Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 13, 2011

Hurrah! Jairus Banaji wins 2011 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize

Filed under: Education,Islam,transition debate — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Jairus Banaji

In mid-October word leaked out that Charlie Post’s “The American Road to Capitalism” was on the short list for this year’s Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, competing with Jairus Banaji’s “Theory As History: Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation”. Perhaps it is a sign that the ideological hegemony of the Brenner thesis is finally breaking down that Banaji was declared the winner. Maybe the jury had a chance to read Henry Heller’s recently published “The Birth of Capitalism: a Twenty-First Century Perspective”, a book that offers the most devastating critique of Brenner’s Eurocentrism since Jim Blaut’s.

“Theory as History” is a collection of essays written by Banaji over thirty years dealing with the “transition” problem although none of them mention Brenner by name. Unlike Heller or Blaut, who consciously sought to knock him off his pedestal (I am sure that Henry would object to this characterization but my old friend and comrade Jim Blaut, may he rest in peace, would have accepted it gladly), Banaji’s chief goal is to interrogate some of the “stagist” preconceptions of a dogmatic Marxism that have allowed scholars to succumb to Eurocentric tendencies.  I strongly urge people to purchase the paperback edition from Haymarket books.  (I would be remiss if I did not mention that the book can also be read at Scribd.com for free.)

Among the collection is Banaji’s best-known article, the 44 page “Modes of Production in a Materialist Conception of History” that was published in the autumn 1977 Capital and Class and can also be read at www.anti-politics.net/discussion/Jairus_Banaji.pdf. That was the same year that Robert Brenner published “The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism” in the New Left Review. Ironically, despite Brenner’s connections at that time with a state capitalist variety of Trotskyism, his scholarship owed much more to the British Historian’s group whose leading lights—Eric Hobsbawm, Maurice Dobb, Christopher Hill—were committed to a “stagist” conception of history very much influenced by the Stalintern’s cruder version of Engels’s historical materialism. For the British CP historians, history is marked by discrete phases based on distinct modes of production such as slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, etc. Once one phase is finished, another starts sort of like what happens in natural history. First you have the apes, then the Neanderthal, then homo sapiens, etc.

Banaji rejects this model entirely, describing it as Vulgar Marxism:

The tradition of Vulgar Marxism which drew its earliest sources of energy from the Marxism of the Second International, crystallised only under the domination of Stalin. Stalinism uprooted not only the proletarian orientations of Marxism, but its scientific foundations as well. For the dialectic as the principle of rigorous scientific investigation of historical processes – it was, after all, this rational dialectic that was “a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors” (Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Afterword to Second German Edition) – Stalinism substituted the “dialectic” as a cosmological principle prior to, and independent of, science. For the materialist conception of history it substituted a theory of history “in general”, “converting historical epochs into a logical succession of inflexible social categories” (Trotsky, 1932, Appendix I). Finally, this rubber-stamp conception of history it represented as a history deja constituee, open therefore only to the procedures of verification. This lifeless bureaucratic conception, steeped in the methods of formalism, produced a history emptied of any specifically historical content, reduced by the forced march of simple formal abstractions to the meagre ration of a few volatile categories. Within five decades of Marx’s death, the history written by the Stalinists became as opaque and dreamlike, and hardly as exciting, as the fantasies of surrealism.

As should be clear from the reference to Leon Trotsky above, Banaji’s conception of history is much closer to the combined and uneven development model found in Trotsky’s writings on the Russian revolution. For Trotsky, Russia was a clear example that feudalism and capitalism can co-exist in a given society. Moreover, one of the earliest implicit challenges to the “stagist” conceptions of the CP historians was Eric Williams’s “Capitalism and Slavery”, a book making the case for the interrelationship between Caribbean slavery and British capitalism that was strongly influenced by CLR James’s “Black Jacobins”.

While Brenner is not specifically targeted in Banaji’s article, it does have plenty to say about Maurice Dobb who clearly paved the way for Brenner. In his debate with Paul Sweezy, Dobb was probably closer to the spirit of Karl Marx’s writings than Sweezy but unfortunately bent the stick too far in the direction of defining “free wage labor” as a sine qua non for the capitalist mode of production—thus leading to many of the dogmatic errors of the Brenner school of historiography. Banaji writes:

Again, in Capital Volume 3, Marx referred to the evolution of merchant capital in the ancient world transforming “a patriarchal slave system devoted to the production of immediate means of subsistence into one devoted to the production of surplus value”. According to an edict of 1721, Peter the Great had allowed the Russian factory-owners to utilise serf-labour. “But if the factory-owner could now carry on his business with the labour of serfs”, wrote Pokrovsky, “who prevented the serf-holder from establishing a factory?” To Pokrovsky the edict was one of the forerunners of “bondage or landlord capitalism”. Analysing the land question in Peru, Mariategui wrote about the technically advanced capitalist latifundia on the coast, owned by US and British business, in which “exploitation still rests on feudal practices and principles”. In its theses on the Eastern Question proposed at the Fourth Congress, the colonial commission of the Comintern spoke of capitalism arising in the colonies “on feudal foundations” and developing “in distorted and incomplete transitional forms which give commercial capital predominance. Finally, outside the Marxist tradition, Hobson could refer to industrial profits which “represented the surplus-value of slave or forced labour” and Barrington Moore to “labour-repressive forms of capitalist agriculture”. In all these varied instances – the subordination of the potters of Moscow province to merchant capital, the production of cotton in the slave South, the expansion of landlord capitalism in Rumanian agriculture or Petrine industry, the sugar latifundia of coastal Peru – there was no question of identifying the “mode of production” according to the character of the given forms or relations of exploitation. Nor did any of these instances involve a “coexistence” of modes of production.

Another essay worth singling out is “Islam, the Mediterranean, and the Rise of Capitalism” that appeared originally in the 2007 Historical Materialism. The article makes the case for understanding commercial or merchant capitalism as a much more powerful link in the chain of the system’s history than ever recognized in Marx’s writings. For Banaji, the Dutch and English East India Companies are not simply involved in exchange external to production, a point made as well by Henry Heller. And even before the Dutch and English were involved in capitalist trade, the Portuguese and the Venetians were in the thick of things. Banaji states that by the fourteenth century, Venice was an economy dominated by capital, with the same families controlling trade, transport, finance, and industry.

Of even greater interest is Banaji’s discussion of the Arab trade empire. He states that concepts of profit, capital, and the accumulation of capital are all found in the Arabic sources of the ninth to fourteenth centuries.

Even more startlingly, he uncovers what amounts to a labor theory of value in the writings of Ibn Khaldun, the Tunisian scholar who wrote a history of the world that posited the notion that all great civilizations have a kind of life cycle with an inevitable death. Khaldun wrote that “labor is the cause of profit” and that it is “necessary for every profit and capital accumulation”. Gold and silver are the only socially acceptable measures of value “for all capital accumulations” while profit is defined as the “extent by which capital increases” and commerce as the “striving for profit by means of the accumulation of capital”.

The Arab world is not some backwater for Banaji. He asserts that by the seventh century it was a cosmopolitan civilization whose economic resources were unrivaled except by China. The Muslims created a vigorous monetary economy based on the dinar and drew regional areas into their commercial nexus. In Banaji’s words, that economy “was not just some loose ensemble of feudal regimes”. A late 10th century Persian geographer described Cairo as “the wealthiest city in the world, extremely prosperous.” By the second half of the 10th century, Alexandria was exporting well over 5000 to 6000 tons of flax to European countries.

He concludes:

Thus Islam made a powerful contribution to the growth of capitalism in the Mediterranean, in part because it preserved and expanded the monetary economy of late antiquity and innovated business techniques that became the staple of Mediterranean commerce (in particular, partnerships and commenda agreements), and also because the seaports of the Muslim world became a rich source of the plundered money-capital which largely financed the growth of maritime capitalism in Europe. Indeed, [Ernest] Mandel stated this with unabashed bluntness when he wrote: ‘The accumulation of money capital by the Italian merchants who dominated European economic life from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries originated directly from the Crusades, an enormous plundering enterprise if ever there was one’

All of this is a useful corrective not only to the Brenner school but to another brand of Eurocentrism that is far more insidious in that it has received big play in the bourgeois media over the last year or so. Published by the prestigious Princeton University Press, Turkish economist Timur Kuran’s “The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle  East” won the admiration of pundits everywhere anxious to blame the people of the Middle East for their own problems, as if British and American ships and warplanes had less impact than verses in the Koran.

In an op-ed piece that appeared in the May 29, 2011 NY Times, Kuran offered his explanation of why Arab states were so backward and repressive:

But the handicaps of Arab civil society also have historical causes that transcend the policies of modern rulers. Until the establishment of colonial regimes in the late 19th century, Arab societies were ruled under Shariah law, which essentially precludes autonomous and self-governing private organizations. Thus, while Western Europe was making its tortuous transition from arbitrary rule by monarchs to democratic rule of law, the Middle East retained authoritarian political structures. Such a political environment prevented democratic institutions from taking root and ultimately facilitated the rise of modern Arab dictatorships.

Strikingly, Shariah lacks the concept of the corporation, a perpetual and self-governing organization that can be used either for profit-making purposes or to provide social services. Islam’s alternative to the nonprofit corporation was the waqf, a trust established in accordance with Shariah to deliver specified services forever, through trustees bound by essentially fixed instructions. Until modern times, schools, charities and places of worship, all organized as corporations in Western Europe, were set up as waqfs in the Middle East.

One wonders how much Kuran knows about Arab history if he can make such a claim in the face of Banaji’s research. This is not to speak of Kuran’s obvious inability to appreciate the dynamism of the Anatolian “tigers” who currently rule his native country and who certainly not only have the “concept of the corporation” but a willingness to dump the European Union, the true “sick men”, in favor of trade alliances with a revitalized East.

