Friday 22 July 2011

Boa viagem

Will be in this part of the world for a couple of weeks, with limited internet access, so the blog will be in recess until mid-August.

Friday 15 July 2011

From anniversaries to anti-imperialism: some links

Here are some things you might have missed over the last week or so...

On the sixth anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, Jonathon Narvey is disappointed to find that most of the videos of the event posted at Youtube reproduce discredited conspiracy theories:
How will historians look back on the years when a global network of religious fanatics began ratcheting up their indiscriminate slaughter of innocents living in the West? As memory recedes, the more lazy among them will increasingly rely on the plentiful video resources made ubiquitous and accessible over the Internet. Conspiracy theories may become more mainstream only because these obsessive kooks seem to working a lot harder than the rest of us to get their own twisted narrative out.
Meanwhile, over at the excellent A Girl, a Blog and a Life In-Between, Princess Pana pays tribute to those who were murdered, posting brief but moving biographies of the innocent victims. She writes:
These were the ordinary Londoners and visitors whose lives were cruelly destroyed on 7th July 2005. These are the people who are missed by sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and partners. They were innocents going about their everyday lives who represent the diversity and dynamism of the great World City that London is. The bombers looked them in the eye and decided their lives were not important. We need to say back that these were important lives, lives that cast a real shadow and count.
Also marking the anniversary, Kenan Malik reflects on the part played by a misconceived policy of communalist multiculturalism in fostering homegrown jihadism:
Politicians effectively abandoned their responsibility to engage directly with minorities, subcontracting it out to often reactionary 'leaders.' If the prime minister wanted to get a message to the 'Muslim community,' he called in the council or visited a mosque. Rather than appealing to Muslims as British citizens, politicians preferred to see them as people whose primary loyalty was to their faith and who could be politically engaged only by other Muslims. As a result religious — and Islamist — figures gained new legitimacy in their own neighborhoods and came to be seen by the wider society as the authentic voice of British Muslims.
As Kenan notes, it wasn't always thus:
Today 'radical' in an Islamic context means someone who is a religious fundamentalist. Thirty years ago it meant the opposite: a secularist who challenged both racism in the streets and the power of the mosques. Secularism was once strong within Muslim communities, but it has been squeezed out by the new relationship between the state and religious leaders.
More positively, Michael Weiss writes about the important contribution of British ex-jihadists, such as Shiraz Maher, to the continuing fight against Islamist terrorism (subscription required for full article):
London has [...] produced a commodity that the United States hasn’t yet—rehabilitated Islamists who’ve said goodbye to all that and lived to tell and write about about it. For a Western establishment that often can’t tell Hamas from its elbow, these ex-Islamists have added invaluable insights into how an obscurantist ideology can be preempted and defeated.
Similarly, the news that some British Muslim women have started a campaign against religiously-inspired violence and abuse is encouraging. As they say in their declaration:
We believe, as Muslim women, we can no longer sit in silence while we watch the name of our faith being used to justify crimes. We believe it is our duty to make our voices heard and to reclaim our faith so that it is no longer hijacked by individuals and organisations who in the name of Islam incite and carry out violent acts of hatred and extremism and whose sole aim is to create a broken world.
In Italy, too, women are organising against sexism and discrimination, galvanised into action by sordid revelations about Berlusconi's treatment of women. The new movement 'Se ne ora quando' ('If not now, when', which obviously takes its inspiration from here) held a rally this week in Siena, where it was heartening to see placards in support of female political prisoners in Iran: a rare but encouraging example of western feminists protesting against the institutional sexism of the Islamic Republic.

