Author Archives: Beatrix Campbell

Culture wars: sexual harassment. How do we know it will stop?

These are some of the thoughts I shared with a splendid gathering in Melbourne, We Revolt At Dawn, organised by the Search Foundation and the Victoria Women’s Trust, on 9 November

Let’s begin with bodies…we wake, we are ashamed and afraid; it feels awkward, creepie in a way, to be in our skin, we don’t belong to ourselves. Humans never do, of course, we belong to air and the soil, and if we are lucky we are held by love. But for some of us, sometimes day in day out, we are entombed in the memory of that man.

That man.

There are 1.3 million people in the UK who emerged from childhood having been sexually abused by the time they reach 18, according to the Children’s Commissioner’s Report, Protecting Children from Harm.

https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Protecting-children-from-harm-full-report.pdf

Abuse and harassment is always on the horizon.

Then there are the people who go to work expecting to work, only to find themselves snared, by a man, that man.

A man, perhaps a man like Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, wakes and he knows what he wants: you! He plans his position, his props, the environment. He anticipates the predicable pleasures: he loses some, he wins some, it doesn’t matter which because he enjoys the choreography, the risk, the anticipation and finally the look on a your face when he opens the door, when you see him and shock is written all over your face.

I’m guessing this, because I don’t know what’s in his head.

He never needs to tell us, and no doubt he never will.

One morning, however, this corporate prince discovers that he is accused, and he uses his vast resources to do what powerful men have done forever, find a way of making a woman (or a child)  suffer in silence, to make her feel shame and to shut up. Shame, we know, is the greatest gag. Most of the time he wins.

When a corporate prince finds himself accused – this, it is reported, is what Weinstein did –  he employs the best sleuths he can afford to find out everything about the women who are talking about him, to make them shut up

He doesn’t just threaten them, slap an injunction on them, terrify them, he makes them spend money they haven’t got to defend themselves. He might even pay out to pay off. But it’s never enough.

He does more, he finds out about them, he delves into their lives, he wants to know all about them in order to control them.

The first strategy is to make their bodies serve his and become subordinate to his, in a context, a space, that is controlled by him, or a space that is what Prof  Liz Kelly calls conducive context.

That manoeuvre is compounded by another: to stealth bomb their lives, leaving people unable to trust anyone, to spy, know stuff that’s none of his business; all a way to have them, control them, to silence them.

The hacking scandal exposed the way the Murdoch press seized control of private lives by knowing stuff and leaking stuff that wasn’t secret, it was just private.

On both of these fronts we were witnessing corporate patriarchy at work

But one dawn a woman called Rose McGowan woke ready for revolutionary actionShe did that most radical thing: not shut up, tell her story and call a corporate king to account.

The effect has been electrifying: women, and now some men, have taken control of the body discourse. The old story told by so many men for so long is exposed and all over the world sexual harassment is broadcast as no joke but as a strategy of bodily dominion.

I was sitting in an airport the other day, on my way to Australia, talking about all this with a bloke who sat next to me. In his seemingly genial way he started a conversation. What was I doing in Oz, he said, I was doing a talking tour, I explained, about feminism, and socialism.

‘I’m a feminist, I love women,’ he said.

‘But you know some of those women knew what they were doing,’ he said, ‘didn’t they, I mean they went into those rooms, they agreed, surely they knew….’

‘Did they?’ I asked. ‘What could they have known? And doing what they had to do was not the same as doing what they wanted to do. Did any of them want to do what he demanded?’

As feminism would have it, you can’t consent to something unless you can withhold your consent.

‘Yeah, but…’

Why, I wondered, was this the first thing he had to say about the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey?

The last thing I want to say – for the moment – is this: I don’t know any women who have not been sexually harassed. We know that the culture industries harbour harassment, they have been conducive contexts. Now they’re saying they’re not. Just like that.

But patriarchies solicit women’s subordination and participation, and of course interpret women’s submission as consent.

So, the question is: how do the cultural industry institutions know that they are no longer conducive contexts? What have they done? Have they created a conducive context for women to share their secrets, to describe how all this stuff happens, to name the guilty men to someone, and for the guilty men to disclose their Modus Operandi? And how do these agencies know, all of a sudden, that the men who are sexually harassing women right now – or allowing men to do it – will stop?

I think the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport should find out.

Wolf-Whistles: What They Really Mean

Earlier than usual — maybe 7.30 am — the BBC rang: What did I think about the woman who’d gone to the police over a wolf-whistle from a building site? Should she have gone to the police?

The incident had not crossed my radar. But in any case I found myself in a generational fade: Going to the police, a wolf-whistle…?

Unsure how to think about it; there had to be more to this story but I didn’t know what it was, and pointed the caller in the direction of Everyday Sexism who, to be sure, would know how to think about it.

