Tuesday 13 October 2015

An Intercept Writer References Out-of-Context Drivel and Gets it Wrong... Again

This piece was originally written by Steven Gonder (@sdgblu4ever on Twitter) . His blog is here.

In addition, please forgive the weird black highlight blocks in the text, it must've been some glitch  and I could not get rid of it so I tried to make it so that you could at least see the text, which hopefully you can. Apologies.

Before reading this analysis, I recommend forwarding the video to 5:00 and leaving it for about 10 seconds (thanks to Rapheal Leonardo for finding this).

[For this analysis, I used red text highlight for passage writer quotes, green for Hitchens quotes, and purple for Hitchens being quoted in a passage writer quote.]

This tweet is clearly visible on the Twitter feed of Murtaza Hussain. For reference, this is the same Murtaza Hussain who previously had referred to Maajid Nawaz as both a "talking monkey" and a "porch monkey" in separate but related tweets, and also doxed The Nation writer Aki Muthali. As a writer for The Intercept, headed by the notoriously anti-"New Atheist" Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussain is very much familiar with prominent secular-endorsing writers, and Hitchens is no exception. In predictable form, he seemed to interweave the public disdain towards Columbus Day with building animosity towards and taking cheap shots at Hitchens. I admit that when I read this tweet, the passage seemed convincing, that perhaps Hussain may have been on to something. Unfortunately for Hussain, this was not the case; the passage is severely out-of-context and integrated with strawmen. 

An accurate representation of the original context can be seen here. It's almost immediately apparent the passage excludes that Hitchens took issue with the revisionist nature of the anti-Columbus movement: "It is risible in the same way that all movements of conservative anachronism are risible, and reminds me of Evelyn Waugh's complaint that he could never find a politician who would promise to put the clock back."

The passage, of course, neglects to mentions that, with the writer instead resting on the laurels of providing a narrative degrading Hitchens. Hitchens further substantiates his dislike for anachronistic narratives, referencing that territorial conquering was by no means exclusive to European settlers: "This details the long courtroom battle fought by various factions of the Sioux to reclaim their rights in the mountains of South Dakota. You can guess the story: treaties broken, lands filched, settlements put to the torch, women and children vilely abused. And all of it done by the Sioux to the Kiowa Indians, who had controlled the Black Hills before the Sioux got there in 1814. Actually, the book deals mainly with the greed and depredation of the palefaces, which is no doubt as it should be. But it is honest enough to say that the Sioux did drive off the Kiowa, and it quotes Chief Black Hawk saying candidly, 'These lands once belonged to the Kiowas and the Crows, but we whipped these nations out of them, and in this we did what the white men do when they want the lands of the Indians.'" It's also worth noting here that Hitchens considered addressing the abuses of the "palefaces" as being the correct course of action. 

Hitchens continued: "This is only a micro-illustration of the absurdity of founding a claim of right or justice on the idea of the indigenous. The Arawaks who were done in by Columbus's sailors, the Inca, the Comanche and the rest were not the original but only the most recent inhabitants.

The second major contention he had with the anti-Columbus movement was the element of pessimism: "They can think of the Western expansion of the United States only in terms of plague blankets, bootleg booze and dead buffalo, never in terms of the medicine chest, the wheel and the railway." This is by no means a settled moral fact, but it's a far cry from the ludicrous statement that Murtaza Hussain provides that claims Hitchens thought genocide was great. 

The passage writer rearranges and strawmans Hitchens quotes "Those 'who view the history of North America as a narrative of genocide and slavery' fail to understand that this is 'the way that history is made, and to complain about it is as empty as complaint about climatic, geological or tectonic shift.'" by neglecting to note that genocide and slavery is not the antecedent, but rather the actual antecedent is taking the good with the bad of progressive civilization: "They can think of the Western expansion of the United States only in terms of plague blankets, bootleg booze and dead buffalo, never in terms of the medicine chest, the wheel and the railway."

