Posts Tagged ‘Roman Empire’

Secretary of Jewish Voices for Labour Libelled as Anti-Semite

March 9, 2018

Another day, another smear by the Israel lobby and their collaborators in the Labour party against another decent, anti-racist individual. This time the victim is Glyn Secker, the secretary of Jewish Voices for Labour. He’s been suspended from the Labour party because of allegations that he posted anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Mike posted up a piece about it, including the condemnation of Mr. Secker’s suspension by his colleagues in Jewish Voices for Labour on Wednesday. He pointed out that, whoever Secker’s accusers are, they waited a long time before accusing him because he hasn’t posted on Twitter since mid-2016. Mike believes it has more to do with alleged anti-Semitic comments Secker made at demonstrations and gatherings at which he spoke. One of these was at Grosvenor Square, London, on the 6th January of this year. Euan Philips in the Huffington Post, claimed that his speech was full of ‘anti-Semitic slurs’. But a recording of the speech, cited by Mike, shows instead just criticism of Israel.

Which is probably what this is all about. Mr. Secker is the Director and a member of the Executive Committee of the organisation, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and captained the Jewish boat to Gaza in 2009. So this looks very much like another smear by the Israel lobby and the Blairites against someone, who is very definitely not an anti-Semite, and whose only crime is supporting the Palestinians.

His fellows in Jewish Voices for Labour point out the unfair nature of the accusation. There is no accuser, the charges are vague, but nevertheless the head of Disputes, Glyn Matthews, is taking it so seriously that Secker has been suspended. Jewish Voices for Labour rightly state that these false allegations are bringing Labour into disrepute.

They state further

This is an absurd, politically-motivated attack on our Secretary and our organisation. We call on our supporters to move motions of censure in their branches and CLPs. To use allegations of antisemitism in this way is an abuse of power, and a degrading of the seriousness of actual antisemitism and other forms of racism. While antisemitism is monstrous – and, like all forms of racism, should be vigorously dealt with – false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too. We call for the immediate lifting of these charges.

Mike in his article also wonders if the attack is motivated by the problems now facing the Jewish Labour Movement, who have finally called in the cops to investigate their head honcho, Jonathan Newmark. No Morals Newmark has been credibly accused of embezzling money from Jewish charities when he was head of the Jewish Leadership Council, although the Council didn’t call the rozzers in because of a desire to avoid a scandal. No Morals denies the charges, of course, claiming that he left the organisation due to health reasons.

This looks like an attempt by the Israel lobby to close down a rival organisation in the Labour party, and allow the Jewish Labour Movement to monopolise its position, casting itself as the only organisation speaking for Jews in the Labour party. Which means Jews joining such an organisation automatically have to support its policy of supporting Israel, and covering up the Israeli state’s 7 decades long campaign of massacre, ethnic cleansing and apartheid against the Palestinians.

Glyn Secker and Jewish Voices for Labour clearly present a threat to their attempts to establish this monopoly, by providing an alternative political outlet and view of Jewish identity regarding the treatment of the Palestinians. The Israel lobby can’t allow that, and so we have the fake allegations of anti-Semitism and the Kafka-esque perversion of justice. Just like Mike’s case, there’s no accuser, and the charges are vague. It’s another kangaroo court.

Mike’s article is at:
Please read it.

I am heartily, heartily sick and tired of these smears and libels. To accuse decent people of anti-Semitism, and, in Mike’s case, Holocaust Denial, is to cast them as monsters of the same type as real Nazis like the banned terrorist group, National Action, and their grotesque conspiracy theories about Jews and vociferous demands for their persecution and extermination. And if it’s bad enough for gentiles to be labelled as such, I can only think how much worse it must be for those of Jewish heritage, because of the long history of their people’s persecution.

And I despise the skulking anonymity which protects the accusers’ identities. I dare say that if you challenged these organisations on it, they’d give you some glib twaddle about how it was needed to protect them, considering the work they do infiltrating and exposing anti-Semitism. This just looks like nonsense to me, as they seem not remotely interested in anti-Semitism per se, but just trying to silence criticism of Israel. And dictatorial regimes have always used anonymous spies and accusers to stifle dissent, ever since the Roman Empire.

Now’s the time to end this charade, beginning with the anonymity. If the people making these accusations aren’t prepared to do so openly, revealing their identity, then the accusation should be automatically thrown out as vexatious and mischievous. Also, definite charges should be made. Vague accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ should not be allowed to pass unquestioned. If they cannot produce substantial charges, then the accusation should be thrown out as an another smear.

I also believe this attack on Mr Secker was connected to another accusation of anti-Semitism, this time by the misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. They claimed that Labour MPs were posting on a pro-Palestinian website that was making anti-Semitic accusations about the Jews, and in particular about the Rothschild’s banking family. I think there was also some accusation that the site also denied the Holocaust. It looks like the Israel lobby was going in for a coordinated attack on pro-Palestinian groups, and that the smears against Mr. Secker were part of this.

I’ve had enough of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. They’ve done nothing but smear decent people for the benefit of the Israeli state and its friends in the British media. They’re a corrupt, sham organisation, who should have their charitable status rescinded.

It’s time to close down this witch-hunt. Anyone making further smears should be booted out of the party as a mischief-maker seeking to undermine party democracy, and a libeller.


Israel’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Palestinians and the Italian Fascist Colonisation of Libya

March 5, 2018

Yesterday I put up a piece showing the parallels between Israel’s seven decades long campaign of violence, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians and the Nazis’ annexation of Poland during the War, and their ethnic cleansing of the Poles and attempts to found German colonies in the cleansed regions.

I’ve no doubt that this comparison between the Nazis and Poland, what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, will be extremely unpalatable to the Israel lobby, who object that it is hurtful and anti-Semitic to compare them to the Nazis, the Jews’ mortal enemies. But however unpleasant and disturbing these comparisons are, they are there. And as the anti-PC right like to say, hurt feelings are no reason for covering up the facts or trying to shut down honest debate.

There is also another Fascist parallel to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, their campaign of colonisation through expanding, illegal Israeli settlements and the harassment and violence against the Palestinians themselves, and the seizure and destruction of their homes and property. It’s the Italian Fascist colonisation of Libya during the Second World War.

