Sunday, March 04, 2007

We've moved to WordPress!

It was time after all. So our new address will be, the land of posts that publish properly, templates that look nice, and commenting systems that don't crash every ten minutes. To all of our friends, please alter your links accordingly. I'll re-link to every one of you over the next day or two.

All of the posts are there already, so please continue to bash each other over the head at your leisure, at the new address.

Jim, TWP, Larry, Lala and Mike, you'll all be getting emails inviting you to the new blog as contributors.

Here's to the new and improved Shiraz!

13th Carnival of Socialism

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting It's here at last folks!

After a couple of false starts, for which I apologise, here's the 13th Carnival of Socialism, which invited contributions loosely based around the (partly provocative) question "Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?"

This was a quite deliberately controversial choice on my part, as I think that better debates tend to come from questions where people directly disagree, rather than by inviting semi-consensual discussions around a theme. This did however seem to piss off some people, who were expecting something in a more "write me a post about socialism and art" type of format. Apologies for that, but I think you'll see what I was trying to get at.

I was looking really for commentary on the left (from leftist and ex-leftist perspectives), as opposed to simply expositions of left-wing ideas. My intention with this theme was to try and solicit contributions from outside of the usual circle of left-wing bloggers, and introduce some newer perspectives. It's in that light that I was delighted to receive a contribution from Marxist From Lebanon (don't call him "Lebanese Marxist"), who will be new to many of you. In one amongst many arguments the course of a fascinating post, he posits that parts of the left have fallen into a kind of knee-jerk oppositionalism since 9/11:

"Ever since Bush opened his never ending “War on Terror”, the Middle East was more on the spot light than it used to be. Ariel Sharon compared the Palestinians ( without doing any difference to the civilians) to the Terrorists that Bush was fighting. The Marxists and the Leftists fell in the error of supporting in defecto any movement or rogue nation against the United States, unless if they were al-Qa’eda."

Read it through - whether you come to agree with him or not, you'll certainly find it both thoughtful and insightful.

Next up was the ringmaster himself, John Angliss, whose lighthearted contribution suggests that it's because the Middle East gives the left an unusual opportunity to speak in terms that the general public find interesting and relevant. John, you may be jesting, but I rather think you might have a more serious point than you think.

On an intertwined subject, whilst flicking around a Google Blog Search, I came across this post by Louis Proyect, which I felt to be more than worthy of inclusion. It's a discussion of socialist attitudes to Islam, and in particular attempts to discuss the SWP's attitude to political-religious organisations like the MAB. This blog's doughty SWP commenter, JohnG, engages Louis in a debate underneath.

I also came across a very thoughtful article on a similar issue from disillusioned leftist Josh Strawn, front man for band Blacklist, on his blog. He gives us, perhaps, an view into the psyche of some people on the left (and ex-left) who linger on issues like the Middle East and related areas. Similarly to our periodic commenter Paddy the Puritan, Josh confesses to initial feelings of elation on 9/11:

"I thought it was a victory for our side. I thought it was the beginning of the revolution. I even thought they were part of the whole anti-globalization movement. They had hit at the heart of it all, the symbol of U.S. economic hegemony."

But for him the elation was replaced quickly by revulsion at his own feelings, and a sense of shame which led him to question much of his former worldview. He actually became pro-war, and he chastises those of us who remain on the left for our practice of taking swipes at what he believes to be a liberatory project:

" And now the left chastises the action because rocking the boat is costing lives. Best to have left the wound (that we helped create) to fester, according to them. It costs nothing, save for the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and Palestinians. It lets the 'radicals' keep their hands clean. They can Bike Against Bush or whatever the nonsense-of-the-day might be and call it compassion."

I think he's badly wrong, but he certainly got me thinking.

On the other side of the equation, I also found this post by this blog's friend Tom of Newer Labour, who finds himself in the not-very-comforable, and many would argue self-contradictory, position of being an anti-war signatory of the Euston Manifesto. Whether you think the lad's confused or not, his article does give an insight into some of the agonising that left-reformists go through when trying to define their stances on the Middle East in the face of Trot "anti-imperialism" on the one side and neocon "pro-war leftism" on the other.

