In this week’s New Statesman: Unholy War

2011: The year in pictures | Mehdi Hasan on religion and violence | Norman Lamont on the euro | Slav

unholy war

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Mehdi Hasan: Prophets of peace

In this week's New Statesman cover story, Mehdi Hasan argues that the Arab spring has "undermined" claims by atheist intellectuals that religion is a source of violence and conflict.

Hasan highlights the writings of Jawdat Said, a little-known Muslim scholar in Syria whose advocacy of non-violence has helped inspire the protests against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Responding to secular commentators who claim that the non-violent activists behind the Arab spring drew on western, non-Muslim sources for inspiration, Hasan responds:

This isn't just simplistic, but patronising, too. Credit should be given where credit is due. Arab Muslims have been at the forefront of the non-violent protests against the region's tyrants and autocrats – and not just in Syria. In Yemen, the hijab-clad Tawakkol Karman, one of the leading organisers of the non-violent struggle against the tottering dictatorship of the country's US-backed president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a devout Muslim and a senior member of al-Islah, the country's conservative Islamic opposition party.

Citing Buddhist campaigners in Burma and Tibet and Jewish peace campaigners in Israel, and referring to the work of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Hasan writes:

Countless non-violent campaigns of resistance across the world today have been inspired and bolstered by individuals and groups rooted in religion.

 

Norman Lamont: The euro is strangling the world economy

In the Economics Column, Norman Lamont, chancellor of the exchequer under John Major from 1990-93, dissects the current eurozone crisis and looks back on tensions between the UK and Germany in 1992 over the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM):

Now all the talk is of fiscal union," Lamont writes. "But the Germans do not mean what we mean by fiscal union." For the UK, this would mean a common treasury and tax system, under a single finance minister; by the German definition, however, it means "more rules, more restrictions, more external supervision of national budgets". According to Lamont: "That is unlikely to work."

If the eurozone achieves fiscal union through treaty changes, he warns, the UK must be sure to protect its own interests:

The government may have to invoke the so-called Luxembourg compromise, a little-used provision conceded to General de Gaulle, which allows governments in extremis to opt out of measures affecting important national interests.

He argues that "denial has been a constant theme of the crisis" and that although the "Germans want the euro to survive . . . they are not prepared to depart one iota from the rigorous [economic] discipline that has served them well". Although this does not surprise Lamont, he is "seriously" worried by Chancellor Angela Merkel's recognition that it may take years to resolve the difficulty in the eurozone – "a threat to our economy and, indeed, that of the world".

 

2011: The year in pictures

Also in this end-of-year special, Alex Preston reflects on a turbulent 12 months for the seven billion people across the world, from Japan's nuclear meltdown and the English summer riots to the eurozone crisis and the Arab spring.

Preston's article is accompanied by a ten-page picture essay, curated by the NS photo editor, Rebecca McClelland, which brings together the most unforgettable images from a year marked by earthquakes, tornados and floods, phone-hacking, Bin Laden's death and social unrest from Tahrir Square to Wall Street.

 

Slavoj Žižek on Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus

This week's Critic at Large is the Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek. Anticipating the release next year of Ralph Fiennes's big-screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Žižek endorses T S Eliot's view that the play is superior to Hamlet:

Ralph Fiennes (with the writer John Logan) has done the impossible . . . he has fully broken out of the closed circle of interpretative options and presented Coriolanus not as a fanatical anti-democrat but as a figure of the radical left.

Fiennes's Coriolanus is like the eyes of God or a saint in an Orthodox icon: without changing a word in Shakespeare's play, the film looks squarely at us, at our predicament today, offering us the figure of the radical freedom fighter.

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Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.