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Declaration of the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century.

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International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century

This is important and we extend our solidarity to those standing up for freedom of thought against religious bigotry.

See this email online.

The International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history, was held during 22-24 July 2017 in London.

Over 70 notable speakers from 30 countries or the Diaspora gathered in what was dubbed “The Glastonbury of Freethinkers” and “a Conference of Heroes” to honour dissenters and defend apostasy, blasphemy, and secularism.

The sold-out conference highlighted the voices of those on the frontlines of resistance – many of them persecuted and exiled – and included the first London film screening of Deeyah Khan’s film, Islam’s Non Believers, a public art protest of 99 balloons representing those killed or imprisoned for blasphemy and apostasy, a body-painting action, and crucial discussions and debates on Islamophobia and its use by Islamists to impose de facto blasphemy laws, the relation between Islam and Islamism as well as communalism’s threat to universal rights, art as resistance and Laicite as a human rights. The conference hashtag, #IWant2BFree, trended on Twitter during the two days.

At the conference, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) honoured ten individuals to mark its tenth anniversary, namely Bangladeshi freethinker Bonya Ahmed, Saudi freethinkers Ensaf Haidar and Raif Badawi, Moroccan atheist Zineb El Rhazoui, Philosopher AC Grayling, Centre for Secular Space’s Gita Sahgal and Yasmin Rehman, Algerian Sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas, Jordanian Atheists’ Founder Mohammad AlKhadra, Egyptian Atheist Founder of The Black Ducks Ismail Mohamed and Author and Scientist Richard Dawkins.

The conference issued resolutions against the no-platforming of Richard Dawkins by KPFA radio station, in defence of Ismail Mohamed who was prevented from leaving Egypt to speak at the conference by the Egyptian government, and on CEMB’s presence in Pride in London as well as a Declaration of Freethinkers (see below).

The event was live-streamed, which can be seen here. Professional video footage will be made available soon as well photos and more details of the event.

Report from Sedaa,  London conference sees ‘largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history’.

Sedaa founder Iram Ramzan, who was co-hosting the event, said: “The conference reminded us all that there are people in the UK and around the world who are ostracised or persecuted simply for deciding to think for themselves.

“It was also noted that one does not necessarily have to be an atheist in order to be a champion of secularism. In fact, a lot of religious people at the event recognised that secularism allows them to worship in the way they want to, just as it would protect non-religious people. A secular state would remain neutral in religious affairs.”

And this:

No apologies.  Maryam Namazie

This is my letter to you.

Not you, the Islamist, who wants me silent or dead whilst dreaming of your vile caliphate, nor you, the racist, who wants my Muslim and migrant family out whilst dreaming of your contemptible white, Christian Europe. To me, you are two sides of the same coin.

This is my letter to you who I should consider a friend, an ally, but who refuses to make a stand with me. You: the progressive, the anti-racist, the supposed defender of human rights.

How come your defence of freedom of conscience and expression never includes my right to reject and criticise Islam?

You exclude, bar, ban, blame and shame me – or at the very least – remain silent, simply because of who I am: an ex-Muslim, an atheist, a critic of Islam.

Of course, you have a right to your silence.

You are not responsible for my persecution. Only those who threaten, kill and harm freethinkers in countries and communities under Islamist control are directly responsible; justice, after all, can never be about placing collective blame.

But I do accuse.

I accuse you of blaming me and never the perpetrators.

They always seem to have some ‘legitimate’ grievance or ‘hurt’ sensibility that justifies their incitement to violence or mass murder.

I, on the other hand, am always at fault:

If only I had not offended’ Your religion offends me but I am still able to stand with you and defend your right to religion.

‘If only I had not provoked’ Islamists kill, maim, silence and I am the one provoking them by saying what I think? Is that you speaking or them?

‘If only I had respected Islam’ You don’t respect my atheism; why must I respect your religion? In any case, one is not required to respect beliefs but the right to belief.

‘If only I had kept my opinion about Islam to myself’… You do not keep your opinions to yourself. Every day, from every corner I hear how ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ and that ‘Islamists are not practising real Islam’. Religion is shoved down my throat until I suffocate; yet I must keep my opinions to myself? Do I not also have the right to speak and think as I choose? Until Islamists stop threatening me, I will shout my atheism from every rooftop.

‘I am aiding racism because I criticise Islam’ Are you promoting terrorism because you defend Islam? I do not blame you for terrorism; stop blaming me for racism – which, by the way, affects me too.

