Thursday, 19 November 2015


Dear readers

(or, 'Good evenin' listeners', as the truly inimitable Tommy O'Brien used to say on his brilliant programme of bel canto music on RTE Radio 1 - back in the days when Irish radio presenters weren't mostly zombies or drones, had real regional accents, and weren't charisma-less scratchy-voiced self-confections like Ryan Tubridy).

Sometime in the last hour or so, this blog attained its 15,000th pageview.   My information on traffic sources does not suggest to me that you are all bots, or emanations of bots.  I am sure you are all relieved to learn this about yourselves, and I thank you for reading the blog!



Monday, 16 November 2015


Last night, France launched airstrikes on Raqqa, the Islamic State's stronghold in northern Syria.  Officials say that 'command and control centres' and arms dumps were hit by Mirage attack aircraft flying from a base in Jordan.   Because reporting from Syria has become so dangerous, we have no way of confirming that only such centres and dumps were actually hit: there is no way to ascertain whether civilians were hurt or killed.

It's quite likely, however, that they were.  It's not clear to me what kind of weapons systems were used against Raqqa, but even modern guided munitions - air-to-ground missiles such as the American Hellfire or the French Exocet, or laser-guided bombs - are dependent on the presence of persons on the ground or planes or drones in the air to 'illuminate' targets.  Dropping  bombs from high altitude, which has been NATO practice for some time (even though the French, Americans, Russians would have overall air superiority over Syria) is a recipe for missing targets.

In any case, we cannot know what the result of these bombing missions has been.  Defenders of notionally 'resolute' French action would say that if civilians were hurt, there was no 'intention' to hurt them.  This is a mealy-mouthed theoretically weak answer.  Western powers, including Israel, deploy air-power, and make cynical calculations about the level of collateral damage that will be or could be incurred.  Lawyers balance the 'value' of the military target to be hit against the number of civilians casualties that may be affected.  When Israel drops 2000lb laser-guided bombs on a building in Gaza, it rationalises its action by saying that a militant Hamas leader was killed, and that is enough to 'balance' the fact that members of his family were killed along with him.  If 2 family members die (say), that can be presented as a success, whereas if 8 family members die, it's not a (propaganda) success.  The point, though, is that the attack is mounted in the knowledge that civilians are put at great risk.  In this light, the argument that Islamists are savagely and 'intentionally' indiscriminate in their attacks, whereas Western countries try to maintain what Israel used to call 'purity of arms' by 'intending' the avoidance of civilian losses, loses any moral or philosophical force it might ever have had.

Behind such thinking lies the matter of the 'otherness' of France's victims, and the fact that the (cultural, political, ultimately inhuman) Other can be treated as one wishes, without compunction.   The suffering or victimhood of the Other can never match our own, the implication runs, and so only our casualties are worthy of grief.  The pre-eminent thinker on this topic - as on many other topics these days - is the redoubtable Judith Butler.  Here she is on the 'massacre at Paris', as Christopher Marlowe would have called it.  Taken from the Verso website:

Judith Butler: Precariousness and Grievability—When Is Life Grievable?


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Reaping the Whirlwind - ISIS massacres in Paris

Once again, barely ten months after the horror of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter, much worse violence has slashed brutally across the cityscape of Paris.  Attacks on a rock concert, on restaurants and cafes, and on the Stade de France cannot be answered by sententious avowals of liberty, equality and fraternity.  French state rhetoric this time is simply that of war.  Francois Hollande has termed the attacks 'acts of war', and has vowed to pursue the perpetrators 'without mercy'.  France is at war with a terrorist organisation.  Where have we heard this kind of language before?

On RTE Radio 1 this morning, Michael Colgan, the artistic director of the Gate Theatre, and not the sharpest knife in the drawer, moaned that seeking reasons for these attacks is a useless exercise, and an evasion of the manifestation of evil in the world which ISIS represents.  Brutal events like those at the Bataclan Theatre on Friday night are so horrific as to seem to beggar explanation or any kind of abstract analysis.  But analysis and cool thinking are precisely what are needed at such times, and scepticism in the face of state pronouncements and media consensus.

Here is a selection of material worth looking at.   Doubtless more such, and vastly more rubbish, will appear yet in the next few days.


Patrick Cockburn at CounterPunch:

'Isis in Paris'—By Tariq Ali


Juan Cole at the Nation, on France's destructive and unwise relationship with Saudi Arabia:

France Should Stop Listening to Saudi Arabia on Syria

Ghosts of Lydda - remembering Yitzhak Rabin

On November 4 last, we passed the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minster of Israel, just after a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995.  He was shot by a young ultra-religious Jewish zealot, Yigal Amir.   Rabin had led Israel into the Oslo peace process with the PLO, signing the 'Declaration of Principles' with Yasser Arafat in September 1993.

The anniversary brought a wave of nostalgic what-iffery from Israeli and Western liberals - if Rabin had lived, would the peace process have succeeded?  Most journalistic articles of this tenor have been both maudlin and mendacious, none more so that that by Mark Weiss, Israel correspondent of the Irish Times.  Weiss's article paints Rabin as a liberal peacenik.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Raymond Deane and I (and others, no doubt) sent off corrective letters to the Irish Times, but to no avail. I am posting both Raymond's letter, and my own, here.


First, Raymond's:

Dear Editor

Mark Weiss's report on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist is seriously misleading. [2nd November]
Mr. Weiss writes: 'Three bullets and 20 years later, with the country still reeling after a month of Palestinian stabbing attacks and Israeli countermeasures, the assassination anniversary left a huge “what if?” question unanswered... Could [Rabin] have succeeded, despite the horrific wave of suicide bombings that followed the signing of the initial peace deal in 1993, in bringing the Oslo process to a successful conclusion..?'
The phrase "Palestinian stabbing attacks and Israeli countermeasures" reiterates the standard version whereby Israel merely reacts to unmotivated violence, but completely omits the context of deepening Israeli occupation and colonisation. Worse still, the implication that Palestinian suicide bombings began in 1993 as an attempt to derail the peace process belies the truth that the first such bombing occurred the following year as revenge for the massacre by Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron.
Mr. Weiss claims that "Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli forces and settlers from Gaza, with the possibility that the unilateral disengagement was only a prelude to a wider move in the West Bank." Had this been the case, Sharon would hardly have relocated these settlers in the West Bank, where their presence was equally illegal (an adjective that the Irish Times consistently refrains from applying to colonial settlements despite their status under the Fourth Geneva Convention).
The reality was stated openly by Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglas: "The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process... The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."
Mark Weiss does the Irish Times readership a disservice by disguising blatant propaganda as objective reporting.
Sincerely -
 Raymond Deane

And then my own missive:

November 6, 2015

Dear Sir

Mark Weiss's article on the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (2/11/15) is a disgrace of historical revisionism.

