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A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 6:27am in

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

Cummings Aims to ‘Coordinate’ OFCOM and Beeb with Appointments of Dacre and Moore

Yesterday Mike reported that Dominic Cummings was considering appointing the former editor of the Daily Heil, the legendarily foul-mouthed Paul Dacre as head of the broadcasting watchdog, OFCOM, and Charles Moore, the former editor of the Torygraph and biographer of Maggie Thatcher, as head of the Beeb. ‘Coordination’ – Gleichschaltung – was the term the Nazis used for their takeover of organisations and the imposition of Nazi aims and policies. This obviously included the press, radio, cinema and the arts under Hitler’s infamous propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels.

The process by which the Nazis imposed their censorship and control of the press is described in this paragraph from the entry ‘Press in the Third Reich’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw’s A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1987).

With the coming of the Third Reich in 1933, all papers were required to conform and editors were held responsible for the content of their papers. Such newspapers of high reputation as the Berliner Tageblatt or the Frankfurter Zeitung survived, though not as independent journals; and the latter was closed when it published adverse criticism of the late Professor Troost, Hitler’s favourite architect. From 1938, when Otto Dietrich became Reich press chief, editors were given official stories to follow. Foreign papers were still on sale in the large towns of Germany, but were forbidden when war began in 1939. The apparatus of news suppression was operated by the Gestapo; news distortion was the task of the editors of the recognised journals. (p. 278).

If this is correct – and Zelo Street has also put up an article arguing that it isn’t, and is in fact a dead cat flung on the table by Cummings to distract attention from the government’s disastrous handling of the Coronavirus crisis – then the British media will be almost totally in the control of the Tories. Mike’s put up the reaction of some of peeps on Twitter to the news. The former editors of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger and Will Hutton, respectively commented

Paul Dacre to run Ofcom, Charles Moore to run the BBC. Because Boris wants them. No process. No joke. This is what an oligarchy looks like

and

Floating Paul Dacre to direct OfCom and Charles Moore to chair the BBC is tip of the ice-berg. Follows Dido Harding, who takes Tory whip in the Lords, heading up NHS Test and Trace, and innumerable other Tory appointments. Its an one-party state. The sense of entitlement is brazen.

Yes, it is. It is the creation of totalitarian media control, though I don’t doubt that the Tories will deny this until they’re blue in the face and claim that we still have a free press and media.

The danger to free speech and genuine independent reporting is very real. Thatcher had the Panorama documentary, Maggie’s Militant Tendency, which claimed that the Tories had been infiltrated by Neo-Nazis and Fascists spiked. She retaliated to London Weekend Television’s documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, which claimed that the SAS had acted as a death squad in the extra-judicial execution of an IRA squad they could have rounded up at any time in Spain and Gibraltar by removing the company’s broadcasting license. This was then awarded to Carlton.

Goebbels’ official title during the Third Reich was ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. Perhaps it’s also a good title for Cummings and his attempts to impose Tory absolute control on the press and broadcasting.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/27/the-johnson-age-of-corruption-and-patronage-he-appoints-dacre-to-run-ofcom-and-moore-to-the-bbc/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/bbc-ofcom-dead-cat-unravels.html

Shut Up, Boris! Even Fascists Declared They Fulfilled Individual Freedom

Boris Johnson was in parliament and on the box yesterday announcing his new plans to tackle the renewed rise of the Coronavirus. This includes drafting the army in to ensure the new regulations regarding social distancing are respected. His response to the question in parliament why cases in Britain were rising, while Germany and Italy were nearly normal, met with a characteristically jingoistic response: ours is a country that respects freedom. So we’re back to the old jibe, that even though Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were defeated and their evil regimes swept away 75 years ago, Germans and Italians are still authoritarians at heart. And Mike and the peeps on Twitter have also pointed out how alarming Johnson’s stated intention to use call in the troops coming before a no deal Brexit that may well result in shortages, including food, unemployment and civil unrest.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/22/u-turn-again-boris-johnson-every-time-you-do-you-lose-more-credibility/

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/22/dictator-johnson-threatens-martial-law-if-we-play-five-a-side-or-stay-in-the-pub-after-10pm/

Johnson’s comments about Brits supposedly valuing their freedoms more while simultaneously declaring that he may call in the army will remind some people of the slogan ‘Slavery is freedom’ in Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s great warning of the danger of totalitarianism came from his experiences with Stalinist Communists while fighting for the Republicans against Franco in Spain. But Mussolini’s Fascists themselves also claimed that their system also granted the individual freedom and fulfilment.

