Posts Tagged ‘Salman Rushdie’

Reichwing Watch: Trump Spokesman Cites Japanese Internment to Justify Muslim Registry

November 18, 2016

This is terrifying. It’s another clip from Reichwing Watch, from a news programme in which a spokesman for Trump tells Megan Kelly, the news anchor, to her face that Japanese internment during World War II has set a precedent for Trump’s proposal to have all Muslims entered in an official register. To her credit, Kelly tells him that he cannot use this as a precedent, and reproaches him for using it to get people frightened. The Trump surrogate laughs this off, but says that the president still needs to protect America. She argues back that the protection extends the moment you enter America.

This should terrify everyone, who is sincerely worried about the march of Fascism, including anyone with a knowledge of Roman civilisation. Firstly, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II as enemy aliens led to horrendous suffering and deprivation, and is still naturally resented by Americans of Japanese heritage decades later. George Takei, I understand, the actor who played Mr Sulu in Star Trek, was particularly active in Japanese-American civil rights organisations. American politicos have denounced the internment, and I think the government has paid the victims reparations. And it certainly was deeply unjust that when many Japanese-American servicemen were giving their lives for America, their families, friends and other members of their community were being herded into camps. It is repulsive that Trump’s spokesman should cite this as a precedent, and it does raise the issue of what Trump will do next. If he’s prepared to cite Japanese-American internment as a precedent, is he also considering interning Muslims as well, despite his mouthpiece’s smiling denials?

The American Constitution famously promises Americans freedom of religion. And religious freedom has been at the heart of American democracy, ever since Richard Baxter argued for it, including not just Christians, but also Jews, during the British Civil War. Baxter afterwards emigrated to the nascent US, and the proud, American tradition of religious toleration begins with him in the 17th century. Now Trump’s threatening to reverse this.

Trump’s proposal for Muslims to be officially registered reminds me very strongly of the ancient Roman attitude to religion. The Roman Empire was religious pluralistic, but retained a system of religious suppression. Because the Romans were afraid of the threat of insurrection and rebellion from clubs and other associations, including religious gatherings, they operated a system in which only those religions, which were not considered dangerous to the state, were officially tolerated. The Romans persecuted Christianity because it was not one of the religio licitas – permitted religions. Christians were seen as subversive, because they worshipped Christ as God, instead of the Roman Emperor. Hence the determination to make Christians sacrifice to the Emperor’s numen, his divine spirit, and the statements in the early Christian apologists that, although Christians didn’t worship the emperor, they nevertheless were good citizens, who prayed for him and the other authorities in their services.

Trump is threatening to inflict on American Muslims the type of system that led to the terrible persecution of Christians in ancient Rome.

And where America goes today, Britain and other nations follow tomorrow. I’m not a secularist, but this threatens religious tolerance and freedom right across the modern, democratic West.

And apart from the real danger it poses to Muslims, it also threatens to give the radicals a weapon to use against us. The Islamist bigots, going all the way back to the radicals demanding the suppression of the Satanic Verses and Rushdie’s death, whipped up opposition and hatred towards non-Muslims and the secular state by telling them that they were in danger from White and non-Muslim persecution. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb filmed one of these preachers of hate, Kalim Siddiqui, in his mosque, telling his congregation that ‘British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them’. When the team questioned Siddiqui about his words, he started ranting about how the Satanic Verses was the first step towards a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ This is sheer, poisonous bilge. The book wasn’t blasphemous, and it certainly wasn’t published in preparation for such an monstrous atrocity.

But accusations like this were used to motivate British Muslims, or some British Muslims, into political involvement and opposition to British secularism. And you can bet that ISIS and al-Qaeda will use Trump’s wretched registry to whip up support amongst Muslims by citing it as proof that western society really is intolerant and that we really do have a genocidal hatred of Muslims.

We don’t. Regardless of individual religious affiliation or lack thereof, we need to stand united against this. We can’t let Trump divide us and make the denial of our collective freedoms seem respectable policies. Because it won’t just be Muslims. After them, it’ll be other groups. No-one will be safe from this type of intolerance.

