the Disillusioned kid: February 2006
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In Denial?

Our Glorious Leader is collating assorted thoughts on the incaceration of "controversial historian" (read: inveterate racist shit) David Irving. I suppose therefore I'm duty bound to offer my three-pennies worth.

I don't doubt for a minute that it's tempting to revel in the schadenfreude, to gloat even. It makes a nice change to see the state throwing its weight in with the light side for once. The problem is, of course, that it could easily swing back the other way and turn the very same powers on us. This will hardly be a new argument to long-time readers, as it's one I've made previously. Not being the sort who likes repeating himself I'll just point you in the direction of what I said then. It's really very good.

It's worth emphasising, however, that relying on the state to challenge racism is a risky strategy even in itself. Consider the recent trials of Islamist nutjob Abu Hamza and fascist onanist Nick Griffin. Both were dragged into court for inciting racial hatred yet only the former was convicted (although Griff and co-defendant Mark Collett are to face a retrial). Does anybody seriously believe that Griff is any less congenitally racist than Hammy? That Griff's skin colour and sharp suit didn't count in his favour? That the greater media focus on Hammy wasn't motivated by the fact he was a Muslim whacko rather than a white fucktard?

It says a lot about the intellectual climate in the west that concerns about "free speech" only seem to arise when right wingers find themselves vilified for not cloaking their prejudices in appropriately diplomatic terms (e.g. Irving, Robert Kilroy-Silk, those cartoons). The voicelesness of disenfranchised minorities not being a suitable topic for polite conversation. That said, in lieu of a serious thoroughgoing positive freedom of speech it behoves those of us concerned about building a better world to defend what negative freedom of speech we have if only because those threatening the status quo are likely to be the first to find that freedom threatened. Unfortunately, that neccesarily entails opposing measures which cause difficulties for the kind of people we quite rightly count amongst our enemies.

None of the foregoing should be taken as a suggestion that there is a serious debate to be had about whether the Holocaust happened: there isn't. It doesn't follow, however, that we should lock up those who promulgate such reidiculous - and politically loaded views. We wouldn't lock up members of the Flat Earth Society, but neither would be compelled to engage with them in serious "debate." The idea that there is such a debate to be had between "Holocaust revisionists" and serious historians is one of the most effective memes in the arsenal of those promote the idea that the Holocaust never happened (cf the claims of a "debate" between proponents of "intelligent design" and credible scientists) we shouldn't play along with their racist parlour games.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

In case anybody had any illusions on this matter, last week beyond all reasonable doubt that New Labour are a bunch of authoritarian cunts. Steps are afoot to begin a campaign led by bloggers to try and stop the bastards in their tracks. It's a little reformists for my tastes, but nevertheless I think it could be quite interesting. One to watch I think. In the meantime I've been musing a collective act of civil disobedience once the new law on the glorification of terrorism comes into force. Basically we'd all say things which were technically illegal under the act and do so publicly. Anybody interested?
The latest Carnival of the Green is underway over at the hip & zen pen. This week's carnivaly fun includes an appearance from myself taking the role of a cliched Brit musing on the state of the weather, which really is a hell of a worry ol' chap.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nottingham: not all bad

Longtime readers may recall that I went to uni in Nottingham and was really quite taken by the city. It's got a bad rep, but for the most part it's undeserved. I did have the misfortune of being mugged, but I wasn't hurt and if that's the worst thing that ever happens to me I'll count myself lucky. I certainly didn't get shot. The same of course can't be said of PC Rachael Brown who was shot while investigating a burglary on Lenton Boulevard. Dan who lives on Radford Boulevard and who's home is inside the police cordon has the story from the ground along with his personal reflections.

While reading through the copious verbiage already afforded to the story, I was disturbed to discover that somebody has already written an article using the incident to justify arming the police. Intriguingly, the piece is entitled,"Pc shooting sparks police arms call," but provides little evidence to support this claim. The author avers, "The shooting of Rachael Bown, a probationary officer, is sure to reopen the debate over whether British officers should routinely be armed." This is as maybe, but it's one thing to suggest that such a debate is likely and quite another to claim that it is actually taking place as the headline implies. Later the report claims that anonymous "campaigners said that police need to be armed to properly defend themselves and the public." (Unless of course "the public" have "Mongolian eyes".)

