Monthly Archives: July 2011

Wadi Fukin, a valley of hope and dispair

At Palestine Note, Joshka Wessels writes:

“Fahmi Manasra walks to the spring he remembers from his childhood. He was a young boy when he moved from Dheisheh refugee camp to the paradise of Wadi Fukin some 30 years ago. At the time, he felt like he was in heaven.  He had wished to share this same feeling with his children but the spring is empty. Today, the spring and its reservoir are completely dried up. Nothing is left of the spring. Fahmi’s paradise is lost. The cause ? Construction of an expanding illegal Israeli settlement that is taking up land, drying up the springs and contaminating the soil.”

“During the years after the second intifada, it became clear that the increased settlement construction was severely damaging the environment.  This alarmed both the Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists to take action. The environmental NGO “Friends of the Earth Middle East”, a unique organization with offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Amman, helped out with scientific research. The studies showed the large scale environmental impact by settlement activities.

A big shock came when people from Tsur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin were presented with the proposed plans for the Israeli separation wall. The building plans proposed a route that will cut the valley in two parts and destroy the environment even further. The village will become a prison, encircled by the wall and the settlement of Bitar Illit.

Alarmed by the developments, the Israeli activists and Palestinian farmers filed a case at the Israeli courts. They approached Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, who also represents the Rachel Corrie case. Based on environmental grounds, they argued that the wall should not be build and settlement activity should stop. The process was lengthy. It included a petition in Tsur Hadassah and many rejections of the case. The group did not give up and went to the High Court and finally last year managed to get some positive verdict. The building of the Wall has now been frozen based on environmental grounds. How long this freeze will last is unclear. But the fact that they were successful in stopping the Wall gives some little hope.”

Read it all.

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Conspiracy Theory Day, 25th September, London

CFI UK and SPES present

CONSPIRACY THEORY DAY

Sunday 25th September 2011
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.

9/11, alien visitation, Jewish cabals and global warming – why are people drawn to conspiracy theories, and what holds them captive? What are the warning signs of a dodgy conspiracy theory? What conspiracy theories are actually credible, and why? Spend an entertaining and informative day with some if the world’s leading experts.

PROGRAMME

10.30 Registration

10.45-11.55 Chris French and Robert Brotherton “Conspiracy Minded: The Psychology of Belief in Conspiracy Theories”

12.00- 1.10 Karen Douglas “A Social Psychological Perspective On Conspiracy Theories”

2.00-3.10 David Aaronovitch “Do Conspiracy Theories Have Common Characteristics Over Time And Space?”

3.10-4.10 Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller “Truth And The Net”

4.10 End

EVENT DETAILS

Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.

Cost £10, £5 to students.

Booking in advance available at the BHA website. Remaining tickets will be for sale on the door.

Organized by Stephen Law, Provost CFI UK.  Media can contact Stephen on think@royalinstitutephilosophy.org.

DETAILS OF TALKS

10.45-11.55 Chris French and Robert Brotherton, “Conspiracy Minded: The Psychology of Belief in Conspiracy Theories” This talk will introduce the topic of conspiracy theories and outline the difficulties that arise when trying to formulate a universally acceptable definition of this deceptively complex concept. Conspiracy theories have come to play a prominent role in contemporary culture. It is almost inevitable that any significant event will become the subject of conspiracy theorising, and considerable numbers of people endorse such theories. Although the psychology behind belief in unsubstantiated and implausible conspiracy theories is not yet well understood, social scientists are now beginning to address this important topic. A summary of theories and empirical findings to date will be presented.

12.00-1.10 Karen Douglas, “A social psychological perspective on conspiracy theories”. Karen will give some background on the psychological correlates of conspiracy theories (e.g., personality characteristics, motivations) before going on to discuss some of her own and her students’ research. She will talk about research showing that conspiracy theories are persuasive and change people’s opinions about what happened in major world events such as the death of Princess Diana. Karen will also explain research showing that people tend to believe in conspiracy theories when they lack information and fill in the gaps by ‘projecting’ their own moral tendencies onto the alleged conspirators, and will discuss some of the features that make conspiracy theories persuasive vs. those that are less effective. Finally, she will talk about the beginning of a research programme examining some of the consequences of beliefs in conspiracy theories. For example, she has some data showing that exposure to conspiracy theories makes people feel less powerful and therefore less likely to want to vote.

2.00-3.10 David Aaronovitch, “Do conspiracy theories have common characteristics over time and space?” Details to follow.

