Unite's Len McCluskey was so upset by Nick Cohen's Spectator piece last week that he instructed lawyers Carter-Ruck (Private Eye's "Carter-Fuck") to demand an apology plus aggravated damages. As the latest Eye points out, McCluskey's main complaint - that Cohen's citing of his support of disgraced Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman was defamatory and wholly untrue - is rather contradicted by newspaper reports at the time. The Guardian, for instance:
The leader of Britain’s biggest trade union has expressed his support for the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, east London, who was removed from office after being found guilty of electoral fraud.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, Labour’s biggest donor, gave his backing on Thursday to Lutfur Rahman, who was dismissed after a court ruling last week....
Earlier, Andrew Murray, the union’s chief of staff, told the rally in Stepney Green: “I am not speaking in a personal capacity, I am speaking on behalf of the union … and I am sending a message of support from our general secretary, Len McCluskey. Unite is proud to associate ourselves with Lutfur Rahman.”
He called the judgment “an undemocratic assault on the people of Tower Hamlets” which was both “racist” and “Islamophobic”.
Which would seem to weaken McCluskey's case somewhat.
Nick Cohen now responds - Why is Len McCluskey paying Carter-Ruck to threaten me?
I would like you to take a breath and reflect that the Tower Hamlets episode illustrates to perfection the decadence of parts of the British left. There is a comprehensible left-wing case for a new socialist party. There are times when I might even vote for one — although I am not sure how many others would. But Rahman fought the Labour party in the East End by exploiting racial and religious division, in a manner leftists would rightly denounce if a white Ukip politician were to do the same. Rahman directed public money to Bangladeshis who were likely to vote for him, Judge Richard Mawrey found. He even diverted funds meant for the Alzheimer’s Society. Not content with that, Rahman and his associates bribed Asian TV stations to give him favourable coverage. He persuaded clerics to instruct their poor and credulous followers that it was an Islamic duty to vote for him, and to warn them that if they did not they would be siding with their Islamophobic enemies.
In other words, Rahman engaged in racial profiling, the exploitation of religious superstition for political advantage. He also perpetrated an electoral fraud, which denied the people of the East End their basic right to have their views represented in a fair election. Despite all of the above and more, Unite, Ken Livingstone and much of the left press excused him because Rahman claimed to be an enemy of the status quo.
Don’t be the put-upon wife, I told Labour. Dump the creep before the creep dumps you.
Instead of arguing back, McCluskey instructed his £550-an-hour libel lawyers to condemn our ‘highly defamatory’ portrayal of their client. I had wounded McCluskey. The poor little thing was ‘suffering from hurt and distress’ after the ‘extraordinary and grossly irresponsible’ decision of the editor to publish my piece.
McCluskey wanted an apology. Oh, and money. Not just damages but ‘aggravated damages’ and — lest we forgot — Carter-Ruck’s legal expenses, too. The Spectator’s lawyers told the Carter-Ruckers that their demands were ‘absurd’, and they appear to have gone away....
For the moment...
...would we still have invaded Iraq? It's a stupid question, of course: with the benefit of hindsight we could sail through life without a worry, neatly avoiding every pitfall. But the question is usually raised with the understanding that the answer has to be a firm "no". Terry Glavin is not so sure:
As for Iraq, there is a kind of wilful amnesia demanded by the revisionist orthodoxy that “what we know now” is that the world would be a better place if Saddam Hussein had been left unmolested in Baghdad. We know no such thing because we can’t know. But there is something more enfeebling than mere memory loss at work in the pernicious and widely-held misapprehension that the entire Iraqi regime-change escapade was trumped up on a Bush administration “lie” that Saddam possessed WMDs.
It wasn’t even the Bush administration that committed the United States to shifting the Baathist nightmare out of Baghdad. It was the Clinton administration and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.
