Search topics on this blog

Google+ Badge

Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Simon Schama’s Radio Times doublethink - how to be a romantic British nationalist while opposing nationalism

The BBC does its anti-independence propaganda obliquely in Radio Times – it sneaks it in blandly.

On pages 28-29 of the current edition, it carries an article by a Charles Laurence entitled “I’m a Jewish sea dog!” The eponymous Jewish sea dog is Simon Schama, historian, and relates ostensibly to his History of Britain series on BBC Four.

The article is a sort of profile-cum-interview with Schama, who, despite living half his life in America, holding his professorship at Princeton and bringing his family up there,  refuses to become an American citizen.

I’ve told my son I want to be thrown in the Thames when I die. No, not my ashes. All of me!”

An extreme manifestation of English – or British – nationalism? Perhaps, but he then comes out quite gratuitously with this sort of thing, through the words of Charles Laurence -

“His vision of the Britain forged by this history makes him adamantly opposed to Scottish independence and the break-up of the Union. If Scotland goes, he wrote in the FT, “something precious, to this historian at any rate, will have been irreparably destroyed: a nation state whose glory over the centuries has been that it does not correspond with some imagined romance of tribal singularity but has been made up of many peoples, languages, customs, all jumbled together within the expansive, inclusive British home

This is romantic, woolly and historically inaccurate and offensive nonsense.

The British “nation state” that exists today is the rump of brutal, exploitative colonial empire, corrupt and venal in all of its institutions, incompetent, brutally uncaring to the poor and vulnerable, desperately trying to hang on Scotland as the last symbol of its former power, hoping to preserve what his fellow historian Andrew Davies calls in The Isles

a dysfunctional dynastic conglomerate” – the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Or take this view attributed to him by Charles Laurence -

‘He adds that the same forces threatening to tear Britain apart are “happening in dreadful places, causing ethnic and tribal wars, immense massacres.”’

Given his earlier remarks about Scottish independence, one may conclude that the peaceful, broad-based, multi-nationality, multi-ethnic and legally agreed Scottish independence campaign is one of the “forces threatening to tear Britain apart”.

This is inflammatory nonsense from an apparently extreme, romantic British nationalist.

He is strangely obscure - almost silent - on the State of Israel, its extreme brand of religious and secular nationalism, and its behaviour towards the Palestinian people. A word about that situation, which does threaten the peace and stability of the world, and has done for 66 years, would be most welcome,  Simon Schama.

Monday, 28 February 2011

George Washington's Farewell Address 1796

So spoke a great patriot, the first President of the United States, who freed his country from the corrupt and venal grasp of the British Empire. (I hope he will forgive my spell checker changing favorite to favourite.)

He could hardly have foreseen the continuing relevance of his words in the 21st century - or maybe he knew, as all truly great men know, that they were for every age and every time.

They resonate ever more strongly today, especially in relation to America’s relationship with the United Kingdom - and the UK’s with America - and the poisoned seeds that the creation of the State of Israel - aided and abetted by Great Britain - planted in the heart of the Middle East.

Washington's Farewell Address 1796

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils.

Sympathy for the favourite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.

It leads also to concessions to the favourite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.

And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favourite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot.

How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils.

Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Every word, every line of the above is directly relevant  to our tortured planet, and to Scotland’s wish to free itself its poisoned union with the United Kingdom.

Saor Alba!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Question Time, Melanie Phillips and political labels

Question Time last night wasn’t half bad. I did some live tweeting, with the usual results - premature judgements, misspellings, etc.

The right-wing raver slot - which the BBC feels must be part of the panel, in the interests of ‘balance’ - was occupied by Melanie Phillips this week, a regular in this chair. There is no real slot for a left-wing raver because the genuine article is hard to find these days - we have to be satisfied with the likes of George Galloway, who now occupies a political planet entirely of his own creation, a planet - or maybe a rogue asteroid - that now hovers dangerously near to the Scottish Parliament

Bob Crow is sometimes meant to fill the slot, but the format  and  the chairman usually attempt to contain him within the stereotype of trade union militant. Since Crow is anything but a raver, with a much broader political view that just his union, always displaying an icy, objective calmness in all that he says, and refusing to be contained by anyone, this fails, and the programme comes to life, to the discomfiture of the party and media hacks on the panel, the spluttering indignation of the right wing raver, the impotence of David Dimbleby and the delight of the audience -and me. The Question Time panel is not a place for real people. They are supposed to be confined to the audience.

Melanie, however, is entirely predictable, and has been for many years now, so there were no surprises when the question about Egypt’s revolution came up. On any international issue, anything Melanie says has to be decoded in the light of the foreign policy of Israel and its view of Muslims and international terrorism, which to ultra Zionists are one and the same.

There was a certain irony in the fact that the programme was recorded at  the same time - or probably before - the transmission of Louis Theroux’s BBC2 documentary, The Ultra Zionists, at 9.00 p.m. last night.

