dinsdag, november 22, 2005


Am feeling as rough as an old badger, hence little in the way of posting. Do not expect any for a couple of days.

A young badger. Couldn't find a picture of an old one.

vrijdag, november 18, 2005

Peretz a 'Breakthrough' for the Israeli left?

In the struggle for justice for Palestine, the left outside Israel so rarely pays attention to economic or political dynamics within Israel proper, outside of how such things might affect the occupied territories. Why concern oneself, too many ask, with the internal processes of the occupier-oppressor when helicopter gunships set elementary schools ablaze and extra-judicial targeted assassinations slaughter bystanders, while the settlements continue to expand on the West Bank and the serpentine Separation Wall meanders through Palestinian land, carving out yet more acreage for Eretz Israel?

But this is a wilfully purblind ignorance, and a perspective as absurd as suggesting that because there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans, there is nothing of interest to the global left in American electoral contests. It is not enough to simply say that there is no genuine electoral left in the United States and dismissively leave it at that. One must ask why this is so. Equally, it is not enough to ask 'What has the Israeli left ever done for the Palestinians?' One must ask why they have done nothing.

In the last week, there has been a political earthquake within the ranks of the Israeli Labor Party: A giant has been felled. How this development may or may not affect the occupation is reason enough to pay attention to internal Israeli phenomena.

New Israeli Labor Party leader Tom Selleck.

Whenever one visits an Israeli newspaper website such as Ha'aretz, one is struck by the number of ads for anti-poverty charities. This is no mere shilling for money for the settlements - or at least some of it isn't. While the world's attention has been rightly focussed on the war crimes committed in the occupied territories, Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister initiated a programme of structural adjustment within Israel every bit as vicious as those of his models, Thatcher and Reagan in the UK and US. The economic liberalisation, steady reduction in social service provision and diminishment of trade union rights continued under Barak and has rapidly expanded under Sharon, whose finance minister is, of course, Netanyahu. The cutbacks to social services have all gone to the country's massive defence budget and funding the settlements. This liberalisation has not gone without consequence. The number of poor families in the country increased by 20.3 per cent in 2004 alone, with one in three Israeli children now living in poverty. Poverty has flourished to such an extent that the gap between rich and poor in Israel is now actually greater than in any other developed country - hence all the charity ads.

The occupation is not merely ruinous to Palestinians; It is also literally consuming Israeli society itself.

[By the way, I don't think visiting a website counts as breaking the boycott - surely one has to be informed in order to offer solidarity to the Palestinians. That said, this whole boycott business is a bit of a fuzzy thing at the edges. Live herbs and helva have been pretty easy for me to avoid (In any case, I manage to kill basil plants with the ease and impunity that the IDF kills eleven-year-olds, so it's all probably for the best), but when I was in Amsterdam last weekend, I accidentally bought a falafel that turned out to be dripping with Palestinian blood. Scarfing down the yummy thing, my German friend, Jens, and my Palestinian friend, Osama, both said more or less at the same time, 'You realise that's an Israeli falafel?', and I responded, 'Mmo, muh-uh. Ifs noff. Ifs mutch.' To which Jens rebutted, 'No, Maoz Falafel's definitely not Dutch, it's Israeli.' To which I rejoindered, 'Oo fwure? Hmm. Oh weh, ifs wery masty.' The next day I looked Maoz up on the old interweb and it turns out it is a Dutch company, just owned by expat Israelis. So ner, thought I. That doesn't count. But then I read that the actual falafel it uses, on the other hand, is not terribly Netherlandish. It's a complicated business, as I said. It reminds me of my days as a teenage vegetarian, when I was morally torn upon finding out that most beer was filtered using edible gelatines, which is made from animal bones, or isinglass, which is made from fish bladders. I gave up vegetarianism some time shortly thereafter. I was not a terribly good vegetarian anyway, what with the regular 'bacon breaks' I allowed myself from time to time. (NB., vegan readers: Most bottled bitters and lagers are O.K., but Guinness? Not vegan!)]

All this has only exacerbated the plight of Mizrahi, or 'Eastern' Jews (immigrants from other Middle Eastern and north African countries), who since their first arrival in the 1950's have been viewed in much the same way within Israel by the Ashkenazi (those from Europe and their descendents) elite as Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and north Africa are in Europe. Most Easterners are trapped on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder and many live below the poverty line. According to veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, the Eastern Jews are overrepresented in Israeli prisons. Of course one shouldn't take the analogy too far, and the poverty that exists in the Mizrahi neighbourhoods doesn't compare to that of the occupied territories and, one hardly need add, there are no helicopter gunships, but Israel has its own Jewish banlieues, if you will.

On the Gush Shalom site this week, Avnery tells of the sort of welcome that greeted the Mizrahi immigrants in the 1950s:
'From generation to generation, a (true) story was passed on about the Moroccan immigrants who were driven to a place in the middle of the desert and told to build a new town for themselves. When they refused to get out of the truck, its tipping mechanism was activated and they were literally "poured" out, as if they were a load of sand.

This racism that divides Israel in two has only intensified since then:
'[T]he Ashkenazi ruling class openly despises the Arab manners, diction and music that the Eastern immigrants brought with them. This overtly racist attitude towards the Arabs became a covert racist attitude towards the Eastern Jews. These reacted defensively by adopting an extreme anti-Arab attitude.'

Labor (and its forerunner, Mapai) dominated Israeli politics from long before the founding of the state of Israel until the 1970s. To this day, while Likud governs, Labor is seen as the party of the establishment. Likud exploited this sense of alienation felt by non-Ashkenazi Israelis to break the lock Labor had in power, by reaching out to the Mizrahim in the late seventies and eighties.

In a pattern we see everywhere else - from the poor American south to those unemployed whites living two doors down from a mosque in a French or German suburb, where those just one step above the lowest of the low often support not the left, but the hard right - Eastern Jews do not vote Labor; they vote Likud. They do not support the peace camp. They do not go to peace rallies. Few of them attended the 200,000 strong rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday in commemoration of assassinated Labor Prime Minister Yitshak Rabin. To the Eastern Israelis, the peace camp is the preserve of the wealthy, Ashkenazi Tel Aviv elite. Why does Labor care so much about the Arabs, they demand, and not the poorest of Israelis?

