Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Flying Saucers Have Landed

Eagle-eyed blog watchers among my friends will have been as surprised as I was this week to learn that I am a stalinist, a trotskyist, a defender of religious dogma, an apologist for murder, a fascist sympathiser, a gendarme, a sur-(neo)realist, a boy scout, a moustique domestique demistock, an eco-fascist, and (apparently) a torturer. Who knows? If we get lucky I might turn out to be an illuminatus, a member of a worldwide jewish conspiracy and a humanoid reptile from outer space as well. What fun!

Such epithets have come my way because I declared myself hostile to the political views of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, who were murdered in 2002 and 2004 respectively. I have already said – more than once – that both of those murders were despicable acts which I condemn utterly. Just because I am hostile to their political views, that does not mean that I either condone their murders or share the views of their murderers. Apparently this distinction is too subtle for some of my antagonists to grasp. Indeed not only do those “comrades” seem to think that anyone who opposes van Gogh’s or Fortuyn’s politics must be a fascist (and also, bizarrely, that anyone who disagrees with them must be a stalinist or a power-crazed ideologue), but they also seem to think that anyone who opposes religion on any grounds must therefore regard van Gogh in particular as a “brother in spirit”.

Let’s recall for a moment who these two men were and what they stood for. Theo van Gogh was a Dutch writer and film-maker who was murdered by an islamic terrorist. During his life he was a social and political provocateur who launched scabrous attacks on all religions and political parties, supported the invasion of Iraq, and declared his admiration for the USA. He often liked to give the impression that he took nothing seriously, including himself: he presented himself as “the village idiot” (dorpgek) who was not entirely responsible for himself or his personal flaws. However there was one Dutch politician whom he did take seriously, and with whom he aligned himself clearly and enthusiastically, namely Pim Fortuyn. Fortuyn was a champion of free market capitalism who became particularly well known for his anti-immigration policies. He was murdered by an animal rights activist.

Why have I said that I am hostile to the politics of van Gogh and Fortuyn? On the question of immigration, I am violently hostile to nationalism in all its forms, and I advocate the abolition not just of all immigration laws, but of all national borders. On the question of free market capitalism, I can only say that as an anarchist* I oppose it with all my heart, and I feel its overthrow as a burning necessity. When I joined the Surrealist movement I did so in the apparently mistaken belief that this movement, for all its many internal disputes and divisions (in which, after all, I’ve been a gleefully hot-headed participant myself from time to time), is at least united in its opposition to capitalism.

My antagonists in this dispute, if I understand them correctly, have aligned themselves specifically with van Gogh because he attacked religion in general and islam in particular. Since Surrealists are also opposed to religion, they have drawn the simple-minded conclusion that van Gogh must therefore have been an ally of Surrealism. This is a false syllogism of the most elementary variety – and also the most dangerous. If they are content to align themselves with any and every attack on religion, regardless of any other political consideration, they may all too easily find themselves lured into the service of Surrealism’s enemies: racists, nationalists, capitalists, war-mongers and US imperialists.

In all of this I have been putting the best interpretation I can think of on my antagonists’ motives. I am assuming that his anti-religious stance is van Gogh’s only attraction for them, and that they have chosen to overlook his other political views because of it. The alternative is that they really do share his admiration for Fortuyn, that they really are anti-immigration and pro-capitalist by conviction. If that is the case, then our conversation was already over before it had even begun.

Anyway, now that I’ve got all off my chest, I really must get back to anally torturing my portuguese gardener in my gulag on Alpha Centauri. Pip-pip!


*One of the few epithets my antagonists seem to have forgotten, amusingly enough.

The author relaxing at home


Anonymous said...

Hmm... Well, you have my sympathies of course. As you must have realised by now, anybody who sticks their head above the parapet for any reason whatsoever is likely to be a target. To employ a cliche, "it comes with the territory". Having grumbled about such attacks myself, I have become more resigned to this, though not reconciled.

