Posts Tagged ‘Salman Rushdie’

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

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Private Eye: Literary Authors Now Turning to SF’s Robots for Subject Matter

April 17, 2019

According to this fortnight’s Private Eye, the British literary authors Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro are turning to the world of robots and AI for their next books. A brief snippet on page 34 of the issue for 19th April – 2nd May 2019 runs

For middle-aged authors looking for a reboot, the trendiness of artificial intelligence and robots is proving a godsend.

In Ian McEwan’s just-out Machines Like Me, a couple acquire a male synthetic human and a love triangle duly develops ( a set-up quite similar to the main storyline of Channel 4’s sci-fi drama Humans, with the robot’s gender switched).

In her forthcoming Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson – unfazed by having missed last year’s Frankenstein anniversary – reworks Mary Shelley’s novel in a story featuring not only Victor Stein, a professor “leading the debate around AI”, but also a character who sells sex bots. Kazuo Ishiguro told the Oxford literary festival his next book will be about AI too… Who else? Rushdie? Amis? Jeffrey Archer? 

One of the complaints of the SF world back in the 1990s was that literary fiction, and writers like McEwan, Rushdie, Amis, Winterson and the rest of them were lifting ideas from Science Fiction to great critical acclaim, while the genre itself remained despised by literary critics and prizes. This seems to be yet another example.

Not all serious literary critics are dismissive of Science Fiction. The late J.G. Ballard and Ursula Le Guine managed to achieve mainstream critical appreciation, and some of the newspapers do give good review to SF books, like the Guardian and the I. And the years have passed since I heard the late Terry Pratchett speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Literary, telling the crowd that the Festival’s organisers seemed to look at him as if they expected him to give a talk on mending motorbikes. Brian Aldiss in his and Peter Wingrove’s history of SF, The Trillion  Year Spree, states that in the 1950s even pornography had a higher reputation among critics than Science Fiction. More recent critics and historians of the genre have pointed out that there never was quite the severe break between proper literature and Science Fiction in Britain as there was in America. Serious literary writers like Kingsley Amis and Anthony Burgess also wrote Science Fiction, as did C.S. Lewis and Conan Doyle. Nevertheless, I still get the impression that there is in certain literary quarters more than a little of the old literary disdain still remaining. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is dystopian Science Fiction, but she has still sneered at the genre as ‘talking squids in space’ apparently.

And looking at the plots of some of the books mentioned in the Eye article, I wondered how many of the literary types reading these pieces would be aware of similar works by some of the great genre SF writers. If you’re talking about romances between humans and robots, there’s Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, about a girl who has an affair with a robot, which is destroyed by jealous human males.  The robot scientist, Geoff Simons, mentions a series of SF tales about romances between people and robots, or the construction of sex robots, in his book Robots: The Quest for Living Machines (London: Cassell 1992) including Satisfaction Guaranteed (1951), by Isaac Asimov; Maria Bujanska’s Krwawa Maria (Bloody Mary), 1977, R. Forsyth’s ‘Silicon Valley of the Dolls’, 1979; The Pleasure Machines (1969); Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (1974) and such as Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) and Sins of the Fleshapoids.

As for Frankenstein, Brian Aldiss has argued that Mary Shelley’s classic should be regarded as the first real work of Science Fiction, as it was based on genuine science, as it was understood in the early 19th century. He also wrote a book inspired by Shelley, Frankenstein Unbound, which is split between Shelley’s time and a technological future. It was later filmed by the old producer of low-budget SF, Roger Corman.

Winterson has previous in taking themes from science/ science fiction. Way back in the 1990s, when everyone was getting very excited at discovering a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) or ‘theory of everything’, she wrote a book, GUT Symmetries, about it and parallel world. She’s also written novels of feminist Magic Realism, following the feminist fairy tales of Angela Carter. But the Polish author, Stanislaw Lem, who wrote Solaris, filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky, also wrote a series of tales about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines, set in a fairy tale universe in which robots were the dominant life form. Another of Lem’s books is a series of philosophical explorations of machine and human intelligence and nature from the point of view of a vast computer that has far surpassed the intellects of its human makers. Lem was a high-brow author, who, after winning various awards from the Science Fiction community, then went on to decry Science Fiction, so he personally shared the sneering view of some mainstream literary critics. However, his books are still well worth reading.

And any literary exploration of robots, AI and the human condition inevitably involves Asimov’s robots of the books I, Robot and the Caves of Steel, and his Three Laws of Robotics, as well as William Gibson and Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk’s a form of SF set in dystopian near futures, where humans are able to ‘jack into’ cyberspace, a Virtual Reality inside the Web, and where AIs have consciousness and some rights. The classics of this genre include Gibson’s Neuromancer, Count Zero, Burning Chrome and Mona Lisa Overdrive.  One of his novels, relevant to any literary discussion of humans and AI, was Idoru, about a man, who has an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Gibson was very hip with his worlds of urban decay and high-tech criminality mixed with the glamour of the super-rich and celebrities. Shortly after Idoru was published, one of the Japanese tech firms declared they had created the first, computer-generated rock star. There was a powerful impression, shared by Gibson himself, that the computer industry looked to his books for ideas without accepting that his books were also part of SF’s tradition of ‘literature as warning’. His futures had great AIs and cool Virtual Reality and hackers, but they also featured poverty, despair and a massive gap between rich and poor.

And then there’s the film Bladerunner, one of the great SF classics, and the problems it poses about humanity and human capacity for compassion within the narrative of the detective thriller. It’s another dystopian future, where animals are all but extinct and humanity has created a class of artificial slaves, replicants. These are indistinguishable from real humans, except through psychological testing. The final speech by the replicant leader, Roy Batty, ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Set ships on fire off the shores of Orion’, written by actor Rutger Hauer, has itself become one of the classic speeches of cinema, and quoted and parodied by other SF writers.

In my opinion, whatever McEwan, Winterson and Ishiguro write about robots, genre writers will have got their first and done it better. And I wonder if the literary critics and award judges will recognise that when these books inevitably get put in for the Booker and other literary awards. And I also feel that when they are, these awards should be open to self-conscious genre writers. Because if the literary crowd can write about robots and win literary prizes for them, it’s only going to be snobbishness that keeps the genre SF writers from winning them too.  

