Extending the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

I recently read an anti-Zionist inveighing against Zionist Jews who accuse non-Zionist Jews of “ethnoreligious treason”. He asked why the people who react badly when critics of Israel invoke Jewish identity to tell other Jews what to do, don’t react similarly badly when supporters of Israel use the same strategy. Although he should understand that equal treatment would protect those he hates – progressive Zionists or non-Zionists who are not antisemitic – as much as it would protect him, I think this is a good question.

One example – back around 2010 the EDL’s former (miniscule) Jewish Arm leader Roberta Moore was calling the Jewish Community Security Trust, not to mention Binyamin Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbi of the time, and many other Jews ‘kapos’. Here’s an example:

“I am talking to YOU, you pathetic anti-Zionist Jewish twats out there!! You shall deserve the end that you get, because I will not fight for you if you will not fight for yourself. I would defend you if you are fighting with me, but if you are leaving this dirty work for us, I will NOT even forgive you. Cowards deserve my contempt.

If you think that appeasing Islamo-fascists will keep the beast at bay, you have learnt NOTHING from Nazi Germany, you bloody KAPOS!!!!

I am very very angry with the Jewish community for being so weak and so pathetically afraid of such vermin which we ourselves, even in small numbers can bring down!!”

Kapos were Jewish concentration camp inmates who gained preferment by taking roles as camp enforcers for the Nazis. Roberta Moore calls latterday Jews ‘kapos’ for being insufficiently militant in defending Israel. I realise that not everybody would agree with me that calling a Jew a kapo is antisemitic – indeed it seems to be something that some Jewish people of earlier generations do occasionally to make a point about Jewish self-interest. But times change – or should. In Roberta Moore we got a far right demagogue who, in her use of the word ‘kapo’, verbally attacked Jews as Jews, accused them of siding with Nazis to save themselves, called them inferior as Jews – in fact as bad or worse than Nazis – questioned their loyalty as Jews, and blamed them for violence against Jews. This is what ‘kapo’ means – it is a Holocaust-minimising term, a dog whistle, and almost always a smear against progressive Jews. Surely that is antisemitic.

At the time I invoked the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism to call this antisemitic, and tried to shoehorn what Roberta Moore had said into the example “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. However I arranged it though, it was as awkward as a kitten in a bonnet. Though I support everything in the EUMC WD, the Roberta Moore example reveals gaps which leave far right Israel supporters (on the rise) much freer to make tribal demands on Jewish people with as-a-Jew stereotypes.

I’d say that the WD comprehends most kinds of antisemitism adequately (and with restraint), but insufficiently comprehends antisemitism in the name of Israel. I think antisemitism in the name of Israel might push idealised notions of Jewishness with respect to Israel,  seek to impose Jewish loyalty tests in support of Israel, or call Jews who are critical of Israel inferior Jews. At a population level I doubt this kind of antisemitism is ever going to be a massive problem. Being antisemitism from the ‘inside’ it will be perceived differently, perhaps more complacently, than that from the outside. But it does exist, it will acutely harm those it targets, and it will also harm those who take risks to build bridges for peace. Since I expect hate-fuelled simpletons to prevail in their polarisation of left and right, and views on Israel to be taken, like it or not, as a prominent marker of which pole you lean towards, I think it’s worth giving this some attention.

Here is the original EUMC WD, and below are my small changes. I’ve marked them with italics or strike-throughs but Diffchecker lets you compare if you care to.

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Working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also centre on or target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing, or harming, or limiting of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

  • Accusing Stating that Jewish citizens of being are more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, or that they are inferior as Jews for being insufficiently loyal.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, or accusing Jews of being insufficiently active for the welfare of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

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I can’t see these small changes criminalising anything that isn’t already criminal. It doesn’t remove anything from the original WD, either. And it doesn’t make anti-Zionism any less hare-brained. What it does achieve is recognition of antisemitism from the authoritarian pro-Israeli right, whether religious or statist. It allows us to refer to the EUMC when calling statements like Roberta Moore’s antisemitic.

Does that work?

Gender segregation on campus – “taken over” by the far right?

Bob From Brockley has a recent piece on Mandela as a mirror. It’s about how disparate movements can opportunistically hitch up to a campaign, a cause, or sometimes a person. To add another example, we have Southall Black Sisters invoking Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle at an event protesting gender segregation, and then we get Spiked with a piece on the hyperbole of calling segregation ‘apartheid’ and the event explodes into a kaleidoscope of different angles on angles on angles. This here is mine, but on gender segregation, Sally Feldman and Laurie Penny.

