L’affaire Ciccariello-Maher: “White genocide” and beyond

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George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s “off-col­or” joke about gen­o­cide over the hol­i­days has eli­cited a range of re­ac­tions on so­cial me­dia. In the week or so that’s elapsed since he sent out those con­tro­ver­sial tweets, sev­er­al cycles of pub­lic opin­ion have already run their course. Fol­low­ing the ini­tial op­pro­bri­um, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er was even re­buked by his em­ploy­ers at Drexel Uni­versity. This in turn led his sup­port­ers to gath­er sig­na­tures, ur­ging the ad­min­is­tra­tion not to rep­rim­and him fur­ther. Some be­grudgingly offered their solid­ar­ity, more as a mat­ter of prin­ciple than out of ap­prov­al for what he said. While they did not en­dorse his mes­sage, they be­lieved that ex­tra­mur­al polit­ic­al speech should be pro­tec­ted. Oth­ers en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally leapt to de­fend the ori­gin­al “white gen­o­cide” re­mark, al­though Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er in­sists he it made in jest, “not only on grounds of aca­dem­ic free­dom and free speech, but even more strongly on the basis of its polit­ic­al con­tent.” A few re­fused to provide him with any back­ing what­so­ever, cit­ing his fail­ure to do like­wise after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Par­is two years earli­er. Luck­ily, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er later re­vealed that he’d re­cently re­ceived ten­ure, so the whole af­fair proved rather a tem­pest in a tea­cup. His job was nev­er in ser­i­ous danger to be­gin with.

Nev­er­the­less, now that it’s over, it might be worth tak­ing a look at the vari­ous re­sponses to this im­broglio. Be­fore sur­vey­ing all these, however, I might as well lay my cards out on the ta­ble: I’m not a “free speech ab­so­lut­ist.” Un­der ex­traordin­ary con­di­tions — say, of re­volu­tion­ary civil war — some demo­crat­ic rights will likely have to be sus­pen­ded. Even un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, there are lim­its re­lated to li­bel, slander, and in­cit­ing a pan­ic. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, though, people should be able to say or write whatever the fuck they want. Trot­sky had it more or less right in his tract on “Free­dom of Press and the Work­ing Class” (1938). “Once at the helm [of the state],” wrote Dav­idovich, “the pro­let­ari­at may find it­self forced, for a cer­tain time, to take spe­cial meas­ures against the bour­geois­ie, if the bour­geois­ie as­sumes an at­ti­tude of open re­bel­lion against the work­ers’ state. In that case, re­strict­ing free­dom of the press goes hand in hand with all the oth­er meas­ures em­ployed in wa­ging a civil war: if you are forced to use ar­til­lery and planes against the en­emy, you can­not per­mit this same en­emy to main­tain his own cen­ters of news and pro­pa­ganda with­in the armed camp of the pro­let­ari­at… Yet in this in­stance, too, if the spe­cial meas­ures are ex­ten­ded un­til they be­come an en­dur­ing pat­tern, they in them­selves carry the danger of get­ting out of hand and of the work­ers’ bur­eau­cracy gain­ing a polit­ic­al mono­poly that would be one of the sources of its de­gen­er­a­tion.”

Colin Beckett, Corey Robin, and Richard Seymour

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Verso Books published a con­cise sum­mary of the or­deal by Colin Beck­ett, which went over the timeline of events. Beck­ett con­cluded that “Drexel’s ini­tial re­sponse to com­plaints about Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er il­lus­trates that un­prin­cipled, PR-con­scious ad­min­is­trat­ors are eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated by the slight­est hint of con­tro­versy,” and im­plored his read­ers to “re­main vi­gil­ant and make it more dif­fi­cult for uni­versit­ies… to cater to right-wing out­rage, real or fake, than po­lice the speech of its em­ploy­ees.” Jac­obin re­pos­ted Corey Robin’s call to “De­fend George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er” from his per­son­al blog, a reas­on­able enough piece, des­pite its praise for the as­so­ciate pro­fess­or’s “ex­cel­lent work on Venezuela and polit­ic­al the­ory.” With all due re­spect to Robin, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s stuff on Venezuela is lazy tripe. It amounts to little more than re­hash­ing the crudest talk­ing points pre­pared by the Bolivari­an re­gime. He once gran­ted an in­ter­view to Amy Good­man of Demo­cracy Now! in which jus­ti­fy Ma­duro’s jail­ing of Leo­poldo López, the mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion lead­er, back in 2015. López was sen­tenced to four­teen years for fo­ment­ing un­rest and al­legedly plot­ting to over­throw the gov­ern­ment. Guess what evid­ence was presen­ted as proof of his crime? Yup, that’s right: prob­lem­at­ic tweets.

