Friday, 17 April 2015

Katie Hopkins, scapegoats and the rhetoric of genocide

In October 1943, Adolf Hitler's deputy Heinrich Himmler was recorded speaking to senior Nazi generals in the Polish city of Posen about the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question": the ongoing Holocaust, the Nazi Party's mission to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Himmler justified the Holocaust on the basis of the Jewish people being a "bacillus", comparing them to a viral infection which needed to be eradicated. This mentality was indoctrinated into the national consciousness of Nazi Germany by Hitler's chief propagandist Joesph Goebbels, directly leading to the social and institutional conditions in which the Holocaust could be carried out. Fifty years after the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide was perpetrated. The mass murder of the Tutsi minority population, by gangs of Hutu slaughterers, was encouraged and coordinated by shortwave radio propagandists who referred to them as "cockroaches". In both cases, the scapegoated minorities were blamed for economic struggles and the diminishing of national prowess, and the systematic annihilation of the pests was promoted as the solution to these ills.

Seventy and twenty years passing since these atrocities has been a cause for remembrance, which evidently has not affected the popular UK media commentator Katie Hopkins, who used her column in Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper to refer to refugees from North Africa precariously travelling to Europe via the Mediterranean by boat, with hundreds dying in the process, as a "norovirus" and "cockroaches". Shades of Nazism and a direct appropriation of Rwandan Genocide rhetoric. Hopkins advocates the use of gunboats to sink the refugees' boats and - in admiration of the Abbot government's treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, which has been considered for UN investigation on the basis of international human rights law violations - she amuses herself by suggesting that they be killed through a pelting of Fosters beer cans. A Nazi-like fetishism and enthusiasm for the ruthless destruction of dehumanized human beings' lives runs through her piece. She notes that she no sympathy for images of "skinny people looking sad", similarly as apathetic as Himmler when confronted by starved victims of the extermination camps he toured. And of course, she cites migrants as a parasitic burden on public services and the welfare state; a convenient detraction from inequality and austerity resulting from and justified by the financial crisis.

Hopkins has an establishment reputation as a professional controversialist. But she is not a random internet troll: her hate speech is featured in the UK's second bestselling newspaper and she regularly appears on national television and radio shows. Ruthless politicians (see above) will undoubtedly aim to garner support by appealing to her fans with their policies. Human rights abuses against refugees in the UK, as seen in institutions like the Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, exemplify xenophobia and hate-mongering put into political practice. We may be keen to dismiss Hopkins' motives as publicity and financially driven, and refrain from contributing to it with our outrage. But lest we forget that the genesis of the worst crimes in human history have always begun with the dehumanization and scapegoating of a minority group in the collective psyche.

Incitement to racial hatred is illegal under criminal law for good reason.


Seemingly like anyone who disagrees with him, I am blocked by George Galloway on Twitter, presumably leaving him with a comfortable insular cadre of Galloway personality cultists with V for Vendetta masks in their avatars.

When I learned that Galloway had threatened legal action against those who apparently accused him of antisemitism, I noted his long-standing affiliation to Press TV, an Iranian government-controlled media network with a history of promoting antisemitism: including through its publication of an opinion piece in May 2011 that portrayed the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as legitimate and advocated the cliched antisemitic trope of Jews controlling the media.

Galloway blocked me when I publicly challenged his unapologetic allegiance to antisemitic propagandists. He is not necessarily an antisemite, but definitely a friend of them when it politically and financially convenient to be one. So why not sue me for pointing it out?

Shoah business: Holocaust-washing of Israeli racism and atrocities

For the record, there is no such thing as a Holocaust denier. Nobody, not even a neo-Nazi, can be literally idiotic enough to actually disbelieve the reality of the Final Solution despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. An undeniably crude and disgusting trope popular among its deniers is "There's no business like Shoah business". In this case it refers to their insinuation that the historical event of the Holocaust was fabricated by elite Jews as a brand for financial gain. But "Shoah business" can be used in the context of those who manipulate the reality of the Holocaust as a propaganda tool to perpetuate their political and military agendas: by which I am referring to the State of Israel and its supporters.

Pinkwashing is the term the status of LGBT people in Israel being used to portray the country as a bastion for human rights and democracy. There can be no doubt that LGBT rights are vastly better in Israel than in other Arab countries. But this is no excuse for the covering up and trivialization of Israel's military slaughters and state-sponsored racism.

As I previously wrote, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre promotes apologism for Israeli war crimes in the name of the memory of and historical research into the Shoah, despite the fact the innumerable Jews worldwide - including Holocaust survivors - oppose and condemn these atrocities. Even the Auschwitz Memorial Museum is up to it.

