Monday, 9 November 2015


So it looks increasingly likely that the Russian jet blown out of the sky over the Sinai desert was the result of terrorism in which case those responsible are cold-blooded murderers who deserve no words of comfort from politicians and commentators.

As such I am waiting to hear what the former Guardian journalist has to say on the subject, particular whether or not he believes that the terrorists have some kind of point and that their actions represent 'blowback' for Russia meddling in the affairs of other countries in the Middle East.

Seamus is now Jeremy Corbyn's spin doctor, of course, but he is also a big admirer of Russia and President Putin so I'll be interested to know if the victims of terror 'had it coming' when the consequences affect his political friends.

Contrasting Views (16/01/15)

Here are two contrasting views from The Guardian on the conclusions to be drawn from the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo and the other cold-blooded killings that flowed from the assault the satirical magazine.

Seumas Milne, for whom the foreign policy of the west is the root cause of just about every problem around the globe, starts off by denouncing the killers but goes on to make a good case of implying that 'they had it coming' for alleged Islamophobia and racialised baiting.

For her part, Suzanne Moore is far less inclined to be sympathetic towards organised religions in general because they tend, of course, to be deeply conservative and repressive towards women, never mind murderous and totalitarian in the case of radical Islam.    

Add faithophobia to my crimes: I have no respect for religions that have little respect for me

Now is a time to remember that tolerance has to be reciprocal or it is not tolerance at all

By Suzanne Moore - The Guardian
A woman reads the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in a bookshop in Paris. Photograph: Caroline Blumberg/EPA

Voltaire is being quoted everywhere at the moment, although some say his words were different to what we are being told. He actually wrote in a letter in 1770 to Abbot le Riche: “I detest what you write but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” And of course lives have been taken rather than given for writing what many detest.

The arguments go back and forth between those who think Charlie Hebdo should not have published its latest cover image of Muhammad and those – and I am one – who think that they are publishing anything at all is amazing and heartening. The image of a crying man does not offend me. I am not a Muslim but I see that the cover has been read as yet more provocation, even an undoing of the unity of the marches in Paris and other cities. To certain scumbag preachers it is “an act of war”.

Equally disturbing is this talk of blasphemy. Jesus H Christ, remind me what year this is. At one end of the spectrum we have talk of blasphemy, then at the other a kind of liberal anxiety about bad manners – as if showing images was akin to bringing the wrong wine to a dinner party. To all of this, I must say I am pretty gobsmacked. There is a kind of faux respect floating around that I do not trust at all. For it is fearful.

Last week I asked for us to continue in our disrespect and I meant it. Why must I have respect for religions that have little respect for me? That seek to curtail the rights of women? That find me unclean? I am not just talking about Islam here, but pretty much all religion. So there is some equal opportunity offence for you. Faithophobia. Add it to the list of my crimes.

I don’t have to go back to seventh-century texts to find faiths in which women are not seen as equal to men. This is from the founder of another religion: “A society in which women are taught anything but the management of a family, the care of men and the creation of the future generation is a society which is on the way out.” That’s L Ron Hubbard for you. And you can satirise Scientology all you like.

In the mess of blood and tears and accusations of racism flying around, cultural difference is a sensitive issue. Offence is often caused by the conflation of culture, religion and identity. Recently, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, I saw an exhibition on circumcision, titled Snip It!, that revealed many of the similarities between this ritual practice for Jews and for Muslims. Unravelling the cultural is key in understanding the differences within faiths as well as between them. Where there is ignorance of how identities are formed there can be no tolerance. The lost boys who cling to dogma do not even know their own history, never mind anyone else’s.

Voltaire once asked what tolerance meant and said this wonderful thing: “It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each others’ folly – that is the first law of nature.” There is the crux: reciprocity. I keep hearing that free speech is a right with a responsibility, although surely it cannot attempt to be responsible to everyone. If tolerance is about something reciprocal, then it becomes very difficult. And important.

Out of courtesy we may choose not to publish images that cause hurt but we are not duty-bound by that. Do I have the right to enter the male-only spaces of many sacred places? It may be none of my business what women of faith do but I am offended by segregation, by literal interpretations of texts, by the treatment of women as second‑class citizens.

Oh sure, this is the wrong time to bang on about gender when cartoonists and Jews are being slaughtered in Paris and thousands are being killed and raped in Nigeria. Because isn’t it always? When hate speech is everywhere, when antisemitism thrives, when we are nervous about publishing images of Muhammad – and this is just Europe – then women’s rights are not top of the agenda. But let’s make the connection here between those who would ban imagery and those who wouldn’t.

There is no right never to be offended. Images are removed quietly sometimes. The artist Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is withdrawn from Associated Press images. This photograph had already been attacked in France after demonstrations by Christians and the far right. Actually, I am offended daily by images of women reduced to body parts but I do not incite violence. So, please, let’s not talk about the fundamentalism of those of us who believe in free speech. Rather like feminism, we would actually like it to start.

There is much discussion of us and them, but the “them” are not simply or only Muslims. There are ultra-conservative forces at work at the moment, some deadly, and what they all share is an absolute refusal to give women agency and autonomy. So don’t ask me to have respect for these kinds of fundamentalism that have none for me.