Yitzhak Rabin was no dove. He was responsible in 1948 for the ethnic cleansing of Lydda - according to Benny Morris, the biggest single act of expulsion of Palestinians during the 'birth' of Israel. He was the minister who called for IDF soldiers to use 'force, might and beatings' against unarmed Palestinian protestors during the first Intifada and for the troops to 'break the bones' of the protestors. He was a very reluctant participant in the deeply flawed Oslo process. Palestinian suicide bombings did not start with the September 1993 agreements, but only the following year after the massacre by Baruch Goldstein of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Mr Weiss's subsequent account of the second Intifada and the efforts of Israeli prime ministers to make peace is equally flawed. It was the 'dovish' Barak, after all, who permitted Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 - the true start of the second Intifada. All the prime ministers Mr Weiss names permitted ongoing settlement expansion and construction - all of it illegal and rejected by the international community and even the United States. Israel did not disengage from Gaza with a view to a further disengagement from the West Bank - Sharon said clearly at the time that the withdrawal would (and did) reinforce deeper settlement in the West Bank.

Mr Weiss's article is steeped in bad faith, and insults his readers' intelligence.

yours sincerely

Conor McCarthy

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Politics and Vision

Sheldon Wolin, who died on October 21 last at the age of 93, was probably the most distinguished and perhaps brilliant American political philosopher of the last several decades.  A more radical figure than John Rawls, Wolin was the author of various books, including studies of Hobbes and Tocqueville, and a monumental interpretative history of political theory, Politics and Vision.  The roster of political thinkers who trained with him is a listing of the most talented American political philosophers active today - Wendy Brown, Cornel West, Dana Villa, Uday Mehta.  The founder of the 'Berkeley School' of political thought in the 1960s, Wolin was opposed both to behaviourism and to the regnant conservative and unhistorical approach of Leo Strauss.  Wolin was not merely an ivory-tower academic: he produced a radical critique of the Bush regime (held by writers such Shadia Drury to have been influenced by Straussian thought and themes) in 2003, accusing it of an 'inverted totalitarianism'.  Steel was never wanting in Sheldon Wolin: would we had more like him.

Here is Corey Robin remembering him on the Jacobin website:

The Theorist Who Reached Across Time



Machtpolitik in Syria

Russia has now intervened decisively in the Syrian war.  Its airpower, and possibly troops or advisors on the ground, are shifting the balance of power in the struggle between the Bashar al-Assad regime, and its mostly Islamist opponents.  Informed opinion in the West is doing a lot of huffing and puffing about Russian support for a ghastly regime.   While this is true, the hyperventilation masks the fact that the Western campaign of airstrikes on ISIS has mostly been a failure, and probably is more important for making Western politicians and states feel better about themselves, than about doing much to help Syrian civilians or liberals.

Patrick Cockburn has featured several times on this blog.  The younger brother of Alexander Cockburn, and the most distinguished Western Middle East correspondent now writing (rather less of an egomaniac, and rather more reflective than, Robert Fisk), Cockburn has written three books about Iraq, and has been sharper than almost all of his peers about the rise of the newest generation of Islamist radicals in the wreckage of western Iraq and in Syria.  His recent book The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution is an excellent account of the recent history of these ruined countries.   Here he is on Syria, again in the LRB:

Too Weak, Too Strong: Russia in Syria



Shaking Off

Reportage of the current violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is mostly about local details.  It tends to be slanted, as ever: two weeks ago, RTE news was talking of how Israelis had been 'brutally murdered', while Palestinians appeared merely to have 'died'.

There is much talk these days about the unrest, which has been occasioned by Israeli moves to regulate access to the Haram al-Sharif, as part of the wider battle to control the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, of a 'third Intifada'.   Here is Nathan Thrall on the London Review of Books giving some clarity to the situation, and explaining the wider picture:

Nathan Thrall: Israel’s Allies


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Threats to Higher Education

Universities are a site in a major war, according to Thomas Docherty, professor of comparative literature at Warwick University.  Docherty refers here to what Gramsci called the 'war of position' - a prolonged ideological, cultural, even intellectual struggle, which, in some instances, prepares the way for actual change.   Universities in the United Kingdom are swamped by an extraordinary array of 'reforms', brought in not only  by the current ghastly Conservative government, but in fact prepared decades ago during the Thatcher years and then their lightly disguised continuation, the New Labour years.  Fee rises, bureaucratic regulation, 'accountability' based on the positivist crudity of the cash nexus, department abolitions and forced amalgamations, and mandatory redundancies.   Warwick University itself is at the leading edge of this kind of change - hence its vicious campaign against Docherty over the last 2-3 years, and also its eagerness to outsource certain elements of its teaching, in a bid to avoid having to protect young teachers and researchers or extend to them the basic rights of job security, welfare and pension benefits.

Is this situation unthinkable in Ireland?   Not entirely.  We are witnessing large-scale expansion in student numbers, but a massive fall in spending on higher education.  This comes in the context, of course, of the financial crisis and the implementation of austerity policies in the last five years.  The fall in academic staff numbers is estimated at 13%.  Staff right across the university sector - along with their fellows in the wider public sector - have experienced falls in income over the period of the crash of nearly 20%.   Staff-student ratios are worsening, and per capita spend on students is falling dramatically.  So far, government's only proffered solution for this situation is to encourage, or put pressure on, universities to develop further links with industry, and to recruit international students (who pay astronomical 'non-EU' fees).

In a recent essay on academic freedom and the academic boycott of Israeli universities, Judith Butler makes the point that too often academic freedom is discussed as an abstract right.  But, quoting Hannah Arendt, she makes the point that a right may be said not truly to be a right if it cannot be exercised.  Academic freedom must itself be seen as part of a wider or deeper right to education.  If the institutions of academic learning do not exist, or if their operation is constantly hedged and compromised by economic, political or (in Palestine) military and police forces, then academic freedom cannot be said to be operative.   Without wanting for a moment to make foolish analogies between the difficulties of Irish universities and Palestinian ones, it should be pointed out that the greatest danger to Irish academics is not direct political influence, or the potential curbing of their careers (should they take up minority public political views), but rather the relentless and expanding managerial hegemony in the way that their institutions are run - the proliferation and spread of 'market values' replacing other forms of organisational rationality or reason in the running, administration, and planning of academic institutions and departments, right down to the details of the curriculum.

