Tendance Coatesy

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Is George Monbiot a Fascist Fellow-Traveller?

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Is George Monbiot a Fascist Fellow-Traveller? 

Citing George Orwell is a venerable tradition in political debate.

Often it’s simply to score points, usually against the left. Sometimes it is – still – used to great effect. Jean-Claude Michea, deeply inspired by Orwell, wrote  in 2008, a polemic which uncovered the “doublethink’ of contemporary economic liberalism. (La double pensée : Retour sur la question libérale).

One would have expected George Monbiot, whose writing including debunking climate-change deniers, and the way free-market economics have made the State “captive”, to have followed in Michea’s line and kept writing about subjects he knows something about.

Not so.

He has gone beyond quoting Orwell to using the man’s – heroic – decision in the 1930s to fight to defend the elected Spanish republic to endorse his sympathetic stand on  those fighting jihad in Syria. This takes some gumption. But, as an apparent authority on the ramifications of this conflict, he has been given prominent space to expound his opinions.

Monbiot’s column appears under this headline,

Orwell was hailed a hero for fighting in Spain. Today he’d be guilty of terrorism Guardian.

The International Brigades are acclaimed for bravery. But British citizens who fight in Syria are damned. If only they did it for the money.

Monbiot’s main gripe is with the anti-terrorism laws.

He writes,

If George Orwell and Laurie Lee were to return from the Spanish civil war today, they would be arrested under section five of the Terrorism Act 2006. If convicted of fighting abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive” – a charge they would find hard to contest – they would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. That they were fighting to defend an elected government against a fascist rebellion would have no bearing on the case. They would go down as terrorists.

People fighting against forces that run a system of industrialised torture and murder and are systematically destroying entire communities could be banged up for life for their pains. Is this any fairer than imprisoning Orwell would have been?

Mobiot expresses some reservations,

I accept that some British fighters in Syria could be changed by their experience. I also accept that some are already motivated by the prospect of fighting a borderless jihad, and could return to Britain with the skills required to pursue it. But this is guilt by association.

But the war, the holy jihad in Syria,  itself appears just.

To prove this he  cites this – single –  case,

Last week a British man who called himself Abu Suleiman al-Britani drove a truck full of explosives into the gate of Halab prison in Aleppo. The explosion, in which he died, allowed rebel fighters to swarm into the jail and release 300 prisoners. Was it terrorism or was it heroism? Terrorism, according to many commentators.

It’s true that he carried out this act in the name of the al-Nusra Front, which the British government treats as synonymous with al-Qaida. But can anyone claim that liberating the inmates of Syrian government prisons is not a good thing? We now know that at least 11,000 people have been killed in these places, and that many were tortured to death.

Last week we referred to the case of British Muslim Iftikhar Jaman. He was a member of ISIS and was killed by Kurdish freedom-fighters.

Who are ISIS?

Torture, flogging, and summary killings are rife in secret prisons run by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an armed group that controls large areas of northern Syria , said Amnesty International in a briefing published today.ISIS , which claims to apply strict Shari’a (Islamic law) in areas it controls, has ruthlessly flouted the rights of local people. In the 18-page briefing, Rule of fear: ISIS abuses in detention in northern Syria , Amnesty International identifies seven detention facilities that ISIS uses in al-Raqqa governorate and Aleppo .

Let’s forget what harm these jihadists may do if and when they return to Europe.What of the above?

They are now slaughtering innocents – though perhaps Syrians do not count for Monbiot.

Monbiot has responded to critics by writing,

First, it would be wrong to assume that all British fighters going to Syria are affiliated with the ANF, which is part of the point I’m making. Secondly that just because someone is doesn’t mean that what their subsequent actions are necessarily wrong. I find it hard to see al-Britani’s action in seeking to liberate a prison as an act of terrorism. If there is such a thing as a legitimate act of war, that, I believe, is an example.

