Sunday, September 07, 2003

Quote of the (yester)day

Latecomer that I am to the blogosphere, I didn't know of this, from Brad DeLong, till Steve de Wijze sent it to me earlier today:
The Chomsky defenders - and there seem to be a surprisingly large number of them - seem to form a kind of cult. Arguing with them seems to be a lot like trying to teach Plato's Republic to a pig: it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.
What makes these lines even more relishable is the argumentation in support of them, which I strongly urge upon your attention if you don't already know it.

posted by norm at 4:50 pm | link

The importance of September 11

A review by Terry Eagleton in yesterday's Guardian begins as follows:
"There are few acts of comparable deliberate and indiscriminate wickedness in human history," writes Bernard Lewis of the September 11 attacks. The statement inspires about as much faith in the Princeton professor's scholarly credentials as if he were to claim that Jeffrey Archer is the finest novelist since Cervantes. September 11 was a human catastrophe, but it scarcely registers on the Richter scale of historical atrocity. Has Lewis never heard of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Genghis Khan, Hiroshima, Vietnam?
There is 'no excuse', Terry goes on to say, 'for giving September 11 more importance than greater human miseries simply because it happened in America'. On the claim he is challenging – regarding the scale of historical atrocity – he is obviously right. Numbers aren't everything, but they do have some bearing on these grim comparative judgements; and the crime of September 11, horrifying and indefensible as it was, is dwarfed by many other deliberate and criminal political acts.

So if Bernard Lewis's quoted opinion forms the basis of his assessment of the importance of September 11 – equally if its having 'happened in America' does – then it is a poor one. However, this isn't the only available basis, and in saying that I'm not interested in Bernard Lewis so much as I'm interested in the issue itself. An alternative basis for assessing the importance of September 11 appears by coincidence on the page opposite Terry's review, in another review – this one by Giles Foden and of a book about al-Qaida by Jason Burke. It concerns the danger of the terrorist threat now facing the world. I do not say this is the sole importance of September 11: that it illuminated the scope and severity of that threat. But it should certainly be at the centre of a sober assessment of the significance of that terrible day.

Now, unless his thinking has changed on this point over the last year, Terry himself I presume agrees with this. For in May 2002 he wrote a longish piece, also in the Guardian, in which he very much emphasized the same threat:
The present century looks set to be dominated by a rather different sort of irony. Capitalism greeted the millennium with one arm brandishing The Wealth of Nations and one foot triumphantly planted on the corpse of its socialist rival; yet scarcely had the century turned before this victory began to look suspiciously pyrrhic. Indeed, we may yet see the capitalist world glancing nostalgically back at the socialist project it screwed so effectively. Socialism, after all, is out to expropriate the propertied classes, not to exterminate them. Its weapons are general strikes and mass struggle, not anthrax and dirty nuclear bombs.
[I]t is smallpox, not storming the Winter Palace, that some of them ['the wretched of the earth'] have in mind.
Those who announce that Marx's industrial proletariat has sunk without trace should be reaching for the anti-radiation tablets, not for the champagne.
[W]e now have dramatic evidence that the end of history might eventually spell the end of history in a rather less metaphysical sense [than that of the well-known phrase]. The fact that capitalism now has no real rivals in the official political arena is precisely what causes the unofficial rancour that can blow enormous holes in it, including nuclear ones.
There's no underestimation here, then, of the nature and magnitude of the danger of which September 11 suddenly made us plainly aware. I'm only puzzled, consequently, by Terry's implied diagnosis of the causes of this danger and by his gesture towards a solution: in turn, (1) the grievances (I infer) of 'the wretched of the earth'; and (2) the following recommendation:
Chomsky, however, has some simpler… more pertinent advice about how to stop terrorism: "Stop participating in it."
With respect to (1), and at the cost of repeating myself, I am mystified as to why those on the left who say this kind of thing make no effort to explain why other movements of the wretched of the earth have waged their struggles in ways that did not wantonly jeopardise the lives of thousands upon thousands of people (as small pox, anthrax and dirty nuclear bombs do) – showing that this isn't a product of oppression as such. And as to (2), I am mystified why the same kind of recommendation was and is never made on the left with respect to fascist movements and regimes: as if it might suffice not to support them or behave like them; as if they didn't need also to be actively fought.

(Updated at 2.40 PM on Mon Sep 8: The word 'jeopardise' in the last paragraph here is a compositional slip; 'destroy' would be apt.)

posted by norm at 4:39 pm | link

Cry Zimbabwe

Andrew Meldrum reports:
Up to 60,000 Zimbabwean youths have been trained by the Mugabe regime in the use of weapons and torture techniques and ordered to use violence against supporters of the opposition party, according to a report released in Johannesburg yesterday by the Solidarity Peace Trust.

The Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, told a press conference: "Many of those young people are under 18 and are classified as child soldiers.

"This is a crime against humanity and the perpetrators must be charged by the international courts."

Wesley Gumbo, 18, a former member of the youth militia, said he had been forced to join at the age of 15 and was ordered to intimidate and kill people identified as members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the legal opposition. "We were trained how to use weapons, guns and petrol bombs. We were ordered to harass people, to beat them and to rape and kill them," he said.
"When I remember all the things I have done I am crying. That is why I have run here to South Africa. I have no shelter, no relatives. I find it difficult to sleep because I am thinking of what I was doing."
Read the rest, but be warned, it is harrowing.

posted by norm at 12:33 pm | link


Yesterday I didn't have the stomach for commenting on Michael Meacher. Today I'm relieved of the necessity of doing so by being able simply to link to others. Anthony Cox over at Blacktriangle widens the scope of that blog's more usual concerns to comment on Meacher's dnoc-piece of yesterday, 'one of the most offensive comment pieces yet published in the Guardian; though to give him some credit this is no easy task’. You can say that again.

'This is no easy task.'

Anthony does in fact bring his comment on Meacher to bear on some of Blacktriangle's mainstream preoccupations, having pertinent things to say regarding opinion and evidence. He also links to a post about Meacher round at Harry's and which I recommend. (While you're there, you should also read this one on the anti-anti-war left.)

Beyond providing these links, my only comment on my own behalf about Meacher is to wonder if these successive episodes in which well-known politicians of (generically) the left discredit themselves – the egregious Galloway speaking fawningly before the mass murderer Saddam, Tony Benn and his simpering interview with the same eminent personage, now Michael Meacher in this article – are not symptoms of something much wider: the deep moral disorientation of so much left and liberal opinion in the present global context.

posted by norm at 12:13 pm | link

Peter's temporary home

Peter Cuthbertson has had to move for a while. Until further notice Conservative Commentary can be found here. It has a terrific joke today, credited to Alastair Campbell.

posted by norm at 11:57 am | link

A United City?

