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A history of British grifters in the US

Writing at The Daily Beast, James Kirchick has a nastily entertaining take on the history of British grifters, mountebanks, fraudsters and cranks finding (at least temporarily) gullible publics in the United States– of whom Louise Mensch, Milo Yiannopolous and “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka are only the latest.

Having either failed in their native land or found it not big enough to contain their massive egos, these “chancers” (as they are known in British slang) invariably come to America where they find a ready audience among the sort of people who think an English accent automatically confers sophistication.

And do I need to mention the sinister Andrew Wakefield, who may have the ear of the anti-MMR vaxxer currently occupying the office of President of the United States?

Kirchick mentions some of their fictional forebears depicted by Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. P.G. Wodehouse, himself an expat in the US, set several of his Jeeves and Wooster stories in New York. In one of them (“Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg”), Jeeves arranges for 87 businessmen from Birdsburg, Missouri, to pay $150 to meet the visiting Duke of Chiswick, with hilarious consequences.

And yes, yes, their are plenty of fine native Britons living here in the US, some of whom even follow Harry’s Place.

Special report: A day of anti-Israel hatred at the University of Warwick

This is a cross post from David Collier’s blog Beyond the Great Divide

On Thursday, 4th May, I spent the day at the University of Warwick. Warwick forms part of one of my favourite areas of the UK. Close enough to visit from London in a day, and containing both Warwick castle and Shakespeare’s town, Stratford upon-Avon. As is proving to be a recurring theme, the romantic relationship I have with the country of my birth is being torn apart piece by piece. This is my report:

The conference was a full day event. It did not seem to have been long in the planning. Advertising for the event suddenly appeared about two weeks ago and I only saw the event promoted via social media on some university related Facebook pages, and of course, on the pages of the local anti-Israel activist groups.
Read more »

John McDonnell v. The System

Earlier today, John McDonnell assured us that he only wants to “transform the system”, not “bring it down”.

Uh huh.

Tackling Taqiyya

The doctrine of Taqiyya is a familiar canard within some strands of anti-Islam discourse.  A comparatively obscure teaching, designed to save Muslims from peril and persecution by allowing them to lie about their faith, has become a mechanism for rubbishing the integrity of any Muslim whose views are inconveniently liberal and secular. Here ‘Nice Mangoes’ – a blogger whose views on other practices within Islam are trenchantly critical – questions its use.

Basically a few days ago, some dude I had never heard of, called @FuriousFossa was upset that I tweeted about not knowing what Taqiya was till I got on twitter. Despite growing up in Saudi. Because this didn’t confirm his previously held beliefs, what good are ex-muslims if they can’t confirm your bullshit views?!

However that doesn’t mean that Muslim apologists or preachers can’t be evasive and misleading.  For example some may try to duck out of questions about hudud punishments by falling back on an assertion that they obey the law of the land. This may sound reassuring, but doesn’t rule out the possibility that they would ideally support an Islamist regime – just watch Maajid Nawaz probing Ibrahim Hewitt here.

A recent article in the Huffington post – written by Omar Suleiman and Nazir Khan of the Yaqeen Institute* – sets out to criticise the way the Taqiyya charge is weaponised.  The authors’ comments on this specific point are fair enough.  However there seems – both ironically and unnecessarily – to be some obfuscation in the authors’ more general preamble.

[W]ords like “Shariah” and “Jihad” have been exploited by Islamophobes who affirm the perverted meanings assigned to these terms by terrorists. Meanwhile, mainstream Muslims believe that Jihad refers to a struggle undertaken for the sake of God to protect the lives and rights of others, and that Shariah refers to a divinely ordained system that enjoins treating all human beings in the best manner. Islamophobes, when faced with this discrepancy between what they want the words to mean and what mainstream Muslims believe they actually mean, resort to a profoundly unsophisticated tactic – they simply declare all Muslims to be compulsive liars.

I’ll just focus on the discussion of ‘Shariah’.  It’s pretty ambiguous.  It could be glossed as meaning that hudud punishments are a perversion and that true ‘Shariah’ is something reassuringly benign (if vague).  Yet presumably Muslims who support the harshest penalties in an ideal state would concur that Shariah means ‘treating all human beings in the best manner’.  So the whole argument is rather circular.

Having looked into the views of the two authors, they do at the very least seem to want to contextualise and modernise hudud punishments out of the picture.  But implicit here is approval of the way these, hanging over one as a hypothetical threat, chill freedom of action and expression – even though the author is seeking to reassure those concerned by violent penalties.