Click here to read what their founder Laura Bates had to say.

The Daily Mirror’s version on 29 April was this: ‘Builder quizzed by police over wolf-whistle says he was complimenting ‘silly little girl thinking things above her station’

The paper asked its readers whether they agreed with the action taken by digital marketing director Poppy Smart: Would you go to the police over a wolf-whistle? 8 per cent said YES, 92 per cent NO.

If I didn’t know what to think beforehand, now I do know: Poppy Smart did not complain to the police about a wolf-whistle. She contacted the police and the site contractor about her daily encounter en route to work with a group of men she didn’t know; they didn’t know her either but they presumed to show her what they thought of her in a daily performance of what in any other context would be interpreted as sexual harassment, intrusion and insult.

She didn’t just contact the police, she contacted the site contractor after deciding that this sexism was similar to racism, she shouldn’t have to put up with it.

European directives on sexual harassment are clear: It is behaviour that is unwanted, that is designed to violate the dignity of a person, that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Employers are expected to ensure that their workers do not engage in such behaviour.

Poppy Smart’s story is illuminating both because she challenged behaviour that many men tenaciously affirm as, variously, banter, a joke, a compliment irrespective of what women might feel, behaviour that is deemed weightless yet worth defending to the bitter end, and also because her complaint prompted the police and the building company to actually do something.

One of the perpetrators, a 23-year-old Ian Merrett, protested in his old-fashioned chivalrous way that wolf-whistling was a compliment, he’d done it many times and ‘snogged so many girls off the back of that’ .

Poppy Smart ‘must be thinking things above her station,’ he said. Thinking things? Station? Two crimes: Thinking and trespassing. Here was a woman who seemed to think that she could occupy terrain — her own body — as if she owned it; that she could exercise both freedom of movement and freedom of thought as if she wasn’t living in Saudia Arabia.

Merrett had form. He told the press that in the past he’d get ‘pissed up and fighting’; he’d received a 12-month jail sentence when he and a dozen or so pals provoked a fight on a Worcester-Birmingham train in 2009.

His friend had ‘indecently exposed’ himself to other passengers after he accused one of them of looking at him. Merrett punched another passenger, who received stitches to his face.

But he was a reformed character, he said, he was only doing what men on building sites do.
The Daily Mirror conducted a poll among its readers on 1st May: 92 per cent supported the men and 8 per cent the woman.

However, police showed the men Poppy Smart’s video of their behaviour, ‘so we stopped doing it.’

She achieved something rather remarkable (despite the mass media’s trivialisation): she showed men dedicated to sexual harassment what it looks like and made them stop it.

Poppy Smart also offered us her own version of events: read it, be sad; be inspired.

Mantel’s Right Royal Calumny

Oh what a mighty calumny Hilary Mantel has caused. Her ravishing, slightly odd, fastidious, eloquent, essay on suits, frocks, fabrics and royal bodies in the London Review of Books would have been a good read. Now that the Daily Mail has spiked her, it is a must read.

Kate Middleton PortraitSo, her remarks about the Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton, having been designed by committee, and Mantel’s ruminations on royal gynaecology has gone viral. Marvellous.

Mantel doesn’t, of course, say anything horrid. She merely points out what we all know, that Kate Middleton has been finished: finessed, drilled, dressed. She will be perfect. She will be adroitly, vacantly, nice. The royal family’s scalding experience of earlier, unruly recruits into the firm – Fergie and Diana, mother of Middleton’s husband William – made any other option intolerable and to be avoided whatever the cost.

Mantel’s LRB piece is a rumination on what she knows so well – royal bodies: What they wear, how they rustle around space, how they are produced, how they are penetrated; and how they are seen – to repeat George III’s mantra they must be seen, above all be seen.

Mantel argues that the purpose of the royal body is to breed. Yes. But there is more. Being seen is not just about being visible – indeed it is hardly that – and I don’t really share Mantel’s observation that we stare at royalty to find antiquity, to find the special.

Queen Anne BoleynWhen we stare aren’t we searching for something else? Aren’t we struggling with that paradox of monarchism, the evidence that they are not so much immortal as merely mortal? Aren’t we searching for something about them that is human?

That, finally is the problem: our democracy warrants their sovereignty and yet we worry about the price THEY pay. Not the price we pay for their indulgences; not the price we pay for our compromised, unfinished democracy, for our abjection as subjects rather than citizens.

No, the price they pay for the seeming pointlessness of their privilege, what Mantel describes as the airy enclosure that is always a cage.

The paradox is that when they show their humanity they are in trouble. Being seen in the royal firmament is never to show their humanity, it is about the parade as propaganda: it is about being seen as superior, as sovereign.