Dear ‘friend’,

Is it really so hard to grasp that freedom of conscience is not just for the believer? That it includes the right not to believe, the right to reject Islam – publicly or otherwise. That freedom of expression is not just for those who defend and promote Islam. It is also my and our freedom to criticise Islam, mock it, and even see it as the regressive ideology of the Islamist movement.

And to do so publicly without fear.

Frankly, when I hear the Quran recited, it feels like a kick to my stomach.  It reminds me of executions in Iran and the totalitarian nightmare from which I have fled and sought refuge.

Nonetheless, I can still make a distinction between beliefs and human beings. I can still defend the right to religion; I can still stand with you against fascists of all stripes.

Why can you not defend my right to reject religion?

Why can you not stand with me?

Can you not see that freedom of religion is meaningless without freedom from religion? These are corresponding freedoms. They cannot exist fully without the other.

Maybe you can afford your silence. After all, religion and its defenders have always been privileged and freethinkers have always been persecuted throughout the ages. But I and we cannot.

Because we have no choice.

Because we have a right to think and live freely – even if it offends you.

Because if we don’t speak for ourselves, who will speak for us? You certainly won’t.

Because we must speak for ourselves, our loved ones, for those who cannot speak, for those who are beaten into submission in homes in London, imprisoned in Riyadh or are facing the gallows in Tehran and Karachi.

For Raif Badawi, for Sina Dehghan, Sahar Ilyasi, Ayaz Nizami, Ahmad Al-Shamri, Taimoor Raza, Avijit Roy…

Because we are the tsunami that is coming…

Yes, I don’t blame you for my persecution, but I do often wonder how much of a role your victim blaming and silence play – even if unwittingly – in normalising the open season on Islam’s atheists and freethinkers.

I wonder. If you were not so tolerant of the culture of offence and so intolerant of my criticism, would the world not be a different place?

I accuse.

#IWant2BFree

“Religion has ever filled the mind of man with darkness, and kept him in ignorance of his real duties and true interests. It is only by dispelling the clouds and phantoms of Religion, that we shall discover Truth, Reason, and Morality. Religion diverts us from the causes of evils, and from the remedies which nature prescribes; far from curing, it only aggravates, multiplies, and perpetuates them.”  ― Paul Henri Thiry d’Holbach

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Orwell, Fake News, Alt-Right, Alt- Left and…. Skwawkbox.

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Orwell and Fake News, Alt-Right, Alt-Right.

George Orwell never ceases being cited. These days he more often appears for good reasons than for bad ones.

Recently people have had recourse to Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes in Salvador Dali (1944) in order to defend his ability as a “ good draftsman” while being, “a disgusting human being”. That qualified support highlighted, few share the judgement that the Surrealist’s “Mannequin rooting in a taxicab’ as “diseased and disgusting”. The important idea, one, which Orwell repeats about Dickens as Bechhofer Roberts published an early version of what much later developed in the account of the Other Woman, Ellen Ternan, is the distinction between public work and “private life”. In this instance Dali’s alleged infidelity, and the search for his DNA to prove paternity, is irrelevant to the merits or otherwise of his products.

A more weighty issue is taken up in yesterday’s le Monde (Relire « 1984 » à l’ère de la post-vérité). Stéphane Foucart discusses Orwell as a reference in the era of “post-truth” (post-verité). He quotes Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942), “..for the first, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary life.” Life in Republican Spain was portrayed as “one long massacre” by the pro-Franco British press. Orwell went on to imagine a future in which “the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only he future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event “it never happened” – well it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five.”

English speaking readers are more familiar with this passage, a premonition of the theme of 1984, than French, who, to Foucart, only began to register that dystopia in the 1980s, with intellectuals such as Michael Gauchet dismissing it. More recently there are those who have taken Orwell to their hearts, for his “common decency”. The idea that the over boiled cabbage and Thought Police of Ingsoc, and a planet divided into three rival Party-Oligarchies, has relevance today may seem to stretch a point.

That we know that the past is both so obviously not there, yet is worthy of objective inquiry in ways that other ‘not theres’ are not, is an old metaphysical difficulty. That the standard of objectivity was weakened by what used to be fashionable in the old days of ‘post-modernism’ is well known. But that there are different ‘truths’, a liberal, in the American sense, rather than a conservative principle has become less about controlling history than the present. Was the telly screen a rudimentary form of the Internet asks Foucart? Are Trump’s efforts to purge the Presidential archives of documents challenging his view on climate change? ‘Alternative facts’, reports that bear no relation to truth, have, with the sacking of the White House’s Sean Spicer is now a topic which has made the news.

The Media and State Power.