I have this email from Jonathan Derbyshire:
'Perverse' is too mild a description of your friend Paul's change of allegiance; it's positively Copernican! Full disclosure: I write as a Manchester City supporter.
Jonathan then goes on to say something nice about my blog. So, you see, it's not all rival supporters at one another's throats. As another of my friends - Geoffrey Shepherd - used to say (maybe he still does, but he lives in Washington DC, so I don't get to monitor his utterances these days), if more people were like this, there'd be no wars.

posted by norm at 11:55 am | link

Saturday, September 06, 2003


Out west at Walloworld, Bill Wallo has a couple of posts up about the Western, in which he reflects further on the political theory of the genre and on possible reasons for the Western's decline. Bill also links to an interesting site where thirty great Westerns are listed and discussed. I was glad to note that six of my own ten figured on this list of thirty, and had I permitted myself more than ten and not operated under the constraint of only one movie per director the overlap would have been much greater, because... well, Ride the High Country, Red River, The Gunfighter, The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

But now listen here, good readers: you will all agree, I'm entirely confident, that I'm a fair-minded kind of a guy. I do not often scold or even admonish you. But at the end of my post about the Western I offered, more or less from memory, some lines from the ten Westerns I'd listed, challenging people to match these lines to their respective movies. Not one communication have I had about this. What, have you no pride? I mean, if you can't get them all, can you get even one? It hurts me to say this, but so far it's not a good showing by the readers of normblog.

posted by norm at 11:24 pm | link

Shaun Pollock

I salute the achievement of Shaun Pollock yesterday, in joining the ranks of those who have taken 300 wickets in Test cricket. Shaun Pollock is the son of Peter Pollock (also a fast bowler for South Africa), and the nephew of Graeme Pollock - Graeme Pollock who one August day in 1965 at Trent Bridge played an innings of sublime spleandour ('one of the finest Test displays of all time' according to Wisden) and who would surely have been remembered as one of the immortals of the game had his Test career not been so foreshortened by South Africa's wholly justified exclusion from world cricket on account of apartheid. He is, in any case, one of only a handful of batsmen with a Test batting average of over 60.00.

But my subject is not Graeme but Shaun, who doesn't walk in anybody's shadow. I speak figuratively, of course; you shouldn't form the impression that he spends a lot of his time hopping about to avoid this. The boy Pollock has achieved his 300 wickets at an average better than anyone's. That means better than Malcolm Marshall, better than Curtly Ambrose, better than Fred Trueman (the great fast bowler, not the insufferable old bore - in whose day b'der b'dar b'darbdoo), and better than Glenn McGrath. You're talking serious bloody talent.

posted by norm at 10:30 pm | link

Flat Saturday

Sorry everyone for the light posting – actually, until now the total lack of posting – today. Beyond my control, I'm afraid; normblog was closed, as also seemingly most other blogs in the same neck of the blogosphere. Belatedly, therefore, this.

It's a flat weekend when there's no Premiership football even though the season is in progress. England versus whoever doesn't properly compensate. Yes, I know, there are other things to occupy a person of any breadth. You could read a book; you could take in a movie; you could admire some feature or other of the natural environment in your locality; you could talk to people; and you could blog (though, as it happened, I couldn't).

This afternoon I went on a walk with my friend Paul. We hadn't had much time to talk lately and managed to catch up with things, so that was good. Paul, relevantly, used to be a Manchester United supporter but now supports Manchester City. Perverse. But he retains a sufficient loyalty to his past that he hasn't become an ABU bore. (For those distant from the culture and therefore this particular idiocy within it, that's short for Anyone But United – a form of grumbling envy and resentment such as is often produced in the ungenerous by great excellence.) Still, to make this move… well, it's a mystery. Paul, though, as everyone who knows him well will tell you, does have tendencies towards strangeness. He shuns mobile phones, and won't even call someone else on one, except in extremis. I think he's called me on mine just once. That's in over two years. He once told me, when I offered him some Maltesers and he accepted by taking a single Malteser, that one was all you ever needed of such goodies, since it tasted the same as any greater number of them. As another friend of mine, Steve, would agree, this theory is too bizarre to take seriously

Anyway, I've digressed. Yes, you can do all those other things and more on a weekend when there's no Premiership football. But you can also do them on a weekend when there is Premiership football. The feeling of the weekend lacking something remains. And Michael Meacher's little number ain't gonna cut it for me today.

posted by norm at 10:18 pm | link

Friday, September 05, 2003

Glitch redux

A problem I occasionally have on normblog and which I gather some visitors also have from time to time is that the scroll bar inflates so that you can't get to the bottom of the page. Using the refresher button sometimes works to solve this but not always. Thanks to Alan Brain, I've now got a solution which works every time so far: hit F11 twice. (Thanks also to Michael Gersh for a link to another solution I've not yet had to try.)

posted by norm at 5:41 pm | link

Short story site

Here's an initiative I'd like to flag:
The director of the Edinburgh international book festival, Catharine Lockerbie, says "there are few more perfect pleasures than that of the well-turned short story". The trouble is we are not reading them as often as she would like. Step forward Saveourshortstory.org.uk, a website aimed at increasing "the number and visibility of high quality outlets for short fiction". It seems the literary journals and anthologies that supported the likes of Anton Chekhov, Arthur Conan Doyle and Flannery O'Connor have become an endangered species. The site, supported by the Arts Council, aims to reverse the trend by providing a platform for new and established writers. You can also sign up to have short stories emailed to you from an online anthology...
I had better come clean on the fact that Wife of the Norm will in due course have a story in this anthology. I'm not having loads of prying journos camped outside normblog trying to nab me for disgraceful conduct.

posted by norm at 5:34 pm | link

CAH 11

[The earlier instalments in this series were posted on August 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 27 and 29, and September 1 and 3. Continuity from the end of CAH 10: 'That we are all terrorized or intimidated by crimes against humanity provides a more convincing basis, I contend, for the idea of humanity as the victim of these crimes than do the hypotheses about "shaming" and "diminishing"...']

It may not be a convincing enough basis even so. An initial objection to it could be this: that generalizing from the common experience of vicarious fear to an altogether universal conclusion is unwarranted. For it is to be doubted that all human beings are in fact terrorized or intimidated by those acts we now treat as crimes against humanity. Whether through being more psychologically robust, or less imaginatively empathetic, or more (naively?) confident in the sense of their own personal security, some people may not be made fearful for themselves at all by learning of such crimes. We could try to meet this objection by just taking the generalization to apply widely enough. That is to say, it might be true of a sufficiently large number of people that they are terrorized or intimidated by learning of such crimes, to justify regarding humanity as a whole as collectively the victim of them. It would be comparable to saying that the Jewish people was collectively victim of the Nazi genocide, and the Armenian people of the Turkish genocide, and the Tutsis of the Rwandan genocide, even if there were some amongst each of these peoples who as individuals remained unharmed. But there is a further possible objection. Is the harm involved, the harm of people being made afraid by knowing of terrible crimes against others, severe enough to justify regarding those crimes as also crimes against them? It might help to think more clearly about this if we suppose for a moment a case where there has not actually been any direct offence against others, any direct offence at all, but where we have been given to believe that there has. We – human beings at large – have been given to believe that there has been some ghastly episode of torture, massacre or the like. Should the psychological effects of this false story (whose falsehood I am assuming for the sake of the thought experiment to be beyond possibility of exposure) count as a crime against humanity at large? Are its effects, even amongst those who are made afraid by it, serious enough to merit being treated as a punishable crime? I am unsure how to arrive at a general answer to this question. Given the variable intensity of different individual reactions, there may not be a general answer. It seems at least arguable that there could be enough of a terrorizing effect across a wide enough section of humanity to justify categorizing the types of violation we are interested in here as crimes against humanity, in the specific sense that humanity is collectively their victim.

I shall, however, leave the hypothesis in this merely tentative form. Settling it is not vital to the present exercise. That the acts under consideration cause grave harm to their direct victims has already been established as part of the concept of crimes against humanity being proffered. This suffices for their treatment as crimes. And that the kind of harm they do is harm to the fundamental interests of the direct victims simply as human beings has also already been established as part of the concept being proffered. This suffices for their treatment as crimes against 'humanity' (in the sense of the sentiment or set of values). The two secondary or half-right ideas, as I have called these, then also both kick in. For, in consequence of the above primary characteristics of the acts in question, they are shocking to the conscience of humankind, and so humankind forbids them through the instrumentality of international law, and from then on their commission is in breach of its sovereign authority. They become crimes against humanity qua global community. If, in addition, humankind may be said persuasively to be the collective victim of these acts, then this too is a consequence of the harm which they cause the direct victims, and the idea of humanity-as-victim can be rolled together with the idea of humanity-as-sovereign and that of humanity-as-morally-shocked into the cluster of ideas which are relevantly part of the overall concept, but secondary. On the other hand, if it cannot be said persuasively, never mind. The humanity-as-victim idea may then be treated as no more than loosely suggestive – 'The psychological well-being of some significant proportion of human beings is somewhat worsened by crimes against humanity' – and dispensable. The concept of crimes against humanity commands a viable meaning even without it.

