Monday, 30 December 2013

la quenelle

is a kind of cylindrical dumpling, speciality of the Lyon region of France, made with fish, semolina, vegetables or other ingredients. It's also, British football fans now know, the name for a Jew-hating salute. I've posted about the French comedian Dieudonne (the man responsible for "popularising" the gesture in France) before, when he was due to perform in Strasbourg. I noted in that post that Marine Le Pen, leader of the racist Front National party, was delighted for him to be godfather to one of her children, and if you look at a picture of him you can see why. Did Nicolas Anelka think nobody would recognise the gesture he made in front of the TV cameras? Or does he not care? The latter, I suspect - he wanted publicity to revive a flagging career. Well, this stuff is not something to play with. You can see why here. Now I didn't know what the quenelle gesture was until a few months ago, and I have never seen anyone doing it in real life - I hope not to - but in those pictures (follow the link above) you can see people doing it all over the world in front of Jew-related street names or buildings. Did no one stop them? Did no one protest? Would you if you saw it? Do you think people are going to think it's funny to do it in public? It has been said here in France that some British humour would be a better way of dealing with this than the "fevered" response in some sections of French commentary, politicians and media getting in on it all over. Well. Humour as a weapon against the Jew-haters. The cabarets of 1930s Berlin were so effective against the Nazis, were they not? In Lyon, where the quenelle gesture has been seen often in recent times, six young Jewish men are to go on trial for attempting to take vigilante ("justicier") action.

Should the quenelle gesture be banned? Was Anelka attempting to incite racial hatred? Dieudonne himself is likely to be charged, not for the first time, with incitement to racial hatred following remarks he made about a journalist on France Inter who challenged him. The journalist's name is Cohen.

Still think you can control them?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

segregation by...

much fuss and bother about meetings at universities being segregated by gender. Indeed, some of them are. I have no issues with a private, members-only or signup-only meeting being segregated in any way anyone chooses to. I reserve my right to join a women's club which excludes men. A private university too may segregate its meetings, it staff, its anything, in any way it chooses. But a public university which receives State funding is a public authority, and must therefore be constrained in a way private clubs and organisations are not, namely to conform to the prevailing values of the State which funds it. Some may have views about that. Some may question those values. That is another matter. Purportedly left-wing bloggers and writers like Laurie Penny refuse to condemn segregation by gender, so long it is promoted by Muslim organisations or individuals. They give as the reason that organisations such as the English Defence League, part of whose agenda is anti-Muslim, are often also misogynist in the statements they make -  "Women are like gongs: they should be struck regularly" - and because the EDL and similar bodies are largely composed of white working-class men they are therefore  Not Good People and are to be Looked Down Upon by posh girls like Laurie Penny and their Guardian-reading fans. Muslim misogyny is somehow better. Moral relativism. Intellectual incoherence. Segregation by gender may be OK, or it may not. I suggest that in a hospital ward it is a good thing. I suggest that in a theatre dressing-room it is a good thing. I suggest that in a public debate of any kind, organised by anyone at all, it is not a good thing. But that is just my view. If we are going to debate it, let us debate it clearly and properly. Let us not refuse to debate it, giving as the reason that organisations like the EDL are to be condemned. That is posh feminists ceding debate to the misogynists - and silencing women in the universities. OK for them. They went to school. Their daughters will go to school. No-one is going to cut their clitorises off. They can dress as they please.

I went to university in 1972, and attended a Women's College. Only a few years before this male guests were only permitted between certain daylight hours. In my time they were only permitted before ten in the evening. This rule was widely ignored. However, rules like this (and the existence of creatures called "moral tutors") were designed to control women. They were designed to reassure the parents of the young women who attended those colleges that those young women would not be permitted to have sex. That was all it was about. And the segregation by gender and covering and seclusion of women practised in many societies where Islam is the dominant religion (and not only there) is about precisely that. Control of women's bodies and their sexuality. As are the crude misogynist statements made by some working-class white men.

If you agree with the silencing, covering and mutilation of women, say so. Don't say that you refuse to disagree with it because some non-Muslim men behave in misogynist ways. That is stinking relativism.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

North Korea and the silliest propaganda

I have never been to North Korea. Well, not unless you count Panmunjom, where the tourists put one foot over that silly line on the ground. I've been there twice. The first time was in 1987, when South Korea was just coming out of military rule (the first democratic elections were in December that year). An American in the same tour group as me at Panmunjom (I think she was a missionary) said to the American military guide "What would happen if I tried to cross to the North?" He said "We would endeavour to prevent it, Ma'am." She said "Does that mean you'd shoot me?" He said "We'd endeavour to prevent it, Ma'am." The second time I went to Panmunjom was in 1999, when our guides were not American military but a South Korean tour company - the Cold War was over and the North Korean guards in their too-large caps just looked silly. But there were, and are, tens of thousands of troops at the border between the two Koreas, UN troops who are mostly Americans, and their job is to get killed if there's a southward invasion. It's hard to find out just how many US troops are there, for understandable reasons - the US Army 2nd Infantry Division is now the only remaining US forward deployment in the world - but most of the non-US military serving there are South Korean, and there are about 1,000 of them, a small proportion of the whole.

