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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Liberty

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I’ve contributed a short story to the latest issue of Critical Muslim, whose theme is Liberty. My copy has just arrived, and it looks very good – there’s Mustafa Akyol’s essay ‘Islam and Freedom’; Vinay Lal’s ‘A Very Short History of Liberty’; an essay on E.M. Forster’s politics; and plenty more. I’m glad to see that Ukraine is prominent. Russia’s invasion, and leftist and rightist responses to the invasion, is the subject of Naomi Foyle’s essay ‘Liberty, Hypocrisy, Neutrality,’ and there’s some great Ukrainian poetry, from Ihor Pavlyuk and Olexander Korotko. You can buy the issue from the publishers, Hurst, here, or from Amazon, etc.

As a taster, here are a few paragraphs from my short story:

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 29, 2022 at 11:37 am

Posted in Critical Muslim

Three Political Principles

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Marine Le Pen leads France’s rebranded National Front (now it’s called ‘National Rally’), a far right-populist party rooted in fascist ideology. Here is her line on Ukraine: An embargo on Russian fuel would hurt French consumers. Sending weapons to Ukraine would lead to escalation. We need a rapprochement between Russia and the West.

Jeremy Corbyn is the leftist ex-leader of Britain’s Labour Party. He led Labour to its worst defeat since the 1930s and is no longer a Labour MP, but still leads the Stop the War Coalition and represents the perspective of quite a few British leftists. Here is his line on Ukraine: Sanctions on Russia won’t help. We shouldn’t arm Ukraine because it will lead to a long proxy war. We need a new security arrangement between Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, here is the latest directive from Noam Chomsky, the font of the ideology that calls itself ‘anti-imperialism’: Surrender to imperialism. It’s like a hurricane. It’s stupid to resist.

It’s problematic that political positions presented as opposites are so often identical (the hard left and the hard right meet on many other issues, from Syria to membership of the EU). It’s worse than deceptive that supposed anti-imperialists are actually pro-imperialist. This kind of politics robs language of its meaning as efficiently as Kremlin propaganda. People are deeply confused as a result. Young people with progressive urges end up following deeply reactionary leaders or advocating deeply reactionary programmes.

Archaic terms like ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ usually no longer illuminate. The problem is made much worse by the shallow self-advertisement encouraged by social media and by a postmodernity which favours signs over reality. So much of our politics, from Tariq Ali to Jacob Rees-Mogg, is a form of roleplaying, a recycling of old images.

It’s way past time to ditch the archaic labels and to start again from basic principles. I’ve quickly drawn up three principles which fit my politics. I would advise everyone else to think about their own principles and then, rather than practising loyalty to a leader, party or label, to work out who else you can work with, and in which contexts.

Here are my principles:

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 24, 2022 at 10:05 am

Posted in politics

The Left’s Syrian Failure

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I’ve found a video of me criticising the left’s failure to understand Syria. The crude binarism, the ignorance, the conspiracy theories, the war-on-terror rhetoric, the racism. The talk is from Oslo in late 2016, but I think it’s still very relevant today. Since 2016 the crisis has intensified and spread. Cities are burning in central Europe, climate change is galloping, and we’re still playacting oppositional politics. Here it is:

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 18, 2022 at 5:00 pm

Posted in leftism, Syria

This Body, A History

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There’s an essay of mine in Critical Muslim’s 41st issue. The issue is called Bodies, and my essay is called This Body: A History. It contains an out of body experience, migraines, semen, the Gulf consumerist lifestyle, and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Amongst other things. You can buy the issue from the publisher, Hurst, or from Amazon, etc…

As a taster, here are the first four paragraphs:

This may be my very first memory. I’m standing in a square space between four doors – one in front of me, one behind, and one to either side. One by one I close the doors. The shade increases as I go, until, closing the last door, I am enveloped in utter darkness. It’s comfortable and warm. Then I open the doors, one by one, until I’m so bathed in light, so surrounded by space, that I can’t see where my limits end.

I feel this action was often repeated, so for a long time I was sure the memory was a genuine recollection of a game I used to play, but then I interrogated the details. For a start, I remember the door handles being at the level of my waist, where door handles are today, but given my tiny stature at the age of three or four, the handles should have been much higher up. Next, and crucially, there was no space in the house we lived in then that fitted my remembered position between four doors. I’ve checked with my mother, and anyway, what kind of architect would design a room the size of a stand-up coffin?