At least five years before that, Saddam Hussein was already busy mobilizing jihadist crackpots in his Sunni “Islamic Faith Campaign,” a kind of forward-planning project that anticipated an eventual confrontation with the civilized world. Among Saddam’s Faith Campaign jihadists who went on to hold leadership positions in the Islamic State were Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi, a Baathist army captain who showed up a couple of years ago in charge of the Islamic State’s Military Council, Fadel Ahmad Abdullah al-Hiyali, the Islamic State’s senior Iraqi commander, and former Baathist major-general Abu Ali al-Anbari, who went on to command the Islamic State’s Syrian operations.
As for WMDs, “what we know now,” and what we have known since a 1,400-member investigation team assembled by the Iraq Survey Group submitted its report in 2004, was that Saddam Hussein had another forward-planning project in mind. The Iraq Survey Group found that Saddam had hedged on the inevitable collapse of the UN’s Iraq sanctions into the corruption of the oil-for-food program, and he was planning to reconstitute his covert WMD program as soon as sanctions were lifted.
By the legendary journalist Bob Woodward’s account, George Bush did not “lie” about WMDs, and was even a bit of a skeptic. In any case, Bush wasn’t alone in eventually concluding that Saddam was hiding WMDs. Among the most fervent believers were Democrats.
Apart from several American intelligence agencies, the Turks were convinced, the Jordanians were convinced, and even the anti-interventionist French, so rudely traduced at the time as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” also reckoned it was so. It wasn’t the creepy vice-president Dick Cheney who said “there is a problem – the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq.” That was French President Jacques Chirac talking, just weeks away from the day Shock and Awe kicked off....
In the orthodox view, “what we know now” is that everybody was wrong back then and the cost was 162,000 dead Iraqis and roughly $900 billion. The lessons we take from this? We trade the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people for the shambles of a nuclear deal with the ayatollahs. We confront the Islamic State’s rampaging barbarism with a small, mostly air-power coalition that has no intention of victory. We allow Bashar Assad, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force and Hezbollah to wage war on the Syrian people.
Total cost to date: Afghanistan survives by the skin of its teeth. Libya no longer exists. Iraq is a failed state in all but name. Khomeinist Iran has never been so confidently ambitious. In Syria alone: more than 225,000 dead, nearly 10 million homeless, three million refugees, and a reconstruction bill the World Bank last year pegged at $200 billion and counting.
All that, too, is “what we know now.” So what lessons have we learned?
Michael J Totten agrees:
Well, at least two things are perfectly clear. Horrible things happen when we go to war, and horrible things happen when we give peace a chance.
Foreign policy is hard. When it's crunch time, hundreds of thousands of people will die no matter what decision you make.
Here's the "final statement" from WomenCrossDMZ, signed by Mairead Maguire and Gloria Steinem:
If history has taught us anything, it is that isolating people only alienates them. Coercing governments backfire. Engagement is the best, the only, policy for achieving lasting peace....
In recent years, we have seen a growing academic and political consensus around the power and importance of engagement. We have witnessed the Obama administration secure diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Cuba, which have the possibility of denuclearization and improving human rights. These efforts, not unlike our international women's peace walk between North and South Korea, stem from a fundamental belief in diplomacy and conversation. This spirit of engagement has deep historical roots and has worked to topple the Wall in Berlin, and when led by women, has succeeded in ending violent conflict in Northern Ireland and Liberia. Isolationist voices will remain. Invariably, they argue that any attempt to converse with repressive regimes is an apology for that repression. This is wrongheaded. And the consequences of repeating this mistake are simply too great.
As Joshua Stanton points out, there's a certain inconsistency here. Back in the 1980s Gloria Steinem was at the forefront of the protests against Reagan's attempts to seek change in South Africa through diplomacy and engagement. Along with the great majority of anti-apartheid campaigners, she believed that South Africa should be isolated - culturally, economically, every way. The aim was to cut South Africa off from the rest of the world.
Meanwhile Christine Ahn, chief organiser of WomanCrossDMZ, supports a boycott of Israel.
It's all very strange.
July 8, 1960. "New York City views. Seagram Building plaza, from 400 Park Avenue roof."
Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and completed in 1958, the Seagram Building is, according to Wikipedia, "one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism".
