Gramsci; imprisoned by the Italian fascist government; Vaclav Havel by the Czech government; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in a labour camp and exile, Walter Benjamin committing suicide in fear that he would not escape the Nazis, Bertolt Brecht in exile in the USA, Karl Popper emigrating from Vienna, living in Christchurch New Zealand. (I always imagine him wandering sadly round that pleasant, staid city fruitlessly looking for a café). William Cobbett in jail for “criminal libel”. That’s a tiny percentage of the thousands of writers and intellectuals who have been persecuted by the state.
Many intellectuals like to think they would speak truth to power. But these days in Europe the state doesn’t much care if you speak truth to it or not. Intellectuals don’t fear the state will clap them into jail or have them executed. Many of them are employed by the state at universities and write for periodicals that are in part state-funded eg The London Review of Books, even though they write articles heavily critical of their governments. Now when physical danger threatens it comes from elsewhere, those who haven’t got state power, but a roving band of rage boys ready for action,. According to this review of Paul Berman’s book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, the brainy ones are fleeing their duty to speak on behalf of their fellows who are in such danger from freelance petty persecution:-
the threat of murder, the attempted murder, and the actual murder of dissidents from Islam have all become a regular feature of the intellectual landscape of Europe. The most shocking and dramatic passages in Berman's book are those in which he recounts, often casually, his encounters with the harried and hunted figures who have offended some radical mullah or other.
. . .
It was not healthy for Theo van Gogh to get too close to Hirsi Ali. The Danish cartoonists are still under constant death threats, Berman reports. And Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of another apostate, reads death threats against himself online*, while Bassam Tibi, who, Berman tells us, "pioneered the concept of Islamism as a modern totalitarianism and pioneered the concept of a liberal 'Euro-Islam' [as well] ... spent two years under twenty four hour police protection in Germany. ... [T]he Egyptian and Italian journalist Magdi Allam ...was travelling with a full complement of five bodyguards. ... The Italian journalist Fiamma Nienstein … was accompanied by her own bodyguard. … Caroline Fourest in France, the author of the first and most important extended criticism of Ramadan, had to go under police protection. ... [T]he French history professor Robert Redkeker had to go into hiding. In 2008 the police in Belgium broke up a terrorist group that had planned on assassinating, among other people Bernard Henri Levy."
He spends an evening in New York "... with Flemming Rose the culture editor of the Danish newspaper who was visiting New York only because at that particular moment it was too dangerous for him to remain in Denmark."
The list continues. Kurt Westergaard, Boulem Sansal. This is cumulatively (and individually) scandalous.
Yes, it is. Here’s a suggestion for The London Review of Books, the New Statesman, the TLS and every other intellectual periodical. In every one of your issues please have a “Writer in Danger” feature of about half a page, where you quote the words of one of those who is forced to live in fear because their discourse has so offended some radical mullah or other.
Spring is certainly late. Today I did my work-out cycle, which takes me south west, beside the Water of Leith and through woods up to the Pentland Hills. The crocuses are out in Edinburgh, but higher up, and away from the city there were only snow drops and the gardens I passed had very little coming through. I stopped at Malleny Garden which had yellow aconites and vivid blue scilla flowering but was otherwise bare. The herb beds in this National Trust garden were like mine in only having some sage growing, and the rest needing some serious tidying. There were banks of snowdrops in the woods, and a few light purple crocuses at the entrance. It looked like it should be late February, not March. Except for its great dark yews, the garden had a pale and tawny look.
I then climbed to Threipmuir Reservoir, pretty much empty of water, and up the beech avenue, which is unrelentingly steep – I have never managed to cycle all the way to the top. It’s as if you are cycling up a wall. I saw a roe deer, rather dark with a white rump.
It was a chilly, windy day and I could feel the occasional drop of rain. It’s about seventeen miles, this cycle, and with a gradual then a steep climb one way, and a fast descent on the return.
I got this message from the Libel Reform Campaign:-
We need you to come to the Houses of Parliament next Tuesday, 23 March, for a mass meeting with MPs to convince them to commit to libel reform.
