Craig Murray on the media response to Boshirov and Petrov’s story – whatever happened to presumption of innocence?

Former ambassador and independent journalist Craig Murray is no friend of the Kremlin or Putin but has been outspoken in his doubts over UK government allegations relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In previous articles he has cross-examined the government case point by point, and now he considers the latest evidence provided in the RT interview of suspects Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov.

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The presumption of innocence is the principle that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty. It was traditionally expressed by the Latin maxim ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”.

From Wikipedia.

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I was caught in a twitterstorm of hatred yesterday, much of it led by mainstream media journalists like David Aaronovitch and Dan Hodges, for daring to suggest that the basic elements of Boshirov and Petrov’s story do in fact stack up. What became very plain quite quickly was that none of these people had any grasp of the detail of the suspects’ full twenty minute interview [also embedded below], but had just seen the short clips or quotes as presented by British corporate and state media.

As I explained in my last post [see below], what first gave me some sympathy for the Russians’ story and drew me to look at it closer, was the raft of social media claims that there was no snow in Salisbury that weekend and Stonehenge had not been closed. In fact, Stonehenge was indeed closed on 3 March by heavy snow, as confirmed by English Heritage. So the story that they came to Salisbury on 3 March but could not go to Stonehenge because of heavy snow did stand up, contrary to almost the entire twittersphere.

Once there was some pushback of truth about this on social media, people started triumphantly posting the CCTV images from 4 March to prove that there was no snow lying in Central Salisbury on 4 March. But nobody ever said there was snow on 4 March – in fact Borisov and Petrov specifically stated that they learnt there was a thaw so they went back. However when they got there, they encountered heavy sleet and got drenched through. That accords precisely with the photographic evidence in which they are plainly drenched through.

Another extraordinary meme that causes hilarity on twitter is that Russians might be deterred by snow or cold weather.

Well, Russians are human beings just like us. They cope with cold weather at home because they have the right clothes. Boshirov and Petrov refer continually in the interview to cold, wet feet and again this is borne out by the photographic evidence – they were wearing sneakers unsuitable to the freak weather conditions that were prevalent in Salisbury on 3 and 4 March. They are indeed soaked through in the pictures, just as they said in the interview.

Russians are no more immune to cold and wet than you are.

Twitter is replete with claims that they were strange tourists, to be visiting a housing estate. No evidence has been produced anywhere that shows them on any housing estate. They were seen on CCTV camera walking up the A36 by the Shell station, some 400 yards from the Skripals’ house, which would require three turnings to get to that – turnings nobody saw them take (and they were on the wrong side of the road for the first turning, even though it would be very close). No evidence has been mentioned which puts them at the Skripals’ House.

Finally, it is everywhere asserted that it is very strange that Russians would take a weekend break holiday, and that if they did they could not possibly be interested in architecture or history. This is a simple expression of anti-Russian racism. Plainly before their interview – about which they were understandably nervous – they prepared what they were going to say, including checking up on what it was they expected to see in Salisbury because they realised they would very obviously be asked why they went. Because their answer was prepared does not make it untrue.

That literally people thousands of people have taken to twitter to mock that it is hilariously improbable that tourists might want to visit Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge, is a plain example of the irrationality that can overtake people when gripped by mob hatred.

I am astonished by the hatred that has been unleashed. The story of Gerry Conlon might, you would hope, give us pause as to presuming the guilt of somebody who just happened to be of the “enemy” nationality, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the mocking mob, there is nothing inherently improbable in the tale told by the two men. What matters is whether they can be connected to the novichok, and here the safety of the identification of the microscopic traces of novichok allegedly found in their hotel bedroom is key. I am no scientist, but I have been told by someone who is, that if the particle(s) were as the police state so small as to be harmless to humans, they would be too small for mass spectrometry analysis and almost certainly could not be firmly identified other than as an organophosphate. Perhaps someone qualified might care to comment.

The hotel room novichok is the key question in this case.

Were I Vladimir Putin, I would persuade Boshirov and Petrov voluntarily to come to the UK and stand trial, on condition that it was a genuinely fair trial before a jury in which the entire proceedings, and all of the evidence, was open and public, and the Skripals and Pablo Miller might be called as witnesses and cross-examined. I have no doubt that the British government’s desire for justice would suddenly move into rapid retreat if their bluff was called in this way.

As for me, when I see a howling mob rushing to judgement and making at least some claims which are utterly unfounded, and when I see that mob fueled and egged on by information from the security services propagated by exactly the same mainstream media journalists who propagandised the lies about Iraqi WMD, I see it as my job to stand in the way of the mob and to ask cool questions. If that makes them hate me, then I must be having some impact.

So I ask this question again – and nobody so far has attempted to give me an answer. At what time did the Skripals touch their doorknob? Boshirov and Petrov arrived in Salisbury at 11.48 and could not have painted the doorknob before noon. The Skripals had left their house at 09.15, with their mobile phones switched off so they could not be geo-located. Their car was caught on CCTV on three cameras heading out of Salisbury to the North East. At 13.15 it was again caught on camera heading back in to the town centre from the North West.

How had the Skripals managed to get back to their home, and touch the door handle, in the hour between noon and 1pm, without being caught on any of the CCTV cameras that caught them going out and caught the Russian visitors so extensively? After this remarkably invisible journey, what time did they touch the door handle?

I am not going to begin to accept the guilt of Boshirov and Petrov until somebody answers that question. Dan Hodges? David Aaronovitch? Theresa May? Anybody?

Reposted in full from an article entitled “Lynch Mob Mentality” published today by Craig Murray.

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Here is Craig Murray’s initial response in full (with images retained) published on his blog yesterday and entitled “The Strange Russian Alibi”.

Like many, my first thought at the interview of Boshirov and Petrov – which apparently are indeed their names – is that they were very unconvincing. The interview itself seemed to be set up around a cramped table with a poor camera and lighting, and the interviewer seemed pretty hopeless at asking probing questions that would shed any real light.

I had in fact decided that their story was highly improbable, until I started seeing the storm of twitter posting, much of it from mainstream media journalists, which stated that individual things were impossible which were, in fact, not impossible at all.

The first and most obvious regards the weather on 3 and 4 March. It is in fact absolutely true that, if the two had gone down to Salisbury on 3 March with the intention of going to Stonehenge, they would have been unable to get there because of the snow. It is therefore perfectly possible that they went back the next day to try again; and public transport out of Salisbury was still severely disrupted, and many roads closed, on 4 March. Proof of this is not at all difficult to find.

Those mocking the idea that the pair were blocked by snow from visiting Stonehenge have pointed to the CCTV footage of central Salisbury not showing snow on the afternoon of 4 March. Well, that is central Salisbury, it had of course been salted and cleared. Outside there were drifts.

So that part of their story in fact turns out not to be implausible as social media is making out; in fact it fits precisely with the actual facts.

The second part of their story that has brought ridicule is the notion that two Russians would fly to the UK for the weekend and try to visit Salisbury. This ridicule has been very strange to me. Weekend breaks – arrive on Friday and return on Sunday – are a standard part of the holiday industry. Why is it apparently unthinkable that Russians fly on weekend breaks as well as British people?

Even more strange is the idea that it is wildly improbable for Russian visitors to wish to visit Salisbury cathedral and Stonehenge. Salisbury Cathedral is one of the most breathtaking achievements of Norman architecture, one of the great cathedrals of Europe. It attracts a great many foreign visitors. Stonehenge is world famous and a world heritage site. I went on holiday this year and visited Wurzburg to see the Bishop’s Palace, and then the winery cooperative at Sommerach. Because somebody does not choose to spend their leisure time on a beach in Benidorm does not make them a killer. Lots of people go to Salisbury Cathedral.

There seems to be a racist motif here – Russians cannot possibly have intellectual or historical interests, or afford weekend breaks.

The final meme which has worried me is “if they went to see the cathedral, why did they visit the Skripal house?” Well, no evidence at all has been presented that they visited the Skripal house. They were captured on CCTV walking past a petrol station 500 yards away – that is the closest they have been placed to the Skripal house.

The greater mystery about these two is, if they did visit the Skripal House and paint Novichok on the doorknob, why did they afterwards walk straight past the railway station again and head into Salisbury city centre, where they were caught window shopping in a coin and souvenir shop with apparently not a care in the world, before eventually returning to the train station? It seems a very strange attitude to a getaway after an attempted murder. In truth their demeanour throughout the photographs is consistent with their tourism story.

The Russians have so far presented this pair in a very unconvincing light. But on investigation, the elements of their story which are claimed to be wildly improbable are not inconsistent with the facts.

There remains the much larger question of the timing.

The Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

I shall write a further post on these timing questions shortly.

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Detailed below are five outstanding questions. Questions one and two pertain directly to the incidents of the Salisbury and Amesbury poisonings; three and four look into the background to the case and find improbable links to the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ allegations; and the last question relates to the potentially buried testimony of Yulia Skripal. All sections are based on a quoted sequence of earlier posts written by Craig Murray, who has been foremost in cross-examining the government case (links to each post are provided as footnotes to be read in full).

  1. When did the Skripals touch the doorknob?

At 09.15 on Sunday 4 March the Skripals’ car was seen on CCTV driving through three different locations in Salisbury. Both Skripals had switched off their mobile phones and they remained off for over four hours, which has baffled geo-location.

There is no CCTV footage that indicates the Skripals returning to their home. It has therefore always been assumed that they last touched the door handle around 9am.

But the Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

This BBC report gives a very useful timeline summary of events. 1

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  1. Why was the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley still sealed?

ITV News gamely inserted the phrase “poisoned by a Russian nerve agent” into their exclusive interview with Charlie Rowley, an interview in which they managed to ask no penetrating questions whatsoever, and of which they only broadcast heavily edited parts. Their own website contains this comment by their journalist Rupert Evelyn:

He said it was unopened, the box it was in was sealed, and that they had to use a knife in order to cut through it.

“That raises the question: if it wasn’t used, is this the only Novichok that exists in this city? And was it the same Novichok used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal?

But the information about opening the packet with a knife is not in the linked interview. What Rowley does say in the interview is that the box was still sealed in its cellophane. Presumably it was the cellophane he slit open with a knife.

So how can this fit in to the official government account? Presumably the claim is that Russian agents secretly visited the Skripal house, sprayed novichok on the door handle from this perfume bottle, and then, at an unknown location, disassembled the nozzle from the bottle (Mr Rowley said he had to insert it), then repackaged and re-cellophaned the bottle prior to simply leaving it to be discovered somewhere – presumably somewhere indoors as it still looked new – by Mr Rowley four months later. However it had not been found by anyone else in the interim four months of police, military and security service search. 2

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  1. What is Sergei Skripal’s connection to Christopher Steele and ‘Russiagate’?

Skripal had not retired but was active for MI6 on gigs briefing overseas intelligence agencies about Russia. This did not increase his threat to Russia, as he told everything he knows a decade ago. But it could provide an element of annoyance that would indeed increase Russian official desire to punish him further.

But the fact he was still very much active has a far greater significance. The government slapped a D(SMA) notice on the identity of Pablo Miller, Skripal’s former MI6 handler who lives close by in Salisbury and who worked for Christopher Steele’s Orbis Intelligence at the time that Orbis produced the extremely unreliable dossier on Trump/Russia. The fact that Skripal had not retired but was still briefing on Russia, to me raises to a near certainty the likelihood that Skripal worked with Miller on the Trump dossier.

I have to say that, as a former Ambassador in the former Soviet Union trained in intelligence analysis and familiar with MI6 intelligence out of Moscow, I agree with every word of this professional dissection of the Orbis Trump dossier by Paul Roderick Gregory, irrespective of Gregory’s politics. In particular this paragraph, which Gregory wrote more than a year before the Salisbury attack, certainly applies to much of the dossier.

I have picked out just a few excerpts from the Orbis report. It was written, in my opinion, not by an ex British intelligence officer but by a Russian trained in the KGB tradition. It is full of names, dates, meetings, quarrels, and events that are hearsay (one an overheard conversation). It is a collection of “this important person” said this to “another important person.” There is no record; no informant is identified by name or by more than a generic title. The report appears to fail the veracity test in the one instance of a purported meeting in which names, dates, and location are provided. Some of the stories are so bizarre (the Rosneft bribe) that they fail the laugh test. Yet, there appears to be a desire on the part of some media and Trump opponents on both sides of the aisle to picture the Orbis report as genuine but unverifiable.

The Russian ex-intelligence officer who we know was in extremely close contact with Orbis at the time the report was written, was Sergei Skripal.

The Orbis report is mince. Skripal knew it was mince and how it was written. Skripal has a history of selling secrets to the highest bidder. The Trump camp has a lot of money. My opinion is that as the Mueller investigation stutters towards ignominious failure, Skripal became a loose end that Orbis/MI6/CIA/Clinton (take your pick) wanted tied off. That seems to me at least as likely as a Russian state assassination. To say Russia is the only possible suspect is nonsense. 3

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  1. What does BBC’s Mark Urban know about the case?

On 8 July 2018 a lady named Kirsty Eccles asked what, in its enormous ramifications, historians may one day see as the most important Freedom of Information request ever made. The rest of this post requires extremely close and careful reading, and some thought, for you to understand that claim.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.

2: When did the BBC know this?

3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the subject of Sergei Skripal.

Yours faithfully,

Kirsty Eccles

The ramifications of this little request are enormous as they cut right to the heart of the ramping up of the new Cold War, of the BBC’s propaganda collusion with the security services to that end, and of the concoction of fraudulent evidence in the Steele “dirty dossier”. This also of course casts a strong light on more plausible motives for an attack on the Skripals.

Which is why the BBC point blank refused to answer Kirsty’s request, stating that it was subject to the Freedom of Information exemption for “Journalism”.

10th July 2018
Dear Ms Eccles
Freedom of Information request – RFI20181319
Thank you for your request to the BBC of 8th July 2018, seeking the following information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000:
1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he
had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.
2: When did the BBC know this?
3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the
subject of Sergei Skripal.
The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of
‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you. Part VI
of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters
is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The
BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or
information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

The BBC is of course being entirely tendentious here – “journalism” does not include the deliberate suppression of vital information from the public, particularly in order to facilitate the propagation of fake news on behalf of the security services. That black propaganda is precisely what the BBC is knowingly engaged in, and here trying hard to hide. 4

Click here to read Craig Murray’s follow-up post regarding the BBC’s refusal to reply to him.

  1. Where are Sergei and Yulia Skripal today?

Mark Urban’s piece for Newsnight tonight [July 5th] was simply disgusting; it did not even pretend to be more than a propaganda piece on behalf of the security services, who had told Urban (as he said) that Yulia Skripal’s phone “could have been” tapped by the Russians and they “might even” have listened to her conversations through the microphone in her telephone. That was the “new evidence” that the Russians were behind everything.

As a former British Ambassador I can tell you with certainty that indeed the Russians might have tapped Yulia, but GCHQ most definitely would have. It is, after all, their job, and billions of our taxes go into it. If tapping of phones is seriously presented as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.  5

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I was happy to see Yulia alive and looking reasonably well yesterday, if understandably stressed. Notably, and in sharp contrast to Litvinenko, she leveled no accusations at Russia or anybody else for her poisoning. In Russian she spoke quite naturally. Of the Russian Embassy she said very simply “I am not ready, I do not want their help”. Strangely this is again translated in the Reuters subtitles by the strangulated officialese of “I do not wish to avail myself of their services”, as originally stated in the unnatural Metropolitan Police statement issued on her behalf weeks ago.

“I do not wish to avail myself of their services” is simply not a translation of what she says in Russian and totally misses the “I am not ready” opening phrase of that sentence. My conclusion is that Yulia’s statement was written by a British official and then translated to Russian for her to speak, rather than the other way round. Also that rather than translate what she said in Russian themselves for the subtitles, Reuters have subtitled using a British government script they have been given.

It would of course have been much more convincing had Sergei also been present. Duress cannot be ruled out when he is held by the British authorities. I remain extremely suspicious that, at the very first chance she got in hospital, Yulia managed to get hold of a telephone (we don’t know how, it was not her own and she has not had access to one since) and phone her cousin Viktoria, yet since then the Skripals have made no attempt to contact their family in Russia. That includes no contact to Sergei’s aged mum, Yulia’s grandmother, who Viktoria cares for. Sergei normally calls his mother – who is 89 – regularly. This lack of contact is a worrying sign that the Skripals may be prevented from free communication to the outside world. Yulia’s controlled and scripted performance makes that more rather than less likely.

It is to me particularly concerning that Yulia does not seem to have social media access. The security services have the ability to give her internet risk free through impenetrable VPN. But they appear not to have done that.  6

I would like to thank Craig Murray for allowing the reproduction of these articles.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Updates:

Embedded below is a video made by nuclear scientist and environmental activist Chris Busby (73 years old) – who is featured in earlier posts on Fukushima and the use of depleted uranium – speaking out in April shortly after the Salisbury poisoning happened:

On Wednesday 12th (two days ago), Chris Busby was raided by police on the entirely spurious grounds that two police officers had “felt unwell” during a visit. He was arrested and held for 19 hours under the Explosives Act before being released without charge:

Dr Busby, who has previously advised the government on radiation risks, said neighbours had reported his 29-year-old housemate “acting strangely”.

A cordon was set up around his home on Wednesday morning when the two officers complained of feeling unwell – which Dr Busby attributed to “psychological problems associated with their knowledge of the Skripal poisoning”.

The scientist said he was handcuffed and interviewed all night by police who suspected he was making a bomb, but the only substances found at his home were “innocuous chemicals for research into radiation”.

Click here to read the BBC news report from September 13th.

Chris Busby afterwards spoke with independent journalist Tony Gosling of BCfm radio about Wednesday’s arrest, the various court cases he’s involved with, contamination from Fukushima and briefly also regarding the Skripal case:

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On Friday 14th BBC2’s Newsnight broadcast the recording of a phone interview between Kirsty Wark and editor-in-chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan, the interviewer of Boshirov and Petrov. If you watch the clip to the end you will see that Kirsty Wark brings the discussion around to accuse Simonyan of being a Russian state propagandist at which point Simonyan rather conveniently hangs up. She may well have done so and was within her rights, although refusal to answer questions will be seen by many as a tacit admission of guilt. Doubtless, this is how the BBC would have scripted it, so who knows, dare I suggest that the BBC may have hung up on her?

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1 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/09/skripals-the-mystery-deepens/

2 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-silence-of-the-whores/ 

3 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/yulia-skripal-and-the-salisbury-wut/ 

4 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/08/skripals-when-the-bbc-hide-the-truth/ 

5 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-amesbury-mystery/ 

6 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/yulia-skripal-and-the-salisbury-wut/

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government is trying to make fracking just as easy as putting up a garden shed! join campaign to oppose fast-track fracking

The following sections are drawn from pages of the Frack Free Ryedale campaign website.

The government are planning to make non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas Permitted Development, which means fracking companies won’t need local planning permission to build a 1.5-hectare exploratory well site. They are also planning to make full scale industrial fracking a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), which means the decisions regarding whether or not fracking is allowed will be made by the Secretary of State and a Planning Inspector – not your local council planning authority.

This is nothing less than an assault on local democracy on an unprecedented scale and would result in local communities left without a voice about whether their countryside should be fracked.

This desperate attempt to bypass local democracy shows that the Conservative government have realised that they are never going to get ‘social licence’ for this unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary industry. Rather than put their support behind renewables, they seem intent on forcing fracking on unwilling communities, and at the same time ignoring the huge weight of evidence of the harm this industry causes, and their own climate change commitments.

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

Please sign this 38 Degrees petition, and then share with friends and family.

Please also sign this Friends of the Earth petition, and you can sign up for webinars and resources from FoE here.

For the sake of our countryside fracking should be stopped immediately. This is the only way our beautiful country can avoid becoming a contaminated wasteland.

Click here to reach the Frack Free Ryedale Permitted Development & NSIP campaign page.

Please note: the ‘consultations’ linked above use technical language and appear to be deliberately obscure. Frack Free Ryedale intends to post guidelines on how to respond in near future – I shall update but meanwhile click here to sign up for newsletters.

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Q + A on permitted development and NSIP

Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is Permitted Development?

Permitted Development is the part of the UK planning system which allows people to carry out low-impact improvements on their property without having to apply for planning permission. It was introduced in 1948 to enable people to make modest improvements on their homes without having to apply to the council.

What kind of things can people do to their houses under Permitted Development rules?

Typical home improvements you can undertake under permitted development rules are converting your loft into a bedroom, moving a door or a window, putting up a fence, adding a conservatory or building a garden shed.

That’s all very interesting. But what’s this got to do with fracking?

On 17th May the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement which proposes that non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered Permitted Development, and therefore would not require planning permission from the local council.

What do they mean by ‘non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas’?

Before companies can frack, they need to build a well-pad and drill an exploratory well, which will then be used to take core samples of the rock about 2 miles below the surface. These are typically about 1.5 hectares in size, require hundreds of truck movements to construct, involve drilling day and night for weeks and installing a drilling rig of up to 125 ft in height.

So you’re telling me the government wants the planning system to treat a fracking well-pad in the same way as a garden shed?

You are correct. If the government gets its way, fracking companies will be able to put one of these 1.5-hectare well-pads – with all the traffic, noise, pollution and other issues that come with such a development – only a few hundred metres from your home, school, town or village without having to apply to the local council for planning permission.

That’s crazy. Why on earth would they be proposing such a move?

There are lots of reasons, but the main one is probably because in every single place where fracking is proposed, local communities are up in arms about it and raising all sorts of objections to the industrialisation of their local area and the threat fracking poses to their health, environment and water. This has resulted in thousands of objections from local people to every fracking application, and concerted opposition from almost everyone apart from the fracking companies themselves.

This widespread and unceasing opposition to fracking has meant that some applications for exploratory drilling have been refused, others have been challenged in court, and those that have been allowed have been the focus of widespread peaceful demonstrations. So, rather like the school bully complaining to the teacher that someone has stolen his lunch, fracking companies appear to have gone to the government to complain that local residents and democratically elected local councils are slowing down their attempts to frack.

