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TRIGGER WARNING

Discusses shaming of women who have had abortions.

Anyone who was ever curious about what kind of conversations the sort of young people who join Youth Defence have when they’re hanging out should check out this piece on their website (trigger warning for this link).

Apparently, they sit around and think about marrying aborted fetuses:

A few weeks ago, some of my friends and I were talking about Baby X. I was telling them that I was thinking we might have been friends with Baby X, or gone to college with him or her, and one girl nearly broke my heart when she said “He might have been my husband.”

Assuming Maryanne, the “student with a dream”, actually exists at all, which is doubtful1, there’s something both hilariously tragic and incredibly fucked up about young women fantasising about the awesome relationship they would have with the aborted fetus of a 14-year-old rape victim.2

1. “Ireland’s largest and most active pro-life organisation, led by young people who believe that life is worth protecting” actually doesn’t have all that many young people involved, and is in fact an astroturf group funded by American ultra-conservatives.

“I’m only single because my husband was aborted.” Yeah sure. *ahem*

The rest of the article is more or less the usual “abortion is mass murder” drivel, but with a curious sci-fi twist:

You know those movies where the main character thinks “What if I’d never been born?” and then wakes up the next day to find that nobody knows who he is and he sees what life would have been like without him? Well, we’re living in that kind of parallel universe every day of our lives… there are people missing!

2. Miss X actually miscarried, in part, as a result of the incredible stress put on her by the likes of Youth Defence.

Instead of talking about how every zygote is actually a fully-formed human because God or angels or something injected a soul into it at some arbitrary point called “conception”, instead, Maryanne relies on parallel universes to explain how statements like “imagine if everyone in China were to die tomorrow… well that’s the destruction we’re facing today” make any sense, a deus ex machina that’s gotten many a bad author out of a plothole.

It’s probably not strictly Biblical though.

What if the person who would have discovered a cure for cancer has been aborted? What if the next great leader of our country has been aborted? What if you’ll never meet your true best friend? What if you’ll never grow old with your soul mate because he or she was violently torn away from this world when they were only a few weeks old?

Ever notice how only good people get aborted? Never rapists or serial killers? Odd that.

Every person has a purpose in life, and over the past half century we’ve wiped out more than one billion people. That’s one billion lives, one billion lifetimes, one billion contributions that the world has been deprived of… Millions of people have lost their husbands and wives to abortion! And now there are millions of family trees that will never happen, generations wiped out for thousands of years to come.

And that’s only counting abortions. If we considered every potential parallel-universe baby, every sperm in every ejaculation throughout the entire of human history, every nine-month window during which a fertile woman wasn’t pregnant… we’re talking about slaughter on an unprecedented scale. The people who have never existed vastly outnumber the people who actually have, which leads to a startling conclusion:

To a first approximation, the entire human species has been wiped out by the combined forces of masturbation and contraception. Almost everyone has been murdered.

Scary stuff.

EDIT: Looks like I was right about those young people not actually existing. Thanks to the cool people at Rabble for bringing this pic to my attention.

You can also check out the cool kids of Youth Defence being cool at last year’s acid house themed Rally for Life.

As it’s presently constructed, the LGBT movement is probably less than a decade away from achieving all of it’s major aims in most Western societies: centrally, same-sex couples having the right to marry and raise children, and, more broadly, equality, understood as assimilation within already-existing conservative institutions such as the military, the police, or the boardroom. Inevitably, this will mean a massive demobilization and depoliticisation among LGBT people and the collapse of much of whatever activist networks currently exist, as, demonstrably, we will have achieved pretty much everything we are currently demanding.

But equality is not liberation. Paradoxically, even as gay concerns become increasingly mainstream and everyone from major corporations, to the English Defence League, to apartheid Israel scramble to feel the benefits of positive pink PR, we are hardly closer to liberating our sexualities from the bridle of conservative/religious moralism.