We can debate the issue of the anti-terrorism laws.

But a “legitimate act of war”?

The jihadists, including the Al-Nusra Front, are  equally accused of tortures and the murder of civilians.

They are not fighting against the Baathists in the name of  a democratic state. Their aim is the caliphate: a theocracy in which human rights have no place.

It is hard to see how exactly they resemble any of the  political forces in the Spanish civil war. But certainly their practice and ideology has something in common with fascism.

Orwell always emphasised the need to use political language with precision.

So we ask, and do not answer, the question: by giving credibility to the Syrian jihadists is George Monbiot a fascist fellow-traveller?

Written by Andrew Coates

February 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

31 Responses

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  1. British jihadist fighting in Syria posts Twitter ‘torture’ footage with caption: ‘Can’t wait for feeling you get when U just killed some1′
    British citizens ‘involved in beating and execution of fellow rebels’
    Footage of apparent torture of a Free Syrian Army fighter by British man
    In separate picture posted on Twitter three prisoners are seen blindfolded
    Text says: ‘Can’t wait for that feeling when you just killed some1’


    Andrew Coates

    February 12, 2014 at 11:39 am

  2. I think that there are two points in Monbiot’s article, one that has some validity, another that doesn’t.

    Firstly, any restriction upon political activities could rebound upon the left. If we go back to the 1930s, legislation ostensibly brought in against Mosley was used primarily against left-wingers. Calls to ban fascist organisations in toto or to ban certain fascist activities end up with bans upon our activities. Whilst I am not going to picket the nick if some Islamist gets lifted, there is always the danger that the surveillance measures brought in to watch the Tipton Taliban will be used to spy on militant trade unionists, and so on. So in this respect, Monbiot is right to be concerned about moves against British citizens going abroad for political purposes, even if those doing it at the moment are acting in a very reactionary cause.

    Secondly, Andrew is right to point out that these guys are going to Syria to help impose a form of rule and build a society that would make the current Ba’athist regime seem quite easy-going and socially progressive by contrast. Here, by trying to give them some credence Monbiot completely loses the plot, and actually undermines the valid point that he made earlier.

    Dr Paul

    February 12, 2014 at 12:16 pm

  3. If the Spanish analogy has to be used, fighting in support of an authoritarian theocratic group bears more resemblance to those who went to fight in support of Franco.


    February 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm

  4. PS: pretty much agree with the points made by Dr Paul.


    February 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

  5. Yeah, good point Dr Paul. I would have been happier to agree with the reasonable part of Monbiot’s argument if he hadn’t mentioned the horrible politics of the jihadists as a minor cavil.


    February 12, 2014 at 3:41 pm

  6. The issue is that Monbiot single-handedly managed to obsure, completely, some reasonable points by his despicable use of George Orwell and the Spanish civil war to make unsustainable arguments in the jihadists’ favour.

    Andrew Coates

    February 12, 2014 at 3:54 pm

  7. Do I want people to go anywhere to fight for reactionary religious reasons? No, of course. Do I want said people to be considered criminals? No, of course. I want anybody considered as criminal to have acted criminally.


    February 12, 2014 at 6:44 pm

  8. We all know the reason why: Palestine. Simple as that. You want to support HAMAS, you have to support al-Nusra. Apart from that did you see the terrorist known as something or other al-Britani who blew up the prison gates lived in the aptly bamed Martyrs Avenue, Langley Green, Sussex nr Crawley. The previous occupant was Roy Whiting who hit the headlines a few years ago for the abduction and murder of 7-year old Sarah Payne. As one wag drolly remarked, ‘Martyrs Avenue! It should be re-named Murderers Row.’.

    Sue R

    February 12, 2014 at 8:10 pm

  9. I actually think Syria presents problems for the drone supporting left. In Iraq and Libya the decents saw no problem in aiding Islamism. In Syria the decents were initially very supportive of the attempted imperialist conquest of Syria, blind to the anti-imperialist argument that the Syrian revolt was being conducted by liver eating madmen. But the decents gradually changed positions as imperialism had to change it’s position.