[The next instalment in this series will be posted on Monday.]

posted by norm at 5:09 pm | link

Good fish, bad fish

According to Timothy Garton Ash:
[Blair] thought the combination of weapons of mass destruction, rogue states and terrorism constitute [sic] one of the great new security threats of our time. On this, he's right. Anyone who disputes it is either foolish or dishonest.
And Martin Woollacott writes:
All this makes for some short-term optimism, and even a feeling that we may somehow muddle through - but the longer-term odds are a different matter. The American academic Michael Kenney has studied the campaign against the South American drugs networks, which have some organisational similarities to al-Qaida. In a recent article in Survival, the magazine of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, he showed how an impressive list of successful arrests and seizures does not necessarily add up to effective suppression. If he and others are right, the conclusion is that we may get away with it - not suffering more, or at least not worse, attacks [than that of September 11] - but we may also very well not.
The slimepool page of my dnoc does still have some good fish swimming across it.

Precautionary update: The title of this post was generated as follows. 'Slimepool page' probably needs no further explanation, but here's one anyway: it reflects my view of much of what has appeared in the Guardian under 'Comment & Analysis' since September 11 2001. 'Good fish' just extended the metaphor, and then 'Good fish, bad fish' was a loose and too quick association with Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish. However, I wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that I might think that others writing in the same place are bad people. Though I can think of at least one I'd be willing to classify so, I don't think this. Much ado about nothing probably, but just to be clear. (Updated at 2.40 PM.)

posted by norm at 12:01 pm | link

Slimewatch UK No 4

Richard Dawkins (scroll down):
Now Bush is begging the UN to help clean up the mess he created in Iraq, there is a temptation to tell him to get lost. It is a temptation to which I hope the UN will succumb. US armed forces are "overstretched", and that is exactly how they should be.
Better to have been right than for it to be better.

posted by norm at 11:53 am | link


From an article about blogging by Matt Welch:
In December 2001 a University of New Hampshire Economics and Women's Studies professor named Marc Herold published a study, based mostly on press clippings, that estimated 3,767 civilians had died as a result of American military action in Afghanistan. Within a day, blogger Bruce Rolston, a Canadian military reservist, had already shot holes through Herold's methodology, noting that he conflated "casualties" with "fatalities," double-counted single events, and depended heavily on dubious news sources. Over the next two days, several other bloggers cut Herold's work to ribbons. Yet for the next month, Herold's study was presented not just as fact, but as an understatement, by the Guardian, as well as the New Jersey Star-Ledger, The Hartford Courant, and several other newspapers.
(Via Dr. Frank's What's-It.)

posted by norm at 11:50 am | link

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Yet more Bleeb

David McKie today:
Something wonderful happened on Saturday night, something that through most of the history of the civilised world might have seemed quite miraculous, yet is today routine. At the touch of a switch there materialised in thousands of living rooms across Britain the image of a large and glittering hall, packed to its doors with a vast throng of people, perhaps 6,000; and arrayed in ranks before them, one of the world's greatest orchestras, and one of its greatest conductors, beginning now to be ranked with the Klemperers and Furtwänglers, whom most of us know only through legend and through their recordings.
The piece continues eloquently, in this vein, to paint the virtues of the BBC, and then comes to McKie's point thus:
The BBC often infuriates, especially when it seems, as so often, impossibly pleased with itself. It may soon come in for harsh words from Lord Hutton. The forces ranged against it are substantial and growing. The familiar old coalition of the mean and the shamelessly mercenary is now augmented by others who have nothing to gain from attacking it.

But those whose allegiance is wavering should ask themselves this. Could any alternative system bring us, routinely, occasions as uplifting as Saturday night's - while also sustaining, as the BBC does, one of the nation's great orchestras?
Reading this I'm seized with opposing impulses - of affirmation and contradiction. Yes, the BBC has a deserved reputation for precisely the sort of thing David McKie evokes here, in writing about its music coverage. And no, this doesn't excuse the recent derelictions of its public duty with regard to how it has covered some vital political issues, the war in Iraq only the most important of these. If the University of Wherever was guilty of discriminating against women, gay, black and/or Jewish students, the fact that it provided a first-rate education wouldn't exonerate it. Those of us who continue to value the BBC for what it does well have no reason to mute our criticism of it for its flagrant biases - no less present for being invisible to the anti-war opinion by which it was so swayed.

Update. Polly Toynbee:
Journalism has become obsessed with the processes of government, but incurious about any complex problem that cannot be blamed upon some hapless minister. What drove Downing Street mad was when it saw this start to leak into corners of the BBC too. The trouble is that a generation of young journalists now know nothing else, bred on the idea that attack is the only sign of journalistic integrity - all politicians are villains, all journalists their natural predators, or else toadies and lackeys.
Hmmm... 'leak'... 'corners'. Anyway, see also this from the Guardian letters page:
This change in the role of the BBC from balanced reporting - or as near as you can get - was horrifying, particularly for Labour supporters… Alastair Campbell's anger was more than justified.
(Updated at 11.35 AM on Fri Sep 5.)

posted by norm at 9:57 pm | link

Country station

Thanks to Michael Sharon of Winchester, Massachusetts, who writes in to recommend wdvx.com:
It's a small, independent station which broadcasts out of a camper in East Tennessee. The musical selections are superb, particularly those of "Red" Hickey, the morning DJ.
Check them out - as I already have. I can't yet vouch for 'Red' Hickey, but I passed a good couple of hours last night tuned to their music, and I'll be back there regularly. Their website has the goods about who and what they are.

posted by norm at 1:51 pm | link


Welcome to the blogosphere to A Fistful of Euros, which describes itself as 'the blog you want for creative, English-language coverage of European affairs'.

posted by norm at 1:49 pm | link

Nature 2

Gary Jones has responded to my recent post about his recent post, which was itself… and so on. There's a danger of our going round in a circle here, so I'll limit myself to saying that I still think he and I are in the same ballpark, and that talk of natural constraints on human action – from 'physical reality' - must justify some notion of nature as a given. I don't believe that scare-capitalizing the word as 'Nature' changes this. One can consistently take nature as a given - a reality which is, to some (huge) extent, independent of human intervention and even perception – and also accept what Gary says about having to recognize 'that our positions are provisional, pragmatic and subject to revision', or about 'remaining undecided, critical, open and questioning'. These are epistemic matters, matters of scientific approach and procedure, and they don't require any softening of a realist ontological commitment.

posted by norm at 1:47 pm | link

The anti-anti-war left

From an email from David Bennett:
I had the dismaying experience of being the only person at my trade union conference (UNISON in June) to be against the motion supported by the national executive and every political grouping condemning Blair. When I say 'only' I mean not only was I the only one to speak... against the consensus, nobody else voted against it; and this from the largest trade union and several thousand delegates in a packed hall. I couldn't even find anyone who wanted to discuss the issue in the bar afterwards. There was no mention of the rights of the Kurds... and you know the rest of the points that should have struck people by their absence.

It is not that I mind being in such a tiny minority (as a trotskyist educated, C&W loving, cricket fan I'm used to it); but not to find even a point of contact on such an issue, as if I'd lost the use of a common tongue laboriously acquired over a period of 30 years, was painful. Doesn't mean, of course, that I'm not going to keep trying tomorrow and for as long as it takes.
What to say? Isolated but not altogether alone.

posted by norm at 1:41 pm | link

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

CAH 10

[The earlier instalments in this series were posted on August 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 27 and 29, and September 1.]

