Protecting the Chávez legacy

Jack Staples-Butler

Yesterday we discussed a thoughtful piece by Jack Staples-Butler about the Western apologists for Venezuelan chavismo who helped Hugo Chávez gain (and regain) power – but who, as the thug’s misguided socialist project (now in the hands of his hapless successor, Nicolás Maduro) has led his country further and further into ruin, have run for the hills rather than face up to their share of moral responsibility for this colossal failure.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP

At the head of Staples-Butler’s list of unapologetic apologists is Owen Jones, who along with Members of Parliament Grahame Morris and Diane Abbott, Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, and the repulsive anti-Semite George Galloway, among others, served as official, and supposedly “independent,” observers of the 2012 election in which Chávez was re-elected. Of course, as Staples-Butler pointed out, “There was nothing remotely ‘independent’ about the observers – all were from the socialist left, all had expressed support for Chávez and most crucially, all were involved in some capacity with the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.”

Owen Jones

In an article written on the occasion of Chávez’s death in 2013, Jones recalled his fierce chavista partisanship and raised the possibility that some observers might consider him a “useful idiot.” Staples-Butler’s comment: no, he and his fellow British chavistas were not “useful idiots”; they were worse. Because they knew more about the reality of chavismo than a lot of Stalin’s “useful idiots” in Britain during the 1930s knew about the reality of Stalin’s USSR. Reporters like this website’s mascot, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, systematically whitewashed the reality of life in the Soviet Union, denying the reality of everything from the Holdomor to the Gulag. By contrast, observes Staples-Butler,

Hugo Chavez

Human Rights Watch and other organisations provided overwhelming and easily-accessible evidence that Venezuela had during the 2000s become a dictatorship, a home to mass murder and political repression sliding towards economic and social collapse. This was or should have been self-evident to any journalist, politician or educated person who visited Venezuela even if they were under the chaperone of a tightly-managed official tour. Direct contact was not even necessary to know what was happening there. Nothing more than an Internet connection and a library card would provide the mountains of information collected on political and social conditions in the country which had not been produced by Venezuelan state media.

Chavez with longtime buddy Fidel Castro

And yet they lied. Jones lied. “[W]hen it comes to his relationship with his opposition, Chávez has arguably been pretty lenient,” wrote Jones in 2012. Compared to whom? “The status of human rights deterioration and abuse in Venezuela,” maintains Staples-Butler, “was apparent and visible for the entirety of Chávez’s rule.” He cites reports by Human Rights Watch, which documented this reality year by year throughout the Chávez presidency. Also in 2012, Jones claimed that Venezuela’s “private media enjoys a 90 per cent audience share and routinely pump out vitriolic anti-Chávez propaganda.” Very early in Chávez’s presidency, there was some truth in this; before long, however, journalists were being harassed, newspaper offices attacked, and censorship imposed, with serious penalties put in place for those who dared defame the caudillo. Apropos of Chávez’s alliance with such regimes as that of the Castros in Cuba, Jones pointed to the fact that the U.S. and U.K., too, had cooperative relationships with autocratic governments; the difference Jones failed to acknowledge, however, was that Chávez’s ties to Cuba weren’t just strategic, but founded in his desire “to remake Venezuela in the image” of Cuba and other dictatorships.

At this point, Staples-Butler is an obscure law student. We can only hope that he’ll soon be as widely published, read, and cited as his mendacious, tyranny-loving co-patriot Owen Jones.

Those chavista Brits

Jack Staples-Butler

Jack Staples-Butler, a British law student, wrote an interesting article recently about Venezuela – not about the social and economic crisis itself but about the government’s response to it, namely “systemic and organised psychological denial,” which largely takes the form of “externalis[ing] blame through conspiracy theories.” Nicolás Maduro’s regime has spread “[f]antasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States,” and has used these fantasies as an excuse to seize food from grocery stores and impose price controls on food products. “The most disturbing recent development,” wrote Staples-Butler, “is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.”

Nicolas Maduro

It is madness – dangerous madness. Yet, as we have noted frequently on this website, Maduro has, until very recently, had more than his share of eager Western supporters. “As recently as June 2015, when this starvation crisis was already in full-swing,” wrote Staples-Butler, “an event organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in London” to cheer chavismo as a heroic challenge to “neoliberalism and privatisation” drew such prominent figures as Jeremy Corbyn (now head of the British Labour Party) and two other members of Parliament, Grahame Morris and Richard Burgon.

