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Book on Fascism in Black American Literature Between the Two World Wars

Mark Christian Thompson, Black Fascisms: African American Literature & Culture between the Wars (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2007).

This is one of the other books I’ve been reading during the last few days. It’s a fascinating examination of a little known episode of Black American literary history when, in the 1930s and early 1940s, a number of Black American authors and activists took over elements from European Fascism to form their own version of the totalitarian creed. The blurb reads

In this provocative new book, Mark Christian Thompson addresses the startling fact that many African American intellectuals in the 1930s sympathized with fascism, seeing in its ideology a means of envisioning new modes of African American political resistance. Thompson surveys the work and thought of several authors and asserts that their sometimes positive reaction to generic European fascism, and its transformation into black fascism, is crucial to any understanding of Depression-era African American literary culture.

Taking on a subject generally ignored or denied in African American cultural and literary studies, BLACK FASCISMS seeks not only to question the prominence of the Left in the political thought of a generation of writers to change how we view African American literature in general.

Following the introduction, it has the following chapters:

  1. Black Literary Fascism
  2. The Myth of Marcus Garvey: Black Fascism and Nationalism
  3. George S. Schuyler and the God of Love: Black Fascism and Mythic Violence
  4. “In Turban and Gorgeous Robe”: Claude McKay, Black Fascism, and Labor
  5. His Rod of Power: Zora Neale Hurston, Black Fascism and Culture
  6. Richard Wright’s Jealous Rebels: Black Fascism and Philosophy

Conclusion: Historical Black Fascism, Black Arts, and Beyond

For some, this is no doubt shocking and uncomfortable reading. Thompson states that his book will be controversial, because it seems to challenge the dominance and achievements of Marxism in Black American politics and culture of the period. He does not seek to deny this, but to argue that there was a significant turn away from Communism towards Fascism at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance, and that this was no mere blip in the career of the figures discussed, as some historians and critics have claimed. It’s also remarkable, in that as victims of racism it seems to run counter to reason that Black Americans would embrace a viciously racist ideology associated with White supremacy. But by the early 1940s some Black youngsters had become so alienated from their country, that they were singing songs about how they thought they’d move to Germany because they’d be better off there. The likelihood is that these kids probably didn’t understand what Nazi Germany was really like. The Black intellectuals, who turned to Fascism, didn’t support its specific European versions. They didn’t want to become Nazis or supporters of Mussolini’s Fascists. But they took elements of generic Fascism and adapted it as a vehicle for their own nationalist aspirations and desire for pan-African racial uplift.

Defining Features of Black Fascism

Thompson considers that the main elements in this turn were a dissatisfaction with Communist multiculturalism, the expectation that Ethiopia would produce a strong, modernising leader to redeem Blacks across the world, admiration for newly independent Haiti, and anti-Semitism. Black Fascists rejected Communism, because they were afraid that its emphasis on racial collaboration and the class war would lead to Blacks’ own aspirations and needs being neglected and Blacks used instead to improve conditions for White liberals. The Communist party in turn attempted to harness Black nationalism for the general class struggle, by defining Black Americans as working class. But this also created an anti-White racism that characterised all Whites as members of the exploiting classes. Which strikes me as not at all unlike Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory. The expectations of Black leadership from Ethiopia came from Psalm 68 in the Bible, which states that, after Egypt, Ethiopia will raise its hands to God. Ethiopia was the one African nation not conquered by the Europeans in the 19th century, which seemed to many Black Americans that the country was destined to lead the Black people. Coupled with this was the hope that Black Americans would return to Africa to take up positions of leadership and power in the continent, and free her from the European colonial oppressors. At the same time, the American army had just withdrawn from its occupation of Haiti. Many Black Americans admired this Caribbean nation because of the way it had thrown off French rule in the late 18th century to become a free, Black republic. At the same time, its new president, Stenio Vincent, sweeping autocratic powers dissolving the lower house and allowing him to appoint a sizable proportion of its senate. It was not a democracy in the American sense, as Zora Neale Hurston recognised, but an elected monarchy. Anti-Semitism and a hatred of Italians and Greeks among working class Blacks in Harlem was also part of the turn towards Fascism. The Black soapbox Caesar, Sufi Abdul Hamid, wished to create a separate trade union exclusively for Blacks. He was one of the leaders of a boycott against the White-owned department stores, which refused to employ Black clerks. He succeeded in getting this reversed, but his inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric – many of the stores were Jewish owned – resulted in the 1937 Harlem race riot.

Marcus Garvey and the Invasion of Ethiopia

Chapter one is a general discussion of Black American fascist aesthetics. The first of the writers and activists to be examined is Marcus Garvey, the founder and leader of the United Negro Improvement Association. This was a mass organisation, whose hierarchy was based on that of the army, with Garvey giving his followers various military ranks. Militantly nationalistic, the organisation also campaigned for a return to Africa, and Garvey was also impressed with the Italian Fascist corporatist state. Rejecting Communism, he instead supported private property. Blacks should work to acquire wealth, that they should then use to build the new Black state. However, private wealth should also be limited. Only the state should be able to hold investments over $5 or $6 million.

Of the figures discussed in the book, Garvey is the most overtly Fascist. Indeed, in a 1937 interview he claimed that Hitler and Mussolini based their movements on his. He was no fan of Mussolini, however, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which also caused him to become a bitter critic of its former emperor, Hailie Selassie. Selassie had scarpered to London following the invasion, which bitterly disappointed Garvey. He had also expected the Ethiopian emperor to modernise the country, turning it into a modern, Fascist, corporate state, which would embark on its own destiny of imperial conquest. Selassie had not done this. Garvey also sneered at him because of the Biblical lineage of the Ethiopian monarchy. This claimed descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Thus, Garvey attacked him because he was, by virtue of this descent from the great Israelite king, Jewish. This was in contrast to Simon of Cyrene, who was Black, and Jesus, who was mostly Black.

Schuyler’s Pulp Fiction Supervillain Black Liberator

George S. Schuyler was a Black American writer and journalist, described by the book as somewhat like H.L. Mencken. He had started off as a vague socialist, believing that Africans were innately Communistic, and pan-African. Well, he was until he visited Liberia, which left him bitterly disillusioned to the extent that he wished the US army would invade so that America could take over and improve the country. This changed again with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Schuyler, like many other Black Americans, was outraged and wanted to raise an army of Black American volunteers, who would go and fight for the African nation. Seeking advice from the American foreign department, he was told that was impossible as America wished to preserve its neutrality. Schuyler thus turned to literature to express his anger and desire for revenge, writing the pulp story Black Empire. This tells the story of Dr. Belsidus, a Black American genius, who takes over Africa with his organisation, the Black Internationale, turning it into a military superpower through able to repel the Italians and then embark on the genocidal conquest of Europe through advance Black super science. Black scientists create death rays, hydroponic farms, fax machines and hypno-robots. Hypno-robots? Yes. Belsidus creates a new religion and deity, the God of Love, whose mission is to inculcate Black Africans with belief in their noble descent from the Babylonians and Egyptians and their future greatness. The hypno-robot is a giant, 50-foot tall figure of a naked Black man representing the God of Love, which has the power to move, raising its arms and nodding its head. Its eyes light up to hypnotise the congregation, so that they will become mentally receptive to Belsidus racial doctrines. Aiding Belsidus are a series of White women, his lovers, whom he casually murders if they fail him in bed or in their tasks of bringing down European rule. Belsidus comes across as Yaphet Kotto’s villain in the Bond film, Live and Let Die, but even nastier. He’s a genocide who ruthlessly kills White men, women and children. The story’s a nasty revenge fantasy, written by Schuyler to compensate for the Italian invasion. Schuyler himself didn’t stay a Fascist, but instead became a noted Black Conservative intellectual.

