DAY 2.7 Books

October 7th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


My migration, or hijra , to my present quarters took place about four years ago. And now I lie at night in a small, but entirely adequate flat (indeed, I can’t get up the stairs) with four fully filled bookshelves above my head. And I often wonder why the particular collection of books which also migrated and are now in that place came to occupy  it; They seem decidedly random, and some I don’t recognise  at all; while others are familiar old favourites, and many familiar old favourites are absent. Where is The Cat in the Hat? or To the Lighthouse? Or indeed, The Brothers Karamazov? How have I managed to spend four years in a house which seemed to have a library with so many gaps? There are, I estimate, a hundredweight of books whose provenance seems uncertain: at any moment they might decide (figuratively) to come crashing on my head in the middle of the night.

(I can’ t help being reminded of al-Jahiz, the notable defender of Africans and their intelligence,  who reputedly died just such a death in 868 (roughly) – but were they books or simply rolls  of parchment that fell on him ?) And my skull might be crushed by a book which I completely fail to recognise as mine – the biography of some dim Quaker member of my family, or an African militant text which (I have to assume) I acquired in the early sixties. Would that be a just recompense for my failure to be serious about the books in my life – and what would it be to be serious? There are any number of texts which teach you, if you apply yourself, to learn Arabic; thirty years have passed, the texts remain above my head  and I still can’t speak Arabic, or read the Qur’an. There are novels by black writers or scholarly studies of such novels – what a much better person I would be if I had taken the trouble to read them.

But I think I’m too old for such regrets, too old to wonder what would make me a much better person. The best I can do is to try and reach out in the middle of the night for some light reading, and find a back issue of Capital and Class. I start reading it and inevitably lose track of the argument halfway into the second page. The said argument is bound to lose me inevitably. What hope do I have, in the tangled web of cross teachings which we are increasingly encountering, of meeting  anything which I might recognise as true, when I can’t even discover how to paste a piece of music into a Facebook post.

DAY 2.6 The lost generation

October 1st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, reader, I wrote those words, imagining that some inspiration would come along to give them a meaning. Why do we create these  mounds of verbiage to shield us from the oncoming darkness? Here I am, aged 80, scribbling feverishly in what is, to be fair, only semi-darkness. Scanning the world for some hope of a revolution in the making, my eyes recently landed on the Sudan where, young and untried as it is, it hasn’t yet had the time to make any disastrous mistakes e.g. sacking half the Central Committee of the Communist Party or appointing some power-mad lunatic fresh out of a Georgian seminary to a leading position in said committee. More significantly, from what I hear, they have taken to studying the texts of Antonio Gramsci who during his long incarceration had plenty of time to work out how the working class can make the right strategic alliances, gain and keep power as (we now realise) they failed to do in Russia, and did with dubious success 70 years ago in China; and never did at all in Italy which is at least partly why the Italian Communist Party, so good at organising a cake-stall at the festa dell’Unità at your local village, has been crap at ensuring that the local workers and peasants should take control of the historic moment and has let Salvini and his neo-Fascists de nos jours become, you might say, hegemonic. As we look around the borders of Europe, we see that the starving are being forced into squalid camps (here’s one).But why do I go on and on  about  these conditions which I’ve so often reiterated?


They do continue, it’s true, to be the rule across Europe.

Most of us can remember a time, not so long ago, when you’d take a boat across the Channel, you’d go through a few simple formalities and disembark the other side (Calais, that is). The idea that you would in some way be landing in Syria would be completely bizarre. I submit that it isn’t. Indeed, you should maybe even now be asking yourself the question: :”Where am I?” at every point of your journey, and you could do worse than adding the supplementary question “Who am I?” Because you think you can be pretty sure that you aren’t one of the army of wanderers – or can you?

You will need to begin by considering your class position (to return to that.) I think you’d do well by recommending that you study Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, which are better written than my posts even if they will certainly take longer to read. I haven’t even begun to work out my own; a traditional intellectual, I recognise and certainly not an organic intellectual if that would do me any good. An organic intellectual would begin by taking a tour d’ horizon and seeing where his or her daily life fitted in the process of production and the extraction of capital. But to make it more fun, we might add that contemporary twist where you decide on a text which will situate you in the turmoil of today’s belles lettres; I refer to instagram poetry. (And I know well that the literary scene may have moved on since I wrote those words, but I’m not used to keeping up with the constant turns of fashion, in fact I despise them.) Since a Chinese poem is probably like an instagram, in that its geometry or shape is an essential element in it,

(This is a poem by Mao Zedong). I’d better try to produce something on the same lines.

I half-see you in the night

As the darkness thickens

Like an itch how I miss you

With nothing to scratch.

Sculpture

I’ve still (I suppose) world enough and time to recommend that you should pop over to Grenada to visit their subterranean museum of sculpture. This is a sample of its treasures; and there aren’t any other such museums (to my knowledge)

Sculpture:’Vicissitudes’

DAY 2.5. Sorting it out.

September 21st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The reasonably good showing of the Palestinian Joint List in the recent Israeli elections and the significance of their contribution meant that I cut out and reprinted (from Al-Shabaka) this entry by Nijmeh Ali and Yara Hawari debating whether they (the elections, are you still with me?) should be boycotted by Palestinian citizens of Israel. This debate is relevant in the light of the actual results, where the Joint List seems to be playing an important part.

(Al-Shabaka) – Palestinian citizens of Israel earlier this year organized a campaign to boycott the April Knesset elections. Under the banner of the “Popular Campaign for the Boycott of the Zionist Elections,” the campaign called on Palestinians to refuse participation in the Israeli general elections so as not to recognize the Knesset as a legitimate entity.

