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Haiti, Oxfam – In Defence of Mary Beard; Contre Priyamvada Gopal. 

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“Familiar posture of wounded white innocence” says Priyamvada Gopal.

I confess, I really like Mary Beard.

She wrote one of the best ever books on Roman history, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome  (2015).

Since the Renaissance at least, many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury and beauty have been formed, and tested, in dialogue with the Romans and their writing.

From that you can guess she is not a reborn 18th century writer who uncritically admires the ‘glory that was Rome’, lauds the Republic, and ignores issues about the role of slavery, class conflicts, the position of women, and above all the violence that went with Empire in its history, up to the Caesars.

On the last issue the BBC last week showed Beard’s latest programme, Julius Caesar Revealed  which put his genocidal conquests at the heart of his rise to power, and underlined the narrow nature of the ‘republican’ claims to defend liberty against the ‘populist’ rise of Caesarism (a term used by a variety of political thinkers, including Gramsci, to refer to the role of a “great personality” in conditions where catastrophe looms).

Mary Beard has recently published this book, Women and Power.

As Rachel Cook outlines its theme,

Beard’s primary subject is female silence; she hopes to take a “long view on the culturally awkward relationship between the voice of women and the public sphere of speech-making, debate and comment”, the better to get beyond “the simple diagnosis of misogyny that we tend a bit lazily to fall back on”. Calling out misogyny isn’t, she understands, the same thing as explaining it, and it’s only by doing the latter that we’re likely ever to find an effective means of combating it. The question is: where should we look for answers? Beard acknowledges that misogyny has multiple sources; its roots are deep and wide. But in this book, she looks mostly (she is a classicist, after all) at Greek and Roman antiquity, a realm that even now, she believes, casts a shadow over our traditions of public speaking, whether we are considering the timbre of a person’s voice, or their authority to pronounce on any given subject.

She continues,

Personally, I might have found this argument a bit strained a month ago; 3,000 years lie between us and Homer’s Odyssey, which is where she begins, with Telemachus effectively telling his mother Penelope to “shut up”. But reading it in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it seems utterly, dreadfully convincing. Mute women; brutal men; shame as a mechanism for control; androgyny and avoidance as a strategy for survival. On every page, bells ring too loudly for comfort.

Mary Beard now has her own confrontation with efforts to shout her down.

After this,

The Cambridge Classics professor Mary Beard has been left “sitting here crying” after a provocative tweet concerning the Oxfam sexual exploitation scandal exposed her to a torrent of abuse on Twitter.

The Academic tweeted on Friday that “Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in to help out, where most of us wd not tread”.

The tweet has sparked controversy over the last two days. One of hundreds to engage in the Twitter backlash was fellow Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal whose series of tweets against Beard included “this kind of thing is the *progressive* end of the institutional culture I have to survive day in day out” and “Cambridge desperately needs a Breaking the Silence on racism. About time and beyond”.

In a following tweet Gopal directly satirised Beard: “Obviously it’s not a great idea to randomly get your dick out, rape people etc. But it’s not easy to be politically correct while in shitholes. And overall I still respect people who head out to shitholes ‘cos I sure as hell wouldn’t dream of it’.”

Cambridge Student.

A Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal,   “an upper-caste woman from a liberal-ish Hindu family in India” as she puts it, has taken the time to Lecture Beard.

Gopal is keenly aware of her caste, but who’s had “a lot painful listening and learning from Dalit and other non-upper-caste intellectuals and campaigners”.

Associating Beard with the “genteel liberal racism that is the very lifeblood of Cambridge social intercourse” she talks, as they do over a cup of Earl Grey, of Theodor Adorno, and wishes to tell Beard about the Heart of Darkness, Black Agency,  Michel-Rolph Trouillot and the history of Haiti.

Not to mention “civilised values”.

Or to put it another way Gopal offers and over-intellectualises by a kilometre and ten by a “post-colonial”analysis of an emotional tweet.