McKay, Sufi Abdul Hamid and Black Labour

Claude McKay was another Black American who had started out as a Communist, but then moved away from it, converting to Roman Catholicism. In the 1930s and ’40s McKay was also concerned with building a Black labour movement for which he also adopted aspects of Fascism. He was also an admirer of Sufi Abdul Hamid, an eccentric individual who styled himself Bishop Amiru Al-Minin Sufi Abdul Hamid, an Egyptian, but whose real identity may have been Eugene Brown of Philadelphia. Hamid had founded his own cult, the Universal Temple of Tranquillity. In 1932 he led a jobs boycott in Chicago and in 1934 led a similar boycott against Blumstein’s department store in Harlem. He was not popular with the other Black intellectuals, who regarded him as a charlatan and racketeer. Before his death in the late 1930s he was trying to promote himself as a cult leader in an attempt to challenge Father Divine. Called the Black Hitler because of his virulently anti-Semitic speeches, Hamid was partly responsible for the 1937 race riot, for which he was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Jewish Minute Men. He appears as ‘Omar’ in McKay’s unfinished novel, Harlem Glory. This is partly an examination of the divided psychology of Black America. ‘Omar’ represents its Fascist side, while Father Divine, who appears as ‘Glory Savior’, and his cult, the ‘Glory Soulers’, represent religion and Communism.

Hurston, Moses and Haiti

Zora Neale Hurston is included because of her novel about Moses leading the Exodus, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in which both the greatest of the Hebrew prophets and his adversary, Pharaoh, have the nationalistic, genocidal qualities of modern Fascist dictators. Hurston also linked Moses to Haiti’s founder, Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s power was represented by the Voodoo god, Damballah, who was also Moses’ rod of power. Damballah’s a snake god, while one of the miracles Moses performed was changing his staff into a snake. This novel is strongly influenced by Hurston’s admiration for Haiti and its authoritarian leader.

Cross Damon, Fascist Murderer or Existentialist Anti-Hero

Wright was another Communist intellectual, who then went to France to hang out with Sartre. He then wrote his own existentialist novel, The Outsider, about a former postal worker, Cross Damon. After losing his job, and suffering problems from the women in his life, Damon becomes a murderer, committing a series of killings across America. The novel was widely criticised at the time for not saying anything about the condition of Black America. Thompson argues that this is untrue. The book does examine their plight, as Damon personifies the Fascist tendency within Black America through his ruthless pursuit of the power over life and death. His murder of two twins, one a Communist, the other a Fascist, shows that to Wright these political creeds were essentially the same, and that Damon is also similar to them through their murder.

The Black Arts Movement and Neo-Fascism

The Black Arts movement was a post-War phenomenon, in which Black intellectuals and artists attempted to create a distinctly Black artistic culture, in contrast and opposition to that of White America. This chapter argues that historic fascism ended with the Second World War, and that its post-War successor, neo-Fascism, is markedly different. Fascism itself is also broader than Nazism, with which it has been identified, and which has itself been reduced to murderous anti-Semitism. It is a distortion, therefore, to describe the Nation of Islam as Fascist and genocidal simply because they held a joint rally with the American Nazi party, for which the party’s Fuhrer, Lincoln Rockwell, donated $20 to them. The chapter nevertheless states that the Black Arts movement constitutes an extreme form of Black nationalism, and ends with a call for it to be examined as a form of neo-Fascism.

Belsidus’ Statue and Fascist Homosexuality

Thompson’s a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so the book is less a work of political science as literary criticism. Thus it frequently refers to the works of such literary theorists as Georges Bataille, Foucault, Althusser and Guy Debord. I found some of the book’s arguments extremely convoluted, particularly in the chapter on Wright and The Outsider. There are times when he seems to be arguing for the Fascist nature of Cross Damon, from that character’s difference to or opposition to Fascism. He also follows the German writer, Ludwig Theweleit, in considering that their is a homosexual component to the Fascists’ adoration of their leaders. This causes the book to contain some bizarre passages about the significance of the penis in some of the pieces discussed. For example, he writes of the Belsidus’ 50 foot statue of a naked Black man

The statue is what Siegried Krakauer calls the “mass ornament”: a ritual object that is “an end in itself”. But even after the “ritual meaning” of such objects is discarded, “they remain the plastic formation of the erotic life which gave rise to them and determined their traits”. (146). The mass ornament is emptied of its ritual content and plenitude and re-cathected with an erotics of power that seeks to control the masses’ libidinal urges by converting them into an iconic religious outpouring. This is why Schuyler’s mass ornament is depicted as “a huge statue of a nude Negro standing with legs apart, gazing sardonically downward with arms crossed. It was all of 50 feet high and every part of the body was clearly depicted” (58). The bearer of the sardonic gaze cannot be mistaken. “Sardonic” is, after all, one of Schuyler’s favorite adjectives for the good Doctor and his notorious gaze. Also inescapable in this mammoth fifty-foot statue of a male Negro is an anatomical accuracy that surpasses the bounds of decency. If one wondered whether Dr. Belsidus’s movement followed the fascist phallocentric logic of male ego-reintegration Theweleit theorizes, the appearance of the fifty foot “God of Love” in all his anatomical glory removes all doubt. (pp. 90-1).

Black Fascism and other Forms of Dictatorship

The book acknowledges that none of the authors and activists discussed founded Fascist parties or movement, and he regards them as individual figures rather than the leaders of mass Fascist organisations. Garvey, with his militaristic nationalism and claims to have inspired the European Fascist dictators is the closest figure to European Fascism. So too is Sufi Abdul Hamid with his emphasis on labour, Black separatism and anti-Semitism. Hamid’s similar to the Nazis in another way: they also hated the department stores as an example of ‘Jewish capital’. Schuyler’s Black Empire is a revenge fantasy, whose hero – or anti-hero – would certainly qualify as a Fascist, even though Belsidus himself doesn’t appear to his followers to make speeches from the balcony. He just leaves that to his naked 50-foot robot. But this doesn’t make Schuyler himself a Fascist or mean that he is calling for a similar Fascist movement. It is questionable, however, whether Hurston’s Moses or Pharaoh are really fascist either. Political scientists have debated the difference between Fascism and other forms of authoritarianism and aggressive, intolerant nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, argues that it possesses distinct features that distinguish it from the militant, dictatorial regimes of some of the nations in Africa and the Developing World. Stenios Vincent was highly authoritarian, but it’s questionable whether his regime can be considered Fascist. This also raises the question of how far Hurston’s Moses and Pharaoh are Fascists, although they certainly act in a way which could be described as fascistic. I find the argument about Wright’s The Outsider rather less convincing. It may be that Cross Damon partakes of part of the psychology of Fascist and Communist dictators through his murders, but it seems to me to be a straightforward piece of existentialist literature rather than an examination of Black American Fascism. It reminds me of Albert Camus’ novel of the same name, about a Frenchman in Algeria who murders an Arab out of boredom. Wright’s outsider is another murderer, but is a Black American rather than French.

