Unite Against Fascism

I write this because my trade union branch has diverted some of the branch funds to Unite Against Fascism. I feel Unite Against Fascism is an affront to its own name, and consequently that I should repair for my inadvertent complicity. I can say that I did speak during the debate of that motion but my trade union branch tends to attract a like-minded attendance at meetings and the outcome was not what it should have been.

Wrongs perpetrated against Britain’s Muslims have dramatically increased since poor Lee Rigby’s murderers invoked Islam as justification for their Woolwich atrocity. Support for their actions was virtually non-existent – although it’s worth pointing out that the disgusted British Muslim majority had to fight for British media attention. So, among other things, Woolwich has revealed a strengthening of social cohesion – for example, since the notorious YouGov poll of British Muslims conducted for the politically-right Telegraph after the London bombings of July 2005, which revealed worryingly high levels of support. However, the Faith Matters’ initiative Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has recorded a newsworthy increase in attacks on Muslim people and property since Woolwich (it’s worth mentioning that questions about the credibility of Tell MAMA are to be expected for any group trying to raise the issue of racism – some criticisms will have their roots in reflex denial, others will have racist motivations, and others will be valid; that said, Tell MAMA isn’t yet very good at reporting its data). It’s clear that the British nationalist far right has moved swiftly to exploit the Woolwich outrage by blaming Muslims, organising intimidatory marches and – the criminal among them – attacking Muslim people and property.

When street activity is intended to, or has the effect of, intimidating people in minority groups, it’s commendable to take to the streets in solidarity. Unite Against Fascism has so far both convened and dominated street-based counter-protest against the British nationalist far right. However, on balance and for the following reasons, I think that Unite Against Fascism does far more harm than good. I’d also say it’s over-focused on the gratifications of street protest. The University of Northamptonshire and Demos both identify the EDL has a highly Web-enabled movement, but the UAF has neglected to organise against the far right on the Web.

UAF members are known for provoking and getting involved in charged, antagonistic exchanges on the street. As such, UAF contributes to what Roger Eatwell calls ‘cumulative extremism’ and Paul Jackson calls ‘tit for tat radicalisation’,

“‘Tit for tat’ radicalisation emerges when two radicalised perspectives
discover antagonistic features within each other’s ideology and actions,
leading to an escalation of radicalisation within two or more groups.”

The EDL was formed in response to an Al Muhajiroun rally in Luton in 2009. Clearly anti-facist organisations need to interfere with this reciprocal relationship between jihadis and the British nationalist far right – UAF does the opposite and actually feeds the division.

But by far the worst aspect of Unite Against Facism is its betrayal of its own name. UAF welcomes support from jihadis (militant fundamentalist Muslim totalitarians who comprise a tiny proportion of Muslims as a whole), and this has made it impossible for it to oppose fascism, racism and bigotry which is endemic to jihadism, particularly against Jewishness, women, homosexuality and Muslims who disagree with them. Critics of UAF on this count include Sunny Hundal, who wrote,

“…left-wing groups don’t mobilise against these religious extremists as they do against the far-right. Anti-fascists who happily march against the BNP or EDL rarely show that level of commitment against Anjem Choudhary’s group. Why? There even seems to be a reticence to admit that the EDL feeds off Muslim extremists …”

and Peter Tatchell (former – perhaps continued – supporter) who wrote,

“UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.”

UAF’s Vice Chair Azad Ali is a terrible choice – the opposite of appropriate for an anti-racist organisation. He opposes democracy if it prevents the implementation of sharia law in Britain. He also lost a libel case against the DM for calling him “a hardline Islamic extremist who supports the killing of British and American soldiers in Iraq by fellow Muslims as justified”.

Unsurprisingly, the UAF’s problems with analysing facism aren’t limited to blind-eye-turning. According to those who study them (see the aforementioned Demos and Northampton reports) the EDL is not fascist but populist far right. This is important because unless UAF is committed to an impartial analysis of the changing far right in Britain, we need to recognise that it has no chance of identifying effective opposition to fascism.

As well as undermining the ‘against facism’ part of its name, it also tramples the ‘unite’ bit. In case there’s any doubt by this stage, UAF is not a democratic organisation and has made it very hard for individuals and groups to influence its decision-making unless they are politically aligned. So, it becomes clear that UAF’s programme is not after all anti-fascist. It feels its own political ends are best served by leaving some fascists to go about their business.

Consequently UAF has no answers to social division along ethnic and religious lines. This is intolerable to me and I find the argument that these ills are outweighed by UAF’s contribution to street protest entirely unacceptable. I can only imagine the disorientation experienced by young people who come into UAF’s orbit and find a definition of anti-racism distorted beyond recognition.

I can’t bring myself to turn out under a Unite Against Fascism banner and I will be conscientiously avoiding its events. I’ll continue to support all genuinely anti-racist organisations, including  Hope Not Hate.

