28 April 2013

Online solidarity fund for the Hong Kong dockworkers

A recent update on the Hong Kong dockworkers’ strike - the Wobblies’ International Solidarity Commission has set up an online fund for overseas sympathisers to show their support for the strike, here. All funds raised go to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which is providing logistics, getting out the message about the strikers’ demands and pulling their weight with politicians both in the Fragrant Harbour and beyond. Please do join us!

And, in somewhat related news...

Peter Hitchens writes, in praise of the Guardian:
A word of praise here for ‘The Guardian’ which has once again shown the value of a diverse and adversarial press. Earlier this week ‘The Times’ carried reports which suggested that there was now credible evidence that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels. This view is pretty much shared by the BBC (which has in my view been running a disgraceful and unbalanced campaign for intervention in Syria for many months, way beyond the remit of its Charter obligations) and by many newspapers and politicians. Regular readers here will know that it’s not shared by me, but forget that for a moment and examine the matter for yourselves.

This is important because if such an action could be proven, the USA, Britain and France could get round the difficulty that the UN Security Council will not currently permit intervention in Syria, thanks to the vetoes of Russia and China. Moscow and Peking both feel their goodwill was abused in Libya, where an operation said to be aimed at protecting civilians ended in the overthrow of the Gadaffi state (and its replacement, as it happens, with a lawless chaos, which nobody mentions).

Also, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as I have pointed out before, has a shrewd feeling that the trend towards over-riding national sovereignty could one day soon be used to overthrow him and his government. Russia is unique in the modern world in not being a global superpower, but in having enough military, economic and diplomatic power to continue to behave as a sovereign nation. This was Britain’s position till the unhinged Suez episode of 1956. After that, we became a sycophantic client of the USA, which showed its gratitude for our loyalty by ushering us brusquely into EU servitude, and backing Irish nationalist revolts against our internal national authority. What a terrible tangle this gets us into, especially when EU and US interests don’t coincide.

I don’t know if Mr Putin cares about what would probably happen to Syria if the rebels won, though if he doesn’t, he should. I fear for the Christian and Alawi minorities if Sunni Muslim radicals, backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Turkey, take over. And who knows what would then happen in precarious Lebanon, where the Shia Muslim Hizbollah would then be in a very sensitive position, deprived of a major ally, presumably next on the Saudi target list, yet still powerfully armed and well-trained?

And then there is Shia Iran - Syria’s principal ally and Saudi Arabia’s principal hate-object ( and probably the real target of all this fuss) . Much could follow from an Assad defeat, and much of it could involve violence and danger. It is time people realised that the Sunni-Shia split, in which Syria is embroiled whether she likes it or not, is now a more dangerous fault-line in the Middle East than the stalemated Arab-Israeli conflict.


[A]nyone reporting on such things is entitled to his feelings. More, we should be glad that [Antony Loyd, reporter for The Times] is engaged, and ready to risk himself in the general cause of revealing the true face of the world.

But his editors at home need to be cooler and more dispassionate, especially when so much is at stake.


[I]t strikes me that President Assad would need to be exceptionally stupid to use chemical weapons. They are tricky things to use anyway, unstable, hard to transport, apt to decay in storage, unsafe for their users as well as for their victims. That, rather than international convention, is the reason why they have been used so rarely since they were introduced in the 1914-18 war. Mainly designed to be used on battlefields (where by forcing the use of cumbersome and hot protective clothing they can gravely hold up an advancing army) they would provide him with little advantage in the sort of urban war he is fighting. He knows perfectly well that their use would be the pretext for a Western intervention.

On the other hand, the rebels, many of whom aren’t much nicer than Mr Assad, would see many advantages in suggesting to outside observers that such weapons had been used.

I have no idea of the truth, but I would examine the evidence on that basis, and informed by the knowledge we all gained during the Iraq war run-up, that governments don’t always tell the truth.