Post-Slavery Exploitation and the Beeb’s ‘Long Song’

December 19, 2018

Okay, I haven’t been watching The Long Song, the Beeb’s historical drama set in the Caribbean during the dying days of slavery, which has been running on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm this week. It’s in three parts, the final of which is tonight. The series is based on Andrea Levy’s book of the same name, as is about a young slave girl, Kitty, who is taken away from her mother to become the personal servant of Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the plantation owner. It’s not something I would usually watch, and the description by the I’s TV critic, Sean O’Grady, that it’s ‘like Downton Abbey with added racism and sadism’ seems about accurate.

But I did catch a brief glimpse of a clip from the show on breakfast TV this morning. This showed the planter telling the slaves that they could be evicted if they didn’t work hard enough, and that they would be paid wages, but there would be a little deduction for rent.

This seems to me to be entirely accurate historically. After the final abolition of slavery in 1838, the planters and the colonial and British governments became concerned that the slaves weren’t working hard enough, and that they would leave the plantations to occupy unused land in the interior. This would leave the plantations without the labour needed to work them and harvest their crops, the country would return to subsistence agriculture and the entire colony would be ruined. they therefore set about devising methods to force the former slaves to remain on the plantations and to work hard.

Now there was some truth to their fears. Some colonies – I think one of them was Jamaica – reported that the slaves stopped working for the two months after abolition. When they returned to work, they demanded wages which the plantation masters considered too high. They also made a point of working less hard than previously. It was reported that they considered working as hard as before to be selling their ‘free’, and that if they did so, they were unworthy of their newly gained liberty.

Some of the planters did threaten their slaves with eviction, and one female slave was thrown out of her plantation home with all her belongings. They also introduced the truck system from Britain, in which employees were paid in tokens, which could only be spent in the company shops. They also used a payment system called ‘tenancy-at-will’ to keep the slaves where they were. This combined the slaves’ wages with deductions for rent. But the rents were always higher than the wages. For examples, if they were paid 5 shillings per week in wages, then the rent would be eight shillings. It was an evil system that has rightly been compared to debt peonage in Latin America.

To stop the former slaves buying vacant crown land in British Guiana, now Guyana, the government raised the price of the plots for sale so that they were far above their ability to afford them.

Obviously the freed people of the Caribbean didn’t take this lightly, and there were Strikes, riots and protests against these and other forms of official oppression and exploitation for decades afterwards. There was also the continual fear that the colonial governments or the British would reintroduce slavery. One former slave said that the Queen, Victoria, had abolished slavery with a charter, and so could just as easily put it back again. And there were a series of rebellions by the former slaves, such as that at Morant Bay in Jamaica as a result. Given this, it is no surprise that there is a continuing resentment at their treatment by some people of West Indian heritage.

Lenny Henry, who plays one of the slaves in the series, has said in an interview that children need to be taught more about slavery. He’s right. Salman Rushdie once remarked that the British didn’t know much about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. Which is also true. This country is affected by events that occurred outside in the colonies, episodes which are known to the people of those countries but not to us, and so some of the post-imperial resentments left over are a surprise.

We do need to know more, and not the sanitized, patriotic version that Tories like Michael Gove want our kids indoctrinated with. It’s only then that we can understand some of the stresses in our multicultural society, and hopefully move beyond them.

The Social Hierarchy that Makes Prejudice towards Some Minorities More Acceptable Than Others

May 9, 2018

Way back on April 23rd, Mike also wrote an article commenting on the near complete media silence over islamophobia in the Tory party, contrasting this with the furore over the supposed anti-Semitism in Labour. Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi had appeared on Robert Peston’s programme to state that islamophobic incidents and rhetoric were almost weekly occurrences in the Tory party. The only news outlet that reported Warsi’s statement, which not even Peston himself commented on, was RT. Which shows just how much we need the Russian-owned broadcaster and supposed ‘propaganda outlet’ to correct the massive bias in our own media.

Aleesha, a Muslim female blogger and political activist, who talked about the massive increase she’d seen in Tory islamophobia, but which went unnoticed and unremarked by the media, and which no one was condemning or acting against. She discussed the vehemently islamophobic comments of the Tory MP, Bob Blackman, Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for the post of mayor of London against Sadiq Khan, and the official EU Leave campaign, which said that Europe has an ‘exploding Muslim population’.

Aleesha further asked

“Why is nobody acting? I have been blocked by Tory councillors and Tory MPs when I call islamophobia out. Why are these MPs and councillors supporting islamophobes? It makes me think that the Tory party has an actual problem with islamophobia, not to mention the dozens of times I’ve been religiously abused by Tories.

“Are we just going to ignore it? When will we give these cases the rightful outrage? Islamophobia is absolutely normalised in British politics and nobody is really doing anything about it. The silence from our politicians shows their inability to act and their legitimation/endorsement of these views. Are we going to act, or are we going to do nothing and let MPs like Bob Blackman host more extremists in Parliament?”

Mike ended his article by referring back to Baroness Warsi’s comments, and concluding that the real reason islamophobia is being ignored is because the Tories love it.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/04/23/sick-of-labour-anti-semitism-lets-talk-about-tory-islamophobia-instead/

As Mike has pointed out repeatedly, racism of all types, including islamophobia, is far more prevalent amongst the Right, including the Tories, than the Left and the Labour party. But the media aren’t commenting on it, and are playing up the supposed anti-Semitism in Labour for purely political reasons. They fear Corbyn’s Labour and its programme of ending neoliberalism, renationalising the NHS, part of the electricity grid and the railways, and restoring the welfare state. The Blairites in the Labour party and their allies in the Israel lobby also despise him, not because he is an enemy of Israel, but because he demands dignity and justice for the Palestinians. This also attacks traditional geopolitics in the region, where the West has supported Israel and Saudi Arabia against Russia and the surrounding Arab nations. As a result, the Tories, the media, the Israel lobby and the Thatcherite Labour Right, the Blairites, have all seized on the spurious allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters as a way of trying to unseat the Labour leader and marginalise and expel his supporters.

