Salvini supporters are publicly calling for Greta Thunberg to be assassinated

I wrote here two days ago that the cutting edge fashion in global fascism is to abandon climate denial and seek to co-opt concern for the environment rather than disdain it; Marine Le Pen, for example, no longer sees climate change as a Jew-led conspiracy but as a golden opportunity to push her agenda of global genocide. It’s since transpired that Italy is behind the French on this score. Although de facto Italian leader Matteo Salvini would no doubt approve of the means Brenton Tarrant used to put his beliefs into practice – the Australian fascist had the name of Salvini’s ally and ex-Lega candidate Luca Traini written on one of his guns – the terrorist’s self-description as an “eco-fascist” would seemingly cause Salvini some puzzlement, judging by the reaction of his supporters to the worldwide Climate Strike on Friday.

This article (in Italian) details the comments made by several pro-Salvini personaggi, some of them prominent in the Italian media, over the last few days. The writer and TV personality Maria Giovanna Maglie called for the Swedish teenage activist to be “mown down by a car”, while the former pop star Rita Pavone called her “a character from a horror movie”. Diego Fusaro, a political philosopher whose self-definition as a “Marxist” should be taken with un grandissimo pezzo di sale, accused the 16-year-old of being part of a plot by the “cosmopolitan elite” (hem hem). The well-known climate liar and founder of the daily newspaper ‘Il Foglio’, Giuliano Ferrara, tweeted “I don’t want to be accused of pedophobia, but I detest this idolatrous figure Greta and her disgusting braids, and the false world of lies she weaves round herself”. The hashtag #nogreta was trending among supporters of Salvini’s neofascist Lega party and its fellow travellers/coalition partners in the Five Star Movement, some of whom still, bizarrely, style themselves as environmentalists and even, in some outlandish cases, anti-racists. Salvini himself joined in with a typically puerile Trump-style tweet welcoming global warming as it will mean more “herbs”, a comment which will delight those among the Five Star Movement who aren’t in outright denial about Salvini’s being in power. A Five Star supporter I spoke to on Friday confirmed what I’d heard elsewhere, in that he felt that Salvini and the Lega “weren’t really” in control of the Government and that the self-confessed fan of Mussolini should be given “more time” to implement his agenda, which includes forcibly evicting and deporting hundreds of thousands of neri, protecting the Mafia by removing police protection from journalists who investigate them and building a European far-right alliance with Kaczynski, Orbán, Le Pen, and all those other names far too depressing to mention.

I’ve read* that those who voted for the electorally larger but politically junior element in his coalition (one of whom (although few people can remember whom) is nominally Prime Minister) pay little to no attention to ‘MSM’ accounts of what the Lega gets up to, putting their faith instead in the blog of their guru Beppe Grillo, a Pied Piper demagogue with a…colourful personal history**. Grillo has in the past blustered about climate change but in case anyone had their hopes up that his movement represents a progressive form of populism, also once proclaimed that “Anti-fascism is outside my purview” and tweeted that Rome is full of “swamped by rats, rubbish and illegal immigrants”. In a devastating article detailing Italy’s ‘descent into barbarism’, the universally respected journalist Roberto Saviano writes:

When people speak in general terms of populism in relation to this government they risk obscuring truly alarming facts on the ground with abstract political labels. There is no doubt that the blind eye this administration turns to racist attitudes has had serious consequences. Cynically the government gives a nod and a wink to extremist groups whose votes they do not want to lose.

The fact that Grillo’s blog has been called “the largest source of fake news in Europe” also helps explain why the Five Star Movement is far more committed to ensuring that kids aren’t protected from life-threatening diseases than it is to defending children who stand up for the environment from far-right death threats. At least it can’t be accused of incoerenza.

*The Lega/M5S Fascist/Moron coalition is a Rorschach blot, albeit with merda rather than ink. From that link: “The alliance between the Five Star party (the post-crisis ‘populists’) and the League (the xenophobic ‘populists’) is arguably functioning because of the borders around their electorates’ news sources. Occasionally I come across people who actively support both Five Star and the League. Far more common, however, are supporters of one party who are effectively ignorant of the policies of the other. For example, a Salvini supporter might rail on about how the closure of the ports will save Italian women from predatory Africans, but will have nothing to say about Five Star’s economic policies. On the other hand, a gloating Di Maio worshipper will happily praise the wonders of Five Star’s citizens’ income proposal or their anti-corruption stance, but will actively disassociate themselves from the League’s racism. And this is exactly the tactic of the separation of Ministerial powers: Di Maio, minister for jobs and welfare, makes no pronouncements about migration. But neither does his party. Search Five Star’s Facebook page, and you’ll find no mention of the Salvini law, as if it simply hasn’t happened. The same is true vice versa (with the exception of pension reforms, which the League takes as one of its central policies).”

