Archive for May, 2011

Press TV and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion

OK. Ofcom, those stuck up anti-funsters, decide to censure Press TV for airing an interview with a jailed Iranian journalist which they received, according to the CST blog, “through force”.

What’s the appropriate response to such attention?

Well, according to Press TV, publishing an article by Mark Dankoff, friend of lapsed Nazi David Duke, formerly of the KKK.

That’s pretty bad form – particularly from a news source said to be waiting in the wings where the BBC world service, for example, is losing its hegemony.

But wait – his article cites the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as a legitimate source.

Yep. In a piece about Ofcom of being part of some horrible plot, the author uses protocol #7 as a reasonable authority with which to point the finger at censorship.

Imagine, if you will, Lee John Barnes, a former BNP lackey, and oddball of Pagan symbolism, receiving a BBC commission for writing about Hugo Chavez’ decision to cut off RCTV.

I’m all for counter-hegemony, especially in the MSM, but let’s remember this, and let’s not get silly.

Categories: General Politics

Anti-fascism in a new era

This is a guest (re-)post by Bob From Brockley.

I originally posted a version of this post last Autumn. I have asked TCF to re-post it for me (slightly edited) because I posted it at a very busy time at my blog, so it got very little debate, and I wanted to test it out away from my comfort zone. But I am asking now because I think the situation is becoming more and more critical for anti-fascists. The continued decline of the BNP is a positive but it has opened the space for the re-emergence of more emphatically Nazi sects, while its ideas and narratives have infected the political mainstream as authoritarian xenophobic politics spread beyond the fascist fringe. Meanwhile, the English Defence League has seen a continued violent rise based on a style of politics the BNP long ago abandoned, and could well form the nucleus of a new far right alignment. These changes pose the questions of militant anti-fascism more urgently than ever.

Waterloo Sunset has published a very helpful critique of Searchlight’s announcement of a brave new era for anti-fascism. Searchlight call for a re-thinking of the reality of fascism, and a step away from some of the old orthodoxies of militant anti-fascism. Like WS, I agree that there is some truth in the analysis of the changing situation put forward by Nick Lowles and Paul Meszaros, and like WS I am far from convinced of either the newness or the wisdom of the new course they chart. But I am far from sure what the right course is.

As WS points out, the aspects of the new Searchlight analysis which are correct were actually set out very clearly a decade and a half ago by London Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) in its Filling the Vacuum document, which led eventually to the self-dissolution of AFA and a turn to community politics. In short, the battle against the BNP on the streets had been won by the early 1990s, but the BNP were winning a cultural war in the communities where white working class people felt let down and abandoned by mainstream society, and in particular by the left and the Labour movement.

But, as WS also points out, the way to engage those communities is not to enter the political mainstream, or to do the Labour Party’s business and re-connect the electorate in those communities with the political machine which abandoned them. That only further sacrifices our credibility.

The way to fill the vacuum, instead, is to build the grassroots initiatives that take seriously the real concerns of such communities – especially now, in an age of rising unemployment, financial crisis and unfairly imposed austerity. (These grassroots initiatives look different in every locality. The relationship with the Labour Party, trade unions and so on will be negotiated differently depending on local circumstances. Meszaros and Lowles are right about the need for flexible, local solutions informed by local knowledge.)

Related to this is the issue of who the constituency of this sort of activity should be, something which, as WS notes, is skirted around in the Searchlight text. They talk about “the community”, “real people”, “real communities”, “ordinary people”, “real ordinary people”, “the mainstream”, “the anti-BNP voter”, “Mr and Mrs Smith”, “the public mood”. But this vagueness contrasts to the more specific constituency identified in the analysis of the BNP’s growth: “The BNP was building inside communities and tapping into widespread discontent with the political system. More significantly, and often ignored by many, the BNP was engaging in a cultural war that was successfully drawing upon a loss of identity and meaning among many white working class people. By carefully nurturing an image of itself as victim and speaking up “for the silent majority” the BNP could offer a new white nationalist identity to people who felt let down and abandoned by society.” Those who are experiencing a loss of identity and meaning, who feel let down and abandoned by society, are a very specific constituency, and it is them, and not “Mr and Mrs Smith” that anti-fascists need to engage with.

But where does that leave militant anti-fascism? Is its job over? The key problem with the Searchlight analysis of militant anti-fascism is to reduce it to the philosophy of “No Platform”. In my view, this is simplistic and misleading.