Jeremy Corbyn

But more interesting to Staples-Butler than the lingering enthusiasm of British politicians – as well as British intellectuals and journalists – for the Bolivarian Republic is the role they played years earlier in the creation of this crisis. Among the names he mentions, in addition to Corbyn, Morris, and Burgon, are several other prominent MPs and former MPs, including Diane Abbott, John McDowell, and Colin Burgon, journlist Owen Jones (whom we’ve profiled at length on this site). After the 2012 elections, influential British figures organized a propaganda tour of the UK for chavismo politicians and union bosses. Left-wing British groups held events all over the UK to celebrate Venezuelan socialism; among the speakers were Seumas Milne (whom we’ve also profiled here), London mayor Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Jones (again), and chavismo enthusiasts from Cuba and Argentina.

The rewards of socialism: a Venezuelan supermarket

All of these figures, charged Staples-Butler, bear a “moral responsibility” for “the continued suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of a regime which they passionately supported.” Yet these Western chavistas, who are accustomed to viewing themselves as moral exemplars, are incapable of admitting to themselves their moral responsibility for the current outrage. “What is most striking in the Western socialist left’s response to Venezuela’s agony,” therefore, “is the absence of response.” They can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong. Venezuela, writes Staples-Butler, “has become a collective unperson to those who formerly proclaimed it an example for humanity’s emulation.” (There are exceptions. The Morning Star, a Communist newspaper to which Corbyn contributes, “continues repeating Venezuelan state propaganda,” describing anti-Maduro protests, for instance, “as a right-wing ‘coup plot.’”)

Hugo Chavez

Staples-Butler predicted that when the international left finally works out a “history” of contemporary Venezuela with which it can live, it will take the line that Hugo Chávez was, indeed, a great man whose brilliant socialist program brought Venezuela prosperity, but that Maduro (who took over after Chávez died in 2013) was a criminal whose corruption ruined everything. Such a fantasy, suggested Staples-Butler, would rescue not only Chávez and socialism but, more important, themselves from responsibility. If this lie were to take hold, it would not be the first ever historical example of such revisionism: after the USSR fell, many ardent Western Communists dealt with the reality of Soviet evils by blaming them entirely on Stalin and depicting him as having betrayed the supposedly benevolent – and beneficial – ideology of Lenin.

Of all the Western apologists for chavismo, Staples-Butler singled out one for special censure. It’s somebody whom we’ve discussed at length on this site – Owen Jones. But Staples-Butler’s comments on Jones in connection with the downfall of Venezuela are reason enough to return to Jones yet again. We’ll do that tomorrow.

Top ten stooges, part two

Yesterday we revisited five of our top ten useful stooges of 2016. Here are the other five, who happen to have one thing in common: a readiness to defend Islam, the premier totalitarian force of our time. 

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Ben Norton

He hates Israel, calls the U.S. a “rogue state,” celebrates the legacy of the Black Panthers, and reflexively responds to each new act of terrorism by fretting about anti-Muslim backlash and smearing critics of Islam. He’s boy scribe Ben Norton, who when he’s not writing for Salon – an execrable enough venue – can be found at such vile pro-jihad sites as Electronic Intifada and Middle East Monitor. Instead of condemning the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January 2015, Norton slammed the victims as racists. Instead of writing about the massacres in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando (media attention to such events, he argues, only boosts bigotry), he penned an entire article about a white lady who’d jumped a hijab-clad woman on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk.

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Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny was born into a prosperous family (both her parents were lawyers), went to a posh English public school, studied at Oxford, and was soon a highly successful journalist and author. But she’s still (as she constantly whines) a victim of sexism, a member of an “oppressed class.” And every man’s an oppressor – except, note well, for those Muslim males who act on the permission their religion gives them to beat, rape, and even kill women with impunity. So it was that when gangs of “refugees” committed mass rape in Cologne last New Year’s Eve, Penny turned her ire not on the rapists, but on the “racists” who responded to this crime by criticizing Islam. 

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Sally Kohn

It sounds like a set-up for a bad joke: a Jewish lesbian defending sharia law. But it’s no joke – it’s Sally Kohn, who after holding a series of jobs as a sleazy political operator and PR flack is now a CNN talking head. Even worse than her utter lack of a decent education is her utter lack of embarrassment about it: when an editor commissioned her to write about Amsterdam, she admitted she didn’t even know what country it was in – but that didn’t keep her from visiting it for a few days and banging out a piece accusing the natives of (what else?) Islamophobia.

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Owen Jones

“Modern capitalism is a sham,” advises British lad Owen Jones, and “democratic socialism is our only hope.” A Guardian columnist, Oxford grad, and son of Trotskyite parents, Jones is a consistent whitewasher of Islam who turns every act of jihadist terror into an excuse to denounce critics of Islam.