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Garbation

The first issue of the neo-Cliffite webzine Salvage approvingly quotes the renowned Iranian Marxist revolutionary Ali Shariati, to the effect that humanity is located somewhere “between mud and providence.” Shariati is the author of such timeless classics as Marxism and Other Western Fallacies. Promising indeed.

Because supposedly between salvation and garbage there is salvage.

Or, better yet: Because between garbage and salvation there is garbation.

mek_demo1979shariatikhomeiniposters copy 2

Noreaga explains:

All our whips got navigation
While your whips is just garbation
Is you knowing what you facing?

Got to love any Marxist publication whose primary sources of inspiration seem to be Judith Butler, Ali Shariati, and Naomi Klein. Read Ritual instead.

Still better: between Socialist Worker and garbage there is SeWa☭e.

Sewage

Still

Wages for masturbation? Burning questions of our movement

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Owen Jones, ageless boy wonder of the British Left, has apparently upset some of his more matronly fans. Seems he wasn’t sufficiently scandalized by revelations that Labour MP Simon Danczuk from Rochdale beats off at work. “Who cares?” asked Jones in The Guardian, as if shrugging his shoulders. “Danczuk is a human being with flaws. For me, it’s the political flaws that matter.”

Socialist Wanker

Not everyone is taking this matter so lightly, of course, as our preceding remarks suggest. EP from the matfem (maternal feminist, not materialist feminist) blog All Mothers Work scolds Jones for laughing this off:

Too many men, like Owen Jones, seem to think that men have a right to do whatever they want sexually, at any time, in any situation. His attitude throughout his piece is tiresomely familiar; a pathetically schoolboyish sneer at deluded prudes who clutch their pearls at the thought of a bit of wanking. Let’s cut the bullshit: anybody who thinks it is acceptable to masturbate at work is not fit to be in decent society and needs therapeutic help.

What might such sentiments mean for the international proletariat, however? Can the toiling masses not demand “the right to jerk”? Need we remind you that Marx’s Das Fapital is the Bible of the wanking class? Didn’t Lukács write something about the simultaneous autoerotic subject-object of History?

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Luckily, the good folks over at Left Unity in Britain were pondering these questions just the other day. Comrade Coates mentioned it in passing in a post entitled “Wanking while you work: Debate shakes Left Unity, but we have the whole unexpurgated version for you here to enjoy. It’s a bit long, so we’ll break it up and intersperse commentary throughout.

Left Unity right to masturbate at work thread, part 1

Ugh.

Bet you hadn’t considered the dilemma faced by “professional sperm donors.” Personally, I would have never thought of that. The commenter Colin Chambers is right to bring up the decision in Brazil, though. It’s very relevant.

According to the popular mental health magazine Uncovered, a Brazilian woman recently won a landmark case. Charlotte Fantanelli reports that the court found in favor of Ana Catarian Bezerra, a 36-year-old accountant suffering from a severe chemical imbalance. Her condition requires that she masturbate up to forty-seven times per day, though meds have brought that number down to as low as eighteen. Under the new ruling, Ms. Bezerra will be allowed to watch pornography and periodically pleasure herself while at work. It is unclear whether or not she will remain on the clock during such times.

Obviously, this could have major economic repercussions should other countries and their legal and judicial systems follow suit. Fantanelli spells out its radical implications: “The need to orgasm [is now] recognized by law.”

Who’s to say that masturbation is unproductive labor, either? It’s perfectly legitimate for wankers to demand wage compensation for their self-gratification. PornHub just released its new Wankband last month, which recharges your phone using repeated movement of the wrist. Half the world’s energy problems could be solved right there.

Enough idle speculation, though. Back to the sexperts in the public Left Unity thread. Continue reading

“Decolonial” dead-end: Houria Bouteldja and the new indigenism beyond Left and Right

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Remember back when Jacobin was promoting Vivek Chibber? Interviewing Walter Benn Michaels? Publishing articles by Adolph Reed? When Bhaskar Sunkara first introduced the journal in 2011, he explained that while “Jacobin is not an organ of a political organization nor captive to a single ideology,” its contributors could all generally be considered “proponents of modernity and the unfulfilled project of the Enlightenment.”

How distant those days seem now. Lately, the semi-quarterly periodical has taken more particularist turn. Today, it published a piece by the “decolonial” critics Houria Bouteldja and Malik Tahar Chaouch, representatives the Party of the Republic’s Natives [le Parti des Indigènes de la république] in France. Bouteldja and Chaouch condemned the “vague humanism, paradoxical universalisms, and the old slogans of those who ‘keep the Marxist faith’,” saying that these fail to grasp the new material reality of race’s intertwinement with religion in the West. Essentializing indigenous difference, and blasting the establishment politics of the so-called “white left,” the authors resuscitated the worst of 1960s Maoist rhetoric regarding not only the Third World — this relic of Cold War geopolitics — but also marginalized peoples of Third World descent living in First World nations. (A hyperlink embedded in the article refers readers to a collection of essays by all the usual suspects: liberals and ex-Maoists such as Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, and Jacques Rancière).