The Libel Reform Campaign has booked Committee Room 15 at Parliament, and MPs know that we’re coming. Please, if you can, come and join us. Simon Singh will be joining us to tell MPs about the real effect of our libel laws.
The political parties are on the verge of signing up to once in a generation reform of our libel laws. But we don’t have them signed up yet. This is our last chance to lobby parliamentarians before the general election.
So here’s the plan:
Mass lobby of Parliament
2 – 3pm
We’re trying to get as many campaign champions, press and MPs along as possible for a meeting 2-3 pm in Committee Room 15. You can come to this even if you don’t have an MP appointment. If you can, let us know you are coming by emailing us: firstname.lastname@example.org
3 – 4pm
You can email your MP and ask them to meet you between 3 – 4 pm in Central Lobby. Even if your MP has signed the EDM on libel reform it is still worth doing this.
I don’t know much about the libel laws except that they can operate to silence reasoned debate, as the British Chiropractic Association is trying to do in the case of Simon Singh. The libel laws used as loppers against the pointing fingers of criticism and ridicule have been active again in the last couple of days, this time from the man with a constant itch for litigation, Mr George Galloway, who is in the process of suing David Toube of Harry’s Place for a facetious remark David made on the Socialist Unity blog. (background here).
This differs from the action that Johanna Kaschke brought against Dave Osler for something someone said about her in the comments on Dave Osler’s blog. By the same logic, it should be Andy Newman, the presiding MC over at Socialist Unity who should be sued, not David, who doesn’t even mention Galloway by name. Anyway, we can all agree that if we were to be sued for abuse, jokes, smears, slurs and the general knockabout that happens on blogs we would all be poor, cowed and silent.
In the seventeenth century if a gentleman of standing like Mr Galloway thought that some scribbler had offended him with a squib, a lampoon or satire he would hire thugs to beat him up. These days honourable MPs go to libel lawyers in order to stifle remarks which bring them into disrepute.
My guess is that the Hamas groupie, dictator dick-sucker and eager hireling of the propaganda arm of a repressive regime has been rattled by Harry’s Place and hurt in his most sensitive place, i.e. his vanity. The impression Mr Galloway gives is of a man with a rich fantasy life – the revolutionary hero, the modern Saladin adored by 1.2 billion Muslims, the brave speaker of truth to power. However recently in his guise as the fearless agitator who faces down the tyrannical police state he was made to look like a complete arse.
He was addressing a meeting to denounce police tactics at the Gaza demonstrations. A couple of Iranians began heckling, so he called the police to eject them. A video and pictures of the event was put up with a lot of glee at Harry’s Place.
Now, you can argue that the police have been heavy-handed at demos and that it’s reasonable to get some kind of security to shut up those who prevent a public meeting from carrying on. But even if Galloway had right on his side in this instance he still looks like a complete arse, the straight man in an inspired bit of situationalist comedy. Harry’s Place has evidently got under his skin, and so suing David T is one way of getting at it. (This is speculation on my part. I haven’t got actual entry into Galloway’s mind. There are some places you definitely don’t want to go).
If you want to know more about the libel laws, go and read what the knowledgeable say eg Tracey Brown, Managing Director of Sense About Science:-
Libel laws are not just a Fleet Street issue. We have heard from scientists, campaigners, writers, academics and patients that their discussions and publications are being shut down by the threat of libel action. Critical and open debates are vital in medicine and the public are badly missing out without them.
Reform the libel laws! Piss George Galloway off!
Fellow cyclists in your oppression, read this:-
Cyclists, not content with having lanes painted everywhere to accommodate their perversion, routinely feel free to jump lights or board the pavement whenever tedious interventions like the Highway Code interfere with their path of righteousness. My own view is that the lycra-wearing freaks should either pay road tax or face being hosed off the streets.
