Why I defend Jeremy Corbyn on anti-Semitism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 May, 2019 - 17:17
 Introduced by Nathaniel Mehr, with a foreword by Jeremy Corbyn MP.Cover of a recent edition of JA Hobson’s Imperialism

Two things happened last week which gave rise to a lot of opinionating on the current state and future of the Labour party. One was another ‘revelation’ about Jeremy Corbyn displaying anti-Semitism, in this case writing a foreword to a 2011 edition of a book with a few anti-Semitic passages. The other was a round of local elections, mostly for district councils in England though with a few unitary authorities, in which Labour lost 84 council seats and suffered a net loss of control of six councils (in practice, they lost one to the Tories and ten to no overall control, while gaining two from the Tories and three from NOC) while the Tories lost 44 councils and 1,330 council seats. In the same elections, the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats gained 10 councils and 704 seats and the anti-Brexit Green Party gained 194 seats while UKIP suffered a net loss of 145 council seats, being left with only 31. (The ‘Independent Group’ and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party were not running.) While this could be easily interpreted as evidence of widespread repudiation of Brexit, politicians have as ever interpreted them to mean what they want them to mean, with Theresa May claiming that it is a message from “the people” to politicians to get on with Brexit. Labour supporters, as ever, have taken to spinning a loss as a victory.

The work to which Jeremy Corbyn wrote a foreword, Imperialism by J. A. Hobson, is not one I am familiar with, but on hearing the claims, it seemed obvious that the book was written a long time ago when most people, including some whose ideas are still influential or whose legacy is widely celebrated or whose foundations are still in existence, had views that would be condemned now. It’s well-known, for example, that some thinkers who are regarded as progressives were strong supporters of eugenics, the idea that certain categories of human beings should be discouraged or actively prevented from having children, including disabled people whose impairments were, or were thought to be, hereditary but also including a host of other people presumed to be genetically inferior. This was ultimately discredited by association with Nazi eugenics (though it persisted in law in some countries into the 1970s) and the same can be said about anti-Semitism; however, casual expressions of anti-Semitism can be found in a lot of classic works of English literature, many of which are still taught in schools and colleges around the world including here. When we were taught philosophy at sixth form in the 1990s, the obvious racism in Friedrich Nietzsche’s comments about the Jews (“a people ‘born for slavery’, as Tacitus and the entire ancient world said”) was remarked on but when we saw it in Jane Eyre (“Do you think I am a Jew-usurer, seeking good investment in land?”), as I recall, it was not. There is currently a campaign to tear down statues of men who committed crimes in the service of Empire and who profited from the slave trade from public spaces and the grounds of major colleges, which has been resisted by many pro-establishment writers with jibes about snowflakes trying to make academia a “safe space” and barely concealed resentment about ‘ingratitude’ or ‘uppityness’.

I have not read the book, so I do not know how much of the book’s content consisted of anti-Semitic statements; a letter in the Guardian last week from Donald Sassoon, emeritus professor at Queen Mary, University of London, claimed it was ten lines out of some 400 pages while Jonathan Freedland claimed that there were “pages and pages” of it. The Morning Star noted that Gordon Brown had cited the book in a Chatham House speech in 2005 and that Tony Blair had noted his importance in the early history of the Labour party by saying that he was “probably the most famous Liberal convert to what was then literally ‘new Labour’”. That others are racist is no excuse to be racist, of course, but it is odd that people have suddenly noticed the anti-Semitism in Hobson’s books when it provides a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with, and if you are willing to vote Tory (or at least in a way that lets a Tory in) despite the racism from some of their senior figures, including one tipped to be leader or prime minister, you need to ask why you care about this type of racism but not that. A common complaint is that people on the Left who are keen opponents of other racism have a “blind spot” about anti-Semitism and would not excuse the same comments being made about Black people, but as Prof Sassoon points out in his letter, nobody seems to have noticed other racist material in the same Hobson book: musings on the “lower races” (Black Africans) and what to do with them.