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 12, 2022 at 10:58 am

Posted in Critical Muslim

Irrationality

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Over the last two weeks very many people have asked, is Putin rational? Worse, many have argued that Putin used to be a pragmatist, a master strategist, but that he’s suddenly gone mad.

Michael Flynn, Jill Stein, and Putin. Rightists and leftists united in useful idiocy.

In 1999 Putin was a little known prime minister aiming to become president. Then a series of bomb attacks destroyed residential blocks in Russian cities, killing hundreds. Many insiders blamed Putin and the FSB intelligence services for the attacks. One such insider was the defected FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who Putin’s men consequently murdered in London (in 2006). The FSB obstructed all attempts to investigate, so its guilt has never been proved. Observers must make up their own minds. There are many good sources of information on the topic. I first came across it in Masha Gessen’s excellent book “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”

What happened next is not controversial. Putin blamed the blasts on Chechen terrorists, and on that pretext reinvaded Chechnya. The Chechen capital Grozny was leveled and tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Was this behavior rational? Well, it worked. It made Putin very popular in Russia, easing his succession to the presidency. It established his reputation as a patriotic strong man. It quelled Chechen independence.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 8, 2022 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Russia, Syria, Ukraine

Ukraine Posts

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made me very briefly go back to Facebook. I’m no expert on Ukraine, but having watched the western mainstream buy Russian oil and gas and treat Putin as a statesman, and the western left and hard right spread Putinist propaganda, while Russia destroyed Syria, I am something of an expert on the appeasement of Russian imperialism. Fortunately that appeasement is ending. Here are my posts from February 22nd until March 3rd. By the end of February it was clear that global politics had completely transformed. (I’ll be leaving Facebook in a couple more days. I’m not doing politics any more. I’m writing short stories.)

From free Kafranbel, Syria, before the town succumbed to Russian bombs.

“Putin calls Ukraine a ‘brother nation’ as his armies invade it. Remember that Russian imperialism organised a genocide in Ukraine in the 1930s. Remember too (because you won’t read it in the newspapers) that the Russian imperialist terror bombing of Syria continues, on a daily basis.”

“Excellent that Germany seems to be cancelling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for Russian gas, even if it’s many years too late. The murder of tens of thousands of Syrians and the expulsion of millions by Russian bombs didn’t get in the way of this project, nor did the aggression against Ukraine in 2014. Finally some are waking up. Now it’s time for a purge of Russian gangsters from London, their money-laundering capital.”

“As predicted, appeasement brought us to this terrible point. Obama started it when his ‘red line’ over Assad’s chemical massacres vanished and he handed Syria to the Russians. This led to a vastly increased casualty rate in Syria, and the rise of ISIS. Trump continued the trend, withdrawing support from the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army when Putin asked him to, leading to the fall of that Front and the occupation of southern Syria by Russia and Iran. Trump also had American troops in NE Syria turning their camps over to the Russians. Europe ignored the obvious signs of resurgent fascism in Russia because it wanted Russian gas. The British welcomed Russian gangsters to use London as a money laundry. There are implications today for China, an expansionist and genocidal state which deeply penetrates Western economies.”

“In Syria Russia targeted schools, hospitals, markets, bakeries and residential blocks, again and again and again, murdering tens of thousands of civilians, destroying the democratic opposition and deliberately causing an outflow of refugees to Europe. Europe and America imposed no sanctions on Russia for this. Zero. Trumpists and Corbynists even admired Russia’s murder spree. Here is the result of such craven appeasement.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 1, 2022 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Russia, Ukraine

Mossland

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If anyone’s been wondering what I’m doing these days, I have an essay in Critical Muslim’s 40th issue which tells you what. The theme of the issue is Biography, and the essay is called Mossland.

It’s about gardening in Galloway, mutual aid, radical agnosticism, a dog called Sudfeh (or ‘coincidence’) and a compost heap, all in the shade of the Syrian disaster.