Italy had been trying to establish an empire in North Africa before Mussolini seized power, but had little success. Indeed, one Italian government fell because they were defeated in battle by indigenous African resistance forces. This was a massive humiliation for a European country, which considered themselves racially superior to the people over whom they sought to rule. Nevertheless, Italy continued to press for an empire, and the project was revived by Mussolini and the Fascists, who saw themselves as restoring the old Roman Empire. A brief description of the Italian Fascist occupation and colonisation of Libya is given in the article ‘Libya (Tripolitania and Cyrenaica)’ in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed. Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press 1982).

This states

The Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica became Italian possessions at the conclusion of the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12. Patriotic rhetoric and a sensational newspaper campaign had described Libya as a ‘terra promessa’ (promised land) for Italy’s emigrants who were forced to settle in foreign lands. Italians soon found that they had acquired sovereignty over two vast desert territories, totally lacking in natural resources and thinly populated by a hostile Muslim population-scarcely an emigrant’s paradise. Nevertheless, for nearly thirty years, until the defeat of the Axis marked the end of Italian rule, Italy worked to create a “fourth shore” (to add to Italy’s Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, and Sicilian shores), a single colony, along the lines of Algeria, that would become an integral part of the mother country and would provide opportunities for emigrants to settle as small landowners.

Following the initial conquest, Liberal regimes, preoccupied with World War I and then with Italy’s postwar domestic crisis, made little attempt to establish control over the entire territory or to undertake colonisation. When the Fascists came to power in 1922, they embarked immediately on a campaign of military conquest. The repression took nearly a decade. Although Tripolitania was peaceful by 1924, the Sanusi-led rebellion in Cyrenaica lasted until 1931 and was particularly ferocious. According to official Italian figures, the population of Cyrenaica declined from two hundred twenty-five thousand in 1928 to on hundred forty-two thousand in 1931. Moreover, the livestock, the chief means of livelihood of the indigenous population, was decimated.

Under the governorship of Count Giuseppe Vulpi between July 1921 and July 1925, General Emilio De Bono between July 1925 and December 1928, and Marshal Pietro Badoglio between January 1929 and December 1933, the Italians experimented with various programs of land grants and subsidies to attract investors and colonists. Despite ever larger subsidies and increasing government regulation, the results remained unsatisfactory. Large plantations (devoted to almonds, olives and vineyards), worked by Italian labour, developed instead of a small landholders paradise.

During the last half dozen years of Italian rule, however, the outlines of a “fourth shore” began to emerge. Thanks to peaceful internal conditions, the eagerness of the Fascist regime to finance the colony’s development, and the personal energy and influence of the flamboyant Italo Balbo, governor from 1934 to 1940, the colony flourished. Colonisation companies, financed by the government and by social welfare organisations, were entrusted with programs of intensive land settlement. Balbo himself presided over two mass migrations of colonists (twenty thousand in October 1938 and an additional ten thousand a year later) chosen primarily from the Po Valley and the Veneto. Communications improved vastly with the completion of a 1,800-kilometer border-to-border highway inaugurated in 1937. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were united administratively into one territory known as Libya with a single governor located in Tripoli. Socially and culturally the coastal regions became an extension of Italy, as tourists flocked to special events such as car races and air rallies or to visit the newly excavated archaeological sites of Sabratha and Leptis Magna. By 1939 the transformation was given legal recognition when the four coastal provinces of Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi, and Derna were incorporated into the kingdom of Italy.

The transformation of Libya, however, was very costly to the mother country. The colony never came close to self-sufficiency and remained heavily dependent on subsidies from Italy. Nor were the Italians successful in dealing with the indigenous Libyans, on whom they depended for labour. By 1940 the Italian population numbered about one hundred and ten thousand in contrast to a Libyan population of eight hundred thousand. The failure of a “separate but equal ” policy became clear when World War II broke out. Many Libyans rallied ot the Sanusi banner once again (in alliance with the British), and the Libyans rejected any claims for even a limited period of postwar Italian trusteeship over Tripolitania. Nevertheless, a sizeable Italian colony remained in Tripoli until its final expulsion in 1970. (Pp.305-7).

When Blair, Sarko, Killary and the rest were demanding Colonel Gadaffy’s overthrow a few years ago, one Tory MP put his head up to say that the Libyan dictator deserved it, because he was anti-Semitic. The MP’s father was Italian Jewish, and was one of those, who’d been expelled. It’s possible that anti-Semitism was a factor in his father’s expulsion, as there is a very strong current of it in the Middle East. But it’s far more likely that the man was expelled because he was Italian, and therefore one of the country’s hated colonial overlords.

I realise that the parallels between the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Italian Fascist colonisation of Libya and Israel’s own persecution and colonisation of Palestinian territory aren’t exact. Nazism and Fascism were both anti-democratic dictatorships. Israel is a multiparty democracy, and there are Arab members of the Knesset, as well as a separate Palestinian authority.

But Israel was born through the massacre of the indigenous Arab population, and has imposed a system of apartheid on those who remain, most similar to the former White South Africa, and presumably something like the “separate but equal” policy implemented by the Italian Fascists in Libya. While making noises about finding a two-state solution to the problem of Palestinian statehood and equal rights, Israeli policy appears instead to be to encourage the further expansion of their settlements in the Occupied Territories, intimidation of the indigenous Palestinians through aggressive policing and military action, and the seizure of Palestinian land and homes, as well as the destruction of Arab property, by militant settler groups. All while running schemes to encourage more Jewish and Israeli emigration to these areas. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, runs a business financing and building such settlements.

The comparison between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians can be pushed too far, but it is still there. And libelling those, who point it out as ‘anti-Semitic’ is no argument or defence against it. The truth often hurts, but honesty requires that history should be squarely faced and the horrors of the past and present confronted.

Open Britain Video Showing May’s Decision for Hard Border in Northern Ireland

March 2, 2018

I get regular emails from Open Britain, an all-party organisation supporting the EU and opposing the Hard Brexit so beloved of Boris, Mogg, Gove and the rest of the right-wing grotesques. Earlier today I got this email from them, issued by Chuka Umunna, promoting their video, which clearly shows Tweezer stating that she’s backing a hard border in the Northern Ireland.

