthusiastic about western imperialism. And why so many Iranians were taken in by that other thug, Khomeini. When he returned to Iran, he promised freedom to all Iranians. That didn’t last long, as it was back to normal with the rapists and torturers in Evin prison under his regime.

I was also part of a British medieval re-enactment group. One of the great peeps I met in that was an American chap, whose ancestry was South American. He was proud of his Incan heritage, and in America he’d been part of a similar group, that recreated the warrior traditions of this Andean people. He’d also been a translator for one of the human rights organisations, translating documents on abuses from Spanish.

There is indeed a whole generation out there, with personal experience of the dictatorship supported by the West, people whose wealth of knowledge and experience should be passed on.

But part of the problem is the supposed break with dictatorship and the entry of neoliberalism into the Labour party. The Fall of Communism was meant to be the End of History, as heralded by Francis Fukuyama. From now on, Western liberal democracy and capitalism would reign unchallenged. And with the threat of Communism gone, the Americans decided to cut their losses and move against the Fascist dictators they’d been propping up. Hence their ouster of General Noriega.

This gave the impression that the world was going to be nicely democratic, with the unspoken assumption that western, Euro-American culture would remain dominant and unchallenged.

But the old culture of lies, coups and regime change when the dominated countries in the developing world get too uppity is still there. As are the Cold Warriors. We didn’t invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to free its peoples. We invaded because the Neocons wanted their state industries for American multinationals, and the Saudi-American oil industry wanted their oil fields. And Israel wanted to stop Hussein from aiding the Palestinians. Human rights was just a convenient pretext. And it’s been like this for the last 14 years.

Just like we’re also being told lies about the situation in Ukraine. The Maidan Revolution was not spontaneous. It was staged by the CIA, National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros, and Victoria Nuland in Obama’s state department. It was to stop Ukraine becoming too close to Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has always had strong links to its eastern neighbour. Indeed, Kiev was one of the earliest and most powerful of the Russian states to emerge in the Middle Ages. Trying to sever the links between the two is similar, as someone put it, to Canada moving away from America to side with the Communist bloc.

But we aren’t being told any of that. Nor are we told that real, unreconstructed Nazis from the Pravy Sektor are in the ruling coalition, and that there is credible evidence that human rights abuses have been visited on the Russian minority and Russian speaking Ukrainians.

We are just being told that Putin is a thug – which is true – and that he’s ready to invade the former Soviet satellites. Which probably isn’t.

There is also a further problem, in that some of the countries, whose Fascist leaders Britain and America supported, are very remote. I’d guess that many people really wouldn’t be able to find them on a map, let alone know much about their history. And so we face the same problem the Czechs faced, when Chamberlain sacrificed their country to Hitler at Munich. They are faraway countries, of which we know nothing.

And this is a problem with British imperial history generally. Salman Rushdie once said that the British don’t know their own history, because so much of it happened abroad. This is true. British capitalism was stimulated through the colonisation of the West Indies, the slave trade and the sugar industry. How much is a matter of debate. Black and West Indian scholars have suggested that it was the prime stimulus behind the emergence of capitalism and the industrial revolution in Britain. Others have argued instead that it added only 5 per cent to the economy. But that it did have an effect is undeniable, especially on its colonised peoples. In the West Indies, this meant the virtual extermination of the indigenous Amerindian peoples and their replacement with enslaved Africans.

Well, the Empire has gone, and been replaced by the Commonwealth. But western domination of these countries’ economies still remains through the various tariff barriers that the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal called Neocolonialism. As well as the domination of their industries by western multinationals.

There are book available on the British Empire, some of them critical. Like John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried, and a recent book about the internment, torture and mutilation of the indigenous Kenyans during the Mao Mao crisis, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But the people, who appear on TV to talk about imperialism tend to be those on the right, like Niall Ferguson, who will admit that the British Empire was seriously flawed, but on balance did more good. Which might be true, but still glosses over some of the horrors we perpetrated.

