Monthly Archives: March 2017

Getting US intervention in Syria wrong: a response to Jamie Allinson’s ‘Disaster Islamism’

Getting US intervention in Syria wrong: a response to Jamie Allinson’s ‘Disaster Islamism’
by Ian Sinclair
Medium
16 March 2017

In February 2017 Dr Jamie Allinson, a Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East at the University of Edinburgh, published an article titled ‘Disaster Islamism’ in the revolutionary leftist Salvage magazine.

Allinson spends the first section of the article slaying a number of what he sees as leftist myths about the on-going Syrian conflict.

For example, he refers to “the myth of ISIS as US creation”. After reading his article I tweeted Allinson asking “which credible commentators, analysts or writers subscribe to this myth?” Allinson replied, noting Noam Chomsky and the former Guardian columnist Seamus Milne make the argument and that it’s “a pervasive belief on Stop the War and/ pro-Palestine marches I’ve been on, and very common on FB [Facebook] etc.” I checked Allinson’s sources, and found in the Milne article Allinson pointed me to that Milne clearly states “That doesn’t mean the US created ISIS, of course”. The Chomsky interview Allinson refers to has Chomsky quoting an ex-CIA Officer arguing ISIS grew out of US occupation of Iraq — an argument Allinson describes as “true” (though “inadequate”) in his article. Allinson’s smearing of Milne and Chomsky and citing the views of unnamed protesters is a textbook example of building a straw man to knock down, allowing Allinson to ignore more credible and sophisticated arguments and voices about Western intervention in Syria. When I pointed this out to Allinson he dismissively replied “Glad to hear it. Look forward to your disabusing people of that belief on StW marches. See you later.”

Unfortunately for Allinson the rest of the section of his article looking at Western involvement in the Syria war is littered with inaccuracies. As the article is 1) published in the influential and respected (amongst the Left, at least) Salvage 2) many of his arguments are repeated by others on the left including respected academic Professor Gilbert Achcar and Salvage Co-Founder Richard Seymour 3) Allinson criticises others for having a “dogged resistance… to empirical evidence” and 4) Allinson teaches the Middle East at one of the UK’s top universities, it is worth considering his assertions in detail.

I apologise for the length and repetitiveness of my rebuttal in advance — I thought it was important to present as much of the evidence as clearly as possible.

Has the US been pursuing regime change in Syria?

Allison believes it is a myth that “the US has pursued a policy of regime change to topple the Ba’athist Assad regime”. “There is not, and never has been, An American imperial policy to overthrow the Ba’athist regime in Damascus”, he repeats emphatically later in the piece.

How should one assess whether the US has pursued regime change in Syria? First, one could consider the statements of the US government itself. “Assad must go — and I believe he will go”, President Obama stated in March 2013. In May 2013 White House Press Secretary confirmed “We have been making clear as a matter of United States policy that we believe that Assad must not continue to rule Syria”. In September 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry reconfirmed “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go.” While one should always be wary of taking the public utterances of established power at face value, it is important to consider the enabling effect these statements of intent will have had on Syrian rebels and those who support them.

Many mainstream news outlets agree the US has been pursuing regime change in Syria. On 23 July 2012 the International Herald Tribune included the front page headline ‘US focuses on efforts to topple Assad government’, with the accompanying story noting the Obama Administration “is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down” the Syrian government. The same month the Wall Street Journal reported “The US has been mounting a secret but limited effort to speed the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, without using force, scrambling spies and diplomats to block arms and oil shipments from Iran and passing intelligence to frontline allies.” In October 2015 theWashington Post’s Liz Sly referred in passing to one of “the Obama administration’s goals in Syria — Assad’s negotiated exist from power.” Writing in July 2016, Dr Austin Carson, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Dr Michael Poznansky, an Assistant Professor of International Affairs and Intelligence Studies in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, noted the US is trying to achieve regime change in Syria.