There are also a number of reasons why islamophobia is far also far more acceptable than other forms of racial prejudice. Colour prejudice is one factor. Most Muslims in this country are Black or Asian, and Muslims may also be seen as more foreign than other ethnic groups because historically they lay outside and beyond the European Christian mainstream. While there have been Muslim communities in parts of Europe, like Spain, the Balkans and Russia and the Baltic states since the Middle Ages, they were always marginal communities outside the European mainstream. Europe in the Middle Ages was Christendom. Muslim Spain was part of the Islamic world, as were the Muslim communities in the Balkans which were established after the region was conquered by the Muslim Turks. The Ottoman Turks were an aggressive, expansionary threat to the European Christian states up until the late 17th century. The massacres of Christians carried out by the Ottomans at the end of the 19th century, when the Greeks and Serbs fought their wars of independence, became notorious, and so contributed to this stereotype of Islam as an innately hostile threat. At the same time, the massacres carried by Christians against Muslims was little reported and did not provoke the same outrage.

There is also the legacy of British imperialism, and its conquest of part of the Dar al-Islam in the creation of negative views of Islam and its peoples, followed by the continued instability of the region after independence. The result has been that Islam and Muslims have continued to be seen as a threat completely opposed to Europe and the West. The stereotype has been reinforced by the rise of militant Islam following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Islamist terrorism and highly emotive campaigns by some Muslims in Britain, such as the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the controversy over the Satanic verses, and the marches and demands for Pope Benedict’s death after he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor’s negative comments about Mohammed.

And added to all this is Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis, which stated that after the collapse of Communism, there would be an inevitable conflict between the West and Islam. Huntingdon’s idea has been taken up by very many on the right, from the Republicans in America to UKIP, the Fascist and Nazi right in Britain and Europe, and now, it seems, a very large part of our own Conservative party.

But a few years ago, one right-wing writer also offered his own views on why prejudice against some minorities was more acceptable than others. He wrote

‘Is there, in effect, an unofficial pack of equality Top Trumps cards? In egalitarian Britain, who has the best minority credentials? They could go something like this:’

He then laid his scheme of how these cards would look as follows:

LESBIANS AND GAYS
Media Connections 9
Victim Status 4
Rarity Value 3
Fear Factor 6
Political/financial clout 8

MUSLIMS
Media Connections 4
Victim Status 6
Rarity Value 4
Fear Factor 9
Political/financial clout 4

JEWS
Media Connections 9
Victim Status 8
Rarity Value 6
Fear Factor 5
Political/financial clout 10

DISABLED
Media Connections 2
Victim Status 9
Rarity Value 8
Fear Factor 1
Political/financial clout 2

GURKHAS
Media Connections 7
Victim Status 5
Rarity Value 6
Fear Factor 9
Political/financial clout 4

TRANSSEXUALS
Media connections 1
Victim Status 3
Rarity Value 10
Fear Factor 2
Political/financial clout 3.

So who was the terrible person, who compiled this league table of marginalised groups? Well, actually it was Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts, in his book Bog Standard Britain: How Mediocrity Ruined This Great Nation (London: Constable 2009), pages 115 to 117. They’re in the chapter ‘Bum Rap’, where he comments on the way the vile homophobia of some Caribbean rap lyrics are apparently considered acceptable, when Lynette Burrows was reported to the cops for homophobia when she questioned on the BBC the right of male gay couples to adopt baby girls. He concluded on this issue that

… it is hard to escape the conclusion that the police leave rap music alone because it has more minority value than the gay people it so charmlessly attacks. Lynette Burrows was collared because she was an easy target and because she was one of the majority. The rappers are more frightening and they have the political Scotchguard of victimhood.

But you could use his grading of the comparative power and victim status of various minority groups to argue that anti-Semitism is far more unacceptable than other forms of racial prejudice, because Jews have a greater victim status and political and financial power. If this came from someone on the left now, they would almost certainly be libelled as an anti-Semite. But there has been no such outcry against Letts. And I hope there isn’t, because I don’t believe he has written anything anti-Semitic.

There is some truth in what he writes, as the majority of Westerners are acutely aware of the long history of persecution the Jews have suffered in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust. Jews are also generally more integrated than some other groups, and Brits have a more positive attitude towards them. Only 7 per cent of Brits in polls say they are anti-Semitic. Many leading businessmen and media figures are Jewish, though this certainly does not mean that the vile conspiracy theories that claims Jews control business and the media are anything but murderous lies. And the anti-Semitic smears of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the Jewish Leadership Council carry weight, because they are part of the Tory establishment.

Against this, there are still anti-Semitic attacks and harassment. Nazi groups, like the banned National Action in England and the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany have made terrifying speeches calling for the murder and extermination of Jews. And many of those libelled by the Blairites, the Tories and the Israel lobby as anti-Semites are self-respecting Jews, whose only crime is that, like their gentile anti-racist friends and comrades, they support Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left.

Real, murderous anti-Semitism, like other forms of racism, still exists, and Jews have given their support to other marginalised groups suffering racial abuse in the West. The ADL, the American Jewish organisation dedicated to tackling anti-Semitism, for example, also came out in support of Muslims against Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

Thus, for a variety of historical, social and economic reasons, prejudice against some minorities, such as Jews, is far less acceptable than others, such as Muslims. But racial prejudice generally is far more common in the Tory party, and the current attacks on anti-Semitism in the Labour party has far more to do with politics than real anti-Semitism, as shown by the fact that so many of those smeared are genuinely anti-racist and Jewish.

‘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’.

Iranians March Against Trump’s UN Speech

September 23, 2017

This is a very short clip from Telesur English showing the people of Iran marching in protest at Trump’s belligerent speech attacking their country at the UN. It’s only about 23 seconds long, but it does show the range of people on the march, from older men dressed in traditional Islamic garb to young women in chadors and people in western-style, ‘modern’ dress.

