A Mocked and Paid Litany

Olympics – Politics can’t be left at the door. They arrived before we did.
August 9, 2008, 7:58 am
Filed under: human rights, politics, Uncategorized

Right now, it’s easy to find a general sentiment along these lines:

Let’s leave the politics outside the door since that’s not what the Olympic is all about shall we? Even if the Chinese citizens don’t like their government, they would still want their Olympics to be the best. For the next couple of weeks at least, they would only care about their country being the best in the sporting events. Didn’t you feel that way back in Sydney Olympics?

I shan’t pay the author the dignity of linking to him, but it’s not hard to stumble upon rubbish like this. I’d very much like to see pimply middle-class fellows from Sydney telling those who were actually involved in the construction of infrastructure for the Olympics that all they should care about for a couple of weeks is nationalistic fervour in sporting events. Just seeing as many of said workers are actually Chinese ‘citizens’ who’ve been abducted from their families and homes in Western Provinces and made to work in Beijing as “indentured” labourers, under lock and key and the constant supervision of armed guards (in case anyone’s dim, we’re talking about slavery).

Max Dunbar links to a Guardian piece about author Ma Jian:

… Ma has heard of more sinister controls at work. ‘Street hairdressers have been given red armbands, and are able to report any misdemeanours or bad behaviour to the government – anyone who stands out from the crowd, anyone who might arouse suspicion, people who have come in from the countryside to petition the authorities about local injustices, people who are shabbily dressed – these people with red armbands have the authority to make citizen’s arrests or to hand them over to the police.’

Students on holiday have been told to stay in their home towns, he says; Beijing citizens have been informed it’s best to leave the streets clear for foreigners; artists have been prevented from returning to China or had exhibitions banned: ‘There are fascistic elements to it, this idea of the mass cleansing, the purging of the city, of the disabled and mentally unstable, of all subversives and outsiders.’

It’s dishonest to say that politics should be “left at the door”, and that people should reserve their criticism for the moment. Massive attacks on human dignity have been made by the Chinese government as a key part of their attempt to present an appealing face to the world for the Olympic Games. The extent of human rights violations that are the direct result of the Games means that a person who says politics should be kept out of the matter are not actually removing themselves from politics, but rather are taking sides in a political matter; they tacitly support the Party’s efforts by ignoring if not excusing them.

To truly have a neutral position devoid of politics, one would need to insist that both positive and negative viewpoints are not presented for the duration of the Olympics, which I doubt that anyone is willing to do. Ignoring suffering is a political position, not an apolitical one – it means alignment with isolationism and apathy.

I think that the defining struggle of the next few decades will be centred around the question of whether a liberal society is allowed to emerge in China as it ascends as a superpower and eventually even perhaps becomes the world’s only superpower, as the United States is today. A lot rests on this question, and it’s very important that those interested in universal liberty and human emancipation figure out what we can do to help those in China who share our values and our vision for the world to defeat the forces of corruption, totalitarianism,  political ‘realism’ and violence.


United Nations declares political Islam immune to criticism
July 10, 2008, 1:41 pm
Filed under: human rights, islam, politics, religion

Some people might recall a barely-reported UN vote from late March where the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, with the help of China and Russia and other friendly faces, managed to amend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to allow states to have basically free rein to decide when they think freedom of speech is and is not appropriate.

Now, thanks to The Contentious Centrist, I learn of a new development. From UN Watch:

Geneva — From now on, all references to human rights violations related to Islamic Shar’ia law are prohibited in the chamber of the UN Human Rights Council. So ruled council president Doru Costea after a dramatic debate in the recently concluded June session.

It all started when veteran rights activist David Littman — undaunted by the repressive regimes who only last month sought to expel him from the UN — tried to deliver a speech on violence against women and what Islamic scholars can do to prevent it.

Egypt’s Amr Roshdy Hassan repeatedly interrupted, aggressively challenging the council president: “Regardless of the result of the vote — I couldn’t care less if I will win or lose this vote — my point is that Islam will not be crucified in this council!”The president ultimately gave in, declaring: “Statements should refrain from making judgments or evaluations of a particular religion. . . I can promise that at the next evaluation of a religious creed, law, or document, I will interrupt the speaker and we’ll go on to the next one.”

