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



Saturday, 14 March 2015

Legacies of Charlie Hebdo

We'll be a long time living through, and coming to an understanding of, the legacies of the Charlie Hebdo killings, and the perfervid ideological responses which they elicited.   I am noting here a variety of the best writing on the events that I've found.

Toni Negri has a long history of leftist radicalism.  He is one of the leading figures of Italian Autonomism, a libertarian or quasi-syndicalist strain on the left that stresses workers' freedom and will.  Convicted many years ago by an Italian court with complicity in the murder by the Red Brigades of Aldo Moro, Negri fled to France, where he taught for some years at the experimental Paris campus at Vincennes.  He later returned to Italy to serve out a reduced sentence.  With Michael Hardt, he's the author of one of the major revisionist Marxist theoretical projects of recent times, evidenced in their co-written volumes Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth.   

The essay below, and the links to Lordon, Hazan, Sand and Badiou, is taken from the Verso website:

Charlie Hebdo, fear and world war: two questions for Toni Negri

Frédéric Lordon teaches in Strasbourg, and is the author of a recent Spinozist re-reading of Marx, Willing Slaves of Capital:

Frédéric Lordon: Charlie at any cost?

Étienne Balibar is a veteran French Marxist philosopher, famous initially as a colleague of Althusser, and more prominent recently for his writings on race and identity:

Étienne Balibar: Three words for the dead and the living

When I was in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter, I was exploring the city carrying Eric Hazan's wonderful The Invention of Paris in my satchel.  This superb book, a radical history of the city spiralling out from its old core towards the périphérique, moving arrondissement by arrondissement - even street by street at times - deserves extended treatment and praise.  Hazan is a leftist activist and publisher:

Eric Hazan: 'A little cynicism goes a long way'

Shlomo Sand is an Israeli historian and political scientist, working and teaching in France.  He shot to fame around 2010 with a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People, in which he dismantled, in the manner of the work of Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm on nationalism, the retrojected claims of Zionism for the existence of an ancient Jewish 'nation-race'.  This work has provoked a firestorm of reaction and debate.  Sand's most recent  book is How I Ceased to Be A Jew.

Shlomo Sand: 'I am not Charlie'

Alain Badiou could claim to be the living French philosopher most widely read in the Anglosphere today.  He combines complex studies of subjectivity and ontology with the most radical Maoism.  He has long been critical of French mainstream attitudes to race and anti-Semitism.

The Red Flag and the Tricolore by Alain Badiou

Tithi Bhattacharya and Bill Mullen, writing at Critical Legal Thinking - Law and the Political:

Rewinding the Battle of Algiers in the Shadow of the Attack on Charlie Hebdo

Arthur Asseraf, in a superb piece on Jadaliyya, explores the history of 'freedom of speech' in France:

Charlie Hebdo and the Limits of the Republic


Taken from Lenin's Tomb, Richard Seymour on how France's policies help forge Islamist jihadis:

How France makes jihadis