As Sharon's aide-de-camp, Shimon Peres has not only backed unilateral disengagement, the rapid expansion of the settlements on the West Bank and the Separation Wall's annexation of still more Palestinian land, he has also fully backed Likud's structural adjustment. You couldn't fit a Kleenex between the economic policies of Peres and the right of the Labor Party and Sharon and Netanyahu. So when we ask why there is not much of an Israeli left - or at least one that has done anything for the Palestinians, we must understand that the foundation of any left anywhere - the working class - in Israel for the most part is tied at the hip to Likud.

Which is why the toppling of Peres as leader of the Labor Party by Amir Peretz this week is so profound.

Peretz, which, as Avnery has pointed out, means 'breakthrough' in Hebrew, is a Mizrahi Jew from Morroco and also the head of the Histradrut, the Israeli trade union. Domestically described in similar terms to UK trade unionism's 'Awkward Squad', Peretz's leadership of the union has orchestrated regular general strikes, holding the union's own against Netanyahu both as PM and as finance minister. The first Mizrahi Israeli to head the Labor Party, Peretz won above all because he opposes neo-liberalism in Israel. He wants to push Labor back to the left economically and promises to raise the minimum wage, end the cutbacks, increase spending on social spending and focus on the plight of the huge numbers of Israelis who are living in poverty.

Mizrahi Israelis voted en masse for Peretz in the party's leadership primaries, while Perez won the backing of the wealthier, largely Ashkenazi Labor elite. As a Mizrahi himself, a left-wing trade unionist campaigning on a traditional social democratic platform, he has the potential to knock the Mizrahi pillars of support out from underneath Likud.

Peretz also calls for an end to the occupation and Sharon's unilateralism. He wants to return to negotiations and a final settlement with the Palestinians. Indeed, he has called for a Palestinian state for twenty years - since long before such a call was politically acceptable in Israel. And most importantly, he makes the connection between the occupation and poverty in Israel. If there weren't settlements, if there weren't an occupation, Israel's poor would not be so. The money for the settlements should instead to go to social programmes and poverty reduction, he says.

Opposed to Labor's support for Likud, he is to pull his party out of the coalition government, forcing new elections early next year. Were Labor to win that election, he would be the first non-Ashkenazi Prime Minister of Israel.

Naturally, Israel's bosses have reacted in horror to Peretz's unexpected victory. On the weekend, the Manufacturers Association of Israel and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce attacked Peretz's economic proposals, in particular his call for a raise in the minimum wage.

Voters, however are much more receptive to his ideas. According to a Ha'aretz poll, if Knesset elections were held today, the Labor Party headed by Peretz would have increase its power significantly, winning 28 mandates - up from its current 21 - to Likud's 39. Also, a majority of the Israeli public believes Peretz's victory in the Labor primaries increased the party's chances to regain power, and for the first time in a long time, 82 per cent of traditional Labor voters say they will consider voting for their party again. Nonetheless, as interesting as this for all represents in terms of movement within the Israeli polity, we must analyse this event realistically, and not with through the rose-coloured gas mask goggles the Zionist left is.

Although the party's chances will only increase from the predicted 28 now that he has won the Labor leadership, 28 is still quite far from being able to form government. Sharon, having been able to associate the country's economic reforms more with his finance minister, and remaining enormously popular for disengagement, would still win, whether as head of Likud or heading up his own party he would almost certainly form if Netanyahu manages to successfully challenge him for the leadership. This party is all but certain to win, and, having lost the next election, Peretz will be disposed of just as quickly as its last leader, Amram Mitzna, who upon his election was also hailed as the peace candidate.

Secondly, the rest of the Labor establishment remain in power and are working to undermine their new leader. All the Labor Party government ministers and most of the party's MKs did not vote for Peretz. They have described his victory as 'traumatic', as shocking as losing to Netanyahu in 1996, that he has stolen 'their' party from them in a hostile takeover, and some people somewhere have already begun to whisper about problems with Peretz's voter registration.

If Sharon leaves Likud to form his own party, Peres will almost certainly join him there, splitting the Labor party. (Ha'aretz jokes, what then would Peretz's rump Labor party be called? 'New Labor'?)

Furthermore, for all the noise about Peretz's commitment to social democracy, his candidacy was a well-oiled machine, co-ordinated by industrialist Benny Gaon, high-tech millionaire Ofer Kornfeld and Guy Spiegelman, another high-tech businessman and the head of the Labor Party academic forum. Futhermore, while described as a firebrand union leader, in recent years he has moderated his stance, presumably with his parliamentary career in mind.

In 1999, he resigned from the Labor Party to form his own party, Am Ehad ('One Nation'). Though he was as much of a social democrat then as he is now, the party won just two mandates in the Knesset that year and three in 2003, and ultimately merged back with Labor last year (ironically following a courtship by Peres, who thought Peretz would protect him against Barak). However popular he is with the Israeli working class, in the two parliamentary tests of this popularity so far, he has been unable to translate it into power.

But, above all, it was not Likud that initiated the occupation, but Labor.

The occupation is Labor's occupation.

In 1974, Labour established the first settlement in the West Bank.

Peres and assassinated soi-disant peacenik Yitzhak Rabin supported Menachim Begin and Sharon's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Rabin and Peres never established the safe passages between the West Bank and Gaza promised as part of Oslo, and continued the settlement programme.

Contrary to popular myth, at Camp David, it was not Arafat who walked away from Barak's 'generous' offer of a Palestinian Bantustan, but Barak who walked away from the idea of honourable negotiations that would give Arafat something he could take back to his people.

Even those to further left equivocate: the Meretz Party (now Yachad), the democratic socialists to the left of both Labor and Am Ehad, who hold six seats in the Knesset and are supposedly the party of a just peace with the Palestinians, participated in the 92-96 Rabin (Peres) and later Barak coalition governments - all the while settlements were expanding. Meretz itself is split over the Separation Wall, with half the party approving of its unilateral annexation of Palestinian land. The party is also split over the IDF's actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the so-called 'Securitist Zionist' faction regarding them as legitimate counter-terror operations, while the radicals in the party oppose the actions as 'illegal and immoral. The party also officially denounces the Refuseniks' refusal to serve in the Israeli military (although, to be fair - the party really is divided over this. While it denounces refusal to serve, the party's US affiliate website links to Courage to Refuse ['Ometz Lesarev'], the Refusenik organisation, and the radicals organise support for them and a number of Refuseniks are active at a number of levels in Meretz).

