Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Marvellous Mr Dawkins

Or Professor Dawkins, to put it correctly.

Video here shows the great man laying the smackdown on apologists for religion. I particularly like the line about people who patronisingly talk up the "merits" of religious belief, whilst holding themselves to be above such beliefs. Watch and weep, SWP'ers.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Socialism as hero-worship

Last weekend I attended a debate entitled "Fidel Castro: Friend of Cuban Workers?". The speakers were Paul Hampton from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), and Stephen Wilkinson from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. It was an extraordinary event, that at one point seemed about to collapse into disarray, with the Cuba Solidarity speaker apparently on the verge of walking out.

The reason for Wilkenson's evident rage, bewilderment and disbelief was not that he had been heckled, personally insulted or denied the right to put his case (none of those things happened: he was listened to in silence and applauded politely by the predominantly AWL audience). It was, apparently, that he had never heard anyone "claiming to be from the left" who argued (as Hampton did) that "Fidel Castro is not a friend of the workers...it's just irrational, and I'm not prepared to listen to anyone who says that". The guy was obviously totally furious, and although he finally decided to stay for the rest of the debate, he was still ranting and raving at the end.

Wilkenson's rage and disbelief were clearly the result of a genuine belief that Cuba under Castro represents "socialism", and that anyone who disses Castro is dissing socialism itself: he regaled us with impressive statistics about Cuba's health service and education provision. Hampton did not dispute these statistics, but countered that these were not measures of working class socialism, and that bourgeois-democratic, capitalist Sweden could come up with equally impressive statistics on health and education. The important point about Castroite Cuba, from a Marxist point of view, is the lack of genuine trade unions and the repression of working class democracy. Hampton also made it very clear that his political hostility to Castro and the Stalinist ruling class of Cuba, does not imply any support for the US economic embargo or for the US-backed Miami opposition, even when they take the form of "trade unions".

But none of this was good enough for Wilkinson: "You're either for the revolution or against it", he declared, adding that Castro's Cuba is the "main opposition to the USA in the world", and that that fact alone was sufficient to require unconditional support (I've paraphrased that last bit, but Wilkinson did not demure when I, from the floor, described it as a "my enemy's enemy is my friend" argument).

Clearly, with Castro now on his death bed and brother Raul poised to take over, these arguments are going to become more immediate and more important. IMHO the AWL and Paul Hampton failed to recognise that Wilkinson and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign have majority support within the British trade union movement (their "Latin America 2006" event on 2nd December, for intance, is supported by the T&G, the GMB, Amicus, SERTUC and Tribune) : whereas a the "third camp" position put forward by Hampton is, presently, very much in the minority within the British labour movement.

It is also the case that, unfortunately, a form of left-wing hero-worship has infected large sections of the British left. Apart from the long-established Castro-worship, we now have uncritical adulation for populists like Venezuelian president Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia. This western adulation comes, mainly, from petit bourgeois "leftists" like Tariq Ali (whose latest book, Pirates of the Caribbean, praises not just Castro, Chavez and Morales, but also Ahmadinejad, Muqtada Al-Sadre and Hassan Nasrallah), and the racially-sick, self-hater and groveller Richard Gott, whose racial twist to this whole business adds an additional element of nausea.

Unfortunately, however, it isn't just the likes of Ali and Gott who are now promoting this latter-day "socialism from above" hero-worship of castro and (in particular) Chavez: people who should know better like the Trotskyists of Socialist Appeal now compete with followers of Ken Livingstone and "Respect"/SWP, for the favours of Chavez. The decline (but not disappearance) of the working class seems to have lead these erstwhile "revolutionaries" to look for charismatic leaders to create socialism from above. Ironically, many of those who now subscribe to this new version of Stalinism, still promote Hal Draper's definitive demolition of socialism from above "The Two Souls of Socialism" (currently published by the Chavez-loving, Respect-supporting British SWP!)

For a far more detailed an analytical critique of the new Stalinism, have a look at Paul Hampton's article "The new manana socialism from above", on the Workers liberty website.

Men on the run...

Just so ya know, within the past few days it has come to my attention, via Joanna, that the Evil-World fighting crusaders of Vigil have removed their page from the bizarre IC-HUMINT website. Furthermore, although it may just be a technical glitch, it would seem today that the IC-HUMINT site itself isn't working either. So much for saving Jerusalem from the Muslim hordes, these goons couldn't even handle moderate amounts of hostile attention stemming from a botched attempt to stitch up two UK-based loony toon theocratic groups. Think about it - it's perfectly possible to do a number on a bunch of nutters like the Hizb-ut-Tahrir or Al-Muhajiroun, merely by telling the truths about them that everybody already knows. But Vigil couldn't even get that right.

Anyway, the slow withdrawal from the public sphere of Jenvey and Whiteman's little band of brothers is something to be applauded, although I very much doubt whether they've gone away altogether. Their online secret-squirrel-cum-boys-own adventuring will undoubtedly continue apace. Remember folks, if that guy chatting to you online seems a bit dodgy, it's probably because he is.

(Hat-tips and a hearty round of back-slapping to Vigil Exposed, The Neurocentric, Anarcho-Muslim and all of the others who have used the means at their disposal to blow the lid on Vigil)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The war of the frogs and the mice

I opened the Grauniad today (yes, I am a Guardian-reading leftie) only to see yet another article on the national "controversy" about the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public. Tony Blair has been the latest to intervene in the debate, telling the CBI that although he is a "fan" of British Airways (he's a fan of all capitalist companies, sadly for the national debt) he thinks they should back down on trying to stop a worker, Nadia Eweida, wearing a small cross over, rather than under, her jacket. BA have already instituted a "review" of their uniform rules.

