Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Labour's Anti-Semitism Quarrels - Ignoring the Real Threat

I hate writing about an issue that leaves no room for fresh insight. The row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has raged for some time, and there seems to be no immediate solution. I have wondered what it must be like at Labour Party ward meetings nowadays. If they are as fraught as this controversy seems to indicate, they must be very tense and fractious gatherings. Much has been said about this issue in and out of the Labour Party (not to say endlessly repeated), but I saw no reason to comment until a seemingly unrelated event happened in Germany this week.
The event is the outbreak of violence in Chemnitz between right and left wing groups, following an alleged stabbing of a German youth by two immigrants. The violence took the local police force by surprise - 6000 right-wingers arrived in Chemnitz in a very short time. This reminded me of an old concern of mine, and I will discuss it later.
Returning to the Labour anti-Semitism issue, it seems to revolve chiefly around Jeremy Corbyn. There is, of course, the argument about Labour's refusal to adopt the definition of anti-Semitism set out by the  International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's guidelines, which can be read online here. Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for sharing a platform with Hamas and Hezbollah supporters and for (allegedly) laying a wreath on the grave of some Arab terrorists in Tunisia. Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, has entered the fray by saying:
“Now, within living memory of the Holocaust, and while Jews are being murdered elsewhere in Europe for being Jews, we have an antisemite as the leader of the Labour party and Her Majesty’s opposition. That is why Jews feel so threatened by Mr Corbyn and those who support him.”
With due respect to Jonathan Sacks, I think that is more than a little exaggerated. I have not conducted my own opinion poll, but not all Jewish people feel threatened by Corbyn. In fact, some are fervent Corbynistas. Anyone who doubts this can visit the "Jews for Jeremy" website.
I believe many criticisms of Corbyn on this issue to be valid, but he is no anti-Semite, at least according to his definition of the word. As he sees himself, he is an anti-racist, and has a long history of acting according to his principles, opposing far right groups, apartheid in South Africa and Enoch Powell. The sticking point is what he perceives as Zionism and his opposition to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Now, as the dreary old cliché that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism appears to serve us well as an explanation of his actions, that appears to wrap things up.
But it does not. The problem is that the extreme right have hi-jacked the word "Zionist", using it as a synonym for "Jew". The National Front (NF) used this trick in the 70s, once describing the opposition to their activities in Ilford as due to a heavy Zionist presence. They did not explain how they knew so many supporters of Israel lived in Ilford - and, of course, they meant Jews. If you announce to a modern-day fascist that you are an anti-Zionist, he will think you mean something else. Genuine anti-Zionists should take this on board.
Besides this, there are real manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which cannot be ignored. Two examples will suffice:
1.A Jewish Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, was sent a 1,000 word death threat from a Corbyn-supporter calling her a ‘yid c–t’. The threat followed Smeeth’s decision to walk out of a meeting outlining Labour’s response to anti-Semitism because she was accused of working ‘hand in hand with the right-wing media to attack Jeremy’. Smeeth then received 20,000 abusive messages and has since questioned whether Labour is still ‘a safe space for British Jews’
2. A former Labour parliamentary candidate in Witham, John Clarke, shared a Neo-Nazi meme saying the Rothschild family has used money lending and Israel to ‘take over the world’. He said the meme ‘contained a great deal of truth’ and was later suspended.
There are more to be found HERE. To be fair, most of these incidents have led to (not always enforced) disciplinary action, but they stain the name of the Labour Party.
Ending on a personal note, I am a lifelong Labour supporter and will continue to vote Labour in coming elections - but I know some lifelong Labour supporters who will not. I hope that Labour will stop tearing itself apart, and I will only stop supporting Labour if things do become overtly anti-Semitic, although I might consider it if George Galloway is allowed back into the party.
Returning to events in Germany, I think we see a manifestation of the real face of anti-Semitism and eliminationist racism. The neo-Nazis who riot in Chemnitz are only one face of the monster rising from the deep. The far Right is on the rise all over Europe, and internecine quarrels between the rest of us can only work to their advantage. Given their chance, they will put all ethnic minorities, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews and political opponents into the same boat, concentration camp or gas chamber. Bertolt Brecht has fallen out of fashion since the demise of Communism, but his words on Hitler ring true to this day:
"Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For, though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again."