In a typically powerful and incisive piece, Paul Berman looks back at the PEN-Charlie Hebdo debacle:
A few years ago I wrote a book called The Flight of the Intellectuals about Islamism and its reception in the highbrow English-language press, and, in the course of the book, I had occasion to describe the predicament of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who in those days was still living in Holland, though she was already being hounded out. You will recall that, in Holland, Hirsi Ali and the filmmaker Theo van Gogh produced a short and punchy film intended to protest against Islamically condoned violence against women—and, after the movie was shown, van Gogh was murdered. Hirsi Ali was obliged to flee from pillar to post. And, under these circumstances, a number of Western intellectuals with the finest of liberal credentials, not content with merely criticizing her, launched something of a campaign of insults against her in one journal after another. I recorded the campaign, though really I did not know what to make of it.
A couple of years later Rushdie came out with a memoir called Joseph Anton, recounting his own experience of coming under Islamist attack, and I was interested to see that, in his case, too, once he had fled into a police-protected underground life, he was greeted by a wave of jeers and insults, coming at him from the British press, which he renamed The Daily Insult. You will perhaps recall some of those insults. They are the same insults that came Hirsi Ali’s way, to wit, no one ought to be murdered merely for expressing opinions, but—the but—these troublemakers lack respect for religion, they are blasphemers, they foment bigotry against Islam, they have invited their own difficulties, they are egomaniacs who do not care about the fate of other people, they are commercially motivated, they are tools of imperialism, and so forth. A similar campaign has been gotten up against the Dutch journalist and legal scholar from Iran, Afshin Ellian. And now the same phenomenon, with a few variations, has recurred in the case of the tragic and witty and gifted leftists of Charlie Hebdo.
I could go through the list of famous names among the American protesters, recording the insults they have tossed at the murdered French cartoonists and their colleagues, but I do not have the heart for it. I make a prediction, though. I predict that, next year, or in five years, some other novelist or memoirist or artist somewhere in the world will have the good luck to escape an Islamist assassination attempt or massacre. And when the terrified survivor comes limping afterward into Manhattan, in search of solace and friends, that person, too, will discover that, in some of the finest of circles of literary New York, everybody hates a loser, and the protesters have gathered on the sidewalk outside the hotel, and the vilification has begun.
But read it all.
Historian Tom Holland gave the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture at the Hay Festival yesterday. From the Times (£):
The taboo of not speaking about the prophet Muhammad has to be broken to deradicalise jihadists, an acclaimed author, historian and film-maker said yesterday.
Tom Holland, who produced Islam: the Untold Story for Channel 4, said that the “moral perfection” of Muhammad had to be questioned and that to do so required non-Muslims to break the “unspoken blasphemy taboo that has taken hold in the West”.
Holland, who was giving the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture at the Hay Festival, said that in the past 30 years the “one thing that people seem to have learnt is that to question the moral perfection of Muhammad is akin to poking a hornets’ nest with a stick”.
Muslims seem to take more offence at insults to Muhammad than at insults directed at God, he said.
Holland said that this silence from non-Muslims allowed Islamic State to draw inspiration from the Prophet’s example, despite Muhammad’s actions remaining largely unexamined.
The destruction by Isis of antiquities was drawn from Muhammad’s destruction of idols in Mecca, while the taking of slaves by jihadists was inspired by Muhammad having a slave girl as a concubine, Holland said.
He added that the “sanction for what they do is within the various biographies and traditions associated with the Prophet . . . when beheading an infidel seems to have been enshrined within what every jihadi aspires to do, it is surely not irrelevant that Muhammad owned a sword that can be translated as the ‘cleaver of vertebrae’.
“Not examining these claims [about Muhammad] leaves free those who want to put the most hostile spin on it. Jihadists cannot possibly be deradicalised unless the prophet is deradicalised as well,” he said.
Holland said that it was dangerous of politicians to argue that atrocities committed by Muslims were nothing to do with Islam. He said the British government’s deradicalisation policy was based on this. “Jihadists see themselves as models of righteous behaviour doing God’s will. They see themselves as following the example of Muhammad,” he said. “The Koran is absolutely explicit about this, ‘In the messenger of God you have a beautiful example, an example to follow’.”