And many of these are still kept from us. The public documents supporting the allegations of the victims of British torture in Kenya only came to light because they fought a long and hard battle in the British courts to get them released. I honestly don’t know what other nasty little secrets are being kept from us, in case it embarrasses senior ministers or industrialists.

So if you want to see the brutal reality behinds the West’s foreign policy, you have to read specialist magazines, many of them small press. Like Robin Ramsay’s Lobster, which has been going since the 1980s, and which is now online, and Counterpunch, an American radical magazine and website, which has been digging the sordid truth up about the American Empire and the rapacity of capitalism and the global elite. I also recommend William Blum’s The Anti-Empire Report, and his books, as well as Greg Palast’s dissection of the real reasons we invaded Iraq, Armed Madhouse.

More material on the rapacity of western imperialism is coming to light through the internet, and especially the emergence of alternative news sites. And there is a growing audience for it, as young and older people from across the world are brought together through international links. This isn’t just business, but also through the foreign students coming to Britain, as well as Brits living, working and studying elsewhere in the world.

The problem is getting it out there, and moving it from the sidelines so that it becomes a major topic that can be used to challenge our leaders and hold them to account, without being written off as ‘loony radical lefties’ spouting about things no-one else wants to know about or even hear. About other ‘faraway places, of which we know nothing’.

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Naz Shah, the Anti-Semitism Allegations, and ‘Apartheid Israel’

May 3, 2016

Mike’s put up another worthwhile post over at Vox Political, pointing out that the graphic that got Naz Shah into trouble with accusations of anti-Semitism, was not in fact anything of the sort. It came from a global civil rights site, Redress, and reblogged by Norman Finkelstein. Redress posted it up as a joke, satirising Israeli attempts to have the Palestinians displaced to the other Arab states. Mike records his email conversation with the prof, who pointed out that while people in America are crazy when it comes to Israel, they haven’t lost their sense of humour. He also points out that Bernie Sanders, one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential election, is Jewish and had enormous support amongst Arab-Muslims in the Land of the Free. He also wondered what had happened to us in Britain and why we were allowing Labour hacks and the Israel lobby to persecute her, a Muslim Labour MP.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/03/this-revelation-could-throw-the-whole-anti-semitism-row-into-reverse/

It’s a good point. And I wonder to what extent the ‘British sense of humour’ is a myth, when politics in Britain is becoming increasingly angry, and when so much British history is full of anger and violence. The creation of the British Empire, and the use of extreme force to maintain it, such as against the Mao-Mao in Kenya, is a case in point.

Now I have the impression that Naz Shah posted the graphic as part of a piece on ‘Apartheid Israel’, which included a quotation about the treatment of Blacks in America from that well-known apologist for racial supremacy, Dr Martin Luther King. Now on this, Madam Shah has a point. Life is made very difficult for the Palestinians in Israel through a system of pass laws and physical barriers that simply don’t exist for Jewish Israelis. William Dalrymple describes this system of discrimination in his book, In Xanadu: A Quest (London: Flamingo 1990). This is a travel book about how he attempted to travel from Israel to China and thence Mongolia, following the route used by the great 13th century Venetian explorer, Marco Polo during a summer holiday while at Oxford. In it, he describes a conversation he had drinking tea with an Arab tailor in Acre, who told him about the difficulties he faced as an Arab in Israel.

As we left the Khan al-Afranj we were invited into the shop of an Arab terzi (tailor). There we drank cay and talked about the problems of the Arabs in Acre; then as now, better integrated than most places. Ibn Jubayr remarked on this in the twelfth century while Hamoudi, who exhibited all the vices of the West in one body, is evidence of it today. The terzi was a tall man, unshaven, shambolic and friendly. But when I asked him about his relations with the Jews he was surprisingly eloquent.

