In Defence of Democracy, Decency and Humanity

The storms raging across Scotland are a reminder of our fragility to the natural world, or more particularly the unnatural one we’ve created. It’s become a cliche to talk of ‘climate change becoming real’, or ‘coming home’. but here it is. Here are your flash-floods, your landslides and sand-bags, your power-cuts and transport-system collapse. Here it is. Right now, not in some imagined future, not in some far-off land. It’s your home that’s being flooded now, it’s your river banks overflowing.

For those of us in the developed north our dependency on these power-systems only become revealed when they are taken away, however briefly, as our entire world depends on a grid electricity network, from your cup of coffee to your hot shower to your (now essential) mobile phone charge. How precarious we are, and how disempowered, how unfit for the coming change the storms reveal. If the very poorest among us knew already what power insecurity and fuel poverty looks like, the rest of us are finding out.

For the most often power outages are only a few hours, or a few days at most, but they do tend to send us into existential dread akin to when shops close at New Year and people are moved to panic-buy as the idea of not being able to consume on an hourly basis sends them into a tailspin and a stockpile.

Consider then being bombed in Gaza, with water and electricity removed not by an act of nature but as an act of state punishment. As the river banks overflow and Red Warnings flash across Scotland, as people hunker down for safety in extreme conditions, we need our consciousness to overflow too and recognise the new world we are in. Finding solidarity and humanity in times of crisis is one of the few consolations of such dark times.

To do this we need urgently to push back against the virulent racism, the casual backing of genocidal acts, the rapid escalation of violence and the instant repression of human rights and democracy we are seeing across the West. The ability to defend the Palestinian people – as well as express disgust at antisemitism – the need to defend free-speech and the ability to speak out against the Israeli state – as well as acts of terrorism – is absolutely critical. The attacks on democracy which the Israeli assault has provoked in the UK and elsewhere are chronic, but come on the back of a litany of authoritarian measures the Conservatives have pushed through parliament in the past two years, often aimed at repressing protest against the war on nature which capital is waging.

Michael Gove’s bill banning British public bodies from boycotting Israel is jaw-dropping. The brutally mis-named ‘Communities Secretary’ aims to push-through the legislation in the King’s Speech next month. It is designed to stop councils and other public bodies conducting boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. The reason for this latest panic-spate of authoritarianism is that the tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions work. They bring economic pressure to bear and highlight and shame the issues at hand. They give one aspect of agency to ordinary people when many of us feel completely helpless. Gove’s hyper-partisan tactics have another motive though, which is to embarrass split and humiliate the Labour party. When the bill had its second reading in July but it passed easily with the support of Labour. Starmer’s re-positioning on the Israel-Palestine crisis has left him so isolated, so far to the right of mainstream Britain, and now in an untenable situation, he is being outflanked by members of the Conservative Party. People like the Conservative Crispin Blunt, said: “The effect of this bill on community relations will in reality be utterly toxic. It is completely irrational to continue with this bill now.” Another Conservative MP called the decision to press ahead with it “fucking madness”.

But in the febrile world of Westminster – as the Tories stare at the end-game of thirteen years of their disgraceful and disastrous misrule – policy decisions with long-term and deep consequences for civil rights are sacrificed on the alter of opportunism and used as ammunition in the ongoing Culture Wars. Nothing else matters.

Such enforced consensus, such unprecedented repression of any views that need ‘censored’ and shoe-horned into a one-dimensional worldview is grotesque. The limits of the acceptable has narrowed and closed. Last week the Social Democratic co-leader in Germany, Saskia Esken called off a meeting with the American Senator Bernie Sanders, who himself lost many members of his familty in the Holocaust, because his views are considered too ‘extreme’. Sir Gerald Kauffman, whose 2009 speech to the House of Commons aired again on timelines this week would be unthinkable in today’s landscape. The harsh reality is that his denunciation of the Israeli state by this Jewish MP would get him expelled from the Labour Party today and cancelled across British society.

Shadow-banning on platforms such as Instagram are reported as people who speak out against atrocities are censored by tech giants. This is everywhere are more extreme. The Frankfurt Book Fair has been denounced for ‘shutting down’ Palestinian voices. Palestinian-born novelist Adania Shibli, was due to be awarded the 2023 LiBeraturpreis, an annual prize given to women writers from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Arab world. The prize has been withdrawn and the event cancelled with the organisers at first claiming that the decision was made as a ‘joint decision’ with the author. It was nothing of the sort. The action is now being protested by hundreds of writers, but it is testimony to the collapse of standards in the West, which reveres its own cultures of freedom and literary free speech, only to see them tested and broken with little appeal. The rigour of our much vaunted ‘western freedom’ is being exposed and found wanting. Our freedoms are weak.

But the sense of despair isn’t inevitable. As I write there is a call for civil disobedience and strikes around the world in solidarity with the Palestinian people. People are resigning from the Labour party in protest and rejecting the repressive legislation being imposed. We live in a world of violence and the call for peace, for humanity and for justice is a radical if a basic one. In this sense everything has been reduced to the barest minimum. This is about decency, humanity and survival. If you’re not up for defending this then we’re done here.

If your home is at risk – if your life is being disrupted and your security is being radically undermined – it is time to rise up against the forces that profit from war and profit from chaos and fear and terror. Here it is. Right now.