Response to Mary Beard

I’m afraid that your good intentions notwithstanding, it is precisely this genteel patrician racist manner and this context of entrenched denial in which your tweet on Haiti, ‘civilised’ values (scare quotes noted but not enough, I’m afraid) and disaster zones was received. It was, as you now know, received with enormous shock. (Not by me though — I’m used to this kind of casual magisterial apologetic coming out of the mouths of my Cambridge colleagues; it’s the stuff of everyday college lunch table conversations and hence I’ve taken the simple step of not dining in colleges as far as is feasible ).

Your subsequent blog post, to not put too fine a point on it, did little to help your cause and is regarded by many as a ‘no-pology’, a stubborn refusal to see what was wrong with your original post and taking refuge instead in the familiar posture of wounded white innocence. This too is familiar to me at Cambridge: on the rare occasions I’ve bothered to raise questions of, let us say, ‘racially dodgy’ remarks that bring Cambridge or particular colleges into disrepute, I’ve been instantly shut down by what you would recognise, I am sure, as ‘snowflake’ behaviour: outrage, wounded innocence, protestations of good intentions, and finally the declaration that it’s not the racist pronouncements that are the problem but the person (me, in this instance) who calls them out. It is accompanied by another gesture which also manifests in your blogpost: a pronouncement that self-evidently the person who made the remark cannot possibly have made a racist observation because they do not consider themselves to be racist. Imagine if every misogynist you encountered made the same gesture — and they usually do: ‘I love women, OF COURSE I am not sexist, everyone knows I am not sexist.’ What would you say to him?

Your blogpost is not an adequate intellectual response to your, well, frankly outrageous tweet; it’s a series of postures of innocence and a continued refusal to analyse a problem in all its thorny difficulty. To those who felt violated and aggressed by the original tweet, your blogpost was a further slap in the face: a stubborn refusal to see what was so profoundly and deeply wrong with your claims in addition to bizarre, indeed cringe-making comparisons between the French resistance and aid workers. What is striking in both tweet and putatively exculpatory blogpost is your inability to see beyond Western agency: Western aid workers as resistance fighters, white aid workers as Mr Kurtz figures caving in the strain of ‘The horror, the horror.’

It is very generous for Gopal to speak for the Haitians, the French Resistance, and for all those who “feel violated” by a Tweet .

No less open-hearted and welcoming is her invitation to Beard to “come and meet my third years who next week will be discussing precisely Haiti and the Haitian revolution as they read Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s work on the elision of black agency in European historiography and European habits of thought. “

Yes, we Europeans have definite “habits of thought”…..

The row proceeds.

Some would say that another shouter-down made a pretty racist tweet.

The following is about the only sensible Tweet I have found.


More Background.

Launching an impassioned defence of her actions in the wake of the backlash, Beard tweeted “I am amazed that after decades of Lord of the Flies being a gcse English set book we haven’t got the point about the breakdown of morality in danger zones!! Just saying and this is NOT to condone the actions of a few aid workers”.

Beard then took to her Times Literary Supplement blog to further her defense, but admitted in a tweet that she was left “sitting here crying”. Her blog told of the torrent of abuse she had experienced: “the predictable name calling ‘pervert’, ‘sick cow’, ‘disgusting creature’ or gross misreadings… ‘how hard is it not to gangrape women in a disaster zone?’. ‘you’ve lost your house, your family are dead, fancy a shag? Do you take PayPal?’ (I didn’t really want to include that, but I felt that you needed to see the tasteless too.)”

She added: “I find it hard to imagine that anyone out there could possibly think that I am wanting to turn a blind eye to the abuse of women and children” and that ” while we deplore what has happened and expect better, it is worth thinking of the context in which it took place. 99% of us have no idea of the stresses of working in these environments (and yes, living in them is worse, as there is no escape route). Most aid workers deal with that, I suspect, by drink and cigarettes. But that kind of societal, infrastructural breakdown provides a space for much worse.