‘We live in peace in Acre,’ he said. ‘He the Jew and the Arab are friends. On Saturday nights the Jews come here, play cards, smoke and drink coffee. The people want peace. Only the government does not.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We live here under an undeclared apartheid. It is just like South Africa. For the Jews there is democracy. They have freedom of speech, they can vote for whichever government they like, can go where they like and talk to whom they like. For us it is different. We are here on sufferance. We are called into police stations, if we are heard talking about politics. We are never sure we will get justice in court: if we have a plea against a Jew, then probably we will not. We are not allowed to join the army in case we turn sides. Because of this we cannot get any good jobs; for these you need security clearance. Most of us end up washing dishes or working as manual labourers; if you are luck you can become a garbage collector.’

He laughed and sent a boy off to go and get some more tea.

‘You see this shop? It belonged to my father before 1948, yet now I have to pay rent to the town council for it. If I was a Jew I would be given it, free. The taxes for us are very high. Many of the young – they are very angry. If this was their government they would not mind. But they do not want to pay the tax which will buy the tank which will kill their brother Arabs. It also means we cannot compete with the Jewish shopkeepers. They do not pay rents for their property so they can sell everything cheaper than us. The Israeli government does nothing for our people.’

‘What do you think will happen?’ asked Laura.

‘How do I know? Some Arabs say: this is Palestine we must kick the Jews out. Also there are many Jews who call us dogs, animals. They say: we must clear the land of the Arabs. Both are wrong. We are both human. We both need to live. We must live together.’

The boy turned and handed round the cups. It was mint tea. When he was ready the terzi continued:

‘Every morning I think that there could be peace. When I open the shop up in the morning Jews will drink coffee with me. Sometimes if I have a problem with my telephone, my Jewish friend will say: use mine. Many of them are such lovely people. If only we could live in peace with them and there were no fighting, no killing.’ (pp. 24-5).

The comparison with apartheid South Africa and the segregated US south is particularly close, as in the 1970s Israel became allied with White South Africa. They also collaborated with the US in sending military aid to the South American Fascist states and their death squads.

I also understand that Madam Shah has the support of her local synagogue. Generally speaking, people, regardless of their racial or religious origins, don’t usually give their support to their bitter enemies. Also, when she retweeted the graphic was therefore making a perfectly reasonable point about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. She should not be falsely accused of anti-Semitism simply because of her views on this issue.

Vox Political: Cameron Planning Internment Camp for British Radicals

February 17, 2016

This is a really scary piece Mike’s reblogged from the Canary. Apparently, Cameron and Gove are planning to isolate Muslim extremists in special secure unit to stop Muslim radicalisation in prison. This has been compared to Guantanamo Bay in America. Mike instead in his comments asks the extremely pertinent question of whether it’s actually instead something like a Nazi concentration camp, especially with the government’s establishment of secret courts. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/17/cameron-wants-to-lock-radicals-in-a-single-place-like-a-nazi-concentration-camp/

Mike and so many, many others, like the Angry Yorkshireman, have blogged about the serious dangers these iniquitous courts pose to British justice and liberty. Under this system of, for want of a better term, special justice, the established standards of legal process may waived in the interests of ‘national security’. You may not see the evidence against you, nor know who your accuser is. Indeed, you may not be told what offence you have been charged. It tramples all over Magna Carta, and is exactly like something straight out of Kafka’s novels, The Trial and The Castle.

The motivation here appears to be the very rapid spread of Islam through the prison system through what looks like a very aggressive strategy of dawah, Islamic evangelisation. However alarmed some might feel about the spread of Islam in prisons, this proposal is should be more alarming. Firstly, there is difference between Islam and Islamism, and conversion to Islam does not necessarily lead to converts being set on an automatic path to extremism, at the end of which is ISIS or al-Qaeda. Indeed, the piece Mike’s reproduced from the Canary article states that the idea behind this special prison seems to be that Islamism is like an infectious disease, which isn’t the case.

