Euston Manifesto Blog

Norman Geras 1943–2013

Norman Geras, the main author of the Euston Manifesto died in Cambridge, England on 18th October 2013. A Website archiving tributes to Norm and his blogging is at New additions to this archive are posted by the Twitter feed @normfest. A meeting was held in his honour in London on 27th November 2013, at which this photo of Nick Cohen speaking to some of the 100 or so attendees was taken by Euston Manifesto Group member Anthony Cox.

Nick Cohen addresses the Normblog Remembered meeting

Nick Cohen addresses the Normblog Remembered meeting

On the killing of Osama Bin Laden

Norman Geras summarizes some opinion on the legality and morality of the action.

At conservative blog, Claire Berlinski lists some of Bin Laden’s victims.

On Slate, Christopher Hitchens treats the opinionating of Noam Chomsky on the matter with the contempt it deserves.

At the Website of he New Republic tries to put the event in historical perspective.

Halliday on the LSE and Gaddafi

At least one prominent figure involved in the London School of Economics’ discomfort over that institution’s connections with Libya has claimed that critics are operating with the luxury of hindsight. In 2009, Fred Halliday wrote a memorandum to the Council of the London School of Economics, warning it not to accept a grant from the Qaddafi Foundation:

The most important issue of all is that of reputational risk to LSE. I have myself defended acceptance by the School of grants from some authoritarian countries (e.g. Arab Gulf states): but there should be clear limits on this, depending on the degree of political and human rights abuses perpetrated with them and on their ongoing foreign policy conduct. Here I would draw attention not just to the prevailing consensus in Whitehall and the City, which are now happy, for their own legitimate reasons, to do business with Libya, but to broader reputational concerns in regard to British and American public opinion

[Thanks to Naomi McAuliffe for the link.]

more Tunisia coverage: Hartley, Hitchens, BBC, Channel 4

Eustonite blogger Mick Hartley takes issue with at least one aspect of the article by Michael Koplow that I linked to previously, as well as linking to Christopher Hitchens’ 2007 and 2011 commentaries on the political situation in Tunisia.

Both the BBC and Channel 4 ask “the domino question”.

“Tunisia: That ‘Wikileaks Revolution’ meme”

Dan Murphy questions a fashionable view of what triggered what is already being referred to as the Jasmine Revolution:

The theory goes that private US diplomatic cables from the Tunis embassy released via Wikileaks on December 7 revealed to Tunisians that Ben Ali was an authoritarian despot, that his family was supremely corrupt, and that life was crushingly hard for the Tunisian poor and unemployed, spurring them to take to the streets.

It goes without saying that Tunisian’s were well aware of this and more, and that the spark for weeks of street protests and riots that rolled across Tunisia (and, indeed, are still rolling) was the suicide of a desperate young man in mid-December.

Interestingly, in doing so, he finds fault with an article on the Foreign Policy Website, and he is careful to reserve judgement on whether or not the recent dramatic changes in Tunisia are truly revolutionary.

The spark for the Tunisian uprising (I’m reluctant to call it a "revolution" since it certainly isn’t clear, as Tunisians are kept inside tonight by a harshly enforced military curfew, that the established order will be replaced) was the spectacular self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid on December 18. Mr. Bouazizi, a 26-year-old computer science university graduate who couldn’t find a job in his field and had been reduced to selling fruits and vegetables on the street, set himself on fire Dec. 18 after police confiscated his little stand. The official reason was that he didn’t have a permit, but I’d bet the real reason was the he failed to pay a bribe.