3.10 Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, “Truth and the Net”. Jamie and Carl will talk about their forthcoming (August 2011) report ‘Truth and the Net’ which examines the extent that conspiracy theories and misinformation are entering the classroom; how far young people are equipped with the digital literacy required to confront them. This is based on a large national survey of teachers on the subject. They’ll sketch out the critical thinking skills, habits and knowledge young people need.

ABOUT THE SPEAKERS

David Aaronovitch, author of Voodoo Histories (further details to follow.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme at the think tank Demos. He researches and writes about a wide variety of extremist groups. He recently authored a major paper on al-Qaeda terrorism, which included living alongside radical Islamists. He is currently leading a research team conducting the largest ever survey of the far-right in Europe.

Robert Brotherton is a member of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is conducting a PhD, funded by the ESRC, on the psychology of belief in conspiracy theories. He also teaches as part of the anomalistic psychology undergraduate module at Goldsmiths. Robert is currently acting as assistant editor of The Skeptic and convenes the Anomalistic Psychology Interest Group, a seminar group for academic discussion of topics within anomalistic psychology.

Dr Karen Douglas is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Kent. She is Associate Editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology and Social Psychology. Karen is also a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology and a member of learned societies in social psychology and communication studies. She has published widely on topics such as language and communication, the psychology of the Internet, feedback, and the social psychology of conspiracy theories, and her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Australian Research Council and the British Academy. She is the co-author of a forthcoming social psychology text to be published by Palgrave MacMillan and the first volume on feedback to be published by Peter Lang Publishers. Karen’s research on conspiracy theories focuses on the social psychological processes and consequences of beliefs in such theories, and the factors that make conspiracy theories so appealing.

Professor Chris French is the Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as being a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 100 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main current area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims, as well as writing for the Guardian’s online science pages. For more than a decade, he edited of The Skeptic and his latest book, co-edited with Wendy Grossman, is Why Statues Weep: The Best of The Skeptic (London: The Philosophy Press).

Carl Miller is an Associate at Demos and a researcher at King’s College London. He is interested in extremism, dissent, the Internet and social media. In 2010 Jamie and Carl authored The Power of Unreason, about the relationship between conspiracy theories and terrorist ideology. Following this paper, both spent months debating with 9/11 Truthers.

On the role of racism in the Israel-Palestine conflict

This post is also on Engage.

Phoebe is thinking about the role of racism in the Israel-Palestine conflict:

“To lower everyone’s blood pressure for a moment, think of it like this. Imagine that two neighbors, one who happens to be Jewish, one who doesn’t, get into an argument over… any number of ridiculous things people argue about that have nothing to do with their ethnic-religious origins. Someone’s dog ripped up someone else’s flower bed, whatever. We wouldn’t say that the Jew’s antagonist in this conflict is an anti-Semite. Sometimes Jews, like everyone else, get into disputes, and those disputing with them have whatever beef anyone has with anyone. However, if a bunch of strangers to both formed a committee to support the Jew’s antagonist, while ignoring similar and worse conflicts in the town between non-Jews, we might wonder about the committee members. Now, if the Jew’s antagonist, picking up on his likely source of support, throws a ‘dirty Jew’ in there, that’s foul play and all, but that doesn’t mean the original conflict was about anti-Semitism. It was about the flower bed.”

And the next day:

“I remain unconvinced that “race” or “racism” is the best lens through which to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it plays out among the parties themselves. I think it’s a very useful lens for understanding why certain third parties get involved, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, no.”

Matt responds in agreement about distinguishing between antagonists and their cheerleaders:

“When we call a speaker racist (as opposed to their speech), it typically means that that speaker should be banned from the discourse because their presence is unproductive. If we ban too many Palestinians or too many Jews, we wind up completely disrupting the discourse in a way that is certainly unproductive, because there’s no one left to convince.”

as well as disagreement about the role of racism in the conflict:

“…why should we distinguish between the claims of different actors on that basis when the claims are identical? And while we might seek to be inclusive of a variety of perspectives and actors in our conversation, that doesn’t mean that all claims are equal in that conversation. In short, I don’t think it’s often useful to think of racism as a matter of intent or as an exercise into soul divination.”

“Often, I go back to the 1929 Hebron Massacre. (Phoebe talks about the “ultimate” cause being about land, so lets go back in time.) Palestinian leaders spread a rumor that Jews were massacring Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians (enough) in Hebron chose to believe that rumor because they were willing to believe almost anything about Jews, and they chose to respond by killing Jews.”

A very interesting conversation, HT Bob.