We are, literally, marginalised in the streets which should be ours by right. We are out-numbered and out-gunned by those colonising internal combastards who now treat us as a rebellious minority, insufficiently grateful for that tiny reservation that they leave us. They, the internal combastard imperialists, impose what they call a Highway Code for their own colonisation of the roads, and then howl at us for not obeying it. These were once our roads. If our pedalling warriors for justice break the automobile-made laws, they are part of a resistance and their acts of light-jumping and pavement-boarding are not criminal, but political acts of defiance against the car hegemony.
This looks like a balanced article on the Gita Sahgal/Moazzam Begg affair in The Nation.
There are no angels in this story, only human beings. Women have too often been expected to stay silent for the greater good, and Gita Sahgal probably didn't intend her complaints about Amnesty to be taken up by apologists for the "war on terror." But a case based on guilt by association simply isn't good enough to publicly condemn a man, especially one who has already been imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. Moazzam Begg didn't seek out a life in the public eye; it came to him as a consequence of his ordeal. In the current climate he might be forgiven for being protective of his community, but if he is to be taken seriously as an advocate for universal human rights, he needs to clarify his views about fundamentalist clerics his organization embraces. Amnesty needs a more transparent culture to match its principles; women's rights must be integral to all of its campaigns.
The butterfly that set this particular tempest blowing beat its wing decades ago in some British inner city. Islamophobia, antifeminism, the mutual mistrust between Muslims and the secular left have all fanned the breeze. If successive governments had not encouraged minorities to define themselves by religion, if they had answered racism and poverty with justice instead of tokenism, Gita Sahgal and Moazzam Begg might not be on opposite sides of this destructive argument.
I was very taken with this installation:-
The artist, Ai Weiwei, sounds like a hero as well. He uses his position as a famous artist to speak against the Chinese authorities’ abuse of human rights:-
Ai helped to design the "Bird's Nest" national stadium for the 2008 Olympics – then blasted the country's "disgusting" political conditions and the use of the games as propaganda. Since then he has championed a number of sensitive causes, notably internet freedom and justice for children who died when shoddy schools collapsed in the devastating Sichuan earthquake. Others have fallen foul of the government for far less, and supporters fear Ai's position and his father's reputation will only shield him for so long. Certainly, the authorities seem to regard him, increasingly, as a problem. His China-based blog has been closed down, his email account hacked into, and security officials have made inquiries at his bank. In Chengdu last year, police detained him and fellow activists to prevent them attending the trial of a campaigner investigating schoolchildren's deaths. In the furore, a policeman punched him in the head, leaving him with painful headaches; weeks later, while working in Germany, he underwent surgery after doctors spotted internal bleeding.
The internet has made a huge difference to those who once would have had their message slowly trickle out through samizdat publications.. Ai Weiwei can pour out what he has to say through a thousand conduits:-
Around 26,000 people follow his volley of outrage and satire, facts and aphorisms, on Twitter: "No outdoor sports can be more elegant than throwing stones at autocracy; no melees can be more exciting than those in cyber space," read one recent missive.
“People often say I started to become too outspoken after a certain period. It's all because of the internet – if we didn't have this technology I would be same as everybody else; I couldn't really amplify my voice," he says.
Weren’t there some Russian poets who learned forbidden poets’ work off by heart so they wouldn’t be lost when the authors were suppressed? Now they would post them on friendly blogs hosted in foreign countries.
There are some media madams you really want to get scrubbing floors, or, to bring that up to date, vacuuming the open plan at 6am or on a nine hour shift of cold calling.
There’s Charlotte Raven with a wardrobe of staples - Madonna - Katie Price - Pole-dancing cunningly put together and accessorised to produce this season’s look of feminism’s death. It is all the fault of the media woman, who is, of course is in the vanguard when it comes to female empowerment.
In a recent study of 1,000 British girls (admittedly by a mobile entertainment company), quoted in Walter's book, 60% said glamour modelling was their preferred career. A quarter said they would consider becoming lap dancers. By all measures, the value map has shifted in Price's favour.
Yeah, and once they would have dreamed of being film stars or marrying lords. Then the hard hammer of the factory or the farmhouse would have knocked those dreams out of them.