Last week mainstream politicians finally found their voice and came out against religious gender segregation on campus. Predictably this functioned as a bright green go light to anti-establishment types. Here’s Times Higher columnist Sally Feldman’s weak satire on the opponents of gender segregation. I couldn’t have guessed the piece would end up defending the platforming hate preachers at the University of Westminster where she works - Haitham ‘apes and pigs’ al-Haddad and gender segregation in the same article – wow. She’s more worried about the calibre of the opponents of misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia than she’s worried about the views themselves. So, for the record, al-Haddad does preach hatred. And Sally Feldman should know that events that are carefully convened to ensure hateful views are likely be countered by other invited speakers tend to escape the kind of alarmed response she objects to – mainly because they are obviously ‘championing free speech’, rather than simply connecting haters with free premises and audiences and leaving it to the objects of their hatred to do the hard work of speaking against them.

How did we get here from gender segregation? Maybe the quality of the objections to gender segregation – the passion, the outrage, the hyperbolic exchanges – reminded Sally Feldman of the upset about al-Haddad and reminded her of her University of Westminster agenda. That’s my best guess. It’s also the most charitable account.

Which brings me to Laurie Penny’s recent Guardian piece, ‘This isn’t feminism. It’s Islamophobia‘. It’s about the pressure she has come under from ‘white men’ to condemn gender segregation. At its crux,

“…demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against “radical Islam” sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: “If you think we’re bad, just look at these guys.””

But at the bottom you’ll find a note, ‘This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests.’ This amendment only came about because Twitter users like the Ex-Muslims Forum, Lejla Kuric, Alya, Ophelia Benson, One Law For All, Sarah Brown and others civilly alerted her to Asian and Muslim feminists defending secular space and pointed out the stark inaccuracy of claiming that the protest on December 10th was led by right wing men. By mid morning Laurie Penny had recognised the problem and was making efforts to correct it.

Which is typically big of her but I was interested in what had happened, which is this. A self-styled feminist found the ‘white patriarchy’ so much more interesting than all the feminists of Muslim or Asian background that she completely omitted them from consideration. In this she is no better than most of the other reporters party to the silencing of non-white voices, as This Is The End puts it. Or as Lejla puts it, “White western feminist ignore us and dismiss our struggle”. Or as Alya puts it, “The very idea that this debate has been “taken over” by the far right is both naive and insulting”. As such Laurie Penny gives us a classic example of reductio ad absurdum filtering an event through an existing agenda. It’s also a particularly self-absorbed piece; the poor feminist is not the woman affected by gender segregation – it’s Laurie Penny herself beset by ‘white men’ asking her to condemn something. This is a maddening change of subject.

A united front is needed to fight religious authoritarians on campus. They are not yet strong but they would like to be and they have a small foothold already. So congratulations any ‘white men’ of any political stripe who based your arguments against gender segregation on feminist principles and not culturally racist ones. Sadly for me I think it may be true that you are mostly to the political centre and right – but you got it right this time. Please carry on doing it, as often as possible, and don’t be put off by people telling you you’re the wrong sex or colour.

Finally, Laurie Penny is right that there is certainly anti-Muslim sentiment lurking within the debate about gender segregation, as Soupy explains – people with these views are also subtly changing the subject to further their own agenda.

Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.

Updates

  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

What to do if you encounter sexual segregation on your campus

I attended a sexually segregated event in the student union at a previous place of work in the not too distant past. Avoiding confrontation, my friend and I slunk to the back and dragged chairs to straddle the mid line between men and women. A pitiful gesture. Then as a bombastic cleric began to yell from the front we realised it was a scheduling error on the part of the student union – we were at a religious event by mistake, so we left. I often wish I had protested the ignominy of sexual segregation on a university campus. The chaplain of the time was there. He seemed unbothered.

