Life under occupation in Nabi Saleh

By Jamie

23 March 2012

Footage of Israeli soldiers raiding a house in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh (with English subtitles):

The home being raided belongs to the family of Bassem Tamimi, a prominent non-violent activist currently languishing in Israeli prison. The EU has declared Bassem a 'Human Rights defender', and Amnesty International views him as 'a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his role in organizing peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers'. 

This is not the first time Bassem has been detained by Israel. In 1993, he was tortured by the General Security Service (GSS), falling into a coma for six days after being violently shaken during interrogation. All told Bassem has been arrested by the Israeli military 11 times (not including this latest one), spending a total of approximately three years in prison, without ever having been charged with an offense. On this occasion, Bassem was arrested on 24 March 2011 and charged with 'incitement and support of a hostile organization, organizing and participating in unauthorized processions, incitement to throwing objects against a person or property'—that is, incitement to throwing stones. As Amnesty notes, Bassem has in fact 'repeatedly affirmed nonviolent principles' and the protests in Nabi Saleh have been 'largely peaceful', with organisers urging protestors to 'adhere to non-violent methods' (some individual protestors, this notwithstanding, do throw stones). The case against Bassem is based primarily on the testimony of Islam Dar Ayyoub, aged 14 at the time of his arrest, who was taken from his house (he is Bassem's neighbour in Nabi Saleh, and goes to school with Bassem's son, Waed) in the middle of the night, deprived of sleep, refused legal counsel, not informed of his right to silence, threatened, and interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or parent. He spent two and a half months in prison, before being released to house arrest. While Islam was in prison, his brother Kareem —11 years old—was also arrested, before being released. Mo'atassem Tamimi, 15, also provided 'evidence' incriminating Bassem, also under duress. More generally, as documented in a recent EU-funded study, Palestinian children detained by Israel are subject to 'systematic' ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture.

The woman in the video above is Nariman Tamimi, Bassem's wife and also a prominent non-violent protest organiser in the West Bank. She has been arrested and injured numerous times in the course of the protests. Nariman studies international law, and works with Israel's leading human rights organisation B'Tselem. The Tamimis' home—the one being raided by soldiers in the video—has been threatened with a demolition order. In December 2011, Nariman's cousin Mustafa Tamimi was shot directly with a tear gas canistera common though illegal practice—at a protest in Nabi Saleh. He died the next day.

The Halamish settlement bordering Nabi Saleh was established by the Israeli cabinet in 1977, and since then hundreds of dunams have been declared 'state land' and expropriated to it. Moreover, since 2000, settlers have taken over a further 450 dunams that fall outside Halamish's official boundaries and de facto annexed them. In July 2008 settlers from Halamish began to use a spring located on private Palestinian land, used by local Palestinian villagers, including those from Nabi Saleh. In February 2009 the settlers began building work on it. Palestinian complaints were rejected by Israeli authorities, who in January 2010 informed villagers that the spring was an 'archaeological site' and denied them access to it. The settlers however continued to build on the site and enjoyed 'free access' to the spring. This was the latest in what the UN OCHA describes as a '35-year-long process' of Israeli settlers 'undermining the agricultural livelihoods' of local villagers. It is also part of a broader pattern of water theft across the West Bank:

'Springs remain the single largest source of water for irrigation in the West Bank, and an important  coping mechanism for communities not connected  to a network (or those supplied on an irregular  basis) to meet domestic and livelihood needs. Springs are also an integral part of the West Bank landscape and open spaces, and as such they serve as sites for leisure and family recreation. 

Over the past few years, however, Palestinian access to a growing number of springs has been significantly reduced, and often totally prevented,  by Israeli settlers, mostly by threat and intimidation. In most cases, following the removal of Palestinian presence at a given spring and itssurrounding  areas, Israeli settlers have begun developing the  area into a tourist attraction.'

Weekly protests in Nabi Saleh, against the theft of the spring and other Palestinian land, began in December 2009. Israel reacted by invoking Military Order 101, issued in 1967, which 'prohibits almost completely the holding of demonstrations in the West Bank'. This is the Order under which Bassem was arrested. Since the weekly demonstrations began around 13% of Nabi Saleh's inhabitants have been arrested, many of them children. The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem reports that the Israeli military's response to the Nabi Saleh demonstrations is characterised by 'excessive use of force', 'harm to civilians', and the 'infringement of the right to demonstrate'. Between 2009-2011, one demonstrator was killed while protesting and 185 were wounded, including 26 children. The IDF has classified the entire Nabi Saleh area a military zone, and B'Tselem concludes:

'The security forces’ behavior in dispersing the weekly demonstrations in the village seriously harmed all the residents of the village, who were effectively under curfew every Friday, while being exposed to tear gas that penetrated their homes.