Mussolini himself was very firmly authoritarian, championing the total state and condemning liberalism and individualism for undermining society and the nation. But the Fascist ideologue, Ugo Spirito, argued that Fascism’s corporative state offered the individual instead true freedom against the false promises of liberalism. People realised their full potential in society through collaboration, including in industry, as well as trade unions and society generally. It was these collective institutions that allowed people to follow the trades and occupations they desired, whether it was he thinking in his study, or the town butcher. An absolute stress on individualism led to humans living in a state of nature, and having to do everything themselves and so denied the ability to follow their true callings or rise any higher in civilisation.

He concluded of this

Laissez-faire liberalism proclaims freedom of thought and of action, free competition, private enterprise, and, above all, the sacred and inviolable character of private property. But it ends up realizing, more or less consciously, that these don’t add up to genuine freedom. Freedom is founded upon collaboration, that is, upon a choice of social goals and the social discipline required to achieve them.

From: ‘Corporativism as Absolute Liberalism and Absolute Socialism’, Ugo Spirito, in Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed. A Primer of Italian Fascism (University of Nebraska Press 2000), p. 144.

The Fascists praised and protected private property and declared that private industry was at their heart of their economic system. Spirito himself goes onto attack the idea of an omniscient state as the ultimate destroyer of human freedom.

Let us assume it were possible (through improved organization) for the state to attain true knowledge of even the smallest, most remote events. This knowledge would still not be readily translatable into leadership and discipline of a spiritual sort. It would remain abstract because outside known reality; it would generate laws that correspond only to the knower’s will. The state would still function as a bureaucracy, setting goals for the entire nation and, therefore, reducing the nation to a kind of mechanical instrument. The organism’s life would be that of a machine: to each man an assigned place, to each worker an imposed job, all according to the scheme’s rigid necessity. Each individual would be a cog lost in the overall machinery. Freedom, personality, and individual enterprise would become meaningless terms. The hoped-for social justice would translate into a general levelling, and the individual would vanish in the eyes of the state.

He went on to state

Corporativism replies to liberalism by confirming that every person’s individual freedom is sacred. Corporativism proclaims itself antiliberal only because the individual under liberalism is not a true individual, nor is his will truly free. It points to the fact that liberalism ends up denying individuals the very rights that it purports to defend. Corporativism’s antiliberalism is thus not meant to deny or to curtail freedoms. Rather, it aims to strengthen them as much as possible and to achieve liberalism’s highest aim. (p. 150).

In fact, as any fule no, Mussolini’s Fascists regime was a brutal dictatorship, where the individual was very much subordinated to the state, regardless what Fascism’s supporters and ideologues said to the contrary.

Boris, however, still talks the language of classical liberalism and the Tories are still very much permeated by Thatcher’s attack on society: ‘There is no society. There is only people’. Which very much reveals the atomisation at the heart of classical the classical liberal idea of individualism which the Fascists condemned.

But Boris and the Tories are still moving towards a very authoritarian, totalitarian state. David Cameron passed legislation providing for secret courts, Dominic Cummings has pushed the idea of identity cards and Suella Braverman and Priti Patel have both shown they either don’t understand, or just don’t recognise, the independence of the judiciary and the civil service.

The Tories claim to celebrate individual freedom, but their moving in the same direction as Fascism. And Fascists like Spirito defended their ideology by claiming it protected individual freedom, even if those arguments are directly opposed to those marshalled by Tories like Boris.

Boris has always been an authoritarian, so don’t be taken in by any of his claims that he’s protecting British freedoms. He isn’t. He’s destroying them. And remember: even Soviet Russia had constitutions claiming that individuals and their freedom were respected there.

Spain Passes New Laws Against Glorification of Fascist Franco

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 12:20am in

This is another excellent piece of news I found in Wednesday’s issue of the I, for 16th September 2020. It reports that the Spanish government has passed a historic law banning the glorification of General Franco, the country’s Fascist dictator, and granting reparations to his victims. The article reads

Spain has passed a law to give reparations to the victims of the late dictator General Francisco Franco.

The Democratic Memory Law will ban the foundation which guards the memory of the dictator and fine those who glorify Franco up to 150,000 euros (£138,000).

