Conspectus of the latest Decentiya

I’ve been putting this off, but it will be put off no longer. Disappointingly, the current Democratiya does not contain Marko Attila Hoare explaining how the Serbs sank the Titanic and kidnapped Lord Lucan, nor Oliver Kamm droning on about his older brother’s penis the charlatan Chomsky and how he prevents our Ollie from being rightly recognised as the world’s most important intellectual. In the absence of the obvious targets, however, there are still a few zingers.

There is a letter about the repression of trade unionists in Iran. A worthy cause, but it’s notable that about the only time Democratiya shows any interest in the labour movement anywhere in the world is when you can bash Ahmadinejad.

Todd Gitlin writes a not entirely coherent piece on anti-Americanism, which somehow winds up with a denunciation of “Chomskyites” for opposing intervention in Bosnia, which apparently they saw as “an assault on decent socialists”. Not surprisingly, Gitlin does not quote Chomsky himself on Bosnia, because he couldn’t find anything approximating that.

One David Adler writes on Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh has of course written many interesting things about many subjects, but what interests Adler is Ghosh’s opposition to political Islam, which he can then use as a stick to beat Arundhati Roy, who is brought into the argument at a dubious tangent.

There is an extract from Barry Rubin’s new book on Syria. I don’t know if Rubin has been faithfully excerpted, but he seems to be arguing that Washington is straining every sinew to create a Palestinian state, and has been for two decades, only to be thwarted at every turn by the Assad regime. Why do I not find that convincing?

Irfan Khawaja writes on international law and war. His conclusion is that, for the good of all, international law should be ripped up. No, I tell a lie. International law should only apply to the Third World – the Empire should have a special dispensation to do whatever it pleases.

Gerard Alexander asks, Why aren’t we hearing all the good news from Iraqi Kurdistan?

Mark Gardner, press supremo for the Community Security Trust, writes on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Not surprisingly for someone working at the CST, he believes British society is awash with anti-Semitism, as exemplified by hostility to the Israeli state. The best summary of this is in the old joke that the Engageniks are worried about anti-Semitism because it might lead to criticism of Israel. Gardner also sees something sinister in the SWP’s description of Israel as the US’s attack dog in the Middle East, and asks why the SWP protests the dog and not the master. Perhaps he’s missed all their anti-war activity. [Update 2.10.07: Mark is keen to point out (see comments below) that he is referring specifically to boycotts, and not to protests more generally. I still think the question is a loaded rhetorical one, and I don’t believe the SWP to be an anti-Semitic organisation, although I do think they could save themselves a lot of grief on this issue by being more subtle.]

Dave Rich, Gardner’s sidekick at the CST press office, reviews Ed Husain’s The Islamist. Bearing in mind that Husain hasn’t been involved in Islamist politics for a dozen years, and has spent most of that time outside Britain, we might wonder what Husain can tell us about present-day political Islam in Britain, even assuming that he’s being honest and accurate. Nonetheless, Rich (they couldn’t have got a tame Muslim to review this?) loves it, not least because Husain provides lots of ammo for anyone looking to smite the enemies of the Jews call for the banning of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the marginalisation of the MCB. This is really a slightly more sophisticated rehash of the Ratbiter column in Private Eye. All we need is a plug for the neocon farmhands of the fraudulent “Sufi Muslim Council” as representing “decent Muslims”.

Dan Erdman has a swipe at the American palaeoconservatives, a group who I rather prefer to the Decent Left. Dan writes, “The website is another popular outlet. The site’s title and amateurish design have led more than one confused commentator to mistake it for a left-wing site – an effect which may not be wholly unintentional – but the brains behind the operation belong to an old-right libertarian by the name of Justin Raimondo.” Nothing gets past Dan – I would never have guessed it myself, if Raimondo didn’t write a weekly column for Michael Crick had better look to his laurels.

Evan Daniel calls for the Yanks to box smarter in their drive to overthrow the Cuban regime, considering that the embargo and Congressional funding for the ultra-right yo-yos in Miami may not be a good idea.

Tristan Stubbs writes on the slave trade, contrasting civilised Britain with barbaric Sudan. That’s for the benefit of anyone who thought Sudan wasn’t a repressive hellhole. Never mind, Tristan, wait till the next issue and Todd Gitlin will be claiming the “Chomskyites” support the Sudanese regime.

Jean Bethke Elshtain posthumously enlists Sidney Hook in support of the invasion of Iraq. Well, perhaps Hook in his dotage might have done so.

There is also a short review of Primo Levi, which doesn’t really fit with the rest of the journal but I assume is there for connoisseurs of Judaica. It’s not bad.

Finally, Alan (Not The Minister) Johnson conducts a rambling interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter about ethical foreign policy. The essential points are: America – yo! Genocidal dictators – boo! International law – maybe, as long as the Big Moral Empire still gets to be the enforcer of values. Armed intervention – can we get back to talking about high-flown values?