No Platform” is a policy that relates primarily to student unions and trade unions. For a student union, for example, No Platform means using the power of the union to keep fascists off campus – denying them a platform in the college or university. For council workers, it might mean stopping council premises being used by fascists.

No Platform is sometimes counterposed to “free speech”, but No Platform is not historically a policy of calling upon the state to ban fascists, but rather of using one’s own resources to deny them a platform in one’s own institutions. If I tell someone that in my house, in front of my kids, they should refrain from swearing, I am not infringing their free speech in general, just saying what the rules are in my house. No Platform, historically, was never about bans and police actions; it was about people setting the rules in their own houses.

What happened was that No Platform took on the status of a fetish, an absolute value, and a life of its own, in ways that had absolutely nothing to do with the wider ethos of anti-fascism. We see this reflected in two very different ways. For many anti-authoritarians, anti-fascism became a lifestyle choice; the hoodie and scarf became a uniform; and anyone outside the charmed circle of the antifa milieu was not trusted.

On the authoritarian left, in the white collar unions and student unions dominated by the SWP, we see calls for BNP teachers to be sacked, or agencies like the EHRC taking the BNP to court over its membership rules – meaningless, bureaucratic, legalistic interpretations which rely on the state and disempower citizens, while allowing the BNP to paint itself as the heroic victim of censorship.

Meanwhile, in the real world – in the world of the internet and YouTube and Facebook, where platforms for hate endlessly proliferate; in the a period when the BNP have achieved a wider support base of people who are in no sense fascist; and in an age of increasingly sophisticated policing and surveillance – the ideal of No Platform has become meaningless.

Ironically, coinciding with the concept’s irrelevance, the SWP front Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has re-discovered it with a vengeance, probably noting that they can gain competitive advantage in the anti-fascist market by making “militancy” their USP. Hence childish actions like throwing eggs at Nick Griffin, which might be fun but have zero or negative effect.

Militant anti-fascism, however, never meant just street fighting. AFA, for example, saw it as a two-track strategy: physical and ideological confrontation, the latter less spectacular but taking up at least much of the organisation’s energy. To list just a few examples I can recall, in London and elsewhere, we did a huge amount of work with football fans, organised carnivals and local history workshops, developed a political response to knife attacks in London, did estate-based work in issues like housing transfer and anti-social behaviour. This approach was also that of our predecessors, as you can see if you read the autobiography of Joe Jacobs for instance.

Another challenge for militant anti-fascism is how to deal with forms of fascism that don’t look like the old NF did – forms of fascism that fester among “oppressed” minorities, among people that hate the BNP. When this challenge was recently posed by Carl, it was totally failed by both UAF and Searchlight. But when it was posed in the East End in the summer of 2010, more positive results were seen. Whitechapel United Against Division mobilised working class white and Bangladeshi local people to protest both the Islamists and the EDL. And the statement “Against fascism in all its colours”, condemning both, was signed by a wide range of local organisations, from the Bangladesh Welfare Association to the Brick Lane Mosque to the Whitechapel Anarchist Group.

This points to a neglected part of the militant anti-fascist story. A large part of the history of militant anti-fascism in Britain, from the Jewish East End in the 1930s to Southall and Brick Lane in the 1970s and 1980s, has been communities defending themselves from violent attacks. With the BNP’s turn in the 1990s from the battle for the streets to the battle for the ballot box, that sort of violence was less common. But with the rise of the EDL since 2009, Asian communities are once again under attack. If anti-fascism is to have any credibility with these communities, and especially their youth, an appeal to “Mr and Mrs Smith” is not the right approach. And this opens a space that reactionary jihadi groups are happy to move into. Anti-fascism, then, needs to fill the vacuum in white working class communities, but also drive a wedge between angry Muslims and the far right Islamist political entrepreneurs appealing to them. Doing both at once will be no easy task.

In conclusion, I agree with Meszaros and Lowles that we urgently need to re-think the old dogmas in new times. But I don’t think they offer us the tools to do so.

Should we stay or should we go?

May 24, 2011 34 comments

At a bloggers’ cheese and wine event last night Carl and I spoke to the good people at Third Estate about the possibility of moving over to their place.

I won’t rehearse the arguments for such a move, other than to say that group blogging seems to be the thing to do at the moment, and neither of us are posting quite as regularly as before, so it may make sense.  Both of us have moved where we blog in the last year or two, and we’re not prissy about blog ownership, as long as we get to write what we want without editorial nonsensing.

So, questions, dear reader(s):

1) Does anyone really give a monkey’s?

2) Is there any justification for staying here?

3) Anything else?