Calls for “national unity,” especially of the sort called for by the French state following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, are no doubt reactionary to the core. It is important not to lose sight of this fact when raising criticisms of Bouteldja and Chaouch’s argument. This is not what is at issue. What is at issue here is rather the compatibility or incompatibility of revolutionary Marxism with their decolonial worldview. Framing their activism in terms of a rupture with the status quo, the authors wrote:

Despite its marginalization and relative weakness, political anti-racism has succeeded in giving rise to a significant Palestine solidarity movement, putting Islamophobia at the heart of public debate and building various mobilizations of the descendants of postcolonial immigration. This marked a break with the ruling parties and in particular the white left.

Adolph Reed has already convincingly demonstrated the poverty of anti-racist politics, so I won’t reprise his argument here. More pertinent, at present, is the way Bouteldja and Chaouch characterize their relation to the “white left,” and to the radical Left more broadly. Jacobin, which once saw its mission as bringing about “the next left” (echoing Michael Harrington), presumably provides a platform for leftist discourse and debate — everyone from Marxists to anarchists to left-liberals and market socialists. Do Bouteldja and Chaouch really fall along this end of the political spectrum, however?

Not if you ask them. To her credit, Bouteldja at least harbors no illusions when it comes to her convictions. (One cannot say the same of Jacobin’s editors, who chose to publish her coauthored piece). She rejects the Left-Right distinction, an inheritance of the French Revolution, as a colonial imposition. “My discourse is not Leftist,” Bouteldja declared in an address last year. “It is not Rightist either. However, it is not from outer space. It is decolonial.”

Politics proposing a “third way” — a supposed alternative to the venerable categories of Left and Right — is nothing new, of course. Third Positionism has flourished for over a century now, from fascism to Peronism and beyond. Nevertheless, there is a certain novelty to Bouteldja’s claim that Left and Right are inapplicable to indigenous politics, as a foreign set of values foisted upon them from outside. Indeed, this is a rhetorical gesture several times, with respect to a number of different political and intellectual traditions.

Marxism? Enlightenment? Universalism? Rationality? All inventions of the decadent bourgeois West, apparently. Continue reading

If Charlie Hebdo is racist, then so am I — Zineb el-Rhazoui responds to Olivier Cyran

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Once more on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Since it happened more than a week ago, various commentators have explored the issue of the magazine’s alleged Islamophobia. A quality that, if I might say so myself, is quite often in evidence. Nevertheless, the matter is more complex and opaque than a few unambiguously racist images lifted from their original context would suggest.

For starters, I’d recommend checking out the Olivier Cyran article from 2013, translated by Daphne Lawless, to get a sense of some of the internal dissent that existed within their editorial team since 2001. But I’ve done some looking around and learned that even this article probably isn’t definitive, since it’s pretty clear Cyran had a messy falling out with some of the staff at Charlie Hebdo. Still, I don’t think Cyran can be entirely discredited even if he did have an axe to grind with some of the staff.

And there’s also this, a riposte written by a Muslim woman who worked for Charlie Hebdo when Cyran’s article appeared. She points out that he omitted her name in discussing the various cartoonists at the magazine. Which she says is an understandable mistake, pouring salt on the wound, since her name is “difficult to remember,” signing it in full at the end: Zaynab bint Mohammad ibn al-Mâatî al-Rhazwî al-Harîzî. Either way, however, it seems beyond question that Philippe Val — the editor who took over after 2001 — is an ardent Zionist and neocon creep. His promotion to this position would seem in line with the magazine’s overall rightward drift, post-9/11.

Regardless, I’m reposting a slightly modified translation of the Zineb el-Rhazoui reply by Seth Ackerman below. It appears in a link toward the end of his most recent Jacobin piece, but since many may not have read it I thought I’d give it a broader platform. Like Kenan Malik, el-Rhazoui is a thorn in the side of “white knight” do-gooders from the Marxist camp, like Richard Seymour, who’d like to simplify matters and speak out on behalf of all the Muslim immigrants living in Europe. Maybe she’ll be tarred as just another Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a liberal interventionist and outspoken critic of Islam. Or maybe, just maybe, she’ll be read on her own terms.

[I will only add that the translation of Gruppe Soziale Kämpfe’s statement on the persecution of Muslims throughout the West is worth reading, and that it can be found on Comrade Seymour’s blog.]

