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Freedom of Thought is For All

“..prospective students of Eton are then asked to imagine they are the prime minister and write a speech to explain how they would convince the public that they did the right thing.”

The full question reads:

The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protesters have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protesters have been killed by the Army.

You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.

https://www.indy100.com/article/eton-college-entrance-exam-question-army-killing-protesters-private-school-9090156?

Some people seem upset by this.

There are doubtless very many things wrong with this school but getting students to think about ethical and political decisions and decision making through presenting hypothetical situations, or examining real situations, is not one of those things. Questions like this should be part of the general education of students in all schools.

Imperialism on Trial : Assange

Tuesday 11 June 2019
Wednesday 12 June 2019

Last week Tuesday, 11th June I attended the first session of the Imperialism on Trial event supporting Julian Assange. I wrote the following the next day:

I had heard of some of the speakers and they were all excellent. The person whose work I knew best and particularly wanted to hear was Chris Hedges. A former foreign correspondent of the New York times, Chris writes a regular column in online magazine Truthdig and has a show called ‘On Contact’ hosted by RT. Chris writes and speaks with a particularly lyrical voice and a particularly moral one that perhaps reflects his background as a Presbyterian minister as well as a journalist, academic and activist.

I filmed parts of the meeting, intending to comment later but I needn’t have bothered since the whole event was being much better recorded. It is really worth watching the whole almost three and a half hours but I may use parts of this to make comments later. I found Chris’s opening speech particularly gripping. I learnt a lot about Equador as well as Assange from Fidel Navarez a former senior diplomat at the Equadorian embassy. Navarez was proud to call Julian a friend and reminded us that Assange had been granted Ecuadorian citizenship and that therefore his being hounded and handed over by the current Ecuadorian government was an act of betrayal. Navarez spoke of being proud of the former Ecuador under Rafael Correa and ashamed of the current one under Lenin Moreno. Listening to and finding out more about the experience of implementing socialism in Ecuador would be instructive for Corbyn supporters who, like me, are unaware of this history.

All of the other speakers – Vivian Westwood, Tommy McKerney, Lauri Love, Catherine Shakdam, Catherine Mercouris, John Wright, Ahmed Kaballo – were also excellent and there is plenty of material here for discussion and reflection. This series of talks is called Imperialism on Trial and one of the speakers said that Imperialism may seem like an old fashioned word but the power of an imperial America with its principal allies that, to use the image of perhaps another speaker, grasps nations like Venuzuela by the throat and berates them for not breathing properly. The Empire also tries to silence, discredit and disgrace anyone like Assange who would reveal their crimes. The mainstream press colludes in the creation of a false narrative and in the oppression of whistleblowers and dissidents like Assange and Chelsea Manning. The attack on Julian is an attack on all of us who seek to know and speak the truth. If we do not stand up for Assange and see his freedom as fundamental to our own freedom to speak and to think then we will lose that freedom. As someone who has always felt the need to speak the truth as I see it, whether anyone else, however powerful, likes it or not, as someone aware of the risks that the small run in contradicting powerful and popular people and narratives, as someone who appreciates the importance of primary sources in getting to the truth of things, supporting Assange is particularly important to me.

I will be at the second session of this event this evening and I will be joining Julian’s supporters outside Westminister Magistrate’s court on Friday morning.

I did attend the second session of the event on Wednesday and found it equally absorbing. I’m not going to write about it in detail as what I have to say doesn’t matter – also, because I knew that the event was being wholly recorded and would be published through the good offices of RT, I didn’t take extensive notes.

Unfortunately I could not join the demonstration outside Westminister Court on Friday morning as I had to prepare for an event of my own the next day.

The two videos total over six hours but they are well worth watching.

Related Material

  1. Useful notes on the meetings from Catherine Brown’s Blog.
  2. Update on the opening of Julian Assange’s extradition hearings from 21st Century Wire

Is Truth Antisemitic?

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/labour-party-backlash-after-peterborough-byelection-winner-lisa-forbes-liked-antisemitic-posts-on-a4161821.html

It was revealed this week that Ms Forbes had liked a post saying Theresa May had a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda” alongside a video of children praying after the New Zealand terrorist attack.