    The lie that the decents tell is this – that the Syrian revolt started out as a liberal affair only to be later
    hijacked by Islamists. The reality is almost the exact opposite, the rebellion was tinged with Islamism from the start and the West saw a chance to topple another thorn in its side, after Gadaffi.

    The decents are as usual the little snivelling apologists for Imperialism.

    The anti-imperialist left has been guilty of abandoning support for the Syrian revolt in response to the opportunism of the imperialists. I fully understand this position but I can’t quite fully commit to it.

    Hamas, of course, are a response to the terror inflicted by liberals and imperialism. Not an usual phenomenon in that part of the world!

    Socialism In One Bedroom

    February 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    • And how would you be “supporting the Syrian revolt”?

      The same support you give to “Hamas” the “response to the terror inflicted by liberals……and imperialism”?

      Perhaps you would enjoy seeing a few ‘liberals’ seen to by the like of the jihadists – when they’ve finished with Muslim ‘heretics’, Kurds, Christians and leftists.

      Andrew Coates

      February 13, 2014 at 1:55 pm

  10. “Perhaps you would enjoy seeing a few ‘liberals’ seen to by the like of the jihadists – when they’ve finished with Muslim ‘heretics’, Kurds, Christians and leftists.”

    What, the sort who are busy murdering the supporters of the elected government in Egypt or the nice ones?

    I tend to think the nature of the Syrian rebels has been over exaggerated (or they are all painted as extremists). This was mainly the doing of anti-imperialists to be fair but also eventually by the imperialists, as they saw that on the ground their own people had little influence. So now the imperialists call conferences on who will rule over Syria next. I guess that fits in with your particular brand of ‘left socialism’.

    I do get the position of the anti-imperialists, the drone supporting left I will never come to terms with.

    Socialism In One Bedroom

    February 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm

  11. I wonder if Monbiot (cf. ‘Fukushima proving nuclear power is safe and the answer to energy problems’) has a) either just become a contrarian to annoy people and is (knowingly) being used as ‘click bait’ for the Guardian website – is he paid per click?
    b) become a genuine contrarian and has signed up with the ex-RCP people he used to compain about so much.

    I expect future Monbiot articles about ‘health and safety nonsense’, AIDS being a consipiracy to ruin the fun of sex, and the benefits of smoking.


    February 15, 2014 at 11:08 am

    • Dagmar, as you have noticed on Shiraz Socialist Monbiot now suggests turning England back into a giant forest to save us from flooding.


      On the flooding I wonder how long before somebody cites After London by Richard Jefferies,

      “The book has two parts. The first, “The Relapse into Barbarism”, is the account by some later historian of the fall of civilisation and its consequences, with a loving description of nature reclaiming England: fields becoming overrun by forest, domesticated animals running wild, roads and towns becoming overgrown, the hated London reverting to lake and poisonous swampland.”

      The bit I remember the most in the book is the voyage over the Lake that takes up a big part of Southern England.

      ” Now the most striking difference between the country as we know it and as it was known to the ancients is the existence of the great Lake in the centre of the island. From the Red Rocks (by the Severn) hither, the most direct route a galley can follow is considered to be about 200 miles in length, and it is a journey which often takes a week even for a vessel well manned, because the course, as it turns round the islands, faces so many points of the compass, and therefore the oarsmen are sure to have to labour in the teeth of the wind, no matter which way it blows.”


      Andrew Coates

      February 15, 2014 at 11:33 am

  12. Should that not be:

    “fields becoming overrun by forest, domesticated animals running wild and being slaughtered by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in workshops (tickets available via the Guardian website), roads and towns becoming overgrown, the hated London reverting to lake and poisonous swampland (River Cottage).”?

    Planting trees to prevent flooding is bloody obvious stuff, I can’t see why you might object to that.