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Secular Talk on the Iranians Raising the Bounty on Salman Rushdie by $600,000

February 27, 2016

Private Eyatollah

The cover of Private Eye for Friday 13th March 1989. If you can’t read the caption, one mullah is saying to the Ayatollah, ‘Have you read the book?’. He replies, ‘Do you think I’m mad?’

Kulinski in this clip discusses a report in the Guardian that a group of 40 newspaper and other media companies in Iran have clubbed together to raise the money offered under their government’s fatwa for killing Salman Rushdie by a further $600,000. The fatwas was imposed way back in 1988 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, for Rushdie writing the book, the Satanic Verses, which the Ayatollah considered blasphemous against Islam. Kulinski points out that it hasn’t just been Rushdie whose life has been put in danger by the fatwa. The book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Kirigashi was fatally stabbed in 1991. That same year, the Italian translator, Ettore Caprioli, was also the victim of a stabbing, though mercifully he survived. Aziz Nessin, the Turkish translator, survived an arson attack on an hotel in which 37 other people died in 1993. William Nyegard, the Swedish translator, was also attacked in 1993. He was shot three times in Oslo, though thankfully he too survived. And last year, 2015, Iran withdrew from the Frankfurt book fair because they had announced that Rushdie was speaking.

Kulinski states that the Iranians have the attitude that they’re being oppressed, because of their offence at Rushdie’s book. He points out that for civilised people, the solution to such a difference of opinion is to argue about it, and then move on. He states very strongly that the reason why the Iranians aren’t doing this is because they know their arguments are weak. This is why they have to force it on children when they’re young. He also points out that the younger generation in Iran is also disgusted by this. Iran is a very young country, and most of them are much more liberal than their elders. ‘Tick tock,’ he says, ‘the clock is ticking. Times running out for you.’

I’m reblogging this as there’s much more going on here than simply a revival of anti-Rushdie feeling in Iran. In fact, the evidence points the other way. If these media companies have decided to band together to add even more money to the fatwa, then it shows very effectively that few people in Iran are interested in killing the author. Again, thankfully.

The book has been a source of tension between Islam and the secular West almost from the first. Not all Muslims are as extreme as the Ayatollah, but many, perhaps the majority, do resent what they see as an attack on their religion. The book’s Islamic opponents have also pointed out that Viking Penguin was also ambivalent about publishing the book. The publisher’s advisors told them three time that it would result in serious trouble, including mass protests. These were eventually ignored and overridden. Roald Dahl, the renowned children’s author, speaking on Radio 4 several years ago, also felt that the book should not have been published given the hatred and violence that this had caused. He did not consider it great literature, and felt it should be pulped.

The outrage caused by The Satanic Verses is also a major cause of the current surge of anti-western and Islamist Muslim activism. Outrage at the book prompted Muslims to band together for pretty much the first time in protest, organising demonstrations and book burnings. And the preachers of hate used it as a pretext to attack Britons and British society in general. I can remember Kalim Saddiqui speaking in his mosque on a documentary shown late at night on the Beeb, The Trouble with Islam, in which he described Britain as ‘a terrible killing machine’ and stated that ‘killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ When the documentary-makers picked him up on this, he blustered that it was about the Satanic Verses, which had been published in preparation for a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ He was, of course, talking poisonous rubbish.

In fact all the people I know, who’ve actually read the book, tell me that it’s not actually blasphemous. I know a lecturer in Islam, who actually got his students to read the book when he was teaching in Pakistan. They’d been talking about how the book was blasphemous, so he asked them if they’d read it. When they said they hadn’t, he asked them if they would, and gave copies to them to read. They carried them home in brown paper bags so no-one would see them. When they’d read the book, he asked them again if they thought it was blasphemous. They said, ‘No’.

