Monday, August 31, 2015

Quick thoughts on Russia/Ukraine

[UPDATED 1 Sept 07:25, 08:29, 19:11]

This quick blog post is a response to a discussion (actually a couple of discussions) I’ve had on Twitter, relating to Jeremy Corbyn, his associates in Stop the War, and their positions on Russia/Ukraine. My comment got a bit long so I have semi-polished it (not much) and am posting it here. Take it as provisional thinking aloud not as a definitive statement of position. 

The context is the claim (e.g. by Tom Porter, James Bloodworth, Edward LucasAnne Applebaum, and the Telegraph) that Corbyn is excessively pro-Putin, a claim dismissed as a "smear" by his supporters. 

I have updated it three times now, the first time to engage more closely with Corbyn's own position, the second time to add more links, and the third to correct a misreading I made of one of Corbyn's comments (see end of post for the correction).

On taking sides

First, I don’t think that it is possible to be entirely non-partisan, neutral and objective when looking at politics or geopolitics. My view is partial. It is shaped by the sources I read, including anarchist and leftist sources from the countries that I am interested in, e.g. the voices of Syrian revolutionaries, of the Ukrainian left, of dissidents in Russia.

I take a lot of effort to read sources carefully, to avoid unreliable sources, to triangulate information between different sources, and to track where bits of information come from. But there are sources which I trust more than others. I take the Western mainstream media with a pinch of salt – but I trust it more than I trust state media in countries such as Russiaor Iran with high levels of censorship and little press freedom. I trust left-wing papers more than I trust right-wing papers – but I prefer to consider (on the basis of evidence) the track record of integrity and authority of specific journalists and editors rather than assume that their ideology determines what they publish.

On Russia/Ukraine specifically, I do not side with the Ukrainian state, which I see as a capitalist liberal democracy dominated by patriotic neo-liberal capitalists who have an authoritarian, anti-union and social conservative streak (i.e. not much different from several other states in Europe). But I do defend them against the much larger, much more reactionary, much more powerful geopolitical force on their border, which is actively militarily violating their sovereignty.

Ideally, my position would be in the “third camp” – neither Kiev nor Moscow. But taking a neutral stance when the second most heavily armed country in the world is invading a small democracy is objectively to side with the bigger power.

I recognise that there are fascists on both sides, but it is clear to me that one side (the pro-Russian) is soaked full of fascists. Fascism is highly influential in the Kremlin, in Russia’s “hybrid army” and in the so-called People’s Republics of eastern Ukraine. Moscow supports and funds fascists in both eastern and western Europe. In Kiev, in contrast, fascist groups are currently in insurgency against the government. 

Who has been the greater antagonist?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Strange alliances: Jeremy Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers



Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy for leadership of the Labour Party continues to arouse strong emotions. There has been a lot of focus on the company he keeps. On the one hand, critics (including many sympathetic to his domestic political agenda) have raised concerns about his continued association with antisemites within and beyond the anti-Israel movement. On the other hand, supporters have argued that these charges represents guilt by association, that Corbyn couldn't have known about the antisemitism of those he has associated with, or that they were only slightly antisemitic anyway.

Nobody serious has suggested that Corbyn himself has an ideological commitment to Judeophobia or that he is personally prejudiced against Jews. But even among Corbyn's more serious supporters, there is an acknowledgement that there is something to be concerned about. Owen Jones, for example, has a very good piece in the Guardian about the need to confront antisemitism in this milieu. Corbyn supporter Jane Carnall links to a Tumblr called "How to criticize Israel without being anti-semitic", which goes through some of the issues.

Sarah Brown suggests that even Jones' clear denunciation still seems to suggest that those calling out Corbyn's associations are doing so in bad faith (as a "convenient means to undermine political opponents", as Jones puts it), which means not taking antisemitism seriously. And David Paxton takes on the "guilt by association" argument, showing that it is failure to root out the prevalent antisemitism in the anti-Israel and pro-Corbyn scenes that is the issue.

Eisen and Atzmon

Yesterday, I posted on Jeremy Corbyn's connections with the LaRouche movement. Today, I turn to a second allegation: that he has repeatedly endorsed a small group of Holocaust deniers who have attached themselves to the Palestine solidarity movement. At the centre of this group is an organisation called Deir Yassin Remembered, its organiser Paul Eisen, and Paul Eisen's associate Gilad Atzmon.

I mentioned Paul Eisen frequently on this blog in its early days in 2005. In 2004, he was arguing that "Jewish power" is destroying the world. Late in 2004 he began flirting with Holocaust denial. In 2005, he became a supporter of Holocaust revisionist and Hitler fan Ernst Zundel.

Deir Yassin Remembered was founded by the American Daniel McGowan, a retired professor and Holocaust denier. Also connected to DYR and Eisen is Israel Shamir, a Swedish Holocaust denier now based in Moscow. Their supporter Gilad Atzmon is a jazz musician who in 2004 told SOAS students that burning synagogues is rational and has been circulating antisemitic conspiracy theories for the last decade or more. All of these people are regularly published by fascists such as David Duke.

From 2007, here is Tony Greenstein on Eisen and DYR:
The British Director of DYR, Paul Eisen, has penned three essays - Jewish Power,The Holocaust Wars (a tribute to Nazi apologist and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel who was sentenced last week to five years in a German prison for inciting racial hatred and defaming the memory of the dead) and In Clear Sight of Yad Vashem.

The latter essay argues ...

Over the last 50 years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional Holocaust narrative. "Where is the evidence," they say, "for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?"
Eisen's views regarding Holocaust denial are quite clear. Among DYR's supporters is Gilad Atzmon, a musician whose album, Exile, won the BBC Jazz Album of the Year in 2003. In an email to me of June 6, 2005, he described Eisen's Holocaust Wars as a "great text".

Atzmon, although not himself a Holocaust denier, is certainly a believer in the world Jewish conspiracy theory. In his web article, On Anti-semitism he wrote: "We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously." After attention was drawn to this quote, Atzmon changed "Jewish people" to "Zionists" but the in the context of his argument the meaning is clearly the same.