JODIE FOSTER FOREVER — THE ACCUSED

Jodie Foster answers the eternal question, “Am I gay?”, when she comes out in 2013, almost a quarter of a century after her magnificent movie The Accused.

Here’s my homage to Jodie Foster:

THE ACCUSED ON RELEASE, written in Marxism Today in 1989

Kelly McGillis and Jodie Foster in The Accused

The Accused is the first popular movie of the ’80s to self-consciously take the side of women and invite men to take responsibility for rape.

Its commitment to that project is a kind of redemption for the producers, Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing, whose big hit, Fatal Att-raction, was a real shocker, a serious regression, emblematic not so much of 1980s’ postfeminism as anti-feminism.

The Accused, in contrast, takes its form from mainstream melodrama and its consciousness from modern feminism.

Unlike many movies which occupy the landscape of sexuality, The Accused does not face the woman viewer with the dilemma of her own self-destruction as a woman-with-desire, while she watches the drama of desire played out as woman’s destruction.

What the film offers women is the affirmation of their pain as victims, but more than that, it offers pleasure.

There’s pleasure in the metamorphosis of the classic portrayal of women as victims (they’re both  doomed by men and yet dependent on the protection of men) into women as survivors, and more than that, as protagonists. For once women aren’t defeated. And they defend themselves.

Women’s pleasure as spectators is multiplied in solidarity with the performers. Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis, who play the rape victim and the assistant district attorney who prosecutes her case, have expressed not only pride in their performances, but in the politics of the whole project.

Foster, the child star who took herself off to Yale University, said that she wanted to play Sarah Tobias, the raunchy, working-class waitress, who is gang-raped, because she was ‘close to my heart’.

She wanted to enable Sarah ‘to find her own voice, to prove to society that she could rise above their low expectations of her’. McGillis wanted to play either Sarah or Kathryn Murphy, the cool, chic, district attorney, because she wanted to ‘help give other rape victims a voice’.

There is another level of identification with Foster and McGillis. They’re both stars and yet for once that doesn’t exempt them from the world of women — the debates in the United States have invoked both women’s real-life experience of sexual harassment and rape.

When it comes to the reality of sexual terrorism, they’re women just like any others. They’ve suffered, and they’re using the power of stardom not to transcend our reality but to intervene in it.

It is a measure of the permanence and yet the precariousness of patriarchy and of women’s insistent presence that popular Western culture gives us not only the trashy ‘Fatal Attraction’ but also serious and popular interventions in sexual politics like Farrah Fawcett’s chilling melodrama, ‘The Burning Bed’, about a battered woman who kills her husband; Nine To Five, the secretaries’ revenge movie; and now The Accused.

It is within civil society and the courts, (it’s no surprise that The Accused becomes a court-room drama), that we see the most dramatic expression nowadays of how the power struggle between men and women is regulated and resolved. It is there that we see sexual politics in the raw rather than within the political domain which remains aloof from the seismic shifts in contemporary sexual culture. It’s another ex-ample of the isolation of the Political domain from politics as she is lived.

Much of the debate about The Accused in the US has focused on Sarah and the rape scene. It is detailed and relentless.

The question is: does it titillate?

It’s an interesting question that, isn’t it? The assumption is that to show the abuse of a woman always risks the arousal of men.

The film also pushes the audience to the limits of conventional wisdom by making Sarah a sexual outlaw – she drinks, she likes to smoke dope and she flirts with her assailant.

But The Accused is meticulous here. Sarah is raped in a bar by a preppie, good-looking student while a posse of men cheer and join in.

The camera is positioned so that it neither identifies with the victim nor her assailants. While she lies prone on a pin ball machine, buried under the bodies of the rapists, our eye is guided to the clamouring, cheering men who not only let it happen but make it happen. They’re never allowed to be neutral.

There is also a modesty in the camera’s gaze. The movie makes no effort to dramatise Sarah’s pain and shame. To let us see into her would seem like another invasion.

For women spectators, perhaps, we bring to her what we already know.

And men? Well, they have to use their imagination. They are confronted by what they, too, know about their own sex, but in this scene they also have to see men as women see them and thus, as men must, too.

Interestingly, Sarah can’t see them. She is doomed to feel them and their effects. We, the spectators, also see the crowd through the eyes of two critical characters, the woman working in the same bar, who averts her gaze and gets on with her job. She wants no trouble, she’s got two children to take care of.

And then there’s the preppie student’s admiring buddy, who can’t take his eyes off what’s going on, and who hates what he sees. It is he who follows Sarah as she flees and it is he who calls the police to report the rape.

This brings us to another feature of the film’s politics: there are no spontaneous solidarities. It’s not a case of men are beasts and baddies and women are only goodies.

