The most striking things about the commentary on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza is the broad failure to ask why the Israeli government/military, backed by a large percentage of the Israeli population, is behaving like this.
Maybe the conflict has gone on so long that few people feel the need to ask this fairly basic question: what are the roots of Israel’s need to kill hundred of defenseless civilians in an act of “self-defence”, when any reasonably rational assessment of the actions suggests these actions a) constitute cold-blooded murder of children and other non-combatants, and b) feed an increasing hostility on the part of the Palestinian (and wider Middle-East) population, this decreasing the long-term chances of peace?
Perhaps the failure to ask that basic question, especially at times like this especially, is because the answer is at so obvious. Or perhaps – much worse for any possible resolution to the conflict in the long-term – it’s been forgotten by outside observers, and internalised by Israelis to such an extent that it is no longer utterable.
But I think the answer bears repeating: the root of the murder of Palestinian children today is simple: the holocaust.
The State of Israel came about because of the holocaust, and the national identity not just of Israeli Jews, but also – until relatively recently – the vast bulk of American Jews, is inextricably linked to it. After an initial period in which those creating the new, deeply militarized Israel built their identity around the Sabra, the very real threat to the new state’s existence in 1967, and the implied/inferred threat of a further genocide, led to very rapid formation a of national identity based on what Daniel Navon calls the “embracing of victimhood” and in consequence a “paradoxical perception of military superiority and existential anxiety” (p.10). Moreover, this national identity became shared not just in Israel but in the United States, to the extent that in many ways to be an American Jew was to be an Israeli living in America.
Ultimately, it is the fear of a new holocaust, however remote it might seem to outside observers but very real and very near in the days leading up to the 1967 war, which created the path-dependent institutions which we see in Israel and America (think Wall Street Journal) today, in which there is no escaping the internalised logic of “self-defence” born of victimhood.
It seems to be that until outside observers start to remember/learn all of this for the first time – perhaps starting by taking American Jewish and Israeli scholarship more seriously than it is “allowed” – then the chances of a long term resolution remain slight, since even the welcome generational shift amongst American Jews away from their parents and grandparents emotional link to Israel and to victimhood (and back towards the kind of relationship being developed in the 1947-67 period) may not have enough weight to counteract 50 years of institutional path dependency.
Of course none of this stops children being killed today, or tomorrow, or next year. But maybe it’s better to promulgate some kind of informed hope for the future, based on some kind of understanding of the past, than it is to simply regard the Israel/Palestine conflict as an elemental hatred between peoples.
Cameron’s at it again with the biblical references.
Last time it was an attempt to use Jesus’s “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” response to the Pharisees as a justification for the maintenance of the status quo, when in fact it means quite the opposite.
This time around, he’s laying claim to St Paul’s advice to the Galatians:
The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens. After the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for volunteers.
Indeed it does. Well Paul does, in his letter to Galatians.
But Galatians 6.1, immediately preceding what Cameron quotes t 6.2, makes it quite clear that Paul is referring not to material burdens, but the burden of sin:
My bothers and sisters, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way, so that you will not be tempted too.
So either this was a mighty clever but gentle way of telling Maria Miller that she’s a right old sinner, or else it’s evidence he just googles the bits of the bible he needs and doesn’t bother with the context.
Since Friday, when white people started fighting there, it seems anyone who’s anyone in the mainstream media is an expert on Mali. Funny that.
I’m no expert, but back in April 2012, I wrote:
Meanwhile in Africa, a nascent democracy has fallen, a large part of the country is in the hands of a different number of armed groups with differing levels of affiliation to Al Qaeida, trouble is spilling over into neighbouring countries and refugees are on the move. All this is happening as a direct result of the UK’s last major military intervention.
I speak, of course, of Mali, and the vast desert area referred to as Azawad by those Tourags who seek its independence. Over the weekend the major town Timbuktu and Gao have fallen to Touareg rebels, taking strategic advantage of the recent coup d’etat. This coup d’etat was itself undertaken by a section of the army supposedly as a reaction to the civilian government’s inability to deal with armed rebellion in the North, and that armed rebellion was fuelled by the massive overspill of weaponry from Libya via Niger into the desert regions of Mali.
In the mix are various groups, with confused and confusing allegiance, and including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the (Islamist) Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) , the (Islamist) Ansar al-Din and of course Al Qaeida Middle East (AQIM), present in one form or another (from bases in Southern Algeria).
More details are here, courtesy of the very excellent Kal at The Moor Next Door. There’s a handy map here. I don’t pretend to out-analyse Kal on the specifics of what are and what will be in the region, but simply ask the questions: do Cameron and Hague now accept that what seemed like a nice Boys’ Own Adventure is turning out to have very nasty consequences not just for the millions now directly affected (Mali’s population is 16 million to Libya’s 6 million) but potentially for the much of the Sahel and into the West African states?