Hitchens also supported Sioux getting what was their due, but again felt they had disputable rights to the land they inhabited: "Reapportioning Andalusia according to "precedent" would be as futile an idea as restoring Sioux rights that are only "ancestral" as far back as 1814. The Sioux should be able to claim the same rights and titles as any other citizen, and should be compensated for past injury. That goes without saying. But the anti-Columbus movement is bored by concepts of this kind..." 

The passage writer so ignorantly or disingenuously suggests that "The annihilation of the Native Americans was an instance that left humanity 'humanity on a slightly higher plane than it knew before,'" but again shoehorned the statement out of context. The original context wasn't referring to Native American genocide but advancement of civilization by various means (which don't by default mandate the extermination of native settlers): "But it is sometimes unambiguously the case that a certain coincidence of ideas, technologies, population movements and politico-military victories leaves humanity on a slightly higher plane than it knew before. The transformation of part of the northern part of this continent into "America" inaugurated a nearly boundless epoch of opportunity and innovation, and thus deserves to be celebrated with great vim and gusto..."

Whether you agree with what Hitchens actually said or not, Hussain and this mysterious passage writer (Hussain didn't link the article he got it from) both severely distorted what Hitchens actually wrote. The passage writer is more to blame here, but Hussain is not a Good Samaritan when it comes to ethics of discourse. It would be a relief if this were the last time we'd see vile misinformation created by, endorsed by, or propagated by The Intercept, but it's most likely not the last time, given the precedents and morals of the associated individuals.


Wednesday 7 October 2015

Why #IStandWithBaharMustafa

Bahar Mustafa a student "diversity officer" of Goldsmiths University is now meant to appear at Bromley magistrates court on 5th November on the charge of sending a "threatening communication".

According to this article from The Guardian she specifically faces two charges:

"One is sending a communication conveying a threatening message between 10 November 2014 and 31 May 2015. The second is for sending a grossly offensive message via a public communication network between 10 November 2014 and 31 May 2015."

In addition, the article states that a spokesman from The Metropolitan police in London said in a statement:

A woman interviewed under caution regarding a complaint of racially motivated malicious communication made on a social media network has been summonsed to court.

 She came into notoriety earlier this year, where she barred white people and men from attending a student protest against racism and inequality (ironic, I know), explaining the event was only for "BME woman and non-binary people". However she really got her into controversy when she posted the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen on social media which lead her to being accused of racism. (by the way she posted another tweet calling someone "white trash")

After she got a backlash for this ludicurous and patronising policy she then tried to justify it by stating; "I can't be racist if I'm an ethnic minority" because "racism and sexism describes structures of privilege based on race and gender" therfore "women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist because we do not stand to benefit from such a system".

This excuse is obviously piffle, especially as she is a white woman of Turkish extraction, a postgraduate and a a full-time student union officer at the quite bourgeois Goldsmith’s College in London. I really doubt Bahar hasn't benefited from the system or that she is high on the oppressed minority food chain.

Bahar belongs to a very censorious, authoritarian and regressive part of the left, who seek to act like the thought police and enforce the ordinances of political correctness on student campuses in the name of "equality and diversity". Let us not forget, Goldsmith University whom she works for, is the same place where feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite had a gig cancelled after members from the Feminist society threatened to disrupt the event over disagreements with her views on decriminalising prostitution.

It would be too easy for me to gloat and laugh at the irony of this. Though, truthfully it is very tempting. "Justice has been served", "Karma is a bitch", "What goes around, comes around". Pick your favourite cliche comrades!

However this reminds me of a quote by Christopher Hitchens in his famous speech on Freedom of Expression where he said of those who seek to restrict Free speech that they "in potentia make a rod for their own back". Since ultimately we have no Sanhedrin or divine will that can definitively tell us what ideas we can or cannot think or express.

I'm not a lawyer (yet) so I can't speak to the exact details of the case or cast a definitive judgement as to whether she is innocent or guilty of breaking the specific law.

