by David Graeber
Chances are you have already heard something about who anarchists are and what they are supposed to believe. Chances are almost everything you have heard is nonsense. Many people seem to think that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organization, or that they are crazed nihilists who just want to blow everything up. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists are simply people who believe human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable fashion without having to be forced to. It is really a very simple notion. But it’s one that the rich and powerful have always found extremely dangerous.
At their very simplest, anarchist beliefs turn on to two elementary assumptions. The first is that human beings are, under ordinary circumstances, about as reasonable and decent as they are allowed to be, and can organize themselves and their communities without needing to be told how. The second is that power corrupts. Most of all, anarchism is just a matter of having the courage to take the simple principles of common decency that we all live by, and to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Odd though this may seem, in most important ways you are probably already an anarchist — you just don’t realize it.
Let’s start by taking a few examples from everyday life.
- If there’s a line to get on a crowded bus, do you wait your turn and refrain from elbowing your way past others even in the absence of police?
If you answered “yes”, then you are used to acting like an anarchist! The most basic anarchist principle is self-organization: the assumption that human beings do not need to be threatened with prosecution in order to be able to come to reasonable understandings with each other, or to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Everyone believes they are capable of behaving reasonably themselves. If they think laws and police are necessary, it is only because they don’t believe that other people are. But if you think about it, don’t those people all feel exactly the same way about you? Anarchists argue that almost all the anti-social behavior which makes us think it’s necessary to have armies, police, prisons, and governments to control our lives, is actually caused by the systematic inequalities and injustice those armies, police, prisons and governments make possible. It’s all a vicious circle. If people are used to being treated like their opinions do not matter, they are likely to become angry and cynical, even violent — which of course makes it easy for those in power to say that their opinions do not matter. Once they understand that their opinions really do matter just as much as anyone else’s, they tend to become remarkably understanding. To cut a long story short: anarchists believe that for the most part it is power itself, and the effects of power, that make people stupid and irresponsible.
- Are you a member of a club or sports team or any other voluntary organization where decisions are not imposed by one leader but made on the basis of general consent?
If you answered “yes”, then you belong to an organization which works on anarchist principles! Another basic anarchist principle is voluntary association. This is simply a matter of applying democratic principles to ordinary life. The only difference is that anarchists believe it should be possible to have a society in which everything could be organized along these lines, all groups based on the free consent of their members, and therefore, that all top-down, military styles of organization like armies or bureaucracies or large corporations, based on chains of command, would no longer be necessary. Perhaps you don’t believe that would be possible. Perhaps you do. But every time you reach an agreement by consensus, rather than threats, every time you make a voluntary arrangement with another person, come to an understanding, or reach a compromise by taking due consideration of the other person’s particular situation or needs, you are being an anarchist — even if you don’t realize it.
Anarchism is just the way people act when they are free to do as they choose, and when they deal with others who are equally free — and therefore aware of the responsibility to others that entails. This leads to another crucial point: that while people can be reasonable and considerate when they are dealing with equals, human nature is such that they cannot be trusted to do so when given power over others. Give someone such power, they will almost invariably abuse it in some way or another.
- Do you believe that most politicians are selfish, egotistical swine who don’t really care about the public interest? Do you think we live in an economic system which is stupid and unfair?
If you answered “yes”, then you subscribe to the anarchist critique of today’s society — at least, in its broadest outlines. Anarchists believe that power corrupts and those who spend their entire lives seeking power are the very last people who should have it. Anarchists believe that our present economic system is more likely to reward people for selfish and unscrupulous behavior than for being decent, caring human beings. Most people feel that way. The only difference is that most people don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it, or anyway — and this is what the faithful servants of the powerful are always most likely to insist — anything that won’t end up making things even worse.
But what if that weren’t true?
And is there really any reason to believe this? When you can actually test them, most of the usual predictions about what would happen without states or capitalism turn out to be entirely untrue. For thousands of years people lived without governments. In many parts of the world people live outside of the control of governments today. They do not all kill each other. Mostly they just get on about their lives the same as anyone else would. Of course, in a complex, urban, technological society all this would be more complicated: but technology can also make all these problems a lot easier to solve. In fact, we have not even begun to think about what our lives could be like if technology were really marshaled to fit human needs. How many hours would we really need to work in order to maintain a functional society — that is, if we got rid of all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians, and turn our best scientific minds away from working on space weaponry or stock market systems to mechanizing away dangerous or annoying tasks like coal mining or cleaning the bathroom, and distribute the remaining work among everyone equally? Five hours a day? Four? Three? Two? Nobody knows because no one is even asking this kind of question. Anarchists think these are the very questions we should be asking.
- Do you really believe those things you tell your children (or that your parents told you)?
“It doesn’t matter who started it.” “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “Clean up your own mess.” “Do unto others…” “Don’t be mean to people just because they’re different.” Perhaps we should decide whether we’re lying to our children when we tell them about right and wrong, or whether we’re willing to take our own injunctions seriously. Because if you take these moral principles to their logical conclusions, you arrive at anarchism.
Take the principle that two wrongs don’t make a right. If you really took it seriously, that alone would knock away almost the entire basis for war and the criminal justice system. The same goes for sharing: we’re always telling children that they have to learn to share, to be considerate of each other’s needs, to help each other; then we go off into the real world where we assume that everyone is naturally selfish and competitive. But an anarchist would point out: in fact, what we say to our children is right. Pretty much every great worthwhile achievement in human history, every discovery or accomplishment that’s improved our lives, has been based on cooperation and mutual aid; even now, most of us spend more of our money on our friends and families than on ourselves; while likely as not there will always be competitive people in the world, there’s no reason why society has to be based on encouraging such behavior, let alone making people compete over the basic necessities of life. That only serves the interests of people in power, who want us to live in fear of one another. That’s why anarchists call for a society based not only on free association but mutual aid. The fact is that most children grow up believing in anarchist morality, and then gradually have to realize that the adult world doesn’t really work that way. That’s why so many become rebellious, or alienated, even suicidal as adolescents, and finally, resigned and bitter as adults; their only solace, often, being the ability to raise children of their own and pretend to them that the world is fair. But what if we really could start to build a world which really was at least founded on principles of justice? Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift to one’s children one could possibly give?
- Do you believe that human beings are fundamentally corrupt and evil, or that certain sorts of people (women, people of color, ordinary folk who are not rich or highly educated) are inferior specimens, destined to be ruled by their betters?
If you answered “yes”, then, well, it looks like you aren’t an anarchist after all. But if you answered “no”, then chances are you already subscribe to 90% of anarchist principles, and, likely as not, are living your life largely in accord with them. Every time you treat another human with consideration and respect, you are being an anarchist. Every time you work out your differences with others by coming to reasonable compromise, listening to what everyone has to say rather than letting one person decide for everyone else, you are being an anarchist. Every time you have the opportunity to force someone to do something, but decide to appeal to their sense of reason or justice instead, you are being an anarchist. The same goes for every time you share something with a friend, or decide who is going to do the dishes, or do anything at all with an eye to fairness.
Now, you might object that all this is well and good as a way for small groups of people to get on with each other, but managing a city, or a country, is an entirely different matter. And of course there is something to this. Even if you decentralize society and put as much power as possible in the hands of small communities, there will still be plenty of things that need to be coordinated, from running railroads to deciding on directions for medical research. But just because something is complicated does not mean there is no way to do it democratically. It would just be complicated. In fact, anarchists have all sorts of different ideas and visions about how a complex society might manage itself. To explain them though would go far beyond the scope of a little introductory text like this. Suffice it to say, first of all, that a lot of people have spent a lot of time coming up with models for how a really democratic, healthy society might work; but second, and just as importantly, no anarchist claims to have a perfect blueprint. The last thing we want is to impose prefab models on society anyway. The truth is we probably can’t even imagine half the problems that will come up when we try to create a democratic society; still, we’re confident that, human ingenuity being what it is, such problems can always be solved, so long as it is in the spirit of our basic principles — which are, in the final analysis, simply the principles of fundamental human decency.
I gave a talk called ‘Beyond the sacred’, on the changing character of ideas of the sacred and of blasphemy, at a conference on blasphemy organised this weekend by the Centre for Inquiry at London’s Conway Hall on Saturday. Here is a transcript.
To talk about blasphemy is also to talk about the idea of the sacred. To see something as blasphemous is to see it in some way as violating a sacred space. In recent years, both the notion of blasphemy and that of the sacred have transformed. What I want to explore here is the nature of that transformation, and what it means for free speech.
For believers, the idea of the sacred is key to moral life. Detachment from the sacred, the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor claimed at the installation ceremony for his successor, Archbishop Vincent Nicholls, has been responsible for war and terror, sin and evil. In this view the acceptance of the sacred is indispensable for the creation of a moral framework and for the injection of meaning and purpose into life.
I don’t want to get into a discussion here about the relationship between religion and morality. As an atheist, I do not see myself as lacking a moral compass, or being unaware of boundaries, or being burdened by a sense of a purposeless life. What I do want to do is look more carefully at what we mean by the ‘sacred’. Religion, Leszek Kolokowski, the Polish Marxist-turned-Christian philosopher, acknowledged, ‘is man’s way of accepting life as inevitable defeat’. ‘To reject the sacred is’, as he puts it, ‘to reject our own limits.’ In this Tragic view of the human condition, the sacred exists to protect human beings from the flaws of their own nature. ‘The sacred order’, as Kolokowski observes, ‘has never ceased, implicitly or explicitly, to proclaim “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”.’
The sacred, in this sense, is less about the transcendent than it is about the taboo. The sacred sphere, as French sociologist Émile Durkheim pointed out a century ago, constitutes a social space that is set apart and protected from being defiled: a set of rules and practices that cannot be challenged. It provides a means of protecting not the kingdom of heaven but the citadels of earthly power. The sacred, Kolakowski observes, ‘simply reaffirms and stabilizes the structure of society – its forms and its systems of divisions, and also its injustices, its privileges and its institutionalized instruments of oppression.’ Blasphemy, and the sacred, in other words, are not simply about theology and religion, but also about politics and power. We can see the way that blasphemy and the sacred have helped speak to social and political power if we look at the history of blasphemy in Britain.
Until the abolition of the offence in 2008, blasphemy was committed in British law if there was published ‘any writing concerning God or Christ, the Christian religion, the Bible, or some sacred subject using words which are scurrilous, abusive or offensive, and which tend to vilify the Christian religion’. The origins of the law go back a millennium. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 two orders of courts were established. Church courts decided all ecclesiastical cases, under the guidance of canon law, which legislated on moral offences. The civil or king’s courts were concerned with offences against the person or property. In 1401, King Henry IV empowered bishops to arrest and imprison suspected heretics, including ‘all preachers of heresy, all school masters infected with heresy and all owners and writers of heretical books’. If a heretic refused to abjure, or if he later relapsed, he could be ‘handed over to the civil officers, to be taken to a high place before the people and there to be burnt, so that their punishment might strike fear into the hearts of others’.