The mausoleum where Franco’s body lay for more than four decades will also be transformed into a civilian cemetery as part of other changes. School children will be taught about the law.

This is the same law that an earlier article in that same day’s edition reported offers Spanish citizenship to the descendants of Brits who served in the International Brigades that fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war. It’s a great piece of news. Franco was a butcher, who held on to power from the his victory at the end of the civil war to his death in 1975. There’s evidence, but no proof, that he may have been helped launch his rebellion against Spain’s Republican government by our secret services.

Spanish liberals have fought long and hard to overturn his legacy. Spanish archaeologists have faced considerable resistance to the excavation of the mass graves of the old thug’s victims. His mausoleum was particularly offensive. He claimed that it was a monument to everyone who fell in the civil war, regardless of what side they were on. In fact it solely glorified Franco and his Fascists. And he continued to cast a long shadow over Spain even decades after his death. I remember the looks of real horror and fear that came into the face of young Spaniards back in the 1990s at the mere mention of his name.

There was a statue of him on horseback somewhere, which has become a rallying point for Fascist scumbags from across Europe. I don’t know whether that’s still around, but the Spanish people made their own efforts to take it down. Way back in the 1980s its hindquarters were blown off with a bomb. And he was another dictator, who liked having towns and villages named after him. One of these got into the news in 1980s as it changed its name. I can’t remember precisely what the new name was, except that it roughly translated as ‘Our Town’ or ‘Our Village’. Which is obviously better than Pueblo Franco or whatever.

He was like the rest of the dictators in that he was of much less than imposing stature. I’ve got a biography of him somewhere, which said that he was under five foot tall and had a high, piping voice. He was a pious Roman Catholic, and his father had left his mother for another woman, leaving her to bring him up. He was thus very chaste, and so when he was an officer in Spanish north Africa, the other troops thought he was gay because he didn’t visit the brothels.

He was a brutal disciplinarian. When he was an officer in north Africa, he had an Arab/Berber solider shot after the man threw his meal at him. He was ruthless in his treatment of the north Africans, and treated the Spanish the same way in the civil war and his reign afterwards.

It’s great that at last the Spanish have been able to undo his cult, and are offering citizenship to the descendants of the people, who fought against him, and reparations to his victims. It’s just a pity that it’s taken all this time to do it.

Spain Offers Citizenship to Descendants of Brits Who Fought Against Franco

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 3:35am in

I found this great piece of news in yesterday’s I newspaper, for Wednesday, 16th September 2020. It’s a piece by Graham Keeley, ‘Spanish offer to those in UK related related to civil war heroes’, reporting that Spain is offering citizenship to the descendants of the British volunteers who fought against General Franco and his Fascists. The article reads

British descendants of the members of the International Bridgade, which fought fascism in the Spanish civil war, have been offered Spanish citizenship as part of a new law which confronts the legacy of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Some 2,500 British volunteers went to Spain to support the Republican government against an armed uprising by Nationalist troops loyal to General Francisco Franco in the conflict between 1936-1939.

Yesterday Pablo Iglesias, the Spanish deputy prime minister, confirmed that descendants of the International Brigades “that fought for the liberty and against fascism in Spain” would be eligible for Spanish citizenship.

He tweeted : “Now is the time to say from this government to these heroes and heroines: thanks for coming.”

About 35,000 members of the International Brigades from around the world fought in Spain. No British volunteers are still alive.

Jim Jump, president o fthe International Brigade Memorial Trust, told I: “We are delighted. It honours the descendants who have kept up the memories of their relatives who went to Spain to fight fascism. It comes at an important time when Spain tries to deal with its past.”

The offer of nationality to the descendants was one of the measures in the Democratic Memory law, which was passed by Spain’s government and which also offers reparations to the victims of General Franco.

The article is accompanied by a box explaining that the novelist George Orwell was nearly killed when he was shot in the neck while fighting in a left-wing militia, the POUM. Orwell famously describes his experience fighting in Spain in his Homage to Catalonia.

This is great news, as Spanish liberals have fought long and hard to combat Franco’s legacy. When I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D., I went to a seminar where a Spanish archaeologist described the excavations that were being carried out on the mass graves of those massacred by the Spanish dictator. These were being done despite opposition from the surviving members of the Spanish extreme right. There’s also controversy over Franco’s mausoleum. Franco claimed that this was to commemorate everyone, who fought in the civil war. In fact, it just glorifies him and his fellow Fascists.