“Why Tunisia’s Revolution Is Islamist-Free”

In Foreign Policy, Michael Koplow offers his background view of the dark irony behind the sudden fall of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali—a history of ruthless suppression of Islamist opponents—and a warning for those dreaming of a domino effect:

Unlike in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, and most other secular Arab autocracies, the main challenge to the Tunisian regime has not come from Islamist opposition but from secular intellectuals, lawyers, and trade unionists. The absence of a strong Islamist presence is the result of an aggressive attempt by successive Tunisian regimes, dating back over a half-century, to eliminate Islamists from public life. Ben Ali enthusiastically took up this policy in the early 1990s, putting hundreds of members of the al-Nahda party, Tunisia’s main Islamist movement, on trial amid widespread allegations of torture and sentencing party leaders to life imprisonment or exile. Most influential Tunisian Islamists now live abroad, while those who remain in Tunisia have been forced to form a coalition with unlikely secular and communist bedfellows.

The weakness of Tunisia’s Islamist opposition also makes it difficult to forecast how other Middle Eastern regimes would react to similar protests. It is unthinkable, for example, that Mubarak would not choose to crack down more viciously on protesters given the very real possibility that, if overthrown, Egypt would become an Islamist state. Given the unique nature of Tunisian society, observers hoping that Ben Ali’s fall will portend a similar fate for other Arab autocrats may be left waiting a lot longer than they might now think.

[Thanks to Anthony Cox.]

Communities, majorities, lobbies, and “The Taxpayers’ Alliance”

A blog hosted on The Economist site, of all places, questions the name of a particularly noisy Right-wing UK special interest group—and counterparts in the US:

ONE of the many things that irritate me is people putting themselves forward as self-appointed “spokesmen”, claiming to speak on behalf of enormous masses of other people. Examples are everywhere: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for instance, proudly calls itself “The Voice of British Jewry,” as if it’s possible for a 350,000-strong grouping that includes the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm and the caricature capitalist Sir Alan Sugar to speak with one voice on anything much. The Confederation of British Industry claims to be the “Voice of Business”, as if businessmen were some kind of communal, ant-like hive mind (aren’t they meant to be competing with each other, not cooperating?) Usually, the best we can hope to hear from such outfits is the views of the majority of those who could be bothered to join up.

One particularly striking example is the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which agitates for cutting government waste, lowering taxes and shrinking the state. It’s effective, too: it boasts of scoring over a dozen media mentions a day; some of its advisors have close links with the governing Conservatives. But the name “Taxpayers’ Alliance” is misleading, since it implies that the TPA is speaking for virtually everyone in Britain (since almost everybody pays some tax or other). Okay, few people would support government waste. But there are plenty who don’t like the idea of shrinking the state, including, I would guess, many of the 8.6m who voted Labour at the last election.

Were I a cynic, I might suggest that the TPA’s name is designed to make it sound like some kind of grassroots movement standing up for the ordinary, honest citizen (indeed one of the TPA’s aims is, apparently, to “give taxpayers a voice in the corridors of power”). In fact, of course, it is nothing of the sort: it claims 20,000 members, or 0.03% of the total number of taxpayers in this country. The TPA says that its aim is not to represent the views of all taxpayers—that would be impossible, of course—but to represent their collective “interests”. But again, this is rather disingenuous, since what a rich property magnate with a second home in the Carribbean thinks is in his interests is unlikely to be what an unemployed single mother on a Glasgow estate thinks is in hers. It’s like the attempt we recently noted to call Republican anti-tax activists “taxpayer protectors“.

“Hugo Boss”

In Canada’s National Post, Christopher Hitchens reflects on the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chávez. I have embedded a link to the Washington Post article to which Hitchens refers:

Recent accounts of Hugo Chavez’s politicized necrophilia may seem almost too lurid to believe, but I can testify from personal experience that they may well be an understatement. In the early hours of July 16 — just at the midnight hour, to be precise — Venezuela’s capo officiated at a grisly ceremony. This involved the exhumation of the mortal remains of Simon Bolivar, leader of Latin America’s rebellion against Spain, who died in 1830. According to a vividly written article by Thor Halvorssen in the July 25 Washington Post, the skeleton was picked apart — even as Chavez tweeted the proceedings for his audience — and some teeth and bone fragments were taken away for testing. The residual pieces were placed in a coffin stamped with the Chavez government’s seal. In one of the rather free-associating speeches for which he has become celebrated, Chavez appealed to Jesus Christ to restage the raising of Lazarus and reanimate Bolivar’s constituent parts. He went on:

“I had some doubts, but after seeing his remains, my heart said, ‘Yes, it is me.’ Father, is that you, or who are you? The answer: ‘It is me, but I awaken every hundred years when the people awaken.'”