There were very cynical, political reasons for the Ayatollah’s decision to put a price on Rushdie’s head. He was afraid he was losing Iran’s position as the premier Islamic revolutionary regime to others, like Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. In order to try and whip up some more popularity, he resorted to that classic Orwellian technique: the five minute hate. This is the episode in Orwell’s classic 1984, where ‘Big Brother’ orchestrates a wave of hatred against a traitor figure for about five minutes. It’s very, very much like the way Stalin whipped up hatred in the Soviet Union against Trotsky, who was accused of all kinds of treachery and perfidy against the state and its people. Khomeini was doing the same here, but with Rushdie as the hate figure.

The fatwa didn’t work as well as the Iranians hoped it would, though I have Iranian friends who feel that the Satanic Verses was deliberately published by the British government to sever relations with Iran. After about a decade or more, the Iranians announced that, while the fatwa couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be lifted, they weren’t going actively going to enforce it.

Then a few years ago, more money was placed on the price. This was after the rioting around the world against the film, The Innocence of Muslims, which was a genuinely blasphemous attack on Mohammed. The film, however, was the group of expatriate Egyptians and nothing to do with Salman Rushdie. Again, it looked like a cynical attempt by the Iranian revolutionary authorities to gain some kind of political advantage, which they felt they had lost.

And now this. And everything about this says exactly the same to me: that this is nothing but a cynical attempt to exploit Rushdie’s notoriety to marshal support for the regime. Except that I don’t know how successful they’ll be. Not very, is my guess. They weren’t before, despite the vicious attacks on Rushdie’s publishers and translators. After all, they had to drop it as a dead letter for several years. And Kulinski is right about the Iranian population. They are on average very young. Most of the population is under 30. This generation doesn’t remember the Shah or the Islamic Revolution, and Rushdie to them is nothing but decades old news.

Now I don’t share Kulinski’s atheism. I think that people have the right to bring their children up and have them educated in their faith, and I don’t see it as brainwashing. But I do share his feelings that if the Iranians are resorting to violence, or advocating it, then it does mean that they don’t have confidence in their own ability to confront and overcome Rushdie in the realm of ideas. Which is itself astonishing, considering the rich heritage of Islamic philosophy. But then, I don’t think combating Rushdie’s ideas are what the fatwas is intended for. As I said, I think it’s an appeal to raw emotion simply to bolster the regime.

So why would the Iranian state and authorities need this renewed campaign against Rushdie? It might be because the young general is much less religious, and more secular. Atheism is expanding across the Middle East, including Iran. This is pretty much what you’d expect when religion, or indeed any ideology, becomes oppressive and the source of violence instead of peace and prosperity. Christopher Hill, in one of his books on what he called the English Revolution, his term for the British Civil War notes that the religious violence in Britain in the mid-17th century led to a similar growth in atheism and unbelief. And Iran many people resent their lack of political and social freedoms, and the immense corruption of Islamic clergy, who have enriched themselves through backhanders from commerce, industry and control of the bonyads, the religious trusts, which manage about 50 per cent of the economy, including the oil industry. All this growth in atheism is very, very clandestine. Atheism and apostasy are capital crimes in many Islamic countries, and so people have to be very careful about who they talk to about this issue. Even social media is very carefully monitored. ISIS in Syria kept the facebook and twitter accounts of a female anti-Islamist activist open long after the woman herself had been captured and murdered by them, as a honey trap to catch other anti-Islamist dissidents. And Nokia sold software across the Middle East to the despots and autocrats enabling them to hack into people’s mobiles in order to spy on them. So it’s still incredibly dangerous. Nevertheless, atheism and general disaffection against these regimes is growing. So I’m very sure that the Iranians have raised the fatwa bounty once again, because they hear the ticks of the clock sounding out the final moments of their regime only too well.

Vox Political on Salmond being Denied Official Help by British Diplomats in Iran

January 25, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has this story from the Groaniad, http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/25/salmond-v-hammond-and-the-constitutional-crisis-caused-by-a-diplomatic-dinner/. When Alex Salmond of the SNP flew to Iran just before Christmas on an official visit as the SNP’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, he expected to have the facilities of the British embassy in Tehran made available to him. When he got there, he was told by the ambassador, Philip Hammond, that he was not entitled to them, and so ended up hosting the event himself back at his hotel, paying not just for his own delegation, but for the staff from the embassy and the Iranian guests, who attended.