US actions have broadly followed their public statements saying they wanted Assad removed from power. Since early 2012 the US has increasingly intervened in Syria, from making public statements about the Syrian government’s future, to sanctioning members of the Syrian government and sending non-lethal aid to the rebels who are trying to violently overthrow Assad. In 2013 Obama authorised the CIA to set up a programme, codenamed Timber Sycamore, to train and equip Syrian rebels. Citing US officials, in June 2015 the Washington Post estimated the programme — “one of the agency’s largest covert operations” — was spending $1bn a year and had trained and equipped 10,000 rebels.

Though conveniently ignored by Allinson, it is impossible to assess whether the US has been pursuing regime change in Syria without considering the US’s relationship with its allies in the region — specifically Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. With all three countries keen to overthrow Assad, one would presume that if, as Allinson claims, the US wasn’t pursuing regime change in Syria, the US would have nothing to do with the attempts by its allies to topple the Assad government. In reality, the evidence clearly shows that US policy has been to use (and work closely with) Saudi Arabia and Qatar to try to overthrow the Syrian government.

Citing US and Arab officials, in June 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that “The US in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates”. In November 2012 the New York Times pondered whether the US should directly arm the rebels “rather than only continuing to use other countries, especially Qatar, to do so.” As “Assad has shown no signs of leaving — the United States has slowly stepped up its assistance to include non-lethal military support, while acknowledging and tacitly welcoming arms that are being supplied by both Saudi Arabia and Qatar”, noted the Washington Post in April 2013. And in June 2013 the Los Angeles Times noted that arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to Syrian rebels were “provided with assent from the US.”

Dr Christopher Phillips, an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, provides some background to the US’s use of its regional proxies in his 2016 book The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the Middle East:

…they [the West, circa 2011–12] endorsed the regional powers’ support for the rebels. Western intelligence knew of regional arms transfers and financial support and, while they urged coordination, there were few efforts to stop them. Indeed, [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton effectively gave the green light, admitting in her memoirs that at a meeting in Riyadh in March 2012 she acknowledged what was already happening: ‘certain countries would increase their efforts to funnel arms, while others [i.e. the US] would focus on humanitarian needs.’ Yet far from standing by, the CIA and other western intelligence services allegedly facilitated many of these operations. (p. 143)

Dr Christopher Davidson, a Reader in Middle East politics at Durham University, seems to broadly agree, noting in his book Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East — in a section titled ‘Syria — Enter the Proxies’ — that the Gulf monarchies “were encouraged” by the West “to enmesh themselves in the politics and financing of the Syrian opposition.” Davidson cites an article in Foreign Policy by journalist Elizabeth Dickinson: “Qatar had such freedom to run its network for the last three years because Washington was looking the other way. In fact, in 2011, the United States gave Doha de facto free rein to do what it wasn’t willing to in the Middle East: intervene.” By May 2013 a Financial Times article co-authored by Roula Khalaf was citing people close to the Qatar government saying that Qatar had contributed as much as $3bn to the Syrian rebels.

As Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden explained in 2012, the US has been working “hand in glove” with Saudi Arabia and its other allies in the region. “Officials in the Central Intelligence Agency knew that Saudi Arabia was serious about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the Saudi King named Prince Bander bin Sultan al-Saud to lead the effort”, reported the Wall Street Journal in August 2013. “They believed that Prince Bander… could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms”. Having worked together since the 1980s, according to a January 2016 New York Timesreport Saudi Arabia was a “willing partner” in the CIA’s Timber Sycamore programme to support rebels fighting to overthrow Assad. “From the moment the CIA operation was started, Saudi money supported it.”

A couple of interim conclusions. First, it is concerning that the establishment corporate media seems to have a more sceptical and sharper analysis of US foreign policy in the Middle East than an academic whose expertise is the Middle East and is writing for a revolutionary leftist publication.

Second, despite Allinson’s denial, there is substantial evidence the US has been pursing regime change in Syria — confirmed by its own public statements, Obama authorising the CIA to set up a multi-billion dollar programme to support the armed opposition trying to overthrow the Assad government, and the US giving the green light to — and then working closely with — its regional allies working to topple Assad.