Despite the concern with God and Christianity, the outlawing of blasphemy was less about defending the dignity of the divine than of protecting the sanctity of the state. In 1676 John Taylor was convicted of blasphemy for saying that Jesus Christ was a ‘bastard’ and a ‘whoremaker’ and that religion was a ‘cheat’. ‘That such kind of wicked and blasphemous words were not only an offence against God and religion’, observed the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Matthew Hale, in front of whom Taylor was tried, ‘but a crime against the laws, States and Government; and therefore punishable in this court; that to say religion is a cheat, is to dissolve all those obligations whereby civil societies are preserved; and Christianity being parcel of the laws of England, therefore to reproach the Christian religion is to speak in subversion of the law.’
Any challenge to Christian doctrine was, in other words, also a challenge to the secular social order. The heresy that troubled Lord Chief Justice Hale was the kind of heresy that promoted ‘subversion of the law’, the kind of dissent that might unstitch civil society. The outlawing of blasphemy was therefore a necessary defence of traditional political authority.
Four hundred years after Taylor’s conviction, Lord Denning, perhaps Britain’s most important judge of the twentieth century, made, in 1949, much the same point about the relationship between blasphemy and social disorder, though he drew the opposite conclusion about the necessity of the law. Historically, he observed, ‘The reason for this law was because it was thought that a denial of Christianity was liable to shake the fabric of society, which was itself founded on Christian religion.’ But, Denning added, ‘There is no such danger in society now and the offence of blasphemy is a dead letter.’
Not only had Christianity become unwoven from the nation’s social fabric, but over the next half-century other faiths and cultures wove themselves in. The multicultural transformation of Britain made even less plausible the traditional arguments for the blasphemy law. In 1985, three years before the Rushdie affair, the Law Commission published a report on blasphemy entitled Offences against Religion and Public Worship. ‘In the circumstances now prevailing in this country,’ the Commission argued, ‘the limitation of protection to Christianity and, it would seem, the tenets of the Church of England, could not be justified.’ It should be abolished ‘without replacement’.
But if the reweaving of Britain’s social fabric provided an argument for the abolition of the blasphemy law, it also provided a reason, in some people’s minds, for its refashioning into a new offence that embraced non-Christian faiths and cultures. ‘A significant number of lawyers, clergymen and laymen’, wrote Richard Webster in A Brief History of Blasphemy, a book that came out a year after the Satanic Verses controversy and was highly critical of Rushdie and his supporters, ‘have begun to take the view that some protection of people’s religious feelings is necessary not primarily for religious or spiritual reasons but in the interests of social harmony.’
One such figure was Lord Scarman. Two years before he wrote his famous report on the Brixton riots, he was one of the Law Lords who presided over thelast great blasphemy trial in Britain. In 1977 Mary Whitehouse had brought a private prosecution for blasphemous libel against the newspaper Gay News. It had published a poem by James Kirkup called ‘The Love that Dares to Speak its Name’, about the love of a centurion for Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. Whitehouse won the case and Gay News appealed against the conviction.
In 1979 the case finally came to the House of Lords, then the highest appeal court in Britain. The Law Lords, one of whom was Lord Scarman, upheld the original verdict. ‘I do not subscribe to the view that the common law offence of blasphemous libel serves no useful purpose in the modern law,’ Scarman wrote in his judgement. But such a law must be extended ‘to protect the religious beliefs and feelings of non-Christians’. Blasphemy ‘belongs to a group of criminal offences designed to safeguard the internal tranquillity of the kingdom. In an increasingly plural society such as that of modern Britain it is necessary not only to respect the differing religious beliefs, feelings and practices of all but also to protect them from scurrility, ridicule and contempt.’ ‘The internal tranquility of the kingdom’: the role of blasphemy, in other words, is again acknowledged not as protecting religion but as defending social peace.
In 1985 the Law Commission looked into this and rejected such an extension, arguing that the deficiencies of the law ‘are so serious and so fundamental that… no measure short of abolition would be adequate to deal with these deficiencies’. The Commission dismissed the idea that religion should have special protection, observing that ‘Reverence for God… does not differ fundamentally in character from reverence accorded to any person against whom those according respect are unwilling to entertain grounds of criticism.’ It pointed out that ‘one person’s incisive comment (and indeed seemingly innocuous comment) may be another’s “blasphemy” and to forbid the use of the strongest language in relation, for example, to practices which some may rightly regard as not in the best interests of society as a whole would, it seems to us, be altogether unacceptable’.
The Law Commission inquiry was, however, far from united in its view. Two of the five members appended a Note of Dissent to the majority report. The dissenters were particularly influenced by an outside working party that had insisted that some legal constraints were necessary for the protection of social harmony. ‘If scurrilous attacks on religious beliefs go unpunished by law,’ the working party suggested, ‘they could embitter strongly held feelings within substantial groups of people, could destroy working relationships between different groups, and where religion and race are intimately bound together could deepen the tensions that already are a disturbing feature in some parts of this country.’ The Note of Dissent proposed the replacement of blasphemy by a new offence that recognized ‘the duty on our citizens, in our society of different races and people of different faiths and of no faith, not purposely to insult or outrage the religious feelings of others’.
In the end both the majority and minority views came to fruition. The blasphemy law was finally repealed in 2008. But it had already been replaced by a number of laws that secularized the offence of blasphemy. Two years before the blasphemy law was abolished, parliament had passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which made it an offence to incite hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion. The aim was to extend to Muslims, and other faith groups, the same protection that racial groups, including Sikhs and Jews, possessed under Britain’s various Race Relations Acts. In fact, it was already an offence to perpetrate hate speech. In 1998 the Public Order Act had been amended to make it an offence to ‘display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress’.
Blasphemy was a form of social regulation for society that thought of itself as homogenous. For a society that thinks of itself as plural, blasphemy can no longer play that role, at least in its traditional sense. Society was, in fact, never as homogenous as we now imagine that it used to be. Contemporary society is not as plural as many insist. What matters, however, is the perception of this shift, and the consequences of this perception for ideas of the sacred and of blasphemy. As people came to see themselves as living in a far more plural society, so blasphemy became reworked to be an offence not primarily against God, or even religion, but against an individual’s identity.
Consider, for instance, Ziauddin Sardar’s account of his encounter with The Satanic Verses. Sardar is a liberal Muslim, highly critical of Islamism and other fundamentalist strands. In his book Distorted Imagination, he describes reading Rushdie’s novel on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to London. By the time he landed at Heathrow, he writes,
It felt as though Rushdie had plundered everything I hold dear and despoiled the inner sanctum of my identity. Every word was directed at me and I took everything personally. This is how, I remember thinking, it must feel to be raped.
Sardar’s friend Gulzar Haider, Professor of Architecture at Carleton University in Ottawa, was ‘lying on a sofa’ when he heard the news of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa. ‘So catastrophic was the effect’, Sardar reports, ‘he couldn’t move, it was as though his body had been struck down by a disease. He was sofa bound for almost a year. His friend and colleague Merryl Davies ‘bellowed like a fiery dragon goaded by a million arrows, writhing by turns with sorrow and rage.’ It is almost as if Sardar and his friends were driving themselves into a kind of self-induced hysteria, as if they felt that they had to suffer personally for their faith to be meaningful.
This intensely personal, deeply emotional response marks a shift in the way that believers understood their relationship to belief. Faith has always had an emotional components and for some faiths such emotional spirituality has been central to their outlook. Nevertheless there has been a fundamental shift in the character of religious belief in recent decades. Sociologist talk of the rise of the ‘therapy culture’ to describe the growing emotionalism of our age. Scholars such as the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Olivier Roy have described how such emotionalism has become central to new forms of ‘expressive’ faiths. Faith, as Charles Taylor observes in his book A Secular Age, has become disembedded from its historical culture, and reconstituted instead as part of the culture of ‘expressive individualism’, forms of spirituality grounded in the primacy of individual experience and rooted in the social values of what the writer Tom Wolfe has called the ‘me generation’. ‘All religious revival movements of the late twentieth century’, Olivier Roy writes, are marked by an ‘anti-intellectualism that favours a more emotional religiosity’, so that ‘feelings are more important than knowledge’. This is true not just of radical Islam but also of other ‘born again’ religions such as charismatic Christianity, the Lubavitch, one of the largest Jewish Hasidic communities, and the Hinduvta, a Hindu revivalist movement. Such faiths, in Roy’s words, ‘play on emotion through ritual and collective expressions of faith, using symbolic and ostensible markers of belonging’.
In Spiritual Revolution, their study of religious practices in a small town in northern England, the sociologists Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead show that while traditional religious congregations are on the decline, ‘New Age’ forms of spirituality are beginning to fill the gap. But more than this, many once-traditional believers are beginning to adopt New Age attitudes and rituals, developing new forms of faith that celebrate the emotional aspects of spirituality and seek to fulfil the believer’s inner needs. Such congregations often combine a literal reading of the Holy Book, and an insistence on the unchanging character of religious truths, with a God that speaks to their individual, subjective needs. ‘We don’t go to mass because we feel like it, or not go because we don’t feel like it, we go because the church gave us an obligation to go to mass’, an elderly Roman Catholic lady explained to Heelas and Woodhead. For all the literalism of the new forms of faith, such obligation is alien to them. Instead, they provide ‘more space for each every individual participant to explore and express his emotions in his own way, and to let those emotions set the agenda of the religion rather than vice versa.’
In recent decades, faith has, in other words, transformed itself into the religious wing of identity politics. Religion has, ironically, become secularised, driven less by a search for piety and holiness than for identity and belongingness. The rise of identity politics has transformed the meaning not just of religion but of blasphemy too. Blasphemy used to be regarded as a sin against God. These days it is felt as a sin against the individual believer, an offence against the self and one’s identity. That is why for Sardar, ‘Every word [of The Satanic Verses] was directed at me and I took everything personally’, why he imagined that Rushdie had ‘despoiled the inner sanctum of my identity’. This is also why many laws these days that ostensibly protect faith – such as Britain’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act – are framed primarily in terms of protecting the culture and identity of individuals or communities. In today’s world, identity is God, in more ways than one.
The transformation in the meaning of blasphemy has not, however, transformed its underlying role. The prohibition of blasphemy remains a means, in Kolokowski’s words, of ‘reaffirming and stabilizing the structure of society’, of ‘proclaiming “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”’. But it has become a means of protecting beliefs deemed essential not to society as a whole, but to specific communities, and to an individual’s identity and self-esteem. What, however, defines a community? And who defines which beliefs are essential to a community? Or to the identity of individuals within it? These, too, are matters not of theology, or even of culture, but of power. The struggle to define certain beliefs or thoughts as offensive or blasphemous is a struggle to establish power within a community and to establish one voice as representative or authentic of that community. What is called offence to a community is in reality usually a debate within a community. – but in viewing that debate as a matter of offence or of blasphemy, one side gets instantly silenced.