Conclusion

I don’t know how far the Black Arts movement could be described as neo-Fascist, but historians of post-War British Fascism have noted the radical revisions of doctrine the BNP went through under its generalissimo, Nick Griffin. But Critical Race Theory does seem very similar to the Communist party’s simplification of race relations in America to Black workers versus White exploiters. My guess is that an examination of the Black Arts movement would uncover clear parallels and influences from European neo-Fascism, as would Black Lives Matter today.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 9:41am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

January 14, 2021 Jodi Dean on Trump and American fascism • Quinn Slobodian, co-author of this article, on Querdenken, the eclectic German anti-mask movement that joins hippies and petty capitalists

History Debunked Refutes the Myth that James I was Black

More from the whackier end of racial politics. History Debunked has put up a number of videos refuting various assertions and myths promoted as Black history. One of his videos attacked the claim, seen in the Netflix interracial historical romance, Bridgerton, that Queen Caroline was Black. This has arisen from the fact that one of her ancestors was a 13th Spanish Moorish prince. But that was five hundred years before her birth, and so any biological trace of her non-White ancestry would have disappeared way back in her lineage. Apart from which, the Spanish Moors were Berbers and Arabs from North Africa. They were darker than Europeans – the term ‘blue-blooded’ for the aristocracy comes from the Christian Spanish nobility. Under their idea of limpieza de sangre, ‘blood purity’, the racial ideology that distinguished them from the Moors, their skin was supposed to be so pale that you could see the veins in the wrist. But the Moors were nevertheless lighter-skinned than the darker peoples south of the Sahara, in what the Arabs called Bilad as-Sudan and the Berbers Akal Nguiwen, ‘The Land of the Blacks’. Which I think shows that the Arabs and Berbers, dark as they were compared to Europeans, very clearly didn’t think of themselves as Black.

In this video Simon Webb debunks a similar myth, that James I of England/ VI of Scotland, was Black. This ahistorical idea apparently began with the Black Hebrew Israelites, a Black Jewish sect who believe that one of the lost tribes of Israel went to sub-Saharan Africa. Webb mentions that a group of them settled in Israel in the Negev. He uses this to try to refute the demand that Israel should open its borders by stating that Israel had taken in people of a number of different racial groups. They are now, for example, taking in people from India. It’s true that Israel has taken in refugees from Africa, but many of the groups they’ve accepted were Jews. In the 1970s they mounted a rescue operation to transport the Falashas, the Black Jews of Ethiopia, away from their oppression in that country to safety in Israel. My guess is that the Indians they’re accepting are also Jewish. There’s an indigenous Jewish community in India, the Bene Israel, and it sounds like some of them may be migrating. There is, however, considerable racism amongst White Israelis. Abby Martin covered this in some of her reports for The Empire Files on TeleSur, in which she interviewed Black Israelis about the abuse, including physical assault, they’d experience. Gentile African refugees, although present, are resented by many Israelis as ‘infiltrators’, the term they also use for Palestinians trying to return to the ancestral lands from which they were evicted during the Nakba, the term they use for foundation of Israel and their massacre and ethnic cleansing in 1947.

But back to the Black Hebrew Israelites and James I. The Black Hebrew Israelites believe that the Spanish Moors were Black, and that they went from Spain to colonise Ireland and Scotland. Which must be news to most Scots and Irish. Mary, Queen of Scots was mixed race, but Lord Darnley, James’ father, was fully Black and so was James. The English, however, were determined to erase any trace of this Black ancestry, and so embarked on a deliberately policy of intermarrying with the Black Scots and Irish in order to make them White, at the same time destroying all the contrary evidence that they were Black. Although this myth began with the Black Hebrew Israelites it has spread out from them into the wider Black community. To support his description of this bizarre myth, Webb on the YouTube page for the video has link to an article in the Zimbabwean newspaper, The Patriot, which proudly promotes this claim.

Was King James I of England black? – YouTube

The belief that the Spanish Moors were Black has formed the basis for an anti-White racist view of history. A few years ago the American left-wing magazine, Counterpunch, carried on its online edition a piece by a Black historian, Garikai Chengu. This claimed that the Moors were ‘obviously Black’, and their colonisation of Spain brought science and reason to a Europe then gripped by ignorance and superstition. There’s some basis for this in that the revival of science in the West began when Christian scholars acquired Arab and Islamic scientific texts from places such as Islamic Spain and Sicily after that was conquered by the Normans. However, it’s grotesquely exaggerated and is really just a piece of racial supremacist propaganda, albeit one by Blacks rather than Whites. I think it’s fair to see such Afrocentric views of history as a form of Fascism, including this myth that the Irish and Scots were also really Black. Some historians have no trouble describing certain Black political movements as forms of Fascism. One recent book by an academic historian not only includes the classic Fascist movements of German Nazism, Italian Fascism and various other White, European far right movements, but also Marcus Garvey’s Negro Improvement Association and the Nation of Islam, as well as Narendra Modi’s BJP in India. The inclusion of Marcus Garvey and his organisation may well offend many Black activists. Garvey is one of the pioneers of Black liberation. A month or so ago there was a Black celebrity writing in the pages of the Radio Times recommending that children should be taught about him in school. I really know very little about Garvey, but the claim that he was Fascistic rings true. When I was working as a volunteer in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol one of the jobs I was given was unpacking some of boxes of material given to the Museum by private individuals and institutions. One of these included a document by Garvey’s organisation. I didn’t do more than glance at it, but it appeared to be describing some kind of military parade or armed wing. This included women’s units and mechanised and mounted forces of various kinds. I don’t know if Garvey and his followers were ever able to set up such a paramilitary force or whether it was all a fantasy. But one of the features of Fascism is its militarism. The Nazis and Italian Fascists, not to mention the various other Fascist movements, all started out as paramilitary organisations complete with uniforms and arms.

Alongside the entirely reasonable demands for social and economic improvement and renewed action to combat White racism, the Black Lives Matter movement has also brought out and articulated strains of overt anti-White racism. One example of this was the attempt by Sasha Johnson, of the Oxford branch of the organisation, to set up her own paramilitary Black army in Brixton to protect Blacks from the cops, and her tweet that the White man wouldn’t be Blacks’ equal, but their slave. Which got her banned from the social media platform. I think there is a real need to start studying and publishing material specifically on Black racism and Fascism. At the moment, there appears to be very little, if any, books specifically published on it. If you search for ‘Black racism’ on Google, what comes up is articles and books on the attacks on affirmative action programmes by right-wing Whites. Way back in the ’90s and early parts of this century there was a book published on Black anti-White violence in America. This might be White Girl Bleed A Lot, which is a similar book. However, I’m not sure how academically respectable the latter is, as I think its author may have joined the extreme right. I can see many people on the left resisting any attempt to categorise and study various Black Fascist movements from the belief that, as Blacks have been oppressed in the West, and are still disadvantaged, it is unfair to characterise such movement as they arose in response to White racism and persecution.

But this does not change the nature of these movements and the racism and racist history they promote. Whatever their connections to the broader Black liberation movement, they’re still racist and Fascist themselves, and should be viewed as such. Fascism everywhere needs to be fought, regarded of race.

Is the BBC Really Trying to Change the Name of the Anglo-Saxon Period Because They Think It’s Racist?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/12/2020 - 1:36am in

Simon Webb posted this video on his ‘History Debunked’ channel nearly three weeks ago, on the 23 November 2020. In it he discusses the BBC’s decision to stop calling the period between the departure of the Romans in 410 AD and the Norman Conquest of 1066 the ‘Anglo-Saxon period’ because the term is apparently perceived as racist. A BBC programme he was listening to on the radio referred to it as ‘the early medieval period’ and there is, or was, apparently, an article in the Corporation’s BBC History Magazine stating that there are moves to change it, as it deters Black people studying it because they associate ‘Anglo-Saxon’ with White supremacy. And in America there are moves to stop using the term altogether and simply refer to it as the early middle ages.