15-1502-AEDBD00ZeGxjdm1sMTI=_o_lacite-inch-allah---zineb-el-rhazoui-22

If Charlie is racist, then so am I

Zineb el-Rhazoui
Cercle des volontaires
December 22, 2013
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On December 5th [2013], I learned in the press that I have a terrible disease. The diagnosis, by Olivier Cyran on the website Article 11, is definitive: I am a racist. Being of French citizenship, I was anxious to identify which races were likely to activate my white-woman antibodies before the malady could advance any further. My suspicions naturally gravitated to the descendants of those exotic hordes who are said to be invading Old France to steal our bread, my bread. The Chinese? I’ve received no Asian complaint on this score. The blacks of Africa and elsewhere? That happens to be the color of the man I love. The drinkers of vodka? I just came back from a year’s exile in Slovenia and don’t especially remember being allergic to Slavic charms. Who then? “Whites”? I wouldn’t venture to think Olivier Cyran could adhere to the theory of “anti-white racism.” No. I didn’t have to make it far into the piece to be reassured that his diagnosis was more precise: my racism, thank God (that idiot), is only aimed at Muslims, and I  contracted this dangerous syndrome from the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. An occupational illness, then. Because Olivier Cyran is himself a veteran of the shop, though I never had the pleasure of meeting him — since he had the luck, and the balls, according to him, to get out before the infection could spread  through the paper — I’ve decided to address him as tu, since we use tu among colleagues at Charlie.

Olivier, you start from the premise that the Muslims of Azerbaijan, of Bosnia, of Malaysia, Egypt or Burkina Faso, represent a single whole that can be designated as a “race.” Well, it so happens that that’s the one I belong to. The fact that I’m an atheist, and proud of it? It makes no difference, since you don’t ask us what we think; you talk about racism, and therefore race. I won’t keep beating around the bush, since I don’t doubt for a second that, like me, you perfectly understand the distinction between a religion and a race. If you make this lamentable conflation, it’s because you engage in a sociological fallacy whose origins lie in the demography of France: our Muslims are most often those we call “Arabs.” I’m sort of starting to understand why you speak of racism. But let’s try to be precise: we’re not talking about the Arabs of Lebanon, who are rarely encountered in the French projects, nor the persecuted Arab Ahwazi minority of Iran, whom nobody in France talks about, and certainly not the Arabs of Qatar who keep Louis Vuitton in business.  No, you’re talking about the “Arabs” of North Africa. (And here again, it so happens to be the “race” from whence I sprang). Moreover, for your information, those “Arabs” aren’t always Arabs. The best-informed people in France know that they are Berbers, a word of Greek origin, “Bearded,” which refers to us Amazighes, Imazighen — Free Men, as we like to call ourselves. I am thus triply qualified to dispel the obvious confusion you manifest when you identify those you claim to be defending: the Muslim race.

A Muslim you will stay

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Among the individuals that you assign to this racial category, there are militant atheists like me, obviously secularist [laïque]. There are atheists who have other fish to fry, they are secularists too. There are atheists who love Charlie Hebdo and support it; others less so or not at all. There are agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, deists; they are secularists as well. There are believers who are non-practicing but politically Islamist, practicing but secularist, or even those with “no opinion,” whose daily lives do not suffer because of Charlie Hebdo. There are converts to Christianity — and oh, are they secularist, for they’ve endured the terrors of theocracy in their countries of origin. And finally there are the fundamentalists [intégristes], the militant Islamists, the adherents of an identity defined above all by religion, and those are the ones you have chosen to defend. Those are the ones who, given the reality of  French laïcité, have no other choice than to cry racism, a tear in their eye and a hand on their heart, on the pretext that their “religious feelings” have been mocked by a drawing in Charlie. Among them you will find many who stand for laïcité in France but vote Ennahda in Tunisia, who do their shopping at a Parisian halal butcher but would cry scandal if an eccentric decided to open a charcuterie in Jeddah. Who are outraged when a day care center fires a veiled employee but say nothing when someone they know forces his daughter to wear the veil. They are a minority. But they are the standard to which you have chosen to align the identity of all of us.

Enough generalities, which I didn’t think a man of the pen needed to be reminded of. If I’ve taken up mine to answer you, it is not solely to defend myself from racism, but above all because in my journalist’s memory I have rarely resented an opinion column as much as I did yours. If you will allow an Arab to address her own complaint, let me tell you that your rhetoric and arguments are the most sophisticated variety of racism that exists in France. Rare are those today who would risk shouting from the rooftops, “Ragheads Out!” The extremists who would do so would immediately be jeered by you, by me, and by a majority of the French people. First of all, you quote Bernard Maris, Catherine, Charb, Caroline Fourest. What about me, what about me! You preferred to omit my name, when it was my articles that you pointed to as dangerously “Islamophobic,” thus, according to you, necessarily racist. Frankly, I wondered why, and I see only two options:

Either

  1. you didn’t want to let Charlie Hebdo’s detractors (who can only subscribe to your thinking if they never read the paper) know that the author of these racist ravings belongs precisely to the Muslim “race,” or
  2. you simply didn’t think that, as a person, I was worth naming, since in a fascist rag like Charlie I couldn’t be anything but the house Arab.

