From my archive: On being haunted in the city

I was thinking today of my friend Bukola, who left this world just over 20 years ago this month. It made me dig this piece out, which I wrote ten years later, which was published in the CUCR magazine Street Signs in Autumn 2008. The Paul here is Paul Hendrich, who died tragically young ten years ago, in January 2018.

It is at train stations that I am most often visited by ghosts. Yesterday, at Waterloo East, I saw my friend Paul pushing his daughter in a buggy. As he came nearer and his image clarified, I realised that of course it was not him – those sideburns, that orange shirt belonged to another man – and a wave of grief hits me, thinking of the friend I no longer have, but especially the father his daughter no longer has.

Less frequently now than before, but still with surprising regularity, I see Bukola at London Bridge station, a glimpse amongst the crowds boarding and alighting from the trains in and out of the city. Sometimes her hair is cropped short, sometimes bleached yellow, her smile a white dazzle amongst the blur of passengers.

Bukola was my close friend for four years, nearly fifteen years ago.

I find her present too in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, a book she lent me which I have been unable to finish but still morbidly pick at from time to time. It reminds me of a grim few days when I struggled with it in the inauspicious environment of the surgical in-patients ward at King’s in Camberwell. The memory of my brief hospitalisation inevitably triggers the far grimmer memory of later visits to Bukola in the psychiatric wing in the tower of Guy’s in the final months of her life. The muted television. The nodding inmates endlessly sipping tea and repeatedly tapping barely smoked cigarettes in the ashtray. The lack of privacy these men and women had.

Bukola’s copy of the Trilogy has passages underlined and highlighted. I have no way of knowing if she emphasised them, or bought the book second hand, already notated. I find arcane significance, clues to her death, in these phrases and paragraphs: depressing images of urban anonymity, paranoid fantasies of being followed along city blocks, Manhattan’s cityscape as an illegible labyrinth.

The regularity with which Bukola comes to me at London Bridge, I think, has to do with the survivor’s guilt associated with suicide: perhaps if I’d acted differently, if I’d held out the hand of friendship more fulsomely, more unconditionally, she would have made different decisions. I think of Bukola, as Antonin Artaud described Van Gogh, as suicided by society.

Her imagination, her creativity, her energy burnt too brightly, too vividly, too intensely for this world. I have no doubt that the everyday drip-drip of racism was part of Bukola’s illness, the non-verbal geographies of suspicion and interdiction that black Londoners navigate; in her episodes, Bukola frequently experienced herself as a black dog.

Bukola, though, was passionately metropolitan. Unlike many other native Londoners, she did not take the pleasures of the city for granted, and she used to enjoy taking me and my friend Johnny – small-town provincials – through the estates of Nunhead where she had been brought up, or pointing out the obscure root vegetables in Peckham
Rye market, or teasing us for acting like bumpkins at Soho post-production parties she snuck us into.

I thought then I would never lose the wonder of the metropolis, the bedazzlement and sensory overload in the face of London’s hugeness and variousness, of the city sublime. But over the years I find myself cultivating what the sociologist Simmel called the blasé attitude, the shock-resistance techniques of the urbanite – the defence system Bukola never mastered. And with that blasé attitude comes a little less wonder.

Until she appears again from out of the throng at London Bridge.

 

 

Gidley, Ben (2008) “On being haunted in the city” Street Signs Autumn 2008, p.17

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From the archive: Passages Through Dark Times

Been going through some of my old stuff, and found some stuff from the CUCR magazine Street Signs (archive online here). This is from page 18-19 of Volume 1, Issue 5, Spring 2003. The issue also has a lovely interview with Paul Gilroy about The Streets, Fran Tonkiss on “inner city values”, Michael Stone on Laurie Grove in New Cross, Les Back interviewing M Y Alam, Hiroki Ogasawara visiting Walter Benjamin’s grave, and a beautiful celebration of Flemming Røgilds.

The article below describes my first proper academic conference, in Leipzig, and reflects on the relationship between Jews and the left in the darkness of the 20th century, and how that darkness is remembered by historians and leaves its traces in urban space. Since I wrote it, some of the people in it have passed away, including Arnold Paucker in 2016 (age 95).