An increasingly militarised state won't make us any safer and doesn't even begin to address the underlying causes of gun crime in Nottingham. Generally speaking, gun crime in Nottingham is fuelled by drugs (apparently its on the route down from Manchester to London) and drugs crime feeds off poverty. The law and order mob don't like to face up to this because of the inevitable effect it will have on their own social status. On another front, community efforts like Nottingham Stands Together, organised following the murder of Danielle Beccan perhaps point to a less state-centric response to the problem of gun-crime in the city.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

I support the troops. Up to a point.

Obviously nobody wants to end up fighting in an unpopular war, thousands of miles from home in a country where everybody hates you. I feel sorry for those in that situation. Genuinely. Particularly when they've ended up they're having been spat out by the system. This much ought to be fairly uncontroversial. I'm less sympathetic, however, when those selfsame soliders are beating six shades of shit out of Iraqi civillians.

Don't worry though, Tim Collins assures us that the army will sort it out. He should know. He's a colonel. In any case beating the crap out of a few recalcitrant Iraqis isn't so bad. The Iraqi police would just have shot them. As would any other Arab security force. Not to mention the Israelis. And the French. And the Americans. Yes, even the Americans! I bet those Iraqis were counting their lucky stars everytime a well aimed fist connected with their aching torso.

There are many on the anti-war left (naming no names) who think we shouldn't criticise the soldiers because their actions are mere products of the system. I don't accept this. To do so is tantamount to throwing the concept of moral agency out of the window. I do not doubt that all our actions are influenced by various systemic factors and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but that doesn't mean people don't have a choice. Nobody held a gun to these soldiers heads and told them to go beat up a few kids. They could have chosen not to.

The moral agency of those fighting the war should be of particular concern to those opposed to the ongoing occupation because it may hold the key to bringing the whole imperial misadventure to an end. One of the biggest problems faced by the military hierachy in Vietnam was a de facto mutiny which took hold amongst thousands of soldiers. Many even came to the conclusion that their officers were much more dangerous to their own self-interest than "the enemy" and dealt with this realisation by killing the former, often using fragmentary grenades whence the term "fragging" originates. There have been inklings of this in Iraq, but nothing more. The key difference between the two being that whereas the Vietnam was fought by a drafted army, soldiers in Iraq are "volunteers" (part of what Noam Chomsky has called "a mercenary army of the poor"). An anti-officer insurgency amongst the armed forces in Iraq today could well mark the death knell for the occupation. At the very least it'd put the wind up the "support the troops" crowd.

The next steps with regard to the case at hand are obvious. There should be a full and proper independent investigation (i.e. not one conducted by the military police) which holds people accountable for their actions. That review should not limit itself to the soldiers directly involved and should reach up the chain of command, right the way to the top if neccesary. As ever, it's up to us to make sure that happens.

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This might be satire

S. Raghunath has the details on how Sir Seewusagar Ramgoolam, "the Father of the Mauritian nation," got conned by the British, fronting for the Americans, into giving up Mauritian sovereignty over Diego Garcia and the Chagos Archipelago:
"Sir Seewusagar, Her Majesty's Government has great pleasure in granting Mauritius full and unconditional independence and we wish you and your people well."

"Thank you. Never again will Mauritius fall under the yoke of British imperialism and colonialism."

"Quite Sir Seewusagar. Before the British delegation departs for London, it has a small request to make. As you know, out in the desolate Chagos archipelago, there's a worthless strip of uninhabited coral called Diego Garcia. We wish to retain it for a while as a memento of our long and fruitful association with Mauritius and its gracious people."

"Are you out of your blinking mind? Diego Garcia is uninhabited? Why, right now there are over a thousand people living on it."

"Why, Sir Seewusagar, you must be kidding. There are no people on Diego Garcia. Just giant marine turtles and to prove my point, here are a few satellite photographs, courtesy dirty tricks dept. of the CIA."

"Hmmm... They do look like marine turtles. Okay, in that case, you can retain Diego Garcia for a while and I'm sorry I got worked up over nothing."

