William Sieghart argues that Hamas is misunderstood by the Israeli, US and British governments. Two points. Sieghart says:
Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel or because it had been responsible for waves of suicide bombings that had killed Israeli citizens. They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them.
This may well be true. But it doesn't show that Hamas isn't dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. Second:
Despite renouncing violence and recognising the state of Israel Fatah had not achieved a Palestinian state. It is crucial to know this to understand the supposed rejectionist position of Hamas. It won't recognise Israel or renounce the right to resist until it is sure of the world's commitment to a just solution to the Palestinian issue.
There is a simple way through this: Hamas could make plain that it will recognize Israel as part of a comprehensive peace settlement that includes the achievement of a Palestinian state. So long as it doesn't do so, it may be that Hamas isn't entirely misunderstood.
"I was playing like Clifford (Brown), and I met Miles, and he said (Mr. Hubbard imitates Davis' raspy growl), 'You like Clifford?' And I said, 'Yeah, I think he's the baddest around.' And Miles said, 'Nah, he plays too much. He's too staccato. He plays too many notes.'
"Then he said to me, 'Freddie, you play too many notes. Ain't nobody can hear all that s-.' But he got me my first gig with Blue Note records."
From the jumping-off point of whether the assassination of political tyrants can be justified, Kellie Strøm gives a long and interesting account of the debate inside the Danish Resistance during World War II on whether it was permissible to kill informers.
Don't miss yesterday's effort by Nir Rosen on the Guardian's comment site. It's a model of its kind - of how to speak out of one side of your mouth while saying something different out of the other. I concentrate on Rosen's disquisition on terrorism, ducking and weaving its sorry way through the longer article. Here is where it starts, in paragraph 4:
An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.
You might hope that, Nir Rosen not being from amongst the groups he mentions and not being notably one of 'the weak', this would be the end of the story so far as he was concerned. But no such luck, he means to continue; and since he does, let us follow him, for by continuing he allows that even the non-weak may have a say on these matters. Rosen's paragraph 5:
Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful - whether Israel, America, Russia or China - will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan - with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed... these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.
You might think that, since 'terrorism' is said to be an empty word meaning 'everything and nothing', Rosen would have no truck with it. But think again. He's not above planting the idea in your mind that what the powerful do has a terrorizing purpose and would therefore properly fit the term. Why, he's implicitly giving it some descriptive content - what aims to terrorize - though he has earlier said that terrorism is not a descriptive concept. Forward and onward. Paragraph 7:
Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.
Let us leave aside here - no, actually let us not - that the claim is empirically false that 'For the weak to resist is illegal by definition'. The law may not always protect the weak, but it does so often enough that this cannot be a matter of mere definition. But such being what it is for nifty Nir, you might find yourself wondering why he should suddenly worry about a 'danger' to legality when he himself is busy discrediting the idea of legality as a mere cover for wanton power. But not to spend too much time wondering; Nir is someone not overly sensitive to the notion of one thing needing to be consistent with another or of the demands made by some statements following closely on the heels of other statements. Paragraph 8:
Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim land and dispossess the native population, be they Indians in North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the native population sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is taking away their land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they can.
What is he doing, strong Nir, offering a justification - 'they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure' - for attacking civilians, after he went and told that American journal that that question wasn't for the likes of them or the likes of us? What he's doing is speaking out of both sides of his mouth: forbidding us the question, while permitting himself to answer it. And what is he doing trying to give substance to the empty word 'terrorism', with these explanations of his? What he's doing is justifying the murder of civilians by saying that those who go in for it have no alternative to doing so. Which is false. From paragraph 11:
It is not that, qua Palestinians, they have the right to use any means necessary, it is because they are weak. The weak have much less power than the strong, and can do much less damage. The Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It is only in the current context that their actions are justified, and there are obvious limits.
Being weak gives you the right, then, to kill the innocent - though within limits which Rosen doesn't specify. But he may not be entirely comfortable about saying this. From paragraph 12:
It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power.