However, I am very worried that there is this precedent of people being taken to the courts and even put in prison by the state for simply making comments that are deemed to be "offensive", "obscene" or "indecent". I personally do not believe it is a matter for the law to deal with the intellectual excrement that occasionally reveals itself on Twitter and other forms of social media.

This is an opportunity for Free speech advocates to really grab the moral high ground and defend freedom of speech, even for racialist, authoritarian cranks like Bahar Mustafa. Firstly, because freedom of speech is so vital for a free society and we should always be skeptical of attempts to limit freedom of speech especially when it's done in the name of "niceness" or "decency". It is also more crucial in this year of 2015 which has been a disaster for freedom of speech on all fronts worldwide.

Secondly, it would reveal to Bahar and her ideological allies that freedom of speech is not a left or right issue. It is simply a core universal value you are either for or against and there is no compromise on it. If Bahar can be hurled before a judge and potentially go to prison for tweets she posted, then I could be in that same situation aswell.

I stand with Bahar Mustafa and defend her express her wrong opinions freely. I doubt she would do the same for me but I hope this does teach her a very valuable lesson in reciprocation.

So, comrades I invite you also to stand with Bahar Mustafa. Even reluctantly so.

Sunday 4 October 2015

"Anti-Imperialist" hypocrisy on Russian intervention in Syria

The already bloody conflict in Syria has now become more awkward, complicated and horrific. Since September 30th Russia has stepped up its intervention in Syria and has begun airstrikes in what it claims are operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other forces of "International Terrorism". In reality these bombings are more about embarrassing President Obama and bolstering the Assad regime, in order to maintain a Russian sphere of influence in the Middle East, than fighting ISIS. For instance there have been reports of bombings hitting US backed rebels aswell as hitting other non-ISIS rebel groups like Jaysh al-Fatah and Jabhat al-Nusra, whilst there has only been a few token strikes at ISIS held areas. This graphic better illustrates the point that most of the airstrikes on October 3rd were mainly focused in the north-west of the country where the more moderate rebels are based,while almost none on that day hit ISIS controlled areas to the East of the country.

There is a section of people who's view of Russia's intervention in Syria ranges from apathy to even support in some cases. They are the "anti imperialist" left. What I mean by "anti-imperialists" in quotes are those designated to be on the "radical left" (I'm being generous by calling them radicals) who claim to be against interventionism, imperialism and oppression, but in fact are very inconsistent or confused in applying these principles. In other words; if it's The United States that's doing the intervention then expect strong condemnations from these people, but if it's another power doing the intervention then you can't always be certain you will hear any strong condemnation, if anything at all.

First up we have our good friend Murtaza Hussain from The Intercept.

Although Murtaza's first tweet is one I find flat out untrue because only 5% of the bombs so far have actually targeted ISIS while the U.S bombings in Syria since last October has mostly focused on ISIS and Al-Nusra. It is one that he could possibly mount a defense for if challenged. However the second one is really weird to me. He says; "didn't seem like U.S had any will to actually defeat Islamic State, serves as useful bogeyman and zone for weapons testing". I really find this tweet very bizarre, he seems to be claiming that the U.S isn't serious about fighting ISIS but using them as an excuse to "test weapons". I don't quite know what he means by this and I have seen no evidence that the U.S is testing weapons in Syria.

Contrast this sentiment towards Russia's intervention to this article he co-authored with Glenn Greenwald in September 2014. Wherein the United States announced it was bombing ISIS positions in Syria. He also echoes the "ISIS is America's bogeyman" slogan." The Fake Terror Used To Justify Bombing Syria" was the hysterical headline that lead the piece. It pretty much makes the argument that the U.S concucted a bogeyman in ISIS and more importantly "Khorosan", in order for the supposed U.S empire to bomb another muslim country. In addition to that, if you have observed their website recently The Intercept has not written one article that directly addresses Russia's intervention in Syria.

Now onto Glenn's tweet.