Orwell was concerned not just with Red Atrocity reports in the Daily Mail. He also wrote of the potential totalitarian effects of government control of the media, in his time the Radio. He defended freedom of expression against all forms of censorship, including the suppression of critical reports about the USSR which he believed was taking place post-war in favour of “uncritical admiration of the Soviet Union” (The freedom of the press – Animal Farm. 1945). As Orwell later wrote, “If you do not like the Communism you are a red-baiter, a believer in Bolshevik atrocities, the nationalism of women, Moscow Gold and so on.” (In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus. 1947. Intended for Tribune, not published…)

The Trump administration has power. But there is nothing resembling an effective state broadcasting monopoly outside of North Korea, despite accusations against the People’s Republic. Trump supporters have their networks, their web sites, the loud media outlets. The British right has the dailies, the internationally influential Mail, the declining Sun, the poor old Telegraph, the ageing Express and the Star, which few get beyond the front page to read. Its media imitations of the American alt-right, languish in obscurity. In Britain if these forces are capable of manufacturing truths, from the endless drip drip against migrant workers and Europe to scare-stories about left-wingers, and have an effect on opinion, they took a jolt at the last election. As the laughable Election Day front page of the Sun demonstrated so well.

The Alt-Left and Alternative Facts. 

Come the arrival of the ‘alt-left’. In Britain this means enthusiastic pro-Jeremy Corbyn people. Sites such as The Canary may not be to everyone’s taste but have a readership. But the debate over alternative facts has spread inside the left. Is it justified for Skwawkbox to engage in its own war of attrition with the arms of sensational, scaremongering, stories. The best known at the moment is their recent ‘scoop’ that claimed that everybody on disability benefit transferred to Universal Credit , who did not find a job in two years would be subject to sanctions? That is that they risk losing a large part (if not all) of their income?

This story has been demolished by Disabled People Against Cuts. (1)

Is their mealy-mouthed justification for running the tale acceptable?

They continue to publish wild stories.

That the Daily Mail has attacked the site with its own falsehoods does not give the author a free-pass when it comes to truth and accuracy. 

The writer of 1984 did not live in the age of click-bait. Nor of self-publishing on an industrial scale. But some things have not changed. It would not be to misuse Orwell to cite this, “the controversy over freedom of speech and of the Press is at bottom the desirability, or otherwise, of telling lies. What is really at issue is the right to report contemporary events truthfully. Or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers.” (The Prevention of Literature. 1947)

***
(1) The 2 year job rule for disabled people on Universal Credit is not true!

Disabled People Against Cuts.

Thank you to Gail Ward who put this together.

In the last few days it has been widely reported by various bloggers that those disabled claimants claiming Universal Credit are subjected to finding a job within two years or face a 1 year sanction. This is utter fabrication and feeding many claimants fears which could potentially cause harm. So today I called Welfare Rights ,who called DWP while I remained on the phone, they denied that this information was correct and was downright alarmist and dangerous. That doesn’t mean I trust DWP and have submitted a FOI too given 7 years of shenanigans. So you see folks, you can take the fear project and destroy it with Facts!

All Orwell references in Essays. George Orwell. Everyman’s Library. 2002.

Skwawkbox Caught out Scaremongering (Lying) Again – on Universal Credit Serious Threats to the Disabled.

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Past Lies by Skwawkbox; Now they spread Fear amongst Disabled.

The latest scaremongering by Skwawkbox has caused great distress.

They put about the rumour that disabled people will be subject to this,

DISABLED CLAIMANTS TOLD: 2 YRS TO GET JOB OR BE SANCTIONED FOR A YEAR.”  17th of July.

The government is pressing ahead with the roll-out of its Universal Credit (UC) replacement to the benefits system in spite of huge delays and problems – and continuing problems so ingrained that foodbank use has increased sharply in every area where is has been implemented.

UC contains a draconian set of provisions, including a ‘Claimant Commitment’ (CC) – a set of imposed requirements to which the claimant has no right of appeal whatever. As the government’s guidance on CCs states:

There is no right of appeal if a claimant refuses to accept their Claimant Commitment and the requirements that have been set out in it.

A JCP adviser – who might be incompetent, inexperienced, bitter, have a personality clash with the claimant or just simply be having a bad day – is the final arbiter of whether a CC is reasonable and achievable, and even a patently bad decision cannot be appealed for a higher opinion.

The key bit is this:

A fixed time to find a job – or a one-year sanction? A sanction is the immediate and complete removal of support. Anyone who has seen Ken Loach’s superb I, Daniel Blake knows how devastating this is and what the consequences can be.

And the most hideous aspect of this hideous system is that it applies to disabled people. Two years to find work or you’re cut off from support.