Instead, we have sought, and are beginning to be granted, inclusion within heteronormative structures, namely marriage, but only on the understanding that the basic form and logic of marriage is to remain unchanged. In fact, this very concession is at the core of much of the smug liberal advocacy for “marriage equality”: of course conservative concerns are irrational, we have no intention of threatening their family values ideology, we just want in.

Marriage as an institution is the antithesis of free love, the mechanism by which the state bludgeons our sexualities into the most useful shape for reproducing the next generation of labour, and the word-made-flesh of anti-sex theology.

However marriage is redefined, it will never be ours. The State retains the power to define what constitutes a “normal” relationship, to write the relationship script for the vast majority of society, while those who don’t or won’t fit the script are pushed to the margins. This doesn’t just affect people at the point where they “choose” to get married, but in fact all relationships are expected to be proto-marriages: monogamous, and aiming at permanence, with a series of predefined stages (which vary according to culture) on the way to marriage. Romantic narratives about “finding your soulmate” (i.e. expectation that you will only legitimately love one person in your entire life) are bound up with the institution of marriage, and shape people’s expectations around sex and relationships in an often damaging way.

Marriage is the institution of an ideology that sees human sexuality as a threat, and seeks to constrain it. Ideally, sex should only happen for the purposes of procreation, but failing that, only within the bounds of stable monogamy, and not in any way that might be considered kinky or weird. There is no room for fluidity, or polyamoury, or promiscuity, which are at best tolerated among young people with the expectation that they will “settle down”.

It’s an institution borne out of sexual repression and patriarchy, and inseparable from its history as male ownership of women – a history which still shapes the lived realities of married people.

Generally speaking, within the structure of marriage, women are still expected to do the work of child-rearing for no money, and their work isn’t even considered work. Often this is on top of having a full time job, so women work a double-shift, usually for less pay than a man on a single-shift. While same-sex marriage may begin to decouple this expectation from gender somewhat, the child-rearing-as-unpaid-labour problem remains embedded into the very construction of the nuclear family.

Necessarily then, we can only participate in marriage on their terms. However much it changes, we will always have to change more in order to assuage the fears of conservatives that we pose a threat to their vision of sexual morality. Within the LGBT community, there is political pressure, particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators, to have a binary-identified sexuality that was fixed at birth, or to ditch the concerns of trans* people altogether because they make us look bad. In other words, gay marriage takes a certain section of the queer community and makes them just like straight people, casting the rest aside.

This process of recuperation has happened over a relatively short historical period. Within decades, we have gone from being a radical sexual liberation movement which challenged and threatened the foundations of conservative sexuality morality, of which marriage is a keystone, to being little more than a movement beating at the door of family values ideology begging to be let in. In order to claim the right to be included within marriage, we place ourselves in the position of defending marriage, or cementing its position in the centre of society – we become it’s biggest cheerleaders, pushing out endless stories about happy gay couples who just want to get married because marriage is such an awesome institution – the fullest and most natural expression of love between two human beings – or of gay couples who raise perfect children (according to conservative standards) because we’re such awesome parents.

In short, as long as we continue to aim for equality-through-assimilation, we concede that we will never win the struggle to free love from the grip of bourgeois morality, and to experience love as we see fit, with whoever we see fit. In fact, we strengthen the institutions that keep our bodies and our hearts in chains.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the usage of LGBT here for what is essentially an LGB movement focused on LGB concerns erases trans* people. I use LGBT in a referential rather than descriptive sense because that is how the majority of the movement self-describes.

Lest we forget.

infolepsia

I was certain this was common knowledge, but two people have asked me to clarify, so I’m providing the full Žižek quote here. Bear in mind that this is my retranslation into English from the Polish translation that I own, so it will definitely differ from the original text. Still, the gist will be there, I’m sure.