**The M5S Party Line is that it was “ice on the road” that caused Grillo to crash his car and kill three people. That wasn’t the verdict of the court.

Citizenship, securitisation and scapegoating

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I don’t know much at all about guns. I wouldn’t be able to name the weapons that the two policemen are holding just five feet away from me on this tube train. (I’m not even sure about the difference between feet and metres.) When I saw them I gave a start, partly because I’m not used to seeing such a sight but also because I’ve just been reading in The Guardian about the status of Shamima Begum, born just a few miles (or slightly more kilometres) away but now languishing in a refugee camp in Syria, so terrorism, state violence and my immunity from it (or otherwise) have been very much on my mind. If I continue on this train for one more stop I’ll reach Parliament, but I’m getting off at Waterloo, partly because I want to research the topic of citizenship and securitisation in the library of the university where I’m doing a module in Multilingualism, Migration and Diversity. The course tutor sent us an email this morning asking us to prepare for a seminar next month on that theme.

I don’t know whether Shamima Begum has ever handled a weapon, but I do know that she holds a British passport which is presently null and void. She has no other passports, and since the UK has no formal constitution if you don’t have a passport you’re not a citizen. The Home Secretary’s decision thus makes her stateless, which is illegal under international law. Strangely the focus of the Guardian article is not on the fact that the Home Secretary, whose parents migrated here from Pakistan, is attempting to break international law. Maybe if a previous government had respected international law there wouldn’t be a war in Syria and there wouldn’t be armed policemen on the tube. Just a thought.


We used to live in Rome, where armed soldiers were a common sight around metro and train stations. Those soldiers are now under the direction of the de facto leader of a coalition government of neofascists and internet trolls who is the same person who will next year be signing my Italian passport, unless someone reads this first and decides to turn me down because they don’t agree with my political opinions. (I’m not about to go to Syria to cut people’s heads off, but at the same time I don’t think it was wrong for George Orwell et al to take up arms against a previous generation of European fascists.) One purpose of getting an Italian passport was to remain an EU citizen in the wake of Brexit, but that may be moot in any case if Salvini’s cohorts take over the EU Parliament in May and destroy the EU from within. The prospect of the people in Westminster prolonging Article 50 to keep the UK in the EU temporarily is becoming less likely because the UK mustn’t be allowed to participate in those elections. This ungodly mess helps to explain why everyone is talking about the damage Shamima Begum might do to vital national interests instead of the incalculable harm our own government is doing to all of our life chances. Yesterday a friend whose wife is also Italian got a letter from their child’s nursery specifying that vouchers for 3 year old children of EU parents won’t yet be stripped and “any future changes will be in line with the future immigration system”, which is less than reassuring in that we know that our government will readily take away people’s most basic rights whenever doing so might stop people talking about what’s happening to the economy as a result of the ongoing civil war in the Conservative Party, a war which David Cameron decided to try to resolve once and for all by spreading it to the entire country.

Who radicalised Shamima Begum to the point where she didn’t even blink at the sight of a severed head and thought the motives and means behind the Manchester attack understandable? What sort of people seek to promote politically-inspired violence against defenceless civilians, including children? Surely whoever encouraged impressionable young women to join a war against their fellow Muslims and their country of birth must be identified and brought to justice as soon as possible…

Here’s a Martin Amis-style thought experiment: Could there be some sort of connection between her youthful indiscretion and the decision of our Government in 2003 to flout international law and take part in an illegal invasion which left hundreds of thousands of people dead, destabilised the entire region and created millions of refugees? Some very powerful people in the government and the media are determined that such questions not be asked in the rush to condemn and castigate such a perfect scapegoat. According to another article in today’s Guardian, today marks 50 years since Rupert Murdoch, who was born in Australia and also holds an American passport, took control of The Sun newspaper.  I see this morning on Twitter that one of his protégées, Stig Abell, is applauding the Home Secretary’s decision. Abell was Editor-in-chief of The Sun when it published (that is to say, he published) a column by Katie Hopkins in which she called for boats full of refugees fleeing Isis to be bombed and advocated another “final solution”.

Now that’s pretty radical. Surely someone – the Home Secretary, perhaps – must be demanding that such an inhuman creature be brought to justice and his passport be removed? Er, no. He’s currently the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

I think I’ll stick with the LRB, thanks.