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Boris, the Burqa and Tory Civil War

"Every part of the burqa/letterbox furore is about political warfare. Johnson knew exactly how to rattle the left and it’s working".
Those are very wise words, written by the Iranian-born comedian, Shappi Khorsandi, in the Independent, one day ago. When Boris published his column in the Telegraph, I was somewhat puzzled at the uproar it caused. After all, he stated quite clearly that he thought the ban on the burqa in Denmark was wrong, and he did not want to see it banned here. What offended so many Muslim women were his remarks that the burqa made the wearers look like letter boxes and bank robbers. All this is common knowledge now, but there is reason to believe that it was a tactic on Boris' part. There were strident protests on the Left, which Boris must have expected. He's appeared to have put his foot in his mouth before, and weathered the storm.
The word "tactic" is usually used in a military sense, but, as the old monster, Mao Zedong said: 
"Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed".
Mao may have been responsible for the deaths of 70 million of his people, but he got that observation right. Boris is no fool either. He must have judged that his jokey remarks would trigger argument, knowing that it would become an issue of free speech. If he guessed that opinion polls would show that the wider populace would support him, he got that right also.The Sun says:
" A ComRes poll for the Sunday Express found the majority of Britons don't think Mr Johnson should be punished for the remarks made in a newspaper column."
My first instinct was that Boris had employed a diversionary tactic - stirring up trouble as a means to distract our attention from the Brexit debacle. In fact, I described it on Facebook as a Tory tactic. Now, I accept that it could well have been a manoeuvre without bloodshed  by Boris to improve his chances of becoming Tory leader. Mao would probably have described this as being part of a civil war. And he would have been right, it seems. The Prime Minister herself has said that Boris should apologise for his remarks, and there have been rumblings among senior (and grass roots) Conservatives against this. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said:
 “If Boris is suspended it will be open warfare in the Conservative Party".
That paragon of modernity and tolerance, Jacob Rees-Mogg, suggested:
 "...the attacks on Mr Johnson's were a reflection of "envy" felt towards him because of "his many successes, popularity with voters and charisma".
I don't know how the Tories will resolve this matter but Boris, I am sure, will survive to fight another day.
Another reason I believe that Boris is engaging in political manoeuvring is his previous cock-up over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which leads me to doubt his concern for the rights of Muslim women. As Shappi Khorsandi says: 
"Nazanin, a British citizen, has been imprisoned without charge in Iran for almost two and a half years. Much to the horror of her husband Richard and the rest of us who are desperate for her release, when Boris finally spoke out against her detainment, he said she was “teaching journalism” in Iran. She wasn’t. Boris actually made things worse for her. Did he simply not care about this mum with a funny name who wasn’t born here?"
Ominously, Boris has received support from Steve Bannon, the ex-White House chief strategist. I have no doubt that Bannon is advising Boris as sagaciously as he advised Donald Trump. Today's papers endorse this view.
I hope that the outraged commentators, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who understandably condemned Boris in the most vitriolic terms, come to regard him as what I believe him to be: a political operator. He knows that his position in his party is not really threatened, because, as the Guardian says
"Conservative MPs’ support for Boris Johnson over his comments comparing Muslim women in burqas to bank robbers has “shone a light on the underbelly of Islamophobia” within the party, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has said."
Boris must have known this Islamophobia existed, and was able to launch his apparently blundering, but actually calculated, attack. Had Mao Zedong been a Tory, he would have been in his element, engaging in this bloodless civil war.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