Now, is humanity as a whole (A6) the victim of the crimes we class as crimes against humanity? This is what is said from time to time, though without anything much in the way of elaboration. It is said that crimes against humanity attack, are directed against or strike at all of humankind; that they 'are crimes committed not only against their immediate victims, but also against humanity'. As the point was articulated in the judgement of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Erdemovic case (find para 28):
Crimes against humanity are serious acts of violence which harm human beings by striking what is most essential to them: their lives, liberty, physical welfare, health, and/or dignity. They are inhumane acts that by their extent and gravity go beyond the limits tolerable to the international community... But crimes against humanity also transcend the individual because when the individual is assaulted, humanity comes under attack and is negated. It is therefore the concept of humanity as victim which essentially characterises crimes against humanity.
This opinion was later cited too in the judgement of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the Kambanda case.

In what sense, or in what way, are all human beings the victims of crimes against humanity? I shall assume that it is not simply by a semantic slippage: such that humanity in the sense of all of humankind is to be accounted the victim of these crimes because humanity in the sense of the human status of the direct victims 'comes under attack and is negated'. Eve Garrard has suggested that everyone is harmed by the crimes against others which we call crimes against humanity: 'What harms them [the direct victims], harms us all… because we are in some way, due to our common human nature, implicated in their suffering'. By spelling out that all are victims in that all are harmed, Garrard goes further towards giving this idea specific content than anything we have here so far. But she does not say what precisely the harm is. Beyond her reference to our being 'implicated' in the suffering of fellow human beings, she says only that the harms done to some 'are done in some sense to us all'. In what sense? Earlier I gave reasons for rejecting the 'shaming' and 'diminishing' routes to the conclusion that all of humanity might be seen as victims of crimes against humanity. It is not necessarily that, as members of the same species, we are not all shamed and diminished by those crimes. But I am doubtful that someone's being either shamed or diminished by acts committed against others could suffice to render those acts criminal offences against them.

Can any more persuasive content be given to the notion of a universal harm flowing from the especially egregious offences that are crimes against humanity - a harm sufficient to support the claim that all of humankind are the victims of them? I believe there is something more persuasive here, though I shall leave open whether it is persuasive enough, explaining why I think it acceptable in the context to do this. The best brief encapsulation of it I can suggest is that crimes against humanity terrorize us all. They terrorize not just those they put under immediate attack, or those closely threatened by or in the vicinity of such attack, but human beings in general. I have not found this claim stated in so many words anywhere in the literature I am familiar with. But there are expressions of something close to it. Thus, there is the following gloss by Geoffrey Robertson on the reference in the Preamble to the Rome Statute to 'grave crimes [which] threaten the... well-being of the world'. Robertson says: 'this is true, in the sense that our psychological well-being suffers from the sight of atrocities by fellow human beings'. From a somewhat different angle, Hannah Arendt wrote that after the crimes of the Nazis 'no people on earth... can feel reasonably sure of its continued existence without the help and the protection of international law'.

In support of the idea that crimes against humanity terrorize - or intimidate - us all, I offer these few indicative but inconclusive reflections. First, and starting from my own experience, I have personally known several people who were unable to watch fictionalized scenes of great violence or cruelty on film. One of them was unable to remain in the cinema when it merely seemed such a scene might be in prospect. Second, and generalizing, this is just one manifestation of a much more common human reaction which I have discussed in other work: the reaction of avoidance, and its corresponding mechanisms of psychological denial, displayed by so many in the face of atrocity. People are widely, not only terrified of being the direct victims of atrocity, but also frightened of being too closely confronted with images of, or detailed information about, it. Third - although I do not have either the space or the expertise to discuss this properly - it is surely the case that age-old religious fears, the visions of hell and damnation in particular, have been nourished by the actual forms of barbarity human beings have practised on one another throughout recorded history. Fourth, some of the stuff of ordinary nightmares too, of the fear which even people in benign circumstances sometimes wake up from, is probably fed by what they know of extreme violation from their waking lives. To round off on this point, our coming, by whatever means, upon stories of horrific violence is for many of us - even resolutely secular and awake, and far from any obvious danger to ourselves - a searing experience, whether only briefly so or more lingeringly.

These observations may suffice to lend substance to Robertson's claim that our psychological well-being suffers when human beings commit atrocities against one another. If it may be jejune to project a world entirely free of the forms of violation that are under discussion, it seems reasonable to hypothesize the possibility of one, at least, in which they had been much reduced, a world not free of atrocity altogether, but to which it had become more marginal; and to speculate on the beneficial effects this might have on the mental and emotional well-being of members of our species. That we are all terrorized or intimidated by crimes against humanity provides a more convincing basis, I contend, for the idea of humanity as the victim of these crimes than do the hypotheses about 'shaming' and 'diminishing' – unless these are simply merged with it as part of the same general idea.

[Coming next: 'It may not be a convincing enough basis even so.' The next instalment in this series will be posted on Friday.]

posted by norm at 10:47 pm | link

Iraq, the US and the UN

Amir Taheri:
Right now... Iraqi Shias need leadership that can come only from religious figures. This is why Sistani published a statement yesterday calling on Shias to play a greater role in ensuring the security of the country in co-operation with the coalition. Despite the gloomy impression given by the Western media, it is important to recognise that not one of the five major Shia parties wants the US to leave: in fact, all agree that they need the US Armed Forces. Sciri leaders I talked to yesterday insisted that there would be no change in the strategy of co-operation with the US-led coalition.

That strategy, however, is in trouble. It is not because Iraqis want the Yankees to go home; or because al-Qaeda and the Baathist rump are unbeatable. The cause of the trouble is outside Iraq's borders. The first is the Bush Administration's failure to end its internal squabbles and present a coherent policy.
[N]ot even the grumpy Baghdadis want the US to leave now: they know that the coalition's presence is protecting Iraq against predatory neighbours and ensuring that there are no revenge killings, ethnic conflicts, or religious wars.
Iraqis know that there are only two sides. On the one side are those who would stop at nothing to plunge Iraq into chaos in the hope of restoring the fallen regime or replacing it with another despotic moustache. Supported by Islamist terrorist groups, these elements have attacked the UN headquarters and the Jordanian Embassy and have killed far more Iraqi civilians than American and British troops. On the opposite side there are those who wish to root out what is left of Saddam's tyranny.
The piece enlarges on the criticism here of US policy in Iraq. Read the rest. (Link via Harry’s Place.)

Meanwhile, for recent developments with regard to the UN, see this.

posted by norm at 5:08 pm | link

Psychology 101 - week two

Here's Mary Kenny about David Kelly:
The British public will never now be swayed from its conviction that Dr Kelly was a hero, even a martyr, driven to his death - even murdered - by cynical forces.
Now, I freely confess that this is not an area in which I have any expertise. But I venture the following all the same. I think that very many - no, most - people would not have committed suicide in the circumstances in which David Kelly found himself; few people would have contemplated committing suicide. From this I think it is a proper inference that, however blameworthy anyone may otherwise be considered to have been in their treatment of him, driving David Kelly to his death is not an appropriate way of putting things.

posted by norm at 4:51 pm | link

Psychology 101 - week one

Here's Oliver James on George Bush:
His mother had drilled it into him that it was wrong when writing to repeat words already used. Having employed "tears" once in the essay, he sought a substitute from a thesaurus she had given him and wrote "the lacerates ran down my cheeks". The essay received a fail grade, accompanied by derogatory comments such as "disgraceful".