“That is not to condone the awful things that happened but to contextualise them. And that is what we need to do, if we want to stop this happening again.”

Cambridge Student.

Update (from Roger). Gopal’s previous ordure:

9/11 and the Mumbai attacks

In the title of her December 4, 2008 Guardian editorial on the Mumbai attacks, Priyamvada Gopal asserts that “Comparing Mumbai to 9/11 diminishes both tragedies.” But even this title is deceitful, since, as her readers soon discover, the piece is not concerned with the particularities of the two events. Nor does the danger of “diminishing” 9/11 give Gopal pause. On the contrary, diminishing and displacing 9/11 from our active preoccupations is her intent. Allowing the November attack on Mumbai to be deemed “India’s 9/11” would be, she argues, “to privilege the experience of the United States” and to be complicit with India’s “relentless Americanization.” 9/11 is either another brand name in McWorld or something even more sinister, an event so “fetishized” as to “sanction endless vengeance,” even as it obscures “the experience of millions [elsewhere] who have suffered as much” as those who died or were injured in the attack on the U.S. on that day. 9/11 “legitimized a false war,” “created legal abominations,” and “strengthened neoconservatism.”

While Gopal’s piece makes perfunctory mention of the suffering of the victims of 9/11, it says nothing of the actual contours of that event, much less the intentions behind it. The U.S. reaction concerns her more than the attack itself does. Rather than offering any analysis of the event about which she was writing, Gopal strains to change the subject. Presumably the killing spree that took place in Mumbai from November 26th to November 29th 2008 (and has now come to be referred to “11/26”), requires no analysis. But when we actually specify what 9/11 was, can the comparison with it really be so easily avoided?

The crucial point to be made about 9/11 — and the one that Gopal studiously avoids — makes the comparison with the Mumbai attacks inevitable: both were attacks inspired by Islamism on intensely cosmopolitan urban populations with the intention of inflicting the maximum number of casualties. Moreover, like New York, Mumbai is an old colonial port city with a rich if submerged history of radical democratic struggle. Like New York, Mumbai is the commercial and cultural, though not the political, capital of a pluralistic democracy. In short, like New York, Mumbai is one of world’s great nerve-centers of contemporary capitalism. Also, the attacks on Mumbai were not on the Hindu chauvinist politics of Bal Thackeray, just as the 9/11 attack was not on the neo-liberalism of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. In both cases, the targets were the profane pleasures of modern society. In both cases, the attacks were made, so to speak, in plain view, so that the fascistic menace was unmistakable (albeit in the absurdly comic form of expressionless young men who might, but for the assault rifles in their hands, be easily mistaken for ravers en route to Goa). Finally, as with 9/11, the regional strategic consequences bound to flow from the Mumbai attacks are profound.

In a certain respect, the semiotics of the attacks in Mumbai were even more ghastly than those of 9/11, since it witnessed the deliberate hunting of Jews qua Jews, especially at the Chabad House, where Jews were subjected to savage beatings before their execution, unlike even the Americans and Britons who were also singled out. For those who planned the attacks killing Jews was a priority and it was executed in the midst of a police siege by killers who had, in all likelihood, never so much as seen a Jewish person before. Though the murderous anti-Semitism on display in Mumbai ought by now to be an all-too-familiar aspect of Islamist ideology, Guardian correspondent Richard Silverstein, like Gopal on the editorial page, declines to acknowledge the obvious. Instead he insists that the attack on Chabad House was “not necessarily anti-Semitic,” claiming that the attackers were seeking “redress for crimes against Palestine” [“Why did the Attackers Choose to Attack Chabad House” Guardian 12/4/2008, cf. Alex Stein “Inspiration from India” Guardian 12/4/2008]. From this we may safely conclude that, for Silverstein, anytime a Muslim kills a Jew he need only utter the magic word “Palestine” to have his guilt absolved: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza means that it is open season on Jews all over the world. In the same vein, William Dalrymple, informs the wised-up readers of the Guardian that “the horrific events have to be seen in the context of. . . the abject failure of the Bush administration” and the “ill-treatment of the people of Kashmir” [“Mumbai Atrocities Highlight Need for a Solution in Kashmir” Guardian 11/30/08]. In Arundhati Roy’s column, too, we rely upon the terrorists to tell the truth and to remind “us” of the “things we don’t want to talk about any more” [“The Monster in the Mirror,” 12/13/08]. It is one thing for a journalist to report the content of authoritarian manifestoes or the statements terrorists make in the course of an attack; it is quite another matter to rationalize such statements in the manner of Silverstein, Dalrymple, and Roy.