This was why, when the Socialist Workers Party first invited Atzmon to give a talk at their Bookmarks bookshop in London in June 2005, a large picket was organised by Jews Against Zionism.
In fact, when Atzmon spoke to the SWP in 2004, many members noticed he was dodgy (Richard Seymour called him a disgraceful crank). The SWP, however, continued its association with Atzmon until 2010, due to his friendship with its secretary Martin Smith

The Corbyn link

Corbyn's connection to these people is a bit hard to disentangle. Louise Mensch puts the prosecution case in the second part of this post, building on the Daily Mail's attack. It seems that Corbyn associated with Eisen in 2005, when it was just emerging that Eisen was a Holocaust denier, and again in 2013, by which time the mainstream Palestine solidarity movement had long severed all links with him. Gilad Atzmon performed at the 2005 event organised by Eisen which Corbyn attended; again, this was at the time when it was becoming clear Atzmon was antisemitic. It seems that attending the event is the only connection between Atzmon and Corbyn.

Eisen has claimed that Corbyn stood by Eisen during the period when the Palestine solidarity movement was ostracising him, but there is no evidence of that beside his words. Charlie Pottins, who was there at the time, gives a clear account of how Eisen's toxicity became clear at this time, but questions whether Corbyn had any continued association with the man.

2005

The first issue then is the extent to which Corbyn should have been aware of Eisen or Atzmon's racism at this time, April 2005.

My view is that he probably should have been becoming aware. The Palestine solidarity movement, Jews Against Zionism, LabourNet and others were starting to raise the issue at exactly this time. But it was only a month or two later that these criticisms were really gaining momentum and the full scale of Eisen's toxicity became clear. For example, if we look at Joel Finkel's response to Eisen's "Jewish Power", written in early 2005, he is starting to raise the problems of the metaphysical, raciological vision of Jews at the heart of Eisen's worldview, but it is only in a June 2005 postscript that he notes that Eisen has gone full fascist. This account by Mark Elf from June 2005 lays out the timeline, showing that people were noticing Eisen's racism but that the full extent of it was only becoming clear.

My verdict, then, is that Corbyn should have listened more carefully at that time to those who were raising alarm bells, but that there was not yet a strong case being made in April 2005 - so this does not constitute a serious error of judgement.

Corbyn at 2013 DYR event
2013

I agree that Corbyn could have put more effort into weeding these kinds of people out of the Palestine solidarity movement. But Tony Greenstein reports that Corbyn supported the moves to expel DYR supporter, Francis Clarke-Lowes, from PSC at the 2012 AGM for holocaust denial. And one of Eisen's posts claiming association with Corbyn that Mensch cites is actually bemoaning Corbyn's support for John Mann's EDM implicitly criticising of Paul Flynn for being antisemitic about the British ambassador to Israel. In short, I don't think this part of the case against Corbyn is particularly strong if taken alone.

If the 2005 part of the story was all there was, then, I'd say we need to chill out. But the problem is Corbyn seems to have gone back to a Deir Yassin Remembered event in 2013 (along with Labour MP Gerald Kaufman) - see Express, Jewish Chronicle, DYR website.

That Corbyn should be associating with DYR six years after the PSC formally severed links with DYR because of Holocaust denial does not mean Corbyn is an antisemite (and noone serious is saying so). But it does seem really worrying. Just four months earlier Eisen had written a blogpost “How I became a Holocaust denier”. Corbyn should have abided by the PSC decision and kept well away from them. That he didn't says something very depressing about him - either that he doesn't believe serious anti-racists when they talk about Holocaust denial, or he doesn't care.

What about the Tories?

Jane Carnell's criticism of Mensch's take on this spends a lot of time on some of the parallel associations others have had with Holocaust deniers. She spends time in particular on Tory links with Polish right-wing politician Michal Kaminski, to which Louise Mensch has never objected and which Stephen Pollard has defended.

I wrote about this at the time, and linked to several pieces attacking the Kaminski link, including several by those who are attacking Corbyn now. Consistent opponents of antisemitism were right to raise the alarm against Kaminski; they are right to raise the alarm against Corbyn now. Just because Tories have dodgy links does not mean we should let Corbyn off the hook for his dodgy links.



Further reading:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Corbyn/LaRouche

Over recent weeks, there have been an increasing number of allegations and exposés of Jeremy Corbyn's associations with antisemites. Nobody serious is suggesting that Corbyn is the least bit antisemitic. The issue, rather, is why he keeps sharing platforms and associating with antisemites, and whether his responses (and those of his supporters) indicate any understanding of why contemporary antisemitism might be problematic. (For two of the better statements of the issue, see David Hirsh and Stephen Daisley. For more general issues, follow Martin's links.)

This post looks at just one of the allegations. Back in July, Lawrence Alexander noticed that Corbyn had spoken for the Citizen's Electoral Council (CEC), the Australian affiliate of the LaRouche network.

This allegation was subsequently taken up by the Daily Mail and Louise Mensch, and is the first of the three key points made in Mensch's important post about Corbyn's antisemitic associations.

What is the LaRouche network?

I'll try to keep this brief, but here is the basic story of you don't know about Lyndon LaRouche and his followers. LaRouche, born in the US in 1922, was a Trotskyist from the 1940s, involved in the American SWP (a totally different party from the British SWP). He left the SWP as a follower of British Trotskyist leader Gerry Healy (best known for sexual abuse of female party members and being Vanessa Redgrave's guru) before setting off on his own, increasingly bizarre, course from the 1960s. His m.o., learnt from the Communist Party, was the creation of anodyne-seeming front organisations to suck in gullible punters.

From the 1970s, he increasingly deployed the classic techniques of religious cults to enforce discipline in the party, including micro-management of party members' sex lives. From 1974, the movement began to cultivate links with far right libertarians and fascists, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Liberty Lobby, and increasingly emphasised the evils of "Zionism" rather than those of capitalism. Since then, the movement has repeatedly featured in lawsuits and criminal cases for its strange cult practices.

Hallmarks of the current LaRouche movement include denial of climate change, 9/11 denialism, naked antisemitism, bizarre conspiracy theories and futurist fantasies such as a Eurasian Land Bridge and Mars colonisation: think Scientology or the Moonies with a vague dash of leftist rhetoric.

Among their obsessions is the need for a "Glass-Steagall" law separating investment and saving arms of banks, an obsession related to their wider obsession with finance capital; apparently Corbyn also supports a "Glass-Steagall" law.

Among the scandals associated with LaRouchites is the murder of British student Jeremiah Duggan. The best resources on the movement are those assembled by American anti-fascist Chip Berlet.