He's not the only one. Jack Straw said much the same thing in stronger terms last week, saying that he had to be in favour of the right to wear a cross because "he had always defended the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab" (unless, of course, they're talking to him). The Tories have jumped on the "issue", with Ann Widdecombe being her usual rabid self and calling for a boyctt of BA. Even the Liberal Democrats have chipped in with their twopenn'orth. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of the Church of England selling its shares in BA, in the same manner as it disinvested a few years ago in companies mnufacturing torture implements - having been attacked by members of his Church for flying on a BA plane. The racist newspapers like the Mail and the Express say this is part of a huge "politically correct" conspiracy against "English culture" (whatever that is!)

I hardly need to point out how absurd this all is. Were I Ms. Eweida's T&G shop steward I would of course take an interest in minor items of the dress code and have demanded a meeting with the managers to get them to stop being as silly as my fellow worker. But the matter should excite no interest beyond that. However, within a few days of Ms. Eweida, who refused to go to work, losing her tribunal claim for constructive dismissal the Prime Minister of Great Britain spoke about the matter to thye country's bosses' association; and everyone who is anyone in our moth-eaten Parliament has been shooting her or his stupid mouth off to the press.

I repeat, isn't it absurd? Not only religious organisations making such a huge fuss about virtually nothing, but politicians jumping on the bandwagon so enthusiastically. Do people really care? No-one I've met does. Once again we see politicians using religious issues to distract the public's attention from more important things, and thereby encouraging and giving credence to the maddest of religious sectarians. Though Ms. Eweida shouldn't have been excluded from work on the ground of her dress sense, it must be said that she is clearly barmy. She thinks that wearing a cross under rather than over her uniform is to "compromise her faith" so much that it is preferable to become unemployed. She says "I am not politically motivated or minded, I just follow the Biblical truth." Where in the Bible does it say one must wear a small cross above one's clothing? What Christian sect demands that its members werar a cross? Not even the Amish, though they prescribe every other aspect of the dress of the faithful. This whole daft affair is a veritable Batrachomyomachia of the soul!

It is sad, though alas not surprising, that the "debate" on religious dress codes has moved away from the important issue of the veil and the oppression of women and moved on to such trivialities. It is disgraceful that most commentators are militantly in favour of religious dress when is is a Christian who is being attacked, but suddenly turn all secular when Muslims are the subject of the attack. Thus even the most absurd little issue, having been magnified from molehill into mountain by religious nutters with the benefit of their friends in Parliament and the press, becomes a vehicle for racism, religious obscurantism, moral relativism, hypocrisy, political cynicism and all the rest of the old rubbish of the British political system.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hitch in "rediscovers soul" shocker!

At the risk of providing a not-insignificant section of my readership on the left with a cheap one-liner, I'd like to draw your attention to an article by Christopher Hitchens in the current issue of "The Liberal". Something remarkable appears to have happened.

Yes, it's a Hitchens tirade, undoubtedly written after a three-bottle lunch, a plate of beef wellington and probably a couple of brandies to finish off. And it's no worse reading for all that. One of the things that always annoyed me about Hitchens was watching his tirades get all the more broadsword and less rapier, as his descent into political lunacy over the war on Iraq proceeded apace.

But this time he seems to have recovered his old lightness of touch. And the really remarkable thing about this particular polemic, is that it is directed at Ann Coulter.

The article itself is a review of Coulter's latest ranting book of right-wing codswallop, which is called "GODLESS: The Church if Liberalism". Coulter is, remember, of that tendency on the US right who think that the centrist milquetoasts of the Democratic Party are one step away from instituting gulags and collective farming. Indeed, as she puts it (quoted by Hitchens), "If Hitler hadn't turned against their beloved Stalin, liberals would have stuck by him too".

In Hitchens' view, "It is remarkable to find so much intellectual and syntactical chaos in an assertion that contains no more than fifteen words". Does she mean that "liberals" loved Hitler? Or that they loved Stalin, so much so in fact that what finally persuaded the likes of Roosevelt to take a stand was watching beloved Uncle Joe's homeland being invaded? It's simple nonsense, whatever your perspective on conservative, liberal or socialist politics. And yet, to Coulter's audience it fulfils a certain need, an itch that they have to scratch, where the real reason why their lives don't feel safe and secure is "the liberal elite" whose sole purpose is to take away their livelihoods, let criminals break into their houses, and allow gay people to get married in their garages. Ann can give all of this to them, and in bite-size form. As Hitchens puts it:

"She emerged as a persona because she has mastered the politics of resentment, and because she can combine the ideology of Human Events (the obscure 'Joe McCarthy was right' magazine) with the demand of the chat-show bookers for a tall blonde with a very rapid delivery on a wide range of subjects"

There follow a number of fascinating diversions, devilish barbs, and even insights into Coulter's likely mentality. Hitchens' anecdote about how genuinely shocked Coulter appeared to be when Paula Jones did not turn out to be the maligned innocent with whom various figures on the right had hoped to pitchfork Bill Clinton, shows almost an innocence which is belied by her venomous, overstatedly angry style of writing.

So has Hitch rediscovered a little of himself? I certainly hope so. He certainly seems now to be wanting to draw lines between himself on the one hand, and the puritan right-wingers like Coulter with whom he was happy enough to line up over the Iraq war. He's also determined to show why, philosophically, a right winger like Coulter will never even be able to offer a proper critique of those aspects of liberalism from which Hitchens would, in fact, like to distance himself.

"If it matters, I am with her on the tepid climate of moral and political relativism which, while it wants all children to do equally well at exam time, also regards the United States as no worse than the Taliban and thus, by an unspoken logic, as no better. But a polemic against this mentality cannot really be written by a McCarthyite"

It remains to be seen whether Hitchens has really done another volte-face, but on this occasion he's done a marvellous job. Well done sir, well done.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quickie for Vigil fans

This is just a quick fix for anyone who shares my new-found obsession with those loveably wacky would-be crusaders from Vigil, the flaky "intelligence" organisation who seem to be supplying BBC and Telegraph journalists with rather more information than they ought. There's some fascinating information about the organisation here - I don't know anything about the author beyond what's in her blog profile, but she appears to know what she's talking about. Perhaps she'd care to enlighten us?