Highlighting the political significance of the attack on Chabad House cannot be allowed to obscure the fact that there was also something quite discriminating about the seemingly more indiscriminate killing of commuters at the Victoria Terminus. It is not enough to say simply that, compared to the foreigners and the rich people at the Taj and Oberoi Hotels, the victims there were poorer, working people, though this is true. It is also worth pointing out that at the train station, the attackers fired directly into crowds. The Muslims among the dead there were not unintended victims. They were punished for living and working in peace in secular democratic India, i.e. of having failed to join the jihad. Of course, the Hindus regarded as pagans were positively marked for slaughter. As for the attacks on Mumbai’s elite hotels, likewise, the clear intent was to comingle on their marble floors the blood of dying unbelievers of all sorts — Zionist, Crusader, and Infidel. There again was the same unbridled murderousness that has been a significant feature of previous attacks, such as the 2006 commuter train in Mumbai and the serial bombings earlier in 2008 in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Delhi, to name just a few. These rather elementary aspects of the politics behind the Mumbai attacks rarely merit mention in the analysis to be found in the Guardian. But while the “Left” cannot remain at this elementary level of analysis, neither can it afford to ignore the obvious.

While Gopal is right to claim that in many respects 9/11 is not unique as a point of comparison (there have been many other Islamist terrorist attacks besides 9/11), her aim seems not to locate the attacks in an alternative history of recent Islamist terrorism, as, for instance, in relation to the bombing in Pakistan in September of the Islamabad Marriott that killed 53 and injured more than 250. Rather, the Mumbai attacks are treated as have no determinate character whatsoever, Gopal preferring to speak only of a “massacre of defenceless innocents.” Presumably the same is true of the bomb detonated December 5th, 2008 in a market outside a Shi’a mosque in Peshawar in which 22 people were killed and more than 90 were wounded. While 9/11 posed for everyone worldwide the question of modern Islamism, Gopal’s editorial reveals once again how the Left continues to rely on its old reflex responses — supposed “anti-imperialism” — to defer any confrontation with the full scope of the barbarism in our time. In this way, the piece tends to obscure or deny what is salient for advancing (or even imagining) a politics genuinely capable of both countering fascism and reconstituting an emancipatory politics in South Asia.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Bangladesh Comes to London: Left Should Support Bangladeshi People Against Genociders.

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The people of Bangladesh have launched mass protests. Many have been held to demand the death sentence for the Islamists convicted of war crimes during the  1971 War of National Liberation.

The Pakistani army tried to crush the Bangla people with a cruelty that resembled the Nazis’ on the Eastern Front,

“…… we were told to kill the hindus and Kafirs (non-believer in God). One day in June, we cordoned a village and were ordered to kill the Kafirs in that area. We found all the village women reciting from the Holy Quran, and the men holding special congregational prayers seeking God’s mercy. But they were unlucky. Our commanding officer ordered us not to waste any time.”

Confession of a Pakistani Soldier. Bangladeshi Genocide Archive.

Official estimates say more than three million people were killed in the 1971 war.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Bangladesh in protest over sentences handed out in relation to alleged war crimes during the 1971 war of independence.