Only the far left, anti-Zionist Hadash party, which currently has three seats in the Knesset, is consistent in its support for Palestinian rights.

But ultimately, the Palestinians do not need to wait for the Israeli left to join their struggle, any more than South Africa's blacks had to wait for the Afrikaaner working class to join theirs. However much it can't hurt to have an Israeli left on side, the Palestinians will struggle on and one day win, with or without one.

woensdag, november 16, 2005

Sarko steals Le Pen's thunder - to some extent

Great news! The Front National rally the other night was shit!

According to the BBC, 'only a few hundred die-hard supporters braved the cold to wave their flags and listen as [Jean-Marie Le Pen] blamed "mad and criminal" mass immigration for the unrest.'

Sadly, at the same time, his popularity has jumped by five per cent, according to a poll for Paris Match.

maandag, november 14, 2005

Things fall apart.

It really is Bizarro World. John Simpson has written another very astute analysis.

Writing on how the curfews have only created the illusion of containing the violence, with in any case the unrest continuing beyond the capital city, Simpson notes that the very measures being used to contain the violence is itself exacerbating the situation and creating yet more reasons for the young people to fight:

'A woman of 24, heavily pregnant, came to the courtroom to find journalists who would be interested in watching a video she had made of the police coming to her flat to arrest her husband.

'In fact he had been on night-shift, and not out in the streets at all - but the video showed how aggressive the police were, and there are dozens of accounts going the rounds of the police shouting at the demonstrators that they are "sales arabes", dirty Arabs.

'The mother of one prisoner told me that the policeman who arrested her son had shouted that the boy ought to be sent home. "What home does he have but France?" she asked, tearfully.'

I quit my tech news job last month to go freelance. In order to help make the transition, I've been teaching English at a local community college for students learning to be fine-dining waiters and waitresses. They are all immigrants ranging in age from 19 to mid-forties from north and west Africa, apart from one pupil from Ecuador and another who is a rather louche middle-aged Cuban defector. Today, I used a simplified news report about the riots from the BBC World Service's Learning English site to spark off some conversation practice. Without offering up my own opinion, they all suddenly came alive, attentive as I've never seen them before - especially the younger ones - responding that the French youths 'ont raison' - they are right. The anti-immigrant racism, the police harassment, the unemployment - it's not much better here, they said. One older man from Morocco said that if he were younger and living in France, he too would be rioting.

Separately, I also teach advanced English to a pair of white, middle-aged businesswomen - one a Fleming, the other a Walloon. I somehow think they would respond differently to the exercise.

Indeed, according to Le Journal du Dimanche, sadly, some 53 per cent of the French people support the actions of Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister. Here in Belgium, the far-right Vlaams Belang (formerly the Vlaams Blok) has managed to climb to the top of the electoral heap in Flanders in particular by exploiting similar fears over immigrants.

Most of my friends here in Belgium are actually from France. The other night I asked my friends Camille and Nico (who in some respects actually resembles the French interior minister, and so is regularly taunted as 'Nicolas Sarkozy' by his media-sponge of an eight-year-old little sister), both of whom are quite exemplary of the anti-neo-liberal mood of much of young France, what they thought of the émeutes. Both of them were quite clear that Sarkozy is a pompier pyromane, a 'pyromaniac fireman': he knew exactly what he was saying and what would happen when he described the rioting youth as 'racailles', and promising to 'karcherise' the suburbs. This is all part of his grand strategy for the 2007 Presidential Election, say my friends, making a play both for working class whites with a soft sort of racism and who are most concerned about 'l'insecurité', and in particular that fifth of the population that votes for the Front National. Nico believes that because Sarkozy is so admired by the far right for his zero-tolerance approach to crime and immigrants, that there need not be any far right participation in the upcoming presidential elections. If Sarkozy is the right's candidate, you already have your fascist to vote for, says he.

I think he exaggerates somewhat. Sarkozy is no fascist; he just is being very savvy about courting the far right vote. As Doug Ireland has written, for Sarkozy to apply the term Karcherise 'to young human beings and proffer it as a strategy is a verbally fascist insult and, as a policy proposed by an Interior Minister, is about as close as one can get to hollering "ethnic cleansing" without actually saying so.' Nonetheless, his popularity will be read by other right-wing pols throughout Europe and further afield as a practicable strategy for electoral success.

Furthermore, Le Pen knows Sarkozy is off poaching FN supporters, and isn't about to let all the political dividends from the riots accrue solely to the UMP's right wing. The old fascist has organised a rally against immigration and the riots this evening.

The LCR held a march two nights ago in Paris between Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain-des-Près. The group called the some 1,000 to 1,500 who demonstrated against the declaration of the state of emergency, 'a success for a rally called at such short notice'.

Sadly, Le Pen's rally tonight will likely be much larger, though it too has been called at short notice.

The centre cannot hold, etc., etc.


V. good interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Franco-German 'indésirable' soixante-huitard street-fighter turned Green MEP in Der Spiegel. He may have been in favour of the European Constitution, but he hits all the right notes when it comes to the French riots.

zondag, november 13, 2005

Covering riots, Economist magazine reporter somehow accidentally transported to Bizarro World, not France

Sensibly deciding to steer clear of the maniacal Islamofascism-obsessive explanation for the French riots of Steyn, Pipes and Hitchens, the Economist nevertheless once more hasn't missed an opportunity to argue for greater labour market deregulation and attack the free and democratic association of workers, otherwise known as trade unions. For the libertarian pointy-heads at the magazine, the rebellion is obviously the natural result of France's thirty-five hour working week, job protection laws, high minimum wage and bolshy unions.


Arnold finds the Economist's reasoning somewhat specious.