The goodies have to get better before they get to be goodies, and it is through the process of consciousness-raising that the film constructs the drama. It is the drama of self-discovery and the difficulty of solidarity which gives the narrative its frisson. Because we know from the beginning who has done what.

Here the film offers a fresh variant on what the feminist film critic Judith Williamson has designated the phenomenon of the ‘single working woman’ in the movies of the 1980s. These two are not professional women severed from communal or sexual context, but working women who are also sexual.

It is class which divides the women: the waitress from her attorney. McGillis as district attorney, is aloof and disinterested. She treats the victim, just as her assailants did, as an object, never consulting her, never confiding in her, never respecting her. The rapist student’s wealthy parents employ classy lawyers, and ultimately they do a deal. The law is not about the truth, after all, it is about winners and losers.

Sarah finds her redemption in her revolt. She storms into the attorney’s coolly exquisite apartment — a domestic laboratory — one night while she’s entertaining, and plays hell, as only a woman from her class can.

It is then that the professional woman finds sexual solidarity with the working class woman. Only then does the attorney take responsibility by deciding to prosecute the bystanders. To do that she also has to face out the opposition of her male colleagues in the district attorney’s department.

The film confronts all bystanders with their culpability by adopting this ingenious strategy of taking a legal action against some of the bar-room bystanders as accessories.

By their inertia they are not innocent or exempt, they are involved. And in their indolence. Murphy’s colleagues also forfeit the claim to innocence. They, too, are to blame.

The film dares not only to explore the difficulty of sisterhood, it also illuminates the swamp of male solidarity. The reluctant and scared male witness is tormented by his loyalty to the lads as well as to their victim. And the film lets us see why.

Two words haunt the trial of the bystanders. Sarah is asked what she said when she was being raped. “Did she cry for help?”, her interrogator asks. “No”, says Sarah, but what she did say, over and over again was, “NO”.

Was ‘No’ not enough?

These are key words, they challenge women’s historic subordination in film — the heroine’s salvation is traditionally supposed to lie in her proper dependence on a solitary hero, who in avenging her also avenges his own insulted masculinity. Here, Sarah’s integrity is restored by her own demand that her word was enough.

The Accused is suggestive of the political problems which challenge us in the late 1980s and which are about nothing if not the dissolution of old solidarities and the discovery of new ones.

Neither gender nor class alliances are immaculately conceived, made in heaven. Shared class or gender does not bring with it equivalent knowledge or identical interests, and this film’s maturity lies in its refusal of sentimental solidarities.

Sure, it’s got gross, queasy music, and yes, it carries some soppy characteristics of melodrama, but it is also disciplined in its refusal of easy unities.

That discipline is what gives The Accused its happy ending. The slut gets her proper status as a person; not as a victim but as a survivor. The snob discovers sister-hood. The scared boy becomes a man by joining women. And patriarchy, for once, gets the blame.

MARXISM TODAY, March 1989

PHOBIAS, PROFANITIES and CENSORS

Wild twittering about what exactly….? CAN THIS BE FEMINISM?  http://www.dailydot.com/society/suzanne-moore-julie-burchill-transphobia/

Here’s my own take on bans, prohibitions and Julie Bindel being proscribed by NUS for allegedly being offensive:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/31/julie-bindel-transgender-nus :

Censoring Julie Bindel

Transgender activists who seek to ban her from speaking are wrong – we need to hear Julie Bindel on gender politics

I love Julie Bindel. There, I’ve said it, I love the woman some people love to hate.

We are bonded by offensiveness. When her activities got her into rucks with strangers who knew no better she’d pass herself off as me. Out of sheer malice. Marvellous. She is an adversary to be treasured. She is

necessary. She’s clever and quick, which sometimes makes her rough and even wrong; and yes, sometimes rude.

Bindel is also an inventive feminist campaigner who has helped to make life better for some women living the worst lives. Everyone should be entitled to hear her thinking aloud about gender politics. And she’s a scream, a low-down stand-up; and she should go on the stage. Ah, there’s the thing.

It is getting as hard to catch sight of her as it is of Aretha Franklin. Bindel is, in effect, being banned. Airing the complications and troubles oftransgender politics is being traduced as “transphobia”. Transgender people who used to live as men and now live as women persuaded the May 2009 NUS women’s conference to mandate its officers to share no platform with Julie Bindel. Proponents say they are offended by Bindel’s critique – aired in the Guardian since 2004 – of “trannies”‘ perceived cultural conservatism and anatomical violence.