But there have also been other moves to celebrate the contribution of the International Brigade. The anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation Hope Not Hate reported a couple of years ago that a brewery had launched a pint commemorating the International Brigade, though I’ve forgotten what the beer was called.

I also wonder if this initiative is another, liberal response to allow some Brits with links to the country to get round Brexit. A few years ago the Germans granted citizenship to British Jews, who left their country fleeing the Nazis. And the Irish have also offered citizenship to Brits, whose grandparents were Irish.

Book Review: Territorial Politics and the Party System in Spain: Continuity and Change since the Financial Crisis by Caroline Gray

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/09/2020 - 9:34pm in

In Territorial Politics and the Party System in Spain: Continuity and Change since the Financial CrisisCaroline Gray offers a new analysis of how and why the territorial dimension has contributed to shaping Spain’s politics and party system following the 2008 financial crisis. This in-depth account deserves to be read widely by area studies scholars and students interested in the particularities of Spanish politics and by comparative political scientists looking to situate Spain within contemporary party systems in Europe, writes Georgina Blakeley.

Territorial Politics and the Party System in Spain: Continuity and Change since the Financial Crisis. Caroline Gray. Routledge. 2020.

Caroline Gray’s new book, Territorial Politics and the Party System in Spain, aims to explain how and why the territorial dimension of politics contributed to shaping Spain’s party system following the financial crisis of 2008. It delivers on this promise. The book is organised around the conceptual framework of continuity and change and focuses in particular on party behaviour and the extent to which the financial crisis served to hasten, reinforce or alter pre-existing trends apparent in the nature and evolution of Spain’s party system.

Based on an extensive set of elite interviews conducted over the period 2014-19, the resulting analysis is an in-depth case study of how the territorial dimension has affected Spain’s politics and party system. It is an erudite analysis that establishes what is distinct about Spanish politics: namely, the importance of the territorial dimension to the political cleavages which structure party competition in Spain and its particular salience following the 2008 financial crisis. Yet it avoids the platitude that ‘Spain is different’ by situating the analysis within the broader comparative literature on political parties.

As such, this is not a book that will only speak to those interested in Spanish politics. One of the book’s strengths is that it shows how Spain is both similar to and different from general trends in Western and Southern Europe: namely, the widespread decline of mainstream parties and the concomitant rise of anti-establishment challenger parties in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. It thus not only adds to our understanding of party system developments in Spain and its regions, in particular those of the Basque Country and Catalonia, but it also contributes to broader cross-national and comparative studies. In that sense, it is a book which will appeal to the area studies market and those specialising in Spain, while also holding significant appeal for comparative political scientists.

The book is structured as follows: Chapters One and Two are scene-setting chapters which analyse Spain’s political and party system pre-2008 (Chapter One) and post-crisis (Chapter Two). These chapters provide an analytical framework that is based on identifying the political cleavages and axes of party competition in multi-level Spain, grounding the primary analysis which is subsequently undertaken in Chapters Three-Six. These two initial chapters explain the evolution of Spain’s party system from an early multi-party system following the first democratic elections in June 1977 to a predominant party system from 1982-93 and a two-party dominant system between 1993-2015.

Chapter Two then focuses on the breakdown of this two-party dominant system while also situating Spain within the wider context of party system change in Western and Southern Europe following the critical juncture of the Great Recession. Spain’s political system became characterised from 2015 onwards by unprecedented political fragmentation as challenger parties emerged, first on the left in the form of Podemos (‘We Can’) and Ciudadanos (Citizens) and ultimately, on the right, with the breakthrough of the populist radical right-wing Vox in the Andalusian regional elections in December 2018. These early chapters show clearly that Spanish politics continues to be structured by the dominant left-right divide in common with the wider pattern in most Southern European countries, while also showing Spain’s distinctiveness due to the impact of the territorial dimension on party restructuring.

The main analysis is undertaken in Chapters Three-Six. The analytical lens of Chapters Three and Four focuses on the regional level of politics, specifically Catalonia and the Basque Country, while Chapters Five and Six analyse how this regional level has shaped national politics, particularly how the territorial dimension has influenced party agendas and alliances on the left and right. Chapter Three contains a particularly well-crafted argument highlighting the important role played by political parties in the emergence of an apparently bottom-up pro-independence movement in Catalonia, while Chapter Four sheds new light on the ostensible paradox of a parallel, albeit temporary, weakening of territorial ambitions in the Basque Country.