I recommend the rest of the issue, which marks CM’s 10th anniversary. Highlights include Ziauddin Sardar’s moving tribute to his collaborator Merryl Wynn Davies, writer and proponent of ‘Islamic anthropology’, Taha Kehar’s account of short story writer Aamer Husain, and an excellent polemic on the unexamined legacy of Muhamad Asad, the convert from Judaism who translated the Quran and acted as Pakistan’s first ambassador to the UN, but still suffered anti-semitic slanders from his co-religionists, as well as benefitting from their deference to his ‘whiteness’. Great writing from Boyd Tonkin, intellectual rigour from Faisal Devji, poetry from Ruth Padel. And more.

Here it is at the publisher. Also available from Amazon, etc.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 28, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Critical Muslim

Decline and Fall

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Twenty years ago who would have thought that Salafi-Jihadism would win its battle against the United States? Because that’s what seems to have happened. Two decades after the September 11th attacks, even more extreme groups than al-Qaida have proliferated, and are stronger, more relevant, more deeply embedded locally, and have greater geographical reach. The capacity of the United States to project power, meanwhile, has been greatly reduced.

Of course, al-Qaida didn’t exactly win. The nihilism of its ideology means it will always be a symptom of dysfunction rather than an alternative governance model, and today it’s somewhat less likely to attempt mass casualty attacks on western targets. So it didn’t win, but the US – provoked by its terrorism into lashing out blindly – certainly lost. The two unplanned, incompetently prosecuted, and corrupt wars which followed 9/11 exposed the emperor’s nakedness. For the previous decade, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, American power had appeared unassailable, but this was an illusion. Now hubris led to wars of choice rather than of necessity, and to a reliance on violence rather than intelligence. The point of the wars was not to prevent greater disasters but to erase the humiliation of 9/11, to demonstrate Western power primarily to the West itself. They signaled self-absorption rather than global engagement.  The silliness of ‘shock and awe’ soon boomeranged – nobody was awed, but everyone was shocked as American pretensions were turned to dust not by first-world armies but by small groups of third-world reactionaries.

The invasion of Afghanistan (as opposed to police work to track down al-Qaida) was foolish to say the least. Once America had committed to it, however, it should have done a better job. It may have spent a trillion dollars, but most went on overpaid foreign consultants rather than building the infrastructure of the poorest country on earth, one wrecked by Soviet invasion and then civil war even before the Taliban arrived. The Americans handed power to the corrupt warlords who had made the Taliban look like a reasonable option to many Afghans in the first place, and then almost immediately they lost interest, and rushed into Iraq.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 10, 2021 at 12:35 pm

Aria

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AriaA sightly edited version of this review appeared at the Guardian.

Unwanted by her father so abandoned by her mother, a baby girl is found under a mulberry tree in wealthy north Tehran. Carrying her home to the impoverished tenements of the southern city, Behrouz – an army driver who, motherless as a boy, had once pretended to be a mother himself – names her Aria. Usually a boy’s name meaning “the Iranian race”, Behrouz intends the musical sense of the word – “little tales, cries in the night”. This ambiguity continues – as Aria grows, she wavers between opposed categories – rich or poor, educated or illiterate, orthodox Shia Muslim or something else. Years later Behrouz reflects on his charge: “she had somehow acquired the ability to be two things in one”.

His neighbours are generally hostile to this illegitimate child. “I bet with those blue eyes that girl’s a Jew or a jinn’s daughter,” says one. And Behrouz’s wife Zahra – the first in a line of false or flawed mother figures – beats and neglects the orphan, often locking her on the balcony. Her bad behaviour is glaring, but Zahra turns out to be a complex character. One of the many strengths of this strong debut by Iranian-Canadian novelist Nazanine Hozar is that every character is contextualised and therefore humanised by an explanatory back story.

And the balcony isn’t so bad. Here Aria is able to communicate with Kamran, the neighbour’s cleft-lipped son, who climbs a tree to deliver bracelets and sweets, whose love for Aria will develop through the years, and whose bitterness after rejection helps shape his later career.