Joanna, the comments box is all yours. Unless you're really Glen Jenvey, in which you can go loiter in a Paltalk chatroom instead.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A glimmer of hope in the Middle East...

Given the apparent bigotry and hatred on both sides, it's easy to give in to despair on the Israel/Palestine issue. For a change, here's some encouraging news.

I especially like this;

"OneVoice says it is different from other peace organisations because it has offices on the ground working in both communities. More than 1,800 people have been through the leadership training and a quarter of a million have signed up to their mandate. The plan is to turn it into a mass civil movement. But can talking change anything? "If we stopped working on this, then nothing will change," says Awwad. "If I know that 2% of the Israeli population is with me, I will want to make it 5% or 50%. Give me viable land and I have no problem accepting a stae of Israel living next to me." OneVoice did a poll, and 76% of Palestinians and Israelis said the same".

Robert Altman: multiple soundtracks

Thank you, Robert Altman for some of the most intelligent and enjoyable films I've ever seen. Even your bad films (and there were -let's be honest - quite a few) were worth watching: Pret a Porter, Popeye and McCabe and Mrs Miller are all highly accomplished failures.

But at your best you were simply brilliant: I especially like Nashville (IMHO your masterpice), The Long Goodbye (the second-best Chandler adaption ever made), and Gosford Park (an unlikely venture for you - a British country house murder mystery. Hugely enjoyable). I look forward to te release of your last film, Prairie Home Companion, based upon Garrison Keillor's radio show.

You were, of course, noted for a particular form of realism: multiple soundtracks and overlapping dialogue - much of it improvised. So I'm sure you would appreciate the following:

1/ (Elliot Gould in the Guardian G2, 23.11.06): "We all had a problem with the way Bob worked, which was so improvisational that you couldn't anticipate what he wanted to do next. It took us a while to get used to - we even complained about it at the time, but we came back to earth and accepted it".

2/ (The Daily Telegraph obituary, 22.11.06): "This approach was not univerally welcomed. On the set of M*A*S*H, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould were so disconcerted by what they considered confusion that they tried to have him fired".

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Socialism 2006

Shiraz Socialist

Hi everyone,

Socialism 2006, a weekend of discussion and debate is being held this coming weekend in Central London. For more info see www.socialism2006.net.

There will be some very good debates, on all sorts of questions. For eg, the muslim association of britain and a rep from the SP on the way forward for British muslims, debates on the labour pary question, with reps from the LRC and John4leader, Cuba solidarity campaign on Cuba. Tory, Green, Lab, Lib Dem, Socialist Students debate which party offers a way forward for young people.
Anyway there are loads of debates, with people from loads of different organisations, with a rally for Socialism on saturday night, including Lucy Redler from WASG, Tommy Sheridan, Peter Taaffe, Greek student, Sri Lankan activist on the situation in that country, Mark Serwotka, Len Hockey - steward at Whipps Cross Hospital. Should be a good weekend,, of course there will one or two beers as well.

For information, the SWP were invited to debate with us - but refused, one can only guess why.

cheers

Larry C

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Journalistic Groundhog Day

Ok, put yourself in this situation. You're the BBC, and you've just been forced to retreat from the arena by the barrage of criticism that your execrable Newsnight report on Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun has attracted. What do you do? Apologise humbly? Re-investigate the issue and do a better report? Tell Glen Jenvey and Dominic Whiteman to go fight the Evil-World on their own time, and thus stop wasting resources on a pair of wazzocks who think that hanging around in a Paltalk chatroom amounts to serious espionage? Any of the above?

Noooo, don't be silly. If you're the BBC then you get the same pillock who did the initial report, to rehash the same stuff and pad it out into a longer broadcast. Then, not content with having demeaned journalistic standards on BBC2, you drag Radio 4 into the mire by broadcasting the whole dog's dinner as this week's File on 4. Highlights of which included such damning evidence as an official from Croydon Mosque saying that although they "have no evidence" that H-T are orchestrating any violence, you do always see "the same faces" when there's a ruck. Oh, and let's not forget Richard "Brains" Watson, the author of the report, concluding by saying that he cannot even be sure whether Hizb's leadership knew anything about any of the incidents described in his report.

For God's sake, when will one of you morons at Broadcasting House realise that you're making fools of yourselves? Or at least make some attempt to check your sources before you do another report like this one? I'll even help you get on the right track. Here's a little link, to the complex wonder that is a Google Search, that may be of assistance to you when filtering out dodgy informants from genuine experts.

Now pull yourselves together and try to recover some professional self-respect... please.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

And on a lighter note...Bechet!

The Priest and I agree that this here blog should maintain a balance between politics and other -lighter- matters. In fact, we are always open to suggestions for light-hearted, or at least, diverting, subjects. The latest James Bond, the latest Martin Scorsese film, for instance. Or maybe why "Torchwood" hasn't worked; or how it is that "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" is so good. We, at "Shiraz Socialist" positively want people who can comment on these sort of trivial, petty-bourgeois matters. The Priest doesn't seem very interested, and I have the disadvantage of not knowing very much about contemporary "culture", beyond such facts as that Fred Elliot was very entertaining, and Mylene ("I'm A Celebrity") is very intelligent and brave...

Anyway, to take a leaf out of Dave Osler's blog, 'Dave's Part' (I can't be arsed to do a link, but you'll find one on the right), I'm going to do a "Saturday Night Is Music Night" feature, and invite all you lot to participate. I amazed the Priest and Mike (of 'Mike's Little Red Page') by revealing, today, in the pub, that I knew who the "Smiths" were (a popular music ensemble, Your Honour)...