Here the blood-soaked flag, under which the fiery annihilation and evisceration of Palestinians is perpetrated by, is brandished where the gassings and cremations took place. The names of the mass murdered under the Swastika are used as a Star of David seal of approval for the new mass murder. (The latter is increasingly a symbol of death for this reason, like the former which has stood for peace and enlightenment for millenia). You can argue, if you wish, that it is distasteful of me to appropriate a Holocaust denial phrase of "Shoah business" to refer to this phenomena. The use of the word Holocaust to reference the extermination of two-thirds of Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany seventy years has only been the popular terminology for it since the 1970s. The targeted bombings deemed to be war crimes by the United Nations, resulting in Israeli's obstruction of Palestine's secession to the International Criminal Court, can be referred to as a Holocaust in its own right. There is nothing more distasteful than the legacy of the worst crime of the 20th century being denigrated and expropriated as a commodified propaganda tool to justify the worst of the 21st.

Monday, 6 April 2015

The iconography of Kurt Cobain

The approximate lapse of time since Kurt Cobain committed suicide is now as old as I am. Though I was only an infant when he died, the strength of his songwriting and Nirvana's music was powerful enough to affect my generation as much as it did his own. There is good reason why Nevermind became one of the best-selling albums of all time after it was predicted by record company bosses to be modestly profitable by merely catering to indie niche like Sonic Youth did. Like punk, and actually unlike most contemporary grunge bands, Nirvana's songs were catchy in adherence to pop sensibilities with a guitar heaviness complimenting this, and with empathic lyrics addressing everyday romance and childhood insecurities appealing in contrast to the turgidity of mainstream 80s and early 90s rock.

Growing up, as my serious interest in music became intense, I was frequently made a mockery of by my peers for being such a voracious Nirvana fan. It seemed that there was a particular stigma associated to Cobain's demise and the emotionally and personally honest songwriting that preceded it. Nirvana was labelled as an "emo" band (more like Weezer, you plebeian dweebs), the fashion sense that reached its apex in the mid 2000s and was banned by authorities in Russia for apparently promoting self-injury. Over the years, including during his heyday, some have even accused Nirvana of promoting and glorying depressive and suicidal tendencies. One Christian fundamentalist on YouTube claims to have had a vision of Cobain burning in hell for encouraging people to "give up on life" in his songs.

When he took his own life, Cobain sadly accomplished the self-fulfilling prophecy imposed upon him by the mass media, in which he was portrayed in the most one-dimensional terms as a celebratory and self-destructive drug addict and depressive whose music was a confirmation of these tendencies, not an artistic expression of his suffering; and not a reaction to the very presumptions and stereotypes imposed upon his public identity. It was this very pressurization that self-evidently contributed to his death. On the contrary to the accusation of his nihilism, he was keen to express in interviews the value of life and the waste of it that drug abuse results in. Like most of us, he was a frail, flawed mammal, who suffered significant trauma in his childhood. And he suffered from mental illness. To a media with a vessel with which to project the anxieties and cruelties of the public consciousness onto their self-engineered spectacle centered on the idol of Kurt Cobain, that was unforgivable. As if, to appropriate the crankery of our bible-bashing friend, he was already condemned to a torment of his own making. As homosexuality was known as the love that dare not speak its name, mental illness appears to be the suffering that dare not speak its name

Cobain was a visual artist who designed the cover art of Nirvana's albums. Biographies describe his intricate and obsessive design of Nirvana's last studio album, In Utero, the front cover of which features an anatomically detailed skinless human figure with angel wings in a pose indicating divinity. The song "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" references the actress who was subjected to brutal psychiatric institutionalization and torturous "therapies" which by all accounts mentally destroyed her; no doubt he would have related to the blaming of the fragile victim by the horde.

The legend of Kurt Cobain portrays him as a bearded Christ-like savior of rock music, a messenger of his generation. In his own time he wryly resented such labels, rejecting the very pedestal he was placed upon. Ironically he can be compared to Christ on the cross: the spears plunged into his body by the public eye, torn open for dissection like his In Utero angel, while being forced to don a crown of thorns ridiculing his distinction.

Like Frances Farmer we should remember Kurt Cobain in awareness of how mental health patients are treated in our societies. In 21 years, stigma still exists, but awareness has increased substantially. Cobain through his transparent empathy and compassion, as expressed in his music, will have undoubtedly contributed to that. We should celebrate him for this, along with his ingenious talent.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Joining the Green Party

Today I joined the Green Party of England and Wales. Why? In the past few days I have been suffering from an unidentifiable fatigue. I've felt short of breath and had headaches and joint pain. The explanation came when I read that a cloud of smog and pollution has blanketed across Britain, causing significant health effects for asthmatics, the elderly and sufferers of other chronic illnesses. Also in the past few days a hurricane has caused death and destruction in Vanuatu, with the president of that country attributing it to the effects of climate change. These epiphanies of anger and literal sickness have spurred me into finally joining the political party, the Greens, whose values I have agreed with ever since my interest in political began in my early adolescence. There are few human rights more fundamental than the rights to clean air and water, yet they seem to be a non-issue to our mainstream politicians and commentators.