"Oh, it's quite all right, Sir Seewusagar. It happens to the best of us. Would you mind very much if we station a couple of B-52s on Diego Garcia?"

"Just a minute. Aren't B-52s giant intercontinental bombers of the United States Air Force and capable of carrying nuclear weapons? Look, we don't want to get involved in any super power rivalry and get blown to bits in the bargain."

"Why, Sir Seewusagar, you must be joking. Whoever told you that B-52 is a plane? You see, it's the brand name of a new anti-perspirant and deodorant being test-marketed. It contains 52 percent Benzene Glycol and that's why it's called B-52."

"Oh, is that so? Nobody tells me anything. Okay, if that's the case, you can base a few B-52s on Diego Garcia."

"Thank you, Sir Seewusagar. It's a pleasure to do business with you and take you for a ride. Would you have objections if we set up on Diego Garcia a few storage tanks capable of holding a million gallons of high-octane aviation petrol?"

"Whatever for? You're talking as though you're planning to convert Diego Garcia into a major military base and a staging post."

"Of course not, Sir Seewusagar, we've no such intention and have we ever lied to you? You see, some of our American allies might occasionally vacation on Diego Garcia and they'll need aviation petrol to dry wash their green fatigues."

"Oh, is that so? In that case, you can set up a few storage tanks on Diego Garcia."

"Sir Seewusagar, we also wish to blast the coral and deepen the approach channel into Diego Garcia harbour. A cruise ship might visit Diego Garcia in a while."

"Oh, a cruise ship? You mean, something like the QE2?"

"No, not quite. Something like the USS ENTERPRISE."
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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Fair's fair

Enter stage right the Minister for War:
Mr Reid told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there had to be a balance between the scrutiny cast upon British troops and the enemy they faced.

"We can't continually have an uneven battlefield for our troops, where we are facing an enemy, unconstrained by any legitimacy, any morality, any international convention and at the same time, subject our troops to a level of scrutiny, accountability, media intrusion, questioning and every conceivable opportunity to criticise them," he said.

"I say in that kind of world, where we are facing that kind of enemy, let us be very slow to condemn our troops, our forces, and very quick to support and understand them."
This vacuous self-serving nonsense has been given a good fisking by bloggers better than I (take a bow Justin, Nosemonkey, Charlie and Jamie) and there's little point in my repeating what has already been said. What I'd like to consider here is Reid's conception of an "uneven battlefield."

The fantasy which the doctor is trying to sell to the British public is one in which the occupying forces are facing an equally matched resistance differentiated only their inveterate malevolence. I'd be the last person to pretend that all those of who have taken up arms against the occupation are models of humanity. There is no question that some (many?) of them are deeply reactionary,sectarians with little compunction about killing anybody with the temerity to disagree with them. The key element that Reid's simulacrum ignores is that insofar as there is an "uneven battlefield" the slope massively favours the occupiers.

Just how many cluster bombs, Predator Drones, white phosphorous incendiary munitions, fighter bombers, Apache helicopters and Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles do you think al-Zarqawi and al-Sadr could muster between them? Not very many I would suggest. This goes someway towards explaining the huge discrepancies between the numbers of civilians killed by US/UK and Iraqi security forces and the numbers killed by groups involved in the insurgency. It also explains why anti-occupation groups have adopted the tactics they have. Massively outgunned by the occupiers they cannot face them head-on and so adopt more low-key guerilla tactics. This is a common dynamic familiar from occupations around the world and was an entirely predictable consequence of the invasion.

If we follow Reid's line of thinking, with its commendable focus on fairness, should we not be equipping anti-occupation forces with the military technology they have hitherto been denied? As an added bonus this would almost certainly put a stop to the use of suicide bombings which I'm sure we can all agree has got to be a good thing. Why waste valuable human resources by having them blow themselves up when you could achieve the same result with a well-placed cluster bomb? So much tidier, don't you think?