The new ruling follows an Islamic-sponsored text adopted by the council in March that turned its mandate on freedom of expression upside down. Instead of investigating the actions of governments in order to protect individual freedom, the expert is now charged with investigating individuals — those who “abuse” their freedom of speech through religious or racial discrimination, i.e., by saying anything deemed offensive to Islamic sensibilities. Everyone in the world is now potentially subject to the UN’s new speech control.

What does all of this signify?

An iron curtain has descended across the world’s highest human rights body. Behind that line lie all the human rights violations committed in the name of a certain religion, about which no one dare speak: suicide terror attacks, honor killings, female genital mutilation, forced child marriage, violence against gays, stonings, state censorship of free speech, jailing of bloggers, prohibitions against freedom of religion, and much, much more.

UN officials, diplomats and even major human rights figures have been afraid to take on this new regime, which now exercises an almost total control over the Human Rights Council, as well as increasing measures of influence over other forums of world opinion.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil,” said Edmund Burke, “is that good men do nothing.” Would that more people showed the courage of Mr. Littman.

All this rubbish from the oligarchs and dictators about not offending Islam poorly obfuscates the fact that the principal victims of the oppression carried out by these states are themselves Muslims. I won’t listen to pricks from places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose main occupations are to tell other Muslims that their brand of Islam is not the right one and to throw them in jail when they won’t obey, lecture people about offending religion.

Maybe United Nations declarations of this kind are largely symbolic anyway, but if they were entirely insignificant then these scumbags wouldn’t be trying so hard to twist them to their own end. We should be able to stand up and say that we, too, have firm principles that demand respect, and that if it comes down to it we too are capable of taking offense (thanks Hitch).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be just that – universal. If it is to be amended, it should only be in order to expand it. It should be something that we aspire to as nations and as a global community, not something easily modified and defecated upon by shameless thugs and bullies.

Nakba all around me
June 26, 2008, 1:09 pm
Filed under: israel, palestine, politics, socialism

This Mick Hartley post quotes this Guardian article, and I excerpt:

Regarding Jews in Arab states:

Today 99.5% – all but 4,500 – have gone. As the historian Nathan Weinstock has observed, not even the Jews of 1939 Germany had been so thoroughly “ethnically cleansed”.

The displacement of Jews from Arab countries was not just a backlash to the creation of Israel and the Arabs’ humiliating defeat. The “push” factors were already in place. Arab League states drafted a law in November 1947 branding their Jews as enemy aliens. But non-Muslim minorities, historically despised as dhimmis with few rights, were already being oppressed by Nazi-inspired pan-Arabism and Islamism. These factors sparked the conflict with Zionism, and drive it to this day.

The Jewish “Nakba” – Arabic for “catastrophe” – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage – predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed. [emphasis added]

Over 120 UN resolutions deal with the 711,000 Palestinian refugees; not one refers to the greater number of Jewish refugees.

The resolution is about recognition, not restitution, although Jewish losses have been quantified at twice Palestinian losses. Such resolutions could lead to a peace settlement by recognising that there were victims on both sides. Thus justice for Jews is not just a moral imperative, but the key to reconciliation.

Moreover, a major hurdle to peace could be removed if the Palestinian “right of return” were counterbalanced by the Jewish right not to return to Arab tyrannies, recognising a de facto population exchange of roughly equal numbers.

I have conservative Jewish friends who would leap from this to the conclusion that criticism of the Israeli state and leadership for the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is unnecessary and irrelevant, but this is cowardly. It’s about time that the friends of Israel realise that a real friend will criticise, whilst standing by them. I’m serious when I say that I support the state of Israel, which means I have no reservations about fiercely criticism its government and its policies. We should shun those who focus unfairly on Israel while ignoring countless other problems elsewhere in the world, often on their own doorsteps, in order to advance their own agendas, but we should not let the dishonesty of others subvert our own sincere efforts at reason and progress.

Still, this is a side of the story that I think we could do to hear more of. It’s not as if our media is biased against Israel – far from it – but people seem curiously unable to make such elementary points as these in support of their own positions. The socialist nature of the Zionist project during the 40s is another little nugget I learned recently that I’m sure would make the “anti-Zionist” (we’re not anti-semites! we swear! we just have anti-semitic friends!) Resistance and Socialist Alliance comfortably uncomfortable.