On other topics, she gives evidence of the penetrating intelligence and incisive comment that once graced the pages of - incredibly - The Guardian. (I remember her from those days, and mourn the loss of the Melanie-that-was.) She is now flits between her two natural journalistic homes, The Spectator and The Daily Mail. Penetrating intelligence and incisiveness are, however, no guarantors of wisdom, clear vision or objectivity, as history - and Melanie - abundantly demonstrate.

My comments on her performance led to a tweeted response from a supporter of Melanie, to the effect that she always spoke the truth, thus enraging ‘the lefties’,  among whose number I am delighted to be included. (Such commentators never think of themselves as righties). Indeed, I count it a badge of honour to be described as a leftist separatist, which appellation happily combines my basic political orientation with my Scottish nationalism. My critic also referred to ‘mad’ lefties, and I had to remind him that in my recollection, this epithet had only been applied before to Mad Mitch of Aden and to a political columnist, panellist and journalist whose name escapes me for the moment.

I was once asked to put my political philosophy in a nutshell, and came up with Left is right and Right is wrong, and that still just about describes my position. Of course, if I wanted to take a more anodyne position, I would describe myself as a social democrat, but many on the right of the political spectrum think of themselves as such, so I am wary of that label.

I visited Melanie's website to update myself on her written views, and found the title of her book The World Turned Upside Down - The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power, a suitably apocalpytic title. I reproduce a paragraph from her plug for her book.

The loss of religious belief has meant the West has replaced reason and truth with ideology and prejudice, which it enforces in the manner of a secular inquisition. The result has been a kind of mass derangement, as truth and lies, right and wrong, victim and aggressor are all turned upside down. In medieval-style witch- hunts, scientists who are skeptical of global warming are hounded from their posts; Israel is ferociously demonized; and the United States is vilified over the war on terror-all on the basis of falsehoods and propaganda that are believed as truth.

Since I disagree with every line and every word of that, and believe that it is Melanie, fundamentalist religion, Israel and US foreign policy that have turned the world upside down, risking a return to the Dark Ages, I offer as an antidote another book - Allies for Armageddon by Victoria Clark, which explores with chilling forensic skill, the destructive links between right-wing, American Rapture fundamentalist Christians, the ultra zionists and the Bush/Cheney regime that dragged the world, and the UK under Blair into the present lethal instability of global politics and two disastrous wars.

And that’s about all I have to say for today. Have a good weekend …

Monday, 13 December 2010

Israeli police – alleged abuse of Arab children in custody: the ACRI Report and the BBC

I watched Newshour – 12.30 to one o’clock BBC Two – today. The report by ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, about the alleged abuse of the human rights of Arab children in custody by the Israeli police was frightening and thought-provoking. It was followed by the BBC presenter, Jonathan Charles interviewing an expert, Professor Joan Freeman, an eminent child psychologist, on the report.

Professor Freeman is an acknowledged expert on gifted children, and has written many books on the subject, and lectures extensively on the subject. Here she was invited to offer her expert view on allegedly traumatised children in what is effectively a war zone in an occupied country, Israel/Palestine.

The whole tenor of this studio analysis left me profoundly uneasy, yet I cannot say exactly why, since I have no expertise in this complex subject. Others may have a more considered views.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Baroness Cox and Geert Wilders – working hard for Social Cohesion

Baroness Cox is a Director for the Centre for Social Cohesion, a body whose name seems strangely at odds with its activities.

Sunday Morning Live, Douglas Murray and Israel

Here she is attempting to justify the controversial visit of Geert Wilders, Dutch right-wing politician and leader of the PVV Party in Holland, to screen his video. (He was initially banned, then got permission to show it.)


Geert Wilders describes himself as supporting what he call Judeo-Christian values, a term which can be seen as code for anti-Islamic values. A more accurate description would be Zionist –Right Wing Christian values. Wilders has been prosecuted in Holland on the orders of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal for “inciting racial hatred and discrimination”.

Such are the friends of the Centre for Social Cohesion.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sunday Morning Live, Douglas Murray and Israel

Sunday Morning Live on BBC1 replaced The Big Question as the religious and moral debate programme for Sunday mornings. Although heavily loaded to religious and establishment values in its selection of panel members and control of agenda, The Big Question did make room for real alternative arguments, and had some stimulating and interesting debates, especially under Nicky Campbell's chairmanship.

Sunday Morning Live is a pale shadow of its predecessor and has emasculated real debate, both in its choice of panel members and in its format, which seeks to create an illusion of open debate by allowing pre-selected members of the public to contribute on webcam, and by live telephone phone-in.

Today's (Sunday 1st August 2010) programme exemplified this approach, especially on answering the loaded question "Are we too critical of Israel?".