Here’s what the illiberal media doesn’t want you to know about the Finsbury Park attack

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My wife and I used to live just up the road from the Finsbury Park Mosque, but now we live in Rome with our four-month-old daughter. How will we cope with bringing up a child in a time of mounting global turmoil, with terrorist attacks and climate disasters assailing us on almost a daily basis? In much the same way that previous generations have: by telling her stories which introduce and explain the world as comfortingly and as gently as possible, tales which allow her to gradually sense the dangers but also to imagine herself into the world as a protagonist as well as (we hope) a responsible citizen.

Adults tell each other stories in much the same way. The internet has sped up the process of the fabrication of fairy tales. Within minutes of an event like the attack in Finsbury Park, there are already rumours circulating online. Why did the police take so long to arrive? Could it be connected to the Grenfell Fire, or to London Bridge? Did it really happen? Is it all a distraction, a ‘false flag’?

Such gossip reassures people. It tells them who they are and situates shocking events in a familiar context. It reminds people they are powerless, that the world is under control, while also allowing them to pose in their heads as both initiates and heroes, privy to and sharers of occult and dangerous truths.

But while as parents we have our daughter’s best interests at heart, wanting to protect and prepare her for the joys and hazards of existence, purveyors of internet fairy tales do not. They use stories to manipulate, to promote an view of the world which benefits particular interests.

The mainstream media can operate in similar ways, but without as much blatant dishonesty and manipulation. Where that does exist, it tends to be infinitely more complex and sophisticated and not by any means always conscious. Recent exceptions to this, most notably Blair’s dodgy dossier and the lies of the Brexit campaign, have discredited democracy and the media and encouraged people to get their information about the world from even less trustworthy sources, ones that make a virtue of their antipathy towards formal media standards and regulations.

Someone in a Jeremy Corbyn Facebook group this morning was quick to blame the Finsbury Park attack on the “New World Order”. His kneejerk recourse to that phrase suggests he may have come under the spell of that most fraudulent of all tricksters, Alex Jones, who just by coincidence (really, Richard? Is that what you think?!) was the subject of a horribly misguided puff piece on NBC just last night. Jones is prominent nowadays as he has the ear of the President* and also because for the last few years he has been telling the world that the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre didn’t happen, that the children who ‘died’ and their ‘grieving’ parents were all actors. In promoting this story Jones achieves several objectives: drawing attention to himself, posing as someone who’s wise to what ‘The Establishment’ is secretly up to, and (most importantly) letting gun-lovers off the hook. The NRA is, of course, one of the most powerful and dangerous organisations in US history.

You don’t have to dig very far to see how the fledgling roots of these online fairy tales connect to some of the most powerful reactionary interests in the world. Online conspiracy theorising is, after all, a deeply conservative phenonenon, even though its often those on the Left who fall prey to it. Yesterday someone in the same Facebook group someone posted a link to an article which promised to tell you the facts that the ‘liberal media’ want to keep hidden about the Grenfell Fire. The article cut and pasted a post from the far-right website The Daily Caller which blamed environmental regulations for the disaster. The same material has been published days earlier by the right-wing British tabloids the Daily Mail and Express. While we can choose to ignore news outlets which we know to be controlled by political and/or business interests and place our critical trust in more independent, transparent and accountable publications, the internet exposes us to much more insidious attempts to hack our brains and install ideologically toxic misinformation.

No wonder Jones’ ‘friend’ Donald Trump instructs his supporters to ignore everything the ‘liberal media’ writes about him, while boasting that all he knows about the world he learned online. Progressives have to be cleverer and more critical than him when dealing with information about news events. That shouldn’t be too difficult, in theory. Just stick to news and commentary sites designed for adults, learn to question what you read without rejecting facts and arguments out of hand for no good reason, and steer well clear of those purveying internet fairy tales.

ps. If you’re seeking the facts as they stand in relation to the Finsbury Park terrorist attack, here are some sources which can help you:

http://www.guardian.co.uk
http://www.bbc.co.uk
http://www.independent.co.uk

Ps. This, from the University of Sheffield politics blog, is a very compelling argument which we Labour members and supporters ignore at our peril:

The ‘rigged economy’ conspiracy theory

In a previous critique of Corbynism, I examined the ‘personalised’ critique of capitalism which underlies the worldview of Corbyn and many of his supporters. This perspective sees poverty, economic crashes, inequality and even war as being the result of the conscious behaviour of shadowy ‘global elites’, usually in the financial sector.  Such a viewpoint, common amongst right and left, fails to grasp capital as an abstract social relation, dominating both rich and poor alike, and at its most extreme can lead to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of Jewish plots to rule the world through control of the banks.  The prevalence of this kind of foreshortened critique of capitalism (or neoliberalism, as popularly understood) goes some way to explain the spread of conspiracy theories about the ‘Rothschilds’ and ‘Zionists’ through much of the ‘Canary’/‘Skwawkbox’ left, as well as the alt-right – they are not contingent or accidental, but the consequence of pushing an analysis of capitalism as conspiracy to its logical conclusion.

