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Bradford Imam criticises David Ward’s response to Gaza

It might have been predicted that David Ward would use the conflict in Israel and Gaza as a prompt to come out with yet more offensive comments:

On Tuesday evening David Ward tweeted: “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.” He sent another tweet two hours later which said: “Ich bin ein #palestinian – the West must make up its mind – which side is it on”.

Many have criticised his comments (the Lib Dem leadership in rather muted fashion) including Bradford Imam Rafiq Sehgal, President of the Bradford Council for Mosques. He mildly suggested that, while of course it is natural to feel sympathy for those suffering in Gaza, David Ward’s response was unhelpful.  His inoffensive intervention has caused great outrage in some quarters.

Fifty Shades of Grey

This is a cross-post by Phil BC

The trailer for the much anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation touched down today. Looks stylish. Due for release on Valentine’s Day next year, it’s getting billed as a “romantic drama”. That’s like describing Ron Jeremy as “an actor”. Whatever. Fifty Shades is a proven literary juggernaut, with some 60 million books sold. Not bad for a trilogy that began life as Twilight fan fiction. And as I was busy doing anything but blogging when the books came out, the trailer’s release is the perfect opportunity to throw down some words.

First off, snooty reviews like Salman Rushdie’s andJulie Bosman’s spectacularly miss the point. It makes no literary pretensions. EL James wasn’t fishing for the Booker or the Orange prize when she wrote it. As a piece of fan fiction it was conceived and written purely and simply as wanking fodder. James used her appropriated characters to explore kinky sex, BDSM and other fantasies she may or may not have just has always been the case since the earliest days of the internet. The written word is a powerfully erotic but safe way of working through fantasies, in this case with the support and feedback of anonymous and semi-anonymous communities of fans. James’s pieces grew because, for whatever reason, her work was passed around, read, and – ahem – used, more than her contemporaries. If you were getting great feedback about your naughty stories, wouldn’t you try your hand at a book-length cut of filth?

I know what the literary snobs have in mind when they approach Fifty Shades. James would have had to turn something in like the erotic masterpiece, Delta of Venus, and making such a comparison is ridiculous. Delta is a work of literary fiction. Its eroticism lies in the careful construction and corruption of believable characters, and their negotiation of scenarios involving old taboos around homosexuality and threesomes as well as problematic explorations of incest, abuse and rape. Nin’s collection speaks to sexualities repressed by the times, and invites her readers to indulge in an orgy of possibility, of letting the libido go and indulging all its fantasies, including (especially) those dark places no one wishes to speak of. All very disturbing and thought-provoking, but that’s not where James wanted to go. Such comparisons are as facile as comparing Andy McNab to Leo Tolstoy, as opposing Dan Brown with Umberto Eco. James merely wishes to turn her readers on. Just as McNab and Brown want to thrill and puzzle theirs.

Dialogue and characterisation set the scene and fill the bits before and after erotic encounters. While the term “mummy porn” is problematic for all kinds of reasons, porn is what Fifty Shades most definitely is. Consider your average porn flick. Where they do have some sort of plot, it is almost entirely superfluous to the action that follows. It might establish the parameters of the situation (doctor/patient, teacher/pupil, cop/wrong ‘un) to link in with the fantasies of the viewer, but they are relatively brief . Anything not to do with sex is merely filler. Fifty Shades operates on similar principles – scene setting, bonking, scene setting, more bonking, dialogue and development, yet more bonking. And the scenes themselves are written functionally from Ana Steele’s perspective. While James fixates on the sex, it’s not quite as crude as a crotch shot scene might be. This, for me, is one hook of James’s writing. For Ana, sex, sub-play and hints toward BDSM (which isn’t indulged in the first book) are part of her process of sexual self-discovery. Christian Grey isn’t just a beguiling billionaire with a penchant for kinky fucking, Ana wants him (and has him) as her first. For millions of James’s readers part of the erotic charge is the connection between the broadening of her sexual horizons and their own early awakenings. It evokes that lost sense of excitement, of when everything was new, fresh, of that time when readers were at it like rabbits with their new and equally enthusiastic boyfriends and girlfriends. What James evokes, especially for her core readership of 30-something women, is sexual nostalgia, of hot memories long since buried beneath the routine of the weekly fumble and occasional “alone-time”. For large numbers of women, Fifty Shades is a welcome tonic.