Memhardstrasse and Rosa Luxemburg Strasse

Passages Through Dark Times
Ben Gidley talks about Jewishness, Memory and Urban Space in East Germany

“You who will emerge from the flood in which we were drowned remember when you speak of our weaknesses the dark time from which you escaped…
Remember us with forbearance.”
–Bertolt Brecht “To Those Born After Us”

“Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and in their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and
shed over the time span that was given them on earth…”
–Hannah Arendt “Men in Dark Times” 

The transit bus from the airport into Leipzig arrived at the exact time given on the time-table. The bus glided through the flat monotony of the Saxon countryside, entering a zone of urban sprawl, in which it was impossible to distinguish which low-rise concrete box contained homes and which contained factories, warehouses, offices. The grey postindustrial landscape was punctuated here and there by Vietnamese signs, testimony to the historic links between East Germany and Communist Vietnam.

From the bus station, we crossed over the no-man’s land of a wide ring road (“good for tanks”, as my Yiddish teacher, Gennady Estraikh, pointed out – a fact he knew from the bitter experience of living most of his life in the Soviet Union) into the beauty of the baroque town centre. Since reunification, Leipzig has been a jewel in the East’s crown, receiving heavy regeneration investment. “Leipzig is coming” is the bizarre slogan of the tourist office, which describes it as a cosmopolitan, multicultural town (not something apparent from the faces of the people I passed on the street).

It was Autumn 2001. I was in Leipzig to participate in a conference, held at the Simon Dubnov Institute for Jewish History and Culture, entitled “Jewish Questions, Communist Answers”, about the historical relationship between Jews and Communist parties. I was anxious about giving my first proper conference paper – especially as I was scheduled into the opening slot, at 9 a.m., sharing a platform with some of the most distinguished scholars at the conference. As it turned out, post-September 11 fear of flying had kept away many of the American delegates, including the one I was most scared about sharing a session with. The absence of Americans, however, also meant that the dominant language shifted from English to German, leaving me feeling a little marginal – something non-English speakers regularly experience in the often American-centric academic world. As with many European academics, most of the conference participants were able to slide with ease between languages. But the multi-lingualism of the conference delegates was part of something different. Continue reading


Anya Topolski on race after the Shoah

issue cover imageA really insightful and provocative review essay by Anya Topolski on Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? edited by James Renton and me, and Whites, Jews, and Us: Towards a Politics of Revolutionary Love by Houria Bouteldja. Some really nice words, and makes some important criticisms too.

Opening extract:

Race remains a taboo term and topic in Europe today. This post-Shoah silence is both political and, until very recently, academic.1 The two books under review aim to break this silence by tackling the complex and entangled questions of antisemitism, islamophobia, and white (Christian or secular) supremacy and to demonstrate that racism in Europe cannot be separated from the question of religion (and I would add well beyond Europe). The essays collected in Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story?, edited by James Renton and Ben Gidley, provide the rich histories and complexities concerning the race-religion intersection, in terms of [End Page 280] the shared stories of antisemitism and islamophobia, in Europe.2 Whites Jews and Us: Towards a Politics of Revolutionary Love, by Houria Bouteldja, is a passionate political appeal for action against the violence, exclusion, and power games experienced by excluded groups in Europe today.3 Read together, these two books offer a theoretical and applied analysis of racism in Europe today.

Let me first provide the reader with a summary of the contents. When Renton and Gidley selected and edited this volume, based on the proceedings of a 2008 conference, what was their ambition? With the nuance of erudite scholars, nuance sometimes lacking in Bouteldja’s book, Renton and Gidley refuse to take up the question of the complex relationship between antisemitism and islamophobia in a reductive or simplistic manner. Is it possible to focus on similarities without sacrificing differences or vice versa? The approach chosen by the editors is, in this vein, judicious. “We have to excavate and concentrate on a shared story of evolution; in short, we need a diachronic framework, in which we can identify moments of beginning, change, separation (6).” The aim is thus to focus on how this relationship has changed or unfolded over time which leads to the four-part diachronic structure of the book: Christendom, empire, divergence and response. While I welcome the aim, it might have been too ambitious as it would have required more active engagements with the respective contributions and an editorial conclusion. As it is, several of the essays feel rather misplaced. This is unfortunate as the structure and aim creates possibilities that would have been both timely and relevant. One concrete example is that of antizyganism. While the editors, and several authors, mention discrimination against the Roma, none consider how the exclusion and persecution of Roma might be related and entangled in this relationship—precisely because of the diachronic structure, this might have been possible.