The email ran:

It was the last chance for the Prime Minister to finally face down the Brextremists in her party and do what is in the best interests of the country. But, yet again, she failed to do so. Her speech offered no new solutions, just more empty soundbites.

As the Brexit process continues, facts are coming to light which no-one could have known at the time of the referendum. Nobody voted for a £40bn Brexit divorce bill, or for fewer nurses and less money for our NHS.

And on the key issue of Northern Ireland, Theresa May today had almost nothing new to say. Perhaps that’s because she knows her ‘red lines’ have made avoiding a hard border impossible. Yesterday we revealed a video showing that, in the days leading up to the referendum, Theresa May told the truth – that hard Brexit means having a hard border.

this video has already been viewed by over 191,000 people in just the past 24 hours. But we need everyone to see it, so they know the truth about the damage that Theresa May’s Brexit plans will really do. So please share the video and spread the word.

Please SHARE this video with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter so everybody knows what Theresa May really thinks on how her hard Brexit plans will hit Northern Ireland.

The video’s on Facebook at:

Mike’s already blogged about how May supports a hard border in Ulster. And more than enough people have pointed out that a vital condition of the Good Friday Agreement was that there should be an open border between the Six Counties and Eire. If May and her gang close that border, then it threatens to return us to the very dark days of the Troubles.

But I doubt Tweezer is bothered by that.

Thatcher used the Troubles and the threat of Nationalist violence for all the publicity she could get. She portrayed herself as standing proud, like some Boudicaa or Winston Churchill facing down the Romans and Nazis, never willing to budge one inch against the IRA.

It was all lies.

At the same time she was posing as Britain’s defender against Fenianism, she and her government were deep in negotiations with those very same Irish Nationalists. At the very time she was vilifying the Labour party as traitors, because they were publicly advocating the same policy. Which shows how mendacious and utterly two-faced she was.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Tweezer and the Hard Brexit Tories didn’t think that they could do the same. Fix a hard border in Ulster, and then, when the province descends into chaos and the terrorists begin bombing, they can once again win over a frightened British public by posing as our ardent defenders. Even when it is her party’s policy that has created the murder and bloodshed in the first place.

And do you know what shattered Thatcher’s intransigence, and brought her round to the negotiating table with the IRA and Sinn Fein?

It wasn’t the hundreds of innocents butchered by the men of violence – Nationalist and Loyalist – in Ulster, including our courageous troops. It was because the IRA bombed Canary Wharf. That showed that they could bring down the very heart of British finance capitalism.

Ordinary lives don’t matter to the Tories. But the banks must always be protected and promoted.

Tweezer and the Tories are destroying Britain, and threatening more death and destruction in Ulster for their own electoral gain and stupid, free market ideologies. Get them out. Support Corbyn’s Labour and closer ties with the EU.
Before Tweezer and her cronies try to portray her as the second coming of Maggie Thatcher, and start exploiting the violence they have helped cause.

TNT Nation: Daily Mail Racists Freak Out as Cheddar Man Revealed as Black

February 15, 2018

One of the big stories last week was the unveiling of the reconstructed face of Cheddar Man. As Jeff Waldorf points out in this clip from TNT Nation, this is a prehistoric man, named after where he was found, and not a man literally made of cheese. Cheddar Man, or rather, his skeleton, was found in the caves in Cheddar in Somerset, England, way back in 1906. The skeleton’s 16,000 or so years old, and so dates from about the end of the last Ice Age. The scientists reconstructing his features also used for the first time DNA analysis to gauge his skin and eye colour. And it turns out that he had ‘dark to black skin’ and blue eyes.

They scientists were able to do this using DNA they were able to extract from the skeleton. This had genetic markers similar to those for dark skin, which is also present in ten per cent of the modern British population. Cheddar Man’s colouring was a surprise for the scientists, as they expected him to have white skin and blond or light hair, as an adaptation to the extreme cold. Commenting on the revelation that he was black, one scientist said that it showed that British has not always been associated with Whiteness. It had changed, and would change again in the future. I think they were also able to trace the ultimate origins of Cheddar Man’s people, as they entered Britain from a route across southern Europe ultimately going back to Turkey.

I’m not surprised by this revelation. It’s been suggested since at least the 1990s that the first anatomically modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens – who entered and colonised Europe, were dark-skinned. Back in the 1990s a Channel 4 series on human evolution showed a reconstruction of these people, as they would have looked 40,000 or so years ago, edging along the primeval European countryside as Black. The programme also consciously reversed the idea, promoted in many past books and articles on them, that the Neanderthals were Black. The programme instead argued that they would have had light skins as an adaptation to the arctic temperatures in Europe. If you also look at the remains of our ancient ancestors, you also find that they have more archaic features, like a strong brow ridge, than the other humans in Africa, who were much more gracile. I think its these archaic features which led some archaeoanthropologists to state that some of these humans were of the same physical build as Aboriginal Australians, because these ancient people have also retained some features of archaic humanity.

The real shock, as one of the articles about Cheddar Man said last week, is how recently White skin and hair evolved – in the last 10,000 years or so. It’s much more recent than they expected. However, I can remember reading in a review of the film The Clan of the Cave Bear in Starburst one of the criticisms of that movie. It starred Daryl Hannah as a Cro Magnon woman growing up with a family of Neanderthals. Hannah’s blond, and the article pointed out that blonde hair is only supposed to have evolved 10,000 or so years ago – much later than the age the film, and the book on which it was based, by Jean Auel, is set.

The revelation that Cheddar Man was Black, however, set the racists off. And here Waldorf reads out and tears to pieces some of the comments about this story left on the Daily Mail’s website. And they go from the reasonable, to the completely mad.

Waldorf begins with the comment from one individual, who wonders if the genetic reconstruction is accurate, given the age of the skeleton and difficulty of extracting genetic information from remains that ancient. He states, however, that he isn’t a scientist, but has simply watched a lot of documentaries. Waldorf mocks him for this, which is actually unfair. It’s a reasonable question, as the impression I’ve had from watching the same kind of documentaries is that ancient DNA can be extremely delicate, and is very often fragmentary, so it can actually be very difficult to extract useful genetic information from human remains. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, which made this point when discussing the Neanderthals to show why scientists have not tried to recreate them genetically.