Jim Blaut died before he had to complete his trilogy on Eurocentrist history. The third volume was to present an alternative way of seeing China, India, the Arab world et al. While this certainly leaves a gap in a crucial area of Marxist scholarship, we can be grateful to Jairus Banaji in his ongoing effort to effectively fulfill Jim’s dream.

October 12, 2010

Platypus Review publishes racists

Filed under: Islam,racism,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

The Platypus Review is published by a group of mostly academic super-sectarians bent on a mission to vilify the existing left that I discussed here. Whatever problems I have with the existing left, I doubt that it would make the kind of mistake identified by Angelus Novus in a post to the Marxism list today:

The latest issue of the Platypus Review has an article by the fanatical anti-Muslim racists of the “Initiative Sozialistisches Forum” of Freiburg.

This is an organization that publishes nasty little racist tracts making claims about the psychopathology of Muslim males allegedly breast fed until the age of 8 (For a refutation of this filth, see here (in German):

ISF also publishes book with covers that could be caricatures straight out of Der Stürmer:

The truly shameful thing is that ISF’s publishing house finances this racist filth by also publishing the work of council communists like Anton Pannekoek, Cajo Brendel,  and Johannes Agnoli, none of whom are alive anymore to defend themselves from this sort of association.

I imagine the Platypus Review people will justify this shameful association by trying to claim that they don’t actually share these views and are just trying to provide “food for thought”, but that just means they don’t have the courage of conviction to stand behind their own racist associations.  Anyway, here’s the article:


August 18, 2010

Islamic Center developer won’t back down

Filed under: Islam — louisproyect @ 1:31 pm

May 31, 2010

Sex and the City #2

Filed under: aging,feminism,Film,Islam,television — louisproyect @ 5:34 pm

The vitriol directed by critics against “Sex and the City #2” (SATC #2) is unprecedented. The last movie to bear the brunt of such an Orwellian “minute of hate” was Michael Cimino’s 1980 “Heaven’s Gate”, a movie that eventually led to the collapse of United Artists.

Now my tendency is to put a minus where mainstream critics put a plus. And occasionally, the reverse. If that makes me a sectarian film critic, so be it. My take on “Heaven’s Gate”, although I never wrote a review about it, is that it is a masterpiece on a par with the best work of Luigi Visconti, an acknowledged influence on this Marxist western about the Johnson County range wars.

Now I am not going to put SATC #2 on that plane, but this much I can say. I went to see a press screening with my wife before the reviews came out and therefore with an open mind. Admittedly the two of us were huge fans of the HBO show and therefore inclined to cut it some slack. But no amount of slack would allow me to refrain from trashing the movie if it deserved it. My reaction to the movie when it was in progress and even now is this. It is a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, even if you are not a big fan of the show. It is basically fluff, much more so than the TV show, and includes some genuinely funny moments.

My favorite is when Samantha, the oldest of the four female lead characters who is on a date with a Danish architect in a hookah bar in Abu Dhabi, begins to suck on the mouthpiece of the water pipe as if it was a penis. When the aroused architect stands up, you can see the outlines of his erect penis through his trousers, thus infuriating observant Muslims at the next table. If this is not the thing that you would find funny, then don’t bother seeing the movie. I can say this, however. The movie is about as potent a weapon against Islam as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s “Road to Morocco”. Indeed, this is where SATC #2 was filmed.

Oddly enough, mainstream film critics have rallied around this question of Islamophobia in a way that is truly remarkable given the steady stream of poison that comes out of Hollywood about “the war on terror”, including “The Kingdom”,  “Body of Lies”, and “Hurt Locker”, the truly rotten recipient of the Oscar for best picture in 2009.

The other thing that struck me as hypocritical was the outrage over the lavish lifestyle of the heroines, starting with their staying in a $22,000 per night hotel. The NY Times’s A.O. Scott assumes the posture of James Agee in finding the movie insensitive to our current economic crisis: “But the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense.” Scott also appears to have read Karl Marx at some point in his life based on this observation: “The Emirate to which the four friends repair is an oasis of gilded luxury in a world that has grown a little ambivalent about unbridled commodity fetishism.”

Excuse me. Am I missing something? If there’s any media outlet that should not be talking about “unexamined privilege” and “unbridled commodity fetishism”, it is the NY Times that is almost singlehandedly responsible for backing the yuppification of the island of Manhattan. This is a newspaper with society pages gushing over $10 million weddings and whose restaurant reviews are strictly devoted to venues that will cost you $150 per meal.

Leaving aside the obvious political charges of Islamophobia and “unexamined privilege”, there is an element of the hatred directed against the movie that is a bit beneath the surface in most reviews. It does raise its nasty head above the surface briefly, however, in Scott’s review where he writes, ” the party girls of yesteryear are tomorrow’s Ladies Who Lunch.” For those who know something about the life-style of elderly Manhattan dowagers, the phrase “Ladies Who Lunch” is a clear reference to Scott’s disappointment that the movie treats women in their 40s and 50s as if they still had a libido. The wiki on the term states:

Ladies who lunch is a phrase to describe slim, well-off, old-money, well-dressed women who meet for lunch socially, normally during the working week. Typically, the women involved are married and non-working. Normally the lunch is in a restaurant, perhaps in a department store during shopping. Sometimes there is the pretext of raising money for charity.

Rex Reed, a gay film critic and a colleague in NYFCO, writes what A.O. Scott and other more respectable scribes will not, for fear of being accused—rightly—of ageism and sexism:

The women-too old now to pout, whine and babble about their wet dreams, affluent and successful for reasons that are never clear-are all vain, narcissistic, selfish, superficial and really rather stupid. The actors work hard to perform triage, but they’ve been playing these roles so long they’ve grown moss.

There are some out there that have figured this angle out, most notably a certain Balk who wrote:

My theory is that the radical aversion to the current installment of Sex and the City says something about the way we look at elderly women in modern American society. We would prefer that, if we must indeed be subject to their representation in popular culture, they be confined to small supporting roles in which they play spinster older sisters or embittered, loveless career women. The idea that we are not only supposed to pretend that the shriveled harridans we see on the screen might still engage in the act of sexual intercourse but that we are supposed to celebrate their enjoyment of such defies both credulity and good taste.

I quite agree. I also agree strongly with another colleague at NYFCO, the estimable Prairie Miller who summed up the hatred against SATC #2 this way in an email to me:

Here’s the opening statement I added to my review at Critical Women. And when I mention Hillary, it’s not because I admire her, which I don’t, but because of the way she was ridiculed as a woman during the campaigns:

The hostile, emotionally charged critic assault on SATC 2 is really a ‘veiled’ attack on the power of older women. And gives the strange impression that females are pariahs more here than in the Middle East, women – not men – who confront sheik sexism and burka blues in the movie. If only those ‘make war not love’ critics were as outspokenly outraged against the US military in that region, as they are against these women. And the fact that women are showing up in droves without men for SATC 2, says it all about the gender divide right here at home. Not since the nasty sexist campaign to drive Hillary Clinton out of the presidential race, has there been such an attack on anything expressing female political or sexual empowerment…

And, finally, here’s my February 26, 2004 review of the original HBO series that you can rent from Netflix:

* * *

Back in 1994 Candace Bushnell began writing a column in Arthur Carter’s weekly NY Observer called “Sex and the City”. Since Carter’s upscale salmon-colored publication was being given away for free on NYC’s Upper East Side at the time, I would pick it up to satisfy my unquenchable reading addiction. I was also curious to see where Carter was going with his NYC paper, which seemed to be modeled on his Litchfield County Times–an outlet for coverage on antique auctions, debutante balls, yacht races and other WASP foibles in Connecticut.

I was puzzled at the time why Arthur Carter would also be the publisher of the Nation Magazine, a journal that I had a strong identification with in the late 1980s and even sent donations to from time to time. Of course, it is much clearer to me in hindsight that Carter was part of a process to shift the magazine to the right, where it now sits as a kind of Kerberos of liberal orthodoxy.

I remember Bushnell’s column leaving me cold at the time. It was a hodge-podge of fictionalized references to the nightlife of Eurotrash, investment bankers, models and freelance writers that she had access to. Her columns left me cold because I had some familiarity with this world as well and what I saw left much to be desired. Escorted by an old friend from Hollywood and the Catskills, I had spent enough time in Nell’s (a trendy disco), the Hotel Chelsea (a Warhol hangout) and art galleries to know that these were not places to have an intelligent conversation, which for me is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Bushnell’s columns were transformed eventually into the highly acclaimed HBO series, which had its final episode last week. Co-Producer Sarah Jessica Parker played Carrie Bradshaw, who is loosely modeled on Bushnell. The three other lead characters were single females who like her were on a nonstop hunt for sexy men, great restaurants and drop-dead designer clothing. You never find any reference to the other NYC in this show. The stars never take subways, they are never confronted by homeless people and they never worry about AIDS. In other words, their NYC has about as much connection to the real thing as a Woody Allen movie, or its antecedent in another troubled time, the movies of Fred Astaire.

I would also have to confess that I became a big fan of this show over the past few months. I will explain why momentarily.

For people who had been watching the show for a long time, especially women who identified with the four co-stars, the final episode was a major event. People gathered together to watch it. The New York Times reported:

What better way to mark the end of “Sex and the City” than a ménage à 50?

Across New York, people commemorated the end of the cable television show that romanticized New York City for six seasons by massing together and tuning in. Bars pushed “Sex and the City” parties. Friends gathered at one another’s apartments. Out-of-towners bereft of cable posted desperate messages on Internet bulletin boards.

One party that captured the spirit and meaning of the show could be found inside a loft on West 49th Street. Fifty women, some in their 20’s and some in their 50’s, some friends and some strangers, piled onto couches and sat on the floor to watch the last unfurling of a television show that seemed always to be about them.