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Juan Cole has the craic on the ongoing cartoon controversy:
The global controversy over the Danish caricatures of the prophet Mohammed continued to spin out of control this week, as Iraqis demonstrated for the withdrawal of Danish troops, and Afghans attacked NATO soldiers, leaving four dead and dozens wounded. The dispute has typically been treated in the Western media as a further sign of the fanaticism of Muslims. But the tempest did not arise out of nowhere. Muslim anger has been greatly heightened by the widespread belief that at best the West has treated the Islamic world unjustly and at worst launched a war against it. Moreover, the caricatures have most often been deployed by Middle Easterners and Muslims in disputes with each other -- disputes that have been sharpened by the Bush administration's blundering interventions in the region. Western attempts to cast the issue as one of freedom of expression display an ignorance of the local context of these conflicts, which are not mostly about religion so much as they are about religious nationalism and about power struggles within Muslim societies.
Get the full story here.
Seeing as how I've put my name to this thing, I s'pose I should probably make y'all aware of it. So there you go.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Tony Blair "pawn of imperialism"

Venezuela has been a thorn in the flaccid side of the US government for the last seven years or so. Traditionally the country had been a compliant US satellite ravaged by massive inequalities, chronic illiteracy, minimal health provision and all the signs of a healthy capitalist democracy. In 1998 the population voted Hugo Chavez into power on a platform of land reform, rights for women and indigenous people, and free healthcare and education. Chavez sees these reforms as forming a coherent and more thoroughgoing whole which he and his supporters have termed the "Bolivarian revolution" (a name inspired by Simon Bolivar who led the resistance to the Spanish Empire in the early-19th century helping win independence for Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela). This hasn't gone down well with the country's traditional elite - who hadn't done so badly out of the old way of doing things, thank you very much - nor their allies in Washington.

The seven years of Chavez's rule have witnessed an abortive US-backed coup; an opposition-led "general strike"; the purchase of around 40 tanks - ultimately cancelled - by the Colombian government for the ostensible purpose of patrolling the Venezuelan border; the capture of 88 Colombian paramilitaries, part of a larger group of around 130, in a ranch in Venezuela; a referendum on Chavez's presidency instituted by the opposition; Chavez's rise likened to that of Hitler by Donnie Rumself; and calls by US Christian leader Pat Robertson for Chavez to be assasinated. Long story short: the US and its proxies are out to get him.

Clearly, Chavez fits into a long tradition of left-leaning leaders in South America who have been the target of American opprobrium as a result of their distasteful orientation towards the wrong sections of society. This isn't to say he should be beyond criticism. Clearly he's a classic populist and the "revolution" he is leading seems far too closely tied to its leader, a potentially fatal flaw for both. Similarly, a "self-confessed" anarchist like myself would argue that Chavez is, radical rhetoric aside, essentially a reformist social democrat and I'd like to see things taken considerably further. Nevertheless, the "Bolivarian revolution," such as it is, has clearly had a beneficial impact for many from Venezuela's poorest communities and presents a real opportunity for serious, radical change, not only in Venezuela, but in other countries inspired by its deviation from the neo-liberal consensus. Oh, and if I have to explain to you why American intervention's a bad idea you're probably in the wrong place.

Hitherto, I haven't written much about Venezuela because it's always seemed to be an issue in which there is limited potential for me to exert any influence. The British government hasn't got it's hands anywhere near as grubby in the whole affair as it has in, say, Iraq. At least not yet. With which note of ambiguity I turn to the reason for this post's existence.

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Colin Burgon asked Tony Blair (somewhat naively in my opinion) whether he was as happy to see the rise of the left in Latin America as "many on the Labour Benches" and suggested "that it would be bad news for all concerned if we allowed our policy towards those countries, especially Venezuela, to be shaped by a really right-wing US Republican agenda." Tony Blair only agreed "up to a point":
It is rather important that the Government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be respected members of the international community, they should abide by the rules of the international community.
So quoth the man responsible for taking his country to war in the Iraq in the face of international law, global opinion and the UN. Apparently not content with this mendaciousness Our Glorious Leader continued:
I have to say to him that the most important thing is that countries in south America and north America realise that they have much in common, much to gain from each other and much to gain from each other particularly through the principles of democracy.
Of course, Chavez is fully aware of this and doesn't need reminding of the fact. While the US has gone out of its way to undermine Chavez's presidency, Chavez has limited his response to rhetorical outbursts which although often colourful and sometimes ill-conceived hardly threaten Bush or his regime. Indeed, Chavez has done much for his internationalist credentials by offering to send millions of litres of cut-price oil to help low-income families heat their homes.