Since his ‘populist turn’ at the start of the year, Corbyn has severely ramped up this kind of talk.  Throughout the election campaign there were endless references to the ‘rigged economy’ set up by elites which had ‘ripped off’ the British people.  Like the isolationist foreign policy, this discourse has an appeal to both the ‘anti-vax’ wing of the Green left and the Trumpian-UKIP right, with the vagueness of the ‘rigged’ concept allowing people to point the finger of accusation at whatever scapegoat fits their particular prejudice.  While it can be effective, there is an inherent risk in this kind of approach to politics, in that it can rapidly spiral out of control and in unexpected directions if not strictly supervised.  There is no guarantee that once let out of the bottle this kind of personalised critique of capitalism will inevitably lead in a progressive direction.  If it is true that Corbyn has managed to patch up a right-left electoral alliance on these grounds  –  along with implied migration controls and an isolationist foreign policy  –  it will require extreme vigilance to ensure it does not veer onto a regressive track.

(http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2017/06/13/reassessing-corbynism-success-contradictions-and-a-difficult-path-ahead/)

Fuck your ‘false flag’

Within minutes of the news breaking about the absolutely horrifying terrorist attacks in London, across social media people were coming up with and spreading conspiracy theories about the attack. They encouraged whoever came across their posts to ‘keep an open mind’.

Here’s a theory of mine about those who carried out the attacks:

They were young men who spent all their time stoned online watching all sorts of utterly irresponsible and scurrilous videos on YouTube. They rejected the ‘mainstream media’ as inherently corrupt and believed that the Internet gave them access to deeper and more dangerous truths hidden from ordinary people, who they regarded as catastrophically naive.

And here’s a message from me to those spreading inane and obnoxious conspiracy theories about the London attack:

The appropriate response to the indiscriminate mass murders is not to ‘keep an open mind’. It’s to read the facts as reported by responsible and professional journalists who were on the scene. Those who abuse social media to spread puerile conspiracy theories are little better than the hate preachers who exploit the horror to push their violent and racist agendas.

Have respect for the victims by reading the established facts about what was done to them. Don’t hide from the reality of what happened by ignoring news reports. After all, you’re supposed to be an adult. Claiming that the ‘MSM’ is all the same, that the Guardian or the BBC are no more to be trusted than the Daily Star or Fox News, is puerile. It also happens to be what Donald Trump wants you to believe.

When dealing with the mass media, be critical, but don’t be gullible or cynical. These events are real, just like Climate Change is real. Don’t get misled by manipulative but comforting internet fairy tales. That’s one way that young men (and it is always, always, always young men) get to the point where they can carry out things like this.

And don’t take the apparent fact that the three dead terrorists were known to police as evidence of collusion. If the police arrested all young men suspected of jihadi sympathies, thousands upon thousands of presumably innocent people would have to be interned. We haven’t yet got to that point, thank God. Similarly, if anyone can think of ways to stop people driving vans into pedestrians or running into crowded open spaces with knives, feel free to suggest them. These are complex, difficult issues – it’s far easier to just shout ‘ban Islam!’ or ‘false flag!’. Such responses are not, in the end, all that dissimilar: thoughtless, kneejerk reactions to a seemingly intractable problem (of young men disaffected to the point of psychopathic nihilism and exploited by political interests), which can only be meaningfully addressed by means of the application of intelligence and patience, with respect for the rule of law and human rights absolutely paramount. Let’s do everything we can to ensure we will soon have a government which understands that.

If you want to link these attacks to the election, don’t be a dick and go around telling people that they were secretly carried out by The Man. Point out that the heroes of the hour – the police, the paramedics, the surgeons and nurses – are all having their jobs, wages and conditions cut and the services they provided exploited for profit, and the survivors of such tragedies, those left physically crippled and/or psychologically damaged by the experience, are bullied and made destitute by a Government that has complete contempt for the notion of the public good. All of that happens to be true – you don’t need to believe in some sub-Infowars bullshit conspiracy theory to see that our rulers urgently need to be replaced. The basic facts about injustice and corruption are not hidden, however consoling it may be to pretend that they are. The idea that the world is run in secret is useful to the powerful – if it were true, it would leave us powerless to do anything about it. Thankfully, it isn’t, and we’re not. If you want to exercise your power, get offline and go canvassing instead. We have very little time left.

Manchester: Some reflections

Here are some hopefully not too glib or hasty thoughts on the Manchester atrocity.