I must have been hired as an alibi, so that Charlie could hit its diversity quota, but you could never imagine that I could be brought on staff for the same reasons that you were. An Olivier, of course, is hired for his professional qualities; a Zineb is only hired by affirmative action. Or maybe you spared me because in my case you have no personal scores to settle, as you do with a fair number of your former colleagues. In that case, I would have readers seek the motives behind your article somewhere other than the realm of ideas.

Racism by omission

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A Zineb who spits on Islam, that’s beyond you, isn’t it? It disconcerts you so much that you preferred not to name me, so as not to introduce any doubt as to the veracity of your accusations of racism against us, the journalists of Charlie. If the expression “spit on Islam” shocks you, let me answer you on that too. Why the hell is a “white person” who spits on Christianity an anticlerical, but an Arab who spits on Islam is alienated, an alibi, a house Arab, an incoherence that one would prefer not even to name? Why? Do you think that people of my race, and myself, are congenitally sealed off from the ubiquitous ideas of atheism and anticlericalism? Or is it that you think that unlike other peoples, our identity is solely structured by religion? What is left of an Arab when he no longer has Islam? To listen to you, a person like me must be some kind of harki of the Koran, we are traitors so profoundly stricken by a racial complex that we harbor a single regret, that of not being white. As for me, my interactions with Muslims and Arabs did not begin with the [1983] Marche des beurs. I’m what is called a blédarde, born in Morocco to an indigenous father and French mother. It’s there that I was educated and began my career as a journalist in a weekly paper that was shut down by the regime in 2010. My colleagues from the old country can explain to you how, in 2006, the Moroccan police state, which had other scores to settle with us, organized a fake demonstration of Islamists in front of the office of the Journal Hebdo, which was accused of having published Charlie′s caricatures. In reality, it was a photo of a random person seated at a café terrace holding a copy of Charlie Hebdo. I can also tell you that your piece in Article11 was posted on Moroccan websites, the same kind of sites that would never dare to poke their noses into a corruption scandal involving the King, for example. I won’t hide from you that on this one you managed to make not only the Islamists happy but also the Moroccan dictatorship that forced me and several of my colleagues into exile, and which continues to harass us as traitors to the nation, henchmen of foreign powers hostile to Morocco, even to Islam. A piece like yours is worth its weight in gold to the royalist police agents, who sponsored a “dossier” against Charlie published in a gutter newspaper in Casablanca. It informs readers that, among other things, the Molotov cocktail attack on Charlie′s offices in November 2011 was an insurance fraud, and that Charb drives a Ferrari thanks to all the dough we make. I don’t know if you’ve heard from Charb since you left the paper, but he still hasn’t passed his driving test. In another Morroccan article on Charlie, I learned I’d been hired because I had slept with Caroline Fourest and that my reporting was financed by the Algerian, Spanish, Israeli secret services. Clearly a raghead can’t really be hired for the same reasons as an Olivier.

My friend, I know you have nothing to do with the whole journalistic sewer that serves the Mohammed VI dictatorship. I simply want to show you who you’re making happy, if my pieces on Islam might occasionally please a few members of the Front Nationale.

You see, Olivier, as a blédarde born in the Maghreb, assigned against my will to a religious pigeonhole, not only by you, but above all by a theocratic state that does not allow me to choose my faith and which governs my personal status by religious laws, I have always wondered why guys like you lie down before Islamist propaganda. The laws of my country do not grant me a quarter of the rights you acquired at birth, and if I were to be attacked or raped in the streets of Casablanca by a barbu, as has been promised in hundreds of emails — never taken seriously by the Morroccan police — the websites that posted your article will definitely say I was asking for it because I don’t respect Islam. And you here in France, in a secularist state, you rehash, without grasping its implications, this whole moralizing discourse about how one must “respect Islam,” as demanded by the Islamists, who do not ask whether Islam respects other religions, or other people. Why the hell should I respect Islam? Does it respect me?  The day Islam shows the slightest bit of consideration to women, first of all, and secondly toward free-thinkers, I promise you I will rethink my positions.