It took decades for a tribunal to be set up to look at the atrocities committed at that time, and the first verdicts came this year, including the conviction of a senior leader of Bangladesh’s biggest Islamic party.

A former leader from Jamaat-e-Islami was sentenced to death in absentia. Another leader, Abdul Kader Mullah, was given a life sentence last week.

Some protesters feel the sentences have been too lenient, or that the process has been flawed.

Meanwhile, supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami held separate protests calling for Mullah’s release.

Some in Bangladesh say that public protests could put unnecessary pressure on judges presiding over the tribunal.

Nick Cohen, comments,

“Do I hear you say that Bangladesh is far away and the genocide was long ago?

Not so far away. Not so long ago. And the agonies of Bangladeshi liberals are nothing in comparison to the contradictions of their British counterparts.

The conflict between the Shahbag and Jamaat has already reached London. On 9 February, local supporters of the uprising demonstrated in Altab Ali Park, a rare patch of green space off the Whitechapel Road in London’s East End. They were met by Jamaatis. “They attacked our men with stones,” one of the protest’s organisers told me. “There were old people and women and children there, but they still attacked us.”

The redoubtable organiser is undeterred. She and her fellow activists are going back to the park tomorrow for another demonstration. Her friends are worried, however. They asked me not to name her after unknown assailants murdered Ahmed Rajib Haider Shuvo, one of the leaders of the Dhaka rallies, on Friday.”

Cohen continues, that the Jamaat is not challenged in the East End, indeed it is accepted as part of the Establihsment.,

The scoundrel left led the way down this murky alley, as it leads the way into so many dark places. Ken Livingstone and George Galloway have backed the Jamaat-dominated East London mosque, and Islamic Forum Europe, the Jamaat front organisation that now controls local politics in Tower Hamlets.

The Jamaat still have a fight on their hands, as,

The British-Asian feminist Gita Sahgal launched the Centre for Secular Space last week to combat such indulgence of theocratic obscurantism. She told me that Jamaat perverts traditional faith and she should know. Not only did she name alleged Jamaat war criminals living in Britain for Channel 4 in the 1990s, she is also Jawaharlal Nehru’s great niece and a distant relative of the Indira Gandhi who sent the army into Bangladesh. I admire Sahgal and Quilliam hugely, but they are mistrusted, even hated by orthodox leftwingers. The feeling is reciprocated in spades and perhaps you can see why.

Now what Cohen calls the “scoundrel left”  is very quiet about their relations with the Jamaat genociders at the moment.

But a taste of what they think of Bangladesh can be got from Bob Pitt and his ‘Islamophbia Watch’ 

This is how Islamophobia Watch greeted  in 2010 the decision in Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League to restore the secular state.

Defend Jamaat-e-Islami against ‘secularism’

Under the heading “Bangladesh set to become again a secular state”, left-wing blogger Andrew Coates has enthusiastically hailed what he claims is a decision by the government of Bangladesh to restore the secular foundations of the country’s constitution.

He bases his post on reports that the Supreme Court in Dhaka has upheld a ruling that the government can reverse amendments made to the constitution in the period following the military coup of 1975. Coates approvingly quotes law minister Shafique Ahmed as saying: “In the light of the verdict, the secular constitution of 1972 already stands to have been revived. Now we don’t have any bar to return to the four state principles of democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism as had been heralded in the 1972 statute of the state.

It is the same government that then set up the War Crimes Tribunal.

We wonder what Pitt and his friends think of the Jamaat thugs attacking Bangladeshis protesting at the genocide in London.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 18, 2013 at 11:54 am

Joseph Anton. A Memoir. Salman Rushdie. A Secularist Review.

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Joseph Anton. A Memoir. Salman Rushdie. Jonathan Cape. 2012.

In early September demonstrations against the video The Innocence of Muslims, took place across the world. Wednesday the 19th of the month saw the French leftist satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo published, to more protests, caricatures of Mohammed.