As a result – and also due to disillusionment with the Arab Joint List, which had split from four united parties into two competing pairings – Palestinian voter turnout dropped below 50 percent. (Such turnout had been, for instance, 63 percent in 2015). In the run-up to the September 17 elections, the Joint List has again fused, with the hope for a larger Palestinian turnout. Whether the move succeeds remains to be seen, but for those who advocate for a boycott of the elections, the status of the Joint List has little bearing on the argument for non-participation.

On the occasion of the imminent elections, Al-Shabaka is recirculating this roundtable debate, first published in April 2019, in which Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Nijmeh Ali and Al-Shabaka Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argue against and for boycotting Knesset elections, respectively.

What do Palestinian citizens of Israel gain by participating in the Israeli elections? By boycotting them?

Nijmeh Ali: Participating in the elections allows Palestinians to organize themselves internally, conduct political debates, and lobby for their civic and national rights in Israel and beyond. Participation should not be viewed as a position of principle, but rather as a tactic to use until opportunities arise to adopt more far-reaching strategies. Essentially, Palestinians must ensure that suitable political ground is created, as the act of rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people.

For instance, boycotting the elections could result in the dwindling of the Arab parties, which would lead to a leadership vacuum. Despite criticism and frustrations, parties still operate as the main organizing mechanism for political, social, civil, and national issues. Weakened parties would likely lead to the strengthening of familial and sectarian communities and their political organizing mechanisms, such as the hamula (clan) and mukhtars (elders). These mechanisms have historically been vulnerable to co-optation by the Israeli regime and encourage fragmentation.

The leadership vacuum could also be filled by Palestinians who operate within Zionist parties. These figures, who have been active since 1948, polish Israel’s democratic image without presenting challenges to it. With the state’s support they would be poised to take on more prominence: 16.8% of Palestinians already voted for Zionist parties in the last elections – the lowest percentage since 1948.

Electoral rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people

The elections are therefore not simply an electoral battle, but one over Palestinian representation more broadly. With the strengthening of familial and sectarian mechanisms and the “Arab Zionist” model of leadership likely results of a successful boycott, it is more important than ever for Palestinians to maintain electoral participation.

Yara Hawari: Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a political tool used to convey an electorate’s dissatisfaction and disaffection. Indeed, other colonized, oppressed, or marginalized groups have used abstention or casting blank ballots as an expression of rejection. For instance, Sinn Fein – the largest republican party in Northern Ireland – takes part in the British elections but refuses to sit in the British House of Commons or vote on any bills in rejection of the centuries-old British claim of sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Black South Africans fighting for liberation from colonial apartheid also did not seek inclusion within the system, but rather sought to dismantle it and create a new, just, and fair one. In this way, they directed their energies toward a political alternative rather than “patching up” a broken system.

Boycotting the Israeli Knesset elections follows a similar ideological stance in that it refuses the legitimacy of the colonial political institution. It explains that the elections serve to bolster the image of Israel as a democracy, while in fact at least 65 laws indirectly or directly discriminate against and target Palestinians in all areas of life, including the Nakba Law, which allows the Israeli finance minister to reduce or withdraw funding from any institution that marks Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning. Moreover, Israeli electoral law does not allow for the participation of those that question the Jewish character of the state of Israel, meaning that Knesset members cannot challenge Israel’s definition of being both Jewish and democratic.

How does the historical context of Palestinian political participation inform your stance?

Nijmeh Ali: Historically, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been willing to participate in the political process, even in moments of tension and alienation. From 1949 to 1973, average voter turnout among Palestinians in Israel was 86%, though this was mainly due to the military rule imposed on them between 1948 and 1966. The dominant Israeli Labor Party, Mapai, maintained its hegemony for 30 years and controlled the Palestinian vote by creating affiliated Arab lists headed by co-opted leaders who would guarantee the party virtually all Palestinian votes.

After the end of military rule and the events of Land Day (March 30, 1976), Palestinians’ political awareness increased, and the average voter turnout remained high at 72%. While voter turnout declined during the 1990s and after the Second Intifada, it rose again in 2015 with the creation of the Joint Arab list. Turnout in those elections rose to 64%, with the vast majority (82%) casting their ballots for the list. This history signals Palestinians’ embrace of the political process, which should be capitalized on rather than stifled.

Further, the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was able to move the peace process forward in the 1990s because of Arab parties, which had five seats in the Knesset and helped maintain Rabin’s small coalition of 58 seats, which needed the minimum of 61 to pass any law. This example demonstrates how Palestinian citizens of Israel can use political power effectively when the circumstances allow it – either by bolstering or blocking a coalition’s influence.

