Conciliation, Hamas style

Which is to say

  1. mislead people to suppose that Jewishness and Judaism are the same thing. Use this to presume a load of Jewish values and tell us that these have been corrupted by Zionism
  2. ignore the fact that the Nazis didn’t differentiate between religious and assimilated Jews when they put the genocide into action
  3. ignore said genocide as a factor in the creation of a Jewish state and rather offer it as a whim.
  4. avoid mentioning that Jews had their homes taken, were stripped of their possessions and sent off to become slaves and ultimately die, with those who survived interned in displaced persons camps for years because nobody wanted to take them in.
  5. under no circumstances mention the UN Partition Plan which clearly defines an Arab state and a Jewish one.
  6. and shhh – don’t mention your own suicide bombing campaign if you want people to carry on believing that Israel puts soldiers round Palestine because they’re just evil Zionists.

Like so:

“Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state — the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees — to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away. Judaism — which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam — has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.

A “peace process” with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again.”

God, what an amateur. It’s a load of syrup but it doesn’t stick.

If I’d lost half my family to the IDF I’d be livid too. I might well be an anti-Zionist. But that wouldn’t excuse or explain getting it this wrong or being in an organisation which squashes women, LBGT people and non-Muslims so horribly.

The stuff referring to Jerusalem and the ’67 borders constitutes concession with a small ‘c’. It is good that Hamas is talking about this and I hope that Israel responds to positively reinforce this development. Adequate supplies into Gaza so that nobody’s health suffers – particularly the vulnerable – being the barest minimum.

Jonathan Zittrain at the RSA

Jonathan Zittrain holds the Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute. I’m a big fan of his because he makes me laugh uncontrollably – deliberately, I should say.

The RSA is a special place where you and I get to listAen to the world’s luminaries, such as Jonathan Zittrain, for free. Tonight we also received, for free, the bounty of the luminary’s book, in hardback, and after he had spoken, wine and snacks (AOL must be making a buck again). This was all very gratifying since the principal reason I decided to go was to find out about The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. I really like Becky Hogge, the chair, too. She heads the Open Rights Group, of which I’m an inactive member, writes on technology for the New Statesman, and used to be head of technology at OpenDemocracy.

So I want you to listen to the sound file and possibly even watch the video – I’d really recommend it. It’s not up yet but you can find it on the RSA site.

Jonathan Zittrain charted a history of computers from their ‘tethered’ beginnings with punch-card census machines whose inventor used to hire them out to the US Government at $50k per year “back when the US dollar meant something”, so assuming a mediating role between fixed-purpose technology and its user, moving on to the genesis of the personal computer which separated technology from its application and allowed “badly dressed mischievous a-social nerds” in backwaters across the planet to begin to create software (his notion of ‘generativity’), and ultimately where we are now – spam, malware, Facebook Apps and Wikipedia.

His worry is that the generativity will give way to a tethering where hardware and software companies dictate what can run on their kit, and who can do what with it. He pointed at the Facebook developers’ terms and conditions – basically they can pull the plug on you anytime. There’s a lot at stake – invasions of privacy, software applications reining themselves in overnight because of, say, patent infringement – he drew the analogy of your toaster developing a third slot one morning, pulling it the next, and making orange juice on the third – surveillance and invasions of privacy.

He wants small scale funding distributed to many backwater nerds, he wants diversity and parallel projects (such as Citizendium using Wikipedia as a starting point for its fork into an encyclopaedia which is less of a free-for-all).

Afterwards over appalling red wine (but, as I said about the coffee-flavoured urn wine at the carol concert last year, you do not look a gift horse in the mouth) Matt P and I had a number of interesting conversations with people from ORG, Privacy International, and Open Source Africa, among other institutions. ORG are starting a library of – what did she call it, dunno – ISP jumpiness, to record the kind of thing that happened to Eric Lee when threat of libel made his ISP pull the plug on Labourstart necessitating a move to a server in a whole different country. I will make sure they know about that one.