I swear, if the Economist did an investigation into why my roommate always leaves a consumated roll of toilet paper in the toilet without changing it, they would conclude that it all boils down to the continued existence of a public monopoly on meat inspection in Wales. Got athlete's foot from the gym changing room? Its due to over-regulation of the Danish toy industry. Egg with no yolk? Well, if Catalonia didn't subsidise access to museums for students and seniors… An asteroid headed for Earth to destroy life as we know it? Plainly it's the fault of Corsican pay-roll taxes. Invasion of lizard-men from one of Saturn's moons? Public funding of New Zealand's national opera company. The Rapture and the subsequent thousand-year reign of Satan? Swiss air traffic control unions.

The magazine - sorry - 'newspaper' - does recognise that in the suburbs there is a 'toxic mix of poor housing, bad schools, inadequate transport, social exclusion, [and] disaffection among Muslims who are discriminated against,' and the main problem is, 'above all, mass unemployment'. And this is indeed absolutely correct - the country's official youth unemployment rate is 23 per cent and in the suburbs climbs to 40 per cent, and 70 per cent of all new contracts are only temporary, according to Prime Minister de Villepin himself, with 80 per cent of new contracts for young people being temporary.

However, for the Economist's journalists, this mass un- and underemployment is not a product of economic sabotage on the part of very profitable French capital, which is, like its German cousin, attempting to discipline both government and electorate into a still-further deregulated business environment. No, for them, the problem is that 'the French labour market is throttled by restrictions such as the 35-hour week, a high minimum wage, and tough hiring and firing rules,' or, 'what economists call an "insider-outsider" labour market: full-time permanent jobs are so protected by law that employers try not to create many, preferring instead temporary workers or interns whom they can shed more easily when times get tough.'

'This suits the insiders,' continues the article, ' particularly those on sheltered public-sector contracts. But this leaves a whole swathe of youngsters with the very sensation of insecurity that the social system is designed to prevent.'

Thus in the Economist's Bizarro World (the upside-down backwards world from the pages of Superman where everything is the opposite of what it is on Earth, where up is down, ugliness is beautiful and alarm clocks dictate when to go to sleep), it's not the beatific corporations' fault for preferring short-term, part-time, ill-paying contracts and interns, but the avaricious full-time permanent employees and powerful unions, selfishly fearful that they too will be thrown on the scrap heap, who are to blame.

There has been much vilification of the country's 35-hour-working-week law, when in fact, between 1995 and 2003, France actually increased its work hours, if only marginally, according to the OECD, despite the existence of the law. Furthermore, French workers are some of the most productive in the world, ahead of Britain, Germany, the United States and Japan, according to the European statistics agency, Eurostat.

The danger here in all this is that the Economist's conclusion will also be that of France and, more broadly, of the European Union, when it comes to any post-riot consensus. Already, prior to the riots, the UK Presidency of the Union was pushing the Anglo-Saxon model hard, given its 'record levels of employment'. In the wake of the violence, such a model will look even more attractive.

However, the low unemployment rates in the UK and US have not resulted in riotless Shangri-Las of social peace. They are the product of an explosion in McJobs, well exposed by American journalist Barbara Ehrenreich in her bestseller, Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, and exactly the sort of short-term, low-pay, part-time positions the Economist pretends to be so concerned about in France. America's middle class is fast disappearing as the McJob dynamic colonises even traditional middle-class white collar jobs, a phenomenon that Ehrenreich has also now written about, in her latest book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. Precarity is the order of the day even for well-educated citizens. It is this very deregulation which causes the creation of McJobs, as it has been in France. Other countries are as much of a tinderbox as France is.

The republic needs more job protection, not less.


Oh, and one quick note on the riots that seems to have been underreported: The rioting has involved poor whites as well, though admittedly not in the same numbers as those from north or west Africa.

zaterdag, november 12, 2005

Hitchens' Kurdish Jeep Revisionism

Correction: In the last piece, I mentioned that everyone, both critics and admirers of Hitchens, have accepted at face value Christopher's Kurdish Jeep Revisionism. This is not completely true, as Dennis Perrin, a friend of Hitch's and author of American Fan, has written in to say. Dennis has written about the mythical Jeep episode a number of times. From his blog, Red State Son:
'He may have been in a Kurdish jeep, but the [story about his conversion therein] is a complete lie, and Hitchens knows this. I spent time with him in the period he mentions, and he never stopped criticizing Bush's "mad contest" with Saddam, much less opined that "co-existence" with Saddam was "no longer possible." I have a tape of him debating Ken Adelman on C-SPAN in 1993 where he's still critical of the Gulf War, and again no mention of wanting to overthrow Saddam. As late as 2002, when I asked him directly if he did indeed favor a US invasion, he waffled and said that W. would have to convince him on "about a zillion fronts" before he could sign on.

'But that wouldn't make for good drama, nor would it bolster his public image as Stout Warrior. So he tells the above tale, and does so without shame. When I first heard him do this on Don Imus's radio show (Hitchens is no racist but he has no problem using one for exposure), I emailed him and reminded him of his history. He didn't deny it, said that perhaps his memory wasn't as sharp as he would like, but in the end it didn't matter. Who cares what he said in 1993 or 2002 -- this is what he's saying now and if I didn't like it, tough.'
Also worth reading, if you haven't yet, Dennis' 2003 obituary for Hitchens, which appeared in the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, which is far better than Alexander Cockburns' sometimes-bordering-on-homophobic attacks on Hitchens, and expresses very well the disappointment rather than the anger many of us feel who once were fans of Hitchens . As another of Hitchens' former friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer analyst, Roz Kaveney, puts it,
'There is that exchange in Buffy 6.6 where Dawn says "This is going to be one of those things where you are not angry, just very disappointed" and Giles says "Yes, except for the not being angry part."
I was never a Buffy fan, but that about sums up my feelings towards the once great writer.

Oh, and do go have a read of Roz's captivating remembrance of her days with Hitch at Oxford. He may these days prefer the company of those campaigning against the militant homosexualist agenda, but as a young buck he had a rather different prediliction.


Update: It seems it's just a right-old salmagundi of hypocrisy and double-standards for Hitchens these days, le pauvre.