The problem, apart from a few lunatics who will attack just about anybody on any pretext, is that a lot of people what to make a neat ideological parcel of all their thinking, cheerfully avoiding all need for any real critique of their own, or other positions. This, I would say, is what tends to happen now with questions relating to Islam.

For some people, not all of the Left, Islam simply can not be criticised and anybody who does is indulging in racist behaviour. For others the critique of Islam becomes paramount and they both make the fatal mistake of identity politics, seeing their enemy's enemy as their friend.

Pym Fortuyn was, undoubtedly, considered politically far-right by most people and there is, no doubt, a link between this and his views on Islam. Who has been most vociferous in their anti-islamist views in this country? The BNP. They use anti-islamic feeling as a smoke-screen for their racism, hoping to benefit from the mood of the country in the wake of the various terrorist acts, accomplished or attempted, throughout the country.

It seems to me that this requires very careful thinking in order to articulate how to express surrealist positions on these matters. No big gestures, but cool analysis of the situation, of the ideological problems, fractures, contradictions of the situation.

I would also say that if various people have attacked you, name them. Make them responsible for defending their positions as you must be for yours. (Or indeed I must be for mine)


Merl Fluin said...

I heartily agree with you, Stuart, about the need for careful thinking and analysis on this question, which is a rather urgent one.

My primary attacker made a great show in his/her blog postings of the need to remain anonymous for reasons of personal safety. One can only conclude from this that those particular postings were made by someone other than the blog owner, whose name and indeed photograph is plastered liberally all over the blog. One or two other individuals have made comments and/or contributions in support of my main attacker. The blog in question is "O Cadáver Esquisito à mesa de dissecação". There is a link to it on The Robber Bridegroom.


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I consider anonymous attacks to be both cowardly and dishonest in almost every circumstance.

If I make any comment about you, derogatory or complimentary, I should have to courage to put my name to the comment. If there were a real danger in making an attack on somebody then maybe, just maybe, if the cause were important enough I might think that discretion is the better part of valour, but what danger are we really confronted with when we are rude to each other? Only another little bit of rudeness back. It is bad enough that some people - too many to mention by name right now, and not relevant to the present case - become terribly brave online, but avoid any real confrontation, but when they are even cowardly attackers online, well fuck 'em.


merdarius said...


Now I have been looking at some stuff in the van Gogh affair and remain rather astounded.

Before I looked, the only reason I could think of to possibly defend him, and which I thus expected Martins to subscribe to, would be to defend him out of the same weirdly unnecessary pragmatism as the french group did in their recent antireligious tract (though largely a good tract!) when they said that if given the choice between living in an islamic dictature or the superficially democratic secularised western world they would prefer the latter, and so may a lot of us but "goodday axhandle" (as the swedish saying goes): why the hell would a surrealist regard the choice between those particular two options a meaningful problem, and why would a surrealist like to voice that fathomless banality openly, if not perhaps for the doubtful joy, call it pragmatism or conformism, of being able to agree with the prejudiced ideologic constructs defended by large parts of the general public for once. In the same vein surrealists who would not think further than their noses reach would happily team up with fervous anti-islamists, which are abundant and of all kinds of creeds: the loudest ones would be more or less equally murderous christian reactionaries and madmen like George W Bush along with different brands of real fascists, but the largest numbers would be the ordinary prejudiced-shitscared-conformist defenders of the present order in western capitalist countries. We all hate islam for sure, but most of us would not want to join in with our local antiislamistic gangs anyway, in the same way as we wouldn't want to join in with our local antijewish activists simply because we hate judaism.
Hopefully there are forceful ways of attacking them, it does for sure need ingeniosity, particularly since as surrealists it would seem necessary not to find oneself in the process defending classic bourgeois rationalism and liberalism, current ideological notions of democracy and freedom, western world supremacy as such, capitalist world economy, christianity in itself and the unholy coalition of christianity and humanist secularisation and authoritarian rationalism, all of which would remain closer to the core of surrealism to attack...