Still on liberal-left responses to the phenomenon of jihadism: Gita Sahgal provides a detailed analysis of the Amnesty / Cageprisoners affair which led to her departure from the organisation. And Alan Johnson marks the anniversary of another terrorist attack - the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 to Entebbe - and its legacy for the Left. According to Alan, the roots of today's anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist Left lie in 'the worldview cultivated in the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s':
In the decidedly non-calloused hands of this largely student, spectacularly arrogant, but largely know-nothing New Left, an already-authoritarian Marxism became completely unmoored from the working class, the West, and democracy and moored instead to ideologies of the noble savage, fantasies of 'Third World Revolution' and an irrational belief in the redemptive power of violence. The New Left saw the world in a very peculiar way. A third world 'periphery' was pitted against the metropolitan 'center' and 'good' oppressed nations were at war with 'bad' oppressor nations. 'Camp' replaced 'class' as the track along which a great deal of left-wing thought would now run.
Much of what is said and done by today’s left—including its anti-Zionism—is unintelligible without grasping that when 'anti-imperialist struggle displaced 'class struggle' as the organizing category of thought and the basis of political identity, the result was a hybrid political phenomenon that the Germans call linksfaschismus, or left-fascism.
This Haaretz article punctures some of the myths that have grown up around the Entebbe episode, but Johnson's thesis about the confluence of extreme-left and extreme-right influences in both the Sixties and contemporary far Left remains sound, and is something I've written about before. To end on a more hopeful note: Alan Johnson suggests that there was another legacy from the Entebbe affair, besides this twisted version of anti-imperialism. Hearing about the treatment of Jewish passengers by the hijackers, Joschka Fischer, then active on the revolutionary left, 'began his long journey back from madness':
Open self-recrimination and painful rethinking led him to develop a decent, antitotalitarian, and social democratic leftism. Later, as German foreign secretary, he was comfortable standing up for a Palestinian state while angrily confronting Yasir Arafat in person about the bombing of a Tel Aviv disco. This is the other legacy of the '68ers - the spread of a human rights culture, a refusal to accept the exclusion of minorities, liberal interventionism in the face of enormity, mutual recognition and two states for two traumatized peoples in Israel and Palestine, and the search for a global covenant in a world of staggering inequalities.
Stop press: if you want to read more from Alan on the deformations of the pseudo-Marxist left, his definitive take-down of Slavoj Zizek is in the new issue of Jacobin.

Monday 4 July 2011

Go Fourth

Happy Independence day to all my American readers.

Friday 1 July 2011

Left book club

If you’re writing a book about the state of progressive politics, and you’re casting around for a catchy title, the rule of thumb seems to be: find a stock phrase that includes the word ‘left’ and suggests a punning reference to your topic - then add a sub-title that explains what your book is really about. The locus classicus, in Britain at any rate, is of course Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way - where the main title neatly alludes to the two meanings of the word ‘left’: what exactly is the left these days? and what remains of the left?

The nearest US equivalent is Michael Tomasky’s Left for Dead: The Life, Death and Possible Resurrection of Progressive Politics in America (American publishers love long sub-titles), where once again, there’s a clever play on the double meaning of ‘left’. However, my favourite example of the genre is Michael Sean Winters’ book about the falling-out between progressives and the Church: Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats (an even longer subtitle). You can imagine some editor dancing round the room when s/he came up with that one. 

But with these three stock phrases spoken for, where are new authors to find eye-catching titles for their explorations of the condition of liberal politics? Here are a few back-of-the- envelope ideas I came up with, which prospective scribblers should feel free to borrow. On the other hand, if you want to join in with this little diversion, you're welcome to add suggestions of your own. Here goes:

'Left on the Shelf: Socialism and the Single Person'

'Left Out: the Gay Voice in Progressive Politics'

'Left in the Dark: Labour and the Energy Crisis'

'Left Back' (or Outside Left, or Inside Left): Soccer and Socialism (with its companion volume: 'Outside Right: Extremism on the Terraces')

And, on reflection, I think Tomasky’s choice of title is a waste. Surely ‘Left for Dead’ would be much more appropriate for a book about radicalism in the undertakers’ union?

Finally, to get really cheeky:

'Left Behind: Pippa Middleton’s Radical Past'