If you encounter sexual segregation on your campus, chances are it’s against the university’s policies protecting staff, students and visitors against discrimination. So:

  1. Contact the organisers to verify what their policy is. It may be a misunderstanding. But if not, then proceed.
  2. Pinpoint the institutional policy to the effect that religious belief does not justify discriminatory behaviour. If your institution doesn’t have such policy, then lobby for it.
  3. Contact institutional senior management and copy in the people responsible for public or media relations. Insist that the organisers are obliged to make it clear that people can sit wherever they like regardless of sex or any other protected characteristic.
  4. Encourage any speakers or panellists to put pressure on the organisers to desegregate. Ask them to consider boycotting the event unless they have guarantees..
  5. If that fails, obtain a reliable eyewitness account.
  6. If you don’t get a prompt and decisive response, use social media. Ideally amplify your concerns by contacting a celebrated secularist, feminist or other principled public figure – if nobody else already has – and make an indignant scene.
  7. Hold the institution to account – they should ultimately appreciate this anti-discriminatory counter-pressure. Particularly if they have form.

I firmly believe that campuses should be secular spaces – not atheist, but secular. Not without rooms where worship can happen, but secular. I strongly object to the view that male-female proxmity constitutes sexual harassment on the one hand or enticement on the other. I reject the ‘three sections’ approach because it makes default of segregation and normalises segregation – we want to normalise mingling, exchange and diversity across society’s boundaries, and de-emphasise the role of sex in academic spaces. I will oppose any such elevation and institutionalisation of sex as a division between one human being and another.

Only human

I often think about the slugs I have been cutting in half to save my vegetables.

Analogous to racism and sexism, speciesism is the belief that, or behaviour as if, humans were inherently more important than non-human animals.

Richard Ryder, Oxford University psychologist who first coined the phrase ‘speciesism’ in the 1970s later developed the ethic of ‘painism‘, where suffering pain or distress becomes the basis for rights. Richard Ryder’s thinking is behind the NC3Rs, the UK’s National Council for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. His work for the RSPCA took the organisation in a European Union direction which led to an impressive if gradual number of pro-animal statutes. He’s also a former Lib Dem activist, which must have been formative of his interest in suffering.

Painism is an attempt to find a way between Utilitarianism and dominant approaches to Rights Theory. Utilitarianism prescribes the suffering of a minority for the sake of a majority. It takes a tallying-up approach as if ‘the greatest good’ of ‘the greatest number’ were a good that is felt more intensely by each person the more people feet it. Rights Theory places emphasis upon the importance of the individual but does so with “mysterious references to telos [purpose] or intrinsic values” and becomes hamstrung with “the trade-off issue – which is really one of the central problems of ethics – by invoking ad hoc conflicting rights such as the “right to self-defence” to get themselves out of difficulties.”

Painism holds that 5 units of pain for the Prime Minister is the same as 5 units of pain for a mouse, and a 100 units of pain for the Prime Minister is far worse than 1 unit of pain for each of 100 mice. Rather than attempting to aggregate suffering, “the badness of an action can be judged by the level of pain felt by the individual who suffers the most by it – the ‘maximum sufferer’”. So when an animal is forced to grow so fast that its muscles tear, a long and painful preamble to a terror ordeal culminating in an agonising death – so that some of the 1500 customers in London’s newest and heaviest MacDonalds can fatten themselves on a burger, it’s not so hard to work out what painism would do differently. Painism also incorporates emotional pain documented by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson in his embarrassingly-titled 2004 study of animal consciousness The Pig Who Sang to the Moon. I haven’t read any of the books so I’ll stop there.

Approaching release is Speciesism, a documentary by Washington D.C. law post-graduate Mark Devries. It’s lucky you’re reading this because you’re unlikely to learn about it any other way. 67 donors on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter raised $15k to promote it and it will be previewed at the 2012 Animal Rights Conference – whose web site is a tattered cobweb of longterm failure – and after that, definitely not your local Odeon. Speciesism features several philosophers, some industrial investigative journalism, a neo-Nazi and at least one Holocaust survivor who identifies with the creatures in the clutches of the humans. On the Dr Don Show you can hear a l-o-o-o-o-n-g but never tedious radio interview with Mark Devries which probes the main philosophical and social arguments. Dr Don is a man whose web site sports a non-hilarious self-caricature dressed in scrubs perched on a dribbling cider keg, literally wringing eggs out of a hen. This isn’t touched on in the interview.

Well, you’ve read Safran Foer’s Eating Animal, now see Speciesism, get yer Jewish subtext here Snoopy, and may providence send more lawyers to save us from our rottenmost selves.

I hope the slugs died instantly. They seemed like they did.