Residents of the area, too, were harmed by the closing of the roads, which forced them to use alternative routes, greatly lengthening their travel time. The security forces made no effort to balance between the residents’ right to demonstrate and the authorities’ obligation to maintain public order; instead, they severely infringed the residents’ rights.'

The persecution of Bassem Tamimi is, then, not an isolated one. Nor is the repression in Nabi Saleh unique. Activists in Bil'in, for example, the site of weekly demonstrations against the wall, have received similar treatment. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a prominent non-violent activist, was arrested in December 2009 in circumstances similar to the treatment of Bassem Tamimi. Like Bassem, Abdallah was charged with inciting demonstrators to throw stones on the basis of testimony induced from minors who were interrogated without legal representation. As in Nabi Saleh, the Israeli army has used Military Order 101 to effectively prohibit public demonstrations there. Like Bassem, Abdallah has been declared a Human Rights Defender by the EU and a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He was convicted in an unfair trial and ended up spending 16 months in prison. The EU's Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern that 'the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahmah is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner'. Bassem Abu Rahmah, also a participant in the Bil'in protests, received an even harsher sentence: on 17 April 2009 a soldier fired a tear-gas grenade directly at his chest, killing him. He was not throwing stones or endangering soldiers in any way. Bassem's sister, Jawaher, died in 2010 after inhaling massive amounts of tear-gas at a demonstration; his brother, Ashraf, was shot in the foot while bound and blindfolded at a protest in Nil'in in 2008, and was arrested in Bil'in in 2011. Protesting against Israel's theft of land and resources in the West Bank isn't easy—not if you are Palestinian, at any rate.

More generally, recent years have seen 'a crackdown on those voicing their opposition to the construction of the fence/wall', with dozens of activists known for advocating nonviolence arrested and the offices of organisations involved in nonviolent advocacy against the wall being repeatedly raided by the IDF. See this B'Tselem report for more on that. Bassem Tamimi explains the logic behind Israel's targeting of advocates of nonviolence:

"The army is determined to push us toward violent resistance. They realize that the popular resistance we are waging with Israelis and internationals from the outside, they can’t use their tanks and bombs. And this way of struggling gives us a good reputation. Suicide bombing was a big mistake because it allowed Israel to say we are terrorists and then to use that label to force us from our land. We know they want a land without people — they only want the land and the water — so our destiny is to resist. They give us no other choice."

As senior Israeli Defense Ministry official Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad explained, "We don't do Gandhi very well".

Palestinian nonviolent resistance continues, but its success - and the safety of its participants - depends on people elsewhere paying attention. 

Iz al-deen Tamimi, 16, injured today at Nabi Saleh demonstration, after being hit with a metal bullet in the face.

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New report: Palestinian children tortured and ‘systematically’ ill-treated

By Jamie

22 March 2012

"The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors"

– Mark Regev, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

A major new EU-funded study documents 'a systematic pattern of ill-treatment, and in some cases torture' of Palestinian children detained by Israel. Drawing on 311 sworn testimonies, collected over a period of four years, the report by Defence for Children International (DCI) finds that most children passing through Israel's military detention system suffer multiple forms of ill-treatment and abuse, much of which amounts to 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment as defined by the UN Convention against Torture. It's pretty long, but important, so I thought I'd post a condensed summary.

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Most children are arrested in the middle of the night. Israeli civil law restricts the times when children can be interrogated, which in turn influence the times when they are arrested. But Palestinians are subject to military law, which contains no such provision. Most have their hands 'painfully tied behind their backs and are blindfolded', before being transported to an unknown location—usually neither children nor parents are informed where, or on what basis—for interrogation. This process is 'often' accompanied by 'verbal abuse and humiliation, threats as well as physical violence'. Palestinian children are not accompanied by a parent and are usually interrogated without legal advice or being informed of their right to silence. Nearly a third of the children who testified to DCI reported experiencing violence during their arrest, usually punching, slapping or kicking. A former Israeli military commander, describing this process to the BBC, confessed that after leaving the army, his dreams were haunted by children 'screaming':

"You take the kid, you blindfold him, you handcuff him, he's really shaking... Sometimes you cuff his legs too. Sometimes it cuts off the circulation.

"He doesn't understand a word of what's going on around him. He doesn't know what you're going to do with him. He just knows we are soldiers with guns. That we kill people. Maybe they think we're going to kill him.

A lot of the time they're peeing their pants, just sit there peeing their pants, crying. But usually they're very quiet."