It’s hard to imagine that this could be true, that anyone could be so lacking in humanity as to devise such a system, let alone enforce it. But it is true. A DWP insider told the SKWAWKBOX:

They are now furiously backtracking: IMPORTANT: WRAG/SANCTION – DON’T PANIC YET.

Earlier today the SKWAWKBOX published an article about the application of the Universal Credit (UC) ‘claimant commitment’ to disabled people. That article was based on information from a recent DWP employee and the details were confirmed before publication by a current DWP employee of 15 years experience. It indicated that disabled people not placed in the ‘Support Group’ by the DWP’s contracted medical assessors would have two years to find work and would then face sanction.

However, others have challenged whether the claimant commitment would be applied in this way, so the SKWAWKBOX has checked with other DWP veterans.

And has received mixed answers.

So the real situation may not be as bad as sources originally indicated – but it’s so unclear that the only thing everyone agreed on is that the rules are opaque and confusing.

So don’t panic yet. We’ll bring you a definitive answer as soon as one can be obtained.

There seems to be pattern about Skwawkbox’s behaviour.

  • First they spread outrageous panic inspiring lies.
  • Then they deny that they circulated them without careful consideration and qualification, not to mention ‘research’.
  • Finally, the accuse anybody who criticises their attention seeking sensationalism of being establishment touts, and take up the position of stout denial – that they are at fault in any way.

We await the latter ready and willing to do battle with those who have caused distress to people we know and love.

More see Bob Pitt: Skwawkbox — an embarrassment to the Left.

The reality, however, is that Skwawkbox functions as a sort of left-wing mirror image of the right-wing tabloid press, or of alt-right sites like Breitbart News. It employs the same unscrupulous, sensationalist journalistic methods, but for opposite political ends. Skwawkbox appears incapable of grasping that socialist aims cannot be achieved by such anti-socialist means.

And Phil:  The Alt-Left: A Critical Appreciation.

In his critique of Skwawkbox, Bob Pitt argues that blog proprietor Steve, and by extension the rest of the alt-left stable, blur the line between political analysis and conspiracy theorising – and establishes this via a forensic analysis of Steve’s piece on Grenfell and his argument the media were subject to a D Notice. As such, he suggests they have a cavalier attitude to the truth similar to the fake news we find peddled by Breitbart and co, except from the diametrically opposed perspective. Because these pieces can then easily be picked apart by fact-checking, Bob believes they flout journalistic ethics and embarrass the left as a whole.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 18, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Alt-Left Blogs Face Left Critics: the Canary, Skwawkbox, Novera.

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Phil’s latest merits a wide audience.

The Alt-Left: A Critical Appreciation

Among the big winners of the general election are the wave of new blogs collectively dubbed the “alt-left”. You know who I’m talking about. The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara, Evolve Politics and Another Angry Voice have been singled out by the mainstream as the authentic voices of the new socialism that has seized hold of the Labour Party and powered it to its highest number of votes for 20 years. Despite these blogs being around for some time (AAV since 2010, Skwawkbox 2012) they constitute part of the third age of blogging, which saw outsiders seemingly appear from nowhere to muscle in on online comment. In a short period of time, they have all carved out serious audiences, according to Buzzfeed’s in-depth feature (itself a product of the third wave). How, and why is it – Novara’s Aaron Bastani aside – they are all outsiders? Why didn’t established radical journalists, other socialist blogs, or the regular output of the far left become key artefacts of the Corbynist zeitgeist? It’s because of how this “outsiderness” relates to their content which, in turn, has found substantial audiences.

Novera, Phil comments,  operates in the more traditional field of political analysis. The present Page offers on article that suggests that present outage over Grenfell Tower and the issue of housing, has something in common with the Spanish mass movement, the Indignados,or Movimiento 15-M or which involved millions of people, in protests against the ruling parties’ corruption, incompetence and formed the groundwork for Podemos, although  how the “current wave of indignation will crystallise” in the UK is left open (Britain’s Indignant Moment? Grenfell, Neoliberalism and the New Common Sense).

One can, with regret or not, say that last week’s Day of Rage,  was not much of a sign of such a movement.

Novera also includes a piece by Richard Seymour that offers a sober and pretty decent analysis of the rise of Corbyn in conditions where such protests were absent, or marginal. After the Miliband defeat, “he had an analysis not only of the grimly familiar litany of austerity’s failures but also of Labour’s crisis. He understood it as a crisis of the roots, a failure to connect to the activists and movements without whom Labour was just a professional political elite obsessed with psephology and spin.” Leaving aside the contentious claim that it was “he” Corbyn rather than Team Corbyn, that propelled the successful campaign for the Labour leadership, Seymour points out rightly, that there emerged a “protest movement in itself, attracting enormous rallies of the angry and disaffected Labour base in that  that post-election, “

Unfortunately there is a lot of speculation – wishful thinking would be a better term – in Seymour’s conclusions,  “He (Corbyn) has found hidden reservoirs of support and strength for the Left, raw materials for social transformation. In doing so, he has also exposed the inherent fragility of the supposedly indomitable, terrifying Tory machine, accentuating its inherited crises and long term decline, and potentially hastening the end of its role as a viable party of government.” (Where We Go From Here.)