The NUS women’s campaign shows no solidarity with women who are offended by the presence in their safe spaces of people who used to be men telling them which women they may listen to and who qualifies as queer. This month, her enemies mustered a picket outside Queer Question Time in a London pub. They’re not censoring her, they say, you can read her, they say, just don’t go to hear her. That renders her “audience” passive consumers but not engaged debaters. By the way, the blogger’s sexual semantics are interesting: women should “have the balls” to stop Bindel speaking.

They’re offended? So what? Offensiveness is a discourse shared by both politics and comedy. “Offendedness” is a privileged, protected category in the NUS against, specifically, rightwing extremists, racists and Julie Bindel. The women’s officer Olivia Bailey insists this is “not no platform” for Bindel. “The expression of transphobic views directly discriminates” against “valued members of our campaign.” It’s just that, “We welcome our trans sisters” and a group of them “had been made to feel uncomfortable”. Again, so what? This solidarity does not extend to women who feel unsettled by the presence of people who used to be men in women-only spaces and services.

This campaign obscures the question of power and the theory and practise of politics. Politics is the art of peaceful conflict. Index on Censorship reminds us that conflict and controversy are essential to civil society. “There is no right not to be offended,” says Padraig Reidy, Index spokesperson. “To imagine that you should be protected from offense to your sensibilities is neither realistic nor desirable.”

The transgender vigilantes should listen up, wise up and grow up, participate in, not proscribe, the debate they started. And their best friends in the NUS should do what best friends do: tell them to stop it, their politics stink.

JIMMY SAVILE: MORAL PANICS THE BIG SOCIETY and HOW SOCIETY WAS GROOMED BY A PROLIFIC PREDATOR

Jimmy Savile funeral

No sooner does child abuse get aired than we are warned against witchhunts, obsession, and hysteria. Always. It is happening again; it is de rigueur.

Andrew O’Hagan’s ruminations in the London Review of Books on Jimmy Savile and the dark corners of light entertainment, offer a glimpse of the just how difficult it is for anyone to confront child abuse.

Andrew O'Hagan

Andrew O’Hagan

Check out Times columnist David Aaronovitch’s response to the Savile inquiry and the review of the North Wales children’s homes abuse scandal :

‘Don’t launch inquiries on the back of lurid claims’:

David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch

Gesturing towards new knowledge abuse, Aaronovitch then cautions:

But it seems we have had to pay an unnecessary price for our new understanding. In Cleveland in the late 1980s, alongside real abusers, completely innocent people were deprived of their children on the basis of the beliefs and a faulty diagnosis of a paediatrician and social worker. Not long afterwards there was panic on Orkney and in cities such as Rochdale and Nottingham, amid claims that there were networks of abusers using satanic rituals as a pretext for acts of abuse, including infanticide and cannibalism. Books were written, front pages were splashed, serious conferences convened, in which dark caverns and human sacrifice were earnestly discussed.The unattractive (because complicating) truth is that sometimes people do lie about being abused. When it all collapsed, as it had to…

It doesn’t matter that this stuff is punctuated by historical inaccuracies and a repetition of the mass hysteria/moral panic line. That never matters. What matters is what this kind of stuff is NOT interested in, and what it is NOT about.

Andrew O’Hagan threw no light on the questions thrown up by Jimmy Savile, perhaps because is not interested in child abuse, nor in how easy it is to get away with it. His rendition of Savile as a man ‘made to the public’s specifications, ’ ignores the other publics who have been challenging marauders like Savile.

British society is not homogenous, it is fissured by sexual abuse, how it happens, to whom, and how it comes to be known.Why did the BBC harbour Savile?

What was it about his horrible persona that the BBC wanted? Was his allure, precisely, misanthropy and misogyny? It was not the public, it was the BBC that made a public according to Savile’s specifications. The broadcasting media do not reflect public taste, they participate in the creation of it.

Crucially, his reputation and room for maneouvre were secured by both the BBC and the Big Society.

Savile traded on the NHS and schools’ dependence on charity. Without charity he would have been just another coarse, grotty DJ. Without the Big Society, he would not have been showered with virtue, blessed by popes and princes and politicians. Without the Big Society he would not have been given the keys to any hospital, school or prison.

Where would Savile have been without the counter-revolution from the late ’80s (apparently endorsed by Aaronivitch) against evidence of sexual crimes against children?

O’Hagan’s contempt for so-called political correctness, and the instant invocation of terms such as  ‘moral panic’ and obsession’ whenever child abuse is aired, has licensed grumpy old and young men to grope whoever they like, to proclaim the right to be right-off and swank about it on telly.

Savile’s savvy access to almost anywhere warehousing vulnerable people, from children to patients and prisoners, is a model of grooming and stealthy exploitation. His reputation and the unsteady exposure of his abusiveness, exemplify the condition of knowing and not knowing that describes Britain’s befuddled ‘common sense’ about abuse. Enough people knew for it to have been an open secret.