A former Israeli soldier interviewed in the DCI study tells a similar story, describing how he helped arrest Daoud, a 15 year-old boy from Hebron, for throwing tiles at an army post. "[He] began to cry, to scream, sweat and tears streaming from him onto the floor". Two soldiers and a deputy commander all shook him and shouted at him to stop crying. One of them hit him over the head with his walkie-talkie. Why did they subject the obviously terrified boy to further abuse?

"Because they were such worms, from a certain point on I remember we literally loathed them. I did. I was such a racist out there, too, I was so angry at them for their filth, their misery, the whole fucking situation: you threw a stone, now why did you do it? ... He is there on the floor crying. Hands tied. At some point we unshackled his hands because he wept and pleaded. He screamed there, and was all wet from tears and sweat and mucus. You just don’t know what to do about it."

The transfer to an interrogation centre is 'routinely accompanied by further ill-treatment', with children often being beaten, verbally abused and forced to lie down on the metal floor of the military vehicle for the entire trip, which often takes hours. Overwhelmingly this violence occurs while the children are blindfolded with their hands tied. Ahmad, age 15, was arrested on 6 July 2011, accused of throwing stones. At 2am soldiers burst into his house shouting, and turned the place over. They tied Ahmad's hands painfully tight and marched him out of the house. When his brother asked where he was being taken, one soldier beat him with the butt of his rifle in front of the family, including young children. Ahmad was blindfolded upon leaving the house and transported to an interrogation centre near Nablus. Upon arrival he was verbally taunted and insulted. His head was repeatedly forced against the car engine as another soldier stepped on the accelerator. He was left outside without food from 5am to 3pm the following day. "We want you to die out here", one soldier told him. Whenever he tried to sleep a soldier would start shouting at and kicking him to force him awake. At one point soldiers put a bit of bread on his head, and had a dog eat off it. "His saliva started drooling all over my head and that freaked me out. I was so scared my body started shaking because I thought he was going to bite me", Ahmad recalls. The soldiers laughed and put another slice of bread near his genitals. Later he was taken to Ariel police station and interrogated. He denied throwing stones.

Most children arrive at the interrogation centre with their hands tied, blindfolded and in a 'state of fear'. The interrogation takes place without the presence of their parents—unlike their Israeli counterparts Palestinian children are not entitled this—or a lawyer. Often their hands remain tied for the entire interrogation. 38% of children report experiencing physical violence during interrogation. Usually this takes the form of pushing, slapping and kicking, but some children are punched, have their heads slammed against the wall, and are given electric shocks. Malek, aged 16, described his interrogation process in Gush Etzion police station. His interrogator, David, "blindfolded me and ordered me to kneel down. He immediately slapped me hard across the face." Another "huge man came from behind, grabbed my [hand] ties and lifted me up and I felt sharp and terrible pain. He also put his foot on the ties and pressed down so hard that made me scream more... 'Confess so we can spare you the pressure,' David said... 'I have nothing to confess,' I said, and he went crazy and started screaming. He started slapping me and kicking me. He even grabbed my head and slammed it against the metal wall of the room where we were."

Due process

Most children who are arrested are charged with throwing stones. The maximum sentence for throwing a stone at a moving vehicle, for a child aged 14 or above, is 20 years. Insulting or offending a soldier's honour carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison, while the maximum penalty for '[an] act or omission' that 'entails harm, damage, disturbance or danger to the security of the region or the security of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)', or to the 'use or security' of any IDF vehicle or property, is 'life imprisonment'.

The average sentence received by children convicted of throwing stones is ten months in jail. Most children are held in prisons inside Israel, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention's prohibition on imprisoning members of an occupied population outside the occupied territory. In practice this means that most children receive limited or no family visits.

'A critical feature of the system', DCI reports, is that in the overwhelming majority of cases (87%) children will not be released on bail. As a result, even though in most cases the evidence against them is weak, almost all children (90%) plead guilty, because whether innocent or not a guilty plea is the quickest way to leave the system. Military courts are presided over by judges who are military officers in regular or reserve army service. Most children are not informed of their right to silence; many are presented with or forced to sign documents written in Hebrew, a language they don't understand; of the 311 children who testified to DCI, none had a lawyer present during their interrogation; and the (few) children who are held under 'administrative detention' can be detained indefinitely without charge or trial, on the basis of 'secret evidence' that is not shown to the defendant or his lawyer.

This set-up is certainly efficient. According their own records, in 2010 Israeli military courts achieved a conviction rate of 99.74%. The conviction rate for Israeli soldiers and interrogators accused of abusing Palestinian detainees is somewhat less impressive: 'between 2000 and 2010, a complaint lodged by a Palestinian against an Israeli soldier had a 96.5 percent chance of being dismissed without an indictment being filed'. Between January 2001-late 2010, 645 complaints were filed against Israeli interrogators for alleged ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian detainees, resulting in a total of zero criminal investigations. In some cases, shielding Israeli soldiers from legal accountability required real creativity and commitment on the part of the courts. On 27 January 2011, for example, a military court refused to imprison Lt. Col. Omri Burberg, who was convicted of 'shooting a bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainee at close range with a rubber coated steel bullet', even though a prison sentence was recommended by the prosecution.