The Citizens' Electoral Council (CEC) is the Australian branch of the movement. Here is a 2011 briefing paper by the Australian B'nai B'rith on the CEC. The CEC was originally a far right Austrialian nationalist group, associated with the Australian League of Rights, but came under LaRouche influence in the later 1980s and then LaRouche control by the 1990s.

Although a micro-party of a few hundred members, it has managed to raise considerable funds, mainly solicited through cold-calling phonebanks staffed by cult members.

The Corbyn connection

The Corbyn connection to CEC is slight: earlier this year, along with his close associate Michael Meacher and a right-wing Tory euroskeptic councillor called Robert Oulds, who leads the Bruges Group, a right-wing pressure group advocating a pivot from Brussels to Moscow, participated in a CEC conference. His contribution was in the form of a half-hour interview with CEC's leader, conducted in London. Corbyn's bit is here (transcribed here); the whole thing is here; Meacher's bit is here. Here's the introduction to their panel. Meacher and Ouds signed a bizarre petition, circulated by the LaRouche network's European branch, the Schiller Institute, associated with the conference, calling for closer alignment with the Kremlin; Corbyn's name does not appear among the signatories. The LaRouche group regularly praise Corbyn.

Is Mensch smearing Corbyn?

Jane Carnall, in her Edinburgh Eye blog, is publishing a series of posts responding to Mensch's attacks on Corbyn. The first deals with the LaRouche connection. She argues that Corbyn wasn't to know, that CEC are a micro-party so no big deal, and that Corbyn didn't say anything offensive when interviewed by CEC, let alone anything antisemitic. I agree with that final point, but disagree on the other issues. Here is the comment I left there.

Jane, You make a strong and convincing case that Louise Mensch misrepresented what Corbyn said at the CEC event, and that taking the whole quote in context he does not posit this “choice” between IS and the US. But I think that the question of what he was doing talking to CEC at all remains. 

You say 
"there is absolutely no reason why anyone in the UK should ever have heard of CEC Australia” and add that “had Corbyn, Meacher, or Oulds looked this microparty up in Wikipedia before they were interviewed” they’d have found some weird stuff. But if a political body you’d not heard of asked for an interview, wouldn’t you quickly google? The group’s own page displays LaRouche’s name prominently, and the Google results for the page says “Proponents of the LaRouche movement fighting for peace through economic development.” 
Surely most people involved in politics would at least have heard of LaRouche? The Wikipedia page, as you say, suggests that CEC might be fascist. (Here is the version they’d have seen when the invite was made: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Citizens_Electoral_Council&oldid=577012751:
"The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia (CEC) is a minor nationalist[1] political party in Australia affiliated with the international LaRouche Movement, led by American political activist and conspiracy theorist[2] Lyndon LaRouche. It reported having 549 members in 2007.[3] They have been described as “far right”,[4] “fascist” and “lunar right,”[5] as well as “ideologues on the economic Left.”[6]” You say “Since 1992, CEC Australia have been affiliated with the La Rouche movement, which is described in a Washington Monthly feature in 2007 as “a vast and bizarre vanity press.”” But it’s worth noting that before LaRouche took them over, as the Wikipedia article notes, they were a product of the Australian League of Rights, basically a more conventional fascist party. So why would Corbyn associate himself with them? (And Meacher and Oulds too – but they’re not potential leaders of the opposition and therefore potential next prime ministers.) You say: “I think Corbyn, Meacher, and Oulds all agreed to be interviewed because, well: a speaking engagement is a speaking engagement, especially one that can be completed on your lunch hour (you can hear Big Ben strike one during Corbyn’s interview).” 
So would Corbyn or Meacher agree to ANY speaking engagement? Would they accept a speaking engagement with the EDL, the BNP, the Ku Klux Klan or the Jewish Defence League? I am sure that they wouldn’t. And rightly, because socialists don’t give fascists any legitimation or association. 

So, at the very least, agreeing to speak with CEC represents a total lack of due diligence from Corbyn and Meacher and their staff: poor judgement that we are right to draw critical attention to.

The only other possibility is that Corbyn and Meacher knew a bit about CEC but thought it was acceptable. That would be worrying. But it might not be totally out of the question. Meacher, along with Oulds, signed a petition circulated by the LaRouche movement associated with the conference they were beamed to http://newparadigm.schillerinstitute.com/media/the-u-s-and-europe-must-have-the-courage-to-reject-geopolitics-and-collaborate-with-the-brics/ which strongly advocates for Putin’s foreign policy goals in Eurasia. Oulds’ Bruges Group of extreme right-wing eurosceptic Tories has long been associated with a pro-Putin geopolitcs, and it is disturbing to see the language used by the Bruges Group and the LaRouche movement echoed by lots of people on left, including lots of Corbyn’s close supporters. Paul Canning’s blogpost here http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/corbyn-and-ukraine-its-not-pretty.html (written some time before the Mail and Louise Mensch got hold of this story) discusses this in more detail and puts the LaRouche association in context. From a left-wing, anti-fascist perspective, this is very worrying, whether or not Mensch’s other allegations hold water.

The mainstreaming of LaRouche thought

I don't know whether the failure of diligence explanation is the right one, or that Corbyn thought CEC is OK. But the bigger issue it points to is how LaRouche's ideas, which fit closely with many of the ideas circulating in the pro-Putin ideological world, are being mainstreamed.

This point is made in an excellent post by Richard Barth. Here's an extract:
the Mail‘s focus on the LaRouche movement as an obscure cult actually overlooks a more interesting point: that LaRouche is not quite a political pariah so much these days. Panos Kammenos, who heads Greece’s right-wing minority coalition partner, has spoken at LaRouche events, and there’s some cross-over appeal on the left. Back in January, I noted one well-known LaRouche group boasting of having 200 “prominent signers” on a petition... 
As I noted that the time, these “prominent” signatures were gathered despite the text’s self-evident bad faith: first, some bland comments about “cooperation” against ISIS, al-Qaeda and ebola; then, support for Russia’s opposition to “a Nazi coup” in Ukraine, and condemnation of the US and Europe’s current “suicidal geopolitical policies of the past which led to the two previous World Wars”. 
Last year, [Spencer Sunshine of] Political Research Associates noted the presence of the LaRouche movement at Occupy Wall Street. 
...The [LaRouche-connected pro-Putin group] WPF, like Putin’s Russia in general, has crossover appeal for elements both on the left and on the right, and one WPF event saw Helga Zepp-LaRouche billed alongside Noam Chomsky (who spoke by video link). The WPF has also endorsed and promoted the LaRouche petition noted above.
It seems to me that the LaRouche movement is benefiting from same kind of generalised discontent that the television station RT articulates so well, but packages so speciously. It will be interesting to see whether Corbyn’s rejection of the group prompts any kind of reaction.
Good question. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

From Bob's archive: Between Burke and Paine in the twenty-first century

This post is from April 2008. It responds to two posts by close blog-comrades of that time. The comment thread is worth reading too. (Jura Watchmaker is Francis Sedgemore, then part of the much-missed "Drink-Soaked Trots" group blog.) I wrote a follow-up post here, and then some more later, mostly collected under this category. These posts probably represented peak Bobism. 