The entire article is worth reading. I myself feel none too sanguine, to say the very least, about entrusting the fate of the Christians of Syria and the Christians of Iraq who ended up in that country - not to mention the Alawites - to the government of Turkey, which less than a hundred years ago on the selfsame ground so cavalierly butchered a million and a half Christians from elsewhere in their own territory, and then has consistently and continuously lied about it upon the world stage. Much, much less am I comfortable with entrusting their fate to the Saudis, though they are somewhat further off geographically. And Mr Hitchens is perfectly right, of course, that the Shia-Sunni split in the region is potentially far more important to understand than the Arab-Israeli one, especially since Israel and the Salafist or Salafist-sympathising states are finding common ground on this issue in particular.

27 April 2013

Medz Yeghern

A terrible tragedy and a new and brutal chapter in the history of humanity opened ninety-eight years ago, when the Young Turk administration of the Ottoman Empire began slaughtering its Armenian population under the guise of conscription into the First World War. On the 24th of April, 1915, the Ottoman Empire rounded up between 235 and 270 Armenian scholars in the capital and later deported them and had them murdered. The Armenian population within the Empire as a whole, having been suspected by the Turkish government of collaborating militarily with the Russians, were first conscripted into forced labour and then variously burnt alive, drowned en masse, gassed, deliberately infected with typhus or forced to march in the Syrian desert until they dropped dead of exhaustion, dehydration and starvation. The Armenian genocide killed off roughly three out of every four Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire; out of a population of two million, one and a half million perished. This was essentially the first modern genocide of the twentieth century - and stands out as an action taken by a militantly secular and nationalist government against an unarmed Christian minority (one belonging, in point of fact, to the first officially-Christianised nation).

To date, only 19 countries other than Armenia have officially recognised the great crime which began in 1915 as a genocide: Uruguay, the Soviet Union (and later Russia), Cyprus, Canada, Lebanon, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the Vatican, Switzerland, Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland, Venezuela, Chile and Sweden. Of the states of the United States, 43 of them recognise the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey and Azerbaijan still officially deny the Armenian Genocide; moreover, Turkey’s government has made concerted and sustained attempts to systematically bribe academics outside Turkey (particularly in the United States) to lend a patina of academic legitimacy to their denialist position, and they have been doing this for the past eighty years at least.

The two main political currents in Turkey - the aforementioned militantly secular nationalism, alongside the political Islamic movement which has found a ready constituency outside Istanbul - much as they may loathe, disdain and oppose each other (for reasons which puzzle me, since political Islam in Turkey in particular has been compromised by the Young Turks’ insistence that Islam is a materialist doctrine, which has made Turkish Islam as a whole far more susceptible to the embrace of global capitalism, NATO-lunacy and a misguided Europhilia), still as a first principle align themselves, theologically, politically and philosophically, against the synthesis of Biblical religion with Socratic-Platonic philosophy which marks the whole of apostolic Christianity. And thus they both still define themselves over-against the first nation ever to promote that synthesis.

Dear readers, do remember Armenia this week.

19 April 2013

Off the mark – taking aim at two recent New Statesman articles

Normally, the New Statesman sets a very high standard for reporting. I have an incredibly high respect for Mehdi Hasan and John Pilger, for example, and Nelson Jones is usually quite good at discussing religious topics, though he does retain his own angle with which I am not always in agreement. But two recent articles in particular struck me for their intellectual dishonesty and dearth of critical depth – one by Agata Pyzik on FEMEN (which I myself criticised in a recent blog post), and one by Andrew Zak Williams defending the New Atheists (whom I likewise criticised in the selfsame blog post).