Finally, I have received a contribution from someone called Judeosphere which compares the left's obsession with the Middle East to Evangelicals' obsessing over the same subject. S/he is someone who I'm presuming isn't technically on the left or indeed a disillusioned lefty type either. But I'm including the contribution anyway 'cos it's interesting. So go ahead and moan. See if I care.

Oh, and to the guy who sent me the poem, many thanks. I will use it, but it will need to go in a separate post if that's ok, purely because it doesn't relate to the topic at hand.

So there you have it. Not the usual contributors, and not a normal topic. I've no doubt some of it was inflammatory, and some of it will provoke debate. Good, it was meant to. Because that's how we on the left keep ourselves relevant, our rhetoric sharp and our ideas fresh.


Free Kareem!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting I'd been meaning to write this for a while, but didn't get around to it. I want to add this blog's voice to those in the movement to free liberal Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer (Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman) who has been imprisoned for the thought crime of writing opinions critical of Islam, and of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In doing so, he has earned the wrath of both the corrupt Mubarak regime and the Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Kareem has been shortlisted for the Index on Censorship/Hugo Young Award for Journalism 2007. His articles included a pledge to defend Arab and Muslim women against discrimination, criticisms of Al-Azhar University where he was a student, and attacks on Mubarak as a "symbol of Tyranny". He was jailed for "incitement to hate Islam” and “defaming the president of the republic", or in other words for uttering opinions with which powerful political forces in Egypt happened to disagree.

Kareem is supported by a wide range of people and organisations, from Muslim bloggers such as Yasmin Amin, to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, even extending as far across the spectrum as the "pro-war lefties" of Harry's Place. Please, add your voice too.

The website for the Free Kareem campaign has more information.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Death threats sent to Iraqi womens' activist

Nice bunch aren't they, those Ansar Al-Islam people?

Original article is here, along with other material and suggestions as to how you can help.

MADRE Partner Condemned to Death by Jihadist Group

On February 26, 2007, Houzan Mahmoud, an international representative of MADRE's sister organization, the
Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, received an e-mail signed by Ansar al-Islam, the notoriously brutal jihadist group based in Kurdistan/Iraq.

The death threat, delivered via e-mail, read, "With the permission of Great God, we will kill you either in Iraq or in London by the middle of March, because you are campaigning against Islam. You should be sent to God for punishment." Houzan Mahmoud, who is currently based in London, is originally from Iraqi Kurdistan, where she recently led a campaign against the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the proposed constitution.

Ms. Mahmoud, aged 34, is an outspoken Iraqi feminist, secularist, journalist, and human rights activist. She has resolved to persist in her work, despite being targeted by Ansar al-Islam. In a letter to MADRE on February 27, Ms. Mahmoud stated, "I will continue doing what I am doing now, going around the world cultivating support for women in Iraq and Kurdistan as well as exposing the violence and gender apartheid that Islamists are imposing on millions of women in the region."

MADRE denounces the threats made by Islamists against Houzan Mahmoud, and condemns all attacks on human rights defenders and women's rights activists. MADRE notes that for more than two decades, its sister organizations around the world have been targeted with similar violence, from the death squads of El Salvador, to the interahamwe militias of Rwanda. MADRE stands opposed to all those who utilize violence, intimidation, and mass killing in pursuit of reactionary political and social agendas and extends its strongest support to Houzan Mahmoud and all Iraqi women who are fighting for their human rights.

