Sunday, 27 June 2010


What a business that school magazine turned out to be. Next year, let’s get the kids to do more of the work. Here’s a great troll, one of a bunch of fine paintings and collages illustrating The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Copyright © 2010 by a child in Reception.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Anti-imperialism über alles

Via Harry’s Place, read philosophy prof Judith Butler on how war-waging types are instrumentalising people, specifically gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans and queer people. (My spell-checker doesn’t dig that coinage, let’s try it in American: instrumentalizing? Nope. Guess this machine is out of date.)

The context for this was the 2010 Christopher Street Day Parade in Berlin, which Judith Butler felt was not cool, at least not as cool as the alt. edition, Transgenialer CSD. On that I have no opinion. But on the instrumentalificationising business? Ah yes. First, here’s the relevant paragraph from her Berlin speech, refusing a prize on Christopher Street Day:
We all have noticed that gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans and queer people can be instrumentalized by those who want to wage wars, i.e. cultural wars against migrants by means of forced islamophobia and military wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. In these times and by these means, we are recruited for nationalism and militarism. Currently, many European governments claim that our gay, lesbian, queer rights must be protected and we are made to believe that the new hatred of immigrants is necessary to protect us. Therefore we must say no to such a deal.
And from last year, here’s Judith Butler talking to Nina Power:
NP: To the horror of many on the left, feminism and (to a lesser extent) gay rights were invoked as democratic values in the case for war in Afghanistan and Iraq (‘freeing’ women from the burka, for example). How do you understand the contemporary relationship between feminism (and gay rights) and war?

JB: There are at least two problems here. The one has to do with the sudden instrumentalization of “gay rights” or “women’s rights” to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a move that suggests that we are actually fighting a culture, a religion, or an entire social structure rather than a particular state or its government. The notions of emancipation instrumentalized for such purposes are clearly imperialist, and assume that liberation means adopting certain kinds of cultural norms as the most valuable. But this argument is really treacherous in my view, since it overrides the actual political movements already underway in such countries that are working out specific political vocabularies and claims for rethinking gender, sexuality, and domination.

The second problem is that lesbian/gay rights, and the rights of sexual minorities, need to join with feminist, anti-racist, and anti-war movements and are, in many instances, already joined together. There is no bona fide feminism, for instance, that is not also anti-racist. Similarly, there is no struggle for the rights of sexual minorities that is worthy of the name that does not affirm the cultural diversity of sexual minorities. Further, it is important to understand “minoritization” strategies as effecting both sexual and religious minorities - another reason why complex alliances are crucial.
To try and understand what is meant here, I’m going to start with the sentence “There is no bona fide feminism, for instance, that is not also anti-racist.” This seems clear enough. Feminism, the struggle for women’s rights, must be a struggle for universal women’s rights unlimited by race. But this is presented as a “for instance” in relation to the preceding sentence, declaring “lesbian/gay rights, and the rights of sexual minorities, need to join with feminist, anti-racist, and anti-war movements.” The implication then would seem to be that those not joined with anti-war movements are not bona fide lesbian/gay rights campaigners, are not bona fide feminists, not bona fide anti-racists.

So Judith Butler’s answer to the question on the contemporary relationship between feminism and gay rights and war is that there are no real feminists who are not part of the anti-war movement.

And continuing to work backwards to the previous paragraph, where arguments on women’s rights are deployed in relation to the war in Afghanistan, then “the notions of emancipation instrumentalized for such purposes are clearly imperialist, and assume that liberation means adopting certain kinds of cultural norms as the most valuable.” Let’s be clear what notions these are: the struggle for women’s education, for the right to vote, the struggle to stop forced marriages of young girls, in short the struggle for equal political and economic rights. These notions, because they have been deployed in support of the war against the Taliban, they are now regarded by Judith Butler as imperialist. They are no longer bona fide feminist notions, because they are not anti-war.

Forget that the Taliban are a deadly repressive misogynist organisation created, nay instrumentalised, by little imperialists in Pakistan’s military, because the only imperialism Judith Butler recognises is Western Imperialism: worse than the lash, worse than acid in the face, worse than public execution in the football stadium.

In her Berlin speech, Judith Butler says, “In these times and by these means, we are recruited for nationalism and militarism.” Hum. On nationalism and militarism then . . .

First on nationalism:

In his essay, Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell presented a view of nationalism as something other than just allegiance to one’s country of birth or residence. He defined it as, “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” He pointed out that “nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the USSR without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit.” And further, “transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is usually to Russia.”

I think all this clearly applies to contemporary anti-imperialism. It is a Western phenomenon that is overwhelmingly anti-Western, with little or no interest in any imperialism that can’t be blamed on the US, with no coherent positive alternative to promote, and to its adherents all other arguments are secondary. Judith Butler adheres to this negative transferred nationalism of anti-Western anti-imperialism.

And now on militarism:

Here, via the Radical Archives, is Judith Butler on Hamas and Hezbollah:
Similarly, I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence. So again, a critical, important engagement. I mean, I certainly think it should be entered into the conversation on the Left.

So, Hamas and Hezbollah, two military organisations backed by a murderous and extremely misogynist authoritarian theocratic state; these she can be just a little bit critical of while embracing them as part of a global left. But a military that helps the Afghan government in a struggle against murderous misogynist thugs operating across their southern border, a struggle that is backed by the overwhelming majority of the population of Afghanistan; for such a military the only word she has is ‘imperialist’.