Update

Although I’m not capably keeping up with with commentary at the moment, there’s plenty more to say about this, including:

For every privilege granted to religion, others’ rights are betrayed

For anybody worried about the advance of religion on civil rights, it has been a bit of a week.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, fronted by Trevor Phillips, is intervening in the cases of Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to fulfil her duties with same-sex partnerships, and Gary McFarlane of Relate who wouldn’t give counselling same-sex couples. If their religion prevents them from doing this, then they have chosen a homophobic religion. I’m an ardent defender of freedom of worship, but if the law finds these people entitled to enact their prejudices in the workplace then the law is an ass.

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society comments

“Mr Phillips should realise that by encouraging these worthless cases he is putting at risk the rights of gay people and others to live free from discrimination and injustice. For every privilege granted to religious people, someone else’s rights are diminished. The fight for equality for gays has been long and hard, and now we see this campaign putting them at risk as religious believers fight for the right to legally enforce their prejudices against LGBT people.”

And alarming news from Maryam Namazie, whose organisation the Council of Ex-Muslims – mutual support for apostates from Islam – was denied charitable status by the Charity Commission. She writes in a mail-out

In its refusal letter the Charity Commission says:  “Under English law the advancement of religion is a recognised charitable purpose and charities are afforded certain fiscal privileges by the state. The prohibition of any such financial privilege as called for in the demand made in Manifesto would require a change in law. Similarly a separation of religion from the state and legal and education system would appear to require both constitutional reform and change to the law.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong when the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain can’t get charity status but the Sharia Council legislating misogyny in its sharia courts can. And how absurd that defending secularism is not a charitable object but advancing religion is.”

Pretty disappointing then that the best inter-faith organisation I know of, Faith Matters, doesn’t seem to be engaging with secularism at all.

If I can find any, I’ll post details of any campaigns to remove charitable status from organisations advancing religion, or extend it to organisations advancing secularism.

Bonus link: One Law For All.

Update: the Pink News reports that the National Secular Society has gained permission to intervene in four cases – including those referred to above – to come before the European Court of Human Rights. And after strong criticism, the Equality and Human Rights Commission seems now unlikely to argue for reasonable adjustments for religious adherents. Sanity breaks out.

10:10 – having a bad day, going nowhere fast

10:10 inspires me, and The Guardian’s environmentalism has been one of its few redeeming features. But this:

It’s a bit like Joel Schumacher’s film Falling Down.

Bill Foster has become monomaniacal about reaching his destination. He abandons his car on the free-way and takes a direct route on foot through the most troubled part of L.A., enacting summary justice on transgressors he encounters. He’s not an unsympathetic character – just embittered to the point of violent misanthropic insanity. You know he has to die.

But while you’re relishing the carnage over at Harry’s Place or (more than likely) Spiked, keep in mind that inertia and targeted discredit are bigger forces for harm than shrill environmentalism. For those who haven’t noticed, there’s the bloodiest of wars going on between climate scientists and various agents whose interests are entrenched in greenhouse gas emissions, and in general, we-the-public are not helping.

Watch University of Plymouth Professor of Geosciences Communication Iain Stewart’s BBC series Earth: the Climate Wars. Read sociologist Anthony Giddens, listen to ethicist Clive Hamilton, and follow Open University geographer Joe Smith’s Creative Climate initiative. If organisations like 10:10 fail, we’re going down.

More on Farzad Kamangar and the political dissidents executed in Iran

Maryam Namazie is a member of the Central Committee member of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. This group is generally foresaken by British communists with the exception of the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty, because it sits uneasily with the mainstream (if I may call it that) far left’s position on Islamist Iran as resistance to Western imperialist hegemony. (Sorry no links to sources for that – soon I will lose all confidence of my readership).

Today on May 12th she posted an update on the May 9th executions:

“Four days after the heinous executions of Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Houli and Mehdi Eslamian, five political prisoners, by the Islamic Republic of Iran their families have still not succeeded in getting the bodies of their loved ones back for burial. The families remain in Tehran going from office to office and building to building in order to get a response. The regime is demanding that the families of the executed give guarantees that there will not be any ‘troubles’ when the bodies are released to them.

Today 12 May, the families of the executed have been standing in front of the Islamic Assembly (Majlis) from early morning. Farzad Kamangar’s lawyer and relatives have informed us that they are still waiting.

Yesterday, in Maku, Shirin’s mother and sister were arrested and subsequently released. In Tehran and in front of Tehran University where protestors had gathered the regime brought out its security in full force and in Iranian Kurdistan it has imposed an unofficial military rule.

There is news from Iranian Kurdistan that tensions have heightened there. Thousands of leaflets calling for a general strike on May 13 have been distributed in various cities. Many of the schools in which Farzad was a teacher and in villages around Kamyaran are closed.