I remember the great demonstrations in Iran after the Islamic Revolution, in which thousands of people turned up chanting ‘Margh bar Amrika! Margh bar Thatcher!’ – ‘Death to America! Death to Thatcher!’ I wasn’t impressed with those demonstrations, but having read a little more about the political situation in Iran and foreign exploitation of the country by Britain and America under the Shah, I now understand why the Revolution broke out, and what motivated the marchers to come onto the streets.

The election of Rafsanjani a few years ago seemed to indicate that relations between the West and Iran had thawed. It’s true that the country still has a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie, and claims they can’t rescind the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, a claim I find frankly incredible. However, people can move freely between the two nations, and there have been some cultural exchanges. For example, the Young British Artists – Damian Hurst and the rest of them – went to Iran to open an exhibition of their work, and the British Museum also leant the Cyrus Cylinder, documenting the conquests of the great Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in the 5th century B.C. to go on display.

John Simpson in his book on the country also points out that Khomeini and the other theocrats were careful to distinguish between America, Ronald Reagan and the American people. They denounced Reagan and America, but not ordinary Americans. He also states that, with the exception of the demonstrations at the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution, in one of which he was nearly torn apart by the crowd, he always knew he was perfectly safe. He describes covering one such demonstration where the crowd were chanting slogans against the ‘great and little Satans’ – meaning America and Britain. He then stepped into the crowd and walked up to one of the demonstrators, and introduced himself. The man greeted him, and said, ‘You are very welcome in Iran, Agha.’ That said, I do know Iranians, who have said the opposite, that you are certainly not safe during these marches.

Trump’s speech has had the effect of making relations between the west and Iran much worse. But it’s very much in line with the policy of the neocons, who defined and set the agenda for American foreign policy in the Middle East back in the 1990s. They want Iran and Syria overthrown. They see them as a danger to Israel, and are angered by the fact that Iran will not let foreigners invest in their businesses. It’s an oil producing country, whose oil industry was dominated under the Shah by us and the Americans, and which was nationalized after the mullahs took power. One of the holidays in the country’s calendar commemorates its nationalization. I’ve no doubt that the American multinationals want to get their hands on it, just as they wanted to steal the Iraqi oil industry.

Iran is abiding by the agreement it signed with Obama not to develop nuclear weapons. This is confirmed by the Europeans and the Russians. The real issues, as I’ve blogged about previously, are that they’re supporting Syria, sending troops into Iraq to support their fellow Shi’a there, and are allied with the Russians. It’s all about geopolitical power.

Iran’s an ancient country, whose culture and history goes back thousands of years, almost to the dawn of western civilization in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. It’s a mosaic of different peoples and languages. If we invade, as the Trump seems to want, it’ll set off more ethnic carnage similar to that in Iraq. And I’ve no doubt we’ll see the country’s precious artistic and archaeological heritage looted and destroyed, just as the war and violence in Iraq has destroyed and seen so much of their history and monuments looted.

Iran is an oppressive theocracy, and its people are exploited. You only have to read Shirin Ebadi’s book on the contemporary situation in Iran to know that. But if Trump sends in the troops, it’ll be just to grab whatever he can of the nation’s wealth for his corporate masters in big business. It certainly won’t be to liberate them and give them democracy.

And the ordinary people of America and Britain will pay, as we will be called upon to send our brave young people to fight and die on a false pretext, just to make the bloated profits of American and western big business even more grossly, obscenely inflated. Just as the cost of the war won’t fall on big business, but on ordinary people, who will be told that public spending will have to be cut, and their taxes raised – but not those of the 1 per cent – in order to pay for it.

Enough lies have been told already, and more than enough people have been killed and maimed, countries destroyed and their people left impoverished, destitute, or forced in to exile.

No war with Iran.

As they chanted during the First Gulf War – ‘Gosh, no, we won’t go. We won’t die for Texaco!’ Or Aramco, Halliburton or anyone else.

We need peace, so let’s get rid of Trump.

Vox Political on the Under-Reported Racist Terror Attacks on Muslims

July 4, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece commenting on a report by The Canary about rise in hate crimes against Muslims in recent months. These have included a recent acid attack on a Muslim couple in their car by a White man. There’s also a clip of another racist attack by a racist gang on a group woman and children, who were celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr in a public park. The clip was posted on Twitter by a man, who was clearly utterly disgusted by the incident. The Tweets Mike has posted about this issue are by ordinary folks, who are outraged by these attacks. One makes the point that the attack on Resham Khan was the 84th in the past six months. There’s a photograph of this poor woman, showing the terrible burns she has suffered. Other Tweets wonder what May is doing about it, and why she doesn’t ban the sale of acid.

The British public has responded generously, and a crowdfunding campaign has raised £52,000 for the victims. But he also quotes The Canary on the near absolute silence from the press, in stark contrast to the extensive coverage it would have given, had the attacker been a Muslim with a history of pasting anti-British rants and material on his Facebook page, and the victims were a White couple.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/you-probably-wont-read-this-because-its-about-terror-attacks-in-the-uk-on-muslims/#comments

Mike and The Canary are making a very good point. White racist terrorism is not taken as seriously as Islamicist terrorism. That’s particularly true in the US. The Young Turks have reported on their show that official figures from the FBI have shown that the vast majority of terrorist offences committed in America are by White supremacist groups. However, this is played down or denied outright by the American right-wing media. There’s an hour-long video by Reichwing Watch, a YouTuber, who puts up videos documenting and exposing the American racist right, which includes a section about the mainstream right’s response when someone in the media dared report this fact. They angrily denied it, and then demanded that the offending journo should issue a retraction.

Despite the fact that he was entirely correct.

Worse, not only are the right-wing media actively trying to deny that the terrorist attacks occur, Donald Trump was trying to close down the very department of the FBI that was set up to monitor and counter domestic Far Right extremism.

It’s not hard to see why he would. Very many of Trump’s supporters come from the Fascist right. And right-wing talk show hosts like Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have also been spewing violent hatred against ethnic minorities and ‘liberals’ for years. It seems that there is a sizable chunk of the Republican party that looks back with nostalgia on the era of segregation, and views with horror the empowerment of Blacks and other minorities. It’s a section that has grown more strident, more aggressive, and is determined to return America to this era of racist injustice and oppression.