The model for this special prison seems to be Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay. This was extensively criticised because of the illegality of the vast majority of the incarcerations their. The majority of those imprisoned would simply not have been convicted in ordinary courts of law because of the lack of evidence against them. With the addition of the Patriot Act, which provided for the arrest of anybody George Dubya and his cronies thought wasn’t sufficiently patriotic as a potential terrorist, the system’s critics saw Gitmo very much as the thin end of a totalitarian, Nazi wedge. Conservatives, like the right-wing Canadian cable/web TV host, Michael Koren and the British/Irish journalist Mark Steyn, resident in New Hampshire, have tried to justify Gitmo by arguing that normal standards of justice cannot apply in war. The conditions of battle are just too confused, they argue, for the same standards of reasonable proof to apply when assessing whether or not a suspect is guilty. The men and women interned at Gitmo are nevertheless extremely dangerous, and present a real threat to the public security if they are released. Hence their incarceration of what may be inadequate or flimsy legal grounds is justified. Despite this argument, the majority of those imprisoned at Gitmo have been released, and those still remaining seem to be there out of sheer bloody-mindedness by the authorities rather than any convincing legal reason.

I’m also worried about this, because it points to a long tradition of authoritarianism in the Tory Right. I’ve got a feeling Lobster ran pieces in the 1980s about Tory plans for internment camps in Northern Ireland, to be used against the IRA, modelled on the system of concentration camps the French had used in their campaigns against the indigenous peoples fighting for their freedom in what used to be Indo-China, out of which came the Vietnam War. These were dropped because whatever the threat of paramilitary violence in Ulster, it was felt that the British people would not tolerate other White Brits being rounded up and herded into concentration camps like Black Kenyans during the Mao Mao rebellion.

And the Tory need to incarcerate political and social ‘deviants’ raised its hideous physiognomy again when AIDS appeared in the 1980s. At the time there was a real fear that AIDS was so infectious and deadly, that it would wipe out the world’s population exactly as the population of Europe and Muslim North Africa had been decimated by the Black Death in the 14th century. In five years, that disease killed perhaps somewhere between a third and quarter of the European population, and a similar proportion North Africans in what is now the countries of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria. Radical measures were being mooted to combat the disease. And this included the isolation of its victims. I can remember being chilled by an article in the Sunday Express that announced that the Swedes were considering building an ‘AIDS Island’ to isolate and treat the victims of the disease. British ministers were looking into the possibility of doing the same. Gay sex between men had only been legal since 1969, and much of society was extremely prejudiced against homosexuals, particularly the Tory party and the police. James Anderton, the extremely right-wing head of Manchester police force, stated that he believed that AIDS was God’s punishment for gays, and described homosexuality as a cesspool, or something similarly offensive. Margaret Thatcher passed legislation intended to ban the teaching that homosexuality was at all normal or acceptable in schools. In this environment, even at the time I wondered if this was an attempt to construct a secure medical facility, like the leper hospitals that were deliberately built on islands to isolate the victims of that terrible disease. Or if instead it was a prison camp to lock up gays, just as the Nazis had done during the Third Reich. Homosexuals were then sent to the concentration camps, and identified by pink triangles placed on their prison pyjamas. This part of the persecution of gays by the Nazis was portrayed in the harrowing play, Bent, starring one of the great gay British thesps. I’ve got a feeling it was Sir Ian Mackellan in the title role, but I could be mistaken.

This strikes me as being pretty much the same squalid, authoritarian instincts rising to the Tory surface yet again. If, indeed, it ever really went away. And the danger here is that once the Tories do it to once section of the community and get away with it, they’ll do it to all of us. Muslim radicals will be the first. Then it could be others suspected of terrorism, like radical nationalists – Irish Republican splinter groups, say. And then it’ll be extended to illegal asylum-seekers, trade unionists, Socialists, Anarchists and Communists. Same as it always has been. Just like Trump in America similarly threatens to introduce real Fascism if he wins the election. This has got to be very carefully watched indeed, if not banned altogether before it even begins.

And if they are considering a round-up of Islamist radicals and other suspects, when should we expect them to stage their own fake attack on parliament to justify it all, like the Reichstag fire?

