April 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
So, those who despise Margaret Thatcher for her vindictiveness and spitefulness want to celebrate her death by propelling into the charts a song about the death of a witch. Those who laud Thatcher for her supposed love of freedom want to ban that song. And the BBC settles on a cackhanded ‘compromise’ by censorsing the song while pretending it is doing no such thing. Nothing, perhaps, could better express the inanity of contemporary politics than the crass, puerile controversy around Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead. Once, protest songs provided the soundtrack to political struggle. Now political struggle is reduced to getting old songs into the charts.
But what of the actual protest songs of the Thatcher years? These were the years of mass unemployment and inner city riots, of the miner’s strike and the hunger strikes, of the poll tax protests and the Falklands War. Yet, even in the 80s anti-Thatcher protests were all too often overwhelmed by personal loathing and descended into little more than an outpouring of vindictive venom. And so did the protest songs – from Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine (And people like you/ Make me feel so old inside/ Please die) to Elvis Costello’s Tramping Down the Dirt (I’d like to live/ Long enough to savour/ That’s when they finally put you in the ground/ I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down). I have excluded from my list all these personal hate pieces (though I was tempted to include Elvis). I have also left out all the protest songs that don’t relate directly to the policies and events and experiences of the Thatcher years. So, for instance, I have included the Gang of Four’s Ether (which is about the H-Blocks) but not their far superior classic tracks such as Damaged Goods, Anthrax and Natural’s Not in It. (It is worth remembering also, in the context of musical censorship, that the band was thrown off Top of the Pops after it refused to change the lyrics of its first hit single, At Home He’s a Tourist. The BBC objected to the line ‘And the rubbers you hide in your top left pocket’, finding it highly offensive, and demanding that ‘rubbers’ be changed to ‘rubbish’. The band refused) « Read the rest of this entry »
August 12, 2011 § 21 Comments
The riots, David Cameron told Parliament this week, revealed a ‘deep moral failure’ in British society. It’s an argument echoed by many others, from Melanie Phillips to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The language of morality, and of moral failure, comes easily to the lips of rightwing politicians and pundits, being all too often a means of individualizing social issues, of pinning the blame on some of the weakest in society for the problems caused by public policy, social inequality and economic failure.
The fact that the right has appropriated the language of morality has led many on the left to ignore moral arguments, indeed often to see such arguments as reactionary. That is a fatal mistake. Morality is as important to the left as it is to the right, though for very different reasons. There is no possibility of a political or economic vision of a different society without a moral vision too. Moral arguments lie at the heart of our understanding of social solidarity, and of the distinction between notions of social solidarity and pious rightwing claims of ‘we’re all in it together’. And that is why it also has to be at the heart of our understanding of the riots.
February 21, 2011 § 9 Comments
The brutal, blood-soaked response of Arab rulers, especially those in Bahrain and Libya, to the revolts engulfing their nations exposes the desperation of old tyrants clinging to the past. But the revolts themselves reveal the extent to which the Arab political landscape has irrevocably changed.
The ‘strong man’ model of rule that has held sway over much of the Arab world for the past half century has rested primarily on two props: the ability to constrain opposition at home, and willingness of a Great Power, America in particular, to shore up dictatorship. Both the internal and external props of autocracy have become fatally weakened. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 16, 2011 Comments Off
Essays on and analyses of the post-Mubarak world:
Saba Mahmood on the Architects of the Egyptian Revolution
Olivier Roy on why it has not been an Islamic revolution
Juan Cole on how the labour movement drove the protests
This isn’t 1952 but democrats still need to be wary
Eliis Goldberg wonders if it will be a slow motion coup
‘Bread, social justice and freedom. What’s religious about that?‘
Ned Parker on Egypt’s new breed of Islamists
What next for the Muslim Brotherhood after the uprising?
When the Facebook kids met the generals
Nigel Gibson imagines Fanon in Tahrir Square
Jonathan Wright compares Cairo after Mubarak with Cairo after Sadat
Tom Englehardt on the destruction of Pax Americana
Foreign Policy on the winners and losers of the revolution
February 7, 2011 § 4 Comments
How can Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak be eased out of office without causing too much turmoil, or without providing a political opportunity for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood? That’s the question with which many Western leaders are now grappling. The growing consensus seems to be that what Egypt needs is, in the words of Hillary Clinton, an ‘ordered transition’ to a post-Mubarak Egypt and that vice-president Omar Suleiman is the man to manage this.
The idea of an ‘ordered transition’ that could depose Mubarak without unnecessary violence and turmoil would seem to be something to be unreservedly welcomed. Yet we should be skeptical about the proposals being drawn up in Washington, London and Brussels - not least because they are being drawn up in Washington, London and Brussels and not in Cairo.
The question that the idea of ‘ordered transition’ raises is this: for whose benefit is the revolt now taking on the streets of Cairo? For the benefit of Western nations? Or for that of the people of Egypt? « Read the rest of this entry »
February 5, 2011 § 11 Comments
MICHAEL PORTILLO: ‘I want to put a moral issue to you. If you feel what might come instead of Mubarak might be worse, for them, for Israel, for us, would it be the right thing to crush [the democracy movement in Egypt]?’
DAVID CESARANI: ‘That is certainly a moral dilemma… If you were to take the wholly pragmatic view, the expedient view of those sitting in the White House and possibly here in Whitehall, stability, the outcome of a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown is desirable and is predictable. If you allow this popular, democratic movement to run unchecked you cannot predict what’s going to happen. But you can predict probably that after a short, sharp massive clampdown, at huge human cost, there will be a sullen stability.’ « Read the rest of this entry »
January 28, 2011 § 3 Comments
The Egyptian government is clearly attempting to portray the current revolt as the work of the Muslim Brotherhood, in an attempt to retain Western support. ‘It’s me or the Islamists’, Mubarak is in effect telling Western leaders. It’s worth reflecting, therefore, on how successive Egyptian regimes, like so many in the Arab world, have relied on Islamists to restrain popular revolt: « Read the rest of this entry »