The massive efforts of the right wing to marginalize the Palestinians aims to prevent them from practicing this power. This was clear in 2014 when the Knesset voted to increase the electoral threshold to 3.25%, with the aim of excluding small parties from the Knesset. The Arabs’ response was the formation of the Arab Joint list, which was comprised of four small parties. Legal actions also continue to marginalize Arab parties, including attempts to ban political lists and candidates from election participation. 1

Yara Hawari  The Palestinian citizens of Israel have always been a politically active community. In the 1950s and 1960s, voter turnout reached as high as 90%, with the aim of making as many political gains as possible in the hope that full and equal citizenship could be achieved. In the 1990s the Abnaa al Balad movement began organizing calls to boycott the Knesset elections in response to Israel’s military attacks in southern Lebanon. 2 The 2001 prime minister election saw Palestinian voter turnout plunge to only 18%, and of those, a third cast blank ballots. This was in response to the events of October 2000, when Israeli soldiers gunned down 13 Palestinians in the streets, 12 of whom were Israeli citizens, who were protesting in solidarity with demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a well-used political tool

Yet history also shows that regardless of electoral participation the Palestinian citizens of Israel have not made any significant gains within the Israeli political system. This is particularly demonstrated through land and space, as no new Arab towns or villages have been built since 1948, and building permits are frequently denied. In contrast, the Israeli government is constantly building new Jewish-only neighborhoods and settlements. This has resulted in overcrowding of Palestinian Arab areas, with many Palestinians resorting to building without “permission.” Palestinian Arabs are also not permitted to buy property in most of the country and are even prevented from residing in certain communities by admissions committees that can deem their ethnicity or religion “unsuitable.” And while some Palestinians have achieved senior positions in Israeli institutions, including a judge on the Supreme Court and an ambassador, their cases are exceptions that prove the rule. Thus, the Israeli system does not allow for non-Jewish equity. As a result its glass ceiling cannot be broken within the current political framework.

How do recent events such as the passing of the nation-state law and the dissolution of the Arab Joint List come into play?

Nijmeh Ali: The nation-state law embedded Jewish supremacy and Palestinian inferiority by defining Israel as a state for Jews only. It does this through privileging Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens legally, symbolically, and politically – turning the reality of segregated life into an official apartheid state. It also reflects the political reality in Israel, which has seen the rise of the right and the inability of the Arab Joint List to counter this rise alone. It is crucial to reconsider broad coalitions and to push for structural change in Israeli politics.

However, the Joint List did succeed in creating public awareness of the implications of the law as well as a significant political debate. Thousands of Palestinians and progressive Jewish citizens took to the streets in Tel Aviv to protest the law, led by various Palestinian political leaders. Apartheid terminology is now consistently deployed in Israeli political debates at an institutional level. Though the dissolution of the Joint List was disappointing it was not surprising because the list was constructed mainly for electoral reasons. The most obvious implications of its demise will be the likely loss of voters and Knesset seats. After the election, if both Arab lists (Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-United Arab List) pass the threshold, they are likely to work together as they did during the multi-parties era.

Palestinian citizens of Israel can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and on the ground 

Yara Hawari: The passing of the nation-state law in 2018 and comments by Netanyahu affirm that Israel is a state for Jews alone. Unlike the international community, many Palestinians were not shocked by the law or Netanyahu’s comments, as they simply confirmed what is already in place in order to appease the growing Israeli right. However, the law and the commentary about it did highlight more than ever that Palestinians will never be considered equal citizens of the state, particularly while Israel’s separation between citizenship and nationalityallows for discrimination against non-Jews.

The nation-state law also highlighted a failure of the political representation of the Palestinian community inside Israel. The Arab Joint List failed to muster a strong response. Several of the Palestinian Knesset members boycotted the parliament for a short period, and others led the rally against the law in Tel Aviv, but they did not present a collective strategy. They could have, for example, collectively refused to sit in the Knesset but continued to run in the elections to maintain their electoral mandate (similar to Sinn Fein, as discussed above). Earlier this year the Joint List dissolved, a reflection of an internal struggle of egos within the various parties. In this context, it is clearer than ever that Palestinians must pursue political mobilization outside the Israeli system.

What role does voting or boycotting have in the continuous and future struggle for Palestinian liberation?

Nijmeh Ali: Participation in the elections is a double-edged sword. Israel uses its Palestinian presence to prove that it is a democracy, at least rhetorically. However, what really threatens Israel is a Palestinian who is a producer at all levels, who is economically independent and pays the bills every month without relying on Israeli national insurance. This is the model that can break the hierarchical relationship between master and slave and rearrange the boundaries of the political game. The greater the strength and influence of the Palestinians in Israel – through their presence as consumers, taxpayers, and a core component of the labor force – the greater the impact of their protests in the future (and the more racism they will be targeted with). Thus change that can bolster the Palestinian citizens of Israel should involve establishing an internal financial support system related to a strategic plan of protest.

Maintaining political parties and engagement in the political system, such as voting, should also be a priority, at least in the short to medium term. It would be risky to demand a change in the political mechanism today. Leaving the Knesset cannot be done without planning. In the context of an exhausted society that lacks confidence in its leadership, a strategic political plan, and regional and international support, change must be considered carefully.

Palestinian citizens of Israel must set aside the romantic notion of sumud(steadfastness) in order to politicize and mobilize their masses, establishing links between daily needs and national demands, between the private and the public, and between the civil and the political.

With economic and political mechanisms in place, Palestinians can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and on the ground. Otherwise, Palestinians will fall into a trap of political passivity and chaos.

Yara Hawari: Recent political maneuvers in Israel do not reveal anything new; rather, they reaffirm the state’s position, which sees Palestinians as a fifth column to be tolerated only if they remain segregated, ghettoized, and passive. It has never been timelier for Palestinian citizens to reject this structure and to demand that their political leadership do so as well.