I.

Marko Attila Hoare “It is no longer Left vs right, but pro-Western vs anti-Western

The broad picture Hoare paints here is right: a growing centrist consensus in the West around welfare capitalism (although this part of the picture might seem less accurate in America, where the welfare state is far from universally accepted); and strange, new and not always predictable alliances on the left and right.

His description of the anti-Westerners’ faux “anti-imperialism” is deadly accurate. His genealogy of its alliance with the far right is spot-on.

But here are a few tangents and quibbles.

1. I worry about all grand narratives of this sort. Can we ever talk about “the principal ideological divide”? Surely, there are many important divides, and trying to reduce the political world into a two- (or even three-dimensional) chart loses something.

2. I am not sure I recognise Hoare’s description of the old left-right battle lines: “redistribution of wealth, public vs private ownership, a planned economy vs the free market”. Firstly, this reduces the left to its social democratic version, leaving out more radical positions, such as Marxism.

In particular, it completely misses the libertarian left. Even at my most left-wing (ca.1994), I never advocated redistribution, planning or state ownership. Instead I believed in mutual aid and voluntary co-operation and a radically decentralised form of social ownership; I saw the Plan (whether the versions advocated by pro-Soviet fake-Marxists or the versions advocated by Keynesian and social democratic Western leftists) as state capitalism, just a more bureaucratic sort of exploitation, whether more brutal (the Soviet model) or gentler (the Old Labour model).

It also obscures the fact that the term “the right” has always been about something other than the free market: it has been about race and nation, blood and soil, conserving the old ways, family values.

3. But my most important quibble is that the West, whatever that is, has all too often not been the embodiment of the values Hoare describes here as “Western”: “he extension of the liberal-democratic order across the globe, through the politics of human rights, promotion of democracy, universal values and interventionism (not necessarily always military)”.

Most importantly, while the West was on the right side in the fights against fascism and Stalinism, its involvement in the third of what Hitchens calls the great questions of the twentieth century, colonialism, has tainted its claim to represent freedom and democracy.

While fighting totalitarianism in Europe, the Western powers unleashed horrific violence against people all over the world, from theBelgian Congo to extermination of the Herero and Namaqua, from the “late Victorian Holocausts” of Bengal to the Trail of Tears. Indeed, more recently, in the name of the fight against totalitarianism, the West has sponsored some of the most blood-thirsty regimes in history, including Saddam’s, Pol Pot’s, Pinochet’s and Stroessner’s; it bombed the people of Laos and Cambodia; it undermined democracy in Haiti, Guatemala and scores of other places where the voters supported leaders whose politics did not coincide with the interests of free trade.

Even leaving this legacy aside, imagining it is too far behind us to matter now (which would be wrong in any case), the West today continues to sponsor the most profound suffering. In its voracious hunger for diamonds, oil and coltan, in its ruthless promotion of the privatisation of basic utilities in the countries where the most vulnerable barely struggle to survive, in its imposition of structural adjustment policies, the West is not a beacon of hope for many.

Because of this, I would never want to be identified as primarily of the “pro-Western” camp. Surely there is a better term for militant support of human rights and democracy?

New Centrist pushes in the same direction, and I like his conclusion:
“I agree that it useful to analyze contemporary conlficts as between the forces supporting economic and political liberalization and those opposed to this opening. However, like Ignoblus, I am rather uncomfortable being lumped in with president George W. Bush. My political opponents on the radical left have often reduced my nuanced centrist position to that of neo-conservatism but there is no need for Hoare to fall into the same trap. After all, part of the appeal of the Euston Manifesto among self-described leftists was it provided an opportunity to be robustly anti-totalitarian (i.e. “decent”) without being right-wing or conservative. Hoare also ignores the existence of ultra-leftists, anarchists, and other self-styled revolutionaries who advocate a third perspective that is classically “anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist” while also critical of Jihadist terrorism. I’m refering here to Three Way Fight, World War 4 Report, etc.
All in all, I find much affinity with what Hoare is writing on these issues and this diagram is a good first attempt at describing political alignments in the post September 11, 2001 era. I’m very interested in seeing Hoare and others develop these ideas further. For example, if muscular liberals are lumped in with neo-conservatives into some sort of political coalition, where does Hoare see the potential for political cleavages developing between these two groups?”
II.

Given these lines of critique, it is good to turn to Peter Ryley’s review of Andrew Anthony’s Fall-Out. Riley criticises those who turn away from the left because of its lunacies (its anti-Westernism, in Hoare’s terms), but slip into a complacent bourgeois conservative liberalism as a result:
“those that are firmly anti-totalitarian but have little or no critique of domestic politics. They have made their peace with the establishment and the legacy of Thatcherism. However dramatic their declarations of human rights, they are Tom Paines abroad but Edmund Burkes at home.”
I love that phrase: Paines abroad but Burkes at home. A good example would be Nick Cohen’s justified hatred of Ken leading him to support Boris Johnson. Perhaps the support some of my comrades give to John McCain (1,2) falls into the same category: McCain may be Paine in Iraq, but he is Burke in the US.

The Jura Watchmaker, who takes up Ryley’s standard brilliantly, sees Alan Johnson’s position on the American primaries (already discussed on this blog) as more Burkeanism (unless I’m misunderstanding him). He also sees Hoare himself as an example of such Burkeanism. I wouldn’t go that far, but I see it as a danger.