This incident may be an insight into Bush's strange tendency to find the wrong words in making public pronouncements. "Is our children learning?" he once famously asked. On responding to critics of his intellect he claimed that they had "misunderestimated" him. Perhaps these verbal faux-pas are a barely unconscious way of winding up his bullying mother and waving two fingers at his cultured father's sensibility.
Yes, perhaps; and therefore also perhaps not. Would that all efforts to illuminate the world came this easily. There's more there of the same kind, if you care to follow through on it.

posted by norm at 4:47 pm | link


My final stop on today's blogtour is at The Virtual Stoa, where Chris Brooke has been reflecting on aspects of the political theory of the Western. It's a matter of grief to me that the Western is not as popular as it used to be, and therefore fewer Westerns are being made, since the genre is (was) one of my favourites. But it's so often about right and wrong, good and evil, and that seems too simplistic for our times. But there is still right and wrong, damn it, and – I'll go out on a limb here... well, ok, I'll join a few others on it – there's still good and evil.

Anyway, not to be too heavy about the whole thing, I just happen to have a list of ten great Westerns. I'm hedging my bets a bit; I'm not saying they're the ten greatest Westerns. And I'm operating under the constraint that no director gets more than one movie on the list, otherwise there'd be more Ford, more Hawks, more Peckinpah. But ten great Westerns (in alphabetical, not rank, order), as selected today by the authoritative arbiter here at normblog:

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
Duel at Diablo (Ralph Nelson, 1966)
Gunfight at the OK Corral (John Sturges, 1957)
Man of the West (Anthony Mann, 1958)
My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)
One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando, 1960)
Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
Shane (George Stevens, 1953)
Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

Here are some lines from five of these movies (mostly from memory). Kudos to anyone who can match each quote to its movie, the more especially if you can do it out of your head.

> 'Get up, you scum-suckin' pig!'
> 'Who are those guys?'
> 'We're gonna stick together just like it used to be. When you side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can't do that you're like some animal. You're finished. We're finished. All of us.'
> 'I've heard about you Wilson.'
> 'I'd admire to take you.'

posted by norm at 3:57 pm | link

And how politically dense is this?

Also by way of Stephen Pollard, I draw your attention to a spectacular piece of political representation. Ah… before... Those Were The Days, My Friend.

posted by norm at 3:48 pm | link

How fortunate are you?

Where, relatively, do you stand in terms of the global income distribution? Via Stephen Pollard I direct you to a place where you can find out.

posted by norm at 3:46 pm | link

Chris Bertram on Rousseau

Continuing on my blogtour, I draw your attention to the publication of Chris Bertram's Rousseau and the Social Contract. I hesitated for a moment before doing this, because yesterday Chris was good enough to flag my essay about Trotsky, posted a short way below, and... you know. But the clincher is, would I have done it anyway? Yes I would, and so I do.

posted by norm at 3:44 pm | link

Postmodern essay generator

Not altogether unrelated to the last item Alan Brain, who seems to have a knack for finding some enjoyable items, links to a site which gives you essays that are 'completely meaningless and… randomly generated'. Is it intellectually fair? I'm not the right person to ask.

posted by norm at 3:42 pm | link


Gary Jones has posted a reaction to what I said a few days ago here. Gary writes:
To be good environmentalists, to live on this planet while caring for it, we need to see ourselves in context. We are part of nature rather than separate from it. We are a consequence of natural processes and we alter those processes by simply living. We must choose how we want to live in the world and what kind of people we want to be but not all choices will result in good outcomes because physical reality constrains the range of aesthetic and ethical choices we might make. Somewhere beyond the modernist rigidity of viewing nature as Nature - a given which is submitted to with near religious awe - and postmodern relativism which sees nature as an illusory construction, there is an informed view that has elements of those earlier views but is more realistic and complex.
Maybe I have misunderstood something, but on the basis of those lines and the rest of what Gary says here I stand by the judgement that his is a position I can broadly identify with. I'd have a question about why nature as in some meaningful sense 'a given' has to be problematized when, as Gary himself says, 'not all choices will result in good outcomes because physical reality constrains the… choices we might make'. But still it seems to me we're in the same ballpark.

posted by norm at 3:38 pm | link

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Two years on

I have my differences with this piece by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. But please read it - beginning to end! It is about the reaction of much of the left and liberal intelligentsia to the crimes of September 11 2001. I excerpt nothing. Every line he writes on the subject is worth more than the combined output of a dozen of the 'yes-butters' in the weeks and months following that day. Read.

(Thanks yet once more to Steve de Wijze, indefatigable surfer.)

posted by norm at 9:18 pm | link

Master limerick

Foolishly, I rise to the challenge issued by Natalie Solent over at Biased BBC to come up with an appropriate limerick about the Master of Balliol's rather narrow perspective on opinion out there about the BBC's coverage of the war. Here is my effort:

Too cloistered, the Master of Balliol
was blind to the Beeb's abject failiol
to be aptly fair
'tween the critics and Blair,
falling in with the anti-war wailiol.

Well… you do better, then.

posted by norm at 6:26 pm | link

Wanting a term

Regarding my post earlier on David Aaronovitch and Tom Bower, Julie Cleeveley sends in this observation:
Today you link to David Aaronovitch commenting on Tom Bower's nonsense comparison of the Kelly tragedy and Watergate. I saw Bower on Five news with Kirsty Young the day John Scarlett appeared at the Hutton Inquiry. You may remember that his testimony buried the Gilligan story, and the BBC's unforgivable defence. Tom Bower's response was to demean and belittle the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee by describing him as a Blair appointee, and part of the Blair Project. Both accusations are completely untrue. The Chairman of the JIC is appointed by a committee of three, one of whom is the Prime Minister, from a shortlist drawn up by the Security Services. It is not a political appointment and to allege that it is, in such a cavalier fashion, is irresponsible journalism. Indeed, not journalism at all, gossip and guesswork masquerading as research and fact. Kirsty Young was... all simper and sneer, and Soho House smug. Is there a term for these media types, these people who never let a fact get in the way of a rant?
Suggestions invited.

posted by norm at 6:20 pm | link

Trotsky: Jewish universalist

[This essay was written for the volume Les Juifs et le XXe siecle: Dictionnaire critique, edited by Elie Barnavi and Saul Friedlander and published by Calmann-Levy (Paris 2000). It has not previously appeared in English.]

Introduction. Like so many other secular Jews in the century now drawing to a close, Leon Trotsky embodied in his person at once the traces of his Jewish origin and a powerful attachment to the universalist dream of the radical, the socialist, indeed all those who have believed passionately in the goal and typical values of human progress. In the figure of this great revolutionary the question is inevitably posed, therefore, of particularist and universalist responses to anti-Jewish persecution; the difficult, unsettled question of the appropriate balance between Jewish loyalties, on the one hand, and a devotion to ameliorating the condition of humanity at large, on the other. In fact, the scholarship on Trotsky has not been of one mind concerning his relationship to his own Jewishness, split between those who would make much, and those who would make rather little, of it. In several clear ways, however, his life was emblematic of the life and tragic destiny of the Jewish people in the twentieth century.

Trotsky's biography may conveniently be divided for present purposes into three broad phases. In each of these are to be found features pertinent to our subject. From a struggling, lower middle class background, his father a small farmer in the southern Ukraine, his mother the father's companion in labour, Lev Davidovich Bronstein (as he was first named) made his way as a young man into the world of Russian revolutionary politics, and via prison and Siberian exile into the European emigration that was for many its characteristic milieu. In this first phase, punctuated by his pivotal role as chairman of the St Petersburg Soviet in the failed revolution of 1905, Trotsky moved in the busy circles - bibliocentric, cosmopolitan, argumentative - of international socialism, and like other Jewish radicals from the territories of the Russian empire he was early prompted by the situation of Russian Jewry, in the wider context of the travails of the Russian people as a whole, to take a view on the question of specific versus general liberations. The view that he took, like countless other Jewish leftists in modern times, was one merging the specific into the general, but also inflected perhaps on occasion by certain other sensitivities. This is Trotsky's period as revolutionary journalist, militant and orator, and it culminates in his leadership, alongside Lenin, of the revolution of November 1917.