Anyway, I'm afraid that to start this, I will have to go back to my childhood, and the first jazz musician I ever learned to recognise just from his sound: Sidney Bechet. Bechet (who started out as a clarinetist, and continued to play the clarinet throughout his life), was the first jazz player of that strange instrument, the straight soprano saxophone. And until the arrival of John Coltrane, Bechet was the *only* significant soprano-player; all others (and there weren't that many: Johnny Hodges and Tab Smith being the only obvious contenders) , having to base themselves upon Bechet. He dominated his instrument in a way that Armstrong didn't dominate the trumpet: on trumpet - even in Armstrong's time, there were other contenders, like 'Red' Allen and Roy Eldridge; in the 1920's and '30's there was no-one playing soprano sax in jazz; or, at least, no-one to match Bechet.

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to Bechet playing "Perdido Street Stomp" with the incompetent Mezz Mezzrow (whom bechet covered-up for) and the great trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page: it's wonderful. I can thoroughly recommend spending an evening in with Bechet and a bottle (or two) of cheap read wine.; the only danger (as my pal, the clarinetist Norman Field, once warned me) is that the combination of Bechet and wine could cause you to hyper-ventilate.

Philip Larkin liked Bechet, and wrote this ("For Sidney Bechet"), about him:

"That note you hold, narrowing and rising,
shakes like New Orleans reflected on the
water. And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes.
Building for some a legendary Quarter of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles.
Everyone making love and going shares - Oh, play that thing!

Mute glorious Storyvilles others may licence, grouping around their chairs.
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manque/s nod around
unnoticed, wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.
On me your voice falls as they say love should, like an enormous Yes.
my Crescent City is where your speech alone is understood.
And greeted as the natural noise of good, scattering long-haired grief and scored pity".

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tinfoil Hat of the Year!

Contrary to what I first thought, it seems the "Vigil" organisation involved in the Newsnight debacle do in fact have a website. Now, that kinda would seem to make them even less credible as clandestine intelligence operatives, wouldn't it? Particularly as, again, my two favourite secret squirrels Glen Jenvey and Dominic Whiteman have their names are all over it (you hear that, evil-doers? JENVEY and WHITEMAN!).

What's more, one quote from the homepage of the "global community" that hosts them trumps all of our other contenders and sweeps in at this late stage to take the prestigious Shiraz Socialist Tinfoil Hat of Tinfoil Hats for 2006:

"Back in 1991, a young-man from a far-off country came to the Western-Sahara desert to meet with a group of people. They formed an alliance to establish a global network to form an army to fight the Evil-World to come and to serve for the glory of Jerusalem, the city of GOD!"

Fighting the Evil-World. Oh yes. I kid you not. Check it out.

Newsnight editorial team, I really do hope you're suitably embarrassed.

(Belated hat-tip for the Vigil www site address: The Neurocentric)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Newsnight/Vigil/Hizb Update

Just a quick missive to update you all as to what's happened since my previous post about last night's risible Newsnight "report" on Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

I claim no credit for this, but Newsnight editor Peter Barron has posted a justification for the report, saying that "Some believed that the film was politically motivated and that we had set out with an agenda to discredit Hizb-ut-Tahrir. That was not the case."

What I would like to know, then, is why does Peter's justification not mention the report's heavy reliance on the shadowy "Vigil" organisation and its two members, Glen Jenvey and Dominic Whiteman? The main complaints that I have seen, revolve around the question as to whether these two, or the organisation they represent, are credible sources of information. I know what I think (I refer you to my previous post) - but why don't you take a look at Jenvey's website and decide for yourselves? And whilst you're at it, ask yourselves a question. If Barron is so confident in the report, then why doesn't he even try to defend one of the most crucial parts of its content?

A working class woman writes...

The 'Morning Star' - paper of the old, Stalinist, 'Communist Party of Britain' , seems to be in the grip of a faction fight. As far as can be made out, it is between the middle-class cultural relativists who want to go in with the SWP and "Respect" (and, to a lesser extent, Ken Livingstone and his ex-Trot "Socialist Action" advisers), and old-style, working class-based (if Stalinist) socialists.

This simmering dispute arises time and again in the pages of the 'Morning Star', and today (November 15 2006), there is a letter from the class-politics/socialist side of the dispute, that I think is worth reproducing. I cannot trace the October 21st letter that this is a response to, but I think we can all guess roughly what it said (and that it came from patronising, middle-class scum)... anyway, here's the response, as published under the title "Defending my attack on veil" in today's 'Morning Star':

"The 10 women who signed a letter enlightening me (M Star October 21) have, like many more, lost the plot again.

"The point that I was making was that wearing Muslim dress is a symbol showing their unequal status. Linking me to Le Pen in their letter is disgusting. They do this not knowing what I have done throughout my life in the trade union movement, politically, and in the women's movement.

" I would be surprised if they had ever worked on the shop floor fighting for women's rights, both in job opportunity and pay and against male prejudice.

"It was my generation which marched and fought politically for a women's right to choose. We fought both the Establishment and the church, we did not accomodate them.

"It was also we who saw the need for refuges for battered women and who spent many hours raising money to buy property and buy homes, picking up women, sometimes children, at hospitals and on the streets at all hours and helping them with their needs, schools for the children, doctors, sympathetic solicitors and social services.

"I mention this because, knowing that Pakistan has admitted to 4,000 honour killings annually, I cannot be convinced, now that this practice has happened here, that all Muslim women wear their dress voluntarily rather than through family pressure and fear.

"It would be interesting to know if feminist women have provided any help, maybe refuges, for muslim women in such a situation.

"I would like to see Muslim women in work where their dress would not be a safety hazard and to have the pleasure of sports activities.

"Women have the right in this country to look men in the face without fear and as equals and this should be encouraged.

"If Muslim dress is not sexist, what is it for?

"BETTY TEBBS
"Manchester".