Misrepresentations and criticisms aside, Blair did promise to carefully reflect on Burgon's question, which presumably means we can expect government policy to be the mirror image of what the MP had in mind. To be unduly fair to the warmongering twat his comments on Cuba were rather closer to the mark, but does anybody take his suggestion that he'd like to see "a proper functioning democracy" seriously inlight of the bloodsoaked "democracy" he has so graciously helped install in Iraq?

Unsurprisingly, the Venezuelan government didn't take too kindly to Blair's admonition. Chavez denounced Blair as "a pawn of imperialism, trying now to attack us from Europe" and accused him of being "the main ally of Hitler" - an apparent reference to Tony's close relationship with George Bush. "You, Mr Blair, do not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community. You are precisely the one who has flouted international law the most... siding with Mr Danger [George Bush] to trample the people in Iraq." The vice-president also chimed in, albeit in slightly less colourful terms.

Hopefully Blair's comments won't amount to anything more than a throw-away remark. There can be little doubt, however, that they are indicative of Blair's thinking and government policy. As such we can expect Blair to support US policy in Venezuela with the same enthusiasm as a did over Iraq. Not that this should be a particularly surprising revelation.

Hat-tip: Lenny

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Polar bears: not as cool as they initially seem

Way back in the depths of time - in mind-December last year, I wrote about emerging evidence that rising global temperatures were bad news for polar bears. Bad news, not in the sense that they'd look out of place if somebody relaunched the Arctic as a beachside holiday resort, but rather because the melting of their icy habitat was leaving many of them distinctly dead.

Turns out (via) that the Bush Administration, fresh from discovering the US's "addiction to oil," has announced a review of whether the bears should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. In itself this is a good thing, particularly if your a polar bear, but there are ramifications even for those of us who don't have white fur and a taste for raw seal.

The review follows a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity which warned that polar bears could be extnict by the end of the century as a result of rising temperatures and its inevitable effects on the large body of frozen water they call home. Kassie Siegel, the petition's lead author averred, "I think it’s a very important acknowledgment that global warming is transforming the Arctic and threatening polar bears with extinction." The upshot of which is that "we don't have uncertainty in the science any more. That's a precedent we need for federal decision-making."

Is the Bush Administration and the US government finally waking up to the consequences of global warming? We can only hope. Even if it is, this does not neccesarily guarantee effective action. Tony Blair has done an impressive job of posing green on the issue while pursuing cororation-friendly policies likely to have at best limited impact. Nevertheless, this should be considered a small success in a bigger, ongoing struggle.

Update 9/2/06: The shiny, spangly updatified NewStandard has the craic. Best place to start if you wanna find out what's going down. Check it y'all.

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It's carnie time again! You can find all the fun of the fair over at Gendergeek who are hosting The Eighth Carnival of the Feminists. As ever, there's loads to see and do, including a post from yours truly.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Guardian (via):
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.


The "global gag" rule, as it has become known, was imposed by President George Bush in 2001. It requires any organisation applying for US funds to sign an undertaking not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - or provide abortion services.

The UK will today become the founder donor of a fund set up specifically to attempt to replace the lost dollars and increase safe abortion services.
Paint me yellow and stick a feather up my arse! I think I might just have found myself in agreement with the government about something. What a peculiar feeling.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Grauniad (via):
Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.