This permitted development ruse is therefore a way for fracking companies (and the pro-fracking Conservative government) to bypass the pesky planning system run by locally elected councils and force fracking on unwilling communities.

This doesn’t seem to be in line with the Government’s stated commitment to encouraging localism and letting the local community have the final say.

That’s true, and perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects to these proposals is that the government seems happy to ignore local democracy and accountability in their desperation to kick-start the failing fracking industry in the UK.

For a political party this is a risky step, particularly when many of the areas that are being threatened, such as North Yorkshire, are run by Conservative majority councils. And worryingly for the government, a recent survey of Conservative Councillors showed that 80% were opposed to making exploratory fracking Permitted Development. And of course Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and many Independents are implacably opposed to fracking anyway, and would ban the practice if they had half a chance.

Is this permitted development rule now enshrined in the laws of the land? 

No, not yet. The Government launched a public consultation on Permitted Development on the final afternoon of Parliament before the summer recess (a cynic would suggest this was to avoid comment or criticism ). We will be posting guidelines on how to respond to this before the October 25th deadline soon but in the meantime, please see the Let Communities Decide website for how to get involved in the campaign against permitted development. You can also read this summary of all the reasons this is a bad idea on this Friends of the Earth briefing.

And if you are moved to write to your MP and councillors to raise your concerns about this, please see our guidelines on our Campaign Page by clicking here.

But this permitted development would just be for exploratory drilling, right? If a company then wanted to establish a multi-well fracking site for commercial production, they’d still need to apply for planning permission, wouldn’t they?

Currently, that is true. However, it would be a very brave council that would refuse permission for production if commercially viable quantities of gas were found during the exploratory phase, particularly as by then the well pad would already be in place. And even if they did, their decision would most likely get overturned on appeal by the Secretary of State anyway. But just in case, the government have a plan for that too. It’s called NSIP.

Hmm, acronyms are never good. What does NSIP stand for?

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. The Written Ministerial Statement also proposes that full scale industrial fracking becomes an NSIP, which would mean that even full-scale commercial production would not need local planning permission, as it would all be decided and imposed by the Secretary of State and the government-appointed Planning Inspectorate. And yes, there is also consultation on NSIP in the summer.

It sounds to me like the government realise that they have completely lost the argument over fracking, and have decided that they are just going to force it on people anyway.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But all is not lost. This is causing a huge controversy and this is not in place yet. Many groups up and down the land are fighting this and opposition to these outrageous and undemocratic plans are growing every day.

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So, what can I do to stop this happening?

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

One of the most important things you can do is contact your MP and local councillors asking them to oppose the government’s plans to fast-track fracking and bypass local democracy. There is already a great deal of opposition to these proposals across all parties, with a recent survey showing that 80% of Conservative councillors oppose their own party’s Permitted Development plans.

And please visit the Let Communities Decide website for information on the campaign against Permitted Development, for updates on how to help and downloadable materials to help you campaign. You can also sign up for updates from Let Communities Decide by clicking here.

How do I find out who my MP and councillors are?

YOUR MP – To find out your MP’s name and contact details, please click here. You can also Google him/her to find out their local constituency office, which is useful if you want to go and meet your MP [click here to find advice on this at the Frack Free Ryedale website].

COUNCILLORS – To find out who your local councillors are, please visit the website of your local county council. It should be fairly easy to find the name(s) and contact details of your councillor(s). You can contact your Town Councillors and/or Parish Councillors too.

Here, is a template letter produced as part of the #FrackturedCommunities campaign that is run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE).

Click here to read the full page at the Frack Free Ryedale website.

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Some responses from environmental groups

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“It’s as if the government doesn’t realise the scale of the opposition. If they press ahead with these proposals, the protests, outrage and anger from local people across the country will undoubtedly intensify.

“These proposals would be a complete perversion of the planning system and trample over the rights of local communities – all to fast-track an industry bringing environmental risks that would massively outweigh any suggested ‘benefit’ to our energy security.”

Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner said:

“Fracking companies cannot be allowed to drill at will; without the need to apply for planning permission and precious little involvement from the local community.

“It’s absurd that planning rules originally designed for minor home improvements, like putting up a garden shed, could now be used for major drilling infrastructure.

“Our countryside and our climate are at serious risk if the government pushes ahead with these plans. We need to be moving away from fossil fuels, not make it easier for companies to dig up more.”

The campaign group, Frack Free United, said:

“This consultation is probably the most important issue for the anti-fracking movement this summer.

It represents a clear and present danger to the UK’ ability to meet its climate change targets. It drives a coach and horses through local democracy for the sake of fossil fuels.”

Sebastian Kelly, 350.org UK Fracking Outreach Organiser, said:

“The government’s proposal to allow free rein to fracking in the British countryside flies in the face of local democracy and threatens to slash community involvement in decision-making. The fact that the supposedly “public” consultation is being opened without informing those who need to be consulted is in blatant disregard of citizens’ right to be heard.”

Barbara Richardson, member of Roseacre Awareness Group, said:

“The government and industry have already lost the argument on fracking. It’s unpopular, risky, and increasingly financially unviable. Fracking has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and council after council have stood against development in their areas. These planning proposals are a desperate last ditch attempt to kickstart the industry in the UK – and it’s communities like mine who will pay the price.”

All quotes reposted from Drill or Drop article entitled “Government seeks views on proposals to bypass local council control of shale gas schemes” written by Ruth Hayhurst, published on July 19th.

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Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, campaigns & events, Syria

Trump and Netanyahu seal the deal on the fate of Palestine, as Israel’s critics are silenced

Update: The article as it was originally posted follows the first asterisk.

Shortly after I posted this article I came across an Al Jazeera interview broadcast in May 2012 featuring ultra-orthodox Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss who explains to Teymoor Nabili why the state of Israel has no legitimacy and how Israelis are responsible for “rivers of blood” in Palestine. Asked by Nabili whether he is anti-Semitic himself, Weiss replies:

“That is the beautiful ploy of Zionism, that they can intimate anyone who stands in opposition to their blatant inhumane treatment of the Palestinians”

[from 14:10 mins]

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The Likud Party founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon has remained the predominant force in Israeli politics since its landslide victory in 1977. Dragging the country ever further to the extreme right, the centrepiece to its ethno-nationalist policies is its rigid determination to push the Palestinians off their land with the “building of settlements”, and by episodically “mowing the lawn” – their own preferred euphemism for carrying out population reducing acts of genocide.

These constant moves to secure a Greater Israel are now reaching completion, symbolically thanks to the illegal move of the US embassy to Jerusalem – the occupied city becoming Israel’s de facto capital – and more directly at the end of the decades long, slow motion annexation of Palestine, with just the fractured bantustans of the West Bank and Gaza remaining, and Gaza all the while subjected to a blockade that has rendered it close to uninhabitable.

One obstacle does remain, however: what to do with the millions of indigenous Palestinians who fled during the period of ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel’s formation. This diaspora of refugees and their descendants still have a right of return under international law. 1 But this headache for Netanyahu is also about to be eradicated thanks to another initiative on the part of the ever-obliging Trump administration (discussed in detail below).

Meanwhile, to divert attention from the seventy year long struggle for Palestinian liberation, precisely as the cause is gathering strength, Israel is also engaged in a second offensive. The target here is free speech and the tactic is an old one: to marginalise and weaken its opponents, Israel accuses all of them of “antisemitism”. Most aggressively under assault in Britain is Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – arguably the most prominent pro-Palestinian politician in the world today.

Michael Walker of ‘Novara Media’ digs beneath the latest bs of British news after a week in which Corbyn was branded a fascist and Theresa May a freedom fighter!

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The enemies Corbyn faces are many and varied, of course, but in all cases this false charge of “antisemitism” is now wielded as the handy stick to beat him and his supporters with. To these ends, a loose alliance has been formed.

There are the Blairites, determined to get rid of Corbyn before – as they see it – he can entirely wreck the ‘New Labour’ project. This diminishing gaggle of MPs and old guard Labour insiders are still intent to stop Corbyn at any cost and even if it means Labour’s defeat in elections. It has become abundantly clear that they care little about inflicting irrevocable damage to the party they reputedly support. Instead, day in day out, they plot to topple Corbyn using every trick in the book, including set-piece resignations, lies about imaginary attacks by his supporters, and just straight out defamation. Calling him “a f–king antisemite” is just the latest and most excessive outburst in a campaign of hatred that actually started prior to his first leadership election.

Then there is the Israel lobby in Britain, which happens to share a broadly overlapping outlook when it comes to Middle East foreign policy with many on the Labour right-wing, and which was caught red-handed recently meddling in Labour Party affairs in clandestine attempts to undermine Corbyn. This subversion by a foreign power represents a genuine national security threat – something the media and government have shown no interest whatsoever in pursuing.

Added into the already toxic mix, we are also in the midst of a last-ditch attempt to stall Brexit with growing calls for a second referendum; a strategy that is completely stymied by Corbyn’s stated refusal to call for such a vote. Hammering Corbyn potentially weakens him on all fronts with the broader aim of cultivating anti-Corbyn sentiment within the Labour Party (although this has totally backfired) and to galvanise the media which is hugely anti-Corbyn to begin with and where both pro-EU and pro-Israel sentiment tends to run highest.

The sad irony to all of this is that, as a strategy, the slurs have been effective because, and only because, Corbyn is a committed anti-racist who feels obliged therefore to treat each accusation with extreme seriousness. Nor is it in his nature to call out phoneys and liars as most others in his position would have done.

For this assortment of reasons, the Labour Party has finally been frogmarched into ratifying the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, which means a witch-hunt can now begin in earnest to whittle away at Corbyn’s huge (and still growing) base of supporters within the membership. In principle, just like many hundreds of thousands of others, I have effectively been made persona non grata.

This latest conflation of antisemitism with views hostile to Israel is nothing new of course. It is a tried and tested formula for stifling resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestine. What is new, however, is the manner in which the notion of the “new antisemitism” to close down support for the Palestinian struggle has been so dramatically escalated. As Palestinian barrister, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, put it in a recent interview (video is embedded below):

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime, whereby there seems to be a full-fledged political campaign to assert that denying the Jewish right to self-determination – in other words, what they really mean is denying there should be an Israel, which is a majority Jewish state in Palestine – is a form of racism. So that’s the assertion: that it’s antisemitic and therefore racist. So that accusation is levelled that you are being racist if you say you’re opposed to Israel in its current form let’s say, however, clearly, what Israel is doing and all that it embodies in our [Palestinian] view, is deeply racist against us. So we the victims of racism are being painted as the perpetrators of racism. And the perpetrators are being painted as the victims.”

[from 30:45 mins]

In fact, there is a coordinated effort underway. What is happening in Britain and especially within the Labour Party, is also happening in America, where a similar restriction to free speech is about to be applied across college campuses and more widely. Writes Sheldon Richman in an article entitled “Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism: the Invidious Conflation” published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 4th:

I and others have warned that enactment of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act now before Congress would threaten free speech and free inquiry on America’s college campuses and beyond. As I’ve explained, this bill incorporates a conception — a “definition” plus potential examples — of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel’s founding and continuing abuse of the Palestinians with anti-Semitism for the purpose inoculating Israel from such criticism. Anti-Zionist Jews and others have objected to this conflation for over 70 years. 2

In the same piece, Richman quotes Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal, who writes in The Nation:

If this definition [of anti-Semitism] were adopted and implemented as [Trump’s assistant secretary of education for civil rights, Kenneth L.] Marcus would like, the DOE [US Department of Education] would be empowered to conclude that universities nurture hostile, anti-Semitic environments by allowing the screening of a documentary critical of Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian lands such as Occupation 101, a talk critical of Israeli policy by a Holocaust survivor, a mock checkpoint enacted by students to show their peers what Palestinian life under a military occupation is like, a talk on BDS [boycott-divestment-sanctions] campaigns for Palestinian rights, or student resolutions to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s human-rights abuses.

These aren’t hypotheticals. These speech activities were the subject of real legal complaints, filed or promoted by Marcus and his Brandeis Center against Brooklyn College (2013), University of California Berkeley (2012), and University of California Santa Cruz (2009). The complaints were filed to the same DOE office which Marcus has been nominated to head [and to which he has since been confirmed].

Crucially, all of these complaints were dismissed. Both a federal court and the DOE made clear that the activities at issue were not harassment against a protected group but constituted speech on matters of public concern, and therefore were protected by the First Amendment. 3

At the heart of Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is the same IHRA definition of “antisemitism” recently adopted in full by the Labour Party – a definition that caused its own lead author Kenneth Stern to write to the House Judiciary Committee in 2016, when a similar bill was under consideration.

Stern cautioned at the time:

“I write as the lead author of the EUMC’s [European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia] “Working Definition on Antisemitism,” to encourage you not to move “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016,” which essentially incorporates that definition into law for a purpose that is both unconstitutional and unwise. If the definition is so enshrined, it will actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic effect on the academy.” 4

Moreover, in testimony he gave before the committee, Stern said:

“[D]espite the fact that some outside groups allege that antisemitism on campus is an epidemic. Far from it. There are thousands of campuses in the United States, and in very few is antisemitism – or anti-Israel animus – an issue.” 5

Please note that extended versions of the quotes above can be read in Sheldon Richman’s Counterpunch article from where they were originally drawn.

With serious debate about Palestine rights suddenly on the verge of being shutdown both in Britain and America, Israel is also putting the final pieces of the jigsaw together at home. The latest move by Netanyahu’s close ally Donald Trump to end its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) deprives the organisation of a full third of its budget.

Independent reporter Jonathan Cook outlines the likely repercussions in a recent article entitled “There is a deeper, darker agenda afoot as the US cuts UNRWA funding”:

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how synchronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

As Cook then explains this signals closure to what the Lukidniks see as the last stumbling block to securing the Greater Israel:

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

On Monday 3rd, ‘Novara Media’ livestreamed a discussion featuring Palestinian barrister Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, who spoke to Ash Sarkar and Michael Walker about the US withdrawal of funding for UNRWA and the Labour Party’s adoption of IHRA definition [from 4:30 mins]:

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Cook concludes his excellent piece:

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel. 6

In summary, the far-right in Israel demand their lebensraum and to hasten completion are now employing the weaponisation not only of the very definition of “antisemitism” but, as Cook accurately points out, the aggressive weaponisation of aid too. That the noose is tightening both on the Palestinians and their supporters, and that this is happening concurrently, with dramatic moves occurring within America and Britain, is surely not a coincidence.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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1 Under the United Nations Resolution 194 which was passed on December 11, 1948 the Palestinian refugees were granted the right of return. Article 11 of the resolution reads:

(The General Assembly) Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

https://www.unrwa.org/content/resolution-194

2 From an article entitled “Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism: the Invidious Conflation” written by Sheldon Richman, published by Counterpunch on September 4, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/04/anti-israelism-and-anti-semitism-the-invidious-conflation/

3 From an article entitled “Students Beware: This Trump Nominee Doesn’t Believe in Your Civil Rights” written by Dima Khalidi, published in The Nation on January 10, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/students-beware-this-trump-nominee-doesnt-believe-in-your-civil-rights/ 

4 http://jkrfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/letter-sent-to-house-members-120616.pdf

5 https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Stern-Testimony-11.07.17.pdf

6 From an article entitled “There is a deeper, darker agenda afoot as the US cuts UNRWA funding”, written by Jonathan Cook, published on September 2, 2018. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2018-09-02/us-cuts-unrwa-funding/ 

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, Palestine, USA

roll up the red carpet!

The following article is Chapter Five of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year and beyond. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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“All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others

— George Orwell 1

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I discovered recently and by happy accident that the author, Michael Young, who invented the term ‘meritocracy’, detested his own creation. Here’s how Young outlined his position in a Guardian article “Down with meritocracy”, published in 2001:

I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.2

But I shall save further thoughts of Michael Young until later, and begin here by considering what lies in the shadows of a meritocracy. After all, and at first glance, what on earth can be wrong with the purposeful restructuring of society in ways that prioritise ‘merit’ above all else? Isn’t this the epitome of a fair system?

As with examining most ideas, it is helpful first to step back a little to gain perspective. In this case, it is important to get a fuller grasp of what ‘merit’ means when buried within the heart of ‘meritocracy’. What does ‘merit’, in this narrow political sense, finally equate to?

Throughout the last two hundred and more years, including under progressive administrations such as Clement Attlee’s reforming government in Britain and FDR’s earlier New Deal for America, the political systems in the West have remained very solidly rooted in capitalism, and being so, they have remained inherently utilitarian in design. It follows that ‘merit’ (in our narrow definitional sense) must be gauged on the scales of those extant utilitarian-capitalist conventions: that ‘merit’ therefore becomes an adjunct of ‘utility’ or, in other words, ‘usefulness’.

Advocates of capitalism like to evoke the invisible hand of the market, which they say enhances productivity and safeguards against wanton overproduction, thereby ensuring society’s needs are met. Thanks to the market that which is wasteful falls away, and in consequence profits and earnings will flow to the most efficient producers. So it follows that within a meritocracy governed strictly by market forces, with the invisible hand steering our efforts unerringly toward ‘usefulness’, estimations of ‘merit’ ought to be fairly directly measureable in terms of salaries and wealth. Maximum profits and earnings tending to go to those who serve the most useful function and are, by dint of this, the most ‘merited’. The losers are those who merit little since they provide little to nothing of use, and, conversely, the winners contribute most gainfully in every sense…

There is already a suffocating tightness in this loop; a circularity that brings me to consider the first serious objection against meritocracy, if only the most trivial and conspicuous. For judged solely by its own terms just how meritocratic is our celebrated meritocracy? Hmmm – need I go on? Very well then, I shall offer this brisk reductio ad absurdum:

Let’s start where the debate ordinarily ends, with the topic of professional footballers… To most people, the excessive salaries paid to footballers stands out as an egregious example of unfairness. I share the same view, but wonder why we stop at footballers. They are not alone; not by a long chalk.

Indeed, given that our utilitarian-capitalist meritocracy does in fact function as it is presumed to function, then it follows that most top sportsmen (to a lesser extent, sportswomen too), including footballers, but also tennis players, golfers, F1 drivers, cyclists, athletes, etc – sports of low popularity by comparison – as well as pop idols, TV celebrities and film stars (not forgetting agents and the retinue of hangers-on) are, by virtue of their fabulous incomes, not merely most deserving of such high rewards, but also, by direct extension, some of the most ‘productive’ amongst us. Would any deign to defend this high visibility flaw in our socio-economic system? Truth is that many on this ever-expanding list are rewarded for just one thing: fame – thanks to another self-perpetuating cycle in which fame makes you wealthy, and then wealth makes you more famous again.

Nor does such rightful utilitarian calculus reliably account for the gargantuan salaries and bonuses (and who else gets bonuses in excess of their salaries!) of so many bankers, hedge fund managers and other financiers who callously wrecked our western economies. With annual remuneration that outstrips most ordinary worker’s lifetime earnings, the staggering rewards heaped upon those working in The City and Wall Street have little relationship to levels of productivity and usefulness, but worse, remuneration is evidently disconnected from levels of basic competence. Instead we find that greedy ineptitude is routinely and richly rewarded, if only for the ‘made men’ already at the top and lucky enough to be “too big to fail”. In light of the crash of 2008, any further talk of “the classless society” ought to have us all running for the exits!

Then we come to the other end of our meritocratic muck-heap. And here amongst the human debris we find contradictions of an arguably more absurd kind. I am referring to those disgustingly unworthy winners of our many lotteries – you know the types: petty criminals, knuckle-draggers and wastrels (the tone here is strictly in keeping with tabloid outrage on which it is based) who blow all their winnings on a binge of brash consumerism and a garage full of intoxicants. Conspicuous consumption of the most vulgar kinds! How dare they squander such hard, unearned dosh on having fun! But wait a minute… surely the whole point of running a lottery is that anyone can win. Have we forgotten the advertisement already? So if we are really serious about our meritocracy then perhaps we should to be stricter: no lotteries at all! Yet a cursory consideration of this point presents us with far bigger hurdles by far. For if we are truly committed to the project of constructing a meritocracy (and we must decide precisely what this means), it is vital to acknowledge the fact that life is inherently beset with lotteries. Indeed when roundly considered, this represents an existential dilemma that potentially undermines the entire project.

For life begins with what might best be described as our lottery of inheritance. Where you are born and to whom, the postal code you reside in, the schools you attended, your religious (or not) upbringing, whether you happen to carry one or two x-chromosomes, and the colour of your skin… the whole nine yards. Your entire existence happened by extraordinary chance and each and every aspect of it owes an unfathomable debt to further blind chance.

Therefore, in our most puritanical understanding of meritocracy, lotteries relating to the guessing of random numbers will be abolished altogether, in order to set a precedent, although still these other lotteries, life’s lotteries, remain inescapable. Which is devastating blow to the very concept of fully-fledged meritocracy, since whatever meritocracy we might choose to build will always remain a compromise of one kind or another.

In point of fact, however, we have been moving instead in the completely opposite direction. There has been a tremendous and rapid growth in lotteries of all shapes and sizes: from the casino economy working to the advantage of financial speculators at the top; to the rise of online casinos and the latest betting apps, mathematically honed to suck money from the pockets of the desperate and sometimes destitute pipedreamers at the bottom. Further indications of how far our society truly diverges from even the most rudimentary notions of meritocracy.

So there is plenty of scope for devising a better version of meritocracy; one that isn’t so riddled with blatant inconsistencies and arbitrary rewards. A more refined meritocracy operating according to common sense fairness and consistency, with built-in checks and balances to ensure the winners are more consistently worthy than the losers. A more level playing field bringing us closer to the ideal – for surely a better devised version of meritocracy is the fairest system we can ever hope to live under. In fact, I beg to differ, but before entering further objections to the sham ideal of meritocracy, I wish first to celebrate the different areas in which greater equality has indeed been achieved and ones where it is still dangerously lacking.

During the Q&A session following a lecture entitled “Capitalist Democracy and its Prospect’s” that he delivered in Boston on September 30th, 2014, Noam Chomsky speaks to why the notion of a capitalist democracy is oxymoronic. He also discusses the widespread misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s economic thinking, especially amongst libertarians, and specifically regarding the misuse of his terms ‘invisible hand’ and ‘division of labour’.