Impossible - but we already know that Rosen thinks bombing cafés is justified provided that you are weak. Next, this from paragraph 13 - not perhaps a Kantian principle, but the subtlest of suggestions as to who might (just) be the legitimate targets of terrorist attack:
I could argue that all Americans are benefiting from their country's exploits without having to pay the price, and that, in today's world, the imperial machine is not merely the military but a military-civilian network. And I could also say that Americans elected the Bush administration twice and elected representatives who did nothing to stop the war, and the American people themselves did nothing.
Nice. He could argue for killing his fellow Americans - whoever they are, however they voted, however young or old – though whether he is arguing that, who could possibly say? And, finally, from the same paragraph:
From the perspective of an American, or an Israeli, or other powerful aggressors, if you are strong, everything you do is justifiable, and nothing the weak do is legitimate. It's merely a question of what side you choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak.
Does Rosen really believe this? Because, of course, it can be turned against him. If all it's about is 'what side you choose', the powerful and those who defend them need have no qualms. Normative argument is empty, legality a fraud, power is everything... and stuff the weak. What complaint could Rosen have if stuffed is what the weak get to be? But it's not what he really believes. He has a moral argument he wants to make on the subject of attacking civilians and he makes it, but under cover of denying the resources of moral argument on that subject to everyone but the weak. His argument is to justify terrorist murder while claiming that terrorism is an empty concept.
It's no surprise that he does it, since such opinions are two-a-penny these days; and it's no surprise on which website he gets to do it, since the shape of contemporary left-liberalism comfortably accommodates this (shall we say) 'political tendency'. But what a farrago. What a shameful farrago of woolly thinking, soft excuse-making, repeated self-contradiction, and lack of all sense of argumentative continuity. One thing that will certainly still be happening in 2009: stuff like this will still be appearing regularly at www.guardian.co.uk.
Finally, never at any time prior to today, have all spheres of human life - social relations, culture, art, politics, sexuality, health, education, sport, entertainment - been so completely subjected to capital and so profoundly plunged into the "... icy water of egotistical calculation".
Let me add a strongly dissenting note, as a computer software engineer. Contrary to what Löwy says, there are large swathes of human life which are now subject to another mode of production, namely open source development methods. This mode of production is distinct from capitalism (since its producers are generally not paid in money) and distinct from most existing forms of socialism (since participation is entirely voluntary and there may be no central co-ordinating authority). Enabled by and supporting the rise of the Internet and the WWW, this model has been applied successfully in many industries, and has included the development of complex software and advanced pharmaceuticals, and the production of economic forecasts, forecasts of medical epidemics, news, scientific research, and all manner of artistic outputs. Indeed, most every time we read a blog - such as yours! - we are freely consuming intellectual content which has been produced by open-source methods.
If this is not a 'persuasive model of an alternative future', then I don't know what is!
After its severe strike on Gaza, Israel would do well to stop, turn to Hamas' leaders and say: Until Saturday Israel held its fire in the face of thousands of Qassams from the Gaza Strip. Now you know how harsh its response can be. So as not to add to the death and destruction we will now hold our fire unilaterally and completely for the next 48 hours. Even if you fire at Israel, we will not respond with renewed fighting. We will grit our teeth, as we did all through the recent period, and we will not be dragged into replying with force.
Moreover, we invite interested countries, neighbors near and far, to mediate between us and you to bring back the cease-fire. If you hold your fire, we will not renew ours. If you continue firing while we are practicing restraint, we will respond at the end of this 48 hours, but even then we will keep the door open to negotiations to renew the cease-fire, and even on a general and expanded agreement.
That is what Israel should do now. Is it possible, or are we too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war?
The rest is here. Grossman is wrong, I believe, when he says 'Israel's strength is almost limitless'. But that does not vitiate his proposal. (Thanks: S.)
Annie Ashworth is one half of the writing duo Annie Sanders. She and her co-author Meg Sanders have published five novels, including the best-selling Goodbye, Jimmy Choo and The Xmas Factor. As a genre it's probably best described as Hen Lit - not about young relationships but old cynicism. Writing as a duo is an unusual but very enjoyable way of working, which involves tolerance and immense honesty, but is curiously reassuring: someone else to bore senseless about your work who is also involved. Meg and Annie have also written several non-fiction books together, including Trade Secrets, around the BBC2 series. Annie is a director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival. Here she discusses Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom.