Webb takes this view that this is an attempt by the Beeb to rewrite the past so that it resembles the multicultural present. But he points out that his was the period when what had been Roman Britain was settled by Angles, Saxons and Jutes. ‘English’ comes from the word ‘Anglish’, for Angles, who also supplied the country’s name, England, from Engla Land, ‘Land of the Angles’. He states that this process of settlement is described in the last chapter of his book, Life in Roman London, published by the History Press, which is one of the few popular treatments of this subject. As for the term’s racial connotations, well, the Anglo-Saxons were White. Webb shakes his head in amazement at this attempt to rewrite history in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and wonders where it will end.

The BBC wish to replace longstanding historical expressions – YouTube

I’m not sure what’s actually going on here. Historians have referred to the period between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Norman Conquest for a long time as the early Middle Ages. It used to be referred to as the Dark Ages. Some older readers of this blog will no doubt remember Michael Wood’s great series, In Search of the Dark Ages, broadcast by the Beeb in the ’70s/’80s. However, historians and archaeologists have largely stopped calling the period that as more has been found out about it, and the period has increasingly seemed to be less dark. I think it might still be used for the couple of centuries after the departure of the Romans from Britain and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon England. Other terms used for those centuries are ‘Post-Roman’ and ‘Sub-Roman’. And the term ‘early Middle Ages’ of course makes perfect sense for the rest of Europe, which weren’t settled by the Anglo-Saxons, although northern Germany, the Netherlands and Jutland in Denmark were their ancestral homelands from which they migrated to Britain. The term also makes good sense for Ireland and the Celtic parts of modern Britain, Wales and Scotland. But in the context of English history, the period absolutely should be called the Anglo-Saxon period. That’s what the people, who founded and created England have been called following King Alfred himself. There were Black people seen in the British Isles and Ireland during this period. Round about the 8th-9th century or so the Vikings of Dublin brought in a shipload of ‘blamenn’ – blue, or Black men. I think the historian David Olusoga has also talked about the arrival of another shipload of Black people in Cumbria round about the same period. Medieval people certainly knew that Black people existed. They describe them as living in Africa and believed they had acquired their Black complexion through being burnt by the sun. But Black people in Europe at the time would have been very, very rare and the vast majority of the population would have been White. That’s not racism, but a simple statement of historical fact.

I’m afraid that racism has cast a very long shadow over this period ever since the Nazis. For many years I was a member of a Dark Age re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum. This tried to recreate the history of the British Isles round about 1066. While re-enactment in Britain is largely acceptable, except for World War II, or at least, the idiots who want to dress up as the SS, in Germany it’s regarded very much with loathing and contempt. This is because of the appropriation of the history and archaeology of the Teutonic tribes and the Vikings by the Nazis. The overtly Fascist fringe has done the same over here, harking back to the Celts and especially the Anglo-Saxons. As a result, some perfectly historical symbols were banned for very obvious reasons. Some of the pottery from migration period Anglo-Saxon graves is decorated with the Swastika, and you can find it on rock carvings in Scandinavia. But obviously no self-respecting re-enactor for the early middle ages is going to use it on their clothing or equipment because of the connections with Nazism. I can’t talk about re-enactment as a whole, as it’s a very large milieu and there were are large number of different groups, but the organisation I joined was very definitely non-racist and certainly had members from different ethnic groups. A number of the people in Regia when I was there, including some of its leading members, were Jewish. And their religion made absolutely no difference to anyone, whatsoever.

From what I can make out, there was little racism in Europe until after the Middle Ages. There was conflict between ethnic groups, states and nations, but little in the way of racism based on colour. From what I’ve read I think that modern racism really emerged through transatlantic slavery, although I think that the wars with darker skinned people, such as the Arabs and Moors during the Crusades and the Muslim conquest of the Balkans also played a part. The term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ history, simply refers to a period. It has, or shouldn’t have, any connotations of racism or White supremacism.

This needs to be got across, assuming that some people genuinely feel that it is somehow racist and that this isn’t a misperception or exaggerated reaction by whoever makes these judgements after Black Lives Matter. But to stop calling that period of English history ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is in itself a falsification of history. It should go on being called the Anglo-Saxon period, but also made clear, if necessary, that it is an historical term, not one from any racial or racist ideology.

Racially, the Palestinians May Be the Real Jews

In his piece critiquing the article by Catherine Heszer, professor of Jewish Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the Jewish Chronicle, Tony Greenstein argues very strongly that biologically it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are descended from the people of ancient Israel. Heszer had claimed that Israel isn’t a colonialist state and that it is simply the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. Greenstein disputes this, citing Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, who believes that European Jews are really the descendants of converts to Judaism. He also cites studies, including articles published in extreme right-wing settler magazines, that the Palestinians are descended from the peoples of ancient Israel and Judea. Greenstein writes

Let us leave aside the fact, as Tel Aviv University Professor Shlomo Sand has shown in The Myth of the Jewish Nation that there never was a Jewish exile from Palestine. The idea that rights deriving from where one’s ancestors lived 3,000 years ago trumping those who live there today is a product of Western Colonialism and Orientalism. The same myths of a 1,000 year Reich justified Hitler’s colonisation of  Eastern Europe and the expulsion of its inhabitants.

But in reality not even this is true. Jews from Europe and America had no physical connection whatsoever with Palestine or Israel.  Their only claim is that they profess a religion whose centre is Jerusalem. That does not confer any material rights over those living there.

The Jews who left Judea and Palestine over 2,000 years ago did so because the land would not support them. Palestine saw many peoples, among whom were the Hebrews, wander over the area. The idea that this gives people who are Jewish and living in London the right to displace the indigenous population is a fascist idea.  SOAS should not be in the business of propagating racial myths.

2,000 years ago a million Jews were living in Alexandria alone as well as other Hellenised cities such as Antioch and Seleucia. According to Jewish historian Salo Baron there was an explosion of Jews in the Middle East at the time owing to massive proselytising. He suggests there were 8 million Jews living in the Middle East. Sand suggests half that number. The Jews, like the Phoenicians before them, became a trading people.

The pastoralist Jews who remained in Palestine after the destruction of the second temple either converted to Christianity or remained speaking Aramaic. With the Arab invasion they largely converted to Islam whilst continuing to speak Aramaic, a biblical form of Hebrew.

The irony, as Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and its second President Yitzhak ben Zvi accepted, is that the Palestinians, not the Jewish settlers, are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. [see e.g. Dov Ivri’s Most Palestinians Are Descendants Of Jews]. Ben Gurion even sent Moshe Dayan with a rabbi to convert the Bedouin!

In Jewish-Roots Arabs in Israel in the far-Right settler news agency Arutz Sheva, Tzvi MiSinai claimed that ‘Up to 85 percent of Arabs in greater Israel stem from Jewish ancestors, it is estimated’. The article describes how

‘One Arab says his father told him the secret of his family’s Jewishness on his deathbed, while another one, on the backdrop of a photo of the saintly Cabalistic sage Rabbi Abuchatzeira on his wall, says their roots have been known in his family for generations. Wrapping what apparently used to be kosher tefillin on his arm, he says, “My father used to do this, and he taught us to do it whenever someone was sick or in trouble.”