 

 

 

Greeking the EU

Lancaster University historian Aristotle Kallis has documented the suspension of moral and legal norms to establish sealed-off spaces of mass violence. Here he sketches the extraordinary surge in immigration to Greece – most undocumented immigration enters the EU through the Greek / Turkish border – which allowed the issue to dominate political competition in the recent elections, second only to the EU-IMF bailout plan, to the extent that,

“Shortly before the elections, the socialist-led government trumped the card of instituting a network of detention facilities for illegal immigrants across the country, euphemistically called “centres of closed hospitality”. It had also pursued the construction of a security razor wire fence along the land border with Turkey – a major entry-point for illegal immigrants.”

Kallis, author of Genocide and Fascism: The Eliminationist Drive in Fascist Europe identifies a corrosive zero-sum-gain, anti-immigrant perception of existential security threat in Greece which,

“has significantly weakened the appeal of a human rights perspective on immigration or a moderate, pragmatic approach based on effective, long-term ‘migration management’.”

In the comments, Don Flynn (presumably of the Migrants Rights Network) asks,

“Whilst the political rhetoric of Syriza, favouring regularisation, etc, is welcome I would like to know what is being done to include migrants in the measures which are being taken at neighbourhood level in the most pressing immediate struggle – which is to build resilience into working class communities enabling them to survive austerity and initiate activities which strengthen the fightback.”

Only the most dunderheaded of the political left believe that this resilience is solely economic – material insecurity merely sharpens the edge of an existing but latent hostility to immigrants which Kallis observes in Greece and many observe here in the UK. Being aware of the concept of antisemitism without Jews, I was struck by the reference (also in the comments) to the findings of Charles Husband (now co-director of Bradford University’s Applied Social Science Centre) that in 1970s schools the strongest racist beliefs were held in schools with no immigrant pupils.

As somebody else points out in the comments, it isn’t racist to discuss whether free movement between the countries of the world is a good idea – but hostility has no place in a debate about immigrants, and is no more or less than a perception. Shame is one counter-approach (one I try with some comfortably-off people in my acquaintance who hate Muslims) but it’s no protection against the kind of existential insecurity observed by Kallis. In the long term only positive arguments will work – arguments for a politics of hospitality – addressed to the prosperous in particular (Alex Balch writes and speaks on this, but ironically and unfruitfully closed access) to lay down a foundation of non-racist concern. And in the case of European Monetary Union – where proposals are afoot for those rakish member states unable to run their economic affairs responsibly, to forfeit their national sovereignty before they become an undue burden on the others – why there are better alternatives for prosperity than nationalism.

Kant and later the emigre Levinas have gone about this by relating the personal ethic of hospitality in one’s own home to a law or politics of hospitality in one’s own homeland. More on that next post.

Pro-sharia campaigners march through Walthamstow

You can tell Muslims Against Crusades are a tiny groupuscule because all their placards are done by a single person, there’s no report from yesterday’s mini march on their site, and their Media page doesn’t load. They’re expensive clowns and tossers, though – a lot of police, a lot of verbal (though the EDL mostly remained in the pubs), two arrests. Things are getting a bit bigoted round here.

Against religious bigotry stand – among others – the National Secular Society, One Law for All, Quilliam, the British Humanist Association, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy:

Against the far right of various stripes, Searchlight and Hope Not Hate but I should remark that I was recently told in infuriatingly sanguine tones that Hope Not Hate cannot treat the Islamists as they treat the BNP types because they will be called ‘Zionist’ and their credibility will suffer. The point was that HnH are better off sticking to fighting the white far right. If true, this is a disappointing kind of anti-fascism which will tie its own hands (though HnH is excellent at analysis and the absolutely crucial job of getting the anti-racist vote out – both indispensable), and why I will always appreciate Harry’s Place, which researches and fights all the authoritarian, racist, fascist or proto-fascist fuckers regardless of hue, don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to be taken for a Zionist, and make surprisingly few mistakes while they’re about their business – LibbyT excepted (tosser). There’s also the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor who has been undercover with the EDL and recognises that they can’t be dismissed as thugs:

“At each demonstration I attended, I was confronted by casual racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence. But I also met non-white people, gay rights activists, disaffected working class men and women, and middle-class intellectuals. I came to the conclusion that the EDL is not a simple rerun of previous far-right street groups.”