All just good clean filthy fun? The characterisation in the books isn’t great, but that’s not a problem in and of itself. It’s just a means to a rather naughty end. Yet I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to note the troubling gender politics underpinning the book. This owes something to its roots in Twilight, a tired and thankfully out-of-fashion reworking of the damsel-in-distress trope – but with vampires. Give me Buffy any day. However, James is not a prisoner of convention. Her protagonists did not have to be a naive, virginal young woman barely into adulthood, or a worldly-wise, brooding but mysterious billionaire who sweats masculinity. Ana didn’t have to be the supplicant, the tool and foil of Christian Grey’s sexuality. And yet she is, and this is James’s second clever move. As problematic the gender dynamics are, the relationship suffuses femininity’s conventional subordination to masculinity with a sexual charge. Not every woman wants to be a princess, but gendered messages of that character bombard girls even before their minds awaken to consciousness. James’s female readers are intimately acquainted with the domineering shadow of the masculine other, even if they consistently resist and reject the dependency it inculcates. Fifty Shadesembraces that relation. The constant evocation of Ana’s “inner goddess” when Grey is stoking and sating her desires plugs affirms yin and yang gender essentialism, that knowing herself, finding herself, even discovering the pleasures of her own body is only possible by giving herself over to the powerful man. James here has provided an erotics of submitting to male domination. Power play is common in sex games, and by tying it to rather traditional but deeply embedded gender relations James allows her readers to experience its sexual power filtered through an intimate familiarity with growing up a girl.

Then comes the final move at the end of the first novel. There are glimpses of Grey’s troubled past, and in the end Ana resists his will to make her his sexual receptacle. Yet she wants to save him. As his outward composure of mystery and demand for control dissolve with some mental disarray, the reader realises long before Ana does that he is equally as needy, that despite himself he can only become the settled man his affects to be if he truly shares himself. It’s fairy tale stuff by way of riding crops, blow jobs, and sex in lifts, but provides a conventional narrative, one that is – despite the sex – quite conservative and totally unthreatening. Fifty Shades doesn’t have the sophistication and nuance of literary eroticism, but its author’s black and white play with the libidinal energies tied up in gender relations gives it a relevance to an audience of a size most writers can but dream.

“A truce in the dictionary of the resistance means preparing for the next battle”

Many of you will have heard it claimed, at various times, that Hamas has expressed willingness to enter into a truce with Israel: which constitutes a tacit acceptance of Israel’s existence.

This is nonsense. It is true that, from time to time, Hamas proposes a ‘ten year hudna’: that is, a temporary truce. Ten years was the duration of the Hudaybiyyah Hudna, which Mohammed entered into with the tribes of Mecca. Mohammed then went on to conquer Medina.

If you want to understand how Hamas understands the concept of ‘hudna’, you should listen to Mushir Al Masri – ‘the Egyptian’ –  a Hamas MP and media spokesman. He makes the purpose of such a temporary truce quite clear:

This is just nonsense of the Zionists and a dream of them to live in peace and calmness for 10 years.

We shall keep disturbing the Zionists until the last of them Zionists leaves our Palestine land because every truce is temporary for a certain period of time,” Al Masri said. “We are not talking about a long term truce. We are not talking about a peace agreement.”

‘A truce’ in the dictionary of the resistance means preparing for the next battle,” he said. “Our resistance will keep on developing, producing and filling its arsenals and in the production of surprising elements for the next battles until the Zionist enemy leaves our land, with the help of Allah.”