Ever since sexual abuse was added to the inventory of statutory concerns about children in the 1980s, child protection has been a war zone. Actually, it is defeated.

For three decades child welfare institutions have been unable to withstand the overwhelming and outraged resistance from accused adults to civil libertarians.

Yet, still, there is a determination to tell the story. The ‘choke and sting of experience’ – the Indian anthropologist Veena Das’s poignant phrase – finds its way, somehow, into public knowledge.

It is routinely met by the smug sort of piety that, sadly, was aired again in O’Hagan’s piece:

Child abuse is now a national obsession,’ it produces  ‘an unmistakable lack of proportion in the way we talk about the threat to children posed by adults ‘ and by  ‘the hysteria, the prurience, the general shrieking that surrounds discussions of discussions of sexual conduct…

What does he make of the somewhat muted, hesistant, ashamed voices of Savile’s victims? Does ‘general shrieking’ describe the hundreds of people who say they were abused by Savile – witnesses spanning 50 years – who finally felt able to quietly share their story with the police/NSPCC?

And what of the dull, defensive response of the institutions?Does  ‘shrieking’ and ‘obsession’ describe the dismal response of the criminal justice system to the majority of rapes and sexual assaults reported to the police – a scepticism, by the way, that is an embarrassment to the Metropolitan police, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Where, exactly, in the company O’Hagan keeps, is all this hysteria and shrieking?  Isn’t denial of child abuse the national obsession?

On 11 January 2013 the Metropolitan Police and the NSPCC published their report, Giving Victims a Voice, on the evidence of 450 people concerning Savile’s 50 year career as a prolific sexual predator.

(An earlier, shorter version of this appeared in a letter to the LRB).

WHEN IS COLLUSION CONSPIRACY?

 

The Finucane family get the de Silva Report, December 2012

WHEN is a ‘conspiracy’ only ‘collusion’? And when is collusion only normal life? Sir Desmond de Silva doesn’t answer these vital questions in his review published in December 2012 of the 1989 murder of the human rights lawyer Pat Finucane in Belfast. http://www.patfinucanereview.org/

But he does something rather potent: he publishes hitherto secret material, and in doing so he undermines his own interpretation of the evidence, that there was ‘no overarching state conspiracy.’

Almost despite himself, his report invites the conclusion that ‘conspiracy’ is a diversion.

There needn’t have been a plot: killing nationalists and threatening lawyers was normal life in Northern Ireland.

He was asked to review whether the state was involved. The answer is simple: yes, it was. If there was no conspiracy, his report confirms the evidence of overarching state collusion to kill targeted British citizens in Northern Ireland. What else can we make of evidence that the security forces poured ‘Thousands of items of intelligence material’, some of it in ‘unusual detail’ to the loyalist UDA?

De Silva discloses an alarming statistic: ‘85 per cent of this [intelligence] was drawn from security force records’. Intelligence cascaded into the UDA for a targeted programme of assassinations while it was bringing down the 1985 Anglo-Irish peace deal. This was not counter-terrorism, this was an ‘overarching’ state strategy to sponsor – a word de Silva rejects – auxiliary, unaccountable, sectarian paramilitaries who terrorised nationalists and tried to defeat the peace process.

De Silva confirms that a torrent of intelligence, photographs, maps and profiles, were delivered by the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary direct to the UDA, and that Finucane was one of many lawyers who received the ‘black spot’ and repeated death threats.

The security services were also arresting loyalists, insists de Silva, as if this was evidence that the state was even-handed. But these arrests can be interpreted in another way: the security services were not culling the loyalist paramilitaries, they were controlling them; they were not disabling, they were directing them — by giving something more deadly than guns or bombs: information.

Those running the RUC, the Army, the Northern Ireland Office and the Joint Intelligence Committee regarded the loyalists as a vital but disreputable rabble. So the Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) enlisted a former soldier, Brian Nelson, to streamline the UDA’s killing machine. De Silva describes Nelson as ‘to all intents and purposes a direct state employee’ – a remarkable admission. MI5 used Nelson to orchestrate arms shipments to loyalists. The state, it seems, took control of re-tooling the paramilitaries.

All this is known. Indeed the killers of Pat Finucane are known. Investigative journalists, human rights advocates and loyalists themselves boasting about their executions have told us who did it. But what else lies hibernating in the state’s dungeons? De Silva’s insistence that ministers could not have known who was being targeted is bizarre. He appears to take at face value that ‘no records have been identified’ of ministers being briefed about intelligence being delivered to loyalists. We know about ‘no records have been identified….’ We know Doesn’t mean they aren’t there and can’t be found. Records that had not been identified have been found before.