They got slightly drunk on wine and pomegranate-red Cosmopolitans, laughed at the same moments and cried through the ending. Some hooted and others clucked when the main character, a sex columnist named Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), decided to abandon her boyfriend in Paris and return to New York with a recurring love interest, known, until last night, only as Mr. Big (played by Chris Noth).

The show’s final punch line – that Mr. Big’s name is John – drew shrieks all around.

As people trickled into the cavernous white loft, they marveled how, over its six years, a show that began with jokes about oral sex and orgasms had become such a part of their lives.

“It’s a sad night for us,” said Jalande James, 29, who organized the party at the rented loft as part of Just Us Girls, a social network for women in New York. “We’ve lived with it for so long. When I moved here from Florida, I knew nobody. I’d watch ‘Sex and the City’ and think, ‘Oh my God, they have such wonderful lives.'”

In Preston Sturges’s “Sullivan’s Travels”, a screwball comedy made in 1941, the eponymous lead character is a Hollywood director who has become highly successful making comedies, but who is frustrated with the studio’s refusal to allow him to make serious films about the working class. In other words, Sullivan appears to be a fictionalized representation of Sturges himself. Sullivan decides to go on the road disguised as an unemployed worker in order to learn about the working class firsthand. In a string of comic mishaps, he learns that workers are somewhat different than the idealized notion he had of them. In the stunning climax of this classic film, they show one of Sullivan’s comedies to an audience of chain gang prisoners. They laugh until they cry. This becomes an epiphany to Sullivan, who realizes that the gift of laughter is precious and that it helps us get through life.

That is my reaction to “Sex and the City”. In a time of deepening social and economic crisis, war and environmental despoliation, you need to laugh in order to keep from crying, as the title to a great Harry Edison jazz record once put it.

“Sex and the City” is one of the few laugh out loud comedies you can enjoy anywhere. With the collapse of Woody Allen, there are very few adult entertainments out there. Comedy has become cruder and more misanthropic, with the films of the Farrelly brothers setting the standard. As escapist fare, it ranks with the stories of P.J. Wodehouse that depicted a world of dotty English aristocrats having about as much relationship to reality as the glittery world of “Sex and the City”.

Here’s a summary of a typical week’s episode. If you think that you might enjoy this sort of thing–not everybody’s cup of tea I would be the first to admit–you can find all of the episodes in your local DVD/Video shops.

The girls are invited to the unlikely wedding of Carrie’s supposedly gay friend, flamboyant lounge singer Bobby Fine to society lady Bitsy Von Muffling. Stunned by the news, Carrie thinks about what it takes to make a relationship work. She asks: When it comes to saying ‘I do,’ is a relationship a relationship without the zsa zsa zsu (aka: that special something that gives you butterflies in the stomach)?

Charlotte’s new ‘just sex’ partner, Harry, invites her to be his date for the big Hamptons wedding. Charlotte worries about his crass behavior, but accepts provided that hairy Harry wax his back. In another not so clear relationship, Miranda inexplicably finds herself having sex with Steve. Meanwhile, Samantha calls upon the services of her ex, Richard, in another way: she arranges to throw a party at his house in the Hamptons.

On the way out to the Hamptons, Carrie runs into Jack Berger, who tells her he broke up with his girlfriend. Carrie can’t help but feel that zsa zsa zsu. At Samantha’s fabulous pool party, Carrie and Berger have a heart to heart about relationships past, but it’s too much for Berger to handle and he departs suddenly and swiftly. Carrie wonders if she should just throw in the towel and settle for a so-so relationship. Samantha struggles to enjoy herself because of the appearance of three of Richard’s bikini-clad bimbo babes. She accuses the party-crashers of freeloading but realizes that she herself is still hurting over the end of her affair with Richard.

At Bobby and Bitsy’s wedding, the girls find themselves moved by the mutual love of the bride and groom. It appears Bobby and Bitsy do have the zsa zsa zsu. Obviously inspired, Charlotte tells Harry mid-dance that she may be falling in love with him. He says he shares her feelings but that he’s Jewish and he has to marry a Jew. Also on the dance floor, Berger tells Carrie that he’d like to go on a date with her before they break up. Carrie is reminded why she refuses to settle for anything less than butterflies.

Sex and the City website: http://www.hbo.com/city/

May 3, 2010

The Paul Berman-Ian Buruma feud

Filed under: cruise missile left,Islam,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:27 pm

Paul Berman

Ian Buruma

Today’s NY Times has a review of The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman’s latest Islamophobic tirade:

Paul Berman’s new book, “The Flight of the Intellectuals,” plural, might as easily have been titled “The Flight of the Intellectual,” singular. It is essentially a booklong polemic against one magazine article: a profile of the Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan, written by Ian Buruma, the Dutch academic and journalist, and published in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

While I doubt any of my readers would waste $26 dollars on Paul Berman’s trash, you can read the short version of the book, an article titled Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan? that appeared in the June 4, 2007 The New Republic (TNR).  For those who are unfamiliar with the TNR, this is a magazine whose editor Martin Peretz defended the war in Iraq this way recently:

There were moments–long moments–during the Iraq war when I had my doubts. Even deep doubts. Frankly, I couldn’t quite imagine any venture like this in the Arab world turning out especially well. This is, you will say, my prejudice. But some prejudices are built on real facts, and history generally proves me right. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

The review of Berman’s book was quite sympathetic and situated it in the kind of debates that used to take place on the Old Left:

Mr. Berman’s book has already made some noise. Writing in Slate, Ron Rosenbaum compared its stinging ambience, nostalgic to some, to one of “those old Partisan Review smackdowns,” in which Dwight Macdonald or Mary McCarthy cracked some unsuspecting frenemy over the head with a bookcase and a tinkling highball glass. And for sure, everything about “The Flight of the Intellectuals” feels old school, from Mr. Berman’s tone (controlled, almost tantric, high dudgeon) to the spectacle of one respected man of the left pummeling another while the blood flows freely, and no one calls the police.

Of course, the idea that Berman or Buruma have anything to do with “the left” is nonsense. As should be obvious, Berman is a neoconservative like Christopher Hitchens who invokes “liberalism” in his Islamophobic rants. Their main goal—obvious to anybody operating outside of the rather narrow political framework of the NYT—is to attack the left.

But what about Buruma? From the violence of Berman’s attack, you’d think that he was another George Galloway and a prime candidate for MRZine. But nothing can be further from the truth. Ian Buruma, a Bard College professor, only appears soft on political Islam from the perspective of a full-bore racist like Berman.

On February 25, 2006 Buruma wrote a piece in the Guardian raising the question Can sexual inadequacy or deprivation turn angry young men into killers? It attempted, believe it or not, to explain Muslim violence in terms of not getting laid:

Sexual deprivation may be a factor in the current wave of suicidal violence, unleashed by the Palestinian cause as well as revolutionary Islamism. The tantalising prospect of having one’s pick of the loveliest virgins in paradise is deliberately dangled in front of young men trained for violent death.

I personally think it has more to do with IDF brutality and the theft of Palestinian land but what do I know. I’m no Bard College professor.

Only two years earlier, Buruma had teamed up with Princeton professor Avishai Margalit (I dealt with his argument that Stalin was much worse than Hitler here) to produce Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism, a book that consciously seeks to undermine the arguments made by Edward Said in Orientalism. (I wrote a letter to Buruma about this analysis.) They see the Arab and Muslim world as seething with the kind of irrational attitudes that lead to jihadi violence. There’s little here, it would seem, to distinguish Buruma from Berman, whose Terror and Liberalism covers the same territory.

Indeed, writing about Berman’s book in the May 2003 New York Review, Buruma was generally positive:

There is, however, much to admire in Berman’s book too. As a general analysis of the various enemies of liberalism, and what ties them together, it is superb. All—Nazis, Islamists, Bolsheviks, Fascists, and so on—are linked by Berman to the “ur-myth” of the fall of Babylon. The decadent city-dwellers of Babylon, corrupted by luxury and poisoned by greed, infect the people of God with their wicked ways, even as the forces of Satan threaten the good people from afar. The people of God will only be freed from these abominations after a massive war of Armageddon, in which the city slickers and Satanic forces will be exterminated. A pure new world will rise from the burning ruins and “the people of God will live in purity, submissive to God.”

It would seem that this is just another case of cruise missile leftists having some kind of turf battle. George Packer, another cheerleader for Bush’s wars, wrote a nasty attack on Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War, a book written by Mark Danner, another Bard College professor noted for his gung-ho support for bombing the Serbs to oblivion. I discussed their feud here. All of these characters—Danner, Berman, Buruma, Hitchens, Packer—share a belief that the U.S. has the right to police the world and would regard anti-imperialism as an evil to be avoided at all costs.

Berman’s TNR article is filled with outrageous Islamophobic observations such as the following:

The Muslim emigration has turned out to be one of history’s largest events, and in scattered regions across the whole of Western Europe, old-stock populations nowadays wake up to discover that people from the Muslim world have suddenly come to dominate this or that neighborhood or town, and Arabic or Turkish has begun to outpace some of the smaller European languages, and here and there Islamist groups are demanding censorship of one thing or another, or are demanding gender-segregated beaches, or the curricular demise of Voltaire or Darwin, or an end to history instruction on the crimes of Nazism. And there are always sermons by one or another exotically costumed Islamic scholar fantasizing about a Muslim conquest of Europe and the world, which therefore can be cited as evidence of a giant conspiracy.

I should state to begin with that Berman does not document the charge about demanding an end to history instruction on the crimes of Nazism. The article is filled with such inflammatory and unsubstantiated allegations. With respect to exotically costumed Islamic scholars fantasizing about a Muslim conquest of Europe, you’d have to search far and wide for more offensive and racist prose.