There may be strategic reasons for those most directly involved in the conflict and its resolution to pass over racism. But if like me you agree with Matt that racism is a significant factor, you will be wary of failing to acknowledge something major by putting it to one side. I also take Phoebe’s point that racism cannot be the only lens through which to examine the conflict, but it is racism which gives the conflict its popular edge and sucks in partisans with a weird and avid intensity from all over the world. It seems these days that in engaging with the conflict, and the way the conflict is refracted in far off places like Britain, it is impossible to avoid giving an audience to racist views. Nevertheless racism should compromise the influence of those who espouse it, should have consequences which disadvantage them while they continue to espouse it, and should meet with robust but constructive rebuttal.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign – spinning mass murder

“The more I hear about the Norway terrorist attack, the more I can’t help noticing 1) that Norway declared it would vote for Palestinian rights in September 2) the Oslo accords are the current basis for Palestinian statehood 3) Norwegians heavily backed the Flotilla. This is Juliano. This is Vittorio. This is Rachel Corrie. This is Tom Hurndall. This is the Norwegian people. Israeli State-promoted terrorism.”

You’re probably supposing that’s a quote from a satirical piece on conspiracy theorists. Tragically not. Ellie Merton, Chair of Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Campaign, is completely serious.

Of herself Ellie Merton says,

“On and off for the last 20 years I’ve been muddled up in Palestinian civil rights and justice”.

Today’s muddle entails pondering ways to pin the blame on Israel for Anders Breivik’s terror attack.

Yesterday Brevick murdered 92 people with a machine gun on the Norwegian island youth camp of Utøya and a fertiliser bomb in government buildings.

Just like any other scapegoat, all misfortunes can be attributed to Israel if you only give the matter enough thought. (Or Jews, if you’re former Green spokesperson David Icke). 92 people killed by a terrorist from the extreme right, and all Ellie Merton seems to want to do is spin.

This hatred of Israel which overwhelms all reason is characteristic of Palestine Solidarity Campaign activism, which is why Greens should have nothing to do with this organisation. The question is, when will Green and patron of Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Campaign Jean Lambert MEP take some responsibility?

Remember the nutty days of David Icke and Tony Gosling? Surely we don’t want to go back there again.

Surely we should be concentrating on the extent and significance of Breivik’s connections with far right extremist groups across Europe including the English Defence League, and the circumstances in which extremism tips over into violence.

Jewish Socialist versus the EUMC – Bob From Brockley

A cross-post by Bob From Brockley:

Jewish Socialist versus the EUMC

The new issue of the reliably excellent Jewish Socialist magazine popped onto my doormat this morning and I browsed it as I ate my lunch. As always, I look forward to reading it from cover to cover, probably the only publication I can say that of.

The very first page, however, includes a short piece on Greens Engage which radically misrepresents the group. It is based on an interview with Joseph Healy, who claims, among other things that “Greens Engage have been using the controversial EUMC definition of antisemitism to make accusations against those in the Green party supporting justice for the Palestinians.” In fact, Greens Engage members put forward a motion to a 2008 conference agreeing that “The EU’s working definition of antisemitism shall be considered when determining what counts as antisemitism.” (The same motion, incidentally, was unequivocally for a Palestinian right of self-determination, which seems like a good definition of supporting justice for Palestinians.) They did not, however, at this point, make any accusations about anyone based on the EUMC definition, and the definition only cropped up again some time later when a Green Party internal committee innocently stumbled upon it in drafting policy on antisemitic language, which then blew up into a new furore, as we know. I may be wrong, but I am not aware of any time that GE have made an accusation against anyone which quotes the definition.

There is also, on p.21, an article by Julia Bard on “the agendas being served by the Community Security Trust“. This again (inaccurately I believe) invokes the EUMC WD: “Their definition of the threat is based on the discredited and highly contentious EU Monitoring Committee definition of antisemitism [which it isn’t] and their equally contentious response to it [which means I have no idea what].” The main thrust of the argument, however, follows Geoffrey Alderman (a former friend of Jewish Socialist and now somewhat to the right of them) in seeing the CST as unrepresentative and adds that its funding structure echoes Cameron’s Big Society, an interesting but not to me convincing point.

Anyways, apart from that, looks good. There’s obituaries of Jayaben Desai, Miriam Karlin and Juliano Mer Khamis, a short piece on Tarabut, Moshe Machover, Afif Safieh and Amanda Sebetyen on the Arab spring, David Rosenberg on multiculturalism, the usual Spanish Civil war stuff, Ilana Cravitz on klezmer, Mike Gerber on boxing, Paul Collins on Victor Gollancz, J David Simons on Jewish Glasgow, David Landau on AFA (I will return to that one here when I’ve digested it), some muckraking on the hideous Israel Shamir, and lots more.

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