Two days later, Tahar Ben Jelloun argued, in Le Monde (21.9.12) against any concessions to Islamist inspired rage. He began by asking why Islam seemed so fragile that fiction, cartoons, or a bad film, His answer was the some Moslem countries encouraged this reaction to stave off creating states based on individual rights. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was the template for this strategy. It been used by the Iranian regime to quash any criticism of Islam, and to cement an “appartence absolue à la communité” (absolute adhesion to the community). Jelloun had no time for the provocations of Charlie. Yet he recommended ignoring them, and turning to the transcendental spirit of Islam.

Tareq Oubrou, the Rector of the Bordeaux Mosque, wrote on the same Le Monde Débats page, even more clearly against those who wished to suppress ‘blasphemy’. “La liberté de conscience et d’expression est un aquis occidental incontesté et incontenstable. Une avancée et un progrès philosophical-moral réels de notre humanité.” – Freedom of speech and conscience are established, unchallenged, and indisputable facts in the West. This is a step forward and real moral and philosophical progress for humanity”. Oubrou did not just repeat the standard argument (even sued by some Islamists, in the absence of a state ruled by the Sharia) that Muslims should submit to French law. All criticism of writing and art should be within their own terms, “La critique d’art se fait par l’art, la philosophie par la philosophie, and les idées par les idées.”

On the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, at the end that Month Le Monde put the author on the front page followed by a long, respectful, article/interview. It dealt with Rushdie’s criticisms of “Actually Existing Islam” as well as the Satanic Verses and the Khomeini Fatwa that has marked his life.

The present work does not neglect this political-religious theme, “During the worst excesses of Soviet Communism…Western Marxists had tried to distance ‘actually existing Socialism’ from the True Faith, Karl Marx’s vision of equality and justice.” Now, with Communism’s faults there for all to see, “it was no longer possible to believe in a True Faith untainted by the crimes of the real world.” Yet, “as Islamic states forged new tyrannies, and justified many horrors in the name of God, a similar separation was being made by Muslims; so there was the ‘actually existing Islam’ of the bloody theocracies and there was the True Faith of peace and love.” (Page 356) The crisis is profound, and cannot be wished away by this appeal, Rushdie says, “something was eating away at the faith of his grandfather, corroding or corrupting it, making it an ideology of narrowness and intolerance, banning books, persecuting thinkers, erecting absolutions, turning dogma with which to beat the undogmatic. That thing needed to be fought and to fight it one had to name it and the only name that fitted was Islam.”(Pages 356-7) Read the rest of this entry »

Bangladesh War of Independence Anniversary: Shahzeb Jillani on BBC Radio 4.

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Shahzeb Jillani has produced a programme on the Bangladeshi war of national liberation.

Boundaries of Blood was broadcast last night  (Here).

He describes how nine months turmoil in ‘East Pakistan’ Bangladeshi “separatists” (fighters for national liberation), India intervened. The war then lasted 13 days.

Jillani, who was born in Sind, Pakistan,  summarises this, “The defeat of the Pakistani army on 16 December 1971 was a triumph for India and the Bengali insurgents it had assisted.”

Although the programme was sensitive and throughly researched it is unlikely to appeal to all Bangladeshis or supporters of their great war of national liberation.

The atrocities committed by the Pak army were reported, but ‘balanced’ by reference to attacks on supporters of Pakistan. The scale of the genocide was left undecided – over 2, 3 million deaths? or less?

It was left uncertain.

Above all there was no reference to the present trial of Bangladeshi collaborators with Pakistan. That is, those who enrolled in the mass-murdering Razakars. They stand accused of War Crimes.

This perhaps summarises some of what took place (here):

“…… we were told to kill the hindus and Kafirs (non-believers in God). One day in June, we cordoned a village and were ordered to kill the Kafirs in that area. We found all the village women reciting from the Holy Quran, and the men holding special congregational prayers seeking God’s mercy. But they were unlucky. Our commanding officer ordered us not to waste any time.”

