Far Right Racism and Gang Abuse

By Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale.

Three years ago we posted an article about gang abuse of young women in Oxford. This article is of national relevance now, because the fascist and hard racist right is making hay with campaigns against Asian and Muslim abusers. Two weeks ago 15,000 people marched in central London calling for freedom for Tommy Robinson. There were 500 anti-racist counter-marchers. Things are getting serious.

Tommy Robinson was sentenced to thirteen months in jail for contempt of court. Twice, once in Kent and once in Yorkshire, he had broadcast footage on social media of men accused of gang abuse of young women going into court. His intent was to target those men, influence the juries, and to stoke up racial hatred on sexual grounds. He also wanted to get himself sent to prison as a martyr for the white race. This would enable him to build a campaign and restore his tarnished position as the leader of the hard racist right in Britain. He succeeded.

The march in London was large, angry, confident, and fought with the police. Geert Wilders, the Dutch fascist MP, spoke at the rally. Steve Bannon sent a message of support. The organising of the Football Lads Alliance in Britain is matched by the new Hooligans against Salafism group in Germany. At a more mainstream level, the public and demonstrative persecution of immigrants is mounting in Italy, Australia, the United States and Hungary.

It is a matter of urgency to build a response on the streets of Britain to future mobilisations of this sort. In doing so, we should be aware it is not just Robinson who is campaigning around sexual abuse from the right. Fascist websites are full of it, and Robinson has pinpointed that the tactic works for them like nothing else.

But there is a weakness in the response of most anti-racists to the protests around Robinson. They say nothing about the gang abuse he is targeting. They are silent, we think, because they don’t know what to say. This leaves the field open for people to assume that what he is saying is right.

We do know what to say. The post below is about gang abuse of young women by seven men in Oxford. In microcosm, the story contains all the elements seen since around the country. Our argument has two strands. One is that many different kinds of sexual abuse have been covered up by senior managers and the criminal justice system around the UK.  Under enormous pressure, the authorities have moved to prosecute some men, but almost all of them have been entertainers or actors. None of the managers who covered up their abuse have been prosecuted, or even disciplined. Dead politicians have been exposed, but not living ones. The national inquiry into historical abuse seems to be turning into a sick joke. The Metoo movement, which has done so much in the United States, has achieved very little in Britain. The sexual exploitation of young women by gangs of Asian men in several cities has to be put into this context. Those men are not foreign, or of  a different culture. They are doing what so many other British men have done.

The second strand of our argument is that when abuse is revealed, it is always because ordinary people have organised collectively from below to force the authorities to stop covering up. Continue reading


Covering up abuse – We are all gymnasts


Rachel Denhollander at the trial of Larry Nasser

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: In the wake of metoo, collective movements are now exposing cover-ups from the top. The target is no longer just one individual, a Strauss-Kahn, a Bill Clinton or a Clarence Thomas. These movements are shouting: it’s a whole system. The class inequalities that protect abuse are being exposed. This is cause for joy, and hope.

The Larry Nasser case provides a brutal example. At Nasser’s trial last month more than 160 survivors of abuse testified about what he had done to them. Nasser was a doctor for the athletics department at Michigan State University, and for the United States national Olympic team in gymnastics. The stories the survivors told were moving, and horrific. Nasser abused thousands of girls, some as young as six, by fingering them vaginally and anally for his own pleasure, over a period of more than twenty years.

Nasser was only able to do what he did because dozens of people  covered up for him. This fits with what we have seen in the many cases the Metoo movement has begun to expose. Only a minority of men abuse. Most men do not do those things. But the men who do it, do it over and over again, so almost every woman suffers. Continue reading

Fresh Apricots – A Prison Story


Saydnaya prison, Damascus, Syria

Nancy Lindisfarne writes:

For forty-six years the Assad regime has ruled Syria with murderous brutality. A measure of this brutality was the quelling of a popular uprising against the regime in the city of Hama in 1982. Assad (the father) bombed and killed some 20,000 Syrian citizens. Or perhaps 40,000 – the violence was so comprehensive and effective that it has never been possible to establish exactly how many perished.

The massacre in Hama and the violence of the Assads’ secret prisons served to terrify the population and kept people quiescent. Until 2011. In the Arab Spring hope was contagious. Syrians rose up to rid themselves of a tyrannical regime.

