Scientology adverts

Ever since the scientology exposed programme on the BBC was aired last night, nearly every youtube video I’ve watched today has advertised their so-called freedom magazine.

Are they feeling vulnerable and flashing the cash? Surely not retail therapy – isn’t that Nazi science?

Or have they had a bad day recently?

Update: They’re getting bigger

Ed Miliband is atheist – so what?

An hour ago, the press association ran a piece entitled “Ed Miliband: I don’t believe in God”. This relates to an interview with Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 Live, where the question was raised, and the answer carefully noted how important it is to be tolerant of people whatever their view.

This will not stop the insults unfortunately. Nor will it help matters much that Miliband is the son of a Marxist heathen, unmarried, and the brother of an atheist who at least did his best by sending his child to a Roman Catholic school.

None of these things matter of course; and as Miliband said in his interview, his views should be a private matter, much like the atheism of our deputy Prime Minister.

But remember it is not just believers who have over-fetishised God in politics. Few may remember two years ago, when David Miliband was thought to be brewing a leadership bid, the philosopher and atheist A.C. Grayling making a plea in the Guardian for an atheist Prime Minister.

It levelled many ridiculous claims that should divide a believing PM from a non-believing one; atheists will not receive messages from beyond if going to war; they will be sceptical about giving special privileges to religious organisations; sectarianism through faith schools will be a thing of the past; neutrality between religious pressure groups will be the order of the day; and they’ll take more “down-to-earth” views.

Let’s throw this nonsense out of the water, just in case Grayling tries to write it again.

Of course, nobody can actually receive messages from beyond, but if we are dealing with stupid reasons to go to war here, suggesting this is the preserve of the religious is to forget the wars authored by such tyrants as Stalin and Mao.

This might evoke the redundant reaction given by the new atheists, usually that Communism is merely a demi-religion without supernatural Gods, and thus subject to the irrationality reserved by the religious (nb it also helps the “Ditchkins’” out in their mission to single religion out as only evil; secular reason as bringing only good).

Will an atheist be any more or less sceptical about giving privileges to religious organisation? The infection that says some religions are more evil than others strikes through even the most ardent atheist too. Christian schools have long been a feature in the UK educational system, yet Islamic schools still have the effect of discomfort for some people, whether that person is religious or not. This may be more political than theological, but then many attitudes on religion today are.

By no means am I saying that Ed Miliband will come to favour one religious institution over another, but what I will categorically suggest is that his atheism will not de facto ignore the level of favouritism or ill-feeling that is levelled at some religions, or even the level at which some secularists believe certain religions are far less compatible with secularism than others.

Furthermore, on the question of educational sectarianism, such institutions do not have a state sanction to be sectarian, but to open a school with a certain religious value system. I’ve little doubt that Ed, even as an atheist, will be happy, or even indifferent, to religious values being attached to schools. Sectarianism in schools, where it exists, is kept quiet, and is certainly not allowed as such – in fact admissions in most schools are still subject to anti-discrimination measures.

Moreover, this accusation, made by A. C. Grayling was made about David Miliband; who, as mentioned, did send his son to a Roman Catholic school.

On possible neutrality between faiths, Ed Miliband has already upset Israeli supporters by speaking at at a Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East reception. It is inevitable that a political position will eventually upset faiths when politics and faith have become so intertwined. It is quite clear, therefore, that an atheist is just as liable as a believer – a further element overlooked by Grayling.

And as for the point about Miliband being more level headed, this remains to be seen, but frankly the dividing line is not drawn between believer and non-believer, only in Grayling’s black and white mind.

Opposition towards Ashtiani’s execution is no conspiracy

In an attempt to demonstrate western hypocrisy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran – has spoken out at the lack of uproar levelled against the US and the execution of Teresa Lewis, the women convicted of plotting to kill her husband, Julian Lewis, and her stepson, Charles Lewis.

This tactic by the Iranian premier is designed to deflect criticism over Iran’s decision to prosecute Mohamedi Sakineh Ashtiani.

