Thursday, August 18, 2005

Naomi not brilliant

Ewa Jasiewicz has circulated Naomi Klein's article Racism is the terrorist's greatest recruitment tool, describing it as "brilliant". I don't agree, and responded:

"Thanks, Eva

Racism, ignorance and discrimination - of which there are far too much
in the UK - don't help anybody, but there are other factors to consider too.

As William Shawcross noted in his letter responding to Naomi Klein (see The force behind fanatics), self-described Islamists also target progressive internationalists like Sergio Vieira de Mello. Bin Laden made a special point of saying how glad he was that the man who helped East Timor achieve independence was blown to bits.


More thoughtful than Naomi Klein is Sameer Rahim in the 18 August edition of the London Review of Books:

"Ian McEwan wrote soon after 9/11 that the hijackers did not have the imaginative capacity to empathise with others’ pain. I saw almost the opposite in their frightening ability to carry out an act of suicidal revenge on behalf of people with whom they had no ties other than religion. One of the failed London bombers of 21 July, Hussein Osman, told Italian police that the group motivated themselves by watching footage of grief-stricken Iraqi widows and children. For most of us the distress fades when the news bulletin ends; for Osman they fuelled 'a conviction that it was necessary to give a signal – to do something'. That something was, allegedly, trying to explode a bomb at Shepherd’s Bush Tube station.

'There is truth to the blowback argument' said [Sameer Rahim’s friend Ali, a lawyer who gave up his job in London to study Islam in Qom], 'but there is something missing. You could call it moral responsibility'. The bombers may have been bound together by a conviction they were working 'in the name of God', but they did not heed the second half of the prayer which Muslims are supposed to say as they begin any significant action: 'in the name of the most benevolent, the most merciful'. 'The repetition of God's names is a way of helping us develop his qualities; if he is merciful, then we must strive to be merciful too'. When Richard Reid – who later attempted to blow up a plane over the Atlantic – converted to Islam, he changed his name to Abdul Rahim, Servant of Mercy. 'In Arabic, Rahim means the most intense form of mercy', Ali said, looking at me. 'We must all start to examine ourselves more closely.' "

Also, Faisal Devji in The Financial Times on A war fought for impersonal passions:

"The passion of the holy warrior emerges from the same source as that of the anti-war protester - not from a personal experience of oppression but from observing the oppression of others. These impersonal and even vicarious passions draw upon pity for their strength. And pity is perhaps the most violent passion of all because it is selfless enough to tolerate monstrous sacrifices".


Caspar Henderson said...

Tuesday August 16, 2005
The Guardian

Naomi Klein claims that western racism is Islamic terrorism's greatest recruiting tool. (Comment, August 13). Oh yes? Is it because of western racism that al-Qaida has included the United Nations among its principal targets? Is it because of western racism that in August 2003 an al-Qaida suicide bomber murdered more than 20 people in the UN headquarters in Baghdad, including the secretary general's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello?

Vieira de Mello was one of the UN's finest officials, who had defended Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo and had then assisted East Timor to independence from Indonesia.

Al-Qaida exulted in the murder of this "heretic" sent to Iraq by Kofi Annan, "the criminal and slave of America". Al-Qaida is inspired by Islamofascism, which cannot be appeased. No one is helped by pretending otherwise.

- William Shawcross
St Mawes, Cornwall

It is a pity that Naomi Klein spoils a strong argument for multiculturalism and against racism by deploying a highly selective account of the events of 1948 to explain, if not justify, Sayyid Qutb's extremism.

Qutb's Egypt, together with other Arab states, invaded Israel bent on its destruction, and while the fate of the Palestinian refugees from the ensuing conflict was deplorable, and remains an issue, it does not justify the allegation that "Americans believed that Arab lives were worth far less than those of European Jews". The support of America, Russia and a majority of the United Nations for the creation of Israel surely stemmed, in part, from the slaughter of six million European Jews.

- Jeremy Beecham
Newcastle upon Tyne

Naomi Klein is right that racism functions as a recruitment tool for terrorists. But only because of that other factor that Klein and the rest of the anti-globalisation crowd overlook - namely the absence of secular-left politics rooted in the struggle of the working class.

In the 1950s, black working class people "became British" on the basis of trade-union-based struggles against racism. Whatever the shortcomings of the Anti-Nazi League, it too sought a secular left response to the threat posed by the National Front and other fascist groups.

While anti-fascist action at least sought to take the struggle against racism into the white working class, the mainstream left discovered cultural identity as a new form of Stalinist politics, which afforded left cover to New Labour, which continued to recreate racism through its commitment to the market and racist immigration controls.

- Roger Cottrell
Cork, Ireland

Naomi Klein cites "320 complaints of racist attacks in the wake of the bombings ... [and] 83 emergency calls" to challenge Tony Blair's observation that Britain has seen only isolated acts of racial or religious hatred since the July 7 bombings. Yet, given this small island contains some 60 million souls, numbered among them some 1.6 million Muslims, these 403 alleged incidents (all of which should be condemned and punished) perhaps better demonstrates that the "evil and fanatic racial discrimination" Klein is eager to identify as a motivation of Islamofascism is indeed thankfully isolated.