After the lecture Holland said that unlike Hitchens he “admired the traditions of monotheism”, but said: “I just think there are certain things within them that have turned septic and there are aspects of Islam that are highly septic and need to be drained. But we can’t do that unless we acknowledge there is a problem.”
He admitted to apprehension about having delivered a provocative lecture, but said he did not think there would be a backlash. “People talk about Islamophobia; the real Islamophobia thing is to assume that if you say anything that might be controversial or upsetting to Muslims, they might come and kill you,” he said. “So I am operating on the presumption that that won’t happen.”
Update: here's a video of Holland's lecture.
At the turn of the 20th century, Britain's shipbuilding yards were the envy of the world. Docks in Liverpool and elsewhere were twice as productive as their American counterparts. The steel columns of the overhead railway, the famous 'dockers umbrella', make this unmistakeably Liverpool. The workers weave through the oncoming traffic towards the camera, a hard day's labour etched in their faces.
Like most of Mitchell & Kenyon's commissioned work, the emphasis here is on capturing as many of the faces of these potential filmgoers as possible as they go about their business. This film, though, is less effectively stage-managed than others. The workers trickle rather than flood past the camera, and at one point two carts, loaded with sacks, stop in mid-frame, blocking much of the view.
The main character, apart maybe from the newsboy, is the dapper young gentleman with moustache, long coat and cane (umbrella?) who keeps re-appearing. Is he perhaps one of the film-makers - Mitchell or Kenyon, even - trying to liven things up?
A couple of sculptures have been installed on the footpath to Cody Dock, by the Lea at Bow Creek, as part of The Line. The website for this exciting new project - "The Line" because it's sort of set on the Greenwich Meridian - is here, for what it's worth. You're better off checking out Sophie Campbell in the Telegraph, or Diamond Geezer.
Anyway, here, halfway down the path, is DNA DL90, by Abigail Fallis:
It's quite fun: twenty-two shopping trolleys in a DNA-style double helix. It is, says Fallis, a symbol of modern society's consumer culture, which has now become entwined in our genetic make-up. They can't help themselves, can they, these artists?
Further down, right outside Cody Dock, is Damien Hirst's Sensation:
Like a lot of Hirst's stuff, there's the feel of a medical model to it (hairs coming out of skin). It's a bit of a meretricious mess, frankly - kind of Grayson Perry on a bad day. And it looks absurdly out of place here, beside the mud flats and old industrial landscape of Bow Creek. I preferred inside Cody Dock - which is now open and spruced up thanks to some help from Kew Gardens and the Cody Wilds project.
Unpretentious and fun - and of course not part of The Line. Still, if Damien et al. persuade more people to visit, that's all to the good. At the moment Cody Dock needs all the help it can get if it's going to realise its dream of becoming a thriving hub. It's so out of the way: accessed either from the footpath, which you get to over Twelvetrees Bridge, or from Star Lane station on the DLR and a walk through the uninspiring Twelvetrees Industrial Estate. Even today, on a Bank Holiday, the place was pretty much deserted. Things will undoubtedly improve when they open up the footpath to the south. It was all originally planned as part of the Olympic legacy - the so-called Fatwalk, now rebranded as the Leaway - but these things take time.
The useful idiots of WomenCrossDMZ have emerged blinking into the light of South Korea, having learned nothing, and - thanks to their willing accommodation with North Korean propaganda - having helped to whitewash the world's worst human rights violator. Some achievement:
A group of 30 women activists have crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea in an attempt to promote peace.
Led by American feminist Gloria Steinem, the group rode by bus over the DMZ from the North to the South.
But they were prevented from walking on foot through the abandoned village of Panmunjom, where the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean war was signed.
The activists have faced criticism for spending several days in Pyongyang.
Critics said the women had allowed themselves to become propaganda tools by the North, after they refused to directly criticise the Pyongyang authorities over its human rights record.