Reports in the BBC say no final decision on Ashtiani’s fate has been made, though some media outlets such as Mehr, a semi-official Tehran news agency, are reporting the judiciary in Iran as having convicted her of murdering her husband which carries the penalty of execution by hanging.

However reports from Isna suggest she has been given a 10-year prison sentence for complicity in her husband’s death.  

During his UN speech, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying Ashtiani would not be sentenced to stoning, something he vowed to oversee in an interview with former UK Member of Parliament George Galloway recently.

But there had been no willing by Ahmadinejad to allow Ashtiani the opportunity to emigrate to Brazil or Turkey, where both President Lula and President Erdogan were willing to assist.

The charge levelled at Ahmadinejad that he has done far too little still holds. His office was quiet when it was revealed Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer of Ashtiani and human rights expert, fled the country after an arrest warrant had been issued against him.

Nor did the President appear to show any public distress when authorities arrested Mostafaei’s wife and brother-in-law, ransacked his office and carried out interrogation methods.

Today a media lens message board post discussed the case of Ashtiani. Some posters echoed the sentiments of Ahmadinejad saying this is only one case among many, and questioning why the same level of outcry had been absent in other cases; exemplifying the case of Al-Janabi, the 14 year old girl who was gang raped, killed and set on fire by U.S. troops in Mahmudiya, Iraq, in 2006.

Oliver Kamm, the Times leader writer and columnist, called the comments “Sub-Chomskyite” on his twitter feed.

There is no Western-designed plot to single out Iran, and even if there was, the most effective campaigns to save Ashtiani’s life have come through grassroots activism such as from Avaaz and the International Committee Against Stoningby no means front organisations for imperialism, or groups whose interest it is to engage in armed conflict with Iran in the future.

The excuse being spun by Ahmadinejad that Iran is being treated unfairly is down to the extreme measures with which they choose to condemn innocent people such as Ashtiani. Even under Islamic law – professed to be the mode practiced in Iranadultery cannot be satisfactorily proven before the perpetrator has confessed under free conditions on three separate occasions, or if four males, whom the court are happy to trust, actually witness the act of penetration.

It seems very unlikely that Ashtiani confessed to her husband’s murder under free conditions. Amnesty International, in August, reported that:

televised “confessions” have repeatedly been used by the Iranian authorities to incriminate individuals in custody. Many have later retracted these “confessions”, stating that they were coerced to make them, sometimes under torture or other ill-treatment.

The case of Ashtiani is a reminder of the suspect justice system operating in Iran. It is a foolish position to take, thinking opposition towards her execution is somehow a justification of similar methods used in the US; in fact hostility towards state sanctioned murder ought to be levelled against any country operating it.

Ed Miliband is made Labour leader

Today, conference witnessed as Ed Miliband became the leader of the Labour Party with 50.1% of the vote.

As the left foot forward blog has predicted Ed Balls was kingmaker in the vote, while Dianne Abbott was outed in the first round.

Ed Miliband managed to get 34% in the first round while his elder brother took home 37%. But the final result went down to the union vote, where the younger of the brothers was able to carry victory.

Pressure will be on Ed Miliband to both unify the party while providing a heavy hitting critique of the coalition government.

All eyes will be on where Ed places his brother in the shadow cabinet. There will be great interest to see whether the party places third place contender Ed Balls – who has placed a significant attack on the cuts agenda – in a chancellor role, or whether his inclusion will be political poison, owing to the specificity of his criticism.

Tom Clark of the Guardian has tweeted that the result could be the difference of the 2-3 MP votes.

Left wing influences

Good influences:

Tony Benn: A hero of the left and socialism to whom the Labour Party, through its creation and trade union voice, will always be the home of democracy – the foremost principle of socialism.

Evo Morales: No pretensions, a leader who applies a principle that no society will be fair until it adopts: you contribute to society according to your means. In so doing, indigenous families living in the Bolivian altiplano are able to enjoy solar powered lighting and roads where they were without before the presidency of Evo.