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There is no denying that at the start of the twenty-first century our own society has, and in a number of related ways, been made fairer and more equal than it was just thirty years ago when I was a school-leaver. Most apparent is the sweeping change in attitudes towards race and gender. Casual racism wasn’t merely permissible in seventies and early eighties Britain, but an everyday part of the mainstream culture. The sporadic Black or Asian characters on TV were neatly allotted into their long-established stereotypes, and comedians like bilious standup Bernard Manning had free rein to defile the airwaves with their popular brands of inflammatory bigotry. Huge strides have been taken since then, and social attitudes are unalterably changed for the better. Today the issue of diversity is central to political debate, and social exclusion on the grounds of race and gender is outlawed.

In the prophetic words of abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”; words famously borrowed by Martin Luther King in a celebrated sermon he delivered in the year of 1965.3 It was a momentous year: one that marked the official end to racial segregation in the Southern United States with the repeal of the horrendous Jim Crow laws, and the same year when Harold Wilson’s Labour government passed the Race Relations Act prohibiting discrimination in Britain on “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic and national origins”.

On August 28th (last Tuesday) ‘Democracy Now’ interviewed co-founder and chair of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, who was arrested and indicted after speaking outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He describes how during his trial Judge Julius Hoffman ordered him to be gagged and bound to his chair [from 9:15 mins]:

Did Bobby Seale’s treatment provide inspiration for Woody Allen’s madcap courtroom scene in ‘Bananas’? [from 5:00 mins]:

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As Parker and King understood well, of course, the arc of the moral universe does not bend of its own accord but requires tremendous pressure from below. And so it was, again in 1965, after shockwaves sent by Wilson’s government through former colony Rhodesia, that in efforts to avoid the end of its apartheid system, the white minority government under then-Prime Minister Ian Smith, declared independence, and an armed struggle for black liberation ensued. It was a bloody struggle that would grind on throughout the 70s, but one that ended in triumph. Meanwhile, apartheid in neighbouring South Africa outlasted Rhodesia for a further decade and a half before it too was dismantled in 1994 and the rainbow flag could be hoisted.

In solidarity with Nelson Mandela and leading the armed struggle had been Joe Slovo, a commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who fought alongside deputy Ronnie Kasrils; both the sons of émigré Jews. Also prominent within the anti-apartheid resistance were other Jewish figures including Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, and Ruth First – an activist, scholar and wife of Joe Slovo, she was murdered by a parcel bomb sent to her in Mozambique. Ironically, today Israel stands alone as the last remaining state that legally enforces racial segregation, but even the concrete walls and barbed wire dividing the West Bank and Gaza cannot hold forever.

This video footage was uploaded as recently as Wednesday 29th. It shows a young Palestinian girl living under Israeli control in Hebron having to climb a closed security gate just to get home:

The fence had been extended in 2012 and fitted with a single gate to provide entrance to the Gheith and a-Salaimeh neighborhoods in Hebron. The footage below was recorded by B’Tselem in May 2018 and shows other students unable to return from school and their mothers beseeching the Border Police officers to open it. The officers say in response that the gate is closed as “punishment” for stone throwing; a collective punishment that is prohibited under international law:

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Likewise, homosexuality, which until astonishingly recent times remained a virtually unspoken taboo, was decriminalised as comparatively recently as 1967 – the year of my birth and coincidentally the same year aboriginal Australians received full citizenship and the right to vote.

Before the Sexual Offences Act came into force, gay men faced prosecution and a prison sentence (lesbians slipped through the legal loophole due to technicalities surrounding the delicate issue of penetration), whereas today they enjoy the equal right to marriage, which cynics will doubtless say entitles them to an alternative form of imprisonment, but hurrah for that… since irrespective of one’s views on the institution of marriage, equality under law is indicative of genuine social progress. The same goes for the transformation of attitudes and legal framework in countering discrimination on grounds of gender, disability and age. Discrimination based on all these prejudices is plain wrong, and liberation on all fronts, an unimpeachable good.

In these ways, our own society – like others across the globe – has become more inclusive, and, if we choose to describe it as such, more meritocratic. Yet many are still left out in the cold. Which people? Sadly, but in truth, all of the old prejudices linger on – maybe they always will – but prime amongst them is the malignant spectre of racism.

For overall, as we have become more conscious and less consenting of racism than in the past, the racists, in consequence, have adapted to fit back in. More furtive than old-style racism, which wore its spiteful intolerance so brashly on its sleeve, many in the fresh crop of bigots have learned to feign better manners. The foaming rhetoric of racial supremacy is greatly moderated, and there is more care taken to legitimise the targeting of the chosen pariahs. Where it used to be said how “the Coloureds” and “the Pakis” (and other labels very much more obscene again) were innately ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘doped-up’ and ‘dirty’ (the traditional rationalisations for racial hatred), the stated concern today is in difference per se. As former BNP leader Nick Griffin once put it:

[I]nstead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.4

And note how identity politics here plays to the right wing just as does to the left, better in fact, because it is a form of essentialism. In effect, Griffin is saying ‘white lives matter’, when of course what he really means is ‘white lives are superior’. But talk of race is mostly old hat to the new racists in any case, who prefer to attack ‘culture’ over ‘colour’.

In multicultural Britain, it is the Muslim minority, and especially Muslim women, who receive the brunt of the racial taunts, the physical abuse, and who have become the most preyed upon as victims of hate crimes, while the current hypocrisy lays blame at their door for failing to adopt western values and mix in; a scapegoating that alarmingly recalls the Nazi denigration and demonisation of the Jews. It follows, of course, that it is not the racists who are intolerant but the oppressed minority who are or who look like Muslims. By this sleight of hand, Islamophobia (a very clumsy word for a vile creed) festers as the last manifestation of semi-respectable racism.

When it was released in 1974, “Blazing Saddles” shocked audiences. It is no less shocking today, but the difference today is that no-one could make it. No contemporary film in which every third word is a vile racist expletive would pass the censors. Yet as it plunges us headlong into a frenetic whirlwind of bigotry, and as all commonsense rationality is suspended, nothing remains besides the hilarious absurdity of racial prejudice. Dumb, crude, and daring: it is comedy of rare and under-appreciated genius. As Gene Wilder puts it “They’ve smashed racism in the face and the nose is bleeding, but they’re doing it while you laugh” [6:15 mins]. Embedded below is a BTS documentary tribute entitled “Back in the Saddle” [Viewer discretion advised]:

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“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” quipped Oscar Wilde.5 And though the accusation at the heart of his bon mot may be contested, that most people certainly do judge by appearances really cannot be. Briefly then, I wish to consider a few of the most overlooked but widespread social prejudices, which though seldom so vicious and of less clear historical significance than other such virulent strains as sexism and racism, are long-standing and ingrained prejudices nonetheless. These tend to be prejudices against certain types of individual, rather than against interconnected “communities”. Prejudices so commonplace that some readers will doubtless see my digression as trivial, or even laughable, and yet there is good reason to delve into the matter as it opens up a bigger question, and, once expanded upon, more fundamentally challenges our whole notion of meritocracy. So here goes… (I am braced for the many titters and guffaws and encourage you to laugh along!)

Firstly, there is a permitted prejudice on the one hand against short blokes (trust me, I am one), and on the other against fat ladies. Short men and fat women being considered fair game for ridicule literally on the grounds that we don’t shape up. Which would be fine – believe me, I can take a joke – except that in playing down the deep-seated nature of such prejudice, as society generally does, there are all sorts of insidious consequences. For it means, to offer a hopefully persuasive example, that whenever satirists (and I use the term loosely, since genuine satire is rather thin on the ground) lampoon Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than holding him to account for his reactionary politics and unsavoury character, they go for the cheaper shot of quite literally belittling him (and yes, prejudice in favour of tallness saturates our language too). Worse still, Sarkozy had the gall to marry a taller and rather glamorous woman, which apparently makes him a still better target for wisecracks about being a short-arse (it’s okay, I’m reclaiming the word). As a result, Sarkozy is most consistently disparaged only for what he couldn’t and needn’t have altered, instead of what he could and should have. No doubt he takes it all on the chin… presuming anyone can actually reach down that far! Yes, it’s perfectly fine to laugh, just so long as we don’t all continue pretending that there is no actual prejudice operating.

Moreover, it is healthy for us to at least admit that there is a broader prejudice operating against all people regarded in one way or another as physically less attractive. Being fat, short, bald or just plain ugly are – in the strictest sense – all handicaps, which, and though far from insurmountable, represent a hindrance to achieving success. Even the ginger-haired enjoy a less than even break, as Neil Kinnock (who was unfortunate enough to be a Welshman too) discovered shortly after he was elected leader of the Labour Party.

Indeed, most of us will have been pigeon-holed one way or another, and though we may sincerely believe that we don’t qualify to be categorised too negatively, our enemies will assuredly degrade us for reasons beyond our ken. But then, could we ever conceive of, for instance, the rise of something akin to let’s say an “ugly pride” movement? Obviously it would be comprised solely of those self-aware and unblinkingly honest enough to see themselves as others actually see them. This envisaged pressure group would comprise an exceptionally brave and uncommon lot.

Then what of the arguably more delicate issues surrounding social class? Indeed, we might reasonably ask ourselves why is there such an animal as social class in the first place? And the quick answer is that people are inherently hierarchical. That “I look up to him because he is upper class, but I look down on him because he is lower class”, to quote again the famous skit from The Frost Report. But now pay proper attention to the vocabulary and its direct correspondence with the physical stature of the three comedians.6

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Class and stature side-by-side, just as they are in the dictionary – and as they have been throughout recent history thanks to dietary deficiencies. Here is a visual gag with etymological parallels: the word ‘stature’ itself a double entendre. But, and unlike physical stature, class is already inextricably tied into levels of wealth and success, and virtually impossible to escape in any society – the Soviet system and Mao’s China were arguably more deeply class-riven than our own purportedly “classless” societies.

Incidentally, I in no way advocate the drafting of future legislation to close the gap on these alternative forms of everyday discrimination: demanding social justice for all those with unpopular body shapes, or who speak with the wrong accent, or stutter, or who have chosen to grow patches of hair in the wrong places, or whatever it is (beards became fashionable after I wrote this!). That would instantly make our lives intolerable in another way: it would be (as the Daily Mail loves to point out) “political correctness gone mad!” After all, prejudice and discrimination come in infinite guises, so where could we finally draw the line?

All of which brings me to our last great tolerated prejudice, and one that is seldom if ever acknowledged as a prejudice in the first place. It is our own society’s – and every other society’s for that matter – very freely held discrimination on the grounds of stupidity. And no, this is not meant as a joke. But that it sounds like a joke makes any serious discussion about it inherently tricky.

Because the dim (and I have decided to moderate my language to avoid sounding unduly provocative, which is not easy – I’ll come to other tags I might have chosen in a moment) cannot very easily stand up for themselves, even if they decide to try. Those willing to concede that their lives are held back by a deficit in braininess (sorry, but the lack of more appropriate words is unusually hampering) will very probably fail to grasp much, if anything at all, of the bigger picture, or be able to articulate any of the frustrations they may feel as daily they confront a prejudice so deeply entrenched that it passes mostly unseen. Well, it’s fun to pick on the idiots, blockheads, boneheads, thickos, cretins, dimwits, dunderheads, dunces, knuckleheads, dumbbells, imbeciles, morons, jerks, and simpletons of the world isn’t it? It is the cheaper half of every comedy sketch, and in all likelihood will remain so; with much of the rest that brings us merriment being the schadenfreude of witnessing the self-same idiots cocking up over and over again. And finally, is there really a nicer word that usefully replaces all the pejoratives above? Our casual prejudice against the dim has been indelibly written into our dictionaries.

On May 13th, 1999, comedian George Carlin was invited to deliver a speech to the National Press Club at Washington D.C. He used the occasion to poke fun at the tortuous abuse of language by politicians as well as the growing tyranny of an invented “soft language”, which includes what he describes as ‘the tedious liberal labeling’ of minorities. His speech is followed by an entertaining Q&A session:

Here’s a little more from Carlin dishing the dirt on political correctness:

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Now if I’d been writing say a hundred years ago (or even more recently) the available vocabulary would have been a little different. For it was permissible during the first half of the last century to speak and write about the problem of ‘feeble-mindedness’ – a term that implies an innate (and thus inherited) ‘disability’. Moreover, as part of a quasi-scientific conversation, social reformers including intellectuals and political thinkers got into the habit of discussing how this affliction (as it was then regarded) might best be eradicated.

Those on the political left were no less shameful in this regard than those on the right, with radical thinkers like H.G. Wells 7 and George Bernard Shaw, chipping in alongside the youthful Winston Churchill8; all scratching their high brows to think up ways of preventing the spread of such evidently bad stock from ruining good society – ‘the feeble-minded’, for reasons never dwelt on by the pioneering eugenicists, not the least bit incapable of passing on their enfeebled genes.

Thanks again to genuine social progress it is unacceptable to speak (openly) about the elimination of the underclasses in our societies today, or to openly speculate on means of halting their uncontrolled and unwanted proliferation (though I write very much in terms that Wells, Shaw and Churchill would have understood). But eugenics, we should constantly remind ourselves, was a great deal more fashionable not so very long ago – even after the concentration camps and worryingly under alternative names it finds advocates still today (for instance, the Silicon Valley techies gather nowadays for conferences on transhumanism, the artificial ‘enhancement’ of humanity, which is one way in which eugenics has reemerged9).

Today’s progressives (and keep in mind that Wells and Shaw both regarded themselves as progressives of their own times) prefer to adopt a more humanitarian position. Rather than eliminating ‘feeble-mindedness’, the concern is to assist ‘the disadvantaged’. A shift in social attitude that is commendable, but it brings new hazards in its stead. For implicit in the new phraseology is the hope that since disparities stem from disadvantage, all differences between healthy individuals might one day be overcome. That aside from those suffering from disability, everyone has an approximately equivalent capacity when it comes to absorbing knowledge and learning skills of one form or another, and that society alone, to the advantage of some and detriment of others, makes us smart or dim. But this is also false, and cruelly so – though not yet barbarously.

For differences in social class, family life, access to education, and so forth (those things we might choose to distinguish as environment or nurture) are indeed significant indicators of later intellectual prowess (especially when our benchmark is academic performance). So it makes for comfortable presupposition that regarding intelligence (an insanely complex matter to begin with) the inherent difference between individuals is slight, and upbringing is the key determinant, but where’s the proof? And if this isn’t the whole picture – as it very certainly isn’t – then what if, heaven forfend, some people really are (pro)created less cognitively proficient than others? Given that they did indeed receive equivalent support through life, it follows that failure is “their own fault”, is it not?

In any case, intelligence, like attractiveness, must be to some degree a relative trait. During any historical period, particular forms of mental gymnastics are celebrated when others are overlooked, and so instruments to measure intelligence will automatically be culturally biased (there is a norm and there are fashions) to tally with the socially accepted idea of intelligence which varies from place to place and from one era to the next. There can never be an acid test of intelligence in any pure and absolute sense.10

Furthermore, whatever mental abilities happen to confer the mark of intelligence at any given time or place, obviously cannot be equally shared by everyone. As with other human attributes and abilities, there is likely to be a bell curve. It follows, therefore, that whatever braininess is or isn’t (and doubtless it takes many forms), during every age and across all nations, some people will be treated as dimmer, or brighter, than their fellows. And notwithstanding that whatever constitutes intelligence is socially determined to some extent, and that estimates of intelligence involve us in a monumentally complex matter, it remains the case that an individual’s capacity for acquiring skills and knowledge must be in part innate. This admission is both exceedingly facile and exceedingly important, and it is one that brings us right to the crux of meritocracy’s most essential flaw.

For how can those who are thought dim be left in charge of important things? They can’t. Which means that it would be madness to give the dimmest people anything other than the least intellectually demanding jobs. The meritocratic logic then follows, of course, that being less capable (and thus relegated to performing only the most menial tasks) makes you less worthy of an equal share, and yet this cuts tangentially across the very principle of ‘fairness’ which meritocracy is supposed to enshrine. For wherein lies the fairness in the economic exclusion of the dim? To reiterate what I wrote above, our prejudice is so deeply ingrained that to many such exclusion will still appear justified. As if being dim is your own lookout.

For whether or not an individual’s perceived failure to match up to society’s current gauge of intelligence is primarily down to educational ‘disadvantage’ (in the completest sense) or for reasons of an altogether more congenital kind, we may justifiably pass over the comfortable view that equal opportunity (laudable as this is) can entirely save the day. Degrees of intellectual competence – whether this turns out to be more socially or biologically determined – will always be with us, unless that is, like Wells, Shaw and Churchill (together with a many other twentieth century social reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, and the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger) we opt instead for the eugenic solution – and I trust we do not. But bear in mind that programmes of forced sterilisation kept running in regions of the western world long after WWII right up to the 1970s.11 Earlier calls to weed out the “feeble-minded” that never fully went away, but instead went underground.

On March 17th 2016, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed Adam Cohen, co-editor of TheNationalBookReview.com and author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck”, who explained how:

After World War II, we put the leading Nazis on trial for some of the worst things that the Nazis did. One of those very bad things was they set up a eugenics program where they sterilized as many as 375,000 people. So we put them on trial for that. And lo and behold, as the movie [“Judgment at Nuremberg”] shows, their defense was: “How can you put us on trial for that? Your own U.S. Supreme Court said that sterilization was constitutional, was good. And it was your own Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of your most revered figures, who said that. So, why are we the bad guys in this story?” They had a point.

Click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

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Now for those further thoughts from the man we might describe as “the father of meritocracy” – even though he would certainly hate it! This is Michael Young speaking out against about his accidental bastard child and the decisive role it is has played in reshaping our societies:

I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been. If branded at school they are more vulnerable for later unemployment.

They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves.

It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none. No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that.12

This meritocracy we live in today, as Michael Young points out, is not just a distant remove from the fairest society imaginable, but in other ways – psychological ones especially – arguably crueller than any older, and less enlightened, -ocracies.

Embedded below is one of a series of lectures “Biology as Ideology” given by distinguished geneticist and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in 1990. Lewontin here explaining how erroneous theories of biological determinism have been used to validate and support the dominant sociopolitical theories and vice versa. He also offers his subversive thoughts on meritocracy:

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Inevitably, ‘merit’ is equated with, and thus mistaken for, ‘success’, and this is true not only for our self-declared meritocracy, but universally. Think about it: if millions of people love to read your books, or to listen to your songs, or just to watch your delightful face on their TV screens, then who would not leap to the conclusion that what they do is of the highest ‘merit’? How else did they rise to stand above the billions of ordinary anonymous human drones?

The converse is also true. That those who remain anonymous are often in the habit of regarding themselves as less significant – in fact psychologically less real – than others in the limelight they see and admire: the celebrities and the VIPs. Which brings me to a lesson my father taught me; an observation which reveals in aphoristic form the inbuilt fault with all conceptions of meritocracy: VIP being a term that makes him curse. Why? For the clinching fact that every one of us is a “very important person”. If this sounds corny or trite then ask yourself sincerely, as my father once asked me: “Are you a very important person…?”

*

Famously, Van Gogh sold just a single painting in his lifetime13, but then we all know that millions of terrible painters have also sold one (or less than one!) Not so widely known is that a great deal of Schubert’s music was lost when, in the immediate aftermath of his death, it was recycled as waste paper; but then again, thousands of dreadful composers have also had their music posthumously binned. So the odds are that if you can’t sell your music or publish your book, then you’re just another of the billions, rather than an as yet unappreciated master and another Van Gogh or Schubert. For aside from posterity, and no matter how much we might like to conjure one up, there is no established formula for separating ‘merit’ from ‘success’, and no good reason for supposing we will ever discover such a razor.

In reality therefore, any form of meritocracy will only ever be a form of success-ocracy, and in our own system, money is the reification of success. A system in which success and thus money invariably breeds more success and more money because unavoidably it contains positive and negative feedback loops. For this reason the well-established ruling oligarchies will never be unseated by means of any notional meritocracy – evidence of their enduring preeminence being, somewhat ironically, more apparent in the American republic, where dynasties, and especially political ones, are less frowned upon, and in consequence have remained more visible than in the class-ridden island kingdom it abandoned and then defeated. But even if our extant aristocracies were one day uprooted wholesale, then meritocracy simply opens the way for that alternative uber-class founded by the “self-made man”.

Indeed, ‘aristocracy’, deriving from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratia) and literally meaning “rule of the best”, sounds a lot like ‘meritocracy’ to me. Whereas governance by those selected as most competent (the other way ‘meritocracy’ is sometimes defined) is better known by an alternative name too – ‘technocracy’ in this case – with the select order of technocrats working to whose betterment we might reasonably ask. Meritocracy of both kinds – and every meritocratic system must combine these twin strands – has fascistic overtones.

The promise of meritocracy has been seductive largely because of its close compatibility with neoliberalism, today’s predominant, in fact unrivalled, politico-economic ideology. Predicated on the realism that humans do indeed have an ingrained predisposition to social hierarchy (something that traditional concepts of egalitarianism sought to abolish), it offers a reconfigured market solution to foster a sort of laissez-faire egalitarianism: the equalisation of wealth and status along lines that are strictly “as nature intended”. Furthermore, it appeals to some on the left by making a persuasive case for “equality of opportunity”, if always to the detriment of the more ambitious goal of “equality of outcome”. A sidelining of “equality of outcome” that has led to a dramatic lowering of the bar with regards to what even qualifies as social justice.

Moreover, the rightward drift to meritocracy involves the downplaying of class politics in favour of today’s more factional and brittle politics of identity. This follows because under meritocracy the rigid class barriers of yesteryear are ostensibly made permeable and in the long run must slowly crumble away altogether. In reality, of course, social mobility is heavily restricted for reasons already discussed at length. But this abandonment of class politics in favour of the divisiveness of identity politics is greatly to the benefit of the ruling establishment of course. Divide and conquer has been their oldest maxim.