Hoare concludes his piece with this:
"we have a left-right alliance of our own: the alliance of all honourable socialists, liberals and conservatives in defence of liberal-democratic values and our fellow democrats abroad.”
Ryley concludes his piece by identifying the counterweight to the new Burkeans on the decent left:
“There are humanist Marxists, left libertarians, social democrats, Old Labour diehards, those who would combine Marx with Mill, querulous liberals, and others who place human emancipation at the centre of an ecological understanding of the diversity of the natural world. It is where I feel most at home and where the more interesting, and idiosyncratic, writing is taking place.”
I think I’m happier amongst the second lot…

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From Bob's archive: Tibet, a confession

Still off-line, here's a post from March 2008. 



When I was younger - say, 15 years ago - I was deeply dismissive of the Free Tibet campaign. It was not that I was against the rights of the Tibetan people; I just didn't care that strongly for them.

Partly, as a pretentiously iconoclastic radical secularist, I was suspicious of a national liberation movement led by the Dalai Lama, who I saw as basically a huckster (I also hated Mother Theresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Gandhi. I'm no longer sure which ones of those I was right about), and suspicious of the filthy rich Buddhists who led the campaign from the West, such as Richard Gere. That was, to me, sufficient cause to differentiate myself from it.

Probably more significantly, I saw the support given to the movement (which was very fashionable then, probably second to the anti-apartheid movement in being generally accepted as right-on) as an easy option, because it fit in so well to the anti-Communist Cold War ideology that was dominant in the Thatcher/Reagan era.

I now diagnose this dismissiveness as part of the Stalinophilia that afflicts much of the left, even in its ostensibly anti-Stalinist varieties. By Stalinophilia, I mean the worldview that sees the Peking and Moscow families of state socialist regimes as bulwarks against the "real" enemy, Western capitalist/imperialism, and therefore, despite their evident evil, worth supporting (albeit "critically").

I am ashamed of that.

***

Thursday, August 06, 2015

From Bob's archive: The conservatism of the anti-war "radicals"

As I often do when likely to be off-line for a while, I dig out some stuff from my blogging archive. This post is from February 2008, from the fifth anniversary of the massive march against the Iraq War. (I wrote up my own views on that day a couple of years ago on the tenth anniversary.) Looking back now, the way the US-led coalition prosecuted that war is impossible to defend - although we might still defend some of the reasons the coalition made its ill-fated decisions.) 

This post feels quite timely now, with Jeremy Corbyn, an MP associated with Stop the War and the Morning Star, whose appeal to an imaginary golden age of Labourism has a kind of retro feel to it. 

Item 1: Andrew Murray, of the Communist Party of Britain, Morning Star and Stop the War, and formerly of the Soviet Novosti news agency, wrote an op end in yesterday's Grauniad celebrating the fifth anniversary of the massive 15 February 2003 stop the war march. I'm not going to comment on the piece in general, apart from noting one thing. This is from early in the article:
In the wake of February 15, Washington told Blair he could stand down our army if he wanted to.The prime minister ignored that offer and the people he represents alike.
And this is from later on:
Emily Churchill, a Birmingham school student at the time, described the experience as "trying to steer the course of our country with our own hands". Of course in 2003 other, American, hands were on the wheel.
In other words, Blair clearly made the decision that engagement in Iraq was the right thing independently of Washington, yet still America's hands were on the wheel. When the evidence within the article itself shows there was no conspiracy, we are obviously dealing with a paranoid conspiracy theory.

What Murray is exemplifying here is one of the defining features of the anti-war movement - a movement, which the article makes clear, was a movement of Daily Telegraph readers British Muslims and wishy-washy Lib Dems. What links Little England Tories, Little England Stalinists and members of the Muslim umma is an irrational, reactionary, anti-modern hatred of America. And, in this case, a hatred of America which expresses itself in deranged conspiracy theories.

Item 2: Simon Jenkins, in the same issue, attacking David Miliband's zeal for liberal interventionism, which Jenkins likens to old-fashioned imperialism.

Jenkins seeks to parade his learning by liberally quoting Immanuel Kant, but demonstrates his lack of learning by not being able to tell the difference between self-determination and sovereignty.
Self-determination, warts and all, has been the defining essence of the nation-state throughout history, which is why the UN charter qualified it only in cases of cross-border aggression and humanitarian relief.
Actually, of course, what he's talking about here is not the self-determination of peoples, but the sovereignty of nation-states. A dictator like Saddam Hussein does not represent the determination of any self other than the dictator. (Lenny Henry sketch about a Mugabe-like figure: "I introduced the policy of one man, one vote. I was that one man.") Liberating Iraq from Saddam was not denying its self-determination, but making its self-determination possible.

In my view, self-determination must always trump sovereignty, and if a sovereign is governing without the consent of the people, then fuck sovereignty.

As with Murray's anti-Americanism, Jenkins' fundamentalist faith in the sovereignty of nation-states is essentially conservative, not radical.

Item 3: A couple of weeks ago, the Gruaniad staged a mini-"debate" on CiF about some pronouncement of failure on the Iraq adventure by their resident foreign policy idiot Jonathan Steele. I say "debate": all but one of the contributors agreed with him. They included a Chatham House Arabista member of the Council for Arab British Understandinga Tory grandeea member of a US "progressive" thinktanka King's College cold war don, and, as the one voice of dissent, Oliver Kamm.

Quite a spectrum of opinions, but all united (all except Kamm that is) in a commitment to a realist approach to international politics. This realist position is well summed up in the Miliband speech that Jenkins attacks: 

We must resist the arguments on both the left and the right to retreat into a world of realpolitik. The traditional conservative ‘realist position’ is to say that values and interests diverge, and interests should predominate. This will not do. Yet in the 1990s, something strange happened. The neoconservative movement seemed to be most sure about spreading democracy around the world. The left seemed conflicted between the desirability of the goal and its qualms about the use of military means. In fact, the goal of spreading democracy should be a great progressive project; the means need to combine soft and hard power. We should not let the genuine debate about the ‘how’ of foreign policy obscure the clarity about the ‘what’.
Miliband is correct to call the realist position conservative, and the basic conservatism of the position is demonstrated by the leftist Steele's approving quotation of Douglas Hurd, and then by Hurd's ringing endorsement of Steele.

Hurd, of course, an old Etonian, was part of the war cabinet during the first Gulf War, a war that was about oil and defence of the sovereignty of the reactionary Kuwaiti monarchy (and which, in true realist fashion stopped short of unseating dictator Saddam and in fact helped him crush the Marsh Arabs' insurgency against him). Hurd was a leading advocate of refusing to allow the Bosniaks to defend themselves against Serbian ethnic cleansign (saying that allowing them to arm would create a "level killing field"; he preferred an uneven killing field in which genocidaires are allowed to flourish). Hurd retired from politics to be a director of the NatWest (in which capacity he spent time in Yugoslavia, courting Milosevic, the man who benefited from the uneven killing field Hurd had promoted).