I don’t know what bearing the comment about Zionist slave masters had on the video but this sort of hyperbolic comment is hardly unusual in today’s political discourse and it’s well known that Israeli lobbying has a tremendous influence on both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

By 2009, according to the Channel 4 documentary Dispatches – Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, around 80% of Conservative MPs were members of the CFI.[3] In 2013, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, called CFI “by far Britain’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.”

Wikipedia article:

The Standard article continues:

In another comment she said she had “enjoyed reading” a thread claiming Islamic extremism was created “by the CIA and Mossad.”

There is no doubt whatsoever that the CIA and Mossad and MI5 have sponsored Islamic extremism.

“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” a former Israeli government official told the Wall Street Journal in a 2009 article titled “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas.”

salon article:

It seems to me that Lisa Forbes has been accused of antisemitism and forced to apologise on the grounds that she did not express outrage rather than sympathy. It seems too that it is antisemitic to enjoy reading a thread that discusses assertions widely recognised as true.

It is mystifying that Ms Forbes should be accused of being antisemitic because she enjoyed reading assertions that are accepted to be true. It is worrying and it is an attack not only on Ms Forbes and the Labour Party but also on freedom of thought, freedom of dialogue and on truth.

However, as worrying as these accusations are, what is more worrying is their endorsement by figures with the Labour party itself:

We read:

Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge, who has clashed with Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism, wrote on Twitter: “Seriously mixed feelings about the Peterborough result. I never want to see Nigel Farage’s party in Parliament.
“But Lisa Forbes & the Labour Party have a lot to answer for. We must learn lessons & never have a repeat of this. Have formally raised concerns with party leadership.”

Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh, who worked on Lisa Forbes’ campaign, wrote that it was “extremely upsetting for all of us involved when the posts that Lisa had mistakenly engaged in came to light.

“They were thoroughly unacceptable and I know she sees that and is truly sorry.”

This is a response that would be easy to characterise as ‘slavish’. It is a response that shows a shocking lack of courage and a wholesale disregard for the truth.

Anti-Jazz

Attacks by people claiming to be ‘on the Left’ on Gilad Atzmon are attacks on freedom of expression. They are part of an irrationalism within the party and the so called ‘Left’ but they do not represent the Labour Party or any true Left any more than the CAA represents Jewish people. This is my response on YouTube to Atzmon’s understandable counter attack.

This is a completely unnecessary battle that is damaging for all concerned. I disagree with your view concerning JVL. While I do not like the notion of identity based political groups I understand that they may be necessary in particular circumstances. And when the Board of Deputies, JLM, CAA and LFI are powerful voices claiming to speak on behalf of the ‘Jewish community’ there is surely a need for a JVL to counter that claim. If I were Jewish and groups like JLM and CAA were claiming to speak for me I would take it personally and would wish to have my voice heard as a Jew.

You are of course entitled to your view. I have read your writings and have found nothing hateful, racist or antisemitic in them though not everyone may understand your use of irony and humour and you do not seem to make concessions to people’s sensitivities. It is not surprising that some people like Owen Jones and the leadership of Momentum jump on the Jewdas bandwagon in condemning you for being you but I have not heard of any attacks on you from either Corbyn or JVL.

It seems clear that the Labour party has been a pro-Zionist and latterly neoliberal party and that those elements are powerful within it. What we are experiencing is a kickback against Corbyn’s challenge to their power. With the excrable Tom Watson organising a ‘counter revolution’ within Labour and with a MSM almost wholly ranged against him, Corbyn’s strategy of keeping his eyes on the prize of a democratic socialist government is highly intelligent. It is right to resist and expose the empty irrationalism of those who are attacking you and freedom of expression but we should also understand the fight that Corbyn and his allies like Chris Williamson are engaged in. Very few of us could stay the course under that sort of pressure. Corbyn continues to do so and Corbyn continues to deserve our support.