With Ms Pyzik’s article, I am more than somewhat sympathetic, though her arguments in it were still shallow enough to disappoint, since she fails to address some of the most serious concerns about FEMEN raised by their critics, and more damnably fails to take seriously the implications of FEMEN’s public image and stance even within the very socio-political context (that of post-Communist Eastern Europe) which she deems so important. First off, what she gets right, she gets very much right: women in Eastern Europe do tend to pull really short straws. Where I live – in Baotou, Inner Mongolia – the Russian minoriy are not accorded a very high respect, to say the very least. The lucky and affluent amongst them who come here to study often want to stay here and find a Chinese husband, whom, as they are often aware, will treat them with greater respect than men back home do. The not-so-lucky ones end up in brothels – prostitution here is a common enough problem that one of my co-workers, having been mistaken for a Russian, was outright propositioned as one on the street. She is also absolutely right on the money in identifying the cause in the transition from communism to post-communism. This is important for points I make below.

Now let’s get to what Ms Pyzik gets wrong. First off, it is far from clear that either FEMEN’s goals or its targets are suitable even to their own context (with which, having lived in Kazakhstan and having taken a long-standing interest in Eastern European affairs, I have some experience). Why do I say this? Well, let’s have a look at Ms Inna Shevchenko’s own words: she is fighting a ‘war’ (as she herself puts it) in which her primary targets are ‘the three principle manifestations of patriarchy: religion, the sex industry and dictatorship’, and which pits ‘traditionalism against modernity, oppression against freedom, dictatorship against the right to free expression’.

Especially within an Eastern European context – and being from an Eastern European country herself Ms Pyzik is certainly aware of this – this sort of platform is nonsensical. FEMEN are importing a tradition of bourgeois feminism which is a foreign element in the Russophone sphere, and this renders their programme marginal at best, and counterproductive at worst. This is demonstrated best by how the sex industry in Russia came about – it was the post-communist transition which rendered women so vulnerable to exploitation. Under the gangster capitalism which followed shock therapy, in which industries were chopped up and sold at bulk rate prices to foreign interests, the jobs many working-class women held simply vapourised. Suddenly paupers in a system controlled by a handful of oligarchic kleptocrats, they were left with precious few alternatives but the sex industry. The sex industry was at its most powerful only after the Soviets had broken the power of the institutional Church, and only after the Soviets themselves had disintegrated, leaving an open field for the self-proclaimed advocates of ‘freedom’ to turn the entire country into an economic and social wasteland. The sex industry was far from the result of a traditionalist patriarchy, as it were, but the result of a wholly modern one.

For one thing, it is worth note that the Russian Orthodox Church (including such clerics as Fr Vsevolod Chaplin) stood in the middle of this as a bulwark for restoring social justice and putting some brakes on the runaway neoliberalism which had led to the explosion of the sex industry. For another thing, the sort of religious organisations which FEMEN deems ‘patriarchal’ and ‘traditional’ (and therefore regards as enemies) – notably the Roman Catholic Church and the various Orthodox Churches of Eastern European countries – are actually at the very forefront of the campaign to end human trafficking and help its victims to resume normal and healthy lives. One of the biggest networks actively fighting against sex trafficking around the globe is COATNET, which is affiliated with Caritas International – a network of Roman Catholic charities, and one of the most prominent members of COATNET is the Romanian Orthodox Church. The single largest and most-respected organisation in Russia working to combat sex trafficking and the sex industry, the Angel Coalition, maintains active ties with the Russian Orthodox Church on a grassroots level.

Thirdly, with regard to Russian politics, to claim to be against the sex industry and dictatorship, and then turn around and oppose Putin and only Putin, is laughably naïve. I tend to think my options for voting ‘realistically’ in the United States are bad, but our country’s got nothing on Russia. Aside from Putin, you’ve got the old-guard Communists under Zyuganov (the next-most powerful electoral bloc after Единая Россия), then you’ve got the scary-racist Nationalist Right represented by Zhirinovsky and Limunov, and then you’ve got Яблоко and the СПС, the intellectual heirs of the people who drove the getaway car for the shock therapists and the gangsters who came after them. Not a pretty picture at all – and FEMEN and their ideological allies are often seen as enablers of all of the above, the Stalinists, the racists and the neoliberals. Certainly symbolically, FEMEN’s actions should be subject to this sort of scrutiny, particularly in light of the way they took a chainsaw to a cross erected as a monument to the victims of Stalin.