Salmond makes the point that this politicisation of the Foreign Office is absolutely unacceptable. It is the British Foreign Office, not that of the Tory party.

It’s an attitude of which the Conservatives, their SPADs and Philip Hammond should be ashamed. Firstly, it’s a disgraceful way to treat fellow Brits, especially in front of foreign dignitaries like the Iranians. It truly shames Britain.

And it’s especially embarrassing because this was done in front of the Iranians. The Iranians are deeply suspicious of Britain. This stems partly from their experience of British colonialism during the late 19th and 20th centuries, when Britain tried to draw them unofficially into the sphere of the Empire. British financial control and constraints were put in place following a series of colossal, and unrepayable loans, made to the Qajar Shahs, who were finally over thrown by the father of the last shah in 1920. After oil was discovered in Iran, the oil industry was effectively controlled by BP, who were then Anglo-Persian Oil. We seized the oil fields again during the Second World War, to prevent them falling into the hands of the Germans. About this, Churchill said, ‘In tempus belli leges silent’ – ‘in times of war, laws are silent’. When Mossadeq nationalised the Iranian oil industry in the 1950s, the CIA and Britain organised a coup to oust him. This led eventually the establishment of complete autocratic rule by the Shah during the White Revolution. And that, in turn, was the cause of Islamic Revolution and the Shah’s overthrow in 1979. During Britain’s control of the Iranian oil industry, Iranians were paid much less, and worked in poorer conditions than the British workers.

As a result, there’s a level of deep distrust in Iran towards us. John Simpson in his book on Iran states that there’s an Iranian proverb that runs, ‘If you see a stone in your path, it was put their by an Englishman’. Many Iranians also blame us for the Ayatollah Khomeini. In the 1990s there was a rumour going round that Khomeini was the son of a British oil worker called Williams. It’s completely untrue, but widely believed. And the subject of a number of jokes.

It was quite an achievement in the 1990s when diplomatic contact between Britain and Iran was finally restored and relations ‘normalised’, especially after the Ayatollah placed the fatwa on the head of Salman Rushdie. This, incidentally, hasn’t been lifted. It is much to the credit of Obama that he has prevented the Iranians getting nukes, and enabled the sanctions to be lifted and trade with Iran to begin again.

Britain can benefit from this. I can remember back in the 1990s Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili and other Young British Artists flying to Iran when the regime put on an exhibition of some of their works. Quite how that happened, I honestly don’t know, as the strains of modern, Western-influenced art, was one of the cultural issues the Iran revolutionaries were particularly reacting against. What is shocking to us is probably just as shocking to them. If not more so. But there you are.

Hammond’s fit of pique in denying official services to Salmond therefore seems to me acute counterproductive. It appears to show the Iranians that British politics between Scotland and Westminster is acutely divided, and that the British delegation have a strain of petty spite. This is not an image to project to potential business partners or allies in the common fight against terrorism and genocide in the Middle East.

The Origin of the Fear of a Muslim Holocaust in Nazi Propaganda

January 12, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece about Paul Berman’s book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, which argues that the modern Islamist movements – al-Qaeda, but also Hamas, and the Islamic Republic of the Ayatollah Khomeini, ultimately have their origins in the writings of Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood. The book also describes the role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj al-Husseini, in translating Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda into the Muslim and Arab worlds. Al-Husseini claimed, despite the evidence of the very limited dimensions of the Jewish state at the time, that the Jews were planning to wipe out Islam and the Arabs, and to turn all the Arab countries in the Middle East into homelands for themselves and Black Americans. He therefore urged, and organised, a genocidal war against Jews, commanding his audience to kill the Jews and their children before the Jews killed them.

It’s vile, poisonous stuff from someone, who played an enthusiastic part in the Holocaust of European Jews, as well as massacres of those in Palestine. His fear-mongering of a Jewish superstate goes far beyond the Nakba, or ‘disaster, catastrophe’, the term Palestinians have given to the eradication of their communities and their displacement at the establishment of Israe. Looking through al-Husseini’s rhetoric also makes sense of the claims of a similar genocide made by one British Muslim firebrand in the 1990s.