These laws are subject to lengthy discussion in the books of Islamic jurisprudence which place upon them such stringent conditions as to render their application essentially obsolete[32]—and this is precisely in line with the Prophet’s emphasis on the hudood serving primarily as psychological deterrents and encouraging his followers not to apply them

The Huff Po piece is a frustrating article in some ways, partly because the authors certainly make some fair observations in their analysis of anti-Islam excesses in the US.  The concluding paragraphs are typical in combining reasonable points with more dubious assertions.

Islamophobes begin by defining and imposing their definitions of Islamic terms (such as Shariah and Jihad) in ways that fit the above narrative, and then demand that Muslims reject the terms and texts as they have portrayed them, or risk being deemed extremists for clarifying their meanings. This puts Muslims in an impossible catch-22: Either reject the terms, texts, and tenets of their faith to avoid persecution, or offer the mainstream Muslim interpretation of these “problematic texts” and be accused of taqiyya.

I’m quite sympathetic to this – I don’t think Muslims should be asked to condemn ‘Shariah’ as it has a capacious meaning which need not, I don’t think, include support for hudud punishments.  I’m also perfectly fine with Muslims who want to reclaim the term ‘Jihad’ as in the ‘My Jihad’ bus poster campaign of a few years ago. However what is more problematic is the implied insistence here that these very benign views are unambiguously ‘mainstream’.  If they had said ‘correct’ or ‘authentic’, that would have been preferable; every believer is likely to be sure their reading of their faith is the right one even if it’s a minority opinion.

Islamophobes complain that the word “Islamophobia” is a buzzword to shut down criticism of Islam, arguing that they just want to have a critical discussion on the subject. However, they use the term “taqiyya” in the very same fashion to deny mainstream Muslims the right to express their own narrative which represents the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. Think about how impossible a situation this becomes: it may start with the falsehood that Muslims don’t condemn terrorism, then when proof is put forth that they actually do (see, they’re told that they’re lying and concealing their true intentions.

It’s certainly true that you can find countless examples of Muslims condemning terrorism right along the spectrum of reformist and conservative views, as well as people unfairly moaning that Muslims don’t say or do enough.  But terrorism isn’t the only concern people have, and the authors themselves have already brought Sharia and jihad into the equation. It’s very difficult to say what ‘mainstream’ Muslim views are – I think the authors would associate these with the views of liberal American Muslims, but it’s not at all clear that these represent the Muslim majority worldwide.  If the authors had said

However, they use the term “taqiyya” in the very same fashion to question the integrity of liberal, secular Muslims

I’d have been more fully on board.

* Jonathan Brown, also of the Yaqeen Institute, caused controversy earlier this year you may remember.

Baroness Tonge removes antisemitic cartoon, claims she thought it was ‘two figures trying to escape Gaza’

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

On the morning of the May Bank Holiday (1 May) Baroness Jenny Tonge posted this Latuff cartoon on her Facebook page.

Nobody  could be in any doubt as to what it shows: the cry of ‘Never Again’ recently echoed round the world on Yom HaShoah, the day in April/May that we remember the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The figure on the left – shaped like a swastika, with a yellow star and wearing the striped uniform worn by prisoners in Auschwitz – is obviously a concentration camp victim. The figure on the right is obviously a Palestinian whose movement out of Gaza is controlled due to the risk of terrorist infiltration into Israel. The message – again obvious – is that ‘Israel is doing the same to the Palestinians in Gaza as was done to the Jews by the Nazis’. By the EUMC/IHRA Definition of Antisemitism which the UK government has adopted, the cartoon is antisemitic (‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’).

The cartoonist Latuff regularly features on this blog. He persistently uses antisemitic imagery in his cartoons.   In 2006, Latuff won second prize in Iran’s grotesque ‘Holocaust Cartoon Contest’.  ‘Simply the fact that he entered a competition designed to denigrate and diminish the Holocaust should have seen him permanently shunned in progressive or anti-racist circles.’

I noticed the cartoon on Baroness Tonge’s Facebook page in the morning of 2 May. I alerted the six members of the House of Lords who had previously complained about Baroness Tonge to the Standards Commissioner of the House (you can see their names in the Commissioner’s Report here (p7) and my blog about the Report here).  The same afternoon Sarah Deech tweeted about it. Later on 2 May the JC picked it up and on May 3 so did Jewish News. The growing backlash cannot fail to have been noticed by the noble Baroness – and in the evening of 3 May she deleted the post.

On 4 May in the evening she posted the following by way of ‘apology’:

She could have simply said ‘I am sorry I posted an antisemitic cartoon. I have now removed it’.

But no.