Once again, anti-war "radicalism" is revealed as a conservative project.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

On extremism, jihadism and counter-jihadism

This post is prompted by David Cameron’s recent speech setting out a new agenda on addressing the threat of Islamist violent extremism, and also by the recent launch of a whole series of “counter-jihadi” initiatives on the British right, including the planning of a Mohammed cartoon exhibition in London in September. The latter has been the subject of a report by the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate (HnH). My friend Sarah made some sympathetic criticisms of that report at Harry’s Place, for which she got some sharp criticism on Twitter. This whole topic is one which frequently inflames irrational passions and generates more heat than light. This post, therefore, is an attempt to set out a series of propositions on these issues as an attempt to cut through some of the hysteria.  I didn’t mean for it to get so long!

“Extremism” is not a helpful framing of the problem
Cameron frames his approach to Islamism in terms of the wider generic problem of “extremism”, noting that Islamism is just one of many forms of “extremism”, along with that of the far right. Cameron is right to note that other ideologies constitute a threat, and there are certain similarities between the Islamist far right and the British nationalist far right. However, the term “extremism” creates more confusion than it solves, especially when the border between extremism and terrorism is blurred, as it was in Cameron’s speech, and in fact can do damage.

The idea of “extremism” implicitly contrasts these ideologies to the “normal”, acceptable politics of the centre ground, of the mainstream status quo. The concept of “extremism” criminalises the desire for change. It stops us from looking carefully and critically at the ideologies caught in its remit – which closes down debate, imagination and criticism, and stops us from engaging “extremist” ideologies and challenging them politically. The concept of “extremism” can make minor, marginal ideologies seem more dangerous than they often are – and therefore can sometimes make them seem glamourous and exciting.

We know from history that the rubric of “extremism” is most often used against the left. In recent decades, for example, we have seen huge amount of resources put into the policing and surveillance of left-wing politics, with undercover police officers inserted into ecological, anti-fascist and anti-racist movements, sowing havoc and ruining lives. Anti-capitalist groups like Occupy are lumped together with al-Qaeda and the IRA in the category of “domestic extremism”. The language of the guidance on extremism given to universities effectively means that not just jihadism but also anarchism should be excluded from such institutions. We have seen the infiltration and disruption of the campaigns led by the families of victims of racist violence, such as Stephen Lawrence’s; collusion in the blacklisting of union activists; and acts of provocation to push non-violent activists into criminal activity.

Cameron is wrong to think that extremism in general is a conveyer belt to violent extremism and terror
Cameron claims that “many [terrorists] were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists”; Islamism, he says, “has often sucked people in from non-violence to violence”. This is true, as far is at goes, but it is also true that most followers of “non-violent” extremism do not get “sucked” to jihadist violence, just as most anti-immigrant racists and casual antisemites do not get “sucked” to violent fascism. Not making that clear is problematic.

The evidence-based blogger Anonymous Mugwump has collated all of the research showing very conclusively that there is no necessary or straightforward step from extremism to violent extremism, no single pathway from Islamism to terrorism; his case is pretty conclusive.

(Cameron’s mistaken emphasis on this connection is probably due to the emphasis on the government’s thinking of the thinktank Quilliam, who have long argued, with little evidential basis, that extremism in general leads to violent extremism in particular – although their position,  as Amjad Khan argues here, is more subtle than Cameron’s: non-violent extremism, they say, provides the “mood music” for terrorism.)

As Anonymous Mugwump notes, there may well be good reasons to oppose some forms of non-violent extremism – but its connection to terrorism is not one of them. The category of non-violent extremism is basically a form of “pre-crime” or thought crime; making it into a security issue is dangerous because it criminalises beliefs that are not in fact criminally dangerous; it is a licence for authoritarian over-policing, for policing without the consent of communities. As I will argue more fully below, while terrorism is a policing issue, non-violent Islamism is a political issue, which should be challenged politically, by all of us – citizens, communities – and not from above by the state.

Cameron is broadly right to highlight ideology over “root causes”
Image: Jake Goretski
It is a shibboleth of many liberals and leftists that terrorism can be explained through “root causes” such as Western imperialism and foreign policy, or the socio-economic disadvantage of Muslim communities.  (Leftists and liberals rarely look for “root causes” to explain fascism, UKIP support or voting Tory; fascists and xenophobes are usually dismissed as malevolent or stupid. Why is Islamism unique among far right ideologies in needing explanation through root causes?)

The late Norman Geras regularly exposed the folly of root causism and the blowback theory. Cameron echoes Norm in noting that 9/11 came before the Iraq war and that it is often the most rather than least advantaged who engage in terrorism, demonstrating that it is the ideology itself, not deprivation or foreign policy, that is the central explanatory factor. Anonymous Mugwump has summed up much of the literature refuting blowback theory too (hereherehereherehere and here), and Futile Democracy has made some similar points, pointing out how long before 2002 Islamism’s commitment to violence can be dated.

So, Cameron is broadly right here. He is too quick, though, to eliminate the possibility that Western policy has any role in driving terror: surely it is possible that Western intervention can trigger terrorist vengeance even it does not cause it, or that narratives which highlight Western intervention might be used by jihadists to recruit converts? (An analogy would be Israel’s actions and antisemitic incidents, or Islamist terrorism and anti-Muslim hate crime: the former trigger the latter but are not the cause, because for the trigger to work there needs to already be an ideological matrix which blames Israel’s actions on all Jews, terrorist actions on all Muslims – or Western intervention on all Westerners.)

Cameron points to some of the right reason Islamist ideologies are attractive
Focusing on the ideology not the “root causes” does not absolve us from trying to understand why the ideology appeals. Cameron’s explanation of the appeal is incoherent, but hits some of the right notes. The lust for adventure, the desire for identity, a sense of injustice, compassion for suffering members of the ummah and the pleasure of moral certainty are certainly part of the appeal.

And Cameron gestures towards these.  Jihadism, he says, “can offer [young people] a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home” – while “racism, discrimination or sickening Islamophobia” lead them to believe there is no place for them in Britain. (Left-wing critics of Cameron, such as Nafeez Ahmed, seem to have completely missed this large section of the speech.)