The occupation

The background to all of this is Israel's military occupation of Palestinian territory. Since the occupation began Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under Israeli military law, prosecuted in Israeli military courts. An estimated 726,000 Palestinians have been detained through Israel's military courts system since 1967, and in the past 11 years around 7,500 children have been detained, interrogated and imprisoned under it. This averages out at 5-700 children per year, or nearly two children a day.  The settlers, who reside in occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law, are in practice subject to Israeli civilian law, 'which contains significantly more safeguards and protections than military law'. The result is that

'[since] June 1967, Palestinians and Israelis living in the occupied West Bank have been judged under different laws, and by different standards. Furthermore, no Palestinian has any say or influence over the manner in which Israeli military commanders exercise executive, legislative and judicial power over them, or say in the contents of nearly 1,700 military orders affecting their rights over the past 44 years'. [my emph.]

Most of those arrested by the Israeli military are from the West Bank, but more specifically, they are from areas next to Israeli settlements: 'most children held in the military detention system are arrested from villages located close to friction points, namely settlements built in violation of international law, and roads used by the Israeli army or settlers'. The wide disparities in legal treatment of Israeli and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories reflect the fundamentally discriminatory and racist character of the occupation; the extreme violence and prejudice that pervade Israel's military justice system attest to the fact that inequalities on this scale can only be maintained through repression.

The DCI study offers some recommendations for making the military courts system less abusive, but it is clear that 'no one should be under any illusion that the treatment documented in this report can be eliminated so long as the friction points remain and Palestinian children are treated as second-class individuals.' That is, the only real solution to the abuse and torture of children documented in the report, and summarised above, is to end the occupation. On that front, the study does contain some pointers. In recent years the Israeli military has dramatically decreased the use of administrative detention for children, and has introduced new regulations to moderate some of the abuses described above. None are sufficient, and most have had virtually zero practical effect. The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem found that recent amendments to military justice legislation are "marginal" and "have failed to bring about meaningful change", a conclusion corroborated by the analysis and testimonies collected in this report. Nonetheless, the changes have had some impact, and, most significantly for our purposes, all were introduced following pressure from human rights organisations and activists.

The testimonies and data presented by this report are not new. Its appendices list eight separate UN reports since 2008, and 21 reports from Israeli and international human rights groups (and the US State Department) over the same time period, documenting the mistreatment and torture of Palestinian children, which has itself been going on for decades. This large body of data needs to be publicised and people mobilised to pressure Israel, through their own representatives, to withdraw from Palestinian territory, and to dismantle a system whose stability requires that children be tortured and abused on the scale documented in this report.

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Rebel Music #4 Robert Wyatt - Nothing Can Stop Us

By Alex

22 March 2012

Liam Cooper on Nothing Can Stop Us, Robert Wyatt's eclectic 1982 compilation...

Robert Wyatt never intended the various early 1980s singles collected on Nothing Can Stop Us to be compiled into an album, instead conceiving of them as ‘like journalism, do them fast and then they should disappear’[1], later insisting that any coherence they achieved in an album format should be credited to their compiler Geoff Travis. In my opinion the songs cohere wonderfully, not merely justifying their album release but marking a high point in Wyatt’s musical career, in which the warmth and optimism of his earlier recordings met, and complemented, the sparse arrangements and radical lyrical content that defined his later 1980s releases.

The closing track, Peter Blackman’s reading of his poem ‘Stalingrad’, is a fitting end that in many ways summarises the conceptual thrust of the album as a whole. In each verse Blackman describes the reception of news from Stalingrad across homes and workplaces throughout the world, placing this conflict within the context of an international working class struggle. Nothing Can Stop Us is similarly international in scope, drawing together, to give a few examples, the unofficial anthem of post-revolutionary Cuba ‘Guantanamera’, Irish republican Jim Connell’s notorious socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’ and ‘Strange Fruit’, Lewis Allan’s disturbing portrayal of the lynching of African Americans.