So, there you have it. Hamas considers the purpose of a truce, the provision of breathing space to allow it to rearm.

So, keep this post handy the next time somebody tells you that Hamas has offered Israel peace.

PS: Also see this post from 2009, featuring the analysis of Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader killed during Operation Cast Lead:

This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: “The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don’t need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.” There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. “Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.”

An obscene comparison

By quoting from the excellent historical Twitter account “WW2 Tweets from 1942,” Bob from Brockley demonstrates the utter obscenity (I can think of no other word) of comparing the current situation in Gaza, as bad as it is, to the Warsaw Ghetto– as of course George Galloway (among others) is pleased to do.

Did anyone try to stop him?

In an account of recent antisemitic events in the UK, the CST blog featured this photo of a demonstrator at one of the anti-Israel rallies in London.

The presence of this man and his sign raises some questions: Did any of the demonstration monitors see the sign? Assuming at least some of his fellow demonstrators noticed it, did anyone make any effort to remove the sign, remove the man or even admonish him?

One thing I can be quite sure of, however: if someone had tried to enter the demonstration carrying an Israeli flag or an “I Stand with Israel” sign, something would have happened to that person immediately.

Philosophers for Hamas!

by Gabriel Noah Brahm

Alberto Novi/Flickr

The Haaretz headline says it all: ‘Well-known Italian Philosopher: “I’d like to shoot those Zionist bastards”’.

Gianni Vattimo is Italy’s ‘most famous philosopher’ according to Haaretz’s reporter in Milan, Anna Momigliano. And now the world knows he is also a bigot and a supporter of terrorism. Indeed, as I argued in Fathom in June, Vattimo ‘has earned the right to be known as one of academia’s leading anti-Semites.’

At the time, I based my confident assertion on nothing more (or less) than a reading of his vile anthology of today’s ‘post-metaphysical’ philosophy… READ MORE.

Muslim-baiting in Tennessee

Zak Mohyuddin, a Pakistani-born Muslim, is an American citizen and a 40-year resident of Tennessee.

He is the Democratic candidate for a seat on the Coffee County Commission currently held by Republican Mark Kelly.

The campaign should have involved a vigorous exchange of views about how best to serve the residents of Coffee County. Instead Kelly sent a letter to voters claiming that Mohyuddin has “publicly” expressed beliefs that the “United States is not a Christian nation; that the American flag should be removed from public buildings because it is a symbol of tyranny and oppression; that public prayer should be banned because it insults non-Christians; and that the Bible should be removed from public places.”

Leaving aside the matter of whether the US is officially a Christian nation (it’s not), Mohyuddin has vigorously denied ever saying any of these things. The only evidence Kelly offered is what he claims were “private conversations” with Mohyuddin.

Mohyuddin says he hasn’t spoken with Kelly in 25 years.

The Nashville Tennessean reports:

Mohyuddin, a Tullahoma engineer, holds a security clearance that requires an extensive background check every five years. Among his community service track record, he touts 14 years of putting in at least 100 hours annually to giving free income tax return preparation to residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Mohyuddin said he also has no problem with public prayers or public display of Bibles.

“The Supreme Court made a decision that county commissions or city councils can start meetings with Christian prayers, and that’s fine,” he said. “That’s the law of the land. And I participate. I bow my head like everybody else. I don’t have an issue with it. I understand the intention of it. We have a common creator. We have different faiths.”

“The same with Bibles,” he said. “This is a Christian majority country. That has never even occurred to me about not having them in public places. That’s how absurd it is.”

He is more accepting of the Supreme Court decision than I am.

WSMV TV in Nashville reports:

As voters cast their ballots early, some aren’t standing with Kelly’s letter.

“I voted for Mark Kelly,” John Yarbrough said. “If I had read this letter before I voted, I would not have voted for him because I don’t believe it’s true. I think it’s dirty politics. I haven’t seen anything dirty Zak has put out,” he added.
Kelly said his goal was to make people want to get out and vote.