But trying to read Martins' blog and not really seeing any signs of a particular urge towards comfortable conformist pragmatism, I understand even less. Not only because understanding portuguese isn't easy, especially not when the font displays unusual portuguese letters as combinations of other letters, but also because it seems to make very little sense altogether. Why ever want to associate with that guy? What was controversial about your statement?

Anonymous said...

It's time you pro-Islamic atheists and your crypto-fascist cohorts realised that Islam is the real threat facing us all, not capitalism, as your paranoid ravings would have us believe. Your insistence that all religions are equally bad lets those mullahs off the hook: they're breeding an army of suicide toddlers while you waste your time condemning the pope for being a nazi.

Don't you realise that the magnitude of the threat posed by radical Islam means that everything must be subordinated to the struggle against it? We can deal with other religions afterwards, but it's the duty of surrealists now to tackle Islam first. We should be welcoming police raids on muslim households, even if they aren't guilty of any terrorist activity, you goddamn commie liberals.

Islam's threat is so great - and we quite clearly have so little chance (or intention) of changing the world on our own - that the only way of combating these peaceable shop-keeping terrorists with their middle-class professional children is by allying with their enemies. If young muslims get beaten up by fascists, we should welcome that for the greater good. How dare you not realise that Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, George Bush Snr, George W. Bush, José Maria Aznar, the British National Party and the Pope are our natural allies in this great crusade? Once we've joined forces with them to vanquish the greatest threat facing mankind today we can then go on to tackle other religious problems, like catholicism, christian evangelism etc etc etc.

And it's simply absurd to say that we might give succour to those religious tendencies just because we've supported them in our common struggle against Islam. Right-wing evangelists won't be strengthened just because we publish their propaganda uncritically! No illegal war in the Middle East could ever be justified because we supported the perpetrators! Grow up!

Of course, your real problem is that you want to change the world, liberating and emancipating all humanity. It's this kind of unreasoning radicalism that causes all the problems. No wonder you don't understand religions. When will you realise that liberating finance capital is just as emancipatory a project, and one that is both reasonable and achievable within an atheistic outlook?

Anonymous said...

Should anyone, anywhere, open their personal floodgates to hurl their rage at murderous injustice they will not be required to explain. A free expression of revolt will not require tutors to point out the errors of its course. Whenever a moment has come to vent this rage, to release this contempt, it need not suffer the snap of the yard stick or the transparent reprimand of a higher authority. It need not be told it has gone too far. It need not be told it has overlooked important points. When the one who’s moment it was to vent this rage is he who has long pursued a voice of revolt, one who is no neophyte, one who has chosen a long and sometimes dangerous path even under dictatorship, the annoying snap of this yard stick may prove intolerable, may prove to be enraging. Seas of boiling rage will not be required to simmer down. Should that requirement be advised it may be reasonable to expect the sea to erupt in waves of the irrational. Must cooler heads always prevail?

Merl Fluin said...

Even in the midst of such comically purple prose, "overlooked important points" must count as a particularly florid understatement. Still, I'd like to thank you for correcting another of my misapprehensions about the Surrealist movement, which I used to think was not just anti-capitalist but also anti-hierarchical. I now realise that some individuals can say whatever they like when they are angry, can even embrace members of the far right as brothers, and remain immune to challenge; while other lowly souls should know their place, keep their traps shut, and stop (in your words on "O Cadáver") "seeking power over others" by disagreeing with them. OK, so now I'm tugging my forelock. What are you tugging, Thom?

Anonymous said...

Thom Burns is right. There are too many uppity youngsters involved nowadays who just don't know their place. A little bit of humility, respect for your elders and betters, self-regulation and self-restraint wouldn't go amiss young lady. After all, if someone is old and has lived under a repressive regime it stands to reason that they deserve respect - that's why everybody loved Pope John Paul II. You need to take seriously the wisdom that comes about through the combination of age and experience of repression. After all, it explains why Israel is the socialist paradise it is today.

Paul Cowdell said...