Having in that year made common cause with the Bolsheviks after a history of earlier disagreements, Trotsky now became statesman, diplomat and supreme military leader. In the new Soviet polity he was second only to Lenin himself. Yet in this next phase, in power, the person and image of Trotsky came to symbolize in the politics of Russia a potent negative myth. A hero to supporters of the young Soviet regime, he became to its most extreme opponents the hated representative of 'Jewish Bolshevism': an idea, this, of the White Russian mind during the civil war that would in due course undergo, further west, a fateful inflation at the apex of the Third Reich. Anti-Semitic hostility directed against him was to become part, too, of the struggle within the ruling Communist Party through which he was thrust from power by Stalin; though the anti-Semitism in this case was insinuated and sotto voce, not speaking its name as such.

Defeat in the struggle against Stalin opens the third and last phase of Trotsky's life. He was driven into exile, to Turkey and France, then Norway, finally Mexico. Homeless and wandering the planet in the very years when by coincidence the so-called 'Jewish question' came to assume the proportions of a global emergency, he now found it necessary to reconsider his ideas about the Jews. It is not a fanciful connection but one that can be confirmed from Trotsky's own writings as having been present on some level of consciousness even to him, that his situation now resembled in certain ways the situation in mid-century of the people from which he had come. In August 1940 he was assassinated by one of Stalin's agents.

1. According to Trotsky's own account of it his home environment was not steeped in Jewish tradition. His father did not believe in God and his mother did so only quietly, undemonstratively. Even their attendance at synagogue on holy days lessened during the years Trotsky was growing up. The boy himself received some early instruction in the Old Testament with the other Jewish children at school, as he did also briefly through private lessons; and he breathed for a short while something of the atmosphere of the small Jewish community where he was sent from the family farm to his Aunt Rachel's in order to attend his first school. But in maturity Trotsky professed not to have taken his religious education seriously, nor to have been significantly marked by it. Nor was he adversely affected as a child by anti-Semitism. So far as he witnessed any (he would later write) it upset him no more, though also no less, than other episodes of national prejudice. Such prejudice anyway did not stand out for him; it 'was lost among all the other phases of social injustice'.

Exactly this would be the standpoint of Trotsky's first adult political declarations on Jewish issues. The particular had to find its place within the general. In 1903, at the second congress of the fledgling Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party at which the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks later occurred, he was content, as part of the group then still unified around the journal Iskra, to oppose the claim of the Bund - the Jewish General Workers' Union - to be the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat in Russia. Both at the Congress itself and in his report on it, Trotsky dismissed this claim as parochial and outmoded. As one of the party's own organizations, the Bund should represent, not the interests of the Jewish workers within the party, but the party amongst the Jewish workers. The class standpoint must not be subordinated to the national one. It was on this basis, equally, that Trotsky formulated his opposition to Zionism, an opposition that would last more than thirty years, although it would later be moderated during the 1930s in one important respect.

If the only hope for ending Jewish - and more generally national - oppression was, according to the young revolutionary, by way of the emancipation promised by the class struggle, it is also true that on a number of occasions before 1917 Trotsky did comment specifically on Jewish sufferings with both sympathy and anger. This was so over the internationally notorious ritual murder trial of Mendel Beilis in 1913. He wrote scathingly, too, about the wretched position of the Jews of Rumania, who had to carry, he said, all the burdens of citizenship without enjoying any of its rights. He presented the condition of the Jews in countries such as Russia and Rumania, and the hatreds fostered against them there, as symptoms of a feudal order in decay. Possibly the most telling example, however, of his writing in this vein is an account he gave of a pogrom, from the upheaval of 1905.

Accomplished writer that he was, Trotsky evokes the experience of the pogrom, the atmosphere and the horrifying detail of it, with uncommon emotional power. There is no figment, he says, of an alcohol-crazed brain which is not permitted to the pogromist; absolutely everything is allowed him. He can rape a small girl, smash a chair against a baby's head, drive a nail into a living human body. The victims, frantic, crawl in the dust, they beg for mercy. But their tormentors just laugh back at them: this is the freedom you yearned for. Trotsky here puts before his readers a vision of hell. He describes an impulse to humiliate and destroy, a cruelty without limit.

One commentator (Knei-Paz) has suggested that in such writings about the plight of the Jews, Trotsky's 'identification was with the suffering, not with the identity of the sufferer'. Undoubtedly it was the first. But that it was not at the same time the second is less clear. Who can say what its innermost sources were? Was this a case of the universal seen in the random particular, a particular that just happened to be Jewish? Or was it rather, precisely through particularity of sympathetic feeling, the depiction of tendentially universal sufferings. It has been a not uncharacteristic Jewish route towards the universal: to find beneath the specificities of Jewish suffering a general moral ground. Trotsky's biographer Isaac Deutscher would later give one kind of expression to this. Explaining that being a Jew was for him neither a matter of religion (for he was an atheist), nor a matter of nationality (for he was an internationalist), Deutscher averred, 'I am, however, a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel the Jewish tragedy as my own tragedy.' Did Trotsky for his part arrive at, or was he assisted towards, a generalized solidarity with the oppressed because of his own connection by birth and family with the special plight of the Jews? However this may be, in his account of one dark episode of human depravity - in presenting the picture of an inventively, a limitlessly, destructive human capacity - he unwittingly anticipated something of the fate that was to befall the Jews of Europe.

2. After the revolution of 1917 Trotsky in power (it is attested by several sources) would impatiently tell delegations of Jews coming to urge on him attention to some Jewish concern or other that as an internationalist he had no special interest in Jewish matters. He was nevertheless sufficiently sensitive about his origin to decline the post of Commissar of Home Affairs when Lenin offered it to him, even if this was, Trotsky claimed, solely for reasons of political expediency: in order not to put a weapon in the hands of the revolution's enemies. They availed themselves of the weapon anyway. In the propaganda of the anti-Bolshevik forces during the civil war Trotsky was made to personify the evil influence of the Jews. A White poster of the time bears a caricature of him as an ugly half-man, half-beast, with the pronounced 'Jewish' nose and lips standard in anti-Semitic caricature, hovering above a pile of skulls. It is an image of the hybrid and alien against a background of native Russian architecture, and of Russia as being brought to ruin.

The theme was to become very familiar by mid-century - that the singular specificity of the Jew is to erode all authentic particularity with a specious, corrupting, cosmopolitan generality. There was more than a hint of this, even, in the use that was made of anti-Semitic innuendo against Trotsky in the leadership struggle within the Russian Communist Party. As continuing to represent the tradition of proletarian internationalism, the theorist of permanent revolution against Stalin's 'socialism in one country', Trotsky could be attacked for an abstract universalism not embedded in any national soil, and for underestimating the indigenous strengths of (old) Russia. That the argument was expressed in a quasi-Marxist terminology for the benefit of would-be Communists should not obscure the other meanings it was permitted to carry. Thus, Trotsky's son was indicted by the regime for plotting a mass poisoning of workers. Although the son had always borne his mother's name - Sedov - it was reported in the Soviet press at the time that his real name was Bronstein. As Trotsky pointed out, this name had had no political resonance up till then; it was brought up simply to draw attention to his Jewish origin. The genuine, unembarrassed heir to the theme of a poisoning Jewish generality destructive of the life-force of the nation had, in the meantime, gained control of the German state, from where he was preparing a global catastrophe.