Slavoj Zizek: Here is someone who makes the case, in popular philosophical and political discourse, against the fashionable postmodern and post-ideological left which has come to saturate leftwing politics in the last few years, as well as all the other shit that it leaves in its tracks (i.e. cultural relativism, nonchalance towards fundo Islam, tolerance of Naomi Klein etc etc). Zizek needs to be taken more seriously.

Gary Younge: A convincing, decent left wing journalist, who cannot be called wet, and fashionable as other writers for the Guardian or the Nation, he sticks to his guns, and his not put off by detractors, hence the title to one of his notorious articles: I hate tories. And yes, it’s tribal.

Bad Influences:

George Galloway: A slippery man who relies too much on dodgy votes. As a debater he is second to none, enter a law court against him and you’ve lost, but he is of the greasy political view that there is a vulnerable group and an oppressive group, and they each have the same skin colour.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: If she spent more time understanding class as she does spend it denigrating the “lazy white working class” then maybe she’d be relevant, but, alas,  she is a pompous bourgeois liberal with a chip on her shoulder (through no good reason).

Naomi Klein: Has spent the work of 1000s of pages and newspaper articles explaining capitalism, but her critique offers little more than environmental capitalism. She’d make a good bedfellow of George Soros and all the other philanthrocapitalists weeping at poverty.

Moazzam Begg: Seen by Marxists and Liberals alike as a symbol of injustice at the hands of Americans, and this is proven by the airtime he is given by amnesty international to the socialist workers party. But just do two things: watch him on BBC Hardtalk squirm and squeeze out of the question of whether he thinks the Taliban’s actions are justified as self-defence. Listen to the interview he conducted with Anwar al Awlaki. Tell me then whether this is someone the left ought to offer a pedestal. Then ask yourself why so many leftists do offer this.

HarpyPhilDaveJamesJim, Bob

Update: I forgot the final part of this meme, which is to include a list of those I feel are not influential enough, they are:

Kenan Malik: I expect with a couple more books under his belt and a regular column or focus on the blogosphere he will be someone with a voice like Nick Cohen’s, Peter Hitchens, and David Aaranovitch, by which I mean an authority who one wants to read again and again.

Dave Osler: This blogger got the above writer to sign my copy of his book at the Orwell Awards – an act I’m ever grateful for. But this is not why he is here; he is a fantastic writer who remians of the left tradition that seems to be dying out in the post-ideological landscape of left wing politics – that is politics of class and anti-fascism. He also levels a cracking argument on the topic of religion, which is by no means a battle between believer and non-believer; it is more than that, it is between those who can see the radical kernel of Christianity and those who cannot – I think Osler recognises this too.

John McDonnell: In the next four years we are likely to have two things: Firstly a Tory led government intent on spending cuts and job losses, an economic model supported by no received wisdom, mass unemployment and depression. Secondly, an opposition led by David Miliband who does not oppose enough of the Tory led programme, and himself wants to cut the deficit drastically by 2014 – against better judgement from within his own party. He might even support the anti-Trade untion laws to which he is heir (in Blair). All the time, it will be a passing thought every night, that John McDonnell is a sadly missed individual in politics.

Alain Badiou: His recognition in this country is owing to Zizek’s obsession with his work, but this is not enough for me. He is not nearly as influential on left wing politics as he should be in this country – though he is in his native France. His concept of the Event, something he attributes to the radical universalism of St Paul on the road to Damascus, is the one philosophical assertion able to question the legitimacy of Marx’ Historical Materialism.

Marx’ assertion of the end of history in Communism was neither mechanical like the earth travelling around the sun, nor was it miraculous like God’s creation of light, but with the force of working men free to create their own history with the lending hand of history entering from economic phases of Feudalism; Capitalism; Socialism and finally Communism.