Two recent articles on this topic: firstly, from Jacobin -

Resisting the Corporate University


and from Counterpunch -


The Curse of Totalitarianism and the Challenge of an Insurrectional Pedagogy



Monday, 28 September 2015

Donna Haraway and the End of the Human

Postwar intellectual culture in Europe and America has been marked by several 'end' movements or trends or themes.   Writers such as Robbe-Grillet and Beckett seemed to announce the end of the novel.  Sociologists such as Daniel Bell, one of the 'New York intellectuals', wrote about the 'end of ideology' - the culmination of the 'modernisation' process (much beloved of Irish sociologists, political scientists, historians and the 'Labour' Party even as recently as the 1980s) would be the replacement of fundamental socio-political struggle by bureaucratic adjustment.  Thinkers such as Derrida, Lyotard and Deleuze promulgated a kind of late-Nietzschean anti-philosophy, or 'end of philosophy', under the influence of Heidegger.   Foucault declared, in a brilliant and chilling passage at the end of Les mots et les choses, the 'end of man': it is possible, he suggested, that 'man is in the process of perishing as the being of language continues to shine ever brighter upon our horizon', and man may simply be 'erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea'.  In 1990, Francis Fukuyama updated Kojeve's Hegelianism (which had underpinned much French intellectual radicalism in the postwar period) to announce - under the banner of the 'end of history' - the triumph of liberal democratic capitalism, if only because of lack of viable systemic competitors.

A particularly interesting and perhaps prophetic inflection of this lineage of thought emerged in the 1980s in the work of the gifted and innovative American historian of science and feminist theorist Donna Haraway.   Working within the eclectic and fertile History of Consciousness programme at the University of California at Santa Cruz (to which I made application for a PhD place, only to lose out due to lack of funding), which also offered a home to such crucial American scholars as Fredric Jameson, Hayden White and Teresa de Lauretis, Haraway mulled over the complex intersection of biology, zoology, feminism and technology.  She wrote a kind of anthropology of human relations with other primates, and her 'Cyborg Manifesto' is one of the most brilliant documents of postmodernism.   In our era where 'the humanities' are being eroded by neoliberal rationality, where the 'internet of things' will soon inhabit our clothes, cars, and household utensils, and where humans readily agree to their own subjectification by way of wholesale investment in the surveillance technosphere offered by computers, phones, credit cards, chipped pets and criminals, Haraway's work makes for enlightening reading.  Here is McKenzie Wark - historian and legatee of the Situationist International - on Haraway - a tremendous and illuminating combination:

Blog-Post for Cyborgs—McKenzie Wark on Donna Haraway's 'Manifesto for Cyborgs' 30 years later



Thursday, 17 September 2015

Taking Corbyn Seriously

This piece is taken from Jacobin, which had in its turn purloined it from Red Pepper, another fine leftwing website.  Alex Nunn here makes the case for Jeremy Corbyn, still being clouded at the moment by nonsense about singing or not singing the national anthem, and naive remarks made by his Shadow Chancellor some years ago about 'honouring' the IRA.

The Electable Jeremy Corbyn



Jacobin - The Five Year Plan

Jacobin, I've been slowly realising over the last year or so, is definitely one of the most impressive, and stylish, newer journals on the Left in the English-speaking world.  Drawing on contributors from across the globe, though principally with an American focus, it provides sophisticated non-academic discussion of politics, economics, culture and history.  Highlighted by Perry Anderson in his obituary-essay on Alexander Cockburn in the New Left Review last year, and joined by the likes of n+1 which was recently discussed intelligently by Francis Mulhern also in the NLR, it represents a platform for young American left intellectuals, and has become essential reading. 

Here Jacobin notes and celebrates its fifth birthday, today:

Our Next Five Year Plan





Monday, 14 September 2015

Cauterizing the Wound

Earlier this year, when the British general election was won by the Conservative Party, and the Labour Party was left reeling, I put up a posting, including a piece by Tariq Ali.   In that essay, Ali declared that the Labour Party, apparently mortally wounded, should be let bleed - his point being that the impending crisis of popular and party disaffection with Blairism, with 'New Labour' (which has in reality been the conquest of the Labour Party by neoliberal dogma) should be let come to a head.   The only change worth having at the Party would be radical change.

But even Tariq Ali probably could not have anticipated the extraordinary outcome of the leadership contest that would followed the resignation of Ed Miliband (son of the Ralph Miliband whose essay on Chile I posted on September 11).  Now the Party has, in Jeremy Corbyn, the most radical leader in its history, elected with a massive majority and mandate.  When one wipes from one's eyes the accumulated muck and mist of the alternately splenetic, triumphalist, crass, ignorant, hysterical or complacent commentary in the centre-right media mainstream, a leader of the greatest interest and potential is revealed.   Here is Ali reacting to Corbyn's victory - published in the London Independent and re-published on the Verso website:

The Most Leftwing Leader That Labour Has Ever Had



Saturday, 12 September 2015


In Ireland, as elsewhere, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean has been headline news lately.  The Irish government's response has been rather somnolent, however, partly under the cover of our opt-out from the Schengen Agreement, and this has allowed various other, usually ill-informed, positions to dominate the discussion.

Firstly, it has taken weeks for the discussion to shift from being one about 'migrants' (bad, because they simply want to better themselves economically) to a more accurate one about 'refugees': the major flow across the sea at the moment is of people fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria, who are refugees by any post-Geneva Convention definition.

Next, and most obviously, there has been the split between the focus on, and pride taken in, the work of Irish naval vessels in the Mediterranean, plucking refugees from the sea or from their ramshackle boats, and the fear and hostility to taking in refugees evinced by crackpots like George Hook.  Hook, who presents an afternoon programme on Newstalk106 (which makes distinctions between 'comment' and 'opinion' that would make bamboozle most critical philosophers), sees the world through a Blimpish misted lens composed of Victor comics, the novels of Rider Haggard and Ian Fleming, philo-Churchillism, and the Daily Telegraph.  Accordingly, he has been warning us all that all the refugees crossing the sea from Africa and the Levant are likely to be Islamist terrorists.  So we have a body of opinion that takes a touchingly provincial pride in the work of the Irish Naval Service (as if it was the only national navy contributing to rescue efforts), because this image mobilises all the tropes of which we are so fond - helping the wogs because they can't help themelves, helping them far away, our doughty servicemen performing deeds of derring-do.  But this same body of opinion is more sympathetic to traders and shipping companies at the port of Calais than to the desperate people who, left to rot by the French government, having been willing to risk stowing away on the Eurostar railway, and this body of opinion cannot countenance the arrival of more than a couple of hundred refugees in Ireland.

As the geopolitical debate warms up, so analysts or 'analysts' of various hues appear. Respectable scholars of the Middle East such as UCD's Vincent Durac are brought onto the media, but so also are ludicrous figures such as Susan Philips, a former Wicklow county councilor who boasts an M Litt (an incomplete doctorate?) on 'the rise of politcal Islam', and who has somehow set herself up as a commentator in the Bernard Lewis mould - Islamophobic, generalising, essentialising, ultra-Zionist, and the kind of Christian who gives Christianity a bad name. 