Ms Pyzik subjects FEMEN to critique for going out of their depth and failing to understand the regional limits of their action. Understandable, since such an interpretation would be more sympathetic. I think it could be interpreted, however, that they have the exact opposite problem: they’re out of their depth at home, and perhaps they expect to find more sympathy by attacking fashionable targets abroad – like the Pope (whom they ought to see as an ally in the fight against the sex industry), and like European Muslims. What their followers and what their leader, Ms Shevchenko, said about European Muslims was not only crude, it was deliberately cruel and demeaning (if you think they are being oppressed, why do you go around calling them ‘stupid’?), and it had shades of the logic used by rapists to justify themselves.

The second article, that by Mr Williams, I have very little sympathy with whatever, because it hoists itself quite soundly and quite repeatedly on its own rhetorical petard that ‘nuance and allegations of bigotry make strange bedfellows’. Apart from its own self-righteous and petulant whingeing about how hard the New Atheists have it, never able to catch a break from being criticised (wait, isn’t that the point of having a ‘civilised debate’?), it’s rather laughable that this article uses practically every cheap demagogical trick in the book to make Islam into a vast undifferentiated Other in ways which the likes of the late Edward Said might put into his next book as textbook examples of orientalist thinking. Further, no one I noticed who criticised Sam Harris for saying what he did about racial profiling and nuclear first-strikes – myself included, here – is denying that ‘a religion that harbours such extremes has some explaining to do’. It is merely that we are holding the nouveau atheists and Islam to the same standard.

Let’s take a moment to look at the most brutal tyrannies of our day: North Korea, Turkmenistan, Burma, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia. Two of them – North Korea and Turkmenistan – are explicitly atheist, and Zimbabwe has no official religion at all. Burma’s state religion is Buddhism, which still for reasons which downright baffle me still enjoys broad exemption in the West from any discussions of religious extremism – Harris and Dawkins (though not Hitchens, let’s give him points for consistency) are notably silent on that score. Only one of these dictatorships – Saudi Arabia – is Muslim. It is very far from clear that Islam is truly any graver a threat to constitutional order in government, or any more amenable to irrational dogmatism, than is either atheism or Buddhism.

Even – or perhaps we should say especially – Islamic states like Iran are amenable to a robust realist critique. Even if they were pursuing nuclear weapons, a nice little claim which our government likes to trot out every now and again only for an anticlimactic failure to produce anything resembling proof, their reasons for doing so would be entirely prudential, given the gigantic stockpiles of nukes held by two particular not-so-neighbourly neighbours.

And Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens themselves have ‘some explaining to do’, regarding the war in Iraq and its execution. Harris is a torture apologist, there is no getting around it, and he has also made the written claim that the intentions of the Iraq War were purely noble and altruistic. And Hitchens was one of the most influential figures in swaying much of the liberal intelligentsia to support Bush’s murderous folly. They have no room to complain when it comes to irrational support for acts of gratuitous and senseless violence.

EDIT: Looks like I wasn’t the first to the punch on this one. Here is a brilliant takedown of Williams’ article - far better than mine was. Bravo, good sir!

18 April 2013

Pointless video post – ‘Rebellion’ by Guillotine

Hold the phone.

What the heck is Extreme Aggression-era Kreator doing in Sweden, of all countries, and in 2008 of all years? And why are at least half of the members of this band Nocturnal Rites? (Not knocking the NOC by any stretch here, mind you, but you have to admit that this is pretty far removed from that band’s melodic-heavy sound. I’m guessing Fredrik Mannberg and Nils Eriksson decided to compartmentalise, though it goes without saying that both of them are equally awesome in both sub-genres.)