‘Born Again Cretin’, the album’s opening song and sole Wyatt original, is a truly unique piece of music. Beginning with a scat rendition of a melody from Ornette Coleman’s ‘Peace’, Wyatt’s anti-apartheid lyrics are accompanied by a circular synth pattern, melodic doo-wop style backing vocals and almost non-musical groans. It is testament to the humanity of Wyatt’s musical project that he would follow such avant-gardism with a heartfelt and musically faithful cover of Chic’s ‘At Last I am Free’, which contains perhaps his most beautiful vocal performance. Wyatt has often spoken of his deep respect for pop music, which he considers to be an industrialised form of folk, and of his dismay at the manner in which ‘the class system re-emerged’[2] in popular music with the rise of progressive rock. Wyatt’s source material, whether or not itself political, is always chosen with an acute sensitivity to its class context, and his enthusiasm for the avant-garde coincides with a complete aversion to artistic elites. The juxtaposition of ‘At Last I am Free’ with Wyatt’s more overtly political songs abstracts the freedom described in the chorus refrain from its immediate romantic context. The second part of the couplet ‘At last I am free/ I can hardly see in front of me’ expresses the unique tension of Wyatt’s interpretation of the song, in that it refers to an ecstatic state of liberation but does so through the metaphor of a restriction on sight. In the tension between Frank Roberts’ loose, lyrical piano playing and the persistent metronomic beat that accompanies him, as in the pained ecstasy of Wyatt’s vocal, the total emancipation of the chorus is simultaneously realised and frustrated.

Throughout this record Wyatt stretches the definition of ‘cover versions’: some covers, like that of Ivor Cutler’s ‘Grass’, are changed almost beyond recognition whilst others, such as the Chic song mentioned above, are relatively faithful. The one original composition contains a lengthy quote from Ornette Coleman, whilst two tracks, Peter Blackman’s ‘Stalingrad’ and Abdus Salique’s ‘Trade Union’, were neither written nor performed with any input from Wyatt. I believe his motivations for this approach to be largely political. Robert Wyatt observed the rise of neoliberalism (which he brilliantly critiqued in songs like ‘N.I.O’ and ‘The Age of Self’) in the 1980s and understood its implications for working class communities. When presented in this album format, the seemingly disparate songs in Nothing Can Stop Us gain a certain consistency as an apparent attempt to bring together various international musical forms, sometimes in the same song, that were antithetical to the aims of Thatcherism. It is perhaps this belief in an international resistance to neoliberalism that motivated Wyatt’s misguided loyalty to the Communist Party of Great Britain. In spite of this association I believe that Nothing Can Stop Us still remains a powerful political statement, marked by a defiance and hopefulness that would sadly soon give way to despair and isolation.

Notes:

[1] Wyatt, quoted in The Wire, Issue #163, (September 1997).

[2] Wyatt, from a Q & A at Purcell Room, London (October 2007), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9XRWkIKTYU.

Liam Cooper is a post-graduate literature student at Birkbeck College.

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Review: ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’

By Ed

21 March 2012

This is a short review I wrote for Red Pepper of Counterpower: Making Change Happen by Tim Gee, published late last year. It's the first time the review has been available online.

Counterpower has two principal aims: to give a general account of why social movements succeed or fail, and to illustrate this through an historical exploration of successful movements. It is natural to have high hopes for such a book, since for any activist or campaigner nothing is more tantalising than the prospect of uncovering the secrets of social change. However, where Counterpower serves as an accessible guide to some of the movements from which we can draw inspiration and optimism, its theoretical endeavours are sadly much less convincing.

Gee opens with the ‘bold claim’ that ‘Counterpower’ is the ‘single idea’ which explains the fate of social movements. Gee identifies ‘power’ as a capacity of elites; Counterpower is its inversion – a capacity of ordinary people that negates the ‘power over’ of elites and has been wielded throughout history in the struggle for justice.

Really, then, Counterpower is a form of power, distinguished from conventional power in terms of who possesses it. But the insight that movements must develop and exercise their own power – ‘power from below’ – will strike anyone interested in radical social transformation as closer to a truism than a path-breaking insight. Furthermore, Gee’s analysis leaves many crucial questions unaddressed. He repeatedly urges that movements ‘use’ Counterpower. But to 'use' Counterpower we have to first develop it. This requires an understanding of how to build radical consciousness in a given set of social conditions and the organisational forms best suited to doing so. On issues such as these, the schema developed in Counterpower offers little help.

Despite these shortcomings, for those seeking an introduction to social movement history told from the perspective of activists, Counterpower is worth reading. The stories Gee tells – of the struggle for Indian Independence, the movement against the Vietnam War, the ousting of Mubarak and several others – are told in short, readable chapters, punctuated with some striking detail. The lessons to be drawn from these stories are diverse and multifarious, but above all, as Gee emphasises, they provide a crucial reservoir of hope for a better future.

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‘Common Sense’ artwork

By Jamie

21 March 2012

One of the funnest things about putting together our edition of Dan Hind's new pamphlet, Common Sense: Occupation, Assembly, and the Future of Liberty, was having Edd Baldry, a radical illustrator who works with NGOs and non-profits, produce the artwork.