Boycotting the Knesset elections must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel 

Yet boycotting the Knesset elections does not, on its own, qualify as a strategy. Rather, it must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Those wanting to help create a new Palestinian political strategy must harness the momentum gained from boycotting to develop alternative political spaces outside of Israeli institutional politics. One practical way to do this is for people to organize meetings on the day of the elections to discuss the revival of a collective strategy and the steps needed to implement it. All of this, however, must also be done in the larger political context of the Palestinian people and their fragmented communities.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel must reaffirm their place in the Palestinian project for sovereignty, asserting that they are part of the struggle and not simply an internal Israeli affair. Their intimate experience with Israel places them in a strong position to take a leading role in discussions about new political models and leadership structures. In this way, they could radically contribute to changing the discourse on who and what is Palestine, paving the way for Palestinians across all geographies to unite and demand the fulfillment of their quest for self-determination and human rights.

Notes:

  1. The Central Elections Committee disqualified the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List and Ofer Cassif, a member of political alliance Hadash-Ta’al, from running in the April 2019 elections. The decision was referred to the Supreme Court for approval. On March 17, 2019, the Supreme Court reversed the Central Elections Committee decision.
  2. Abnaa al Balad is a Palestinian political movement established by university students in the 1970s. The movement called for the end of the occupation of the 1967 territories, the return of Palestine’s refugees, and the establishment of one secular and democratic entity in historic Palestine that would not be based on ethno-religious rights. Ideologically, Abnaa al Balad is close to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Via Al-Shabaka (Creative Commons).

Nijmeh Ali is a political and academic activist with a PhD from the University of Otago in New Zealand. Her research focuses on the power of resistance theory in exposing the ‘power of powerless’ and the capacities of oppressed groups in creating genuine social change, particularly among Palestinian activists in Israel. From 2014 to 2018, Nijmeh was a researcher at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. She previously earned a BA from Haifa University and MA from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Yara Hawari is the Senior Palestine Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter. Her research focused on oral history projects and memory politics, framed more widely within Indigenous Studies. Yara taught various undergraduate courses at the University of Exeter and continues to work as a freelance journalist, publishing for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye and the Independent

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

VOA: “Arab Parties Campaigning Hard to Increase Influence in Israeli Government”

Academic life

On a different subject, I’ve been asked to set an exam question in immigration  law; but inevitably the field has moved and so have I, and I’m no longer sure what the questions are supposed to be. (What is the question, as I’m told Gertrude Stein said on her deathbed.) So I try to cobble together some sort of question, like:

‘Lisa and Marge are Lebanese lesbians who have been living in a civil partnership (which has no validity in Lebanese law) in Wanstead with two three-year-old Kurdish adopted children (Anneke and Britt) since 2017. Their plans of a future in Europe were unfortunately interrupted when Lisa was arrested for cocaine dealing in Amsterdam in January 2019, and detained for six months. During the period of her detention she briefly contracted chikugunya from a mosquito bite contracted while on holiday in Grenada and was unconscious for three weeks. An unscrupulous friend (Kim) took advantage of her while she was unconscious to remove her civil partnership certificate from her bedside. Marge saw this,  attacked Kim with a meat cleaver, and drove Anneke and Britt to West Drayton, evading the immigration controls, at 100 miles an hour and so breaking the speed limit. The immigration authorities stopped her, saw bloodstains  on the car, and took away her driving license; they are now  threatening to take Anneke and Britt into care and deport Marge to Lebanon. Advise Lisa and Marge.’

Our ageing household has been rejuvenated by the arrival of Natnael, a perennially optimistic Ethiopian asylum seeker aged 22 who has been in the U.K. for four years, but now, naturally, has. no possibility of earning and no recourse to public funds. As a Christian, I think he trusts in the Lord to provide, and meanwhile leaves cheerfully every morning to do some worthwhile voluntary unpaid stint with the Red Cross ten miles away. He must have been sent to us (by whom?) to teach us a lesson in the positive acceptance of present misery.

DAY 2.4. What’s going on?

September 17th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

My faithful readers (supposing them to exist) may well be wondering why I have strayed so far from my familiar themes; search and rescue, detention, appeals in the High Court and what not. Why spend so long on my lungs and liver when (for example), even as I write, a case is being prepared by my colleagues Juan Branco and Omer Shatz – it was presented on June 3rd – to arraign the European Union before the International Criminal Court on the grounds that they had failed to protect thousands of refugees in the care of MSF from drowning, preferring to pass them on to the Libyan coastguard, which they mendaciously make out to be in a ‘safe country’.

I may have. to read (or, following my usual habits, skip through) the 245-page document which Branco and Shatz have prepared supporting their case before I can present you with my balanced assessment. Following prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s record of failing to prosecute war criminals etc at the ICC (and I’m not saying that I’d do better if you gave me a ticket to Kinshasa), I have little confidence that the EU will end up in the dock in this case. (who would be in the dock? The EU isn’t a person, much as some of us would lie to see it bound and manacled in jail.) She (Bensouda, forgive the digression) was, I’m informed, chosen because the African states had noticed that all prosecutions at the ICC were of Africans and the notorious European criminals in e.g. Afghanistan (Mike Pompeo, for example) had been left untouched. How will she cope on this one? I quote:

“[S]erious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya…I am deeply alarmed by reports that thousands of vulnerable migrants, including women and children, are being held in detention centres across Libya in often inhumane conditions. Crimes, including killings, rapes and torture, are alleged to be commonplace… I am similarly dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings… The situation is both dire and unacceptable… my Office is carefully examining… opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya… We must act…”

Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor, in a statement to the UNSC, 9 May 201

Indeed. Let’s move on to poetry.

Poem Refugee Ship by Lorna Dee Cervantes

Lorna Dee Cervantes

Like wet cornstarch, I slide

past my grandmother’s eyes. Bible

at her side, she removes her glasses.