Take the row over Salman Rushdie’s appearance, or rather non-appearance, at the Jaipur Literature Festival. The Islamists who, with connivance from the state and the festival organizers, successfully prevented Rushdie from appearing, even by video link, no more spoke for the Muslim community than Rushdie himself did. Both represented different strands of opinion within different Muslim communities. And this has been true since the beginnings of the Rushdie affair. Back in the 1980s Rushdie gave voice to a radical, secular sentiment that in then was deeply entrenched within Asian communities. Rushdie’s critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. Their campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect the Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots but to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the true voice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. And they succeeded at least in part becausesecular liberals embraced them as the ‘authentic’ voice of the Muslim community.
The same is true of, say, the controversy over Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti which was driven off stage by protestors in 2004. The protestors outside the Birmingham Rep outraged by Kaur Bhatti’s play no more spoke for the Sikh community than did Kaur Bhatti herself. Both spoke for different strands within that community. But, as in the Rushdie affair, only the protestors were seen as authentically of their community, while Kaur Bhatti, like Rushdie, was regarded as too Westernized, secular and progressive to be authentic or truly of her community. To be a proper Muslim, in other words, in secular liberal eyes, is to be offended by The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti. The argument for the necessity of blasphemy laws, or for the outlawing of offensiveness, is, then, both rooted in stereotypes of what it is to be an authentic Muslim or a Sikh and helps reinforce those stereotypes. This, of course, has nothing to do with the reality of being a Muslim or a Sikh, but everything to do with the reality of identity politics. Identity politics has rendered communities into homogenous, distinct, authentic groups, composed of people all speaking with a single voice, all driven by a single understanding of their faith. Once authenticity is so defined, then only the most conservative, reactionary figures come to be seen as the true voices of those communities.
The idea that certain views are off limits because they are offensive or blasphemous is both an expression of an essentialized view of what constitutes a community and a means of justifying that view. On the one hand, the contemporary, identity-driven notion of blasphemy only makes sense if we accept the myth of communities as homogenous, distinctive, authentic, composed of people all speaking with a single voice. On the other, it is a means of instantiating that myth by asserting the power of one strand of opinion within that community, by establishing that strand as the true authentic view, and hence of silencing all opposing views. Or, to put it another way, ‘You can’t say that!’ is the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be contested, that certain beliefs are so important or valuable or essential that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. It is the creation of a sacred space safe from the prospect of violation.
The idea of blasphemy or offensiveness speaks to power in a second sense too. It has become an important means not just of grounding the power of particular community leaders, but of allowing the state to regulate relations between social groups. The modern argument for blasphemy laws from liberals such as Lord Scarman or Richard Webster is that such laws are necessary ‘in the interests of social harmony’, to protect ‘the internal tranquillity of the kingdom’. In fact the consequence of such laws has been the creation of greater disharmony and turmoil. Every group has sought to create its own sacred space, upon which no one may encroach, leading to an explosion of sectarian rivalries as each one demands its right not to be offended or blasphemed against. As the novelist Monica Ali has put it, ‘If you set up a marketplace of outrage you have to expect everyone to enter it. Everyone now wants to say, “My feelings are more hurt than yours”.’
But the marketplace of outrage has created not just a problem but an opportunity too. For in a fragmented, tribal society, the state is able to step in as peacemaker. Speech regulation has become a mechanism through which to regulate social relations between groups in an era of identity politics. And that only establishes even more securely the need for a secular sacred space, or rather for a plethora of secular sacred spaces, none of which must not be violated.
The importance of blasphemy is in providing a language of power. To decree certain views, certain ideas, certain practices, even certain thoughts, as taboo is to demand that certain forms of power cannot be contested. The importance of the principle of free speech is, on the other hand, in providing a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence in acting as an ever-present test to authority. Its importance is in insisting that nothing is so sacred that it cannot be questioned or debated. Once we give up the right to offend or to blaspheme, once we accept the idea of a sacred space, whether religious or secular, then we erode our ability to defy those in power. Human beings, as Salman Rushdie has put it, ‘shape their futures by arguing and challenging and saying the unsayable; not by bowing their knee whether to gods or to men.’
Sad to see that one of the most progressive organisations in student politics of recent times, the NCAFC, have once again fallen plague to the parasites of Trot organisations and other ‘liberal intelligentsia’ . How long will it take before people realize these groups are not your ‘comrades’ and will do nothing other than suck out the life blood of forward thinking organisations. Steer well clear.
Here is a report back from the Extermination Without Pity Blog.
The behavior of some groups at NCAFC conference this weekend was pretty shocking; they should be ashamed of themselves, but they won’t be. In fact from their tweets after conference they seem pretty proud. But despite repeated calls to respect some kind of safe space – to not shout over speakers, to not laugh or insult or comment about people while they talked, to not clap (which we agreed as a conference not to do), to respect the chairing – they made absolutely no attempt to do so. I have been involved with student and left politics for around nine years now, I’ve spoken at plenty of conferences and worked with a lot of people I didn’t agree with; I think I’m pretty confident in these situations. But I had to step down from the chair of the second motions session at conference and was genuinely quite upset by the reaction I got from the floor while I was chairing. Prior to this my co-chair had already had to step down after bullying from the attendees and a statement had been made saying how inappropriate the behaviour of some people was.
Gallingly those same people then complained about a lack of time given to debate liberation motions (particularly on women, internationalism and racism) while ignoring the requests from the liberation caucuses at conference. The actions of Student Broad Left, the Socialist Workers Party and Counterfire seem to be motivated far more by “embarrassing” the AWL and disrupting conference than any genuine sense of caring about these issues.
Moreover, whilst the impact of cuts, fees and privatisation on BME and women students certainly needs to be addressed, why does the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts need a position on war with Iran? And if we’re going to have a position condemning any possibility of war why is it a problem to include comments asking for engagement with Iranian trade unionists and criticising the incredibly authoritarian, theocratic government there? That so many attendees felt they had to speak and vote against that amendment says a lot about their priorities, and the suggestion that those who criticise the Iranian government must be imperialists in favour of war is utterly appalling and must be disingenuous.
I head home from Liverpool pretty demoralised frankly. We have a national committee with far more factions and far fewer independent students and on the basis of this weekend I have very little faith that the committee or the campaign more broadly will be able to coordinate any successful action in the coming months. Months, which it should be noted will be crucial in a number of important fights: over the pensions dispute in universities, schools, colleges and the public sector; over changes to employment law that will make it far easier for employers to sack someone and which are currently being opposed by no one; and in the continuing fight to stop the HE white paper being brought in b y the back door.
I hope I am wrong and the NCAFC can help provide effective opposition to these attacks, but I doubt it.
PS congratulations to newly elected reps on the NC from Scotland, Naomi Beecroft and Aidan Turner, make sure you keep it radge and don’t let all the stalinist bullying get to you.
It’s time I put the text of my speech to the South London Anti-Fascist Group’s AGM online.
The talk nearly did not happen. Much to my surprise, Hope Not Hate objected to me speaking, describing my presence as ‘intolerable’. Hope Not Hate’s predecessor organisation, Searchlight , long enjoyed a monopoly over media coverage of the far-right – it is worrying if Hope Not Hate believe they have a similar monoply over analysis of fascism, or even of opposition to it?
Anyway, after the AGM’s business those present had a talk by Hackney Unites on their work in east London, and performances by Dean Atta and the Ruby Kid . That gave me the most difficult slot of all – the last one. Here’s what I said:
Talk To South London Anti-Fascists
I am slightly embarrassed at being described as an activist. I’m as active as anyone with 3 part time jobs, twin sons and a PhD to finish.
I was very active for best part of two decades, a member of Class War for 16 years, I was involved with Anti-Fascist Action on an occasional basis (those who remember Red Action will know Anarchists were always kept in reserve for when the numbers were short, we were the auxillary force) and a founder member of No Platform and Antifa.
If I have theme this evening it is that things are very different today to 1992 or 1993 – but in some ways they can still be rather similar.
In 1993 anti-fascists had to contend with a large, fluid group of disparate young men, ostensibly protesting about terrorism. Their numbers certainly contained organised fascists, loyalists and ex-soldiers, but also from football firms, people with little or no political background, and people looking for a scrap. Those anti-IRA demonstrations – the cries of No Surrender – were the precursors of the EDL demonstrations of today.
Those demonstrations passed. Indeed they were a distraction from doing what was necessary – reaching a mature peace in Ireland. And the EDL are a similar distraction
- The first is that they will stimulate racist attacks – either on lone Muslims on the fringes of demonstrations, or as we have seen in Luton in an attack on a mosque.
- That EDL actions will stimulate racist attacks by Muslims on whites. At the counter-demo to the EDL in Birmingham at least one white passer by was beaten up, with footage of the incident displayed across the papers.
With hindsight, there are other dangers we could perhaps add, although I have to say the idea of the EDL as an electoral force conjoined with the British Freedom Party is one that at this stage I don’t fear. Social movements tend to lose something, some of their sparkle when they try and become political parties.
3. The third danger I saw, which is by far the biggest, is that the EDL retard debate about Islam, and more importantly Islamism, in the UK. There is something different potentially about the EDL to the anti-IRA – read anti-Irish - demonstrations of the 1990s.
Lets consider where the EDL emerges – in Luton – following the Al-Mujihiroun demonstration against the Royal Anglian Regiment. Historically Luton is a town with comparatively good race relations. It has good relations between white and black, and good relations between Irish and British. It has very poor relations between Muslim and non-Muslim. Those problems long predate the EDL.
In 2009 I argued the presence of the EDL runs the risk of dividing debate into racists on one side, and professional anti-racists and Muslim representative organisations on the other, with little or no space for anyone else to operate in. Melanie Phillips on one side and the Muslim Council of Britain on the other. And that divide excludes the vast majority of people in this community, and indeed the UK.
There is a problem, for people on the left, in considering issues in those terms. Look at the hysterical reactions from some on the left when, I think it was Nick Lowles, made the comment that Al-Mujihiroun and the EDL were two sides of the same coin. It was hardly a bizarre comparison to make.
There are problems, and indeed real concerns with some of the brands of Islam we now see in the UK. In Tower Hamlets, the most important political institution is not the Labour Party, trades unions or a particular community group – it is East London Mosque. How we articulate and discuss these issues is an even bigger challenge than dealing with the EDL. They are another distraction from where we want to go, from where we want society to be.
I want to say a few things about multi-culturalism. It is something I suspect everyone in this room is comfortable with. As an Englishman of Irish descent with an African wife, I know I am. A London where we get on with our neighbours and our workmates precisely because they are our neighbours and colleagues. That gives us shared interests and things in common. A multi-culturalism where we see people as people, not as representatives of particular ethnic or religious groups, to be spoken to and interacted with on those terms.
I don’t usually see the need to articulate most of the problems of London in racial terms. That is not to say racism does not exist – it does. But there are two types of multi-culturalism. Kenan Malik’s attack on a top down multi-culturalism, where identities are imposed by authorities – read his book From Fatwa to Jihad – is I think essential reading. He sets out how in Birmingham identities were imposed, by the local authority, and funding and power allocated on that basis. And within two decades, you have blacks and Muslims fighting each other in the streets. In the 1980s they had been fighting alongside one another against the police.