3. Amongst political analysts in the interwar period Leon Trotsky was more prescient than any in anticipating the threat posed by Hitler and German National Socialism. He tried insistently to rouse the main organizations of the European workers' movement against it. In his writings on Germany he offered an original analysis of the nature of fascism as a social and political phenomenon, and he seemed intuitively to glimpse the dreadful night into which Europe would be plunged by a Nazi victory. Hitler triumphant, Trotsky predicted, would install not just one more reactionary variant of capitalist rule, but a qualitatively distinct form calamitous for the working class: involving the complete destruction of its organizations and its means of political self-defence, by way of the mass mobilization against it of petty-bourgeois social strata. Should Nazism prevail, he warned the German workers in 1931, 'it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank... Make haste... you have very little time left'.

After 1933, once Hitler had come to power, the predicament of the Jews also occupied Trotsky's mind. The 'gigantic dimension of the evil burdening the Jewish people', as he referred to it in 1938, and 'the shocking bestialities inflicted by Hitler's gangs' after the German invasion of Poland, brought a reassessment by him of the nature of anti-Semitism. Trotsky's understanding of this was now no longer couched in terms of its being mainly a residue of feudal societies in decay. He had come to see anti-Semitism as part also of a more modern kind of barbarism, itself the product of capitalism in crisis. German National Socialism was the extreme expression of this barbarism, a disgorgement - or 'puking up' - of all its worst irrationalities, its superstitions and its ignorance, by a social and economic order under threat. Here Trotsky, in the context of observing how more and more countries were expelling the Jews while fewer and fewer were willing to accept them, ventured a terrible prediction. Towards the end of 1938 he wrote: 'It is possible to imagine without difficulty what awaits the Jews at the mere outbreak of the future world war. But even without war the next development of world reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews.' (Emphasis in the original.)

This prediction was the more remarkable in view of the fact that the catastrophe of the Shoah, as has often been noted, was difficult for contemporaries to foresee and, indeed, generally not foreseen by them. But in any event the context that framed Trotsky's prediction - that of the growing 'homelessness' of the Jews - was one that concerned him during his last years. Thus, for example, although he continued to be opposed to Zionism because of the enmity it was leading to between Jews and Arabs, he was now prepared to envisage a territorial base for a Jewish national identity which he thought likely 'to maintain itself for an entire epoch to come'. He believed only socialism could provide the conditions for a benign outcome along such lines, since it was a feature precisely of the grave crisis of capitalism that this small people, the Jews, could 'no longer find a place on our planet.' In an era of rapid world-wide transport and communications, he observed, 'travel from country to country is paralysed by passports and visas', with the globe now become 'a foul prison'. Whether consciously or not, Trotsky thereby made a link between the situation of the Jewish people at large and his own. The last chapter of his autobiography, My Life, he had some years earlier entitled 'The Planet without a Visa'.

Conclusion. We finish with an image of Trotsky, then, as wandering Jew - 'not a citizen of any country' as he himself was obliged to say (before the Dewey Commission) in 1937. It is only an image and so not too much should be made of it. Yet images, too, have their reality and their effects. Considering the nature of Trotsky's reputation even on the left and to this day, a strong current within it of suspicion shading into open prejudice, the speculation is a tempting one that the figure of this man has been for many that of the reviled Jew of international socialism. Not just in the straightforward sense of being both Jewish and reviled, though this conjunction may have given, beneath consciousness, an extra charge to the hostility towards him, through some old associations not explicitly admissible on the left. But in the sense also of symbolizing certain stereotypical qualities: exiled, rootless, too clever, complaining, loud; and then fixed in a kind of permanent linguistic contempt through the accidental but in this context ideal one-syllable term (like 'Jew' and 'Yid'), Trotsky himself the first and archetypal 'Trot'.

Trotsky died - according to his own Testament penned shortly before his assassination - a proletarian revolutionary, a Marxist and an atheist, continuing to profess a faith in man and his future. This as well as other of his declarations over the years may call to mind, for some, a statement of another famous Jewish Marxist revolutionary of the same era, namely Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg wrote in 1917 to a friend that she was at home wherever there were clouds and human tears, but that she had no special corner in her heart reserved for the ghetto. Two decades later, on the very threshold of the disaster whose threatening shape he had somehow managed to perceive ahead of time, Trotsky reserved a corner of his mind, at least, for the original people of the ghetto. Where exactly his heart lay on that line familiar to secular Jews, joining the age-old dream of a just world with a concern for the fate of their long-troubled people, is harder to say. At the end of the twentieth century it remains a living question for everyone within the ranks of progressive Jewry.

Afterword [at the date of posting]. The 'living question' referred to in the final sentence of this essay has acquired, in the time since the essay was written, a greater charge and urgency because of the worsening situation in the Middle East, the burgeoning of anti-Semitism in the Arab world and beyond, and the indulgence towards this on the part of a sector of left and liberal opinion (where it is not itself actually infected by it) - a development that once seemed unthinkable in the long, but now evidently receding, aftermath of the Holocaust. I shall be returning, here, to these matters in due course.

Bibliographical References. Isaac Deutscher (1968), The Non-Jewish Jew and other essays, London, Oxford University Press. Norman Geras (1997), Marxists before the Holocaust, New Left Review 224. Baruch Knei-Paz (1978), The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, Oxford, Clarendon Press. Rosa Luxemburg (1978), The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, Boulder, Westview Press, ed. Stephen Eric Bronner. Joseph Nedava (1971), Trotsky and the Jews, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America. Enzo Traverso (1990), Les Marxistes et la question juive, Montreuil, La Breche. Enzo Traverso (1990), Trotsky et la question juive, Quatrieme Internationale 36. Leon Trotsky (1930), My Life, New York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1960. Leon Trotsky (1972), 1905, London, Allen Lane, 1972. Leon Trotsky (1970), On the Jewish Question, New York, Pathfinder Press. Leon Trotsky (1980), Report of the Siberian Delegation, London, New Park Publications. Leon Trotsky (1971), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, New York, Pathfinder Press. Leon Trotsky (1958), Trotsky's Diary in Exile, 1935, London, Faber and Faber. [Leon Trotsky] (1968), The Case of Leon Trotsky, New York, Merit Publishers, Verbatim transcript of Trotsky's testimony before the Dewey Commission. Francis Wyndham and David King (1972), Trotsky: A Documentary, New York, Praeger.

posted by norm at 3:04 pm | link


A conversation at the Blee Blee Slee:
"I mean, as a matter of objective reality, Mars is out there, approximately 34 million miles from Earth. So the central claim of our report that Alastair Campbell faked the whole thing is itself fake."

"Well, it's fake in the very narrow sense of being not true. But in the broader climate of general concern about the Government's credibility it's perfectly legitimate."

"Yes, but we created the broader climate of general concern about the Government's credibility," I pointed out.

"Yes, but our concern about their credibility is more credible than their concern about our credibility."
I decline to reveal my source.

posted by norm at 2:09 pm | link

Security in Iraq

Someone else, on the letters page of my dnoc, who thinks the Coalition must allow Iraqis a greater role in maintaining security.

posted by norm at 11:41 am | link

More on Kelly's view

David Kelly's sister:
"I know my husband... said that he had said to my brother 'Oh, but surely if they just relax a bit and give Saddam Hussein enough rope, he will hang himself.'

"My brother said: 'That is absolutely what we cannot do because if you had any idea of the consequence of what he might do if we take our eye off the situation, it would affect many, many people, civilians quite likely, and it would just be unacceptable to allow that to happen'."
If David Kelly could legitimately think this without having his moral reputation traduced... shucks, I forget where that thought was going.

posted by norm at 11:39 am | link

Blair's Watergate?