The Front Nationale? Don’t know them

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It is not in order to please the Front Nationale that I fight alongside all the atheists of Morrocco, Tunisia, Egypt, or Palestine. Because believe me, a lot of virulent atheists in the Arab world — so virulent they regularly spend time in jail for blasphemy — have never heard of Marine Le Pen, and couldn’t possibly care if what they say pleases the French far right, because they’re too busy fighting their own far right: Islamism. If you will permit us, we “Islamophobes” of the Muslim race think the liberation of our societies will necessarily come through emancipation from the yoke of state religion. Since that is what Islam is more or less everywhere in the so-called Arab countries, you’ll also find there a strong opposition to theocracy, which is fed not only by the universal idea of separation of church and state but also by the skepticism and historicization of Islamic texts. We permit ourselves just about anything, such as, for example, thinking that Mohammed, and even Allah, are not unrepresentable. Caricatures, parodies of Koranic verses or hadiths, you just have to look around on our internet forums to see that Charlie was not the original source here.

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Je suis Bezbozhnik

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Just over a week ago, I published a series of antireligious images from the early Bolshevik journal Bezbozhnik u stanka along with an article by Leon Trotsky from 1925 on the subject of atheistic propaganda. In it, he praised “the satirical journal Godless, where there are a great many cartoons, sometimes quite effective ones, by some of our best cartoonists…Issue after issue one finds in its pages an ongoing, tireless duel being conducted with Jehovah, Christ, and Allah, hand-to-hand combat between the talented artist [Dmitrii] Moor and God. Of course, we are to a man on Moor’s side completely.” Many of the images are every bit as offensive as the ones printed by the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, the offices of which were recently the target of a brutal assault by reactionary Islamists. Eleven were killed that day, executioner-style. Several hostages at a printing house and a kosher market in Paris were murdered along with the gunmen in the standoff a few days later.

There was obviously no way of knowing this tragedy would take place when I uploaded the aforementioned post. Like everyone else, I followed the drama that unfolded and watched with dismay the flailing attempts by various leftists to spin the story to fit their own preexisting narratives. Richard Seymour’s article over at Jacobin, which largely framed subsequent debate, was exemplary in this respect. While he condemned violence against civilians, he nevertheless felt it necessary to add that “there’s a critical difference between solidarity with the journalists who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that [they] are somehow ‘legitimate targets,’ and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication.” Appended to this was the condescending suggestion: “If you need to be convinced of this, then I suggest you do your research, beginning with Edward Said’s Orientalism as well as some basic introductory texts on Islamophobia.”

Der Stürmer, Sonderausgabe 1934

Islamophobia has been Seymour’s main concern for some time now. Other issues occasionally show up, such as austerity and intersectionality, but these are few and far between. Wasn’t always so: back in 2004 you could still find him defending revolutionary universalism against the idiocy of left-liberal multiculturalism. Take this entry, “Jihad Chic,” from 2004 (back when Seymour was just a poor man’s Christopher Hitchens). Anyway, going from his description of Charlie Hebdo above — i.e., “frankly a racist publication” — one could easily get the mistaken impression that it’s some latter-day Der Stürmer. Surprisingly, Seymour seems totally oblivious to the context in which this imagery appears. His old buddy Sebastian Budgen, on whom he relies for most of his gossip about the French Left, came much closer to getting this right:

There is a silly debate about whether Charlie Hebdo is a “racist” publication or not. Clearly not, in the sense of its origins lying in a left-wing, post-′68, highly transgressive vulgarity and its opposition to the far Right. It is part of the mental furniture of much of the French Left, radical included (think of a mash-up between Private Eye, Viz, Oz, Ben Elton, and The Young Ones), and most people will have affectionate memories of it prior to the 2000s. Charb himself illustrated Daniel Bensaïd’s Marx for Beginners books not so long ago.

Not just that, either. Cabu, one of the staff cartoonists, got his start as a kind of avant la lettre Oliver North. He’d served as a colonial soldier in Algeria, but later publicly lampooned French militarism in numerous comic strips. Virtually everyone involved in the magazine had campaigned on behalf of immigrants and mocked right-wing nationalists like Marine Le Pen. (There is cruel irony in the fact that she’s now cynically using their memory for political gain). Regardless, Seymour’s brief characterization is highly misleading. Perhaps certain cartoons in the magazine could be construed as racist or antisemitic, and several clearly are, but to smear the entire project and those involved in it as virulent racists is grossly unfair. One comrade even went so far as to compare the victims of the attack to “Nazbols.”