Basically, fighting an anti-Muslim alignment like the EDL entails disrupting anti-Muslim views, and there is plenty of material via the links above. Depending on whether policing is sensitive to the communities targeted by the EDL, it can require some bodily obstruction to prevent EDL types intimidating Muslim communities. It also entails arguing and lobbying against sharia – not because Muslims Against Crusades are any good at what they do – they’re an embarrassment to Muslims – but because the authoritarian and chauvinistic religious right – Christian, Muslim and the rest – feed on each other and the work to keep them from taking power is never done. Harder, it requires circumstances in which a moderate majority exists and turns out to vote to keep the far right out of the seats of power.

A case study in activism – a review of ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer

Just bear with me a minute before I get started on the book. One Saturday morning in 1996 I set off by bus from Rusholme in south Manchester to visit my mother’s cousin’s family in the northern suburb of Prestwich. At some stage during my journey up Oxford Road the Irish Republican Army detonated their last Manchester bomb and when the bus terminated prematurely nobody knew the reason. The city’s response was still being scrambled and I managed to duck the cordons and skirt across Market Street to the bus station where the situation became clear. From a call box I dialed my relatives but it was sabbath and they weren’t picking up. I arrived hours late and was greeted with the raised eyebrow of a mother used to keeping student time. When lunch was produced I realised with dismay that I’d forgotten to tell her I was vegetarian. Never having encountered liver before, I had to inquire about the greyish lump on my plate. I considered what to do. I hadn’t warned her; in the sabbath-related news vacuum there was consternation about the bomb; I’d been very late; I didn’t want her to worry; I was hungry; the food was nearly spoiled and if I didn’t eat it it was going in the bin. So I ate a calf’s liver without complaint. It was claggy and tasted the way bad breath smells. To this day it’s the foulest thing ever to have passed my lips.

These kinds of dilemmas, arising from “the fact that we do not eat alone”, foment inside Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, a book I read because I received a copy gratis from his publicist to review on this blog. I usually avoid books on this subject because the suffering of the scores of billions of animals farmed and killed each year confounds me to the point of incoherence. But remembering that I read Everything is Illuminated even though the Holocaust confounds me, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close even though September 11th confounds me, I accepted the book.

It quickly becomes clear that Eating Animals isn’t a straightforward case for vegetarianism. Instead Safran Foer, picking a path through this “slippery, frustrating and resonant subject” with discretion, ingenuity, and not a little guile, examines what it entails to eat animals – not only for the animals but also for the eaters of animals. Towards the eaters he extends only gentleness and understanding, and this is the book’s most fascinating attribute given the scale of the death, suffering, and malpractice he reveals. But Safran Foer is not diverted by hypocrisy. Instead he has done what all good activists do: made the object of his activism, the animals, his central concern, rather than the wrong-doings of the people whose behaviour he hopes to change.

My review below is divided into four parts, and as well as the book I also refer to Safran Foer’s January 2011 RSA interview, which I recommend listening to.

Suffering

As in the UK, in the USA most animals humans eat are factory-farmed. These animals have pain and illness bred into them and are disabled from enacting their instinctive behaviour. Broiler chickens whose ability to walk or mate have been sacrified to explosive growth and disabling bodily proportions are one example. Like me, Jonathan Safran Foer wouldn’t describe himself as an animal lover, nor do you need to love animals to object to their suffering.

The accounts of animal experiences in the cage, on the kill floor and being processed are present and graphic, but rather than dominating the book they form a pivot. Although he identifies that factory farm companies rely on ignorance to continue their cruel, unhealthy, and environmentally degrading business practices, when Safran Foer describes the brutal circumstances of these animals lives and deaths, there are no jeremiads and no relish, only a sense of duty to represent the actualities.

He quotes (p228) Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma:

“The meat industry understands that the more people know about what happens on the kill floor, the less meat they’re likely to eat.”

One of the book’s recurring ideas is the need for advocacy:

“It seems to me that it’s plainly wrong to eat factory-farmed pork or to feed it to one’s family. It’s probably even wrong to sit silently with friends eating factory-farmed pork, however difficult it can be to say something. Pigs clearly have rich minds and just as clearly are condemned to miserable lives on factor farms. The analogy of a dog kept in a closet it fairly accurate, if somewhat generous. The environmental case against eating factory-farmed pork is airtight and damning.

“For similar reasons, I wouldn’t eat poultry or sea animals produced by factory methods.” (p195)

We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference … We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animal?”