The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny
But what about the cartoonist's freedom of speech?
This week's Carnival of the Green is over at The EcoStreet Blog including a post from yours truly which the host deems worthy of a parental advisory note! Worryingly it's the carnivals's 13th edition. Does that mean the various participants can expect to suffer freakish - but potentially amusing - mishaps? I do hope not.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sketchy Thoughts has some not-so-sketchy thoughts following news that a serial rapist in Montreal was in fact a cop:
The fact that the Montreal serial rapist is a cop is relevant because it gives lie to the State’s trump card, its insistence that the police protect us. It makes it deceptively easy to make the argument that the police are not the ones who will put an end to violence against women. At best, the police are just like “regular” people who are put in positions of power, at worst they are like cynical bullies with violent training who are put in positions of power.
Read it all.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Alternet (via):
Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.
Insert your own comment about supporting the troops...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Spinning on a theme

MySpace seems to surfing the zeitgeist at the moment. The blogging and electronic community site is credited with having been crucial in the emergence of the Arctic Monkeys. Its burdgeoning success has even attracted the dubious attentions of Rupert Murdoch who's FOX purchased Intermix Media - purveyors of the aforementioned site - last July. As helpful as it may have been to the monkey boys from Sheffield it hasn't been quite so kind to everybody. Enter stage left M.M.

M.M. can often be found amongst the dishevelled mob lurking in the darkest recesses of this site's comments box. In the world beyond this blog, however, she maintains a bilingual blog (in English and Portugese, mistaking the latter for Spanish would be a particularly stupid thing to do... *ahem*) surveying the art world and has a particular interest in the works of the pre-Raphaelites. It was this interest which brought her into conflict with Murdoch's minions of MySpace.

Having set up an account on the site, M.M. selected this picture as her profile image:

Despite being a 100-year old classic (at least that's what she says; I think it's nice, but I don't know shit about art) somebody took offense to this clearly shocking depiction of the female form and the picture was taken down. M.M. wonders if this censorship might be motivated by her political opinions (the fact she seems to like what I say should give an idea of the kind of deviant she must be), but not being familiar with her MySpace site I'll reserve comment on that point.

Anyway, M.M.'s come up with a more modest alternative:

As impressive a use of Photoshopping as this is, you have to wonder at a site which would render this sort of thing neccesary. It almost reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Marge leads a crusade against the evils of Itchy and Scratchy only to see the mob she has created turn its ire against Michelangelo's David. Except of course, here the decision was probably made by somebody in an office somewhere who knows less about art than I do working towards a quota, following an inflexible guideline issued from on-high. To be sure, this isn't exactly the most serious threat to free speech the world has ever faced, but I do think it is indicative of just how indiscriminate and petty censorship can become.

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More pain than pleasure methinks

If I'm honest I didn't think my post yesterday on the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy was particularly good. Nevertheless, it seems to be doing the rounds of the blogosphere, which is nice. Perhaps bizarrely Edjog and Alex seem to have drawn diametrically opposed conclusions about what I was trying to say. This would seem to suggest some degree of fault on my part which I suppose I should make some effort to clear up. Before I have a go at cleaning up my own mess it might perhaps be instructive to look at what the guys actually have to say for themselves.

Quoth everybody's favourite lazy alien:
The Kid's on it though: censorship is not the way. As he says, it's a two edged sword, but also, we cannot defeat The Man by being seen to use The Man's methods. Which is why we must encourage these morons to speak out so that we can use exactly the same kind of rhetorical devices to destroy their arguments and discredit them personally, invisibly.
Alex, by contrast, kicks-off by apologising for "taking [my] post as a target" and then proceeds to assert, "I do think that anyone peddling censorship in this debate, is, as above, simply wrong." This would rather seem to imply that I was making a case for the censorship of racist commentary in general and the cartoons in question specifically. Clearly they can't both be right.

My argument (such as it was) was summed in the closing paragraph: "Our mission (should we chose to accept it) is to defend freedom of speech while doing everything we can to scupper the plans of those who would abuse it to peddle their racist dross. Same as ever really." This is broadly consitent with the strategy I have previously proffered as a response to fascists and reflects my belief that both restrictions on free speech and racism constitute forms of oppression and should therefore be gotten rid off forthwith.

My opposition to censorship is symptomatic of my anarchist philosophy which rejects the legitimacy of state power and considers efforts to increase it - even in pursuit of apparently worthy ends - to be at best unwise. On a more pragmatic level, I worry that authoritarian laws may fall on our enemies today, but could just as easily be used against us tomorrow, a concern which I would contend has been borne out by experience.