Critique is not blasphemy. Texts can be reinterpreted. Tolerance has to be reciprocal or it is not tolerance at all. We should at least be honest now. Those who don’t believe in any god have as many rights as those who do.

Paris is a warning: there is no insulation from our wars

The attacks in France are a blowback from intervention in the Arab and Muslim world. What happens there happens here too

By Seumas Milne - The Guardian
‘A march ­supposedly to defend freedom of expression was led by serried ranks of warmongers and autocrats.' Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

The official response to every jihadist-inspired terrorist attack in the west since 2001 has been to pour petrol on the flames. That was true after 9/11 when George Bush launched his war on terror, laying waste to countries and spreading terror on a global scale. It was true in Britain after the 2005 London bombings, when Tony Blair ripped up civil liberties and sent thousands of British troops on a disastrous mission to Afghanistan. And it’s been true in the aftermath of last week’s horrific killings at Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

In an echo of Bush’s rhetoric, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy declared a “war of civilisations” in response to attacks on “our freedoms”. Instead of simply standing with the victims – and, say, the vastly larger numbers killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria – the satirical magazine and its depictions of the prophet Muhammad have been elevated into a sacred principle of western liberty. The production on Wednesday of a state-sponsored edition of Charlie Hebdo became the latest test of a “with us or against us” commitment to “our values”, as French MPs voted by 488 votes to one to press on with the military campaign in Iraq. To judge by the record of the past 13 years, it will prove a poisonous combination, and not just for France.

Nothing remotely justifies the murderous assault on Charlie Hebdo’s journalists, still less on the Jewish victims singled out only for their religious and ethnic identity. What has become brutally obvious in the past week, however, is the gulf that separates the official view of French state policy at home and abroad and how it is seen by many of the country’s Muslim citizens. That’s true in Britain too, of course. But what is hailed by white France as a colour-blind secularism that ensures equality for all is experienced by many Muslims as discrimination and denial of basic liberties.

In a country where women are bundled into police vans because of the way they dress, freedom of speech can also look like a one-way street. Charlie Hebdo claims to be an “equal opportunities offender”, abusing all religions alike. The reality, as one of its former journalists put it, has been an “Islamophobic neurosis” that focused its racialised baiting on the most marginalised section of the population. This wasn’t just “depictions” of the prophet, but repeated pornographic humiliation.

For all the talk of freedom of expression being a non-negotiable right, Holocaust denial is outlawed in France, and performances by the antisemitic black comedian Dieudonn√© have been banned. But just as there is a blindness in sections of progressive France about how the secular ideology used to break the grip of the powerful is now used to discipline the powerless, the right to single out one religion for abuse has been raised to the status of a core liberal value.

The absurdity was there for all to see at the “Je suis Charlie” demonstration in Paris on Sunday. A march supposedly to defend freedom of expression was led by serried ranks of warmongers and autocrats: from Nato war leaders and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s foreign minister, who between them have jailed, killed and flogged any number of journalists while staging massacres and interventions that have left hundreds of thousands dead, bombing TV stations from Serbia to Afghanistan as they go.

The scene was beyond satire. But it also highlighted the central role of the war on terror in the Paris atrocities, and how the serried ranks are likely to use them for their own ends. Of course, the cocktail of causes and motivations for the attacks are complex: from an inheritance of savage colonial brutality in Algeria via poverty, racism, criminality and takfiri jihadist ideology.

But without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly wouldn’t have taken place. That war on terror has lasted 13 years – even if attempts to control the region long predate it – unleashing brutality and destruction on a vast scale.

It’s what the killers say themselves. The Kouachi brothers were radicalised by the Iraq war and trained in Yemen by al-Qaida. Cherif Kouachi insisted the attacks had been carried out in revenge for the “children of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria”. Ahmed Coulibaly said they were a response to France’s attacks on Isis, while claiming the supermarket slaughter was revenge for the deaths of Muslims in Palestine.

Such wanton killings are, of course, entirely counterproductive to the causes they are supposed to promote – and the targets, shaped by a reactionary religious framework, feed the idea that these are some mutant product of European cultural wars. But there were no such attacks in Europe before 2001. The apparent exception was the Paris bombings of 1995, a direct spillover from Algeria’s civil war and France’s role in it. Instead, a form of violent fundamentalism fostered in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan 30 years ago has blown back into western heartlands.

France famously refused to take part in the US-British aggression against Iraq. But it has been making up for lost time ever since, sending troops to Afghanistan, intervening in one African state after another, from Libya and Mali to Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic, bombing Iraq and backing Syrian rebels. Like Britain, France has been arming and garrisoning the Gulf autocrats, while the French president has declared himself a “partner” to the Egyptian dictator Sisi and “ready” to bomb Libya again.

The former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who led opposition to the Iraq war, this week described Isis as the “deformed child” of western policy. The west’s wars in the Muslim world “always nourish new wars” and “terrorism among us”, he wrote, while “we simplify” these conflicts “by seeing only the Islamist symptom”.

He’s right – but he’s not one of the serried ranks who will use the latest attacks to justify more military intervention. Given what has taken place over the past decade, Europeans are fortunate that terrorist outrages have been relatively rare. But a price has been paid in loss of freedoms, growing antisemitism and rampant Islamophobia. So long as we allow this war to continue indefinitely, the threats will grow. In a globalised world, there’s no insulation. What happens there ends up happening here too.