The article also singles out “Trotskyists”, including the British SWP and the French LCR, for marching in antiwar demonstrations with Islamic radicals. Considering his support for a war that has cost the lives of nearly 2.5 percent of the Iraqi population according to Lancet (equivalent to 7.5 million American deaths), it is shocking to see him passing judgments on those who agreed mostly on the need for peace rather than how to interpret the Quran.

A January 2004 symposium in Slate Magazine invited Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria to revisit their support for the war in Iraq. Berman was as fanatical as he was at the outset, stating:

Sept. 11 did not come from a single Bad Guy—it was a product of the larger totalitarian wave, and the only proper response was to comprehend the size and depth of that larger wave, and find ways to begin rolling it back, militarily and otherwise—mostly otherwise. To roll it back for our own sake, and everyone else’s sake, Muslims’ especially. Iraq, with its somewhat antique variation of the Muslim totalitarian idea, was merely a place to begin, after Afghanistan, with its more modern variation.

Somewhere along the line, liberals began to step back from this kind of blood-curdling militarism. Packer and Friedman, for example, did a feeble mea culpa. Understanding that his credibility as a liberal pundit was at stake, Buruma began to retreat from the arguments made in Occidentalism. While not explicitly confessing that they were garbage, he began to distinguish himself from the kind of mouth-breathing racism that people like Hitchens and Berman typify.

He had the temerity to describe Tariq Ramadan in the following terms in the New York Times Magazine on February 4, 2007:

Ramadan’s favorite Muslim philosophers are the late-19th-century reformists Muhammad Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who tried to revive Islam under Western colonial rule by rational interpretation of the holy texts. They were skeptical of religious tradition, accumulated over time, and looked for core principles in the Koran that spoke to reason. For them there was no contradiction between scientific reasoning and their Muslim faith. And female emancipation or democratic government could be reconciled with the original principles of Islam. Both had lived in Europe. Both were harsh critics of colonialism and Western materialism. In Ramadan’s words, “They saw the need to resist the West, through Islam, while taking what was useful from it.”

Berman’s answer to this is to connect Ramadan to al-Qaeda through a kind of “six degrees of separation” logic:

Here, on page 26, is Hassan al-Banna; and Abul Ala Mawdudi from the South Asian subcontinent, whose activities Tariq’s father, Said Ramadan, coordinated with the Muslim Brotherhood; and Ali Shariati, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fellow thinker in Iran. And here is Sayyid Qutb, one more influential reformist among the others, listed without comment—even if Qutb’s legacy, in one of its offshoots, did lead to Al Qaeda.

I myself have little patience for this kind of amalgam-building, having seen the low-rent version from Michael Pugliese when he was on Marxmail briefly a decade ago.

But the proximate cause of Berman’s new book was Buruma’s treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalian émigré now ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute. In a review of Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism that appeared in the September 27, 2007 New York Review, Buruma knocked Ali off her pedestal, although rather daintily:

Since she renounced her Muslim beliefs to become an atheist and a defender of “Enlightenment values” against Islam, she has been taken up by neocons and neoleftists as an iconic figure, described in The New Republic Online as “the most courageous and remarkable woman of our time.”

She is indeed a courageous and remarkable woman, whose skillfully ghostwritten memoir, Infidel, has attracted a great deal of attention. Her views on the oppression of women in the name of Islam are admirable, and I share her conviction that liberal democracy should be defended against violent intimidation. But atheists, especially after conversion from religious orthodoxy, tend to retain some of their old zeal. This rather limits Hirsi Ali’s influence over Muslims who are trying to find a place for their faith in a modern democracy. Dogmatism also leads to errors of judgment, for example when she recommends backing the Turkish military against the democratically elected Turkish government, just because it is led by an Islamic party. To point this out is not the same as placing her on the same moral or political level as the violent zealots she opposes. And it should not be a reason to denounce the critic as an implacable foe not only of Hirsi Ali herself, but of free speech, democracy, the Enlightenment, and so forth. Like Podhoretz’s description of the US press as pro-Islamic, such a conclusion can only be drawn by fanatics.

Buruma also took a swipe at Berman and his creepy co-thinkers:

Such tub-thumpers for Bush’s war as Christopher Hitchens, the Parisian writer Pascal Bruckner, and the American journalist Paul Berman would not describe themselves as neocons. On the contrary, in their view, they are just where the true left should be, the neoleft as it were. The revolution has moved on. In the words of Hitchens: “The United States has placed itself on the right side of history.” Or, as Dick Cheney once said about Bush to a neocon friend of mine: “Yup, he’s a revolutionary president.”

This prompted a letter to the NYR from Berman that included the following:

He mentions in his review Christopher Hitchens and Pascal Bruckner, and he links their names to mine, as if in further expression of his all-purpose loathing for Bush. Yet he might have shed a clarifying light on his own article by acknowledging that, among the many writers in the United States and especially in Europe who have uttered a few indignant words in Hirsi Ali’s defense, Hitchens and Bruckner have made themselves especially prominent. Pascal Bruckner’s name appears in The New York Review for one reason only, which is to punish him for having become the single most scathing and influential of Buruma’s European detractors.

Allow me to add that, regardless of his journalism, which I have not been reluctant to criticize, I continue to admire the book that Buruma wrote with Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism, the first sketch of which appeared in The New York Review [“Seeds of Revolution,” March 11, 2004]. Buruma and Margalit’s Occidentalism is a classic of the antitotalitarian left—an outstanding study of totalitarian and fascist ideas of the past and their enduring influence today.

Buruma answered Berman thusly:

What I wrote was not that Berman likes or admires George W. Bush. My point was that on the question whether it was right to go to war in Iraq to fight “Islamofacism,” in the name of Abraham Lincoln, I see no difference between the neocons and the neo-left. Indeed, Berman appears to agree with this, at least partly. He said in an on-line interview in March 2003:

I admire the neocons in one regard: their political ideas are very ambitious. I think the neocons are correct in supposing that something fundamental has gone wrong in the political culture of the Middle East, and that radical measures are required to set the wrong aright.

The question is what radical measures he had in mind. Here, too, there is no mystery. Arguing in Dissent magazine with an imaginary leftist opponent of the Iraq war, he wrote: “If only people like you would wake up, you would see that war against the radical Islamist and Baathist movements, in Afghanistan exactly as in Iraq, is war against fascism.”

There was, of course, in the case of Iraq, the matter of international law, something liberals, unlike neocons, have always taken seriously. But Berman wrote in the same article:

We have had to choose between supporting the war, or opposing it—supporting the war in the name of antifascism, or opposing it in the name of some kind of concept of international law. Antifascism without international law; or international law without antifascism. A miserable choice—but one does have to choose, unfortunately.

Yes, one does, unfortunately. And Berman’s choice was precisely the choice of President Bush and his neocon supporters. “On principle” it is easy to agree with Berman. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein is a fine thing. But how responsible is it to promote a war that is waged by a president who is as hopeless as Berman says he is? Berman proudly relates that he resisted telling the world “I told you so.” Told us what exactly? That this reckless war should never have been attempted?

Between Buruma and Berman, I’d have to give critical support to the former since he certainly qualifies as a “lesser evil”. Our business, of course, as leftists is to stick to our anti-imperialist principles and leave such feuding to the Upper West Side of Manhattan salons where it belongs.

April 27, 2010

Fred Halliday

Fred Halliday, who has died of cancer aged 64, was an Irish academic whose main interest was the Middle East and its place in international politics. His first major book, Arabia Without Sultans, was published in 1974. The culmination of adventurous field research in the region, including Oman, it was a study of Arabian regimes, their support from the west and Iran, and the revolutionary forces fighting against them. “The Arab Middle East is the one with the longest history of contact with the west; yet it is probably the one least understood,” Fred believed. “Part of the misunderstanding is due to the romantic mythology that has long appeared to shroud the deserts of the peninsula. Where old myths have broken down, new ones have absorbed them or taken their place.”

read full obituary

* * * *

The bilious Fred Halliday

posted to www.marxmail.org on February 1, 2005

One thing that a number of high-profile self-described leftist enemies of “Islamofascism” have in common is that they were all once members of the editorial board of the New Left Review. What they also had in common was support for NATO’s war in the Balkans, which implied a much different attitude toward imperialism than that found in classical Marxism.

Ex-editors Quentin Hoare and his wife Branka Magas spent most of the late 1990s writing article after article demonizing the Serbs and demanding that they be bombed into submission.

In October 2000, the NLR asked Marko Attila Hoare, the progeny of Quentin and Branka, to write an article on the anti-Milosevic revolt. However, editor Susan Watkins nixed the article since it implied political support for the forced absorption of Yugoslavia into Western European economic and political institutions. (Watkins is married to Tariq Ali and appears to be one of the more radical-minded of the editors there. Apparently–despite her husband–she hates the idea of the left voting for John Kerry.)

While not as visible on the frontlines as the Hoare and Magas, Norman Geras and Chris Bertram were also being seduced by the notion of Cruise missiles as agencies of Yugoslav democracy. For reasons that remain somewhat murky, Hoare, Magas, Geras and Bertram all resigned from the NLR in 1993. What is clear, however, is that they are for Woodrow Wilson style imperialist interventions as the need arises–a variant on the bastardized socialism that compelled Lenin to draft the Zimmerwald manifesto at the start of WWI.