However, he records a Security Policy Meeting on 26 September 1989 – before Finucane’s murder – that was attended by the Northern Ireland secretary and the heads of the security forces, and that was called precisely to discuss the traffic in information.

De Silva confirms that the heads of the security services, the Attorney General, Defence and Northern Ireland secretaries, and Downing Street, discussed the potential damage to public confidence in ‘our attachment to the rule of law’. And the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister were told in 1991 that the potential charges against Nelson – the security services’ hidden hand steering the UDA –  were ‘as serious as they could be,’ indeed the FRU itself ‘might have to be disbanded’ if the public were told what it was getting up to.

We now need a public inquiry to discover who authorised the entire system, to ensure they face justice, and to know that Britain will not collude in such killings again.

The FRU itself, and its boss Gordon Kerr, have never been called to account, and Northern Ireland is the prototype for British so-called counter-insurgency in other wars against terror.

FRU was re-incarnated. It became the  Special Reconnaissance Regiment:

It was implicated in so-called counter-terrorism in London – notoriously the disastrous execution of the unarmed young Mexican worker, Jean Charles Menezes:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/aug/04/july7.menezes

The SRC was fielded in Iraq: http://www.scotsman.com/news/international/british-tanks-in-smash-and-grab-raid-1-1096576

There, as if to vindicate the absence of both sense and sensibility in the Iraq war and occupation, the role of Britain’s undercover ops was to fill the ‘intelligence void.’

The SRC was to be found in the havoc of Libya, too.

So,still, British secret ops in Northern Ireland are invoked as exemplary.

And Gordon Kerr is still at large. Read this, published in

The Detail

12 December 2012

                 

                                     FRU chief Gordon Kerr

BY BARRY McCAFFREY

FRU chief Gordon Kerr

BY BARRY McCAFFREY

The Stevens and Cory reports confirmed security force collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane in the shape of Brian Nelson, Billy Stobie and Ken Barrett.

Nelson was recruited by the British army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) to infiltrate the UDA in the mid 1980s.

From his position as the UDA’s most senior intelligence officer he supplied his FRU handlers with continuous intelligence on the activities of the loyalist terror group.

However, rather than this intelligence helping to save lives, Nelson and his FRU handlers actively supplied the UDA with information which resulted in up to a dozen murders.

Judge Cory found ’’worrisome’’ evidence that Nelson’s handlers passed on intelligence to him, including the registration of a car used by Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey.

Maskey was later shot and seriously wounded.

Nelson would later plead guilty to conspiracy to murder the Sinn Fein councillor.

FRU documents uncovered by Stevens disclosed how on another occasion Nelson told a handler that he was having difficulties targeting a suspected republican.

The documents show that the FRU handler then carried out surveillance on the home of the would-be murder victim and supplied Nelson with photographs of the house so that he could produce a useful targeting package and thereby “impress” his UDA superiors.

While FRU handlers denied passing on intelligence a statement by Nelson to the Stevens team in 1993 revealed that one of his handlers had gone through his UDA intelligence files “weeding out” out of date material.

Nelson would later tell Stevens’ detectives that he had warned his FRU handlers up to eight weeks prior to the solicitor’s murder that he was to be targeted.

Through out Nelson’s role as a double agent Gordon Kerr was the officer commanding FRU in Northern Ireland.

Nelson later claimed in a prison journal that Kerr had driven a scout car to protect the agent as he moved intelligence documents for the UDA.

He further alleged that Kerr had suggested that the UDA should carry out a bomb attack on an oil refinery in Co Cork to put pressure on the Irish government at a time when it was resisting efforts to extradite republican suspects back to the north.

At Nelson’s trial in 1992 Kerr gave evidence in which he claimed that intelligence supplied by the agent had saved 214 lives, with only three fatalities.

However Kerr’s evidence was later called into question, with Cory concluding:

“Some might think that the testimony of the CO of FRU (Kerr) was, at the very least, misleading. In fact, on further scrutiny, it becomes even more questionable. During a chance meeting shortly after his testimony, (Kerr) told Chief Superintendent McFadden, of the Stevens Inquiry team, that he had made a “script” of his evidence and it was approved by others in authority.

“He later denied making such a comment. If he did make that comment one might wonder why a script was necessary and whether it indicates that something less than the truth was to be stated.”

After having visited Nelson in prison in 1992, Kerr wrote:

“We then talked a little about the Stevens interview technique and how he had been under the impression he was helping them to `clean up the UDA’ rather than talking himself into the dock.

“I summarised the position by gently reminding him that if he had obeyed the advice of his handler he would never have spoken to the Inquiry Team, would not have divulged his role, and would not have been prosecuted.”