But for Badiou, the Event is created from conditions neither harnassed by the free will of working men, nor the path of history so told by Marx, rather, it arrives like Damascan conversion, often contradicting the hitherto narrative of history. Subsequently, Badiou has been described as a Communist without being a Marxist.

400 academy schools by 2011: convincing?

I have just had an email from a colleague who attended the Westminster Education Forum seminar called ‘Academies and free schools – the next steps for policy’ last week.

David Jeffrey, who works in Academies Policy, Finance and Performance for the Department for Education, gave a seminar where he told the audience that although only 34 new academies opened in September, he does expect that number to increase a great deal. His numbers are:

  • 142 outstanding schools are expected to convert to academy status during 2010/11
  • 64 traditional/Labour academies were also opened in September, and a further 10 will be open by 2011
  • 16 free schools have been approved

His parting note was that as many as 400 new academies and free schools could be open by the end of the academic year 2010/11.

This is probably a conservative estimate to save face, but it is still well shy of the 1,000 Gove claimed had applied.

The ’25 things…’ meme

1)      In school, I was no more a socialist than Kilroy is still a Marxist, but I did wear a badge that said “I hate the Middle Class” which was worn in protest at a family member I took a disliking to.

2)      I first became a socialist after reading Marx at college. Soon after I went to a Socialist Workers’ Party meeting in Southend, where on entry I was asked if I’d read the Communist Manifesto. Having met their criteria – strange as it was – I became a member.

3)      I didn’t join the first anti-war march in London because I hadn’t made up my mind at the time, despite being a cohort of the SWP.

4)      My favourite band is Yes.

5)      I have a wanky taste in film; my favourite film is Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande a Part.

6)      I had something akin to a religious experience when on a bus during the day near St John’s Wood, the sun was beaming in through the window, while I was listening to Wagner’s Overture. A cloud covered the sun and I could see a Jewish wedding was taking place. For some reason this made an impact on me.

7)      I’ve met a fair few bloggers now: Sunny Hundal; Dave Semple; Paul Cotterill; Tim Ireland; Five Chinese Crackers; Left Outside; Pete Bowers; Laurie Penny; Paul Sagar; Jack of Kent; Jamie Sport; Louise Whittle; Splintered Sunrise; Dave Osler; Cath Elliot; Kate Belgrave, to name only a few.

8)      I went through a phase of listening to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells once a day

9)      I once wore a badge reading “repeal all immigration laws”. I stopped wearing it after a man came up to me to say he liked my badge, and that “there were too many fucking Japs in the country anyway”. I told him the word Japs is as outdated as his stupid opinion.

10)   When I was 17 I attended the Marxist festival in Central London where I requested accommodation. It was space on the floor of a church in Bow with about 50 SWP activists.

11)   I’m pictured on the Redwatch website after attending a demo against the National Front, who themselves were marching in Woolwich after a Caucasian boy was beaten to death by some Asian youths. I saw and recognised the NF activist who photographed me, and knew from then on that the NF is inextricably linked to C18.

12)   The first anti-BNP demo I attended was in Wickford, Essex, which was used as a meeting point for the BNP to get the train to their red, white and blue festival. Before the BNP had arrived a man was stood near the platform wearing his postman uniform and holding a British bulldog by a leash, causing one person to mistake him for a BNP member, whereupon the entire crowd of anti-fascists confronted him. He, very meekly, told us he wasn’t the BNP, and that he hated that lot. Very embarrassing for everyone.

13)   Even though I was a socialist, I used to hang around with an anarchist sect in Essex because they didn’t care for meetings about the old’n days (as I would’ve put it back then). Oddly for an anarchist sect, we effectively acted as security for Labour activists in South East Essex during a by-election campaign where BNP activists were intimidating them.

14)   This lot, and me, also acted as unofficial security when the holocaust survivor Leon Greenman spoke to a small audience in Vange, Essex. The room, which composed of mainly SWP activists and local Labour members, went uncomfortably quiet when Greenman praised Tony Blair and expressed his support for the war in Iraq.