Reading that, I thought of Charles Patterson’s book Eternal Treblinka which researches connections between species bias and the extremes of racism, between the slaughterhouse and the industrial genocide of the Jews. 

Here in the UK, as I have mentioned before on this blog, industrial farmers campaign to avoid animal and human welfare regulations which, because they are not global, make their business less competitive. The eaters of animals are so thoroughly insulated from what animals endure between their birth and our plates that we expect our meals to cost a fraction of what they used to cost. The book doesn’t evade the arguments of the factory farmers, but represents them. Safran Foer worked hard to surface accounts from within the industry and to a great extent he considers the farmers to be victims of the system in which they are trying to earn a living. Available on BBC iPlayer, Panorama’s recent documentary on the true cost of cheap food illustrates farmers’ predicament.

Hypocrisy

From these accounts from farmers it becomes clear that a change in consumer behaviour is the best chance for human and animal welfare – but in this respect there’s much that Safran Foer leaves unsaid. His RSA interview confirmed this unwillingness to take on the individual consumer, at least directly. Instead the book is a prelude, an effort to open up a space for decision-making between the extremes of, on the one hand, either eating meat with the defiance of say, food critic Jay Rayner or restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, both of whom spent time at abattoirs in order to achieve consistence in their defence of eating animal – and, on the other hand, eating no meat at all. Safran Foer correctly identifies this behaviour as a visceral aversion to hypocrisy potent enough to overpower all other aversions. Some people in the grip of this aversion will, like Ramsay and Rayner, confront and commit themselves to the violent deaths of animals. Others would prefer to remain fully ignorant rather than confront hypocrisy in themselves. Disgust of hypocrisy becomes an enemy of compassion because the hypocritical space in between the two extremes is an uncomfortable space.

Disgust of hypocrisy is one possible explanation for why consciousness of factory farming fails to penetrate the bovine disregard of the chewing human majority. Another the book doesn’t suggest is the defensive assertion of identity when confronted with a perceived attack on that identity. The main proposition of the book – “to allow ourselves to fill a hypocritical space” – is astute in the light of this psychology. Safran Foer cautions against the moral vanity of putting undue emphasis on the behaviour of single individuals. Single individuals do not change the world but they can become insufferable in the attempt.

So, although Safran Foer makes plenty of forays into dead-pan rationalism – in his case for eating dogs, for example – these are in service of a more profound invitation to consider how what we eat tells stories about ourselves. One key story is that of his grandmother, pursued by the Nazis and on the verge of starvation (p16-17):

“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A Russian, a farmer, God bless him, he saw my condition and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”

“He saved your life.”

“I didn’t eat it.”

“You didn’t eat it?”

“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”

“Of course.”

“But not even to save your life?”

“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

We make categorical decisions about what we eat – the “lines we draw in the sand, lines that if we cross them we cease to be ourselves”. It wasn’t a fear of hypocrisy which compelled her to decline the meat, but a will to lead a dignified, undegraded human existence according to her own principles. This is a key idea in the book.

Pragmatism

Safran Foer doesn’t relish the specifics of animal suffering, but given that he could have written “an encyclopedia of cruelty” with the testimonials of animal agriculture workers, and given these practices are clearly part of a conscious business model, he cannot well leave them out. I’d venture to say that unless he has an angelic temperament, he must have been horrified, sickened and angered by what he saw and read in researching the book. During his talk at the RSA he hinted as much when he told the audience that in writing the book he had sought the “most productive approach” possible – ‘productive’ contrasts here with ‘direct’. I’d say that this book is one of the most heroically un-self-indulgent pieces of campaigning literature I’ve encountered. This is why some of its strongest advocates have been farmers – who, it turns out, feel degraded by the obligation to produce according to Kentucky Fried Chicken protocols – and why when his book was published, the incendiary reaction anticipated by some of his writer associates didn’t materialise:

“It’s not a controversial book because it’s not a controversial subject. If you speak about it the right way. Is it controversial that we don’t want chickens packed body to body in cages? Is it controversial that we don’t want our air and water polluted? It only happens one way: the more you talk about it the less you want it.”

This is how farmers who want their animals to live contented lives before they die came to be some of his most significant supporters, as well as he theirs.