The musicianship here is sterling, and the lyrics are driving, radical and pissed-off in full tribute to late-‘80’s thrash. But in all honesty, what has changed between 1988 and 2008? The Soviet Union may be dead, but the imperialism under the guise of human-rights hypocrisy, the war, the greed and the technology-induced alienation have all gone completely unabated. Is it any surprise that we should see a Second Coming of the Kreator? For that matter, though, the original Kreator aren’t exactly gone either, though ironically they have adopted a musical style which owes as much to modern Gothenburg-style melodeath as it does to the thrash they pioneered. Enjoy, folks, and remember (to paraphrase Emma Goldman): a revolution without thrashing is a revolution not worth having!

Oh, and for comparison, here’s some Nocturnal Rites:

14 April 2013

Docker strike in the Fragrant Harbour

This is important. Read it.

Li Ka-shing, the billionaire behind Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), controls more than 70 percent of Hong Kong’s port container traffic and oversees a vast transnational network of enterprises including the oil and gas giant Husky.

Arrayed against this financial titan often referred to as “Superman” are dockworkers exhausted by 12-hours shifts lacking even toilet breaks, surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities on wages that haven’t risen in 15 years, and now waging a labor battle that observers are calling pivotal.

The confrontation appears to have tapped a vein of indignation against the “greed economy” and its glaring inequalities, bringing the workers broad public support.

Strikes are rare in Hong Kong, and strikes that gain this much solidarity are unprecedented in recent memory. The dockworkers represent a new level of action among the fastest growing segment of workers: subcontracted, not yet unionized, hyper-exploited.

Interesting to note here are the distinctions between the culture of labour management in Hong Kong and that on the mainland - including such places as nearby Shenzhen. On the mainland, because of the toothlessness of the official union federation, pretty much all strikes are wildcat strikes, but the government seems to be toeing a careful line so as not to appear too openly favourable to employers against their workers. In Hong Kong, there is the analogue of the official union fedeeration on the mainland, which has been sort of shamed out of this strike, but it now appears to be the pan-democratic aligned Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (香港職工會聯盟) which is doing the heavy lifting in supporting the strike. Please pass on this story; any expressions of solidarity with the underpaid, overworked Hong Kong dockworkers is greatly appreciated.

How did something like Gosnell’s clinic happen?

There is, as we speak, a flurry in the new media surrounding the trial of Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist who is standing trial for the gruesome murders of at least seven infants (after they were born) and criminal negligence leading to the death of at least one mother. The case is so spectacularly horrific that one is left to marvel (as did Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic and David Weigel at Slate) at why the big three cable news companies haven’t been covering the Gosnell’s trial voraciously, but an article at the Daily Beast seems to have a decently objective take on the matter, with several models suggested of why the story hasn’t received broader coverage recently.

Josh Dzieza points out that, for one thing (quoting David Weigel), journalists do tend to have a socially-liberal bent to their reporting, and horror stories relating to an abortionist are not as likely to elicit their attention as other comparable stories. Dzieza also claims that the story is not immediately political in the way that the Trayvon Martin shooting was… though by this I take it that he means merely that the story is not immediately amenable to exploitation by one side or the other in contemporary American partisan politics. That strikes me as the most charitable reading of his argument, given that there are indeed political ramifications to this story – ramifications that he himself discusses.

What we are seeing are the consequences of deregulating the medical industry and of promoting an anti-culture of death in one of the professions where that anti-culture can do the greatest damage. All but one of the rooms in Gosnell’s clinic were by all accounts utterly filthy and squalid – blood was everywhere, and they routinely stank of urine. (The one clean room was reserved by Gosnell for his white patients; all patients of colour were relegated to the other rooms.) A flea-infested cat had free run of the facility. Patients were routinely drugged, often by Gosnell’s unqualified and untrained staffers (one of whom was a fifteen-year-old high-school sophomore). Aborted foeti were everywhere to be found – including a jar full of severed feet. One patient, a Bhutanese immigrant named Karnamaya Mongar, died after being given an unsafe sedative which was used because Gosnell could get it at a discounted price. No one could resuscitate this poor woman because the defibrillator was broken. And why was all of this allowed to continue in plain view?