While the focus on Catalonia and the Basque Country is understandable given that these two regions have provided the strongest challenges to Spain’s territorial model of quasi-federalism, it is a shame insufficient space is given in the book to also considering regional politics within other key regions such as Andalusia and Galicia. However, it is not possible for one book to cover all aspects, and this omission should not detract from the book’s numerous strengths. The key contribution – and its appeal to both Spain specialists and general comparative political scientists – has already been highlighted, but three further strengths deserve mention.

First, the author has an admirable grasp of both the economic and political dimensions of the financial crisis and its impact in Spain. To be able to analyse the economic and political dimensions equally and to be able to give each their due weight is rare in analyses of the fallout from the Great Recession in Spain. It is particularly rare to find an author who clearly grasps the complexities of Spain’s regional funding arrangements and is able to draw out the many political consequences of these.

Second is the evenness with which the author deals with the evolution of regional politics in the two key areas of Catalonia and the Basque Country on the one hand, and on the other hand, the evolution of national politics in terms of party agendas and competition on the left and right through an analysis of a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the territorial dimension. Of particular interest to comparative political scientists will be the analysis of why Spain initially followed the wider Southern European pattern of the emergence of a challenger party on the left until the emergence of the radical, populist Vox on the right, and the shifting positions and agendas of these challenger parties, particularly the fluidity of the evolution of Ciudadanos from an initial centrist position, within Catalan politics, to a state-wide right-wing party.

Finally, the conceptual framework of continuity and change allows the author to highlight the overall context of change in Spain characterised by an unprecedented level of political fragmentation and instability, while being careful to draw attention to the striking elements of continuity, not least the durability of the left-right divide.

Together these strengths point to a book which deserves to be read widely by area studies scholars and students interested in the peculiarities of Spanish politics and by comparative political scientists eager to understand what an in-depth case study of Spain can contribute to the broader comparative literature on party systems in Europe following the Great Recession.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Photo by Alexander Awerin on Unsplash.

 


The Tories Are the Implacable Enemies of Free Speech

Since 75 members of Extinction Rebellion decided to do what so many people have wanted to and blockade Murdoch print works in England and Scotland, Boris Johnson and his rabble have been pontificating about democracy and the need to protect a free press. This is all crass, hypocritical rubbish, and the truth, as with so much of Tory policy, is the exact opposite. In all too many instances, the Tories are the inveterate enemies of free speech and press freedom.

Mike and Vox Political have both shown this in their articles reporting that the Council of Europe has issued a level 2 media alert warning about Johnson’s government. This was because MoD press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence stories. This was because Declassified’s journos had been critical of the government’s use of our armed forces. The Council issued a statement that they did so because the act would have a chilling effect on media freedom, undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists reporting in the public interest on the British military. They said that tough journalism like Declassified’s, uncomfortable though it was for those in power, was crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy. This puts Boris Johnson’s government with Putin’s Russia and Turkey, who also have a complete disregard for journalistic freedom.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/06/heres-the-shocking-reason-your-tory-government-is-more-guilty-of-attacking-press-freedom-than-extinction-rebellion/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/free-speech-tories-speak-with-forked.html

We’ve been this way before, and it’s grim. Way back in the 1980s, Maggie Thatcher withdrew LWT’s broadcasting license over a similar piece of journalism that severely criticised the military. This was the documentary Death on the Rock, about the SAS’ shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. The documentary presented clear evidence that the squad had been under surveillance all their way down through Spain, and that the army could have arrested them at any point without bloodshed. This means that the SAS’s shooting of them was effectively an extra-judicial execution. They acted as a death squad.

This wouldn’t have been the first or only instance of such tactics by the British state in Northern Ireland. Lobster has published a number of articles arguing that special SAS units were active under cover in the province with the deliberate task of assassinating IRA terrorists, and that the security forces colluded secretly with Loyalist paramilitaries to do the same.

I heartily condemn terrorism and the murder of innocents regardless of who does it. But if ‘Death on the Rock’ was correct, then the British state acted illegally. The use of the armed forces as death squads clearly sets a dangerous precedent and is a violation of the rule of law. Most Brits probably agreed with Thatcher that the IRA terrorists got what was coming to them, and so would probably have objected to the documentary’s slant. But as the Tories over here and Republicans in the US have argued again and again about freedom of speech, it’s the freedom to offend that needs to be protected. Allowing only speech that is inoffensive or to which you agree is no freedom at all. Thatcher was furious, LWT lost their broadcasting license, which was given to a new broadcaster, Carlton. No doubt named after the notorious Tory club.