Jonathan at A Tiny Revolution apparently did a comedy double-take when watching that somewhat oldish Hitch documentary of his book, The Trial of Henry Kissenger, saying, 'Hold on a sec, lemme just rewind that bit...That's not...why, why, yes it is the International Action Center Christopher is chatting quite, quite friendlily with at an anti-Kissinger protest. But, but I thought he didn't like them very much...'

vrijdag, november 11, 2005

Hitchens: Reactionary, sine macula

One supposes that if Hitch was willing to prostitute himself to wealthy hard-right Republican anglophile weirdoes for a tour of London along with fellow-former-leftist-turned-right-wing-wackjob David Horowitz (in which guests would have accompanied Hitch & Horowitz around the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London [to see the bleeding crown jewels!] and other Olde Englande landmarks, had the event not been mysteriously cancelled), and is now regularly writing for Bill Kristol's neo-con and Christian right publication, the Weekly Standard, it really shouldn't surprise anyone that if anything remains of his leftist conscience, it certainly isn't needled by an appearance on conservative cougar Laura Ingraham's radio programme.

Laura Ingraham

However, for all his confidence in the anti-fascist, liberatory power of white phosphorus, cluster bombs, torture and anal rape with toilet plungers, one assumes that as a confirmed soixante-huitard, he could never descend so far as turning his back on anti-racism.

Such an assumption would be wrong. While even Marc Cooper and David Aaronovitch (and also, actually, an oddly remarkably lucid John Simpson) are quite clear about the racial and economic 'root causes' of the French émeutes des banlieues, Hitch remains more akin to the Mark Steyn/Daniel Pipes 'this is what you get if you let the darkies in' perspective: Via Lenny and Sonic at Hitch Watch, we find that Johnny Walker Black Label's best customer told Harpee Ingraham two days ago, 'If you think that the Intifada in France is about housing, go and try covering the story wearing a yarmulke.'

Although, frankly, it's not entirely dissimilar to what he said about the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina having had nothing to do with race during the 'Grapple in the Big Apple' with Galloway in NY, to the shocked gasps of even those audience members who'd turned out to support him.

But wait - hold on to your fork, there's more. Sonic is also reporting that ultra-secularist Hitchens gave the Witherspoon Lecture this month at the Christian fundamentalist, pro-theocracy Family Research Council.

Here is a piccy of him looking beardy and surrounded by virgins:

And here is the image used to link to the Family Research Council's current campaign, which appears on the same page as Hitch's snapshot with the happy-clappy interns:

I wonder if his rider for the gig was the same case of scotch and 200-pack of Rothmans he gets at Hay-on-Wye?

And it doesn't stop there. I recently came across what's actually a fairly oldish article by Tawfiq Chawbourne, who managed to snag a quick and dirty thirty-second interview with the great man on the way out of some London to-do with Francis 'Marx would have approved of the invasion of Iraq' Wheen moderating and Ian McEwan in the audience.

Hitch actually offers Tawfiq an endorsement of the Bush policy on Venezuela, which regular readers will remember as having been a policy that encourages rightist coups. Chris then seems to even go so far as to approve of a Bay of Pigs redux. Says Christopher, 'Chavez is a thug. He’ll be gone within two years, as will the Iranian regime. And Bush will be landing in Havana within two years. Then the last two uniformed leaders [in the Americas] will be gone.'

However over-represented they are in the press, however few of them there may be, and however incoherent their arguments, pro-war leftists do in fact exist, but Hitchens is not one of them. An anti-Chavez, pro-invasion-of-Cuba, softly-racist, Sarkozy-sympathising, Weekly-Standard-publishing, Family-Research-Council-Witherspoon-lecture-giving, Laura-Ingraham-show-appearing individual cannot with any gleaning of truth left to the statement be called a leftist, regardless of his position on the war.

Nonetheless, I am at a loss as to an explanation how all this developed. Shock at 9/11 and any subsequent support for the war does not necessitate indifference to New Orleans or Clichy-sous-Bois suffering.

Lenny of the Tomb reckons 'the trauma of losing a good friend of his on 9/11…catalysed a turn to the right that he had been slowly making for years.' However, I'm not entirely convinced by the Paul Berman thesis that the 'muscular liberal' philosophy of Hitchens and other pro-war progressives, had been in gestation since the Balkan Wars or even as far back as the Rushdie-Le Carré brou-ha-ha. Although I was opposed to 1999's Nato bombing of Yugoslavia, I'll readily admit that the Balkan Wars were not easily ideologically navigable, and a good many who have been opposed to the war since the bombing of Afghanistan - such as the late Susan Sontag - were with Hitchens on the question of intervention in Bosnia and later Kosovo. Furthermore, while almost the entirety of the soft left in the US turned away while Clinton introduced his welfare reforms, expanded the death penalty, diminished health care funding (and in so doing restricted abortion access), enforced developing world structural adjustment and constructed the WTO, Hitchens pulled no punches. He was relentless in his assaults on Clintonian triangulation. If Hitchens' current positions are indeed part of a general trend dating back fifteen years, then there is a rather long, eight-year stretch of recalcitrant progressivism that is unaccounted for in the model.

I'd also not heard that Hitch had lost anyone, and am of the opinion that if he had, as he is more than shameless enough to exploit the person's memory, he would have mentioned it repeatedly. So I dragged out my copy of Love, Poverty & War from underneath the kitchen table's uneven leg, and re-read what Hitch had written immediately after 11 September.

Hitch's very first piece after 9/11, 'We're Still Standing', for the Evening Standard on 12 September, begins with, 'Well, I won't see Barbara Olson again.'

However, one doesn't get a sense from the article that she was his friend, merely that he knew her. Furthermore, in the days immediately after the towers fell, there was much talk of Olson's last minutes, as she had used her phone to alert her husband, the solicitor-general, of the hijacking. It may be more that Hitch was just mentioning that he happened to know a personnage that was in the headlines.

In any case, both this piece, and his second, on 13 September, for the Guardian, 'The Morning After', are actually of a radically different political perspective to everything he has written since, beginning with the now well-known 'Against Rationalisation,' on 20 September, for the Nation, where he would begin to stake out his liberal hawk position. Indeed, in the Guardian piece, Hitchens is quite critical of Bush, writing:

'The United States as a country has no fixed position on Islamic fundamentalism. It has used it as an ally, as well as discovered it as an enemy. It could not bomb Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, even if it found conclusive proof that the hijackers and assassins had actually trained there. So what does the president mean when he says so portentously that "we shall make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbour them"? It looks like a distinction without a difference, and gives a momentary impression of being decisive, while actually only confusing the issue.'