Nine months on, we know a few more details of those “nasty consequences”. There is open war in Mali. Ansaru in Nigeria are explicitly linking their activities to Mali. Senegal is scared of what may be coming. Mauritania, in its fragile state, is unable to restrict the movements of jihadists through its territories and prey to attack on its own towns, and Niger – already beset by major ecnonomic and environmental problems, will only suffer more from the growing regional instability.
Now if I, from a backroom in Lancashire, armed with nothing more than an internet connection and a keen sense of the unintended consequence, was able nine months ago to predict pretty well how things would pan out, then it must all have been pretty damn predictable. You’d have thought, in such circumstances, the anti-war left would have had something to say in the way of prevention.
Yet by and large, none of the people or organisations now so desperate to comment on what are, by any yardstick, serious, bloody events with huge consequences for the people of the Sahel region and beyond, had anything to say as, little by little over the summer months, the groups who had been fighting for territorial independence ceded ground and towns to those with more Jihadi aims, and it became clearer that the assault on human freedoms in Northern Malian desert towns would soon be in assaults in Central Mali.
In the end, I can’t help feeling that while what is happening now in Mali is actually quite welcome news for some on the left, who are happy to use it to reinforce their anti-imperial narrative or whatever, the energies and resources now devoted to commenting on the war, might have been better used more proactively few months ago.
Of course it’s a big ‘if’, but if leftie commentators, journos and politicos had been demanding answers from the government back in the summer about how it intended to deal with what was unfolding in Mali, then it might just have hit the Cabinet agenda, and it might just have kickstarted an international process of support for regional intervention. As it was, it was December by the time ECOWAS came to a tentative agreement on use of its regional forces to support the Malian government, and by that time it was too late; French military intelligence clearly saw both that the route South was open to the jihadists, and that the jihadists had the capability and desire to take that road, and that if it didn’t strike now Bamako itself would be under threat (of course it may still be, but in a different way).
Of course the anti-war left is not responsible for what’s going on now – Cameron and co must bear some responsibility for that given that we now know how well briefed they were, or at least should have been, on the likely consequences for its southern neighbours of a changed regime in Libya.
But if the anti-war left is going to get serious about anti-imperialism/promoting the long-term advisability of stopping these continued interventions – we can be sure enough there’ll be another one along in the non-too-distant future – it had better start by getting serious about its analysis.
The appalling gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi has created the usual, and somewhat predictable, divisions in the left commentariat.
On the one hand you have Owen Jones:
But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.
On the other there’s Sunny Hundal:
I despair with well-meaning people who say India’s endemic violence against women doesn’t have cultural roots. Desperate attempt to be PC. The debate will go on into the night. Nothing will be resolved, mostly because both are (only) half-right.
Owen is right to state the obvious – that violence against women remains a massive, under-recognised problem in Western Europe, but Sunny’s argument – that to ‘dilute’ the issue by suggesting that India is no worse than the UK, does a disservice to Indian women – is also reasonable. (Like Sunny, I’ve spent plenty of time in Indian (and Bangladeshi) houses/shanties/huts and support his view that, quite simply, women have a lower status in many households). Sunny’s probably also right to suggest a reluctance to pin the blame on Indian ‘culture’ stems, at least in part, from a wariness on the part of lefties of being taken as making racist assumptions about the cultural norms of brown people.
The problem with Sunny’s argument, though, comes in his essentialist use of the word ‘culture’. For Sunny, culture appears to be a thing, which you have, or you don’t have. Such a conception leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that, if the position of women in India is to be improved, Indians must lose a bit of their culture. That, I suggest, doesn’t lead us very far. Indeed it creates the condition in which the PC-gone-mad lefties like me, and maybe Owen, are tempted to reach for the safety of the ‘violence is everywhere’ argument.
I have a different conception of culture, and one which I think helps us through the current analytical impasse.
For me, culture is the product of a historical process of power struggle. It is dynamic, and consistently evolving in response to those power struggles. The biggest power struggle in the history of modern India was British Imperial rule, and this colonial rule had a very large impact on the position of women in India today. The best analysis of this that I know of is in Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright, The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and Women’s Rights in India, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1315 (2007), in which the authors argue that the unequal status of women in India today has its roots in the power struggle between
the native elites and the colonialists [which] was fought on the backs of Indian women because it was the alleged degraded position of Indian women and the barbaric actions of Indian men that justified the colonial mission in the first place. This brings into the picture a third group, British feminists, who claimed a moral imperative to reclaim for Indian women the dignity and rights of Western women (p.1318).
As a consequence, argue the authors:
The condition of the Indian woman, particularly within the home, became the battleground on which the contests of power between Indian and British men and between British men and women were fought…… [O]ne of the post-independence legacies of this complex tussle for power is that even secular laws for women today are either protectionist and patriarchal, or else modem Indian women are not in a position to exercise their legal rights in meaningful ways. Victorian notions of womanhood (chastity, innocence, self-effacement, and passiveness) continue to pervade some laws, and certainly the traditional training of lawmakers and judges in the British legal system allows them to bring their often patriarchal understanding of the historical foundations of these laws to bear as precedents and jurisprudential principles, even when the laws are facially egalitarian (p.1319).