Onto the contemporary far-right. As in the early 1990s, the main far right party is underachieving. The spivvy nature of Griffin’s BNP has been understood by his own supporters, taking a lot of his base away. Griffin’s sole priority is probably to get re-elected as an MEP – those who have served two terms in the European Parliament get a very significant pension. It is hard, but not impossible to see him getting the BNP back to where it was.
These are still challenging times though for anti-fascists. I would recommend to you some of the work Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University has done on far-right voting patterns and opinion poll data across Europe. In most countries the populist (read fascist) party has a rising vote – Norway and the UK being the most noticeable exceptions. It is not hard to see why the vote is collapsing in Norway – in Anders Breivik, they have seen fascism in action. In France and Austria the majority of white working class voters indicated they would vote for the ‘populist’ party.
I am not sure anything about a trend ensures its continuation. To me, a whole series of dangers exist, but one of the most dangerous is to play into the hands of fascists. If there is such a thing as ‘the black community’ or the ‘Vietnamese community’ or the ‘Muslim community’, with fixed leaders, structures and needs, can we really wet our pants in shock and distress when someone says “I represent the white community vote for me”?
Yes we need multi-culturalism. It is what I live. But we need a bottom up multi-culturalism, not a top down government approach that plays into the hands of our enemies.
No Platform, which I tried to uphold for two decades, is harder than ever to implement. Firstly because of police repression – consider the six Antifa members jailed last year, the amount of CCTV, the limitless expenses these specialist police units seem to have. Secondly look at the rise of social media and the Internet – the BNP could be prevented from leafleting, but that same leaflet placed online and seen by hundreds of people within minutes. Which makes no platform more of an occasional tactic than part of a sustainable, permanent programme.
We have to beat the fascists in argument. And we can. Our ideas are better than theirs.
Thank you for listening.
While today marks the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Nazi holocaust that killed 12 million people including 6 million Jews, 500,000 Roma and Shinti, countless Slavs, Poles and Russians among numerous other nationalities from all over the globe, the disabled, the mentally ill, trade unionists, communists, freemasons, LGBT people…we also remember all the other genocides that have been and are the terrible blight of humanity.
May the victims forever be remembered and may we continue to fight against those who would commit future atrocities whatever political persuasion, colour, faith, creed, religion or self declared righteous dogma they may come from.
The United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) are continuing their campaign to call for an independent judicial inquiry into all suspicious deaths in custody.
UFFC, a coalition of families and friends of those that have died in the custody of police and prison officers as well as those who died in psychiatric and immigration detention. It also has members and supporters from campaign groups and advocacy organisations from across the UK.
The issue of deaths in custody were back on the agenda last year when American civil rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson backed calls for a public inquiry at a press conference held at Operation Black Vote’s headquarters.
There is further concern following a report published by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody report in 2011 which stated in total, there were 5,998 deaths recorded for the 11 years from 2000 to 2010, an average of 545 deaths per year. Despite the fact there have been 11 unlawful killing verdicts since 1990 there has never been a successful prosecution.
However, UFFC believe these reforms have not addressed the lack of justice in outstanding cases and say that equitable dispensation justice in the UK must be done and be seen to be done if the general public are to enjoy high levels of trust and confidence in the fair administration of justice.
The poor quality and speed of independent investigations conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and an Inquest process that is seriously under resourced, subject to delay and limited in remit and is not fit for purpose. Both critically fail to protect or support the rights of victims or their families.
UFFC’s demands include:
1. Replacement of the IPCC to ensure open robust transparent and thorough investigations from the very outset of police deaths in custody – with a removal of all ex-police officers for it to be a truly independent body.
2. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman should be placed on a statutory footing.
3. Deaths in psychiatric detention and / or of those detained under the Mental Health Act must be subject to a system of properly funded investigation that is completely independent of the Health Service.
4. Officers and officials directly involved in custody deaths are suspended until investigations are completed.
5. Immediate interviewing of officers and all officials concerned with the death.
6. Officers and officials should never be allowed to collude over their evidence and statements of fact.
7. Full and prompt disclosure of information to the families affected.
8. Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts at Inquests and officers responsible for those deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired.
9. Implementation of police body cameras and cameras in all police vehicles in the interests of both the officers and the public.
10. There should be an automatic right to non-means tested legal aid for families. There is a lack of funds for family legal representation at Inquests whilst officers and NHS staff get full legal representation from the public purse – this is unbalanced.
The UFFC are encouraging people to sign an online petition to get the government to address the issue of deaths in custody. Click on the link below
An episode from 1998 which sees a Tory Councillor staying a week with New Travellers.
Whilst the lives of travellers have over the last decade changed drastically since this was made with many forced off the road due to more and more legislation, it’s interesting to note Tories remain the same…completely anal and still wishing to dictate how the rest of us should live out our lives!
|Venue||Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL||Starting at / on||28th January 2012|
|Start time||Registration 10.30am for a 11.00am start – Finish -16.30 pm|
Introduced by Dr Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London and Editor of Think (Royal Institute Philosophy) Provost of Centre for Inquiry UK.
This event focuses on the criminalization of religious hatred, defamation, and insult under European human rights, and how this functions as a de facto blasphemy law.
General: £10 general public
Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID
Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK. Register below.
Directions to Conway Hall http://www.conwayhall.org.uk/#Find-us
11.00 am Kenan Malik - Title TBA
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. He is a presenter of Analysis, BBC Radio 4′s flagship current affairs programme and a panelist on the Moral Maze. He used to present Nightwaves, BBC Radio 3′s arts and ideas programme. He has written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery and Man, Beast and Politics.Kenan Malik’s latest book is From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. The book was shortlisted for the 2010 George Orwell Book Prize.
12.00pm Andrew Copson - Blasphemy laws by the back door
Andrew Copson has been chief executive of the British Humanist Association since 2010 before which he spent five years coordinating the association’s campaigns work including on blasphemy and free speech issues.
After decades of campaigning the criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel have been abolished but censorship of blasphemous content and even threatened prosecution of blaspheme’s continues in the UK. Andrew explores how corporate interests, opaque advertising regulations and new criminal laws continue to stifle free expression, free criticism and mockery of gods and religions.
1.30pm Austin Dacey - The Future of Blasphemy
Austin Dacey, Ph.D., is a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the author of The Future of Blasphemy:
If blasphemy is an affront to values that are held sacred, then it is too important to be left to the traditionally religious. In the public contestation of the sacred, each of us—secular and religious alike—has equal right and authority to speak on its behalf and equal claim to redress for its violation. Laws against blasphemy and “religious hatred” are inherently discriminatory because they give traditional faith communities a legal remedy that is not available to religious minorities and secularists when their sense of the sacred is violated.
2.30pm Jacob Mchangama - Between blasphemy and hate speech: How hate speech laws are being used to enforce blasphemy norms
Most European states have abolished or ceased enforcing blasphemy laws. Yet “controversial” criticism of religion still risk falling afoul of speech restrictions in the form of hate-speech laws prohibiting incitement to religious hatred. A term which is defined differently in many jurisdictions and may include anything from satirical religious cartoons to harsh criticism of religions. Rather than securing tolerance and social peace modern hate speech laws reinforce group identities and illiberal religious norms to the detriment of freedom of expression and conscience.
3.30pm Maryam Namazie - Blasphemy, Offence, and Islamophobia limiting Citizen Rights
Maryam will be speaking on how accusations of blasphemy, offensive speech and ‘Islamophobia’ censor and restrict free speech, limit citizen rights, and aid and abet Islamism. Maryam Namazie is Spokesperson of the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran. She is also National Secular Society Honorary Associate and the NSS’ 2005 Secularist of the Year award winner and was selected one of the top 45 women of the year 2007 by Elle magazine Quebec.
A variety of interesting books will be on sale at the event, provided by Newham books.
‘A poet’s work. To name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.’ So says the irreverent, satirical poet Baal in The Satanic Verses. What the storm over Salman Rushdie’s non-appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival reveals is that too few people these days think like Baal.
Rushdie was due to have attended the festival – which is quickly becoming one of the most important global literary events – to give a talk on Midnight’s Children, the film of which is released later this year, and to take part in a discussion on the history of English in India. Rushdie has visited India many times over the past decade and has attended the Festival before. This time Muslim activists issued threats. Instead of standing up the bullies, both local and state governments caved in, both exerting pressure on the festival organizers to keep Rushdie away. ‘I am sure the organizers will respect the sentiments of the local people’, said Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan, whose capital is Jaipur.
In the end Rushdie cancelled his trip having, he said, received information about a plot to assassinate him, a plot that now appears may have been invented by the Rajasthan police to ‘persuade’ Rushdie not to come. In response, the novelist Hari Kunzru and the writer and poet Amitava Kumar, both speakers at the Festival, publicly read passages from The Satanic Verses. Later, two other speakers, Jeet Thayil and Rushir Joshi, did so too. The novel is still banned in India, having been placed on a proscribed list in 1988 by the then-premier Rajiv Gandhi, who, facing a crucial election, crumbled under Islamist pressure. The Festival organizers distanced themselves from what they called Kunzru and Kumar’s ‘unnecessary provocation’, and put pressure on other speakers not to follow suit. ‘Any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken’, threatened a subsequent press release.
While many have shown support for Rushdie, others have also sprung to the defence of the festival organizers. ‘I’m not sure this Rushdie intervention was wise or effective’, tweeted Guardian books editor Claire Armistead about Kunzru and Kumar’s decision to read from from The Satanic Verses. But if it is not the role of literary festivals to stand up for writers, and to defend their right to speak, especially in these circumstances, it is difficult to know what is. The Festival’s decision not just to distance itself from Kunzru and Kumar but to threaten others who might be thinking of following suit was nothing less than cowardly.
Contrast the pusillanimity of the Jaipur festival organizers with the response of writers, publishers, editors, translators and booksellers faced with Ayotalloh Khomeini’s fatwa in 1989. Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding for almost a decade. Translators and publishers were assaulted and even murdered. In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese professor of literature and translator of The Satanic Verses, was knifed to death on the campus of Tsukuba University. That same month another translator of Rushdie’s novel, the Italian Ettore Capriolo, was beaten up and stabbed in his Milan apartment. In October 1993 William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, was shot three times and left for dead outside his home in Oslo. Bookshops were firebombed for stocking the novel. Yet Rushdie never wavered in his refusal to withdraw the novel and Penguin never wavered in its commitment to Rushdie.
Penguin’s CEO at the time was Peter Mayer, and he talked publicly about those events for the first time in an interview he gave for my book From Fatwa to Jihad. Mayer himself was subject to a vicious campaign of hatred and intimidation. ‘I had letters delivered to me written in blood’, he remembered. ‘I had telephone calls in the middle of the night, saying not just that they would kill me but that they take my daughter and smash her head against a concrete wall. Vile stuff.’ Yet neither Mayer nor Penguin countenanced backing down. ‘I told the [Penguin] board, “You have to take the long view. Any climbdown now will only encourage future terrorist attacks by individuals or groups offended for whatever reason by other books that we or any publisher might publish. If we capitulate, there will be no publishing as we know it.”’ Mayer and his colleagues recognized that ‘what we did now affected much more than simply the fate of this one book. How we responded to the controversy over The Satanic Verses would affect the future of free inquiry, without which there would be no publishing as we knew it, but also, by extension, no civil society as we knew it. We all came to agree that all we could do, as individuals or as a company, was to uphold the principles that underlay our profession and which, since the invention of movable type, have brought it respect. We were publishers. I thought that meant something. We all did.’