This results of this consultation will be reviewed carefully.  Probably.

Categories: General Politics

This is the #SpanishRevolution

Undoubtedly inspired by the Arab uprisings, but also largely in response to the dire economic outlook, Spain is witness to a popular protest, involving tens of thousands of people in plazas throughout the country, demonstrating against austerity measures, and condemning both major political parties; the ruling PSOE (the Socialists) and the opposition party PP (the Conservatives).

The event taking place in the Puerta del Sol is being dubbed by some the new European Spring, including those on solidarity demonstrations outside Spanish embassies (like in London, where I visited yesterday).

The “Real Democracy Now” movement have scorned both major parties, currently fighting elections, but have also requested people remove their own political colours for the weekend, so as not to distract from the intended message, and get bogged down with in-fighting (indeed at the London gathering, all leafleting has been barred, as well as flag-flying, drink and drug-taking).

Though the protest in Spain has been illegal since Saturday, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he may not enforce the ban that could provoke clashes. He added: “I have a great respect for the people protesting, which they are doing in a peaceful manner, and I understand it is driven by economic crisis and young people’s hopes for employment”.

Despite having emerged out of a recession in 2010, Spain has clocked up little growth since. Consumer confidence has stagnated and export sector growth has been the only thing stopping the economy from dipping under again. The unemployment rate in Spain is 21.9% – the highest in the industrialised world – and for under-25s that rate in February was 44.6% (affecting many of the 800,000 young people who are eligible to vote for the first time).

In the background sits Christopher Columbus

News coverage has been lacking also. The Third Estate blog recently tweeted: “Lack of coverage of #spanishrevolution has been shocking. Yesterday on sky they covered it for 1 min, before another 10 on superinjunctions.”

Television pundits and column writers in Spain were only last week lamenting over how much apathy there has been, given the economic circumstances. But all that has changed. And no doubt both big parties will feel the hit when the election results are counted. Though press attention has been left wanting, it is very telling that most information on these events have come through social networks. Another case study to prove the worth of Twitter and Facebook, existing alongside active protest movements.

Categories: General Politics

Tim Flatman exclusive: The new threat of war in Abyei, South Sudan

May 22, 2011 4 comments

This is a guest exclusive by Tim Flatman.  It appears here first but we encourage cross-posting given the urgency of the situation.

Yesterday Sudanese Armed Forces took control of Abyei town on the borders of North & South Sudan, after two days of aerial bombardment and ground fighting in the areas surrounding it.

President Bashir has dissolved the Abyei administration in a congratulatory broadcast. Tens of thousands of Southern civilians were successfully evacuated in the morning, and escorted over a bridge leading towards the South yesterday evening, but are still vulnerable and waiting for further instructions under trees with no adequate shelter or food. The number of civilians killed or injured in the attacks is unknown.

This was described by the US as a “disproportionate and irresponsible” response to an incident on Thursday where SAF forces withdrawing from Abyei and escorted by UNMIS soldiers were attacked, allegedly by SPLA forces. SPLA deny responsibility.

If there was any involvement, it is likely a rash decision was made at an intermediate military level without the consent or knowledge of political actors who understood that the North was waiting for an opportunity to respond in this way, partly in the hope of disrupting a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Monday which it resolutely opposed.

It should also be noted that the North attempted to take control of Abyei on May 1st, before the alleged incident on Thursday. At first they managed to cover this up and present action as an authorised mission, as many of the soldiers were wearing Joint Integrated Unit uniforms. However, evidence released by the Sudan Tribune website later exposed the cover-up. In any case, it is to be noted that Southerners did not respond to previous incidents by bombing civilians and attacking towns in the way that the NCP regime has over the last two days.

I have had conversations with Southerners last night and this morning who want to make an immediate response. Before I get accused of warmongering, I’d like to point out that I would prefer a delay to give the international community chance to try and persuade the North to withdraw before the South is forced to respond. However, I think it’s important to set out the Southern case so that everyone can understand the logic of an immediate response and see why response does not constitute aggression.

Southerners argue that waiting before a response will give the Government of Sudan the chance to entrench their position and make their forces more difficult to remove at a later date, increasing the amount of blood that will be shed in the process. They believe that no-one will persuade Bashir to remove his troops anyhow, describing him as “intoxicated”. They argue that since he has dissolved Abyei Administration (arguably illegally, since it is under the authority of the Presidency, which until July 9th legally includes Vice-President of Sudan and President of South Sudan Salva Kiir who would not sign off on any such proposal) he is likely to try and create his own administration there, which would complicate matters.