One of the specifically pernicious effects of the politically correct Cultural Studies position is a (concealed, but hence even more effective) prohibition against revealing the structural problem of lesbian subjectivity; against an attempt to understand the clinical fact that most lesbian relationships are unusually cold, emotionally distant, radically narcissistic; that love within their context is impossible, and the subject’s own position is problematic. As if drawing logical conclusions from this fact (and not just handwaving it away as an effect of internalized patriarchal repression) was equivalent to accepting classical patriarchal “wisdom”.

(Rewolucja…

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This is a blog post I wrote on my old blog when Trinity Philosophical Society had invited Nick Griffin to address a debate. The debate was subsequently canceled due to pressure from anti-fascists. I’m reproducing it here because it says some important stuff about free speech.

Fellow debaters,

It is with disappointment that I write to complain about the University Philosophical Society’s irresponsible decision to invite BNP leader and Holocaust denier Nick Griffin to speak at a debate on immigration. Griffin’s ultra-right racist political views and involvement in fascist organising are well-documented, and undoubtedly well-known to the committee. The threat he and his party pose to immigrants, ethnic minorities, queer and trans people is both real and pressing. While in the short term, the BNP is unlikely to gain power and carry out their policy of forced deportation of blacks and Muslims, even modest success is enough to encourage hate crimes both by members of the BNP and others on the far-right, both in the UK, and in Ireland. The sense of legitimacy afforded by an invite by a debating society, particularly one as prestigious as the Phil, directly contributes to the momentum of these groups. Moreover, appearances by far-right speakers in events such as this are strongly correlated with increases in the incidence of hate crimes in the surrounding areas. These dangers are particularly acute in times of economic crisis, where ‘blame the immigrants’ rhetoric offers an easily-understandable explanation for complex socio-economic processes.

‘Free speech’ controversies such as this occur with depressing regularity in the debating community, and play out in a ritualistic manner: Some debating society, in an attempt to assert their commitment to freedom of speech and/or provoke a debate about the limitations of freedom speech (or, if I’m being cynical, to stir up controversy for the sake of publicity), invites a well-known fascist to address the house. Predictably, anti-fascist, anti-racist and immigrant groups come out strongly in opposition. The debate itself is of little importance as a debate (since an interesting, informative and nuanced debate would not involve Nick Griffin) but rather as the centrepiece of a dramatic narrative with the society’s committee in the centre defending the open society against the illiberal forces of unfreedom – immigrants, racialised minorities, and the anti-racist movement – with the fascist playing the hapless victim who just wants the opportunity to present his opinion. This inverted ontology, in which racialised minorities become the oppressors and the racists the victims, is a recurring trope of racist discourse – the ordinary white man as victim of imagined multiculturalist hegemony – and is a consequence of the elevation of abstract principles (‘freedom of speech’) over concrete realities (people’s lived experiences of racism).

Of course, we are always told, the fascist will not be given an uncontested platform, but rather will be robustly challenged by invited guests and society debaters. Having invited the fascist to speak regardless of the views of minorities and anti-racists, the debaters now adopt the pose of anti-fascism (white knights to the rescue!) and (rhetorically) confront the fascist as principled defenders of multiculturalism. By taking on both the anti-racists and the racists, the debaters consolidate their self-image as supremely rational intellectuals, through their performance elevating themselves above the vulgar irrationalism and illiberalism of the antifascist struggle, brave defenders of universal values against the murky contingencies of subjective struggle. If only these minorities would rationally argue that they shouldn’t be deported en masse to the Third World because of their ethnicity, rather than trying to undermine our free speech utopia!

This is a perspective steeped in privilege. It’s easy to be in favour of free speech for fascists when you’re not the one whose humanity is called into question, and when you’re not the one whose life and safety is under threat from the growth of far-right groups. Posturing aside, there’s nothing particularly brave about forcing other people to take the risk in order for you to maintain your consistency in applying an idealised schema of rights and freedoms. Only in a worldview that invisiblises racial hierarchies does it make sense to conflate the ‘right’ of fascist groups to organise with the concept of freedom.