Nygaard, too, was resolute in his refusal to give way. He spent weeks in hospital, followed by months of rehabilitation. It was two years before he could fully use his arms and legs again. ‘Journalists kept asking me, “Will you stop publishing The Satanic Verses?”’, he told me in an interview. ‘I said, “Absolutely not”.’
Mayer and Nygaard belonged to a world in which the defence of free speech was seen as an irrevocable duty. The organizers of Jaipur festival belong to a different world, one in which the idea that a poet’s work is ‘To name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep’ is seen not as self-evident but as shockingly offensive. Over the past two decades, the very landscape of free speech and censorship has been transformed, as has the meaning of literature. The response of the Jaipur organisers gave expression to this transformation.
‘Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties’, wrote John Milton in Areopagitica, his famous 1644 ‘speech for the liberty of unlicenc’d printing’, adding that ‘He who destroys a good book destroys reason itself’. For the next three centuries all progressive political strands were wedded to the principle of free speech as the necessary condition for social and political advance.
Of course, the liberal defence of free speech was shot through with hypocrisy. Milton himself opposed the extension of free speech to Catholics on the grounds that the Catholic Church was undeserving of freedom and liberty. John Locke, too, fêted as the founder of the liberal tradition of tolerance, helddeeply bigoted views about Catholics. A whole host of harms – from the incitement to hatred to threats to national security, from the promotion of blasphemy to the spread of slander – have been cited as reasons to curtail speech. Yet, however hypocritical liberal arguments may sometimes have seemed, and notwithstanding the fact that most free speech advocates accepted that the line had to be drawn somewhere, there was nevertheless an acknowledgement that speech was an inherent good, the fullest extension of which was a necessary condition for the elucidation of truth, the expression of moral autonomy, the maintenance of social progress and the development of other liberties. Restrictions on free speech were seen as the exception rather than as the norm. Radicals recognized that the way to challenge the hypocrisy was not by restricting free speech further but by extending it to all.
It is this idea of speech as intrinsically good that has been transformed. Today, free speech is as likely to be seen as a threat to liberty as its shield. By its very nature, many argue, speech damages basic freedoms. It is not intrinsically a good but inherently a problem because speech inevitably offends and harms. Speech, therefore, has to be restrained, not in exceptional circumstances, but all the time and everywhere, especially in diverse societies with a variety of deeply held views and beliefs. Censorship (and self-censorship) has to become the norm. ‘Self-censorship’, as the Muslim philosopher and spokesman for the Bradford Council of Mosques Shabbir Akhtar put it at the height of the Rushdie affair, ‘is a meaningful demand in a world of varied and passionately held convictions. What Rushdie publishes about Islam is not just his business. It is everyone’s – not least every Muslim’s – business.’
Increasingly politicians and policy makers, publishers and festival organizers, liberals and conservatives, in the East and in the West, have come to agree. Whatever may be right in principle, many now argue, in practice one must appease religious and cultural sensibilities because such sensibilities are so deeply felt. We live in a world, so the argument runs, in which there are deep-seated conflicts between cultures embodying different values. For such diverse societies to function and to be fair, we need to show respect for other peoples, cultures, and viewpoints. Social justice requires not just that individuals are treated as political equals, but also that their cultural beliefs are given equal recognition and respect. The avoidance of cultural pain has, therefore, come to be regarded as more important than the abstract right to freedom of expression. As the British sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.’ What the anti-Baals of today most fear is starting arguments. What they most want is for the world to go to sleep.
The consequence of all this has been the creation not of a less conflicted world, but of one that is more sectarian, fragmented and tribal. As the novelistMonica Ali has put it, ‘If you set up a marketplace of outrage you have to expect everyone to enter it. Everyone now wants to say, “My feelings are more hurt than yours”.’ The more that policy makers give licence for people to be offended, the more that people will seize the opportunity to feel offended. It leads to the encouragement of interest groups and the growth of sectarian conflict.
Nowhere is this trend clearer than in India. There is a long history, reaching back into the Raj, of applying heavy handed censorship supposedly to ease fraught relationships between different communities. It is a process that in recent decades has greatly intensified. Hand in hand with more oppressive censorship has come, however, not a more peaceful society, but one in which the sense of a common nation has increasingly broken down into sectarian rivalries, as every group demands its right not to be offended. The original confrontation over The Satanic Verses was a classic example of how in encouraging groups to feel offended, one simply intensifies sectarian conflict. The latest row is another step down that road.
It is not just Muslims that are adept at playing the offence card. Hindus have done it perhaps even more assiduously, as have many other groups. Nor is it just an issue for India. Exactly the same trends can be seen in Britain, and other Western nations.
The ‘never give offence’ brigade imagines that a more plural society requires a greater imposition of censorship. In fact it is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In a homogenous society in which everyone thought in exactly the same way then the giving of offence would be nothing more than gratuitous. But in the real world where societies are plural, then it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And we should deal with those clashes rather than suppress them. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, diverse society. Or, as Rushdie put it in his essay In Good Faith,human beings ‘understand themselves and shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee whether to gods or to men.’
Shabbir Akhtar was right: what Salman Rushdie says is everybody’s business. It is everybody’s business to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to say what they wish, even if it is deemed by some to be offensive. If we want the pleasures of pluralism, we have to accept the pain of being offended. Not least at a literary festival.
In April 2010, Norwich City Council awarded eight contracts to Connaught after the break-up of the CityCare contract.
The old CityCare contract had been plagued with controversy, with the Evening News revealing how 17,000 tenants and leaseholders had been charged over the odds for building and maintenance work on their homes.
After CityCare’s 10-year contract came to an end, the city council chose Exeter-based Connaught to take on responsibility for services ranging from fixing and repairing the city’s council homes to managing asbestos and recycling. The various parts of the contract added up to £125m in total, but eyebrows were raised that the amount Connaught said the contracts could be delivered for was so much lower than other bidders.
The city council also had to reach a financial settlement with Morrison, the parent company of CityCare, after it challenged the decision to award Connaught the £17.5m a year contract for housing maintenance in the High Court.
At the High Court hearing Mr Justice Arnold said Morrison had a “seriously arguable” case that Connaught’s bid for the housing maintenance contract was “abnormally low” and that the council had not properly investigated it.
There were problems with Connaught from the start, including missed appointments and workers not being fully paid, which were initially blamed on teething troubles.
However, Connaught’s share price tumbled and a profit warning was issued, before, in September last year, Connaught Partnerships went into administration, leading to the loss of 300 jobs. Connaught Environmental, which at that time employed 200 people, was saved by administrators KPMG and was rebranded as Fountains.
But the company, which also had council contracts with the London Boroughs of Wandsworth, Camden, Hillingdon and Tower Hamlets, continued to have problems.
It was taken over in March last year, in a move which bosses hailed at the time as securing its long-term future.
However, unfortunately for the Norwich workers, that turned out not to be the case.
While much of Fountain Group’s assets and contracts have been sold, securing more than 1,500 jobs, the Norwich contract is not among them.
That leaves the city council trying to find a way to provide services and the workers hoping their skills will be required by whichever company takes over the contracts.
When is a terrorist not a terrorist? When, apparently, he is ‘our’ terrorist.
Last week Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at Tehran’s technical university, and deputy director of commerce at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was blown up by a bomb attached to his car. He was the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed in the past two years, part of what appears to be a concerted assassination campaign against people deemed key to Teheran’s nuclear ambitions.
It is still unclear who carried out the attacks. Israel is high on the list of most informed observers. Last week the journal Foreign Policy carried a report about Mossad operatives posing as CIA agents to recruit fighters from the Pakistani jihadi group Jundallah for terrorist operations in Iran. Twenty four hours before Roshan’s murder, Israel’s military chief of staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz had told a parliamentary meeting that Iran should expect ‘continuing and growing pressure from the international community and things which take place in an unnatural manner.’
The identity of perpetrators may still be uncertain. What is without doubt, however, is the international response to the assassinations – or, rather, the lack of any response. Imagine if four US or British nuclear scientists had been assassinated in New York or London, and that Iran had been seen as the most likely suspect. There would, rightly, have been global outrage. There would have been political condemnations, UN resolutions, possibly the severing of diplomatic ties, certainly the talk of sanctions, perhaps even of military strikes.
In this case, however, the predominant noise has been the sound of quiet satisfaction at a job well done. In the West, condemnation has been, at best, muted. Hillary Clinton dissociated America from the ‘violence inside Iran’, but uttered not a word of condemnation of the violence, though her spokeswoman acknowledged that America did not support ‘any assassination or attack on an innocent person’. No word of censure has so far come from the United Nations Security Council. As a Reuters report put it, ‘Iran may be outraged at the killing of another nuclear scientist in broad daylight, but it lacks viable avenues for international condemnation or prosecution of what could be an attempt to sabotage its nuclear program.’ Many senior politicians have openly welcomed the assassinations. ‘On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead’, US Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorumgloated recently. ‘I think that’s a wonderful thing.’
Contrast this with the outrage that greeted the alleged Iranian plot last October to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. America accused Iran’s Quds Forces of recruiting a failed used car salesman in Texas to hire Mexican drug cartels to assassinate the ambassador in a Washington restaurant. Serious doubts have been raised as to whether Iran had any involvement in a plot seemingly scripted more by Ricky Gervais than by al-Qaeda, and one in which, as US officials acknowledged, ‘no explosives were actually ever placed anywhere and no one was actually ever in any danger’. Nevertheless the US attorney general Eric Holder insisted that Iran would be ‘held to account’ over what he described as a ‘flagrant abuse of international law’ and suggested that ‘military action remains on the table’. Tom Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission described the plot as ‘pretty close to an act of war’, pointing out that ‘You don’t go in somebody’s capital to blow somebody up’.
It would be easy to describe the contrast in responses as ‘hypocrisy’. But it goes much deeper, getting to the very heart of what we mean by ‘terrorism’ and by what the ‘war on terror’ has come to mean. Remi Brulinis a visiting fellow at New York University who has been tracking use of the word ‘terrorism’. It was in the 1980s that the word came properly into public discourse. Partly this was in response to the changing character of Palestinian violence over the previous decade, exemplified by the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. More important than the conflict in the Middle East, however, were the wars in Central America, set against the background of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan used the idea of ‘terrorism’ to justify, on the one hand, support for the military junta in El Salvador fighting the threat of the ‘terrorist’ FMLN guerilla movement and, on the other, to the rightwing Contra militias in Nicaragua trying to bring down the ‘terrorist’ Sandinista government.
The end of the Cold War transformed the discourse on terrorism. First, third world liberation struggles became degraded and fragmented, their violence driven less by political conviction than by nihilistic desire to sow terror. The emergence of the Islamist suicide bomber is an expression of this degradation of what used to be liberation struggles.