Interestingly, of the many advocates of meritocracy – from Thatcher to Reagan; Brown to Blair; Cameron to Obama; Merkel to May – none have bothered to very precisely define their terms. What do they mean to imply by ‘merit’ and its innately slippery counterpart ‘fairness’? And whilst they talk of ‘fairness’ over and over again – ‘fairness’ purportedly underlying every policy decision they have ever taken – the actual direction all this ‘fairness’ was leading caused a few to wonder whether ‘fairness’ might be wrong in principle! Like other grossly misappropriated abstract nouns – ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ spring instantly to mind – the difficulty here is that ‘fairness’ is a handy fig-leaf.

Instead, and if we genuinely wish to live in a society striving for greater equality, then the political emphasis ought not to be placed too heavily on wooly notions like ‘merit’ or ‘fairness’ but upon enabling democracy in the fullest sense. The voice of the people may not be the voice of God, but it is, to paraphrase Churchill (who mostly hated it), the least worst system.14 One person, one vote, if not quite the bare essence of egalitarianism, serves both as a fail-safe and a necessary foundation.

Of course, we must always guard against the “tyranny of the majority” by means of a constitutional framework that ensures basic rights and freedoms for all. For democracy offers an imperfect solution, but cleverly conceived and justly organised neither is it, as so many right-wing libertarians are quick to tell you: “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”. This sideswipe is not just glib, but a better description by far of the extreme right-wing anarchy they advocate. In reality, it is their beloved ‘invisible hand’ that better ensures rampant inequality and social division, and for so long as its influence remains unseen and unfettered, will continue to do so, by rigging elections and tipping the scales of justice.

Democracy – from its own etymology: rule by the people – is equality in its most settled form. Yet if such real democracy is ever to arise and flourish then we must have a free-thinking people. So the prerequisite for real democracy is real education – sadly we are a long way short of this goal too and once again heading off in the wrong direction. But that’s for a later chapter.

Next chapter…

*

Addendum: our stakeholder society and the tyranny of choice

Prior to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders (for further thoughts on Sanders read my earlier posts), mainstream politics in Britain and America, as more widely, were converged to such a high degree that opposition parties were broadly in conjunction. Left and right had collapsed to form a single “centrist” amalgam in agreement across a wide range of diverse issues spanning race relations, gender equality, immigration, environmentalism, to foreign policy, and most remarkably, economics. In Britain, as in America, the two major parties ceased even to disagree over the defining issue of nationalisation versus privatisation because both sides now approved of the incorporation of private sector involvement into every area of our lives. “Big government”, our politicians echoed in unison, is neither desirable nor any longer possible. Instead, we shall step aside for big business, and limit ourselves to resolving “the real issues”.

The real issues? Why yes, with the business sector running all the fiddly stuff, governments pivoted to address the expansion of individual opportunity and choice. Especially choice. Choice now became the paramount concern.

Even the delivery of essential public services, once the duty of every government (Tory and Labour alike), began to be outsourced. No holy cows. It became the common doctrine that waste and inefficiency in our public services would be abolished by competition including the introduction of internal markets and public-private partnerships, which aside from helping to foster efficiency, would, importantly, diversify customer choice once again.

Under the new social arrangement, we, the people, became “stakeholders” in an altogether more meritocratic venture. Here is Tony Blair outlining his case for our progressive common cause:

“We need a country in which we acknowledge an obligation collectively to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it. One Nation politics is not some expression of sentiment, or even of justifiable concern for the less well off. It is an active politics, the bringing of a country together, a sharing of the possibility of power, wealth and opportunity…. If people feel they have no stake in society, they feel little responsibility towards it, and little inclination to work for its success. ….”15

Fine aspirations, you may think. But wait, and let’s remember that Blair was trained as a lawyer, so every word here counts. “Sharing in the possibility of power…” Does this actually mean anything at all? Or his first sentence which ends: “…to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it” – “it” in this context presumably meaning “the country” (his subject at the beginning). But every citizen already has a stake in the country, doesn’t s/he? Isn’t that what being a citizen means: to be a member of a nation state with an interest, or ‘stake’ (if we insist) in what goes on. However, according to Blair’s “One Nation” vision, members of the public (as we were formerly known) are seemingly required to become fully paid-up “stakeholders”. But how…?

Do we have to do something extra, or are our “stakeholder” voices to be heard simply by virtue of the choices we make? Is this the big idea? The hows and wheres of earning a salary, and then of spending or else investing it; is this to be the main measure of our “stakeholder” participation? In fact, is “stakeholder” anything different than “stockholder” in UK plc? Or is it less than this? Is “stakeholder” substantially different from “consumer”? According to the Financial Times lexicon’s definition, a stakeholder society is:

“A society in which companies and their employees share economic successes.”16

Well, I certainly don’t recall voting for that.

*

We are increasingly boggled by choice. Once there was a single electricity supply and a single gas supply – one price fitting all. Now we have literally dozens of companies offering different deals – yet all these deals finally deliver an entirely identical supply of electricity and gas. The single difference is the price, but still you have to choose. So precious moments of our once around the sun existence are devoted to worrying about which power company is charging the least amount. And the companies know all this, of course, so they make their deals as complicated as possible. Perhaps you’ll give up and choose the worst of options – for the companies concerned, this is a winning strategy – thinking about it, this is their only winning strategy! Or, if you are of a mind to waste a few more of your precious never to be returned moments of existence, you may decide to check one of the many comparison websites – but again, which one? Just one inane and frustrating choice after another. And more of those tiresome tickboxes to navigate.

But choice is everything. So we also need to worry more about the latest school and hospital league tables. It is vital to exercise our right to choose in case an actual ambulance arrives with its siren already blaring. In these circumstances we need to be sure that the ambulance outside is bound for a hospital near to the top of the league, because it is in the nature of leagues that there is always bottom – league tables giving a relative assessment, and ensuring both winners and losers.

And provided, an entirely free choice – and not one based on catchment areas – what parent in their right mind elects to send their offspring to a worse school over a better one? So are we just to hope our nearest school and/or hospital is not ranked bottom? Thankfully, house prices save much of the time in helping to make these determinations.

Meantime I struggle to understand what our politicians and civil servants get up to in Whitehall these days. Precisely what do those who walk the corridors of power find to do each day? Reduced to the role of managers, what is finally left for them manage?

And where is all of this choice finally leading? In the future, perhaps, in place of elections, we will be able to voice our approval/dissatisfaction by way of customer surveys. With this in mind, please take a moment to select the response that best reflects your own feelings:

Given the choice, would you say you prefer to live in a society that is:

 More fair

Less fair

Not sure

*

Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

*

1 Quote taken from Chapter 10 of George Orwell’s satirical fairytale Animal Farm published in 1945. After the animals have ceased power at the farm they formulate “a complete system of thought” which is designed to unite the animals as well as preventing them from returning to the evil ways of the humans. The seventh and last of these original commandments of ‘Animalism’ is straightforwardly that “All animals are equal”, however, after the pigs have risen to dominance again, the sign is revised and so this last commandment reads “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

2 From an article entitled “Down with meritocracy: The man who coined the term four decades ago wishes Tony Blair would stop using it” written by Michael Young, published in the Guardian on June 29, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

3 Quote taken from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood delivered on February 25, 1965. In fuller context, he said:

“And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

An audio recording of King’s speech and a full transcript is available here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm

4 Quote taken from a meeting on April 22nd, 2000 with American white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, that was recorded as “American Friends of the British National Party” video.

In fuller context Griffin says:

“Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle we got ourselves in a position where we control the British Broadcasting media and then we tell ’em really how serious the immigration problem was, and we tell them the truth about a lot of the crime that’s been going on, if we tell ’em really what multiracialism has meant and means for the future, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say yes every last one must go.  Perhaps they will one day.  But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.  My primary identity quite simply is there (points to veins in wrist). That’s the thing that counts.”

The clip was shown in BBC1’s Panorama: Under the Skin first broadcast on November 25, 2001.

The transcript is available here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_25_11_01.txt

5 Although these words are frequently attributed to Wilde himself, they actually belong to one of his characters. To Lord Henry Wotton who says “To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Taken from Chapter 2 of Wilde’s once scandalous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

6 The “Class Sketch” was first broadcast on April 7, 1966 in an episode of David Frost’s satirical BBC show The Frost Report. It was written by Marty Feldman and John Law, and performed by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in descending order of height!

7 Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901), is one of H.G.Wells’ earliest blueprints for the future. Set in 2000, a youthful Wells (aged 34) suggested an altogether more matter of fact solution to the problem of what he then called “the People of the Abyss” than a promise of education, education, education (the commentary is my own of course):

“It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future, to other masses, that they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with power as superior peoples are trusted, that their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and detrimental in the civilizing fabric, and that their range of incapacity tempts and demoralises the strong. To give them equality is to sink to their level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped in their fecundity…”

Which is putting it most politely! Oh dear, oh dear! What has happened to the clarion call for freedom and equality (and here I mean equality of opportunity, since to be fair Wells was ever the egalitarian, consistently keener on meritocracy than any of the more radical ideals of wealth redistribution). Might it be that the young Mr Wells was showing off his truer colours? Let us go on a little:

“The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully, and efficiently will be to die.”

Just who are the hideous hoards who Wells so pities and despises (in roughly equal measures)? Let us read on:

“…the small minority, for example, afflicted with indisputably transmissible diseases, with transmissible mental disorders, with such hideous incurable habits of the mind as the craving for intoxication…”

But he’s jesting… isn’t he?

“And I imagine also the plea and proof that a grave criminal is also insane will be regarded by them [the men of the New Republic] not as a reason for mercy, but as an added reason for death…”

Death? Why not prison and rehabilitation…?

“The men of the New Republic will not be squeamish either, in facing or inflicting death, because they will have a fuller sense of the possibilities of life than we possess…”

Ah, I see, yes since put like that… yes, yes, death and more death, splendid!

“All such killing will be done with an opiate, for death is too grave a thing to be made painful or dreadful, and used as a deterrent for crime. If deterrent punishments are to be used at all in the code of the future, the deterrent will neither be death, nor mutilation of the body, nor mutilation of the life by imprisonment, nor any horrible things like that, but good scientifically caused pain, that will leave nothing but memory…”

An avoidance of nasty old pain… that’s good I suppose.

“…The conscious infliction of pain for the sake of pain is against the better nature of man, and it is unsafe and demoralising for anyone to undertake this duty. To kill under the seemly conditions of science will afford is a far less offensive thing.”

Death, yes, a more final solution, of course, of course…

This is horrifying, of couse, especially in light of what followed historically.

Deep down Wells was an unabashed snob, though hardly exceptional for his time. Less forgivably, Wells was a foaming misanthropist (especially so when sneering down on the hoi polloi). But mostly he longed to perfect the human species, and as a young man had unflinchingly advocated interventions no less surgical than those needed to cure any other cancerous organ. But then of course, it was once fashionable for intellectual types to seek scientific answers to social problems: programmes of mass-sterilisation and selective reproduction.

His Fabian rival George Bernard Shaw had likewise talked of selective breeding in his own quest to develop a race of supermen, whilst Julian Huxley, Aldous’s big brother, was perhaps the foremost and pioneering advocate of eugenics, later coining the less soiled term ‘transhumanism’ to lessen the post-Nazi stigma. Judged in the broader historical context therefore, Wells was simply another such dreaming ideologue.

That Wells was also one of the first to use the term “new world order” maybe of little lasting significance, however totalitarian his visions for World Socialism, but importantly Wells was never in the position to realise his grander visions, in spite of being sufficiently well-connected to arrange private meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who entertained him over dinner, and with Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin. Finally, he was unable to inspire enough significant others to engage in his “open conspiracy”.

All extracts below are taken from Anticipation of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Chapman & Hall, 1901

8

Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.

The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, of which Churchill had been one of the early drafters. The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from an early age.” “Idiots” were defined as people “so deeply defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.”

Extract taken from a short essay called “Churchill and Eugenics” written by Sir Martin Gilbert, published on May 31, 2009 on the Churchill Centre website. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/594-churchill-and-eugenics

9 “Population reduction” is another leftover residue of the old eugenics programme but freshly justified on purportedly scientific and seemingly less terrible neo-Malthusian grounds – when previous “population reduction” was unashamedly justified and executed on the basis of the pseudoscience of eugenics, the pruning was always done from the bottom up, of course.

10 Aside from being the invention of pioneering eugenicist Francis Galton, the IQ test was an pseudo-scientific approach that first appeared to be validated thanks to the research of Cyril Burt who had devised ‘twin studies’ to prove the heritability of IQ. However, those studies turned out to be fraudulent:

“After Burt’s death, striking anomalies in some of his test data led some scientists to reexamine his statistical methods. They concluded that Burt manipulated and probably falsified those IQ test results that most convincingly supported his theories on transmitted intelligence and social class. The debate over his conduct continued, but all sides agreed that his later research was at least highly flawed, and many accepted that he fabricated some data.”

From the current entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85886/Sir-Cyril-Burt

11

Eugenics is now rightly abjured, and if only for its abominable record for cruelty. But the cruelty of the many twentieth century programmes of eugenics was hardly incidental. Any attempt to alter human populations to make them fit an imposed social structure by means of the calculated elimination and deliberate manipulation of genetic stock automatically reduces people to the same level as farm animals.

It should be remembered too that what the Nazis had tried to achieve by mass murder across Europe was only novel in terms of its extremely barbarous method. Eugenics programmes to get rid of “inferior” populations by forced sterilisation having been introduced earlier in America and surreptitiously continuing into the 1970s. For instance, there was a secret programme for the involuntary sterilisation of Native American women long after the World War II.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html

12 From the same Guardian article entitled “Down with meritocracy” written by Michael Young, published in June, 2001.

13 Van Gogh famously sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles. A painting that now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold nor came to public attention until after his death.

14

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

— Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

15 Tony Blair speaking in Singapore on January 7, 1996.

16 The source for this definition is given as the Longman Business English Dictionary (although the link is lost). http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=stakeholder-society

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Global Network for Syria: “Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria”

The following is from the Global Network for Syria [see bottom for names]:

[*Downloadable PDF here: Global Network for Syria_Statement_August 2018]

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention.

In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’.

The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’.

On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before.

These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations.

Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border.

We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

  • In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.
  • In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.
  • Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult. Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.
  • Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.
  • Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed comember of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.
  • There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

  • To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.
  • To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.
  • To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords

30 August 2018

For enquiries contact Peter Ford 07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

* Reposted in full and as original from Eva Barlett’s blog ‘In Gaza’.

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the internet purge has begun in earnest — the last days of American Everyman

American Everyman is a political blog I came across by chance about five years ago, and one of only a handful of blogs I have subscribed to. However, last Friday I learned, again by chance, that it no longer exists – WordPress sent no notification to any of its subscribers and none either to its owner, Scott Creighton, who woke one day shocked to learn “willyloman.wordpress.com is no longer available”.

I caution readers that Scott’s language is less restrained than my own.

Afterwards he uploaded a youtube video to his current channel ‘Churchdog42’ (named after his dog by the way) that I have embedded above. In the notes beneath he writes:

I am speechless, heartbroken, enraged. I violated none of their terms of service. None. Never ONCE supported violence and in fact was dedicated to STOPPING violence. Wars, acts of hostility here at home during protests, economic violence. I am just… speechless

I never thought WP would do this. I am shocked beyond words.

You can contact me at RSCdesigns@tampabay.rr.com

I don’t feel I can do justice to Scott’s story and so have decided to embed a few of his many youtube uploads in sequence (interspersed throughout) so you can hear him tell it directly – at least for so long as this channel exists.

Instead, I’d like to discuss a crazy moment about twelve months ago when I added a comment to one of Scott’s many articles – he is hugely prolific – about the British general election in which Jeremy Corbyn was narrowly defeated.

To cut a long story short, I really shouldn’t have written what I did (I was rattled) and Scott justifiably lashed out at me for insulting him. For the next hour and more a sequence of heated comments flew back and forth between us. By the end we had politely agreed to differ and Scott very kindly wished me well. The whole incident convinced me not only of Scott’s tremendous commitment to searching for truth – he could have cut off the debate at any moment (this took place on his own blog after all) – of his integrity – he could have deleted everything (as WordPress just did) – but crucially, of his goodwill. You don’t have to agree on every count to respect someone’s point of view.

This is not an obituary of course, and Scott says he intends to find another platform to keep fighting on – I will update if he does. Nor is this purely a story about Scott and his American Everyman blog – his site is just one of a number of relatively small sites that WordPress has recently taken down, and doubtless this purge is set to continue. Perhaps after posting this article in Scott’s defence, my own site will be targeted next (who knows). All I can say is that if Scott was a small fish (enjoying around a thousand pageviews a day) then I am an ant.

In any case, the purge goes far beyond WordPress and – as Scott also explains in these videos – he is currently being “unpersoned” by Google too. As I wrote in an earlier post, in which I detailed how my own internet traffic has substantially fallen away, the so-called “internet kill switch” is better imagined as a knob that turns everything down incrementally. Scott is being turned off, as we all are.

He writes:

First Youtube, then PayPal, then WordPress, then TechCrunch and now Google. I am being erased in slow-motion. Little blogs like mine are just the beginning. Priming the pot, as it were. You can expect too see Drudge, Caitlin, AEfor9/11Truth, Before its News, WSWS and so many others follow in my footsteps into obscurity soon enough. Once folks are desensitized to this, the whole of the Western version of the internet will eventually be purged of all dissent. Will Coward Nation finally stand up? I once believed they would. Now… not so sure.

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Update:

Scott Creighton has now temporarily relocated. His new blog wittily titled Nomadic Everyman can be found here: http://nomadiceveryman.blogspot.com/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, internet freedom

Norman Finkelstein calls out Dame Hodge and speaks to “the crucifixion of Corbyn”

Here is a brief summary of Margaret Hodge’s role in the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn – for a fuller account read the addendum to this post which also includes an interview with Palestinian scholar Ghada Karmi:

Having defamed Corbyn by calling him “a f—ing racist and antisemite” deliberately within earshot of journalists, Margaret Hodge was rightly called to a disciplinary hearing by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Following that hearing she then gave an interview to Sky News in which she compared her own treatment to how it felt to be a Jew in Nazi Germany. A transcription of the most relevant section of the Sky News interview and the interview itself are below:

“On the day that I heard that they were going to discipline me and possibly suspend me, it felt almost like – I kept thinking what did it feel like to be a Jew in Germany in the Thirties?

“Because it felt almost as if they were coming for me. And it’s rather difficult to define, but there’s that fear, and it reminded me of what my Dad used to say. He always said to me as a child, “You’ve gotta keep a packed suitcase at the door, Margaret, in case you ever have to leave in a hurry. When I heard about the disciplinary [action], my emotional response resonated with that feeling of fear that clearly was at the heart of what my father felt when he came to Britain.”

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And here is Norman Finkelstein’s response in full:

“Dame Hodge hasn’t a clue what it means to talk about deportations, having a suitcase and being prepared to flee. My parents, both of them, were in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940s until the repression by the Nazis of the uprising in 1943. They were deported at the Umschlagplatz. If you go there now there’s a monument to the deportees, and my mother’s name Maryla and my father’s name Zacharias; they’re on that monument.

“You haven’t a clue, Ms Hodge, Dame Hodge, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. You know the suffering? You know the death? My mother used to talk about how she walked the streets of the ghetto and there were dead bodies all around her. She lost both of her parents, all of her family: her sisters, her brother were deported. But unlike you Dame Hodge they weren’t deported to a summer home, they were deported to a death camp. My parents ended up in Auschwitz and Majdenek, and slave labour camps. Where are you going Ms Hodge? To Switzerland? To your chalet? And you have the gall, the brass, the audacity to compare your life with what my parents endured.

“You felt it was like 1930s, when you got a letter from the disciplinary committee. I wonder Dame Hodge when you were in sixth grade and your principal called you down to his office, did it bring back memories of the Holocaust? Or maybe you got a letter from the tax office, and they called you down, did that remind you of the Holocaust? What’s the point… What’s the relevance… What’s the pertinence of dragging in the suffering, the death, the martyrdom of what Jews endured during World War II in this context, except to cheapen and exploit the memory of Jewish suffering, as you carry on a blackmail and extortion racket against Jeremy Corbyn.

“It’s disgusting, it’s revolting, and if any of the rules that are now being implemented in the Labour Party have any meaning whatsoever, if they have any content whatsoever, the first person who should be booted out of the Labour Party is Dame Hodge, for trivialising the memory the Nazi Holocaust and for making wretched, disgusting, repulsive comparisons between herself and what Jews endured during World War II.

“Speaking of bags and suitcases, Dame Hodge, it’s time now to pack your bags, pack your suitcase, and get the hell out of the Labour Party.”

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Norman Finkelstein later spoke with George Galloway on his ‘TalkRadio’ show about “the crucifixion of Corbyn and how to combat it”:

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Addendum: the fuller background story and a Palestinian’s response

The smear campaign that falsely accuses Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism on the basis of guilt by association goes back all the way to the period of his first election as Labour leader, but this latest episode involving Margaret Hodge comes at a time when the party has been considering the adoption of the full IHRA definition of “antisemitism”: a change to the rules that if implemented will curtail the freedom speech of party members to openly speak out against Israel.

On August 13th, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu waded into this debate after he provocatively accused Corbyn of laying a wreath on the grave of “a terrorist”. Margaret Hodge was one of a number of Labour MPs who seized upon the opportunity to further tighten pressure on Corbyn. As the Guardian reported on August 14th:

The Labour MP Margaret Hodge said the only way “Jeremy Corbyn can put this issue to bed” is to “adopt the internationally agreed definition of antisemitism in full”. She said: “Until he does that, incidents such as his presence at the laying of wreaths at the graves of those responsible for torturing and murdering innocent Jewish Israeli athletes in Munich will continue to emerge.”