Of all possible universes, in what fucked-up galaxy does someone sit and watch a concert surrounded by innocent children having the time of their lives and then blow them all up? It seems to be the same appallingly misaligned solar system in which people walk into crowded marketplaces with backpacks containing tightly packed and condensed death. After all, similarly barbaric events regularly take place in Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul. However, for us the Manchester bombing is close to home in several ways. We now have a baby daughter who seems to love music and one day will want to be taken to her first gig. The concert in question is exactly the kind of event my young nieces dream of attending. The social context is all too imaginable, although the grief is almost impossible to contemplate.

Reports describe thousands of people running in blind panic from the sudden carnage, running for the exits. Fleeing is among the basic instincts we possess, and it’s profoundly human to (as many did) offer protection and comfort to the survivors. Thus it would be horribly ironic if the shockwaves from the attack were to rebound on others who have escaped larger theatres of violence. Those who seek to instrumentalise the tragedy, to conduct a banal symphony of hatred against people seeking refuge from other sites of indiscriminate mass murder should be treated with absolute contempt. Hate preachers such as Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins have much more in common with the people who planned and carried this out than with those who died, regardless of their nationality. As for The Sun, in addition to hosting Hopkin’s call for refugees to be massacred en masse, it recently had on its front page a photo of a child refugee along with a demand for his teeth to be checked so his age could be verified. Their mawkish coverage of this event puts me in mind of Oscar Wilde’s comment about sentimentality being the bank holiday of cynicism*.

Like any rational person, I hope they do track down the psychopaths who radicalised the murderer and interrogate all those he came into contact with. There’s little point looking at the Koran for clues to what inspired such evil. After all, the Bible is just as violent. A better indication as to what draws young men to violence is to be found in this recent must-read article on the pull of nihilism:

This self-destructive dimension has nothing to do with the politics of the Middle East. It is even counterproductive as a strategy. Though Isis proclaims its mission to restore the caliphate, its nihilism makes it impossible to reach a political solution, engage in any form of negotiation, or achieve any stable society within recognised borders.

It’s reported that the presumed killer spent time in Libya, and was possibly trained there. Maybe that’s where he acquired and developed his taste for death. Just as it’s very difficult to read about the experiences of those in the Arena, it’s extremely hard to face up to what’s going on there. Countless thousands are held in Isis-run camps in Libya, where they are summarily tortured and killed. I’ve met several people in Rome who escaped. There is a sense in which European citizens are happy for such camps to exist as long as the people in them are thereby prevented from clambering onto rickety boats and trying to reach safety here. We can choose to look away from what is happening but doing so puts in a similar category to German civilians who knew something untoward was going on in the K.Z.. At least they were scared about speaking out. We don’t have that excuse.

I found the BBC coverage of the aftermath of the bombing appalling. There was a total failure to put what had happened into any context. There is a stupid idea prevalent in TV media in particular that attempts to explain events are the same as excuses. This presumably explains why there was a total lack of experts offering some attempt at making sense of the horror. The main news story on BBC London opened with random people on the street offering their feelings of rage and solidarity. Clearly no blame attaches to those people, but the Dianafication of this extremely serious episode is regrettable. We have a duty to address these events in an adult way, at the same time as seeking a means to explain such evil to our children. That doesn’t mean it’s the job of the BBC to treat its grown-up viewers like infants.

At least there was one BBC interviewee who in response to an asinine question from the reporter pointed out that the majority of Isis’ victims are not Europeans but Muslims in the Middle East. Please let’s not fall into the trap of thinking the life of an Iraqi child is worth less than that of a British one, that a bombing of a concert in Manchester is worse than a bomb in a Baghdad marketplace.

Of course, there is the urgent question of how the terrorist got hold of the bomb material. He may well have been trained in the Middle East. As it happens, the US Government has just sold $100,000,000,000 worth of death material to a country which is currently committing genocide in a neighbouring country. It also happens to be the nation that sponsored the atrocity which gave birth to the war on (and of) terror.

One hundred billion dollars buys a lot of Manchesters. It’s a huge investment in murdered sons and daughters, some of them our own. And the arms-dealing President, who hates all Muslims except those who have large amounts of money to invest in pure evil, has more in common with the Manchester terrorist than he does with his victims. As for our own Government, it has made it abundantly clear that basic protection of our lives and freedoms is no longer a priority.

*Although the cynicism of tabloid editors is far surpassed by that of the ‘false flag’ scumbags who claim that the dead children never existed in the first place. People who spread such repugnant nonsense are probably nihilistic enough to go and join Isis, but too lazy and scared to do so, so they find easier and safer ways to destroy lives.

Who can mark themselves safe from the changing climate?