Of course, it’s important to remember, as Allinson argues in an article he wrote for New Left Project in 2012, that the Syrian conflict is “extremely complicated and difficult for even those within the country to grasp, let alone those outside of it.” US policy has not been static on Syria. Like any state’s foreign policy towards a long-term, multi-dimensional conflict, US policy on Syria has evolved over time. There is evidence that suggests the US actively pursued regime change in the earlier stages of the conflict, and then perhaps reduced its expectations from around 2014 onwards — looking to create the conditions on the battlefield (a stalemate) that would produce a the political settlement and the eventual exit of Assad, as Sly notes above (though this still sounds a lot like regime change to me). It’s also clear that senior Obama Administration officials and arms of the US state have had different positions and aims when it came to Syria. The discussions and divisions within Obama’s national security team have been extensively reported, as has the differing aims and methods of the Pentagon and CIA in country.

Has the US only armed Syrian rebels with the precondition the arms would only be used against ISIS?

Discussing the US funding and arming anti-Assad militias, Allinson asserts “the amount of weaponry and ammunition actually supplied by the US has been highly limited and the precondition of its supply was that it be used against ISIS rather than Assad”.

It’s an astonishing claim — refuted by a cursory glance at mainstream news reporting. While the US has spent significant funds trying to support rebels groups fighting ISIS, the US has also played a central — and much bigger — role in supporting the rebels trying to overthrow the Assad government. As the New York Times explained in January 2016 (an article Allinson cites in his own article):

The CIA training program is separate from another program to arm Syrian rebels, one the Pentagon ran that has since ended. That program was designed to train rebels to combat Islamic State fighters in Syria, unlike the CIA’s program, which focuses on rebel groups fighting the Syrian military.

Has the US been interested in increasing weapons supplies to the Syrian rebels fighting Assad?

“Where the US has the most influence over weaponry supplies we see less or no fighting against Assad”, argues Allinson. “The evidence is conclusive; and incompatible with the claim that the US has armed the FSA to overthrow the Ba’athist regime.” Moreover, Allinson continues, “the aim of the [US’s covert operations] was not to increase the supply of weapons… but to ‘try to gain control of it.’”

Considering the evidence I’ve already presented above (available to anyone who bothers to look at the US mainstream press coverage of Syria) this is another astonishing claim by Allinson, though one repeated elsewhere.

In the real world countless media reports clearly show the US has been involved in increasing the amount of weapons going to the Syrian rebels which, unsurprisingly, has led to gains for the rebels on the battlefield — that is, more fighting with Syrian government forces, not less, as Allinson bizarrely claims.

In March 2013 the New York Times noted “With the help of the CIA, Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months.” The report goes on to summarise a former American official as saying “the size of the shipments and the degree of distributions” the CIA were helping to send to the rebels “are voluminous.” No less than the US Secretary of State told Syrian activists in 2016 that the US had “been putting an extraordinary amount of arms” into Syria. In his book Phillips refers to “vast sums [of arms] provided” (p. 145) to the Syrian rebels.

Compare Allinson’s claim that US influence over arms deliveries reduces fighting against the Assad government with the following reports. Washington Post, May 2012: “Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States… The new supplies reversed months of setbacks for the rebels”. New York Times, March 2013: Qatari flights supplying arms to the rebels (“with help from the CIA”) “aligned with the tide-turning military campaign by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib” which “began driving Mr. Assad’s military and supporting militias from parts of the countryside.” New York Times, October 2015: “Insurgent commanders say that… they are receiving for the first time bountiful supplies of powerful American-made antitank missiles… making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.” These missiles “began arriving in the region in 2013, through a covert program run by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other allies”.Washington Post, October 2015: “So successful have they [US-made antitank missiles] been in driving rebel gains in northwestern Syria that rebels call the missile the ‘Assad Tamer’… in recent days they have been used with great success to slow the Russian-backed offensive”. In July 2016, two former members of the US National Security Council argued that those who support more US intervention in Syria “fail to recognize that the United States in fact has effectively weakened President Bashar al-Assad already. In 2015, the administration’s aggressive covert action program facilitated significant gains for the opposition in northern Syria”.