Assisting the Army were Bangladeshi Islamists, such as supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a brother party of the Pakistani Party of the same name.

They continue to have a strong domestic base, with support in the UK. Here they enjoy a role in ‘community leadership’  in the East End of London.

It is to the Pakistan’s great honour that a man like Lt Col Abdul Qadir Baloch can criticise the army’s actions during this war.

But sadly there is little evidence that this honesty is widespread. Some of the interviewees on the programme spoke of the reports of killings and other atrocities as “propaganda”.

In Pakistan Jillani reports,

One might expect that the Pakistani army’s failure in 1971 would have diminished its power in the country. But in my lifetime, its influence in shaping and running the country has grown exponentially.

In Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (2011) one can detect absolutely no Pakistani remorse for the army’s mass murders. No apologies for its racism – that the regarded the Bangladeshi people as inferior, tainted by Hindi culture, and, clearly disposable.

The Pakistani willful denial of their role in the war’s  slaughter some in Britain claim that all this was “long ago” and no longer relevant. A few even suggest that Bangleshis who bring this up are playing politics.

Heroic figures of the struggle for national liberation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (here),  and the fighters of the Mukti Bahani, are not, however, forgotten by the progressive peoples of the world.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Taslima Nasrin: The Wandering Victim of Islamism and Multiculturalism.

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The Book That Still Upsets.

Taslima Nasrin has been under a cloud since 1994 (more here). In exile from Bangladesh for her secularism. For writing such as Shame  (Lajja) – which criticised religion, and particularly political Islam. The cause of her reaction? Bloodshed. Those who were not followers of the Prophet were driven out of the country. Not just in the period of the partition of the sub-Continent. But in waves afterwards. In her own land the far-right parties of God continued to terrorise slaughter non-Muslims. In particular pogrom drives, “In the Hindu eviction drive, village after village was burned to the ashes” A Hindu was “a two-legged animal which had become a foreigner in his own land” Threatened, “You will be cut to pieces to be given to the cows as fodder.”

Brave Nasrin would not remain silent. She wrote. She fight. For “the disease of religious fundamentalism is not restricted to Bangladesh and..must be fought at every turn.”

Pogroms – Jamaat and other Islamist  inspired – remain a threat.

Nasrin was and is not afraid to attack the failure of Bangladeshi left parties to defend Hindus. “Which party could be trusted after even eminent Communist Party leaders  didn’t feel secure with their Hindu names?” Ignored by British press she remains in serious risk of attack by Islamists.  Under sentence of death.

Yesterday Le Monde (here) gave a full page to Nasrin’s plight. 

Taslima Nasreen, 48 ans, est ne apatride trimbalant sa valise de pays en pays, de villes en villes, séjours fugaces en des havres provisoires.”

“She has no nation, who carries her suitcase from country to country, from city to city, hidden stays in fleeting havens.”

At present in India her refusal to stop criticising religion means her present home is increasingly provisional.

Since Nasrim criticised the burka. She suggested women take this “symbol of oppression ” off and burn it. As a result  she has been again the target of a violent Islamist campaign. Last March two people were killed in  demonstrations in Karnataka demanding her death. the Indian left accuses her of fomenting hatred against an already oppressed religious minority. She replies that she also attacks hard-line Hinduism. To no effect.

It looks probable that her stay – even under such restrictions she is barely free at all – in India will not last. They are already talking about a new exile, a new search for refuge.  (More here).


It is hardly surprising that Nasrin’s case has not been loudly heard in Britain. By the ruling religiously inspired Establishment or by more liberal multiculturalists and much of the left. Lippy Bangladeshi atheists – a woman to boot – do not fit into the narrative of oppressed Islam. Nor any possible consensus about the role of faith in finding ”social justice’.  She must be ‘nutty’. She is a pain. No doubt an ‘Islamophobe’. Better keep quiet about her. Just watch.