I've just read journalist John Sweeney's book 'North Korea Undercover'. This he wrote after a visit to the country during which quite a lot of secret filming was done, and a BBC Panorama programme (which I have not seen) was subsequently made. It is rather a good thing that he reminds us in this book of the fringe Marxist grouping the Workers' Party of Ireland , a big cheese in which was (and remains - he is still national treasurer in the Republic) Sean Garland. Garland made a number of visits to North Korea in the 1980s, and was implicated in alleged counterfeiting and money laundering by North Korea. The evidence against Garland was strong enough for the US to seek his extradition, but ultimately the Republic of Ireland refused this, and Garland, now elderly and unwell, remains in the Republic. This interested me because in the 1970s and 1980s many people in Labour politics in the UK had contacts with various Irish left groupings. Some of these contacts were really quite close. A Labour councillor in Reading, Kevin McDevitt, who died in 1988, used to talk openly of his contacts with people in Irish left groupings, and in particular about contacts with North Korea. He once offered to get me a North Korean bicycle when he knew of my interest in Korea.
Martin Salter, then deputy leader of Reading Borough Council, later Labour MP for Reading West 1997-2010, was a big fan of McDevitt's. He saw Kevin as a kind of political father figure, it appeared to colleagues at the time, and was rather starry-eyed at the image of McDevitt (mainly promulgated by Salter not McDevitt) of Kevin as a swashbuckling hero of the battle against British imperialism and occupation of Northern Ireland. It's certainly true that campaign groups like the Troops Out movement were a lot closer to the mainstream of the Labour Party than they would be today. Salter did not proclaim these contacts once he was an ambitious backbencher in the Blair Labour administration in the 1990s.

My own interest in Korea came about through language study and cultural interest. This led me to go to work for BBC Monitoring in Caversham, Reading, in 1984, and there I spent a number of years in the East Asia section, and a lot of that time working on the monitoring of North Korean media, especially the KCNA news agency, which is quite extensively quoted from in Sweeney's book. Thus the material he quotes was mostly edited by me. Of great interest to Sweeney was the BBC reports monitored from KCNA of Sean Garland's visits to North Korea and statements he made there. The East Asia editor of BBC Monitoring during the 1980s, and thus my boss, was of Irish origin, which may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that the first couple of KCNA reports on Garland's visits to North Korea were published by the BBC, but then editorial priorities appeared to change, and while I thought such reports were of interest, perhaps especially to government customers, my superiors had other ideas. Well, it's all a long time ago. But now that tensions are high again on the Korean peninsula Sweeney has seen fit to refer to these matters again, and he is right to do so.

In passing I note the name mentioned by Sweeney of one David Richards, described by him as a British communist with North Korean connections. I have been trying to research this person, but have come up with nothing so far. However, while I was at BBC Monitoring a person called David Richards asked for an informal visit to the East Asia section, and met several of us, including me. He was working in Pyongyang, he said, as an English editor for KCNA. This would have been in about 1986 or so. He wanted to leave, and was looking to recruit a replacement on behalf of his bosses at KCNA. He had previously, he said, been based in Harare, Zimbabwe. There the trail goes cold, at least for my research skills. Anybody else know about him? I wonder where he is now. I was quite curious about the KCNA opportunity, and might even have applied for it, but for family reasons did not. Perhaps just as well. I don't regret it. The next year, 1987, I was offered the position of English language editor for the Seoul Olympic operation, to have charge of their English-language output in the run-up to the 1988 Olympics and beyond. I turned it down, and that I am sorry I did.

Sweeney says the BBC should start a (North) Korean service, and staff it with North Korean exiles. So indeed they should. Sweeney undoubtedly knows, though he does not say, that serious thought was given to the setting up of a Korean language service as part of the BBC World service. It was serious enough to warrant the sending of a member of staff to Korea for three months, to learn the language (ha!) and look around for recruitment opportunities. Yes, readers, I was that person. And all very interesting it was. However, at that time the decisions on what languages the BBC should broadcast in (though not editorial content) were taken by the Foreign Secretary. At the time this was Geoffrey Howe. He said no. More or less as I was getting off the plane on return from Korea. When the 30-year rule allows release of documents about this in a couple of years' time I shall be most interested to have a look.

Let's talk Korea.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela and hypocrisy

I know, it's not the kind of thing you're supposed to put in the same sentence. But it's Amnesty International's hypocrisy I'm referring to. They never adopted Mandela as a prisoner of conscience, although that is what he was. This is why they decided not to, and the position they took back in 1965 was at least a coherent one, and reached by an assembly of their members. It was of course based upon the decision to approve the use of violent means by Umkhonto we Sizwe in support of the ANC's objective of non-racial democracy for South Africa. In 2006 Amnesty adopted Mandela as an "ambassador of conscience", long after he had left prison and after he had been the first non-white President of South Africa. When the moment had passed. Amnesty is of course now a discredited organisation, for Jew-hating, and nobody much cares what that organisation thinks about anything any more.