This was Kalim Saddiqui, who was one of the Muslim leaders involved in stirring up hatred against Salman Rushdie over the Satanic Verses. In the early 1990s the Beeb screened a documentary on the problems afflicting the Islamic community in Britain. These problems included poor academic performance, unemployment and the consequent feelings of disenfranchisement and alienation. They filmed Siddiqui preaching in his mosque. He told the assembled worshippers that ‘British society is a gigantic killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ I’m aware of the racism and violence many Muslims have to face, not least from the Stormtroopers of the Far Right, like the BNP, and their successors, the English Defence League. But this went far beyond a complaint about racism to a bigoted, racist statement about non-Muslims Brits.

To their credit, the Beeb tried to tackle Siddiqui about this. His response was that it was part of his defence of Islam against the forces, of which Rushdie’s book was a part. He then claimed that the Satanic Verses was simply part of a ‘Holocaust of Muslims’ that was being prepared. It’s rubbish, of course, but such fears do now unfortunately have a certain verisimilitude now that Trump is demanding a halt to Muslim immigration, and the registration of those already in America. Against this, it needs to be noted that there are other Americans on the streets, including not just Muslim Americans, but also members of the traditional White and Black communities and Jews demonstrating against Trump’s poison. Several Jewish organisations were so horrified by Trump’s plans, which were so close to what they experienced during the Third Reich, that they organised demonstrations against the tousle-haired Nazi in 17 cities across the US. Siddiqui also made the comments at the time of the Bosnian War, when the Serbs were committing massacres against Bosnian Muslims. That might partly explain Siddiqui’s vile rant.

But mostly it seems to me now that Siddiqui had absorbed the conspiracy theories and the rhetoric of genocide against Muslims shoved out by the Grand Mufti as part of his pro-Nazi campaign. In which case, the roots of Islamism and Islamist terrorism in Britain go back at least two decades. Siddiqui and the other preachers of hate prepared a paranoid, intensely hostile mindset within the audiences, which may have made some susceptible to the teachings and propaganda of al-Qaeda and now ISIS later on.

Siddiqui and his fellows, like Anjem Chaudhury, do not represent all Muslims in Britain by any means. They’re extremely controversial, and there have been demonstrations against them as bigots, who pervert the message of Islam, by liberal Muslims. There are a number of books and Muslim organisations, like Imams Online, which exist to tackle the Islamism and hate they promote. If you go over to the anti-racist organisation’s Hope Not Hate site, there are also numerous articles on events that have been organised around the country to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together, with pictures of Muslim imams talking and laughing with Christian vicars, and members of the other faiths. Siddiqui’s rhetoric is part of the Nazi distortion of Islam, and doesn’t represent the whole of the ‘umma or its history.

Cameron Wins Vote to Bomb Syria

December 3, 2015

Okay, Cameron’s finally got his way, and MPS have voted by something like a majority of 179 to bomb Syria. Mike and very many other bloggers, activists and journalists have repeatedly stated that this will not make Britain safe, or end the tyranny of ISIS in Syria. My fear is that it will only play into their hands. By killing civilians – innocent men, women and children, who just happen to live in the enclaves taken over by the Islamist State – we will just increase radicalisation by seeming to bear out ISIS’ claim that they are really the defenders of Muslims and Islam against Western aggression, while everything is the complete opposite.

Cameron has been so desperate to join the ten other countries in bombing Syria, that he libelled Corbyn, and the rest of the opponents of bombing, as ‘terrorist sympathisers’. This also includes the 65 or so members of his own party, who held fast to their opposition to Blairite wars and voted against it.

Mike’s written an excellent piece taking apart Cameron’s slander here, at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/02/tis-the-season-to-be-jolly-cameron-insults-half-the-uk-slanders-mps-in-eagerness-to-bomb-syria/.