READ THE REST.

Details: Continue reading


The vicious circle of Islamist terrorism and far-right extremism

When most people think of the Bataclan these days, it’s not the venerated theater where rock bands have been playing since the 1970s which comes to mind. Rather, it’s Islamist terrorism, after 89 people were killed there during a concert in November 2015.

So when news spread this fall that a rapper named Médine, who once named an album “Jihad” and is openly critical of secularism in France, will play the Paris venue in the fall, the far right was outraged. “Is it normal that a militant, fundamentalist Islamist goes to the Bataclan to express his hatred and defend ideas that I believe are inciting crimes?” asked France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

An article in CS Monitor by  (Correspondent) and  (Staff writer). Colette interviewed me for the article. Here are the extracts with me in them:

“It’s partly about the politics of the spectacle of confrontation,” says Ben Gidley, a senior lecturer of sociology at Birkbeck, University of London who worked on a 2014 study on what drives extremism in British society. “Every time [a far right leader] is on television saying something inflammatory, that fuels the anger about extreme Islamism which gives an opportunity to the entrepreneurs of panic on the right to put their message into the public sphere. Once you have a spectacular appearance on one side, it gives a platform to the other.”

And:

Mr. Gidley in Britain says that labeling far-right violence “terrorism,” whether in political discourse, media coverage, or within civil society, is a solution to breaking the cycle. “It’s really important,” he says, “to challenge the association of terrorism and Islamism which contributes to the anti-Muslim discourses that feed the far right and to have clarity to challenge it properly, that there is a problem with right-wing terrorism.”

He also says policy makers need to create more space for cultural mixing and frank talk about people’s concerns amid demographic change. “There need to be more opportunities for people to air their grievances, to feel listened to,” he says. “If there are concerns about migration or foreign policy, instead of making them into taboo topics, create opportunities to allow people to feel listened to so they don’t get channeled into extremist ideology.”

I think in the first quote, there’s a slight leap out of context. I think where it puts “a far right leader” in square brackets, I was referrring to Anjem Choudary, the British hate preacher the UK mainstream media love almost as much as they love “Tommy Robinson”. My point was that each time he appears on the screen, it fuels the anger about Islamism that feeds the far right (just as every time “Robinson” appears on the screen, it fuels the anger about Islamophobia that fuels Islamism.

In the second quote, I am arguing that the far right and Islamists resemble each other in channeling real (as well as imaginary) grievances in dangerous directions.

These ideas are developed more fully in a chapter I wrote with David Feldman in this report.


CUCR podcast: Identity, belonging and citizenship in urban Britain

From the CUCR blog:

In this CUCR podcast, Les Back talks to Steve Hanson and Ben Gidley about their new report with Sundas Ali Identity, Belonging & Citizenship in Urban Britain (CUCR, 2018).  This study of UK cities was conducted before the Brexit vote but in many respects it anticipated its outcome.  In this report they argue that urban spaces  can be characterised on a continuum with ‘English cities’ at one end and British cities at the other.  They also talk about the politics of Englishness and urban multicultural conviviality and what makes a good city.
The full report can be downloaded for Free here and copies are available from directly from CUCR.
Steve Hanson’s book Small Towns, Austere Times: The Dialectics of Deracinated Localism is available from Zero Books.

James Renton: Does the World Really Need More Experts on Racism and anti-Semitism?

By my co-author James Renton in Ha’aretz. Extract:

In our current age of populism, the expert is much maligned. The UK government minister and Brexit champion Michael Gove famously declared in 2016 that “People in this country have had enough” of them. In the United States and on the world stage, Donald Trump’s presidency is the embodiment of anti-intellectualism. Shooting (quite literally) from the hip is the order of the day.

The side-lining, or absence, of experts in public debate has been particularly marked in the furor over anti-Semitism and other racisms in the last few years. This is no coincidence; populism is a result and vehicle of multiple crises of racism around the world.