The intellectual contortions she goes through in order NOT to admit that it was an offensive antisemitic cartoon are wondrous to behold.  She claims she thought the cartoon ‘showed two figures trying to escape Gaza through a fence’. Since when do Palestinians wear a yellow star and wear the uniform of the camps? And even ignoring this, why is the phrase ‘Never Again’ in capitals above the figure? And why are the two figures shaped like swastikas?

Just what kind of fools does Baroness Tonge take us for?

Yet again she has used her position in the House of Lords to harass Jewish people.

The House of Lords has a Code of Conduct which – to quote the Standards Commissioner – “does not extend to members’ performance of duties unrelated to parliamentary proceedings; and it is outside my remit to consider complaints about members’ expression of views or opinions. I interpret that as covering members’ posts on social media.”

A Code of Conduct which allows a Member of the House of Lords to persistently harass Jewish people urgently needs to be amended. The petition asking for Baroness Tonge to be expelled from the House has now been signed by nearly 1000 people.  Given the persistent demands for reform of the second Chamber, you might think that its Members would do everything possible to stop one of their number bringing the institution into disrepute.

John McDonnell and Plan B

What to do if parliamentary democracy and elections deal you blow after cruel blow? As Labour reels, this is the question.

How about John McDonnell dusting off his “insurrection!” Plan B, presented at this meeting in London in 2013. To the streets!

If only he had known

Yes, that would be the same Judith Butler who declared that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.”

Abbas in Washington: dancing in place or moving forward? by Dan Shapiro

Writing exclusively for Fathom, Daniel B. Shapiro, former Ambassador of the United States of America to the State of Israel assesses the 3 May meeting at the White House between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Trump. Shapiro argues that Abbas is ‘going to Washington in a far stronger position than he had any reason to expect’ and should now consider taking two further steps: find a way to signal an end to Palestinian Authority salaries paid to terrorist prisoners and their families and tell the President he is ready to enter talks with Israel without preconditions. If he does he can ‘leave the White House with the best asset any leader can hope for: the President’s support and respect’.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been written off so many times — by Israelis, by Arab leaders, by his own people — that he is often described as being politically dead. But like a cat with nine lives, he continues to recover just enough from each setback to retain his relevance for yet another round of Middle East diplomacy.

In President Donald Trump’s election, Abbas was handed a surprising, even shocking opportunity. But the question, as always with Abbas, is whether he will seize this opportunity and use it to try to achieve a breakthrough, or simply dance to avoid having to make historic decisions and shift the blame to Israel.

Abbas heads to Washington for his 3 May meeting with the President in a far stronger position than he had any reason to expect. President Trump campaigned for his office raising serious questions about whether he even viewed a two-state solution as a priority. His election was greeted with rapturous enthusiasm by the Israeli right, who anticipated an end to US opposition to West Bank settlement expansion and the prompt move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Even while actively conducting discussions with numerous foreign governments, the Trump Transition initiated no contact with the Palestinian Authority and ignored Palestinian entreaties.

But the emerging policy of the Trump administration looks quite different, which is to say, quite similar to longstanding US policy. The President has assigned people close to him — his son-in-law, Jared Kushner and his real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt to pursue what he has called ‘the ultimate deal’. Greenblatt’s early diplomatic forays drew positive reviews, including from Palestinians, for being open to hearing all sides’ views. US efforts have included pressure on Israel to restrain settlement construction. The embassy move has been put on the back burner. And the President’s confidence (and, some would add, inexperience) is such that he declared last week ‘there is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever’. READ MORE

John McDonnell on May Day

Here you can see the Shadow Chancellor speaking at a May Day rally in Trafalgar Square.

Another shot reveals a prominent CPGB-ML flag:

I realize that there are Communists and Communists but these seem to be Stalin fans.

Another unedifying sight was the flag associated with the Assad regime.

Is there anyone whose presence would not be welcome at this rally? These demonstrators have one answer

Cow vigilantism in India

It’s recently been reported that two Muslim men were lynched, on suspicion of stealing cows, in Assam State.

“They were chased and beaten with sticks by villagers who said the two boys were trying to steal cows from their grazing field,” said Debaraj Upadhyay, Nagaon’s chief police officer.

“By the time we took them to the hospital at night they had succumbed to their injuries,” he added.

This is not the first such murder:

At least 10 Muslim men have been killed in similar incidents across the country by Hindu mobs on suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cows in the last two years.

Although these murders are not state sanctioned, the legal penalties for harming cows are extremely severe. The state of Gujarat has recently increased the punishment to life imprisonment.

It’s hardly surprising that this combination of judicial harshness and extrajudicial violence is leading to a climate of fear.  Recently an Indian actor felt she needed to explain that she had not in fact eaten at a table where beef was served.