I'm sorry to say that we are culpable. Thinking women have turned their backs on feminism. This might not have been a disaster if we had remained neutral.
I knew it would be about you, Charlotte. But y’know, whatever the thinking women (and your thinking is about at the level of Madeline Bunting’s – a quick glance at the glossies and a book or two, and there you are, Hannah Arendt), are doing, the working women are getting jobs in IT support, in medicine and in law. They are attending university in huge numbers. They may be going to spas as a treat and asking for a French manicure for a birthday present, but they are working their arses off.
But Charlotte is beating her breast at having let down those women who looked to her for inspiration by using her sexiness for getting ahead in her media career (by the way, note the boastfulness – I was very bad for being such a tart, but what a beautiful stylish tart I was).
I wore Chanel's Night Sky at meetings with editors, aware that much was at stake. Large contracts were being handed to women displaying attitudinal oomph. I hoped my nail colour would convey my capacity for reckless candour and a readiness to say the unsayable.
Yeah, those are just the attributes that the average Manager of Human Resources (normally a woman) is looking for when she is hiring the Marketing Assistant, the Call Centre Team Leader, the Applications Developer and the social worker. All your fault, Charlotte.
All right, I hate Katie Price, Madonna*, Julie Burchill’s novel Ambition, Hello magazine and ghastly shops that sell everything that’s pink. However the women I know who go in for that kind of thing will laugh and say that is pretty silly, and a bit of frivolity. Life was never a Barbara Cartland novel in more romantic times, and it isn’t a shopping-and-fucking novel either, but any sane female over the age of nineteen knows that. As for the clueless, their fantasies will take some form or other.
Charlotte Raven’s article bolts on some more reasonable concerns about the growth of the sex industry and the toll it can take on the workers in it. but by the time I got there I was so infuriated by her thinking that the media world = the whole world I didn’t want to read on.
*Actually, I did like her in Evita.
Interviewer:- One of the leftist Oxford students from the earlier period whom you mention by name in the book is Christopher Hitchens. What do you make of his political trajectory?
Eagleton:- I just turned down the offer of a public debate with him in the States. I've said what I want to say, and we wouldn't have got anywhere - it would only have been a sort of bloodsport.
What’s wrong with a bit of bloodsport? The growling bulldog Hitchens tearing the throat out of that double-backing fox Eagleton? I’d pay a tenner to see that in all its bleeding flesh. Hitchens would be the winner, not just on point of argument, but because he’s a hardened veteran of a debater.
What was definitive for him, politically, was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989. I think that was the turning point. The deep Islamophobic impulse he has stems from that. But he's still an idiosyncratic mixture of various political attitudes that don't always go together.
Book burnings and death threats against writers hit the deep liberal impulse or the deep anti-Nazi impulse rather than the deep Islamophobic impulse. (Hitchens isn’t Islamophobic, simply anti any kind of religion especially when it takes a theocratic and murderous turn).
Eagleton ducked out of debating Martin Amis as well, the old spoilsport.
To do him credit, he does say Hitchens is “very astute” on literary topics, which meets my estimation of Eagleton – very good on literature, which, after all, is his speciality, dodgy on politics.
I'm interested in the way a whole stratum of the liberal literati (Rushdie, to some extent Ian McEwan, A C Grayling, obviously Amis and Hitchens) - the very people you'd have expected to be guardians of the liberal flame of tolerance and understanding - have, at the very first assault, rushed into these caricatured postures driven by panic. I'm very struck by how those who are making ugly, illiberal, supremacist noises about the superiority of the west are precisely the sort of literary and liberal characters from whom you'd expect more imagination, openness and sensitivity.
Well, Tel, how about a little dissertation on how to treat with sensitive openness the kind of people who burn books at the behest of clerics with a political agenda and treat with imaginative sympathy those who firebomb publishers on the rumour of some offensive book being printed. You’re a literary man, for Chrissake.
Some song writing, some verse writing and too much blogging about culture, politics, cycling and gardening.