What is Glenn's point here? Is this really all he can muster on the subject of Putin butressing the Assad regime? Is he saying that Russia's intervention is more legitimate than the U.S intervention
because the Duma authorized and Assad apparently "invited" them into Syria, while Congress didn't approve of U.S airstrikes in Syria? Would it be better for him if Congress did approve U.S bombings and would he find it as legitimate?

Next up we have political cartoonist Carlos Latuff who drew a very weird cartoon on this issue.

I know that because this is a cartoon so he can use the "interpretation" defence on this, but this does seem like a glorification of Russian militarism in Syria. Look at the big, proud and powerful Russian bear imposing itself on Syria with ISIS, CIA and FSA looking so scared hiding behind a rock.I really doubt he would portray Israel in this way. See this twitter exchange when he was challenged on it.

Oh Good grief!. Doesn't he understand? Russia is imposing a brutal regime against the will of the Syrian people through it's intervention, it may not be an "occupation" exactly but it is clear that Russia wants to re-establish its position in the Middle East. It is so distressing to see so called "radical leftists" basically advocating for the status-quo instead of getting rid of it.

Abby Martin, former presenter at RT (Putin's propaganda network) and current presenter of The Empire Files (clever name isn't it?) also weighed in on this,

Abby diverts attention from the issue and essentially plays the "blame America" card. First she suggests that America really is the aggressor with it's "crimes of arming, bombing & regime change attempts" while Russia is the victim, which therfore must mean that Russia's intervention is a reasonable form of self-defence. She seems to forget that the Syrian revolution against Assad was not something that the U.S engineered but rather that it was an authentic and real popular revolt against tyranny in favour of democracy and freedom.

In fact it has been Assad, supported by Iran and Putin, that has been more aggressive and contributed more to the violence through, the barrel bombing of civillians, instigating vicious sectarian killings through sabiha militias and using chemical weapons. To put it simply, as Charles Lister brilliantly explains here, Assad is the root cause of the crisis in Syria.

She then tries to cover herself by saying the vague platitude "I condemn all bombs". That's the closest she gets in all her tweets on this issue to condeming Russia's actions in Syria. Why can't these "anti imperialists" condemn and criticise non-US militarism in isolation and exclusively for once? If she really is against "all bombs" why can't she explicitly criticise Russia?

Her last tweet mentions people who; "lack the moral compass to condemn their own country's imperial projects and atrocities". Implied in this is the meme, popularised by Glenn Greenwald and other disciples of Noam Chomsky that we should only criticise the crimes of "our countries" and not "spend the bulk of our time focusing on the crimes of the other" to quote Greenwald. This silly idea has been debunked succintly by Alex Rowell of NOW Lebanon here.

It reminds me of Stop The War's position on this topic. They issued a statement after Russian airstrikes started in which (in all fairness) they did express a soft opposition to Russian intervention by saying "Just as Stop the War has criticised US bombing...so too we cannot support Russian military action." However last week on their website they also ran an op-ed by Simon Jenkins, originally published on The Guardian, which criticised U.S and U.K bombings in Syria against ISIS but weirdly approved of Hizbollah and Russia's war in Syria by claiming "The only intervention likely to work in Syria just now is from Moscow." It is strange that a self-proclaimed "anti-war" and "anti-imperialist" organisation would run a piece like that isn't it? But let's assume they are as they claim to be not supportive of Russian actions in Syria, why then have they not organised a protest outside the Russian embassy against Russia's intervention to support the Assad regime and its deployment of Russian personnal ? The fact they haven't done this reveals to me that they're not really serious about their opposition to war or intervention and that it only matters when the west does it, but if a non-western state does the same action then all you get from them is just apathy whilst attempting not to seem apathetic.

If you ever wanted a clearer example of the sheer hypocrisy of this "anti imperialist" mentality then look no further than George Galloway, who has a history of campaigning against all forms of western interventionism and prides himself on being an "anti-imperialist", this time however he is praising Russian airstrikes in Syria as seen in the tweet below.

