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Thursday, September 21, 2006


My name is Al

Al-Guardian, Al-Reuters, Al-BBC. You see all of these names used across right-wing and pro-war discourse. And they are use derogatorily. In other words, suggesting that an organisation is a ‘bit Arab’, as the prefix Al- is used, is to be taken as an insult, as a means of undermining integrity.

Why do we accept this without comment? Indeed, why do we accept this without outrage? If a writer were to make the name of a political opponent sound stereotypically Jewish in order to insult, we would see that writer as a straightforward anti-Semite. If we heard a speaker rework the name of an organisation in order to make it appear to his listeners to be, say, African, or Oriental, in the expectation this would damage the credibility of that organisation, we would mark that speaker as a straightforward racist.

Why do we allow the same sort of rhetorical defamation to be visited upon Arabs? Why do we even entertain the opinions of writers and speakers who use such formulations? Is anti-Arab racism perfectly acceptable?


Occupation works much more smoothly if the people who you dominate can be thought of as inferior, as barbarians, as dispensable. So, while my name might be Al, can we ask how a man with the name Corporal Payne was allowed to run interrogations?

That is a poor joke. I am not really a fan of nominative determinism. I don’t follow the logic of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Unbreakable, when he says; “I should have known from the beginning what my purpose was. Do you know how I know David? Because of the kids. They called me Mr. Glass.”

What I do believe is that invasion and occupation was always going to result in murder, rape, and torture. Not because man like Corporal Payne are in any way special, but because they are not. Not because the British Army, or the US Marines are especially bad, but because they are armed forces that exist as part of social, economic and political structures that differ little from those that organised imperialism and domination in previous, and not distant, generations.

The laughable pro-war left thought that this invasion, this occupation, could be different, not because they have altered the structure of British society, but through disempowered goodwill and cheerleading, all while the men and institutions with real power are the heirs (where they are not identical) to those that conducted bloody murder and oppression across the globe.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Reinstate Robin Sivapalan

Robin Sivapalan is a teaching assistant at Quintin Kynaston School (QK) in North London. QK was the site of last Thursday’s school visit by Tony Blair, ostensibly to announce the first wave of Trust Schools – state schools managed by private interests – of which QK set to be a part of.

Robin Sivapalan was part of a protest that greeted – or at least would have had not the protest been pushed largely out of sight – Tony Blair’s visit. A report of the protest can be found HERE. He was subsequently suspended from his job at QK for ‘insubordination’ and ‘breaching confidentiality’ [see HERE and HERE].

The head of QK, Jo Shuter, e-mailed the Morning Star to set out her version of events. She closed the e-mail:

“I personally remain a big supporter of Tony Blair whose policies I value and who I personally feel is a man of integrity and honesty.”

However, despite this bald statement of political orientation, Shuter is not describing her own behaviour, or that of Tony Blair’s press team, when she writes:

“… the role played by these activists was cleverly orchestrated and the children were merely fodder for a political campaign.”

No, here she was describing the ‘rabble rousing’ of people such as Robin Sivapalan. If the charge of insubordination results from engaging in political activity, then a far more serious charge should be levelled against Shuter. Sivapalan, we should remember, was protesting outside a school that had been already been appropriated – site, staff and children – as political capital to serve the interests of its head.

The second charge, of ‘breaching confidentiality’, is also suspect. Presumably Blair’s visit was not top secret – this is not an issue of national security – else the staff would not have been made aware, the children drafted in to present the obedient face of QK would not have known to attend and the media would not have been present en masse. Blair’s visit might not have been public knowledge, but it was hardly a secret. The only importance of keeping prior knowledge of the visit restricted is if what is at stake is the prevention of legitimate protest. If each of Blair’s perfectly normal public visits are kept secret until after the event, then it becomes impossible, excepting cases where someone is brave enough to ‘breach confidentiality’, to protest. If ‘breaching confidentiality’ is an issue in this case then the issue is of the right to engage in democratic speech and action.

As a first step in the defence of Robin Sivapalan sign the electronic petition at “robin [at]”.


More Amis

Someone called Conventrian has pasted my post dealing with the telepathic powers of Martin Amis into the comments of Inayat Bunglawala’s latest Comment is Free piece.