As if “channeling” this none-too-subtle identification of Chavez with the national hero, Venezuelan television was compelled to run images of Bolivar, followed by footage of the remains, and then pictures of the boss. The national anthem provided the soundtrack. Not since North Korean media declared Kim Jong-il to be the reincarnation of Kim Il Sung has there been such a blatant attempt to create a necrocracy, or perhaps mausolocracy, in which a living claimant assumes the fleshly mantle of the departed.

“What’s the big deal about it?”

For years now, Mick Hartley’s blog has often linked to and summarized journalism that covers the horror and absurdity of life under the North Korean regime. Not only are its subjects prisoners, but the story of their suffering is hidden from the outside world, both by the paranoia and secrecy of the country’s rulers and by the indifference of many outside the country.

A post on Hartley’s blog this week includes a depressing reminder of what can happen outside the prison walls when tyrants take care to kill their victims discreetly: nothing much:

After speaking recently to a group of young South Korean soldiers about North Korea’s harsh labor camps, former prisoner Jung Gyoung Il—himself once a soldier in North Korea’s massive army—was stunned by the questions from the audience.

One soldier asked how many days of leave North Korean soldiers were given. Another asked if North Korean soldiers were allowed to visit their girlfriends.

No one showed any curiosity about the notorious network of gulags, a signature marker of the North’s brutality toward its own people.

In a rare acknowledgment, the South Korean government recently noted in a report that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are languishing in the prison camps. But Seoul has made no public effort to exert pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime over the issue. And many South Koreans, who hold deeply conflicted feelings toward their communist neighbor, are reluctant to even concede that the camps exist.

At universities, Jung said, many students sleep through his lectures about North Korea’s gulags. The indifference still shocks him, five years after he defected to South Korea following three long years in the Yodok gulag characterized by back-breaking labor, a sparse diet and long nights of forced study of former dictator Kim Il Sung’s philosophies.

But such apathy is typical in South Korea, where North Korea’s prison camps have rarely been discussed in public or in the political arena.

“South Koreans say, ‘So what? What’s the big deal about it?'” said Kang Cheol-hwan, a former gulag inmate who wrote about his 10-year imprisonment in ´The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag.”

“What’s more surprising for me,” added Kang, now the director of the North Korea Strategy Center, a human rights advocacy group, “was that South Koreans did not believe gulags ever existed in North Korea. They thought it was a lie.”

Conspiracy Theory Round-Up

After delivering a speech at the “General Conference for the Support of Al-Quds”, Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia shared his suspicions that the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US were staged to provide “an excuse to mount attacks on the Muslim world” with a press conference:

I am not sure now that Muslim terrorists carried out these attacks. There is evidence that the attacks were staged.

If they can make Avatar, they can make anything.

Meanwhile Hugo Chávez has accused the United States of America of using the recent earthquake in Haiti as an excuse to invade the latter country:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claimed Wednesday that the United States is using the devastating quake that hit Haiti last week to occupy the Caribbean nation.

‘The United States government is using a humanitarian tragedy to militarily occupy Haiti. I read somewhere that they even occupied the government palace,’ Chavez complained as he launched a cable car system for poor neighbourhoods in Caracas.

The left-wing populist Venezuelan, an outspoken critic of US policies, said the United States should be sending more doctors and medicine than soldiers.

‘Cuba has more doctors in Haiti than the United States,’ he said.

Chávez is not alone. Other pseudo-Leftist representatives have made similar claims. Associated Press reports:

Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua—all three led by anti-US governments—claimed Washington was using the international relief operation in Haiti as cover for a military takeover.