15)   The second May Day march that I attended was with one of the anarchists who went by the name of Austin, and is relatively well known for, among other things, his piercings and large red Mohican. After the main march, we wondered around Hyde Park waiting for the anarchist cricket match to start with a constant police presence – it was then that I learnt of his notoriety. We both had our pictures taken with the police, but they did not leave us until about 3pm.

16)   The Southend division of Unite Against Fascism – which was almost entirely composed of SWPpies – staged a protest outside a pub in 2003 where the BNP were going to meet, but were refused by the pub landlord last minute (it turned out that the BNP had booked the room in the pub under the name “National Trust”). A friend of mine became involved in a fracas with who we later found out was Matthew Single. Single was the individual who released the names and addresses of all BNP members a few years ago – a story I recall here.

17)   I’m a big fan of the writing of Edmund Standing, who has written a report on the far right for the anti-fascist think-tank Centre for Social cohesion, and occasionally writes for Harry’s Place.

18)   I was happy that the BBC put Nick Griffin on Question Time. I don’t think it was ever going to have the effect people feared (giving credibility to an old fascist) – I knew the BBC was simply lending Griffin the rope with which to hang himself with.

19)   My girlfriend once accidentally kicked Walter Wolfgang – the man who was thrown out of the Labour Party conference for heckling – on the leg during an anti-war march.

20)   I spent the day looking for a bank so I could change up dollars in Bolivia while a pro-Evo rally was taking place – I was very jealous.

21)   I was, for a very short period of time, a “Grantite”, which is someone who is a member or supporter of Socialist Appeal. I was attracted to SA because I felt the only way to bring about socialism was through the historical party of the working class – the Labour Party. By this time I had had enough of Trotskyite groups serving little other than creating factions between themselves and dismissing the Labour Party outright.

22)   About a year and half ago, I realised I wasn’t a Trotskyite at all (or at least I wasn’t Trostkyite in the way in which I’d experienced it in the South East of England and London) but rather, my politics are based nearer to British guild socialism. Earlier this year I joined the Labour Party.

23)   People say they hate being pinned down to labels, I love labels, I’ll have to check with Phil, but I think this has something to do with my love of sociology, which also loves labels.

24)   I support a strategic presence of US and UK troops in Afghanistan, but have not always been happy with the strategy. I am in favour of massively reducing armed conflict in the country, but continuing the assistance of building up an Afghan army able to deal with the huge internal problems, which impacts upon global safety.

UK troops leaving Sangin is the beginning of the end of our defeat, which means that fascism will continue to spread across the Middle East by terrorists who will gain an almighty boost similar to that when the Russians left. This is by no means a victory for the anti-war movement, even less so for the anti-fascist movement, and far less so for the Trotskyites who favoured a mass internal rising over UN intervention.

25)   I secretly don’t support any of the candidates for the Labour leadership.

Will tag this person, this person, this person, this person, this person and this person (I just copied Phil tbh) for this reason, apparently.

The Pope Protest

On Saturday I went down to central London to watch as the No Popey people marched through te streets. I went with a few intentions: to be among those who take an opposite stance to that of the Catholic church on abortion, on homosexual consensual sex, on condoms and on AIDS.

I also went to see the blatant displays of anti-Catholic bigotry – and stickers that read “religion is stupid”.

I went expecting to see one set of people for sure – atheist leftwingers protesting against a person who to them signifies everything that is wrong about extremely conservative, institutional religiosity.

I belong to this sub-set of people in most ways so this was fine. But I went along to see if I could spot other, less palatable folk, who have every reason to be protesting a visit by the Pope; namely Ulster Volunteer Force types, far right groups with those sorts of sympathies such as Combat 18, and the less unpalatable, more weird groups that believe the word of God is enough, rendering pointless the need for a papa.

I didn’t see any “Ulster types” – although I did hear a chap outside the Clarence pub, near number 10, say “the Ulster guys wouldn’t have had this”, by which I can only imagine he meant sharing a platform with quite a prominent cohort of gay rights activists, who happened to be walking past him at the same time as me.

