Congo wants European troops, but Europe mostly doesn’t

One million people have been forced out of their homes by violence since the end of the war in 2003. At this stage things are probably worse than they look.

Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda intends to take the Congolese North Kivu capital Goma, apparently without authority from (Tutsi) Rwandan president Kagame, but there is speculation otherwise. There are 800 UN peacekeepers between Nkunda and the capture of Goma, and civilians are leaving in their thousands. Congolese President Joseph Kabila seems to be allying with Rwandan Hutu militias who fled to Eastern Congo after the Rwandan genocide (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, including leading perpetrators of genocide) against Nkunda (who is himself accused of war crimes).  Nkunda operates a rebellion of minority Tutsis who feel themselves excluded from the transition democracy. Meanwhile Congolese soldiers – government forces – are raping and looting in Goma.

The UN mission isn’t managing to get much done, blaming the financial crisis. The largest UN peacekeeping force in the world – MONUC, 17,000 troops – is there and has drawn up a disengagement plan. Nkunda’s rebels have just dumped it, accusing MONUC of bias and talking about “liberating” all of Congo.  One problem with resolving this is that the peacekeepers speak little French.

It used to be that peacekeeping forces couldn’t intervene with force if there was no real peace to keep, as in Congo. But since Bosnia, this has changed. At the same time, “the use of force should always be seen as last resort”, and maybe this is a difficult call.

In the EU we have elite military battlegroups created for this kind of conflict, and only we have the capacity to deploy troops in the brief time required. Marc Malloch Brown is lukewarm. Iraq has overstretched us and the Congolese will probably have to go short. We will donate 4 million euros, and maybe up to 12 later, to set up refugee camps.

Other than that we’d better hope for a political solution, but things seem to be going the other way at the moment.

Update: Human Rights Watch on Congo.

Update (01 Nov): CNN Backgrounder. BBC’s In Pictures. Maps. Nkunda’s Tutsis are consolidating their hold in Eastern Congo, and civilians are on the move – over 245,000 in recent days. Intense diplomacy is holding the ceasefire, Miliband and Kouchner are in Kinshasa; Foreign Minister of Belgium (the imperial power in Congo until 1960) Karel de Gucht is in Kigali urging the Rwandan President Kagame to support peace (including by preventing the illegal mining by Rwandans within Congo.  De Gucht is calling for a renewal of MONUC’s mandate. The International Rescue Committee survey of January 08 reports that 45,000 people have been dying every month since the end of the war from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia an malnutrition and other preventable diseases. 5.4 million people have died since 1998. The EU is still discussing troops – Britain is standing by.

What people talk about when they talk about Zionists

It looks as if Muslim member states of the U.N. (these days the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) will try to pass a resolution determining that Zionism is a type of racism again. As well as being an act of solidarity with Palestinians under occupation and a gesture of protest at the way Israel militarises its relations with them, this is also calculated to make a pariah of Israel. Israel is a state at war, and while the extent to which failure to reach a peace settlement it its own responsibility is a legitimate topic for debate, vilifying Zionism is the same as saying that Israel shouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t say that about any other state.

I’m with Muffin – the University and College Union kept telling me I was a Zionist when I objected to antisemitism and whaddaya know, for the first time in my life I started seriously regarding Jewish nationalism as a sensible and relevant precaution. Particularly for Israelis.

Two good, snappy bits of analysis from Norm.

Safe bedside table

When I lived at my parents’ place I had a length of plumbing pipe down the side of the bed. This is because there was a lot of robbery, a sprinkling of murders and plenty of other nefarious goings-on in our neighbourhood. In fact the most recent break-in at my parents’ the other year was in the middle of the day while they were in. It’s the drugs. Suffice to say any intruder would have wrapped that pipe round my neck twice.

But who knows, with a shield we might have got somewhere.

It’s James McAdam’s safe bedside table.

Via BoD.

Conspiracy theory event at UCL

Shhhhh – don’t let them know we’re talking – even thinking – about them.

Tsk, I’m out of date. Conspiracy theorists are mainstream these days, to the extent that Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth in partnership with We Are Change are sufficiently funded to bring us this conspiracy theorist event at UCL: http://gageinlondon.blogspot.com/

Conspiracy theories are alternative, counter-hegemonic explanations for a given phenomenon which allege secret and malevolent machinations based on nasty motives. On inspection, conspiracy theories are inadequately evidenced. It’s this lack of evidence in combination with a keeness to believe in malevolent motives, in the presence of a reasonable and well-evidenced ‘official’ theory, which are the tell-tale signs of crankery. Nevertheless, here we are – crankery abounds. Perhaps soon I won’t even be able to put them in my ‘weirdos’ category any more.