According to the latest news from Evin prison, the executed were told of their execution the night before and immediately taken to special cells. Shirin was studying when they came for her. Other prisoners said they heard her shouting and asking for permission to call and say goodbye to her mother, which was not granted. Others in her unit waited for her until morning when the guards came to collect her things and were then told that she had been executed.

On Saturday 8 May at 4pm Farzad spoke to his family though unaware that he was to be executed early May 9.

The regime brutally executed them and now refuses to hand over their bodies. It has even issued arrest warrants for Farzad’s mother and other relatives.

The International Committee against Executions and Iran Solidarity calls on people everywhere to step up their protests against executions and the Islamic regime of Iran and join the May 13 general strike in Kurdistan and elsewhere.”

Her previous posts:

For Farsi speakers, there is a commemorative video, including interview with Farzad Kamangar’s mother, which I don’t understand.

Dissident teacher Farzad Kamangar hanged by the Iranian government

It’s been many years that the Iranian government has been targetting teacher trade unionists.

Farzad Kamangar was one of five Kurdish dissidents – Shirin Alam-Houli, Ali Heydarian, Mahdi Islamian, Farzad Kamangar, and Farhad Vakili – hanged today by the Iranian government. Iran Focus reports this as the reason:

“They were convicted of ‘Moharebeh’, or ‘waging war on God’, in 2008 for membership in opposition Kurdish groups, including PJAK, and acting against State security.”

Amnesty (from 2008):

“Farzad Kamangar, a 32 year old teacher, was arrested by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran in 2006. He was initially held incommunicado at a series of locations, including in the cities of Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Tehran, where he was tortured, including by being beaten, flogged and electrocuted. He was sentenced to death in February 2008 after conviction of “enmity against God” – a charge levelled against those accused of taking up arms against the state – apparently in connection with his alleged membership of the armed group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carries out attacks in Turkey, after traces of explosive powder and a gun were found in a house he stayed in with his two co-accused and in a car that they had used. Farzad Kamangar denies any such membership. His trial was grossly flawed. Farzad Kamangar has been prohibited, on several occasions and for prolonged periods of time, from seeing his lawyer and family members. The two other men were also sentenced to death and to 10 years’ imprisonment, apparently for forging documents. Under Iranian law, they must serve their prison sentences before being executed. On 11 July 2008, Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, his lawyer has submitted his case to a judicial review panel in an effort to have his death sentence overturned. Under Iranian law, death sentences cannot be carried out while under review. He is currently held in Reja’i Shahr Prison, in Karaj, west of Tehran.”

PJAK, the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan, is indeed in opposition to the ayatollas, and is outlawed by them. There are allegations that members carried out reprisal killings against the Iranian authorities. There are also allegations of PKK connections. However, to be held guilty of murder by association is a travesty of justice.

It’s reported that the Iranian authorities offered Shirin Alam-Houli a reprieve on condition that she publicly renounced her previous activities. Her response to that proposition culminated in her execution today.

Kamangar, political activist, teacher, social worker, human rights campaigner, died younger than me, and I feel young. His lawyer Khalil Bahramian told a radio station that he had been sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court during a five-minute, closed-door trial and denied the due process of law.

His was one of the causes taken up by trade unionists in education all over the world. It was representative of the repression enacted on these people by the Iranian regime. Tortured, deprived of food, water, and sleep, you wonder whether death may have seemed like a release.

Street Journalist has an account of the final few years of Kamangar’s life, which makes grim reading. Stroppy has a piece.

People are dying on government whim in Iran:

“Amnesty International has documented repeatedly how vaguely worded legislation is being used to silence the most active sectors of the Iranian population. Charges such as “acting against state security”, “spreading lies”,“propaganda against the system”, “creating unease in the public mind”, “insulting the holy sanctities” and “defamation of state officials” are used to target members of Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities as well as human rights and other civil society activists. Such laws and practices violate Iran’s obligations under Articles 18, 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding freedom of belief, expression, assembly and association.”

Write to MPs and (given the current state of affairs) PPCs to remind them.

Rest in peace, dead activists.

Update: nothing mentioned on the benighted University and College Union Activists List, although my branch is currently supposed to go all out for an imprisoned Columbian; “No results found” for Kamangar Archer on the Iranian propaganda organ masquerading as free media, Press TV. Imagine being Iranian, being safe in Britain, having media skills, and still not speaking out against your deathly repressive government, but even accepting its lucre. Shudder.