Although I don’t know if ex-NLR editor Fred Halliday left with this crowd back in 1993 and am not aware of any pronounced hostility toward the Serbs on his part, he certainly has emerged as a prominent supporter of military efforts to tame the unruly Moslem. Halliday’s earlier work, like “The Making of the Second Cold War” in 1983, is written from a fairly conventional academic leftist standpoint but more recent work reflects a kind of creeping Thomas Friedman sensibility about the need to punish “bad” Islamists and reward good ones. So, this means supporting the war in Afghanistan while at the same time pressing for Turkey’s admission to the European Union. You find a certain convergence between Halliday and the batty ex-radical and current Sufi neo-conservative Stephen Schwartz, whose latest book also makes the case for sorting out good Islam from bad. Needless to say, the bad Moslems are those who tend to attack Israeli or US interests.

Like others who have traveled this route, Halliday is developing a rather bilious personality that is rapidly encroaching on Christopher Hitchens’ turf. I refer you in particular to an item in last Sunday’s Observer penned by Halliday and titled It’s time to bin the past. It rather shamelessly appropriates Leon Trotsky’s verdict on the Mensheviks being consigned to the dustbin of history, since Halliday–an ex-Trotskyist–must surely be aware that Trotsky was attacking reformists just like him.

Halliday discusses three “dustbins” of history in his screed. The first two relate to the former Soviet Union and Washington and make rather obvious points about Putin and Bush. It is the third dustbin that gets Halliday into a proper lather:

The Third Dustbin is that of the contemporary global protest movement, to a considerable degree a children’s crusade of intellectual demagogues, recycled 1960s bunkeristas with their fellow travellers in literary circles, dreamers and political manipulators, of the old and new lefts, whose claim to moral and analytic superiority too often masks a set of unexamined, and themselves often recycled, platitudes from the Cold War period and, indeed, from the ideology of the communist world.

Which intellectual demagogues would Halliday be railing against here? Naomi Klein, the most prominent spokesperson of this global protest movement? Is she recycling ideology from the communist world? Sigh, if only this were the case. Halliday lurches ahead:

Indeed the contents of this Third Dustbin are familiar enough: a ritual incantantion of ‘no war’ that avoids any substantive engagement with problems of international peace and security, or reflection on how positively to help peoples in zones of conflict; a set of vague, unthought out, uncosted and often dangerous utopian ideas about an alternative world; a pleasing but vapid invocation of global human values and internationalism that blithely ignores the misuses to which that term was put in the 20th century (for example by Stalin or Mao); a complacent attitude, innocent when not indulgent, towards political violence (witness the cult of Che Guevara, a cruel and dangerous man, and the invitees from Northern Ireland, Palestine and Iran, to name but three at the London Social Summit in October).

One has to wonder if the editor assigned to Halliday’s piece was drunk when he worked on it, since the above citation can barely stand on its own feet. Not only is it a 129 word sentence in clear violation of the Gunning fog factor, it also spells ‘incantation’ wrong.

With respect to the “cult of Che Guevara, a cruel and dangerous man,” one can only wonder if Halliday must be upset by the hit film “Motorcycle Diaries,” which inspired an over-the-top verbal assault from Christopher Hitchens on Slate. One supposes that Che gets people like Halliday and Hitchens all upset because he reminds them of their long frozen-over youthful idealism. And those invitees from Northern Ireland, Palestine and Iran. They should have known better than to be born in such places. Far better for them to have been born elsewhere or at least to have forsaken radical politics as Halliday did long ago. Our angry professor concludes:

We can assess the outcome of discussions in Davos and Porto Alegre to see if thinking on the current crises of the world has moved on. Here ideas and policies should meet what I term the ‘Vilanova Test’, named after the flinty Spanish writer Pere Vilanova, who, on the basis of years of political engagement and debate in Spain and the Arab world, has argued consistently for pensamiento duro, ‘tough thinking’, in the contemporary world. We certainly have, and may again be treated to, plenty of the other.

What can I say, when I hear business about “tough thinking”, Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik comes to mind. This, after all, is what Halliday and his co-thinkers are about–reshaping the planet in pursuit of geopolitical goals. I don’t mind if that’s their agenda. The least they can do is can the leftish rhetoric.

March 1, 2010


Filed under: Islam,repression,Turkey — louisproyect @ 5:05 pm

Turkey’s most famous transvestite entertainer, allegedly part of the Ergenekon plot

I suppose it was only a matter of time before MRZine would attach itself to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. In today’s edition of this curious blend of Marxism and political Islam, there’s an item crossposted from the Muslim Brotherhood’s website (naturally) hailing Turkey’s Soft Power Successes. It backs the government’s claims about a shadowy conspiracy called Ergenekon that is threatening Turkish democracy, an institution that the Muslim Brotherhood should know lots about as a long-time adversary:

At the same time, this is a crucial moment as Turkey sends its military back to the barracks and exposes the dark secrets of its “deep state” — in particular shadowy elements within the military (which toppled four governments between 1960 and 1998) that are accused, inter alia, of coup attempts against the AKP government. These include a plot to assassinate the deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, on 19 December 2009. The findings promise for the first time to “touch the untouchables” within the army. This has been happening within the framework of the ongoing Ergenekon trial. In January a flood of media revelations provided yet greater details of coup attempts (including a document exposing the so-called Balyoz or Sledgehammer operation).

Some Turks, especially those who are still capable of thinking in class terms, are much less generous to the AKP, including one comrade whose critique of the ruling party was rejected by MRZine’s editor for ostensibly anti-Islamic offenses. Titled Here is Turkey, and Israel!, it reminded readers that the Turkish government is just as capable of killing children as the Israeli government it so hypocritically chooses to denounce for public relations in the Arab and Muslim world.

While it is undeniable that the Kemalist ruling party and its out-of-control military has been guilty of staging coups in the past, some caution is necessary before accepting the AKP’s word about the conspiracy called Ergenekon.

In December 2008, Ece Temelkuran, the most-read female political columnist in Turkey and author of “We are Making a Revolution Here Senorita” about the Bolivaran revolution in Venezuela, wrote an article for Counterpunch titled Turkey’s Sinister Blend of Watergate and the Dreyfuss Affair: Inside the Ergenekon Case that is must reading for the left, especially given the mounting press coverage in the bourgeois press. On February 24th, the NYT reported:

Tensions between Turkey’s powerful military and the government have escalated sharply as a court has ordered the formal arrests of 20 former and current officers on charges they had plotted a coup.

The 20, arrested Wednesday and Thursday, were among 49 people detained Monday as part of an investigation into allegations of a 2003 military plan called Sledgehammer. Prosecutors say the military at that time intended to stir chaos to justify overthrowing the governing Justice and Development Party, known as the AK Party, which came to power in 2002.

Turkey’s army regards itself as a protector of the country’s secular traditions and has had tense relations with the AK Party, which is rooted in political Islam.

Temelkuran approaches this topic from neither a nationalist/secularist nor from the perspective of many liberals in Turkey who defend the AKP reflexively after having seen the military abuse democratic rights over the years. The AKP was quite skilled at demagogically exploiting the fear of reactionary Kemalism, representing itself as the “oppressed Muslims” who were dedicated to social justice and overturning the “deep state” that had ruled Turkey for years. It mattered little to their liberal supporters that the AKP’s economic and social policies were basically an Islamic version of the European Christian Democracy.

After the bloom faded from the AKP rose as a result of its neoliberal programs, its top politicians found it convenient to raise the Ergenekon bogeyman in order to frighten the Turkish people into supporting it uncritically. If you questioned the evidence in the case now being prosecuted against nearly 200 defendants with supposedly long Kemalist pasts and malevolent intentions, you were labeled “Ergenekon-lover”, “coup-wanter” or “military-toy-boy”.

Two of the defendants were associated with the Kemalist newspaper Cumhuriyet that was seized by the government and sold to an investor’s group led by the prime minister’s son-in-law. It was then renamed Taraf and, like another Turkish newspaper Zaman, became a vocal supporter of the prosecution. The newspaper was staffed largely by pro-AKP liberals with a leftist past. Temelkuran notes that one of Taraf’s editors is considered the “voice of the White House” in Turkey and infamous for her articles supporting the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the trade unions tried to demonstrate on May Day in Taksim, the center of Istanbul, the AKP speculated that they were in league with the Ergenekon plotters. Temelkuran writes: “Yet another interesting detail was that in those mainstream American newspapers which are more than eager to put Turkey on their front page when it comes to lifting of the headscarf ban or any other moderate Islam issue, there was not even one sentence about the Mayday violence which turned Istanbul into an invaded city.”

The prosecutors have cast a wide net in the Ergenekon case, including two very unlikely members of the “deep state”. Temelkuran notes:

One of the latest prosecutions is against a famous transvestite, Sisi, who happened to be doing a documentary called ‘The Women of the Republic’, probably a Kemalist product representing the role models of Kemalism in country’s early period. The other prosecution is against the well-known actress Nurseli Idiz, whose latest work involved her disguising herself as Kemal Atatürk. The media follow-up of the prosecutions was even more awkward then the people themselves. The liberal columnists who are over-rating the case, especially the female ones, made fun of these two, commenting on how they looked, what they wore, how they loved to be taken by the police etc. The following week, Sisi was a guest on the TV show of the most famous pop star in Turkey, and Idiz was seen on a daytime women’s show. Both of them talked about the psychological torture that they went through, and the only democratic support they got was the ‘Oh my god’s that they received from the TV audience. While Sisi was talking about psychological torture, she said it was up to European standards—and she was not being ironic at all.