He might achieve his goal, although it may not be to his advantage.

The Moral Maze: Israel and Gaza

Last night’s Moral Maze featured regular panellists Matthew Taylor, Melanie Phillips and Giles Fraser, and a newcomer to the programme, Jill Kirby. The witnesses were Colonel Richard Kemp, Mehdi Hasan, Dr Hugo Slim and Ted Honderich.

The first witness, Mehdi Hasan, asserted that the blockade was the root cause of the conflict, and offered the familiar (and problematic) argument that Israel was more to blame because its actions were causing so many more casualties than Hamas’s rockets.  But – the blockade is not purely the responsibility of Israel.  And I wished someone had asked Mehdi if he really thought lifting the blockade would bring peace. Craig, over on Is the BBC biased?, thinks Mehdi Hasan’s ready condemnation of Hamas may have been an instance of ‘taqiyyah’.  While I am perfectly happy to take Mehdi’s word WRT Hamas, I think Michael Buerk was completely correct to ask (in the final summing up) whether one can simply park Hamas, as Mehdi tried to do, and analyse and condemn Israel’s actions in a vacuum.

Richard Kemp was a good witness – I was pleased he dealt so efficiently with an illogical challenge from Matthew Taylor, who asked whether one should not hesitate to shoot a fleeing bank robber who had snatched a small child as a hostage.  Taylor went on ask whether, if you can’t defend yourself without killing civilians, you don’t have a duty to use restraint.  This raises the further question of what ‘restraint’ actually means – I’d like to know what Taylor’s response would be to this article from Dan Hodges.

Professor Honderich was unable to express his views coherently, which was probably just as well as (if I have understood his position correctly) I agree with Melanie Phillips that he is morally depraved.  He claimed Hamas was acting justifiably, and in support of what he called the ‘principle of humanity’, in targeting Israeli civilians.

Hugo Slim thought Israel had shown a fair level of restraint and should be commended for protecting its own civilians so effectively.  However he then argued that a point had now been reached when public concern at the distressing images from Gaza meant a halt should be called to the military action.

One problem with this argument is that public concern seems triggered so much more readily and angrily by the actions of Israel than by many other countries.  Even those who should be reporting the news even handedly are compounding this problem – Jon Snow had to apologise this morning for using an image from Syria in his emotional report from Gaza.

Towards the end of the programme Giles Fraser seemed to have been swayed by the argument of the deplorable Honderich, and appeared to be arguing that it was acceptable to deliberately kill innocents.  I’m not sure that’s really his settled position on the issue, but I sympathized with Melanie Phillips’ baffled outrage at this point of the discussion.

Although Mehdi Hasan seemed like a beacon of logic and moral clarity compared with Honderich, I thought the case against Israel was made pretty poorly.  Perhaps (although of course he would also want to make the case for his country) they should have called Marc Goldberg as a witness.

Did Operation Birthright kill Max Steinberg?

I find it difficult to put into words how angry this article by Allison Benedikt in Slate– blaming Operation Birthright (which provides free visits to Israel for young American Jews) for the death of American oleh and IDF soldier Max Steinberg– made me feel.

She writes:

What makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew and no ties to the state of Israel suddenly decide he is ready to make this sacrifice? Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it. That serving and protecting the Jewish people was the moral thing to do, and that the best way to accomplish it was to go fight for the Jewish state. It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.

My niece Hannah participated in an Operation Birthright trip to Israel earlier this year, and I can assure you that, while she developed a full appreciation of Israel and what it stands for, she did not return as a brainwashed ultra-Zionist.

Maybe– just maybe– Max Steinberg, as a Jew, felt a deep connection to Israel and decided it was not just “another country” but his own. He wouldn’t be the first, and he won’t be the last. His death is terrible loss but not, as Benedikt would have us believe, a tragic waste. He was doing something brave and meaningful to defend his country and he paid the ultimate price.