The grand jury report cited a change in administration as one of the reasons. Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was replaced as Pennsylvania governor by the pro-choice Republican Tom Ridge – who basically adopted policies on the same ‘principles’ we can consistently expect from Republicans in every other field of the economy: all regulation is bad regulation. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which had already found Gosnell’s clinic to be in violation of a number of basic safety and health codes, simply stopped inspecting once Ridge came to office. The reason? It would be ‘putting a barrier up’ to women seeking abortions. Resulting complaints – including complaints about injuries, about the spread of venereal disease due to unsanitary practices and equipment, and about the death of Ms Mongar – went ignored by the Ridge administration and those following it. The grand jury report concludes:

Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.

And what has been the reaction by the abortion lobby, to the poor or non-existent regulation of a private clinic run by a bigoted and murderous doctor and his unqualified staff? Tellingly, it is the same as the reaction by the Tea Party to the poor or non-existent regulation of unscrupulous and avaricious investment banks, and the same as the reaction by the NRA to the poor or non-existent regulation of high-powered assault guns which seem to fall into the hands of mass murderers. Any whiff of regulation will send these interest groups and their defenders into a delirious Panglossian frenzy saying how futile such regulation would be. And the inevitable Wayne LaPierre-style wingnuttery in this story is brought by none other than Ilyse Hogue, the head of NARAL, on record as saying this case was ‘exactly what happens when you place undue restrictions and you try to shame women to keep them from exercising their constitutional right to safe and legal abortions’.

Wait – huh?

Please enlighten me, Ms Hogue, precisely what ‘undue restrictions’ were in place in Pennsylvania when this ghoulish nightmare was taking place?

Given the substance of the grand jury report, which notes scathingly that even nail salons in Pennsylvania are subject to more stringent client safety standards, it strikes me that claiming Gosnell’s clinic to be the product of overly-onerous requirements on medical facilities and abortion providers is one of the single most asinine and ideologically-blinkered things one can possibly say about it. It is the precise analogical equivalent of the NRA claiming that the answer to school shootings is more guns and less regulation (because, y’know, all regulation means that the government is out to take away your right to self-defence, and will result in only criminals having guns), or the followers of Rick Santelli claiming that the 2007 financial crisis was the government’s fault for over-regulating investment banks and (supposedly) forcing them to make risky loans to irresponsible ‘losers’.

For a supposedly ‘left-leaning’ organisation such as NARAL to make such a statement is a travesty. If they truly did care about the young women who went into Gosnell’s clinic, particularly those women of colour who were placed at greatest risk, they would not be agitating for ‘more access’ to services which might seriously endanger their lives, but for safer services – even if that meant some clinics would have to be shut down (and good riddance if they are anything like Gosnell’s!). It rather goes without saying that if they cared at all about the children-to-be, of course, they wouldn’t be NARAL. More to the point, though, such a reaction simply shows that they are not willing to face up to the ramifications of a deregulated medical system where this neoliberal, pro-choice logic dictates every aspect of service provision. Gosnell was allowed to continue murdering infants and leaving their mothers to die precisely because regulators under a pro-choice Republican administration were directed not to touch abortion providers. In other words, laissez-faire was the rule of the day under Ridge, and this is the direct result.

It’s time for us on the left to start showing some consistency on this issue. I am only appalled and saddened that it took a mass-murderer like Gosnell to start this conversation, and only after pro-life bloggers made the determination to bring the trial to nation-wide attention.

13 April 2013

A few pertinent questions

I realise that this is a couple of days late, but I feel these questions are still quite pertinent.