Questions are asked about the unwillingness of the Gulf monarchies to take in refugees.  These countries are indeed fabulously rich, but to expect them to take in Syrian refugees is ignorant and naive.  Not that they lack the resources, but we need to remember that these regimes are bitterly opposed to Assad's Ba'athi government, that they are the wellspring of the Wahhabi or Salafi ideologies that motivate ISIS or Al-Nusra or Al-Qa'ida in their battles against the Syrian and Iraqi governments, and that they or wealthy private citizens of theirs have bankrolled ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  Furthermore, the ethno-religious mix of Syrians (and Iraqis, Libyans and Afghans) crossing the seas is very likely to be distasteful to the Sunni princedoms.  So, expecting the Gulf emirates to take in refugees is tantamount to asking them to admit their catastrophic ideological and political handiwork in helping create ISIS, and is unlikely to happen.

Of course, we also have Israel, a very rich country in the region and next door to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, declaring its unwillingness to take in refugees.   Unless, no doubt, they happen (somehow) to be Jewish, in which case under the Law of Return they will be welcomed with open arms and will be immediately entitled to citizenship.  Israel's ethnic 'democracy' has little welfare to offer any other refugees - after all, Israel has never accepted responsibility for the 'Palestinian refugee problem' since 1947, and has made a point of stamping on them wherever they find them ('mowing the lawn' in Gaza in 2009 and 2014).  And then there is Israel's disgraceful and cynical support for Al-Nusra, an offshoot of Al-Qa'ida in Syria - yet another example of Israel's efforts to ride the Islamist tiger - from its connivance at the organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza in the 1980s (which eventually produced Hamas) to its tacit alliance with Saudi Arabia today.

Here is a fine overview of the refugee problem, from Mondoweiss:

A guide to the worst refugee crisis since WWII


And here is Slavoj Zizek, on the website of the London Review of Books

The Non-Existence of Norway · 9 September 2015



Friday, 11 September 2015

9/11 Memories and the Current Economic Order

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the terrible massacre of civilians in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, and of government staff at the Pentagon, by plane hijackers affiliated to al-Qa'ida.  Nearly 3000 innocent people were slaughtered in a brutal and spectacular attack on the contiguous territory of the United States. 

But today is also the forty-second anniversary of the rightwing military coup in Chile, which (assisted by the United States) saw the murder of the liberal-socialist president Salvador Allende and the ousting of his government, and the end of civilian democratic rule.   Decades of dictatorship by Augusto Pinochet were to follow.  Not only was this moment one of the greatest and darkest importance for Chile and its people, but it also witnessed the arrival and institutionalisation of the economic code by which the world economy has since been re-organised.   The 'Chicago Boys' - Chilean acolytes of Milton Friedman's brand of neoliberal or monetarist economics, trained at the University of Chicago - were installed in Santiago in one of the most important and drastic political-economic experiments of recent times.  The neoliberal 'reform' of Chile's economy, with its liberalisation, privatisation of public and state assets, and opening to the capitalist world-system, was a vital staging post on the way to the Friedmanesque/Hayekian revolution that was driven across America and Britain by the Reagan and Thatcher governments of the 1980s.  This was a crucial harbinger of the defeat and roll-back of the postwar social-democratic consensus in the western world, the coming financialisation of of the global economy, and the creation of what Wendy Brown calls a new form of rationality - market rationality - in almost all spheres of human activity.

Ralph Miliband, then Britain's finest and most formidable Marxist political theorist, professor at the London School of Economics, and notable interlocutor and critic of Nicos Poulantzas in the pages of the New Left Review, responded to the news from Chile in the pages of the Socialist Register.   Here is his essay, re-published by Jacobin:

The Coup in Chile



Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Obama and Academic Freedom in Palestine

Readers and comrades -

I have not posted for a long time, due to intense work commitments.  But the world continues to turn, surprisingly enough, even when I am not paying attention to it. 

Here is a recent piece from Electronic Intifada, on academic freedom in the Palestinian Territories, and Obama's moronic musings on Israel:

Obama must end support for Israeli apartheid against Palestinian scholars


And, from the same journal, an earlier piece to remind us that problems of academic and educational access in an occupied zone can be of the most quotidian kind:

Jerusalem students face constant harassment by Israeli forces


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Coming Insurrection

In France, in 2009, gendarmes swooped on the village of Tarnac, in the Correze département in central France, pulling 20 alleged anarchist activists from their beds and arresting nine of them: the Tarnac Nine.  Two were subsequently released.  One of them, Julien Choupat, has been charged with authoring the anonymous anti-capitalist pamphlet, The Coming Insurrection.  The French state regards the Tarnac Nine as responsible for extensive damage and disruption to the French railway system.

In a recent article in Libération, a group of French intellectuals have claimed the authorship of the pamphlet, as a way of highlighting the increasing political censoriousness of French society, which accelerated after but dates from long before the Charlie Hebdo murders and aftermath.

Here is the original article:

Je suis l’auteur de «L’insurrection qui vient»

And here it is in English translation from the Verso website

I am the author of The Coming Insurrection



Monday, 22 June 2015

Summer Heats Up

I have not posted over the last few weeks, having realised that much, if not all, of my seemingly fantastic numbers of pageviews for this blog were derived in the last couple of months from 'bots' - shadowy automated websites originating in some of the newly dark places of the earth, which appear to 'refer' readers to sites such as mine.  I am not sure that these things did my site any real harm (though apparently some bots can - if I'd been selling material on this site, information such as card and bank details would have been vulnerable to bot-originated theft), but the inflated figures left me feeling rather deflated as to the worth of posting.

But, judging by my 'traffic sources' the bots have now decided to move on to other prey, and my ratings, while vastly more modest, are real once more.   So I'll post some material today, hopefully to cheer up my regular readers, and myself.

Today was meant to be the final showdown for the Greek government: it was to submit a final plan for renewed austerity measures to a council of Eurozone leaders, or face default and probably exit from the currency area by the end of the month.  But some kind of slip-up of documents has meant that the whole Mexican stand-off (I'm watching the Sergio Leone 'Dollar' films again - wonderfully stylish and cynical) has become a muddle with egg on every face in sight.  Here is Stathis Kouvelakis, a Greek historian of political ideas who teaches at King's College London and is connected to Syriza, writing on Jacobin:

In Search of Lost Time

I recently acquired a copy of Shulamith Firestone's Marxist-feminist classic, The Dialectic of Sex (see title of my previous post) - reissued by Verso - and the salutary fury of the book is energising and inspiring.  Here, also from Jacobin, is an essay of the kind she might write now, were she still alive, on the weakness and alienable character of liberal feminism in the age of neoliberal rationality:


The Sweatshop Feminists






Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Dialectics of Sex - Ireland's Gay Marriage Referendum and its Fallout

On May 22 last, two referendums and a by-election were held in Ireland.  The referendums were on amendments to the Constitution; the by-election was in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency, in the south midlands.