In any case, have we not been here already – dozens of times? Have we not already had the meta-debate about the limits of debating? Have we not already explored the boundaries of freedom of speech through the performance art ritual of the fascist in the debating chamber? Can we not have a debate about a complex issue like immigration with descending into Marilyn Manson-esqe transgressive theatrics? There’s plenty of people with important things to say whose perspectives we’re ignoring because we’re too busy focusing on the fringe lunatic, not least those for whom racism is a daily lived-reality rather than an opportunity for a publicity stunt

A good post on the recuperation of queer struggles by capital and imperialism.

Kasama

Kasama received the following contribution. It also appears on the blog The Cahokian.

by ish
It’s gay pride season. This weekend is New York City’s big Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade.

I’ve gone almost every year since I’ve lived in New York City, over thirty years. My first Pride was 1977, before I lived here. In the middle I went to Pride in Chicago. I marched many of those years. For a while I was even a member of the official planning coalition, before it became a nonprofit corporation. Back in those days we called it a Gay Pride March.

The gay world has been abuzz with what would seem to be a slew of victories. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) has brought Gay Pride to, of all places, the Pentagon, where the masters of war plot how to subvert and attack people…

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TRIGGER WARNING

Contains some discussion of psychological responses to crisis pregnancy which may be triggering. Some of the links may also be triggering in other ways.

Over the last few days, a number of those awful Youth Defence posters that have been appearing on billboards all over Dublin have been ripped-down, paint bombed, stickered over with Joyce quotations or otherwise vandalised. (Video here.)

The story was picked up by Broadsheet this afternoon and predictably the comments section is filled with the usual tedious liberal bleating about freedom of speech. Here’s a couple of randomly chosen examples:

Hate this. Am very pro-choice but I also believe in free speech. Just like I don’t agree with the BNP but I hate they way people attempt to stop them attending debates but have no problem with radical leftists attending similar debates.

This is against freedom of expression. Very naive thing to do even to God bothering moral nazis.

The rest is more or less the same: people who vandalise posters are against free speech/worse than Nazis/thugs etc. etc.

First of all, we need to recognise that Youth Defence have deliberately designed these posters to evoke feelings of shame, guilt and distress in order to bully women into doing what they want. Crisis pregnancy and termination can cause acute feelings of distress and anxiety in women, much of which can be linked to pervasive conservative ideas about the immorality of abortion. These posters are designed to be deliberately triggering for women who have been through traumatic situations (triggering here means provoking extremely strong or damaging emotional responses,for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves – see here for more).

For that reason alone these posters shouldn’t be all over the city forcing themselves into people’s consciousness without their consent, and people are right to rip them down. The potential for actual tangible harm to vulnerable people trumps whatever abstract rights Youth Defence can lay claim to.

But we should also think about what exactly free speech means, who gets to lay claim to it, who benefits from it and so on.

Liberals conceptualise freedom of speech in negative terms, as the ability to say whatever you want without any coercive force preventing you from doing so. That’s a useful freedom from the point of view of those with access to the political, social, economic and cultural capital to turn their negative freedom into positive expression. It’s really useful for groups like Youth Defence, who are given massive funding by wealthy anti-choice individuals and groups in the United States, and who operate in a country in which patriarchal Catholic conservatism is embedded culturally and institutionally, but for those without access to those forms of power, their voices remain excluded.

In her testimony to the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, Andrea Dworkin criticised the (liberal) ACLU because “they have convinced many of us that the standard for speech is what I would call a repulsion standard. That is to say we find the most repulsive person in the society and we defend him. I say we find the most powerless people in this society, and we defend them. That’s the way we increase rights of speech in this society.” (source)

In Ireland, people don’t come much more powerless than women in situations of crisis pregnancy – doubly so if they are children, or victims of rape, or in institutional care, or undocumented migrants, or simply too poor to travel to England for an abortion. Every attempt by women to pursue the access to free, safe and legal abortion in this country, either through the courts or through parliament has failed. It’s been 20 years since the X-case ruling established the on-paper right to lifesaving abortion in this country, but since then, actual legislative remedy has been prevented by kicking it back and forth between committees for two decades. In this society, for women who have found themselves, may one day find themselves, or currently find themselves faced with situations of crisis pregnancy and whose voices are routinely dismissed and ignored by state institutions, vandalism like this is their speech and should be defended.