And what is the issue of which he writes? Interestingly, it's the history of America's foreign policy:

'On the campus where I am writing this, there are a few students and professors willing to venture points about United States foreign policy. But they do so very guardedly, and it would sound like profane apologetics if transmitted live. So the analytical moment, if there is to be one, has been indefinitely postponed.' [Italics added]

Seven days later, he must have decided that the analytical moment was to be permanently postponed, and made a 180 degree turn away from this initial perspective with 'Against Rationalisation', and its follow-up, 'Of Sin, the Left, and Islamic Fascism', in which he attacked the left for saying essentially the same things he had said in his first two post-9/11 articles.

So, even if he had been close friends with Olson - which isn't clear in any case - he was still willing to 'rationalise' (his word) the attacks for at least another two articles after she had died. Thus the mystery is what made him change his mind within this seven-day period. If the shift had coincided with the attacks, his analysis would be fairly explicable, i.e., he was so shocked by the attacks that he reconsidered his perspective, etc., etc. - the similar arguments we heard from a number of liberal hawks - but it didn't.

The only point I've heard that attempts to explain this seven-day turnaround was that a close friend of his tore into him about the 'The Morning After' piece in the Guardian for much the same reason that he has since torn into Chomsky. However, I've only ever read this hypothesis once, and I can't remember where I read it or who this critic-friend was.

What I find curious is that none of his opponents has mentioned this. He's regularly asked by interviewers sympathetic and hostile why and when did he change his opinions, and he always responds that he didn't change, the Left did, and then produces this quaint story about being in a jeep during the first Gulf War with some Kurds who had a photo of George Bush Sr. attached to the vehicle which made him re-think his opinions, but this is an ex post facto reorganisation of his political trajectory accepted both by admirers and critics. The truth is that he changed quite abruptly some time between the 13th and 20th of September, 2001.

In the end, however, whatever it was that shifted him on the question of 11 September - as well as the battles this shift engendered between him and the left - have so comprehensively transformed his ideas that he is now, from belligerent, triple-chinned tip to lewdly blotto stern, not merely or even a liberal hawk, but a reactionary, sine macula.

dinsdag, november 08, 2005

Profitting from the riots

Most people when they see Paris and, as of last night, 300 other cities, burning on the news, they see a riot. The UMP, the France's conservative party and the party of Sarkozy, de Villepin and Chirac, however, see a marketing opportunity.

If you type in the word 'émeute' (French for 'riot') into the Google.fr search engine, the first link that appears is entitled 'Violences en Banlieues' ('Violence in the suburbs') and is a sponsored link to http://www.u-m-p.org/. Underneath, the tag reads: 'Soutenez la politique de N. Sarkozy pour rétablir l'ordre républicain' ('Support the policies of N. Sarkozy to re-establish the republican order'). Refresh the page, and the tag changes to 'Soutenez la politique de N. Sarkozy pour faire respecter la loi' ('Support the policies of N. Sarkozy to ensure respect for the law').

Reuters is reporting that Franck Louvrier, Sarkozy's spokesman, said the company hired by the UMP to run the website paid for the link as a way to respond to the 'thousands' of voters who were e-mailing messages of support.

Right...take out an ad on Google that is to appear whenever anyone looks up the word 'émeute' to tell the people who have sent a message of support to send another message of support?


Meanwhile, elsewhere internautical, three French bloggers have been arrested for allegedly 'inciting violence' by using their blogs to encourage people to join the riots, justice minister Pascal Clement told a media conference yesterday. The bloggers, all aged 16 and from Aix-en-Provence in the south, 'called for riots and an attack on police stations'. Their blogs were hosted by a site owned by a youth radio station, Skyrock, which has since shut them down.

I wonder if Reporters Sans Frontieres will rally to their defence. Hmm. No, they're not funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, so probably not.


Wikipedia already has a page up on the rebellion, and the full, unedited version of Naima Bouteldja's piece for the Guardian yesterday is now up on the Radical Activist Network website. If you can read French, Indymedia Paris is doing what the Indymedia network is best at - offering up-to-the-minute coverage of large-scale protests. (Understandably, the loading time takes ages)

The Bethune Audomarois branch of Attac, the France-based altermondialiste network, has issued a communiqué expressing solidarity with the 'poor of the suburbs' (hat tip to Kersplebedeb, a Montréal anarchist who is maintaining a very useful blog, Sketchy Thoughts, translating key articles from the French press into English):

Communiqué de attac Béthune

"attac Béthune Audomarois" exprime clairement et publiquement sa solidarité avec les exclus des banlieues victimes du système de Messieurs Sarkozy et consorts. La logique Ultra-Libérale conduit toujours au mensonge,à la misère, à l'exclusion et à la violence. Nous en voyons aujourd'hui les résultats.


Communiqué from ATTAC Béthune

ATTAC Béthune Audomarois publicly and unambiguously declares its solidarity with the people in the poor suburbs, victims of the system of Mr Sarkozy and his friends. The logic of ultra-liberalism always leads to lies, suffering, marginalization and violence. Today we are seeing the results.


Lenny at the Tomb has a rather good analysis of the commentary on the French riots by Tech Central Station's resident Hitchens-fartcatcher, Michael J. Totten, an atrocious writer who exemplifies the rarely disguised racism that is at the very belly-button of liberal-hawkdom:

Here, then, is the authentic white supremacist posing as a connoisseur of cosmopolitanism, cross-cultural understanding. The fixtures of Orientalist and outright racist discourse are harnessed to the cause of liberal internationalism.

Talking of little shits who write as well as a toothbrush, anyone else who thought that Emma Brockes 'interview' with Noam Chomsky in the Guardian last week was as vomitous as a banana Gorgonzola milkshake might want to meander over to Counterpunch, where they compare Brockes' glib fabrications about Chomsky with her brownnosing Ariel 'Sabra and Shatila' Sharon in another interview (and have dug out a quote from another interview where the little thickie admits that she finds Chomsky hard to understand).

I completely forgot about this, but a couple of months ago, UK radical charity War on Want put up a short video clip of Belle and Sebastian's visit to the occupied territories, with some great Palestinian hip-hop on the soundtrack. Ch-ch-check it out.

