Sunday, 25 January 2015

Ten reasons why modern Russia is absolutely nothing like pre-war Germany

So, apart from being a great nation who made a partial recovery after a great humiliation; vigorous rearmament; piecemeal neighbour-annexing; pursuing ultra-nationalist policies; persecuting minorities and any critics of the regime; a charismatic leader propagating a dual narrative for the country of both macho strength and victimhood; a controversial Olympics used as a propaganda tool for a nationalist resurgence; continuing to pretend to cooperate with Europe's governments and then break its promises; and cultivating appeasers abroad, there was clearly a very good reason why Russia was different from pre-war Germany: Russia was not in a major economic crisis.

Until now. As the Economist pointed out yesterday, largely thanks to the tanking oil price, Russian bonds are already practically junk.

So, a recap of those ten remaining reasons why Russia and pre-war Germany are different again:
  1. Russia has nuclear weapons.
  2. Er...
  3. That's it.
  4.  
  5.  
  6.  
  7.  
  8.  
  9.  
  10.  
Phew, that's alright then. We're perfectly safe continuing to do next to nothing about Ukraine. It'll all end well.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

There is a debate going on about the future of British Islam. Labour needs to join it

Charlie Hebdo's brilliant, poignant cover after the fatal
attacks on its offices, depicting Mohammed as on the
side of the victims
Following last week’s fatal shootings in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Monday night’s superbly-timed Panorama: The Battle for British Islam gave an insight into Islamic radicalism and the narratives which feed it.

The most notable thing, as a number commented on Twitter during the programme, was not so much that it was telling a few home truths about radicalism on prime-time television; but that it was being broadcast on the BBC, the heart of the liberal media establishment. (It is also a great tribute, incidentally, to why we still need public-service broadcasting, the Beeb being practically alone, among its not-so-brave British mainstream media competition, in showing the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons.)

It was also possibly the first mainstream documentary which has homed in, correctly, on the poisonous “grievance narrative” – that Muslims are oppressed in Britain, singled out and victimised for their beliefs – which, as the program points out, is helping drive young Muslims away from their families and towards jihad. Racism exists, yes: but it also exists in non-Muslim ethnic communities, where the results are undeniably less extreme.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Bravo, Manuel Valls

Just one rider to the whole Charlie Hebdo affair. I did not mention that, after the killing in the magazine's offices, a second incident in France resulted in deaths of (what we presume to be) Jewish customers in a kosher food shop.

In an interview today for The Atlantic, French prime minister Manuel Valls says what I have never yet heard a British leader do (my bold highlighting):
“It is legitimate to criticize the politics of Israel. This criticism exists in Israel itself. But this is not what we are talking about in France. This is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic. There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”
This is not the same as saying Israel should not be criticised, of course it should. But now look at this from the Free Dictionary:


Zi·on·ism
  (zī′ə-nĭz′əm)
n.
political movement that supports the maintenance and preservation of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, originally arising inthe late 1800s with the goal of reestablishing a Jewish homeland in the region of Palestine.

Gosh. So, it's basically about whether you think it's ok for Israel to continue existing. So, yes, I'm a Zionist; it's a pretty broad church, isn't it? Note it doesn't say anything about democracy, human rights, having a likeable Prime Minister, etc., although it's still arguably got a better record on both than pretty much any other country in the region anyway. 

Zionism, then is just about whether you think it should exist.

However, if you start from the premise, not of criticism, but of anti-Zionism, that it's got no right to exist at all, you cease to be stating mere political opinion and move onto much more questionable territory. Because you are, logically, opining that all those Jews who currently live in Israel should either be deported or otherwise disposed of. But no-one, it seems, wants to call that out, glaringly obvious though it might be.

Bravo, Manuel Valls. If only our politicians had your couilles. If only.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Guardian narrowly avoids reaching a new low

Regular readers will know that we have an occasional series, "The Guardian reaches a new low", linking to particularly obnoxious pieces that that august organ sees fit to post to its website, Comment is Free.

However - credit where it is due - the Guardian, uncharacteristically for recent years, reacted modestly well to this week's outrage, a terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, in which at least twelve people died. Over a cartoon, for heaven's sake.

It even managed to organise a solidarity event where m'good comrade Nick Cohen spoke, coming down for once on the right side between modern Islamist fascism and free speech. Perhaps with the pending departure of its editor, Alan Rusbridger, it is finally starting to clean up its act, although, since he will anyway become the chair of the Scott Trust, its governing body, that is probably too much to hope for.