The same is true to a certain extent over here. While the Tory party has tried to present itself as being open to ethnic minorities, and there have been Asian faces in the cabinet, the Tory press has been bitterly critical of non-White immigration for decades. I can remember how the Torygraph and the Express regularly carried article about attacking the growth of ‘unassimilable’ immigrant communities here. The Mail is notorious for its racism and hatred of minority and marginalised groups, which include women, as is the Scum.

Racist attacks on Muslims, and indeed on any other ethnic minority, don’t fit the narrative with which they want to indoctrinate their readers. They want to give the impression that Britain, meaning primarily its White population, is under attack, both morally and physically, from non-Whites. At the moment, it’s Muslims, because of the rise of Islamist terror in the Middle East, and militant Islam in Britain. The latter emerged as a result of the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Back in the 1980s, it was Blacks, who were held by the press to be anti-White racists.

Now there is clearly a problem with extremist forms of Islam in Britain. I can remember watching a BBC documentary on the dire state of the British Muslim community in the early 1990s, which included footage of Kalim Saddiqui in his mosque telling his congregation that ‘British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ It’s a gross distortion, of course, and when the Beeb tackled him on it he huffed and puffed about the publication of the Satanic Verses being the preparation for ‘a holocaust of Muslims’.

Utter crap, of course. And many Muslims really didn’t want to have anything to do with his bigotry. There were marches against Saddiqui and others like him. And the people attacked have been ordinary British Muslims just going about their lives. But many members of ethnic minorities have suffered racist abuse, including Muslims, and so it gives their ranting the appearance of truth. And Saddiqui and the rest of the bigots, like ISIS, al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist butchers, would just love this rise in anti-Muslim violence. It’s what they want, to radicalise the Muslim population, to make them believe that all White and non-Muslim Brits really are racists bent on their harm.

Another problem, which prevents attacks like these from being identified or treated as terrorism is that proportionally only a few racist assaults are actually carried out by members of Fascist organisations. This doesn’t mean that the BNP, National Action, NF and the rest of them aren’t violent thugs. They are, and you read just how violent they are in Matthew Collins’ own account of his time in the racist right, Hate. But most racist incidents are committed by people, who don’t belong to such organisations. And so, while they fit the definition of terrorism, as violent crimes committed for religious or ideological reasons, they’re more likely to be seen, or excused, simply as ‘lone wolf’ attacks. So you have the spectacle of various right-wing pundits the other week trying to explain away the man, who killed and injured a total of 10 people, when he drove into them outside Finsbury Park mosque, as just as ordinary man with mental health problems.

White, right-wing terrorism should be called what it is, and treated with the same seriousness as Islamist terror. This should not mean declaring that all White people are somehow racist, as some anti-racist activist have, or appear to have done. The Tories feed off the resentment caused by such accusations and play them up. Way back in the middle of the last decade, the Spectator carried a piece entitled ‘Blackened Whites’, about how Whites were being unfairly maligned by equalities activists as racists. It simply means treating White racist terror as what it is – terrorism.

Report into Funders of Terrorism in UK May Be Suppressed by Tories

June 4, 2017

This is disturbing, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if the Home Office really did refuse to publish a report into the foreign sources of terrorism here in the UK.

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece from the Guardian, which explains how the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit was instructed by David Cameron to investigate the financing of extremist groups in the UK from abroad one and a half years ago, and to report their findings back to the PM and Theresa May.

The Home Office has now stated that the report has not been completed, and may never be published, as its contents are ‘extremely sensitive’.

The Lib Dem spokesman for foreign affairs, Tom Brake, has written to May asking her to confirm that the report will not be shelved, and commenting on the link between Islamic extremism in Britain and the Saudis’ funding for mosques. Mr Brake writes

“It is no secret that Saudi Arabia in particular provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, espousing a very hardline Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. It is often in these institutions that British extremism takes root.”

The Guardian itself states

The contents of the report may prove politically as well as legally sensitive. Saudi Arabia, which has been a funding source for fundamentalist Islamist preachers and mosques, was visited by May earlier this year.

Mike states in his piece that by ‘very sensitive’ the report

seems to mean they concern the UK’s own relationship with Saudi Arabia under the Conservative governments of David Cameron and Theresa May.

Mike makes the point that we should not be selling arms to the Saudis, as we don’t know what they’re doing with them. He also cites Tweets from Tom London, who states that we need to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the funding of mosques by them.

Tom London also attacks May’s Tweet that the Tories will increase the powers of the police and security services, and inflict longer sentences for terrorism-related offences.

Mr London rightly asks how this is going to deter jihadis, who commit their atrocities with the intention of committing suicide.

While Rachael, another Tweeter, put up a photo of May receiving a medal from one of the Saudi princes, ironically commenting that ‘we are too tolerant of extremism in Britain.’

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/04/report-that-could-link-uk-to-terror-funders-may-never-be-published/

It’s been known for a very, very long time that ISIS and its predecessor, al-Qaeda, was receiving funding from very high levels in the Saudi government. This includes the current regent, Salman bin Salman, and the head of Saudi intelligence. I can remember reading a paper in one book on contemporary sources of Islamist terrorism how the Saudis financed al-Qaeda insurgents attacks and incursions into Syria and Iraq.

Twenty-four pages of the official report into 9/11, compiled by the American government, were suppressed until the families of the victims forced Obama to publish it. Again, despite security around the report, it was widely understood that these pages had been suppressed because they pointed to the Saudis as the nation behind the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Despite the massive evidence to the contrary, the Republicans are continuing to ignore the roots of global terrorism in Saudi Arabia, and are instead blaming Iran as the major source of terrorism around the world.

You don’t need to guess very hard why this is: oil, and anti-Russian geopolitics dating from the days of the Cold War. Since the 1920s America has backed the Saudis militarily in return for the right to exploit the country’s vast oil reserves.

The Americans are also careful not to alienate the Saudis because of the massive damage the Saudi’s oil embargo inflicted on the West during the oil crisis of the 1970s. That convinced the Saudis that they had the economic power to manipulate global affairs. All they have to do is lower the price of oil, and it wipes the domestic American oil industry off the map.