Because it occurred to me, I spent some time on my journey home trying to fit Jonathan’s and Becky’s politics into the small amount I know about socialism. The Internet in its current generative form seems to be an emancipatory force, and yet it is regarded as an enormous threat by all socialist states as covered in a previous post. In fact, Jonathan Zittrain kicked off with the image of South Koreans floating solar-powered radios into North Korea (where their receivers are broken to only receive 3 stations). The Internet is objectionable to any authoritarian, and socialism tends towards the authoritarian when pressured. Socialism depends on people cooperating according to a predefined way of doing things – unlike capitalism it is extremely vulnerable if even a small proportion of the masses at the bottom of the power hierarchy don’t play the game, and instead sow seeds of dissent or resentment. With capitalism, if you don’t play the game you have no chance to get the (enticingly dangled but by no means guaranteed) rewards – in other words, it looks after itself as a self-perpetuating system (I’d be very sorry if capitalism were the best we could do though). The generative, free-thinking qualities of today’s Internet are why the Chinese regime routinely censors it. Censorship constrains its democratic potential to the extent of an information tool which also serves to consolidate power.

But over here in all their freedom and merciful lack of responsibility, practically all the groupuscules on the Left stretch the Internet to its most unregulated and anti-proprietary extent (think Indymedia). Although this is good, it seems highly probable that this free use would decrease in proportion to the degree of power a socialist organisation gained – socialist societies are supposed to look unswervingly to the centre of power for their cues in life and submit to Party discipline. I know of no example to the contrary, at a state level. On the other hand, being far from power, the groupuscules are hives of dissent and argument – they are small, each member is close to leadership and has influence in an organisation whose ethos, in the ideal, is to value individuals equally and to reject the idea of power hierarchy (this is perhaps why they fracture before they can grow, and this is perhaps why the site of the biggest, the Socialist Worker, is so lifeless (it accepts comments but they’re proactively moderated – and strangely I can’t find any). If I had more time, I’d like to study how left groups use the Web for activism (I’m particularly interested in commenting tools and their use). Maybe I should put in a bid somewhere…

The ethos of Zittrain and Hogge with respect to technology (which is all I know them for) is liberal and democratic. Light restraints to limit the worst that could go wrong (protecting without wrecking), but otherwise as free as it can be without breaking. They’re for individual rights like freedom – to think, to adapt things, and to privacy. They stand against controlling corporations and against the bolting down of technologies. I’ve never really thought about this civil rights stratum of politics and where it fits into the political spectrum before. And I can’t seem to muster any insights now.

Matt P came with – will he blog it too?

Other news, members of University and College Union are splashing around in considerable amounts of antisemitism. And it seems we have to put up with it if we want to remain in UCU, because UCU will not act – in fact UCU has banned David Hirsh and subsequently those who post on his behalf. This is unbearable and I understand why people go public (read the comments, particularly Brownie’s responses to The Irie, who is very dense and not at all out of the ordinary).

Ich heart Berlin

I took Matt to Berlin for his birthday. I could write so much more about this, given time, but for now just a memory-jogging sketch.

We got on the Eurostart at 18:30 at St Pancras. St Pancras is really chic and well-heeled. We got off at Brussels Midi at 19:30, ate Vietnamese with too much coconut milk, waddled back to Brussels Midi and boarded our DB sleeper at something like 23:43. I splashed out on a 2-bed cabin. Matt let me have the bottom bunk so I could look out of the window. When I was young I used to dream of being in the circus, or a gipsy, or a 19th century American pioneer – something involving horse-drawn caravans. It’s magic to lie on your stomach under a duvet in a dark cabin on a DB train in the small hours watching the full moon on the dark land and the houses. About 90 minutes outside Brussels there are round steep wooded hills and rushing rivers. Under a silvery moon I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful. I don’t remember what time I got to sleep. Our breakfast box contained some alarming stuff.

We arrived at Hauptbahnhof Station at 08:10 and made our way on foot (we did everything on foot for the entire weekend) to the hotel, the Arte Luise, where every room is an art installation. Here’s the foyer, with Matt underneath:

Arte Luise Berlin - foyer

Our room had two windows looking directly onto an elevated 4-lane railway track the nearest of which was about 2 meters from the building. I liked this very much – the sound proofing was good. We were literally eye-to-eye with blurred commuters to and from Friedrichstrasse Station and it took quite a few passing trains to get bored of lifting my t-shirt.

Arriving at 8 that first day meant that we went to the dome of the Bundestag, the Pergamon, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Museum of the GDR before about 6pm. We got a 3-day museum pass, which I recommend. We didn’t get into the Berliner Dom but I looked at it from different angles all weekend – it’s a beautiful thing.