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Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian scholar and doctor of medicine who lives in England and teaches at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in the University of Exeter; she is also a member of the Labour Party. On August 21st, Marc Steiner of The Real News interviewed Karmi to hear the viewpoint of a Palestinian on the “antisemitism” campaign against Corbyn. Transcribed below is part of her interview – the complete interview is embedded within:

“I mean that is so ludicrous it makes one laugh. First of all the [laying of the wreath] incident took place in 2014, now you’ve got to ask yourself why do they wait till 2018 to make such a fuss if it was so offensive, it should have been pointed out in 2014. However, they’ve waited four years because, of course, it’s not about whatever happened in Tunis, it’s about attacking Jeremy Corbyn.

Now the event was very simply this. Corbyn and some other British political leaders were invited by the Tunisian government to a conference whose subject was Israeli aggression and its effect on the Palestinian people: that’s actually what the conference was. Now the ceremony was to commemorate and lay a wreath on the graves of Tunisians and Palestinians together, who perished in an Israeli bombing attack in 1985. Now that’s what actually happened. It’s not my perspective; it’s what happened. Now Netanyahu, who has joined the pack of Corbyn hunters for his own reasons, came into this and outrageously really – he’s a foreign leader, he’s the leader of a foreign state; he has no business interfering in a domestic issue, however he barged in – and he accused Corbyn of laying a wreath on the graves of quote “terrorists”. Now there were no terrorists amongst the victims of the Israeli bombing attack.

So the problem is that he has joined the side of the people who want to discredit Corbyn so he never becomes a Prime Minister – and I can’t stress this too strongly – that the idea of a pro-Palestinian, a pro-justice British Prime minister is anathema to certain groups of people, Israel and its friends most prominently.”

[from 5:20 mins]

 “The issue really is that the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been subjected to an unprecedented attack, by members of his own party, by a lobby of people claiming to hunt anti-Semites, and by some parts of the British press. It is an unprecedented and very bad attack which he does not deserve. Now, in terms of what he has actually done, the answer is nothing. What has he done to offend these people – the thing he really has done to offend them, is that he supports Palestine, and the rights of Palestinians, and he has supported that all of his political life. That is something that is an anathema to certain Jewish groups in Britain, friends of Israel, and members of his own party who don’t want him to become Prime Minister. That is the reality of the position. It’s very depressing and very wrong, but that aspect of it has not been put forward often enough and strongly enough. This is about Palestine and it’s about Israel’s maltreatment of the Palestinian people and it’s about the desire of defending of Israel to attack people who support the Palestinians because they want to defend Israel.”

[from 3:05 mins]

“We as a Palestinian group are very, very anxious that our voice is heard and that our point of view is taken into account because far too often the media, the political elite, is held hostage to a lobby that does not hesitate to use the “antisemitism” smear because they know it’s effective, and it discredits the people whether it’s true or not. Now we as Palestinians have found it almost impossible to persuade people who are so devoted to Israel that they can’t see straight to try to explain to them there is a whole story there which is not simply a question of being anti-Jewish when you criticise Israel. You have to criticise Israel because it behaves in ways which are illegal and very aggressive. And if you don’t feel able to criticise a state that does that and not be labelled as some kind of racist then you know it’s a terrible world we’re living in.”

[from 10:20 mins]

“But you know it’s very, very serious to allow groups of people with their own agendas to use antisemitism as a tool – to weaponise it, to use a popular term – to weaponise it in order to defend certain behaviours on the part of Israel. It’s very, very serious. People should take it seriously. I mean it’s not a joke to try to discredit any political person… discredit what they’re saying by accusing them of being Jew-haters. The term “anitsemitism” by the way is not very useful any more. It’s very emotive. We need to talk about Jew-hatred. Is it really the case that if you criticise the policies of the Israeli state and its army that this is hatred of Jews? Of course not. When you put it like that you know very well it’s nonsense. But, it’s weaponised, it’s used cynically by people who want to defend Israel.”

[from 14:45 mins]

Please note that all transcriptions are my own.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, Palestine

the pro-Israel two-pronged offensive: Tommy Robinson and the weaponisation of ‘antisemitism’

There have been two concurrent stories running for weeks on end. On the one hand, the corporate media repeatedly reinforces its own opinion – based on a blatant smear campaign conceived and perpetuated by political enemies – that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemitic apologist of a rabidly antisemitic party (of which I am a member), whilst on the other, it offers a platform to far-right EDL founder Tommy Robinson who they portray as a merely “controversial leader” of a popular movement. In fact, BBC news and Channel 4 were both caught red-handed by Twitter activist Sonia Mota who helpfully uploaded the evidence of how the news channels presented each of these two stories literally side-by-side:

The first clip (now hidden because it “might contain sensitive content”) begins with BBC correspondent Norman Smith informing the audience that Corbyn ought to immediately accept the international definitions of antisemitism (more later) before feigning puzzlement that “for whatever reason Mr Corbyn at the moment is holding back” from such acquiescence. In the following report, correspondent Tom Burridge then speaks about Tommy Robinson’s release from prison on bail which opens with an unopposed statement by one of Robinson’s supporters and concludes “Robinson is a product of the internet age, sites like Youtube allow the founder of the English Defence League to reach many more people than far-right leaders of the past”. In other words, don’t blame us for promoting him again and again, blame the internet…

Sky News is arguably worse. It begins with correspondent Jason Farrell gushing on and on about how: “Robinson has garnered a huge amount of support – hundreds of thousands of people providing a petition, they’ve had a free Tommy website, and some people may question why we are talking about this – should we be giving him the oxygen of publicity in discussing this issue… but the fact is it would be ridiculous not to because there has been so much discussed about this on social media – he has hundreds of thousands of followers and in some ways that is beneficial to him as a political character, he has actually gained an awful lot of support over this period and this will be an interesting time for him as to what he does with this – this former EDL member who doesn’t have a political party at the moment, he may well want to use that to his advantage in the future. So we’ll see what he does when he comes out [of prison].” This upbeat promo is then juxtaposed by newscaster Gamal Fahnbulleh intoning with grave seriousness that Corbyn’s latest apology “adds more pressure on the leader who’s repeatedly been accused of not doing enough to stamp out antisemitism within the party”, and to hammer the point, a second Sky News correspondent aggressively doorsteps Corbyn, shouting after him: “Are relations between the Labour leadership and the British Jewish community broken beyond repair?”

There are so many points here that it’s hard to know where to start, but the main point I wish to make is that any notion of a single British Jewish community that is unanimous in its condemnation of Corbyn is already a complete media construction. There are multiple Jewish voices and a great many have gone to considerable lengths to speak in support of Jeremy Corbyn, however the corporate media has its own agenda and takes trouble to marginalise all voices that oppose it.

As one of Jewish Voices for Labour (JVL) founder members, Richard Kuper, told Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground on July 27th:

The Jewish community does not speak with one voice. The Jewish community has never done so. And it is important that diversity and plurality within the Jewish community are recognised and encouraged. We would argue that we speak firmly within the Jewish humanitarian, internationalist tradition and that we are basing ourselves on Jewish values: respect for the other; respect for all religions; egalitarianism; and not making the kinds of legal distinctions between citizens which is now occurring in Israel. This is not acceptable democratic practice. If Israel wishes to be called a liberal democracy, it has to abide by liberal democratic values. If it wants to be a nationalist autocracy it can continue on the line it is going on.

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Jeremy Corbyn is “a dedicated anti-racist”

“This [is a] grotesque, cynical, contrived, fake, fabricated attack on Corbyn by the whole, the whole of the British ruling elites, and the whole of the British media” — Norman Finkelstein 1

The video embedded above is an update. It features Norman Finkelstein speaking directly to camera and calling for Dame Margaret Hodge to be expelled from the Labour Party.

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Jeremy Corbyn is not a racist. He is a staunch opponent of all forms of racism, and has been consistently throughout his entire political life. Indeed, when back on July 25th, the Jewish News, the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish Telegraph jointly published a front-page editorial that scurrilously and absurdly accused him of being an “existential threat” to British Jews, one of their own contributors, Stephen Oryszczuk, foreign editor of Jewish News , broke ranks and said in an exclusive Q&A with The Canary published on Monday 6th, August:

“It’s repulsive. This is a dedicated anti-racist we’re trashing. I just don’t buy into it at all.” 2

I highlight Stephen Oryszczuk because he bravely took a stand against his own newspaper, but still he is one of a multitude of Jewish voices who have very actively defended Jeremy Corbyn.

As Richard Kuper of Jewish Voices for Labour (JVL) told Afshin Rattansi in the July 27th interview on RT’s Going Underground:

“Jeremy is not and has never been an antisemite or a racist. It is absurd for Margaret Hodge to make this accusation, and to make an accusation in that form, whether or not with the expletive deleted, should not be unacceptable behaviour. And she should apologise: that is not the way in which we conduct debates in the Labour Party. […]

Anti-semitism in our view is hostility to Jews as Jews and it needs to be opposed. Criticism of Israel is criticism of Israel and unless it shows hostility to Jews as Jews it is political criticism and argument and has to be fought on that basis. […]

I hope that Jeremy will continue to be Jeremy and stand up for what he believes in and speak openly and honestly and pursue the values he has always stood up for: internationalist values egalitarian values, and most of all, anti-racist values. Standing up to all forms of racism including anti-semitism.”

To hear other Jewish voices in defence of Corbyn I refer readers to the addendum below as well as to earlier posts on the subject here and here. I have also embedded below two excellent recent broadcasts of The Real News from August 11th featuring interviews with American-Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein and British academic Jamie Stern-Weiner:

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As comedian Mark Steel put it in The Independent on Thursday 2nd August:

You can’t help wondering whether, for some people, the motivation for accusing Corbyn of being an antisemite may be a teeny bit driven by the fact they don’t really like him.

For example, Ian McKenzie, who was chairman of Lewisham East Labour Party, wrote on Twitter that “the antisemitism, Brexit and Salisbury stuff is cutting through like the IRA/Iran stuff didn’t. We have a real chance of winning back NEC seats.”

So for him, a subject as important as antisemitism is apparently a handy tool to win back NEC seats from Corbyn supporters. That could be seen as slightly insulting to Jews, so I’m sure when it comes to expulsions, Ian McKenzie will insist he should be one of the first to be kicked out. Maybe he’ll make a complaint: “Corbyn is so slow to deal with antisemitism that he still hasn’t expelled me. If he was serious about tackling antisemitism he’d have told me to piss off ages ago, but no. Typical!” 3

Click here to read the complete article entitled “The fact that Corbyn didn’t yell abuse at a Holocaust survivor definitely makes him anti-Semitic”

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The weaponisation of ‘antisemitism’

Ongoing accusations that a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government would present an existential threat to the future of Jewish people is one obvious example of how misplaced accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a weapon by critics of Corbyn.

One conservative Jewish organization that has weaponised anti-Semitism in just this way is the Community Security Trust, a charity that describes its role as being to “protect[ing] British Jews from antisemitism and related threats”; and “To speak responsibly at all times, without exaggeration or political favour, on antisemitism and associated issues.”

But a recent press release from the Community Security Trust suggests that they have a problem with speaking responsibly, as they write:

“The reason Labour’s antisemitism problem dwarfs all of its other racism problems is because it originates from the far-left culture that Jeremy Corbyn and his closest advisers and supporters have always belonged to. That culture now dominates the party.” (“Antisemitism now: the IHRA controversy,” July 24, 2018)

This is not true and they know it!

In fact, it was only last September that the Community Security Trust helped fund a research report carried out by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research that put the lie to their latest press release.

The report in question, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel, was clear:

“Looking at the political spectrum of British society, the most antisemitic group consists of those who identify as very right-wing. In this group about 14% hold hard-core anti-Semitic attitudes and 52% hold at least one attitude, compared again to 3.6% and 30% in the general population. The very left-wing, and, in fact, all political groups located on the left, are no more antisemitic than the general population. This finding may come as a surprise to those who maintain that in today’s political reality, the left is the more serious, or at least, an equally serious source of antisemitism, than the right.” (p.64)

Then, in attempting to explain why there is the false perception among some parts of the Jewish community that the left has an issue with antisemitism, they explain:

“The left tends to see itself, and is commonly regarded, as an anti-racist and egalitarian political group, both in terms of its political goals and its modus operandi. This image tends to impact on people’s expectations of the left or, at the very least, draws attention to how well (or otherwise) it performs in relation to its own proclaimed values. We found that the left (including the far-left) is no less antisemitic than the general population. This is not a trivial finding, as it runs counter to the left’s self-proclaimed ethos. When the expectation is to find less antisemitism than elsewhere, the finding of ‘just the same’ level of antisemitism as elsewhere is likely to be noticed by politically attuned individuals. Simultaneously embarrassing the left and being used as a weapon by it critics, this dissonance becomes the centre of attention and gets accentuated.” [My highlights, pp.64-5]

Wouldn’t it be useful if Jon Lansman, and other self-identified Corbyn supporters, raised such issues when attacked on television? 4

Click here to read the same piece by Michael Barker published in Counterpunch.

In short, the Labour Party that Corbyn leads is not a deeply antisemitic party, but accusations of “antisemitism” are handy for “Simultaneously embarrassing the left and being used as a weapon by its critics”. This according to a statement by the Community Security Trust, which is a conservative Jewish organisation that has attacked Labour in precisely this way by falsely claiming “Labour’s antisemitism problem dwarfs all of its other racism problems” and that it exists as a “culture [that] now dominates the party.”

But then, accusations of this kind are frankly bizarre given how Ed Miliband, the Labour leader succeeded by Corbyn little more than three years ago, is the son of immigrants of Polish Jewish extraction who fled to Britain to escape the Nazis. What sort of an antisemitic party would have voted in a Jewish leader? In any case, during the period when Ed Miliband was Labour leader, the antisemitic smears came in the form of snide dog-whistle comment and from the establishment right, not from Labour members. Have we forgotten how the Daily Mail smeared his father, Ralph Miliband, branding him “the man who hated Britain”?

Moreover, Jon Lansman, who founded the pro-Corbyn movement Momentum – roundly attacked by the same establishment right, anti-Corbyn media as a Trotskyite fifth column – was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family. So if we are led to believe that it is the newcomers to Labour who are especially antisemitic, then why are they also happy to get behind a man who passed through bar mitzvah and had previously seen himself as a Zionist?

The following is taken from an article entitled “Ex-kibbutznik who is Corbyn’s left-hand man” published in the Jewish Chronicle back in January 2016:

Mr Lansman is the founder of the controversial “Corbynista” pressure group, Momentum, which was set up to capture and retain the grassroots enthusiasm sparked by Mr Corbyn’s campaign, but whose opponents fear will purge the party of moderates. It is becoming, they say, a “party within a party”. […]

Brought up in a “typical Orthodox family” in Southgate, north London, Mr Lansman first went to Israel aged 16 just after the Yom Kippur War to visit an aunt who had made aliyah.

“I worked on a kibbutz in the Negev and my aunt lived in Beersheva. It was actually a very politicising experience. When I did my barmitzvah I saw myself as a Zionist and I think after I went there I felt it less.

“I was more interested in the kibbutz and what I liked about it was the pioneering spirit, the sense of community and radicalism of it.”

Interestingly, in the same article, Lansman is quoted saying:

“I have Zionist friends in the party. Jeremy supports the existence of Israel, he wants peace and co-existence. Why should Israel supporters not have a place in Labour? Of course they should. I’ve been arguing for two states long before it was acceptable within the Jewish community to argue for two states.

“I remember arguing with my great-aunt when I was 13 that there were Palestinians and they should have a homeland.

“What we are saying will strike a chord with people in the community and we absolutely need to mend and build bridges. For me it is a priority and that is why I am talking to the JC.

“Yes, of course the vast majority of British Jews are supportive of Israel as a Jewish state – and actually so is Jeremy – but they are far from supportive of all aspects of what is currently happening there. The Labour Party has to be concerned with a broad view, and the pursuit of peace.

“I don’t think you can fault Jeremy on his concern for peace. He is not a warmonger, he doesn’t want killing and death.” 5

But none of this matters, of course, because the relentless assault on Corbyn and the Labour Party has nothing to do with real concerns about actual antisemitism. Rather it serves two overlapping interests: those of the Blairites who remain intent on stalling all Corbyn’s efforts to democratise the party and reclaim it as a genuinely populist political movement, and those of the Israel lobby which seeks to deflect attention away from Israel’s apartheid state and its crimes against the Palestinians, and attacks Corbyn for his pro-Palestinian stance.

About eighteen months ago, the Israel lobby was in fact caught meddling in our political system to these ends and this is a topic I have already covered at length. The evidence was disclosed in a major four-part Al Jazeera investigation entitled simply “The Lobby”.

As I wrote then:

The [Al Jazeera] investigation came to wider public attention following the release of shocking footage of “Israeli diplomat” Shai Masot speculating about how to “take down” Deputy Foreign Minister, Sir Alan Duncan, and other senior politicians less than “solid on Israel”. After the story broke, the press were of course compelled to report on it: it was impossible to ignore such serious allegations that a foreign power was trying to subvert Britain’s democracy. Yet reaction both from the media and the government has been remarkably tepid since. There have been no sustained investigations and we see no push for an official inquiry – this in defiance of Labour demands that the government launch an immediate inquiry into what it rightly calls “a national security issue”:

As shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said in The Commons:

“The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”

Instead, however, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) promptly issued a statement:

“The Israeli Ambassador has apologized and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel.  The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

To which Thornberry in turn responded:

“It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. This is a national security issue.”

The altogether miserly extent and scope of British media coverage of a plot to subvert our democracy can be usefully measured against the unlimited column inches and headline space given over to unfounded allegations of Russian hacking of the DNC in America. But no less importantly, the plot against Tory ministers occupies a mere ten minutes of one episode of what in full amounts to two hours over four parts of broadcast material. The revelation is damning in the extreme but it should not have been allowed to totally overshadow the real focus of the documentary: a dirty tricks campaign against pro-Palestinian Labour party members and other efforts to subvert the party’s elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. This chicanery against Corbyn in the interests of a foreign power is something the media has helped to bury.

In the second episode (all four episodes of “The Lobby” are embedded in the previous post with link below), undercover reporter ‘Robin’ follows Shai Masot to the Labour Party Conference held in Liverpool where he is introduced to Joan Ryan at the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) stall. It is here when Masot tells Ryan that he has secured the approval for funds of “more than one million pounds… from Israel”. A million pounds to ply the backing of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. 6

Click here to read the full post entitled “Shai Masot, the Israel lobby, and its part in the ongoing coup against Jeremy Corbyn”.

The latest move by the Israel lobby is to force the Labour Party to adopt the four additional working “examples” of anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It is a McCarthyite initiative which, as independent journalist Jonathan Cook explains in his latest article, will result in “Labour activists find[ing] themselves, like Corbyn, either outed or required to out others as supposed anti-semites”:

Looking at my own work, it is clear that almost all of it falls foul of two further “examples” of anti-semitism cited in the full IHRA definition that Labour is preparing to adopt:

“Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

and:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

One hardly needs to point out how preposterous it is that the Labour party is about to outlaw from internal discussion or review any research, scholarship or journalism that violates these two “examples” weeks after Israel passed its Nation-State Basic Law. That law, which has constitutional weight, makes explict what was always implict in Israel as a Jewish state:

  1. that Israel privileges the rights and status of Jews around the world, including those who have never even visited Israel, above the rights of the fifth of the country’s citizens who are non-Jews (the remnants of the native Palestinian population who survived the ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948).
  2. that Israel, as defined in the Basic Law, is not a state bounded by internationally recognised borders but rather the “Land of Israel” – a Biblical conception of Israel whose borders encompass the occupied Palestinian territories and parts of many neighbouring states.

How, one might reasonably wonder, is such a state – defined this way in the Basic Law – a normal “democratic” state? How is it not structurally racist and inherently acquisitive of other people’s territory?

Contrary to the demands of these two extra IHRA “examples”, the Basic Law alone shows that Israel is a “racist endeavour” and that we cannot judge it by the same standards we would a normal western-style democracy. Not least, it has a double “border” problem: it forces Jews everywhere to be included in its self-definition of the “nation”, whether they want to be or not; and it lays claim to the title deeds of other territories without any intention to confer on their non-Jewish inhabitants the rights it accords Jews.

Demanding that we treat Israel as a normal western-style liberal democracy – as the IHRA full definition requires – makes as much sense as having demanded the same for apartheid South Africa back in the 1980s.

Entitled “Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail by Design”, Cook concludes the same piece:

The Labour party has become the largest in Europe as Corbyn has attracted huge numbers of newcomers into the membership, inspired by a new kind of politics. That is a terrifying development for the old politics, which preferred tiny political cliques accountable chiefly to corporate donors, leaving a slightly wider circle of activists largely powerless.

That is why the Blairite holdouts in the party bureaucracy are quite content to use any pretext not only to root out genuine progressive activists drawn to a Corbyn-led party, including anti-Zionist Jewish activists, but to alienate tens of thousands more members that had begun to transform Labour into a grassroots movement.

A party endlessly obsessing about anti-semitism, a party that has abandoned the Palestinians, a party that has begun throwing out key progressive principles, a party that has renounced free speech, and a party that no longer puts the interests of the poor and vulnerable at the centre of its concerns is a party that will fail.

That is where the anti-semitism “crisis” is leading Labour – precisely as it was designed to do. 7

I strongly encourage readers to click on the link to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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Israel’s ethnic nationalism

Another of Jonathan Cook’s articles that doubtless “falls foul… of anti-semitism cited in the full IHRA definition that Labour is preparing to adopt” was an excellent extended article entitled “How Israel helped to revive Europe’s ugly ethnic nationalisms” that he published back in July. By quoting it at length, I must be found guilty of the same charge.

Beginning from an historical perspective, Cook writes:

Its founding ideology, Zionism, was deeply opposed to civic nationalism and attendant ideas of a common political identity. Rather, it was a tribal ideology – one based on blood ties and religious heritage – that spoke the same language as Europe’s earlier ethnic nationalisms. It agreed with the racists of Europe that “the Jews” could not be assimilated or integrated because they were a people apart.

It was this shared ground with the ethnic nationalists that made the Zionist movement deeply unpopular among the vast majority of European Jews until the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. After the horrors of the Nazis, however, growing numbers of Jews concluded that, if you could not beat the ethnic nationalists, it was better to join them. A highly militarised, nuclear-armed Israel – sponsored by Europe and belligerent towards its new, relatively weak Arab neighbours – appeared the best solution available.