I could hardly hear what Geoffrey Robertson QC, Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell and Johann Hari said as I was stood next to some anarchists with a flag which depicted Benedict XVI as a nazi with slave children, and they frankly didn’t give a shit about being there, instead were interested in waving scarves in front of the faces of policeman and replying “wha!!” to requests of silence from the rest of the crowd who were there to listen.

Proudhon wouldn’t have smelt like arse, throwing beercans at photographers by the women during world war 2 wreath, and shouting at the tops of the voices (feel better for that).

One thing I didn’t expect to see was the sight of a chap dressed as the Pope simulating anal sex with a young boy who had the words “God loves fags” scrawled upon his half naked body – but one has to expect the unexpected at these sorts of things.

My musings on the Pope’s visit can be found here.

A day of protest

In the Islamic Republic of Iran 150 people have been put to death by stoning in the last 31 years, according to Farshad Hosseini. Yesterday, a cohort of activists set up a stall in Trafalgar Square to protest the decision to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani at the hands of the Iranian judiciary – and to show their opposition to stonings full stop.

Stoning is not only inhumane, but is apparently disapporived of OFFICIALLY in Iran. Before his death in 2006, the then Minister of Justice and spokesman for the Judiciary, Mr. Jamal Karimi-Rad, became the first Iranian judicial authority to comment in reaction to the Stop Stoning Forever campaign – formed of various women’s rights organisations to see stoning as a form of punishment for adultery in Iran abolished. He denied that stoning took place in Iran, brushing aside examples where judge’s have sentenced it, often with little in the way of evidence.

Mr Jamal Karimi-Rad’s comments did demonstrate then an official disapproval of stoning, however flimsy it was, consistent with the ban on stoning ordered by the Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, in December 2002.

It beggars belief. The thing that could knock some sense into Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran is that the execution case is making Iran look bad – not that justice is being perverted in such a foul way. But, of course, for Ashtiani’s family, this reason is better than none.

José Antonio Labordeta (1935 – 2010)

José Antonio Labordeta, the famous Spanish poet and politician, has died this morning aged 75, it has been confirmed by Chunta Aragnesista (CHA), the political party to which he was a representative.

He had been a long-sufferer of cancer.

Labordeta will be remembered as one of the voices committed to democracy at the end of the Franco regime.

Feliz Romeo, a friend of José Antonio’s, in an article from RTVE, the radio station of the Spanish broadcaster, noted that “To be a poet was then a way to escape the Franco regime”.

As well as writing hundreds of poems in the fifties he also brought poetry to other areas of life which mattered to him; in his music where he sang the word of socialism, freedom and anti-fascism; to his students as a professor, and to politics where he once read a poem in parliament opposing the participation of Spanish forces in the war on Iraq.

In his later life, he went from being – in his own words – a “rookie” member of parliament to become a significant character of the political scene (his nickname, which he eventually came to appreciate – was “El Abuelo” or the Grandfather).

While the old school republican made many friends among allies and opposition alike, he was also made enemy of for the things he did. Fiercely anti-war, a congressional record notes that Labordeta shouted “fuck you” and “to hell” during a parliementary debate – which made him notorious in Spanish media outlets.

But his notoriety should only demonstrate his passion, and as Julio Castro has written about the man she was close to, Labordeta should be an example to a new generation who are passionate about politics for the sake of the struggle for equality and the defense of others.

He spent eight years in congress in the Zaragoza constituency. His party CHA – which campaigns for greater financial resources for the autonomous region of Aragon, located in northwest Spain – won 1 seat for Labordeta in the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections.

The folk-singer – described by the Great Aragonese Encyclopedia as the most important Aragonese singer-songwriter – has been forever inscribed in Spanish poetry and music as a voice of freedom, and his passion should be highly estimated by those pursuing freedom worldwide.