The myth of a Jewish ‘exile’ from Palestine and the idea of their ‘return’ is a Christian racial myth born of colonialism’s desire to establish a friendly settler state adjacent to the Suez Canal. That is why the first western Zionists were Evangelical Christians like Lord Palmerstone and Shaftesbury and also why the vast majority of western Jews were hostile to Zionism when it began.  Because if Jews belonged in Palestine they didn’t belong in England.

See: If SOAS Cares For Its Reputation It Should Send Racist Professor Heszer, Head of the Jewish Studies Centre, on an Unpaid Vacation to learn what Zionism means for the Palestinians – Tony Greenstein

Sand’s is an extreme view. I’ve also come across the argument that European Jews were the descendants of Jewish merchants rather than political exiles. The impression I had of Israelite history was that after the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt in the 2nd century AD, the Jews were forcibly expelled from Jerusalem. This became a Roman colonial city and the Temple desecrated and dedicated to Zeus. The Jewish religious leadership moved to Galilee, which thus became the centre of the Jewish faith. However, there were still Jewish communities in Israel. I believe that there was conflict between Jews and Christians and Jewish revolts against Roman imperial persecution when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

It also would not surprise me in the slightest if genetics showed that the majority of Palestinians were descended from the ancient Israelites. Archaeologists and geneticists have been studying the genetic makeup of the British people since the 1980s. This has overturned some of the traditional views about the origin of the English. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the English are descended from Germanic invaders, the Angles, Saxon and Jutes, who conquered the country from across the North Sea in the 5th-7th centuries AD. But genetic studies of the modern English doesn’t show a comprehensive replacement of the existing Romano-British population. Furthermore, recent archaeological studies of migration period human remains have shown that the vast majority of the skeletons of people buried with Anglo-Saxon grave goods were from people, who had been brought up in this country. There were very few continental invaders. It now appears that instead of a full-scale invasion and replacement of the indigenous population, the conquest simply consisted of the Romano-Brits and their leaders adopting continental Germanic customs and language in a rejection of Roman identity as Roman rule collapsed.

Genetic studies also show that there was no replacement of the indigenous British population. It now appears that the British, including the English, are largely descended from the Bronze Age population of the British Isles and Ireland. At the level, the English are genetically the same as the Irish. When this was revealed to one Irish personality on TV a few years ago, he remarked that it must be galling for the English to find that they’re the same as the peeps of the Emerald Isle. Well, at one time, when the Irish really were looked down upon and there were crazy racial hierarchies being devised to show how they and the Blacks were at the bottom of human evolution, perhaps. But not now, when so much British popular culture comes from Ireland.

My guess is that the racial history of Palestine is pretty similar. I doubt that there was any replacement of the indigenous Jewish population. Many of them would have converted to Christianity. I’ve seen it estimated that about a third of the Jewish people would have converted to Christianity during the late Roman Empire. These were Greek-speaking Jews, whose conversion was assisted through theirs and the Christians’ use of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. The remaining Jews probably did speak Aramaic. It was the popular language of the Jewish people at the time of Christ. It’s the language of the Targums, paraphrases of the Hebrew scriptures to help people, who couldn’t understand Hebrew, and the Talmud, the compilation of the rabbinical oral law and the debates and opinions of the sages. I also think that Aramaic would have been the language of some Christians as well. Syriac, the language of some eastern Orthodox Christians in Lebanon and Syria, developed from the form of Aramaic spoken by those communities in the fourth century AD.

As for the Arab conquest and the adoption of Arab culture, this seems to be the result of a conscious policy by the caliph Mu’awiya in the 8th century AD. The Arabs were a tiny minority amongst the subject peoples of the new Islamic empire, who had retained their languages and customs. Greek continued to be used as the language of the imperial civil service in the western half of the empire. Mu’awiya was afraid that the Muslim Arabs would lose their ethnic identity through being absorbed by the non-Muslim population, so that their only distinction between them and the peoples they ruled would be their Islamic faith. He therefore passed a series of legislation designed to strengthen Arab ethnic identity, such as changing the language of the civil service to Arabic. This set in motion the process of Arabization which saw the majority of the population of that part of the Roman Empire adopt the Arabic language, culture and Islam.

I’m not sure about Sand’s argument that European Jews are descendants of proselytes and aren’t racially Jewish. That’s an extreme view. But Greenstein’s right about the size of the Jewish population of the Roman Empire. It may have been as large as 8 per cent and there were huge synagogues in places like Alexandria and Sardinia.

I therefore consider it highly likely that the vast majority of Palestinians are descended from the Jewish people of ancient Israel and Judea. I’m also not surprised that many Muslim Palestinians have more recent Jewish ancestry. There were large Jewish communities in Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel, and many Jews preferred to live under Muslim rule as there wasn’t the restrictions there they faced in Christendom.

From the genetic perspective, they’re probably as Jewish as the Israelis, and so from that perspective also have an absolute right to remain on their ancestral lands against the attempts to expel and cleanse them by the Israeli state.

Anti-Semitism, Colonialism and Zionism

I’m not surprised that the Blairites and ultra-Zionist fanatics wanted to purge Tony Greenstein from the Labour party, as they have done with so many other entirely decent people. Greenstein is, like Moshe Machover, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Jackie Walker, an anti-Zionist Jew. Which means he’s a danger to the British political and media establishment, which wishes to define British Jewry exclusively in terms of support for Israel. Or rather more narrowly, support for the current viciously racist Israeli administration. Left-wing Zionists, who also believe that the Palestinians should be treated decently and with dignity, have also suffered anti-Semitic vilification and abuse if they dare to protest against Netanyahu’s government. Jews like Greenstein, Machover, Walker and Wimborne-Idrissi are a threat to this, because they show that support for Israel is not a necessary or integral part of Jewish identity. Indeed, as David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has pointed out, Zionism was until recent decades very much a minority position among European Jews.

But Tony Greenstein has also argued very powerfully on his blog that Zionism has also been a real threat to Jews. In his view, it is an internalisation of gentile anti-Semitism, with which it has collaborated, including in the mass murder of Jews, such as in the Holocaust, by real anti-Semites. And he has supported this with a wealth of quotes from Zionism’s founders and leaders, like Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. Here are a few more I found about Zionism’s relationship to anti-Semitism and colonialism in an article Greenstein put up on the 3rd November 2020, about a Zoom conversation he and Machover were due to have the next day about Zionism, and whether it was inevitable ‘it would create an apartheid monstrosity in Palestine’.

One is from Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi party’s ideologue and author of The Myth of the 20th Century. In 1919 he wrote

‘Zionism must be vigorously supported in order to encourage a significant number of German Jews to leave for Palestine or other destinations [Francis Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, p.25].

He also quotes Sir Samuel Montagu, MP for Whitechapel from 1885-1900, and the only member of Balfour’s cabinet to oppose the infamous Declaration in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. Montagu said of Zionism

 ‘Is it not… a suspicious fact that those who have no love for the Jews, and those who are pronounced anti-Semites, all seem to  welcome the Zionist proposals and aspiration.?’[Sir Samuel Montagu, The Dangers of Zionism]

The Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, in his book 10 Myths about Israel, also points out that, far from being a pro-Jewish stance, Zionism in the 19th and early 20th centuries was associated with anti-Semitism. So much so that one German nobleman, whom Herzl approached for support in the 1920s, told him that he had previously not come forward to add his support because he didn’t want people to think that he was a Jew-hater.