I don't salute the memory of Nelson Mandela for his part in the struggle for non-racial democracy in South Africa. He didn't do it alone, and many people died in that struggle. I salute him though for his generosity of spirit, for his willingness to pass the baton of power on to others, lesser people than he was, which is the finest political intelligence there is, and for his promotion of forgiveness. It seems to be that it is in Africa that you find forgiveness and reconciliation. They are forgiving in Rwanda, where many of the population have much to forgive. In other places, Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, they don't seem to find it possible. Maybe they could learn from Madiba.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Central African Republic - a good intervention?

as you might expect, the Central African Republic is a lot better known in France than it is in other European countries. This piece gives a good rundown of what has been going on. Although it does have some yes-buttery, namely that France is doing it (the intervention) for uranium, that the Americans are behind the intervention (as if Obama's America would have the balls) because they want the deposed pro-Western president Bozize reinstalled - the usual stuff. The facts are these though - Bozize was kicked out in a chaotic kind of coup, and now Muslim militias are killing and terrifying the population, with Christian militias springing up in resistance and using similar terror tactics. About 15% of the population is Muslim. Sudan is known to be providing covert support for some of the Muslim militia outfits. France already had some troops there, and now it has a lot more. The UN has been talking about a peacekeeping mission, but no decision has yet been made as to whether there will be one.

Francois Hollande's France (and the tail end of the Sarkozy regime before it) has a pretty good record on intervention, unlike David Cameron's Britain, and especially unlike Obama's America. The rest of Europe are pussies by comparison. Bring back Tony, I say. But then I've been saying that since 2007.

pic: alJazeera

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

lies and the lying liars

you'd think, wouldn't you, that it would no longer be necessary for Reading Labour to try and pretend that they wanted Crossrail for Reading. But no. Here is a lying lie from the lying liar Bet Tickner. She says there was a campaign "spearheaded by Martin Salter MP" to have Crossrail extended from Maidenhead to Reading. Now back in 2005 when the Crossrail Bill came to Parliament, there was an amendment on this specific point. I had left the House by then, but watched the debate with interest. Martin Salter abstained. That's how much "spearheading" he was doing. Reading Borough Council did no more than tick the boxes on Crossrail. When consulted, which they were at regular intervals, they failed to lobby or indicate any wish to have Crossrail to Reading. Crossrail senior figures told me that themselves, but even if they had not done so the relevant paperwork was leaked to me from within the Civic Offices, and I have it still. Then leader of the council David Sutton and then lead councillor for transport John Howarth both refused to join me in meeting Crossrail, in 2004, to lobby for Reading as the western terminus. In Howarth's case in very rude language. So, Tory Tickner, as you continue to be known, you are not being very wise in having published a series of straight lies about Crossrail. There are those out here who know the truth, and those who do not forget.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

memories of a heatwave

I like books which anchor themselves to a particular time or place, not to describe it but to set it as the background and then use it as a kind of metaphor for what happens in the story. One such was by Tim Lott, who is brilliant, and it was set in 1987 and called "Rumours of a Hurricane". I missed the hurricane in England because, er, I was in South Korea that autumn. Which is a story of its own, and one I will tell. I have some tales to tell about the hurricane though too. If you haven't read that book, do, it's worth it.

The book I have just finished reading is by Maggie O'Farrell (the first of hers I have read) and it is called "Instructions for a Heatwave". It is a good novel about a family in crisis, or rather a family with secrets, as all families are, and how the secrets come out when one or more members breaks the circle of silence. It is set in London, but also Ireland and New York City, in the summer of the Great Heatwave of 1976. The characters, an Irish family uprooted and transplanted and dislocated, all of them in their various ways in crisis, are unforgettable. I would not be at all surprised to find this become a TV mini-series of the kind that has people discussing the boxed set.

Maggie O'Farrell was four in 1976, and so cannot really remember that summer. I was 22, and can. It was a hot summer like no other, and there has not been one like it in England since, although 2003 came close. It was a summer before desk fans and air conditioning, when it was normal for women, especially those past their first youth, to wear polyester dresses on a daily basis. Men did not wear shorts in public then as they often do now.

I was pregnant that summer, with my first child, a Fire Dragon in the Chinese horoscope, born in October in a year of change. Prime Minister Harold Wilson resigned - no one at the time knew why - Mao Zedong died, and a great earthquake in China killed many thousands. Taking water without permission became a criminal offence in England under the Drought Act 1976. It didn't rain between Easter and August Bank Holiday - or that is how I remember it. We lived in Bath then, and the river was so low that some of us walked across the river on the lip of Pulteney Weir. I was wearing an orange and yellow cotton dress. This is what it was like.