William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.Ken Livingstone has paid a price paid by others before him, because he has broken the rule that you can not draw links between Zionism and Hitler.  Sometimes such links really should not be drawn, as when people say that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is just the same as what Nazi Germany did to the Jews.  This is patently absurd, and it is not helpful to the Palestinians, who desperately need their dire plight to be known and understood in an accurate way, not in some infantile caricature which flattens out all differences.  Obviously there is some overlap, in that a whole people is being victimised on the basis of their racial origin, but the differences are immense – the scale of the oppression and the killing was massively worse by many orders of magnitude in Nazi occupied Europe.  This should not give rise to complacency, as the sufferings of the Palestinians are taking place right now, those of the European Jews were stopped over 70 years ago, but nor should the differences be ignored.

The question on the current occasion is this: was Ken Livingstone right to make connections between Hitler and the ideology of Zionism?  The answer in terms of politics is easy: he was right to defend Naz Shah, who had been attacked merely for retweeting an image from Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein’s blog.  Should he have used the language he did?  No, as an experienced politician he really should have known better.  With print, television and radio media keen both to damage the Labour Party and to see anti-semitism as the motivation for every criticism of Israel (there is now a long, long list of Jews who are said to be “anti-semitic”, and Finkelstein is on that list), he should have chosen his words much more carefully.  As an individual interested in history, he had the right to say all that he did, and people who have actually read his words and checked them against the facts have not been able to contradict him.

In his 1981 novel The Portage to San Cristóbal of A.H., French Jewish writer George Steiner examined the issue of the ideological connections between Nazism and Zionism, through the mouth of Hitler himself.  The plot concerns the attempt of holocaust survivors to bring Hitler, who has been found alive and living in South America, back to Israel to stand trial.  When this proves not to be possible they try him in situ in the Amazon jungle.  He presents the defence himself, part of which is that the doctrine of the Master Race is taken from the idea of the Chosen People, and that the Promised Land inspired the idea of Lebensraum.  He also says that the Jews should thank him for his actions leading to the establishment of Zion.  As Hitler is given a lot of room to outline his defence there was obviously some shock when the book was published, including the predictable accusations of anti-semitism.  But to many critics, both Jewish and non-Jewish, it was seen as an important attempt to examine this sensitive issue.

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It would not have been possible, or even perhaps right, for the book to have been written by a non-Jew, and it strikes me that, even with a Jewish author, the book would be almost impossible to publish if it appeared for the first time now.  It is strange to be living in a time in which freedom of speech is seen as such a central part of the dominant culture, and yet there are so many taboos around what may be said, and one of these is that it is forbidden to explore the genealogy of Zionism.  In Leviticus, the scapegoat was appointed to remove the sins of the whole people.  By banishing the goat, the sins were also removed.  Europe and its child America had committed a grave sin by its inhumane treatment of the Jews over many centuries, culminating in the horror of the attempted Final Solution, and in 1948 Palestine was officially chosen to be the scapegoat.  Like the goats of ancient times it was a completely innocent party.  Now we have moved into a new phase: the guilt is now about what we have allowed to happen to the Palestinians in the intervening years.  This is something we can not look at squarely – we can only deal with it by pretending that the Palestinians are the guilty party.  The Palestinian goat has to carry all the blame, and we can not allow it back from the desert.  So how do we deal with feeling guilty about a scapegoat?  We have decided to designate a new series of scapegoats, made up of everyone who tries to point to the truth of the situation.  They will also be sent out into the desert with the label “anti-semitic”.  Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone are just the latest scapegoats: they surely will not be the last.

 

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Tonight this house is full of running and laughter.
One day, a cold, dry wind, blowing through broken windows,
Will be its only sound.

We mumble through life assuming that those around us will always be there. So we take them for granted, and we take ourselves for granted, until we are awakened by a rude shock.

Today, this week, this year, I want to live with the intensity of a poor man who has accidentally been given a brief but wonderful holiday of a lifetime. I will seize with glad amazement all that life gives me, I will appreciate those in my life, I will awaken myself from my stupid slumber.

Please join me.

Is it reasonable to examine the links between Hitler and Zionism?

Source: Goats, Zionists and Anti-semites

The Syrian situation is so confusing, but so horrible that I decided to try to understand it, using only mainstream British media sources.  This is what I have gleaned.