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Will Smith

Finally, there’s movie star Will Smith, who this year called for “cleans[ing]” America by eliminating Trump supporters. (He didn’t say how we should do it.) He also condemned America’s “Islamophobia” and extolled Dubai, which, he claimed, “dreams the way I dream.” Never mind that the UAE, where Dubai is located, is a sharia-ruled country where you can get stoned to death for being gay: Smith, a self-styled “student of world religion,” claimed that if Americans have a bad image of the place, it’s entirely the fault of Fox News.

Happy New Year!

The girl who cries “racist”

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Ben Norton

In recent weeks we’ve been discussing a couple of ambitious lads who, despite their very tender ages, have already made a big name for themselves by parroting – in print, online, and on TV – the familiar grab-bag of far-left talking points about America, Israel, “neoliberalism,” Kirchnerism, chavismo, Islam, Islamophobia, and so on.

One of these kids is Ben Norton, an American writer who contributes regularly to Salon and pops up frequently at Mondoweiss, AlterNet, and the Electronic Intifada. The other is Owen Jones, a British Guardian columnist who also turns up occasionally in The Independent, The Mirror, and New Statesman.

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Owen Jones

Both of these boys are as callow as they are predictable, but that hasn’t hindered them – on the contrary, it’s almost certainly helped them – on their very fast climb up the ladder of the transatlantic commentariat.

It’s only fair to give the other sex equal time, so this week we’re going to meet a young woman who’s every bit as spectacularly successful a far-left ideologue as Ben and Owen. Her name is Laurie Penny.

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Laurie Penny

Just short of thirty years old, she comes from a very privileged background. The daughter of two successful lawyers, she went to a “posh” (her word) public school – which, of course, is what the British call their fancy private schools – and studied English at Wadham College, Oxford. Like Owen, she’s been a columnist at both The Independent and New Statesman, and currently writes for the latter. She’s also published several books: Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (2011), Penny Red: Notes from a New Age of Dissent (2011), Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens (2012), Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (2013), and Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (2014). Yet another book, Everything Belongs to the Future, is forthcoming in October.

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David Starkey

We’ll get around to some of her writings shortly; first, though, by way of introduction, let’s take a look at an excerpt from a June 2012 panel about English identity on which Penny, then age 25, appeared with Professor David Starkey, C.B.E., F.S.A., R.Hist.S., who at the time was 67. A couple of words about Starkey, which (for reasons that will become obvious) are relevant here: the son of a factory foreman and cotton weaver, he suffered as a child with club feet and polio, had a nervous breakdown at age 13, and attended Cambridge on a scholarship before going on to create a splendid and substantial career for himself as a serious historian of England and a presenter of well-received television documentaries about English history. He is also openly gay, and was an outspoken champion of gay rights at a time when that was a brave and dangerous path to take.

On, then, to the June 2012 panel. As can be observed in a video (see below), Penny stood at the lectern and accused Starkey, who is not a bigot of any kind, of “xenophobia and racial prejudice” and asked him where he was “domiciled for tax purposes.” Starkey stood up and took her place at the lectern. “As you have chosen to be personal and invidious,” he said, “let me tell you a little story.” He told the audience that he and Penny had recently been invited by an underfunded institution to debate the topic of republic vs. monarchy. (Starkey is a monarchist.)

“I was prepared to do it for free,” Starkey recalled, but Penny “insisted on trying to charge such large fee that the event had to be cancelled.” Calling her action “mean and grasping,” Starkey said, “I will not be lectured to by a jumped-up public-school girl like you. I came up from the bottom and I will not have it!” (“Jumped-up,” by the way, is perfect here: it means someone who considers herself more important than she really is, or who has “suddenly and undeservedly risen in status.”)

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When she’s not fighting for the oppressed, Penny is a world-class clotheshorse

He would not have it – and she could not take it. The rest of the video is almost painful to watch. Penny, obviously unsettled, says at first that she wants to reply to Starkey’s charge. She then bumbles through an incoherent explanation of her fee demands, citing her financial needs and plane schedules and problems involving other invited speakers. She then says she’s changed her mind – she doesn’t want to reply to Starkey. She then changes her mind again, and says that her request for a high fee for the republic vs. monarchy debate wasn’t really about money at all but about her fear that she would be personally attacked on that panel in the way, she says, that Starkey has attacked her just now. “There’s a violence inherent in this discussion,” she maintains, and again accuses Starkey of going personal and failing to maintain civility.