On the other hand, racism is one of the most serious and persistent forms of oppression to have blighted the world we live in. Articificially dividing people and privileging a white minority over just about everybody else on the planet it remains a far more serious problem than self-serving liberals would like us to believe. Too often official "anti-racism" can become a tool to be used against the real victims. Witness, for instance the near-constant implication of anti-Semitism amongst Muslims made by right-wingers. As true as it may be that many Muslims are anti-Semitic, the hypocrisy of such assertions, the imperialist ends they all to often serve and the racism inherent in attributing the actions of a few individuals to an entire racial group ought to be obvious to anybody who hasn't got their head wedged up their own rectum.

For the most part, there aren't many people who are going to disagree with the central thrust of my argument that both censorship and racism are bad, but all too often people can't see the wood for the trees. I'm thinking here particularly of those free-speech advocates who confuse defending free speech with disseminating the views of fascists and their ilk. Strangely the editors who republish Holocaust denial tracts and BNP electioneering rarely extend their ostensible principles to those systematically excluded from public fora by institutional discrimination. Such groups don't even merit mention in the free-speech "debate" which only serves to underline their status as "unpeople".

To say you believe in freedom of speech does not require you provide a platform for any and all views. The suggestion you do so is both ridiculous and patently infeasible given the spectrum of views held by the six billion people who have the misfortune of sharing the planet with me. That is why I haven't bothered linking to cartoons which have attracted such controversy. Anybody with even a basic level of computer literacy can find them on their own anyway. It is also why I don't reprint the ravings of Nick Griffin and his goons. They have their own space and that too is accesible to anybody who feels the urge to study the party's collected excretions. This is as it should be.

Having said that, I don't believe that the racists and assorted other dregs should be allowed to go about their activities unchallenged. Quite the contrary. They should be denounced in no uncertain terms. In the comments to yesterday's ramblings, quaker anarchist Zach opined "I like what the American Civil Liberties Union likes to say: stop hate speech with more speech" This sounds like it's along the right lines to me, although I'd chuck in the crucial question of solidarity with the victims of racism, which Lenny emphasises particularly strongly. Can those of us who have been brought up with all the benefits of white privilege truly understand what it must be like to live in a society where you are viewed as a potential terrorist, inherently misogynistic and congenitally homophobic; the very embodiment of the prejudices which our supposedly enlightened society professes to reject?

I don't pretend that any of this offers up a particularly clear strategy. The demise of the government's ill-considered plans for an new offence of "religious hatred" is, in my opinion, a good start. Reaching out to embattled Muslim communities (with the full knowledge that the term implies an unrealistic degree of homogeneity) would be a good next step.

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Immigration laws are a load of arse

In an ideal world we'd all be able to move around freely, unhindered by the artificial boundaries thrown up by states. It should be fairly obvious, however, that the world we live in is far from ideal. As such, moving around is easier for some people than others. If your rich and white than you can go pretty much anywhere you want, but if you've got brown-skin and not a lot of money, things can be very different.

Race and class aren't the only factors that can impact on your holiday plans your gender can also be an issue. I commented last month on allegations of a "sex for visas" scam at a London immigration centre. As disgraceful as that was, it did take place behind closed doors. Nobody openly proclaimed that women's abilities in the bedroom should be included in the new citizenship test, at least not as far as I'm aware. It turns out (via Twisty) that we've got to look to our Atlantic brothers for anything that blatant.

Dorismar is Argentinian and a former Playboy model who has lived illegally in the States for five years. On January five the immigration services turned up at her house and deported her and her husband. So far so everyday reality for "illegal immigrants" the world over. What makes this case different is the argument her attorney, Michael Feldenkrais, is using to try and have her allowed back into the US; namely that she should be classified as "an alien of extraordinary ability." Helpfully, Mr Feldenkris decided to go on NBC to explain his thinking (if it can be dignified as such):
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST 'THE SITUATION': What exactly is Dorismar's extraordinary ability?

MICHAEL FELDENKRAIS, DORISMAR'S ATTORNEY: Well, the INS has already considered her as an extraordinary ability, and that‘s probably her looks, her singing abilities, and her looks, I guess.