He also produced this little meme, showing how closely his rhetoric resembles the tactics used by Hermann Goering and the Nazis to whip up popular enthusiasm in Germany for war.

Goering War and Pacifism

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. This will not keep us safe, and it will be used by ISIS and their sympathisers to radicalise young and disaffected Muslims. The Iraq invasion was supposed to keep us safe from al-Qaeda. It has done everything but. The country has been seriously destabilised and is riven by sectarian fighting, out of which has come ISIS. And the Islamists have also used the war to promote themselves as Islam’s true defenders. Various radical Islamic groups have declared that the war was ‘a war on Islam’ or a ‘war on Muslims’.

This simply wasn’t true, except in the limited sense that it was supposed to be part of the war against al-Qaeda and Islamism, Islam as practiced and distorted by murderous fanatics. Even George Bush, who authorised and promoted it, denied that it was a war on Islam. Indeed, parts of the Christian Right in America were angry that Bush refused to let certain Christian charities and organisations in to help in the work of reconstruction, or to try to gain converts after the invasion.

Greg Palast in his book, Armed Madhouse, makes it very clear that the reasons were chiefly economic: the Libertarians wanted to create a free market utopia, where they could try out their stupid and fallacious ideas of transforming the country into a low tax, free trade zone. And the American and Saudi oil companies simply wanted to steal the country’s large oil reserves. There were also geopolitical considerations. Back in the 1990s, the Repugs in America and the Likud in Israel planned an invasion of Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein supplying arms and other aid to the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the Islamist claim does have a kind of specious validity due to the very vocal support of some Republicans, who do seem to see it as part of a general campaign against Islam, and who make little difference between ordinary Muslims and violent extremists. You can bet that their words will be used in Islamist propaganda.

I can remember reading Akhthar’s article, Be Careful with Mohammed, back in the 1990s during the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Akhthar was one of the leaders of the groups demanding the book’s suppression. The article is basically one long rant against Christianity, democracy, and western society in general. There were other pieces written by Muslims explaining why they found it offensive and arguing for its banning, which took a much more conciliatory approach to wider, non-Muslim society. Akhthar’s book wasn’t one of them. At the end was a short appendix with the title, ‘What Western Intellectuals Think About Islam’. This consisted of a series of quotes from leading western intellectual figures criticising or denouncing Islam. These were presented in isolation, and without any context. They were deliberately included to try and persuade his readers that western society and its leaders uniformly despised Islam, and that they should stop listening to them and support him and his clique as the Prophet’s righteous defenders.

From what I remember of the quotes, some of them were probably responses to atrocities committed in the name of Islam by terrorist groups or despotic states like Gadaffi’s Libya or Iran. Or Saudi Arabia. Regardless of their original context, Akhthar cited them purely for his own political, radical Islamic agenda. Now I don’t recall Akhthar himself demanding Muslims take part in a terror campaign. He was simply trying to make his Muslim audience hate non-Muslim, mainstream British society, and create further alienation and disaffection. I think it’s because of this, and similar radical Islamic propaganda, that the term ‘Islamism’ was devised: to make a distinction between Islam and the terrorists. This was to protect ordinary Muslims on the one hand, and prevent the words uttered by politicians and other public figures on the other being twisted to add specious verisimilitude to the Islamists’ own propaganda. The anti-Islamic Right have also criticised Western intellectuals and political leaders for not criticising or denouncing Islam in the wake of successive terrorist attacks, as they do not share the belief that there is a difference between Islam and Islamism. Indeed, they are extremely critical of the use of the term, and the promotion of the distinction between the two.

Unfortunately, even such linguistic delicacy has not prevented the growth of Islamist terror, intolerance and murder. Part of the reasons for the growth has been the continued military campaigns by the West in Iraq and the Middle East. I am not saying by any means that we should not strike back against ISIS with our armed forces. I am saying that we need to be extremely careful to avoid playing into their hands. And I’m afraid that Cameron and the supporters of the bombing campaign against Syria have just done so.

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

May 11, 2014

speaker_seumasmilne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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