It would be beyond absurd to vaingloriously demand that the alacrity and visceral passion with which people repond to random violent attacks on cities they live in or regularly visit were extended to every single news report involving human suffering. I myself, although I don’t live in London at present, pass through Westminster regularly and I also have dozens of friends and former colleagues who could easily have been amongst those murdered. But.

The near-total indifference on social media to stories like this never ceases to be maddening and dispiriting. Social media has, as so many have eloquently explored of late, a collective mechanism for hiding from that which makes us most uncomfortable and constructing an alternative, simpler reality.

I understand why people mark themselves safe, and am glad to see friends and acquaintances do so. But who can mark themselves safe from the climate? Maybe by avoiding sharing, liking and commenting upon such stories we believe at some level that we are making ourselves immune. What we haven’t seen can’t affect us. It’s not part of our world. And how could we not be immune, given that we don’t regard ourselves as responsible?

As for the number 1 Twitter hashtag (#prayforlondon), if only we could ‘pray’ for the stability of our climate, or at least for the courage to try to preserve that stability. To quote Soren Kierkegaard, “the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays”. If only we would bring ourselves to at least reflect on the facts presented to us by (in this case) reponsible journalists and eminently trustworthy scientists, we might start to understand the connection between the prevalence of infinitely more deadly (if not so telegenic and instantaneous) climate disasters and our own (abdicated and disavowed) responsibility to make lifestyle choices and political commitments which ensured that humanity as a whole could be marked safe.

Terrorism is the evocation of fear for political purposes. My terror is that we are as a species incapable of responding to knowledge of our impending self-annihilation. The political and social consequences of such awareness appear to be too serious and too massive for us to accept. In the words of Philip Larkin, this is a special way of being afraid.

Thus: what is indifference to climate change (mine, yours, all of ours) but another form of terrorism? One which becomes no less frightening or threatening by virtue of our incessant muting and unfollowing of our knowledge of it? The fear just expresses itself in other ways. That, to me, is the main reason we are nowadays so given over to anger at others. It is an expression of frustration at our collective impotence, and as such it is the perfect fuel for fascism.

What’s the alternative? Start by reading this, and then post it all over your social media outlets.

Immediate consequences of the attack in London

​Marine Le Pen, bubbling with ebullience after talking to France 24 in appropiately forthright tones about the French students injured in the attack, has sent a triumphant text to her beloved papa and cracked open some decent champagne she was saving for just such a special occasion, while Nigel Farage, who was about to head home to whoever he’s using as a wife this month, has instead ordered another pint of IPA and starting to feel nicely settled in. Donald Trump is sitting on the Oval Office toilet with his iphone in his other hand, wondering what he can say to the cameras that will make him sound important, as if he really was President of the United States, and also hoping that whatever has happened won’t interfere with his golfing plans. Meanwhile, Theresa May is asking herself if this will mean she gets to go on playing at being Prime Minister for the time being, and also feeling a bit guilty whenever she hears the Houses of Parliament described in the news reports as the ‘home of democracy’, as she knows very well that what she’s planning to do next Wednesday will make (yet another) hollow mockery of such a claim. Throughout the United Kingdom friends and families are starting to receive messages and phone calls from which they will never quite recover, while all over the world middle managers of airline companies which fly in and out of the Middle East are wondering if they’re ever going to get to go home, kiss their kids goodnight and lie down to sleep off their nagging headaches.

EFL worksheet: Russell Brand’s new podcast

listen-to-russell-brands-new-pod

The British standup comedian and political gobbermouth Russell Brand has gone back to school (well, university) (well, SOAS) to learn more about politics, and he’s sharing his new knowledge in the form of an excellent new podcast in which he (making the most of his celebrity connections) interviews leading figures from areas related to religion and global politics. This lesson uses the first episode, which is an interview with the political philosopher Brad Evans called ‘Can we really stop terror?’. It will work well with upper-int(+)/advanced EFL/ESOL students with an interest in  global issues and also with EAP/IELTS classes.

Worksheet

  1. Preparing to listen

On your phone or tablet, google the following to find out who or what they are and then compare notes with a partner:

Russell Brand                      Ed Miliband             Brad Evans               SOAS

Now see if you can find anything they have in common.

  1. Podcast – gapfill

Try to identify the missing words. Remember that a) you won’t be able to understand every word and b) you don’t need to!

Part 1 (0.50 – 8.43)

  1. I’m doing a three-year __________ in Religion and Global Politics.
  2. His work introduced me to the relationship between governments and _________.
  3. …the sudden lurch to the __________ as demonstrated by Brexit and the rise of Trump.
  4. I realized this was a very complex world and I realized I didn’t have the artillery to engage in this __________.
  5. What do you say to someone like me who feels __________ with politics but doesn’t know quite where to begin?
  6. Our power to change the world is still __________ to these nationalistic models.
  7. We feel __________ because we know change is not going to happen through those kinds of mechanisms.
  8. One of the purposes of an academic is to ask how we can __________ the right types of questions.
  9. What is the historical __________? What makes this moment this moment?
  10. Why is it that we often put the blame on the __________ of the most vulnerable?