  1. Farzad Kamangar, a 32 year old teacher, was arrested by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran in 2006. He was initially held incommunicado at a series of locations, including in the cities of Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Tehran, where he was tortured, including by being beaten, flogged and electrocuted. He was sentenced to death in February 2008 after conviction of “enmity against God” – a charge levelled against those accused of taking up arms against the state – apparently in connection with his alleged membership of the armed group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carries out attacks in Turkey, after traces of explosive powder and a gun were found in a house he stayed in with his two co-accused and in a car that they had used. Farzad Kamangar denies any such membership. His trial was grossly flawed. Farzad Kamangar has been prohibited, on several occasions and for prolonged periods of time, from seeing his lawyer and family members. The two other men were also sentenced to death and to 10 years’ imprisonment, apparently for forging documents. Under Iranian law, they must serve their prison sentences before being executed. On 11 July 2008, Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, his lawyer has submitted his case to a judicial review panel in an effort to have his death sentence overturned. Under Iranian law, death sentences cannot be carried out while under review. He is currently held in Reja’i Shahr Prison, in Karaj, west of Tehran.

Defend Gita Sahgal (from her employers, Amnesty International)

Amnesty International is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. I’m rooting for Amnesty.

I am deeply nervous about the way Amnesty is going.

They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender unit Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.

Update: Stroppyblog has Gita Sahgal’s statement. From it:

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.”.

It makes me really angry these days that it takes centre or right journalism* to expose fundamentalist Islamism in British institutions – Guardian, Independent where were you? True to form, The Times does a bad job of exposing Begg – for them it is enough to be campaigning for the rights of suspected terrorists – as if suspected terrorists weren’t due their human rights.

More on Begg and his associates at CagePrisoners, working to present properly convicted murderers as ‘prisoners of conscience’.

One thing Begg is not is a human rights advocate. To be a human rights advocate entails universalism. Begg is simply partial to jihadis. Sahgal:

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner”.

Modernity pulls this quote from the post of Faisal’s I link to below:

“Sahgal’s accusations are based on a fundamental point of principle, which is this: It is correct for Amnesty hold human rights positions on fair trial, torture, diplomatic assurances and work against renditions and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, these positions should also require us to hold salafi-jihadi groups and other religious absolutists accountable. Human rights abuses of torture, for example, should not be used to justify, legitimise and finally partner with proponents of violent jihad such as Moazzam Begg.”

Amnesty has no business hosting Begg. In fact, it’s disgusting. This statement released by Amnesty’s Widney Brown is an inadequate response to the main criticism. The main criticism has nothing to do with whether terror suspects have rights – they do, and they need advocates. It has everything to do with whom Amnesty recruits for this advocacy.

Nick Cohen / Martin Bright (my emphasis):

The Sunday Times blew the lid on Amnesty International’s relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners, who act as apologists for the Islamist totalitarianism. Amnesty responded by suspending Gita Sahgal, presumably because they believe she dared to speak to the press. She is the head of the gender unit at Amnesty International’s international secretariat, and has been campaigning on women’s issues for decades. She is rightly sick of the lazy alliance betweenthe supposedly liberal human rights world and the decidedly illiberal world of radical Islamists. She has therefore blown the whistle on the disgraceful arrangement between her own organisation and Begg, who has visited Downing Street as a guest of Amnesty, but refuses to condemn the Taliban.

Begg is now an integral part of an Amnesty campaign entitled Counter Terror with Justice. In an email to her colleagues at Amnesty on January 30 she wrote: “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.” she wrote. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

It is difficult to make a stand on these issues and keep one’s friends on the left and in the human rights community as she is now finding. She has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists. She was one of the first people in Britain to warn of the dangers of the politics of Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was instrumental in the making of a Channel 4 documentary on alleged Bangladeshi war criminals who had found safe haven in Britain (We can’t say more or Carter-Ruck will sue us).

It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg.

Like I say, Amnesty is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. But this will not stand. And it’s not entirely out of the blue. They host Chomsky, apologist for atrocities which don’t fit with his world-view. They give inexplicable prominence to Israel in their mag (which we get because we give to them, and this is why I write). I’m getting the general impression they are the latest progressive organisation subject to colonisation by the post-Left. Get it together, Amnesty. Reprieve, whom I gave a largish wodge of money last year, are implicated too. Fuck this shit.

Update: More from Faisal at The Spittoon, Stroppy, Alec, Terry Glavin, links out from Harry’s Place. Join the Facebook group whose members are trying to figure out what to do next.

Update 2: Over on Harry’s Place, Rosie‘s comment is right, I think:

“Yeah – people have been saying, “cancel your subscription” or “threaten to cancel unless Gita is re-instated”. I’m loath to do that unless I know that Amnesty is totally compromised. If 95% of what they do is what they should be doing, and 5% is monkeying around with the likes of Begg, well that’s 95% good work. You get the same about the BBC. A dim-witted, biassed programme gets made and everyone starts howling that the BBC should be carved up and the pieces handed over to Rupert Murdoch.”