Ok, so it did the usual apologist piece, where the cold-blooded murder of civilians was all blamed on the West:
As often happens in these cases, and presumably after a lot of readers annoyed by the idiot sentiment, eventually the Graun had to accept that it was not "many Muslims" but merely "fundamentalists" who were "angered" (who knew?) in the hastily rewritten headline.

But this was all quite anodyne stuff. In the end, it was their former columnist, Glenn Greenwald who managed to stoop to a depth that even the Graun at its worst could not reach.

Given the attack was apparently over a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed, he decided that it was open season on all cartoons, no matter how vilely racist they might be. I invite you to click on this link and observe the pretty nasty cartoons he elected to post. You need a pretty strong stomach.

Essentially his argument is this: if you laugh at Muslims you must be able to say anything you like about Jews. That classic resort of the logically barren: whataboutery. Oh yes, that may be awful, but what about this? Or, in this case, this may be acceptable, but then [insert something utterly unacceptable] must be, too.

Note how he equates the magazine's mocking of Islam and Islamists with the overt racism of Carlos Latuff, a deeply unpleasant cartoonist known to readers here for his Holocaust cartoons (see here). But he does not try and say "Charlie Hebdo's cartoons are bad, so these ones are equally bad". No, in fact, Latuff he refers to approvingly as "brilliantly provocative", "not-remotely-blasphemous-or-bigoted". You judge for yourself. 

And even if these are his less horrific cartoons, please check out these. Holocaust and cartoons are not really things which go together, I'm sorry.

No conception at all from Greenwald, of course, that race and religion are different concepts, and that one can perfectly well mock a religion without resorting to racist canards (Jews with big noses, Jews controlling the world, etc.). Or that you hardly pretend to evaluate the rights and wrongs of a complex conflict between Israel and Palestine by the gross number of corpses racked up on either side.

No, the Guardian, in parting company with Greenwald, this time had a lucky escape. Because even they would have baulked at publishing the cartoons that his new, "edgy" vehicle, the "First Look" blog, has done.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The best of 2014

Time again for this year's most-viewed pieces in our, ahem, glittering Hall of Fame at the Centre Left. A year of interesting resurgence of the anti-politics brigade, whether nationalists, independents or on the far left, as reflected in the top posts:

5. Venezuela on the edge While the trials of the long-suffering citizens of Nicolás Maduro's dystopia have long been a feature of this blog, this year rather took the biscuit. As I write, inflation has risen to a dizzying 63% (although the regime stopped keeping records in August, as they have long stopped producing any statistic that might make them look bad) and the country stands on the verge of debt default as we start 2015.

Well done, all those on the British left (I'm looking at you, Diane Abbott and Owen Jones) who travelled out to Caracas to support the Chavistas in the 2012 elections. I'm sure you'll soon be admitting how wrong you called this one.


4. As the Tower Hamlets disaster enters a new phase, it remains an object lesson to Labour
Mayor Lutfur Rahman was re-elected in May, in probably the most controversial British election in years. While the outcome is still being investigated and the election may yet be re-run, reports of intimidation and sharp practice were rife. But Labour cannot escape the fact that it created this monster, and only a complete change in its approach will prevent recurrences of this kind of politics.

3. Jim Murphy hatchet jobs: a short series to cut out and keep

As Jim Murphy's campaign to be Scottish leader gathered pace, there came a flurry of negative pieces from the usual suspects on how his election would immediately cause an SNP surge, electoral meltdown next May, plagues of locusts, etc. Oddly enough, his subsequent win caused none of the above so far, and this blog's place similarly seems secure at no. 3 in the charts. Although I am hoping for an unexpected late entry from the lizards.

2. Why Lutfur Rahman must go – an alternative argument 

In April, I argued that the deeply flawed Mayor of Tower Hamlets must go. Whilst he might well have done, had the election been free of any hint that it was not executed freely and fairly, this was not the case. However, what flawed democracy was unable to achieve, the auditors PwC were thankfully later able to, in lambasting the mayor over his method of allocating grant funding, something that was undoubtedly something neither free nor fair.

And finally, the most-read piece this year was, fittingly, on arguably the most historic event of this parliament, the Scottish independence referendum:

1. SNP and Gaza: why Salmond is not a statesman 

In the run up to the referendum, this piece about Alex Salmond managed to attract the most bonkers group of trolls - the cyberNats - who I have ever had the misfortune to engage with on Twitter. For days, I was flamed by an indefatigable group who ranged from those who thought I merely had no right to opine on such a matter (being English, of course), to a number who questioned my parentage. Simultaneously both revealing about the nature of nationalism, and bonkers.

So that's it. We'll continue to be here for all your general election coverage in 2015 and a very happy New Year to all.
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