And tens of thousands of his fellow Israelis came to show their appreciation.

Zichrono livracha.

Conflicted about Conflict

Cross posted from my blog at the Times of Israel

I suppose I’ve kept you guessing a little since the start of the ground invasion. I’ve gone from writing posts critical of the government and damning the attacks to supporting the IDF all of the way in Gaza. My feelings were that the government led us down a path to unnecessary war when they should have invested more time in negotiation, more time in finding a way for their people to live without war. These feelings though are for now irrelevant.

I was incensed when I read it reported in the Times of Israel that for all our airstrikes we had barely laid a finger on Hamas. It made me think that we had launched merely a cosmetic military operation. One that had no purpose other than to show Israelis that the government was strong but that was doing no genuine harm to Hamas and killing innocent civilians at the same time. A made for TV war. That was before the ground invasion. Before we started genuinely working on Hamas tunnels and destroying their stockpiles of ordnance.

The civilian casualties in Gaza rose dramatically and we started losing soldiers but at least actual work was being done. Before then it looked for a moment as if we had a government that couldn’t make peace and then couldn’t make war either, making me wonder what the hell it is they can do. Hopefully now we’ll continue this war until the generals are satisfied that at least in the short term Israel can expect a couple of years of quiet. Hopefully the day after the shooting stops the government will start working on a longer term strategy to prevent the same thing happening again.

For all my harsh words for the government that I have been delivering over the last months and even years I find the moment that we are at war to be a moment that I find myself at personal crisis along with the country. I find myself thinking of the soldiers both those in hospital and those still on the battlefield and what lies ahead for them. I am thinking of the families of the fallen and of the wounded.

For in reality their war is only just beginning. It is a war they are going to be fighting every day for the rest of their lives. For lost limbs don’t grow back, the dead never return and the pain of their loss remains forever.

Right now the politicians are visiting our soldiers in hospital and thousands of people are attending funerals and consoling the families. But soon the dead, the wounded and the fighters who emerge physically unscathed but mentally scarred will be forgotten. The politicians will find a new cause to jump on, the people will dry their eyes and the soldiers and their families will be left alone.

The crowds of thousands of people who never knew the dead but attended the funerals out of solidarity will disperse and for most the fallen will become nothing more than a five minute film clip on Yom Ha’atzmaut. And the families will have to carry on alone. The politicians and their words of support will have gone, the TV cameras will no longer be there to broadcast their pain to a supporting nation, the journalists will have found new stories to cover.

But for the soldiers who are there at this moment in time this war will continue to be fought every day for the rest of their lives. Those who are wounded and those who aren’t will always remember the time they were sent to Gaza. They will always remember the hell of being under fire, they will always remember how they earned their wounds. They will be living with the trauma when this operation has become a footnote in the history of the IDF and joined all of the others that the IDF has carried out over the years.

They will remember it while pundits compare the success of the operation with other successes and other failures. They will remember it while they are undergoing their physical rehabilitation and while they are banging on doors attempting to get the compensation owed to them. They will remember this operation long after the rest of us have forgotten. Long after the television cameras have found something else to focus on.

For all my misgivings about the course of events that led to this I find that I cannot voice dissent while our soldiers are in harms way. I cannot voice dissent while there are convoys of helicopters ferrying our wounded to hospitals and I cannot voice dissent while the funerals of our fallen continue. Perhaps because of this I have fallen into a trap of supporting the current government whose politics certainly are not mine. But I don’t care. Right now I stand where I have always stood, with the brave soldiers of the IDF.

Especially those whose war is only just beginning.

This is the true face of war. Not the heroism of the moment but the long lonely suffering afterwards. The broken lives that will never be fixed and wounds that will never be healed. And the operation that now must continue until the generals have achieved all of their objectives. Until, in the short term at least, the enemy has been vanquished.

I hope that the day the shooting stops the government has the sense to figure out a way to keep us from returning to this same situation in a year or two.