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Borat

I saw the film last night - after being told it was hilarious. Rather than rolling around holding my tummy with laughter pains.. I thought the film raised a few interesting things about the nature of certain people.. It was shocking what he was allowed to get away with saying some things, I thought that initially, but then I realised there was something more sinister in the people he was encountering - it is funny cos he went to one of the most run down places in the entire film. Where he was in the Hood (if you can call it that) he was surrounded by Black men who were made to look quite threatening - but they treated him with genuine respect.. opposed to the attitude he got from some of the others - there was the constant 'Welcome to America' which was said with so much passion and friendliness; But then you had the exposure of blatant Anti-Semitism, misogynism, Homophobia and Racism, which was really disturbing!

Anyhow well done to Sasha - I always thought he was a bit of a racist comic - there are certain things I have seen him do and say on TV.. which I thought pushed things too far - but I can now see he does it deliberately to see if people retaliate or are too polite to confront him. One situation I can remember, was when he was on something like Parkinson and he was sharing the guest list with one of the actors from Goodness Gracious Me - he said something to that actor, which was quite outrageously racist - and the response he got from the actor was an open mouth and raised eye brows - the expression said it all *I can't believe you can SAY THAT and I'm speechless, cos we're on Parki*

Has anyone else seen this Borat film I'm going on about - if so, let's hear whatcha gotta say.

P.S it's late...

Vigil's lies, Newsnight's shame

I honestly never thought I would see the day when I was put in the position of having to post something in public defence of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, but having just watched BBC Newsnight, I don't feel I have a choice.

It was the kind of bog-standard "Jihadi devils in our midst" piece that has been hashed and rehashed over and over again in the gutter press since 9/11 all over the West, and especially since 7/7 in the UK. With a twist.

This particular report relied on supposedly new "secret" evidence from an organisation called "Vigil", which showed that Islamist organisations in the UK, the Hizb among them, were organising and actively plotting violence in the UK, as well as organising random gang warfare in order to stoke up ethnic tension. Don't bother trying to find Vigil's website, they're really secret squirrels apparently. Except for the fact that not one, but two of these brave men appeared, remarkably without balaclava or voice-over actor, on the report.

The first was Glen Jenvey, a man so free from bias and attached to reality that he calls his own website "Anti-Terrorist News", and links to several Christian ultra and right-wing sites ranging from the Western Defense Studies Institute (password protected, but it apparently exists to "to facilitate the exchange of ideas and opportunities between U.S. and European individuals and businesses to counter-terrorism and protect Western civilization"... oh, yes), to Pipeline News (motto: "The RIGHT news, RIGHT now"... preach, brothers...). Also the ubiquitous Internet Haganah. So he's obviously a model of journalistic impartiality.

Anyway, according to the report, Glen hangs around on Islamist websites until the early hours of the morning, pretending to be a Muslim and seeking to "expose" staggering facts such as that Omar Bakri Muhammad has terrorist sympathies. Now, I've heard Omar Bakri Muhammad speak in public before, and the "recordings" that Vigil presented didn't sound right to me, but that's by the by. Bakri's organisation Al-Muhajiroun (latterly apparently called Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa'ah) is the nearest thing that exists to extremist street theatre in the UK, with pantomime clowns in toilet roll bomb belts parading around calling for "death to the infidel" whilst being laughed at by passers by. The notion that these halfwits could be passed off as a serious terrorist threat is a joke to anyone with halfway reasonable knowledge of the Islamic political scene in the UK, and surely, surely if I know that then so do the BBC's researchers.

The other fellow from Vigil was one Dominic Whiteman. He's a pal of Glen's who (the wonders of Google reveal) spends a lot of his time writing smug polemics about having "infiltrated" the Tamil Tigers. Funny how they don't seem to give a toss about him, but there you go. He's apparently a reliable enough source for BBC Newsnight, so there.

And the attacks on Hizb-ut-Tahrir just made it look all the more weird. For those not in the know, the Hizb are a wacko group that call for a global caliphate - and they do this in many parts of the world. They dissasociated themselves from Bakri over a decade ago. Further, contrary to the Newsnight report, they have no record of violence in the UK, and in that light follow in a long tradition of harmless kooky ranting weirdos in British politics who go back to the flat earthers and beyond.

Dr Abdul Wahid of the Hizb was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman after the report was shown. At least, it was an "interview" in the sense that Paxo yelled and fulminated at Wahid, who appeared to refute all his points masterfully. This included Wahid producing written complaints from a South London Muslim forum about BBC cameras harrassing people outside a mosque, where the report attempted to show that the camera crew had been subjected to violence.

It was an attempted hatchet job by the BBC reporters concerned, and I for one am glad that the Hizb stood up to them.

I have never seen such a disgusting excuse for journalism in my life. In this era of daily attacks on Muslims in the UK, both in written form in the press and in physical form on the streets, for a national broadcaster to commission such a report based on the rantings of right-wing Islamophobic goons, demonstrates journalistic standards worthy of the BNP. Hizb's website is already stating that they plan legal action, and I say good luck to them. BBC News, you should hang your heads tonight - you have brought shame upon yourselves and your profession.

Monday, November 13, 2006

No Respect for trade unionism

"Respect", the lash-up between the erstwhile 'Marxists' of the British SWP, and the Muslim Association of Britain, held an event this Saturday, called the "Organising for Fighting Unions Conference". As these things go, it was quite big (about 600 people); politically it was terrible, rarely rising above the level of "people are angry and the fighback is beginning". Perhaps the nadir was an incoherent stream of consciousness from one Jane Loftus, an SWP member on the CWU executive, who seemed to be arguing that the way to combine the political and economic struggles was to disaffiliate unions from the Labour Party...