Contemporary supporters of Israel deny that it’s a colonial state. For them it is simply the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. But Herzl explicitly described his project of creating a Jewish state as colonial in a letter to that arch-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes:

“You are being invited to help make history…it doesn’t involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor; not Englishmen but Jews… How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial… I want you … to put the stamp of your authority on the Zionist plan and to make the following declaration to a few people who swear by you: I, Rhodes have examined this plan and found it correct and practicable. It is a plan full of culture, excellent for the group of people for whom it is directly designed, and quite good for England, for Greater Britain….”

As for the danger Zionism has presented to Jews. Rudolf Vrba, one of only four people to have escaped from Auschwitz, believed that Zionism had actively assisted the Nazis’ horrific campaign of extermination:

“The Zionist movement of Europe played a very important role in the mass extermination of Jews. Indeed, I believe that without the cooperation of Zionists it would have been a much more difficult task….”

See: Tony Greenstein’s Blog: ZIONISM – What it is and Why it is Important? Zoom Meeting with Moshe Machover and Tony Greenstein (azvsas.blogspot.com)

In another post published on the 10th October 2020 attacking the SOAS’s head of Jewish studies, Professor Heszer for her piece in the Jewish Chronicle denying Israel’s colonialist origins, there are a few more revealing quotations. One of these is from a letter from William Stanley Shaw, the head of the British Brothers’ League, an anti-Semitic organisation set up to oppose eastern European Jewish immigration, to the Jewish Chronicle in 1901

“I am a firm believer in the Zionist movement, which the British Brothers League will do much incidentally to foster. The return of the Jews to Palestine is one of the most striking signs of the times…. All students of prophecy are watching the manifold signs of the times with almost breathless interest.”

As for Balfour, he was a racist, who refused to give the vote to Black South Africans because they weren’t the equal of Whites, and who told Chaim Weizmann that he also shared the ‘anti-Semitic postulates’ of Wagner’s widow, Cosima. What is astonishing is that Weizmann assured him that the Zionists also shared these views saying that he had

pointed out that we, too… had drawn attention to the fact that Germans of the Mosaic persuasion were an undesirable and demoralizing phenomenon…’ [Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declaration p.154].

If SOAS Cares For Its Reputation It Should Send Racist Professor Heszer, Head of the Jewish Studies Centre, on an Unpaid Vacation to learn what Zionism means for the Palestinians – Tony Greenstein

I think the emphasis in these quotes is Greenstein’s, rather than in the original text.

These quotes clearly show that the criticisms of Israel and the Zionist movement by people like Tony Greenstein and the others are historically justified, as is their opposition against Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians. These views do not make anyone an anti-Semite. My own preferred view is that anti-Semitism is simply hatred of Jews as Jews, and that no state or ideology should be beyond debate and criticism. This includes Israel and Zionism. The Jews have a history of debate, and there have always been a wide range of views about the nature of Judaism. I’ve come across the adage, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. British Jewry is also diverse with a range of differing views on Israel. But this debate is being shut down and a form of sectarianism promoted instead, which tries to present the British Jewish community as consisting almost solely of the United Synagogue and its institutions, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate. As Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi has pointed out in her video with Double Down News, ‘The Wrong Kind of Jew’, this is very much what anti-Semites and racists have done to their victims: present them as a monolithic community.

It is disgusting and reprehensible that all of British Jewry is not represented in this debate by the political and media establishment, and that people, who hold entirely reasonable opinions critical of Israel are being vilified, harassed and purged as the very things they are not, racists and anti-Semites. The Labour party should be a place where issues like Zionism and the maltreatment of the Palestinians can be reasonably discussed and differing viewpoints held.

To stop this and demand absolute support for Israel is an attack on democracy, free speech, and proper historical debate. It is unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable that decent anti-racists, both Jewish and gentile, should be purged for holding these views.

A new English translation of Adrienne Goehler’s recent book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 3:12am in

Earlier this year we announced the publication of Adrienne Goehler’s new book on Basic Income. The article appears below. An English translation is now available, which can be downloaded here. This new edition features additional material: an interview with Sarath Davala, and an essay by Julio Linares. In 2010, Götz Werner and Adrienne Goehler wrote […]

Exemplary governance: Which countries should high-COVID nations follow?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 3:04am in

Connecting illness, death and governance in a COVID world


Image by Frauke Riether from Pixabay

By Ian Inkster

As much of America, Europe and many anglophone nations face the welter of possible choices of action available to them as they enter what is understood to be a “second wave” of COVID-19, their media repeatedly mention a small group of nations that might best be copied—examples of good COVID governance.

Two points at the outset. For some time now it has been unclear whether this new wave was a direct function of mutation among the many DNA of the virus itself, or mainly a man-made cycle following the ups and downs of civil societies’ adherence to the regulations. Are the spikes resulting from civil laxity? The second point follows from this civil laxity argument—it may well be claimed that a nation’s ability to dampen COVID incidence and mortality is a sign of its existing power of governance. Good COVID management then becomes a measure of strength and scope of policies, of a government’s firmness in convincing its citizens to adhere to regulations, and of its own power to adapt to externally induced changing circumstances. From this, it may be argued that good COVID results act as an indicator of how well a government will lead its nation into post-COVID economic recovery. So, there can be quite a lot at stake here.

Thus, choosing the best example may well reflect an underlying belief among large numbers of people that a particular country has high status among the comity of nations. That is, successful COVID results may be seen by many people throughout the globe as exemplifying both successful governance and a firm moral economy. Contrariwise, failure over COVID in the “second wave” may now be considered a sign of a failing state. We have witnessed the ousting of Donald Trump.

Clearly enough, notable exemplars cannot be so small as to be clearly outliers, else such varied places as the Falklands or Greenland would take the lead. This puts to the side nations that have, indeed, been applauded, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. This applies also to isolated islands and vast territories with very low population densities such as Iceland, Madagascar, Finland, or even Norway. On more direct reasoning, those seeking exemplars should surely omit nations that do not report tests per million, such as Burkina Faso with a population of over 24 million and impressive Cm (cases per million) of 122 and exceptionally low Dm (deaths per million) of only 3, but which does not report test numbers. Of course, there will be nations that have actually had so few hospitalised cases or deaths that they have not instituted tests at all, but they are difficult to clearly separate from ones where cases would be high if thorough testing had been instituted.

Measuring COVID experience and selecting models

Table 1 below lists details for 10 nations, 5 of which are quite commonly exemplified across the world, and 5 others that are not, but whose records are worth serious consideration. World data is included in the last row. Coronavirus Worldometer

Table 1 offers a great many cautionary tales. Cm measures total COVID cases per million, Dm total deaths per million, D/C is deaths as a proportion of total registered cases, which we take as a good indicator of the effective mortality rate; Tests/m is the number of tests for COVID per million of the population. Figures are derived from totals for the period from January 13, 2020, the day of the first confirmed case in Japan, to November 11, 2020.

The five common exemplars are in bold, and they in fact offer very varying COVID experiences according to their own official registered data across the whole period. It seems clear that Germany and Sweden are exemplars, especially in Western nations because they have good records in fighting COVID-19 in comparison to other major European nations (e.g., the UK or Belgium with Dm figures of 719 and 1,112, respectively) and the USA (a Dm of 734). They also have highish results for tests per million, especially Sweden. But the latter’s principal drawback as an exemplar is its much smaller size of population, and the unusual characteristics for Europe of its relative spatial isolation when compared to high-COVID nations such as Italy. In addition, Sweden’s D/C or mortality rate at 3.6 per cent is actually the highest of the 10 nations in this table, despite a high testing rate. This could suggest either a fault in the procedures for effective hospitalisation after tests prove positive, resulting in greater mortality, or it could be a result of its relatively high proportion of older citizens—at 20.3 per cent of its population over 65, compared to say around 16 per cent for Australia and the USA. However, this case is severely weakened when we note that Germany has a ratio of 22.2 per cent of its population in this older grouping, and Japan an even greater proportion of 28.2 per cent. Both have D/Cs of 1.7 per cent. Given the small population of Sweden, this would throw some doubt on it as an obvious exemplar in terms of actual COVID results to date.