By contrast it is the duty of every revolutionary to stand shoulder to shoulder with Nasrin.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 10, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Ignorance of the Learned. John Keane.

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John Keane and Tendance Coatesy’s Bed-Time Reading.

John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy (2009) is a thick tome. I did not expect the theorist (here) of ‘civil society’ as the site of social progress to be sympathetic reading. But, in contrast to many of the books I’ve been looking at when writing recently I thought it would be stimulating, interesting, and well-argued (add usual adjectives for someone you don’t really agree with). Besides I’ve a soft spot for anyone who annoys the Iranian theocrats.

I have not finished it yet.

But so far I have been throughly annoyed. A good thing one might think. But in this instance I think not.

To begin with Keane spends a good deal of his time sharing his knowledge of philology with us. This runs through  many pages. That is, for example, he has discovered that Democracy in ancient Greek is a feminine noun. That we should try to imagine a world in which this word is surrounded bya  cluster of other substantives which are also feminine. How hard! That it implies a female personification for a form of government. Er, like la République, and la Démocratie, not to mention Marianne. And (hey) la Recrue (Recruit – a word in French which is feminine regardless of the sexual gender of the person).

Not content with this erudition Keane explores the origins of the element, demos. Apparently it goes back to  Minoean Greek, and the famous Linear B. It meant something slightly different to do with people’s relation to the land. Strike me pink! English ‘Folk’ no doubt goes back some time too. Perhaps he could help us out here (he probably does, I have already got to the point where he labours over the origin of the word Thing in Old English and Common Germanic). Anyway, amongst other gems Keane notes that the Greek Hubris is (he claims) an import from Hittite, huwap (Page 63). I wonder really if this is true – Hittite, dead without any descendants.  Pretty hard stuff. Keane also opines that there was an ancient Sumerian word which is “semantically” related to demos. ‘Semantically‘ mother is related to all the languages of the world, but one suspects he implies rather more than this kind of relation.  

Tendance Coatesy has a strong bond, (stronger than semantics) with Sumerian culture. We consider that the Fall of Ur was a great disaster (Lament here). Things have gone down-hill ever since. Sumerian civilisation had the great advantage of being: 1) The  founding one for writing. 2) Its speech was neither Indo-European, Semitic, African, Turkic, Asiatic or indeed with any known cognate language. 3) No-one can therefore claim it as ‘theirs’ .

Apparently Keane differs. He uses 20th Century discoveries about Sumer (written up in any text on the subject – believe me I have read plenty of them), that they ruled with some kind of City assembly. Uses? Yes, to wage war against Marx. Citing Marx’s famous article, British Rule in India (June 10th 1853 – New York Daily Tribune), he says the following, “Had Marx the opportunity to learn Sumerian..”

Thus Marxy got the whole notion of Oriental Despotism wrong. That government in hydraulic societies (as Wittfogel called them), were based on three departments: Finance, War and Public Works. That – going back to what Marx wrote – village life, was isolated in these societies, that custom ruled them while the government ruled above. Marx did not mention if such states had, or had not, assemblies, though he said they dominated said settlements despotically,  warred, and taxed without their consent. Now the newspaper article uses pretty sweeping generalisations, cites Mesopotamia (where Sumer civilisation flourished) in passing, and is concentrated in India. Where he criticises British rule (main target) and criticises (in a patronising way) Indian traditional life. No references to Sumer as such in fact.

But then, unlike Keane and Tendance Coatesy Marx could not and had not read Sumerian. That is, before cuneiform was deciphered.

I suspect the theory of Oriental Despotism and the concept of the Asiatic Mode of Production have greater weaknesses than that, but no doubt Keane has struck a blow. Like his claim that Marx disliked Democracy because (sic) George Grote (a banker) wrote a paean of praise to Athenian Democracy this makes one wonder about slipping academic standards and ego inflation in the faculties.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 16, 2009 at 11:59 am