We (the experts) must respond. As a big step in this direction, the European University Institute in Florence, Italy has launched an online magazine to bring academic expertise on racism to global public debate, collaborating with NGOs, policymakers, and public institutions such as museums….

Earlier this year, our magazine co-organized with the All-Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism an event at Westminster on anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice. The research briefing emphasised the complexities of how these two racisms have been connected (but also distinctive) over the last millennium.

This research shows that focusing on only one racism in one political party in one country means missing a crucial context: a much bigger, inter-connected European and global picture of multiple racisms across political divisions. This is the sort of expertise that could change completely public debate, and it needs to be known.

READ THE REST.

 

 

For all posts on our book Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Storyclick here.


Coming soon: Identity, Belonging & Citizenship in Urban Britain

A new CUCR occasional paper:

Ben Gidley, Steve Hanson and Sundas Ali Identity, Belonging & Citzenship in Urban Britain [pdf]

 


In Tbilisi

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[More pictures at the end of the post]

From the Georgian State Commission on Migration:

Academic Conference on Migrants Integration Held in Tbilisi

Conf 1

On 8-9 February 2018, an international conference “Dialogue on Migrants’ Integration – Challenges, Benefits and Good Practices” was held in Tbilisi, co-organised by SCMI Secretariat and ICMPD. The conference brought together local and international practitioners, policymakers and scholars to discuss best practices and lessons learned with regard to the integration of migrants within the EU Member States and in EaP area, substantiated by the global migration processes of the last decade and increasing need to agree upon and develop well-thought integration policy and practices in destination countries.

The conference was opened by the Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia who focused on the existing framework of migration management and the planned steps of involved state ministries – members of the SCMI to develop the immigrant integration policy in Georgia. A keynote speech on migration and integration was given by Dr. Christian Joppke, University of Bern, while the next day started with the lecture on the general integration framework by Dr. Ben Gidley from the University of London, and continued with panel discussions involving Georgian policymakers, practitioners and international experts around certain aspects of integration such as structural integration (access to the labour market, education, and health care), social and cultural integration, and immigrant integration indicators. The presented topics were discussed in a comparative manner by analyzing and assessing practical samples by applying an academic viewpoint. Continue reading


MONITOR Event Report: UK Houses of Parliament – Islamophobia & Antisemitism

From Monitor:

In 2017, antisemitism and Islamophobia were, along with other racisms, on the rise around the world. In Charlottesville in the United States, far-right militants marched chanting against the world Jewish conspiracy. In Myanmar, Muslims fled for their lives to Bangladesh. In the UK and Europe, these racisms also continue to flourish. But are they connected? In the aftermath of 9/11, controversy has raged about whether Islamophobia is the new antisemitism.

MONITOR chose this pressing issue for its first public event. The location: the UK’s Houses of Parliament, hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

The magazine aims to bring cutting-edge research into global public debate, and this collaboration was the ideal place to start. The Editor, Monica Gonzalez Correa, flew in especially from Florence.

[READ THE REST]

Podcast:


Video: On my Monitor parliamentary event report on Islamophobia and antisemitism

This is a trailer for my article in the new website Monitor:

Follow the Monitor YouTube channel.


Paul Hendrich: 10 years on

I can’t believe it is ten years since we lost Paul Hendrich. Here I am posting: a remembrance of him I wrote for the CUCR magazine Street Signs in Autumn 2008, and below that a dedication I wrote for the book Pirate Strategies, edited by Adnan Hadzi, also published in 2008. 

From Street Signs

Paul Hendrich, from “#Megsmiles and the joy of living”, Go Feet

I first met Paul when I was an undergraduate student at Goldsmiths, in 1995, a time in Paul’s life characterised at his memorial event by his wife Sasha as ‘partying, partying, partying’. Over a May Bank Holiday weekend, I travelled down to Brighton to visit my old school friend Laura Shepherd, and found myself at a party at what turned out to be Paul’s flat. I don’t remember the party very clearly, but I vividly remember us lying the following morning on the uncomfortable pebble beach, talking about soul music and anarchism in the weak English spring sun, while a Brazilian percussionist busked nearby.

