Sex strike now!


On Monday 3 March there will be (at least) eight hundred and ninety-two public readings of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata all around the world.

Friends and colleagues will be taking part in the Oxford instantiation of this phenomenon, which will take place at Balliol College at 7.30pm, using the Tony Harrison text. Do come.

While I’m on the subject, Virtual Stoa readers in Oxford might like to remember to sign the antiwar petition, which will close on Wednesday. Students go here; staff here.

UPDATE [8.3.2003]: The Oxford Lysistrata was excellent, and Katha Pollitt’s coverage of events in New York in The Nation is here.

Mr Blair Wants To Read Your Essays

As the demonstrations at the weekend promise to be vast…

SEND YOUR ESSAYS TO BLAIR!Here is an inspired action being co-ordinated by our friends at Cambridge Students Against the War:

5 minute student action:

Oppose the war? Then email your essays to Tony Blair! (and forward this email)

It came to light on Thursday that the government is relying on plagiarised post-graduate essays to bolster its case for war on Iraq. Its “dossier” entitled “Iraq – its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation”, was posted on the Number 10 website and hailed by Colin Powell in his presentation to the United Nations on Wednesday. It claimed to be based on up-to-date intelligence – but turned out to have been nicked, typos and all, from 3 out-of-date sources, including an essay by a graduate student in California.

We’re obviously very excited that students’ academic endeavours are being taken so seriously, and think it’s time for students to act to ensure that war plans continue to be “intelligence led”.

So, why not send Tony Blair some of your essays?

Tony Blair posted an essay by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a student in Monterey, California, up on his web site. Maybe he’ll do the same for yours! Why not email the web master, and attach some of your best scholarly efforts. Don’t worry too much about the relevance of the subject – Tony and his skilled advisers are on hand to subtly distort your words to suit their war agenda. So, whether it’s Proust or particle analysis, Geography or History, attach a copy of your essay and send it to Number 10!

Here’s what we suggest you do:

* email your essays as attachments, to webmaster@pmo.gov.uk, as soon as possible and definitely by next Tuesday, explaining why you are sending it.

* or even better post your essays to ’10 Downing Street, London SW1′ with a covering letter (we’ve copied one below, and it’s online here) in an envelope titled ‘Warning: Top Secret’.

* email us here telling us you’ve done it, so we can let the press know what’s happening (please don’t send us your essays though – we don’t want them!)

Excellent idea. Via the Oxford Students Stop The War list.

Where are they now?

From this week’s New Statesman (but not, sadly, available online to non-subscribers) — and complete with photo! — are two entire pages on a Balliol contemporary, Gerard Russell, “Our man in the land of Zam Zam Cola”, by Christina Lamb:

In a large, high-ceilinged room at the Foreign Office, where the television is tuned to al-Jazeera and three clocks show the time in Washington, London and Abu Dhabi, sits the young (he’s 29) diplomat whose task it is to spread the Blair message in Islamic countries….

Russell may be an anonymous, slightly balding man in a pinstripe suit in London, but in the Middle East he is “Brother Gerard”, recognised everywhere from petrol stations in the Sinai Desert to customs offices at Riyadh airport. When Tony Blair visited the unit, Russell was introduced to the Prime Minister as “the man more famous on al-Jazeera than you are”…

My goodness. Who would have thought it?

If we cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq

To be sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”:

If we cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets hurt your Mama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are Saudi
And the bank takes back your Audi
And the TV shows are bawdy,
Bomb Iraq.

If the corporate scandals growin’, bomb Iraq.
And your ties to them are showin’, bomb Iraq.
If the smoking gun ain’t smokin’
We don’t care, and we’re not jokin’.
That Saddam will soon be croakin’,
Bomb Iraq.

Even if we have no allies, bomb Iraq.
From the sand dunes to the valleys, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections;
Let’s look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

While the globe is slowly warming, bomb Iraq.
Yay! the clouds of war are storming, bomb Iraq.
If the ozone hole is growing,
Some things we prefer not knowing.
(Though our ignorance is showing),
Bomb Iraq.