CARLSON: You can't see the screen, but we unfortunately have—we've blotted out her extraordinary ability that you're talking about. And that‘s her rear end, of course. She was named by "Mirror" magazine as a woman who possessed one of the top 25 rear ends in all of entertainment. You're saying that because this girl has a cute butt, she should be a U.S. citizen?

FELDENKRAIS: Well, not necessarily U.S. citizen. But she should be allowed to be able to work in this country. She should be allowed to come in and do her performances, do whatever it is that she needs to do to proceed with her continued dream of becoming a, quote unquote, supermodel and so on and so forth. Absolutely. She should have the right to work, come in, maybe even leave, go in and out of the country. Absolutely.

CARLSON: So that—you think that that‘s a valid criterion for entry into the country, having an extraordinary body, having a cute butt. That's sort of—you know, all the girls with the dumpy butts don't get in. But the ones with the cute ones do.

FELDENKRAIS: In reality it's not a matter of her having a cute butt and somebody having a bad butt. But the reality is there is a classification for people who have risen to the level where she has in the scenario of...

CARLSON: Risen to the level. She stars in "Latinas gone Crazy." Now, no offense. I haven't actually seen the video. But I mean, it's not like—I mean, she's not Barbra Streisand. You know what I mean? "Latinas Gone Crazy." Do we need more "Latinas Gone Crazy" actresses in this nation, truly?

FELDENKRAIS: Well, I don't know if we need them or we don‘t need them. But the reality is that she is—that's her job. That is our job like my job is to be an attorney. Your job is to be—and each one of us has our own abilities. Her ability is to become a model that shows what men like to see in magazines like "Playboy" and so on. [Emphasis added.]
Patriachy is rarely so honestly expressed. Further comment would seem to be superfluous.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pleasure and pain

There used to be an advert which claimed that pleasure and pain were inextricably linked. Good things would inevitably be accompanied by bad things. It made for mildly entertaining viewing and clearly stuck with me. Surveying what's been going on in the news over the last few days has brought the whole thing flooding back.

First the pleasure: The government's plans to introduce a new offence of "religious hatred" were given an appropriately severe kicking in Parliament (which seems - finally - to have found something resembling a spine), a kicking seemingly encouraged by a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. George Galloway proved once again what an eejit he is by voting with the government, even going so far as to criticise "the 'dereliction of duty' by Government Chief Whip Hilary Amstrong, for pursuing a personal vendetta against him, and Prime Minister Tony Blair 'who couldn't even be bothered turning up to vote' on the religious hatred bill." Mr Pot, meet Mrs Kettle...

Now the pain: The controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed has been bubbling along for what seems like ages, but seems to have blown up over the last few days and it's left quite a mess on the carpet. Being the sheep that I am, I'm forced to nod in agreement with Tim who avers, "What we have here is an important precedent in the ongoing Free Speech Vs. Yelling 'Fire!' debate." This is about free speech in the face of organised religion, but at the same time it's about islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism. Not that all of the pictures can seriously be considered racist, but some of them clearly are. Ditto those responsible for the images and their dissemination.

(For what it's worth, I agree with Justin that the artistic merits of the cartoons in question is at best slight. Like Rushdie's Satanic Verses, or Jerry Springer the Opera one wonders if anybody would give a damn were it not for the controversy)

Even in the case of the most overtly racist images (which imply in no uncertain terms that Islam and terrorism are essentially synonymous) I don't think that censorship is the best response here anymore than I think it's a good way of dealing with fascist onanists like the BNP (who's fuhrer Nick Griffin has also been in the news today). Censorship is a very big stick often held up as a solution to relatively small problems, a very big stick which makes little effort to discriminate between its victims and which can very easily end up being waved in the general direction of those who originally thought it seemed like such a good idea.

If any of you are looking for a simplistic black and white response to this controversy I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed. (I'm sure you'll be able to find plenty of them elsewhere, mind.) Our mission (should we chose to accept it) is to defend freedom of speech while doing everything we can to scupper the plans of those who would abuse it to peddle their racist dross. Same as ever really.

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Pigeons with blogs and mobile phones and puppies with smack habits. Animals aren't what they used to be.

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