It would be a decade before I met him again. His talk at [the CUCR postgraduate conference] Failing Better, part of a wonderful session on pirates, struck an immediate cord with me. He got to know each other well when we were two of the five people who organised the Lewisham ’77 project, a walk, conference, concert and oral history project marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham. At one of our meetings at the Marquis of Granby pub, Paul mentioned Laura, our mutual friend, and the jigsaw piece of our earlier meeting in Brighton clicked into place. I remember telling my partner Vanessa about meeting Paul, and about instantly feeling certain that we would become friends, a rare experience in this age of emotional caution.

Paul was working with John Hutnyk and others on Migrating University, organised as part of the No Borders camp at Gatwick Airport in solidarity with migrants. The Lewisham ’77 commemorative walk became part of the ‘curriculum’ of Migrating University. Both Migrating University and Lewisham ’77, like Paul’s Town Hall Pirates project, were about exploding the border between the academy and various communities outside it. This border-crossing was not an empty radical gesture that scored easy points against the ivory tower in the name of a heroic proletarian “real world”
beyond its walls. For Paul, the first in his family to go to university, it was about opening up access for everyone
to the genuine knowledges housed in the academy, while refusing the feudal authority and aura of credentialised expertise that constitutes the academy’s social power.

This ethic of border-crossing resonated with Paul’s youth work with refugee young people in South London, and his ethnographic engagement on La Linea in Bisbee, Arizona. For Paul, these two parts of his life – day to day labour and academic theory – were clearly part of the same project. Something related that Paul brought into Lewisham ’77
was a rare spirit of openness. Oral history always reveals different, sometimes contradictory and occasionally incommensurate perspectives on the recent past, and this is especially so with political pasts, as old factional disputes throw their long shadow on the present and today’s battles are projected back in time. The anti-racist world is an exceptionally fractious one, and it was important that Lewisham ’77 recognised all of the contending histories. Paul’s generosity of spirit and disarmingly easy manner was vital in keeping the different parties on board.

The humanist Marxist historian EP Thompson wrote of rescuing the ordinary working people he wrote about
from the condescension of posterity. Paul’s work on the history of Deptford Town Hall, on the Battle of Lewisham and on present-day grassroots activists in Bisby was in this spirit. The stories he valued, to use a phrase of one of the Lewisham ’77 speakers, Martin Lux, were the footsoldiers’ stories, the stories of those normally consigned to the margins of history, not the stories of the leaders and celebrities. Paul was a footsoldier in this way; he derived no personal glory from his involvement in these projects, yet through them, and through the friendship with which he was so giving, he left the world a better place than he found it.

– Ben Gidley
***
A special edition of the on-line journal Anthropology Matters (tinyurl.com/55vchs) was dedicated to Paul’s memory, and includes an appreciation of him by his PhD supervisor Alpa Shah as well as Paul’s MA piece on Deptford Town Hall. Paul’s article “Over-Written in Stone” can be found in the Spring 2007 issue of Street Signs. The Deptford.TV book, Pirate Strategies (tinyurl.com/6af8ha), is dedicated to Paul’s memory. Appreciations to Paul also appear at the John Hutnyk’s weblo ((tinyurl.com/2nrvea) and Transpontine (tinyurl.com/5gdyzd).

 

From Pirate Strategies

This book is dedicated to Paul Hendrich, who died at the age of 36 in January 2008. Paul was a South London-based activist, youth worker, family man and scholar. He was doing an anthropology PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on cross-border activists on the frontier between the US and Mexico.

Paul’s interest in borders permeated his recent projects, and resonate with the Deptford.TV project. Like Deptford.TV, his work was about transgressing the border between academia and the “real world,” both in the local community of Deptford and New Cross and in the wider global public sphere. For example, he was one of the organisers of the Migrating University based at Goldsmiths in 2007. As part of the No Borders activist camp at Gatwick airport (campaigning for the freedom of movement across borders of the world’s citizens), the Migrating University brought a motley crew of activists and refugees into the space of the academy, opening up a very different model of pedagogy. (You can see footage of the Migrating University, including of Paul busily helping to make sure everything hung together, on the Deptford.TV archive.) A similar project in which Paul was a moving spirit in was Lewisham ’77, which commemorated the victory of local people and anti-racists over the fascist National Front in New Cross in 1977 – also documented by Deptford.TV as part of its commitment to recording the underground and alternative histories of the area.