“You started it!” an audience member shouts. “You called him a racist!” Penny looks out at the crowd, uncomprehending. “He is a racist,” she says.

But of course this brief glimpse of Laurie isn’t enough to get the full picture. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll look at a longer, more revealing video of her in action.

Owen Jones: covering for Islam

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Owen Jones

As we noted yesterday, gay Guardian commentator Owen Jones lost his temper and walked off of a TV program on the night of the Orlando nightclub massacre. His purported reason? The other two people on-screen had refused to call the killings homophobic. This was not, in fact, the case. What bothered him, apparently, was that if he hadn’t thrown a fit, he would have been forced to listen to a discussion of a topic he has been trying to avoid for years – namely, the fact that Islam, which he has defended fiercely against all comers, does in fact preach the murder of gay people such as himself.

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Rod Liddle

The Telegraph‘s Julia Hartley-Brewer, who was on the TV show with Jones, accused him of making the massacre all about himself. Rod Liddle, writing in the Spectator, agreed: “the reliably idiotic left-wing columnist Owen Jones had a temper tantrum while reviewing the papers on Sky News — and stormed off the set, apparently because neither the presenter nor the other reviewer, Julia Hartley-Brewer, would accept that the tragedy was all about Owen.”

Liddle went on:

This was an attack upon an LGBT community, Jones insisted — needlessly, as it happens, because everybody had accepted that it was an attack upon an LGBT community….But none of it was enough for Owen. The only thing that mattered was that it was an attack upon gay people, and so it was a kind of singularity, an atrocity which Owen, being gay, could have to himself. The fact that a loathing of homosexuality is but one of the many problematic facets of Islam — along with misogyny, a contempt for those who are not Muslim, a hatred of Jewish people — was something which Jones could not accept. Presumably because this contradicted his resolutely fixed mindset that Muslims are oppressed people and are therefore as one in the struggle for liberation along with gay and transgendered people.

Indeed. In the Daily Mail, Katie Hopkins agreed with Liddle. While admitting that there was no love lost between her and Jones, she tried to be generous and sympathetic: “Owen is caught on a human fault line partly of his own making – he writes for the Guardian and is a cheerleader for Labour who prioritise Islam over the LGBT cause far closer to his own hurting heart.” She then read Jones the riot act:

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Katie Hopkins

Someone has to call this thing. Until Islam is tolerant of gay rights, we cannot tolerate Islam. In any sense. You have to choose.

LGBT rights or Islam. Black or white. Yes or no. Stop or go. It is a binary thing. You need to decide.

Douglas Murray, a somewhat older and infinitely wiser gay British writer, who recognizes Islam for what it is, summed up his view in a single tweet:

I’m sorry for Owen Jones. I would also feel guilty if I’d spent my life covering for the ideology that just killed 50 LGBT people.

If Jones was feeling guilty the night of the Orlando massacre, it didn’t last for long. The day after, he recorded a video (see below) utterly ignoring the issue of Islam – except for a brief mention of London’s new Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, whom he praised, absurdly, as a staunch defender of gay rights. The useful stoogery, in short, goes on.

It’s all about Owen

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Owen Jones

We’ve been getting to know Guardian columnist Owen Jones, whose devotion, as a gay man, to gay rights – and readiness to criticize any Western institution for homophobia – has coexisted from the beginning of his still-young career with his ideologically rooted refusal to criticize the most homophobic force on the planet, namely Islam.

For a while there, he seemed to be able to pull off this contradiction. Then came the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre.

Appearing on Sky News with host Mark Longhurst and Telegraph journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer on the night of the mass murder, Jones tried to stake out a position that was simply not tenable. As Hartley-Brewer summed it up afterwards, Jones had made three assertions:

Orlando-Pulse-Shooting-670x449The first was that the man responsible for the massacre, Omar Mateen, was a homophobic killer and the reason for his hatred of gay people was totally irrelevant.

His second was that to question why Mateen might have been a homophobe (was it his Islamic faith or was he just an angry hate-filled lunatic?) was to deliberately undermine the horror of the atrocity.

And the third was that neither Mark Longhurst nor I were entitled to venture any opinion on any issues arising out of this crime because we were straight and therefore could not presume to care as much about the deaths of 50 gay people as Owen. In his own words: “You don’t understand this because you’re not gay.”