UPDATE: More about the threats, and Houzan's campaigning, here

March for Abortion Rights

Was emailed this a couple of days ago; if you're up for another demo after the NHS ones (you demo hound, you), then here are the details:


Meet 6.30pm, Saturday 3 March, outside University of London Union, Malet Street (tube: Goodge Street, Russell Square, Euston)

Confirmed speakers so far are: Katy Clark - Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran; Michele Emerson - Communication Workers' Union Equality Officer; Sofie Buckland - National Union of Students NEC; Kate Ahrens - Leicester Health Unison; Debbie Hollingsworth - Ruskin College Women's Officer; Azar Sheibani - Iranian women's liberation activist; Thea Cohen - Students for Choice (USA)

Supporters include:

Education Not for Sale Women

NUS Women's Campaign

University and College Union (UCU)

International Union of Sex Workers

Marge Berger - editor, Reproductive Health Matters journal

Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (UK)

Alliance for Workers' Liberty

Debbie Hollingsworth - Ruskin College students union womens officer

Sussex University Women's Group

Nottingham University Women's Group

Emma Clossick - co-chair, Oxford University Women's Group

RMT Women's Advisory Committee

John McDonnell MP - chair, Labour Representation Committee

Carolyn Leckie MSP - Scottish Socialist Party

Petra Urwin - SOAS Women's Society president

Janine Booth - Hackney TUC president

Kate Ahrens - Leicester Health Unison

Socialist Youth Network

Mary Partington - SYN women's officer and Feminists 4 John McDonnell

Scottish Socialist Youth Women's Network

Louise Gold - Sheffield University, NUS Women's Committee 2004-6

Laura Sterry - Nottingham University

Laura Schwartz - University of East London

Susie Orbach - author of "Fat is a feminist issue"

Teodora Todorova - Nottingham University Women's Officer

York University Women's Committee

British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Respect Coalition

Rhythms of Resistance will be playing.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ignorant proles

A truly wonderful letter in today's Morning Star:

"Here in Wandsworth, we have two supermarkets, Waitrose and Sainsburys, where I, as well as my brother, can pick up the Morning Star.

"One criticism that I would make about these mega-food monopolies is the amount of Israeli produce flooding their shelves at the moment.

"Recently, my sister and I have found it impossible in either of these stores to purchase, for example, new potatoes, sweet peppers or mint from any other source except Israel.

"The special preference given to Israel by the EU needs to be scrapped.

"More of a worry is the complete lack of any political consciousness shown by many of its workforce.

"When we enquire where the produce comes from and say that we won't be buying it as it's from Israel, we end up receiving a blank look of bewilderment.

"They probably think we are anti-semitic.


"London SW18"

I do so hope that last sentence is correct.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hypocrite? Coward? No: conciliator!

I have been accused (and not just on this blog) of being dogmatic, confrontational and unwilling/unable to see the other person's point of view.

I have also been accused (libellously) of being, shall we say, intemperate with regard to alcoholic beverage.

The following should put all these myths and libels to rest:

I live in an area of Birmingham (Bournville) which, thanks to those patronising, religious (Quaker), anti-union scum, the Cadbury family, has long been 'dry'. Those of us who like the occasional social drink have to plan well ahead, because there are no 'offies' in the vacinity.

So I was well pleased to hear that Tesco (who have a pretty rotten "sweetheart" deal with USDAW, by the way), planned to open a store selling - amongst other things - booze -within staggering distance of where I live.

Then I received this, from my local (Tory) councillors:

"Dear Resident,
"You may already be aware that TESCO are currently converting the old petrol station on Linden road into a TESCO Express site. This will be a site that sells a full range of foodstuffs and petrol from 7am intil 10:30pm
"However, TESCO have also recently put in an application to the City Council for permission to sell alcohol once this site is reopened.
"This is something that your local councillors are opposed to. We believe that the selling of alcohol from such a site may lead to underage sales to young people and may lead to an increase in anti social behaviour in the area fuelled by alcohol from this site.
"We have organised a public meeting at the United Reform Church on Beaumont Road to hear the views of local residents.
"We look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
"Yours sincerely,
"Nigel Dawkins
"Councillor Niger Dawkins".

Well, I don't mind telling you, I very nearly went along to tell Cllr. Dawkins and his fellow prohibitionists exactly what I thought of them. But I didn't in the end. Because I was down the pub.