The pudding thickens.

Mama raised me without language.

I’m orphaned from my Spanish name.

The words are foreign, stumbling

on my tongue. I see in the mirror

my reflection: bronzed skin, black hair.

I feel I am a captive

aboard the refugee ship.

The ship that will never dock.

El barco que nunca atraca.

Music

Given that it’s Hildegarde of Bingen’s feast day, she deserves a bit of poetry and music, as an artist of diverse talents. So here‘s a bit of her music:

 

DAY 2.3 About me.

September 14th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

I must apologise for, at this point in this rambling narrative, shifting the focus of attention to my own body and how well it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. What is that, you may ask; my days of hoping to make it into the Olympic surfing team (say) are long gone, and I need to survey the pieces of equipment I have left to see what evidence they can supply

My body (not mine, and not to scale)

on my limited functioning and whether it can be improved. On surveying my functions, such as they are, in the wee wee hours, I’m not clear about which bit lately took a knock, and how serious it was; e.g. two days ago (was it then?) (when?), I fell over around 7 a.m. and had to be helped up. We’ve already arrived at two unrelated disabilities:

  1. Falling over
  2. Not remembering when I did.

I obviously need to waste the time of two specialists (and my own) to diagnose these problems. But this morning, the carer (John) gave me such a wealth of information about Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Tilda Swinton, and others (which I shall probably not retain), that enabling my body on top of all that seems redundant, or is that the wrong way of looking at it? What’s the point of enabling rather ropey pieces of equipment as compared with that of gaining access to a new world of learning? ‘Seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China’, the Hadith tells us; compared with that, getting information from the carer is simple and could be more informative. And indeed going to China isn’t a likely option the way things are.

I could, or should, enter into the various aspects of my body which are more ore less OK, if only because I’m being constantly asked about them. My heart, lungs and liver seem to be in reasonable working order, never mind my ears, nose and throat. I used to be a martyr to hay fever every summer, but that’s passed off, and frankly there are worse things to be a martyr to. Every time I go through one of those doctor’s checklists, I get a clean bill on everything except epilepsy, which is rarely a killer however badly Caesar (who was after all stabbed in the Capitol) and Prince Myshkin suffered from them. The surgeon prods my knees, dictates a letter to someone in Bangalore who emails it back; once the mistakes have been corrected, the hospital sends me something which begins ‘I examined this pleasant 80 year old genleman’. Is this a universal formula, I wonder, which would be applied to anyone with a bad knee from Lou Reed to Charles Manson; or does the surgeon have some boxes marked ‘pleasant’ and ‘gentleman’ which have to be ticked for this particular letter to go off? More questions whose answers will remain a mystery.

Does Jorie Graham (who is beginning to get old by now) know about it?

We write. We would like to live somewhere. We wish to take down

what will continue in all events to rise. We wish to not be erased from the

picture. We wish to picture the erasure. The human earth and its appearance.

The human and its disappearance. What do you think I’ve been about all this long time?

half-crazed, pen-in-hand, looking up, looking back down, taking it down,

taking it all down. Look it is a burning really. See, the smoke

rises from the altar.

I may have previously drawn on Pete Seeger’s optimistic description of old age; if so, I apologise, but it bears repeating.

 

Day 2.2 How did we get here ?

September 12th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


Yes indeed. Years ago, the police would demand that you should repeat the words ‘British Constitution’ as a proof of sobriety. But what, today, is the British Constitution. and what are its connections, if any, with sobriety? In former days, one had something called a General Election; some party was normally declared to be the winner; and the leader of that party got to be summoned by the Queen (who is also part of the so-called British Constitution) to form a government, choose ministers, and so on. We laughed at the confused and mismanaged systems of the other side of the Channel, where they had no

A coalition

Queen, a multiplicity of parties, and often no majority to form a government; they would have to cobble together a  confused coalition of continental remnants to squabble about the ‘distribution of portfolios’. (As they are. currently doing, in a fairly orderly way, in Italy.) But right now, in this (to coin a phrase) sceptred isle, there seems to be no consensus about how you proceed. The leader of the opposition has to wait while the tattered remnants of the government sort themselves out before he can do what an opposition should properly do, with no one really to oppose. I must admit to being a bit confused – is it just my stupidity?

So naturally, I’ve tried at long last to write something for better or worse, and am posting it on

. Whether it will reflect any of my intentions is hardly to the point.

And are the rumours that I hear true that Scotland, or even worse Northern Ireland, is likely to secede. from the Union? (If you remember, and my memory is hazy at best, we were united with Scotland in 1603 9r so, and with Northern Ireland… spare me the details.) Since when, it was my impression, we were all part of a united global capitalist system. Why do we bother, if these remnants are not themselves united, holding ourselves together under our divided flag? I rest my case. The people, united as we say in our deluded idealism, will never be defeated.

 

 

 

DAY 269: Resurrection

April 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


I’m trying to celebrate, as many others are, the fact that all three Abrahamic religions are celebrating their jamborees on or near the same day. (I’m passing up the Samaritans, given their uncertain claim to representation in this field, and I don’t think there will be many of them to argue with me.) What is there to celebrate? I think, in fear and trembling, given the dubious natures of the three festivals. At the same time I’m noting the rise of another form of festival, in the form of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ celebrations on Westminster Bridge. What is being celebrated by these diverse revellers? The sacrifice of Isaac? The Crucifixion? The fall and resurrection of man? It all seems to come down

to a misapprehension about where this planet is headed, and no one has clarified to me exactly where that is. The drafters of the Book of Revelation were unclear about the answer, too, even if it seems to involve unbelievers perishing in a lake of fire. That, one would think, would be an extinction to celebrate.