I’m left with the impression of somebody who has assumed the role of mediator. In response to a question at the RSA about whether he kept in touch with the flinty, uncompromising activist whom he accompanied in breaking into an industrial chicken farm:

“It’s good to surround yourself with people who keep you honest, and she – despite my barely knowing her – I wouldn’t consider her a friend and she wouldn’t consider me one – she really keeps me honest – I have her in the back on my mind when I’m getting lazy about choices”.

I find myself wondering whether evoking the idea of Jonathan Safran Foer would keep a meat eater honest, when he makes their excuses so generously, and this question opens up a contradiction, though it’s not a particularly crucial one. Safran Foer recognises that he needs to be kept honest, while he views most meat eaters as deserving of excuses. It also occurs to me that perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way. Uncompromising activists also need to be kept honest – in the sense of grounded and sociological. Safran Foer’s book works in this direction.

At the same time, he allocates the responsibility for animal welfare to the industry’s policy-makers while simultaneously treating the industry as a force of nature responding to the stimulus of consumer preferences, so advancing his argument for consumer empowerment. It is left unsaid that if consumers can change this, then consumers have a degree of equal and various responsibility to change it. In the marketplace of ideas Safran Foer has not considered directness to be the most productive approach for animals. The most productive approach is one which massages us into the hypocritical space – the least uncomfortable and confrontational overtures to ordinary supermarket shoppers with their withered consciences. He would never put it that way. I think he’s right.

Accordingly, although he recognises veganism to be the ideal diet, Safran Foer urges his readers to focus on reducing the amount of animal eaten rather than increasing the numbers of vegetarians and vegans. The illustration he gives is powerful: one less meat meal a week in the US would bring about a reduction in emissions equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road. “If you can’t eat one less meal a week, that begins to sound pathological”, he told the audience at the RSA.

I appreciate Safran Foer’s talent, which is to simultaneously hold ideas which scuffle – one that factory farming is a locus of atrocity and suffering, another that veganism is the ideal way to eat, and a third being an attitude of straightforward unrancorous remonstrance with factory farmers and consumers. I think this will contribute to something important – a reduction in meat meals consumed.  I also think that it will sow confusion, and in the current circumstances that can only be a good thing.

Another issue Safran Foer didn’t address is the comparative price of nourishing, convenient and delectable vegan food. In fact at the RSA he argued that vegan food was cheaper – this isn’t currently the case. Vegans are either sitting ducks trapped in a niche market, or they are given boring and uncreative alternative dishes at a cost which subsidises the hospitality industry’s meat eating clientele.

Humanity

Beginning on page 181 is a section titled ‘Our New Sadism’. It documents the perversions of violence and sexual abuse which take place in the closed environment of the industrial farm, before proceeding to talk about those which are part of the business plan.

I look at the media. Nigel Slater continues to push animal consumption despite all he has pledged to the contrary. Industrial milk producers are planning a cruel and unnatural megadairy in Nocton, Lincolnshire. One English family farmer given a tour of a U.S. megadairy for the investigative BBC programme Panorama says “This is the way that probably milk is going to have to be produced”. The World Wildlife Fund has commissioned a weekly menu intended to balance sustainability and health which I scan with growing incredulity: every single meal contains animal. There’s plenty of soya – only it’s been eaten by the animal on the menu before it gets to the human eaters. Arthur Potts Dawson of The People’s Supermarket observes the last hours of a dairy farm as it goes out of business. It turns out that most of The Guardian’s so-called ‘New Vegetarian’ Yotam Ottolenghi‘s recipes are so dependent on egg and cheese that on the whole they’re impossible to adapt for an animal-free diet. Chickens continue to have their beaks mutilated because we allow farmers to overcrowd them. The Observer has a double page spread on the premature slaughter of clapped out race horses for Europe’s meat market. In In Denial – Climate on the Couch, the movers and shakers of societal behaviour change are avoiding confronting us with bad news – rather than “Don’t”, they say “Instead”.

Jonathan Safran Foer doesn’t go in accusations. Instead he presents readers with a vision of what it is to be human, the humanising act of declining something you want because you know that it is wrong to take it. After all, “We incarcerate people who cannot restrain their instincts to have sex” and “those who eat chimpanzee look at the Western diet as sadly deficient of a great pleasure” (p196)

“I miss lots of things and I feel good missing them. I feel better missing them than I do having them.”