The major referendum was on gay marriage, and when the motion to permit same-sex marriage was put to the voters, it was carried by a 62%/38% majority.  I did not vote.

I disavowed the vote, because the campaign at its conclusion seemed to be almost hysterical in its all-encompassing fervour for the Yes vote, and I realised that voting Yes (the only way I would have voted) would have felt like bowing to a kind of browbeating.  But also the question itself seems very considerably a conservative one.   I find it hard to see the progressive content in a move which opens to gay people the opportunity to sanctify their relationships in the terms of the state and the law.  It's not clear to me why anyone would want to seek the recognition of the state to legitimate their love for another person.

I have to admit that there are problems in my position, and I am not fully comfortable in it.  Once we've admitted the discourse or the realm of rights, gay people must be entitled to equal rights with everyone else - unquestionably.  The constitutional recognition of the right of gay people to marry will bring happiness and benefits - in regard to medical rights, inheritance, taxation and many other areas.  But in the end, this seems to me a version of Marcusean 'repressive tolerance', a recognition of the right of gay people as individuals to be members of the Irish political mainstream, and so to be conservative with everyone else.  It confers what a friend of mine, quoting Nancy Fraser's Hegelian idiom, called recognition without redistribution - it's an improvement in social conditions at the level of discourse and individual rights, but with very little purchase at any other level.

The success of the Yes campaign has also been accompanied by hysteria - public emotion of what seems a synthetic kind.  Liberals have allowed themselves a huge amount of self-congratulation.  The most important liberal intellectual in the country, who these days seems to spend a lot of time out of the country, Fintan O'Toole (a columnist with the Irish Times, partly-resident for some time now at Princeton University) permitted himself a ludicrous paean to Ireland's having surpassed mere tolerance.  Within the terms of the dominant simplistic model of Irish 'modernisation', the Yes vote is a huge victory: it represents, in this view, the most profound rejection of tradition, of the Catholic Church, of old social and political mores, of old modes of political organisation and campaigning.  Opinion polls under discussion on RTE Radio One this evening suggest what is being called a 'gay bounce' in the ratings of the government.  The tourist economy eagerly anticipates the advent of the pink market.  Another friend pointed out to me how the Labour Party produced posters for the campaign which simply advocated a vote 'for equality'.  But the campaign, and now its victory, has swollen rhetorically, seeming to monopolize the field of understandings of 'equality', rudely shouldering aside minor matters such as economic equality, class equality, equality of access to what ought to be public goods such as education, culture and health services.

The euphoria belies the complexity of the situation.  The second referendum concerned a reduction in the permitted age of candidates for the presidency from 35 to 21 years.  This amendment to the constitution was rejected as emphatically as the idea of gay marriage was endorsed.  This, despite the alleged importance of a youth vote to the success of the latter.  In Carlow-Kilkenny, the by-election was won by Fianna Fail, with candidate Bobby Aylward returned to the Dail - Fianna Fail's first by-election victory since its wipe-out in the 2011 general election.

So here we have a properly overdetermined political conjuncture.  In Carlow-Kilkenny, voters said Yes to gay marriage, No to younger people being permitted to run for the presidency, and voted into the Dail a middle-aged veteran backwoods member of the political party which destroyed the economy.  In the light of this three-way complexity, much delight in progress seems possibly unwise.

I am posting here two essays from Jacobin, on the Irish referendum on gay marriage.  The referendum, and its result - the first time any nation-state has endorsed gay union in a general poll - has attracted international attention.  The essays reflect some of the complexity of the questions the referendum brings up.

From Gay Power to Gay Rights 


Ireland’s Break with Tradition



Monday, 25 May 2015

The End of the University

In her splendid and pithy recent book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (2015), the American political theorist Wendy Brown argues, in dialogue with Foucault's 1979 College de France lectures on the 'birth of biopolitics', that neoliberalism is not merely a set of economic arrangements, but a form of rationality itself.  This helps to explain neoliberalism's extraordinary success in attaining almost global hegemony.  It is not, and has not been, simply a set of ideas or practices derived from Friedman and Hayek, or from the governments of Reagan and Thatcher.  Rather, in the fullest senses of Gramscian hegemony, it has succeeded in inserting itself into the full range of human activities, experiences and values.  It has succeeded in convincing most of us that the values of our often plutocratic/bureaucratic/corporate masters are actually our own, and that they answer to and express our own most fundamental interests.  It is this strength-in-depth that has permitted neoliberalism to emerge from the recent economic and financial crisis - which it helped to produce - apparently almost unscathed.  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, as Philip Mirowski put it in an eponymous study of the durability of conservative economic thought.  The solution to the crisis of neoliberalism has been, it would seem, more neoliberalism.

Nowhere more than in the western university, as this blog has noted on several occasions.  The strength of Brown's book is that it shows how the value-system of neoliberalism has suffused higher education - particularly in America, but in Europe also.  Not only does this work to compromise the pure good of learning, but it also, in fact, threatens our democracies.  Universities are not just knowledge factories, but arenas where political subjectivities are developed and refined.  Universities help to produce and inculcate ideas of the public good, of how to live what Aristotle called 'the good life', and, as a consequence, of democracy itself.  The hollowing-out of our universities by neoliberal rationality is at the leading edge of the hollowing-out of our democracies.

And here is yet another example of the ugliness of the corporate university.  Various Western higher education institutions have been induced - presumably mostly by money - to set up branches and units in various of the Gulf emirates.   New York University, located in Manhattan mostly around the West Village and Washington Square, has been constructing a campus in Abu Dhabi.  There, it has happily turned a blind eye to the corrupt and often racist work practices and conditions for labourers on its sites in this princedom.   Here, on the Jacobin website, Jonah Walters, an undergraduate student at NYU, writes cogently and bravely about his own university's implication in a complex of power, corruption and abuse which is the antithesis of the university's professed humane values:

The Exploitation University



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Afterlives of the Commune

I recently drew attention to Kristin Ross's striking new book on the Paris Commune, posting an interview with Ross which was originally published on Jacobin's website.

Now I want direct readers to a wonderful collection of maps of the shifting topographies of the Commune, published by Leopold Lambert, and linked by Verso:

Chrono-cartography of the Paris Commune


This link takes the reader to the exciting and interesting website/blog of Leopold Lambert, an architect and cartographer working both in Paris and New York.  At the moment, clicking on M. Lambert's site brings me to a SiteAdvisor warning, but hopefully he will clean up his site, or otherwise fix it, so that such impediments to its being read will cease to be.