This is the text of a review I wrote for Irish Anarchist Review No. 5, which is available from the WSM (PDF should be up soon). I’ll hopefully write about some of this stuff in less wordy faux-academic language soon.

Title: The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age
Authors: Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley
ISBN: 978-1-84813-581-9
Publisher: Zed Books
Available online from: zedbooks.co.uk
Cost: £15.99

In November 2011, the Fine Gael mayor of Naas, Darren Scully sparked controversy when he announced on national radio that he would no longer represent “Black Africans”, due to their “aggressiveness and bad manners” and their tendency to “play the race card”. Ultimately, the controversy caused by Scully’s blatant and unambiguous racism forced his resignation as mayor.

1. It Ain’t Easy Being Blue.

However, as Crises… co-author Gavan Titley pointed out, the mistake, from Scully’s point of view, was not in being racist per se, but rather that he “played the wrong race card”. [1] While overt racism is still experienced by people of colour both on the streets and within institutions, in public discourse the language and tactics of racism have become more subtle (to some extent, in response to significant victories by anti-racist, anti-apartheid and post-colonial movements worldwide, and the demise of scientific racism as an ideology). Racist speech is no longer concerned (explicitly at least) with racial superiority and inferiority, or even with race per se, but rather with the supposed impossibility of the harmonious co-existence of different cultures within a single society. Scully’s blunder was his lack of political sophistication, not his racist intent.

Multiculturalism in crisis

In Crises…, Lentin and Titley discuss similar themes, exploring the dynamics of racism in contemporary public discourse in the era of neoliberalism. Specifically, they discuss various narratives around ‘the failed experiment of multiculturalism’, which function as a means of ‘laundering’ racist ideas and policies. These narratives have a fairly familiar form: For the past number of years we have been living in the era of multiculturalism, whose noble aspirations were pursued by state institutions across the Western world. However, despite the good intentions of it’s left and liberal proponents, multiculturalism has proved to be an utter failure and must be abandoned.

These narratives, while often presented by their narrators as someone finally speaking up on behalf of the silent majority in the face of repressive political correctness, in fact crop up regularly in public discourse, with everyone from newspaper columnists to mainstream political figures such as David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, to far-right figures such as Nick Griffin or Geert Wilders clamouring to sound the death knell for multiculturalism.

Crises… challenges those narratives, by questioning whether a coherent multicultural era ever existed. They argue that multiculturalism was never seriously embraced by the establishment beyond the rhetorical, nor by left anti-racists, who saw it as a liberal retreat into culture (but who have been forced somewhat reluctantly into the position of defending multiculturalism against attacks from the right). Instead, the spectre of multiculturalism is erected as a target for the racial anxieties of everyone from liberals to the far-right.

This thesis is elucidated by combining theoretical analysis with discussion of various recent controversies: moves to ban or regulate the wearing of Islamic headscarves or burkas by Muslim women, the Swiss ban on minarets, the ‘free speech’ controversy around the Jyllands Posten cartoons, the 2004 Citizenship Referendum in Ireland, and others.

Free speech and white privilege

2. This is discussed explicitly by Titley in relation to the recent invites of Nick Griffin to speak at UCC and Trinity College here.