As well as drawing the cover, influenced by his posters for Occupy Wall Street and the Occupied (London) Times, he also produced illustrations for each chapter. As with running in a straight line and concentrating on writing an essay for more than ten minutes at a time, drawing has always seemed like a kind of witchcraft to me, completely unable as I have been to progress beyond my primary school mastery of the stick figure.

So I'm always interested in the composition process behind pictures. Here are a couple of the illustrations Edd drew for the pamphlet - to accompany the introduction and the second chapter, 'A New Common Sense', respectively - with some explanation from Edd of each:

 

'The "Nameless thing" chapter is discussing the occupy movement, which at present, though threatening for the state, remains amorphous. I wanted to represent this idea with a giant and friend looking slightly lost on the top of a Gothic revival building (you know, like the Houses of Parliament are). Everyone knows the occupy movements have a lot of power, it’s just no-one has worked out how to wield it yet.'

'The illustration for the 'New Common Sense' is playing on the reclamation of the commons (now that would be awesome!) and the generalisation of the assembly with a multitude of ideas and thoughts rather than the normal homogeneity that currently exists in public debate. Also, cute creatures are having a cool conversation in a field at night-time… What’s not to like?'

For more, see Edd's blog. And our pamphlet.

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Common Sense – our new book, published!

By Jamie

20 March 2012

In Common Sense: Occupation, Assembly and the Future of Liberty, published today, Dan Hind makes a powerful case for the need to generalise the model of public meetings and discussion popularised by the remarkable Occupy movement, to empower 'the 99%' to reclaim the political realm for itself.

Our edition – which you can purchase here – features exclusive artwork by Edd Baldry and an introduction by the New Left Project collective.

To accompany the launch we've published an interview with Dan, discussing the significance of the occupations, the collapse of neoliberal 'common sense', and the emancipatory potential of deliberation between equals.

As he writes in the pamphlet,

'The organization of prestige found in the political class, in the media, and in academia is now indefensible. The bankruptcy of the Western economies is mirrored by an intellectual bankruptcy that those who currently hold power cannot adequately acknowledge. The triumph of the market faith was so complete that there is hardly anyone with public status who can afford to state openly what is obviously the case: the promoters of the old, exploded common sense – including its many tame experts – are ridiculous. So the show continues, as though they are not. This is the stuff from which revolutions are made. 

But if we can no longer leave the market or the expert to secure the general interest, we are left with only one other means. It is not mentioned on the evening news. Indeed, as far as the mainstream of political comment is concerned, it does not exist. Our last hope is everywhere and everywhere it is overlooked. 

Our last hope is everyone.'

Or, as he concludes in our interview,

'Change doesn’t come from heroic leaders, it comes from people figuring out what they want, and how to get it. Deliberation between equals is part of how that happens. That’s common sense, right there.'

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Rebel Music #3 Atari Teenage Riot

By Alex

15 March 2012

Ruth Sullivan on Berlin's finest digital hardcore outfit - Atari Teenage Riot...

 


A couple of years ago, I was grumbling about one of my favourite bands being messed  around by the organisers of a certain Berkshire based music festival because there were fears that they would drown out the over-priced, over-hyped Libertines.  My friend responded with ‘But really, Atari Teenage Riot aren’t nearly as important as the Libertines though, are they? I mean, they’re niche!’…and cue apoplexy.

This is my way, albeit long and rambling, of getting around to the key topic here, namely why Atari Teenage Riot are my most politically significant band.  I’ll return for a second to the scene of my apoplexy.  I was horrified, not only due to the hilarious notion that the Libertines could be seen as important for anything other than a penchant for wearing military coats,  but because whether punk, electro, industrial or EDM is your forte, you will have come under the influence of ATR .  Alec Empire’s digital hardcore was a definitive sound in the early 90’s and it’s a sound that has spidered out in to a far reaching sonic influence identifiable in so many modern genres.  Listen to early 90’s ATR and you realise that they were laying down the sound for the post cold war, post Regan, post Thatcherite young and dispossessed of Europe; Everything in a state of entropy and everything to fight for.

So why is an early 90’s band still so important to me?