Aria finally finds relief from Zahra, and makes an upward jump in class terms, when she is adopted by Fereshteh, childless heir of the Ferdowsi family, who are ex-Zoroastrians, and once silversmiths to the shahs. Aria calls her ‘Mana’, almost but not quite her Mama. The minor characters populating Fereshteh’s urban palace are distinct and memorable – the foul-mouthed old servant Massoomeh, Fereshteh’s brief husband Mahmoud, and uncle Jafar, a piano-tuning, coin-polishing, newspaper-washing obsessive-compulsive.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 15, 2020 at 10:44 pm

Posted in book review, Iran

A Pure Heart

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I was very pleased to discover Rajia Hassib, an excellent writer. This review first appeared hassibat the Guardian.

“A Pure Heart”, Arab-American writer Rajia Hassib’s remarkable second novel, concerns the diverging lives of two sisters, middle-class Egyptian Muslims. Rose, an Egyptologist, marries Mark, an American journalist, and leaves Cairo for a postdoctoral fellowship in New York. She also works at the Met preparing an exhibit on ancient Egypt, curating the letters of the living to the dead.

Gameela, who bristles at Rose’s foreign marriage, is “the only covered woman in the entire family, rebellious in her conservatism”. But this is Rose’s perspective. In her own, Gameela enjoys “an anchored identification with all that surrounds her.” Until her death, apparently at random, in a suicide bombing.

As the novel opens Rose, assuring herself she’s “an archaeologist, not a grave robber”, is sifting through Gameela’s possessions, finding clues which might explain her murder. The reader expects a detective story, but what follows is richer, more complex than that – a deep dive into questions of race, gender, class, religion, and most crucially, into personality.

Gameela finds it “exhausting, to try to reinvent herself. To build a set of values so different from her parents.” Mark reacts against “the idea of a fixed narrative, the lie that is a predetermined destiny.” He finds within himself “different selves competing for attention”. In each character, these interior tensions are as finely drawn out as is the interpersonal drama between lovers, siblings, parents and children.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 3, 2020 at 7:37 pm

Posted in book review

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The Parisian

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This review first appeared at the Guardian.

parisian“The Parisian”, Isabella Hammad’s remarkably accomplished debut novel, very quickly binds the reader’s attention. Ranging from Nablus in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire via Istanbul and Cairo to Montpellier and Paris, and always connecting the personal and the political, our hero Midhat Kamal’s journey makes delightful reading.

The sensation of reality is intense, at various levels. Time and place are fully imagined, with constant attention to the details of dress, furniture, architecture, and attitude. With Midhat enrolled in medicine at Montpellier and the World War One dead stacking up, the ideas and prejudices of the French historical moment are rendered most successfully in extended party scenes – Midhat speaking “with the accidental definiteness of a person using a second language.”

Relationships between characters are very precisely noticed, and the characters themselves are brought to life by a fierce interiority. Midhat’s sense of himself, through his different ages and states of consciousness, is a sustained theme, from his discovery at Istanbul’s Lycée Impérial of “the electric feeling of aloneness, victorious and agonising, unearthly.” The physical correlative is consciousness of “the hard outline of his body”, which transforms when he falls in love: “the awareness of his limbs was an agony, he wanted to get out of them, to be elsewhere.”

As confidence deepens between Midhat and his host Dr Molineu’s daughter Jeanette, Midhat attempts to learn more about Jeanette’s mother, a suicide. He studies her diagnosis of “hystero-neurasthenia”, and the influence upon her of the mysterious Sylvain Leclair. But the pleasures of investigation are superseded by a crisis when Midhat learns he himself has been an object of study for Doctor Molineu, part of a project “linking philology and development”, to analyse “the Muslim as a deviation from the onward progression”.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 22, 2019 at 7:50 am

Posted in book review

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Godsend

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This review was published at The Guardian.

godsendAden Grace Sawyer, eighteen years old, is “a serious girl, an asker of questions.” Alienated from her comfortable Californian suburban surroundings by family breakdown – her father has left home following an affair, and her mother has slipped into alcoholism – she turns to Islam for consolation.

Her choice appears guided in equal measure by a genuinely spiritual urge for submission to the transcendent, and a more prosaically youthful defiance. Still in the Bay Area, she dons Afghan-style shalwar kameez, and crops her hair rather than wear a hijab. Next she plans to migrate to a godly country. Because Decker, her blustering boyfriend and travelling companion, has Afghan roots and cousins in Karachi, they head for Pakistan.