Second, in the absence of the ideological struggle against communism, the war on terror increasingly became the anchor of Western foreign policy. During the Cold War, right and wrong, good and evil, were expressed in ideological terms. Foreign interventions, the overthrow of democratic governments, the support for reactionary regimes – all were justified by the necessity to prevent the spread of communism. With the demise of the Soviet Union, what has come to be called ‘the war against terror’ took centre stage in such justifications. ‘Terrorism’ has come to be presented as self-evident, the use of unconscionable violence to undermine basic freedoms and liberties. But, as the response to the Iranian assassinations reveals, ‘terrorism’ remains a deeply politicized concept. Iran is a terrorist state. Saudi Arabia, despite probably sponsoring more terrorist groups, and despite being equally undemocratic and brutal, is a valued Western ally. The murder of an Iranian citizen is a justified act. Plotting to kill a Saudi official is international terrorism.
The consequences of such distortion were revealed once again with the revelation last week that British spies had helped to ‘rendition’ Libyan dissidents to Colonel Gaddafi’s forces. Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi, the leader and religious leader respectively of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which has links to al-Qaeda, were abducted in the Far East and forcibly returned to Libya. Belhadj, a commander of the rebel forces in last year’s civil war, and now head of the Tripoli military council, claims that a joint CIA and MI6 operation, specifically set up to help Colonel Gaddafi round up his enemies, snatched him in Bangkok and flew him to Libya, where he was subject to years of torture by Gaddafi’s goons.A letter written in March 2004 apparently by Sir Mark Allen, former director of counter-terrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa, head of Gaddafi’s intelligence agency, and discovered in Moussa Koussa’s office after the rebels entered Tripoli, passes on thanks for helping to arrange the-then prime minister Tony Blair’s visit to Gaddafi. ‘I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [one of Belhadj's aliases]’, Allen writes, adding that ‘This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years.’ Sami al-Saadi similarly alleges that he and his family were abducted in Hong Kong as they were making their way to Britain, taken to Tripoli, where al-Saadi was thrown in prison and subject to torture.
Just as it is tempting to dismiss the failure to condemn the Iranian assassinations as ‘hypocrisy’, so it is tempting to dismiss such outrages as ‘maverick’ or ‘exceptional’ operations. And it would be wrong for the same reason. For what such renditions reveal is the very nature of the war on terror. Britain’s relationship with Gaddafi’s Libya was not fundamentally different, or fundamentally worse, than its current relationship with Saudi Arabia. There is no reason to assume that such operations are not happening now and will not continue to happen in the future. In fact there is considerable reason to insist that they are and they will. Terrorism, as the American lawyer and commentator Glenn Greenwald has put it, ‘is simultaneously the term that means nothing andjustifies everything’. Everything, indeed, from extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo, from murder plots to torture.
The ‘war on terror’ is an idea that obscures and distorts struggles for freedom and liberty. In some cases those struggles are against despotic regimes such as those in Iran and Syria, and against terrorist groups, often sponsored by such regimes. But they are equally often against Western allies in the war on terror, whether they be Saudi Arabia or Israel, and against Western policies and interventions that, in the name of fighting terror, themselves destroy lives and shred basic freedoms. It is those struggles we need to support, against whoever they may be, not the war on terror defined in narrow terms of ‘Western interests’.
There’s been some shock and outrage expressed in the last few days over Ed Milliband’s decision to U-turn on opposition to the Tory cuts. This really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Labour party have not been on the side of the working class for a long time before Blair or even the 1970′s and 80′s that are seen by some as a golden age of the party.
Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system.
Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always made devotion to that system their fixed point of reference and the conditioning factor of their political behaviour. This is not simply to say that the Labour Party has never been a party of revolution: such parties have normally been quite willing to use the opportunities the parliamentary system offered as one means of furthering their aims. It is rather that the leaders of the Labour Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell, or which appeared to them to fall, outside the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system. The Labour Party has not only been a parliamentary party; it has been a party deeply imbued by parliamentarism. And in this respect, there is no distinction to be made between Labour’s political and its industrial leaders. Both have been equally determined that the Labour Party should not stray from the narrow path of parliamentary politics.
The Labour Party remains, in practice, what it has always been- a party of modest social reform in a capitalist system within whose confines it is ever more firmly and by now irrevocably rooted.
The above quote is from the introduction to Ralph Milliband’s Parliamentary Socialism: A Study of the Politics of Labour published in 1961. The reality is that the Labour party has been beyond the control of it’s rank and file members and unions since it first gained MP’s in the 1920′s. The latest move is no more of a surprise today than Neil Kinnock’s failure to support the miners in 1984 or to even attempt to effectively resist the de-industrualisation of Britian, the smashing of communities and the financialisation of the economy that was Thatcherism.
Ed Milliband and the Labour party are (re)abandoning the working class now at a time of open conflict. They’ve chosen the parliamentary system, the law of the rich and the bosses. It’s who they are, as Ed’s father said in 1961 – everything is flexible except for the goal parliamentary power.
This time though things are different, it’s not the 1980′s. In the 1980′s the Tories reinvented Britain, created the conditions by liberalising capital markets to allow capital to redeploy production to countries with cheap ununionised labour and attacked the working class organisations at home. They also sold a vision. A vision of home ownership for all, a stake in the corporations they sold off. It was pure deceit, there’s nothing empowering about a mortgage and being able to buy shares in a business you already owned as a citizen before it was sold off by the state is willingly participating in your own robbery. It worked though, 18 years of power and the completion of a project that lasted 10 more years under Labour. In 1998 John Major said of Blair’s government “they have good policies, they’re our policies”.
There’s no vision today though, it’s a straight up fight. They can’t sell council houses off cheap because they’ve already sold them. There’s no BT share issue for us to get excited over or British Gas shares to tell Sid about because they’ve already sold them. The vision of the Tories today is “The Big Society” which translates to “We’re not taking tax off the rich to pay for services so do it yourself”.
Unlike the 80′s the Labour party have got out of the way early doors. Less than 2 years in and they’re hand is nakedly declared. There’s no handwringing over whether a miners ballot was quite as it should be to excuse not providing unequivocal support for working class people fighting for their jobs. Ed Milliband isn’t even pretending to be on your side.
The unions are crying about this, as though this is some kind of revelation to them. It’s not. It might be the time they turn, when Unite along with Unison and the GMB etc. follows the RMT and disaffiliates from Labour That’s up to you though. If you’re a member, fight for it and for love of sanity make sure you opt out of your unions political fund and make it clear you’re doing so because of Labour Party affiliation.
The fight now is who pays for the disaster of the 1980′s de-industrialisation and the fiancialisation of the economy. Do we as the working class pay for it though redundancy and pay cuts? Do the disabled and vulnerable pay for it through service and benefit cuts? If you think that’s what should happen, you don’t need to do anything. Vote Labour in 2015.
It’s up to us, it’s never been more clear that all we have is each other. The Labour Party aren’t going to help us, forget them.
London wide meeting
Saturday 14th January • 4pm-6pm
London Action Resource Centre
62 Fieldgate St
London E1 6ES
AN APPEAL TO ALL RADICALS AND ANTI-AUTHORITARIANS
Why we should all help form radical local community-based groups
Our goal should be the creation of a society free from the exploitation of capitalism and the oppression of the state – a society which is non-hierarchical and in which everyone is free, yet works together collectively. This will be achieved when the mass of the working class share these goals; in other words, we need to help build mass grassroots movements in which radical and anarchist ideas and ways of doing things can flourish in our communities.
Radicals are involved in a wide range of activities. The media tend to stress the more visible and physical roles such as the direct action at demos, arrests etc. But to overcome isolation and not just be a mere pinprick in the side of capitalism and the state, we must also reach out to the mass of the working class.
So what can we do?
The groups that are linked into the Radical London network believe that setting up local radical/anarchist/solidarity groups and networks, with the aim of engaging in local community actions as well as supporting local workplace struggles, is a key way of spreading ideas, solidarity and resistance amongst the wider working class. In addition, we are strengthened by our connection to others and we are in a better situation to actually participate in and win struggles.
- Campaigns against cuts, to save a local market or a green space, or challenging the impact of the Olympics;
- Supporting community groups and activities such as tenants and residents associations;
- Local industrial disputes and supporting local workers involved in national strikes;
- Practical solidarity work with claimants, people fighting eviction etc;
- Fighting oppression, working with others to challenge racism and other forms of oppression;
- Putting on activities such as film-shows, public meetings or radical history walks;
- Producing leaflets and news-sheets with alternative ways of thinking about current issues & organising.
The groups in Radical London (and around the UK) are doing all of these things. If there were groups throughout London and the UK doing similar things and sharing our experiences and learning from each other, it would be a crucial step in making anarchist & radical ideas influential in a range of grass roots struggles – and a serious alternative to the current establishment / status quo.
Website and more info: http://www.radicallondon.net/
by Arthur Brick
Hidden amidst the labyrinth of central London’s one way system, last Saturday saw the first conference held by the big smoke’s unified anarchist ensemble know as ALARM (All London Revolutionary Anarchist Movement).
The group have aimed to unify some of the disparate elements of the anarchist scene in London and to synthesise themselves into a movement, the logistics of which were a popular topic of the day.
The attendance well reflected this heterogeneous nature, boasting, amongst others, some of those who have risen to infamy amongst Class War, members of the former Whitechapel Anarchist Group, old crusties and young hacker types in ones and twos and delegations from the North East Anarchists and of course NCAG, who had come down to observe events and discuss how the agenda of the conference related to struggle in their areas.
We were unfortunate enough to miss the beginning of the conference due to the aforementioned one way system and unreasonably large amount of roadworks in the city on the day, which had taxi drivers telling us “even if you can remember those directions I’m not sure you’ll make it”. We continued undeterred and finally arrived at Conway Hall where around seventy people were gathered in the buildings main chamber, concluding the questions and debate on models of workplace and community organisation.
The general feeling of the room seemed to be that workplace and community organisation should not be seen as mutually exclusive and the group talked of the importance of solidarity from other workplaces and the locality when industrial action was on the cards. The importance of working in solidarity with other London based groups such as Sol-Fed was also discussed and generally agreed to. Finally a plan was made to establish apoint of contact in each borough which had an ALARM affiliation.
After a short brake the conference reconvened, with slightly boosted numbers as it was now well past midday. The next topics, the Riots and the Occupy movement were, naturally, a source of lively debate. Despite a few differences of opinion, usually theoretical, it was easy to avoid the hysterical or fundamentalist responses which have coloured the media and the majority of debate in public houses over the last five months, and to asses the worth and failings of each, how they relate to a wider struggle against oppression and what, if any, role the group and other anarchists have in them.
The panel began with a speaker vehemently defending the actions of the dispossessed and disaffected during the course of the August riots, focusing on the socio-economic inequalities and abuses of state power which had led to the explosion of anger. [Mandatory Anarchist Disclaimer on the Riots: I, like the speaker, and most who share the former view do not support the kind of dip-shits who burn out people's houses or take advantage of those more vulnerable than themselves etc. but the riots did not create this behaviour and it would be ridiculous to assume that they would make it disappear]
During the discussion many raised their voices to offer supporting evidence of the degradation of communities which fuelled the fire, one of the most frequent gripe being the constant stop-and-searches performed by police especially on black youths. This abuse of police power was recognised as a potential contact point with youth movements, which the conference had acknowledged that it was at a distance from. A decision was also made to try to have more appropriate materials, bust cards and the like, prepared in case further rioting erupted.