My friend Isis rather hit the nail on the head, I thought, in pointing out how rapidly the huge sums required to rebuild Notre Dame after its catastrophic fire (in which no one perished), were found in contrast to the contemptible slowness of donors, whether private or corporate, in making any attempt to compensate for the damage to life and property following the fire and major loss of life at Grenfell Towers.

Indeed, one wonders what is the founding myth of XR? given that Easter and Passover seem to be (scholars agree) simply an excuse for running the old spring festival through under a different name. There is an obvious, but rather contradictory hope on the part of XR activists that if you glue yourself to a bus or policeman you will halt the inevitable process whereby this planet is hurtling to its destruction, or at least the loss of all its resources.

On a different if related theme, my colleagues at the Guardian have made a forceful post about the Home Office: not fit for purpose, to put it bluntly. I quote (a much abbreviated version of an indictment which is well worth studying)

‘Rather than trying to reform this sadistic operation, it should be replaced with a new body that respects human rights rather than subordinating them to an ideology hostile to migrants. Demanding the abolition of the Home Office must be combined with a debate on combating institutionalised racism. But as the injustices committed by the Home Office multiply it becomes ever clearer that it cannot be reformed: it must go.’

Please hold your collective breath, as I try to retrain myself for some further interventions.

DAY 268: Revisiting

April 16th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


Well, last night a historic church in France was destroyed by fire Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 13.07.43 – you probably heard about it. And I wept, with many of my French fellow-citizens, as I remembered my past visits to the vast and beautiful church. Of course, the fire which partly  destroyed Notre Dame was probably the result of careless contractors’ failure to take proper precautions; while three churches in Calais were destroyed (two years before) deliberately and violently by the civil authorities who were determined to erase a culture which was trying to establish some feeble roots in Northern France. I’ve been weeping a fair bit about them too, and I recommend you to spend some. time on them. (Since the idea of , for example, an Ethiopian church in Calais seemed intolerable to the citizens.) The Socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, who has been. it seems, (in contrast to M. Macron) doing her best to ameliorate the misery of the migrants sleeping rough in the streets of the capital, and has inevitably called for an end to their persecution; is now confronting the disaster of Notre Dame. Fluctuat nec mergitur.

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 12.08.06

No one seems to have been killed in either fire, by contrast to the destruction which has been wrought on the streets of Paris and indeed Calais  by the CRS. And now here we are, desperately trying to shore up some fragments of ourselves in this ruined landscape.

By an odd coincidence, but it’s not just a coincidence, I’ve been renewing acquaintance, at least virtually, with some of the old 2015 gang; the lads and lasses who tramped with me along the Chemin des Dunes as, bit by bit, it was being destroyed. What are we doing now? I hope to find out; in my case, the answer is nothing very hopeful. In this new strange Britain where Jeremy Corbyn and Teresa May link arms to ensure a non-catastrophic Brexit, I can’t see any place for my old comrades; but prescience has never been my strong point. We may meet from time to time over tea and hot cross buns to discuss the possible outcomes for a Europe in which the fascists seem to be everywhere on the ascendant; ;and we are , these days, the discussing the concept of a ‘crime of solidarity’ as it’s increasingly called.

And yet how rapidly things are changing! In Sudan and Algeria, two countries where an ‘old guard’ had clung to power for thirty years, it has been summarily removed in a matter of weeks. I don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to comment to where these immensely hopeful developments may lead, I’ll simply mention them to show I’m not completely ignorant.

And in Paris, the mayor, Anne Hidalgo is trying to avoid the repression which is an inevitable temptation for European governments.

Des tentes abritant des migrants, porte d’Aubervilliers, à Paris, le 9 avril.
Tents sheltering migrants, porte d’Aubervilliers, Paris, the 9th April.

 The Mairie will ‘stop fraudulent dealing and drug trafficking, seven days a week’; and to rebuild a bit of peace, they claim they will strengthen the new  teams of city police.There will be a brigade present  under the aerial metro from Barbes to Stalingrad and around.

Paris, France – Trying to ward off the overnight cold with a blanket donated by volunteers, Muktar Ali was sleeping rough in the north of Paris when at about 4:30am, the police returned. He and several other Eritreans say they were pushed, prodded and kicked by police clearing the area.

“Police took everything I had – clothes, shoes, blanket – and threw it all away,” said Ali, 33, who had fled forced conscription in Eritrea and was held captive by rebels in Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Now, he’s among many refugees living on the streets of Paris, who have been subjected to displacement, detention and deportations.

Police raids, at least 30 since last June, and a cycle in which displaced people return to live in squalid camps, have angered residents and prompted them to form groups like Le Collectif La Chapelle Debout, which provide food and shelter that they say the government should be providing.

But recently, as a result of these actions, these activists have been finding themselves in criminal courts across France.

Houssam El Assimi, of Chapelle Debout, was arrested during a police raid on a Paris camp last September. Charged with “violence against persons holding public authority,” he faces up to three years in prison and €45,000 (over $48,000) in fines.

Last week, his trial was adjourned until May. In the meantime, he plans to file charges against the police for using excessive force during his arrest.

He has been translating French and Arabic and helping migrants navigate the French immigration system and told Al Jazeera that he is being targeted because his group protests against the police and government policy.

El Assimi is one of several people pursued in the courts for protesting on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers or providing them with transport and shelter.