This one's just for shits and giggles:

That's Republican activist Matthew Glavin, who preached upstanding, God-fearing family values until he was caught masturbating in public and fondling an undercover park ranger. He is just one example in a seemingly boundless list of Republican hypocrisy you can find at the 'Stop Republican Paedophilia' site from the Armchair Subversive.

And here is everyone's favourite creative-writing-undergraduates-who-decided-to-start-a-band band, the Decemberists, in a 40-odd-minute live session at KCRW, the campus station of Santa Monica College. Why? Because they're the Decemberists, d'uh.

UPDATE: (Via Dead Men Left) The LCR's 2002 presidential candidate and one of France's most popular politicians, Olivier Besancenot, has called for demonstrations defying the curfews. From DML's translation of the announcement:
... the LCR calls for demonstrations against the curfew in communes or quartiers, at night if necessary, where it would be instituted by the prefect. The LCR invites all organisations of the left and of democracy to organise these demonstrations together.

maandag, november 07, 2005

'L'Intifada Française' - Between Ramallah '00 and Paris '68

The press across Europe are saying the 'immigrant' youth (in quotations for the obvious reason that though they are young Frenchmen of the third or fourth generation, and many may not even speak the Arabic of their fathers or grandfathers, they are eternally immigrants) of the French banlieues, or suburbs, are 'trying their hand at revolution'. The talking heads on the news discussion programmes are calling Clichy-sous-Bois - the suburb in northeastern Paris where the unrest began after two young men died, accidentally electrocuting themselves when they hid from police in an electric substation - 'Ramallah-sous-Bois'. Der Spiegel refers to the youths as 'urban guerillas' and 'generation jihad', while Newsweek feverishly asks whether 'the riots [will] swell the ranks of jihadists in Europe' and calls the events the 'beginning of jihad in Europe'.

This is all more than a bit over the top, and drips with the very undisguised racism that is the cause of the disturbances. As S.O.S. Racisme, the French anti-racist organisation notes and denounces in a press release yesterday, the press 'have presented the events as a civil war, describing the participants as savages, with some even calling the riots the "Intifada of the banlieues".' While the last eleven days and nights have seen France's worst domestic unrest since 1968, with some 4,700 vehicles set on fire - 1,400 last night alone in riots that have now spread to the suburbs of most of the country's large cities - as far north as Lille and to Nice in the southeast, as the always perspicacious Lenin, of the blog Lenin's Tomb, notes, situations such as these tend to go 'up like the rocket, [and] down like the stick'. These days of rage are unlikely to last, much as May 1968 itself lasted but a few days whatever its remembrance in the French popular imagination.

Nonetheless, the commentators, even if they articulate themselves through the orientalist prism, alight on the heart of the matter: Europe, like anywhere else in this deregulated, unemployed, privatised, pulverised, atomised, lobotomised cosmos, where the slavering corybantic market fundamentalists would yet privatise the heavens and lay off Saint Peter and the Archangel Gabriel if they thought it would enable them to compete better with Estonia's flat tax, sits atop a powder keg of righteous anger, the predictable product of gross inequality and racism both within its borders and in its relations with the developing world.

The French suburbs - les cités - are overcrowded ghettoes where the descendents of workers brought to France to alleviate the post-war labour shortage live in a violent, boring poverty not dissimilar to that experienced in other European immigrant quarters and American 'projects' and barrios. The oeuvre of the most popular comedian in France, Jamel Debbouze, whom non-French audiences will know from his appearances in Amélie and Spike Lee's She Hate Me, is entirely based around tales of poverty and police brutality in the banlieues. His recent hit spectacle includes a hilarious running gag on middle class teachers sent to teach in the ZEPs (zones d’éducation prioritaires) who fear their pupils, and, most presciently, being chased by les keufs. American journalist Doug Ireland, who lived in France for ten years, where he worked as a reporter for left-wing daily Libération, describes les cités on his blog in a posting entitled 'Rebellion of a lost generation':

[T]hese high-rise human warehouses in the isolated suburbs are today run-down, dilapidated, sinister places, with broken elevators that remain unrepaired, heating systems left dysfunctional in winter, dirt and dog-shit in the hallways, broken windows, and few commercial amenities - shopping for basic necessities is often quite limited and difficult, while entertainment and recreational facilities for youth are truncated and totally inadequate when they're not non-existent.

Crime follows such economic dislocation like regret follows a kebab, but rather than tackle the economic root of the problem, comme toujours, the French interior ministry's response, under the diminutive-but-martial minister and pretender to Chirac's crown, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been what S.O.S. Racisme calls 'l’extrémisme sécuritaire': violent, 'zero tolerance' crackdowns, that unfortunately are massively popular amongst the usual hang-'em-high suspects.

UK-based campaigner Naima Bouteldja, writing in today's Guardian, recounts how earlier this year the level of police repression and racism resulted in Amnesty International criticising 'the "generalised impunity" with which the French police [have] operated when it came to violent treatment of young men from African backgrounds during identity checks.'

Sarkozy reacted to the initial riots in typical fashion, describing the rioters as vermin and scum, although, as both Bouteldja and Ireland note, something has been lost in translation. Says Ireland:

'"Sarko" made headlines with his declarations that he would "karcherise" the ghettos of "la racaille" - words the U.S. press, with glaring inadequacy, has translated to mean "clean" the ghettos of "scum." But these two words have an infinitely harsher and insulting flavor in French. "Karcher" is the well-known brand name of a system of cleaning surfaces by super-high-pressure sand-blasting or water-blasting that very violently peels away the outer skin of encrusted dirt - like pigeon-shit - even at the risk of damaging what's underneath. To apply this term to young human beings and proffer it as a strategy is a verbally fascist insult and, as a policy proposed by an Interior Minister, is about as close as one can get to hollering "ethnic cleansing" without actually saying so. It implies raw police power and force used very aggressively, with little regard for human rights…"[R]acaille" is infinitely more pejorative than "scum" to French-speakers - it has the flavor of characterising an entire group of people as subhuman, inherently evil and criminal, worthless.'

This, together with the tear-gassing of a mosque, only aggravated the situation.

The paternalist left has abandoned them at best, and at worst actively participates in racist and Islamophobic attacks disguised as a defence of la laïcité républicaine, and the far left is only marginally better. The left must remember, as in New Orleans, globalisation is not merely a question of class, but explicitly one of race (and, one might add, gender).