When Nelson accused FRU of having placed him in an impossible position inside the UDA, Kerr concluded:

“It was not a very convincing excuse, but it indicated to me that he had really collapsed under the weight of his situation and once he started talking he could not stop. In fact he had been presented with a perfectly good cover story for the UDA i.e. he would tell his colleagues that he had destroyed the dump because he did not want it found by the Stevens Inquiry.”

Cory concluded that Kerr’s actions reflected a “pattern of conduct and an attitude consistent with acts of collusion taking place” and said that only a public inquiry could conclusively decide whether agents of the state were guilty of collusion in the murder of its citizens.

“In this case only a public inquiry will suffice. Without public scrutiny doubts based solely on myth and suspicion will linger long, fester and spread their malignant infection throughout the Northern Ireland community.”

What shall we make, then, of De Silva’s Finucane review? Its importance is not that he exonerates Whitehall, but that he hasopened up more truth-seeking opportunities for the Finucane family. David Cameron is misled if he believes that his admission and apology in the House of Commons in December 2012 will be the end of it.

(A shorter version of this appeared in the Guarian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/commentisfree+uk/mi5)

Murdoch’s Money and Metropolitan Police Madness

There is no way that Rupert Murdoch’s proposed offer of around 3 million to the Dowler family can be anything but unsettling. The money, mighty to the family, miniscule to the Murdochs – draw attention to the contradictions swirling around the deal.

This is not to join the tendency to deride ‘compensation culture’: redress and reparation are important contributions to individuals whose wellbeing has been vitally injured, to their recovery, and to social recognition.

The cruel irony for the Dowlers is that these millions compromise their own wellbeing: this money is about someone who can never profit from it, Millie. The Dowlers will now have to manage Murdoch’s largesse. Nothing can ever be enough, and yet this is already too much.

 

They will also have to manage the meaning of Murdoch’s offer. There is no restorative justice here. Murdoch himself needed to meet the Dowlers, he needed  his face-to-face humbling because he and his empire needed forgiveness. He needed to perform virtue and to have it rewarded and recognised by his victims.

So, this offer denotes neither contrition nor conscience nor compensation – because those words imply change.

What is Murdoch giving the Dowlers? The money is peanuts for an empire that is almost the most powerful media organisation in the world. It is pennies for the man himsef, reckoned to be the 13th most powerful person in the world.

What he is not giving the Dowlers nor the other hacking victims, nor British culture, which has been so degraded by his presence, is the promise of dignified and deep reform of his media practices.

The context of the offer is salutory: in the very same week the Metropolitan police tried to mobilise the Official Secrets Act to scare the Guardian, the scourge of News International.

It was the Guardian’s revelations about the NoW hacking and interference in the Dowler investigation that detonated the hacking scandal. It morphed from a scandal about celebrity privacy to a scandal about the the breaching of any code, public or private; and it exposed a most dangerous triangulation: the intimate circuit connecting the News International, the Met and Conservative Party HQ. The promiscuous spread of NoW personnel into the police and the highest echelons of a political party secures for the Tories illicit access to information. Knowledge is power.

The Dowlers didn’t put themselves into that scandal – but they are in it, nevertherless.

The Met’s audacity in trying to terrify the press with the Official Secrets Act shows that it is still trying to lock the gates of the Temple rather than cleanse it. The Met is still trying to protect itself rather than the public and the public interest. The Met’s managers don’t seem to know what world they are living in after Dowlergate – until the outraged reaction forced withdrawal.

Not to have anticipated the calumny caused by the Dowler case and then by the Official Secrets Act caper, exposes its media department – a quarter of its staff former NoW hacks – as equally unworldly.

This week Conservative Party HQ isn’t in the narrative, but if the Met is News International’s security arm – see Jonathan Freedland: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/20/new-met-chief-u-turn-misjudgment – then the Tories are also hardwired into this circuit. This is very sinister.

Unwittingly the Dowlers found themselves positioned in this narrative and the campaign to crack hacking – http://hackinginquiry.org/news/hacked-off-manifesto – it is to be hoped that the money won’t take them out of it.

Kira Cochrane – Women of the Revolution

Kira Cochrane’s latest book is a collection of “Forty years of the feminist movement as reported in the Guardian“.

It includes:

  • Mary Stott writing about Margaret Thatcher
  • Suzanne Moore interviewing Camilla Paglia
  • Maya Jaggi interviewing Oprah Winfrey
  • Polly Toynbee on violence against women
  • Hannah Pool on black women and political power
  • Andrea Dworkin on the Bill Clinton sex scandal
  • & me (Beatrix Campbell) writing about Princess Diana

“Lively, provocative, thoughtful and funny, this is the essential guide to the feminist thinking and writing of the past 40 years – the ultimate portrait of an ongoing revolution.”

The book is available on Amazon, or at the Guardian’s bookshop.