Berliner Dom

That evening I ate the most disappointing lentil dal of my life.

The second day we were warned off breakfast in our hotel and forced out to eat mueli, fruit and soya milk in a small, pleasant cafe. Then we walked in the Tier Garden, shopped for pants for Matt (he always leaves something behind, this time it was his pants and for some reason it was really difficult to find pants in Berlin so this took a while) and went to the Bauhaus Archive which was mind-blowing. I finally understand what they were trying to do. I’m a big fan of audio tours in these places – it makes perfect sense to avoid competing visual tracks by substituting audio descriptions for captions. And it meant that I could sit on the balcony and get something out of the stuff I could see at a distance in a closed-off section.

That evening we ate vietnamese, which was fine.

The next day we had a hard time finding breakfast and ended up in an unlikely place called something inappropriate like Neptune’s near to the TV Tower. It was in a time warp, sleepy sunny and speckled with solitary pensioners. It was also very clean and relaxing. Matt had a strange breakfast, pictured, and I had a pretzel and seed bread shaped like a heart. I couldn’t get any margarine so decided to have butter instead, and it was really rather tasty. I can’t recommend this place enough – or I wouldn’t be able to if I could only remember its name.

Berlin breakfast

The TV Tower was brilliant. I took a million shots of Karl Marx Allee and Alexanderplatz because we weren’t going to get there. They’re restoring the concrete tower blocks and they’re truly beautiful.

Berlin TV Tower

Then we went to the Markische Museum, created in the very early 20th Century to preserve a disappearing Berlin which was being swept aside by expansion. We rattled round this one – hardly a soul there. Counterposed to this nostalgia was the Jewish Museum, which I thought was excellent. There was a really good exhibition called Typische! on stereotyping of different social – particularly ethnic – groups. It included the masterstroke of a coca-cola bottle. Indeed, how are human beings distinct from their packaging? Then, being short for time, we concentrated on the Moses Mendelsohn, Enlightenment, and Jewish and German at the Same Time sections. In wandering between them there was also some excellent stuff on perceptions of and responses to so-called jewification – urbanism, financial complexity, commerce. Very resonant today. There was a wall upon which was a timeline of antisemitism. In 18-something, 265,000 people signed a petition to rescind Jewish emancipation. In 19-something a German student body proclaimed that the social isolation of Jewish students was complete. There followed the section on Zionism.

On the way back down Kreuzberg Strasse and beyond the buildings were breathtaking. All those people. About ten years ago I lived in an ex-council flat on Hackney Rd – from my kitchen window was a vista of tower blocks and nothing else. I was young, they were post-war, built on the homes of blitzed and displaced cockneys, they killed the street life and they never moved me like the Berlin buildings, built with love by an optimistic socialist state under the influence of Bauhaus and then re-clad by Schröder and Merkel.

Karl Marx Allee

Berlin buildings

We ate at an Italian place and ran for our train. Lovely night on my stomach looking out the window with a Ritter Sport Marzipan. Something went wrong, we broke down in Aachen and were two hours late into Brussels – which was a mercy as it turned out.

The woman at Brussels Tourist Information was brusque – told us that everything was closed on a Monday, omitting the churches and the EU visitors’ centre, even though I told her that that was precisely where we wanted to go. Brussels was down on its uppers, and depressing (especially if you didn’t sleep well because somebody in the next cabin on your train was snoring like a walrus). Its best buildings are dirty and broken and its fountains, crazy. There was sludge between the cobbles and an abiding smell of urine. Poor faded Brussels, but like a raddled old good-time girl she still has some flashes of beauty.

Brussels square

Brussels cathedral window

The EU precinct was eerily quiet and there seemed not to have a centre that wasn’t a mess of chocolate and beer shops. It was an abrupt change from hygienic Berlin. From the station we walked through an area – Turkish? – where there were lots of people and no women except me. Invisible women make me uncomfortable, whether in Brussels or Haringey Green Lanes. We did visit three churches and the Cathedral, which were beautiful. The dogs were so cute – many dachsund types. And I spoke a lot of bad French to wincing shop assistants, bar tenders and waiting staff.

We drank some Trappist beer that was strong as hell and then wove our way in hot sun to get on the Eurostar at the drab terminus at Brussels Midi. Only then did I allow myself to acknowledge that there is something about tourism that’s wasted on me – as Woody Allen says “I’m astounded by people who want to know the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Barkingside.”