Of course, blaming the unequal position of women in India on colonialism doesn’t get us very far in itself. India has been independent for 70 years, and while the effects of colonialism are certainly longlasting and path-dependent, there are of course many other influences. My point is simply that, if people in Britain are to support in any way, shape or form, the liberation of women in India and elsewhere in South Asia, it will be important to engage in any such action not on the basis of judgment about the inadequacy of Indian culture when compared to Western freedoms for women – that would be, after all, neo-colonialism writ large – but on the basis that we’re doing what we can to help Indian women gain the power Britain arguably denied them in the first place.
There is a significant statement of intent by the Church of England in the Daily Telegraph letters page this morning.
Heading up a letter from more than a dozen other signficant investors from both religious organisations and secular charitable trusts, the First Church Estates Commissioner for the Church of England makes the following commitment:
The problem of excessive executive pay has become so serious that we have resolved to work with our investment managers to ensure that the remuneration policies of the companies we invest in are aligned with our interests, transparent, linked to performance, and appropriate in the context of each company.
Putting these letters together – agreeing the text and the subtext – doesn’t happen overnight. the term ‘resolved’ means that it has gone off to more than a dozen sets of trustees for review and comment*, and the text is carefully worded to ensure that it’s firm but flexible.
In particular, the phrase “the companies we invest in” leaves room for interpretation: that the Church and others will not just vote against excessive remuneration, but will disinvest in cases where such remuneration packages are voted through anyway.
The commitment to “work with our investment managers” is also important. The investment managers being used by these trusts and groups are also used by a huge range of other investors, meaning that the managers themselves will need to agitate not just on behalf of this core group, but in effect on behalf of a much wider group. The proof of this will, of course, come during the approaching AGM season.
So why is this happening now?
In part, I suspect that there is some genuine cooperation between this group of investors and some of the more ethical investment managers (yes, there are some), who have seen the opportunity to shift the balance of power between one bit of capitalism and another, and decided that now is the time to make the move.
But, while it’s not acknowledged in the letter, I think we should also recognise that this move – not massive in itself, but a step in the right direction – is down to the work done by the Occupy movement.
As a socialist, conscious of how the 1986 movement paved the way for neoliberalism, I think there are significant problems with the Occupy movement, however well-intended. But proto-comradely hats off to them on this one. It’s not exactly what I had in mind here, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
One last thing: my sources tell me this letter is only with the Daily Telegraph (who also accord it an article) because it was refused by the Financial Times. Why, I wonder, would the FT refuse a letter from a set of organisations with roughly £7 billion invested in the City of London?
* I bet the Baptists especially, with their tradition of removal from ‘wordly affairs’, met long into the night on this one.
I just hope this photograph does not become widely identified with the #occupylsx movement, or in a very short space of time the protestors will become very unpopular amongst a signficant section of the population.
So, also, may Kevin Maguire in the Mirror, who opines on twitter:
Jesus drove moneylenders from the temple but Bishop of London wants anti-capitalists away from St Paul’s. Christianity turns full circle?
Clearly both Kevin and the pictured protestor missed a lot of Sunday school, because Jesus did not drive moneylenders from the temple.
What Jesus did in the temple is recorded in all four gospels:
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Matthew 21:12);
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Mark 11:15);
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15);
Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling [translated in other versions as ‘merchants’] (Luke 19:45).
This isn’t a Bible Studies blog, but the difference between money changers and money lenders is an important one, rooted in the obligation of the time for temple goers to pay their devotions in temple money.
Jesus is expressing anger, not at the concept of lending money, but at people using their position of power in the temple hierarchy to exchange money at exorbitant rates, especially with those coming from afar.
This is not Jesus acting against the whole concept of credit and debt, but against racism in the temple.
As such, there may be a fairly oblique reference to Deuteronomy (23: 19-20), which appears to authorise different repayment schedules, depending on race.
Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.
The protest movement, I suggest, should steer clear of a campaign against the fundamentals of credit and debt as a way of making the world work. As David Graeber has shown, such concepts may well be hardwired into human existence, and what we really should be campaigning for is some form of democratic control of banking institutions and the power to create money, rather than an end to the whole idea of banking itself. Debt can be a social good, and the new protest movement should be wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Over the centuries, religion has torn society apart over the concept of what is and what is not usury, and who should be allowed/forced to engage in it. There is a strong argument that attempts by organised religion to resolve this dilemma – between the desire for religious righteousness and the need for some kind of lending system – have been the key longterm cause of the oppression of Jewish people.
And that’s really not somewhere I want to see #occuplylsx go for the sake of a snappy poster.