Good things to eat

If like Jonathan Safran Foer you agree that a vegan diet is a good idea but you’re having trouble following one, I recommend you poke around your nearest town or city, not to mention the Web. Today I ate Ethiopian lunch from a vegan place in Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery. I bought solid, therefore unpackaged, shampoo from Lush in Liverpool Street Station. From a vegetarian grocery on Commercial Road something came over me and I bought ginger and orange chocolate and rasberry chocolate from Divine, the Essential co-operative’s chocolate spread (all Fairtrade), the peerless Sojade rasberry yoghurt, Viana hazlenut tofu and Taifun Hungarian-style wieners. As I write this I’m drinking red beer from the Pitfield Brewery near Chelmsford, Essex.

Like Safran Foer, the savoury smells of scorched flesh in street markets make me salivate, and like him I feel better missing meat than having it.

The book requests that we give thought to the life before the act of slaughter which dominates the attention we pay to farmed animals – if you focus only on the slaughter, you cannot attend to the lives of suffering that would have been better unlived. Safran Foer coaxes readers away from the slough of extremes and hypotheticals – in broad and deep ways don’t we all agree? he implores. 95% of people in a survey may say it’s right to eat animals, but who would condone a farm industry which contributes global warming, or pollution, or the increasing ineffectiveness of antibiotics? Who thinks it is a good thing to keep pregnant pigs in concrete crates without bedding and too small to turn around in? On these things all but the most marginal agree, and this consensus is the most productive and promising starting point Safran Foer can identify.

Polices

I’ve had a few encounters with police recently.

The first was a stop and account while delivering newsletters round the back of the high street, dressed as a heroin addict (pale and unwashed in my weekend house clothes). I think it was appropriate.

The second time I was in the library at an event on Claybury Park and Hospital organised by Barkingside 21 and a gent fell ill (he did recover, I understand). As I dialled 999 I was told that somebody else had already made a call. I thought I didn’t press Call, then things got hectic and my phone was on silent because of the presentations. We heard sirens on the roundabout, but no ambulance came. Turns out the sirens had screeched to a halt outside my house. The emergency services had been calling and calling to find out if I was in trouble and when I hadn’t picked up the police had matched my number and driven hell for leather to my home. My neighbour, whose door I had shouted through as I left for the library, told them where I was and then called me. You can imagine I felt terrible – there are so many complaints about over-policing and I go and do that. But I was encouraged that if people in trouble dial 999 and then find themselves unable to speak, the police will look for them.

But although the author of this post on dragnets of London is more interested in his own posturing than writing solidly about what he claims the police are doing, it’s worth a salutary read in the light of this leaked memo to police chiefs, dated 5 August 2010 and signed by the chief of staff for French interior minister Brice Hortefeux:

“Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority,” the memo reads. “It is down to the préfect [state representative] in each department to begin a systematic dismantling of the illegal camps, particularly those of the Roma.””

From today’s press briefing by Viviane Reding, Justice Minister and Vice President of the EU Commission:

“During a formal meeting with French ministers Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche, the Commission – Commissioner Malmström and myself – received political assurances that specific ethnic groups had not been targeted in France. Our doubts remained. This is why last Tuesday, following discussion in the Commission college, I sent a further formal letter to French minister Besson to ask for additional details, which should be sent to the Commission swiftly.

I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances given by two French ministers officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European Commission are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government.

The role of the Commission as guardian of the Treaties is made extremely difficult if we can no longer have confidence in the assurances given by two ministers in a formal meeting with two Commissioners and with around 15 senior officials on the table from both sides.

And ladies and gentlemen, this is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance. After 11 years of experience in the Commission, I would even go further: This is a disgrace.

Let me be very clear: Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe. It is incompatible with the values on which the European Union is founded. National authorities who discriminate ethnic groups in the application of EU law are also violating the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which all Member States, including France, have signed up to.”

Now is the time for strategic litigation.

Post-script: I am intolerant of hatred of the police from the kind of people who would look for diversity in any other group of workers. My father-in-sin used to be an East London sergeant. Other than a love for uniform and adventure in equal measure, he joined because he has a strong sense of right and wrong, a protective streak and a desire to see justice done. He policed the Brixton riots, the Iranian siege and the Libyan siege, among other incidents. He is a discerning and forbearing man, curious, sharp as a tack, with many unbelievably funny stories and some horrifying ones. Nothing would have persuaded him to target an ethnic group. I wish I could be so confident he wouldn’t be commanded to.