Aden’s father – significantly, a professor of Islamic studies at Berkeley – has warned her of the limited “possibilities for a woman in that part of the world”. Aden has too much attitude to accept any sort of limitation and so reinvents herself, improbably but credibly, as a boy. With bandaged breasts, and “hidden by her clear and perfect strangeness”, she is restyled as Suleyman, Quranic student and potential holy warrior. Soon she’s attending an all-male madrasa in the tribal areas of the Pakistani-Afghan borderlands. “So far away,” she whispers triumphantly. Too far for unlucky Decker, who only planned an adventure holiday. To sustain her role, Aden refuses to continue sleeping with him.

The War on Terror theme can quickly reduce even great writers to cliche and worse. (John Updike’s lamentable “Terrorist” may be the worst of the genre.) “Godsend”, however – John Wray’s fifth novel – is entirely convincing, in part, no doubt, because Wray has done his research.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 22, 2019 at 6:45 pm

Posted in book review

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A Labyrinth of Suffering

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qusaii-side-nov2013

Kassem Eid in Moadamiya

(A slightly edited version of this article – which reviews books by Alia Malek, Rania Abouzeid, Kassem Eid, and Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple – was first published at Prospect Magazine. If you’re interested in more Syrian perspectives on the revolution and war, I recommend Wendy Pearlman’s oral history – my review here – Yassin al Haj Saleh’s brilliant political writing – my intro to the book is here, Samar Yazbek’s books – Woman in the Crossfire reviewed here, and The Crossing reviewed here – and of course our book Burning Country, which gives a grassroots account – information on that here.)

“Syrians. I hated the deceptive simplicity of that word. We were twenty-three million people. Soldiers and fighters. Revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. The torturer and the victim. How could one word encompass us all?” – Marwan Hisham

Escorted by Russian bombers and Iranian militia, the Assad regime has returned in recent months to key parts of the Syrian heartland. In its wake come deportations, mass arrests, torture and field executions. Secure in its impunity, the regime has begun issuing death notices for the tens of thousands murdered in detention since 2011. President Putin calls for the regime’s ‘normalisation’ against this backdrop, and in the run-up to the Helsinki summit, it seems he won Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu’s acquiescence.

The democratic revolution is defeated, the country destroyed, and what follows will not resemble peace. Assad’s throne has been saved, but at the dual price of Syrian social cohesion and regional stability. From the originary counter-revolutionary violence, secondary and tertiary conflicts now bloom – Sunni-Shia, Turkish-Kurdish, Israeli-Iranian – while refugee flows and terror scares have infected our politics here. Syria will continue to demand our engagement, and not only for the sake of its vast human tragedy.

Of the expanding shelf of Syria books, the most explanatory (or least ideological) tend to start from the diverse experiences of Syrians themselves. Four recently published books do just that, in very different ways.

Both chronologically and socially, “The Home that was Our Country”, by Syrian-American journalist Alia Malek, has the widest focus. It begins at World War One, when half a million Syrians died of famine, and Armenian genocide-survivors arrived from Turkey. The author’s great-grandfather Abdeljawwad, a landowning ‘notable’ and entrepreneur, shelters one refugee before participating in the 1920s uprising against the French – whose mandate brought martial law, aerial bombardment, and an Alawi-dominated army. By turns generous host and manipulative patriarch, equally attached to tradition and modernity, Abdeljawwad is a Christian, school founder, and womaniser.

Every character in these densely populated pages is as complex. After grandmother Salma – a heavy smoker called ‘sister of men’ – moves to multicultural Damascus, the fates and interactions of her relatives and neighbours illustrate the declining fortunes of society-at-large, as the imperfect post-colonial democracy is succeeded by coups and counter-coups, then the Baath’s one-party state, and finally Hafez al-Assad’s one-man party. Now people (including Salma’s brother) disappear for the slightest dissidence. Their relatives fear asking too many questions. Religious coexistence, once a given, strains under the mutual fear and suspicion built into the new dispensation. Infrastructural stagnation accompanies seeping moral corruption: “If people disregarded anyone’s welfare but their own, it was in part because the state made Syrians feel that everyone was on his or her own; people were being pitted against one another.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 15, 2018 at 5:19 pm

Is Corbynism anti-Semitic?