Are we really still pretending to be surprised even at this late date that al-Nusra has declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda? Are we really still attempting to draw non-existent distinctions between such ‘fronts’ as al-Nusra and the anti-Assad militants in Syria (I shall not dignify them by erroneously calling them ‘Syrian’) in order to justify our past support of them? Are our news media really going to let themselves (and presumably, those gullible enough to listen to them and believe them) be led about by the nose by the not-Free not-Syrian not-an-Army, taking at face value their PR statements ‘distancing’ themselves from the likes of al-Nusra?

Most importantly, do they truly believe our leaders are that easily fooled?

Well, given our past experience with mujahedeen in Afghanistan, with drug dealers in Central America, with Islamist militants (both Bosniak and Albanian) in the Balkans and with fib-peddling exiles from Iraq, I suppose it stands to reason. But that is a sad indictment upon certain portions of our political establishment in any event. The truly sad thing is that it is the Syrian people - Alawite, Christian and Sunni - who will continue to pay for British, French and American follies in lending aid and comfort, as well as more material support, to these terrorist groups.

Taiwan’s Thatcher mix-up

Well, as a Sinophile and an Anglophile, and as a blogger who has recently been requested to do more coverage of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the OCCs, here was a story I couldn’t really pass up. The normally execrable Wall Street Journal has a reasonably penetrating and thoughtful article on the topic (here linked), which delves into the rather sorry state of Taiwan’s current news media. Of course, Chung T’ien TV’s (中天電視) reporting on Baroness Thatcher’s death with footage of the Queen heading the story is an inexcusable error, and replacing that footage with a clip of Meryl Streep (in her role as the former PM in the recent biopic) just made the whole thing laughably ridiculous. This series of mistakes may be lamentable and inexcusable, and they may indeed say a great deal about the inadequacies of Taiwan’s news media, but mustn’t one consider that the way the British press and society approached the death of Thatcher makes the mistake somewhat comprehensible?

Here we have, as Peter Oborne points out in the Telegraph (in the voice, as David Lindsay claims, of ‘the traditional Toryism that respects Constitution and convention, and which believes in national unity’), a funeral which was undertaken with all the pomp and honours of a state occasion without actually being called such. (Tellingly, it has been called a ‘ceremonial funeral’, a concept invented for the occasion of the death of Princess Diana and used since only for the Queen Mother.) And the fact that the Queen lent these honours to a ‘transformational’ Prime Minister such as Thatcher whilst refusing to give the same honours to another such one as Clement Attlee makes her appear partisan in such a way as materially damages the state of the monarchy. If Taiwanese media mistook Thatcher first for the Queen and then for a movie star, it could well be argued that they could do so only because the modern British Conservatives did so first. Speaking from a purely Confucian point of view, these are not proper rites and music for the death of a civilian Prime Minister, let alone for one who had done as much to polarise British society and demolish British working-class communities as Thatcher.

07 April 2013

A couple of related stories

First, the ever-excellent John at EifD has linked a great article by Glenn Greenwald on the topic of the militarism of Sam Harris and those of like mind within the nouveau atheist movement. As readers may be aware, I am quite far from Glenn’s viewpoint on several issues, but as regards foreign policy I count him amongst those whose head is (for the most part) screwed on straight. There does need to be a deep and trenchant political critique of the nouveau atheists from the left, many of whom have sadly, uncritically adopted them as allies on account of their nominal (and it really is only nominal) opposition to right-wing American Protestant fundamentalism. And even though Glenn Greenwald is essentially wrong on most issues pertaining to economics, as well as on issues pertaining to the influence of money in politics, it is generally on issues of foreign policy that I find him (as with most libertarians) most worth listening to. Please do give the article a thorough read-through.

And then there is the second story, very closely related to the first.