I attended as a delegate from my union branch: I was in a small minority in being delegated: the vast majority of attendees were there as individuals, representing no-one but themselves (this can be confirmed by checking the "Respect" website, where supporters of the conference whose trade union bodies have actually voted to support are marked with an asterisk: they are very few). What was most noticeable about the event was that:

1/ It wasn't realy a conference, in the sense of "confering": there was virtually no debate. There were four lengthy platform speakers per session, leaving little time for contributions from the floor; virtually all the floor speakers were either SWP'ers, or people who the SWp knew weren't going to say anything contentious;

2/ It wasn't really a trade union event: few of the platform speakers had anything of significance to say about the state of the British union movement, or the way forward for the working class: they wanted to talk about the war in Iraq, Islamophobia, the veil, the US election results...in fact, more or less anything except trade unionism. The two noticeable exceptions were Paul Mackney of UCU, who at least attempted to discuss the role of shop stewards, and Andy Snoddy of the T&G's Organising Unit, who gave a detailed practical description of their efforts to organise migrant workers. Snoddy's contribution was exactly what the event should have concentrated upon: significantly, there was no further discussion of the issues he raised.

The session entitled "Who speaks for trade unionists: the struggle for political representation" was especially disappointing. For a start, there was very little debate on the subject that was supposed to be under discussion (most of the contributions were about Islamophobia and the veil); and what little debate on the subject of political representation there was, was thoroughly dishonest. Let me explain: it is clear that the SWP are in fact in favour of unions disaffiliating from Labour; no-one who listened to the speaches from leading SWP trade unionists (like the afore-mentioned Jane Loftus) could doubt that; and yet they would not argue openly for that position. The reason for this appeared to be a desire to avoid alienating the Labour left. So an opportunity to have an important discussion was lost because the SWP refused to argue for their own politics. They even went so far as to oppose the Socialist Party's pro- disaffiliation amendment to the "Charter" that the conference was asked to vote on in the final session: again, not because of any principled disagreement, but out of pure opportunism towards the Labour left. Interestingly, the best (and most political) speaker on this topic was John McDonnell. But he came on as a guest speaker, not as part of the "political representation" debate. So, in the end, the conference rejected the call for disafilliation: quite rightly, but without any proper debate and with the conference organisers (the SWP) playing a thoroughly dishonest role.

What was the point of the whole exercise? Don't ask me; you could try asking the SWP, but I strongly suspect they don't know either.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Marks & Sparks

Brighton activists deface M&S


I was not part of this protest and at the moment don't intend to get involved in this part of the Palestine campaign, due to not knowing the full details... I know a few years ago I was part of the boycott M&S, due to a quote made

"Aiding the economic development of Israel, is one of Marks and Spencers main objectives". Lord Israel Sieff chairman of Marks and Spencers 1999.

As you can see this is a while ago - and things can change.. I have asked representatives of the PSC to get in touch with the company and ask them if they still espouse of the same stance.. but this has yet to happen and the campaign has continued.

What do others think of this whole issue?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dave Spart meets Asterix the Gaul

Oh dear:

"Press Statement from SOLIDARITY SCOTLAND'S SOCIALIST MOVEMENT, Mon 6 Nov 2006

"In 46 BC the captured Gallic leader, Vercingetorix, on the way to his execution, was paraded through the streets of Rome by Caesar to mark the fifth anniversary of his victorious campaign to quell revolt in Gaul and Germania, a campaign which secured the Roman Empire's European possessions for many years to come.

"On Sunday, November 5, 2006, pictures of Saddam Hussein in the dock receiving the death sentence at the end of a nine month 'show trial' were beamed round the world - a world increasingly controlled by a new Roman Empire with Washington DC its centre of power.

"Over two thousand years seperate the ignominious end of Vercingetorix and Saddam Hussein at the hands of an imperial behemoth, yet the parallels are striking. Simply put, both men stood up to the prevailing global power and both were destroyed"...etc, etc, etc.

Read the rest of this politically illiterate gibberish (if you've nothing better to do with your time), here.

(Hat-tips: Stan Crooke and Dan Read).

A voice of humanity, passion... and plain common sense

For once, the (UK) Guardian has published something decent on the subject of Israel and the Middle East: Israeli novelist David Grossman's speech to the Rabin Memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv on 4 November. Grossman lost a son during the invasion of Lebanon, but he says:

"The calamity that my family and I suffered when my son Uri fell in the war last summer does not give me any special privileges in our national debate. But it seems to me that facing death and loss brings with it a kind of sobriety and clarity, at least when it comes to distinguishing the wheat from the chaff, between what can and cannot be achieved, between reality and fantasy.

"Every thinking person in Isreal - and, I will add, in Palestine as well - knows today precisely the outline of a possible to the conflict between the two peoples. All thinking people, in Isreal and Palestine, know deep in their hearts the difference between, on the one hand, their dreems and wishes, and on the other, what they can get at the end of negotiations. Those who do not know that, whether Jews or Arabs, are already not part of the dialogue. Such people are trapped in their hermetic fanaticism, so they are not partners."

The transcript of the entire speech is well worth reading. It's a powerful rebuke not just to Prime Minister Olmert and the Israeli right, but also to the "destroy Israel"/ "We are all Hizbullah" fanatics of the type we're all too familiar with in the UK (and whose poisonous opinions are usually all too well represented in the Guardian). Here's a flavour:

"For more than a hundred years we have lived in a conflict. We, citizens of that conflict, were born into war, we were educated within it , and, in a sense, we were educated for it. Perhaps for that reason we sometimes think that this madness that we've been living in for a century now is the only true thing, that it is the life we are destined for and that we have no way, even no right, to aspire to a different way of life. We will live and die by the sword, and the sword shall devour for ever.

"Maybe that explains the apathy with which we accept the total cessation of the peace process, a moratorioum that has lasted for years now, and has cost ever more casualties. That can also explain how most of us have failed to respond to the brutal kick democracy received when Avigdor Lieberman was appointed a senior cabinet minister. It's the appointment of a compulsive pyromaniac to head the country's firefighters.