Southerners will not recognise the decision, and argue it will make no difference as budget as already been allocated from the Government of South Sudan to allow Abyei Administration to function once they have taken control of the area again. They argue that tens of thousands of displaced civilians are still in a vulnerable position and there is no guarantee that SAF will not advance further South, so they need to be in a position to protect their people.

They also argue that the international community will not put sufficient pressure on the North to get them to withdraw. They argue that recent agreements the international community has facilitated have been biased towards the North. In particular, the Kadugli Agreements, signed in January, are described as “dead and buried”.

These aimed to demilitarise the area but gave the North a strategic advantage, allowing them to withdraw heavy artillery to areas with quicker access to Abyei town than the South, giving the North a military advantage in initial skirmishes and thus assisting them take control of Abyei town. As the Kadugli Agreements are now “dead and buried”, future agreements should be made solely on the basis of the Abyei Protocol and the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s verdict at the Hague in 2009.

Southerners also argue that they cannot trust the international community to intervene since after a similar incident where SAF invaded Abyei town in 2008 UNMIS promised that this would not happen again, but UNMIS have been similarly unable to prevent this incident or the burning of dwellings in Abyei that is apparently taking place as I type.

This is compelling logic to anyone familiar with the dynamics of the situation. So is there any chance at all of persuading the South to delay a response to allow for some international arbitration to take place, and should we be attempting to persuade them to do this?

A period of a few days grace would demonstrate that a forceful response by the South is a last resort and that even though they do not believe the international community is willing or able to apply the kind of pressure necessary to get the North to withdraw, they are willing to give them the chance. It would also allow the UNSC to meet with the Dinka Ngok (Southerners who are the vast majority of the permanent residents of Abyei and the only residents of Abyei town) as planned on May 23rd, even if this meeting takes place in a different location from originally planned.

But these arguments are unlikely to be compelling enough on their own. If the international community wants to get the South to delay a response and avoid an all-out conflict in the region, they need to recognise what the Southerners recognise: that Bashir is pragmatic and will only respond to threats to the territorial integrity and economic viability of Sudan.

Therefore they should make it clear to Bashir that if he does not withdraw troops within an agreed timescale, they will not condemn a Southern response which drives those troops out of the area. Also, that the international community understands that fortifying the Northern position or creating a new Abyei administration would only increase the likelihood of the South responding more quickly. Fearful that the international community would give the South carte-blanche to take control of Abyei, Bashir’s pragmatism would then cause him to withdraw troops and genuinely seek a negotiated solution.

I cannot see any other incentive for the South to wait, other than this kind of international sympathy and co-operation.

Categories: News from Abroad

The Rapture and the Pascalian Wager

Why do some people think today marks the end of the world? It is based upon a reading of this chapter from the Bible:

2 Peter 3:6-8 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

“What could God be telling us”, the eBible Fellowship asks, “by identifying 1 day along with 1000 years?”

Possibly that in the Kingdom of Heaven time is meaningless? Or that 1 day feels like a 1000 years? No they don’t like that option, instead plumping for the following:

Since we recently have discovered the Biblical calendar of history on the pages of the Bible, we find that the flood of Noah’s day occurred in the year 4990 BC. This date is completely accurate (for further information on the Biblical timeline of history, please go to: It was in the year 4990 BC that God revealed to Noah that there would be yet 7 days until the flood of waters would be upon the earth. Now, if we substitute 1000 years for each one of those 7 days, we get 7000 years. And when we project 7000 years into the future from 4990 BC, we find that it falls on the year 2011 AD.


May 21 2011 also falls on the end of the 23-year tribulation period, which marks the end of the period from Pentecost in 1988, 1955 years after the church began in 33AD. This date just so happens to fall on the day promised for judgement.

The rub is only believers will be saved:

1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (my emphasis).

So it’s no good being Pascalian about this, because only those who are really dead in Christ will meet with the Lord in the air – though you could apply Pascals wager to the whole Rapture thing. Sure it is believable that for the next 5 months all “the waters [will] prevail … upon the earth [for a] hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 7:24), but just in case it is all bollocks (which, I’m afraid, it is), just act as though it isn’t real; that will save you looking like a right mug when on May 22 nothing happened!

Last years at Abbottabad: A review of Christopher Hitchens’ ‘The Enemy’

Nearing the tenth year since the world was changed by 9/11, the mastermind behind the attack, Osama bin Laden, is traced to a fortress-like villa in Abbottabad and killed. As the media storm blew over, and initial questions about the legality were put to rest (though some still insist on raising them), there was still the opinions of one person for whom many were waiting – and indeed he has not disappointed.