I was struck by Thom's defence of the 'free expression of revolt'. Unless this revolt takes a positive form, though, it can all too easily be corralled by its antithesis, a right-wing nihilism. That is what has happened with the praise for Theo van Gogh's freedom of spirit.

If Theo van Gogh was in revolt, it was against everything except the status quo, against every form of governance but the one he lived under. This was no 'free expression of revolt'. It was a revolt constrained by the most binding of ideological shackles, and these are exactly the shackles we as surrealists should be attempting to smash. It was an illusion of revolt which served only to strengthen the prison walls.

The Dutch portrait, found on both the Dutch and Portuguese surrealist sites, states that Theo van Gogh was 'Assassinated! Because he had an opinion!'. Well, opinions are like arseholes - everyone's got one. And as it happens, like many political charlatans, van Gogh's opinion wasn't even his own. Modelled on that of his idol Pim Fortuyn, it was one he shared with sections of the Dutch police and ruling class.

His murder was reprehensible, but that doesn't make us responsible for his racist backwardness. If Thom is happy to associate himself with van Gogh by supporting those who defend him, that's up to him, but he should realise that it will also mean bearing a responsibility for van Gogh's politics. Whether he likes it or not, it'll involve associating himself with those people who shared van Gogh's opinions - like Immigration Minister 'Iron' Rita Verdonk, who called for an 'an end to tolerance' when she spoke at van Gogh's funeral, and launched a measure aimed at deporting some 26,000 immigrant workers who had been resident in the Netherlands for five years or more.

As I say, that's his decision: I'm not prepared to do that. That is why I don't agree that van Gogh was a 'brother of the Spirit' for surrealists, and I think it's wrong-headed to defend those who do. And that is what this dispute was about in the first place.

Anonymous said...

What this dispute was about in the first place was the fact that Merl became the unwitting recipient of a heated and instinctual reaction to her reprimand of a Portuguese expression of revolt not a Dutch one. Whatever the reasons for the original Portuguese expression of disgust over the murder of Mr. van Gogh might be, the fact remains that the expression of this disgust was born of some form of inner necessity that I do not feel dutifully obliged to analyze.

As for my political responsibilities, I will decide when and where it is necessary to put them into actual practice. What I will not accept is being corralled into a virtual sectarian sideshow.

As for your shill Mr. Zwarte Pieter, he can leave his racist Christmas presents on someone else’s doorstep.

Paul Cowdell said...


The original Portuguese posting was not just an expression of disgust over the murder of Theo van Gogh. It was also an expression of solidarity with his views on Islam, which addressed him as a 'brother in spirit'.

You say that you do not feel 'dutifully obliged' to analyse the impulses behind the Portuguese posts. You do, though, obviously feel impelled to defend them. This, whether you care to admit it or not, is an actualisation of your political responsibilities. Personally, I would prefer to know how and why I was doing such a thing, but - as I said earlier - it is your decision, and you must take responsibility for it.

Finally: that you describe any opposition to right-wing politics as 'sectarian' simply underscores the gulf between us.

Anonymous said...

I have expressed the support for a friend who once supported me in a difficult time and have tried damn hard to avoid the views of Mr. Van Gogh. I do not see the type of political solidarity with Van Gogh you are referring to coming from Portugal. To me the expression presented there was the voice of rage coming from compassion for another human being. Are we not free to express this compassion with lofty language over and above political concerns? But this expression was clearly rooted in the context of a condemnation of religions and political ideologies as a whole and thus became something with which I have no disagreement. If you choose to see this as an actualization of my political responsibilities, then I have no reason to disagree with that either.

Finally: I did not describe opposition to right-wing politics as sectarian. I would not describe free, open, inspired, uninspired, clandestine, routine, ingenious, raucous, stupid, past, libertine, animal, vegetable, mineral, shattering, spontaneous, calculated, organized, disorganized, occulted, indigenous, dismembered, remembered, loud, crowded, orchestrated, wrong, desperate, futile, sly, energized, exhausted, infantile, mature or future opposition to right-wing politics as sectarian. I described the need to corral me into a virtual position as sectarian.