Firstly, the politics of ATR is authentic and it’s enduring.  They’re one of very few bands that maintain the courage of their convictions.  They don’t only call for revolution action because it sounds edgy, they bloody well mean it.  It’s easy for a musician to pay lip service to freedom and equality after they’ve been flown in on their lear jet to do so but it’s a lot harder to maintain integrity and a flat out refusal to work with corporations. From the very beginning 20 years ago, ATR have refused to co-operate with the expectations of the music industry.  Their first single, Hetzjagd Auf Nazis (roughly translated as hunt down all Nazis.) made it clear from the get go that the band came with unflinching political credentials. Many places refused to stock or give publicity to the single.  The band knew it would never be a chart topper and that, after all, was entirely the point.  They have remained avowed anti-fascists ever since – rooted in the experiences of band members and their families – and played a recent date in Dresden in protest of a neo-Nazi march taking place in the city.  They avidly support the work of Nazi-Leaks and Operation Blitzkrieg, who recently hacked and defaced a neo-nazi website, replacing the content with ATR’s protest anthem Black Flags.

Atari Teenage Riot remains independent from and defiant of a top down hierarchy that demands conformity and superficial re-invention.  Even recently, they subverted the music industries tendency to try and purchase authenticity by allowing Sony to use one of their tracks to promote the PlayStation Vita, then donating the fee to Anonymous.  The hacker collective have previously hacked Sony and are avowedly anti-corporate.  Many people weren’t in on the joke and scratched their head or cried sell out.  That’s the thing with ATR, if you get, then you get it. 

The band have adapted to political change, recognised where the new battle lines are drawn online and become the soundtrack of Anonymous, urging their fans to resist, riot and activate.  Last year’s album Is This Hyperreal, their first since the band’s split in 1999, is both fresh and familiar. The lyrics reflect the machinations of the political-corporate complex whilst bringing on the riot sounds - the almost painful, challenging wall of noise and static that is definitively ATR. It’s difficult to listen to at times, but again, that’s entirely the point.   Read the band’s facebook, twitter feed and blogs and you’ll see that they’ve never merely paid lip service to their fans, pretending to be ‘of the people’, they’re with us every step of the way, urging real political activism. In an interview last year, Alec Empire commented on the responsibility of the musician to be political.  If you have a captive audience and a microphone in your hand, you have a huge opportunity to make a real change.  Why would you not use it? 

As a feminist ATR also have another draw.  The women in ATR have been powerful role models, especially for a young woman at odds with the expectations of her gender, sexuality and finding conformity all around her.  They are not eye candy. They’re not a supplementary afterthought but powerful, driven, vital forces of nature in ATR’s music.  Former member Hanin Elias and Nic Endo scream and rail and dare you to take them on. Both are recognised and respected musicians in their own right, skilled and challenging. Last year’s Blood In My Eyes confronted human trafficking and violence against women and the accompanying video was a remarkably challenging piece of work but brutally honest.  The women of ATR are not tools for an industry, nor are they playing up to a false, price tagged sexuality that so many female artists are driven in to doing.

In my head, ATR are the soundtrack to my disobedience.  They’re playing when I’m marching, protesting and resisting and they rouse me when I’m walking to go to work in my public sector job, worn down by the latest ‘helpful’ government cuts and policies that make my job infinitely harder.  With ATR on my side, the riot and defiance goes ever on, even if I’m not really ‘teenaged’ anymore. Resist, Riot, Activate!

Ruth is a history teacher and trade unionist in Brighton and a political and human rights activist.  She is a co-founder of the Brighton Feminist Collective. You can follow her on twitter @littlespsy

Previously in the Rebel Music series:

Rebel Music #1 The Clash - Sandinista

Rebel Music #2 George Clinton 

 

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Broke in Britain

By Jamie

13 March 2012

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Rebel Music #2 George Clinton

By Alex

08 March 2012

Next in our series on political music, Joe Ruffell* considers the legacy of George Clinton's P-funk...

George Clinton is one of the great modernists of popular culture. As the key figure in the innovative psychedelic black rock troupe Funkadelic and its sister group Parliament he became the leader of the cultural juggernaut P-Funk that transformed black music by creating wild dance friendly concept driven funk that helped give birth to hip hop and electro. Using experimental song structures, album long social criticism, alter-ego personas, vocoders and a revolving band of nearly fifty musicians they fused different styles and influences to make music like none heard before. As the ideas man behind a number of brilliant musical collaborators Clinton broke every convention in popular music to lead one of the most thrilling stage acts in the history of rock and soul music. Expressing a huge array of ideas through myriad stratagems he is one of the major artists of his time.

Race is a primary theme of Clinton’s work. Born in North Carolina in 1941 his family moved north to New Jersey when he was a child. His first love was Doowop, a multi-racial forerunner of soul proper. An adult throughout the civil rights years he was decisively influenced by hippie idealism and Black Power in equal measure. Humour is his primary means of expression. He loves to put African-Americans in places in popular consciousness where they are absent – e.g. outer space or under the sea. His asides are filled with witty observations on the black experience (‘I didn’t get my 40 acres and a mule but I did get you chocolate city’). Although he sometimes suggests racism is purely an error of logic, at other times he argues that it has a crucially important socio-economic value for the richest and most powerful. Contradictions like this abound in his work and, if anything, expand its power by reflecting the different explanatory narratives about society. Racial categories are treated as elastic and artificial. Similarly he treats white rock, black soul, jazz and psychedelia all as stations on the road to liberation.