If the US has been pursuing regime change in Syria, why hasn’t it succeeded?

If the CIA “were heavily arming and supporting the Syrian opposition to overthrow the regime, we would have seen very different results”, argues Allinson. He later repeats this point, writing “If this is an attempt to overthrow the regime, it is a rather poor show.”

It’s an attractive argument but one that seems a little simplistic to me. While it is the world’s sole superpower, the US is not an all-powerful God but a state with competing priorities, domestic political pressures and finite budgets. Recent history — Iraq and Afghanistan — suggests the US does not always get want it wants. In Vietnam the US had the military power to ‘win’ the war but was unable to deploy this fully due to US public opinion.

Something similar seems to have happened with Syria. With the US preparing to conduct airstrikes on the Syrian government after its alleged use of chemical weapons in August 2013, New York Times/CBS News and Gallup polling both showed relatively low public support for military action — “among the lowest for any intervention Gallup has asked about in the last 20 years.” Kerry highlighted the government’s concern with public opinion and the American political landscape in his 2016 discussion with Syrian activists about US intervention in Syria: “How many wars have we been fighting? We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan, we’ve been fighting in Iraq, we’ve been fighting in the region for, you know, 14 years. A lot of Americans don’t believe we should be fighting and sending young Americans over to die in another country. That’s the problem. Congress won’t vote to do it.”

The rebel forces the US and its regional allies have been supporting have been riven by disunity and infighting. The US’s allies themselves have pursued their own national interests, according to Phillips (p. 145), which “helped produce a rebel marketplace that saw militia compete for resources rather than unite.”According to Professor Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, “America failed not because it didn’t try, but because its moderates were incompetent and unpopular. As soon as they began taking money and orders from America, they were tarred by radicals as CIA agents, who were corrupt and traitors to the revolution. America was toxic, and everything it touched turned to sand in its hands.”

Moreover, the Russian and Iranian support for Assad, in particular the direct Russian intervention in September 2015 — something Clinton didn’t think would happen when discussing overthrowing Assad in 2012 — is arguably the key factor why US attempts to overthrow Assad have failed. Phillips: “For every rebel gain, the regime received greater support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.” (p. 144) And here is the kicker: “As long as the regime retained its own foreign supporters, who appeared far more committed to Assad’s survival than western states were to his removal, it is unlikely that a limited number of western arms would force any compromise.” (p. 144–5) In short, Russia was able to overtly and decisively wade knee deep in the Syrian slaughter and not pay the price domestically (and perhaps internationally) that the US would likely have done for a similar level of intervention.

Conclusions

While Allinson admonishes others for their “dogged resistance… to empirical evidence”, it is clear Allinson himself ignores and therefore refuses to engage with the voluminous evidence that contradicts many of his central assertions about US intervention in Syria.

In turning his back on inconvenient facts, Allinson repeats a number of falsehoods about the US in Syria, significantly underplaying the level of the US interference in the conflict. As I have shown, the US is deeply involved in the Syrian war, helping to escalate and prolong the violence. There is considerable evidence to suggest the US (and the UK) has also played a key role in blocking a peaceful solution to the conflict. Therefore the US, along with Russia, Iran and other external actors such as the UK, is partly responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dead, the massive refugee flows and the wider destruction of Syria as a political, economic and cultural entity.

This uncomfortable reality is likely one reason why the US has chosen to make its largest and most effective intervention in the war (the CIA’s Timber Sycamore programme) a covert operation. This secrecy, even when it has been compromised by widespread media reports, serves a number of purposes. First, the covert nature of the intervention allows the US government to minimise public discussion and scrutiny. Second, as Carson and Poznansky argue, “any escalatory incidents or clashes can be obscured from the ‘audience’ (i.e. domestic publics and third party states), which preserves face-saving ways to de-escalate”. Finally, regime change is illegal under international law, which means “the very nature of what the United States is trying to achieve in Syria — regime change — renders such concerns particularly salient”, according to Carson and Poznansky. The US’s covert action thus allows for what is known as “plausible deniability”.

“Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyse actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions”, Professor Noam Chomsky wrote in his 1969 book American Power and the New Mandarins. Rather than expose the nefarious actions of the US government in Syria, by downplaying the level of US intervention in the face of overwhelming evidence Allinson is helping the US government continue to deceive Western publics.

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Patriarchy and radical feminism: an interview with Robert Jensen

Patriarchy and radical feminism: an interview with Robert Jensen
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News blog
13 March 2017

Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, has a long history of activism focusing on US foreign policy, journalism, climate change and pornography.

Ian Sinclair spoke to Jensen about his new book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, published by Spinifex Press.

Ian Sinclair: How does radical feminism differ from other forms of feminism?

Robert Jensen: First, by radical feminism I mean the understanding that men’s subordination of women is a product of patriarchy and that the ultimate goal of feminism is the end of patriarchy’s gender system, not merely liberal accommodation with the system. Second, radical feminism is central to the larger problem of hierarchy and the domination/subordination dynamics in other arenas of human life; while not sufficient by itself, the end of patriarchy is a necessary condition for liberation more generally.

Because the core of patriarchy is men’s claim to control—even to own—women’s bodies, particularly women’s reproductive power and sexuality, radical feminism puts at the core women’s reproductive rights and the end of men’s sexual exploitation of women. In practice, this has meant that radical feminists have sought the abolition of the sexual-exploitation industries of prostitution and pornography, the ways that men routinely buy and sell objectified female bodies for sexual pleasure. That’s one of the most contentious issues within feminism, and liberal/postmodern feminists often don’t share that analysis of those industries.

IS: What is patriarchy?

RJ: The term describes various systems of institutionalized male dominance, with a history going back several thousand years. The sociologist Allan Johnson suggests that a society is patriarchal “to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered.” I quote the historian Judith Bennett, who points out that “Almost every girl born today will face more constraints and restrictions than will be encountered by a boy who is born today into the same social circumstances as that girl.” That recognizes that all men are not always dominating all women—obviously other forms of power affect life outcomes—but women face obstacles and threats that men in similar circumstances do not face.

IS: Who benefits from patriarchy?

RJ: In some ways, all men benefit in short-term material ways from being a member of the dominant sex class, though of course the fate of men depends on those other factors, such as race and class. And in patriarchy, as in any system of power, some members of the subordinated class find ways to serve the system of power. But as a man, I focus on the responsibilities of men to challenge patriarchy, and if we can see past our own short-term interests I believe it’s in men’s interests to embrace radical feminism to move toward a fuller and richer sense of our own humanity.

IS: How is patriarchy maintained?

RJ: In various times and places, the women’s movement has been successful at eliminating the formal, legal rules that upheld patriarchy, though those struggles continue. But the cultural norms that support patriarchy, such as the assumption that women will present themselves as sexual objects for men’s pleasure, have proved to be tenacious. And, of course, the struggles to ensure women’s reproductive rights and to hold men accountable for sexual violence continue, and victories won are not necessarily permanent.

Patriarchy has conservative and liberal forms. Conservative men typically want to give fathers and husbands control over daughters and wives. Liberal men often want to maximize their access to as many women as possible. Religion and pop culture play a role. Like any other system of power, patriarchy is complex and changes over time, differing around the world. In my writing, I focus on the society I’m part of: the United States in the last half of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries.

IS: When feminist ideas are raised in certain circles, the response is often “The central issue is class, not gender – class inequality, including powerful women, causes more suffering to women than patriarchy.” What is your response to this line of argument?

RJ: My glib response is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time; we can analyze and attack more than one illegitimate system of hierarchy at a time. There will always be difficult decisions about strategy and tactics in a particular political moment, but the idea that men’s domination of women is less relevant to people’s lives than the exploitation of people in capitalism is silly. And, as is encompassed by the focus on an “intersectional” analysis, there’s no sensible way forward that doesn’t take into account the interplay of all these hierarchical systems, primarily sex/gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, and class. Given that patriarchy is the oldest of those systems in human history, it would be folly to treat it as being only of secondary concern.