Temelkuran concludes by reaffirming her belief that the left in Turkey has no interested in being confined into a Kemalist or AKP/liberal box. And unlike MRZine, which has been screaming about the danger of a “colored revolution” in Iran for what seems like an eternity, Ecel Temelkuran is worried that the AKP just might be the agent of that kind of movement in a country bordering Iran:

This barren intellectual climate is dominated by those figures who very much resemble their peers in Georgia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Like those colour revolutions, stamped with the words ‘made in USA’, the chosen political leader is praised by the New World Order’s Wizard of Oz, Richard Holbrooke. Like Saakashvili of Georgia, Prime Minister Erdogan is a good friend of Holbrooke, and like the Orange Revolution of Ukraine, the ideological transformation of the intelligentsia towards liberalism is directed by US-approved, freedom-fighter NGOs. Those who don’t want to be ridden by this wave are classed as counter-revolutionaries or just Kemalists, which basically means fascist. Even if you have proven your ideological trustworthiness before history, for instance by being tortured or executed by the coup, you still might not be saved from being counted as a coup-lover. Taraf, the very young newspaper set up just before the Ergenekon case, and which became a committed supporter of the case, made its debut by branding three very young revolutionaries—Deniz Gezmis, Yusuf Aslan and Huseyin Inan, executed in 1972 by an earlier coup—as xenophobic and Kemalist. The last words of these 20-something people were ‘Long live the brotherhood of Kurdish and Turkish peoples!’, but it was passé to defend victims of the former coups. Now it was this new coup that we were supposed to concentrate on! The newspaper not only attacked respected and beloved figures of the left, but also tried to make the whole leftist tradition worthless in a blink of an eye.

From what I have read about colour-coded revolutions, this is what you go through when they decide to make one in your country. Lots of ideological confusion is spread, the concept of democracy is reduced to oranges or tulips, and when you try to defend some basic values like equality or secularism, you become a scapegoat if not a fascist guardian of the old regime. The difference is that this time the so-called revolution is taking place not in Europe but in the Middle East, and for the Middle East. When the revolution is completed probably the old guards of the Kemalist regime and the Cold War generals left over from the Cold War will be gone, but Turkey will also be a Middle Eastern country more than ever before. When that time arrives, the liberal intellectuals probably won’t apologize for their ‘misunderstandings’ like their colour revolutionary buddies in other countries.

January 10, 2010

An article that MRZine refused to publish

Filed under: Islam,repression,Turkey — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

MRZine rejects criticism of Turkish PM

Here is Turkey, and Israel!


During the football games in Turkey, when the police tend to use violent methods against the supporters, they shout a slogan: “Here is Turkey, not Israel!” Actually, here is Israel and this slogan, despite being shouted with anger, is just a wish or a supplication rather than a statement of fact.

Nowadays everybody is speaking about Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “legendary” fury against Israeli President Shimon Peres during the Gaza raw held in Davos on January 29. Erdoğan, having mentioned the crimes of Israel in Gaza, stormed off the TV program and had been welcomed in Turkey as a hero. This story is too médiatique to repeat here.[1] A less famous one is, for example, that of the murder of a 16 year old boy by the police.

İbrahim Halil Çoban, in accordance with Anatolian Muslim traditions, had two first names as the PM did. He was living in Urfa, a city which is in the same region as the polling district of PM. He was shot in the head for not obeying the “stop call” just three days before PM shouted at Peres’ face: “You know killing very well … you murdered children!”

The police were in the quarter investigating a theft. İbrahim had a theft in his criminal records. Why İbrahim had to steal in his past? According to his family, because of “bad friends.” But we know that the quarter Akabe where he lived is one of the poorest in Urfa and being a porter, as İbrahim’s father is, means to work hard and gain little. Theft and poverty are always very close friends.

Anyway, İbrahim didn’t steal that night; even the police do not claim this. But he didn’t have his ID card on him, so he ran away. For a poor and, moreover, Kurdish boy not to carry an ID is itself a fatal crime! According to the policeman’s account, he caught İbrahim and fired his gun accidentally during a struggle to restrain the boy. Police also claimed that İbrahim had a blank pistol which he attempted to frighten off the cops with, a claim which his father boldly rejects: “How can a boy, who took 2 Turkish Lira [2]  for going to an internet café from me, possibly find a pistol?” [3]

And now, even on MRZine’s pages, one can read how Erdoğan “[stood] up and defend[ed] the human rights of an oppressed people.”[4] Even one of the respected dissident columnists, Yıldırım Türker, before reporting about the murders committed by Turkish state, was forced to write: “To be able to shout at the face of a murderer ‘You are a murderer’ is unconditionally a magnificent action.”[5] Which it really is! But what if some “conditions” render this action an extremely hypocritical one?[6]

One aspect of this hypocrisy is “internal”. To use violence against the dissidents, including murdering and torturing the children, is an everyday reality. In the 1980’s “active” coup d’état days, 6 months old child of a revolutionary couple[7] had been tortured by police to force them to speak (but they wouldn’t). But also in today’s “passive” coup d’état days, coinciding with the bid to join the EU, it is not difficult to find news articles about how children and adults are killed and tortured. Whereas the PM claims that “Turkey isn’t anymore the country that kept Nazım Hikmet in the prison for 12 years,” [8] Turkish prisons are full of political prisoners who recently sacrificed 122 comrades of theirs as martyrs in the most legendary prison resistance of all times and who are still under torture and isolation on a daily basis. Despite the best wishes of the football audience, here is Turkey and Israel at one and the same time!

For, as the NYT states, Turkey and Israel “are pragmatic, strategic allies, and cooperation between their militaries goes back decades.”[9] This also points to the “external” aspect of said hypocrisy. But one does not need the testimony of NYT; the PM himself, in the meeting of his party, said: “Maybe there is no other country in Middle East, Balkans and Europe, with which Israel is so concordant and shares so many benefits” as it is and does with Turkey.[10] Thus on one hand Israel planes kill children in Gaza, and PM Erdoğan flares against the massacre, on the other hand Turkey buys some of those planes from Israel.

The most bizarre side of this hypocrisy is its “internal” aspect. Despite much ado about how Erdoğan opened a front against Israeli attacks, he makes it clear that, he was just angry about the attitude of the moderator of the TV program, who did not share the time fairly between him and Peres, and who acted “shamelessly” by “touch[ing] at the shoulder of a PM during an international meeting.” This is an Erdoğan classic. When you hear the tone of his rhetoric, you think that he is speaking of overturning the mountains; when you focus on the content, you find out that he is only speaking about, e.g., making a telephone call.

Nowadays, his supporters are calling Erdoğan as “The Conqueror of Davos.” Since the Turkish state hardly conquered any place since the heydays of Ottoman Empire, the reactionaries of our country are fond of the words derived from the root “conquer.” But what about “The Ethics of Davos?” These two expressions[11] are rhymed with each other in Turkish! But of course we are not as naïve as expecting high moral values from oligarchic governments, which will be an even more naïve attitude than searching the truth in the rhymes.



[1] E.g. see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/davos/7859417.stm

[2] Around €1.

[3] Article on the newspaper Radikal on January 30, 2009 by Hasan Kırmızıtaş and Ali Leylak.

[4] Cem Ryan, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/ryan310109.html

[5] http://www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazarYazisi&ArticleID=919683&CategoryID=97

[6] Türker is well aware of this hypocrisy and this article is not intending to raise a criticism about his stance.

[7] İbrahim and Sevgi Erdoğan. Former had been killed during a police operation in 1991, latter had become martyr following 266 days of death fast in 2000.

[8] Nazım Hikmet is the great communist poet of the Turkish language imprisoned for 13, not 12, years. News from http://www.kontratv.com/242076/cetin-altan-buyuk-odul

[9] Sabrine Tavernise, January 10, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/world/middleeast/11turkey.html

[10] http://www.akparti.org.tr/tbmm/tbmmgrup/2009%20%C5%9Eubat%2003%20%20Grup%20Konu%C5%9Fmas%C4%B1.doc

[11] Davos Fatihi and Davos Etiği

August 19, 2009

Three Indian movies of note

Filed under: Film,india,Islam — louisproyect @ 7:43 pm

Although it has some major problems, I can recommend director and screenwriter Piyush Jha’s “Sikandar” opening Friday at The ImaginAsian theater in New York. Filmed on location in Kashmir, this is a story about a soccer-playing fourteen year old boy belonging to the region’s Muslim majority who discovers a pistol on a mountain path one day. After that initial discovery, he feels a sense of power that he never had before. As expected, that pistol will also lead to grief in a movie that will remind you of the sort that might be made about the Irish “troubles” by a British director. As a Hindu, Piyush Jha is reasonably fair-minded but has difficulty getting into the heads of his Muslim characters.

At the beginning of the film, Sikandar (Parzan Dastur) is strolling along the mountain path with Nasreen, a girl classmate who he has just met that day and whose father is a local Muslim politician and advocate for peace. When she asks him about his parents, he explains that he has lived with his aunt for the past 10 years following their execution by jihadis. Since he does not bother to mention the exact circumstances of their death, the audience can only be left with the impression that Muslim fighters are little more than criminals, an impression that only deepens after Sikandar meets Zahgeer Quadir (Arunoday Singh), a Kashmiri insurgent.

Zahgeer becomes a kind of surrogate father figure to Sikandar intent on showing him how to use the pistol properly. After a couple of weeks, he catches up with Nasreen giddy with excitement to tell her about the good news. When she learns that the good news is his ability to hit a target with the gun 9 out of 10 times, she looks at him with disgust. Like her father, she is opposed to violence.

Zahgeer is the kind of stereotypical Muslim militant that we have become inured to in Hollywood movies. Since India is gripped by its own “war on terror” with jihadis, it is no surprise that a Hindu screenwriter would succumb to the temptation to turn Zahgeer into a one-dimensional monster. After Zahgeer announces to a small group of his comrades that an informer is in their midst, he then takes out a pistol and shoots one of them. He says that he does not know if the dead man was an informer or not, but meant to use him as a lesson to the rest. This might be the way that movie insurgents behave, but it is doubtful that such an irrational act would help to keep a beleaguered movement together.