Of particular practical significance for the Irish left, specifically those involved in anti-fascist organising, is the discussion of the Jyllands Posten cartoon controversy, which has a number of parallels with the free speech debates that regularly result when fascist leaders are invited to speak on university campuses. [2]

In such controversies, the substantive issue at stake (in this case the racist content of cartoons of Muhammed in a newspaper with a right-wing anti-Islamic agenda and historical links to fascism) is subsumed into a meta-debate about the principle of free-speech and its limits. This reflexive reframing of the issue serves a particular political function: to apparently invert the power structures of a white-privileged society so that the white racist becomes the victim of oppressive multiculturalism – an ontological inversion that functions to delegitimate the complaints of the oppressed and cast the oppressor as a symbol of Western liberal values.

“Organised around this abstraction is a ‘threefold cast of characters’ beginning with the protagonist who breaks a taboo in pursuit of freedom, who is subsequently supported by principled defenders of the open society, and both of whom triangulate with the subject who has taken offence… Muslims are cast as this intolerant apex, and thus positioned, ‘end up being treated as deficient in comparison with the evident open-mindedness of those who tolerate transgression’”. (pp. 138)

A similar dynamic exists in the case of fascist speakers on university campuses, with anti-fascists being drawn into a liberal-idealist discussion about what rights exist, how far they extend, and which rights take precedence when they conflict – a discussion which ultimately benefits fascists and racists. The more materialist analysis found here of how such events and the controversy surrounding them actually impacts the subjects of racism is perhaps a more useful way to frame discussions around applying a No Platform For Fascists policy.

Liberal racism, feminism vs. Islam, homonationalism

Also of interest is the authors’ exposition of the various forms of racism embedded in liberal approaches to understanding race and to governance, which are significantly more subtle than those of the right and far-right. Multiculturalism itself is exposed as an effort to depoliticise racism, rendering invisible structures of racialised power through constructing an imagined post-racial landscape, and in doing so functioning both as an adjunct to the post-politicism of neoliberalism generally and as a liberal mirror to the far-right’s shift in focus from race to culture. This post-racialism deprives racialised groups of the right to challenge discrimination as they experience it. Multicultural diversity is exposed as a coded language for certain acceptable ways of performing minority cultures – good diversity – which is counterposed with kinds of cultural performance less palatable to the white majority – bad diversity.

The co-optation of feminist and queer struggles by racist agendas is also discussed in-depth. Contemporary racism often employs the language and concerns of feminist and queer struggles in order to position Muslims and other racialised groups as a threat to the gains made by these movements, even though many of these gains are recent and heavily contested within even the most progressive of Western societies. This was a particularly significant dynamic in debates about Islamic headscarves and veils across Europe, where veiled Muslim women were presented as a threat to the position of all women with European societies. The actual views and experiences of veiled women were in practice excluded from these debates, which were more concerned with white people’s particular racialised vision of what a free woman looks like.

The authors draw from Jasbir Puar’s work on ‘homonationalism’ in discussing the use of queer issues towards racist agendas. Queers, particularly those who fall into the category of ‘homonormative’ (those that closely mirror heteronormative sexuality and heterosexual identity: upholding monogamy, binary gender etc.), are able to “enact [previously barred] forms of national, racial or other belongings by contributing to a collective vilification of Muslims”. (Puar, Jasbir (2007) Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Durham, NC: Duke University Press  pp 21) This dynamic is particularly significant in relation to the struggle for Palestinian national liberation, as Israel uses its relatively progressive position on LGBT rights to project itself as the ally of Western queer people in a region dominated by homophobic Muslim states and thus help to justify (pinkwash) it’s continued oppression of Palestine.

Conclusion

As an academic text, rather than an anti-racist handbook for activists, Crises… is somewhat lacking in direct practical insights for anti-racist activists, and often requires significant effort to parse the analyses presented into a useful form (a problem that is compounded by the dense writing style of the authors). However, a sophisticated understanding of how racism works under neoliberal governance is key if we are to win the ‘battle of ideas’ against those who would use racism to divide and control us in the interests of the ruling class. As such, the depth and incisiveness of analysis in Crises… make it an important text both for those seeking a better theoretical understanding of race, and those who work to combat racism in society.