Internationally, the massacre and prisons were well known. But they were ignored by the US, the Russians and the other international players who found that the Middle Eastern dictatorships served them well. [1]

Horrific photographic evidence of the extent and horror of Assad’s prisons came out in 2015. A former Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar had copied thousands of photographs of the tortured, starved and burnt bodies of prisoners held in Bashar al Assad’s jails. The photographs, the results of Caesar’s heroism, got widespread coverage, including Garance le Caise’s Long Read in The Guardian in October 2015.[2]

What happened then was extraordinary. The photographs – there were thousands of them – were shown to the EU, to US congressmen, and to the UN Human Rights Council, but they were quickly forgotten by the politicians and the mainstream media. Others – outright regime loyalists, and even Bashar al-Assad himself in a long interview published in January 2015 in the American magazine Foreign Affairs, dismissed the photographs as fakes. This tale was spun by others too, like the ‘radical’ magazine Counterpunch, which supported the Russian military intervention on the side of the regime.

Indeed, at a time when the United States, and Russia, the Brits and others, all in their different ways, were supporting the Assad regime, the heart-stopping photographs of dead Syrian torture victims were just plain inconvenient. As Caesar himself commented, ‘The politicians want to turn the page and negotiate with Bashar al-Assad. How did we get to that point?’

Two years further on, after six years of civil war, Aleppo has been destroyed. Close to half a million people have died, the majority killed by Assad’s forces and Russian and American bombers. Among the living, five million are refugees abroad, and many more have been driven from their homes but remain inside Syria. Now, Caesar’s photographs have been rediscovered, and other humanitarian voices are again allowed to be heard.

As Garance le Caisne wrote when Caesar’s photographs were published, ‘When Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, ruled Syria, more than 17,000 detainees disappeared in the late 1970s and the early 80s. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) estimates that more than 215,000 people have been detained since the start of the civil war, and that in almost half of the cases, none of their relatives have the slightest information about them. By December 2014, the SNHR had succeeded in drawing up a list of 110,000 names.’

The latest ghastly news is from Amnesty International: ‘As many as 13,000 opponents of Bashar al-Assad were secretly hanged in one of Syria’s most infamous prisons in the first five years of the country’s civil war as part of an extermination policy ordered by the highest levels of the Syrian government … Many thousands more people held in Saydnaya prison have been killed through torture and starvation.’

As Caesar said earlier, ‘Before the uprising, the regime tortured prisoners to get information; now they were torturing to kill.’[3]

In 1997, Mamdouh Adwan, the Syrian poet and playwright translated into Arabic a collection of short stories I hd written after my year of fieldwork in Damascus. Al Raqs fi Dimasq was published in Syria before an English version, Dancing in Damascus, came out in 2000.[4]

From day one in Damascus I saw the tyranny of the regime.  But I knew the whole time I was in Syria, and then again when I tried out the stories on friends in Damascus, that for their sake, I could only hint at the fear everyone felt.  As you can see here, the most politically explicit of the stories, ‘Fresh Apricots’, is little more than a bare whisper about a prisoner who has been fortunate enough to be released from the same Saydnaya prison that is in the news now. But though a bare whisper, I also knew every Syrian reader would absolutely understand what I was trying to say.

Caesar’s comment speaks to that fear: ‘Before the civil war, there had been torture in Syrian prisons. Prisoners talked about it after their release. The regime intended these accounts to be told and retold; they wanted them to serve as a warning, so that terror would seep into every household.’ Here is the story:  Continue reading

A Poem: Good Morning Fortress Europe

By Rouba Mhaissen

My alarm woke me up
It’s 2017
Good morning Fortress Europe
Today is another day
I’ll get randomly checked
At an airport nearby.

Trying so hard to fix my turban
To hide my inherited racial and religious dysfunction:

Not too Muslim
Post-Modern from the sides
Not too Arab
Civilized color to say:
I studied at your universities
That taught me about rights
Exclusive to your peoples.

Not too Syrian
To have fitted on a boat
Not too Migrant
To be stealing your jobs
But silky enough
To have been made by dark hands
In your new-age slave factories

The reception rings: taxi here ma’am
And my bad hijab day
I can’t fix it, goddammit!
It’s 6 am
Try again
And I heard the
Arab submissive woman in me say:

F* you, I’m Muslim.