Then, a couple of days ago, my next-door neighbour came knocking at my door. She's a lovely, kindly, public-spirited lady, who takes a great interest in all local matters, especially what's happening on our road....she had a petition in her hand: it was from the Tory councillors, about Tesco's application for an alcohol licence: what do you think I did?

Clue: I'm a natural-born coward : I mean, conciliator.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tamimi denounces "fundamentalism"!

Another great moment in journalism from the British Guardian today. Stuart Jeffries (usually one of their less annoying journalists) has a piece on the "vicious and uncompromising battle between believers and non-believers". It is admirably even-handed, in just the same way that, no doubt, a Guardian article discussing the "battle" between followers of Darwin and supporters of creationism would also be even-handed: after all, science and rationality should not be given preference over superstition and belief in the supernatural - that would be judgemental, wouldn't it?

After quoting such profound thinkers as Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark, saying things like "Atheists like the Richard Dawkins (sic) of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube"... (think about that statement for a moment, folks)...the article goes on to quote one Azzim Tamimi, billed as "director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought", saying: "I refer to secular fundamentalism. The problem is that these people believe that they have the absolute truth. That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight". So Mr Tamimi is some kind of peace-loving, liberal, pro-dialogue, anti-fundamentalist opponent of the idea of anyone having "the absolute truth"? Eh, well...perhaps not: what the Guardian article failed to mention is that Mr Tamini isn't just the "director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought". He's rather better known as the representaive in Britain of Hamas. You know, those peace-loving anti-fundamentalist folk who's charter explicitly rejects "so-called peaceful solutions", who opposed the Oslo accords, who support suicide bombings against civilians and who seek the total destruction of Israel: all in the name of their faith, which they believe to be the absolute, irreducible and uncontestable Truth, and that all who disagree are infidels who should be conquered -or in the case of Jews, wiped off the face of the earth. And Tamini, whose membership of Hamas is not even mentioned by the Gruaniad, is quoted denouncing "secular fundamentalism" on the grounds that it leaves "no room to talk to others"...

What would we do without the good old Graun, eh?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Carnival coming soon...

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI am still doing the 13th Carnival of Socialism, but I'm gonna put it up next weekend rather than this. I just got carried away with the Meacher stuff. Thanks to all who've sent contributions, I promise I haven't forgotten you.

The plus side is that if you still want to send something in that works around the approximate topic area of "Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?" , then you have a small extension time within which to do so. I'd particularly invite contributions from people who don't come from the same traditions as me or share my gripes about the left. After all, it's intended to be a provocative topic, and I know that some of you who read this blog enjoy a row. So here's your chance to do exactly that, in a medium other than the comments boxes. Although those will doubtless be busy next weekend too!

Contributions and comments, as ever, to

More on Meacher

I don't often agree with or endorse stuff written by AA Gill, but this from today's Sunday Times is both to the point and utterly priceless:

"There’s a company trying to find ways of marketing the pristine emptiness of Michael Meacher. So far, all they’ve come up with is having it said by the mechanical voice in lifts when the doors are opening but there’s no one there."

You just know it could so easily be true!

Anyway do your own Google News search on "Meacher" and you'll find about a squillion other mocking stories blossoming from journos both left and right. Meacher is sinking faster than the Titanic, and good riddance to him as well.

(Hat Tip: Dan in the comments)

Whackjob Sunday... Yes, It's Meacher!

I wonder if his campaign will be using this fascinating video? It's in two parts; watch the top one first. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Remember when we talked about the C-Word?

... To those of you who felt the word should simply be barred from general discourse (what the right would call "polite society"), I would only say to you that I've heard Michael Meacher is running for leader of the Labour Party. And V has something to say about it.

I don't care what your views are on the word itself. Meacher is vilified by the vast majority of the left. The right think he's a figure of fun. And yet he thinks he's the man to challenge Gordon Brown. If ever any man richly deserved the accolade "Cunt of the Week", 'twould be he.