There are various forces in Syria.  Some of them are Bad.  Some of them are Good.  The Bad ones include the Assad government, which had shown its murderousness even before the Arab Spring.  Many Syrians recount stories of oppression and torture dating back years.  The Islamic State people are also Bad.  Despite the name, many of them are ex-Saddam forces with little sympathy for or understanding of religion.  Others are foreigners including British people, some of whom have only recently read “Islam for Dummies”.  The British ones were told that house prices were cheaper in IS territory than in Portsmouth, and that they might even be given a house if the former occupant had been driven out or worset.  Like Assad, IS forces are cruel and murderous, and unlike Assad they do it as openly as possible.  It would be better to call IS “Daesh” because it is insulting in Arabic and they don’t like it.  But “Daesh” is hard to say, and it is easier to call them what they would like us to call them, to share online the videos they want us to share, and generally to behave the way they want us to behave.

The Good people include the Kurds, who are Brave and True, a bit like the Gurkhas.  We can trust them, and if they defeat IS they might sell us their oil cheaply and then almost become European.   Some of the Kurd groups have had success in stopping the advance of IS, despite obstruction from our NATO allies in Turkey.  The anti-Assad democratic forces are also Good, though they are weak, divided and in disarray.

Then there are the moderate Jihadis.  They are like the extreme Jihadis of IS, but their extremism is less extreme.  They have links with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, but both of these groups are less extreme than IS.  The less extreme Jihadis are fighting against Assad, IS and the pro-democracy groups.  We are giving them weapons to use against the first two, but they mustn’t use them against the latter.  They haven’t promised, but they have been told not to.

As for allies, Assad has Iran and Russia.  We have told Iran not to get involved because Iran is Bad, and unlike Europe and America, Iran shouldn’t have any say on what happens in the region..  Russia is involved, but we are a bit scared of Russia so we don’t say that much.  Russia says it is only attacking IS, but no doubt they are lying and saved at least a few bombs for the moderate Jihadis.  We are a bit peaved about this, because we needed agreement to bomb IS, but Labour was too cowardly to attack them directly, despite the great success we had in bombing Bad people in Iraq and Libya.  This means that now Russia and not the West will get the credit for attacking IS.  They particularly want to push IS out of Palmyra.  The worst atrocity of the whole war has been that IS blew up ancient buildings in Palmyra.

The West is allying itself with the Iraqi government.  It is extremely corrupt but we have to support it because one of our gifts to Iraq was Democracy.  It has a lot of oil, but this is irrelevant.  The west also supports the Kurds, again not because they have some oil but because they are Brave and True.  The West is also supporting other pro-democracy forces, and the moderate Jihadis who are opposing them.  Hopefully the moderate Jihadis will forget that they are opposing the pro-democracy forces.

IS doesn’t have many allies, apart from a few nutcases in Birmingham.  But it does get a lot of serious money from oil Sheikhs in the Gulf who are our close friends in the region.  It also gets inspiration for how to treat people it doesn’t like from our even closer friends in Saudi Arabia, who have a lot of oil.  IS has had some of its wounded fighters treated by Israeli military hospitals.  This is good because it shows that Israel, despite having made no contribution to the instability in the Middle East, is prepared to use its resources to help some people when they are hurt.  Israel is a Democracy and is Good.

The best way forward at the moment would be for the West to increase bombing against IS and to give more arms to groups opposing Assad so they can also do more bombing.  This way there will be peace, and all the refugees will want to go straight home, which will mean we won’t have to do anything else for them.  This is good because we don’t really want to do anything for them anyway.  After that, everyone will be happy.

http://www.webislam.com/articulos/102072-siria_la_peor_crisis_humanitaria_del_mundo_en_70_anos.html