In the headline to Freedland’s article, he or his editor wail that Corbyn either does not understand anti-Semitism or he does not care. But the answer is more likely to be a third possibility, which is that he does not accept the definition of it that is in vogue right now: that it involves anything which diminishes the standing of the state of Israel, which diverges from Israeli narratives about their conflict with (i.e. oppression of) the Palestinian people, which does not accept Israelis’ right to dominance over them, as well as any questioning of claims from Jews that something is anti-Semitic or (in the light of dissent from secular Jews or people of Jewish origin) the right of the ‘mainstream’ pro-Israel religious Jewish establishment to dictate who we consider a Jew (a right not extended to other minorities, including Muslims as I have previously explained). We sometimes see demands that we show enormous sensitivity to their feelings because of things their teachers and parents and grandparents taught them about persecutions Jews experienced in other countries decades or centuries ago, such as that they always had a bag packed in case the majority population turned on them; one article demanded that we not use the term ‘bloodthirsty’ to describe Israeli treatment of Palestinians, especially children, since this ‘echoes’ the blood libel of Jews killing Christian children (this originated in England, but most people here have never heard of it; I only learned about it as an adult). Yet they demand that Palestinians (it ceased to be an Arab-Israeli conflict a long time ago) be expected to continue suffering so that Jews can dominate somewhere, regardless of the fact that Israel keeps electing governments that support settlement expansion, protect abusive settlers, harass Palestinians in the West Bank on a day-to-day basis and oppose a just peace.

Picture of a white woman wearing a green headwrap putting her face up to the window of a home, which has been reinforced with a metal wire fence, repeating the word "sharmoota" (whore) to the female Palestinian occupant.An Israeli settler woman abuses a Palestinian woman in her home by calling her “sharmoota” (whore) repeatedly. (Source: B’Tselem.)

I should add that non-Jewish Zionists are every bit as self-righteous and dogmatic about policing how other people talk about Israel or Israelis as Jewish ones are. The other day, the Corbynite activist known as Rachael Swindon tweeted a video of what were claimed to be Israeli police abusing Palestinian schoolchildren; the video had actually been shot in Guatemala. If such a mistake had been made about any other country, it would simply have been pointed out; with this, there were demands for apologies because it was assumed that the intention must have been anti-Semitic, or it was deemed racist because it was about Israel. Given that there is plenty of real footage about Israeli soldiers and settlers abusing Palestinians, including children, why are people professing to be outraged that someone circulated one by mistake?

This is not to say that there is nothing to criticise Jeremy Corbyn or his followers for, but most of the anti-Semitism claims are exaggerated or wilfully misinterpreted and unlike in the Conservative party, they concern low-ranking officials rather than MPs or anyone with leadership or ministerial prospects. My experience of them is that they are at worst cult-like, and at best too devoted to him to see any wrong in his actions and, coming back to these elections, they cannot call a spade a spade. They will present a trivial gain (such as in a parish council election) as if it were a great triumph and will present losses, especially if they are smaller than expected or smaller than someone else’s, as gains. There is a kind of “magical thinking” that holds that words or ‘attitudes’ can turn defeats into victories or make victories more likely if people only believe. For example, I saw Aaron Bastani hype up a result in Christchurch, Dorset, in which two Labour candidates won less than half the number of votes as the winning independent candidates, and claim “Labour will get that into four figures next time”. Although Labour did gain seats in areas they had not previously done (e.g. on some councils in West Sussex), they scored a net loss even though it was a smaller one than the Tories’ who are taking the blame for the ongoing Brexit debacle. The only parties to gain were the Liberal Democrats and Greens, both unequivocally anti-Brexit while Labour sits on the fence. As these were district council elections (districts are responsible for housing, planning and refuse collection; counties cover education, libraries, transport and social care) turnout was low and these are an easy target for protest votes. In general elections, people are more likely to vote for candidates who can win, which is usually the Tories, Labour or a smaller party with a strong local or regional base. Sadly, one thing Remainers may not foresee is people who voted to stay in 2016 changing their minds out of faith in Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed plans for, and ability to deliver, socialism outside the EU, despite no such plans having been made available for public scrutiny.