And then there’s the completely bonkers. Another commenter wondered if there wasn’t something deeper going on here. They smelt a conspiracy, as the revelation that Cheddar Man was Black came after, so this person believed, the collapse of the ‘out of Africa’ theory of human origins, and the proof that the Ancient Egyptians weren’t African. First of all, if the theory that humans first evolved in Africa and then spread outwards across the globe has collapsed, then no-one’s told me. Or any of the anthropologists and archaeologists working in this field. The only people I can think of who reject the theory are, er, marginal thinkers. Or cranks. Waldorf takes apart the claim that the ancient Egyptians weren’t Africans, by pointing out that ancient Egypt actually had a very diverse population, and that in the south they tended to be darker than in the north. Also, Egypt is part of Africa.

This comment seems to echo back to the views of some of the White racial supremacists that the ancient Egyptians, as the citizens of an advanced ancient civilisation, couldn’t possibly be Black, and were instead White and European in appearance. This is, of course, vehemently rejected by AFrocentrist historians, who argue instead that they were Black. If you look at the way the ancient Egyptians depicted themselves in their art – in the tomb paintings, for example, they are lighter than the darker skinned Nubian peoples to their south. Male ancient Egyptians are portrayed as having reddish brown skin, while women are yellow. Nubians are painted with black skin. Even so, they are still darker than the Europeans, which appear in their art, such as the people of Minoan Crete. These are depicted with pink skin. The scientifically accepted view is that the peoples of North Africa, including ancient Egypt, were White.

However, way back in the 1990s or the early part of this century some anthropologists reconstructed the faces of people from Roman Egypt. This found that their features were more strongly African than the portraits of them painted on to their mummy cases, which made them look more European. There were definite cultural and economic reasons why an ancient Egyptian really wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Black’. Roman Egypt was a horrible, racist, apartheid state, where the indigenous Egyptian population was taxed more than those of Greek or European descent. This would have left many Egyptians with feelings of inferiority about their African features, which they would have tried to cover up.

There was also the suggestion by one archaeologist that the ultimate origins of the ancient Egyptian civilisation lay in a Black tribe from further south, which migrated to the north. This archaeologist came to this conclusion through examining some of the early henge monuments, which predate the ancient Egyptian civilisation proper by thousands of years. I think these were similar to those in the Black African nations further south. One of the stones in these monuments also seemed deliberately shaped to resemble a cow. Hathor was the ancient Egyptians’ cow goddess, and so there’s the suggestion that she was a survival from this ancient, pastoralist Black African culture.

I also came across another story in the paper recently, which said that the ancient Egyptians weren’t African after all. I didn’t get the opportunity to read it – I only glimpsed the headline in passing – and so can’t really comment on it. But it seems unlikely to me. The Egyptologist John Romer criticised the notion that the ancient Egyptians were White way back in the 1990s in his Channel 4 series, Great Excavations. In one episode, he discussed the various diffusionist theories of human evolution and progress, and how they were influenced by 19th century theories of racial supremacy and conquest. Diffusionism is the archaeological theory that advances in civilisation occur through successive societies and races conquering their predecessors. Early archaeologists were busy examining the remains of these past cultures, and especially their skull and head shapes, in order to develop a classification of the various races these different physical types represented. As the ancient Egyptians were an advanced civilisation, they confidently expected them to have their origins in the lighter skinned peoples further east.

Except that they didn’t. The ancient Egyptian people remained the same stock, unchanged, as their culture developed and flourished around them. They created their culture themselves, without any other invading race creating or imposing a superior culture after them. Of course, at times ancient Egypt was conquered by outside nations, such as the Semitic Hyksos kings and the Nubians, who produced a line of Black pharaohs. They were also an important power themselves in the ancient Near East, at one point holding Syria and Palestine. But ancient Egyptian culture was their own creation, and not the result of invasion by some biologically superior race. And as far as I know, the only people, who believe that the ancient Egyptians had blonde hair and blue eyes are neo-Nazis.

Now I think there is a subtle message behind this recent discovery of Cheddar Man’s complexion. I think some of the comments made by the experts about his colouring and Britishness – that it is only relatively recently that White skin has evolved, and that Britishness is not necessarily connected to Whiteness – have been made to make an anti-racist point. It wasn’t just the scientist quoted by the TNT clip. There was another quote in the papers by someone saying that we may have to rethink the relationship between Britishness and Whiteness. It’s a reasonable, scientifically informed comment. But the recreation of Cheddar Man with dark skin clearly touched a nerve amongst the racists reading the Daily Heil.

As for Cheddar Man himself, he still has descendants in the area. Or at least, a descendant. A few years ago scientists sampled his DNA, and then tested the other people in Cheddar to see if they were related. It turns out one of them was – the headmaster of the local school. He was quite happy about it, but his mother was really upset, worrying what people would think. Well, if they’re sensible, they won’t think anything disparaging. As I said, these people were exactly like us modern humans. They had the same physical features and the same intelligence. They weren’t lumbering ape-men by any means. The only difference between modern people and them is that they lived over 10,000 years ago, when much of Britain was a frozen wilderness. I can even imagine some people being slightly envious, that this chap has an ancestry that can be traced back to this incredibly remote period.

Radio Programme on Sylvia Pankhurst’s Support for Ethiopia against the Fascist Invasion

February 1, 2018

There are a number of programmes next week marking the centenary of the passage of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote. One of the most interesting of these looks like a programme on Radio 4 on Monday, 5th February 2018, at 8.00 pm, Sylvia Pankhurst: Honorary Ethiopian. The brief description of it in the Radio Times runs

Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst got involved in the Ethiopian cause following its invasion by Italy in 1935 , and would later be recognised as an honorary citizen and given a state funeral. Here, Helen Pankhurst explores her grandmother’s role in the fight for Ethiopian independence.

Bristol and Bath have a connection to Ethiopia’s struggle for independence, as those cities were the home of Haile Selassie’s children during the War. They used to go to Victoria Park, though I think this was the one in Bath rather than Bristol.