Eventually Sikandar finds himself on a collision path with both Zahgeer and with Nasreen’s father whose peace advocacy is eventually revealed to be a cynical act. Perhaps the only thing that can be said on director Piyush Jha obvious contempt for his Muslim characters is that the Indian army does not come off much better. They are depicted as torturing bullies of the kind that have made American occupation forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan the target of popular resentment.

What gives this movie its greatest appeal is the relationship between Sikandar and Nasreen, which comes about as close to intimacy as is possible for young Muslims in a very traditional society. When the army organizes a manhunt to track down Sikandar, who has finally used his pistol in anger, Nasreen gives him a burqa to conceal his identity. It is just such a moment that gives the movie its poignancy. The other very good thing about “Sikandar” is the sheer beauty of the Kashmiri Mountains. How sad that one of the most beautiful places on earth has become a living hell for its Muslim inhabitants.


Available from Netflix, the 2008 “Jodhaa Akbar” depicts a time in Indian history when Muslims and Hindus achieved the kind of mutual respect that is utterly missing today in Kashmir. Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, this is a historical drama based on the marriage of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar  (Hrithik Roshan), India’s greatest Mughal emperor, and Jodhaa Bai (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a Hindu princess of the Rajput warrior caste. The marriage was originally intended to cement a political alliance between two states in the 16th century, much like the arranged marriages in European kingdoms, but it eventually turned into a great love after some trials and tribulations that structure the movie’s plot. Unlike the Europeans who were united by their Christian beliefs, the religion of the Indian husband and wife would have conspired to keep them apart.

Youtube version of Jodhaa Akbar

Running at 213 minutes (with an intermission), “Jodhaa Akbar” is an old-fashioned spectacle complete with numerous Bollywood-style musical interludes structured as commentaries on the relationship between the two main characters. It is reminiscent of Chinese movies about the rise of historical dynasties such Yimou Zhang “Curse of the Golden Flower”. However, it differs by downplaying the battle scenes and sword fights that typify the Chinese movies. Instead, it is much more about the problems of a man and a woman overcoming cultural and religious differences in order to achieve true love, a plot that is of greater interest to someone like me, who has seen enough sword fights in Asian movies to last a lifetime.

This is not to say that there are no sword fights or battle scenes in “Jodhaa Akbar”. One battle involving the Mughals and Hindu enemies involves thousands of extras and dozens of elephants in full battle regalia!

The film whets my appetite to learn more about the descendants of the Turk-Mongol peoples who put their stamp on Asian civilization despite their reputation for barbarism. The term Mughal actually means Mongol and Akbar was a descendant of Genghis Khan, as was Timur the Lame (Tamerlane) who built an empire in Persia. Mughal India, the Ottoman Empire and Tamerlane’s Persia were precapitalist Empires that compared favorably to those resting on capitalist property relations. Without the need to extract profits, the Kings and Queens of the golden age of Islamic rule were generally more capable of noblesse oblige. In Akbar’s case, this translated into a profoundly cosmopolitan sensibility that the movie can only hint at in comparison with these details from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Begun in 1570 and abandoned in 1586, Akbar’s capital of Fatehpur Sikri, near Delhi, is evidence of the resources he could command. Its combination of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles symbolizes the contact of cultures that he encouraged. Similarly, he commissioned the translation of Sanskrit classics into Persian, giving illustrated copies to his courtiers. He also received with enthusiasm the European pictures brought by the Jesuits, and his painters incorporated European techniques of realism and perspective into the distinctive Mughal style (characterized by a vivid treatment of the physical world) that began to develop during his reign. Akbar’s reign was an example of the stimulating effects of cultural encounter. It has also often been portrayed as a model for future governments—strong, benevolent, tolerant, and enlightened. Effective government in a country as geographically vast and as socially complex as India demands a wide measure of social support. Akbar understood this need and satisfied it.


Just as the Islam-Hindu tensions in “Jodhaa Akbar” resonate with “Sikandar”, so do its romantic tensions suggest an unlikely parallel with another Indian movie available from Netflix. “A Match Made in Heaven” (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) is a musical comedy about a forty year old virgin named Surinder ‘Suri’ Sahni (Shahrukh Khan) and his new much younger bride Taani (Anushka Sharma).

At the beginning of this highly enjoyable escapist fantasy, Surinder shows up at a party given by a professor he studied with at college and who treated him as a son. The professor then introduces him to his beautiful younger daughter Taani who Surinder falls in love with at first sight. Later that evening the professor suffers a massive heart attack and just before dying asks Surinder and Taani to agree to marry each other. Out of filial respect, they both agree but Taani much more reluctantly so. She clearly is not attracted to the nerdish and painfully shy older man.

After their marriage, she comes to live with him but not as a wife. Understanding her reluctance to become intimate with him, Surinder volunteers to sleep in another room. She slowly begins to accept her fate, but except for preparing his meals and pretending to his friends that they are in a real marriage, she is willing to go no further.

When Taani discovers a dance school has opened up in town, she asks Surinder for permission to take lessons, the only joy that she would be allowed in a generally joyless marriage.

After agreeing to her request, Surinder decides to take lessons himself but only after disguising his true identity. This means a new hairdo and “disco” type clothes that his best friend Balwinder ‘Bobby’ Khosla (Vinay Pathak), the motorcycle-driving owner of a barber shop, picks out for him. Not only does his appearance change, his personality does as well. Instead of the shy manager of an electric utility company, he is now an Indian version of Steve Martin’s “wild and crazy guy” on SNL.

When he shows up at the dance school, fate conspires to match him up with Taani in a dance contest. She is obviously attracted to the macho guy who is nothing like her husband, but soon becomes very turned off by his flirting and his narcissism. If this is beginning to sound to you a lot like “The Nutty Professor”, you’re right. Just consider “A Match Made in Heaven” as an Indian version of the Jerry Lewis or Eddy Murphy remake, but without the sadism of the Hollywood originals. I much prefer the Indian version.

While there is no gainsaying the talents of Jerry Lewis or Eddy Murphy, Shahrukh Khan’s Surinder is totally brilliant. Unlike the “nutty professors”, there is nothing grotesque about Surinder. Indeed, his very ordinary qualities make his transformation into a disco dancing maniac all the more remarkable. If you got a kick out of Napoleon Dynamite’s dance performance on behalf of Pedro, you will love this Bollywood bon-bon.

The name Shahrukh Khan might ring a bell with some of you who have been looking at a newspaper—that dying artifact—recently. Of Islamic descent, just like Sikandar and Akbar, he had a rude welcome to American civilization recently:

New York Times, August 17, 2009
Bollywood Star’s Questioning at Newark Airport Is Talk of India Day

With adoring fans from New Delhi to New York City, the Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan — described by some as the Brad Pitt of India — was feted at a reception following the India Day parade in Midtown Manhattan in 2003.

On Sunday, Mr. Khan was again the talk of the annual parade, even though he did not participate in the festivities. Mr. Khan, who is Muslim, made worldwide headlines after being stopped for questioning at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday evening on his way to Chicago for a similar parade celebrating India’s independence.

But to make matters worse, the trip was also to promote a new film, “My Name is Khan,” which is about racial profiling of Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Even before the 29th annual New York City parade started at Madison Avenue and 41st Street, Mehal Kadakia, 26, a business analyst from Ocean Township, N.J., and two friends had spent the drive to the city discussing whether Mr. Khan should have been singled out.

“In my opinion, they were doing their job,” Mr. Kadakia said at a festival next to Madison Square Park after the parade, as his friends nodded. “I’m sure as an actor traveling, he has a lot of luggage, and if that seemed suspicious, I’d rather have them check and make sure he’s O.K.”

After all, Mr. Kadakia added, it’s not as if being stopped at the airport in the post-Sept. 11 world is new to anyone. “I’ve been stopped many times,” he said, estimating the frequency at one out of every three times he flies out of Newark or Philadelphia. “If you cooperate, it’s pretty easy.”

But Santripti Vellody, 30, a business development manager for a South Asian satellite television channel, Sahara One, saw it differently. She said that she was disappointed that one of India’s biggest stars had been subjected to such blatant profiling.

“It’s absolutely disrespectful to him,” she said, “and it’s only based on his religion and last name — he has a Muslim name — and I don’t think that’s right.”

Ms. Vellody said that her husband, Mohamed Roshman Manoli, also has a Muslim name and that each of the last four times that they had flown out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, he had been stopped for questioning. “I never get stopped but I have to wait for him for two hours every single time,” she said. “It’s not random.”

Kevin Corsaro, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Sunday that Mr. Khan was selected for an in-depth interview, known as a “secondary inspection,” during a routine process that lasted just over an hour. He said that Mr. Khan’s checked luggage was lost by the airline, which prolonged the process.

Mr. Corsaro said that while he could not discuss Mr. Khan’s specific case because of privacy issues, passengers are selected for a variety of reasons: for instance, to verify their identity and purpose of travel. He said that they are not selected because of their religion.

Miki Patel, chairwoman of the culture committee of the Federation of Indian Associations, which held the parade, said that she learned about Mr. Khan’s questioning during a meeting of parade organizers on Saturday. The parade, which ended at 24th Street, drew thousands of people for an afternoon of food, music and dance in honor of India’s independence from British rule.

“I personally feel that the rules should apply to each and every one who enters this country — the law is the law,” said Ms. Patel, 53, a dance instructor from Edison, N.J. She said she flies out of Newark two to three times a year and has never been stopped for questioning. “Maybe because I’m not a big star,” she joked.

Outrage over the incident has been growing in India, where Mr. Khan’s fans planned a protest demonstration near the Parliament in New Delhi. The federal information minister, Ambika Soni, was quoted by The Associated Press as suggesting that India adopt a similar policy toward Americans traveling to India.

As for Mr. Khan, he was quoted by The Times of India as saying the experience made him feel “angry and humiliated.”