Then there was Thatcher’s interference in the transmission of another documentary, this time by the BBC. This was an edition of Panorama, ‘Thatcher’s Militant Tendency’. This argued that, just as Kinnock’s Labour party had been infiltrated by the hard left Militant Tendency, so Fascists from the National Front, BNP and others had burrowed into the Tories. In fact there’s always been concern about the overlap in membership between the Tories and the far right. In the 1970s there was so much concern that the Monday Club, formerly part of the Tory party until David Cameron severed links with it, opened its membership books to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Panorama programme was also too much for Thatcher, who had it spiked.

At the moment, the Tories are running a campaign to defund and privatise the Beeb under the specious claims that it’s biased against them. They were moaning about bias back in the ’90s under John Major and then Tony Blair, because Jeremy Paxman, among the Beeb’s other journos, insisted on asking tough questions. This resulted in Michael Heseltine walking off Newsnight, tossing his mane, as Ian Hislop described it on Have I Got News For You. Right-wing internet radio hack Alex Belfield has been ranting about how the BBC is full of Guardian-reading lefties in the same way Jeremy Clarkson used to about ‘yogurt-knitters’, who also read the same paper. Guido Fawke’s former teaboy, Darren Grimes, has also been leading a campaign to defund the Beeb. He should know about dictatorships and a free press. His former master, Paul Staines, was a member of the Freedom Association when that body supported the Fascist dictatorship in El Salvador. They invited to their annual dinner as guest of honour one year the leader of one of its death squads.

Belfield and the rest of the right-wing media have been loudly applauding the announcement that the new Director-General will cancel left-wing comedy programmes like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week. Because they’re biased against the Tories. Er, no. Have I Got News For You was as enthusiastically anti-Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as the rest of the media establishment, to the point where I got heartily sick and tired of watching it. And I haven’t watched Mock the Week for years. I don’t even know if it’s still on. Both the programmes are satirical. They mock the government as well as the rest of the parties. And the dominant, governing party over the past few decades has been the Tories, with the exception of New Labour from 1997-2010 or so. Which means that when they’ve been attacking the Tories, it’s because the Tories have been in power. A friend of mine told me that Ian Hislop, one of the regular contests on HIGNFY and the editor of Private Eye, was once asked which party he was against. He replied ‘Whoever’s in power’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was a Conservative, but that is, ostensibly, the stance of his magazine. The Tories have been expelling much hot air about how a free press holds governments to account. But in the case of the BBC, this is exactly why they despise it.

The Tories hate the BBC because it’s the state broadcaster, and so is an obstacle to the expansion of Rupert Murdoch’s squalid empire of filth and lies. They’d like it defunded and privatised so that Murdoch, or someone like him, can move in. Not least because Murdoch has and is giving considerable support to the Tories. And in return, the Tories and then New Labour gave Murdoch what he wanted, and he was allowed to pursue his aim of owning a sizable chunk of the British press and independent broadcasting with Sky. This has alarmed those concerned about the threat posed by such media monopolies. It’s why Extinction Rebellion were right to blockade Murdoch’s papers, as both Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out. We don’t have a free press. We have a captive press controlled by a handful of powerful media magnates, who determine what gets reported. John Major in his last years in office realised the political threat Murdoch posed, but by this time it was too late. The Tories had allowed Murdoch to get his grubby mitts on as much of the British media as he could, and he had abandoned the Tories for Blair. Who was all too ready to do the same and accede to his demands in return for Murdoch’s media support. Just as Keir Starmer is desperate to do the same.

Murdoch’s acquisition of British papers, like the Times, should have been blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission long ago. There were moves to, but Thatcher allowed Murdoch to go ahead. And Tony Benn was right: no-one should own more than one paper. If the Beeb is privatised, it will mean yet more of the British media is owned by one of press and broadcasting oligarchy. And that is a threat to democracy and press freedom.

The Tories are defending the freedom of the press and broadcasting. They’re attacking it.

Old ‘Financial Times’ Review by Caryl Phillips of Books on Afrocentrism and Black Identity

This is another very old clipping from my scrapbooks. Titled ‘Burdened by white men’s perceptions’, its a review by the Black British writer Caryl Phillips of the books Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes by Stephen Howe, and Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination by Adam Lively. Its from the Financial Times’ edition for August 15th/16th 1998, and so nearly a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, these are issues that are still present and which are still strongly influencing contemporary racial politics and motivating activist movements like Black Lives Matter.