IS: Your book, along with other feminist texts, points to a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today.

RJ: The masculinity norms that are routinely imposed on boys and men in contemporary U.S. culture are rooted in the idea that men must seek to control the world around them, to focus on conquest, which requires high levels of aggression and inevitable violence. Some of us describe this as a very toxic conception of masculinity. This isn’t the only way to understand what it means to be a male human being, of course, but it’s the common understanding that most boys learn. In patriarchy, to “be a man” is to demonstrate the ability to dominate women and to challenge other men.

IS: You discuss “rape culture” in your book. What is this?

RJ: Decades ago, radical feminists challenged the assumption that rape is a rare occurrence, and disputed the claim that these few sexual assaults are perpetrated by deviant men who can be handled in the criminal justice system and through psychological treatment. Instead, these feminists pointed out that rape is normal, both in the sense that is common and an expression of patriarchal conceptions of men’s right to use women sexually. So, rape is both illegal and routine. A rape culture doesn’t command men to rape but does blur the line between consensual sex and non-consensual rape, and also reduces the likelihood rapists will be identified, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and punished.

Pop culture and pornography provide a flood of examples of this conception of men’s sexual domination of women. Turn on the television, go to the movies, play a video game, or download pornography—you’ll see what a rape culture looks like.

IS: What concrete steps can men take to support women?

RJ: As is the case in fighting any system of oppression, there are countless ways to be part of a movement that seeks justice. Men can support—whether financially or through commitments of time—the existing institutions that seek to advance women’s liberation and aid the victims of patriarchy, such as reproductive health clinics and rape crisis/domestic violence centres. Men can join the movements to abolish prostitution and pornography, as well as publicly state their commitment to not using women in those sexual-exploitation industries. Men can hold other men accountable for sexist behaviour and speak up for gender justice in places they have power and privilege.

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 March 2017

In early January 2012 Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of the London-based domestic violence charity NIA, noticed an upsurge in the number of news stories about women killed by men. She started to make a list of the names, and then read a police statement that referred to the killing of one woman as “an isolated incident”.

This, she tells me when I visit her in her east London office, made her cross – and also motivated her to continue counting: “So many women in so few days. How can this be not seen as part of a trend? How can this be seen as ‘an isolated incident’?”

Gaining support from the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and another generous donor, Ingala Smith’s Counting Dead Women blog became the basis for the ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’. Published by Women’s Aid and NIA at the end of last year, the landmark report shows how, far from being “isolated incidents”, 936 women and girls over 14 years of age were killed by men in England and Wales between 2009 and 2015. Most women who were killed were found to be killed by a man known to them, with 64 percent killed by men identified as current of former partners.

Though she has years of professional experience of Intimate Partner Violence, 49-year old Ingala Smith says several findings surprised her, such as the number of older women killed in burglaries and robberies. “I would also say the number of women being killed by sons was also something I hadn’t expected to see”, she notes. “And the ages that women continue to be killed by intimate partners. That, again, is sad to see. You think of the years and years of abuse that a woman has lived with before she is finally killed in her 70s or 80s by a man who she has been with for years.”

Most shockingly, Ingala Smith explains how the report highlights what is called “overkill”, which she describes as “when men submit women to a level of violence that killed them several times over. So not only has he killed her once, he continues to injure her with an injury that would have been fatal had she not already been killed.”

Does recording these horrendous crimes take an emotional toll? “Yes, in a word”, she replies. “I’ve sort of developed a pattern now where at the end of every month I review the month and total women for that month, and update my blog on a monthly basis. And when I used to do that at first I literally did have a cry after every time I did it, sit in a darkened room and want to be on my own for a little while. Now I just get on with it.” However, she is concerned she doesn’t always get as upset as she used to. “I don’t ever want to be unshockable”, she says.

Though the media often represents violence against women and girls as perpetrated by a stranger down a dark alley or a predatory taxi driver, Ingala Smith says the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.