Under Article L622-1 of France’s immigration law, anyone who “facilitates or attempts to facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by imprisonment for five years and a fine of €30,000 (over $32,000)”.

Pierre Mannoni was arrested at a highway toll booth while driving three injured Eritrean teenage girls to Nice for medical care [Kyle G Brown/Al Jazeera]

Crime of solidarity

Pierre Mannoni, a 45-year-old geography professor and father of two, was arrested at a highway toll booth while driving three injured Eritrean teenage girls to Nice for medical care. He was acquitted in court, thanks to another clause stipulating that one must benefit from the transaction – a clear reference to human trafficking. But the prosecution has appealed and called for a six-month prison term.

Often referred to as the “crime of solidarity”, the law has been used to prosecute people who support  migrants and asylum seekers.

Rights group Gisti has documented a rise in the number of such cases going to court, and more than 100 NGOs, charities and labour unions signed a manifesto this month calling for an end to the criminalisation of humanitarian activity.

“What we’re seeing is that all of the cases have one purpose,” Claudia Charles, a legal expert at Gisti, told Al Jazeera. “That’s to discourage any kind of support for the foreign population, be they migrants, Roma or asylum seekers.”

Originally aimed at smugglers in 1945, the law was sometimes used under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration to prosecute those who helped immigrants

In 2012, the new Socialist government vowed to turn the page. “Our law cannot punish those who, in good faith, want to give a helping hand,” said Manuel Valls, then France’s interior minister.

Human rights groups accuse the government of betraying its word and say an ever-widening range of laws are now being used to criminalise people for helping new arrivals, from the charge of assault to defamation and “insulting a public official.”

“Since 2015, there’s been a proliferation of cases aimed at intimidating or preventing citizens from expressing solidarity with migrants, refugees and Roma,” says Marine De Hass, of the rights group, La Cimade. “It’s not just article 622-1. A growing number of people are being prosecuted for helping or supporting, undocumented persons,” De Hass told Al Jazeera.

Local Green councillor Jean-Luc Munro described a personal incident that took place as he was riding his bike in a Roma camp near Lille last April.

He said he was thrown off his bike after being told to stop by the police at a roadblock there, and was consequently charged with using his bicycle as a weapon to inflict “violence against a public official”.

“There’s been a real hardening against activists for a year and a half now,” Munro told a local newspaper.

Having documented only a handful of cases against activists between 2012 and 2015, Gisti lists more than a dozen in 2016 alone, with several more going to court in the coming months.

The list is not exhaustive: both Charles and De Hass say there are probably more, unknown, cases.

Bruno Le Roux, the French interior minister, told Al Jazeera, however, that if no one profits from helping refugees and migrants, there is no “crime of solidarity”. “So I can tell you that for all the cases being pursued, in court, they’re cases where we believe there is a violation of the law.”

The ministry has not responded to repeated requests for an explanation as to why cases are being pursued in which no personal gain is apparent. Although the Nice courts concluded as much in Mannoni’s trial, the prosecution appealed his acquittal.

“It’s crazy that we have reached this stage,” says Mannoni. “Where I’ve gone to trial for helping someone who is hurt. The government is criminalising human charity.”

But this is the way it’s been going. Georges Brassens would have understood.

 

 

Day 267: Abling

April 5th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Having been, over the last few weeks, more disabled than I can care to remember, I can pass on a few tips on the long and painful inverse process of becoming abled. if you have become,Nick-and-Vicky-740-x-417-1 disabled, the NHS will spend a certain number of weeks abling you free of charge, with carers to wash you and phystotherapists to try to get your feeble frame back to its former ability. You begin in a spirit of confidence – good heavens, this disabled part of my body seems much more abled than it was last week; I can walk along the hall, and even back with sticks; type a letter, read a tweet, etc etc. But ahead of this, the goal of being actually declared able (and being able in my own mind) seems to have vanished to an indefinite distance. Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 19.23.21

Me, Virginie and Zimako in happier days, 2015.

And indeed what is it? If the NHS declares me able, can I argue with their conclusions? There seems to be much more to this business of abling than I  had imagined; and the process stretches out indefinitely,there being so many disabled parts of me which need to be abled. Islington has in its kindness been providing something like an army of ablers who will teach me to do for myself what I have forgotten; but like any of the State’s provisions, this is necessarily limited in time, and at a certain point the process of abling will necessarily cease, leaving me, I have to conclude, only partly abled.

o-CALAIS-JUNGLE-facebook

I’d rather be able, and working in the jungle – which of course doesn’t exist any more. When can I shave, or do a crossword, or any of those essential activities which (one doesn’t realise) one couldn’t carry on one’s daily existence without? Most nights I try to watch an educational film by Pasolini or Annnemarie Jacir on the lapt0p, with some difficulty (I”m not sufficiently enabled to get the movie to stream to me), trying to piece together the implications of the social context. What social context, I might ask, am I embedded in? I have left disabled those things which I ought to have abled, and I don’t see where to get help.

It involves, inevitably, exercise, and if you don’t like exercise or can’t face it, you might as well forget it and stay disabled. Bend that knee, lift that right arm. Pain? Gain. Get motivated, for Chtrist’s sake!

Please help me, friends, and that soon.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Please help me, friends, and that soon.