However, the agitators within the Labour Party, those who have left and those sniping from outside do not simply want to remove Corbyn from the leadership; they want to make it impossible for anyone to express a view about the state of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian native people that is inconvenient or damaging to the standing of Israel. The “exposes” have been targeted at people at every level of the Labour party for making statements which, if they were about any other country, would not be classed as racist and rarely called for the state of Israel to be abolished or destroyed but accused it of meddling in other countries’ affairs or used ‘intemperate’ language to describe the violence they saw on TV or in videos. There is also an ongoing movement to demonise the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement as anti-Semitic and people have had visas withdrawn in some countries or been threatened with losing their jobs for participating, or for refusing to sign agreements not to participate. Again, BDS is not aimed at destroying Israel; it is aimed at forcing Israel to the negotiating table to secure a just peace, not a Bantustan surrounded on all sides by a hostile Israel. This is not about combating racism; it is about protecting an oppressive, racist regime which is regarded as a western ally. It is no surprise that partisans of Tony Blair, of the Labour party of the Iraq war, compulsory ID cards, the “foreign criminals scandal”, of Jack Straw of “get rid of the squeegie merchants and winos” and the niqab ‘controversy’ fame, are the ones pushing this agenda. I saw the campaign being described on Twitter as an attempt “by racists to smear anti-racists as ‘racists’” and it is hard to disagree with that, whether they all realise their attitudes are racist or not.

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WuduMate – Coming to a Workplace Near You?

Inayat's Corner - 7 May, 2019 - 12:56

During the course of helping set up the network infrastructure for a large new building in London I went for a wander – curious git that I am. On one of the floors I saw two rooms marked “Male Contemplation Room” and “Female Contemplation Room” respectively. I have often come across these types of rooms in other buildings and they are very often utilised by Muslim members of staff to perform their daily prayers.

However, this was only the second time I had seen facilities specially installed to allow Muslims to perform their ablutions prior to saying their prayers. At a previous site in Milton Keynes I had seen actual wudu facilities as you would find in a mosque and I was very impressed. Admittedly that was at a very large employer and they could well afford to provide such amenities. Anyway, I took the above pic at the new building of something called “WuduMate” and it wasn’t half bad. The water gushed forth quite forcefully as soon as you placed your hands near the spout and there did not unfortunately appear to be any type of manual control so it all made a bit of a mess around the contraption and you would need to clean up afterwards to avoid inconveniencing others or causing a slip hazard. Nevertheless, it was a lovely gesture in the middle of the city of London.

I wonder how widespread such facilities are? It has to be good for the mental health and well-being of staff to be able to take a few minutes out of their working day to say their prayers so it is surely in the interests of employers to provide such facilities.

Anyway, with the month of Ramadan now underway I wish you all a blessed month and may we all use the opportunity to grow spiritually stronger. Amin.

George Clooney vows to keep up pressure on Brunei over gay-sex death penalty

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 May, 2019 - 11:23

Actor calls for sustained commercial boycott after Brunei puts moratorium on death penalty for gay sex

George Clooney has promised to keep up pressure on Brunei after the oil-rich country’s sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced it would not enforce the death penalty for gay sex.

Gay sex remains illegal in Brunei, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

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Revealed: new evidence of China's mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 May, 2019 - 02:00

Guardian and Bellingcat investigation finds more than two dozen Islamic religious sites partly or completely demolished since 2016

Around this time of the year, the edge of the Taklamakan desert in far western China should be overflowing with people. For decades, every spring thousands of Uighur Muslims would converge on the Imam Asim shrine, a group of buildings and fences surrounding a small mud tomb believed to contain the remains of a holy warrior from the eighth century.