These examples perhaps pass the line between taking the time to grasp political reality and expressing hopes and wishes for the future, but optimism is often welcome even if the will may overreach itself. One might ask, were one from these quarter, the radical left, if a movement focused on elections, and creating a mass party with some social activism,  is really something new and path breaking in European social democracy? Labour’s programme that while offering a series of reforms and nationalisations, is some respects to the right of this year’s unfortunate French Socialist Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, 6,4%, which offered Basic Income, a Europe-wide minimum wage, and the legalisation of cannabis amongst its policies

The Canary, strikingly,   passes well beyond the reality principle, “In one sentence, Corbyn drops a truth bomb that should have the Tories running for the hills.

The phrase is, apparently, “Yes, the £10 an hour living wage, real living wage, is correct and also should apply to all workers, because I don’t think young people eat less than old people – that’s my experience anyway.

Other stories, again from the Canary, live up to the point that, “What they all share is a default (and correct) assumption that the system is rigged and the powers-that-be will conspire, collude, and collaborate to forever gerrymander privilege for themselves and their cronies. The stock-in-trade for the blogs are stories that reinforce this healthy scepticism.”

Witness, the headline, “We’ve been investigating the evidence about the Grenfell fire. And what we’ve found is numbing. 

It is hard to find anything in this article that is not common knowledge, broadcast in the MSM.

Another Angry Voice is  simply what its name gives, enraged:  “Taking back control” by handing control of HS2 to one of three foreign governments.

Evolve Politics is a front for a nationalist ideology, called ‘sovereigntism’ which considers that the British Parliament ‘taking back control’ from the EU, Brexit, is a step forward.

Leaving the single market will unleash the full potential of Corbynism, no wonder the Blairites want to stay in it.

In this version of National Parliamentary Socialism the EU is an obstacle to the left and those who want a ‘soft Brexit’ with the UK in the single market are out to stab Corbyn in the back.

Yet what of the fact that young people and most Labour members backed the EU, including the radical left who supported Another Europe is Possible?

This is is the answer: Brexit, when backed by anti-EU ‘progressives’ is really ‘internationalist’.

Those who claim that the majority of Labour’s new membership backed remaining in the EU so Corbyn had to follow suit fail to grasp the complex dynamics of the situation. If Corbyn had put forward a socialist leave position, it would have reconstituted the party membership on different lines, possibly winning back much of UKIP’s voter base to a progressive position. Many of the progressive remain voters as well, who see the EU in terms of their own feelings of internationalism, of solidarity with workers and young people in other countries, could also have been won to a socialist leave position.

Against the ‘Blairite’ supporters of the EU who “will use the single market as a tool to sabotage Corbyn’s programme”  action is needed.

 This means campaigning for mandatory reselection of the Blairite MPs and a Brexit in the interest of the working class

Now it is not generally a good idea for other bloggers educated in the school of hard-blows that was the UK Left Network – whose ‘style’ makes any of the above look tame –  to comment critically about those  trying to make original points, from the left, about politics. That is the function of Blogs and the wider democratisation of news and opinion that the Web encourages. But Third Age bloggers are no more above criticism than the MSM. We could explore other sites, such as We demand UK, Britain is the People, Little Britain First. PigGate 2, Jeremy Corbyn The People’s PM, Mock the Right, The Daily Politik, Red Labour, Walking the Breadline, The Ragged Trousered Philanderer, Nye Bevan News.

But the ones we have singled out, from Phil’s list have the clearest  ambition to be something that resembles the 1960s and 1970s underground press, to be alternative media. In present conditions they aim as high as to offer their own news.

It’s in this respect that Phil points us to some substantial points made by one Bob Pitt, well-known in this parish.

It is an exceptional, and as Phil says, “forensic” demolition of one site, Skwarkbox.

Skwawkbox — an embarrassment to the Left

The almost uniform hostility that Jeremy Corbyn has faced from the press and broadcast media since his election as Labour leader (only slightly mitigated by the party’s impressive showing in the general election) has given a boost to alternative news media whose declared aim is to defend Corbyn’s politics and nail the lies of the “MSM”. Novara Media, The Canary, Evolve Politics, Another Angry Voice and The Skwawkbox are notable examples.