Update 3: Moazzam Begg responds; Harry’s Place responds to his response. More on CagePrisoners’ mixed messages – where’s the credibility in saying you love human rights if you also promote and associate with jihadis?

Update 4: Sahgal and supporters have a site – Human Rights for All.

Update 5: Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Newswire, 9th Feb.

*This is not about left and right. Anybody who doesn’t burn with anger at the double insult of Amnesty’s appalling choice of representative and its treatment of its employee is under a delusion. I just checked – I’m not right of centre, I’m here – still here:

University leaders’ pusillanimity in the face of religious hatred on campus

I have been over-quiet on this blog about the steady, unwelcome encroachment of political Islam (and I do not mean Muslim values) into public life, and left it to others such as Shiraz Maher, Maryam Namazie, Nick Cohen and David T, whose wages are opprobrium and inadequate support. Nevertheless, they are solid, and gaining form.

Perhaps my acquiescence is down to being an alumna of City University, London, an institution where the Islamic Society invites homophobic hater Abu Usama to speak and Acting Vice Chancellor Julius Weinberg makes things cosy for them all.

As you can gather from this Independent piece, inviting Abu Usama is the equivalent of inviting white supremacist David Duke. Sad thing is, the ‘leader’ of the place where I currently work would probably have tried to say it was none of his business either, insisted on free expression, and left the apostates and rights activists to defend themselves. What is a university leader for, again?

Oh yeah, delivering New Labour policy to academics. Nick Cohen on New Labour policy.

And Julius Weinberg, in a position like his, he’s either with gay people and apostates or against them. And if he’s not willing to stand with them, he should resign. And while we’re about it, let’s revisit the University of East London which – mocking their Stonewall Diversity Champion accolade – hosted Usama last June.

Earlier this month a researcher interviewed me about what institutions should do about campus religious conflict. I basically said the following kind of thing. Institutions should reflect the wider context back to the groups at the centre of any contentious episode. If the institution is providing premises for an event, then the institution has ultimate responsibility for the rhetoric and values pushed at that event. If an institution insists on free expression even for ideologues who would kill gay people, then it must also insist on debate. It would run contra to academic values for ideologues, if they are to be hosted, to go unopposed and undebated in a university setting. Ideologues are essentially unacademic: they are neither disinterested nor attempting balance. As such they should not have a platform to themselves. And when students host political meetings they should be responded to as adult political agents. Institutions should restate their values, in opposition to preachers of hate. They often don’t.

I didn’t go to the One Law For All rally, because I was supposed to be doing some work, as I am now. But they are probably our best hope against these bloody clerics, the totalitarian values of the people who invite them, and our capitulating leadership. Without solid, human rights-based groups like those below we will certainly polarise between the fundamentalist or hateful Islamism of Al Qaradawi and Abu Usama, and the similarly intolerant Islamophobia of Geert Wilders and Stop the Islamisation of Europe.

First and foremost, hold the centre against the fundamentalists. Don’t let it happen that we only recognise what we have once we’ve lost it. And once we have marginalised the fundamentalists, we can go back to fighting among ourselves again, just like old times.

Bonus link: Gwen Griffith-Dickson speaking at Gresham (transcript available) on countering extremism and the politics of ‘engagement’.

Hebron

Just notes.

Hebron is 3000 years old and home to about 160,000 Palestinians and 600 fortified Israeli Jewish settlers with several thousand others in surrounding settlements. As well as a feeling that they are living an illusion, my overriding attitude to religious people who want to live close to their holy places is sympathy. Hebron marks the spot where Abraham, the shared patriarch of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, bought a plot of land for 400 shekels according to Genesis. The Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Matriarchs, Sara, Rebecca, and Leah are held to buried there. In 2003 vandals trashed Joseph’s tomb at Nablus, and in September 2008 there were reports that Jewish religious artefacts at the Tombs were desecrated. It would be callous to make light of the depth to which this cut Jewish religious sensibilities. Another memory, 67 of old Hebron’s Jews were massacred by Palestinians and the remainder expelled in a 1929 pogrom in punishment for increased Jewish immigration.  And another – the politically-motivated murderer of Yitzak Rabin came from Hebron’s new town, Kiryat Arba. One more – in 1994 a Jewish settler massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Tomb; settlers then built a shrine to the gunmen, who was killed by survivors of the attack.

The threat of violence is one that can’t be negotiated away and because of it this small proportion of settlers require 170,000 Palestinians are restricted in their movement about Hebron.  and this is why, for pragmatic reasons, it is necessary to end the occupation by evacuation rather than simple hand-over. It is necessary to remove a community from its home.

Moreover there is a mounting catalogue of other acts of hostility against the Palestinian population – for example, the origins of the most recent violence:

“In March last year, about 10 Jewish families moved into the building, which they claim was bought through an agent from the Palestinian man who built the house, Saed Rajabi.