Syrian Girl on Ilhan Omar

Syrian Girl is a vlogger whom I’ve followed for some years. She’s part of a network of news dissidents. Here she talks about AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, self described as “a bipartisan organization of U.S. citizens committed solely to strengthening, protecting and promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship. “, and about Ilhan Omar a young congresswoman

Ilhan on 10 February responded to a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald that reads, “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”She replied, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,”

‘Benjamins’ is American slang for money but it was characterised as being an antisemitic reference, a ‘trope’ as some like to say, indicating the control of the American political system by ‘Jewish’ money. Ilhan apologised for the unintended ‘trope’ but reaffirmed her concerns about the role of lobbyists in American politics.

Listening and learning, but standing strong 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019

The controversy continues.

Racism, Antisemitism and Goebellian Liars

Racism of any kind is wrong and utterly stupid. As a form of racism, antisemitism is wrong and stupid. Any notion that any ethnic group can be characterised on the basis of the behaviour some of its members is logically flawed and the notion that individual members of that group should then be judged on the basis of that logically flawed characterisation is doubly absurd.

I believe that we are socially conditioned to accept the absurdities of racism and may other absurdities and that this often distorts our ability to think in a way that is logically coherent.

Antisemitism exists to a greater or lesser degree in all populations and it will exist to some degree in the population of Labour Party members. I do not know if it exists to a greater or lesser degree than anti black, anti Muslim, anti Asian or indeed anti white sentiment but since we are talking about a group of people it would be absurd to maintain that it, and all of those other sentiments do not exist to any degree. What I will say however is that because of its socialist, humanitarian and compassionate underpinnings I would expect all of these sentiments to exist in the Labour Party membership to a far lesser degree than in the general population. My experience as a Black member of the Labour party has not disabused me of this notion.

At the same time, because the Labour Party is a party of social justice, I would expect, and hope, that there is greater willingness among party members to condemn injustice wherever they find it, at home or abroad, without fear or favour and with a greater willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with the oppressed. It is right that the regime in Israel should be condemned for its racist behaviour and apalling treatment of the Palestinians. Israel is by no means a unique locus of evil. We should have no hesitation in condemning the behaviour of other states such as Saudi Arabia for their disgusting treatment of women, religious minorities and sexual minorities, or certain African states for wars and oppressions based on tribalism, or India for the perpetuation of caste based prejudice or the US for the slavery that still exists in its prison system. Israel is not uniquely evil but it should be called out for its unique or commonplace evils.

The Labour party has a history of being a pro Israel party, but growing awareness and dissatisfaction with Israeli oppression is leading to strong opposition towards Israeli policies and actions. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are seen as being at the forefront of this shift. It is hardly surprising that they should be attacked by the Israeli government and its supporters inside and outside the Labour Party. To exaggerate the issue of antisemitism and to extend its definitions to cover any criticism of Israel and its supporters is clearly a strategem that is being used with the utmost cynicism and dishonesty. I do not believe that Israel is the sole source of these attacks I believe that Corbyn is also seen as a threat to neoliberal interests and to the interests of Western imperialism and that theses interests too are supporting the wholly unsubstantiated myth of widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party.

It is right that we all recognise what it going on and that antisemitism is being used as a deliberate tool by those who wish to maintain power. We should be angry but never in our anger be unfair or irrational. We should never when charged with antisemitism respond by becoming in any way genuinely antisemitic. The struggle is not against Jewish people and there should be no presentation or expression that is or can reasonably be taken to be antisemitic. I say this because for the first time in an online forum, today, I saw a cartoon which represented a Jewish caricature figure as being behind the antisemitism slurs. This pained me because over the past few years it has becen obvious that Jewish people of all stations have been among the bravest and most active in opposing these slurs and they have been among those paying the highest price for their courage and honesty. It is essential that we do not allow the ‘Goebellian liars’ (to borrow Galloway’s apt phrase) to make us irrationally fearful or irrationally angry or push us towards the ranks of the haters. We should speak the truth without fear and without resentment. We should never be afraid to debate or to be wrong and to be corrected if we are wrong. It is liars who personalise the battle and run away from examination and fearing the light of open debate seek to close it down. It is the liars and the haters who are careless with accusations and resort to invective and force rather than reason. We are not that, we are not haters and anyone who becomes a hater excludes themselves from what we are.