It is that shared ground that today makes Israel an ally and friend to Trump and his political constituency in the US and to Europe’s far-right parties.

In fact, Israel is revered by a new breed of white supremacists and anti-semites in the US known as the alt-right. Their leader, Richard Spencer, has termed himself a “white Zionist”, saying he wants the US to become a “secure homeland” to prevent “the demographic dispossession of white people in the United States and around the world” in the same way Israel achieved for Jews.

He then discusses how Israel’s dominant strand of ethnic nationalism leads to structural racism and an apartheid state:

In a handbook for further dispossession known as the King’s Torah, influential settler rabbis have justified the pre-emptive killing of Palestinians as terrorists, and their babies as “future terrorists”. This worldview explains why settlers massed outside a court in Israel last month taunting a Palestinian, Hussein Dawabshe, whose 18-month-old grandson, Ali, was among family members burnt alive by settlers in 2015. As the grandfather arrived, the settlers jeered “Where is Ali, Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”

Even more common, to the extent that it passes almost unnoticed in Israel, is the structural racism that keeps the fifth of the population belonging to a Palestinian minority apart from the Jewish majority. For decades, for example, Israeli hospitals have been separating women in maternity wards based on their ethnicity.  Last month, in a familiar pattern, it was revealed that a municipal swimming pool in the Negev was quietly segregating Jewish and Palestinian bathers – all citizens of the same state – by offering different hours.

At least the pool accepted Palestinian citizens. Almost all communities in Israel are segregated, with many hundreds using admissions committees to ensure they bar Palestinian citizens and remain exclusively Jewish.

There have been weeks of angry protests among Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula, after the first Palestinian family managed to buy a home in a neighbourhood. Deputy mayor Shlomo Malihi observed: “I hope that the house sale will be cancelled so that this city won’t begin to be mixed.”

He also confronts the fact that fears of racial contamination now straddle the old left-right divisions in Israel:

Last month Miki Zohar, a legislator in the ruling Likud party, observed not only that there is a “Jewish race”, but that it represents “the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending”.

At the same time, the government’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, noted that the future of the Jewish people in countries like the US kept him awake at night. “If we don’t act urgently, we’re going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

This is a common refrain on the Israeli left too. Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the supposedly socialist Labour party and the new chair of the Jewish Agency, shares Bennett’s tribal impulse. Last month he warned that Jews outside Israel were falling victim to a “plague” of intermarriage with non-Jews. He bewailed that on a visit to the US last year: “I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners”. He concluded: “We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.” 8

Today Israel leads the way in ethnic politics, and is not fussy when it comes to choosing bedfellows. I have no time for billionaire George Soros (as you can read in earlier posts) who is once again meddling in Britain’s politics (this time seeking to overturn the result of the Brexit referendum), but I do not accuse him, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán does, of trying to undermine the soul of European Christian society. But then, as Cook points out, Orbán has no qualms about inflaming racial tensions or evoking figures from Hungary’s recent fascist past:

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is among the new brand of eastern European leader brazenly stoking an ethnic politics at home through anti-semitism. He has targeted the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for promoting a civic nationalism, suggesting Soros represents a wider Jewish threat to Hungary. Under a recent law, popularly known as “STOP Soros”, anyone helping migrants enter Hungary risks a prison sentence. Orban has lauded Miklos Horthy, a long-time Hungarian leader who was a close ally of Hitler’s.

Nonetheless, Orban is being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu, in the same way the Israeli prime minister has closely identified with Trump. Netanyahu called to congratulate Orban shortly after he was re-elected in April, and will welcome him in a state visit this month. Ultimately, Netanyahu is angling to host the next meeting of the Visegrad group, four central European countries in the grip of far-right ethnic politics Israel wishes to develop closer ties with.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s complete article entitled “How Israel helped to revive Europe’s ugly ethnic nationalisms”.

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On July 18th, The Real News interviewed Moshé Machover, a Jewish member of the Labour Party who was expelled and soon after reinstated, who said:

“For those various parts of the Israel lobby and the conservative establishment inside and outside the [Labour] Party, the main point is to ringfence Israel and Zionist project of colonisation against criticism. They are not really interested in antisemitism per se. This is not why they have made all this immense public campaign, part of which is driven from Israel via the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, so called. They are not really interested in antisemitism, for example, they don’t argue with Israel’s relations with the most antisemitic regimes in Europe. At the moment, I think while we are speaking, [Viktor] Orbán, the antisemitic Prime Minister of Hungary, is visiting Israel on very friendly terms. They don’t criticise this… They are interested in using or abusing accusations of antisemitism only to ringfence Israel and its project of colonisation.”

[from 8:25 mins]

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Tommy Robinson is a fascist

Tommy Robinson is a racist and a fascist. A former member of the British National Party (BNP), he afterwards founded the ultra-right English Defence League (EDL) which he led from 2009 to 2013 before becoming involved with the formation of a British chapter of the German neo-Nazi group Pegida. The pseudonymous ‘Tommy’ is actually a petty criminal who was previously jailed for mortgage fraud, and a thug who once beat up an off-duty policeman who tried to intervene in a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend (current wife) Jenna Vowles. A common criminal and a conman, ‘Tommy’s real name seems to be Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon although even this is uncertain because he has previously travelled on false passports under names including Andrew McMaster and Paul Harris.

Oddly for a racist, and especially such a close associate of the fascist group Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), whose founder ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman looks like this…

His idea of a joke by the way

… Robinson says he is “a friend of the Jews” and has repeatedly proclaimed himself a Zionist. As he told Sandy Rashty in an interview for the Jewish Chronicle in March 2015:

“If Israel falls, we all fall in this battle for freedom, liberty and democracy. English people see it as their fight as well. The Islamists say, ‘Saturday come first, then come Sunday’ – the Jews first, then the Christians.

“The media would have us believe that everyone in this country hates Israel, that Israel is this big monster.

“That comes from this whole left-wing mindset, this whole victim thing with Palestine which is inbred into students at university. It’s not inbred into anyone I know – white working-class people.”

And if you wonder why the Jewish Chronicle “would give a racist a platform” as apparently others in the JC newsroom did, then the reason says Rashty is that:

Well, Robinson has apparently adopted the Jewish cause – whether or not his support is wanted. He has held up Israeli flags at EDL rallies; he has worn an “I am a Zionist” badge and he has condemned the rise in UK antisemitism. 9

As I have pointed out previously, Robinson and his EDL represent the re-emergence of a dangerous strain of ‘postmodern’ fascism that principally cloaks its own bigotry by saying it acts against the “religious intolerance” of Islam. In its current form the new fascism finds common ground with the far-right of Israel and so commits itself (for now) to “condemn[ing] the rise in UK antisemitism.” And some ‘friends of Israel’, as we shall see, are happy enough to sup with the devil.

Click here to read further thoughts on Tommy Robinson and the fascist abandonment of the old-style politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”.

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Update:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to accuse critics of Israel of being anti-Semites. But how does he explain his own glaring ties to anti-Semitic world leaders and Evangelical preachers, not to mention his defense of Adolf Hitler and his son’s attack on George Soros? Does defending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands make you immune from the charge of anti-Jewish hatred? In this video [uploaded on August 23rd], Mehdi Hasan asks whether the prime minister of Israel is part of the solution to rising anti-Semitism — or part of the problem:

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‘Robinson’ and the Alt-Right friends of Israel

‘Tommy Robinson’ isn’t just any old racist or any old fascist; his brand has powerful backers. Surprisingly, the best mainstream exposé I have come across so far is an extended article recently published by the Daily Mail. I encourage readers to follow the link below, since here is only a brief if relevant extract:

When it comes to the ‘monetising’ of the Robinson ‘brand’, appeals to individuals are only part of the picture, however.

For behind the scenes, an opaque and controversial network of U.S. billionaires and far-Right lobby groups are also funnelling cash his way.

Legal fees for the recent court case, for example, in which he instructed a high-profile QC, are being covered by the Middle East Forum, a controversial think-tank based in Philadelphia.

The Forum has previously bankrolled Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian once banned from the UK for anti-Islamic rhetoric, and has been described by the anti-racist Centre for American Progress as being ‘at the centre of’ a so-called ‘Islamophobia network’ of hard-Right groups.

Last month it paid the bill for Paul Gosar, a Republican member of the U.S. Congress, to fly to London to address a rally of Robinson supporters.

Then there is Robert Shillman, the billionaire founder of tech firm Cognex, whose clients include the supermarket chain Asda and drug company AstraZeneca.

He financed a ‘Shillman fellowship’ that last year allowed Robinson to be employed by the aforementioned Rebel Media site on what was said to be a ‘high five-figure salary’. The grant also allowed his three assistants to be paid a reported £2,500 a month.

Mr Shillman, a reclusive figure, uses income from the tech firm to channel funds to a variety of far-Right organisations, including the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a California-based ‘school for political warfare’ dedicated to defending conservative values from ‘attack by leftist and Islamist enemies.’ 10

Click here to read more on the seedy background and strange backers of the ‘Tommy’ brand – including the PayPal founder, Trump donor and Bilderberg steering committee member, Peter Thiel – in a remarkably insightful Daily Mail article written by Guy Adams.

Incidentally, there is little that is secretive here – many of Robinson’s backers are quite open about their funding. The aforementioned Middle East Forum in particular is very proud of its central role in the #FreeTommy campaign as its own disingenuous (in terms of the facts surrounding the legal case) press release amply shows. I have republished it in full simply to show how brazen their support is:

The Middle East Forum applauds the release of Tommy Robinson from prison this morning, after the UK anti-Islamist activist won his appeal over a contempt of court sentence.

In June, Mr. Robinson, a long-time target of UK authorities, was covering a rape-gang trial involving Muslim defendants in England when he was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to 13 months prison, and jailed – all in the course of five hours, all while denied access to counsel.

The full resources of the Middle East Forum were activated to free Mr. Robinson. We:

  1. Conferred with his legal team and made funding available to them;
  2. Funded, organized and staffed the large “Free Tommy” London rallies on June 9 and July 14 (see The Times, The Guardian, and the Independent);
  3. Funded travel by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) to London to address the rally; and
  4. Urged Sam Brownback, the State Department’s ambassador for International Religious Freedom, to raise the issue with the UK’s ambassador.

What precisely happened: In an extraordinary decision, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales – the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, roughly equivalent to the American chief justice of the Supreme Court – himself wrote a judgment rejecting the kangaroo-court verdict that had Tommy Robinson instantly thrown in jail for over a year because of an obscure Contempt Act that a UK media guide says “in practice … is not enforced.” Lord Chief Justice Burnett denounced what he called “a fundamentally flawed process” and in a further rebuff to the kangaroo-court judge, assigned Tommy Robinson’s case to someone else.

MEF president Daniel Pipes commented: “This validates the #FreeTommy campaign’s claim that Tommy Robinson, yet again, had been treated (in the words of his autobiography’s title) as an enemy of the state. We at the Middle East Forum are delighted by this turn of events and look forward to the charges against Tommy Robinson being considered in a sober, neutral, and un-rushed manner.”

Forum director Gregg Roman adds: “This is a win not just for Tommy Robinson, but for all those in the United Kingdom who publicly discuss Islam and related matters – including Islamism, jihad, and Islamic ‘charities.’ The UK authorities tried to shut down an important debate. They lost. The people won.”

The Forum will continue to support Mr. Robinson’s – and everyone else’s – right to speak freely about controversial topics. 11

What the Daily Mail article fails to delve into, however, are the close ties Middle East Forum has to the US-Israel lobby. For instance, the president of MEF, Daniel Pipes, is a neo-con with connections to the post-9/11 Bush administration, who later received the “Guardian of Zion” award from Bar-Ilan University’s Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies. His fealty to Israel and alignment with the current extreme right-wing government can be judged from an interview with Ruthie Blum of the Jerusalem Post, conducted at the time he picked up his award:

Over the course of the past 15 years, one has seen a host of proposals on how to manage the [Israel-Palestine] conflict. Some of these proposals became government policy; many others are simply proposals. What they have in common, from Left to Right, is that they see this conflict as unwinnable, as merely manageable.

The security fence is a case in point. I am for it. Clearly, it has had – and in the future, when it’s completed, will have even more – the effect of keeping out would-be murderers. But a wall is not the way to win a conflict. A wall is a tactical mechanism to protect oneself, not a strategic way of winning a war. Winning a war requires imagination – perspective – to impose your will on your enemy. That is classically what victory means: imposing your will on your enemy. It doesn’t mean massacring or impoverishing the enemy, but causing him to give up his goals. This notion is virtually absent from Israeli political discussion. 12

Likewise, the Daily Mail article fails to drill down into pro-Israel allegiance of Robert Shillman and the David Horowitz Freedom Center but rather briskly skirts the issue, adding only: “The Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent civil rights charity, has described the Freedom Center as a ‘hate group’ which publishes ‘anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant racist sentiment’.”

But even from Shillman’s Wikipedia entry we soon discover that he sits on the board of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Further down we also learn how in 2008, Shillman had accepted an invitation to be one of Bush jr’s special delegation and sit alongside Henry Kissinger; National Director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman; Paul “the Vulture” Singer; and Las Vegas casino mogul and major Trump donor, Sheldon Adelson; amongst fifty other luminaries gathered in attendance for Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations. 13

Incidentally, here is Sheldon Adelson (who gave $25 million to Trump’s campaign plus $5 million towards his inauguration – $82 million in total to Republicans) speaking in October 2013, at Yeshiva University, Lamport Hall, and calling on “anti-Israel” Obama (on whom he had previously spent $150m to unseat!) 14 to launch a first-strike nuclear attack against Iran:

“What I would say is, listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something. You pick up your cellphone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say okay let it go…” [from 5:25 mins]

Then we come to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, an “activist group with a $7 million annual budget that helps promote some of America’s loudest pro-Israel and anti-Muslim voices” 15 to which Shillman is intimately connected. The “Freedom Center” also happens to employ Robert Spencer (who once claimed that a video of an Egyptian ‘die-in protest’ from Egyptian newspaper El Badil was a Hamas video deliberately faking the number of casualties killed by Israel) as well as hawkish Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, who we learn from its “About” page is “a former captain of the Israel Defense Forces and onetime Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, [and] is the director of the Israel Security Project.”

Then we come to David Horowitz himself, yet another pro-Trump, right-wing tub-thumper and a Breitbart contributor, who said in an interview with Niram Feretti published in translation by Truth Revolt:

Anti-Zionism is another name for Jew hatred. There is no other ethnicity or religion in the world that would be the target of such hatred as the Jewish state, and no other antagonism – except that against America – that would forge an alliance between the progressive left and the Nazis of Islam, who unlike Hitler who concealed his plans for the Final Solution, shout from the rooftops that their goal is to finish the job that Hitler started.

Continuing:

Obama has thrown his support to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the fountainhead of Islamic Nazism and terror, and is the source of the Palestinians’ genocidal campaign to push the Jews into the sea. Although conservatives are still intimidated from saying the truth about Obama because he is black, Obama is an American traitor who has delivered nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to the Iranians who openly proclaim that their goal is “Death to America,” and “Death to Israel.”

And:

It is crucial to winning the global war that the Islamists have declared against us. The Prophet Mohammed called for the extermination of the Jews and a holy war to be waged against infidels – Christians, Hindus, atheists and anyone who will not submit to the Muslim faith. Islam is the only religion, which has been spread by the sword at the specific behest of its prophet. 16

Robert Shillman, David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes are prominent voices of today’s pro-Israel lobby; disturbingly, they are also some of the most outspoken voices for extreme ring-wing bigotry and the new fascism. Their appeal is to those firmly on the right, especially the Christian-right, urging them to rally to the cause of Israel; meanwhile there is another offensive as they and others harangue the left on the false premise that, as Horowitz puts it, “Anti-Zionism is another name for Jew hatred.”

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Final thoughts

Crying wolf about antisemitism is not only a strategy fraught with diabolical dangers but deplorable for so many reasons, yet sadly it works – particularly when, as now, it is cynically deployed against a committed anti-racist like Corbyn. Like a judo move it turns all of his greatest strengths – his integrity and true compassion – against him. But those who wield the charge of “antisemitism” as a blunt weapon, whether in defence of Israel or merely to attack Corbyn, evidently care very little about the untold repercussions of their own insincerity: that it directly undermines the anti-racist cause and may yet cause a terrible backlash is never considered. Nor do they apparently care if they themselves desecrate the memory of real victims of antisemitism including the millions who perished during the Holocaust. Indeed, Norman Finkelstein, whose parents were both Holocaust survivors, tells the story of an encounter with one of Corbyn’s fiercest accusers Jonathan Freedland, which fully exposes the hypocrisy behind these constant attacks:

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family.

We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game? 17

It behoves the Left to speak out against intolerance and injustice wherever we encounter it, and irrespective of whether or not the Labour Party finally adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism and thereby pursues a McCarthyite crackdown on free speech, we must feel free to criticise Israel as we might reasonably criticise every other government or nation on earth. If the words on my blog result in my later expulsion from the party then I shall treat this as a badge of honour and fight on. Unless found to be factually inaccurate (in which event I apologise in advance), I retract nothing. We must not allow ourselves to be cowed into submission.

As Kenneth Surin, Professor of Literature and Professor of Religion and Critical Theory at Duke University in North Carolina, wrote in an article published by Counterpunch a few weeks ago:

The 2017 Democracy Index used 4 categories to assess countries –  full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime, and authoritarian regime.

The following countries were ranked by the Index as full democracies: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

Israel was listed as a flawed democracy, as was the US.

Israel’s leaders have always touted their country as “the only democracy in the Middle East”, as if their country stood on a par with the 19 countries ranked as full democracies by the 2017 Democracy Index. 

Is it “antisemitic” to hold Israel to a standard deemed to be achieved by Mauritius and Uruguay?

Or to say that Israel is really an “ethnocracy”, as opposed to being a democracy?

The Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel argued in his 2006 book Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine that an ethnocracy is a regime promoting “the expansion of the dominant group in contested territory … while maintaining a democratic façade”.

When it comes to drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, it all depends on the basis used in making the comparison between Israel and the Nazis.

Having gas chambers for mass exterminations, then certainly not.

However, nearly everyone who believes that comparing Israel with the Nazis is “antisemitic” invariably takes the concentration-camp gas chambers as the implicit norm, whether out of bad faith or ignorance, for making such comparisons.

The Nazi “final solution”, vast as it was, had many strands, with horror piled upon horror.  This multiple-layering must be considered when making the Israel-Nazi comparison.

Encircling and starving-out an entire community in a ghetto (Warsaw?), then yes, the comparison is valid – this is precisely what is taking place in Gaza.

The Nazis confiscated Jewish property wholesale; the Israelis are doing the same to Palestinian houses and land in order to “clear” them for the expansion of the illegal settlements, and for alleged military purposes.  B’Tselem, Israel’s human rights watchdog, confirms this on their website.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

Jews were prevented from leaving German-occupied Poland by the SS. Similarly, Palestinians are prevented from leaving Gaza (even for medical treatment) by the combined efforts of Israel and the Egyptian dictatorship.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

German Civil Police K-9 Units were used by the SS to assist in the roundup and deportation of Jews in WW2.  Similarly, the Israeli army uses attack dogs on unarmed Palestinians when raiding their homes, and when arresting peaceful demonstrators.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

It is difficult to see why comparing Israel to the Nazis on these latter bases, while scrupulously eschewing the gas chambers as a basis for comparison (the Palestinians have not been sent to gas chambers en masse), necessarily makes one an “antisemite”.

The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé describes Israel’s policy regarding Gaza as “incremental genocide”, in contrast to the Nazi’s absolute genocide. The final outcome however is not in doubt. 18

Click here to read Kenneth Surin’s excellent article entitled “The UK’s Labour Party and Its ‘Anti-Semitism’ Crisis”.

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Addendum: Open letters from Jewish defenders of Jeremy Corbyn

As I wrote last March, during the last sustained media offensive to spuriously tar Corbyn as an anti-Semite:

It is tiresome to have to defend Corbyn time and again when all charges against him are so easily shown to be baseless and when only the most simpleminded can possibly remain unaware that he is the victim of a carefully coordinated smear campaign that has been running even before his election as Labour leader.

I also republished an official statement released by the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) entitled “Oppose antisemitism and malicious accusations by supporters of the Tory Party” which noted:

Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies, was one of the first to congratulate Donald Trump on his election as President of the United States on behalf of the Board. This action was harshly criticised by many Jews he claims that the Board represents. He also gives unqualified support to Israel’s pro-settler Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who enjoys good relations with the very far right political forces in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic who are fanning bigotry against minorities, including Jews.

Until very recently the Jewish Leadership Council was chaired by Sir Mick Davies, who was appointed Tory Party treasurer in February 2016 and is now the Chief Executive of the Conservative Party.

And concluded:

We have worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years, and we have faith that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour-led councils across the country, will be best placed to implement serious measures against all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry.

Click here to read the full statement on the JSG website.

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Here are further letters of support and statements by prominent Jewish individuals who have spoken out on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn.

In August 2015, just a month after being elected leader of the Labour Party in a landslide victory, nearly 50 prominent Jewish activists including included Laurence Dreyfus, Selma James, Miriam Margolyes, Ilan Pappé, and Avi Shlaim, Tony Greenstein, Prof. Haim Bresheeth, Abe Hayeem, and Michael Rosen, signed an open letter to the Jewish Chronicle. It reads:

“Your assertion that your attack on Jeremy Corbyn is supported by ‘the vast majority of British Jews’ is without foundation. We do not accept that you speak on behalf of progressive Jews in this country. You speak only for Jews who support Israel, right or wrong.

“There is something deeply unpleasant and dishonest about your McCarthyite guilt by association technique. Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary record over 32 years has consistently opposed all racism including antisemitism.

“Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to apologise for in his meetings with representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah. Hamas was democratically elected in Palestinian elections generally accepted as fair, and Hezbollah also has strong electoral support in Lebanon.