Now check your answers with your partner.

Part 2 (8.43 – 17.57)

  1. There is no such thing as Muslim __________ separate from US imperialism.
  2. The term terror has a much broader historical __________.
  3. If you look at the old colonial seafaring powers, they had the __________.
  4. On the one hand you had powers trying to establish __________.
  5. The best way to understand any political regime is to understand the relationships of __________ that it’s engaged in.
  6. Liberalism says it has a __________ over these terms – universality, rights, security, justice – but it doesn’t.
  7. He doesn’t stipulate one precise point about what this shared universal __________ system actually looks like.
  8. The idea that liberalism can transform the world for the better is __________.
  9. People are denied the most fundamental political right, which is the right to __________.
  10. You have these impoverished communities who are taught by the media and people like __________ to fear these people who are deeply vulnerable.

Now check your answers with your partner.

Part 3 (17.57 – 26.07)

  1. Whose story is the __________ story, and how do they get to maintain it?
  2. You get people to __________ the conditions they should find intolerable.
  3. Global capitalism today doesn’t require __________ of the world’s population.
  4. Why doesn’t that idea get __________ more?
  5. People are working in such __________ environments today, they can just turn on the TV and be filtered a message which is comforting to them.
  6. It’s what the late Zygmunt Bauman called ‘__________’.
  7. We live in an age of what I’ve called ‘__________’.
  8. You have to __________ them from trying to achieve the kind of lifestyles that we’ve been selling to them.
  9. The ways in which certain elites are operating is having __________ consequences for people on the planet.
  10. One of the questions we need to ask is ‘where is the __________?’.

Now check your answers with your partner.

  1. Discussion

Now you’re going to have a conversation about what you’ve heard. Think on your own for two minutes about the following question:

How does the conversation relate to a) your life b) your country c) your view of the world?

You can take some notes if you wish. Look up or ask your teacher for any vocabulary you might need.

Now get into a group of three or four and compare your reactions to the podcasts for ten minutes. One person in the group will need to report back to the whole class on what is said so they need to write down any interesting points. Remember that you don’t have to agree with each other – if you have different points of, explore them, but remember that this isn’t Facebook – be respectful!

Homework

Using your phone, either with a classmate or on your own, make a 5-minute podcast in which (similarly to what you just did in class) you talk about your reaction(s) to the podcast. You might want to listen to the rest of the podcast before you start, but you don’t have to.

HEALTH WARNING: You might find the ambivalence of your students upon hearing that 60-70% of the world’s population is surplus to the requirements of global capitalism somewhat dispiriting.

Rome: Armed soldiers and homeless immigrants

img-20161224-wa0000-1These are some fairly disorganised thoughts scribbled in a station and on a train on 24th December last year. I have a bad habit of trying to (in the words of my wife) connect the dots and present a complete and coherent picture of an issue. For reasons that will become clear I don’t want to do that here.

There have almost certainly been homeless people in Rome for as long as the city has existed. Similarly the presence of armed soldiers has probably been a constant. Here in and around Termini Station there is an abundance of both, but ordinary life is going on oblivious. On the main concourse there is a Christmas tree with messages and wishes stuck to it. One piece of paper reads simply: Gulio.

Gulio Regeni, whose name has been seen everywhere in Italy this year, was, after a fashion, a migrant, an Italian PhD student in Egypt. He was by all accounts an exemplary human being, the sort of person who quite simply gives you hope for the future. He was murdered by the security services. They saw him as a potential threat: a European in a repressive Middle-Eastern country asking searching questions and sticking up for people whose livelihoods and rights were threatened, and who had no alternative but to stand up for each other and take whatever outside help they could get.

He could have stayed in Italy and helped migrants here. There are lots of good people involved in such initiatives, people from the church and civil society. The Italian Navy has managed to save huge numbers of people from the Mediterranean, but the response of national and local government authorities has sometimes been a lot less helpful. Recently the police in Rome turfed out the inhabitants of a volunteer centre which was housing, feeding and advising homeless newcomers. Lots of people on the streets come from Senegal, Mauritius and Pakistan. They are, despite their religious background and the colour of their skin, the counterparts of the Italians who went in such huge numbers to the Americas a century ago and who now go to work and study in London and elsewhere. Any one of them could be another Gulio Regeni.