So here’s one for dear old daddy, bomb Iraq,
From his favorite little laddy, bomb Iraq.
Saying no would look like treason.
It’s the Hussein hunting season.
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

I’ve no idea who first wrote this: Raj passed it on to me through the electronic ether.

Observations on l’Affaire Mona Baker

As Junius and other thoughtful commentators have observed, it’s important to distinguish what Mona Baker has done from what the petitions she signed called for. There are at least two relevant petitions floating around. One was first published as a letter to the Guardian, and said this:

Despite widespread international condemnation for its policy of violent repression against the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government appears impervious to moral appeals from world leaders. The major potential source of effective criticism, the United States, seems reluctant to act. However there are ways of exerting pressure from within Europe. Odd though it may appear, many national and European cultural and research institutions, including especially those funded from the EU and the European Science Foundation, regard Israel as a European state for the purposes of awarding grants and contracts. (No other Middle Eastern state is so regarded). Would it not therefore be timely if at both national and European level a moratorium was called upon any further such support unless and until Israel abide by UN resolutions and open serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, along the lines proposed in many peace plans including most recently that sponsored by the Saudis and the Arab League.

The other, advocated by a group called the Coordination des Scientifiques pour une Paix Juste au Proche-Orient, says this:

“The campaign against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority launched at the end of March 2002 by the government headed by Ariel Sharon, in defiance of United Nations Resolutions and the Geneva Conventions, has led to a military reoccupation of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to a dramatic increase in human rights violations.� Under these circumstances, I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities. I will attend no scientific conferences in Israel, and I will not participate as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies. I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on an individual basis.”

Mona Baker is a signatory to both of these documents, but neither calls for anything like the action she has taken.She has defended her action by saying (as reported in the Guardian) that, “This is my interpretation of the boycott statement that I’ve signed and I’ve tried to make that clear but it doesn’t seem to be getting through. I am not actually boycotting Israelis, I am boycotting Israeli institutions”. But this claim is flatly contradicted by a sentence in the letter she is reported in the same piece as having written to Professor Gideon Toury, one of the two Israeli academics concerned: “I do not wish to continue an official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances”. [Emphasis added – and no mention of Israeli institutions here].

It is a great shame, then, that instead of considering the uses and disadvantages of the arguments of these two petitions, endorsed by hundreds of academics, the clumsy media spotlight has been resolutely focused on an outlying action which contradicts the spirit of the documents in whose name it was taken and which provides plenty of grist to the mill of rightist critics.

On the broader question of academic ties to Israel, it’s worth reading two contrasting left views, from the United States and from Israel itself. First, Noam Chomsky’s short response, explaining his refusal to sign one of these petitions. (He had earlier signed the Harvard-MIT Divestment Petition).

I understand and sympathize with the feelings behind this proposal, but am skeptical about it, for a number of reasons. One is that our prime concern should be ourselves: it’s always easy to blame others; harder, and far more important, to look into the mirror. That includes Europe too, though the issue is particularly stark here, in the present instance. The petition states that “the US seems reluctant to act and continues to fund Israel.” That’s quite an understatement. Israel acts within bounds set by Washington, and the US has been providing the decisive military, diplomatic, economic and doctrinal support for the crimes that are condemned. The US does not accept the basic UN resolutions, these and others, and has vetoed the most important ones, which, if implemented, could have largely settled many of the prime issues long ago. That continues; there has been no break. Furthermore, what is said about Israeli intellectuals holds in spades for their US counterparts, who are far more complicit in crimes, even in this case, not to speak of innumerable others. It seems a bit odd for us to be on a high horse about that. Breaking contact with Israeli academics, artists, writers, journalists,… means breaking contact with many people who have played an honorable and courageous role well beyond what can be found here, and are a much more substantial element within their own society.