There were some western intellectuals, who sided with the Italians during their invasion. One of these was Lady Kathleen Simon, who wrote a book on slavery. The Ethiopian emperor, Menelik II, had formally ended slavery in the country, but slaving still went on. British officers like Major Darnley, the author of Slaves and Ivory, complained that Ethiopian slavers were crossing the border to abduct the indigenous peoples of Uganda, then very much part of the British empire. His book was an account of his undercover mission into Ethiopia and a description of the way various provinces had been devastated by slave raiding by the Ethiopian aristocracy. It was partly written as a piece of polemic. Darnley was incensed that the authorities were taking no action against the slavers, and that in fact an area in Uganda around the border with Ethiopia had been declared a ‘no-go zone’ to British personnel. At the end of his book he argued that we should invade and conquer Ethiopia in order to halt their raiding into British territory, as well as the horrors of slavery and the slave trade in Ethiopia itself.

I don’t think Darnley supported the Italians, but Simon certainly did. At the end of her book, entitled simply Slavery, she also discusses Ethiopian slavery and slave raiding, and praises the Italian invasion as she believed that it would put a halt to it. I don’t think Mussolini had much of an interest in slavery, if any. He was far more keen to build a mighty new Roman empire. And issues like personal freedom certainly were very much not the concern of the man, who invented totalitarianism. Still, Simon’s book shows how some members of the British aristocracy supported Italian Fascist imperialism for ostensibly liberal motives.

Jodi Magness on the Archaeology of Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine

December 17, 2017

One of the other books in the winter edition of the Oxbow Bargain Book Catalogue for Winter 2017 is Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. The blurb for this says

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

Eisenbrauns, 2003, 9781575060705, Hardback, was £49.99, now £14.95.

Magness is an Israeli archaeologist, who has written some brilliant, very accessible, popular books on the archaeology of the Holy Land. I recognise that my own religious views mean that I have a bias towards Biblical archaeology and the Ancient Near East, as opposed to the later, Muslim periods. However, western concerns with these periods have meant that precious later evidence of Muslim culture and towns have been destroyed as archaeologists have dug through them to get to ancient Egypt, for example. The British archaeologist John Romer was particular critical about this in one edition of his series on the history of archaeology for Channel 4, broadcast in the 1990s, Great Excavations. In one sequence, he sifted through the sand around one excavated ancient Egyptian monument, picking out pieces of Islamic period pottery, and sadly remarked, ‘There was a whole town here once.’ And explained that it had been either destroyed, or at least its remains had, by archaeologists determined to get at what was underneath from antiquity.

Which of course, may partly explain – but does not justify – the Islamist rage against pre-Islamic Egypt and its monuments. Like the pyramids, which they’d love to destroy.

Magness’ conclusions don’t really surprise me. There’s an argument about the demographic and economic conditions of the late Roman Empire at the time of the Muslim conquests. Part of the reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire was economic stagnation, as I’ve pointed out before to combat the rubbish spouted by right-wing politicos and classicists like Boris Johnson. During the late Byzantine Empire, towns shrank, and many disappeared completely as they were abandoned. Those that survived tended to consist of a castle or fortification and a church around which was a much smaller settlement.

The nascent Islamic Empire put the region in touch with an expanding state that grew to cover the Near East and spread into parts of India. It gave merchants the opportunity to establish trade networks across a vast area. Furthermore, even when the Byzantines and Muslim emperors were still at work, Christians in the early caliphate were not prevented from contact with their spiritual superiors and coreligionists in Byzantium. Also, the official Byzantine ‘Melkite’ church, as it was known in Egypt, had persecuted the various ‘Jacobite’ or ‘Nestorian’ sects, which they considered heretical, often with horrific tortures. The result was that when the Muslims conquered the region, the persecuted masses opened the gates to them and welcomed them as liberators.

At the moment, however, Netanyahu, the Likudniks and the other members of the Israeli religious right in his coalition seem to be determined to erase any history of Palestine, that challenges its exclusive Jewish character. There are any number of books and articles by western historians attacking this and comparing it with militant nationalist movements elsewhere. Such as by Philip Rahtz, a very respected British archaeologist from my part of the West Country in his book, Invitation to Archaeology. This is not anti-Semitic, and Rahtz himself has always been anti- or at least, non-racist. He describes in the above book how shocked he was when an apparently liberal Australian student he was teaching was deeply surprised by his interest in the archaeology of Aboriginal Australians. ‘But they’re just apes!’ she exclaimed.

Netanyahu and his thugs are determined to close mosques and churches, or at least keep them very tightly controlled, just as the illegal settlers they support seize Palestinian land and homes in the Occupied Territories. So I really don’t know how long a genuinely open archaeological investigation of the Islamic period will last.

Vanessa Beeley: Britain Doesn’t Have Any Good Intentions in the Middle East

December 15, 2017

In this clip from RT, Going Underground’s host Afshin Rattansi speaks to Vanessa Beeley, a British journalist, who has covered the war in Syria. He asks her about Theresa May’s condemnation of the blockade against Yemen, which is resulting in a terrible famine that is starving about half of the population or so. Surely this shows that Britain has good intentions in the Middle East.

In reply, Beeley states very clearly that she cannot agree that Britain has any good intentions in the Middle East. Britain tried to undermine the UN Resolution 2216, which condemned the blockade. Britain’s military industrial complex has profited immensely from arms sales to Saudi Barbaria, and British specialists were in the command and control centre in Riyadh helping select targets. She openly describes May’s gesture as ‘faux humanitarianism’.

I think this is part of a rather longer interview, which I intend to put up, in which she talks about how the British and western media is deliberately presenting a false image of the corruption in the NGOs operating in Syria. One of them, the Adam Smith something-or-other, was the subject of a Panorama documentary. This revealed that massive sums of money were being taken out of the organisation by Islamist terrorist groups, through the use of payments to fictional people on the payroll, and even people, who’d died.