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Julia Hartley-Brewer

In other words, Jones was trying to use his gay identity to shut down any effort to link this mass murder to Islam. As Hartley-Brewer pointed out, Jones is one of many people on the left who are “intent on putting their heads in the sand about the unquestionable fact that Islam has a problem with homophobia….Does it matter whether the Orlando killer hated gay people because he just happened to hate gay people or because he believed that such hatred was fundamental to the teachings of his Islamic faith? I think it does.”

Rather than admit that Islam teaches homophobia, Jones chose to turn the spotlight on his host and fellow panelist, claiming repeatedly that they were denying that homophobia was a factor in the Orlando atrocity – even as they both repeatedly agreed with him that, of course, it was.

Watch the exchange for yourself:

On the morning after his Sky News appearance, Jones stuck with his on-camera spin, maintaining in the Guardian that he had “walked off in disgust” as “an instinctive reaction” to Longhurst, who, he asserted, had “continually and repeatedly refused to accept that this was an attack on LGBT people….He not only refused to accept it as an attack on LGBT people, but was increasingly agitated that I – as a gay man – would claim it as such.”

Mark Longhurst
Mark Longhurst

To this, Hartley-Brewer replied, succinctly and correctly: “This is a blatant flat-out lie.” Owen also wrote in his Guardian follow-up: “I am reluctant to dwell too much on my appearance on Sky News last night, because this isn’t about me.” Hartley-Brewer found this to be altogether too much: “Really Owen? Because from where I was sitting, the entire thing has been ENTIRELY about you all along.”

Others also weighed in on Jones’s petulant walk-off. We’ll get to them tomorrow.

Owen Jones: silent on Muslim homophobia

Yesterday we began looking at Owen Jones, who is famous in Britain but whose celebrity, thankfully, hasn’t yet spread to North American shores. Jones, as we noted, is a gay socialist – and a strong defender of Islam. How strong? Consider this.

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Owen Jones

In a 2012 column, he called anti-Muslim prejudice “a European pandemic” and “the most widespread – and most acceptable – form of bigotry of our times.” This in a time, note well, when Islamic countries execute people for being gay or apostates, when jihadist groups slaughter Christians and Jews, and when women are treated as the property of men throughout the Muslim world. In one article he cited a poll result showing that “45 per cent of Britons agreed that ‘there are too many Muslims’ in Britain. Imagine if nearly half the population admitted to believing that ‘there are too many Jews’ in Britain: how loud would our alarm be?”

islamshariaHe didn’t mention, of course, that the number of Jews in Britain is declining rapidly because Muslim Jew-bashing is leading them to migrate to places like the U.S , Australia, and Israel. Nor did he acknowledge other polls showing that a majority of British Muslims want sharia law in the UK and think homosexuality should be illegal. Jones has repeatedly railed against European “Islamophobia” – but has never faced up to the fact that there are very good reasons why Europeans are concerned about Islam and not, say, about Hinduism or Buddhism.

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That image

In July of last year, an ex-Muslim named Saif Rahman tweeted an image to Jones. It showed a Koran with an overlay of rainbow colors – signifying, of course, gay rights. Rahman invited Jones to retweet the image. Jones refused, “because I think this is self evidently trying to provoke [rather] than win people over to LGBT rights.” In reply, Rahman asked: “why do you think it would provoke anyone? And if so, do you accept we have a serious problem?” Jones wouldn’t go there: “I’m done with people only mentioning LGBT rights when Islam is involved.”

jones1Other critics of Islamic homophobia then joined the discussion, supporting Rahman and challenging Jones: “So the rights, persecution, murder of gays in the Muslim world mean NOTHING?” one of them asked. Jones, instead of addressing this deadly serious subject, rejected the right of straight people to lecture him about homophobia: “This [is] like men lecturing women about feminism or white people lecturing black people about racism.” One critic extended an invitation to Jones: “Climb out of your identity-based politics and start thinking in terms of reason, argument, actual human rights.” But Jones refused the invitation.

gayfreeAs one observer commented, Jones uses the cover of identity politics and “broad-minded respect for other cultures” to avoid “criticising even the most regressive elements of another minority group. In his own mind, it is not his business to do so.” Instead, “he declares his unconditional and indiscriminate solidarity with all Muslims, irrespective of how hostile a given individual’s views and values may be to his own. And, consequently, he finds himself objectively defending the Islamic religious right from the pressures of progress at the expense of those they victimise.” What, then, is Jones saying, in effect, to gay Muslims? It’s simple: “gay liberation for me, but not for thee.”

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The Orlando Pulse before the massacre

All this was mere preamble, however, to Jones’s response to the jihadist mass murder in June at the gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which gained him more attention than he’d ever received before. Tune in tomorrow.