And that’s the house journal of Decency for this quarter. We read it, so you don’t have to.

More from Aaro Watch on the Scoopies’ turn at the Labour conference.

Update 30.9.07: Barry Rubin points out to me that of course Washington was opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state before 1993, and the failure of the Oslo process had other causes than the Damascus regime. I look forward to reading his book, which no doubt will have more nuances than I picked up from the extract.


  1. ejh said,

    September 25, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    and asks why the SWP protests the dog and not the master

    You’ve read it so we don’t have to, so can I ask – is that one of those “hint hint” questions, by any chance?

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 25, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    I would take it as being one. It’s a bit like when AWL members say “You don’t believe Britain is awash with violent anti-Semitism – why is that, I wonder?”

  3. Renegade Eye said,

    September 26, 2007 at 4:31 am

    That was really fun to read.

    Nothing about Hitchens?

  4. Cian said,

    September 26, 2007 at 11:45 am

    I liked it. It was reassuringly amateur – even better than my local rag’s letter’s page.

  5. Mark Gardner said,

    October 2, 2007 at 8:30 am

    You misquoted me on SWP and USA. I said “boycotts” not “protests”. The exact quote is:

    “The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) depicts Israel as ‘America’s Attack Dog in the Middle East’, but it is the ‘dog’ that its activists raise boycotts against, not the ‘master’. Is this political expedience or political cowardice?”.

    Also, I don’t believe British society is awash with antisemitism, and nowhere in my article does it say so. The article states that antisemitic race hate attacks have risen substantially since the year 2000 (an international trend), and that anti-Israel obsessives have developed a reflexive hostility to mainstream Jewish communities that is at odds with leftist anti-fascist tradition, and with how other minorities are treated.

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 2, 2007 at 11:43 am

    I’m sorry if you think my paraphrase misrepresented your article. Let me expand slightly.

    I’m glad to have your clarification that you were referring specifically to boycotts. Nonetheless, the question about the dog and the master is a nudge-nudge question, is it not? I don’t hold a brief for the SWP, and I’ve been critical of them myself on these issues, but I am extremely familiar with their politics and I don’t accept your characterisation.

    Also, I’m not contesting that antisemitic attacks do take place, that they have risen in recent years, or that they need to be taken seriously. But I do think there is a discourse (Melanie Phillips’ “tsunami of antisemitism” is the extreme example) which elevates these attacks far above attacks on other minorities, and ties them in to what is perceived to be the acceptability of antisemitism in polite society. I think that discourse is dubious to say the least.

  7. Mark Gardner said,

    October 2, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks for your considered reply, and I really hope you’ll now alter your original article in which your ‘protest’ / ‘boycott’ confusion sets me up for more ridicule than is strictly necessary, telling your readers, “Perhaps he’s missed all their [SWP] anti-war activity.”

    As for “nudge nudge” – well, I’d hoped it was more a case of shove rather than nudge, but ok! It was only a minor part of a far larger article.

    I don’t think my article categorically stated whether or not I regard the SWP as antisemitic, which I think is the point that you’re saying I was nudging about.

    So, let me just say that its antisemitic impact that really concerns me. I don’t have access to the inside of people’s brains in order to know if they are being intentionally antisemitic, unconsciously antisemitic, or just happen to be coincidentally mouthing the same things as antisemites.

    For example, if someone seriously believes that Zionists enginnered the Iraq War or faked 9/11, then what’s the relationship to claims that Jewish Bankers caused both World Wars or faked Auschwitz? Good stuff for an ivory towers debate, but both lead to the same thing – Jews (ordinary ones, the type you pass in the street, or who’s graves lie in a cemetery) suffering more antisemitic attacks.

    And, as I said in my article and my previous posting, its ultimately about how feverish hatred of Israel and “Zionism” leads to reflexive hostility to maintream Jewish communities per se.

    Antisemites are like any other kind of racists in that they draw comfort from what they perceive around them. If they think the mood music is good, then they’ll commit more attacks. That’s the situation that Jews are now in, that’s why there has been such a significant escalation in antisemitic incidents, and that’s why I’m concerned that so many of those who accept the principles of unconscious racism and racist impact should appear to consciously reject Jews from all of their anti-racism paradigms.

    Apologies if my concerns were mis-directed in your case, or in that of your readers.

  8. ejh said,

    October 2, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    I don’t have access to the inside of people’s brains in order to know if they are being intentionally antisemitic, unconsciously antisemitic, or just happen to be coincidentally mouthing the same things as antisemites.

    And if that’s not “hint hint” I really don’t know what is.

  9. ejh said,

    October 2, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Also note “anti-Israel obsessives”, “feverish hatred” etc.