Opposite Assertions


“opposite assertions cannot be true at the same time”
(Aristotle)

Is the Labour Party now the party of Witchfinders and Inquisitions? I think that the last three years make this a reasonable question.

Jon Lansman says:

“I do think we have a major problem and it always seems to me that we underestimate the scale of it.

“I think it is a widespread problem. It’s now obvious we have a much larger number of people with hardcore antisemitic opinions which, unfortunately, is polluting the atmosphere in a lot of constituency parties and, in particular, online.

“We have to deal with those people and I think it’s a responsibility of everyone in the Labour Party, from the top to the bottom, to report cases.”

REF: Sky News Article

But Jennie Fornby’s Statistics (as reported in the Morning Star) show that:

453 members (out of approximately 550,000 — so around 0.08 per cent) who had expressed views concerning Jews that were judged as requiring further investigation and disciplinary action.

Some received suspensions, others formal/written warnings about their behaviour, while just 12 were expelled.

Without even taking into consideration the fact that some of the expressions ‘requiring further investigation’ must have been found to not require disiplinary action it does not seem to me that the ‘expressed views’ of 0.08% of the membership of the party can be taken to constitute the general culture of the party or can be considered a ‘major problem’.

Perhaps Landsman is cognisant of the contradiction between his assertion that there is a ‘major problem’ and the statistics that suggest otherwise. Perhaps that is why he has ‘called on Labour to be more “proactive in going out and seeking cases” of antisemitism within the party’.

We know what Landsman does think: “I do think we have a major problem” and “I think it is a widespread problem” but we have no idea why he and Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna and Jess Phillips and Uncle Tom Watson and all think these things. Landsman’s call for ‘Labour’ to be “proactive in going out and seeking cases” chilled me and then filled me with revulsion. Two words came to mind and I looked up the Wikipedia articles on them:

The first word is ‘Witchfinder General’.

Matthew Hopkins (c. 1620 – 12 August 1647) was an English witch-hunter whose career flourished during the English Civil War. He claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament. His witch-hunts mainly took place in East Anglia.

Hopkins’ witch-finding career began in March 1644 and lasted until his retirement in 1647. He and his associates were responsible for more people being hanged for witchcraft than in the previous 100 years, and were solely responsible for the increase in witch trials during those years. He is believed to have been responsible for the executions of 300 alleged witches between the years 1644 and 1646.

The second word is ‘Inquisition’.

The Wikipedia article notes that:

The Inquisition was a group of institutions within the government system of the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. It started in 12th-century France to combat religious dissent

But the passage I found most interesting was this:

The 1578 edition of the Directorium Inquisitorum (a standard Inquisitorial manual) spelled out the purpose of inquisitorial penalties: … quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alij terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur (translation: “… for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit”).

Is the Labour Party now the party of Witchfinders and Inquisitions? I think that the last three years make this a reasonable question. I very much like Jeremy Corbyn and his project but I understand that that project is considered heretical and dangerous among sections of his party. I understand that they are determined to end that heresy even at the cost of gravely damaging their own party and the future of their country. Chuka Umanna talks of wanting to establish an ‘evidence based’ party as an alternative to Labour but his assertions regarding antisemitism and those of his fellow travellers have been remarkable in having no evidential basis. I very much want Labour to be the party of evidence and reason as well as compassion. The Conservatives are not, Umanna’s party is not, nor are the LibDems. But to be a party of reason and evidence Labour it must give far less weight to its grand panjandrums and doctrinal orthodoxies and much more to evidence, reason and open conversation with and between ordinary members.

