Thursday, June 16, 2016

Winds of Change in Scotland


 by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

Roch Winds: A Treacherous Guide to the State of Scotland

Cailean Gallagher, Rory Scothorne and Amy Westwell
Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2016. pp177.
ISBN 978-1-910745-58-8
£8.99 (plus £1.00 inland postage if ordering direct from the publisher)

 The authors of this short volume are three young (aged 23–25) graduates from the better universities who were active on the Yes side in the 2014 referendum in both the official Scottish National Party (SNP)-controlled Yes Campaign and the now defunct “National Collective”, which included large numbers of Scotland’s luvvies. At the same time they ran a blog critical of how many on the Scottish Left accepted unquestioningly that a Yes vote would, if not herald an immediate socialist dawn, bring about a more prosperous and equal Scotland. They have now changed their tune and are now much more sharply critical of the SNP, calling themselves revolutionary communists.
 The title , meaning “Rough Winds” causing political change comes from a poem by Hamish Henderson, a poet and folk song collector who was possibly a secret member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
 The three authors acknowledge having different views about what is to be done but claim to be “all indebted to, and break from a Marxist tradition”, explicitly calling themselves “revolutionary communists”. They cite Gerrard Winstanley, Rousseau. Adorno, Lenin, Rosa Luxembourg and several others as their inspiration – an interesting pick and mix. Although they are doubtful that that there is a sufficiently numerous left-wing constituency in Scotland they see hope in Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendancy to the Labour leadership. 
 This is not a book for those seeking detailed discussions of the state of Scottish politics nor for expounding the finer points of what should be done.  A “Spiky Provocation” is how the foreword fairly describes it.
  Over the course of four chapters the authors provide a concise survey of the present state of Scottish politics, how it was arrived at, and offer some suggestions about what needs to be done. Their main target is what they call “social nationalism”, the SNP’s policy of combining of Labour’s social democratic rhetoric and its more traditional nationalism, which is hostile towards class politics. This provides a fig leaf for the SNP to claim to be all things to all men (and women), for the time being. They attempt to account for both the long-term decline of Labour and post-referendum collapse. It is an agreeable read, amusing where appropriate but some of their colourful metaphors go on just a bit too long after the point has been made.
  They do however, have some sharp words about the SNP’s performance in government, for instance including attacking Alex Salmond’s grovelling to Donald Trump when he helped Trump to ride roughshod over the local council when it temporarily halted him destroying a Site of Special Scientific Interest that stood in the way of a “vitally needed” new golf course. This is only one example of the SNP bowing before big money. It is critical of both “Old” and “New” Labour, and of various “Left” groups including Common Weal who seem besotted with emulating a mythical Scandinavian model. Another target is the new Scottish establishment, the self-appointed “Civic Scotland” who think they have a divine right to decide what is good for the Scottish people, which usually means organisations funded by the SNP government endorsing whatever the SNP wants to do.  
  The book was, of course, written before this year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, when the SNP lost their majority but not their dominating position. It is amusing to note that some of the SNP figures cited as fresh faces are already distinctly shop soiled.
  The book is, perhaps inevitably, better at diagnosing the problem than offering a cure, but there can be no doubt that their call for an increase in working class consciousness is the right one.   

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Muhammad Ali – Friend of the Arabs

Ali meets President Nasser
By our Arab Affairs correspondent

Black American boxing legend Muhammad Ali died last week in a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was being treated for respiratory complications. Ali’s condition was aggravated by Parkinson’s disease, which was first diagnosed in 1984, and he died on Friday 3rd June. He was 74-years-old.
            He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky on 17th January 1942. White supremacy was rife in Kentucky in those days. Like the rest of the South, Kentucky upheld segregation and “Jim Crow” laws designed to keep all Blacks in bondage. As a boy he tried to ignore Kentucky’s institutionalised racism. When he got older he became an outspoken champion of the civil rights and anti-war movements.
            Cassius Clay took up boxing at an early age, developing a skill, technique and nimbleness that won him a place in the US boxing team for the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics – winning a gold as a light-heavyweight and turning professional the same year. Clay’s poetry and talent for self-promotion went down well with the fans but few believed he had the power or the punch to survive in the big league. Four years later he would take the world heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston.
That same year he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He later refused to serve in the Vietnam War, saying that no Vietnamese had ever called him “nigger”.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” he declared.
Charges of “draft dodging” soon followed. In 1967 Ali was stripped of his passport, championship titles and boxing licences, and sentenced to five years in jail. Although he did not go to prison he spent the next three and a half years fighting the decision that ended with the Supreme Court overturning the conviction and recognising his status as a conscientious objector.
Muhammad Ali returned to the ring in 1970 and continued to make boxing history until age and declining health forced him to hang up his gloves in 1981.  During a 21-year career the three-times World Heavyweight Champion won 56 bouts, knocking down some of the giants of the sport such as Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. But his renown went far beyond the sporting arena.
Muhammad Ali became a civil rights champion and an icon for all the Muslims in the United States. He stood up for the Third World and the world-wide Muslim community. His fame spread throughout the world. Not surprisingly Ali won a huge following amongst the Arabs.
Soon after embracing Islam Muhammad Ali went to Cairo at the invitation of the Arab boxing federation. He prayed at the famous Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo and also received a gold-inscribed Koran from Egypt's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.
  At that time Egypt was known as the United Arab Republic (UAR). The country was led by a charismatic leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had  developed “Arab Socialism” and the call for Arab unity. Ali spent two weeks in the UAR in 1964 visiting major cities, ancient monuments and the Aswan High Dam, which was still under construction with Soviet assistance. Ali said:  "Now, I saw the high dam that I heard about before. Now I can say that it is not an easy project and it's an obvious proof of the greatness of Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser."
Ali said Nasser was his "role model" and that he considered him the "best president in the world". He was overwhelmed when the Arab leader agreed to meet him, kissing Nasser's photo and statue before meeting him at the presidential office.
Ali visited the holy sites in Mecca in 1972 and toured the Middle East again in 1974.
In Beirut he told the media that “the United States is the stronghold of Zionism and imperialism”, and said during a visit to Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon that:  “In my name and the name of all Muslims in America, I declare support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland and oust the Zionist invaders.”
Now long retired, Ali even went to Israel in 1985 to seek the release of some 700 Lebanese prisoners captured by the Zionists during their invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, but his appeal was politely turned down.
The following year he returned to Cairo, now capital of the “Arab Republic of Egypt”,   as a goodwill ambassador, visiting the pyramids and praying at the great mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha.
He met Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1990 and brokered the release of Americans who had been held hostage following the Iraqi intervention in Kuwait.
Though a passionate anti-Zionist, Ali was never an anti-Semite. He said: "There are Jewish people who lead good lives. When they die, I believe they’re going to heaven. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you’re a good person you’ll receive God’s blessing. Muslims, Christians and Jews all serve the same God. We just serve him in different ways.
Anyone who believes in One God should also believe that all people are part of one family. God created us all. And all people have to work to get along."
            Recently he condemned the terrorism of the “Islamic State (ISIS)” following the barbarous ISIS attacks in Paris last year, saying:” "I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion."
And although self-praise was part of his boxing stage-craft Muhammad Ali never lost his sense of humour. He said: “I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him… who stood up for his beliefs… who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.
“And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was!”