Cultural scholar Mark Fenster would definitely disapprove of that. I just ordered his book. He conceptualises conspiracy beliefs as a populist “mode of desire” for a different society and, in this respect, as progressive. Part of review of the first edition (2001, before 9/11) in Cultural Studies;15(2):375-9 by Mark Harrison is interesting:

Fenster proposes a mode of analysis that departs from Hofstadter’s position by adopting a more sympathetic stance, one which attempts to take conspiracy theory seriously and recognize its ostensibly inherent utopian potential.

Conspiracy theory as a topic should be of great interest to cultural studies scholars for a number of reasons. As a mode of understanding power relations in contemporary America, conspiracy theory occupies an increasingly broad bandwidth within the political imaginary. In addition to its popular representations in cinema, television and massmarket fiction, the conspiratorial world view is central to the burgeoning culture of conservative Christianity (the forces of secular humanism occupying the role of central villain) and generally informs the sense of political apathy among the US electorate.

However, Harrison says that Fenster fails to talk about how such theories might work progressively in culture or politics. After all, the thing about conspiracy theories is that they are politically disorientating and associated with political fatalism.

One question that arises upon reaching the conclusion that conspiracy theory is somehow symptomatic of a broader dynamic is what can the symptom tell us about that dynamic? Fenster shows us that plumbing the structures of conspiracy theory is a good place to begin addressing this question, but he seems to default to a modified version of conspiracy theory as a salve to the wounds of political disenfranchisement. To say that conspiratorial thinking brings comfort to its host misreads the nature of creeping paranoia and the sense of being surrounded by overwhelmingly powerful and malevolent forces. While Fenster clearly realizes this, he never quite accounts for the tension between the notion of conspiracy theory as salve and conspiracy theory as a source of profound dread and disequilibrium.

Some paragraphs later Harrison refers to “critical theory’s paranoid doppelganger”. It will be interesting to see how Fenster’s the 2008 edition evolved.

From a different and complementary disciplinary perspective, social psychologist Karen Douglas finds that poople who hold conspiracy beliefs tend to have cynical, disaffected, machiavellian values and can envisage doing the same kind of thing themselves – I drastically simplify; she is not inclined to pathologise or criminalise people with conspiracy beliefs. (Incidentally people who promulgate conspiracy theories are probably different from people who are susceptable to them.)

I’m also going to the event for the questions – AE911 are actively soliciting for architects and engineers to go and listen. Matt is an engineer, so I guess that means me.

“Breathing” mobile washer

At this stage of the global meltdown my womanly priorities are:

  1. Remain out of the kitchen
  2. Save the planet
  3. Other stuff

When Muteboy sent me this link to this highly ingenious resurrected mobile washer concept ($17) breezily reviewed by “agitator” Christine Mank, I stiffened. Ain’t nobody prising me away from my washing machine*.

Currently we wash on 40 degrees, quick wash, no rinse because we use eco balls. Eco balls of course cleanse with the power of ions, so you don’t need washing liquid and you don’t therefore need to rinse. No packaging, next to no pollution (the ceramic beads are refillable). We do about 2 loads a week and they take 30 minutes or so each. The eco balls are great – I can really recommend them (ignore Ethical Man when he says “Eco Balls are perfume free so you have to really inspect the clothes to persuade yourself they are clean” – that’s just silly – but then that’s what he’s there for).

On the other hand, with the agitator thingy you get a bit of exercise (good for me, curled-up thing that I am – the way I see it, you can’t get enough exercise these days) operating the agitator, but you do use detergent and so you do have to rinse. It’s sporadic – agitate for a bit, go away, agitate for a bit, go away and so on.  Christine Mank says it’s no bother. Then you spin in a spin dryer (or if you’re completely bonkers, you wring everything out and then hang it up).

When my washing machine conks out I’m going to try it. But if it’s a drag then I doubt it will take off, in which case I’ll be perusing the Good Shopping Guide for another.

*This is melodramatic of me. Matt is an environmentally-conscious feminist and we don’t even have kids. If anybody can afford the time it’s me.

Kicking and screaming at the launch of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network

Out of the anti-Zionists I’ve know or known of, there’s only one I like (Bob). Bob is my idea of a Good Anti-Zionist (this is a joke, but I switched off smilies because they were turning some of my 8s into sunglasses).  Steve Cohen is another I’ve not met who faces up to antisemitism and puts clear political distance between him and it. Oh maybe there’s one more – I don’t know him well enough to say and he’s also an Israel boycotter. I couldn’t really claim that some of my best friends are anti-Zionists but I don’t have a problem with anti-Zionists per se.