Surely we are talking about an epidemic of violence against women, I ask, thinking about the 2013 Crime Survey of England and Wales’s estimate that 28 percent of women have experienced domestic abuse? “We are talking about a massive scale problem”, she confirms, though she prefers not to use the word ‘epidemic’ because that “implies a medicalisation” of the issue. She argues this violence “affects all women even if we are not directly affected. I think all women are controlled by male violence and all men benefit from male violence even if they themselves never perpetrate it.”

There is, it seems, a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today. Ingala Smith agrees: “It’s about the social construction of masculinity and the social construction of femininity. So it’s about gender rather than about biology.”

“I think you have to look at the relationship between women and men and everything that creates the inequality between women and men”, she continues. “So entitlement, patriarchal laws, sexism, the objectification of women – all these create a context where women are seen as less than, and men expect control and dominance. I think that reproduces itself in some intimate relationships.”

Turning to solutions, Ingala Smith says reforming the criminal justice system and policing is important, though she believes they won’t solve the problem on their own. “If we look at the things that make men men and make women women, if we tackle those, so gender inequality, objectification of women, sexism etc. – that is where the big work has to go.” The Femicide Census itself argues for “statutory sex and relationship education covering healthy relationships, domestic abuse, consent and challenging sex role stereotypes as part of the national curriculum” because “better education about healthy relationships will help to prevent domestic abuse, and ensure that victims and perpetrators know where to go for help.”

She notes the Tory’s austerity agenda has led to more women being endangered, with local authorities passing on the cuts imposed on them to the services they fund, such as refuges for vulnerable women. For example, women’s services in the UK suffered a huge blow in 2015 when Eaves, a specialist service for women victims of violence, was forced to close. Frustratingly, the specialist services that survive are often at the mercy of grant funding based on contracts and competitive tendering, which means the services can end up being run by the lowest bidder and organisations which are not led by feminist women.

Is she hopeful about the recent feminist resurgence associated with women such as Laura Bates and Kat Banyard? “I really hope that women continue to find feminism”, she says. “I hope they don’t find liberal man-pleasing feminism. It does give me hope but not hope enough. I’ve found that as often as feminism reinvents itself there comes a backlash against that feminism.”

“I want to be hopeful but I’m not really”, she laughs ruefully, though later apologises for her negativity in an email.

Talking about her own feminist politics, Ingala Smith says her brand of feminism “tends towards” radical feminism. “I think inequality is structural, I think patriarchy exists”, she explains. “The things that identify radical feminism is that you talk about patriarchy and the male dominated society, you see that men’s violence against women is part of creating that patriarchy and maintaining it.” Another common tenant of radical feminism is the importance of women-only organising and women-only spaces. Ingala Smith doesn’t think men can be feminists, though believes men can make a difference and can be part of the solution. “I am saying that when we have feminist spaces they can butt out and make the rest of society a more feminist space.”

What concrete actions does she think men who support women should take? “Shut up and listen to women”, she laughs. “Fundraise for your local refuge.”

“I believe in decent men”, she says, “but I think men are a big problem as well. Masculinity is a big problem.” Again she is keen to highlight that she doesn’t think biology is destiny. ”There is a question, isn’t there? Why are men more violent than women? Men do most of the killing. Mostly they are killing other men more than women but you don’t see the reverse of that. Why is that?”, she asks. “It’s either nature or nurture or a combination of both. For the good of all of us as a species I’m hoping that it’s more nurture the nature.”

The ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’ report can be downloaded from https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-influencing/femicide-census/. See also http://www.niaendingviolence.org.uk/.

 

Book review: ‘The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power’ by Alex Nunns

Book review: ‘The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power’ by Alex Nunns
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
February-March 2017

Though there have now been a number of books published about Jeremy Corbyn’s election as the leader of the Labour Party in 2015, including Richard Seymour’s impressive Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics (PN 2596-2597), The Candidate is arguably the definitive account of those exciting days.

As the Political Correspondent of Red Pepper magazine, Alex Nunns is perfectly placed to chart Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign, writing a detailed, journalistic and engrossing account. He ends with a short afterword about the 2016 coup attempt and second leadership election – in which, amazingly, Corbyn increased his vote share to 62 percent.