I think it’s about time that those who hawk newspapers bleating “STOP THE PALESTINIAN HOLOCAUST” are made to see just how silly they sound. Being nonchalant about the legitimate concerns of the Jewish side of the Israel/Palestine question, and pretending an overnight two-state solution combined with the removal of U.S. influence would solve the problem, doesn’t make you bold and doesn’t make you a revolutionary. It just makes you look unserious about justice and real progress.

Far too many ‘idealists’ think that if a solution or a bit of change isn’t completely idealistic, it must be rejected wholly. This is how ‘radicals’ and ‘revolutionaries’ have become forces for conservativism, and it’s a shame.

not the humans you thought they were
June 26, 2008, 10:26 am
Filed under: music

I saw the Mars Volta live last week. It was numinous – I haven’t experienced anything like it before.

I’ve heard people bullshitting about the “energy” between a band and the audience before, and I don’t buy into much of it, but I really think that idea applies here. From the moment the band walked onto the stage, you could tell that everyone got the sense that they were just there to play music for you – not to Perform or to get through a certain number of songs, but to create an actual musical experience.

They played for more than three and a half hours, without stopping for even a moment.

I would almost call it traditional, because of the complexity of the compositions and the teamwork and interaction between band members, as well as Omar’s strong leadership, but I don’t think any traditional or classical music is so dynamic and allows so much improvisation whilst being so tight.

Omar would scurry around the stage telling the others what to do (while playing guitar), giving instructions and formulating complex plans, like in a cool battle with guitars and.. spaceships and stuff. You could catch Omar signalling the band when to drop. Band members would start their own Thing going and the rest of the band would accommodate it, and allow the focus to shift to whoever had something funky happening.

At one point, amongst incredibly heavy drumming and complicated keyboard compositions and the bass rhythm, a sort of improvised competitive game thing developed between Adrian on his sax and Omar. Omar would do something really complicated on the guitar and Adrian would try to emulate it. The stakes grew, with the rest of the band being cocky fuckers as they realised what was going on, and then Omar turned it onto the drummer, who was exhausted, and had the whole band wordlessly taunting him and egging him on. And all of it was a small arm branching off of another arm that was incorporated into.. some more arms.. that fused with the overall anthem and oh god it was amazing.

I’m unable to get a grasp on the ideas I’m trying to evoke, mainly because I have no musical training – something I regret. There’s a real sense, though, that this is what music is about. This isn’t just entertainment or showmanship, it’s real art. Of course there’s plenty of modern music that’s truly artistic, and I’m not really qualified to assess the art, but I’m still going to say that The Mars Volta sits at the top.

Orwell: no longer any need to placate them
June 25, 2008, 8:05 am
Filed under: politics, socialism

rah rah rah, it’s Orwell’s birthday today.

I saw a woman at Pitt St. Mall today who was reading 1984 and looked incredibly bored. Bitch.

Writing to an audience that may not actually have existed, the strength of his words was possibly enough to contribute to the creation of that audience. It seems like there’s nothing nobler.

A little something for all the Castroists who post quiet revisionist analyses about how Orwell was really a Tory more-or-less solely responsible for the decline of the socialist project, and also McCarthyism and World War Two:

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.

I don’t know how the man got into the English syllabus, amongst all the mediocrity, but it’s something to be happy about. There’s a school of thought holding that 1984 and Animal Farm are only in there to instill a fear of revolutionary ideals and a drab political conformity amongst students. This is bollocks. No one who understands either of said books could describe them as conservative (or “ruling-class propaganda”, thanks Links, see below). I pretty reckon that young people reading books that argue against Stalinism, statism, censorship, euphemism and one-party leadership is a Pretty Good Thing.

A pearl of wisdom from the relativists at the Links International Journal of We Love Hugo Chavez:

It is worth noting in passing that Marx himself, despite being an infinitely better writer and thinker than Orwell, had an entirely different attitude towards ordinary people

Gosh. Despite being a better writer and thinker, he had different attitudes? Step back everyone, profundity has entered the room.