But Ms Steinem dismissed the charge, saying the women were focused on breaking through barriers to make human connections and highlight the suffering that the division continues to impose.
She hailed the trip as a "triumph" for peace and reconciliation.
"I'm so confident that once it is clear what we have experienced, these objections will go away," she told reporters after the group arrived on the South Korean side of the border.
The group had originally intended to walk through the "truce village" of Panmunjom, where North and South Korean soldiers are separated by several metres across the border.
But South Korea opposed the plan, sending a bus across the border to the North to fetch the women and transport them back over the border to the South.
The women sang and carried banners as they crossed the first checkpoint leading into the DMZ from North Korea.
"We Shall Overcome", at a guess.
They said the purpose of the crossing was to express hope that Korean families separated in the war could one day be united again and military tensions between the two sides reduced.
But one North Korean defector, Dr Lee Ae-ran, told the BBC that the women were promoting Pyongyang's viewpoint that the US and South Korea were to blame for the division of Korea.
"This is a so-called peace march but there is no peace here. [North Korea ruler] Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions and hostile acts towards the south prevents peace," she told the BBC's Stephen Evans in Seoul.
Some interesting observations from Ann Marlowe, reviewing Peter Cole and Brian McQuinn’s new anthology The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath. She provides a welcome corrective to Deborah Orr's wretched Guardian piece (explaining why so many in the Arab world were "willing to live under despotism") which I wrote about yesterday. Marlowe, note, has actually spent some time in Libya. Orr, I'm fairly sure, has not.
Anyone who thinks “North Africans aren’t ready for democracy” will be impressed when he or she reads of the speedy organizational efforts of the admittedly small group of Libyans who started Benghazi’s revolutionary government and followed suit in other towns, either openly or clandestinely, and then again of similar efforts by a much larger group to stabilize the country after Tripoli’s fall in August 2011. Daring, decisiveness, and the ability to work at high intensity are not lacking in Libya. So are the flipside of these virtues: impulsiveness, carelessness, and depressive stagnation. Apart from their moodiness, Libyans remind me in many ways of Americans. They are the only people I’ve been among who love freedom as much....
And anyone who thinks that Libya was better off under Qaddafi will be promptly disabused of this illusion. There is no special pleading here, and not all that much space devoted to the Qaddafi years, but the backstories and explanations make it clear that the man was a monster. He stayed in power by buying off the population and executing those who got in his way, sometimes publicly; in his relations with Libya’s neighbors, he adopted a modified version of the same strategy. Even the obscure case of southern Libya’s dark-skinned indigenous Tebu minority makes this clear: As Rebecca Murray explains in her essay on them, Qaddafi financed Tebu living in the contested Ouzou Strip to rebel against Chad; when they lost, he threw them into jail. He played similar games with the Tuareg of Mali and the Libyan south, de-stabilizing Mali then purporting to save it.
Also, points not perhaps sufficiently appreciated when talking about Iraq, as well as Libya:
Are there lessons here that might be applied more generally to U.S. policy in the Middle East, and elsewhere? Sure there are. One ready conclusion is that the major reason the United States ought not to support dictatorships is that they make people bad, and bad people are bad citizens and their countries cause trouble around the world. Being watched, and arbitrarily interfered with, and punished for imaginary crimes, or urged to commit real crimes, makes people useless for most of the business of life. And dictatorships grow people who internalize the persona of the dictator—the Qaddafi homunculus in this case—who is rarely a positive model. Getting rid of this internalization takes time. The Libyans aren’t there yet. They love freedom, but they are often not able to use it constructively.
Another reason not to support dictatorships is that they prevent the development of the institutions necessary for stability, everything from a well-run judicial system to education to sewers and highways to a police that is respected but not feared and an army that can defend the country’s borders. Voting, we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, is just the icing on the cake. The cake takes years to bake. As Vandewalle puts it, “The country’s institutions had neither the capacity nor mechanisms to support this new political system.” And it turned out to be difficult to turn “subjects” into “citizens.”