After the settlers occupied the building, Mr Rajabi told police that he had not sold the house and lodged a petition with the High Court seeking their eviction.

A subsequent police investigation concluded that the purchase documents produced by the settlers to prove their ownership were forgeries and that Mr Rajabi was legally in possession of the house on the night the settlers moved in”

A High Court order to vacate the house followed. The occupants refused and on Thursday the evacuation began:

We encountered very little resistance, at first,” recounted Hebron Police Commander Avshalom Peled. “We had the element of surprise.”

Within minutes, however, hundreds of hardcore settlers, mostly youths, sprang into action and ignited one of the largest confrontations the area has seen in years.

First, there was the oil that people in the house had spread on the floor of the hallway. Police officers, who carried no arms other than their holstered revolvers, slipped and fell as they made their way forward. The stairs too were slathered with grease.

“We weren’t surprised by any of that,” Cdr. Peled said. “But the potatoes and the acid, that surprised us.”

Settlers, he said had spiked several potatoes with long nails and threw them at his men as they made their way through the house. Then came bottles of what Cdr. Peled said was acid. One policeman was severely burned in the face and taken quickly to hospital”

It got worse. Having lost the hosue the settlers went on the rampage against Palestinians.

“When it became clear the House of Peace was lost, the settler youths turned their attention to some of the Palestinian houses that lie in the valley between Hebron and the settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Breaking through the security fence that rings the settlement, several young men climbed down to three of the houses. They lit fires alongside two of them, rolled burning tires down to another, overturned rooftop water tanks and broke off a satellite TV dish, throwing it on the patio below. They pelted soldiers and journalists with rocks.

Shots were fired at one point as a settler, captured on video by a man across the valley, fired at a house. Two men were wounded, said Hisham Abu Sraifan, the owner of one of the houses, and were taken to hospital.

The youths smashed windows in one home, and threw in a burning lantern. Inside, 12 adults, mostly women, and 15 children huddled in fear.

As the mob closed in on the house, and no police or Israeli soldiers were in the area, a number of Israeli journalists broke ranks and ran to the house to chase away the attackers.

“I thought they were going to lynch those people,” said Avi Issacharoff, the Haaretz reporter who led the rescue. “I couldn’t just stand by.”

“I can’t believe that people – Israelis, Jews – can sink so low and do such things,” he said.”

On Saturday Israel declared the entire southern section of the West Bank a military zone to prevent Israeli hardliners from travelling to Hebron to barricade themselves with the families in Mr Rajabi’s house. They also prevented young Arab men under 45 from praying in Al Asqa Mosque, in case violence broke out.  Nevertheless there were some 250 people in the house by the time 500 Israeli riot police moved to evacuate it. A riot promptly followed, which Olmert and other senior Israelis have called a pogrom.

This is the latest in a lengthening history of conflict around Hebron, involving violence, harassment and desecrations. By most vague accounts Kiryat Arba and Hebron are home to some of the most extremist Jews – expansionists who pursue a greater Israel, rightly viewed by Palestinians as “Jewish occupiers“. But it is not clear to me what proportion simply wants to live in peace close to their beloved tombs. Now as Israel clamps down on the far right some settlers, feeling their time approaching, are becoming militant in their struggle to remain. They must feel very cynical; Israel has encouraged settlers into the West Bank for many years.

Their throes have included desecrations, assaults on Palestinian people and property, calls of “death to Arabs” and most recently a riot against Palestinians conducted by young Jews in balaclavas. The people who did these things should be identified, arrested, charged, tried and convicted. They are a liability to peace and, more pertinently, a menace to Palestinians.

Any simple narrative of racist Israelis is complicated by the fact that these people are – finally! – being opposed, with tear gas and stun guns, by the Israeli state itself.

I’m not sure of the possible shades of arrangement between domination (occupation) and evacuation (withdrawal). Below is a round-up of the news – but what it won’t adequately tell you is what proportion of settlers is violent and what proportion isn’t; what proportion is politically extreme and what proportion simply wants to live in Hebron. It won’t tell you why the violence in Hebron and Kiryat Arba erupted, and how we should characterise those settlements in relation to other settlements. Pulling out of the settlements moves things closer to a two-state solution. Pogroms against Palestinians give a taste of what a one-state solution would look like.

Here is a Hebron timeline from 1899 BCE.

David T:

“Olmert speaks ‘as a Jew’. But more importantly, he speaks as an Israeli. Israel is a country that is the home to people who have suffered pogroms, in locations as diverse as Eastern Europe, Ethiopia, and the Arab world. It is also a liberal democracy. For those reasons it is right  that crimes against groups of people, on the basis of their ethnicity or religion, be condemned and then punished with the utmost severity.”