Later, though, he played down the incident, according to The Associated Press. “I think it’s a procedure that needs to be followed, but an unfortunate procedure,” he told reporters Saturday in suburban Chicago, The A.P. reported.

July 7, 2009

Uighur oppression

Filed under: China,Islam,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:34 pm

Uighur woman confronts Chinese cops

My Turkish language professor at Columbia University once made an interesting observation. He said that variations on the Turkish language (Turkic) can be heard from Turkey to China and that he could understand it from country to country if he proceeded eastward. But the further east he went, the harder it would be for him to understand. Azeris would be quite easy to understand; Kazakhs somewhat more difficult; and Uighurs (or Uyghurs) the most difficult of all.

On the Uighur Language website, there’s a comparison between Turkish and Uighur drawn from the Nasreddin folklore, a series of tales about a wise and humorous elder that I had occasion to read in Turkish class. “Bir gun” in Turkish means one day; in Uighur it is “bir kun”. Hoca is Turkish for teacher; in Uighur it is “hoja”, etc.


Bir gun sevmedigi bir komsusu Nasreddin Hoca’nin kapisini caldi; bir gunlugune esegini kendisine vermesini rica etti.


Bir kun yahxikurmeydighan bir hoxnisi Nasirdin Hojaning ixigini urup, exigini bir kunlik otnige berixini soraptu.

Uighur ballad (sounds very Turkish)

During the rise of the Mongols, the Turks, who were also a nomadic people historically, settled into the region that became known as Turkestan. As such, it was a key element in the Silk Road that facilitated trade between Europe and Asia until the end of the 15th century.

This area languished for centuries until competition between China, Russia, and European powers during the 19th century prompted an invasion by the Manchus into East Turkestan with the encouragement of British banks who were participating in the “Great Game”. “Xinjiang” or “Sinkiang”, which means “New Dominion” or “New Territory”, was annexed by the Manchu empire on November 18, 1884.

Meanwhile, Czarist Russia was seizing control over West Turkestan in its own expansionist bid. In their victory over the old regime, the Bolsheviks had to contend with the problem of oppressed nationalities, in particular the Muslim peoples to the south in what had been known as West Turkestan. In a fascinating debate between Lenin and Bukharin in 1919, there are some issues that are relevant to today’s struggles. Bukharin questions the need for self-determination of such peoples, using arguments similar to that of Rosa Luxemburg. Responding to Bukharin’s assertion that “I want to recognise only the right of the working classes to self-determination,” Lenin refers to the Bashkirs, a Turkic people who had petitioned the Soviet government for the right to form an autonomous Soviet Republic.

What, then, can we do in relation to such peoples as the Kirghiz, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Turkmen, who to this day are under the influence of their mullahs? Here, in Russia, the population, having had a long experience of the priests, helped us to overthrow them. But you know how badly the decree on civil marriage is still being put into effect. Can we approach these peoples and tell them that we shall overthrow their exploiters? We cannot do this, because they are entirely subordinated to their mullahs. In such cases we have to wait until the given nation develops, until the differentiation of the proletariat from the bourgeois elements, which is inevitable, has taken place.

Our programme must not speak of the self-determination of the working people, because that would be wrong. It must speak of what actually exists. Since nations are at different stages on the road from medievalism to bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy, this thesis of our programme is absolutely correct. With us there have been very many zigzags on this road. Every nation must obtain the right to self-determination, and that will make the self-determination of the working people easier.

As most of you probably know, this policy was reversed within two or three years as Stalin consolidated power and reintroduced the Great Russian chauvinism that made people such as the Bashkirs miserable. Just before his death, he wrote an article that has been described as his testament. It included the following warning:

It is quite natural that in such circumstances the “freedom to secede from the union” by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riffraff like a fly in milk.

Probably no Turkic people had it worse under Stalinist rule than the Crimean Tatars who were exiled from their homeland as a measure intended supposedly to help the USSR defend itself from the Nazis. Since there was a Tatar Legion in the Nazi army and since some of the Tatar clerics were sympathetic to the Nazis, Stalin decided upon collective punishment. The Soviet government described the forced migration as “humane” but the Wiki on the Tatars claims that 46.3% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition. In other words, they suffered the same fate as Cherokees or Armenians.

In 1967, when I joined the Trotskyist movement, the party press, especially Intercontinental Press that was edited by Joe Hansen (one of Trotsky’s body guards), was taking up the cause of Soviet dissidents, including General Pyotr Grigorenko who was such a forceful defender of Crimean Tatar demands for justice that he had been put in a mental hospital in 1964. You can judge his mental status based on a speech he gave to the Tatars in 1968:

After having lost forty-six percent of their numbers in the forced exile disaster, they began to gather strength and to enter into battle for their own national and human rights. This struggle led to certain successes: the status of exiled deportees was lifted and a political rehabilitation of the people was achieved. True, this rehabilitation was carried out quietly … which in significant degree rendered it valueless. The majority of the Soviet people, who previously had been widely informed that the Crimean Tatars had sold the Crimea, never did learn that this ’sale’ was transparent fabrication. But worst of all, the decree on political rehabilitation… legalized the liquidation of the Crimean Tatar nationality. Now, it appears, there are no Crimean Tatars, there are just Tatars who formerly lived in Crimea.

Some would say—and they did—that the SWP was in a united front with the imperialists since the United States Information Agency had decided to publish a collection of documents written by the dissidents, including Grigorenko. Interestingly enough, they appeared in the journal Problems of Communism that was edited by Abraham Brumberg. Brumberg, who had impeccable anti-Communist credentials, developed some sympathies for the Sandinista revolution and defended Nicaragua against Reagan’s counter-revolutionary intervention throughout the 1980s. For those who think in terms of black-and-white, Brumberg would be too hard to figure out.

For all those leftists who harp on American support for the Iranian reformists as proof of its reactionary character, we can only assume that they would have opposed repatriation of the Crimean Tatars as well. If the USIA took up their cause, that’s all you need to know. In the 30s through the 50s, this kind of knee-jerk support for the Soviet government was the stock in trade of the Communist Parties. It is particularly unfortunate to see people such as James Petras, who were educated in Trotskyist politics in a previous lifetime, making the same kind of rotten arguments today.

As might be expected, the people of East Turkestan were treated just as badly as their brethren under Soviet rule since Mao, for the most part, agreed with Stalin on how to build socialism. Although China had fewer nationalities to forcefully assimilate, it did so with little regard to Lenin’s warnings about avoiding national chauvinism. In China, this was essentially expressed as Han nationalism that was intended to serve as a battering ram against non-Han peoples, first and foremost the Tibetans and the Uighurs.

China decided to swamp the Xinjiang province, the homeland of the Uighurs, with the dominant Han nationality not long after Mao took power. Between 1949 and the mid-80s, more than 5 million Chinese were sent to Xinjiang from eastern China in order to help assimilate the Uighurs, as well as other Turkic peoples including the Kazakhs, Kirghiz and Mongols.

In utter disregard of Lenin’s comment about having patience with people who still follow the lead of their mullahs, China organized a campaign against Islam under the rubric of combating a desire to restore “the old rule by capitalists, feudal lords, slave-owners” in the words of Liu Ke-ping, the Chairman of the Committee of Nationalities of the National People’s Congress. This included a ban on teaching Arabic in Xinjiang schools, a measure that would undercut the study of the Koran but likely to have little effect on the development of communism.

On January 14, 1985 the Washington Post reported:

The assimilation effort reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when the Arabic alphabet was outlawed in favor of the Latin alphabet, mosques were closed and turned into workshops, Moslem classics were burned, restrictions were imposed on the number of sheep minority peasants could raise, and Han officials delivered speeches in Chinese without providing interpreters.

So much for the Cultural Revolution as returning China to the communist road, unless of course your idea of communism is inspired by Stalin rather than Lenin.

The Post article continues:

In 1981, ethnic tension flared in Kashgar when a young Uighur peasant who was digging a ditch got into a fight with a Han Chinese. Neither was able to speak the other’s language. In a fistfight the Han was beaten by the stronger and bigger Uighur. Angered, the Han went into his store, took out his hunting gun and shot the Uighur.

Not much has changed in Xinjiang apparently. In recent clashes with the Hans, more than 150 people were killed. With a population numbering about 8 million, this would be the equivalent of 6000 killed in the U.S. in a day or two.

As is so often the case today, oppression of Muslim peoples seems to go hand in hand with the need to control petroleum resources. On August 28, 2008 the Financial Times reported:

The increasing importance of the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang autonomous region as a source of the energy and minerals needed to fuel China’s booming eastern cities is raising the stakes for Beijing in its battle against separatists agitating for an independent state.

“The Chinese didn’t want to let Xinjiang be independent before, but after they built all the oilfields, it became absolutely impossible,” said one Muslim resident in Korla, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution by government security agents.

The desert around the city is punctuated every kilometre or two by oil and gas derricks, each of them topped with the red Chinese national flag, an assertion of sovereignty over every inch of the energy-rich ground.

In 2005, Xinjiang’s local government was allotted only Rmb240m ($35m, €24m, £19m) out of the Rmb14.8bn in tax revenue from the petrochemical industries that are based in the region.

In Korla, the oil industry is under the control of a subsidiary of PetroChina, the state-owned energy giant, which answers directly to its head office in Beijing.

“We don’t have the power to tell them to do anything – they only listen to their bosses in Beijing,” said one local government official who asked not to be named.

Many of Korla’s original Uighur residents feel they have missed out altogether on the few benefits that have trickled down to the region from the rapid extraction of its energy resources.

It is no wonder that China put so much pressure on the U.S. government not to release the Uighur men who were kept in Guantanamo after being falsely accused of being Al Qaeda operatives. In the war on terror, which is really after all a war to control oil resources, the U.S. and China clearly see eye to eye.

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