It is true that this abandonment of the field allows fundamentalists to fill the void, just as a similar attitude by social democrats to their traditional (white) working class constituency opens the door to the far right, but it is not true, as not a few have been reporting, that the riots are a product of Islamist agents provocateurs. First of all, it should be noted that the rioters are not just 'beurs' - French verlan for Arabs - but also black youth. Secondly, to be sure, the riots are anger uncorked, but there is also an explicit political aspect to their actions: "We'll stop when Sarkozy steps down," said a Strasbourg rioter, according to the Guardian. Liberation's interviews with the youth published today show how 'encore et toujours' the anger reduces to Sarkozy. 'C'est nous qui allons passer Sarkozy au Kärcher, c'est l'erreur de sa carrière. [It is us who will Karcherise Sarkozy. He's made the error of his career.]' says one thirteen-year-old. Another pair declare quite perceptively that Sarko's provocation was simply to put 'l'insécurité', or crime, back on the agenda ahead of the 2007 presidential elections.

There is a line that runs through the recent strikes - economic, political and general - of France, Belgium and Italy, the movement against Agenda 2010 and vote for the Linkspartei in Germany, and the vote against the neo-liberal European Constitution in the Netherlands and France, and, yes, even the election of the socially conservative but fiscally semi-Keynesian PiS in Poland - and the French riots. This reaction to neo-liberalism is uneven. It cannot in all regions and at all times be called progressive - no one is celebrating these riots - and in parts (particularly in Poland) is incoherent, and can just as easily swing over to the far right or Islamists if the left does not take a lead, but it is nonetheless the inescapable product of years of rightist economic retrenchment combined with, in the case of the French riots, festering racism and exclusion.

All those who believe in a 'social Europe' must address this unrest. To turn Thatcher's commandment on its head - We have no alternative: we must not merely protect but expand Europe's social provision, or else the fires of Paris' suburbs will spread right across the continent, one day or another.

Above all, the French anti-neo-liberal left must act with urgency within the next few days to attempt to channel this justifiable anger into a constructive direction and connect it to the wider dissatisfaction with neo-liberalism. The LCR and the PCF would do well to organise demonstrations across France against police brutality, for an end to l’extrémisme sécuritaire, for reinvestment and jobs in the banlieues, for the integration of their inhabitants into French society, and, in particular, calling for Sarkozy's resignation.

Nous sommes tous indésirables. Nous sommes tous racailles.


Update: The arson has spread (to a quite limited degree) to Brussels, with five cars set on fire near Gare du Midi (à deux pas de chez moi, eek), and Berlin, where another five cars were set alight in the Moabit quarter.

dinsdag, november 01, 2005

Müntefering leaves in a huff, taking his ball home with him

Intriguing little giblet out of Germany: top of the fold news this morning is that SPD party leader Franz 'Plague of Locusts' Müntefering, who had been expected to take the positions of vice-chancellor and labour minister in an SPD-CDU coalition government, has said he does not intend to run for re-election next month. The understandable hook for the press is how the resignation deals a fairly heavy blow to the coalition talks - now in their fourth round.

Indeed, Tobias Schwarz at A Fistful of Euros is reporting that there have been a handful of reports in the German press about the CDU leadership's 'silently beginning preparations for yet another round of elections to be held on March 26, when there are also state and/or local elections to be held in Rheinland-Pfalz, Baden-Württemberg, and Sachsen-Anhalt'. And Deutsche Welle is (somewhat wishful-thinkingly, IMO) saying that the so-called Jamaica coalition - CDU, Greens and Free Democrats - is not completely off the table, reporting that FDU leader Guido Westerwelle said 'he was willing to restart discussions about a so-called Jamaica coalition of CDU/CSU, Greens and his party'.

'"Angela Merkel has my number," he said in an interview on German public broadcaster ARD.'

Müntefering's departure frustrates the coalition talks as he was 'viewed as 'key to holding together a potentially fractious coalition,' also according to Deutsche Welle. 'Viewed' by whom is not clear, given the sentence's shady passive construction, but DW probably means 'viewed by the bien-pensants of the SPD's right wing'. And herein is the interesting little nugget: The reason Müntefering left, taking his ball with him, was that former youth wing leader and the unofficial leader of the SPD's left wing, Andrea Nahles, 35, won a vote by the party's executive committee to become the next general secretary, handily beating Müntefering's preferred candidate. As the New York Times is reporting, 'Mr. Müntefering [and] Mr. Schröder, 61, represent an older generation of Social Democrats that is increasingly at odds with younger party members. Some of these up-and-comers are staunchly leftist and opposed Mr. Schröder's efforts to overhaul the German economy.' Nahles - a former protégé of Oscar Lafontaine - recently built a reputation for herself as an outspoken opponent of Schroeder's reforms, organising a movement within the SPD in favour of more socially oriented policies. This development was what ultimately forced the Chancellor to call early elections aiming to stave off an open revolt within the party. Rather than staunching the intra-party disquiet, however, the election has accelerated it.

Andrea Nahles

'I can no longer be party chairman under these conditions,' Müntefering told reporters in response to his candidate's loss.

Despite his electoral gambit earlier this year of describing foreign investors as akin to a plague of locusts, aiming to shore up the SPD's then (and continuing) rapidly atrophying support amongst its traditional voters, Müntefering remains as committed to the neo-liberal reforms of the outgoing government as ever. The party may be looking over its shoulder at the growing support for the Linkspartei and attempting to push the SPD leftwards, and the rank-and-file, never happy with Hartz IV and Agenda 2010 is distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of a grand coalition with the CDU, but Müntefering will have none of this.

In any case, if there is another election, I can't see the conservatives gaining from the situation. Furthermore, the Linke have shown they are not merely a protest vote, but now the fourth party in the country - their support is not going to disappear; it can only grow as SPD voters feel safe in the knowledge that a vote for Lafontaine & co. is not throwing their vote away. An SPD that tacks to the left might actually pick up a few votes as well.

Whatever happens, European social democracy (outside Mr. Magoo-like New Labour) is clearly in crisis as it is caught between the economic imperatives of globalisation and the demands of its supporters and the wider electorate.