The JTA – Jewish Groups back Israel against the settlers. There was just one exception, the National Council of Young Israel:

“”Watching Jews forcibly remove their Jewish brothers and sisters from their home and their community was a painful reminder of the Israeli government’s lack of understanding and compassion towards their own”

Sick-making, and also a window into the clannish sense of embattlement felt by some settlers.

A lethargic and totally inadequate response (or at least reported response) from a rabbi who heads up a Kiryat Arba yeshiva:

“These young people are very idealistic and have a lot of good qualities,” said Horowitz. “But they are also potentially very dangerous because they do not listen to the rabbis. And this small group attracted a lot of attention when they came to Beit Hashalom.”

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Isi Leibler who (I should say because I quote selectively below) unequivocally condemns the violence, but is principally concerned with the shame it brings to the Jewish state and conspicuously doesn’t use the word Palestinians:

“Let me say at the outset that it was wrong to expel the residents of Bet Shalom before the courts had made a final ruling on its ownership. On the surface, the property seems to have been legitimately purchased, and any suggestion that Jews should be prohibited from owning property in the city of our Patriarchs is unacceptable. But even if Defence Minister Ehud Barak was wrong and the Supreme Court erred by not overruling the police order to evacuate the house.”

It is important to remember that Jews would not be permitted to live in a sovereign Palestinian state, nor to tend the tombs. David Wilder (spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, who reveals a lot when he opts for the word ‘Arab’ instead of ‘Palestinian’):

“Following the expulsion of families from Beit Hashalom in Hebron, during a radio interview with the BBC, I was asked about our future plans. When I responded that the community would continue to purchase property in Hebron, the interviewer asked, “But won’t that just cause more violence?” I answered, “If I bought a home in London and was told that a Jew purchasing on ‘that side of the city’ would cause a violent reaction, how would that be viewed? Probably as anti-Semitism and racism. Why then can’t a Jew buy property in Hebron, just as people purchase homes all over the world?”

From B’Tselem’s Shooting Back video it seems a the settler who shot Palestinians was approached by Palestinian boys who were already holding rocks. It’s hard to know what happened:

“When he saw Arabs approaching him holding rocks, he took out his handgun and told them to let him by. One of the Arabs came up to him and my client retreated. Another Arab holding a rock in his hand pushed him and he moved back again. Then three Arabs, also holding rocks, surrounded him and he fired above the shoulder of the one who stood in front of him and a second one. They charged him, knocked him down, jumped on him and stoned him. He was taken to hospital and required 36 stitches.”

The settler represesentatives have – this is rich – focused their protest on legal irregularities:

“However it is unthinkable and intolerable that Israel’s top leadership should change the rules in the middle of the game, expecting the other side to play by the old ones, while they play by the new. Such actions, as we have recently witnessed, quite literally push a large segment of the population into a corner with no way out, creating a dangerously volatile situation.”

Rich because settlers have benefited from a weak rule of law in the past.

Olmert quoted on the settlements:

Israel has long maintained that it has the right to continue building in existing settlements to account for ill-defined “natural growth” of the existing settler population — something the “road map” explicitly bans. But in his interview with The Jerusalem Post, Olmert acknowledged that Israel was not honoring its commitments.

“There is a certain contradiction in this between what we’re actually seeing and what we ourselves promised,” Olmert said.

“Obligations are not only to be demanded of others, but they must also be honored by ourselves. So there is a certain problem here,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Olmert added, however, that Israel believes a Bush letter to the Israeli government in 2004 “renders flexible to a degree what is written in the road map.”

In that letter, Bush wrote that “existing Israeli population centers” should be taken into consideration when the final borders of a Palestinian state are set down. Israel takes this to mean it will be able to retain major West Bank settlement blocs, where much of the controversial construction is going on.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed Olmert’s remarks. When both sides admit they are not carrying out all their obligations, that “should be the way for both of us to carry out our obligations,” Erekat said.”

If you are into boycotting Israel, it is difficult to respond. As aggressive anti-Zionists their impulse is to oppose the Israeli government in everything and demand a merging of states and peoples. But this logic requires them to argue that settlers should be left in place to fight with Palestinians like cats in a bag. So boycotters have no choice but to go quiet. You get the sense they hope the Israeli government will fail to contain Israeli extremists. I don’t think they will. Protecting Palestinians, preventing the theft and attacks onproperty is something that Israel can do unilaterally – and finally show signs of wanting to. This is an excellent development.

Olmert, who has resigned over a corruption scandal but stays on as caretaker until after a February 10 election, has lately taken to describing settler attacks as “pogroms,” using the Russian term for violence against Jews a century ago that drove some to emigrate to Palestine and, in time, establish the Israeli state.

“We are a people whose historical ethos is built on the memory of pogroms,” Olmert told his cabinet, according to a statement. “The sight of Jews standing with guns and shooting at innocent Palestinian civilians can only be called a pogrom.”