The occupy movement faced some strong criticism, especially with regards to attitudes towards homeless people. Older heads from the squatting scene who had done projects with homeless people in London offered words of caution of the potential problems, and advice as to how to deal with these problems to those who were planning similar projects. These sorts of exchanges, which were common throughout the day, showed the usefulness of this forum; as practical advice was able to be metered out to those that needed or wanted it. Despite a few suggestions of how Occupy could be improved as a concept little was made in the way of serious plans to engage in the movement.
The panel for this topic focused on the reclamation of space as the theme that untied the Rioters and the Occupants and the audience attested to a similar situation amongst some hacktivist circles and the legacy of these sorts of actions in Stop the City and similar demonstrations.
The final topic of the day was total policing. The speakers talked us through the basics tenets of the new policy and framed it as a branding exercise, drawing attention the points of continuity with previous policies. Many of the talking points of this session were rehashes of those discussed in relation to the riots, a lot of time being dedicated to stop-and-searches. Discussion threw up a few legal loopholes or tricks which can be used to hit back at the cops, though most of the stuff was common knowledge already. Many were vocal about the importance of suing the police and a collective fund was proposed which would re-invest some of the hypothetical compensation into funding ALARMs projects however no formal resolution was made.
The conference concluded without passing many resolutions but many walked away with individual projects which they intended to begin work on and bring back to the group at a later stage. A collection was taken to help with the cost of the hall, then everyone filtered out to get some solid drinking in before meeting up again later at the London Action Resource Centre, where ALARM were holding their after party.
All in all a positive and welcome step forward.
by Rick Dutton in International News
If you know anyone from the West African Republic of Nigeria you might find them slightly absorbed by what is going on back home at the moment. Yes, yes, we hear you declare, that’ll be the ethnic tensions and rise of another group of Islamic extremists kicking off, they’re always doing that!
We’ll if you were to take a good look at international media reports it’s understandable that you might have that reaction. What isn’t being reported much is that there’s a movement of protest going on in Africas most populated country which is seeking to rid the country of injustice, corruption, political greed and incompetence. While there are indeed increasing clashes on a religious and ethnic basis these are minuscule compared to what is actually going on in pretty much every state of Nigeria. And that is ‘Occupy Nigeria’.
Cynics among you will no doubt be shocked to hear that this isn’t just a couple of hundred people in tents camped outside the equivalent of Londons St.Pauls Cathedral. Well it’s not. It’s hundred of thousands of people from every section of Nigerian society…hundreds of thousands of people on the streets shouting ‘We have had ENOUGH!’
Occupy Nigeria has barely been noticed by other Occupy groups around the world, hardly a mention. And it’s not like they haven’t been sending messages out asking for support. Yet there’s more eloquence and understanding of corruption in terms of international and domestic capitalism on display in Occupy Nigeria than from ANY other we have seen so far on our own door steep and indeed across the so-called ’western world’.
Here’s some other things you may or may not know.
Did you know Nigeria is the sixth biggest oil producer in the world pumping oil to the tune of two million barrels per day? Did you know Nigeria is Americas third biggest oil provider? Did you know that a Nigerian Minister earns $60,000 more than an American Cabinet Minister? Did you know members of the Nigerian Senate earn $26,000 (not including allowances) more than their American counterparts? Did you know the majority of the population of more than 160 million people live on less than $2 per day? Did you know Nigerian ministers travel in convoys ten vehicles long, have their own jets, own properties around the globe, attend international events (whether invited or not) with entourages of sometimes 100 people…all at the expense of the Nigerian people? Did you know money regularly disappears to the tune of billions of dollars with rarely any explanation or individuals held accountable. In fact it is estimated that $400bn of the country’s oil revenue was stolen by Nigeria’s leaders between 1960 and 1999.
Remember our own expenses scandals? There is simply no comparison.
These are as close to facts as you could possibly get.
Meanwhile there is little to no working public infrastructure let alone any public welfare system. ‘Official figures’ from the Bureau of Statistics puts the unemployment figure at about 20% (about 32million people if based on a population figure of 160 million), but this figure still did not include about 40million other Nigerian youths captured in World Bank statistics in 2009. Average life expectancy in some studies puts men at 47 years and women at 48 years.
With those kind of statistics you’d wonder if there was anything at all that the Nigerian people receive from their government that is of benefit to them.
There was one, but that’s now being taken off them. We’ll call it a ‘perk’.
That one ‘perk’, from the government of Africas biggest oil producer, was subsidization at the fuel pumps.
That one ‘perk’ ended on January 1st causing prices to go from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per litre) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per litre). The costs of basic food stuffs and travel also doubled.
Let’s just go over that again…$3.50 per gallon when the average wage of the population is $2 a day.
The only ‘perk’ taken away, just like that…overnight.
The lie from the Nigerian government is the removal of the subsidy will benefit the Nigerian population because there’s a massive hole in domestic finances which they’d like to recoup to rebuild the nation. Nigerians have heard this one before. Many times. ‘Rebuilding the nation’ is a phrase every government has used since independence in 1963 and it has rarely come to much.
As of last Monday the already growing Occupy movement was swelled when unions called out their members on strike in protest to the removal of the subsidy. In turn this has attracted the young, masses of them from every part of Nigeria.
Last night union leaders from the Nigeria Labour Congress, threatening this coming Monday to shut down all oil production met with the Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson and his government officials to ‘negotiate’ an end to the strike in return for the original fuel subsidy. However tweets from inside the meeting made it clear that the government would reduce the price slightly and the unions would meet them half way, much to the fury of protesters and a substantial number of the population who believe that the unions have no right to negotiate away the return of $1.70 per gallon on behalf of the Nigerian people. The popular declaration is it’s ‘N65 or nothing’ (the price in the local currency Naira).
This meeting ended without agreement and today hundreds of thousands were again back on the streets warning the union leaders not to betray them tomorrow when meetings between the two parties continue. Union leaders have called off the strikes over the weekend apparently in order to open airports and allow members of the government to fly to the capital Abuja to make their voices heard. Cynics might also say there’ll be those flying ‘far away’ also in fear of what may or may not occur in the coming days. But there is also a need for those involved in the protests and the population at large to ‘re-charge the batteries’, so in that respect it is to be commended.
Both governments and unions have much to be frightened of at this juncture. Neither parties are likely to quell the current growing anger if the demands of the public are not addressed quickly. The average working Nigerians are far from being the usual stereotype many bigoted fools in the ‘the west’ hold of scam artists who spam email boxes on a daily basis, they are far more politically astute and resourceful a nation than these bigots at large would give them credit for. Great names such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ken Saro-Wiwa should be forced upon them. In fact they are far more politically astute and resourceful than their own leaders and union heads give them credit for. They should take heed.
Meanwhile the international Occupy movement should get off their butts and support Occupy Nigeria. While it is common knowledge that there is chronic pollution in the Niger Delta caused by oil spillage, it is not the fault of the Nigerian people, it is the fault of their government, lack of accountability, corruption in high places and the oil industries. It is the fault of international capitalism running riot. Nigerians are calling for the outside world to support them.
And this has what to do with us here in little old Norfolk? Maybe nothing, maybe everything in the current international crisis. But keep an eye on the old oil pumps at your Morrissons, BP or Sainsbury forecourt if Nigeria hits crisis point, better still keep an eye on our own state and its allies because the root of all these problems internationally lies there!
And in the spirit of of Nigerian freedom fighters such as the likes of the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti there’s a message to the EU, the US, the UK and above all the IMF…
Him no know hungry people
Him no know jobless people
Him no know homeless people
Him no know suffering people
Him go dey ride best car
Him go dey chop best food
Him go dey live best house
Him go dey waka for road
You go dey commot for road for am
Him go dey steal money
Na “Vagabond in Power!
Fifteen complete editions of Anti Fascist Action’s journal ‘Fighting Talk’ in PDF format are now available to download. A great rarity now finding these so well worth a look back at the UK’s most successful militant anti-fascist organisation to date. Nice one Libcom.
Click on image.
“8 APRIL” ROMA NATION DAY PROTESTS AGAINST ANTI-GYPSY RACISM
Last October I wrote an essay about the decision of the European Court of Justice to deny a patent to the German neuroscientist Oliver Brüstle who had developed a method for turning human embryonic stem cells into neurons which could then be transplanted into patients with diseases such as Parkinson’s. The Court had decided that no patent could be valid on a process that involved the destruction of an embryo; such a patent was subversive of ‘human dignity’ and hence ’immoral’ and contrary to ‘public order’. I was critical of the Court’s decision, and equally so of Greenpeace, the organization that had brought the case before the Court:
If the court judgment is difficult to fathom, the attitude of Greenpeace is even more so. So hostile has the organization become to ‘big science’ that it is happy to line up with some of the most reactionary and obnoxious groups in Europe and jeopardize vital medical research… It is about time we stopped indulging theologians and Luddites in the absurd myth that they occupy the moral high ground. They don’t. They are using moral norms drawn from dogmatic and reactionary visions of life to prevent the practical alleviation of human suffering.
A version of that post was published in the Swedish newspaper Götesborg-Posten. Greenpeace took umbrage at my criticism of the organisation, and its Swedish campaign director Patrik Eriksson wrote a reply, to which I responded. I am publishing here Eriksson’s reply to my original essay (translated into English) together with my response.
‘Greenpeace stands up in defence of free and independent science’
In response to Kenan Malik’s essay in Göteborgs-Posten, in which he accuses the environmental group Greenpeace of opposing stem cell research, we want to make clear our views. First, I want to state clearly that Greenpeace is not opposed to stem cell research. We do not regard embryonic stem cell research as unethical. Nor do we take a stand as to whether or not a cluster of non-predetermined cells, so-called stem cells, should be regarded as a human being, and, thus, we are not opposed to the destruction of stem cells. Greenpeace is a religiously and politically independent organization, and does not support socially conservative arguments as Kenan Malik claims.
Access to embryonic stem cells is essential for scientists looking for a cure for severe diseases, such as multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions. The issue at hand, however, is the risk that patenting of human embryos could lead to commercial exploitation of the human body. This is banned under the European Union Patent directive (98/44, Art.6), as well as in many individual countries and in the UN Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, dated 4th April, 1997. Malik paints a picture where patents are a prerequisite for science. This is a skewed view of reality. On one hand, patents can protect those who invest in medical research and manufacturing of remedies. But these are far from the only tools available – trade secrets, for example, can be maintained without patents. On the other hand, patents might become an iron wall excluding a majority of scientists searching for similar remedies but lacking the patent owner’s privileged access. Publicly funded scientists will then be forced to spend taxpayers’ money to buy access to data owned by private interests. As a consequence, a patent would impede progress.