In Rome there is huge pressure on public housing. It started before the recent wave of migration. Nevertheless openly racist groups like Casapound have been exploiting the crisis for their own ends. A family of Moroccan origin, who have been here for several years and are now Italian, were prevented last month from moving into the apartment assigned to them by a group of ‘locals’ shouting “we don’t want blacks here”. I came across other migrants online (white European ones, who classify themselves as ‘expats’) who made excuses for the protests.

Homeless people, whether migrants or otherwise, are usually invisible. Armed soldiers are too, albeit in a different way. I’m used to guns, having seen so many of them in Mexico. When we came back to Europe last December they were already everywhere. It’s not just stations and airports and major tourist sites, but also our local metro station. They are there to identify and exclude anyone who might be a threat.

They are there in Brussels too. No-one talks about it, a friend of ours who lives there tells us. It’s become a taboo. Life must go on.

It’s all too complex and contradictory to assemble into a simple picture or a single narrative. The problems are multifaceted, dynamic and interlinked. What’s the proper reaction to attacks like the ones in Paris, Brussels and Berlin? Any response is inevitably partial and incoherent. For several days this month no big trucks were allowed to circulate in Rome. Last month there was a similar prohibition in place because of the pollution. In the first case no one complained. In the second people felt justified in doing so.

Any attempt to describe the future which doesn’t address Climate Change is meaningless and dishonest. Last Christmas someone gave me a book called ‘Sapiens’, which purports to be a complete history of the human race. The conclusion features one reference to the changing climate, and it dismisses the prospect in two lines. Yesterday in Feltrinelli I saw that the same writer has a new book about the future. This time there are three pages dedicated to the environment, on which he argues in a tone of staggering glibness that human beings will probably survive like they always have, probably just in much smaller number.

That’s all fine then.

Migration is one of the most basic evolutionary reflexes. ‘You only leave home/when home won’t let you stay’.

I take a photo of the scene with the tree and like any photo in any public place in Europe right now it could end up being captioned ‘five minutes before the shooting began’.

It’s easy to identify the main ingredients in this stew of fear and resentment: ‘We’ have to protect ourselves from ‘them’. ‘They’ get everything. ‘We’ get nothing. Far-right tricksters, agents of violence and chaos, keep throwing extra spice into the simmering unpalatable mix. We don’t want to accept what they are offering, but maybe after a certain point there will be nothing else to eat. That’s what they and their counterparts in the Middle East want to happen.

In the meantime lots of people are unhappy in their lives. The obvious thing to do would be to stop spending so much, get out of debt, but our mode of existence is based on over-consumption. That’s why Bush came out immediately after 9/11 and told American citizens to get back in the malls. That’s why the implied missing word in the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ meme’ is ‘…shopping’.

The Internet tells us there is no limit to how much we can consume. It’s an infinite resource. It increasingly determines how we regard that other reality, the one that sustains and troubles us so much. Maybe one of our secret thoughts is: Why can’t all these homeless people and migrants just do what we do and take refuge online?

Here’s a question that doesn’t get asked enough: if states are so keen to protect us from the threat of terrorism, why do they do basically nothing to protect us from climate change? Why don’t they tell us to consume less rather than more?

A neoliberal response to any question is that more markets are the answer. In the words of Thomas Pynchon, the real war is a celebration of markets. Perhaps it’s significant then that so many terrorist attacks target markets; generally local ones, as the global one is beyond reach or reproach.

Deaths from terrorist attacks are visible, immediate and spectacular. Terrorists target people like us because they know it will be newsworthy. Climate change will – probably already does – kill many more people than terrorism will, but more slowly and less visibly. It targets people who are more vulnerable than we believe ourselves to be, who do not have the protections that states founded upon and legitimised by liberal values and institutions provide.

It’s strange, or at least illogical, given the prevalence and persistence of climate change denial, that there is no-one (or at least no-one I’ve come across) who tries to get away with claiming that there’s no connection between a bomb exploding in a marketplace and people being killed and injured.

What’s Christmas like in Russia this year? After the massacre of Aleppo are people still sentimentalising the young, are orthodox priests preaching about the need for peace in the world? Are they mourning the ambassador to Turkey? Will anyone around the Christmas dinner table point out that bombing Aleppo to pieces would have consequences?

What are the consequences of me, a British citizen, asking these questions? One of my compatriots once wrote:

‘Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in their turn’.

There is a tension around the issue of belonging, and the line between those who do and don’t belong is fraught. That’s why we ignore armed soldiers and homeless people in our midst. In the words of the great Zygmunt Bauman (RIP), the greatest fear we have nowadays is of being excluded.

It’s the day before Christmas. There are adverts for luxury goods everywhere we look.