The West has also cultivated the Saudis, along with Israel, as a valuable ally in the Middle East in the long, imperialist campaign to eradicate secular Arab nationalism. Secular nationalist regimes, such as Nasser’s in Egypt, were considered by the Americans to be either Communist, or linked to Communism. This is one of the reasons why the Americans are so determined to overthrow Assad in Syria. The Ba’ath regime there is secular, and an ally of the Russians. Syria is a nation of diverse sects and faiths, with a population that includes Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, and also Christians. The dominant sect politically are the Alawis, who are Shi’a. As such, the regime also has important links with Iran.

While the Ba’athist government has massacred and oppressed its Sunni opponents, and has been a police state, it is much more tolerant than Saudi Arabia. Christians enjoyed greater freedom and were able to serve in the administration, because one of the founders of the party in the 1920s had been a Christian.

Iran has funded terrorism in Europe and further abroad. However, while it is a very repressive society, it is still more tolerant than many other nations. Counterpunch and The Young Turks have produced articles and reports showing that, despite the Iranian regime’s rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel, Jews in Iran are actually well treated. I’ve also heard scholars researching religious syncretism in the Middle East state that the regime has also been keen to show how it does not oppress the Zoroastrians, the country’s indigenous monotheistic religion.

It is very different in Saudi Arabia. The only religion tolerated in that country is Wahhabi Islam. Non-Muslim religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and so on are banned, as is Shi’a Islam. There are Shi’a Muslims in Saudi Arabia, but they live in villages without running water or electricity and with higher rates of poverty and unemployment. They are forbidden to build mosques and their religious literature is also banned. Chillingly, one of the major Saudi religious figures I can’t remember whether it was the Supreme Mufti or the Sharif of Mecca even went so far the other year as to denounce the Shi’a as enemies of the faith and ‘worthy of death’.

The Saudis have been backing very hardline, very intolerant interpretations of Islam across the world, from Muslim communities in Bosnia and the Balkans, to Chechnya and Pakistan and beyond.

And foreign funding of mosques and the influence of extremist foreign imams has been an issue since the 1990s and the demands for the execution of the novelist Salman Rushdie for blasphemy for his book, The Satanic Verses. I can remember reading in the Encyclopedia of Islam at College that foreign countries tended to finance mosques over here in blighty as a way of influencing their congregations. And the imam, who received Rushdie back into the faith when the novelist briefly tried to make his peace with the religion, also wrote in the Financial Times that there was a pressing need to train and supply more imams, who had been born and grew up over here. The lack of native British Muslim clergy meant that the immigration authorities were allowing into this country mullahs from places like Pakistan, who held extreme and intolerant views. This is why the British government has a programme to support and fund British Muslims studying for the clergy, and to promote a more liberal interpretation of the faith.

But the British government has also done its share of importing Muslims terrorists from around the world. Thatcher gave asylum to members of the Mujahideen, who had fought the Russians in Afghanistan, even though these were violent religious extremists. But they were acceptable, because they were anti-Communist. The family of Salman Abedi, who blew himself up killing 22 and injuring another 60 innocents in Manchester last Monday, were members of a Libyan Islamist terrorist group. They had been given sanctuary over here, and the warnings about them, including by members of the city’s Muslim community, were ignored, because the British government had used them in the NATO campaign to overthrow Colonel Gaddafy.

If we really want to stop terrorism, we should stop selling arms to the Saudis and block their funding of extremist mosques and groups. We should ourselves also stop supporting Islamist terror groups around the world. At the moment the American government is supplying arms and training to the rebels in Syria, despite the fact that they are all hardline terrorist groups, or connected to the hardliners, and the arms will inevitably find their way into the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda militants.

Of all the politicians, it is Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, who have stated that they will stop arms sales to the Saudis.

May definitely will not. She and Cameron have both been to the Middle East to try and sell them more British weapons, just like Blair and then the Tory governments before him.

And Corbyn has set up a shadow minister for peace and disarmament, and promised to turn this into an official department if he gets into power.

Much of the radicalisation of the Muslim world has occurred because of the carnage inflicted on the Middle East through the western invasion of Iraq. That doesn’t excuse atrocities like that committed against the great people of Manchester and our capital. Just as it doesn’t excuse the other murders the Jihadists have committed without number against ordinary, peaceful Muslims across the Middle East – in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and in places like Pakistan. But it is a contributing cause, which Corbyn has said he wants to stop.

As the great man has said, ‘Tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism’.

Don’t believe liars like May and Boris Johnson, who will take away more of our liberties in the campaign against terrorism, while doing nothing but give more money to the Saudis and other backers of these thugs and other like them.

Vote for Corbyn and the Labour party on June 8th.

The Racist Reality behind Frankie Boyle’s Joke about the Ministry of Defence Bombing N***ers

June 3, 2017

More from controversial Scots comedian Frankie Boyle, but this time he makes a serious point about one of his offensive jokes. The clip starts with a discussion about Bono and the tax system. Black American comedian Reginald D. Hunter, replying to Boyle’s comments that Bono has kept some money back from paying tax, states that as many people think the tax system is corrupt and oppressive, why wouldn’t Bono keep the money and use it instead to feed some ‘hungry n***ers’. He then tries to make his use of the word less offensive by saying that he uses it in a non-racial sense for just about anything, including crisps, which he will call ‘crunchy n***ers’.

This prompts Boyle to talk about how he was accused of racism for using the word after he made a joke about how he preferred it when the Ministry of Defence was honest about what it was. This was decades ago, when it was the ‘Ministry of War’. He then pretended to be one of its staff, who answered the phone with ‘Hello, Ministry of Defence, Department of N***er Bombing’.

He explains that his use of this highly offensive term wasn’t gratuitous. It was based on something he’d read about Lloyd George’s own racist response to a question about burgeoning American power. Lloyd George was asked what would happen if and when America took over from Britain as leading global power. Lloyd George replied

‘Then we’ll teach them to bomb n***ers’.

The blurb for this clip also describes how Boyle won damages from the Mirror after it accused him of being racist.