From Greaves Hall to Mitcham - A Familiar Story

Until 1992, when mental health provision was reorganised under the misleading title of "care in the community", there existed in the village of Banks, just to the north of my home town, Southport, an institution for the care of what were called the "mentally handicapped". The full name was Greaves Hall Hospital, but us locals always referred to it as Greaves Hall. It was an old country house that had been a private residence, a school, a convalescent home for TB sufferers and, from 1948, a hospital for people with mental health issues. Initially for patients from Liverpool, it expanded to become a regional centre.The mental health unit had wards and ancillary buildings in the leisure grounds of the old house. It was demolished in 2009.
We in Southport saw little of the inmates of Greaves Hall. Sometimes, a few would escape to be recaptured, but, usually, they were confined to the hospital limits. If they were referred to at all, it was often in mocking, disparaging terms. And the inmates saw little of the outside world, not even of their own families. Staff whom I knew said that they had patients from Southport who had not received visits for more than 10 years, despite the fact that a bus ride from Southport town centre to the hospital was a mere 25 minutes. The staff also told me that, if they encountered patients' relations when shopping, walking or socialising in Southport, the relatives would usually ask questions such as: "Oh - how's our so-and-so getting on?" - and leave it at that. Seriously ill mental health patients and people with learning difficulties were regarded as an embarrassment to be hidden away, and it is no disrespect to the ex-staff of Greaves Hall or any similar institution in Britain to say that is what happened.
Things began to change in the 1980s. A strange alliance of mental health campaigners and right-wing politicians worked to bring about the closure of places like Greaves Hall. The former group wanted to break down the stigma of separating mental health patients from the wider community; the politicians simply saw an opportunity to cut public spending. "Care in the Community" was born.
Almost immediately, things began to go wrong. Many released patients simply could not cope with life in the outside world. Support for them was erratic, as the whole venture was given insufficient resources. A large number became homeless, suffered violence, turned to crime or committed suicide. They still do; the institutions may be gone, but the prisons and homeless shelters are full of people with mental health problems.
Equally worrying was the fact that many disturbed patients, when released, became murderously violent. To spare regular readers, I will confine myself to saying that I have written about a number of murders by released mental health patients. At the risk of appearing obsessive, yet another of these appalling killings has happened. Many features are common to all these slayings, but each has something uniquely horrible about them.
The unique horror in this case is that a man has murdered his own grandmother in Mitcham, south-west London, weeks after being released from a psychiatric unit. Kordian Filmanowicz, a 21-year old paranoid schizophrenic, stabbed his grandmother, IIona Czuper 60 times in the throat and killed the family pets with a paving slab. As might be expected, he admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He had been released in March of last year after six months of psychiatric care, only to kill his grandmother on the 8th May, 2017. 
One depressingly familiar fact - complacent misdiagnosis - emerged during the trial. As the BBC says: 
"During his stay at a unit in Croydon in 2016, he threatened a staff member "in an aggressive way" with a plastic teaspoon, saying he would remove her eyes with it, Mr Mulholland (Prosecutor) said. But senior psychiatrists released him into the community on medication after deciding he had made a "huge improvement", the prosecutor said."
According to "The Bolton News", the judge:
 "..advised against medical experts taking his progress at face value, saying they should take great care "bearing in mind the decisions taken in the months leading up to his offending".
Suffice it for me to say that such advice should be obvious to the mental health professionals who deal with people like Filmanowicz. It would save a great many innocent lives. We are a long way from the era of Greaves Hall. Care in the Community has kept most of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped in the wider community, but has not received the necessary resources to be completely successful. As a social experiment, it has had mixed fortunes. Too many of both groups have simply swapped one institution for another: prison (or homelessness). A minority of the former group, as has been seen, have killed hundreds of innocent people, such as IIona Czuper, since the 1980s. Still, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the powers that be seem to regard these deaths as collateral damage.
Filmanowicz, safely confined - for now...