It is bewildering that the crises of environmental derogation and climate change - which according to the overwhelming scientific evidence will pose a massive and existential risk to humanity in the upcoming century unless they are counteracted - are seemingly trivial or niche concerns among the left, even when they are integral  to socioeconomic exploitation and injustice across the world. 

Yet the Green Party's commitment to environmentalism, the motivation of its founding, is not the primary reason why I have been inspired and impressed by it. The Green Party, unlike Labour, opposes ideological austerity and has a party platform, motivated by fundamentally humanistic values, for a just, healthy and free society, including a universal basic income and the abolition of workfare, and NHS free at the point of use and free from privatisation, the right to secure housing, an education system centered around the individual abilities and needs of all children, the abolition of tuition fees and an expansion of investment into science and technology, and an social unconditional support for elderly, disabled and vulnerable people. As Jack Monroe has stated, a Labour Party which apes and Tories and UKIP on scapegoating of immigrants and benefit claimants has no right to claim to stand for social justice. For its conformity to the ideological austerity agenda, Labour are known as the Red Tories in Scotland for a good reason. 

Yes, I remember standards in the NHS, and the state schools I attended, improving when Labour were in power in my youth. But I also remember the frighteningly oppressive nature of state bureaucracy and surveillance that expanded under Labour. I remember the Iraq War. I remember the beginnings of state-sanctioned cruelty against social security claimants, such as workfare, sanctions and outsourced disability benefit assessments, that was the genesis of the barbarism and cruelty imposed against them by David Cameron's government. 

"But if you don't vote Labour the Tories will get in". I hope not; I would be happy to see a Labour government tempered by the Greens and perhaps SNP, hopefully abolishing the bedroom tax and protecting the NHS from privatisation, but also one less likely to exactly coopt the rhetoric of the Tory Party on taking "tough decisions" to deal with the "inherited" deficit, caused by the very Thatcherite ideology that Labour aligned to resulting in the economic crisis, as the Labour leadership currently does. An electoral and political system built on blackmail and moral mediocrity is not a democratic one. And the Red Tories seem to rely on it. If Labour supporters have a problem with this supposition then they shouldn't shoot the messengers.

I am one tens of thousands who have joined a Green Party that has massively surged in membership and popularity in recent months. It should consider itself in league with parties like Syriza and Podemos that are part in the Europe-wide movement against austerity. Syriza, relegating the New Labour-like PASOK to minor party status and now govern Greece, and Podemos are leading in the national opinions polls in Spain only a year after its formation. On a concluding note I would advocate that our party defects to the European United Left–Nordic Green Left grouping in the European Parliament so we can work with what should be our natural allies.

Is Israel the most racist country on Earth?

Benjamin Netanyahu has been reelected for a fourth term as Prime Minister of Israel. He has done so by expressing an overt and racially charged contempt for democracy. Netanyahu warned that Israeli Arabs, who make up around twenty percent of the Israeli population, would vote for opposition parties that advocate two-state settlement with Palestine. This Fifth Column, as a Netanyahu portrays it, merely advocates that Israel complies with obligations with a consensus in international diplomacy and law: to give the Palestinians the right to a state representation and to end illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories.

The surge in support for Netanyahu and Likud was driven by Netanyahu's promise to oppose any recognition or possible establishment of a State of Palestine. This State would provide a diplomatic representation of the Palestinian people, and would give the Palestinian authorities an administration with which to hold the Israeli state accountable for its violations of international law, including its war crimes, therefore making the possibility of an ICC prosecution of Israeli war crimes more likely. So perhaps Netanyahu, as the one of the main conspirators in the perpetration of war crimes, does have a vested interest to oppose Palestinian statehood in order to decide his own fate. But these war crimes themselves are motivated by a racism that is encapsulated in calls for genocide, or even a Holocaust, of the Palestinians among the Israeli intelligentsia; and given his reelection it is clear that Netanyahu has ruthlessly calculated to ferment this hatred to remain in power. His opposition to the Palestinian fate is not only driven by a fear of democracy and justice, but also a mainstream desire among the Israeli right-wing to eradicate the people symbolized by a political entity in Palestine.

There are few societies on Earth, if any, where racism is more acceptable or ubiquitous than in Israel.