The influence of these alt-left sites shouldn’t be underestimated. In the run-up to the general election BuzzFeed News reported that they were attracting “enormous audiences”. The Skwawkbox, a one-man operation apparently run by a Labour Party member from Liverpool, featured in a BBC News At Ten report, which stated that “many of his articles go viral, with some achieving hundreds of thousands of readers”.

Comrade Pitt registers this impact on the wider media,

On Saturday, Skawkbox also made the front page of the Daily Telegraph, where it was presented in a rather less favourable light. Taking its cue from the Guido Fawkes website, the Telegraph ran a report titled “Corbyn-backers spread ‘fake news’ about blaze toll”, which attacked Skwawkbox’s coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire. The story was then recycled by the Sunday Express which similarly accused Corbyn supporters of misreporting the tragedy.

Without recounting the full story we note.

On 16 June, in an article headed “Video: Govt puts ‘D-notice’ gag on real #Grenfell death toll #nationalsecurity”, Skwawkbox took up the claim made by grime MC Saskilla on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme that the number of victims in the Grenfell Tower fire was far greater than had yet been officially admitted, with as many as 200 people having died.

Skwawkbox used this claim to give credence to rumours that the government was engaged in an attempt to prevent the media reporting the true extent of the disaster: “At the same time, multiple sources told the SKWAWKBOX that the government has placed a ‘D-notice’ (sometimes called a ‘DA Notice’) on the real number of deaths in the blaze.”

When the tale fell apart this was the reaction,

Did Skwawkbox apologise for getting the story wrong and offer assurances that there would be no repetition of this stupid and provocative reporting? You must be joking. Instead, Skwawkbox’s proprietor was stung by the well-deserved criticism of his article into posting an indignant defence of his shoddy journalistic methods. In a quite astonishing display of chutzpah, he declared that he himself had been the victim of “fake news”!

Nowhere, he complained, did he claim that the government had imposed a D-Notice on media coverage of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. He insisted that he had merely raised the possibility that a D-Notice could have been issued. Did he not write “if it is true that the government has issued a D-notice”? Well, yes, he did — but that was immediately followed by the words “and every instinct is screaming that it is”! The author then proceeded on the basis of that assumption to outline his theories about the government’s motives for imposing a media gag.

The former Editor of What Next? and Islamophobia Watch,  covers a few more tall tales and concludes,

But I stopped following Skwawkbox last September after it published ludicrous claims based on dodgy maths about vast numbers of people being excluded from the Labour leadership election (“no fewer than 67,000 eligible voters have not received a vote — over 16% of the Labour electorate”), followed by the baseless accusation of a cover-up by party officials.

That, unfortunately, is how Skwawkbox operates — hyping up stories in order to generate clickbait headlines, with little or no concern for accuracy, often combining this with unsubstantiated claims that the authorities are involved in some sort of conspiracy. The evident purpose of this is to whip up hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn’s political opponents in order to bolster his leadership.

Skwawkbox’s approach is entirely counterproductive. Far from defending Corbyn against right-wing attacks, this irresponsible nonsense just provides ammunition for his enemies, allowing them to portray the Labour leader’s supporters as a bunch of liars and political fantasists. It also degrades the political culture of the left, by sidelining serious analysis and debate in favour of false polemics and crackpot conspiracy theories.

Skwawkbox has a featured post that includes a tweet from an admirer: “This blog is journalism as it should be. True, fair, accurate and in the public interest.” The reality, however, is that Skwawkbox functions as a sort of left-wing mirror image of the right-wing tabloid press, or of alt-right sites like Breitbart News. It employs the same unscrupulous, sensationalist journalistic methods, but for opposite political ends. Skwawkbox appears incapable of grasping that socialist aims cannot be achieved by such anti-socialist means.

Phil by contrast remarks of the alt-left Blogs,

The size of their audience is one reason why they cannot be dismissed with a flick of the polemical wrist. The other is their impact on the political process. Despite the conspiratorial thinking, they have proven effective in cohering armies of social media activists around the Corbyn project. During the election, they inspired and encouraged thousands of peoples to get active in campaigns independently of the herculean mobilisation efforts of Momentum. Those activists are not disappearing either. They’re turning up to constituency meetings in increasing numbers and are steadily making their presence felt. In short, the new blogs top the collective propaganda efforts of established left activism and are helping touch off a mass radicalisation, and that is not to be sniffed at.