Slightly more mysterious is Clinton’s truly political obsession with the human body. As an aesthetic in popular music it’s rare, to say the least, but the seriousness with which he applies it is unique. The body is the centre of a cultural battleground for Clinton, and one possible explanation would again reside in race, but here liberating politics is intimately connected with psychological health and bodily pleasure. Bodily functions relate to human limitations but also egalitarianism – we all have these common functions and in satirising these he punctures a culture that endorses inequality using laughter and fun. Not only are P-Funk’s beats, keyboard squiggles and bouncing bass just made to throw your body around to but the sound world invoked is of the organism also - of the orifice and organ, the digestive tract and the involuntary reflex.

Like most cultural product under capitalism popular music usually features an individual expressing certain sentiments presented as personal to themselves – their feelings and thoughts as channelled through their own perspective. This socially wrought consciousness is taken as an innate characteristic forgetting that it was only made possible through a complex system of social relations that enabled the artist to be a person for his or her self.  This ‘self-expressive’ notion of art generally assumes stepping back from social life to express sentiments that reflect on it from a detached individualist standpoint. I would argue Parliament-Funkadelic’s output is set apart from this in a number of ways. This is most obvious in the way that various conceptual and formal ideas associated with Modernism abound in their work.

There are lots of personas and voices on P-Funk’s records. There is not one authoritative voice. They resemble a society alive with possibilities and create their own little world filled with crazed liberation slogans and cartoon characters. The intended effect is not just escapism but a more sophisticated and critical type of art. As Ben Watson noted

[His] albums are a barrage of puzzles, jokes, references, asides. They don't flatter the know-it-all: they demand curiosity, involvement, thought; they protest the alienation of 'product'....Funkadelic and Parliament albums emphasise the material facts of their realisation: record label promotion, censorship, media scams and scandals.

The use of slogans, daft witticisms, slang and nonsense words to build a complete worldview based on egalitarian politics, hedonism and the body grotesque are the essential elements of Clinton’s work. Incorporating pastiche of elements from social ceremony and ritual used mischievously to reverse their intended usage. For example, sermon type oratory that endorses drugs and sexual liberation and scandalously bizarre call and response pledges of allegiance to unalienated living: “biological and social exchange” (Bahktin) fused through humour and music.

 

 

P-Funk was always a mixture of idealism and materialism, the philosophical idealism of their aspirations (‘Free your mind and your ass will follow’, ‘Free from the need to be free’) which was then mixed with a celebration of the limits and potentialities of the flesh. The elective affinities of references to bodily functions combined with bass heavy music that compels you to shake something with pseudo-spiritual egalitarian/utilitarian intention is actually one of George Clinton’s most profound artistic strategies. He extends James Brown, musically and philosophically, deep into the most pressing questions of human existence. Why is the world not equal? What do we make of our bodies? How do they relate to our minds? Can fried ice cream be a reality?

Far from being an attempt at the transcendental, as some have argued, Clinton’s jams represent communal experience of a sensual nature. The ultimate justification of the ridiculous size of Clinton’s bands is the number of different things going on in the music. The sheer number of voices and instruments you hear gives the music its communal feel. His work has a socially whole perspective that’s absent in art that takes personal experience as its sole perspective. It is a radical utopian art that takes collective humanity as its subject.

*Joe Ruffell is a member of the Socialist Workers Party. His has previously written on European cinema and black American music. He maintain a blog here.

Previously in the Rebel Music series:

Rebel Music #1 The Clash - Sandinista!

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Towards a New Common Sense - Announcing our First Book

By Jamie

07 March 2012

The bankruptcy of the Western economies is mirrored by an intellectual bankruptcy that those who currently hold power cannot adequately acknowledge. The triumph of the market faith was so complete that there is hardly anyone with public status who can afford to state openly what is obviously the case: the promoters of the old, exploded common sense – including its many tame experts – are ridiculous. So the show continues, as though they are not. This is the stuff from which revolutions are made.

But if we can no longer leave the market or the expert to secure the general interest, we are left with only one other means. It is not mentioned on the evening news. Indeed, as far as the mainstream of political comment is concerned, it does not exist. Our last hope is everywhere and everywhere it is overlooked.

Our last hope is everyone.

 

Common Sense: An Essay on Liberty a new ebook by Dan Hind, co-published by New Left Project.

 

 

Out next week, with exclusive artwork by Edd Baldry.

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