Beeley described this as ‘a controlled explosion’. The media and political establishment couldn’t keep it secret, and so did a limited expose of what was going on in order to divert attention from corruption and atrocities committed elsewhere. Like in the White Helmets, who are lauded as non-partisan heroes, but in fact are as partisan as everyone else. They have saved people, who aren’t members of their organisation, but this is just occasional, if they happen to be there. They don’t put themselves out of the way to do it, as is claimed on mainstream TV. Moreover, a number of their members put up posts and Tweets praising the Islamists. So definitely not the whiter-than-the-driven-snow heroes we’ve all been told. Beely made the case in that longer video that this cover up is because the White Helmets are becoming a global brand. They’re branching out in South America, Brazil and the Hispanic nations.

As for the Adam Smith whatever, I’ve had suspicions of any organisation that puts up his name ever since the Adam Smith Institute emerged under the Thatcher. These were manic privatisers, who wanted the health service sold off and the welfare state destroyed. This Adam Smith organisation isn’t connected with them, but still, I’m suspicious. It looks far too much like another wretched free enterprise group come to implement western privatisation under the guise of humanitarianism. In which case, you can expect the same results free enterprise has had on Iraq, Libya, Algeria and the rest of the Arab world. And indeed the world as a whole. I think the government of Algeria, or one of the Arab states in the Maghreb had been pursuing a socialist economy, before the recession of the 70s/80. They then followed the trend and started privatising industry. This made matters even worse, poverty grew, and people started looking to the Islamists for aid. The American-mandated free enterprise policy in Iraq after the invasion resulted in 60 per cent unemployment. This is in a poor country. Ordinary Iraqis were actually better off materially under Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a monster, without question. But they had access to free healthcare, free education, and relatively secular society in which women enjoyed a high status. They could go out to work, and felt safe going home at night.

The invasion destroyed all that. Instead you had sectarian violence, which did not exist in Baghdad previously, or if it did, it was at a much lower level than under the western occupation. You had General MacChrystal running death squads against the Sunnis. Valuable state assets were privatised and sold to American multinationals, and tariff barriers torn down so that the world and especially the Chinese dumped all the stuff they couldn’t sell on the country, driving native Iraqi firms out of business.

You can find the same wretch story in Libya. Gaddafi was a monster, but as I’ve pointed out ad nauseam he did some good things for his country. They were the most prosperous country in Africa. Gaddafi gave his people free education and healthcare. Women had high status. He was not racist, and supported Black Africans from further south. He saw himself as an African leader, and did was he thought was best for the continent. This involved using the Islamists to knock off his rivals, both in Africa and the Arab world. But they were never allowed to recruit or attack his own country.

Now there are something like two parliaments in the country, the free education and healthcare is gone, and the Islamists are running riot. The women connected with his party have been raped, and Black Africans are savagely persecuted by the Islamists. Slavery has returned, with these barbarians selling them at auctions. And this is partly motivated by hatred of Blacks for benefiting from Gaddafi’s rule.

All the claims that these military interventions are for humanitarian reasons are a lie. They’re so western industry can get its grubby, blood-stained mitts on these countries’ precious industries and natural resources. Oh yes, and they’re to help the Saudis spread their own, viciously intolerant version of Islam, and Israel to destroy possible Arab rivals and threats in the region. Plus the fact that the American military-industrial complex loathes Arab nationalism, secularism and socialism with a passion as the next worst thing to Communism. And our European leaders, Cameron, Blair, Sarko and now Theresa May have been enthusiastic accomplices, even the ringleaders, of these assaults on independent, sovereign states.

For the sake of global peace, we need to kick May out and put Corbyn in. His work for disarmament and peace was recognised last week when the International Peace Bureau in Geneva awarded him the Sean McBride Peace Prize, along with Noam Chomsky and the All-Okinawa Committee against Henoko New Bridge. But this received almost zero coverage in the lamestream media.

General Smedley Butler was right was right: War is a racket. Or to put it another way, was is business, and under neoliberalism, business is good.

I’m sick of it. Brits of all faiths and none, of all races and varieties thereof are sick of it. Americans are sick of it. But it means big bucks to the arms manufacturers and the military-industrial complex. And so Obama, who now describes himself as a ‘moderate Republican’, increased the wars in the Middle East to seven. Trump, following the demands of AIPAC and the Christian Zionist lobby, wants to start a war with Iran, if Killary and the Democrats don’t push him into a military confrontation with Putin and the Chinese first.

The people fighting and dying in these wars are working and lower-middle class young men and women. Service people of immense courage and professionalism, whose lives should not be squandered for such squalid profiteering. Old-school Conservatives in the American armed forces despised the neocons around George Dubya as Chickenhawks. They were more than happy to send American forces into countries that had never directly threatened the US. But when it came to fighting themselves, they lacked the courage they expected in others. Bush and the others had all scarpered abroad during the Vietnam War. Generalissimo Trumpo had three exemption from national service during the Vietnam War. He claimed that he had growth in one of his feet that made walking difficult. Still didn’t stop him playing college basketball though.

During the Middle Ages, kings led their armies from the front. In ancient Germanic society, that was the prime function of kings. The Romans noted there were two types of kings in the barbarian tribes that later overran them. There were hereditary religious leaders, who acted as judges. And then there were elected kings, who took charge of the tribe’s armies. They were often elected only for a single campaign. And the Roman Empire itself basically arose through the seizure of supreme power by military dictators, like Julius Caesar and then Augustus. I think the last British general, who physically led his army into battle was in the 19th century.

Would our leaders be so keen on sending good, brave men and women to their deaths and mutilation, if they had to stand there and personally lead them into battle. Shouting like Henry IV, ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends!’ If they personally had to put on the heavy, cumbersome battle armour, or wear hot and unpleasant chem suits in case of a gas attack. If they themselves had to feel some of the squaddies’ natural fear of suffering a hit, of seeing their friends and comrades die, or lose limbs and other organs. If they personally saw the civilian casualties, the ordinary men, women and children driven out of their homes, or killed as ‘collateral damage’. Dying and suffering from wounds, famine, disease. If they had to face the horrors that have scarred decent, strong women and men, leaving them mental wrecks. Sights no civilised person, whether in Britain, Damascus, Cairo, New York or wherever, should ever see.

No, of course they wouldn’t. They’d run screaming to their offices to get their spin doctors to find some bullsh*t excuse why they were too valuable to fight, er, things need doing back home, terribly sorry and so forth.