There, DaveD responds directly to me, calling me a twit. Martin Amis is not a social scientist, he argues, so why should he have a materialist understanding of history? Because, I reply, in his essay he is pretending to be just that, a social scientist of some kind. He is not writing fiction. He is not writing literary criticism. Amis’ essay is an attempt to understand aspects of society from a pseudo-rational perspective.

I use the term pseudo-rational because that is exactly what the essay is. Rather perform the hard graft of finding evidence Amis speculates from prejudice. As DaveD patronises: “I'm not sure if you read much, but extrapolation from outward appearances to inward psychology is a common literary device, designed to dramatise and add interest. In effect, as you say, it tells us more about the imaginer than the imaginee--but that's quite often the purpose of it.”

Quite. But Amis was not writing a piece that claimed to expose what he felt about Muslims and Islam, but one that claimed to offer insight into the minds and motivations of others. His use of the omniscient authorial mind in this case is not a fictionalisation of a truth – in the manner of a non-fiction novel – derived from evidence gathered; say a generalisation based on a collection of interviews. No. His mind-reading act with the gatekeeper of the Dome of the Rock is invention from start to finish.

Invention matters not in itself, but because of what this essay claims to be, and what so many others are reading it as; a dissection of the modern Muslim mind. It claims to be a rational enquiry. It asks to be taken as a piece of writing with a claim on the truth. This way of understanding the world is in contrast to Amis’ imagined Other. Amis writes:

“No doubt the impulse towards rational inquiry is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male.”

Again Amis exposes only himself. No doubt? Where can we find the rational enquiry in Amis’ own sentence? Does Amis have any evidence for differential degrees of ‘impulse towards rational enquiry’ between cultural and gender-based groupings? Or is he pulling ‘facts’ from his… imagination with the same degree of unreflexive arrogance that led him to demand special exemption from the rules when visiting Jerusalem?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Blair buries socialism

Apart from the childish retort of, ‘you can’t resign, you’re fired’, the most depressing aspect of Tony Blair’s response to the resignation of Tom Watson was this assertion:

“There is no fundamental ideological divide in the Labour party for the first time in 100 years of history.”

As Dave Osler observes; “Probably the prime minister intends that remark to mean that socialism is finished inside what was once the mass party of the working class.”

Why did Tony Blair ever join the Labour Party?

Monday, September 11, 2006


Exclusive: Mind-reading Martin Amis confounds world

At least, that is the most generous interpretation of the passage in his recent essay [parts ONE, TWO and THREE] that reads:

“I will never forget the look on the gatekeeper’s face, at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, when I suggested, perhaps rather airily, that he skip some calendric prohibition and let me in anyway. His expression, previously cordial and cold, became a mask; and the mask was saying that killing me, my wife, and my children was something for which he now had warrant.”

Would Amis have read mass-murderous intent in the facial expression of, say, a porter of an Oxbridge college, if he had received a similarly frosty response – a response in that most ambiguous language, body-language – after having suggested that rules of visiting hours ought not apply in his case? If Amis would have done so, then he must live his life in fear of all the people who have assumed possession of personally granted death warrants for the family Amis.

Because the expression on the gatekeeper’s face most likely betrayed his understanding of what kind of man Amis had demonstrated that he was. He had been an arrogant prick, riding the privileges of wealth, passport and class, who had come to the conclusion that local rules and customs were an irrelevance. Unless he is only a prick when demanding entry to Muslim holy sites Amis will have seen this expression before. So what is special about this occasion? Nothing but the results of the imagined telepathy of Martin Amis, a paranormal talent that reveals nothing of the mind of the gatekeeper but does expose the inner life of Amis.

Given the benefit of this volunteered mind-mirror we now know what ‘mask’ to adopt on being unfortunate enough to see, hear or read Martin Amis. Not simply a ‘mask’ that communicates, ‘you arrogant prick’, but one that, with the benefit of evidence* spells out, ‘you arrogant, racist prick’.

*Evidence is something that the Amis essay lacks in other places. Whether it is his claims to telepathy, his absurd generalisation of ‘the Palestinian mother’ or his abandonment of materialist historical understanding, the essay is peppered with holes where evidence ought to go. And I thought the argument ran that is was people falling on my side of many of the fences in the War on Terror fences who are guilty of betraying the Enlightenment.


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