“You report Paul Eisen as saying that Jeremy Corbyn donated to Deir Yassin Remembered. So did many people before discovering the existence of antisemites and Holocaust-deniers in the organisation. Many people attended the occasional fundraising concert that DYR organised, without either knowing of or sympathising with Mr Eisen’s views.

“As supporters of Israel, perhaps you agree with the racist statements of Israeli government ministers such as Eli Dahan that Jews have higher souls than non-Jews? Or Miri Regev’s belief that asylum seekers are a ‘cancer’? Or, would this be guilt by association, as in your character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn?” 19

Click here to read the same letter published in The Jewish Chronicle.

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In April 2016, this number of prominent outspoken Jewish activists increased to more than eighty when a letter published in the Guardian included the signatures of Miriam David, Ivor Dembina, Professor Stephen Deutsch, Selma James, Stephen Marks, Charles Shaar Murray, Ian Saville and Lynne Segal:

We are Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party and of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, who wish to put our perspective on the “antisemitism” controversy that has been widely debated in the last few weeks (Labour’s antisemitism crisis as Livingstone suspended, 29 April). We do not accept that antisemitism is “rife” in the Labour party. Of the examples that have been repeated in the media, many have been reported inaccurately, some are trivial, and a very few may be genuine examples of antisemitism. The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism. We, personally, have not experienced any antisemitic prejudice in our dealings with Labour party colleagues.

We believe these accusations are part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week. As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties. We dissociate ourselves from the misleading attacks on Labour from some members of the Jewish community. We urge others, who may be confused or worried by recent publicity, to be sure that the Labour party, under its present progressive leadership, is a place where Jews are welcomed in a spirit of equality and solidarity. 20

Click here to read the same letter published in the Guardian.

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In April 2018, more than forty senior academics wrote another letter in the Guardian condemning anti-Corbyn bias in mainstream media coverage:

One of the main concepts in journalism education is that of framing: the highlighting of particular issues, and the avoidance of others, in order to produce a desired interpretation. We have been reminded of the importance of framing when considering the vast amounts of media coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged failure to deal with antisemitism inside the Labour party. On Sunday, three national titles led with the story while news bulletins focused on the allegations all last week. Dominant sections of the media have framed the story in such a way as to suggest that antisemitism is a problem mostly to do with Labour and that Corbyn is personally responsible for failing to deal with it. The coverage has relied on a handful of sources such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and well-known political opponents of Corbyn himself.

Yet where are the Jewish voices who support Corbyn and who welcome his long-established anti-racist record? Where are the pieces that look at the political motivations of some of Corbyn’s most vocal critics? Where is the fuss in your news columns about the rising tide of antisemitism in Europe, such as in Hungary, where the Fidesz government has used antisemitic tropes to bolster its support, or in Poland, where the government is attempting to criminalise revelations about the country’s antisemitic past? Where are the columns condemning the links between Conservative MEPs and rightwing parties across Europe in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group which trade on antisemitism?

It is not “whataboutery” to suggest that the debate on antisemitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponise it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections. We condemn antisemitism wherever it exists. We also condemn journalism that so blatantly lacks context, perspective and a meaningful range of voices in its determination to condemn Jeremy Corbyn. 21

Click here to read the same letter published in the Guardian.

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1 From a pre-recorded Novara Media interview with Norman Finkelstein [at 43:50 mins] conducted via video link to New York, broadcast as part of a live-streamed discussion with Barnaby Raine on Monday 6th:

2 From an exclusive story entitled “Jewish News editor slams his paper’s front page attack on Corbyn: ‘It’s repulsive. This is a lifelong anti-racist we’re trashing’ written by Kerry-Anne Mendoza, published in The Canary on August 6, 2018. https://www.thecanary.co/exclusive/2018/08/06/exclusive-jewish-news-editor-slams-his-papers-front-page-attack-on-corbyn-its-repulsive-this-is-a-lifelong-anti-racist-were-trashing/

3 From an article entitled “The fact that Corbyn didn’t yell abuse at a holocaust survivor definitely makes him anti-Semitic” written by Mark Steel, published in The Independent on August 2, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/antisemitism-labour-party-jeremy-corbyn-jewish-holocaust-survivor-abuse-a8474846.html

4 An article entitled “How Corbyn’s Critics Use the Accusation of Anti-Semitism as a Weapon to ‘Embarrass the Left’” written by Michael Barker, published in Counterpunch on August 2, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/02/how-corbyns-critics-use-the-accusation-of-anti-semitism-as-a-weapon-to-embarrass-the-left/

5 From an article entitled “Ex-kibbutznik who is Corbyn’s left-hand man” written by Rosa Doherty, published in the Jewish Chronicle on January 28, 2016. https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/interviews/ex-kibbutznik-who-is-corbyn-s-left-hand-man-1.58391

6 Quote from Al Jazeera Investigations – The Lobby Part 2: The Training Session at 7:55 mins

7 From an article entitled “Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail by Design” written by Janathan Cook, published in Counterpunch on August 20, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/20/corbyns-labour-party-is-being-made-to-fail-by-design/

8 From an article entitled “How Israel helped to revive Europe’s ugly ethnic nationalisms” written by Jonathan Cook published in Middle East Eye on July 13, 2018. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2018-07-13/how-israel-helped-to-revive-europes-ugly-ethnic-nationalisms/

9 From an article entitled “Wat makes the EDL’s former leaders, who says he is a friend of the Jews, tick?” written by Sandy Rashty, published in the Jewish Chronicle on March 5, 2015. https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/features/what-makes-the-edl-s-former-leader-who-says-he-is-a-friend-of-the-jews-tick-1.65493

10 From an article entitled “GUY ADAMS asks why British hatemonger Tommy Robinson is being funded by American Billionaires” written by Guy Adams, published in the Daily Mail on August 11, 2018. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-6049325/GUY-ADAMS-asks-British-hatemonger-Tommy-Robinson-funded-American-billionaires.html

11 An article entitled “Tommy Robinson Free – MEF Heavily Involved”, published by Middle East Forum on August 1, 2018. https://www.meforum.org/articles/2018/tommy-robinson-free-mef-heavily-involved

12 From an interview with Ruthie Blum, published in the Jerusalem Post on June 9, 2006. http://www.danielpipes.org/3667/interview-i-watch-with-frustration-as

13 From an article entitled “Bush Visit May Boost Olmert” written by Eli Lake, published in The New York Sun on May 13, 2008. https://www.nysun.com/foreign/bush-visit-may-boost-olmert/76303/

14 Figures taken from an article entitled “The UK’s Labour Party and its ‘Anti-Semitism’ Crisis” written by Kenneth Surin, published in Counterpunch on August 7, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/07/the-uks-labour-party-and-its-anti-semitism-crisis/

Here is the passage in full:

The casino mogul Sheldon Adelson donated $25 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign ($82 million in total to Republicans in 2016), and $5 million towards his inauguration.   Earlier this year Adelson donated $70 million to Birthright, the organization that brings young Jews to Israel for nothing (he’s donated $100m in total to Birthright).  He also donated $30 million to Republicans after Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran.  Adelson spent $150m in the 2012 election in a futile attempt to unseat the “anti-Israel” Barack Obama.

Adelson’s aim in all of this is to swing Trump behind his friend Netanyahu’s “Greater Israel” political agenda.  To this end Adelson pushed hard for the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, appointing the arch-Zionist John Bolton as a Trump adviser, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (in contravention of international law), and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  Adelson has succeeded in all of these objectives.

15 Quote taken from an article entitled “7 Things About David Horowitz, the Right-Wing Polemicist Who Coined ‘Renegade Jew’ Slur on Bill Kristol” written by Josh Nathan-Kazis, published by Forward magazine on May 17, 2016. https://forward.com/news/340852/7-things-about-david-horowitz-the-right-wing-polemicist-who-coined-renegade/

16 From an article entitled “Hammer Blows: The Left, Israel, Obama – an Interview with David Horowitz” based on an interview conducted by Niram Feretti, originally published on the Italian news site L’Informale here, translated and republished by Truth Revolt on March 16, 2016. https://www.truthrevolt.org/commentary/hammer-blows-left-israel-obama-interview-david-horowitz

17 From an interview with Jamie Stern-Weiner on May 3, 2016. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda

18 From an article entitled “The UK’s Labour Party and its ‘Anti-Semitism’ Crisis” written by Kenneth Surin, published in Counterpunch on August 7, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/07/the-uks-labour-party-and-its-anti-semitism-crisis/ 

19 From an article entitled “Anti-Israel activists attack JC for challenging Jeremy Corbyn” written by Marcus Dysch, published in The Jewish Chronicle on August 18, 2015. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/anti-israel-activists-attack-jc-for-challenging-jeremy-corbyn-1.68162

20 An open letter published under the title “Labour, antisemitism and where Jeremy Corbyn goes from here” by the Guardian on April 29, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/apr/29/labour-antisemitism-and-where-jeremy-corbyn-goes-from-here

21 An open letter published under the title “Stop Jeremy Corbyn’s trial by media over antisemitism” published in the Guardian on April 2, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/02/stop-jeremy-corbyns-trial-by-media-over-antisemitism

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, USA

all work and no play

The following article is Chapter Six of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year (and beyond). Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

*

BOSWELL, “But, sir, the mind must be employed, and we grow weary when idle.”
JOHNSON, “That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company; but if we were all idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another… But no man loves labour for itself.”
1

*

Leaving aside the various species of bats and whales, very nearly all mammals are land-dwelling creatures. In fact, nearly all animals – meaning quadrupeds – spend their lives earthbound. For millennia humans too occupied the same earthbound sphere alongside fellow ground-dwelling organisms. So consider then the following: at this precise moment upwards of six thousand scheduled airliners are aloft in our skies, and at peak times as many as ten thousand are flying high above the clouds. Each of these airborne vessels is packed with many hundred perfectly ordinary human beings sat in rows, hurtling above our heads at altitudes exceeding thirty thousand feet and speeds above 500 miles per hour. This sum equates to literally millions of people airborne at each and every moment of each and every day – a significant proportion of the entire human population!

Now consider this: prior to December 17th 1903, only a handful of our species had ever lifted off the surface of the planet by any means at all and not a single human being had ever experienced powered flight. But then, on that fateful day, Orville and Wilbur Wright made three successful flights between them. On his first take-off, Orville covered 120 feet, remaining airborne for just 12 seconds. On the final flight, he valiantly managed 200 feet, all at an altitude of only ten feet. A century on, we have Airbus – take note the humdrum name of the company! – and the launch of its A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, which accommodates between 525 and 850 individuals, and is capable of flying approximately 10,000 miles nonstop. Thus, thanks to technology we have grown wings and been transformed into a semi-airborne species; entirely forgetting to be astonished by this remarkable fact is perhaps the final measure of our magnificent achievement.

*

“The world is undergoing immense changes. Never before have the conditions of life changed so swiftly and enormously as they have changed for mankind in the last fifty years. We have been carried along – with no means of measuring the increasing swiftness in the succession of events. We are only now beginning to realize the force and strength of the storm of change that has come upon us.

These changes have not come upon our world from without. No meteorite from outer space has struck our planet; there have been no overwhelming outbreaks of volcanic violence or strange epidemic diseases; the sun has not flared up to excessive heat or suddenly shrunken to plunge us into Arctic winter. The changes have come through men themselves. Quite a small number of people, heedless of the ultimate consequence of what they did, one man here and a group there, have made discoveries and produced and adopted inventions that have changed all the condition, of social life.”

These are the opening paragraphs from a lesser-known work by H.G. Wells. The Open Conspiracy, an extended essay written in 1928, was the first of Wells’ most earnest attempts to set the world to rights. Stumbling across it one day, it struck me that this voice from ninety years ago still chimes. I couldn’t help wondering indeed if we aren’t still in the midst of those same “immense changes”, being swept along by an, as yet, undiminished “storm of change”.

Wells, who uses the word ‘change’, in various formulations, no less than seven times (in a mere eight sentences), goes on to compare our modern wonders to the seven wonders of the ancient world, intending to emphasise their novel potency:

“Few realized how much more they were than any “Wonders.” The “Seven Wonders of the World” left men free to go on living, toiling, marrying, and dying as they had been accustomed to for immemorial ages. If the “Seven Wonders” had vanished or been multiplied three score it would not have changed the lives of any large proportion of human beings. But these new powers and substances were modifying and transforming – unobtrusively, surely, and relentlessly – very particular of the normal life of mankind.”

Wells had been trained as a scientist, and more than this, a scientist at a time when science was reaching its apogee. At the Royal College of Science2, he had studied biology under the tutelage of T. H. Huxley, the man who most publicly defended Darwin’s theory. In the debates against the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, it was Huxley who challenged and defeated the permitted orthodoxy of divine creation by showing how Science makes a better account of our origins than religious authority; so in an important sense, Huxley must be seen as one of the pioneers of this scientific revolution. With religion rather abruptly and rudely dismissed, it was open to the scientists and technologists to lead us all to salvation.

Wells was keen to get involved, if only as one of science and technology’s most passionate and outspoken advocates.  Growing up in late Victorian Britain, he was well acquainted with how systems of mass production had mostly superseded manual methods to become the predominant form of industrial process. Likewise, he had witnessed the spread of agricultural machines for planting seeds and harvesting crops, and of automotive machines transporting loads and providing ever more reliable and comfortable means for human transit. These innovations had led to a dramatic increase both in production and, more importantly, in productivity, and machine processes were set to become ever more versatile and reliable.

Wells was amongst the first to seriously consider how these new modes of manufacture with their greater efficiencies and capacities for heavier constructions, not to mention for longer range transportation and communication, would bring rapid and sweeping changes to ordinary life. Most importantly, he understood that since technology potentially allowed the generation of almost limitless power, its rise would unstoppably alter human affairs forever, and by extension, impact upon the natural world too.

Quite correctly, Wells went on to forecast an age to come (our age), in which ordinary lives are transformed to an extent so far beyond the technological transformations of past ages that life is unutterably and irreversibly altered. Yet the widespread access to these “wonders”, as he insistently calls them, causes us to regard them as so ordinary that we seldom, if ever, stop to wonder about them.

For machines are nowadays embedded quite literally everywhere – one is in fact translating the movement of my fingertips into printed words, whilst another happens to be reproducing the soulful precision of Alfred Brendel’s rendition of one of Franz Schubert’s late sonatas on a machine of still older conception (the piano) via yet another machine that preserves sound in the form of electrical impulses. Thanks to machines of these kinds, not only the sheet-music – those handwritten frequency-time graphs so painstakingly drafted, perhaps by candlelight, and very certainly using only a feather quill and inkpot – but thousands upon thousands of musical (and other) performances can be conjured up with literally “a click”. The snapping fingers of an emperor could never have summoned such variety. But then the internet is a wonder far exceeding even H.G. Wells’ far-seeing imagination.

*

More than a century ago, the poet, satirist and social commentator Oscar Wilde was another who looked forward to a time of such “wonders”. For Wilde, as for Wells, they presented reasons to be cheerful:

“All unintelligent labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals in dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious and distressing… There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery; and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure – which, and not labour, is the aim of man – or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is that civilization needs slaves… [But] Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.”3

Wilde and Wells were optimists, but cautious ones, and each foretold new dangers that potentially lay in wait for us. Wells wrote:

“They [the new “wonders”] increased the amount of production and the methods of production. They made possible “Big-Business,” to drive the small producer and the small distributor out of the market. They swept away factories and evoked new ones. They changed the face of the fields. They brought into the normal life, thing by thing and day by day, electric light and heating, bright cities at night, better aeration, new types of clothing, a fresh cleanliness. They changed a world where there had never been enough into a world of potential plenty, into a world of excessive plenty.”4

Wells believed that the very successes which brought about large-scale manufacturing and distribution, as well as commensurate developments in fields such as agriculture, sanitation and medicine, ones that were already extending the average life-expectancy, might still feasibly bring heavier burdens to bear on the planet. Left unchecked, he argued, our species would finish using up everything, whilst, exponentially crowding ourselves out of existence. So these new “wonders” were a double-edged sword. And then what of “excessive plenty” – of too much of a good thing – how do we avoid replacing one set of miseries with another? Such were Wells’ concerns, but then Wells owed a great deal to the eternal pessimist Thomas Malthus.

By contrast, at the dusk of the Victorian era, Wilde is not much bothered as Wells is, by the prospect of society overrun by a burgeoning and profligate mass of humanity, but by how we can ensure the new prosperity, so long awaited and desperately overdue, could be fairly distributed. After all, progress had until then been primarily technological in form and not social, and it appeared to Wilde that the costs of industrialisation were still hugely outweighing its benefits.

The centuries of Industrial Revolution had claimed so many victims. Not only those trapped inside the mills and the mines, the wage-slaves working all the hours God sends for subsistence pay, but those still more benighted souls incarcerated in the workhouses, alongside their malnourished children, who from ages six upwards might be forced underground to sweat in the mines or else to clamber about in the more choking darkness of chimneystacks.5 Industrial development meant that for the majority of adults and children (boys and girls) life was sunk into a routine of unremitting hardship and ceaseless backbreaking labour, as the poor were ruthlessly sacrificed to profit their masters – one big difference today, of course, is that our own sweatshops are more distant.

To abolish this class-ridden barbarism, Wilde therefore proposed an unapologetically radical solution:

“Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, everyone would benefit by it.”6

*

In case Wilde’s enthusiasm for collective ownership encourages you think it, then please be assured that he was not exactly a Leninist (as you will see), nor, in any traditional sense, was he a fully-fledged Marxist. In fact, if anything Wilde was an anarchist, heaping special praise on Peter Kropotkin, whom he once described as: “a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia.”7

Now it is interesting and worthwhile, I think, to compare Wilde’s views, writing just a few decades earlier, with those of H.G. Wells, for both held notionally left-leaning sympathies and both were broadly hopeful; each underscoring the special importance of science and technology when it came to achieving such desirable goals as ending poverty and rebuilding a fairer society. For in some regards, Wilde’s perspective is orthogonally different to Wells – and it is Wells who made the better communist (though he remained deeply antagonistic towards Marx for other reasons).

For Wells was an unflinching collectivist, and thus forever seeking solutions in terms of strict autocratic control. For instance, in one of the concluding chapters of The Open Conspiracy, Wells outlines “seven broad principles” that will ensure human progress of which the sixth reads as follows:

“The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks [ones that will ensure the betterment of mankind] and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power”8.

Wilde, on the contrary, unswervingly insisted that above all else the sovereign rights of the individual must be protected. That personal freedom must never be horse-traded, since “the true personality of man”, as he puts it, is infinitely more precious than any amount of prospective gains in comfort and security. This is precisely where Wilde is at his most prescient, foreseeing the dangers of socialist authoritarianism a full two decades before the Russian revolution, and instinctively advising a simple cure:

“What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first.”9

So compare Wilde’s earlier views to those of Wells fifty years on, by which time the Soviet model was up and running, and yet he is still advocating the need for a more widespread and overarching central authority: ultimately, a world government to coerce and co-ordinate the masses into the new age of socialism; even to the point of eradicating misfits for the sake of the greater good.

For Wells, every answer for resolving humanity’s problems involved the implementation of top-down governance, with the patterns of individual behaviour controlled by means of an applied political force-field, whereas Wilde was equally insistent that individuals are not uniformly alike like atoms, and must be permitted, so far as is humanly possible, to organise ourselves. It is a fundamental difference in outlook that is reflected in their attitudes towards work.

*

The inherent value of work is rarely questioned by Wells. In his earlier fictional work A Utopian World he answers his own inquiry “will a Utopian be free to be idle?” as follows:

“Work has to be done, every day humanity is sustained by its collective effort, and without a constant recurrence of effort in the single man as in the race as a whole, there is neither health nor happiness. The permanent idleness of a human being is not only burthensome to the world, but his own secure misery.”10

Wells is expressing a concern that once the labouring masses are relieved of their back-breaking obligation to work, they may “develop a recalcitrance where once there was little but fatalistic acquiescence”:

“It is just because labour is becoming more intelligent, responsible, and individually efficient that it is becoming more audible and impatient in social affairs. It is just because it is no longer mere gang labour, and is becoming more and more intelligent co-operation in detail, that it now resents being treated as a serf, housed like a serf, fed like a serf, and herded like a serf, and its pride and thoughts and feelings disregarded. Labour is in revolt because as a matter of fact it is, in the ancient and exact sense of the word, ceasing to be labour at all.”11

For these reasons, Wells senses trouble ahead, whereas for Wilde, these same changes in modes of employment serve as further reasons to be cheerful:

“[And] as I have mentioned the word labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by machine.”12

In his essay, Wilde, unlike Wells, is unabashed in confessing to his own Utopianism, writing:

“Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”13

But then, both Wilde and Wells were dreaming up Utopias during an age when dreaming about Utopia remained a permissible intellectual pursuit. So it is just that Wilde’s dream is so much grander than any visions of Wells. Wells was certainly an astute forecaster and could see with exceptional acuity what immediately awaited humanity around the next few corners, but Wilde, on the other hand, sought to navigate across a wider ocean. He did not wish to be constrained by the tedious encumbrances of his own time, and regarded the complete abolition of hard labour as an absolutely essential component of a better future. Even then, he was far from alone.

*

Writing in the thirties, Bertrand Russell was another outspoken advocate of cultured laziness. Russell, who is now venerated by some almost as a secular saint was nothing of the sort. Many of his views on politics and society were highly disagreeable and he was arguably one of the dreariest philosophers ever published, but this aside he was a supreme mathematician. It is noteworthy therefore that in order to support his own expressed desire for reducing the average workload, he did a few very simple sums. These led him to what he regarded as the most important, yet completely overlooked, lesson to be learned from the Great War.

At a time when the majority of the able-bodied population were busily fighting or else engaged in other means of facilitating the destructive apparatus of war, new modes of production had maintained sufficiency, and yet, as Russell pointed out, the true significance of this outstanding triumph of the new technologies was altogether masked by the vagaries of economics. He writes:

“Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed.”

And so to the sums – easy stuff for a man who had previously tried to fathom a complete axiomatic system for all mathematics:

“This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?”