Cameron is right to downplay grievances but wrong to dismiss them altogether
As I already noted, Cameron is wrong to refuse the possibility that there’s some connection between foreign policy or socio-economic context and terrorism. The right way to frame this, in my view, is through the category of perceived grievance. Perceived grievance clearly contributes to the appeal of radical responses.

Perceived grievances sometimes have no basis in truth (there is no Western war on Muslims; Jews and Zionists do not control Britain). Some grievances involve a mix of fact and fantasy (the Iraq war has some questionable motives as well as some good ones, and lots of people died because of it). Other grievances a firm basis in truth (Islamophobia is pandemic in modern Europe; Muslims do experience some discrimination in the labour market; Assad is slaughtering Sunni Muslims). 

In this sense, the Islamist appeal to British Muslims mirrors the appeal of UKIP or the far right to some other British people. Immigration and terrorism does not cause or “provoke” xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, but the mixture of real and imagined grievances accumulating around migration and Islam contributes to the appeal. If we recognise the role of grievance in driving Islamism (as the left does), we also need to recognise (as the left refuses to do) its role in driving right-wing ideology too.

Cameron is right to emphasise antisemitism and conspiricism in the Islamist mix
Image: The New Centrist
Cameron put a surprising amount of emphasis in his speech on antisemitism and conspiracy theories. I think he was right to do so, for two reasons. First, because conspirationism and antisemitic memes are behind the false narratives in many of the perceived grievances promoted by Islamist ideology. And second because antisemitism, or more specifically the shift in gear from casual everyday antisemitism to an ideologically committed antisemitic worldview, typically marks the shift from softer sympathy with Islamism to the kinds of Islamist ideology most likely to generate terrorism.

(We can see something similar on the far right, both with antisemitism, which remains the esoteric core of fascist ideology even as anti-Muslim bigotry becomes a more prominent part of the public appeal, and with Islamophobia as new far right groups move beyond soft anti-Muslim bigotry to a full scale, paranoid conspiricist and civilisationist anti-Islamic ideological worldview.)

Cameron is wrong to think that failed integration is a driver of extremism
The Islamist appeal to forms of everyday antisemitism that are wired into British society at large is a good example of how “failed integration” is the wrong frame for understanding extremism. Many of the ingredients of Islamism – e.g. anti-Americanism, misogyny, homophobia – are not unique to Islamism but float around in mainstream society. The humanitarian impulse that says we must do something about the suffering of the children of Gaza or Syria is not profoundly un-British either.

And so it is not surprising that recruits to jihad are not the least “integrated” of British Muslims, but often the most integrated – including converts. They are English-speaking, British-educated, often high achieving, often from comfortable socio-economic backgrounds, on the surface indistinguishable from their non-jihadi peers.

Very few come from the tiny handful of places in Britain that could be thought of as de facto segregated communities; there are no all-Muslim ghettos in Portsmouth, Southampton, Brighton, Cardiff or Lewisham, to name some of the places where jihadist cells have operated. (I have made that argument before, here.)

Young people who turn to radical Wahhabi or Salafi faith or to political Islam are often doing so in rebellion against their parents’ or grandparents’ conservative Sufi or Barelvi practices. They go to English-speaking mosques to get out of Urdu-speaking mosques. They prefer the multi-ethnic solidarity of jihad to the restrictive ties of ethnic community.

Cameron is right to care about issues such as FGM and forced marriage, but wrong to link to Islamism
“Failed integration”, where it exists, might be a problem, then, but it is not the problem of jihad. Practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation are problems which need to be fought vigorously, but they are problems that flourish in completely different contexts than those in which jihadi ideology flourishes. FGM and forced marriage are issues of patriarchy and cultural –conservatism driven by elders in particular micro-communities, exactly the cultural conservatism jihadi youth seek to escape.

By associating these kinds of practices (which are cultural and not religious, and found among some Muslim ethnic groups and not others) with jihad, Cameron is helping to sustain a false idea of a generic “Muslim” problem, rather than thinking seriously about how to combat jihadi ideology. (And in doing so,  of course, sustains the perceived grievance of a “war on Muslims” that jihadist promote to broaden their appeal.)

Islamism and the far right are both dangers, but are not equivalents
Image: TNC
The narrative of generic “extremism”, including both the far right and jihadis, at war with our British mainstream sometimes shades in to thinking of these different “extremisms” as equivalent to each other. (For instance, the HnH report describes the counter-jihadists as “as dangerous as the Islamists they claim to dislike” (p.2).) There are some ways in which the far right and Islamism do mirror or feed off each other. This is most obvious with the relationship between the EDL (and its offshoots) and Anjem Chaudhary’s outfit, locked in a childish cycle of media-amplified face-offs. But we shouldn’t be too quick to equate the two sides.

Like Islamism, the far right is a very heterogeneous formation. At its softer end, it blurs with a kind of xenophobic authoritarian populism which is actually quite mainstream in our political culture. At its far end, the kind of hardcore Nazism of a Joshua Bonehill is extremely marginal in its threat or appeal.

Instances of actual violence and terrorism have come from various points on this spectrum, as I discussed here. The new CST report on antisemitic incidents in 2015 shows that suggests that the far right remain much more prominent as known perpetrators than Islamism (122 incidents involved far right discourse; 16 involved Islamist discourse). And, to use Quilliam’s language, figures like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon provide the “mood music” for the disturbing (and growing) number of anti-Muslim attacks on Britain’s streets. So, the far right is a threat.

But is it equivalent to the Islamist threat, as Hope not Hate and others suggest? I don’t think so, for two reasons. First, the British far right recruits from a fairly large population of angry white males – but only manages to recruit a tiny proportion of them. The toxicity of the fascist brand in this constituency keeps it marginal (for now). Islamism, in contrast, has a much smaller pool to recruit from, but its appeal seems to be more successful in that constituency. For example, you’re unlikely to join a student Islamic society without coming into contact with hardcore jihadist views, whereas the British nationalist far right is actually quite hard to join.