Paul curated the Deptford Town Hall Pirates project, which similarly aimed to reconfigure the relationship between the university and its neighbourhood. The project focused on Deptford Town Hall on New Cross Road, transferred from Lewisham council to Goldsmiths as part of Deptford City Challenge on condition it retained community access. Paul’s project was about making this community access meaningful. It also commemorated the histories of slavery and colonialism that made Deptford what it is – histories inscribed in the area’s urban landscape in the form of the statues of imperial naval “heroes” on the façade of the Town Hall: four men who were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

By emphasising the way these men acted as pirates for British mercantile capitalism, and by seeking to creatively re-appropriate the enclosed space of the Town Hall, Paul staged the tension and ambivalence in the concept of piracy. On the one hand, there is the robbery which Marx named ‘primitive accumulation’: the plunder of goods from the commons which forms the foundation of capitalism. As Paul wrote: ‘it is remembered as only a footnote in most histories that in 1568 John Hawkins [one of the figures in the statues], accompanied by his young nephew and protégé Francis Drake [one of the figures in the statues] and bankrolled by Elizabeth I, was able to ‘obtain’ between 400—500 West Africans and sell them in the West Indies. Such were the profits from this arrangement that they were soon repeated with Deptford and its renowned shipyards producing many of the vessels that were used in this commerce.’

But on the other hand, there is the piracy which Deptford.TV celebrates: the capture of social value back from the robber barons of capitalism for the benefit of the commons. In this spirit, Paul started a Pirate Society at Goldsmiths, temporarily capturing The Island (the traffic island at New Cross Gate) as an autonomous pirate republic in 2006.

In Paul’s memory, long live the island!


Symposium: Bordering, everyday racism and the ‘hostile environment’ – 21 February: The Academy of Social Sciences Study Group on Refugees, Migration and Settlement

An Academy of Social Sciences event I am involved in organising:

February 21 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Birkbeck College, Malet St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX, (Room TBA)

Les Back and Shamser Sinha, Goldsmiths University of London:  The politics of waiting: Migration, dead time and freer life

Ben Gidley, Birkbeck University of London: Everyday racism and migration: Researching the material and affective impacts of xeno-racism

Ann Phoenix, Thomas Coram Research Unit UCL: Children, epistemic violence and migration

Chair: Floya Anthias, University of East London

 

To book seats: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bordering-everyday-racism-and-the-hostile-environment-tickets-42528711521

Abstracts and biographical notes 

Les Back and Shamser Sinha: The politics of waiting: Migration, dead time and freer life
 This paper examines how understanding migration involves an appreciation of the experience of time in an unfolding life. The debate about belonging is so often coded around those who are seen to ‘really belong’ because they and their kin have put ‘time into’ society.  Migrants by contrast are viewed as itinerant and passing through.  Drawing on research conducted with thirty adult migrants in London over the past ten years we explore the politics of time in the context of the contemporary debate about migration.  We argue that hierarchies of belonging are also accompanied by an ordering of the migrants’ relationship to time. We focus in particular on the experience of waiting as an existential straightjacket that restrains and comes to define life in the migrant city. Through the experiences of our participants we develop an analysis of the temporal-straight jackets or time traps that are produced within the immigration system.  We show how participants in this study struggle to break free from these limitations through developing ‘vitalising strategies’ that help them move out of dead time and a future that is confined by a sense of their lives being ‘on hold’.
Les Back teaches sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. His work attempts to create a sensuous or live sociology committed to searching for new modes of sociological writing and representation. This approach is outlined in his book The Art of Listening (Berg 2007). He also writes journalism and has made documentary films. He has juts completed a book about the experience of young adult migrants in London with Shamser Sinha called Migrant City (published by Routledge later this year).  This book is attempts a sociable sociology that re-design social observation so that participants not only observe their own lives but also become credited authors too.