Saint Augustine said in his City of God that kingdoms without justice are giant robberies. It was true when he wrote in the 5th century AD, and it’s true now. Whatever the gloss put on it by the corporatists and the religious right.

Guy Debord’s Cat: Violence to Fascists Is Justified

September 9, 2017

Following the violent clashes between the White supremacists, neo-Confederates and outright Nazis and the counter-protesters in Charlottesville the week before last, there have been a series of articles and denunciations of the Anti-Fascists for their physical attacks on the marching hordes of the extreme Right. One of those criticizing them is the veteran critic of capitalism, racism and imperialism, Noam Chomsky, who stated that by using violence, Antifa handed them a ‘propaganda coup’. Others have gone further, and complained that Antifa are against free speech, and so are as bad, or worse, as the Nazis they attacked.

The French philosophical feline strongly rejects this attitude, and has written a blog post explaining just why he supports violence against Fascism. This includes two videos, both of which are well worth watching. One is about the 43 Group, a band of Jewish ex-servicemen, who had seen for themselves the horrific results of Nazi anti-Semitism when they were among the troops, who liberated Auschwitz. After the War, they were disgusted to find the kind of people, who had committed such monstrous atrocities were not only at large, but preaching their murderous doctrines and hatred. They resolved to treat them as they deserved, and hit them time and again force them off the streets.

The second video is presented by Mensi Mensforth, a member of the eighties band Angelic Upstarts. He also talks about the long history of anti-Fascists using physical violence, from struggles in the 1930s against Mosley’s BUF, to today’s battles with the NF and related Nazi gangs. Mensforth and the others speaking on the programme make the point that the people the Antifa are fighting are themselves extremely violent. They talk about Asians in the poorer parts of Britain being firebombed out of their homes. Mensforth himself describes how his stance against the NF so infuriated them, that they tried to silence him by attacking him at one of the Upstart’s gigs. He was saved by Antifa, who were there to defend him.

The Cat starts off by making the point that Antifa is a position, not an organization. The word stands for Anti-Fascist Action, and while later in the article he states that Anti-Fascist Action was set up in 1985 by Red Action and other anti-Fascist groups, he makes the point that if you are opposed to Fascism, then you are Antifa. He also makes the point that Nazis and related organisations in the US have been allowed to march by claiming free speech as their defence, and supported by the local law enforcement agencies and Libertarian organisations, some of whom have their own, very dubious agendas.

Buddy Hell is particularly annoyed by the middle class liberals, who are defending the Nazis’ right to say the unspeakable. He makes the point that Fascists are capitalism’s shock troops. Their leaders come from the middle and upper classes, and they and their vile doctrine emerge when capitalism is in crisis. And they don’t march through White, middle class areas. Their purpose is to divide the working class, and they march through working class and immigrant neighbourhoods as a display of triumphalism and a provocation.

He also makes the point that Fascists are also supported by the petite bourgeoisie and sections of the free press. The free world has tolerated the seizure of power by innumerable right-wing dictatorial groups, but the moment a left-wing government appears the supposed free world immediately tries to destabilize it.

And Fascists themselves are extremely violent. He states very graphically that if you turn the other cheek to a Fascist, they’ll slash it with a razor, and says

I support the activities of militant anti-fascists because I think their use of force is a necessary tactic to counter the violence of the far-right on the streets. If you think allowing neo-fascists a platform to say whatever they like is necessary because you believe everyone has a right to free speech, just imagine what would happen if the far-right ever came to power. The free speech, that you cherish so dearly, would be taken away and you’d be carted off to prison or worse. Now you can accuse me of histrionics if you like, but you’ll have to name a country in which the far-right have gained power and have allowed people to criticize them. I can’t think of one.


Now I don’t support violence against anyone, and don’t wish to encourage any more of it, even against the Far Right. Real violence is anything but fun, and people have been seriously hurt and killed in the battles between Fascists and anti-Fascists.

But the Cat is right on several points. Fascists are and have always been extremely violent. They’ve been so every since George Sorel wrote his ‘Reflexions sur la Violence’ as a militant 19th century anarcho-syndicalist. Sorel later rejected syndicalism in favour of extreme right-wing nationalist and monarchist groups, but his book remained popular and influential amongst right-wing intellectuals like Mussolini. The kernel of Fascism in Italy were the Fasci di Combattimenti, bands of demobilized ex-servicemen, who went around beating up Socialists, Communists and anyone they thought that was insufficiently patriotic, or just didn’t like. One of their symbols, was the fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe sticking out, which symbolized the power of the lictor, the Roman official, who could have citizens beaten and beheaded. The other, rather less official, but very widely used, was the manganello. This was the club with which Fascist gangs used to beat their opponents in street battles, after which the victims were dosed with castor oil to humiliate them by making them soil themselves.

Before the Nazis seized power in Germany, they also used to go round fighting street battles and beating up Jews and leftists. One of their songs in Berlin was all about how they were going to carry on beating people up, ‘until the Jew lies bleeding at our feet’.

And they weren’t any better in Britain. Mosley’s BUF lost its support partly because it was notorious for its violence, particularly after the infamous Olympia rally, where the BUF’s stewards savagely beat a number of left-wing protestors. And after the war, the BNP, NF and related groups deliberately recruited ‘bovver boys’ and football hooligans. Or as one of their leaders themselves said at the time, ‘robust young men to defend Britain against Communism’. And the evidence for their extreme violence is extremely plentiful. If you go on YouTube, there are a number of videos from World In Action and other documentaries showing just how brutally violent they are. And more often than not, their victims are the weak and defenceless. One of the speakers in one of these documentaries is a female teacher, who describes how she and her colleagues were attacked without provocation by a group of NF thugs when they were having a meeting in a pub. Matthew Collins in his book, Hate, describes how he participated in an attack on an anti-Nazi meeting in one of the rooms above the local library. Those they attacked were mostly women, including a pregnant Asian lady, who was so terrified she tried to barricade herself in the toilets. These are not thugs attacking other thugs. They’re bullies. And when they do meet concerted, violent resistance, as one of the speakers in one of the videos says, they run away.