Commemorating Christian Martyrdom: The Armenian Genocide

April 24, 2015

Armenian Gospels

Armenian Gospel Book from the Monastery of Gladjor, c. 1321

Today is the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. This was a series of massacres carried out by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people. The Armenians had risen up, like the other, majority Christians subject nations in the Balkans across the Black Sea to gain their freedom from the decaying Turkish empire. To counter this, the last Turkish sultan, Talat Pasha issued a firman ordering that the Armenians should be rounded up and slaughtered. 1.5 million Armenians, men, women and children were butchered.

The Pope caused controversy earlier this week when he marked the massacres, calling it the first genocide of the 20th century. I’m not sure if this is quite true, as I think about ten years or so previously the German colonial authorities in East Africa had also organised a genocide of the indigenous Herrero people. The occasion has a wider, European significance than just its attempt to exterminate the Armenians. Hitler noted the way the other European powers remained silent and did not act to stop it. This convinced him that they also wouldn’t act to save the Jews when the Nazi state began to persecute and murder them in turn. As he said ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’

Denial of Genocide by Turkish Authorities

Unfortunately, the genocide is still controversial. Robert Fisk in his article in Monday’s Independent discussed the Turkish government’s refusal to recognise the massacres as a genocide. Pope Francis’ comments sparked outrage amongst the Turkish authorities, and the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to meet the prime minister. Fisk himself recalled the abuse he had received from Turks outraged by his discussion of the genocide. He stated he began receiving mail about the issue when he personally dug the bones of some of the Armenians out of the sands of the Syrian desert in 1992. He stated that some of the letters were supportive. Most were, in his words, ‘little short of pernicious’.

In Turkey any discussion or depiction of the Armenian genocide as genocide was brutally suppressed. A few years ago, the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, was killed for writing about them. Liberal Turks, who wish their nation face up to this dark episode of their history, have been imprisoned. The great Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, was sent to jail a few years ago. His writing on the genocide was judged to be ‘insulting to Turkish nationhood’, a criminal offence.

Fatih Arkin, Turkish Director, on Movie about Genocide

Dink’s assassination has, however, acted to promote a greater discussion and awareness of the genocide, and a large number of both Armenians and Turks are now pressing for the Turkish government to recognise it as such. Indeed, the Turkish-German film director, Fatih Arkin, made a film about the genocide, The Cut which premiered in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in January.

In the interview below, Mr Arkin talks about he was moved to make the film following Dink’s assassination, and the number of Turks, who also join with the Armenians in demanding their government officially recognise the atrocity. Among those is the grandson of one of the leading perpetrators. What is interesting is that the film received a wide release in Turkey with no opposition or move to ban it.

Fisk on Turks Who Saved Armenians

This seems to show a new openness amongst the Turkish people as a whole about the genocide. And Fisk in his article notes that there many courageous and humane Turks, who refused to comply with Sultan’s orders, and saved Armenians. He stated in his article that these included at least one provincial governor, as well as lesser Turkish soldiers and policemen. Fisk felt that the Armenians should compile a list of these heroes, not least because it would make it harder for politicians like Erdogan, the country’s prime minister, not to sign a book of condolences, which included their names.

And these men were courageous: they risked their lives to save others from the carnage. There is absolutely no reason why they should not also be commemorated. In Judaism, I understand that righteous gentiles, who save Jews from persecution, are commemorated and believed to have a part in the olam ha-ba, the world to come. There is a section of the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, which displays the names of such righteous gentiles, who saved Jews during the Third Reich.

Syriac Evangelistary

The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, from a Syriac Evangelistary

Massacre of Syriac Christians as Part of Wider Pattern of Massacres

The massacre of the Empire’s Christian minorities was not confined to the Armenians, although they are the best known victims. Other Christian peoples, including the Syriac-speaking churches in what is now Iraq and Syria, were also attacked and massacred, in what has become known as ‘the Day of the Sword’. The massacres also spread into Iran, where the Christian communities there also suffered massacres. They too deserve commemoration.