The joke wasn’t racist, but it was about racism – the official, but concealed racism of the British imperial establishment. You can read excellent analyses in a number of places about the racism behind western imperialism, whether British or American. Edward Said’s Orientalism is the classic about western attitudes to the Islamic world. Counterpunch on its website has published very many excellent articles about the basis of imperialism in racism. But this single quote shows the cynical racism behind the façade of imperial benevolence.

A number of comedians came out a few years ago to protest at how they believe the PC speech codes were a threat to democracy and free speech. Much of this to me seemed motivate by New Labour’s proposals to criminalise hate speech against religious groups. This seemed intended to protect Muslims for islamophobic attacks. However, it raised concern, I think, because it also appeared to be a concession to the hard-line Muslim bigots and their demands for the prosecution and execution of people they believed had blasphemed or insulted Islam, like Salman Rushdie.

I think the Labour legislation was well-meant, and after the terror attacks committed by ISIS and al-Qaeda, Muslims are vulnerable to hatred and prejudice for atrocities committed in their name, but which they don’t support.

But this clip shows how such laws also threaten to prevent more forthright exposure and condemnation of racism, by quoting racists’ own words against them.

As for the ‘Department of N***er Bombing’, I don’t think the American political establishment have needed much help from us. American imperialists since the acquisition of the Philippines have shown little qualm in bombing and massacring people of colour throughout the world, from South America to the Middle East, in their campaigns against Communism and to protect American corporate interests.

Many of these invasions have all been conducted under the guise of giving these nations humanitarian aid, such as during the bombing of Libya and the Iraq invasion. It would indeed be more honest if the Neo-Cons and other imperialists behind this global terror had referred to themselves officially in such crude, racist terms, rather than hide behind a façade of morality.

The Empire Files on the Foundation of Israel and Ethnic Cleansing of the Palestinians

November 21, 2016

This is part of a longer piece from The Empire Files, no. 37, presented by Abby Martin, formerly of RT and now, I think, a presenter with Telesur English. This tells the story of the shrinking of Palestine from the foundation of the early Zionist settlements to the carnage of the foundation of Israel in 1948. It’s a grim, ugly picture of organised, imperialist brutality, meted out by people Albert Einstein and other western Jewish critics compared to the Nazis and the Fascists, a view also held by one of the Israelis’ own army officers.

It’s entitled The Untold History of Palestine and Israel, and Martin states that this is the history that is not taught in schools. She and her team had been there filming the Israeli occupation of the West Bank for two weeks. It’s a brutal occupation that is funded by the US taxpayer to the tune of $30 billion in aid. But Israel is presented to Americans through the images of ‘Birthright Tours’, which show Israel as a fun-loving, peaceful land threatened by militant Muslims.

Palestine was originally a province of the Ottoman Empire. During Ottoman rule, it had a population of 500,000 people. 75 per cent of these were Muslims, 20 per cent Christian, and 5 per cent Jewish. Nearly all of them were Arabs. Its cities were centres of intellectual culture and art, drawing visitors and scholars from across the Middle East. Even before it had borders, Palestine constituted a distinct, recognisable nation through its peoples shared customs and culture.

Martin explains that the Zionist movement began in the late 19th century as a reaction to the anti-Semitic violence and pogroms, which broke out in eastern Europe. She correctly states that Zionism was the belief in an exclusively Jewish state. I make this point here, because Nazis used the term incorrectly to mean their stupid and imaginary Jewish conspiracies to enslave gentiles. The Zionists were at this point only a small minority within the Jewish people. Most Jews wanted to stop to anti-Semitism in their own countries. This is illustrated with an article from the New York Times about Jewish Ukrainians organising to stop anti-Semitism in Ukraine. Many Jews resisted leaving Europe on the grounds that this would be giving in to the anti-Semites.

Zionism became a fervent movement under its Theodor Herzl, who claimed to be its father. Herzl was an Austrian atheist. He first considered homelands in Argentina and Uganda, before finally deciding on creating a Greater Israel in the Middle East. As shown on a map, this would include not just Palestine, but also the whole of Jordan and Lebanon, and parts of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and a tiny section of Turkey. Herzl spent his time travelling around the West trying to gather support and sponsorship for his scheme. He wrote to the Duke of Baden, for his aid, saying

If it is God’s will that we return to our historic fatherland, we should like to do so as representatives of western civilisation and bring cleanliness, order and well-established customs, … to this plague-ridden, blighted corner of the Orient.

The Zionists promised to make Palestine a vanguard against barbarism, which meant that it would be an extension of western military power, and ‘build highways of the civilised peoples’, which meant trade for western millionaires. Their slogan was ‘A land without a people for a people without a land’. But the Zionists were all too aware that the land already had a people, and were determined to cleanse them. Another Zionist leader, Israel Zangwill, said

Palestine is not so much occupied by Arabs as overrun by them.

From the first the Zionists planned on the expulsion of the indigenous peoples. Much of the country was semi-feudal, with tenant farmers labouring for absentee landlords away in the cities of Jordan or Syria. From 1892 onwards the Zionists began purchasing this land. In many cases the new, Jewish owners evicted the original inhabitants. Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived in peace and harmony in the region for thousands of years, but these purchases and expulsions resulted in immediate conflict.

New opportunities for the further expansion of the Jewish settlements arose during World War I. The Zionists were aware that the Russians, British and French were planning to carve up the region. The infamous Syke-Picot agreement divided the Middle East between the French and British. Britain was given control of Palestine by the League of Nations. The British government, composed of lords, then issued the Balfour Declaration, which pronounced the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British Mandate resulted in riots in Jerusalem by the indigenous Palestinians, who naturally resented having their homeland given away without their consultation.

Again, the Zionist settlers were planning the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In 1924 the US envoy stated

The Zionists look forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.

At this point, settlers comprised 10 per cent of the population. But this was already producing a refugee crisis. This section of the film shows a picture of rally of Palestinian refugees in Syria from 1929. Already there were 50,000 of such people, thrown out of their homes. As more land was purchased, and people evicted, David Ben Gurion, the future prime minister and mascot of Ben Gurion airport, declared

We were not just working. We were conquering, conquering, conquering land. We were conquistadors.