    February 15, 2014 at 12:14 pm

  13. He doesn’t say we should turn Britain into Mirkwood. He says that planting trees on uplands which aren’t much good for grazing or crops can help prevent flooding. To continue in the exaggerated style, I’d say turning the whole country into monoculture and car parks, with rivers concreted into canals is not a brilliant idea either.


    February 15, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    • The Forest of Essex in the twelfth century extended over most of the county.

      Turning Essex into a forested Mirkwood would certainly be an improvement.

      Andrew Coates

      February 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm

  14. On ecological management, Monbiot may have a point. One of the features which aggravated Hurricane Katrina was the draining of the swamps and building on the Everglades. The land acted as a buffer to absorb the energy of the tempest.

    Sue R

    February 15, 2014 at 7:21 pm

  15. “Monbiot now suggests turning England back into a giant forest to save us from flooding”

    If you actually read what Monbiot actually says, i.e. the things that are actually written by him or actually come out of his mouth you can with almost 100% certainty say this is a massive, lazy and stupid distortion. The sort of massive, lazy and stupid distortion that is the hallmark of decency.

    But I will add Monbiot to the list of the enemies of decency. To remind viewers:

    Bradley ‘traitor of the enlightenment’ Manning

    Edward ‘tool of reaction everywhere’ Snowden

    Julian ‘rapist who puts our heroes in harm’s way

    John ‘friend of the barbarians’ Pilger

    George ‘doesn’t want young girls to go to school’ Galloway

    Tariq ‘worse than Hitler (but what Muslim isn’t?)’ Ali

    George ‘wants a return to feudalism or is the leader of new fascism, we haven’t quite decided yet’ Monbiot

    Incidentally in Bulgaria, actual fascists have attacked a Mosque.

    Decency is funny how it presents things, attacks by Nazi’s are not even reported, unless Jews are involved.

    I have also noticed that decents (Shiraz are big on this) report attacks by Muslims against Christians, and often include explicit video .footage of the outrage. But when Christians attack Muslims, as was the case recently in the C.A.R., not a peep out of the decents.

    You could almost believe that decents were trying to do 2 things:

    1. Play down attacks against Muslims by the far right.
    2. Make Muslims look bad

    or to put another way:

    1. Decents support far right attacks on Mosques
    2. Decents support the murder of Muslims.

    Socialism In One Bedroom

    February 15, 2014 at 9:04 pm

  16. You know, in your self-imposed exile in your bedroom, you are not advancing the debate one iota. Just carping and reiterating the same things. Are you an Islamist?

    Sue R

    February 15, 2014 at 10:34 pm

  17. “Are you an Islamist?”

    The sort of question I would expect from the drone supporting left. I will leave you to figure out that for yourself., short of direct interrogation.

    There is no debate here to advance. The reason the decents claim Monbiot wants to turn Britain into a forest is because they are incapable of going beyond throwing pseudo Marxist platitudes. I think some decents imagine they are Marx critiquing Malthus or something, except Marx went into painstaking detail, and decents just throw dirt.

    This is one side of decency, turning liberalism into tabloid journalism.

    The other side is seeing fascism everywhere except where it actually is!

    Take the recent vote in Switzerland against immigrants. How did the right wing win this vote? By showing posters of women in veils. Once again the actually existing fascists align with the drone supporting left. And the decents miss yet another story of the struggles of the far right.

    I am not here to debate, just to discredit the evil that is decency.

    Socialism In One Bedroom

    February 16, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    • We think Beddy Boy that you either Ian Donovan or a close mate of his.

      “I am developing an analysis that differs considerably from that of the CPGB. But I intend to participate fully in this project – and that requires a break with the “discipline” of the vacillating centrist CPGB. Only if the CPGB fundamentally breaks from its vacillation and frequent left-Islamophobia (which by the way is more analogous to Stalinophobia than to the anti-semitism Peter erects as a straw man) can this breach be healed.”