  10. Mark Gardner said,

    October 2, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    I’ve already said it was more of a shove than a nudge. Obviously I should have clarified that it was more of a shove than either a nudge or a hint, perhaps then I wouldn’t stand re-accused of secret hinting!! Well spotted Sherlock, I stand exposed to the world as having written an article because I had an opinion to express.

    “Anti Israel obsessives”, “feverish hatred” etc – Yes, its exactly because the passion is so uniquely aimed at the world’s one Jewish state that I think its worth asking how this relates to hatreds that burned strongly enough to murder 6,000,000 Jews only 65 years ago. Sorry if thats a bit blunt, but I’d hate to be accused of hinting or nudging. And no, I’m not winking, its just the light 😉

  11. ejh said,

    October 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    It’s the Great Decent Rhetorical Question, isn’t it? “Why do they bang on about Israel?” Alassic Decency, in that it:

    a) attempts to expose people as being something other than what they claim ;

    b) relies on what people have not said about something else, rather than what they have said about something ;

    c) is wholly intellectually unscrupulous ;

    d) allows the individual to side with the powerful against the powerless and to break all the rules they claim to uphold.

    Despicable in nature, empty in content.

  12. ejh said,

    October 2, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    One recalls, since Orwell is bandied about so often, that he cited Russia as having taken the place of patriotism in the minds of Thirties Communists. One wonders whether a similar process has taken place by which the support of Israel has replaced socialism in the minds of today’s ex-leftists. The other mental habits, as Orwell observed, remain the same.

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 2, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Well, we’re talking about different things, albeit that those things overlap. There is the genuine concern of Jewish communities about antisemitic sentiment. That overlaps with supporters of Israel worrying about hostility to Israel. And then, those who are critical of/opposed to Israel but who aren’t antisemitic – and any SWP member who expressed hostility to Jews as such would be expelled before his feet touched the ground – are often not as clear in drawing these distinctions as they might be.

    I think we would be best served by turning down the heat a notch. When I read the JC I sometimes get the impression that a massive pogrom is around the corner. It would help if critics of Israel were less dismissive of Jewish concerns, and if supporters of Israel would accept that people who say they aren’t antisemitic very often aren’t, no matter what they might think about the Middle East. And I come back to most antisemitic attacks being traceable back to either Muslim teenagers or white fascists, who probably aren’t regular readers of the Guardian or Socialist Worker.

    Finally, there are feverish hatreds and feverish hatreds. The 9/11 conspiracy people may be marginal, but there are other folks who have other conspiracies to promote…

  14. ejh said,

    October 2, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    and if supporters of Israel would accept that people who say they aren’t antisemitic very often aren’t

    I think the point here is that this is precisely what they’re not going to do, among the reasons for which being that it’s the only shot they’ve got in their locker.

  15. Mark Gardner said,

    October 3, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Splintered – sincere thanks for the amendment to your original article, and I think your later comments in the thread regarding turning the heat down and ‘stop being so dismissive’ are totally spot on.

    I can’t help feeling that ejh is pigeonholing me with whoever / whatever it is that he’s so angry about. So, its a vicious cycle in which he confirms my fears, and in which my protesting about that, serves to confirm his prejudices / allegations. (or vice versa, depending upon perspective I suppose).

    If ejh read my article then I hope he’d see that I’m actually very very close to your own position on ‘stop being so dismissive’, and that I fully recoginse the extraordinary position we are now in whereby many Jews sincerely perceive antisemitism (or something very much like it) from those who sincerely think that they don’t mean them harm – which merely brings us back to the beginning again: both sides shouldn’t be so dismissive and demonising.

  16. Irfan Khawaja said,

    October 3, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Feel free to send a worked-out response to my review on war law to Democratiya. I didn’t say what you have me saying here, but I think you know that. And you wouldn’t want the sum total of your response to me to consist of a few half-literate jabs, would you? That would be a kind of intellectual fraud. I gather that you’re against intellectual fraud?

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 4, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Thanks for your kind comments, Irfan. I have no interest in writing for Democratiya – and I suspect my opinions are way outside what Alan would consider acceptable – but I will certainly have another look at your article, and may well deal with it in greater depth than my off-the-cuff remarks above. I don’t share your basic premises, but I think you know that.

  18. Irfan Khawaja said,

    October 4, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    You’re very welcome. One of my basic premises is accurately to describe views that I disagree with, the better to disagree with what they actually say. Another is not to classify something as ‘intellectual fraud’ unless my account of the view is (a) accurate and (b) supports that charge. But I suspect that we have disagreements about international law, as well.

  19. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 5, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    As long as you don’t take that personally – the description is one I’ve aimed at the Democratiya project in general.

  20. Irfan Khawaja said,

    October 8, 2007 at 3:09 am

    I guess that makes me collateral damage.

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