Kenan Malik clearly did not understand what the challenge was about, nor the results of the court judgment. Because of the challenge to Brüstle’s patent, the European Court of Justice was forced to create a framework for what should be considered as acceptable in the relationship between science and patents. For science, just as for any activity, there must be a clearly defined set of rules and a framework, so that research can be conducted in a way that is acceptable for society. Such frameworks are nothing new or controversial, but have for a long time been a characteristic of medical research in particular. In addition, there has been a long-standing demand for a distinct framework for science, both from the pharmaceutical industry and the scientific community. So it is good that the European Court of Justice has been forced to revise the rules and regulations for patents based on stem cell research and make its standpoint clear.
This is, in other words, all about establishing limits for what a company should be able to patent, not about science as such. We strongly object to Malik’s accusations that Greenpeace is ‘hostile to big science’, his attributing to us certain alleged ‘moral’ views that we have never held, as well as claims that we have raised objections against the destruction of stem cells or embryos. So let us be explicit: Greenpeace stands up in defence of free and independent science. The challenge to Oliver Brüstle’s patent application is based on the belief that human cells should not be commercialized or exlusively owned by private companies. This does not mean that stem cell research as such is a bad thing.
Campaign director, Greenpeace
‘I am unsure whether Greenpeace is being naïve or disingenuous in so distorting the facts’
My thanks to Patrik Eriksson response for his response to my essay on the European Court of Justice ruling on patents deriving from embryonic stem cell research, and on Greenpeace’s unfortunate role in the affair. I am unsure, however, whether he is being naïve or disingenuous in so distorting the facts to make his case.
Eriksson suggests that Greenpeace took up this case because ‘of the risk that patenting of human embryos could lead to commercial exploitation of the human body’. If Oliver Brüstle had been attempting to ‘patent human embryos’, I, too, would have opposed him. As I observed in my original essay, I disapprove of patents on natural processes or entities. In fact, Brüstle was attempting to patent not an embryo, nor even a cell, but a laboratory process, a method of generating neurons from human embryonic stem cells.
Suppose Brüstle had patented a technique to produce neurons from adult, rather than embryonic, stem cells. Would Greenpeace have objected? Unlikely. The key issue, therefore, is not that of patents but that of the legal and moral status of embryos, and of cells that derive from them. And that was the question upon which the Court primarily focused.
Under European law, patents must ‘safeguard the integrity and dignity of the person’ and not damage ‘public order or morality’. Patenting a process relating to cells derived from human embryos can undermine ‘the integrity and dignity of the person’ only if such cells in some sense possess ‘the integrity and dignity of the person’. The judges ruled that they do. Every fertilised egg, they insisted, must be recognized as an entity whose ‘human dignity’ had to be protected. They, therefore, banned any patents on scientific techniques that involve the destruction of embryos. The court, in other words, was not defending human dignity or civil liberties. It was insisting that the moral status of a handful of invisible, undifferentiated cells should be the same as that of a real, living human being. That, to me, is immoral, and deeply damaging to both human dignity and civil liberties.
It is disingenuous of Eriksson to suggest that Greenpeace does not ‘take a stand as to whether or not a cluster of non-predetermined cells, so-called stem cells, should be regarded as a human being.’ It could not have brought this case if it did not believe that such cells possess ‘human dignity’. Indeed, in the press release that Greenpeace produced after the European Court ruling, its International Senior Campaigner Lasse Bruun is quoted as saying that the ruling had ‘strengthened the protection of human life against commercial interests’. The press release concludes by insisting that the court decision will not affect medical progress because ‘in recent years, researchers have found alternative methods for obtaining stem cells, without the need to destroy human embryos’.
The question of whether medical research will be affected is a matter for debate. I, like many others, believe it will. What is clear, though, is that, contrary to what Eriksson says, what truly troubles Greenpeace is ‘the need to destroy human embryos’. In this Greenpeace shamefully lines up with the some of the most reactionary voices in Europe.
We are very pleased to be able to announce that two of the UK antifascists sent down last year were released on 30/12/11 on ‘Home Detention Curfew’ (electronic ‘tag’). We wish sean Cregan and Andy Baker the very best of luck and hope that they can successfully rebuild their lives. Thank you to the many groups and individuals who have allowed us to properly support these comrades. For the moment, the other three antifascists sentenced in relation to the same case remain inside and in need of support.
A recent article by Sean Cregan:
“Mick, Sean’s up at the bloody window!”
My dad took the stairs three at a time and caught me just before I fell. The window was nailed shut with six-inch nails… That was my earliest bid for freedom. I was not yet a year old but somehow I had made it up to that ledge, as my folks nattered to the neighbours downstairs.
Looking from that point to this, my own struggle for freedom has been and still is a major factor in who I am as a person today. Indeed it is the reason why I write this from a prison cell.
Born to Irish parents, growing up on south London’s housing estates was always going tbe a challenge. I loved my Irish roots but to other “real” Irish I was just a “plastic Paddy”. The English hated me for being Irish. I couldn’t win. My feeling of always supporting the underdog, the downtrodden, probably took root at that early age and has never waned. If a human or animal had no voice and was being mistreated, I’d be there to fight for what I believed to be right.
In my late teens the world of punk rock opened up a whole new world for me. I listened to bands that sang with anger and passion about the way humans and animals were treated. The “safe” music in the charts didn’t rock the boat and that’s how the authorities liked it. Punk music had such a profound impact. It made me aware of things I’d been ignorant of. I was inspired to form my own band to add my voice to the call for freedom and justice.
I naturally gravitated toward like-minded people: people who questioned everything they were told; people who did not blindly accept what they were told; people that cared for others outside the immediate circle of family and friends. These were heady days for me and I felt alive and part of something good and exciting.
In time I moved into the squatting “scene” and started to attend demos and actions, from CND marches to animal rights and anti-nazi demonstrations. I met punks, hippies, crusties and junkies! Many colourful people, some from privileged backgrounds and from all over the world. I found lots of common ground as well as uncommon ground. My working-class roots found some of the people a bit rich. Literally!
Most of my new-found friends considered themselves as anarchists/activists. After a while it became clear that many of these folk used that label to look the part but actually do little more than take drugs and do nothing; a part of the problem not the solution. I remember one time at a squat in Tooting we were sat smoking weed and putting the world to rights when the doorbell rang. I swear not one of us would-be revolutionaries could be bothered to answer the door! I never smoked another joint. It made me paranoid anyway. There were other drugs that I liked better; speed and acid, mushrooms and pills. We were having the time of our lives, squatting rent free, going to gigs and travelling the country to actions of every description. It was a bit hedonistic but I was happy.
The feeling of living in those squatted communities was one of belonging. It was as if I’d found my second family, my tribe even. We believed in freedom of expression, mutual respect and activism against the oppressive system. We shared a common hatred of the state; the futile wars fought in our names, the corrupt politicians, the greed of big business and the sad consumer materialistic society that had grown in the wake of the Thatcher era. What really was free? Not much as far as we were concerned unless you were part of the privileged few.
We live in this western “democracy” and believe we are truly free, and compared to some countries it may well seem that we are, but that is a skewed way of looking at things. In our society today we are more controlled, restricted, spied upon and monitored than at any time in our history. The last twenty years have seen more
and more of our rights taken away from us under new laws that the government stealthily introduce, by for instance telling us it’s for our own protection in the case of powers granted to the police in the fight against terrorism. It may
initially be used for one section of society but could have a range of implications for the public as a whole. We have more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in Europe. We are constantly watched and tracked, and with “smart” phones the authorities can pinpoint you to a place in seconds while Oyster cards keepa handy record of where we have been.
Our mainstream media is largely run by a handful of millionaires that feed us whatever party line they support through their papers; a nice cosy arrangement with the politicians who in turn get their media mates to bury news they don’t want us to know about. We are given a set of rules, laws to abide by. They claim to be for the common good but we are constantly shown that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. A truly fair and equal society would indeed be free. Free from injustice and a place where we could all meet and live as equals sharing our collective wealth, but that is just not the case. Something like five per cent of the population own ninety per cent of the land! How did these people get to own land in the first place? By taking it by force manyyears ago. I’ve personally always thought that owning the land is a ridiculous notion but their laws ensure that we have no freedom to roam where we choose.
We are told it’s wrong to steal and yet we are robbed every single day by landlords, banks, big business marking up huge profits, taxed to death by the government – the list is endless. Most working people are lucky to have enough to get them through to the next week and once they’ve paid out the bills there is preciouslittle left. And that’s just the way the state wants the lower classes to be: reliant wage slaves, given just enough but not nearly enough!
We are also bombarded with the lives of the rich and famous. The TV and magazines like OK and Hellosell us glimpses into their luxury lifestyles. The ever-pouting Posh Spice and her gormless jet-set equals Paris Hilton et al
flaunt their unbelievable wealth in our faces while doing absolutely nothing to earn it. The poor lap it all up and long to be them, knowing the likelihood of that ever happening is zero. The uber-rich live in countries where they can
avoid paying their taxes – so it would seem freedom is obtainable at the right price. If you have the money you can buy it!
Violence, we are told, is not permitted in a civilised society. Yet we watch as those in power sell masses of arms to corrupt regimes around the world that end up in the slaughter of innocents. When there is money at stake and oil to be controlled it would seem that people’s freedom is way down the list where the men of Mammon are concerned. How many indigenous people have been crushed, uprooted and in some cases eradicated in the name of oil, timber or whatever commodity it is that they desire?
There is only the freedom that tyrants and despots around the globe allow us to have. Their double standards and hypocrisy are disgusting and how they still manage to pull the wool over the masses’ eyes is a mystery to many.
As the years passed my involvement in direct action increased. I became a hunt saboteur and regularly attended hunts in defence of the animals’ liberty. The rich and infamous took exception to their “sport” being disrupted and violence was never far away. Arrests inevitably followed with the law firmly on the side of the well-to-do hunters.
I lost my freedom after being sent to prison for kicking a police riot shield on a May Day protest demo. The police had held us for over six hours using the new “kettling” tactic for the first time. We had been crushed and bashed with batons all day and my temper broke loose with one kick. I was sentenced to six months. This did little to deter me and only underlined the injustice of law and order. Losing my liberty was the worst feeling ever.
In recent years my political life has been dominated by the fight against the rise of the far right. On a wet weekend in March 2009 myself and fellow anti-fascists tried to stop a concert by the extreme nazi organisation Blood and Honour. Given the chance, these fascists would deny many of us our freedom. Their message is one of intolerance and hatred. As the police seemed indifferent we felt it was our duty to try and stop these vile people preaching their politics of hate.
I was involved in a fight with one of the “master race” and myself and twenty-two others were arrested in dawn raids in a massive operation by the authorities.We were charged with conspiring to commit violent disorder. Six were found guilty and sentenced to twenty-one months.
I try to make some sense of why I am sitting in this cell. It seems that those who are prepared to stand up for what is right are treated as criminals. I don’t know if losing my own freedom in defence of others’ freedom is too high a price, but I will always believe freedom is worth fighting for. How I carry on that fight remains to be seen.”
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.