"And these are some of the reasons why Israel, in an amazingly short time, has degenerated into heartlessness, real cruelty towards the weak, the poor and the suffering. Isreal dispays indifference to hungry, the elderly, the sick and the handicapped, equanimity in the face of, for example trafficking in women, or the exploitation of foriegn workers in conditions of slave labour; and in the face of profound, institutionalised racism towards its Arab minority. When all this happens as if it were perfectly natural, without outrage and without protest, I begin to fear that even if peace comes tomorrow, even if we eventually return to some sort of normality, it may be too late to heal us completely".

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Open letter to Gilad Atzmon

Gilad,

Why is that you make me so angry?

Maybe it's because I love jazz. I love jazz in all its forms, including post-bop, which I don't really understand. But even when I don't understand or like a particular form of jazz (latter-day Miles Davis, or John Coltrane, for instance; also Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers) , I always respect the integrity of the musician(s), trying to do something new - which is what jazz is all about.

Actually, jazz is about something else as well: from its earliest days in and around New Orleans , it was about what would now be called "social inclusion": at a time when blacks and whites could not mix socially, jazz began to break down the barriers. On 17 July 1923 the (white) 'New Orleans Rhythm Kings' recorded with the black pianist/composer Ferd "Jelly Roll" Morton. It was the very first "integrated" recording session. A few years later (1929) Eddie Condon organised a band of his favourite musicians for a recording session (That's A Serious Thing and I'm Gonna Stomp Mr Henry Lee) that happened to include both white and black musicians. Condon thought nothing of it at the time::

"Five nights a week I went to Harlem, early or late, whether I was working or loafing. At Small's Paradise on 135th Street I heard Charlie Johnson's band, with Leonard Davis on trumpet, Happy Cauldwell on tenor saxophone, and George Stafford on drums. Someone, I thought, ought to put this music on records; it's too good to miss. I went to Ralph Peer, of the Southern Music Company, a subsidiary of Victor. He looked dubious when I outlined my idea. 'I want to use Davis, Cauldwell, and Stafford,' I said, 'with some friends of mine - Jack Teagarden, Joe Sullivan, and Mezzrow." After listening to me talk for twenty minutes about the music which would come out of such a combination, Peer gave in and set a date. 'This will be for Victor,' he said. 'I hope it's good'.

"It was, though Mezzrow and I played too. We made I'm Gonna Stomp Mr Henry Lee and That's A Serious Thing. The negro Joe Sullivan (NB: the pianist on the records was the white Irish-American stride and blues master, Joe Sullivan - JD) supplied us with some special introductory chords for That's A Serious Thing. When the masters were cut Mr Peer congratulated me. 'You were right about the music', he said. 'It is excellent. All in all I should say this has been an interesting experiment.' It wasn't untill I got out in the street that I realised what he meant. I made some inquiries: so far as I could discover we had made the first mixed recording date on any national label, using both white and negro musicians. I thought it had been done long before."

Condon was not a political person, but he was a decent human bing who loved jazz music, and so understood that catagorising people on the basis of race, is simply wrong. A member of the audience once asked Condon, "Is your clarinet-player a negro?" (a reference to the light-skinned Afro-American Edmund Hall); Condon replied. "I dunno: I never asked him."

It is that spirit that should inform jazz. It is the music of democracy, anti-racism and equality. Of course, many of the great pioneers were black Americans: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Theloneous Monk, John Coltrane, etc, etc. But plenty, too, were white - and quite a few Jewish (at a time when Jews were experiencing a milder form of the racism meted out to blacks in America): Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Max Kaminsky, Red Rodney, Zoot Sims, etc, etc. The fact that none of these ever made a big deal about being Jewish, is rather the point. They regarded jazz as simply music, and music that was the preserve of everyone -regardless of race.

Do you agree with that premise, or not, Gilad?

There is an interesting alternative story: that of 'Charlie and his Orchestra'. Have you heard of this outfit, Gilad? It was formed during World War Two by the Nazis, when they realised that jazz and swing were a powerful propaganda tool for the Allies. So the Nazis formed their own broadcasting 'swing' band -'Charlie and his Orchestra' - to play the hits of the day, with lyrics modified to convay Nazi propaganda. It was not a very good swing band, but its Nazi message was effective.

A few years ago I was discussing these matters on a jazz e-mail list, when someone brought up 'Charlie and his Orchestra', and I immediately denounced 'Charlie' and stated that I would never listen to it. Someone pointed out to me that quite a few of the musicians in the 'Charlie' Orchestra were Jewish: they were playing for the Nazis in order to save their lives, and the lives of their families.

So, Gilad, when you make mock (as you do with your "Artie Fishal and the Promised Band"), and when you make statements to the effect that the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' may be accurate in decribing Jews, and that "American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the elder(s) of Zion ' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to contol the world, by proxy." (www.workersliberty.org/node/4325/print)

Atzmon goes on to say (this is all on your website, by the way, so I presume you won't be denying any of it): "The Jews are the ultimate Chamelions, they can be whatever they like so long as it serves some expedient...not only can't they win...they can't lose either, they can never be defeated...They move forwards and backwards, from left to right, from right to left, from spirituality into materialism, from orthodox Marxism into hard capitalism..."

You may not realise it, Gilad, but this kind of stuff is classic European and Russian anti-semitism: the Jews as both Bolsheviks and Rothschild capitalists: the ulktimate conspirators. Your stupid, ignorant "Artie Fishal" routine is worse than 'Charlie and his orchestra': at least the Jews in that band played anti-semitcic material because they had no choice; you do it because you want to. Because you revel in baiting your homeland, which you wish to see destroyed.

You are free, of course, to bait Israel and to spout your anti-semitic propaganda. The degenerate ex-Marxists of the SWP are free to promote you and your band (though why, exactly, they should allow you to speak on the politics of the Middle East, remains a mystery).