Bob from Brockley posted a response to Seymour written by Contested Terrain on his blog. The rest of Seymour’s argument is boilerplate; Contested Terrain parries its thrusts with relative ease. Seymour, he contends, “portrays the attacks in an extremely general way, as if they are somehow a natural (though too violent) response to anti-Muslim racism in France and Europe, rather than being the specific strategic actions taken by specific actors.” This weakness is compounded by an overall reticence to entertain that it might have origins in Islamist ideology. “In [Seymour’s] account, even pointing out the specific radical Islam linkages behind this amounts to supporting state repression against Muslims in general.” He’s since posted a rejoinder to the criticisms he’s received, which more or less states that he thought some things went without saying. Continue reading

“Race-play” and BDSM revisited: Looking back at the ISN split

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Several months have passed since the fiasco around the infamous image of the oligarchess Dasha Zhukova sitting on Bjarne Melgaard’s chair in the shape of a black woman led to mass resignations in Britain’s newly-formed International Socialist Network (ISN). Richard Seymour and Magpie Corvid, both of whom helped to found the fledgling group just months after it broke away from the publicly disgraced Socialist Workers Party (SWP), ventured into an online discussion about sexual and racial taboos related to the chair. Seymour, a famous blogger and writer for Verso, and Corvid, herself a well-known dominatrix, were almost immediately branded mansplaining, racist perverts for even entertaining the idea that such stuff was permissible if all parties consented. Needless to say, the whole thing was a farce. Together with the sci-fi author China Miéville and a host of other prominent ISN cadre, they  split from the party amidst outrage and recrimination.

Anyway, I covered that entire saga back when it was still unfolding in late January. But it’s back in the news, so I thought it’d be fitting to take a look back. The Times ran a full-page story on the incident, authored by David Brown and Jonathon Manning. It’s a serviceable enough mainstream account. From what I hear, the New Statesman also put out a retrospective this week on the still-earlier SWP “rapegate” scandal, which is what led to the formation of the ISN in the first place. New Statesman is probably less keen to write up anything about Seymour’s subsequent follies, as they published the so-called “Discourse on Brocialism” between him and fellow Guardian  columnist Laurie Penny last November. Continue reading

Ideas instigator

“Intersectionality” as
a marketing strategy

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Picking up where I left off:

Even the faintest hint that someone thinks Flavia Dzodan looks white is intolerable to the image she’s cultivated on the internet, both to herself as well as to others. Flavia is, after all, the self-appointed spokeswoman of “women of color” (often abbreviated “WoC”) everywhere. WoC are apparently just one homogeneous, undifferentiated bloc, as it turns out. I bet you didn’t know that. Hence Dzodan’s constant use of the first-person plural in all her articles, the so-called “imperial we.” Personally, this title always struck me as a misnomer, since it implies that one’s “color” is decisive. At least in Flavia’s case, the color is pretty run-of-the-mill whitebread — if not lily-white, as these particular photos suggest. Maybe they’re misleading, not truly representative. It doesn’t really matter, except insofar as it bears upon her brand. Though these things seem to be separable at first glance, closer inspection reveals that “the person behind the brand” is part of the brand itself.

Indeed, the concept of “branding” is a useful way to understand her whole persona. Since rising to prominence back in 2011 with her mini-manifesto, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit,” Flavia has built a following of likeminded supporters promoting “intersectionality” while demoting “white feminism.” Yeah, it’s a one-trick pony. But it’s become so routine by this point that even novices can learn it with relative ease. Dzodan’s slogan proved so contagious that even certified squares such as Richard Seymour started using it. Much of her success over the last few years has owed to this ability to make herself all but ubiquitous, with many of her memes regarding “white feminist tears,” “silencing voices,” and “erasure” going viral within no time. This is Flavia’s great hidden talent, the secret behind her pseudo-celebrity. And it would be disingenuous to deny her that. Without it, she would be nothing. No one would have even heard of her.

Flavia describes herself unironically on her professional website as an “ideas instigator.” Besides politics and media analysis, of course, Dzodan is primarily interested in business development. As most know by now, I am skeptical of the “radical” claims of multiculturalism and intersectionality. Despite frequent appeals to some vague idea of communism, I consider the politics that result from these thought-figures to be little more than social justice liberalism. Several weeks ago, then, I made the offhand remark that most of the “radical” proponents of intersectionality today will probably end up as marketing specialists — cultural diversity consultants for ad agencies — within a few more years. Here, as with most things when it comes to this crowd, Flavia is way ahead of the curve. Long before anyone else got around to it, she began incorporating intersectionality into her schemes for messaging in media. Quite far from being incompatible with the interests of capitalism, however, she rightly points out that this is just smart business practice:

  • I believe that social principles of inclusion, diversity, fairness, equality, and respect are the foundation upon which we should build both our for and non profit organizations.
  • I believe that inclusion and awareness matter in communications because, a message that is sent out without taking all parties into consideration is an ineffective one.