A Strange Meeting

Just over two weeks ago. I was elected Secretary for the Wall End Ward of the East Ham CLP (Constituency Labour Party). Last Thursday, I attended my first CLP AGM. I was shocked by the blatant disregard for courtesy, democracy and fairness throughout the proceedings. I wrote the following on Facebook:

I’m not feeling good today, about myself or my part of the world. Last night I attended the AGM of the East Ham CLP (Constituency Labour Party). My first, as I was elected secretary of my ward just two weeks ago. We were presented with a short agenda and a list of nominees to be officers and delegates. Apparently there had been nominations from the 10 constituency wards that had been presented but were considered invalid so, with 5 exceptions, the list consisted of nominations from branches the GMB union affiliated to the CLP.

Challenges were made and questions asked, through points of order, concerning the legitimacy of the proceedings including the status of the Chair and other officers as delegates. These questions were brushed aside in a meeting that became increasingly tense as the challengers persisted. An explosive moment came when one challenger was asked by the chair if he wanted the CLP to become like than of Tower Hamlets. The challenger asked if he was being asked that question because he was Asian. He was promptly shouted at by others in the meeting and was asked to withdraw the remark. He did this but tried to continue with his objections. The Chair at the suggestion of the Mayor ruled that the meeting should move immediately to elections. There was a vote on this by show of hands where only those in favour were asked to show their hands. There was no count of hands and looking around the room it was unclear to me whether more than half the room had their hands up but the motion was passed, albeit to loud objections.

The Chair then said that only those nominees on the printed list would be standing for election and that there could be no nominations added from the floor. There were objections to this and the meeting was becoming increasing angry. The Chair went through the list and confirmed nominations unchallenged. I don’t know what happened with the four LCF (Local Campaign Forum) positions where more than one candidate was listed as the meeting was very noisy and my anger was bubbling over. It was at around this point that I walked out of the meeting shouting my objections that this was undemocratic and the people sitting and approving it should be ashamed of themselves.

When I am in the throes of ‘righteous anger’ my voice projects well so what I said will have been heard. I am mostly perceived as calm but outrageously unfair and bullying behaviour sends me up the wall and over the edge. But there is nothing righteous about anger even though my perception and position may be clear and correct. Ends do not justify means and angry old men do not look good. I cannot wholly regret my outburst but I will not repeat it as it does me no good and is bad in principle. If it becomes necessary I will withdraw rather than become enraged.

After leaving the meeting I went to a local pub with other ‘dissidents’. Even those who were much more experienced that me said that it was the worst meeting that they had been to. It was utterly clear that candidates supportive of the standing regime had been railroaded through. It is clear too that the process by which this happened is unsupportable. This should be obvious simply from the list of nominees almost entirely nominated from the (unnamed) branches of a single trade union. That list should be all that is needed to mark the whole proceedings as undemocratic, unfair and illegitimate.

I am grateful to have received very supportive comments from many people on this.

Livingstone and His Accusors

Norman Finkelstein writes an excellent defence of Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah from someone who really understands where they, and their accusers, are coming from.

“I can understand his motivation …. These certifiable creeps who went after Naz Shah got under his skin, and so he wanted to get under their skin.” ~ Finkelson’s Article

Gilad Atzmon Speaking Freely

At a time when the Labour party is, absurdly, being accused of being antisemitic and individual members such as Ken Livingstone are being hounded for objecting to hounding, it’s important to feel that we are able to speak freely; not dishonestly or unkindly but freely on any subject we wish including the subject of Israel.

This talk by Gilad Atzmon is really interesting. Atzmon is commonly condemned as being antisemitic and a ‘self hating Jew’. I think he makes clear here that he is neither of those things but he does make clear that he thinks that there is a problem with what he sees as ‘political Jewishness’ and ‘Jewish identity’ as opposed to Judaism or being a Jew. He associates Jewish identity with the concept of ‘chosenness’ and ‘political Jewishness’ with support for Israel as a Jewish state. Atzmon considers these two identifications as inherently racist and he is opposed to them. He is also opposed to the political correctness that presents this opposition to a particular racism as being in itself racist. Atzmon quips that he is not antisemitic, that he hates everyone equally. Of course this is not true, Atzmon is a deeply empathetic person but I think he may well hate all racial identification equally. At over 90 minutes this is a long watch but I found it worth the time.

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