Second, I think that only at the most extreme end of the spectrum does violence become a central part of far right ideology – whereas the message of military jihad is central not just to the most extreme jihadists. As Amjad Khan recently wrote, allegedly “non-violent extremists” such as Hisb-ut-Tahrir do believe in a caliphate and a war of offensive jihad, and justify terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. The centrality of jihad to a broad spectrum of Islamists is the danger of terrorism follows more often (even if not automatically) from the prevalence of Islamism than from the prevalence of the far right. Hence all but the most hardcore on the far right disavow the likes of Breivik and Dylann Roof, while quite broad a broad swathe of Islamist opinion apologise for, defend or even applaud their Breiviks and Roofs (to give just two examples, Cage describe jihadists as victims of the British state, while Cage’s director Moazzam Begg has recently argued that as a counterweight to ISIS we should back al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria!).

The counter-jihadi movement is toxic and dangerous
This brings us to the counter-jihad movement, that part of the far right whose central narrative is threat posed to Western civilisation by Islam, as described in the new HnH report. The counter-jihad movement is not homogeneous, but some of its themes are: a refusal to distinguish between Muslims and people, Islam as a faith and Islamism as a politics; an obsession with demographics and immigration which echo older right-wing themes; a  civilisationist discourse, which frames more or less everything in terms of the epic clash of a decadent Western civilisation against ascendant Islam; its paranoid, conspiracist worldview in which Islam is not seen in religious or cultural terms but as a vast co-ordinated secret plot; and a superficial claim to defend liberal values such as women’s or gay rights or free speech, which typically doesn’t translate into caring about violations of these values that come from any source other than Islam.

The counter-jihad movement is toxic and dangerous because it picks up on real and imagined grievances about Islam and immigration circulating in mainstream culture and translates them into a fully-formed ideological narrative, which gives it more reach than the discredited race theories traditional fascists still cleave to. It is toxic and dangerous because it sees bloody conflict between the West and Islam as both inevitable and good, thus licensing both petty and serious hate crimes against Muslims on the streets and even of terrorist activities such as those of Zack Davies, Pavlo Lapshyn or Ryan McGee.

Finally, the counter-jihad movement has strong links with actual fascism, links embodied by Paul Weston and his British Freedom Party/Liberty GB party, by the English Defence League, and by Britain First, all of which involved in the planning of the Mohammed cartoon exhibition in September.

The counter-jihadi movement has exactly the wrong strategy for contesting Islamism
Unlike classical fascism, counter-jihadism’s narrative does contain some elements of the truth. As noted above, Islamism is a clear and present danger, as are illiberal practices (such as FGM and forced marriage) that exist in some Muslim populations. But if we’re serious about combating these things, counter-jihadism takes exactly the wrong approach to doing so.

Using Crusader imagery, flying the George cross, publishing cartoons of the Prophet fucking goats, getting tanked up on Stella and Charlie to march through Asian neighbourhoods, muttering about the eclipse of the white race, demanding bans on halal food – the strategies the counter-jihad movement uses are far more likely to inflame and entrench Islamist support and to confirm the grievances Islamists use to recruit.

As I argued above, jihadi terrorism (like far right terrorism) is a security issue which should be policed as sharply as necessary. But non-terrorist Islamism (like fascism in general) is a political problem that should be combated politically. Combating Islamism means clearly articulating the values it abhors: intellectual doubt, religious tolerance (including the right to heresy and apostasy and the right not to believe), secular public space, sexual freedom, the rights of women and non-heterosexual people, free expression (including the right to laugh and to offend).

But just as UKIP supporters will never be won over by merely celebrating multiculturalism, winning potential Islamists to these values requires more than treating them as catchphrases. Instead, we need to work out how to articulate them in credible and imaginative ways; we need to show we are prepared for dialogue not just to lecture; we need to show willingness to take seriously the grievances that Islamism latches on to. And, crucially, we need to find credible, trusted voices to articulate them.

Cameron is right that some Muslim voices are drowning out others
The issue of credible, trusted voices is vital. Cameron is right that some of the least welcome voices are too loud in the Muslim public sphere. Malignant and unrepresentative “community leaders” are given too much airplay both amongst Muslims and in communicating to the wider world.

It would be great instead if, both in Muslim communities and in mainstream media, we could hear more varied Muslim voices, young Muslim voices, reforming Muslim voices, feminist Muslim voices. Fortunately, there are more now than there were a decade ago. Unfortunately, though, the Muslim voices nurtured by the state tend to lack credibility on the Muslim street – by being selected and patronised by the establishment undermines their credibility. Unless radical and reforming representatives actually come from below, then conservative and “extremist” voices will continue to be heard the loudest.

The free speech principle has been hijacked by the anti-Muslim right…
Free speech has been one of the themes the counter-jihadi movement has used extensively. Now, it is true that free speech is increasingly fragile, that Islamism – and especially Islamist terrorism, such as that against Charlie Hebdo in Paris – constitutes one of the gravest of dangers to free speech.

But Islamism is one among many threats – as a quick glance at Spiked or Index on Censorship would tell you. Yet the likes of Anne-Marie Waters, Douglas Murray or Charlie Klendjian – let alone the likes of Paul Weston, Jim Dowson or Pamela Geller – rarely if ever speak out about threats to free speech from any other source. This shows that their claim to be advocates of free speech is hollow and cynical, a cover for anti-Muslim racism.

It is commonly said that if you care about free speech you should care about the free speech of those you oppose the most. Perhaps my dislike of the far right should not stop me from defending their right to speak out. Maybe – that does not mean I should approve their actions when they go out of their way to provide a platform for racism or when their primary intention is causing offence.

I don’t know if Hope not Hate is right in claiming that Waters and the other organisers of the Mohammed cartoons exhibition are doing it to provoke a civil war. But it certainly is a provocative thing to do, likely to lead to unrest, and unlikely to have any positive impact in politically challenging Islamism.

We should treat a Mohammed cartoon exhibition the way we would treat the Iranian state’s Holocaust cartoon contest: it is not a matter of free speech, but a case of provocation, incitement and racism.

…but it doesn’t mean we should embrace illiberal strategies
Although I see the toon exhibition as malignant and dangerous, I do not agree with Hope not Hate’s main policy recommendations in response to it: ban the exhibition and institute better state surveillance of counter-jihadis. These kinds of strategies are ill-advised for two reasons. First, they are ineffective in an age when images circulate on social media whether the exhibition is banned or not – and indeed will be used by the counter-jihadis to sell their victimhood narrative, the perceived grievance they use to recruit. Second, bans and policing are authoritarian solutions, which empower the state. Instead, we should empower communities and citizens by promoting an adult conversation about the issues, and by promoting alternative, democratic values.