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corbynIs Corbynism anti-Semitic? My answer won’t please many people.

It won’t please those who believe that criticism of Israel, and especially questioning Israel’s ‘right to exist’, is inherently anti-Semitic.

I think it’s important to recognise that Israel has existed for seven decades, and that therefore several generations of Israeli Jews exist. These people are no longer Poles, Germans, Russians or Iraqis. They are Israelis, and they have no other home than Israel. Any solution which involves driving them out is no solution. (But this is a straw man; a large majority of Palestinians recognise that Jews are staying in Israel – and even if they didn’t recognise it, they are in no position to drive the Jews out. What Palestinians are struggling for is either a small state of their own next to Israel, or equal rights within Israel-Palestine.)

But I don’t believe it is inherently anti-Semitic to question Israel’s right to exist. I don’t believe any state has an inherent ‘right to exist’. I believe rights belong to human beings, not to states. Anarchists, for instance, question (or simply oppose) the existence of all states without exception. I certainly question the existence of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state, just as I question the existence of Syria as an ‘Arab’ republic, and of Iran as an ‘Islamic’ republic. If we must have states, I think they should belong to everyone who lives within them, not only to members of a particular religion, ethnicity or ideology. Israel is particularly open to criticism because it was founded less than a century ago on a massive ethnic cleansing, and because, under its apartheid-like dispensation, roughly half of its subjects are disenfranchised in some way or other.

So that alienates the Zionists. But my answer will also upset Corbynites, because it’s clear to me that Corbynism is indeed anti-Semitic. This is because Corbynism substitutes demonology for analysis; that is, it sees the world in terms of goody and baddy states. The USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia are baddies, and Iran and Russia are goodies. Once such a simplistic schema is operational, it becomes very easy to overgeneralise, and thus to erase reality. In this way the predominantly working-class revolution against fascism in Syria, a movement for democracy and social justice, was understood simply as a US-Zionist-Saudi plot against a glorious resistance regime. Syrian revolutionaries were cast as, at best, innocent children manipulated by the devilish white man, or, at worst, savage jihadist barbarians. This is how leftism (or at least the parody version which we see in the 21st Century) unconsciously applies racism in order to serve fascism and (Russian and Iranian) imperialism.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 4, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Posted in leftism

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Disoriental

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disorientalMy review of this excellent novel was first published at the Guardian.

From a fertility clinic waiting room, a single woman seated between couples – Kimiâ – recounts her family history. She promises at the start to follow “the natural fits and starts” of memory, and her narrative jumps across a time scale from a grandmother’s birth in a late 19th Century harem at the foot of the Alborz mountains (the great-grandfather’s thirtieth child), through Kimiâ’s Tehran childhood, to her present incarnation as a twenty-five-year-old French-Iranian punk fan.

“Disoriental”, Négar Djavadi’s sophisticated debut novel, teems with fully-realised characters. Kimiâ ’s immediate relatives – her parents Darius and Sara (both political activists), her big sisters, and uncles numbered one to six – are the most closely observed.

Djavadi’s beguiling tale-telling, cynical and lyrical by turns, extends to an account of Iranian history. Imperialist assaults, coups, revolts, and waves of repression crash against the steady background of a “phallocratic society”. Before Khomeini and compulsory veiling there was Shah Reza Pahlavi, the “pauper-turned-king” who “used a special militia to tear the veils from women’s heads.”

Kimiâ  (meaning ‘alchemy’) grows up a tomboy in a country which doesn’t recognise the concept. Nor – though it tolerates transexuality – does official Iran accept the existence of homosexuality. President Ahmadinejad is quoted: “We don’t have this phenomenon.”

But for now sexuality is the least of Kimiâ ’s problems, as first the Shah’s police and then the mullahs target her parents. The family escapes, but there’s no happy ending. Kimiâ ’s father is broken in exile, avoiding the metro escalator because it’s “for them” (the French). Djavadi treats the immigrant condition with intelligence and compassion, exploring how to integrate into a culture “you have to disintegrate first”.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 28, 2018 at 10:54 am

Posted in book review, France, Iran

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