The decision of the ’43 group to give a dam’ good hiding to the Fascists is entirely understandable. One of the speakers in the video describes how he and the other old comrades put their hands together with Rabbi Hardman, the Jewish army chaplain, and swore ‘Never again’ when they saw the sheer carnage and barbarity at Auschwitz. Rabbi Hardman states he saw bodies piled as high as the surrounding buildings. Another squaddies tells how he met one woman, one of the death camp’s inmates, who had been driven mad because the Nazis had snatched her baby away from her, thrown it up into the air, and then shot it. This treatment wasn’t unique to the Jews. The Beeb a little while ago screened a programme about the Nazi occupation of Poland. One of the incidents that occurred there was when Polish mothers were required to take their children to be examined by the reich authorities. One woman’s child was deemed biologically unfit. It was snatched out of its mother’s arms, thrown onto the floor, and shot.

Most normal people would have felt horror and anger if they had witnessed what these servicemen had seen. And when it is done to one’s own ethnic or religious group, when one thinks how it could have been one’s own spouse, parents, children, or other relatives and friends lying down there among the bodies, those feelings are naturally going to turn into an intense rage, or in this case, a steely determination to do everything they could to stop it ever occurring again.

The speakers in the video make the point that they didn’t reject non-violent persuasion. They tried it, and found that it didn’t work. They state that it was a case of ‘both…and…’ rather than ‘either…or…’. But it didn’t work on the convinced Fascists. And so they resolved to disrupt their meetings and force them off the streets.

At the time there were 40 or so Fascist meetings every month in London, and the BUF, or Mosley’s successor organisations, were not opposed, and indeed supported, by the London police. This has been corroborated by other historians. Larry O’Hara wrote an article in Lobster back in the 1990s about how the metropolitan police turned a blind eye to Fascist meetings, even when they openly broke the law. Such as drinking a toast to the destruction of the Jews. Indeed, it was quite often anti-Fascist protesters, who were arrested, rather than the stormtroopers.

Not all police forces were as tolerant as London’s, however. One of the speakers describes how they heard that the Blackshirts were planning to go down and hold a rally in Brighton. So the ’43 Group let the Brighton fuzz know they would also be down there to disrupt the meeting. The rozzers duly replied that the Fascists were quite within their rights, and the police would allow them to go ahead following the principle of free speech. But in practice, they only sent one officer. He was obviously just a token presence, and the former servicemen were able to give their opponents a sound beating.

They describe how, when they attacked a Fascist gathering, their intention was to seize and overturn the podium. Among those, who got what they deserved was Hamm, Mosley’s second in command. They also reveal that they had considerable information given to them about the location of meetings and so on from informers within the Fascists’ own ranks. These were people, who had joined the party, and found out it wasn’t what they thought it was. Ultimately, the ’43 group were successful. They point out that due to their attacks Mosley couldn’t appear in public, and they talk about their pride as Jews and citizens in closing him down.

Mensforth’s video also begins with people from the East End describing the antics of Mosley’s Blackshirts in their day, and their role in the Battle of Cable Street. This was when the BUF tried to march through the East End, but were beaten off by a group of trade unionists, Communists and Jews. The speakers describe how they also fought the police, who were protecting the Fascists.

Describing the activities of contemporary Nazis, they point out that they want to keep the working class divided, and encourage racial hatred to that end. When there are no ethnic minorities available for them to whip up hate against, as in Glasgow, they find another outsider group to serve the same purpose, like Roman Catholics. One of the speakers is a Glaswegian, who was a former member of one of the Fascist groups in Scotland, as well as a Protestant supporter of one of the very Unionist football clubs. One of the songs their supporters sing is ‘Billy’s Boys’. He states most of the supporters think it’s about William of Orange, but in fact it’s about one of Mosley’s lieutenants in that part of Scotland in the 1930s. This particular speaker was drawn into it through the sectarian politics of Scots football clubs. He left when he started getting leaflets from the organization telling him to support their policies against Israel, and supporting South American dictators and death squads.

Watching these videos, it struck me that some, at least, of the violent antifa, aren’t thugs using violence for the sheer pleasure of it. They’re just people, who actually take Fascism seriously. Very seriously. To many people, the Fascist fringe are so grotesque that they’re a joke, and the numbers involved in their marches are so trivial that there’s absolutely no danger of these morons gaining power. They’re figures of fun, like the American National Socialist White People’s Party in the Blues Brothers. And it’s because they aren’t taken as a serious threat, that they and their wretched marches are tolerated. Despite considerable, and very vocal opposition, I hasten to add.

And indeed there is a certain amount of grim humour to be found there. They are so twisted, that they can be unintentionally hilarious, and mocking them does have the right effect. Hope Not Hate a few days ago put up a piece about how one of the squadristi was upset with the organization, because it was taking the mick out of him. And Private Eye also reported how members were leaving the BNP after it had been mocked in the pages of Ian Hislop’s mighty organ. The Third Reich was long ago, and so were the various Fascist dictatorships in Central and South America, as well as all the other brutal right-wing regimes that have seized power around the world.

But if you’ve seen what Fascism has done, and your family and friends have been attacked or worse by its supporters over here, your attitude might be very different. The Klan and the neo-Confederates really aren’t a joke to Blacks, Jews and other minority groups, because of the lynchings and the use of terror and extreme violence. Over in Britain, the British Fascist groups supported not only the Unionist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, but they also gave sanctuary to a group of Italian Fascists in the 1980s following the Bologna railway bombing, which killed more than a hundred people. And given the horrific atrocities the death squads committed in Latin America – things so revolting that they cannot be decently described in a family blog, it becomes a very good question why the members of various Conservative and Libertarian societies weren’t attacked or beaten when they decided to invite these scum to their annual dinners.

I don’t support violence, let alone vigilanteeism, but the Cat has done a good job in explaining why violent resistance against Fascism may be justified. As he points out, this is violence against those, who are absolutely serious in their intention to imprison, torture and kill millions, if they came to power. Their tolerated at the moment because they aren’t a significant threat. But that can change. Free speech is not an absolute, and there have to be limits to toleration. It’s why we have laws against hate speech, no matter how they right may decry them as ‘political correctness’.

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

August 1, 2017

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.