Peaceful Relations between Christians and Muslims Normal in Ottoman Empire

Historians of the Turkish Empire have pointed out that the Armenian genocide, and similar massacres committed by the Ottoman forces in the Balkans during the nationalist wars of the 19th century, were largely the exception. For most of the time Christian and Muslim lived peacefully side by side. Quite often Muslims and Christians shared the same cemeteries. And in one part of Bosnia, at least, the local Roman Catholic church stood bang right next to the local mosque. There were even a small group of worshippers, who seem not to have differentiated between Christianity and Islam.

There’s a story that one orthodox priest, while officiating mass at his church, noticed a group of people at the back wearing Muslim dress. He went and asked them why they were attending a Christian church, if they were Muslims. The people replied that they didn’t really make much difference between the two faiths. On Friday, they prayed at the mosque, and on Sunday they went to church.

Historical Bias and Nationalist Violence by Christians in 19th century Balkans

Historians of the Balkans have also pointed out the dangers of religious bias when discussing the various nationalist wars in the 19th century. In the 1870s the Ottoman Turks committed a series of atrocities suppressing a nationalist uprising in Bulgaria. This outraged public opinion in England, and provoked the Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, to demand that the Turks be ‘thrown out of Europe, bag and baggage’. Other British and American observers noted that atrocities were hardly one sided. Christians also committed them, but these were ignored by the West. One author of a book on the Balkans I read back in the 1990s argued that the various atrocities committed in this period were caused not so much by religious differences, but from nationalism, and so were no different from other atrocities committed by other countries across the world, and in western Europe today as part of ethnic and nationalist conflicts, such as Northern Ireland.

British Empire and Atrocities in Kenya

Other decaying empires have also committed horrific atrocities, and attempted to cover them up. It was only after a very long legal campaign, for example, that the British government admitted the existence and complicity in the regimes of mass murder, torture, mutilation and internment in Kenya to suppress the Mao Mao rebellion. See the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags, for a complete history of this.

ISIS and the Massacre of Christians

The commemoration of the genocide of the Armenians, and by extension the other Christian subject peoples of the Ottoman and Persian Empires at the time, has become pressing relevant because the persecution today of Christians in the region by the resurgent Islamist movements, like ISIS, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Yet these groups differ in their attitude to the massacre of non-Muslim civilians from that of the Turkish government. The official Turkish attitude has been silence and an attempt to suppress or rebut the genocide’s existence. This points to an attitude of shame towards them. ISIS, which last Monday murdered 30 Ethiopian Coptic Christians, shows absolutely no shame whatsoever. Far from it: they actually boast about their murder and enslavement of innocent civilians.

Conversion of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians by Force, and Murder of Civilians Contrary to Muslim Law

I was taught at College that their actions contravene sharia law. Islamic law also has a set of regulations for the conduct of warfare, which rule out the conversion of the ‘Peoples of the Book’ – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians – by force. Nor may women, children and non-combatants be harmed. And this has been invoked by the ulema in the past to protect Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire. In the 17th century one of the Turkish sultans decided he was going to use military force to make the Christians in the Balkans convert to Islam. He sought approval for his course of action from the majlis, the governing assembly of leading Muslim clerics, who issued legal opinions on questions of Muslim law and practice. They refused, on the grounds that it was un-Islamic. The sultan backed down, and his planned campaigns against his Christian subjects were abandoned.

ISIS Also Butcher Muslims and Yezidis

Nor do ISIS, and similar Islamist movements limit themselves to attacking Christians. We’ve also seen them butcher and enslave the Yezidis, as well as other Muslims, simply for being the ‘wrong’ type of Muslim. For ISIS, they, and only they, represent true Islam. The rest are part of the ‘juhailiyya’, the world of darkness and ignorance, who must be fought and conquered.