This Blog tends to agree with cde Pitt’s critical stand

Conspiratorial thinking, of the kind painfully exhibited in Skwawkbox, and just plain sloppy playing around with facts, is not just to be sniffed at: it is to be opposed.

The Canary gave space to this Opinion in February this year:

Donald Trump is trying a move from Hitler’s playbook, and the media gifted it to him Ben Janaway

At the end is this sentence: We actively invite you to question what you read at The Canary, to follow the hyperlinks we reference, and to search for more information.

Hitler’s playbook is not available on-line.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 25, 2017 at 11:50 am

Pakistan Asks Facebook to Track Down ‘Blasphemers’.

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“Enemies of Humanity” Says Pakistan Interior Minister.

Radio Pakistan ‘reports’:

NISAR VOWS TO BLOCK  BLASPHEMOUS CONTENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Interior Minister asks Facebook administration to cooperate in removal and blocking of the blasphemous contents.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says those responsible for blasphemy will be dealt with an iron hand.

Talking to media after inaugurating citizen facilitation center in Islamabad on Thursday, he said the culprits of blasphemy are enemies of humanity.He said that we have asked Facebook administration to cooperate in removal and blocking of the blasphemous contents.

 The Interior Minister said that government is making all out efforts to block blasphemous material on social media. He said eleven people who commented on such posts are being interrogated.

He urged all Muslims countries to practice unity against sordid conspiracies against Islam as the matter of blasphemy hurts feelings of all Muslims.

He said the government will take strict action against blasphemous contents and will avail all the possible options.

The Minister said that cooperation from the US Administration is also being sought through US embassy in Pakistan in this regard.

He urged the international community to have immense consultations on the issue of blasphemy as it has become a critical matter for the world.

He said ridiculing a religion in the name of freedom of expression will not be allowed

Al Jazeera reports,

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities have contacted social media website Facebook for help in investigating the posting of “blasphemous content” on the platform by Pakistanis, according to a statement.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries a judicial death sentence and, increasingly commonly, the threat of extrajudicial murder by right-wing vigilantes.

At least 68 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to a tally maintained by Al Jazeera.

“There have been positive developments in the matter of the Pakistani government’s contact with Facebook’s management regarding the blocking of blasphemous content,” an interior ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.

Facebook would be sending a representative to visit Pakistan with regard to the matter, the statement said, and the government has appointed an official to liaise directly with the social networking website regarding the censoring of certain content.

In a statement quoted by the AP news agency, Facebook said it viewed government requests with care keeping in mind “the goal of protecting the privacy and rights of our users”.

The move comes after Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, ordered a ban on all online content deemed to be “blasphemous” on Tuesday.

“Ridiculing a religion in the name of freedom of expression should not be allowed,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, said on Thursday.

11 People under Threat.

Khan is spearheading the government’s efforts to have the material blocked.

Eleven people have been identified as having posted “blasphemous” comments or material on Facebook and will be acted against, the minister said. The identities of the 11 people in question were not immediately clear.

The authorities’ move comes after a senior judge at the Islamabad High Court called upon the government to block all blasphemous content online, “even at the cost of blocking entire social media”.

The petition at the High Court accuses five rights activists who were abducted in early January of running Facebook pages that had posted content deemed to be blasphemous.

No evidence has been shared directly linking the five activists to the Facebook pages in question, but during their three-week disappearance the men were the subject of a vast social media campaign accusing them of blasphemy.

“There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights and encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues.”

Amnesty: Pakistan: How the blasphemy laws enable abuse.

Al Jazeera continues,

Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator currently blocks hundreds of websites, including those run by ethnic Baloch dissidents, as well as sites containing pornography or material deemed to be blasphemous.

It is empowered under a 2016 law to block any content “if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality”.

In January 2016, Pakistan ended a three-year ban on video-sharing website YouTube, also over blasphemous content, after the content provider agreed to launch a localised version that would streamline the process for content to be censored for viewers in Pakistan.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeeras Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 17, 2017 at 1:51 pm

The New Popular Delusions of Crowds: Fake News Hysteria Spreads.

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Image result for popular delusions and the madness of crowds

Must-Read Background to Mania For Fake News.

Everybody is aware of the Fake News uproar.

But the extent of the wave seems now to have reached something out of the Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, (1841).

MacKay covered financial manias (South Sea Bubble, Tulip craze, John Law and  Mississippi Company), the Witch Persecution  and such topics as ” the influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard”, alchemy, prophecy, and mineral, and afterwards of animal, magnetism, and, halting the list here, how Quoz became the must-say London catchphrase,

When a disputant was desirous of throwing a doubt upon the veracity of his opponent, and getting summarily rid of an argument which he could not overturn, he uttered the word Quoz, with a contemptuous curl of his lip and an impatient shrug of his shoulders. The universal monosyllable conveyed all his meaning, and not only told his opponent that he lied, but that he erred egregiously if he thought that any one was such a nincompoop as to believe him. Every alehouse resounded with Quoz; every street corner was noisy with it, and every wall for miles around was chalked with it.