But, as a jazz-lover, I have to say that I hate your racism. Jazz is the music of integration, of humanity and equality. Your anti-semitism has no place in our music.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Bush more dangerous than Kim Jong-il"

The UK Guardian, together with other publications, like Haaretz (Israel) and Reforma (Mexico) has carried out an international survy that finds "George Bush as a greater danger to world peace than either the North Korean leader Kim Jong -il, or the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad".
I am not surprised by this: the mainstream, bourgeois British media has been spewing forth anti-American prejudice for years (even before the Iraq debacle), and this is merely the latest example. It's crazy, of course: Bush is a vicious reactionary, but he is the head of a bourgeois democratic state, that can and will hold him to account at elections. To compare that to the vicious dictatorship of Kim Jong-il is, well, *mad*.
Marxists understand that relative power is not a measure of how reactionary a government, state or party is: relatively weak Iran is *much more* reactionary than the USA. The Guardian poll is merely an example of old-style Brit ruling class anti-Americanism that should be opposed by the left. I will come on to the associated anti - Israeli fanaticism (bordering upon anti-semitism) to be seen in the letters column of the present New Statesman, and the Morning Star, shortly...

An honest and decent socialist

Peter Fryer has died exactly fifty years after his finest hour. He was the British Communist journalist who was dispatched by the British Communist Party (CPGB) with the brief, from the editor of the Daily Worker (forerunner of today's Morning Star), to denounce the Hungarian workers' revolution as a fascist coup. Fryer arrived in Budapest, and immediately saw that what was happening was a workers' revolution against totalitarianism: any self-respecting socialist had to support it.

But the Stalinist hacks of the British CP , like Harry Pollitt (thug) and Raj Palme Dutt (intellectually corrupt"intellectual"), even after Kruschev's speech about the crimes of Stalin, were not prepared for an honest man who would report what he saw in Hungary. Seeing a genuine workers' revolution against an anti-working class, totalitarian regime, Fryer dispatched reports describing what he had seen. The CPGB was appalled (not about Russian brutality in Hungary, but by Fryer's honesty) and the Daily Worker suppressed his reports.

Fryer was eventually expelled from the CPGB (he didn't "leave in disgust" as I erroneously stated in an earlier contribution to this site), and joined Gerry Healy's Trotskyist 'Socialist Labour League'. About a quarter of the British CP's 33, 000 membership either left or were expelled, as a result of Hungary. Bruce Robinson, in the present issue of the AWL's paper Solidarity, comments:

"Even before Hungary the CPGB faced a crisis. By July (1956), Edward Thompson and John Saville had set up a duplicated journal called The Reasoner in defiance of Party rules and there was widespread dissatisfaction with Party democracy. When it came to Hungary, the CPGB simply echoed the Soviet line justifying te invasion under the headline "New Hungarian Anti-Fascist Government in Action - Soviet Troops called in to Stop White Terror", while (The Daily Worker) refused reports of their own Budapest correspondent, Peter Fryer".

Fryer remained with what he regarded as the Trotskyist movement for the rest of his life, although he had to put up with a second round of political abuse- this time from the megalomaniac and rapist Gerry Healy: but Fryer stayed in the Healy movement, and survived its evil and corrupt founder. His book Hungarian Tragedy remains his great contribution to working class struggle. But I am pleased to note that he was also an accomplished jazz and blues piano player, and wrote a book, Staying Power (which I've not read, but will), about the black presence in Britain after World War Two. Hats off to a great comrade!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mandela and the Crocodile

I've always been a big fan of Nelson Mandela. Not the African National Congress (the ANC: bourgeois /Stalinist nationalists, who do not -and never did- deserve the support of the left either in South Africa or internationally), but Mandela himself: what a human being! His personal demenour when finally releaded after 27 years in prison was one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed, and surely ensured the peaceful transformation of South Africa into a non-racial bourgeois democracy.

But I thought even Mandela might have some critical words to say on the occasion of the death of the vicious, murderous racist who was, in effect, his jailer for 27 years: PW Botha. I underestimated Mandela's magnanimity: after a message of condolence to Botha's family, Mandela went onto say: "While to many Mr Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country".

Mandela's statement goes on: "Our correspondence with Mr Botha while we were in prison was an important part of those initial stages, as was the agreement to a personal meeting in Tuynhuys" (a reference to the secret meeting set up by Botha's head of intelligence, Neil Bernard, described in the UK Independent of 2 November 2006 , in an article by John Carlin: 'The Crocodile and the Saint").

The most you can say for Botha is that he made a few very minor reforms to apartheid and was far-sighted enough to realise that apartheid had to be reformed - and so was willing to meet with Mandela. But he also presided over the incarceration of Mandela for 27 years , and was responsible for a murderous campaign against the ANC and other anti-apartheid forces.

If you or I were in Mandela's shoes, we'd say something like "I'm glad the murderous old racist piece of scum is dead, and I hope he didn't die easily". But that's not Mandela's way: he could even shed a tear for the 'Great Crocodile" - and it wasn't a crocodile tear, either.

For myself, I admire Mandela's generosity of spirit; but I have to say that I am more in tune with Mandela's fellow Robin Island prisoner Tokyo Sexwale, who (according to the UK Independent) gave condolences to Botha's family, but said he deeply regretted the former leader had never attempted to heal the wounds or apologise for the bloody atrocities that occured on his watch.

"It is his government that was repressive, brutal, committed murder and torture. We know that when a man has passed you cannot say bad things. But he died without (admitting) his mistakes".

What's the point of Jon Cruddas?

Just a quick thought - for the life of me, I can't see the point of Jon Cruddas' campaign for the Labour Deputy Leadership, or who he thinks he's kidding with this leftish veneer that he seems to be putting on his challenge. There again, he seems to have got some people all excited.

If you wanna vote for a Blairite, you might as well vote for a real one. If, on the other hand, you want to back the left, there's only one challenger who merits the label, and he's going for the leadership, not the deputy's spot.