      What Next? (2004) http://www.whatnextjournal.org.uk/Pages/Back/WNext29/CPGB.html

      A few years later (ten in fact) and the ‘project’ is in place,

      “In joining in the demonisation of Dieudonné, Eddie Ford finds himself with an unexpected co-thinker, which is not entirely unexpected for observers of the unthinking, reflexive capitulation to Zionism that is widespread and so far largely unchallenged ideology of left Zionism on much of the far left.”

      Weekly Worker 6.2.14. http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/996/letters

      Andrew Coates

      February 16, 2014 at 12:48 pm

  18. I think you are the man from the MIrror and I claim my £5.00. (Thus, betraying my age and cultural references.).

    Sue R

    February 16, 2014 at 1:48 pm

  19. “The man in the mirror”? He dead. His (french) fans got 1 Euro compensation for stress. Me laughing.

    (Comment in the mod queue, I think, Cde. Tendance)


    February 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm

  20. I have to take issue with the Little Suffolker about Essex.


    February 16, 2014 at 3:33 pm

  21. Dagmar: About fifty years ago, the Daily Mirror (and other papers) used to run a publicity campaign whereby a man was despatched to a popular seaside resort, say Margate or Southend, carrying a copy of the paper. If a member of the public challenged him, they won themselves £5. I think some of the other papers may also have done something similar, and I have a vague feeling that the stunt was revived in recent years by a paper. There’s actually a scene in Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ where a ‘Mirrorman ‘ is accosted. ( If I remember correctly.). You are thinking of Michael Jackson’s ditty. A completely different thing.

    Sue R

    February 16, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    • Sue, I have seen references to Lobby Lud, and there is Kolley Kibber in Brighton Rock, but neither of us are actually old enough to have been conscious of this when it was going: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobby_Lud

      Andrew Coates

      February 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm

  22. My argument isn’t about criticising people like Dieudonné or indeed the likes of Gilad Atzmon for example (no one is above criticism). Or religions.

    It is an observation about the slant of this site, the things that are left unsaid. Dishonesty is as much about distortion as it is about literal lies. The only reason I see fit to take issue is because you claim to be on the left, but yours is a left that I do not recognise or want to be part of.

    And what I consider the left, i.e. the non drone supporting left, do actually criticise the likes of Dieudonné. So that is the real state of the project. Your idea of the ‘project’ is a typical drone supporting left attempt to divide the non drone supporting left and ingratiate itself with part of the divided section. Luckily it hasn’t worked as some event or other always exposes you as the rotten parasites that you are.

    The site seems to adhere to the drone supporting left project:

    1. Play down attacks against Muslims by the far right.
    2. Make Muslims look bad.

    Which is pretty much in line with the far right fascists, as Muslims are the new Jews. I mean when the far right produce populist posters they have pictures of women wearing the veil. as they did in the recent Swiss vote.

    If I was going to be persuaded that Dieudonné was rotten I would not look to you, because of your hopeless bias and distortion (as demonstrated by the stupid and lazy Monbiot claim). But there are people that I respect who have argued that Dieudonné is indeed a bigot and I would listen seriously to what they said, before making up my own mind.

    But the drone supporting left are beyond the pale.

    Socialism In One Bedroom

    February 17, 2014 at 7:40 pm

  23. For someone who is against drones, you do drone on.

    Sue R

    February 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm

  24. Sue: I wasn’t aware of “Mirrorman”, but I did understand your comment, I claim therefore my 5 pounds!


    February 17, 2014 at 11:07 pm

  25. ” you claim to be on the left, but yours is a left that I do not recognise or want to be part of.”

    We can all relate to that, can’t we, Cde Aslef Ex-Spart, (if it is him) ?


    February 17, 2014 at 11:09 pm

  26. Not George Sabra

    March 26, 2014 at 9:49 pm

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