No doubt Quoz is due for a revival, though I imagine that the later fashion for asking “Has your Mother Sold Her Mangle?” has had its day.

The Preface states, “THE OBJECT OF THE AUTHOR in the following pages has been to collect the most remarkable instances of those moral epidemics which have been excited, sometimes by one cause and sometimes by another, and to show how easily the masses have been led astray, and how imitative and gregarious men are, even in their infatuations and crimes.”

The first chapter starts, “IN READING THE HISTORY OF NATIONS, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. “

Today Magnetisers, alchemists, fortune tellers and prophets have their own Twitter Accounts and Web sites.

The Internet means no doubt that ‘nations’ of posters and viewers, not to mention re-posters and commentators, are much, much, bigger. When they “go mad” the scale is beyond counting. It has become both a Baudrillardian “hyper-reality” and a “hypo-reality”, the beyond and beneath of the factual.

These are just a few examples:

https://img.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeed-static/static/2016-05/18/13/enhanced/buzzfeed-prod-web01/enhanced-mid-29186-1463592423-3.jpg

This is more serious:

Image result for fake news examples

This is  more serious (Reuters 2 days ago)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is a “fake news” target of Russian media and his campaign is facing thousands of cyber attacks, his party chief said on Monday.

Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche! (Onwards!) party, said that Russian state-controlled media Russia Today and Sputnik had spread false reports with the aim of swinging public opinion against Macron.

An independent centrist, Macron has surged in campaigning for the French election and opinion polls make him favorite to win election in May.

Ferrand said that Macron, as a staunch pro-European, was a Russian target because he wanted a strong united Europe that had a major role to play in world affairs, including in the face of Moscow.

Sputnik earlier this month ran an interview with a conservative French lawmaker accusing Macron, a former investment banker, of being an agent of “the big American banking system”.

“Two big media outlets belonging to the Russian state Russia Today and Sputnik spread fake news on a daily basis, and then they are picked up, quoted and influence the democratic (process),” Ferrand said.

This is really a hell of a lot more serious:

The ‘news'(from the satirical site Le Gorafi) that Marine Le Pen proposed to build a wall around France, paid for by Algeria, was treated seriously in the Arab world.

“Marine Le Pen propose d’entourer la France d’un mur payé par l’Algérie” (France 24. 15.2.17.)

The story made the Front Pages:

https://i2.wp.com/scd.observers.france24.com/files/imagecache/1024x576/article_images/lepen-teaser.jpg

 

Written by Andrew Coates

February 16, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Galloway Questions BBC ‘Zinoviev Letter’ Programme: ‘Trump: The Kremlin Candidate?”

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Galloway with Photos of Close Friends.

Standing up for Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump is a  hard task these days.

But – hold the Front Page! –  without fear or favour George Galloway has leapt to their defence.

 

As his employer Russia Today notes.

The credibility of a BBC documentary about US President-elect Donald Trump called ‘Trump: The Kremlin Candidate?’ has been questioned by ex-MP George Galloway.

The former Labour and Respect politician likened the broadcast, and the whole furore over Russia’s alleged influence on the US election and Trump, to an “Austin Powers film.

Speaking to RT, Galloway also questioned why the BBC would commission such a prominent show when there was no concrete evidence to back up any of the assertions.

The Panorama documentary was broadcast on Monday and saw journalist John Sweeney travel to Russia, Ukraine, and the US to investigate whether Moscow’s cyber-warriors influenced the US election and whether it’s true the Federal Security Service (Russian FSB) is blackmailing Trump with compromising material.

The latter claim comes from a much-hyped dossier compiled by ex-MI6 spy Christopher Steele.

In the broadcast, Sweeney also speculates that the only thing worse than Trump getting along well with Putin is if they don’t.

As Shakespeare once put it, it was ‘much ado about nothing.’ The thesis of the problem was that it is really dangerous if Trump and Putin get along well and it’s really dangerous if they fall out,” Galloway said.

It shows just how surreal this whole affair has become. Not so much a James Bond film as an Austin Powers film. Frankly, much of the ruling elite in the US and in Britain, across the road from me, across the river, at MI6, they really are making themselves look ridiculous.

In this search for truth Galloway has also taken to re-tweeting  Jan 14

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 18, 2017 at 12:35 pm