Ben Gidley: Everyday racism and migration: Researching the material and affective impacts of xeno-racism
This paper explores how social scientists can understand the relationship between public policies and discourses on migration, public attitudes towards migrants and minorities, and everyday experiences of exclusion and conviviality, using the concept of “xeno-racism”, as developed by the late Ambalavaner Sivanandan. The paper will draw on fieldwork in inner South London, and focus in particular on what we can learn from psychosocial and ethnographic approaches.
Ben Gidley is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Previously, he worked at the ESRC Centre for Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford. His most recent book is Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared History? with James Renton. Continue reading


VIDEO: James Renton on antisemitism and Islamophobia

Details:  Continue reading


Parliamentary event: Understanding Islamophobia and Antisemitism in Europe and the UK in 2018

10 January 2018 10 am-11.30

This event presents recent academic research findings, based on the book Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story?, newly published by Palgrave Macmillan and edited by Dr James Renton (Edge Hill University/European University Institute, Florence) and Dr Ben Gidley (Birkbeck, University of London). The discussion, aimed at politicians, policy-makers and civil society, will focus on questions such as:

  • How have antisemitism and Islamophobia related to each other in different European contexts, historically and today? How can we understand this connection?
  • How did the term “Semite” come to refer to the Jews, and how is it connected to the term “antisemitism”?
  • Is Europe a secular continent – or a Christian one? And what does this mean for Jews and Muslims?
  • How can we combat antisemitism and Islamophobia together today? What historical resources can we draw on in building solidarity against racism?

For details of the book, see http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137412997.

Hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. Co-organised by Monitor: Global Intelligence on Racism, based at the Robert Schumann Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute.

The event introduced and chaired by Nusrat Ghani MP, will include a short presentation of research by the co-editors, followed by a panel discussion and questions. Panellists will be Omar Khan (Runnymede Trust), Karen Pollock MBE (Holocaust Educational Trust) and Danny Stone MBE (Antisemitism Policy Trust).

Please email Ben to register to attend.


James Renton: Does Europe’s Far Right Hate Muslims the Same Way They Hate Jews?

By my co-author James Renton in Ha’aretz. Extract:

Protesters carry Polish flags and a banner declaring 'Islam = Terror' during a rally organized by far-right nationalists to mark 99th anniversary of Polish independence in Warsaw. November 11, 2017

President Donald Trump’s retweeting of anti-Muslim videos propagated by Britain First has made millions more people around the world aware of the European far-right’s crude Islamophobia.

Is this racism a retargeting of familiar tropes of anti-Semitic hatred? Or does anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish hatred have a more complex relationship, both in history and in our current moment?

Prejudice toward Islam and Muslims is endemic in the Europe of 2017. The “Muslim Question” is central to the politics of the far right, which has achieved success unprecedented since WWII at the polls this year, from France to the Czech Republic via Austria and Germany.

More significantly, the fear of Muslims as potential terrorists has become an integral part of mainstream European politics and the European security state, as has been identified by Amnesty International, among others.

Several commentators and academics have argued that this groundswell of Islamophobia, which began in earnest with the “war on terror” after 9/11 and has gathered pace since 2015, has made Muslims the “new Jews” of Europe. They contend that today’s emergency is redolent of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s, or of the late 19th century.

READ THE REST.

For all posts on our book Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Storyclick here.


Reply to Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon wrote – and Ha’aretz published – a reply to my op ed about him. Here is my reply to his reply, which I did not send to Ha’aretz.

Gilad Atzmon starts his letter by calling me a “Zionist”. Normally, I would reject that designation, but Mr Atzmon has called my friends in the (anti-Zionist) Jewish Socialist Group “anti-Zionist Zionists” because their commitment to Jewish culture and identity marks them out as “tribalists” and therefore “Zionists”, so maybe from him I should take it as a compliment.

Tellingly, he continues that I “failed to properly source a single accusation” against him, and that I instead cited “opinions printed in extreme Zionist and Jewish outlets”. My article indeed cited a couple of Jewish outlets, such as the Jewish Chronicle and the Community Security Trust, although to most people these wouldn’t count as “extreme” Jewish outlets. But mainly I cited anti-racist and left sources: the anti-fascist Hope not Hate, Socialist Unity’s Andy Newman, the former SWP activist Richard Seymour, and Palestine solidarity campaigners such as Ali Abunimah and As’ad AbuKhalil. Anyone who thinks those are “extreme Zionist and Jewish outlets” has, well, issues.