Trouble is all the others I’ve had to do with have had it in common that they are prepared to cover up, ignore or otherwise neglect antisemitism in order to undermine the basis for a state of Israel. Some of them are worse than that. There’s an anti-Zionist at my institution known for shouldering political opponents into walls in corridors. A good example of an anti-Zionist of this ilk is Tony Greenstein. On Friday evening he attended the launch of the latest Jewish Anti-Zionist front organisation, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Almost before it got off the ground it became tainted with the ignominy which always does for these organisations sooner or later – Mikey (follower of anti-Zionist business, public-spirited enough to turn up to these things, observe and write about them for those of us who can’t quite face them) tells how he was kicked in the shins by Tony Greenstein without provocation and subsequently subjected to his deranged accusations that he was a Zionist spy.

TG and Mikey go back some way. For decades TG has been wasting his life trying to get rid of Israel using the written and spoken word, frequently resorting to extreme historical contortions to further this. Mikey is a conscientious (and for the record unthreatening) historian who exposes TG’s ideologically-motivated inaccuracies fairly regularly and relatively effortlessly. So TG writes reams of poorly-substantiated tripe about Zionists being like Nazis and Mikey corrects him – in recent weeks on a new blog. Mikey is satirical, something that is enhanced by TG’s utter lack of humour. Mikey invariably makes mincemeat of TG – with meticulously sourced references. Good thing too.

To clarify – the main thing standing between anti-Zionists and their goal is the vast majority of Jews who think that Israel’s existence (leaving aside its policies) is a good idea. And this is why TG would have kicked and screamed at Mikey. What is so confusing is that last year TG managed to extract an apology and donation out of The Times after a comment – one I can’t safely reproduce because TG is definitely litigious – was posted on David Aaronovitch’s blog. This victory was a source of great pleasure to TG. And of course, nobody could think ill of him after that. I’d been thinking of him very rosily ever since in fact. Friday’s behaviour drew a line under this, however.

I’m not going to cover IJAN – what’s the point? The websites of these things may be improving but that’s all that’s changing. Read Mikey on Harry’s Place (including on the kicking).

Come Dancing

Another evening in Stratford – at the Royal watching Come Dancing, a musical about the Ilford Palais in the ’50s written and performed by Ray Davies.

It was very well-performed. And I liked the cast, the band, the social commentary, and Ray. The dancing was very good. Some of the songs were corkers. And the rock and roll revolution pushing out big band, with R&B coming up alongside was very well done, I thought. My problem was that I wasn’t at all interested in any of the characters. And that is sad to admit because it was autobiographical (the Kinks song ‘Come Dancing‘ is about Ray’s sister Julie) – but then again, I think it’s more to do with Ray’s writing than his family. I agree with The Londonist – it isn’t quite finished.

And there was a musical eulogy about moving to Stevenage which was exquisite and very touching considering how much those new towns have had the piss ripped out of them by snobs over the years. That was the only time I nearly cried, thinking of blitzed London. The end was sad too, though.

P.S. Ray, what with you being a North Londoner you might not have realised, but Ilford is not the ‘East End’. It is Essex. It’s true that Tony & Guy in the shopping centre set up a campaign to turn us into E19 and defeat parochialism once and for all. But ultimately this failed.

We remain Essex forevvarghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The evening

A very cheerful evening.

A disappointing and overpriced meal at Caribbean Scene in St Ratford. A dull and somewhat dessicated salad. A lonely roti on its own on a big white plate (it was pretty nice). Matt paid a full six pounds for a flat beanburger which came with too much sauce and nothing else at all.

Then we went to the Picture House. These days I seem not to be watching films unless they’re comedies, and  Matt, Mitch and I saw Joel and Ethan Coen’s Burn After Reading. I was glad I hadn’t eaten much because I laughed throughout and managed to whip off my glasses in time for the violent bits (which were also funny – I know this because I could see Mitch groaning, wincing and laughing). I particularly like the hurried ending (whether they ran out of money or interest who knows) when as I interpret it, via their cipher the spook chief, the Coen brothers ask themselves what they have learnt from the film, conclude “Not to do it again”, but are left wondering what they did wrong.

Then to round it all off I nearly peed myself on the train at the beginning of this letter in Matt’s Prospect:

“Dear Sirs – I wish to attack myself for something I wrote in the October issue. Towards the end of my short essay on David Foster Wallace, I took a wild swipe out of nowhere at James Wood, one of the finest literary critics of the age.”