Comments (19)

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  1. Leslie Cunningham says:

    An excellent article, which I have shared.

      1. Mark Howitt says:

        What Leslie said. I too have shared.

  2. James Mills says:

    ”Blessed are the peacemakers , for they will be called Children of God ! ” …supposedly said by a famous Jew in Palestine .
    Wonder what he would think of that sad land today ?

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Agreed. The Listening Post says that the Guardian has sacked its long-serving political cartoonist Steve Bell, whose cartoons I grew up on, for submitting a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
    among other salient points on media coverage.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      Incidentally, anyone who watched the fur seals and great white shark segment in the first episode of Planet Earth 3, might be wondering exactly what options are open to the United Nations General Assembly:
      Explainer: What now, as Security Council deadlocks on Gaza?

  4. Duncan Sutherland says:

    “Decency, humanity and survival” are most certainly worth fighting for. That is no doubt why there has been such an impressive response to the call-up of reservists by the Israeli Defence Force since hideous drug-crazed Morlocks emerged from their dark fastnesses among the supportive population of Gaza to slither across the border into the sunlit pastures of the peaceful Eloi to indulge in an orgy of the most heinous crimes that can be committed against human beings short of cannibalism.

    The Israelis knew only too well that anything they did to defend themselves effectively in response to the existential threat with which they are confronted would lead to sympathy for the Palestinians. They have resolved to do what they consider that they now have to do nevertheless, and in this they appear to have the support of the UK Government despite all the hysteria in the streets and the stated eagerness of the First Minister of Scotland to open Scotland up to Palestinian refugees, among whom there would no doubt be countless fleeing terrorists or “militants”, as the BBC has been calling the Hamas perpetrators of genocidal savagery.

    Israel apparently means to create a hardened state, and its people are evidently prepared to do what it takes to achieve that or go down fighting, fighting for the right to live in a decent and humane society, Israel being the only one of those in the Middle East.

  5. Daniel Lamont says:

    Thank you. A crisp article which says what needs to be said.

  6. John says:

    An excellent article- thank you.
    The massacre of innocent Israeli civilians on 7th October was completely unjustified regardless of past history in Palestine and meets description of a Pogrom.
    The Israeli response of bombing innocent civilians is also unjustified and is not only inhumane but history shows us it will ultimately counterproductive.
    I would recommend reading Simon Tidsall’s article in Guardian about what is happening to children in Gaza to get a better understanding of impact on what is happening and the potential future consequences.

  7. florian albert says:

    Mike Small’s article manages to name check Michael Gove twice. It fails to mention Hamas at all. Yet without the massacres perpetrated, on October 7th, by ‘the Islamist Einsatzgruppen of Hamas’ – as one Scots-Irish critic of Imperialism has called them – it is very unlikely that Mike Small would have written the article in question.
    Not for the first time, Jim Sillars is a voice of sanity.
    As he wrote in The Herald today, ‘Israel is here to stay.’ Hamas will probably eventually come to accept this as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness eventually came to accept that a united Ireland would only come about when the voters of the Six Counties agree to it.

    1. Hi Florian – the article was more about the aftermath of consequences of the events in Palestine than the violent eruption itself – of which 1 million words have already been spilt.

      Jim Sillars? Jim hasn;t been a real-world figure for many many years

      1. florian albert says:

        Jim Sillars is in the second half of his ninth decade.

        You might expect that there would be a long list of younger Scots on the Left with as much intellectual credibility, I can’t think of many.

        1. Frank Mahann says:

          Jim Sillars with intellectual credibility ? Really? The same guy who donated two grand to Jackie Baillie’s election fund. The defeated candidate who blasted the Govan electorate as ’90 minute patriots’. He advised the Scottish electorate not to vote in the devolution referendum. And he is a Brexiter. Intellectual credibility !

  8. Satan says:

    Seems to be 3-1 Isreal so far. I wonder if they win a cup?

    Imagine telling the entire population of Birmingham to move to Wolverhampton. I can’t. And that’s just for starters.

  9. Stuart J says:

    What your views on the SNP conference Mike thought you be hot off the press with your take on it?

    1. Sorry, been unwell, just catching up on everything

      1. Chris Ballance says:

        Sorry to hear that Mike – take care of yourself, Scotland needs you.
        Decades ago an old trade unionist told me “the most important thing you can do for the struggle is look after your health” He had a point.

  10. John Wood says:

    Well said Mike, and thanks for saying it. If we can take anything from the growing desperate and horrific violence emerging everywhere, I hope it’s the clear message that there is nothing in this nihilism but the complete destruction of planet and people. As A J Muste said in 1957, “There Is No Way to Peace, Peace is the way” It is based on fear, and those who see themselves as having the most to lose are the most fearful. It feeds an addiction to power and control that can become completely reckless. Systems theory shows us that ecosystems – and human societies are ecosystems – simply cannot not work like that. An eye for an eye, as Gandhi said, makes the whole world blind. The only possible future is a shared one, one based on mutual aid, rather than ruthless competition and an endless fight for power and possession. The survival of the fittest does not mean the survival of the nastiest. We are all interconnected, and those who destroy others and the planet destroy themselves at the same time. For a future to be possible we have to recognise this and be the change. The collective consciousness is changing all the time, and we can help it along by listening to each other and seeing that we are all human. We either live together or we die together.

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