I also think the emphasis is misplaced. The immediate goal should, I think, be to compel the US government to stop providing the means for enhancing violence and repression, and to stop preventing diplomatic moves towards the international consensus on a political settlement that the US has been blocking, unilaterally, for a quarter-century. That requires a preliminary struggle: to break the doctrinal stranglehold that prevents serious discussion of these issues within the mainstream of opinion, a very broad spectrum, reaching to left-liberal sectors. A call for suspension of arms transfers to Israel would be a natural first step, following the course of Germany, which has already undertaken it. As long as we are not able to achieve simple goals like that within our own society — even to bring them to the arena of general discussion — I’m very reluctant to call for breaking relations with people who, as a category, are considerably more advanced than we are.

Second, Tanya Reinhart’s essay, too long to be reproduced in this space, but which can be found here.

Dave wrote [13.7.2002]: I remember that one of the Guardian letters noted that the press had concentrated on activity which hurt people in Israel, but that the majority of boycott activity was likely to hurt people here.

“Most worryingly, by focusing on the actions of one signatory (and without my going into the pros and cons of the particular case) you appear to argue the rejection or acceptance of a boycott on the basis of a sample of one. This means that you erase the ethical actions of all the others. Some of these mostly “hurt” the signatory, such as declining to address an EC conference because of the participation of a formal Israeli delegation, or declining to join a research collaboration with long-valued Israeli colleagues.”

I haven’t seen much evidence anywhere of the latter — except for a story told by a novelist I know. He was offered a deal for his books to be published in Israel, but turned it down, for reasons of the boycott. I guess he must have lost out financially as a result. Through friends, I suggested that he should accept the Israeli offer, but insist that his books were simultaneously published in a cheap, Arabic edition. The pure boycott was probably simpler.

French Intellectuals

Apologies for the gap in posting: I was off in North Africa. Most of the readers of the weblog will have seen this already, since it’s been doing the rounds for over a week now, but some of you may not, which makes it worth reposting:

French Intellectuals to be Deployed to Afghanistan to Convince Taliban of Non-Existence of God

The ground war in Afghanistan heated up yesterday when the Allies revealed plans to airdrop a platoon of crack French existentialist philosophers into the country to destroy the morale of Taliban zealots by proving the non-existence of God.

Elements from the feared Jean-Paul Sartre Brigade, or ‘Black Berets’, will be parachuted into the combat zones to spread doubt, despondency and existential anomie among the enemy. Hardened by numerous intellectual battles fought during their long occupation of Paris’ Left Bank, their first action will be to establish a number of pavement cafés at strategic points near the front lines. There they will drink coffee and talk animatedly about the absurd nature of life and man’s lonely isolation in the universe. They will be accompanied by a number of heartbreakingly beautiful girlfriends who will further spread dismay by sticking their tongues in the philosophers’ ears every five minutes and looking remote and unattainable to everyone else.

Their leader, Colonel Marc-Ange Belmondo, spoke yesterday of his confidence in the success of their mission. Sorbonne graduate Belmondo, a very intense and unshaven young man in a black pullover, gesticulated wildly and said, “The Taliban are caught in a logical fallacy of the most ridiculous. There is no God and I can prove it–take your tongue out of my ear, Juliet, I am talking!”

Marc-Ange plans to deliver an impassioned thesis on man’s nauseating freedom of action with special reference to the work of Foucault and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. However, humanitarian agencies have been quick to condemn the operation as inhumane, pointing out that the effects of passive smoking from the Frenchmens’ endless gitanes could wreak a terrible toll on civilians in the area…

I’m not sure where this is from originally, so if anyone can give credit where it’s due, please get in touch.

Raj writes [22.3.2002]: First saw the ‘French Intellectuals’ piece on NetTime. The home for it appears to be here.

Total but welcome stranger Shaun agrees [26.3.2002]: I’d like to pass on the following as the source of the French Intellectuals In Afghanistan piece… You’ll get a great laugh fromMichael Kelly’s site as this stuff is so typical of his humor and he deserves the credit where it’s due!

Chris replies [26.3.2002]: Credit where it’s due, indeed, though most of the rest of Michael Kelly’s site seems to me to be not terribly funny at all, and the splendid Afghanistan piece a rare triumph. That’s a swift verdict after spending less than five minutes at the site, though, so not to be taken especially seriously.