Need to Commemorate All Victims of Atrocities

The Armenian genocide and its victims should rightly be remembered, as should so many other holocausts since then. Not only is this owed to the victims and history itself, but also to stop similar massacres occurring. And we need to remember that the capacity for such evil is not confined to particular nations, but can be found throughout history and humanity.

Seumas Milne on the Dangers of Conservative Propaganda in the History of Communism

May 11, 2014

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One of the most provocative articles in Seumas Milne’s book The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century (London: Verso 2013) is the piece ‘Communism May Be Dead, But Clearly Not Dead Enough’. The book is a collection of Milne’s articles for the Guardian. In this piece, Milne comments on the demands by the Swedish Conservative MP, Goran Lindblad, that the EU launch an anti-Communist campaign to remind people of the horrors of the Communist regimes across Europe. Milne sees the campaign less as a genuine attack on Communism as Conservative propaganda to deter any radical questioning of European liberal capitalism by presenting the Communist tyrannies of eastern Europe as its outcome. He also notes the connection between colonialism and Nazism, showing that the genocidal policies the Nazis adopted towards the Jews were first used in Africa against its indigenous peoples. The Belgian rule in the Congo similarly resulted in the deaths of millions, while up to a million Algerians were killed by the French in their war for independence. Milne’s piece goes as follows:

Fifteen years after communism was officially pronounced dead, its spectre seems once again to be haunting Europe. Last month, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly voted to condemn the ‘crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’, linking them with Nazism and complaining that Communist parties are still ‘legal and active in some countries’. Now Goran Lindblad, the conservative Swedish MP behind the resolution, wants to go further. Demands that European ministers launch a continent-wide anti-communist campaign – including school textbook revisions, official memorial days and museums – only narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority. Yesterday, declaring himself delighted at the first international condemnation of this ‘evil ideology’, Lindblad pledged to bring the wider plans back to the Council of Europe in the coming months.

He has chosen a good year for his ideological offensive: this is the fiftieth anniversary of Khrushchev’s denunciation of the cult of Stalin and the subsequent Hungarian uprising, which will doubtless be the cue for further excoriation of the communist record. The ground has been well laid by a determined rewriting of history since the collapse of the Soviet Union that has sought to portray twentieth-century communist leaders as monsters equal to or surpassing Hitler in their depravity – and communism and fascism as the two greatest evils of history’s bloodiest era. The latest contribution was last year’s bestselling biography of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, keenly endorsed by George Bush and dismissed by China specialists as ‘bad history’ and ‘misleading’.

Paradoxically, given that there is no communist government left in Europe outside Moldova, the attacks have if anything become more extreme as time has gone on. A clue as to why that might be can be found in the rambling report by Lindblad that led to the Council of Europe declaration. Blaming class struggle and public ownership, he explained that ‘different elements of communist ideology such as equality or social justice still seduce many’ and ‘a sort of nostalgia for communism is still alive’. Perhaps the real problem for Lindblad and his right-wing allies in eastern Europe is that communism is not dead enough – and they will only be content when they have driven a stake through its heart and buried it at the crossroads at midnight.

The fashionable attempt to equate communism and Nazism is in reality a moral and historical nonsense. Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Sobibor or Treblinka, no death camps built to murder millions. And while Hitler launched the most devastating war in history at a cost of more than fifty million lives, the Soviet Union played the decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Lindblad and the Council of Europe adopt as fact the wildest estimates of those ‘killed by communist regimes’ (mostly in famines) from the fiercely contested Black Book of Communism, which also underplays the number of deaths attributable to Hitler. The real records of repression now available from the Soviet archives are horrendous enough (799,455 people were reported to have been executed between 1921 and 1953, and the labour camp population reached 2.5 million at its peak) without engaging in an ideologically fuelled inflation game.

But in any case, none of this explains why anyone might be nostalgic in former communist states, now enjoying the delights of capitalist restoration. The dominant account gives no sense of how communist regimes renewed themselves after 1956, or why Western leaders feared they might overtake the capitalist world well into the 1960s. For its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment, captured even by critical films and books of the post-Stalin era such as Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble and Anatoli Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat. Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the West, boosted the anti-colonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination.