It goes on quite poignantly. Bless him. Bless. him.

Boycotting Israel, boycotting Burma

Where I work, you are confronted with demands that you boycott Israel very frequently. This is the most recent contribution to an ongoing attempt to vilify Israel, on a toilet door.

By what measure is Israel “the most barbaric occupation of our time”? Is Israel conducting an occupation? Yes. Why? It’s complicated. Partly because it tells itself it is doing a bad thing to avoid a worse thing. Partly because it estimates it has less to lose by occupying Palestinians and blighting their freedom than it has by not doing so with the threat from Hamas, Hesbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Asqa Martyrs, and Hizb ut Tahrir whose stated aim is to obliterate Israel and – this is important – eradicate Jews from the region. Partly because its ridiculously pure proportional representation system enslaves it to its expansionists (and who else but Israel is responsible for its own political system?) Partly because it lacks the creativity to find a way out of the cul-de-sac of laying responsibility for ending the violence on the parties who are wedded to violence. Partly because some politically influential Palestinians are so quick to use or threaten violence as a way of grabbing and keeping political power. Partly because, in Abbas, Israel has failed to recognise and work with the most moderate Palestinian political leadership to date. Is the occupation barbaric? No, although it is often violent and it is intrinsically racist. The most famous claims to barbarism – the massacre at Jenin and the death of Mohammed al Dura – were fabricated (they were blood libels). Barbarism to me looks like this lynching. Israel doesn’t do anything like this (and I don’t think Palestinians are either systematically or intrinsically barbaric either).

A pro-boycott attitude is an excellent predictor of profound ignorance about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I feel very confident that there is more to this conflict than any boycotter understands.

From what I can gather, the Israel boycott isn’t spreading. Because most people can’t see how it will help Palestinians, only people who think Israel it detestable are joining it. In order for boycotting to grow, boycotters have to make as many people as possible hate Israel. And that’s how they work.

Compare with Burma, a regime which relies on forced labour, denies its people any democratic power whatsoever, fails to protect them after an earthquake, and suppresses all political dissent with terrifying violence. A targetted campaign to get Cotton Traders to stop sourcing clothes from Burma works in days. The reason for this is that, if we want to get into league tables, it’s hard to think of a state that treats its people with more contempt than Burma.  Unlike Israel, there’s a good case for boycotting Burma: the reinstatement of democracy is entirely in the power of the regime. You don’t have to hate anybody to boycott Burma – you just have to be satisfied that the boycott will work to lever political power.

Christian-to-Hindu conversos in India; Nick Cohen on communalism

In my last post on the unhealthy obsession with Zionism of the UN’s World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance I listed a tiny fraction of minority groups facing harassment, exclusion and persecution because of who they are or what they believe. Today’s Observer makes this point.

Writing about Britain, Nick Cohen predicts that the communalism exemplified by Ken Livingstone (who gained the support of all ethnic minority groups except, for obvious reasons, Jews) at the expense of that of the white working class vote in the mayoral elections. After a conversation with Jon Cruddas, he observes acutely:

“…he desparied of an officialdom that unthinkingly played the BNP’s game by seeing ‘everything through the prism of race’. Did it really not guess that working-class voters would reclassify themselves as ‘whites’ and join the identity game?”

Cohen goes on to worry about a political Left which has gone over to communalism and may now be incapable of unifying as workers against the fascist threat.

I recalled how the SWP spent all last year trying to unify workers against Israel. After resisting that for so long it was incredibly disorientating when over night the central committee reprogrammed their ants to build against the BNP. Luckily we have Hope Not Hate for whom I’ve pushed a few leaflets and doubtless will again.

On the next page, Gethin Chamberlain describes the grotesque forced conversions of Christians by Hindu Nationalists in the Indian state of Orissa. Converso was one of the names for Jews and Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity in C14th and C15th Spain. While Chamberlain was interviewing Indian conversos for his story, Hindu nationalists assaulted his driver.

“‘You want to know what is happening? Now I will tell you why this is happening.’ He blamed the Christians for taking the jobs of Hindus, for the murder of the Swami. The only solution was for Christians to convert, he said. ‘This is a Hindu community. Everyone can stay here, as long as they are part of that community.'”

More on Hindu nationalism from OpenDemocracy and this review of Martha Nussbaum’s The Clash Within. Amazingly, Christophe Jaffrelot’s 2007 primary source reader on Hindu Nationalism is also available as a Google Book.

Hindu Nationalism

By Christophe Jaffrelot