From 1920 to 1939 the settler population rose from ten to thirty per cent. Ben Gurion himself laid out the settlers’ plans for ethnic cleansing:

We must expel the Arabs and take their places.

This policy naturally produced a rise in clashes between the Palestinians and the Zionist settlers. In 1936 the Palestinians launched a general strike against British rule. This was initially peaceful, until the British declared martial law, and recruited Zionist settlers to attack dissidents and Arab villages. This provoked the strike to become an armed uprising. The British in response embarked on a policy of blowing up Arab homes. 200 were destroyed in the Arab village of Yaffa. The rebellion was eventually crushed three years later in 1939. The death toll was 5,000 Palestinians against 300 settlers and 250 British soldiers. The Zionists formed their own armed forces, which were later used in the war of independence. These comprised the Hagana, the official force recognised by the British authorities, and various unofficial militias, the largest of which was the Irgun. These militias began by attacking the Palestinians, before moving on to British soldiers. It was the Irgun which bombed the Kind David Hotel, killing 91 people, including 17 Jews. This was so popular that one of the militias’ leaders, Menachem Begin, later became president of Israel.

Abroad, many Jews were far less impressed. Albert Einstein and a group of other Jews wrote a letter to the New York Times condemning Begin’s movement. They wrote that it was

A political party closely akin in its organisation, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.

But the Zionists continued with their plans for the country’s ethnic cleansing. Joseph Weitz, the head of the Jewish National Fund, wrote in 1940

There is no room for both people in this country … and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, to transfer them all.

… We must not leave a single village, a single tribe.

The terror created by the Holocaust with its six million Jewish dead, along with the mass murder of other peoples, political prisoners and gays, propelled Zionism from the political fringe to a mass movement. In 1947 the British turned Mandated Palestine over to the UN. This finally gave in to 70 years of Zionist campaigning, creating the state of Israel. The new state was given 70 per cent of the area’s land. Palestine was divided into three zones. However, the new Israel still had a population that was forty per cent Arab. This was a situation that the Israeli founders and leaders were determined to remove. Ben Gurion announced that

There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of 60 per cent.

In 1948 the tensions culminated in a full-blown war, during which the Israelis launched Plan Dalet for the mass terrorisation, murder and expulsion of the Palestinian people. This was the Nakba, the Palestinian term for the destruction of their homeland, a word which means, ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic.

This section of the film describes some of the massacres that were committed, and the atrocities perpetrated against innocent civilians. One of the villages targeted for extermination was Deir Yassin, where there had been no terrorist attacks committed against the settlers. Israeli soldiers murdered nearly the entire population, raping the women before butchering them. One survivor described seeing his entire family lined up to be shot, including his mother, who was breastfeeding a baby. 200 people were murdered. A Red Cross official stated

Here the cleaning up had been done with machine guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished with knives.

!2 days after this, the Zionists attacked and massacred the people of Haifa. At the same time the Israelis broadcast radio messages intended to terrorise the Arabs. These included recordings of women wailing, and the message ‘Flee for your lives. The Jews are using poison gas and nuclear weapons.’ In Abu Shusha, the Palestinians who remained in their homes were raped, then hacked to death with axes. Those who tried to flee were shot on sight. 110 people were killed. At al-Dawayima 450 were killed, with a further 250 missing. In another village, the mosque was bombed, killing the 80 people, who had sought refuge within it. The remaining villagers were rounded up in the town square and shot, leaving a further 70 dead. In Lydda the Zionists massacred around 250-500 people, 250 of which were killed in about half an hour. This was supposedly in response to gun shots being fired from the local mosque. John Bagehot-Howe, a British army officer, commented

It would be an exaggeration to claim that great numbers were massacred. But just enough were killed, or roughly handled, to make sure all the civilian population took flight.

A senior Zionist officer, Joseph Imani, saw Palestinians shot after they came out of their homes waving white flags and carrying food. He said

Where did they come by such a measure of cruelty, like Nazis. Is there no more humane way of expelling the inhabitants than such methods?

During this period 800,000 Palestinians fled their homes, comprising 80 per cent of the Palestinian population of Israel. 500 villages were razed to the ground.

This is the history that you will mostly definitely not find taught in schools, as Abby Martin says. Nor will you see it covered on the mainstream news, whether in the US or over here, by the BBC. Lobster has remarked on the way the Beeb ‘ties itself in knots’ trying to tell itself that it is not biased towards Israel, while being biased towards Israel. And that monster and apologist for mass murder, Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, would scream blue murder if anyone in the mainstream media dared to do so, or called those responsible for these atrocities what they are – butchers and mass murderers. As Einstein and the other Jewish critics said, the Zionists responsible for such atrocities and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are very much like the Nazis and Fascists. But Regev will scream that you’re an anti-Semite or ‘self-hating’, if you’re Jewish, if you dare to mention this.

But we do need to be aware of these atrocities, if we are to understand the paranoid mindset of the Muslim radicals in Britain today. Kalim Saddiqui, a vile bigot, who was one of those responsible for the hate campaign against Salman Rushdie in the 1980s and 1990s, was filmed at his mosque by the Beeb telling his congregation that

British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them.

When the documentary team challenged him on this, he tried to bluff his way out of it by blustering about how Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses had been published as part of a propaganda campaign to prepare for a ‘holocaust of Muslims’. It’s a risible, stupid slander. But to some Muslims, it has a terrible verisimilitude. Many mosques do cover the atrocities committed against Muslims in Palestine and elsewhere around the world in their equivalent of Christian parish magazines. They’re acutely aware of campaigns of terror against their co-religionists. Hence such hysterical claims over here. But these atrocities are deliberately kept hidden from us, so that Islamic terrorism can appear as completely irrational, and Muslims presented as violent terrorists and butchers, killing for the sake of it. That is, admittedly, true to a certain extent of Daesh and al-Qaeda, though even with these cases there is more to it than simply that. If there is ever to be a just peace in the Middle East, we need to know about the real history of the region, how it has been conquered and its people brutalised by western imperialism and the rapacity of multinational corporations. Not only do we need to defeat the Islamists, we also need to defeat the thugs, genocides and corporate despoilers in our own societies.