Though there is nothing in Christopher Hitchens’ extended essay – The Enemy (available as a Kindle download only) – that is particularly new; one or two unorthodox opinions concerning bin Laden needed clarifying, and there is no better than the Hitch to do so.

Notably, the polemic is peppered with understanding this personification of ‘evil’ (a word which Hitchens is happy to qualify) through political terminology. Hitchens is happy to call bin Laden a fascist, for example, explaining his unease with the vulgarised word ‘Islamofascist’ (preferring, instead, the more informed “fascism with an Islamic face”), while later insisting we remember the true conservative core of the former al-Qaeda front man.

There is an urge, so opines Hitch, to refer to bin Laden and his men, as radicals – a juxtaposition which sticks in the throat, particularly on consideration of the medieval tyranny which the wealthy ideologue wanted to wreak upon the world. Unlike any radical, in so far as the word is typically used, bin Laden fought on behalf of a totalitarian world view with an absolutist code of primitive laws. His fantasy world order necessitated the ceasing of personal autonomy, the deification of human control, the fetishisation of a single book, the glorification of violence and the celebration of death. Further still, a sanctioning of the death of whole groups of people, the repression of the sexual instinct and a paranoid anti-Semitism akin to that found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

There is no doubt that what bin Laden did on that terrible New York day in September, was a tragedy like only few others. Quite clearly bin Laden was waging war*. But it mustn’t be forgotten just how much his late life had been marred by errors and grave failure.

Bin Laden was laying down his plans for war at a time when  many “Arab Jihadists” – such as al-Qaeda, Gamaat al-Jihad, Gamaat Islamiyya, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) – were restructuring their position in Afghanistan, after the defeats they endured in the nineties throughout the Middle East. After preparing attacks on America in 2000, al-Qaeda knew America would have capabilities to destroy the Taliban’s governmental institutions – which were acting as host to Bin Laden’s motley crew. In advance, Mohammed Atef, the third highest ranking member of al-Qaeda, had sought after weapons of mass destruction to protect Afghanistan.

It was bin Laden’s pipe dream that acquiring WMDs would have deterred the US from retaliating, securing the start to a victory for the Saudi and his group. However the acquisition didn’t go to plan. Accepting defeat at this first hurdle, al-Qaeda tried to send a message, through a reporter in Afghanistan trying to make his “media break”, to the US saying they were in possession of WMDs. This, too, proved unsuccessful, the likelihood being that US intelligence simply didn’t believe bin Laden. Instead the American representatives in Afghanistan asked the Taliban to hand over bin Laden for trial, a favour they did not succumb to citing the illegality of handing over a Muslim to non-Muslims under Islamic law.

After experiencing setback after setback – the death of a leader in the Gamaat Islamiyya, Mohammed Khalil al-Hakaima, who fronted the “al-Qaeda in the land of Egypt” project; the collapse of the jihad against the Americans in Iraq – the former leader of the militant Jihadists Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Noman Benotman (now Senior Analyst of Strategic Communications at Quilliam) said that al-Qaeda did not want to establish a caliphate in Afghanistan, and was merely acting as a defense against the occupation – a clear back step on their more global plans.

Though bin Ladenism, as Hitchens puts it, is destined to fail, this doesn’t mean it is not dangerous, particularly in its teachings of young, mainly uneducated men. Its overall goal is to engage in a global war, which it hopes to do with coordination from a central command, possibly in Warziristan (NW Pakistan), branches at a regional level and with help from sympathisers around the world. And though they’ve experienced a major setback with the death of bin Laden, the aim of their project doesn’t look set to cease any time soon.

Hitchens’ sobering conclusion, quite in distinction to the reaction displayed on TV screens after news emerged of bin Laden’s death (which, however, Hitch admits to having “welcomed without reserve”), is that “[t]he war against superstition and the totalitarian mentality is an endless war” [and that] Temporary victories can be registered against this, but not permanent ones”.

Osama bin Laden died a failure, reduced to watching re-runs of himself delivering propaganda speeches exploiting young, angry men into thinking that fighting the jihad was the solution to all life’s ills. But it is a fool who thinks the efforts of a crafty (albeit damaged), multicellular entity as al-Qaeda have been suppressed yet.

* Much of the information from here on has been sought from this amazing collection of essays by Camille Tawil called The Other Face of Al-Qaeda (pdf file).


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