This is in keeping with the argument I made several posts back regarding the new gender options on Facebook. Users might well feel liberated by the increased array of possible choices, but the real payoff as far as companies buying adspace are concerned is the finer gradience of information that’s available. All of which is to say that diversity and inclusiveness is entirely compatible with bourgeois society. Maybe Coca-Cola got in touch with Flavia for their Superbowl ad? Continue reading

Further adventures in intersectionality

On the hounding of Laurie
Penny & Richard Seymour
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James Heartfield
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“White settlers” who “cut off indigenous people’s hair as part of genocide”; you make “a lot of erasing statements,” to “silence” and “exclude,” in the name of “white solidarity.”

— commenter, discussing a piece
about women with short hair

How fucking dare you…turn around and put the word “racist” in quotation marks like the accusation is a trivial or silly one…your response has been at all times to try and define this racism out of existence…your response at all turns has been to argue, essentially, we’ve got a moral chip on our shoulders. YOU FUCKING CRACKER.

— commenter, discussing the
racism of an advertisement

Who could they be talking about? Are these perhaps some racist white settlers exterminating indigenous people, and degrading blacks?

Well, no. In the first paragraph are tweets to the New Statesman columnist and feminist Laurie Penny, and the second paragraph are replies to the Guardian columnist and self-styled revolutionary socialist Richard Seymour. Both Penny and Seymour have made a point of arguing, moreover, for the latest fad in leftist thinking: intersectionality. “Intersectionality” supposedly means taking seriously the many different oppressions, and how they intersect. “My socialism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit,” Seymour has made a point of saying. Given that they are so keen to speak out against oppression in all its multi-layered forms, it seems really bad luck that they should be accused of being “racist crackers” and “white settlers.”

Why are they the ones denounced? And who are the critics who judge them so harshly? They are their friends. Yes, that’s right. That is what their friends think of them. In Richard Seymour’s case, it is what his own comrades in the International Socialist Network — that he recently helped to set up — think of him: that he is “a fucking cracker.” Laurie Penny says that the woman who tweeted or re-tweeted all of the posts above — about her being a settler engaged in genocide — is someone she takes very seriously: “I care what you think,” Penny reassured her. Continue reading

First as tragedy, then as farce…then as low-budget bondage porn

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Richard Seymour, China Mieville, and Magpie Corven have, along with several others, resigned from the fledgling International Socialist Network following an internet row over interracial lesbian bondage porn and its ideological implications. (Not kidding. You can read about the original incident here and the ISN Steering Committee’s official response here). Jara Handala alerted me to this development by linking me to the online document they published on Dropbox; thanks for that.

The toxicity of these witch-hunts and irresponsible accusations probably requires no further explanation or commentary by me. But hey, I’ll say a couple words about it anyway.

First, while I’m hardly sympathetic to Seymour as an intellectual or political figure, I hold no sympathies for the International Socialist Network either. As far as I can tell, they are little more than Cliffite Trots who’ve lately supplemented this old-fashioned, weak-tea brand of revolutionary socialism with vogue theories of “intersectionality.” Probably to compensate for the culture of institutionalized sexism that characterized the British Socialist Workers Party following its scandalous coverup of rape allegations about a year ago.

Second, in this particular instance I actually find Seymour and Magpie to be far less ridiculous than their accusers. Granted, Seymour’s a stubborn and arrogant prick — but hey, aren’t we all? Like I said a couple posts ago, there’s part of me that feels like his fall from grace (within International Socialist circles, at least) is a kind of comeuppance, that he somehow deserved to be pilloried and lambasted the way he was because he’d used similar logic to anathematize others. But another part of me felt genuinely sorry for the guy. It’s sad enough that the Left has degenerated to such a pitiful state, where it squabbles over such piddly crap. Did Seymour and co. really need to have their reputations ruined on account of it, though? Tarred as perverts and racists? I don’t think so.

Ad hominem arguments and insinuation cannot stand in for rational, ruthlessly critical discourse and debate. Without tedious moralization and thought-taboos. Seymour can and should be challenged at the level of his ideas and actions, but not on the basis of this nonsense. Below is the letter of resignation they released a few hours ago.

Бухарин

Resignation from the ISN

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To the Steering Committee (SC) and our comrades in the International Socialist Network (ISN):

With great regrets, we are resigning from the ISNetwork. Many of us were involved in the setting up of the network, and we are very sad that it has come to this. We remain in full solidarity with ISN comrades, and look forward to working with them on campaigns.

Despite the repeated characterization of us as a “right bloc,” we do not represent any unified political position beyond our concerns about both the political direction and internal culture of the ISNetwork. It has been clear for some time that our critiques put us in a minority: contrary to a common smear, we have always been willing to argue from this position, and welcomed this political debate. However, there has been an increasing breakdown of trust between us and various leading members of the organization. It is now clear that we are not welcome in the ISN. Continue reading