Phillips begins his review with the book on Afrocentrism. This is a Black historical view that sees ancient Egypt as a Black African civilisation and the true source of the western cultural and intellectual tradition, which was appropriated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. He then moves on to the second book, which is about the issue of Black identity in majority White culture and the effects of White perceptions. Phillips writes

Stephen Howe’s candid book goes right to the heart of one of the most vexing of contemporary America’s problems: the question of “Afrocentrism”, and its legitimacy as an alternative system of thought to the “white racism” which has dominated American intellectual, social and political life. Howe (who is white) quotes the African-American professor, Manning Marable, who defines Afrocentrism as a system of thought which “looks to a romantic, mythical reconstruction of yesterday to find some understanding of the cultural basis of today’s racial and class challenges.” Howe agrees with Marable that Afrocentrism is not only romantic and mythical, but he sees it as ultimately dangerous.

His book is divided into three parts. In the first section Howe looks at the “roots” of Afrocentrism, rightly identifying the writings o the 19th-century writer Edward Wilmot Blyden as being perhaps at the head of this tradition. In 1866 Blyden travelled to Egypt, determined to see evidence of great Black achievements. He was overwhelmed by a sense of racial pride on first seeing the Pyramids: “This, thought I, was the work of my African progenitors … Feelings came over me far different from those I have ever felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius. I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built … by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I am descended …”

In the second part of his book, Howe focuses largely upon the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-86), identifying him as the originator of many of the ideas that form the basis of modern Afrocentrism. Diop believed that the biological origin of humanity took place in Africa, and that Egypt was the cradle of a Black civilisation that was appropriated by the Ancient Greeks. His writings and scholarship all speak to a need for those of Africa to see beyond the obfuscation created by European racism and colonialism,  and reclaim their glorious past.

The final part of Howe’s book looks at the current manifestations of Afrocentric thought, particularly in American academic life. He rightly castigates the anti-Semitism of Afrocentric “scholars”  such as Leonard Jeffries and Tony Martin, and is tough but even-handed in his case against Molefi Asante (whom Howe calls the “Godfather of Afrocentrism”). The pseudo-scientific racism, the homophobia, and the lack of any serious scholarship which underpins the work of modern-day Afrocentrism is laid bare in a devastating, and at times humorous manner.

This book performs a great service for all who are interested in the intellectual study of race and racism in the US. Howe builds his case upon facts, which most Afrocentric “scholars” seem incapable of doing. However, what Howe does not do is to ask the pressing question which arises out of his book: why is it that so many African Americans both leaders and followers, are prepared to invest in such an ahistorical sense of their world and their history?

The first half of Adam Lively’s book provides some kind of an answer, castigating as it does the European attempts to place Africa and people of African origin at the bottom of the evolutionary chain. Lively traces what he terms “the invention of race” in the modern world, and looks at racial theories in 18th and 19th-century Britain, examined how they clashed with Christianity, and Darwinism.

The second half of the book turns to the US. Lively announces his shift of locale and time, by stating that in the earlier period “If the African answered back, the European didn’t hear. In America by contrast … the American Negro could and did answer back to the White man.” This is not strictly true. Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical narrative published in 1789 went into eight British editions, and was also published in German, Dutch and Russian. Equiano was but one of a host of contemporary Black writers who were undoubtedly heard by Europeans.

The American half of Lively’s book is largely composed of readings in 20th century American literature which support his central thesis that the contemporary imagination has great difficulty coping with a blackness that has been so deeply demonised by theories which originated in earlier centuries. However, whereas the first half of his book is underpinned by solid research, the second half becomes more speculative.

The book concludes with a short epilogue entitled “Beyond Race?” Unfortunately, here the text collapses into the infuriating academic doublespeak that the author has so eloquently avoided. “The idea of postethnicity accords with the modern tendency to see ethnicity as performative than essentialist. Blackness becomes a cultural style, a signifier that has floated free of its moorings in pigmentation. Stripped of any deterministic associations, its gift is the freedom (or, negatively, the alienation) of the mask.”