It would be easier to take the Council of Europe’s condemnation of communist state crimes seriously if it had also seen fit to denounce the far bloodier record of European colonialism – which only finally came to an end in the 1970s. This was a system of racist despotism, which dominated the globe in Stalin’s time. And while there is precious little connection between the ideas of fascism and communism, there is an intimate link between colonialism and Nazism. The terms Lebensraum and Konzentrationslager were both first used by the German colonial regime in South West Africa (now Namibia), which committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples and bequeathed its ideas and personnel directly to the Nazi party.

Around 10 million Congolese died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early twentieth century; tens of millions perished in avoidable or regime-enforced famines in British-ruled Indian; up to a million Algerians died in their war for independence, while controversy now rages in France about a new law requiring teachers to put a positive spin on colonial history. Comparable atrocities were carried out by all European colonialists, but not a word of condemnation from the Council of Europe – nor over the impact of European intervention in the third world since decolonisation. Presumably, European lives count for more.

No major modern political tradition is without blood on its hands, but conflicts over history are more about the future than the past. Part of the current enthusiasm in official Western circles for dancing on the grave of communism is no doubt about relations with today’s Russia and China. But it also reflects a determination to prove there is no alternative to the new capitalist order – and that any attempt to find one is bound to lead to suffering and bloodshed. With the new imperialism now being resisted in both the Muslim world and Latin America, growing international demands for social justice and escalating doubts about whether the environmental crisis can be solved within the existing economic system, the pressure for political and social alternative will increase. The particular form of society developed by twentieth-century communist parties will never be replicated. But there are lessons to be learned from its successes as well as its failures. (pp. 89-90).

I’ve no problems equating the evils of Stalinist Communism with Nazi Germany. It didn’t launch a policy of deliberate extermination, but the millions it murder through forced labour, artificial famine and the deportation of whole nations to Siberia are terrible enough. About 30 million are believed to have been killed by Stalin, though victims’ groups have criticised this, and the true number may be much higher, about 45 million. Occasionally you hear the argument that Communism was worse than the Nazis, as they only murdered 11 1/2 – 12 million people in the concentration camps, of which the largest single group were six million Jews. This again may be an underestimate. I’ve seen on transatlantic Conservative blogs the argument that recent research suggests that 20 million Jews may have been murdered under the Third Reich, including those massacred by Nazi sympathizers and collaborators in occupied Eastern Europe. It also ignores the fact that if the Nazis had won, they planned on working to death the Slavonic peoples of the occupied territories, exterminating Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Belo-Russians, Czech and Slovaks.

The actual numbers of indigenous peoples killed during European colonialism is still very controversial because of the way it directly touches on the questions of anti-racism, pluralism, racial equality and national pride in European countries today. Salman Rushdie once said that the British really didn’t know about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. He’s right. Few Brits really understand British imperial history, its achievements and atrocities, because it so far away on other continents. Moreover, those involved managed to cover up and hide many – but not all by any means – atrocities. It has only been in the last year or two that the state documents on the Mao Mao rebellion have been declassified. And until the publication a few years ago of Victorian Holocausts, I doubt many people realised that the British imperial government at the end of the 19th century had engineered – or refused to act against – famines in India and across the Empire as part of a deliberate ideological campaign to create an international system of free trade. This all needs to be taken into account, as well as the horrors of the Communist regimes. But his point that Conservatives are demanding the particular memorialisation of the victims and horrors of the Communist regimes in order to prevent radical campaigns against the current Neoliberal capitalist order is also certainly true. Some of the groups that are most vociferous in their condemnation of the Communist regimes are Conservatives, for whom any attack on free market capitalism is tantamount to Communism. They have to be criticised and combatted in order for a juster economic and social order, which gives the poor more freedom, can be created.