His conclusion is that everyone could and would work a lot less hours, if only the system permitted us to:

“If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment – assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure.”14

It was still only 1932 remember – technology’s “wonders” have moved on a lot since Russell’s day…

*

Apis mellifera, the honey-bearing bee, is the paragon of industriousness. It’s a pleasure just to watch them humming their way from flower to flower. Working all the hours the apian god sends, without a care in the world. We ascribe tremendous social virtue to our arthropodous familiars, the busy, busy bees. However, if we are to judge bees fairly then we ought properly to consider more critically what it is that our conscientious little friends actually get up to day in, day out…

For though we say that the bees are “at work” – the infertile females who carry out the majority of tasks technically denominated as “workers” – their most celebrated activity, the foraging for nectar from flowers, can hardly be considered a “real job” at all. Unless by “real job” we allow that gorging oneself on the sweetest food available automatically qualifies as work. For, after supping up an abdomenful of nectar (I exaggerate a little for effect), these “workers” then return home to empty the contents of their bellies, as any professional drinker might. Back at the hive, their sister bees also collaborate in the transformation of the incoming nectar, collectively “manufacturing” honey by means of repeated consumption, partial digestion and regurgitation – and apologies to anyone who has suddenly lost their appetite for honey, but bear in mind that milk and eggs are no less strange when you stop to think about them.

By chance, it happens that humans (and other creatures) are partial to the sticky end product of a bee’s binge drinking session. I personally love it. And so we steal away their almost intoxicating amber syrup and attach an attractive price tag to it. The bees receive compensation in the form of sugar, and being apparently unaware of our cheap deception, are extolled as paragons of virtue.

In fact, whenever we take to judging or appraising human conduct of any kind, there is a stubborn tendency to take direction either from Religion, or, if Religion is dismissed, to look for comparisons from Nature. If doing something “isn’t natural”, a lazy kind of reasoning goes, then evidently – evidentially, in fact – there must be something wrong with it. For it cannot be right and proper to sin against Religion or to transgress against Nature. Thus, behaviour that is unorthodox and deviant in relationship to a received normal is denounced, in accordance with strict definition indeed, as perversion.

This fallacious “appeal to nature” argument also operates in reverse: that whenever a particular behaviour is thought virtuous or worthwhile, then – and generally without the slightest recourse to further identifiable evidence – ipso facto, it becomes “natural”. Although of the tremendous variety of human activities, work seems outstanding in this regard. For throughout historic times, societies have consistently upheld that work is self-evidently “natural”; the Protestant “work ethic” is perhaps the most familiar and unmistakeably religious variant of a broader sanctification of labour. Although it is surely worth noting that God’s punishment for Adam’s original sin was that he should be expelled from Paradise “to till the ground from whence he was taken.”15 (Most probably booming “the world doesn’t owe you a living, my son!” before slamming the gates to paradise shut.) Protestant mill-owners, of course, found it convenient to overlook how hard labour was God’s original punishment.

But then, atheistic societies have been inclined to extol work more highly still, and not simply because it is “natural” (the commonest surrogate for Religion), but because atheism is inherently materialist, and since materials depend upon production, productivity is likewise deemed more virtuous and worthwhile. Thus, under systems both Capitalist and Communist, work reigns supreme.

Stalin awarded medals to his miners and his manufacturers – and why not? Medals for production make more sense than medals for destruction. Yet this adoration of work involves a doublethink, with Stalin, for example, on the one hand glorifying the hard labour of labour heroes like, most famously, Alexey Stakhanov, and meanwhile dispatching his worst enemies to the punishment of hard labour in distant work camps, as did Mao and as did Hitler. “Arbeit macht frei” is an horrific lie, yet in some important sense the Nazi leaders evidently believed their own lie, for aside from war and genocide, the Nazi ideology once again extolled work above all else. In the case of Communism, the exaltation of the means of production was to serve the collective ends; in Fascism, itself the twisted apotheosis of Nature, work being natural ensures it is inherently a still greater good.

Yet oddly, whenever you stop to think about it, very little modern humans do is remotely natural, whether or not it is decent, proper and righteous. Cooking food isn’t natural. Eating our meals out of crockery by means of metal cutlery isn’t remotely natural either. Sleeping in a bed isn’t natural. Wearing socks, or hats, or anything else for that matter, isn’t natural… just ask the naturists! And structuring our lives so that our activities coincide with a predetermined time schedule isn’t the least bit natural. Alarm clocks aren’t natural folks! Wake up!

But work is indeed widely regarded as an especially (one might say uniquely) exemplary activity, as well as a wholesomely natural one. Consider the bees, the ants, or whatever other creature fits the bill, and see how tremendously and ungrudgingly productive they all are. See how marvellously proactive and business-like – such marvellous efficiency and purpose! In reality, however, the bees, ants and all the other creatures are never working at all – not even “the workers”. Not in any meaningful sense that corresponds to our narrow concept of “working”. The bees, the ants and the rest of the critters are all simply being… being bees, being ants. Being and “playing”, if you prefer: “playing” certainly no less valid as a description than “working”, and arguably closer to reality once understood from any bee or ant’s perspective (presuming they have one).

No species besides our own (an especially odd species) willingly engages in drudgery and toil; the rest altogether more straightforwardly simply eat, sleep, hunt, drink, breathe, run, swim and fly. The birds don’t do it! The bees don’t do it either! (Let’s leave the educated fleas!) Nature natures and this is all. It is we who anthropomorphise such natural activities and by attaching inappropriate labels transform ordinary pleasures into such burdensome pursuits that they sap nature of vitality. So when Samuel Johnson says, “No man loves labour for itself!” he is actually reminding us all of our true nature.

*

Whether or not we welcome it, “manpower” (humanpower that is), like horsepower before, is soon to be superseded by machine-power. Indeed, a big reason this profound change hasn’t made a greater impact already is that manpower (thanks to contemporary forms of wage slavery and the more distant indentured servitude of sweatshop labour) has remained comparatively cheap. For now the human worker is also more subtle and adaptable than any automated alternative. All of this, however, is about to be challenged, and the changeover will come with unfaltering haste.

To a considerable extent our switch to automation has already happened. On the domestic front, the transfer of labour is rather obvious, with the steady introduction and accumulation of so many labour-saving devices. For instance, the introduction of electric washing machines, which eliminate the need to use a washboard, to hand rinse or squeeze clothes through a mangle, spares us a full day of labour per week. When these became automatic washer dryers, the only required task was to load and unload the machine. In my own lifetime the spread of these, at first, luxury appliances, is now complete throughout the Western world. Meantime, the rise and rise of factory food and clothing production means ready meals and socks are so inexpensive that fewer of us actually bother to cook and scarcely anyone younger than me even remembers what darning is. The bored housewife was very much a late twentieth century affliction – freed from cooking and cleaning there was suddenly ample time for stuffing mushrooms.

Outside our homes, however, the rise of the machine has had a more equivocal impact. Indeed, it has been counterproductive in many ways, with new technologies sometimes adding to the workload instead of subtracting from it. The rise of information technologies is an illustrative example: the fax machine, emails, the internet and even mobile phones have enabled businesses to extend working hours beyond our traditional and regular shifts, and in other ways, work has been multiplied as the same technologies unnecessarily interfere to the detriment of real productive capacity.

Today’s worker is faced with more assessments to complete, more paperwork (albeit usually of a digital form), more evaluation, and an ever-expanding stack of office emails to handle – enough demands for swift replies to circulars and a multitude of other paper-chasing obligations that we spend half our days stuck in front of a monitor or bent over the office photocopier. Every member of “the team” now recruited to this singular task of administrative procedures.

But these mountains of paper (and/or terabytes of zeroes and ones) needing to be reprocessed into different forms of paper and/or digital records are only rising in response to the rise of the office. In fact, it is this increase in bureaucracy which provides the significant make-weight to mask the more general underlying decline in gainful (meaning productive) employment. Yet still, this growth in administration is a growth that only carries us so far, and a growth that can and ultimately will be eliminated, if not for perfectly sound reasons of practicability, then by automation. Ultimately, office workers are no more immune to this process of technological redundancy than the rest of us.

First broadcast by Channel 4 in 1993, the final episode of Tim Hunkin’s wonderful “Secret Life of the Office” served up a humorous take on the social engineering that led to the Twentieth Century’s rise of the office:

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That the robots are coming is no longer science fiction, any more than the killer robots circling high over Pakistan and Yemen armed with their terrifyingly accurate automated AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, are science fiction. In fact, all our future wars will be fought by means of killer robots, and, unless such super-weapons are banned outright or, at the very least, controlled by international treaties, subsequent generations of these ‘drones’ will become increasingly autonomous – the already stated objective is to produce fully autonomous drones; an horrific prospect. It is also a prospect that perhaps most graphically illustrates how sophisticated today’s robotic systems have become, even if, as with all cutting-edge technology, the military enjoys the most advanced systems. In short, the grim robots fleets are with us, and set to become swarms unless nations act to outlaw their deployment, whereas more beneficial robotic descendants still wait more placidly in the wings. The arrival of both fleets heralds a new age – one for the better and one decidedly for the worse.

Of course, the forthcoming workforce of robots might also be for the worse. Yet the choice is ultimately ours, even if we cannot hold off that choice indefinitely, or even for very much longer. For all our robotic rivals (once perfected) hold so many advantages over a human workforce. Never grumbling or complaining, never demanding a pay rise or a holiday, and, in contrast to human drones, never needing any sleep at all, let alone scheming against their bosses or dreaming up ways to escape.

And the new robots will not stick to manufacturing, or cleaning, or farming the land, or moving goods around in auto-piloted trucks (just as they already fly planes), but soon, by means of the internet, they will be supplying a host of entirely door-to-door services – indeed, a shift in modes of distribution is already beginning to happen. In the slightly longer term, robots will be able to provide all life’s rudimentary essentials – the bare necessities, as the song goes. Quietly, efficiently and ungrudgingly constructing and servicing the essential infrastructure of a fully functioning civilisation. Then, in the slightly longer term, robots will be able to take care of the design, installation and upgrading of everything, including their own replacement robots. In no time, our drudgery (as well as the mundane jobs performed by those trapped inside those Third World sweatshops) will have been completely superseded.

This however leads us to a serious snag and a grave danger. For under present conditions, widespread automation ensures mass redundancy and long-term ruin for nearly everyone. And though there are few historical precedents, surely we can read between the historical lines, to see how societies, yielding to the dictates of their ruling elites (in our times, the bureaucrats and technocrats working at the behest of unseen plutocrats), will likely deal with those superfluous populations. It is unwise to expect much leniency, especially in view of the current dismantlement of existing social safety nets and welfare systems. The real clampdown on the “useless eaters” is only just beginning.

It is advisable, therefore, to approach this arising situation with eyes wide open, recognising such inexorable labour-saving developments for what they are: not merely a looming threat but potentially, at least, an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. However, this demands a fresh ethos: one that truly values all human life for its own sake and not merely for its productive capacity. More specifically, it requires a steady shift towards reduced working hours and greatly extended holidays: a sharing out of the ever-diminishing workload and a redistribution of resources (our true wealth), which will of course remain ample in any case (the robots will make sure of that).

This introduction of a new social paradigm is now of paramount concern, because if we hesitate too long in making our transition to a low work economy, then hard-line social and political changes will instead be imposed from above. Moves to counter what will be perceived as a crisis of under-employment will mean the implementation of social change but only to benefit the ruling establishment, who for abundantly obvious reasons will welcome the rise in wealth and income disparity along with the further subjugation of the lower classes – the middle class very much included.

As physicist Stephen Hawking said in response to the question “[D]o you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated?” and “Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done?”

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”16

It is an answer that closely echoes Wilde’s foresight of more than a century ago; the difference being one of placing stress. Hawking emphasises the threat of what he calls the “second option”, whereas Wilde encourages us to press ahead in order to realise Hawking’s “a life of luxurious leisure” for everyone.

Of course, there will always be a little useful work that needs doing. Robots will ultimately be able perform all menial, most manual and the vast majority of mental tasks far more efficiently than a human brain and hand, but there will still be the need and the place for the human touch. In education, in medicine and nursing, care for the elderly and sick, and a host of other, sometimes mundane tasks and chores: emotionally intricate, kindly and compassionate roles that are indispensible to keeping all our lives ticking pleasantly along. The big question for our times, however, is really this: given the cheapness and abundance of modern labour-saving equipment, how is it that, even in the western world, instead of contracting, working hours are continuing to rise? The question for tomorrow – one that the first question contains and conceals – is this: given complete freedom and unrestricted choice, what would we actually prefer to be doing in our daily lives? As Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists…”

“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”17

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I was about twelve when I took my first flight. It was onboard a Douglas DC9 and I was travelling to Vienna on an exchange trip. I was so excited and not afraid at all – or at least not afraid of the flight. Indeed, I recall how this was the main question older relatives kept asking and I found their obsession puzzling more than anything. But as I have grown older I have sadly developed a fear of flying. This is annoying in the extreme. Why now… when I’m middle-aged and have so much less to lose? But fear is only seldom a purely rational impulse.

Not that it is half so irrational as we are told to have a severe anxiety about being catapulted inside a thin metal capsule six miles up and at close to the speed of sound. Statistics are one thing but being in the presence of sheer physical danger is another. That said, fear of flying is surely as much about loss of control as anything. For why else did my own fear of flying worsen as I got older? Children are more accustomed than adults to feeling powerless, and so better able to relish the excitement of situations totally outside of their control.

Whole societies – or at least majority sections of societies – also suffer with phobias. Like our private fears, these collective fears held by social groups are frequently rooted in some sense of an impending loss of control. Fear of foreigners, fear of financial collapse, and fear of “terror”. But seldom considered is another societal phobia: our collective ‘fear of flying’. Flying in the poetic sense, that is: of fully letting go of the mundane. Instead, it seems our common longing is to be grounded: an understandable desire.

Why else, scarcely a century since the Wright Brothers’ miraculous first flights, do today’s air passengers find flying (that ancient dream) so tiresome that our commercial airlines serve up non-stop distractions to divert attention away from the direct experience? Indeed, listening to those familiar onboard announcements bidding us a pleasant flight, we are inclined (and very likely reclined) to hear the incidental underlying message: “we are sorry to put you through the dreary inconvenience of this journey”.

We fly and yet we don’t fly – or not as those who first dreamt of flight imagined. Flight has instead been transformed from visionary accomplishment into a nuisance and taken entirely for granted by the clock watchers impatiently kicking our heels beneath the slow-turning departure boards.

And just why are today’s airports such sterile and soul-destroying anti-human spaces? Presumably because this is again what modern humans have come to expect! The same can be said for so many facets of modern live. If we can transform the miracle of flight into a chore, then it follows that we can turn just about any activity into one.

Next chapter…

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In 1958 Mike Wallace interviewed psychoanalyst and social critic, Erich Fromm. What Fromm says about society, materialism, relationships, religion, and happiness is remarkably prescient, as is his analysis of a growing alienation as we become diminished to the role of products in an age of consumerism:

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Addendum: the future of work and Universal Basic Income

Due to its historical roots in workers’ movements18, the political left has tended to hold a somewhat inimical position when it comes to appraising the value of work. The understandable and perfectly legitimate elevation of the worker has had a countervailing effect in terms of accentuating the virtuousness of work per se, thereby adding to the weight of received wisdom that to endure toil and hardship is somehow intrinsically valuable. This is why the left has fallen into the habit of making a virtue out of the central object of the oppression it faces.

So what is the goal of the political left (of socialism, if you prefer)? What is its aim, if not, so far as it is possible, to fully emancipate the individual? For whatever dignifies and ennobles labour, and however understandable it may be as a strategy, to celebrate work for its own sake, disguises the base truth that only seldom is it edifying, and more often just a millstone, frequently a terrible one, which, if we are ever to become truly “free at last”, ought to be joyfully laid aside.

In 2013 Anthropologist David Graeber, professor of anthropology at LSE, wrote an excoriating essay on modern work for Strike! magazine. “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” was read over a million times and the essay translated in seventeen different languages within weeks. Embedded below is a lecture Graeber gave to the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to expand on this phenomenon, and explore how the proliferation of meaningless jobs – more associated with the 20th-century Soviet Union than latter-day capitalism – has impacted modern society:

Since writing most of the above chapter the Zeitgeist has shifted remarkably. Suddenly technological unemployment is treated as a serious prospect and debated as a part of a wider political discourse on future trends. Introduced into this new debate, especially on the left, is the proposal for a ‘universal basic income’ i.e., money provided to everyone by the state to cover basic living expenses. Importantly this payment would be provided irrespective of how many hours a person works and has no other (discernable) strings attached.

UBI is certainly a very bold initiative as well as a plausible solution to the diminishing need for human workers in the coming hi-tech era. Unsurprisingly, I very much welcome it, at least in principle, but wish also to offer a small note of caution. Before large numbers of us are to able to live solely by means of a state provided UBI it will be essential to adjust societal norms relating to work. There can be no stigma in idleness. For if UBI is seen as merely a state handout and its recipients as welfare dependents, then we put them all into severe danger.

After all, work historically equates to status and money and until this ingrained relationship is eroded away, anyone subsisting on UBI alone would rather quickly sink to the level of a second-class citizen. Which is why I propose the better approach to UBI must aim to advance by taking baby steps: reducing days and hours, increasing holidays, lowering pensionable age, as well as expanding education – we must in fact think of eventually offering the luxury of lifelong education for all. Given where we start from today, to attempt to leap to it with one giant stride is surely too much of a risk. If UBI is truly our goal then we might reach it best by trimming work back until it barely exists at all.

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 Quotes taken from The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D by James Boswell (1791). In the original version, the section substituted by ellipsis reads as follows: “There is, indeed, this in trade:– it gives men an opportunity of improving their situation. If there were no trade, many who are poor would always remain poor.”

2 Now part of Imperial College (my own alma mater).

3 Extract taken from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

4 The Open Conspiracy was published in 1928, subtitled “Blue Prints for a World Revolution”. These extracts are taken from Chapter 1 entitled “The present crisis in human affairs”. Interestingly, in a letter to Wells, albeit a begging letter, Bertrand Russell said of the work: “… I do not know of anything with which I agree more entirely”. The Open Conspiracy was later revised and republished as “What Are We to Do with Our Lives?” in 1931. http://www.voltairenet.org/IMG/pdf/Wells_The_Open_Conspiracy.pdf

5 Many boys and girls suffocated and others fell to their deaths. This was not helped by the practice of master sweeps to light a fire beneath them in order to force them to climb faster.

6 Quote taken from The Open Conspiracy.

7

“Two of the most perfect lives I have come across in my own experience are the lives of [the French Symbolist poet, Paul] Verlaine and of Prince Kropotkin: both of them men who have passed years in prison: the first, the one Christian poet since Dante; the other, a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia.”

Taken from “De Profundis”, meaning literally “from the depths”; Wilde’s celebrated cri de coeur was intended, in part at least, as an extended letter and impassioned rebuke to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. It was written during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol between January and March 1897, and has since been publicly released in various expurgated versions, the first of which was published in 1905. A complete version was finally released in 1962.

8

From The Open Conspiracy by H.G. Wells. The full set of seven “broad principles” reads as follows:

(1) The complete assertion, practical as well as theoretical, of the provisional nature of existing governments and of our acquiescence in them;

(2) The resolve to minimize by all available means the conflicts of these governments, their militant use of individuals and property, and their interferences with the establishment of a world economic system;

(3) The determination to replace private, local or national ownership of at least credit, transport, and staple production by a responsible world directorate serving the common ends of the race;

(4) The practical recognition of the necessity for world biological controls, for example, of population and disease;

(5) The support of a minimum standard of individual freedom and welfare in the world; and

(6) The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power;

(7) The admission therewith that our immortality is conditional and lies in the race and not in our individual selves.

In light of what was about to come, this last item of the seven is perhaps the most perturbing. Wells introduces it as follows:

“And it is possible even of these, one, the seventh, may be, if not too restrictive, at least unnecessary. To the writer it seems unavoidable because it is so intimately associated with that continual dying out of tradition upon which our hopes for an unencumbered and expanding human future rest.”

9 Extract from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

10 From A Modern Utopia by H. G. Wells (published 1905). The same passage continues:

“But unprofitable occupation is also intended by idleness, and it may be considered whether that freedom also will be open to the Utopian. Conceivably it will, like privacy, locomotion, and almost all the freedoms of life, and on the same terms – if he possess the money to pay for it.”

11 Extract from The Open Conspiracy by H.G. Wells (first published 1928).

12 Extract from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

13 Ibid.

14 Extract taken from In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (1932). Note that Russell’s reference to pin manufacture is a deliberate allusion to Adam Smith’s famous hypothetical pin factory in which he illustrated the benefits of ‘division of labour’ in The Wealth of Nations.

15 From Genesis 3:23 (KJV)

16 In answer to a question posed during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on October 8, 2015. https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/3nyn5i/science_ama_series_stephen_hawking_ama_answers/cvsdmkv

17 Extract taken from In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (1932).

18 Without an upwelling of righteous indignation amongst the oppressed rank and file of working people, no leftist movement would ever have arisen and gained traction. Yet, the political left also owes its origins to the early co-operative movements, a spontaneous awakening of enlightenment humanists, to the Romantics, and most importantly, to fringe religious groups. Tony Benn famously said that the formation of the Labour Party in Britain owed “more to Methodism than Marx”.

In 1832 six agricultural labourers formed a friendly society to protest against their meagre wages. George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher, was the leader of this small union – the other members included his brother James (also a Methodist preacher), James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield (Methodist and co-founder of the union) and Thomas’s son John. These men were subsequently arrested, convicted and sentenced to transportation. Three years later, and following a huge public outcry which involved a march on London and petitions to parliament, they were issued pardons and allowed to return to England as heroes. This small band of men is now collectively remembered as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

But the origins of socialism in Britain can be really traced as far back as the English Civil War and indeed earlier again to Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, when the workers of the Middle Ages, inspired by the teachings of the radical priest John Ball, took their demands directly to the King Richard II who reneged on his concessions and had them hunted down.

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