Mr Atzmon continues “in my entire career I have never referred critically to Jews or anyone else as a race, biology or people”. The “as a race, biology or people” bit is essential, because his attacks on what he calls “Jewishness” are not framed biologically, but as attacks on “Jewish ideology”, “Jewish identity” and “Jewish power”. However, his writings tend to short-circuit rapidly from this distinction to race. For example he has written that “I contend that all forms of Jewish politics are ethno-centric and to a certain extent, racially driven.”

And he uses all the standard tropes of racial antisemitism when he talks about Jewishness: in his Reading talk he spoke of Jewishness as “following mitzvot” and said the “Jewish lobby is a cosmopolitan lobby”. In his other recent writings, he has repeatedly insisted that “Jewish power is the capacity to silence the discussion of Jewish power”. He obsessively uses the word “tribal”. He repeats alt-right conspiracy theories, for example muttering about “[George] Soros’ funded front (Antifa, Black lives Matter, LGBTIAP groups etc.)”.

As the legacy of the Holocaust has left explicit raciology toxic in our culture, many racists on the far right have avoided openly using the language of race science, preferring for instance to dwell on “cultural” rather than racial difference and to use terms from the classical lexicon of racial antisemitism or names like Soros as code-words for the deeper agenda. Atzmon’s writings on “Jewishness” fit well into this paradigm.

On one point Mr Atzmon concedes my charges are “correct”: that his writings “are circulated by some right-wing and conservative outlets and thinkers”. That, however, is not a charge I made. I said they are “widely circulated on far right websites”. It is not mainstream conservative websites who like Atzmon, but Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

He qualifies his concession: “they are at least as popular within left-wing outlets and progressive circles.” I am curious which outlets he refers to, as his views have become increasingly toxic to the point where even those few left sites which once gave him a platform, such as the Socialist Workers Party, now seem to find him an embarrassment.

Ben Gidley, London


Cities acting for migration

The Columbia Global Policy Initiative has made a submission about the role of cities to the Special Representative of the Secretary General for International Migration in relation to the Global Compact for Migration. It includes this claim:

local authorities and mayors in particular play a crucial role in framing greater diversity as a complex but fundamentally fruitful outcome of globalization.

This claim is referenced with a citation to a report I co-wrote: Elizabeth Collett & Ben Gidley, ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, Attitudes to Migrants, Communication and Local Leadership
(AMICALL) — Final Transnational Report (2012) see at https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/media/PR-2012-AMICALL_Transnational.pdf .


Pourquoi les progressistes anglais célèbrent encore un grotesque antisémite et un négationniste ?

A French translation of my Ha’aretz op ed is published here.

Full text: Continue reading


Gilad Atzmon in Reading

I have published my first op ed in Ha’aretz. The title is theirs not mine. It’s online here, the opening below.

Opinion Why Are U.K. Progressives Still Celebrating a Grotesque anti-Semite and Holocaust Denier?
When a publicly-funded community center hosted the Jew-hating Gilad Atzmon, it blocked anti-racists on Twitter who challenged the decision. For many on the U.K. left, the denial of anti-Semitism has become a reflex

Ben Gidley Oct 30, 2017 10:30 AM Continue reading


Florence event: Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe

NYU Florence:

Oct 26, 2017 / 18:00 – 19:00 / VILLA SASSETTI

Are today´s Muslims Europe’s “new Jews”? Is Islamophobia the same as, or an aspect of, Antisemitism? Controversy over this question has raged over the last decade or so. From a historical point of view, is there a dynamic relationship between Antisemitism and Islamophobia and, if so, how has it evolved over time and space? Religion, empire, nation-building and war, they have all played their part in the complex evolution of this relationship. What does Europe have to say about the fact that Jews and Arabs were once called Semites, but are now widely thought to be on two different sides of the “War on Terror”?

Historian James Renton and the EU Coordinator on Combatting Antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, will debate the relationship btween the two racisms and Europe’s response to it.

Moderated by Marcella Simoni, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Moderator