His latest remarks were among his strongest yet. They follow the broadcasting of video apparently showing a settler shooting and wounding Palestinians, as well as stone-throwing and other violence across the West Bank, including the torching of olive groves, which Palestinians leaders described as “waging war.”

Olmert said he was pressing for prosecutions and “an end to the intolerable leniency … towards settlers who break the law.”

An Israeli court remanded one settler in custody on Sunday over the shooting allegation and released another on bail.”

I support the Israeli government in any efforts to shrink these settlements and weaken the Israeli extreme right. I hope that the Israeli troops can to some extent redeem their tarnished reputation with Hebron’s Palestinians – they are under criticism for being ill-prepared and providing inadequate defence of Palestinians. Things are delicate – there are  signs of improved cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities. There will be wreckers – both Israeli and Palestinian. Currently there are fears of a terror attack by sections of the Israeli extreme right. But as Lebanon’s Daily Star observes, practically the entire Israeli media  is behind the Israeli government.

80 Turkish theologians reconsider the Hadith

The Hadith is a non-Koranic commentary on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, considered the second most sacred text in Islam, and key to understanding the Koran. The problem with the Hadith is that there is forensic evidence from the University of Ankara that some of the reported sayings have been fabricated, even hundreds of years after Mohammed’s death. Amberin Azman writes gives some background The Telegraph:

Felix Koerner, a Jesuit cleric and an expert on Islam, who is advising the project, said that some of Mohammed’s reputed sayings, can be shown to have been fabricated centuries after the prophet’s death.

“Unfortunately, you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim – or pseudo-Muslim – practice of female genital mutilation,” he said.

Other sayings, such as those which forbid women from travelling for lengthy periods without their husbands were only set by the prophet because of security problems in his time which no longer exist.

Hidayet Sevkatli Tuksal, an Islamic theologian who wrote a book examining male chauvinist interpretations of Islam, agrees that some of the hadiths were bogus and deliberately crafted “to ensure male domination over women.”

Many scholars and clerics accept that the Hadith has been augmented by successive policy makers, passing off their political aims as those of Mohammed. One of the upshots is that although thousands of Turkish imams are preaching against honour killings there hasn’t been a significant drop in honour killings in Turkey, which amount to dozens each year – so far the justification has remained enshrined in the sacred Hadith.

In a significant, even pivotal, development which some are comparing to the Christian Reformation, 80 scholars and theologians from the ‘Ankara School’ are embarking on a project, coordinated in Turkey, to re-read and revise the Hadith. The methodology isn’t clear from the coverage – I’d imagine it will draw on historical records, cross referencing with other sayings of Muhammed and refer to arbitration by senior clerics for areas where there is no consensus. Or something.

But besides a short story on The Today Programme I’ve not heard much talk about this profoundly important development. Silence from the critics of Islamism I’m used to reading – particularly the ones who say that Islam is by definition a monolithic, timeless and non-negotiable code. As Martin Kettle notes, “this story is the one that got away”.

As an atheist, I object to the fact that it is acceptable to interpret this religious text so literally that, in order to eject outrageous misogynist directives from its preaching, its adherents are obliged to fall back on the authority of 80 theologians to be able to say that this or that saying is obsolete, or inappropriate for them. As such, this project is a politically-motivated piece of research – and it has been criticised accordingly as part of the US-led aim to combat militant, fundamentalist strains of Islam. But I like the politics. The determination to retrieve women from socio-political shackles is the driving force, and that is an unambiguously welcome thing – that can’t be said strongly enough. My objection is that the enterprise locates the moral assessment of how should or should not live their lives firmly as the preserve of the authorities rather than a matter of personal conscience and active interpretation it actually is. Here, the theological elites expect, or are expected to, mediate between God and the people.

But I admire the intellectual and, probably, personal courage of the people involved in this controversial project – although there is little coverage now, there is likely to be lots once the revised edition – edition! – of the Hadith is published.

Update: commenters on David T’s piece on Harry’s Place have found some more on this, including Synthesis of Islamic Thought, Modernity and Secularism the German site Dialogue With Islam and Islamic Reformers Look Back to the Future on Radio Free Europe, which considers the impact of the ‘Ankara School’:

To Mehmet Pacaci, however, “rethinking” is clearly more traditional than literalism. Pacaci is among the leading theologians of the Ankara School. He also has studied in Germany and read the classics of Christianity and Judaism. He calls Koerner a friend and, together with others, they often meet over tea and debate the meaning of their faiths and ways of interpreting them.

To Pacaci, literalism is a modern movement that began in Egypt in the 19th century. He calls it a superficial way of understanding Islam, one that rejects the centuries-old tradition of understanding not only from the Koran but also from the literature that followed Muhammad, as well as the consensus of the Islamic community.