To learn about some of the feminists of Afghanistan that Judith Butler regards as not bona fide, read Terry Glavin’s articles on the women of Parwan, Shamsia Sharifi, Yasameen and Raziea, Afghan Soccer Heroes, and Sitara Achakzai.

Earlier on this blog: interviews with helpless Afghan women instrumentalised by Western Imperialism here.

More on how Western anti-war feminists can’t deal honestly with Afghanistan here.

More on post-modern anti-imperialists unable to think straight here and here and here and here.

An old favourite: an anti-imperialist on fluffy issues in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: The prof says she didn’t say what she said. As they say in our house, “Ha ha, very funny, my name’s Bugs Bunny.”

First proof

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Taking a moment . . .

Things have been rather overwhelming at the Amazons’ AB this month, hence the radio silence, but here we take a little break with John Held Jr, thanks to the ever wonderful Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog.

Mr Door Tree, the host of that esteemed establishment, has posted a fascinating overview of Mr Held’s art. A particular revelation to me were some of the less cartoony cityscapes and landscapes produced by America’s graphic star of the flapper period.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Today is 12 June

Former elite officers reveal tensions in Iran regime, a 16 minute documentary from The Guardian.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Tomorrow is 12 June

Pedestrian: “June 12th isn’t just the day we died, but the day we chose to live.”

Much more from Tehran Bureau, Potkin Azarmehr, Enduring America, United4IranInternational Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Harry’s Place, and many others.

At Mission Free Iran, a list of worldwide protest events.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


First, a poll from April by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre, a Palestinian NGO. On voting intentions should there be an election, it gave a figure of 16% support for Hamas in Gaza compared with 42.7% for Fatah. 40.9% of respondents in Gaza said the West Bank government was doing a better job than the Gaza government, compared with 26% saying the reverse.

And yet quite a number of people seem under the impression that Hamas is the more popular party with the Palestinian population, at least judging by commenters at the New Statesman. (Via Bob.)

Everyone knows that the Gaza flotilla killings were a massive defeat for Israel in the battle for public opinion, but how big a defeat? Michael J Totten links to a poll:
Forty-nine percent (49%) of U.S. voters believe pro-Palestinian activists on the Gaza-bound aid ships raided by Israeli forces are to blame for the deaths that resulted in the high-profile incident.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think the Israelis are to blame. Thirty-two percent (32%) more are not sure.
More here. It would be interesting to see polls from other countries.

Michael Totten also links to another poll story from a year ago:
A survey conducted by the Boston Review in its May/June issue shows that nearly 25% of American non-Jews blame “the Jews” a moderate amount or more for the financial crisis.
Original story here.

Mick Hartley brings news of further criticism of the survey published by The Lancet in 2006 claiming a death toll of 600,000 in the Iraq War. The survey has now been questioned by Professor Michael Spagat of the Department of Economics at Royal Holloway, University of London:
Professor Spagat's research analyses the high-profile Burnham et al (2006) survey that estimated 601,000 violent deaths in the Iraq war and says it is unreliable, invalid and unethical and resulted in an exaggeration of the death toll.
According to the study all credible evidence suggests that a large number of people have been killed in the Iraq war. However, injecting inflated and unsupportable numbers into this discussion undermines our understanding of the conflict and could incite further violence”, says Professor Spagat.
More here. Earlier posts on the Lancet survey here and here.

Finally, at Ghosts of Alexander, AfPak Conference: Opinion Polls Make You Dumb. (Oopsy.)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Gaza on the back of an envelope

Caution be damned, here we go:

The argument for the blockade of Gaza is that if it is lifted, Hamas will be free to re-arm, and Iran will increase its influence in the area.

The arguments against the blockade are that it causes hardship to the population, prevents development of the legitimate economy, encourages the illegitimate smuggler economy, and fails to prevent Hamas re-arming.

I’d make one more argument against the blockade: it reinforces the primacy of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the lives of Gaza residents. This might seem a bit too obvious, but I read little or no comment on the possibility of changing Gaza’s relationship with the world to something broader than the dysfunctional Israel-Palestine binary relationship.

I think long term peace depends not just on improving the binary relationship, but on diminishing its importance relative to other relationships between Gaza residents and the wider world.

My back of an envelope solution is to put Gaza’s port under the control of a UN Port Authority mandated by the UN Security Council, with control over customs, security and economic development in the port area.

I fully trust this is a solution that will please no-one. The history of UN Oil For Food in Iraq comes to mind, as does UN failure in the Bosnian war. A UN regime at the port would no doubt be unable to stop smuggling and corruption, and would probably offer new possibilities in this area. It would be unable to stop Hamas re-arming. But these downsides are likely in any case.

Here are a couple more things a UN Port Authority would not do. It would not exert any control over Palestinian politics in Gaza outside of the port area. It would not prevent Israel or Hamas from waging war. Again, no change there.

So what could change? A UN Port Authority should have as part of its mandate the greatest possible development of economic and cultural connectivity between Gaza and the wider world. It should be an active investor in developing the port as an international shipping centre, not just a deposit point for aid. It should allow and encourage a legitimate economy to develop. It should facilitate the free flow of information between Gaza and the wider world. It should facilitate the free passage of people from and to Gaza.

A UN Port Authority could open the door for Gaza to step outside of the Israel-Palestine binary relationship.