Although I wouldn’t argue that it is our essence, the battle between classes has usually been a feature of our lives. We are currently in a particularly intense phase of this.  Just two examples: Greece is ordered to give billions of its assets to shadowy private concerns, and the exploitation of the natural environment, for the benefit of the few, is at a fever pitch, with scraping of seabeds, chopping of mountain tops, and oil exploration in the most delicate ecosystems. Support for this project comes in a variety of forms, and a variety of means are used to make it seem that all is well. At the bum end there is the constant banal entertainment in which a whole class of clowns bake cakes, learn to dance and exile themselves to desert islands to eat grubs and insects, completely convinced of the great significance of their every word and deed, while the adoring masses approve their behaviour by watching ever larger and more technically sophisticated screens. At the level of coherent argument, philosophers and economists try to make the case that there is some sort of basis in nature, or some other intellectual validity for this pillage. At some point I would like to outline why I see this as bogus. But in the short term the important thing, to paraphrase that great bogeyman Marx, is to change things. The intellectual case for what used to be called “the left”, by which I certainly don’t mean state socialism but one of the many forms of autonomous democracy, is as strong as ever. Perhaps this seemed less obvious ten years ago, but recent history has shown otherwise. But history is written by the winners, so the danger remains that unless the mass of people get on with creating serious resistance, the Neo-Liberal lie will increasingly be seen as an unchallenged truth.  It can not triumph in the long term, as it takes us on a road to environmental catastrophe and hence economic and social collapse.  But it can sure make things nasty for the next few decades.

The big puzzle to be solved is this: given the intense focus of most people on the never-ending televisual and internet-based circus, how do we convince them that there is anything to revolt about?

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This blogger originally started to use Linux because of frustration with Windows on a technical level, and became more enthusiastic after seeing how many large technology companies, rather than welcoming competition, strive to obtain monopolies within a particular sphere.  Nothing novel is being argued here – the case is often made for Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and other companies, and this post just seeks to explore the place of Garageband in this issue, and consider possible solutions.  This article focuses on the place of one piece of software in a fairly small field, but it could be argued that this particular example would have equivalents in many other areas.  The monopolising instincts of Apple work by striving to create the impression that there is no alternative to its products in certain sectors such as music and graphic arts, and backing this up through sharp practises like discontinuing Logic for Windows, forcing thousands of user to purchase Apple computers.

My own professional world is that of music therapy, and one of the discussions which is currently taking place in that field is the need to expand electronic technologies within several client groups, such as children with emotional difficulties, adults with physical limitations and adults with neurological conditions, to name just three.  Technology here means above all the iPad.  I can lamely say to my colleagues “other tablets are also available”, but this is to no avail, given the relative poverty of music apps on Android, and particularly the lack of an equivalent app to Garageband.  In the drive to adopt technology in this field, Garageband is mentioned again and again.  A search for “best music apps” is most likely to show up apps to play other people’s music, not create ones own.  True, there is some interesting software available, but iOS has vastly more riches.

So what is the consequence of this?  Within the relatively small field of music therapy, it means that for anyone wishing to purchase equipment to work musically with people with special needs, Apple seems to be the only choice, with all the attendant disadvantages in terms of software freedom and a host of other issues.  Other professionals and clients will then see technology solely in terms of Apple, and this is what they in turn will buy.  The lack of software only serves to justify the monopoly, and the monopoly makes it all the less likely that other software will be developed.  All of economic history tells us that once the monopoly is fully entrenched, choice and innovation declines, and everyone, other than Apple shareholders, be the poorer for it.  The only guarantee of continued technological innovation is the knowledge amongst companies that other companies are snapping at their heels.

Another of the monopolising companies which has long troubled those who worry about such things is Google.  But could it be that we need to encourage one giant to chasten another one?  The ideal as I see it would be to have an open source, cross-platform equivalent of Garageband in order that people were not forced to make hardware choices based on software considerations (this is Apple’s strategy in a nutshell).  But to create a product as good as Garageband takes time, effort, and a lot of money, and there is no evidence that this will happen in the free software community, despite many great achievements from Firefox to Libreoffice (both of which have received some serious funding over the years).  The free software available at present, such as the brilliant but confusing LMMS, simply isn’t usable in the context I am discussing.  It is much more of a realistic prospect to try to persuade Google of the importance of a Garageband substitute for the long-term viability of the Android platform.  In the past Google has put considerable resources into a whole range of software development.  If it happened in this instance it would benefit many outside of Apple.  Google would add more prestige to the Android platform, manufacturers would have more leverage in selling Android products, end-users would have greater choice, and free software developers could work at alternatives without the urgency which an emerging monopoly creates.  Even users of Garageband itself would benefit, as will be understood by anyone who remembers how much Internet Explorer improved once Firefox started winning market share.  So come on Google, get to work!

(image is from Wikipedia)