Nineteen-year-old feminist activist Amina Tyler of Tunisia was on the receiving end of death threats and public calls for her corporal punishment or stoning after she posted nude photos of herself online. There were reports that she has been committed to a mental institution. This led to the Ukrainian-based extreme feminist group FEMEN declaring an ‘International Topless Jihad Day’ on behalf of all of the benighted brown women who are being oppressed by Islam. Now, although the prescriptions from certain clerics against the antics of Ms Tyler are undoubtedly extreme and morally abhorrent, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that practising Muslim women don’t take too kindly to having their entire religious tradition so tastelessly and bigotedly painted with that broad brush.

Hence, the online counterprotest by Muslim Women Against FEMEN.

The responses by FEMEN to the counterprotest were predictable and saddening. The counterprotesters were called ‘brainless’, ‘stupid’ and ‘slaves’. As Callie Beusmann, writing for Jezebel, put it: ‘You know that there's something wrong with your protest when its ardent supporters find it appropriate to repeatedly call the women they are “saving” stupid and to affirm that they have no capacity for making decisions of their own.’

Even more stunning in its eyebrow-raising, jaw-dropping repulsiveness was this quote from the leader of FEMEN, Inna Shevchenko:
They write on their posters that they don't need liberation but in their eyes it's written “help me”.

At first I couldn’t believe what I was reading. FEMEN (of all people!) were using the time-honoured rapist ‘her mouth said “no” but her eyes said “yes”’ line of self-defence to dismiss any claims that what they were engaging in was essentially a neocolonialist political exercise. Now, either this is a huge vindication of the feminist view that the rape culture is so firmly embedded in Western society - so firmly, indeed, that it infects even the feminist discourse itself - or it is merely an exercise in the idea that there are certain things women can say but men cannot. Either way, there seems to be a strong undercurrent in FEMEN’s basic message to the Muslim women which reads, ‘we’re gonna liberate the shit out of you, and you’re going to lie back and enjoy it’.

Full disclosure: my impression from first hearing of FEMEN was that were rather nasty specimens, ever since they took a chainsaw to a wooden crucifix in the Ukraine which had been erected in 2005 to the memory of the victims of Stalin, in order to support Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin protest in Russia.

Islamic fundamentalism is an ideology which, like all like fundamentalisms, needs to be protested. But the best and most consistent critics of fundamentalism are (it cannot be stressed enough) not atheists. The atheists, especially those of the nouveau popular-press variety, themselves are too much like fundamentalists - alike in their violently reductionist ontologies and in the imperialist foreign policy which follows from those ontologies - to pose a credible alternative. The best and most consistent critics of fundamentalism are those who stand in the ancient, axial virtue-ethical traditions which closely link the concepts of the True, the Good and the Beautiful whilst holding them in a sacred suspense.

03 April 2013

Three hundred thirty-six million gone

Read here (EDIT: or here if you hit the paywall).

One hundred ninety-six million sterilisations, and three hundred thirty-six million terminated pregnancies, a significant proportion of which we can be sure were forced on the women carrying them. And that is just what has been documented officially by the state which carried them out. For scale, the latter figure is over seven times the highest estimates, by which I mean the hyperventilations of the likes of Frank Dikötter, of the total excess deaths (a figure which includes both born and unborn, by the way) attributed to the Great Leap Forward famine. This is utterly unconscionable.

Let us be clear. The one-child policy implemented by Deng Xiaoping, which is responsible for most of these abortions and sterilisations, is linked intrinsically to the other neoliberal ‘reforms’ he ushered in. These reforms were liable not to be popular in the long run with the working classes; what better way to control the disgruntled at cost, therefore, than by crushing them demographically over the course of a generation? (Naturally, the people who benefitted most from reform-and-opening can merely pay off the requisite agencies for permission to have more than one child - this sort of population control is always aimed first, if not solely, at the people on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.)

The big question which bears asking, then, is: are Deng Xiaoping and his cronies behind the One Child Policy likely to be held historically accountable for this mass slaughter of the unborn and mutilation of women the way Mao Zedong is being for the GLF?