Friday, 15 May 2015

Nakba - A Time To Reflect On Damaged Lives

Today is Israel's 'Independence' Day.  As this blog has already noted, it's never clear just what or who Israel declared independence from - the Ottoman Turks were long gone, the British Mandate was ending, no Palestinian state ever came into being (thanks to Israeli ethnic cleansing and a secret agreement with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, negotiated in part by a young Golda Meir).

Better to think of this day as that on which the state constructed on the basis of the expulsions then already underway came into official being.  Palestinians now call this Nakba Day, the day of the catastrophe. Israel's triumphal 'birth' was made possible by the forcing out of 700,000-800,000 people, and the destruction of over 400 of the villages in which those people had once dwelt.

Israel likes to see its independence as legitimated by UN General Assembly Resolution 181, passed in November 1947.  But this is a cynical and hypocritical ideological ploy, since Israel worked hard to expunge the other state or potential thus legitimated, and took over much of its territory in 1947-1949, conquering the remainder in June 1967.

Here's some reading for the day:

First, a link to the blog of the Institute of Palestine Studies, which takes the reader to a collection of images of Palestine before and after 1948, focused on the cities of Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem:

 Nakba Day 2015

From Electronic Intifada:

Forced to leave grapes on the vine: the open wounds of May 1948


Also from Electronic Intifada, an important overview from Joseph Massad:


Palestinians and the dilemmas of solidarity


From Mondoweiss:


‘So wait, the Nakba is…?': Listening to Israelis discuss the Nakba


Israel’s state ideology tantamount to the ongoing Palestinian Nakba

For Palestinians, history is never behind us': Family memories on Nakba Day



Monday, 11 May 2015

That Story - Seymour Hersh Debunks The Official Line On The Killing of Bin Laden

Seymour Hersh, one of America's most renowned investigative and foreign correspondents - the writer who revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, and who was crucial in exposing Israel's secret nuclear programmes to the world in his  book The Samson Option - has walked into a dense sandstorm of official calumny and denial with his new article on the death of Osama bin Laden.   Here's his essay - published not in an American journal, but in the London Review of Books:

Seymour M. Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Alexander Cockburn was much too elegant and decent a writer ever to wag his finger and say 'I told you so', but were he still with us, he'd be glad to see Hersh's story out now.  Here he is, extraordinarily prescient, back in 2011, just four days after Bin Laden's assassination: 

Bin Laden's Assassination: a Volcano of Lies



Sunday, 10 May 2015

Letting Britain Bleed

The British general election result is depressing for all on the left or with a scintilla of liberal sentiment.  The first-past-the-post voting system has produced a Tory majority, even when Labour may have actually increased its vote (marginally) in percentage terms.  The divisions between the south of England and the rest of the country have widened more than ever.  A Conservative government will retain its ludicrous nuclear arsenal, continue to behave at times as if Suez had never happened, and continue to immiserate large swatches of the population - it offers economic 'stability' but this will only be the stability of continuing class polarisation, of the expansion of precarious employment, and Little Englandism vis-a-vis Europe and immigration.

On the other hand, we must also note that what Tom Nairn famously called 'the break-up of Britain', writing at the same moment as the Sex Pistols sarcastically yelled 'God Save the Queen', progresses apace - Scotland is surely lost to 'Great Britain', with unpredictable results for the whole of the UK, and Northern Ireland in particular.  Just how positively will it reflect on Cameron and his 'Conservative and Unionist Party' to preside over Scottish secession?

The major job now in British politics is the fate of Labour: how the party will recover, or finally die.  Here are some articles worth reading on this matter.

Tariq Ali, writing on Counterpunch, says that Labour should be let bleed:

Farewell to the United Kingdom

David Runciman on the London Review of Books: 

David Runciman: Notes on the Election


Richard Seymour on his excellent website Lenin's Tomb:

This is not 1992


Here's a fine list of reading on the Verso website to prepare for the fight ahead with the Tories, but note also Tariq Ali's stricture in the comment-space of this piece on what he sees as the publisher's sentimentality about the UK:


A Conservative nightmare



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Meaning of the Paris Commune

For a few weeks in the spring of 1871, Paris was ruled by the last great revolutionary movement to shake France until the événements of May 1968.  The Commune, which lasted in its full form from March 18 until May 28, arose from a particular conjuncture - the ongoing radicalisation of French and particularly Parisian workers from the 1830s, and the defeat of the French regular army in the war launched against Prussia by the headstrong and ignorant Napoleon III, which culminated in the siege of Paris by Prussian forces, and led to the collapse of the Second Empire.

In a situation where the city of Paris was barely defended by regular forces, the National Guard, a local militia, became the primary armed defense of the city.  In doing so, it also became the conduit by which the workers' movements and various revolutionary movements, most notably the Blanquist radicals, sought to seize power and either rival or displace the national government, which was reassembling its strength outside Paris.  For a brief time, a socialist-republican urban government ruled the city.  Eventually, in the last week of May, the 'bloody week', the Commune was defeated and destroyed in an orgy of violence by French nationalist soldiers, which included the burning of the Tuileries Palace and the Hotel de Ville.   The brutal culmination was a series of massacres at Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where the last 150 Communard soldiers, having surrendered, were summarily shot at what is still known as the Communards' Wall.

Kristin Ross, a distinguished cultural historian and professor of comparative literature at New York University, can legitimately claim to be one of the pre-eminent historians in English of French culture and of its insurrectionary moments.  Her book May 68 and its Afterlives is one of the best books on that turning point of French culture, and she published a book on Rimbaud and the Commune some years ago.  Now we have her new book, Communal Luxury: The Meaning of the Paris Commune, freshly published by Verso, and already hailed by Fredric Jameson and Joan Scott as both a vital intellectual history of the Commune, and Ross's own manifesto for new ways of thinking our future, suturing the interests of radical Paris in 1871 to the new revolutionary movements of our own times.  Here is Ross, interviewed in - appropriately enough - Jacobin:

The Meaning of the Paris Commune



Monday, 4 May 2015

Selective Compassion - Zionism from the Standpoint of its Non-Palestinian Victims

One of Edward Said's greatest essays is 'Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims', which was published originally in the inaugural edition of Social Text, and also as a chapter in Said's 1979 book, The Question of  Palestine.  The essay is magnificent in its yoking together in a relatively brief span (about 50 pages) the full range of his erudition and his critical acumen - literature, history, politics and theory, all woven into a seamless counter-narrative to Zionism's self-aggrandising Whiggish story of the ingathering of the Jewish 'nation', of its 'making the desert bloom' in Palestine, and its creation of a new state.  Said's basic point is that the story of Zionist-Jewish triumph - to a great degree a very real triumph - can only be properly understood, and finally countermanded, by a recognition of the accompanying shadow story of the Palestinian society that was destroyed to make Israel possible.  A properly dialectical understanding of the situation in the Middle East requires - for historical, but also for political and even ethical reasons - a reading of these stories as mutually dependent.