As I wrap my hijab
Tight enough for a Syrian
Dark enough for a Muslim
Traditional enough for a barbaric Arab
Thick enough for your prejudices

And if one racist episode
If one Islamophobic feeling
Can turn my morning prayer to a curse
Don’t ask me why
Angry Muslim men
Raised in your systems
Isolated by your fears
Colonized by your whiteness
Liberated by your tax payers money
Flying with bombs over kites
Unemployed by your recessions
Guilty until proven innocent
by your silent-to-tyrants courts
Will turn your colorful
Open minded
Modern fortress
Into a nightmare

This morning
And every morning.

Thank you Ma’am, I’ll be right down.

–Stockholm, Feb. 3, 2017.

Are Syrian Men Vulnerable Too? Gendering the Syria Refugee Response


Syrian refugees in Jordan, 2016

Lewis Turner writes about Syrian refugees in Jordan, He argues that ‘a person is not vulnerable because they are a man or a woman, but because of what being a man or a woman means in particular situations. A refugee response that automatically assumes that women and children are the most vulnerable will do a disservice to the community it seeks to serve.’

(This article was first posted by the London Middle East Institute here: http://www.mei.edu/content/map/are-syrian-men-vulnerable-too-gendering-syria-refugee-response .)

Many humanitarian actors in the Syria refugee response assume that households headed by Syrian women are economically more vulnerable than households headed by Syrian men. Yet the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (U.N.H.C.R.) data belie this claim. The 2015 Vulnerability Assessment Framework Baseline Survey[1] for Jordan shows that a male-headed household is just as likely to be living in poverty as a female headed-household. This example is just one part of a broader trend. Syrian women and children are consistently assumed to be ‘the most vulnerable,’ and therefore become the focus of humanitarian attention in the refugee response. This assumption is so widespread that it is rarely deemed to require justification, and therefore typically goes unchallenged.

This essay examines the place of Syrian men in the refugee response, with a focus on the situation in Jordan. It questions the prevailing understandings of vulnerability, and outlines how the assumption that women and children are ‘the most vulnerable’ affects the distribution of aid and services. The essay demonstrates that, contrary to the perceptions of many in the humanitarian sector, work with refugee men is not only necessary, but can be extremely successful. Syrian men can be vulnerable too. Continue reading



Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:

Trump’s win this morning has left many of us in despair. To prepare ourselves for what is to come, here are some things we need to understand about class struggle, racism and climate change.

First, this vote is a victory for the far right and for racism on a global scale. Second, it is also partly a class revolt against the consequences of neoliberalism. Trump’s appeal to class anger through racism is a tragedy and an obscenity.

Trump’s racism and sexism matter. In this respect, Clinton was the lesser of two evils. Trump’s victory will unleash a right wing backlash on abortion, and it will be a license to arrest, beat and kill unarmed black men. Government repression of every kind will follow. So will persecution of Muslims, immigrants and refugees. Things will get easier for those who would harass, rape and torture.

Trump’s victory will give heart to authoritarian governments and far right racist parties around the world. It will shift the world to the right.

Trump’s victory is also a class rebellion. Almost every bit of mainstream commentary for months has been class blind. But forty years of increasing inequality has created a very considerable economic and cultural class division in the United States. On the one hand there are those who have done well. They are women and men, black and white, gay and straight. They are the head teachers and police chiefs, the fund managers and Soccer Moms, the college educated managers and professionals. Continue reading

Don’t Bomb Mosul: The Reasons Why


American planes bombing Ramadi in October, 2015

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

An assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul by the United States, Iran, the Iraqi government, Kurdish forces and Shiah militias looks imminent. We can expect massive bloodshed and the destruction of most of the city.

Mosul is now held by ISIS. Different estimates suggest that between 600,000 and 1,500,000 people are still in the city. In the last year Iraqi and Iranian forces backed by the US bombs have retaken the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah from ISIS. In both cases, the whole city was flattened by American bombs, and almost all the people became refugees. Those two cities remain destroyed, and almost empty.

Because ISIS holds Mosul, every reactionary power in the world will welcome the bombing. On present form, almost the whole of the European and North American left will do nothing to protest the bombing, and many leftists will support the assault.

The position of most of the left makes us sick at heart. Do Muslim deaths not matter? Continue reading