Pilgrims from across the Hotan oasis would come seeking healing, fertility, and absolution, trekking through the sand in the footsteps of those ahead of them. It was one of the largest shrine festivals in the region. People left offerings and tied pieces of cloth to branches, markers of their prayers.

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Saatchi Gallery covers up artworks after Muslim visitors' complaints

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 May, 2019 - 17:15

Paintings by SKU deemed blasphemous for combining Islamic text with nude images

A leading contemporary art gallery covered up works featuring an Islamic declaration of faith after complaints from Muslim visitors who said the artworks were blasphemous.

The Saatchi Gallery in west London hosted an exhibition of new material by the artist SKU featuring a variety of works. However, it decided to cover up two paintings that incorporated the text of the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam, in Arabic script juxtaposed with images of nude women in the style of the US flag.

Related: Eyewitness: Saatchi Gallery, London

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Australians accepting of migrants but negative towards Islam, poll finds

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 May, 2019 - 23:00

New wide-ranging YouGov data gives insight into the Australian identity

Lovers of regulation, supporters of same-sex couples and very liberal when it comes to abortion – this is how a sample of a thousand Australians perceive themselves.

Australia is a country that accepts gay couples, hates the big banks, considers second-generation migrants “Australian”, but the majority feel negatively towards Islam.

Related: Almost half of Australians believe immigration should be reduced, poll finds

The project is a new annual survey of global attitudes in 23 of the world's biggest countries, covering almost 5 billion people.

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Dear Muslims, stop cringing

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 May, 2019 - 23:17
A graphic showing a table with jugs of water and plates of food under a crescent moon and four hanging lanterns; underneath the table is the slogan "No, not even water".

Ramadan starts next week, and for the first time in a long while, the fasting days will be getting longer as the month progresses; most of the days will be long, starting (depending on your point of view) just after 1pm or some time around 2:30am and finishing just before 9pm and, towards the end, well after 9:30pm. Most Muslims will be working or studying during this time and most of us in the UK will not be working only around other Muslims. Every so often someone decides to make it a little bit easier for us by asking people not to eat right in front of us, especially food which smells, and it seems that some Muslims are over-anxious to tell them that in fact, we’re not offended and others really do not need to consider their feelings before they stuff their faces in front of fasting workmates or schoolmates.

A few years ago I had a conversation about this on BBC Radio London when the Daily Express (or Daily Spew as I called it at the time) made a story out of the fact that staff at Tower Hamlets council in east London, an area where there is a very high concentration of Muslims, not to eat during meetings or otherwise in front of fasting Muslim workmates. Back then, Ramadan was in September and the days were getting noticeably longer and more difficult, although (unlike today) they got shorter as the month progressed. The paper, you may recall, published a number of stories about things being ‘banned’ because Muslims complained or because council staff were afraid of offending Muslims, and often it was utter baloney: Christmas being renamed (tabloids repeated the story about ‘Winterval’ numerous times over the years, when in fact this was a promotion for a refurbished shopping centre which ran for two years and Christmas was part of it), piggy banks being removed and other nonsense like that. After the Leveson report, they had to come clean on the falsity of some of these stories and stop repeating them. But it seems the fear of them has never gone away for many of us.

Some of us have legitimate reasons not to fast at least some of Ramadan: periods, travel, illness or the threat of it (as with type 1 diabetics and long spring/summer fasts) and a few others. If any of these apply to us, we don’t eat in front of people who are fasting if we can avoid it. It’s basic consideration. Of course, contact with food is unavoidable for some people, such as restaurant workers or those with small children, and we have to prepare food in the last hour or so before iftar, and yes, as a Twitter acquaintance pointed out, you get Muslim food companies (like the sweet producer Ambala) making Ramadan prayer timetables that advertise their food. But for the most part, we do not want to go through the day being reminded of food any time we have a free moment and we don’t do that to each other.