Some years later, the distinguished Israeli-Iraqi scholar, Ella Shohat, published an essay of arguably equal importance and power, 'Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims'.  Shohat's argument was that Zionism was essentially a European Ashkenazi creation, and that Mizrahi Jews, encouraged or forced to come to Israel after 1948, had suffered a racial 'othering' at the hands of the Ashkenazi-dominated society of the new state not altogether unlike that experienced by Palestinians left behind in pre-1967 Israel.  Zionism, that is, set up a hierarchy not only of Jews and non-Jews, but also of Jews and Jews that needed to be de-Arabised or flensed of their Middle Eastern heritage.

In the 1980s, during the Ethiopian famines, Israel put in place an airlift, to bring the Falasha Jews, now called Beyt Yisrael, of east Africa to Israel.  The project was cast in the Western media as essentially a rescue operation, but in fact Israel's creating conditions for Ethiopian Jewish aliyah was always also a political matter.  It must be noted, of course, that the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, had not permitted Beyt Yisrael emigration to Israel, and equally, it was only in 1977 that Israel decided that the Law of Return applied to this Jewish community at all.

The fate of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel has not been easy, and this too points to the quasi-ethnic hierarchy on which Israel is built.  Tensions between the Ashkenazi or 'white' Jewish elites, and the African population have now issued in violence.  Here is an essay from Mondoweiss, on this disturbing topic: 

'Baltimore is Here: Ethiopian Israelis protest police brutality in Jerusalem

An extra-territorial demonstration of this attitude is dramatised by Israel's 'aid' operations in Nepal, in the wake of the recent catastrophic earthquake.  Here is Belén Fernández dissecting the ideology, or political intentionality, of Israeli humanitarianism on Jacobin:

Israel’s “Selective Compassion”



Saturday, 2 May 2015

Thinking the Palestinian Disaster - Born of Design, Not War

I have been reading Ilan Pappe's book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).   The book is notable for its effort to shift understanding of what happened in Palestine in 1947-1949 from a paradigm or framework of 'war' (where the emergent Jewish state was at war with Palestinian guerrillas and with the neighbouring Arab states, and the refugee problem was an unfortunate and unlooked-for outcome (though fortuitous and God-given, for Zionism) of that fighting) to the paradigm or framework of 'ethnic cleansing' (where a conscious effort and prepared plan for the pushing out of the Palestinian population was executed, both before and then in parallel with the war with the Arab states).  Pappe is not the first author to make this argument - it was made by Nur Masalha, Norman Finkelstein and most notably Walid Khalidi before him.  But he makes the case interestingly, charting the expulsions of Palestinians at times on a village-by-village basis.  Sadly, the book is undertheorised - there is a large literature now on 'ethnic cleansing', including important and powerful studies by the likes of Michael Mann and Ben Kiernan, but Pappe makes no effort to learn from this body of work - poorly edited, and not always referenced with the rigour such a potentially controversial argument needs, and this has permitted Pappe's rivals and enemies, notably Benny Morris, to launch powerful attacks on the book and its thesis. 

This thesis is of the greatest importance.  Mann argues that ethnic cleansing is or can be the 'dark side of democracy'.  By this he means that in many democracies a dangerous isomorphism emerges between the demos, and a dominant ethnos; i.e. that 'the people' in whom sovereignty is vested becomes identified with a particular ethnos or ethnic group.   The reason this idea is of great significance in regard to Israel/Palestine is because it allows us to think Israel's democracy and its ethnic exclusivity together, dialectically, in the manner of the Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel, who has famously dubbed Israel an 'ethnocracy'.  This in turn allows us to wedge open the description of Israel as 'Jewish and democratic', and to show its inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

This critical task is particularly important as we approach the sixty-seventh anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel and the Nakba that overlaps and intertwines with it, and the forty-eighth anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.  Just look at those comparative timelines.  It's time we recognised that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan is no anomaly, but is fundamental to the nature of Israel as it has developed.  The occupation is, in a strong sense, Israel writ openly.   Whereas inside the Green Line, the mailed fist of ethnic supremacism wears the velvet glove of putative democracy, in the Territories the gloves are off, and the hidden violence of the 'Jewish' state is exposed in all its narcissism, cynicism and brutality.

Here are the links to a battery of articles - particularly concerned with Palestinian testimonies of the Nakba - posted by the Journal of Palestine Studies for free, to mark this moment:

Author: Fauzi Al-Qawuqji 

Author: Fauzi Al-Qawuqji

Author: Fawaz Turki

 Authors: Mamdouh Nofal, Fawaz Turki, Haidar Abdel Shafi, Inea Bushnaq, Yezid Sayigh, Shafiq al-Hout, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and Musa Budeiri

Author: Ghada Karmi

Author: Adel Manna’ 

Author: Muhammad Hallaj

Author: Sami Hadawi


Why BDS Matters, How It Can Be Effective

On April 16, Bashir Abu-Manneh, who after undergoing a harrowing and deeply contentious tenure battle at Barnard College in New York now teaches at the University of Kent, spoke at Trinity College Dublin on the state of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, and addressed the issue of boycott, in particular the academic boycott.  This event was organised by Academics for Palestine, the grouping of Irish academics assembled last year to campaign for boycott in the Irish third level education system.

Here is Bashir's excellent talk, as published on the Jacobin website:

The Occupation and BDS


Monday, 30 March 2015

Students, the crash, and critique

Occasionally I find myself bemoaning the passivity of Irish students in the face of the economic crash, and its impact on their lives, their education, their prospects for employment in Ireland, and the extraordinarily generation-weighted nature of Irish government austerity policies over the last eight years - against their generation and in protection of that of their parents.  But this is not, in fact, an entirely fair judgement.  Irish students have marched and protested over rising registration fees in large numbers.  In the last few weeks, students at the National College of Art and Design have occupied parts of their college in protest at budget cuts and inadequate work space.  And this occupation is occurring in partnership with an increasing number of student protests not only at austerity policies, but at the neoliberalisation of the university institution in Ireland, Britain, and elsewhere. Student participation in such protest and critique is essential for the movements against the 'managed' and marketised university to gain proper heft and momentum.   So the joint statement from the youth section of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, the Union of Students of Ireland, and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (the main academic union) is especially welcome:

ICTU Youth, USI and IFUT statement in support of University of Amsterdam occupation


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ten Thousand

Dear Readers!

My blog has just attained ten thousand pageviews: warmest thanks to you all!