Annie Ashworth on Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
Life's too short to read anything twice. In fact I managed to scrape through my A-levels and my university degree reading the set texts just once, and I actually threw Middlemarch across the room with glee when I'd worked through to the last page. As tempting as it is to pick up and re-read something you've enjoyed - loved even - I only have to walk into a bookshop and I'm so overwhelmed by the novels that deserve and demand to be read, I know I'll never waste time going back over old ground.
So the yardstick of a great and loved book? That it moves house with me. When a house is sold - and there have been a few - and the bookshelves are emptied, much of their contents end up going to the Oxfam shop but some just can't be parted with. The Penguin Classics with their curled pages and notes in the margin in adolescent handwriting taken during seminars. Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf - though Lord knows why. I think she's overrated as a writer and I'm not sure she'd make it past the slush pile today. The complete works of Mary Wesley come with me too. She was a delight, an inspiration, a talent that was so nearly missed.
The sainted Jane Austen comes too of course, and though I've never re-read it in its entirety, Pride and Prejudice sits by my bed and I dip into it occasionally. It's a funny, clever, observant look at snobbery and 18th century life, but it's also the thinking woman's Mills and Boon. The scene in which Darcy reveals all transports you to a land of 'if only'. Then you close the book and try not to be cynical. You try not to think about how the relationship will get tired eventually, and how they'll have their first row and how their kids will drive them mad.
I'll never throw away Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns either. Both novels managed a remarkable feat – to transport the reader to a place they had never been or are ever likely to go and made them understand it. I could almost taste the dust in my mouth.
But there are some books that I have re-read and those were the ones that I curled up and read out loud to all three of my children. Books that have been passed down from the oldest to the youngest. Each time I read them they bring me joy. Children's books can be so wonderfully funny and inane, but they can be shocking too. The most dreadful events can take place, made starker somehow because they are couched in a story levelled at a child's understanding. Children take these events on the chin and move on. Perhaps for us adults they are all the more affecting because the emotions and fall-out are left hanging. They're not explored. The characters in the book don't discuss how they feel. Take, for example, Mrs Weasley hugging Harry Potter – one of the most moving moments in any book because this boy has had no maternal love, no love of any kind, for the whole of his life and has faced unimaginable fears. Suddenly a warm loving woman embraces him. To read this as a mother was almost too much to bear and I howled.
However, the book that has made me cry every time has to be Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom. This is a story that could be rewritten for adults and would be judged as fascinating and moving. Written as it is, though, for children, it is devastating. A young boy, Will, is evacuated from the East End to the country and billeted with a late-middle-aged widower who is cantankerous and unwelcoming. As the first part of the story unfolds, the reader gets a wonderful sense of hope that the country will be the saviour of this child. There are signs that all is not well – the bed-wetting and the dreams – but Will makes friends and shows an exceptional skill at drawing.
His mother's demand that he return to London and the scenes that follow are extraordinary, culminating in the moment when Tom goes to find him and discovers that his mother has run away and left Will locked under the stairs, tied up and holding in his arms the body of his dead baby sister. Your mouth drops open in disbelief. How could a mother behave like this? How could a child recover from such a trauma?
From then on you know that Tom has to kidnap him from the hospital to which he is taken, remove him from the threat of being taken to a children's home and make his world safe. It is such an unexpected scenario, an old man having custody of a young boy – can you imagine it being allowed to happen today! But it is this that makes the story so moving. Tom can show his compassion again – he was clearly a wonderful husband – and this boy will get all the love and care he needs.
This is not the end of the blows – his best friend Zac is killed in the Blitz – but somehow the book limps to its conclusion. It's an unusual 'happy ending'. Good has overcome evil in a way, though it's an odd sort of evil, and I have closed the book every time fearing how long William will have this safety net. What if Tom dies, as he inevitably will soon? How will the past come back and manifest itself when Will becomes a man?
I don't imagine my children absorbed any of these implications, and why would they? They came away with a sense of relief. I am left with an immense feeling of unease and it is this that makes it one of the most unusual books I have ever read.
[All the pieces that have appeared to date in this series, with the links to them, are listed here, here, here and here.]