The panel for the Israel debate included Edwina Currie, not exactly a heavyweight political commentator, who because of family and religious ties is at least partly sympathetic to Israel (although she did make some good, objective points against the pro-Israel spokesman), Deborah Hollamby, a former nun, now married and a religious broadcaster. Whatever Deborah's merits as a broadcaster, what little she had to say in this debate was flattened by the other panel member, Douglas Murray, writer and Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, which describes itself on its website as "a non-partisan think-tank that studies issues related to community cohesion in the UK".

The Centre for Social Cohesion

Anyone wants to evaluate its non-partisan claim may judge for themselves by inspecting the composition of its board, the causes it espouses and the publications it recommends, but especially by listening to the ubiquitous Douglas Murray on his many media outings, including Question Time.

Wikipaedia describes the Centre for Social Cohesion as 'centre-right' - I would put it a helluva a lot further right than that.

Douglas Murray's debating style may be described simmering with pent-up opinions, which after a brief period of smiling calmness, explode into passionate, polarised views which are the very reverse of non-partisan, coupled with a low tolerance for any counter opinion expressed in his presence.

While tolerating no interruption to his incandescent flow when he has the floor, he displays a fine repertoire of contempt for any opposing views expressed by others, which he often describes as "ill-informed" - only Douglas is well-informed - and he does not shrink from repeatedly interrupting others when they have the floor, and is not easily restrained by chairpersons when in this hectoring mode.

David Cameron's description of Gaza as "a prison camp" has roused his ire - in Douglas's view, Gaza is a prosperous, happy community, full of shopping malls and expensive consumer goods, the shoppers only taking time out to launch tens of thousands of rockets against an unprotected and vulnerable Israel.

It would probably be a fruitless exercise to invite the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion to consider that while Israel is a popular tourist destination, Gaza is not.

Sunday Morning Live, like its predecessor The Big Question tries to address political issues in a moral and religious context. Given its loaded agenda, and its obliviousness to the fact that the conflicts it addresses are usually fuelled by rampant religious bigotry and fundamentalism, it fails.

Dump this programme, BBC, or radically revise its agenda and format.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


This has nothing to do with the struggle for Scotland's independence - my usual themes - but everything to do with common humanity and international justice.

Before the usual cries of anti-semitism and anti-americanism are raised, note that this is an American Jew - Norman Finklestein - commenting on the analysis and condemnation of the Gaza outrage by another distinguished Jew, Judge Richard Goldstone. Jewish commentators in America, in Britain, in every country of the world - especially Israel itself - are among the most fearless and trenchant critics of Israel's increasingly extreme behaviour. No realpolitik can justify the enormity of these actions.

The people of the world are divided, not by their nationality or their race, ethnic origin or colour, but by their commitment - or otherwise - to international standards of behaviour towards each other, by concepts of justice and support for the rule of law, and by the love and respect they extend to fellow human beings.

Monday, 8 March 2010

The wisdom and prescience of Robin Cook

Once the Labour Party had men and women of integrity and real stature. There are none left, or if there are, they are silent and invisible.

Last week Gordon Brown, the present Leader of the thing the Labour Party has become – a cynical political machine for holding on to power – displayed a highly selective memory for events in the lead-up to the Iraq War, as he evaded the questions of Sir Roderic Lyne. One of his lapses of memory related to his late colleague, Robin Cook.

Let us remind ourselves of the courage, wisdom and prescience displayed by Robin Cook in his resignation speech in 2003.

A few selected quotes -

The US can afford to go it alone, but Britain is not a superpower.

Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules.

The legal basis for our action in Kosovo was the need to respond to an urgent and compelling humanitarian crisis.

Our difficulty in getting support this time is that neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq.

The threshold for war should always be high.

It is entirely legitimate to support our troops while seeking an alternative to the conflict that will put those troops at risk.

Nor is it fair to accuse those of us who want longer for inspections of not having an alternative strategy.

For four years as foreign secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment.

Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons programme and halted Saddam's medium and long-range missiles programmes.

Ironically, it is only because Iraq's military forces are so weak that we can even contemplate its invasion. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam's forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days.

We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.

It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and munitions factories.

Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create?

Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?

Only a couple of weeks ago, Hans Blix told the Security Council that the key remaining disarmament tasks could be completed within months.

I have heard it said that Iraq has had not months but 12 years in which to complete disarmament, and that our patience is exhausted.

Yet it is more than 30 years since resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

We do not express the same impatience with the persistent refusal of Israel to comply.

I welcome the strong personal commitment that the prime minister has given to middle east peace, but Britain's positive role in the middle east does not redress the strong sense of injustice throughout the Muslim world at what it sees as one rule for the allies of the US and another rule for the rest.

Nor is our credibility helped by the appearance that our partners in Washington are less interested in disarmament than they are in regime change in Iraq.

That explains why any evidence that inspections may be showing progress is greeted in Washington not with satisfaction but with consternation: it reduces the case for war.