Within Europe, this leaves Germany as probably the better case, especially as, unlike Sweden, it is bordered by high-COVID nations such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands (Dm measures of 1,185,  651, and 484, respectively).

Outside of Europe—problems

But at first glance, neither of the European contenders can match the non-European Australia, Japan and Taiwan, each with exceptionally low Dms (Taiwan with its unmatched 0.3 per cent) and much lower Cms. The seeming weakness of the Japanese and Taiwanese cases is their low levels of tests per million. Other things being equal, this means that lower numbers tested leads to lower “cases registered” if a nation is relying on test results as its principal COVID source, rather than official collections of data from hospitals and general practitioners of patients diagnosed as having the virus. This is not a resounding rejection by any means. It is very possible, certainly understandable, that a nation with actual low covidity would not feel the same need for mass testing as nations with obviously severe problems. It is notable that both the USA and the UK have the highest proportional testing ratios of any large nations—at around 50 per cent of their respective populations tested. Given that numbers of tests say little of the quality of the testing procedures there seems some good reason for holding Taiwan and Japan in high regard as exemplars.

Australia has no such problem, its rates of testing being amongst the highest in the world and notably above those of Germany. Its Dm is exceptionally low. The only problem area here is the unusual character of its demography (a huge proportion of the population live on the massive coastlines), its absence of land borders, its overall relative isolation from all high-COVID hot-spots, and its ability to close itself off despite high numbers of tourists and business connections. These features cannot simply be emulated, yet they may be more determinate of its success as a dampener of the virus than any single element of policy or of any special sequence of official interventions.

There is more to be said about why some nations appear as exemplary and others not, despite their directly COVID-related data. This is broached in three rows of Table 1. Pol-FrR provides an indicator of political freedom within nations, as measured over the years since 1973 by Freedom House, Washington, DC. The figures are an Index with 100 (Sweden) at the top among all major nations. Our Table 1 also indicates—with an * by the names of the 10 nations—all those that are labelled by Freedom House as “electoral democracies,” and it can be seen that all 5 of the major exemplary nations are in this category, and each is highly ranked on the Pol-FrR index, ranging between 93 and 100.The exemplary 5 are a free democratic group, sharing a series of status markers, attributes of a political culture, with many of the nations that regard them as exemplary.

Even though Taiwan with its amazing COVID history is not officially recognised as an independent nation by the other 4 within this select group, its characteristics fit perfectly with those of that group, as a whole. The PPP column shows that these nations are among the richest, most established industrial nations in the world, and estimates of their exemplary character by the major media outlets of the world must surely reflect something of a cultural club. The PPP column is a World Bank measure of purchasing power parity per capita, which adjust simple per capita income comparisons to account for cost-of-living differences by replacing normal exchange rates with those designed to equalise the prices of a standard “basket of goods” and services.

The index is based on the USA as 100. It seems clear enough that the chosen exemplars are seen as ones appropriate to emulate—democratic and free—and this is what is fastened on by the media that create the mantras of “lessons to be learnt,” or “following the science,” and so on. This is confirmed in column Econ-Fr, which provides an index of political freedom for 2020 calculated by the Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC,  in its huge and freely available 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, where Singapore tops the world at 89.4, Australia appearing 4th with 82.6, Sweden appearing at rank 22 with 74.9, and so on. That is, this group is considered exemplary, despite the great differences in COVID performance within it, on grounds of a global culture in which, through an international media, market-based liberalism at high incomes is awarded the highest status among the nations of our world. With status comes notions of veracity, probity and high trust, the secondary rewards of high income.

It may thus be argued that the notion of what might be an exemplary nation in a COVID world, is not principally founded on the COVID record but on some evidence of COVID achievement plus much evidence of high national status among the other nations of our world. So, despite all the caveats and drawbacks noted in this paper, it would appear that the seemingly very different nations of the group will persist as exemplary.

Beyond the pale: Another perspective on best COVID performances

Our other 5 nations are a different cup of tea altogether. Although Poland and India are both parliamentary democracies, they share with this second group much lower income per capita, with Ethiopia being one of the most impoverished nations on earth. They all have lesser degrees of economic and political freedom, but they all also have very good COVID performances as measured in columns Dm and D/C, and generally reasonable numbers for tests per million (the worst being Angola which actually exceeds the figure for Taiwan!). These are not small countries demographically, and to that extent deserve some attention as possible exemplary cases.

With its large Cm measure, Poland looks at first an unlikely candidate, but note that its figure is equal to that of Sweden, and much lower than those of Spain (29,692), or France (26,769), or the huge Belgian figure of 42,547. Its tests per million exceed those of Japan. Its D/C ratio is very low, much below those for the UK, Italy, France, and even Germany. It borders 7 nations of high or uncertain covidity, such as the Czech Republic. And, of course, it is European. We might suggest that it has never been seen as exemplary in the West because of its cultural distinction of having low per capita income, equal to that of Malaysia, and its lower degrees of economic and political freedom than those found among the accepted exemplary group. And, of course, the same must be said of Ethiopia and Angola. The most likely causes of their low COVID measures is a lack of the infrastructure for effective testing and the low number of the elderly in their populations, primarily a result of low incomes. As noted already, this alone would tend to bring down the mortality rates. India and Malaysia are by far the more likely examples for others to follow. India’s massive population and extreme poverty, both noted in Table 1, has not inhibited low Cm and especially low mortality measures. As a well-established parliamentary democracy, India has a relatively high level of political freedom, although its determination to continue to plan high economic growth (an annual growth rate of GDP of over 7 per cent from 2012) means that government does not let market forces rule the production and distribution of goods and services. Aided by its age distribution but remembering the enormity of its population, India might well be seen as among an exemplary group of low-COVID nations.

Malaysia as best practice?

As an exemplary case in many senses, Malaysia has been the most neglected by international mass media commentators. Yet with highish levels of economic freedom, it has achieved remarkable COVID statistics based on a reasonable level of testing. In this, it has been aided by being bordered by nations of low covidity, such as Indonesia (Dm of 55) or Thailand (Dm of 0.9 and total cases of only 3,861!). Its Dm and D/C levels are remarkable. Moreover, its history of COVID defence shows a great deal more alacrity and intelligence than most nations in the West. Screening was adopted at all airports after the first case in Thailand was made public on January 13, and Malaysia only reported its own first case on January 25–well after Japan, South Korea, the USA and Taiwan. Thermal scanners were adopted early. Under the Movement Control Order of March 18, the government, with good cooperation from the media, actively spread the “#stayhome” instructions, NGOs and prison inmates fabricated PPE for those on the frontline, and initial financial stimulus to prevent full economic downturn had been initiated in February. Very early on, Malaysia accepted that China had proved that by isolating the infected group of individuals and practising social distancing, the pandemic could be contained. In order to fund new hospitals and create stocks of medicines, the Ministry of Health and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) established an “action coalition” to obtain financial aid from corporate companies, government-linked companies (GLCs), and other organizations in Malaysia, a form of private-public sector funding that the West has yet to truly exploit. Government dampened any division between private and public sectors, enlisting help directly from the social media, and NGOs (not private companies) were used early on to provide protective masks, disinfection chambers, and to educate citizens on COVID-19. By April 11, Malaysia had reported a total of 4,346 cases and a total of 1,830 recovered, a proportion of 42 per cent. Today the numbers are 32,969 and 45,095, a proportion of 73 per cent.