What makes this even more damning. As this video shows is that, not that long ago he argued against western intervention against ISIS, on the grounds that it would be "counterproductive", that it will cause "the rise of extremism around the world" and "increase terrorism". The video shows him in another context saying "Russia has every right, indeed obligation to act". It is so clear that Galloway's intentions do not come from a principled "anti-imperialism" but from anti-western hatred, as Galloway himself puts it in the linked video "I'm not against airstrikes, I'm against western airstikes".

The irony of this is, that it is more likely that Russian airstrikes will be counter-productive and fuel the rise of extremism in Syria. First of all, most of the strikes haven't even touched ISIS so instead of it being counter-productive, it's non-productive. Second of all, we have reports of rebel factions joining with Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham and other Jihadist groups joining with Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to fight the Russian "infidels", echoing the legends of the Jihad of the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (which Galloway supported). In addition The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, which participates in the insurrection against Assad, issued a statement declaring Jihad obligatory on every able bodied muslim.

It's so clear and obvious that Galloway is not an "anti-imperialist" or even a neutral observer, but a shill and propagandist for the Assad-Iran-Putin troika. Christopher Hitchens once had a brilliant saying for Galloway when he described him as in "search for a tyrannical fatherland"that will always continue. Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin and the list continues of despots and thugs Galloway has prostitued himself towards in order to get money, fame and a sense of purpose.

Lastly, but by no means least we had Socialist Unity publish an absolutely vile apologia for Assad and Russia's intervention on his behalf. There is so much wrong with their defence that I'm going to keep my response as short as I can so that I don't waste your time.

Their argument is that it is right for Russia to support the Assad regime because Assad is "opposed" to ISIS and other forces of Jihadism as well as being a vanguard for "secular modernity" in the Middle East.

"Russia’s decision to provide military support for Syria can only be considered controversial or wrong if you believe that a moral equivalence exists between ISIS and the Assad government."

Well actually a moral equivalence does exist. Assad's forces have been responsible for the majority of the civilian deaths in the civil war because of its deliberate targeting of civilians, using chemical weapons and barrel bombs. Assad is also a hideous dictator who uses state terror and torture to repress opposition and is known state sponsor of terrorism. If there is a moral difference between Assad and ISIS then that difference is slim and marginal because he is not a Liberal Democrat by any means of the imagination.

" In contradistinction to ISIS the Assad government is secular, believes in modernity, and upholds the rights of minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. More crucially, regardless of the huge campaign of demonisation that has been unleashed against it in the West, it retains the significant support of a large section of the Syrian people, who understand more than any Western diplomat, politician, or ideologue the nature of the struggle they have been engulfed in these past four and half years."

This statement is just outstanding and so comical that it boggles the mind how people can write and publish such blatant nonsense as Assad is being "demonised" with a straight face is beyond me. Also the usual babble about him being a modern secularist who defends the rights of minorities which has been addressed so many times. Despite this the real blatant falsehood about the Assad regime is that "it retains the significant support of a large section of the Syrian people". This is just pure propaganda. I think anyone who has done any bit of research on Syria will know that each one of the claims made in the extract is pure bullshit.

Throughout this awful piece it describes Russia as "principled" and "courageous" for resisting a "foreign invasion by thousands of foreign extremists and jihadists" (notice the implicit generalisation of all rebel groups as Jihadists). And to top it all off Socialist Unity concludes with Russia is defending "civilisation itself".

Let me be clear by stating that I am not necessarily attacking people who are principled anti-interventionists, neither am I saying that because Russia has started bombing Syria that I am absolving the U.S of any responsibility for its wrongs it has done in history. I am specifically attacking the hypocritical "anti-imperialist left" response to Russia's intervention in support of the Assad regime, thats has ranged from complete apathy to explicit support for Russia. Nowadays, so much of the radical left has been so immersed in its own virulent and bordering masochistic anti-western rhetoric and opposition to western intervention that it either ignores or even tacitly allies itself with authoritarian thugs like Putin and Assad in their actions just because they're anti-western.

I'm still waiting for that protest outside the Russian embassy Stop the War...still waiting.