All this feels a long way from Labour’s defeat in the May 2015 General Election. With the Labour left believing itself to be in an extremely weak position – journalist Owen Jones didn’t think the left should run a candidate because they would likely be “crushed” – Corbyn’s candidacy was initially given 200-1 odds by Ladbrokes. However, Nunns explains three large political forces came together to create the mass movement Corbyn rode to victory – the shift to the left of Labour Party members, the trade unions rejection of New Labour and grassroots campaigners like the anti-war movement and Occupy.

The section on the media’s hostility to Corbyn’s rise is particularly impressive. With the press going into “full blown panic mode”, Nunns’s focus on the Guardian’s opposition to Corbyn will be a wake-up call to those who see the newspaper as a friend of radical change. Nunns also includes lots of fascinating tidbits, from revealing the big unions didn’t want Corbyn’s closest ally John McDonnell to be Shadow Chancellor to how Labour HQ staff wore black on the day of Corbyn’s election to mourn the party they had lost.

Highlighting the important role of social media and describing how the campaign organised itself to create one of the most successful social movements the left has ever seen, the book is a hugely important resource for progressive activists. Frustratingly there is no index, though the extensive footnotes provide plenty of sources for those wishing to delve deeper.

With Corbyn’s leadership currently in something of a lull, with low poll ratings and a general election fast approaching, the crucial question is: what now? How can the left revitialise the establishment-beating movement of 2015-16? The answer will shape British politics in the years ahead because far from being the end of a campaign, in reality Corbyn’s election as Labour leader was just the beginning of a much longer struggle to overturn the dominance of neoliberalism and the UK’s aggressive foreign policy.

 

Book review: Shadow Wars. The Secret Struggle for the Middle East by Christopher Davidson

Book review: Shadow Wars. The Secret Struggle for the Middle East by Christopher Davidson
by Ian Sinclair
Red Pepper
February-March 2017

Having published the critically-acclaimed After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies in 2012, with his new book Christopher Davidson has broadened his analysis out to the wider Middle East. For Davidson, a Reader in Politics at Durham University, ‘the primary blame for not only the failure of the Arab Spring, but also the dramatic and well-funded rise of Islamist extremist organizations’ such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State ‘must rest with the long-running policies of successive imperial and “advanced-capitalist” administrations’ – that is, the West.

The 670-page tome (including 120 pages of footnotes) begins with a fascinating survey of the US and UK’s long history of interference around the world, opposed to any independent and democratic forces which might endanger access to natural resources or reduce the West’s geo-political advantage. In the Middle East this often covert counter-revolutionary strategy meant backing monarchs, radical Islamists and other reactionary forces, with the US taking the reins from the fading British Empire in the early 1950s. Davidson’s frequent citing of British historian Mark Curtis and American dissident William Blum hint at his own politics, though Shadow Wars delivers more detail and expertise than either Curtis or Blum. For example, there is an absorbing section about the US and UK’s support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan. “The US deliberately chose to back the most dangerous elements of the insurgency”, Davidson notes. The danger of this Machiavellian strategy was obvious, with 9/11 the shocking blowback.

Likely to be provocative to many, Davidson highlights a number of uncomfortable facts in chapters titled ‘Enter the Islamic State – A Phantom Menace’ and, more controversially, ‘The Islamic State – A Strategic Asset’. There is a welcome mention of the formerly classified 2012 US Defence Intelligence Agency report that notes the West wanted a ‘Salafist Principality’ to be established in Eastern Syria. Davidson also highlights how US-UK close allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported the Islamic State – confirmed by Hillary Clinton’s recently leaked emails that show the former US Secretary of State explaining the two Gulf monarchies are providing ‘clandestine financial and logistic support’ to the Islamic State ‘and other radical Sunni groups in the region’. So much for the Clash of Civilizations.

An accessible, though scholarly, tour de force, Shadow Wars is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the West’s ongoing and deadly interventions in the Middle East.

Shadow Wars. The Secret Struggle for the Middle East is published by Oneworld Publications, priced £25.

*An edited version of this review appears in Red Pepper