Blackness is not, and never will be, simply “a cultural style”. Being Black in the western world still means that one is burdened by White people’s perceptions of  one as either an object of taboo or one of sentiment. To scamper off into an imagined past of Afrocentric “achievement” is as foolish as the attempt to construct an imagined present of redemptive cultural equality based around baggy jeans and rap music. Lively ends his book with the following sentence: “The racial past cannot be erased, but it can be rendered impotent.” Neither Lively’s faith in postmodernism nor the Afrocentric’s “fake” history, will produce any viable solution to a problem that will dog us far into the next millennium.

I hope this prediction is far too pessimistic, and that this millennium won’t be as burdened with issues of race and racism as the previous. Regarding Afrocentrism, there is a serious point behind the romanticism. Egypt is geographically part of Africa, and the ancient Egyptians certainly portrayed themselves as darker skinned than the European peoples to the north. They traded extensively in the Mediterranean, including as far west as Spain, and did influence Greek and Roman culture. The White Afrocentrist historian, Basil Davidson, states that he believes that the Romans took their intellectual culture from Egypt because the Romans themselves said they did. On the other hand, it appears that the ancient Greeks took their mathematical knowledge from the ancient Near East, particularly Phrygia, rather than Egypt.

My problem with Afrocentrism is that, at its extreme, it just becomes a form of anti-White racism, the mirror image of White racist views of Black and African history. In the view of Afrocentric writers like Garakai Chengu, ancient Egypt was a superior Black civilisation that bestowed culture and learning on the backward White tribes of Europe. The Moors of Islamic Spain were ‘obviously Black’, and through their conquest brought backward, superstitious White Europeans enlightened philosophy and science. This isn’t history so much as a Black racist fantasy of imperialism and benign colonialism projected into the past. Chengu has apparently taught at Harvard, but when Counterpunch saw fit to publish a piece by him on their website the standard of scholarship was so poor that I really wondered how he got the job.

Ancient Egypt and the other great civilisations of Africa are awesome, inspiring and worth studying along with all the world’s great cultures. But this needs to be done without the grotesque distortions of racism, whether by Whites or Blacks.

Prehistoric Hull Traded with an Settled by Ancient Egyptians

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 12:30am in

This is another clipping from 20 years ago, but on rather a lighter subject. It’s from the Daily Mail, 26th August 2000. Titled ‘Where the Hull have we landed, pharaoh?’, it’s about the discovery of three ancient Egyptian ships in the city. The clipping reads

Egyptians were shipwrecked off the east coast of Britain some 2,700 years ago and settled in Hull, it was claimed yesterday.

Three wooden boats found in mud on the banks of the Humber in 1937 – thought at first to be Viking – are now said to date from 700 BC and be identical to ones which once navigated the Nile. Egyptologist Lorraine Evans says her findings will revolutionise views about our ancestors. “The simple fact that many people of Britain are going about their daily business unaware of their Egyptian heritage is astounding,” she added.

I don’t know if her findings have been corroborated or invalidated by more recent research. The ancient Egyptians used sewn plank boats, which is exactly how they were built. Nails were used, and instead the ship’s timbers were held together by drilling holes in them and sewing them together with rope. A few years later a ship built exactly the same way by indigenous Brits was found in Dover, so this might simply mean that Iron Age Britons were making them earlier than previously believed.

However, archaeologists are amassing increasing evidence that long distance trade was far more established across the world than previously recognised. You can’t see it with the unaided eye, but some of the stones at Stonehenge have the Mycenaean double-headed axe, indicating that the builders were in touch with Bronze Age ancient Greece. And ancient Spain, which was also partly home to Celtic tribes, also traded with ancient Egypt so it’s entirely credible that sailors and traders from the land of the Nile may have made their way farther north.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine at the time. He told me that some geneticists had also discovered the markers for ancient Egyptian heritage in the DNA of White Brits in Birmingham. I really can’t comment, as I haven’t seen anything to confirm this. But what spooked him is that one of the psychic questers around at the time had claimed in one of his books that through his psychic powers he had found out that ancient Egyptians had also settled in the city of Noddy Holder and Black Sabbath.

Spain: Daniel Raventós talks about Basic Income at Parliamentary Commission

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/07/2020 - 7:16am in

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News, Spain

On June 22nd 2020, researcher Daniel Raventós intervened before the Commission for Social and Economic Recostruction of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid. Prof. Raventós outlined his proposal of Universal Basic Income (UBI) starting by defining this economic measure as a public monetary payment to the entire population on an individual, regular, unconditional and universal […]

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