Far quicker than countries such as the UK, the Malaysian authorities recognised the key problem of the elderly in care homes. As early as March 27, the Malaysian government introduced the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) with RM 25 million allocated to provide assistance for aged care homes, including cash disbursement, food supply and healthcare items, as well as an RM 250 one-off payment for government pensioners. Malaysia was directing a much higher proportion of its very limited resources to helping the elderly than did most of the Western nations and at a much earlier date, and this was evidently rewarded through its very low Dm and D/C statistics.

Beyond casual statements—selecting with mindfulness

The Malaysian example details the variety of positive responses that have been made in nations not hitherto considered exemplary yet showing very superior COVID results over far more wealthy nations. In itself, this sort of evidence cannot pick an exemplar for all. Picking an exemplar by looking at single cases is unlikely to help very much. But what seems clear is that global exemplars do not have to look the same in terms of political structures, incomes, or economic ideology. Better that any nation looks at its own circumstances and selects elements considered appropriate. The best option might be to consider the more global picture but allow especially for differences in income and age distributions, the character of borders, densities and levels of urbanism, and degrees of air pollution. Such elements may guide selection towards countries or a country of similar circumstance, and the best COVID performer amongst them may well be your best exemplar. But just do not jump too soon!

Elements such as age structure or borders may be reasonably recognisable and objective measures. Political systems and policies are quite the opposite, these alter with regimes (we can look forward to developments in the US). The only way out of the seeming conundrum is to first admit that COVID incidence and mortality is only very partially related to any one nation’s official management policies. In fact, to date, only the dimmest light has been shed on what is the relationship between illness, death and governance in a COVID world. For this reason alone, a great COVID exemplar may not be a great example of political and civil life, especially as defined by decision-makers in parliamentary democracies. Perhaps choosing between Australia and Japan, between India or Malaysia, ought not be so normative. Perhaps it should carefully weigh up seeming COVID performance in the context of all the elements, admitting that the policies of governance may not be foremost amongst them.

Professor Ian Inkster is a global historian and political economist at SOAS University of London, who has taught and researched at universities in Britain, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. He is the author of 13 books on Asian and global dynamics with a particular focus on industrial and technological development, and the editor of History of Technology since 2000. Forthcoming books are Distraction Capitalism: The World Since 1971, and Invasive Technology and Indigenous Frontiers. Case Studies of Accelerated Change in History, with David Pretel. Follow him on Twitter at @inksterian

Why America Really Fears a Nuclear Iran: They Might Be Sane and Responsible

That’s the impression given by some very revealing quotations William Blum includes in his chapter on Iran in his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. One is from the Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, who states very clearly that the world can live with a nuclear Iran, but it would be awkward for Israel to admit that. The reason? They use the threat of a nuclear Iran to get weapons from the rest of the world.

Van Creveld said this in an interview he gave to Playboy:

The U.S. has lived with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China, so why not a nuclear Iran? I’ve researched how the U.S. opposed nuclear proliferation in the past, and each time a country was about to proliferate, the U.S. expressed its opposition in terms of why this other country was very dangerous and didn’t deserve to have nuclear weapons. Americas believe they’re the only people who deserve to have nuclear weapons, because they are good and democratic and they like Mother and apple pie and the flag. But Americans are the only ones who have used them…. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us. We cannot say so too openly, however, because we have a history of using any threat in order to get weapons …. thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany. (pp. 97-8).

And Danielle Pletka, the vice-president for foreign and defence policy of the neo-Conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, said

The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and using it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, ‘See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately’…. And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem. (p. 99).

This suggests, I think, that Pletka and the other Neo-Cons are afraid that even if Iran doesn’t use nuclear weapons immediately, it may do so in the future. But that’s the danger with all the countries with nuclear arms, including and especially Israel. According to the Samson Option, if Israel is attacked and the majority of the country destroyed, they would launch their missiles not just at their attacker, but also at the rest of the world – Europe, Russia and Islam’s holy places. This would be partly in reprisal for the other nations not intervening on their behalf. Israel seems to be quite prepared to destroy the rest of the world purely for its own security.

If the Iranians have been developing nuclear weapons, I honestly can’t say I blame them. The country has been the victim of first British and then American imperialism, and it seems to me very clear that Washington wants regime change and that this is constant, regardless of whoever’s in the White House.

And American foreign policy actually encourages countries to have nuclear weapons by showing how vulnerable they are without them. Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass distraction. He made repeated attempts to show the Americans and their allies he didn’t have them, and the international atomic weapons inspectors knew he didn’t. And so the Americans and their allies invaded, causing massive carnage and plundering Iraq of its oil and state industries. The lesson this gives the rest of the world is the precise opposite America wants to teach: you will only be safe from western invasion if you have nuclear arms.

But this will stop the West invading and butchering for the profits of their multinationals and the Israelis getting arms from their panicked and fearful allies. So they have to go on scaring the world with the bogeyman of a nuclear Iran.

Book for Learning Arabic in Three Months

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 3:09am in

Mohammad Asfour, Arabic in Three Months: Simplified Language Course (Woodbridge: hugo 1990).

I bought this nearly thirty years ago when I was briefly trying to do a postgraduate degree on Islam in Britain. Hugo are a publisher specialising in languages. According to the blurb and the introduction, this book is written for people, who want to speak the language but don’t want to be able to read or write it. There are a number of different dialects spoken in different countries, but the book states that the standard, written language isn’t used in ordinary verbal communication and it’s very unusual for foreigners to use it. The author is a professor at the University of Jordan, and so the form used is the Jordanian dialect, which will allow the student to converse in ‘almost any Arabic speaking country’.

Along with the chapters taking the reader through the language, there’s also sample conversations and an Arabic-English mini-dictionary in the back. Like many other language books, this also includes written exercises, whose answers are also in the back of the book.

I bought it because I wanted to get an idea of what the language was like before learning the script. That’s almost certainly a mistake, if the spoken and written forms of the language are so different. You almost certainly need to learn the standard language if you also wish to be able read and write it. No language is easy, but some are definitely more difficult than others. Arabic is a Semitic language like Hebrew, Syriac and some of the languages spoken in Ethiopia. They’re very different from the Indo-European languages, like French, German, Welsh, Polish and so on spoken in Europe, and so Arabic is particularly difficult. So much so that I eventually gave up.

I think the book was partly written for tourists to the Middle East, as well as possibly people from the English-speaking world working out there, but not in jobs which require the literary language. I remember one of the words in the vocabulary is ‘funduq’, which I think means ‘hotel’. It’s also a sad reflection of the politics of the region that another word that crops up is ‘inqilab’, which means ‘coup’ or ‘uprising’.

Unfortunately since the attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing chaos of the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian and Libyan uprisings and the rise of Islamic State, much of the region is in turmoil and far too dangerous for western tourists, quite apart from the international lockdown everywhere due to the Coronavirus. Still, hopefully peace will return to this fascinating, ancient and historic part of the world, and Europeans will once again to be able to visit it and meet its peoples in peace and friendship.

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