Palestinian Resistance and Israeli Division

The new issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies publishes two very useful and important articles this month.  The first is a long and rigorous interview with the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Abdallah Shallah.  This gives a rich insight into Palestinian Islamist politics, and offers a stocktaking of Palestinian resistance from the side of militancy, at once polemical and clear-sighted. 

"Israel at a Crossroads - Unable to Vanquish Resistance or Negotiate Peace"

Ian Lustick is one of the most interesting scholars of the Middle East working in America.  He holds a professorial chair at the University of Pennsylvania.  I became aware of his work through his superb book Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza (1993).  More recently, he's written about Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and about America and the 'war on terror'.


Zionism as Racism - Jim Crow in the Levant

The Israeli elections have had the salutary effect of exposing in the most overt way the streams of racism in Israeli society and political culture.  Adalah is a Palestinian human rights group that has been working in this area for many years.  Its members must feel grimly vindicated.

In Israel, racism is the winning ballot



Education, neoliberalism and utopia

Advanced technologies are being used more and more in education.  A random selection: moves to make computer usage a routine feature in the classroom; making texts available to students on e-readers and Kindles; the requirement in much of third-level education now for a lecturer to make vast amounts of course material available online; the rise of the 'MOOC' - the Massive Open Online Course being developed in America, in particular.

Not all of these developments are to the good.   Such is the entrenchment of the ideology of 'management' and 'accountability' that in many UK universities lecturers are now expected to mark online essays and assignments submitted online.  The submitted material is vetted online for plagiarism, but the efficiency and timekeeping of the marker in returning responses and grades are also logged.   Every aspect of university pedagogical activity is coming within the ambit of what we should acknowledge frankly as surveillance.

This form of control is also expressed also in the physical environment of the institution.  At least since the early 1970s, university campuses have been designed and planned to prevent or contain protest.  But matters of design or ergonomics work out at more modest levels too.  Here is Megan Erickson, on Jacobin:



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Why It's A Good Thing Netanyahu Won

The results of Israel's general election appear to show the Likud as the largest party in the Knesset, with 30 seats.  It beat the Zionist Union into second place, and defeat has been acknowledged by Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni, the Union's leaders.

So Bibi Netanyahu has won, and will be the centrepiece of whatever coalition government eventuates.  This news is being reported on Irish media as a 'swing to the right' in Israeli politics, but this description is a misnomer.  Israeli politics has been shifting to the right since Likud first came to power under Begin in 1977.  The Zionist Union is led by politicians who are no more likely to permit the emergence of a Palestinian state than Netanyahu, and whose hands are soaked in blood like his.  Livni is a war crimes suspect; her colleague Herzog criticised Netanyahu last summer for not prosecuting the bombardment of Gaza with sufficient vigour.

The reason it's a good thing that Netanyahu has won is that his racism, his supremacism, his militarism, his unwillingness to negotiate, his eagerness to attack Iran, his support for the theft of Palestinian land, his contempt for Palestinian suffering are all obvious and overt.  One only has to watch his recent performances - boorish, arrogant, crude, philistine, racist - in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo marches and in Washington where he turned America's parliament into a venue for Israeli electioneering to recognise what kind of demagogue Netanyahu is, and the ghastly face he turns to the world.  He lacks the polish of some of his opponents on Israel's 'centre' and on its 'dovish' 'left', and so he does not mobilise the discourse of the 'peace process' and 'the two state solution'.  And this is a good thing, as this discourse has become Israel's best propaganda figleaf, so heavily invested in it is the European political elite, and the American Democratic Party.  With Bibi in power, the case for BDS becomes that bit easier to make.  No more bullshit for nothing.

Here is Philip Weiss, reacting to the election on Mondoweiss:

Who can save Israel now?


And Avigail Abarbanel:

Netanyahu won. Now what?


And here is Ali Abunimeh on Electronic Intifada:

Why I'm relieved Netanyahu won





Monday, 16 March 2015

The meaning of moral courage - remembering Rachel Corrie

I will never forget the horror of the photographs, published by the Irish Times twelve years ago on this date, of the murder of Rachel Corrie.  Corrie, who was 23 and from Washington in America's Pacific Northwest, was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.  Taking part in the peaceful defence of homes slated illegally for demolition, she was run over by an IDF bulldozer.  She was crushed and her spine was broken.  She died shortly afterwards at the Najar Hospital.  In a very rare fit of moral vision, the Irish Times published a sequence of shocking photographs, showing Rachel standing atop a mound of earth in front of a D9 Caterpillar bulldozer - a terrifying armoured behemoth nearly two stories high itself - and then of her poor shattered body with her friends and comrades crowded around her, as she lay dying in the earth of Gaza.

The IDF has always denied that the killing was a deliberate act, but its actions, and the official investigation of Rachel's death, have attracted criticism from human rights organisations and from the United States government.   In 2010, the Corrie family initiated a suit against the Israeli Defence Department and the IDF.  The case was dismissed in 2012, and an appeal to Israel's Supreme Court likewise in 2014.   In each case, the Israeli court averred that Rachel's death was her own responsibility, and absolved the IDF of any fault.

Richard Falk, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Territories, suggested that these verdicts were sad, not only for the Corrie family, but also 'for the rule of law and the hope that an Israeli court would place limits on the violence of the state, particularly in relation to innocents and unarmed civilians in an occupied territory'.  Former American President Jimmy Carter has said that the 'court's decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory'.

In September 2003, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference on civil society in Palestine at the United Nations in Manhattan, where I heard Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, speak.  Her quiet bravery and lack of bitterness were striking.

Rachel Corrie was an exceptionally courageous young woman.  I honour her memory.  Learn more about Rachel, her work, and the activities of her parents from the website of the Rachel Corrie Foundation:

Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Marina Warner's War

I've been reading Thomas Docherty's most recent book, Universities at War (2014).  It is a short, tight, and devastating critique of university 'reform' in the United Kingdom.  At the base of Docherty's argument is the suggestion that in a properly constituted democracy, the university institution is a locus of freedom and authority which serves to balance the power of state and capital.  In improperly constituted or dysfunctional democracies, such as those we live in at present, the university institution is bearing the weight of a massive assault on its freedoms, its values, its procedures, and the ways that it relates to its students and its staff.  Docherty, my old teacher from UCD, has been writing about these matters for a long time - dating back to his fine and ambitious  book Criticism and Modernity (1999), but with a gathering force and fury that runs through Aesthetic Democracy (2006), The English Question (2007), and For the University (2011).  Last year, he suffered an extended period of suspension from his job at Warwick.  Subjected to a university enquiry, he has now been vindicated entirely, and awarded his legal costs - a local victory in the war he describes.

Marina Warner, an equally distinguished scholar, critic and public intellectual, coming under arbitrary and careless management diktat last year, decided to resign her position at the University of Essex.  In the latest London Review of Books, she explains and justifies her position:

Learning My Lesson