So really we should not rush to tell non-Muslims that they really can feel free to stuff their faces in front of us at work and we really don’t mind, really. Do we really think that people who do not want us around, or do not want to see our headscarves or abayas or, where applicable, our brown skin will hate us any less because we don’t object to their stinking the office out with their cooked food during a working day and eating it in front of us when we are trying to concentrate on our work, or read, or whatever when we are hungry? Of course they will not. I do not see Muslims making this request, only non-Muslims trying to be considerate so please, do not throw it back in their faces! The people objecting are not those who need to eat at regular intervals or people with learning disabilities with no understanding of religion; we understand that. They are people who do not want us around, however much we tone our religion or our practice down. This is our country, many of us were born here and indeed even many Asian people are third or fourth generation; we are not unwelcome guests but are here to stay, so let’s not cringe in front of bigots.

Image source: TeePublic.

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Persecution driving Christians out of Middle East – report

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 May, 2019 - 22:00

Millions uprooted from homes, says UK-commissioned report, with many jailed and killed

Pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is ongoing in parts of the Middle East, and has prompted an exodus in the past two decades, according to a report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against, the report finds. It also highlights discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia – often driven by state authoritarianism.

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Matteo Salvini: vote for nationalists to stop European caliphate

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 May, 2019 - 18:24

Italy’s deputy PM says far right must make European election gains to prevent ‘sad ending’

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s most powerful politician, has said Europe will become an “Islamic caliphate” unless nationalist parties make gains in the European elections later this month.

Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the League party, is trying to form a coalition of nationalist and far-right forces ahead of the elections and was speaking in Budapest during a visit to his ideological soulmate Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister.

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Sudan: what future for the country’s Islamists?

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 May, 2019 - 09:22

Islamist parties that supported the Bashir regime are now facing challenges

As members of Sudan’s Islamist Popular Congress party arrived for a meeting in Khartoum one Saturday afternoon, they were greeted by abuse from groups of young protesters and chants of “no to Islamists”.

In the scuffles that followed, both sides threw stones. Dozens were injured and more than a hundred were arrested.

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Why are St Andrew’s passing the buck?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 May, 2019 - 23:57

Yesterday it was reported that Katie Fisher, the chief executive of St Andrew’s Healthcare, a charity which runs four hospitals including a large psychiatric institution in Northampton, had “spoken out” after an internal review found that they had 36 patients who should not be in hospital but were there only because of the lack of suitable community placements or funding to allow them to go to one. She is quoted as saying:

The system is in crisis. There are people who have life-long needs who require life-long support, but those who recover or are assessed as fit to leave but then cannot are not gaining any clinical benefit from being here. It is potentially damaging, especially if they don’t know when or where they will be discharged. This is their life and not being able to move to a more suitable place or home is just wrong, unnecessarily restrictive and hugely expensive.

It’s ironic that she calls it “hugely expensive” when, of course, it is private operators such as St Andrew’s and profit-making entities such as Cygnet and Priory are making a lot of money out of this situation. It is to the public that it is expensive. St Andrew’s in Northampton is an enormous complex with numerous wards in the old building which have been abandoned as they are old-fashioned and because they have features which make supervision difficult; active wards are mostly in newer buildings. All of these operators take in patients on a regular basis they know to be unsuited to the remit of or the conditions on the ward; they know, for example, that many people admitted are autistic, yet they do not refuse to take them.

None of these organisations is impoverished; St Andrew’s, besides its considerably property portfolio, has enough to pay its chief executives six-figure salaries and big bonuses. They should not be blaming local authorities or “the system” for their practice of taking in people as patients that they know do not need their care or who are unsuited, and then keeping them in conditions which deprive them of fresh air, human contact, everyday comforts (such as an appropriately decorated room) or even essential medical treatment such as the removal of bits of a plastic pen from their arm, or keeping them locked-up or drugged unnecessarily.

Let’s have no more excuses. If St Andrew’s cannot provide appropriate care for the people they take in under the Mental Health Act or otherwise, they should not be taking money to do so. Local authorities would not be able to avoid their duties to autistic people and others with major care needs if there were not charities and businesses looking to take them in but not necessarily to care for them properly.

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