No, says David Aaronovitch, here taking issue with an earlier piece by Tom Bower. Aaronovitch writes:
So what did Carl Bernstein, the man who met with the original Deep Throat, make of the Kellygate/Watergate parallel? "Britain's newspapers," he observed, "have been full of comparisons between Blair's predicament and Nixon's Watergate, most of them not apt. Watergate," Bernstein reminded us, "was about a criminal conspiracy led by a criminal president to undermine the constitution; who ordered break-ins, fire-bombings, illegal wiretaps and sought to undermine the electoral process". As to Hutton, he added, "No American president would dare initiate such an inquiry".

If Bernstein is right, Bower is very wrong. And you can't help asking yourself why he can't see the difference between covering up a burglary, and suggesting that a dossier should be as strong as possible, within the existing intelligence?
Read the whole thing.

posted by norm at 11:03 am | link


According to this report:
Argentine ex-dictator General Reynaldo Bignone has admitted that 8,000 people were kidnapped and killed during the 1976-83 military regime, and said the church leadership had given its approval to torture practices.

In an interview published today in Pagina 12, Bignone said French instructors had taught Argentina's military how to kidnap and torture suspected opponents of the regime, and how to secretly execute them.

Bignone said the ruling junta had asked Roman Catholic bishops in Argentina about the use of torture, and were told that it was permissible under certain circumstances.
Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link (via Merde in France.)

posted by norm at 11:00 am | link

Monday, September 01, 2003

Below the belt

There's a sympathetic presentation, if you can believe such a thing, of Alastair Campbell's reasons for leaving his job. It's written by a friend of his, Roy Greenslade, though one who disagreed with Campbell about various things. Anyway, Greenslade's article includes the following detail:
One incident which affected him deeply, as it surely would any parent, was a protest outside his house by people opposed to the invasion of Iraq, who handed his children pictures of Iraqi Kurds gassed by Saddam Hussein's troops at Halabja, and intimated that the deaths were due to the coalition's forces. That, he felt, was hitting below the belt.
A gentle way of putting it, I'd say.

posted by norm at 10:18 pm | link

Iraq matters

> According to Shayal Mezher, one of the thousands who gathered at the Kadhimain mosque yesterday, 'This bombing was carried out by people who hate the Iraqis and who don't want the Iraqis to have a democratic future, or to choose their own government.'

> 'Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has blamed the US-led forces in Iraq for failing to prevent the bombing and called for a greater role to be played by Iraqis in establishing their own security.'

> '[M]any analysts - and many Shia - believe it likely the attackers came from outside the community. Suspicion has inevitably fallen on elements loyal to the old Saddam Hussein regime, which regarded the Shia with suspicion and brutally suppressed them. But it is also possible that a tactical alliance is emerging between Saddam Hussein loyalists and Islamic militants who have entered Iraq over the last few months.'

> Tim Blair wonders where the Western protests are about 'foreign forces invading Iraq in order to kill innocent Iraqi civilians'.

posted by norm at 4:29 pm | link

Bleeb 3

Andrew Graham today, in my dnoc, delivers himself of the following view:
Notwithstanding the friction between the government and the BBC on the particulars of Gilligan's report, no one has cast any serious doubt on the much more important question of whether, overall, the BBC reported on the arguments about the war in an objective manner.
He ought to get about more: extend the range of the people he talks to and of the material he reads. That he should hold this view is perhaps unsurprising given that, as he conscientiously discloses to us dnoccers, he is co-author with Gavyn Davies (chairman of the BBC board of governors) of the book Broadcasting, Society and Policy in the Multimedia Age.

Personally, I don't have a quarrel with Graham's wider point about the importance of public service broadcasting to informed, democratic citizenship. But it would be nice to have a genuinely independent assessment of the BBC's performance over the Iraq war; by which I don't mean an assessment carried out by some self-selected group of media-specialist, and anti-war, researchers. The war was, and is, one of the most momentous issues of recent times, and the perception was by no means an eccentric one – I'd go so far as to say it was widespread – that key aspects of the BBC's coverage were inflected, if not just downright biased, towards the anti-war case. I would mention here, particularly, the evening news on TV. If this perception is well-grounded, then the BBC's coverage was a public disgrace, one entirely justifying the complaint of people who supported the war, as to why they should have to contribute through the licence fee to helping along a cause that was morally abhorrent to much of the country. It's not what impartiality about major political questions is supposed to mean.

The issue is of great importance to the future of public debate in this country. It surely merits an intervention charged with standing above the perceptions on both sides - partisan, in one way or another, as these are likely to be.

posted by norm at 1:40 pm | link


[The earlier instalments in this series were posted on August 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 27 and 29. Continuity from the end of CAH 8: 'I want… to explain why I reject two particular versions of the "crimes against the human status" thesis.']

There is a view which (B4) seeks to limit the scope of 'crimes against the human status' to genocidal acts, or at least to acts of genocidal potentiality, inasmuch as they are openly discriminatory, targeting people simply because of their membership of some prejudicially-regarded group. This was a view espoused by Hannah Arendt, and it seems also to be common amongst French scholars. According to it, crimes against humanity are acts violating the human status of their victims; but only acts that potentially threaten the diversity of humankind by attacking individuals because of the particular category – ethnic, national, religious, political – they fall into are to be seen as acts violating the human status of their victims. These are acts, in other words, which go beyond 'gratuitous brutality' and 'atrocities', beyond 'cruelty', 'degradation' and 'torture' (I decline to insert the word 'mere' anywhere here), and one escapes the 'sentimental dilution of crimes against humanity in "general inhumanity"'. The view is misconceived. It effectively equates crimes against humanity with genocidal or tendentially genocidal acts. But if such acts do indeed attack the human status of their victims by punishing them for some feature of their social identity – a crucial aspect of what for any human being he or she is – then so equally does torture, by traumatizing its victims (often, where it does not kill them, traumatizing them permanently) in the sense and security of their personal identity – a just as crucial aspect of what for any human being he or she is. And so can mutilation and other forms of extreme violence; and so can prolonged, arbitrary imprisonment – non-discriminatory in the pertinent sense here as any of these things may be. As an act's inhumaneness (without more ado) may be necessary, but is not sufficient, for including it in the category of crimes against humanity, so an act's potentially genocidal character is sufficient, but not necessary, for doing this; not at any rate according to the conception that crimes against humanity are acts attacking the human status of their victims.

I am also sceptical of the suggestion that (A5) crimes against humanity threaten humankind, where this is understood to mean not simply threatening other human beings or human groups, but threatening the very existence of the species. I see the hint of such a meaning in Arendt's claim, with reference to the 'extermination of whole ethnic groups', that 'mankind in its entirety might have been grievously hurt and endangered'. Not only hurt; endangered also. It is suggested more unambiguously by Alain Finkielkraut's reading of the judgement at Nuremberg to signify that 'humanity itself is mortal', 'humanity itself can die'; and by M. Cherif Bassiouni's insistence that, after the Holocaust, '[w]hat is at stake is the very preservation of humanity'. We should not be too short with these intimations of the end. The menace represented to the world by individuals and groups with a genocidal cast of mind, when possessed of state power or wide ideological influence, is not something to be shrugged off lightly. It is certainly possible to envisage circumstances in which potent means of destruction in the hands of such individuals and groups could lead to a global catastrophe. By and large, however, even in the teeth of the most rampant genocide the heavens do not fall; they do not even darken. In turn, fortunately and unfortunately. Judged on a straightforward empirical basis, it seems that we are able as a species to survive successive genocides, the loss or the huge depletion of entire peoples, and just carry on.

[The next instalment in this series will be posted on Wednesday.]

posted by norm at 12:03 pm | link

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