Or rather, I like the journeys immensely but the arriving feels more than anything like a hiatus. This is why I prefer to strap on my pack and walk from place to place. Luckily this is what Matt likes most too. This summer we’re going to Scotland with bivvy bags.

Euston Manifesto signposts

With my last post in mind – about how useless Hamas is as a mascot for the anti-imperialists – this serendipitous piece from Alan Johnson of Democratiya sums up how and why the post-Left (aka kitsch Left, rococo Left) is wrong.

The Euston manifesto was a warning cry. Post-leftists, we said, were living in what Paul Berman called “foggy zones of half-believed beliefs, freed of any responsibility to subject any given opinion to the simplest of common-sense tests”.

What were these half-believed beliefs?

A demented “anti-zionism”. Paul Berman observed:

“During the last two or three years, large publics in western Europe and even in the United States have taken up the view that, if extremist political movements have swept across large swaths of the Muslim world, and if Ba’athists and radical Islamists have slaughtered literally millions of people during these last years, and then have ended up at war with the United States, Israel and its crimes must ultimately be to blame. And if America has been drawn into war in Iraq, it is because President Bush’s second-level foreign policy advisers include a few Jews (though all of his top level advisers are Protestants), and these second-level figures have manipulated everyone else to the bidding of Ariel Sharon.”

Anti-Americanism. A lunatic book like Thierry Meyssan’s Le 11 Septembre 2001, l’Effroyable Imposture (translated into English as 9/11: The Big Lie) – was given respectful attention in Le Monde Diplomatique and sold 200,000 copies in France within one month of publication. The dinner party talk was that America “had it coming”. Anti-Americanism was becoming a “self-sustaining hatred” as Andre Glucksmann puts it, akin to the other grand hatreds – of women and of Jews.

Occidentalism and self-hatred. Whatever “they” do, it is “our” fault. We are the great satan and they are “the resistance”, so the worse their atrocity (decapitating aid workers, blowing up wedding parties, marketplaces, and mosques of the “wrong” sort, slaughtering election workers, assassinating elected MPs, hanging homosexuals, torturing trade unionists, flying airliners into buildings, using the mentally ill as suicide bombers, denying the Holocaust, threatening to “wipe Israel off the face of the Earth”, killing those who would teach girls, that sort of thing) the more starkly was revealed the depths of … our sin! Agency and moral responsibility lay with the west, so “they” could not really be held responsible. (“They” could not really come into focus at all.)

Albert Camus warned that a love of freedom and progress can become “weirdly inseparable from a morbid obsession with murder and suicide”. In the foggy zone of the post-left there is a new ease with violence. The urbane intellectual shouts “Victory to the Resistance!” The affluent middle-class anti-globalisation protestors chant “Martyrs not Murderers”. And John Pilger tells us we “can’t be choosy”.

Careless moral equivalencing that rots the ability to judge. Listen to leftwinger Ellen Willis. “Central to Bush’s outlook is a Christian fundamentalism as hostile to liberalism as Sayyid Qutb”. As hostile? Even the usually excellent Martin Bright has argued that ‘[Paul] Berman’s description of a paranoid ‘people of God’ convinced of its own righteousness, prepared to kill its enemies and sacrifice its own in pursuit of a realm of pure truth might just as easily apply to the United States as to its Ba’athist and Islamist foes.” Just as easily?

Along this road madness lay. The Euston manifesto set up a checkpoint and offered some alternative signposts.

Four eyes

“She took me to her elfin grot,

And there she wept, and sigh’d full sore,

And there I shut her wild wild eyes

With kisses four.”

That’s right, La Belle Dame Sans Merci wore spectacles.

The other day I licked Matt’s glasses to turn his attention from the TV – piece of advice, if you know somebody who wears specs do not do this – just politely call their name.

Love ads, don’t want to look at them

When you try to do a quick in and out, so to speak, on The Times site or The Guardian web sites to retrieve a reference, you’d better use a new browser window rather than a new tab. These days those clever weasels want you to spend at least 5 seconds looking at their stupid animations. Detaining us as we frantically attempt to leave for another tab is the only way the news sites we are pleased to use for free get to run themselves.

I’m famous for not seeing what’s in front of my nose, let alone off to the side, so ads are wasted on me.