She fails to recognise that radical Islamists, being proactive, not reactive, need no "encouragement" to carry out acts of religious hatred in London, Bali, Baghdad and elsewhere. Why is it that the "blame Blair and Bush first brigade" should endlessly indict liberal democratic societies for the commission of murder, but refuse to blame the anti-democratic, theocratic medievalists who are actually responsible for it?

- Dr Richard Heffernan

Caspar Henderson said...

Be a devil, say ‘hello’
By Sathnam Sanghera
Financial Times
Published: August 18 2005

I’ve found myself doing some pretty embarrassing things in the course of writing this column – walking around the office in a gorilla suit, for example, hiring an escort for an evening, eating cat food on toast. But last week I did something so cringe-making that the thought of it, even seven days later, turns me puce. In short, I went up to a complete stranger on the London Underground and wished them a good morning.

Non-Londoners, I realise, may require some context. And this is it: people travelling on public transport in Britain’s capital don’t communicate. There’s no chit-chat. No eye contact. Nothing. As someone (probably on the Evening Standard) once put it, if God wanted people to talk on the Tube, He wouldn’t have invented the Evening Standard.
So what, you may ask, led me to break this taboo last Friday morning? Well, it all began a few weeks ago, on the first Thursday morning after the failed London bombings, when I woke up, felt a bit frightened and thought: “Actually, I’ll cycle to work today,” and then: “Actually, I’ll get the Tube,” and then: “Actually, I’ll cycle.”

In the end, sheer laziness triumphed and I padded off to my local Underground station. On the train my anxiety turned into something more intense when a nervous-looking man of Asian descent took a seat next to me. He was demonstrating so many of the well-publicised characteristics of the average suicide bomber – dark complexion, aged 20-35, sweaty, bulky bag – that at the next station I got off, walked down the platform and joined a carriage at the other end.

Still feeling jittery in my new compartment, I noticed that, standing opposite me now was a City worker looking as anxious as I felt. I thought about smiling at him, but being a Londoner, I didn’t. But when he got off at the next station, walked down the platform and joined the train at the other end, the strange reality of the situation dawned on me: I was in fact demonstrating many of the well-publicised characteristics of the average suicide bomber and he was terrified of me.

Afterwards, I was briefly furious with him, and then briefly furious with myself, and then curious about what Asian men such as me could do, in this era of fear-inspired carriage- hopping, to stop giving fellow passengers the willies. Obviously, not carrying a large briefcase would help. But would it convince Tube users that we were fully paid-up members of the decadent west if we wore our work passes on our jackets, or carried a copy of Pride and Prejudice, or played the new Foo Fighters album very loudly on our iPods?

In recent weeks I have tried all these things, sometimes in combination, but the suspicious glances have continued. Meanwhile, comments from Asian professionals feeling similarly paranoid haven’t suggested better solutions: one man admitted on a website that he now lugs his luggage around in a transparent polythene bag; another that he now carries a bottle of wine around, even though he is a teetotaller; and another that he now sports a sticker declaring “Don’t freak – I’m a Sikh”.

But it struck me last week, as I read an article in a local newspaper about Dominic Nelder, a 34-year-old teacher running a campaign to improve the atmosphere on the Tube, that I hadn’t tried an obvious strategy: chat. This is what Dominic has been trying to encourage by spending every day this month travelling on trains, greeting passengers. I caught up with him last Thursday on the Jubilee line. Dressed in a comedy pinstripe suit and sporting a bowler hat inscribed with the message “Say hello, wave goodbye”, he wasn’t hard to miss. “So far I have received 7,190 responses!” he declared as he shook my hand. “I am aiming for 31,000 by August 31!”

That sounds like a lot, I said. How much time does he spend on the Tube? “I start at 7am and finish at 8pm.” Five days a week?! “No, seven.” Gosh. And is someone paying him? “No. I’m paying for the tickets myself. I wanted to help after the bombs. It would make such a difference to the atmosphere if people said hello.”

I said I agreed with him, but at the same time the idea of chatting to strangers terrified me. We all know that the only people who try to talk to strangers on the Tube are either drunk, foreign or mad. Even Tony Blair, who in 1999 famously tried to strike up a conversation with a Tube traveller, was rebuffed and left to shuffle awkwardly through his papers.

Dominic replied that he understood the apprehension, but chatting wasn’t so hard once you started. In fact, he added, as he turned to a stranger, he could demonstrate how easy it was.

At this point Dominic caught the eye of the man next to him and remarked: “Good afternoon!”

As I held my breath, never having witnessed such a scene in seven years of Tube travel, the stranger, incredibly, smiled back. It was a lovely moment.

Indeed, Dominic made chat look so easy, and the man in the suit responded so warmly, that I tried it myself the next day. Sidling up to the woman next to me, who, I could tell, had me down as someone fishy, I trilled: “A very good morning to you!”

Unfortunately, her reaction wasn’t quite as generous as Dominic’s 7,191st response. In fact, she glanced back as if I had just asked her to hold down a baby seal while I clubbed it to death. And then, at the next stop, she got off without comment. I didn’t see if she joined a carriage at the other end, but cycling to work suddenly felt like an appetising prospect.

Chet Sisto said...

I hope you are well!