DAY 266: The friendly bug

February 2nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Well,I should have done with apologising for my silence. God knows, it has enough reasons; and many of my readers may feel some relief to have been spared this prattle – since a bit before January 11th, when I went (voluntarily) into UCLH (‘requires improvement’ – CQC)uchto have a knee replacement. The operation was certainly well worthwhile, since I could hardly walk; it went through quickly enough and was reported successful. This was on the 11th January; and what I didn’t expect was that I’d then be facing over three weeks of hospital life in its various incarnations. Luckily I’d brought Thomas Mann’s well-known text The Magic Mountain for light reading; and since it’s both about life in a sanatorium and extremely long, it was a pretty good choice, whiling away the endless nights, but the discipline – when can you turn on the light? – and the company haven’t always been to my choice, since I have to recognise that I’m getting old and crotchety. And my chances of thinking coherently for any length of time, and formulating a set of principles, have been slim indeed.

But my lucky break came int the form of my catching the well-known virulent bacterium Clostrioides difficile, known familiarly as C.Diff, and endemic in hospitals. Once it had been1024px-Clostridium_difficile_01 established that I had the bug, (a sample of stool was all it took and I had plenty), there was nothing for it as far as UCLH were concerned but to isolate me in a private room, with a view and my own toilet. I have in the past considered myself a sociable person (particularly in the cheery camaraderie of the Calais kitchen); but this solitude, with only the friendly attentions of doctors, nurses and family, has been very much to my taste and I may find myself forced to rethink my position. And, of course, besides Them Mann’s Meisterwerk, I’ve had a bit of the leisure I lacked to catch up on reading the posts of my allies in the struggle against detention, for MSF, the heroes of sea rescue and against the vicious Salvini mafia and their henchmen. And I learned (six months late) that the High Court had – subject to appeal as usual – made a start on doing away with Detained Fast Track as a way of making things harder for detainees:

‘The High Court has today declared the appeals process for asylum-seekers in detention to be unlawful.  Mr Justice Nicol quashed the procedural rules governing the Detained Fast Track asylum process, under which appeals are processed according to severely truncated timescales.

However, despite this finding the judge nevertheless granted to the Lord Chancellor’s request to stay the ruling until his appeal is heard in the Court of Appeal, on the basis that for the order to take effect immediately would be ‘inconvenient’.

The judgement would mean that the Home Office would no longer be able to assign asylum-seekers to an accelerated appeals process in detention.  Asylum-seekers would therefore no longer be detained throughout the asylum process simply for claiming asylum.  But until the appeal is heard, asylum-seekers will continue to face an appeals system that has been found unlawful.

Detention Action is considering urgently appealing the order refusing the stay – I wish them good luck.

Mr Justice Nicol ruled that the Fast Track Rules ‘do incorporate structural unfairness.  They put the Appellant at a serious procedural disadvantage… because his opponent in the appeal, the SSHD [Home Secretary], has decided that this is what should happen.’

He observed that ‘by allowing one party to the appeal to put the other at serious procedural disadvantage without sufficient judicial supervision, the Rules are not securing that justice be done or that the tribunal system is fair. [The Tribunal Procedures Committee] could not impinge on the minimum level of fairness or the irreducible minimum of due process bearing in mind the appropriate degree of fairness that asylum appeals require. For these reasons, in my judgment, the Fast Track Rules were ultra vires.’’ (So as usual, the Home Secretary is certain to try to reverse the admirable judgment.)

How many other judgments have I missed! But I simply need to catch up, and I count on you, my friends and supporters, to keep me abreast of what’s new; of what our comrades in Garden Court and such places are up to in the defence of detainees and asylum seekers.

In the middle of the night, I think of (what I might say if I got round to addressing a meeting): how lucky I am, bad legs, C.Diff and all, to be still alive and around when there are such transparently good causes to fight for, and such admirable allies I have to stand with me in the struggle. True, there were times in the seventies and eighties when, under the influence of such as Tariq Ali, I thought that I was in the heart of the class war; but such are the tricks which history plays on you.

I should here post the whole of W.E.Henley’s ‘In Hospital’ sequence (1873-5); but it’s not all relevant, and would obviously take up too much space. So here’s a sample, VII ‘Vigil’, which reflects how I’ve quite often felt.

VII

LIVED on one’s back,
In the long hours of repose
Life is a practical nightmare —
Hideous asleep or awake.

Shoulders and loins
Ache – – – !
Ache, and the mattress,
Run into boulders and hummocks,
Glows like a kiln, while the bedclothes —
Tumbling, importunate, daft —
Ramble and roll, and the gas,
Screwed to its lowermost,
An inevitable atom of light,
Haunts, and a stentorous sleeper
Snores me to hate and despair.

All the old time
Surges malignant before me;
Old voices, old kisses, old songs
Blossom derisive about me;
While the new days
Pass me in endless procession:
A pageant of shadows
Silently, leeringly wending
On . . . and still on . . . still on!

Far in the stillness a cat
Languishes loudly. A cinder
Falls, and the shadows
Lurch to the leap of the flame. The next man to me
Turns with a moan; and the snorer,
The drug like a rope at his throat,
Gasps, gurgles, snorts himself free, as the night-nurse,
Noiseless and strange,
Her bull’s eye half-lanterned in apron,
(Whispering me, ‘Are ye no sleepin’ yet?
Passes, list-slippered and peering,
Round . . . and is gone.

Sleep comes at last —
Sleep full of dreams and misgivings —
Broken with brutal and sordid
Voices and sounds that impose on me,
Ere I can wake to it,
The unnatural, intolerable day.

And for contrast, the Rolling Stones’ ‘Dear Doctor‘ – even though the singer’s predicament doesn’t actually seem to be medical at all…