Thursday, 30 April 2009

"No transaction is ethical unless risk is fairly distributed between the parties"

Article published by Jeremy Harding
London Review of Books, 30/04/2009

Last September, as dust and debris from the tellers’ floors began raining onto the empty vaults below, a note of satisfaction was sounded by bankers in the Arab world. Financial institutions sticking to the tenets of Islam, they announced, were largely immune from the debt crisis. Devout Muslims may lend and borrow under certain conditions; they can even buy and sell debt in the form of ‘Islamic’ bonds, but most other kinds of debt trading are frowned on. Al Rajhi Bank, based in Saudi Arabia, and the Kuwait Finance House posted impressive profits in 2008. Both have come under some nervous scrutiny in 2009 but their ability to weather the recession that has set in behind the credit crunch is not at issue.

Unlike most banks in the Middle East, Al Rajhi Bank and KFH are ‘sharia-compliant’ businesses, which means simply that they try to abide by the evolving body of rules known as the sharia – ‘the path to the headwater’ – which govern the lives of Muslims. The sharia serves mostly as a guide to personal conduct, though some rules are drafted into the legal codes of majority-Muslim states. It’s founded, we’re always told, on revealed truth from the Koran and exemplary stories from the Hadith, the sayings and doings of the Prophet. But the real influence of the sharia lies in the way this material is constantly read and recast by modern Islamic scholars, reinventing old traditions or asserting new ones. Whatever they take it to be, growing numbers of Muslims are keen to stay on the path when it comes to banking and finance. The global Muslim population is upwards of 1.3 billion – roughly one in every five people on earth – and, with a religious revival of twenty or thirty years’ standing, the way of Islam is now a crowded thoroughfare. It is plied by a great diversity of travellers from different parts of the world; some have money to burn, others next to none, but anybody with a modicum of wealth is nowadays a potential opportunity for banks offering sharia-compliant retail services: current accounts, straightforward financing schemes and home-ownership plans.

The term ‘Islamic finance’ wrests a lot of activities down to a catch-all definition. The same is true, in the financial universe, of the words ‘sharia’ and ‘Islam’ itself. Sharia is not a single, coherent jurisprudence for Muslims; there are various schools of interpretation and marked disagreements within each of them. ‘Islam’, a broad term of convenience for most non-Muslims, is a power-point word in the City: it tells bankers and traders that every day for a few minutes they should shut out the din of the money that merely talks and tune in to the money that prays. But why bother, given that sharia-compliant finance is probably worth less than 1 per cent of the total value of the world’s stocks, bonds and bank deposits? This was reckoned at about $170 trillion in 2007; it’s much less than that now of course, but even so, with a value of around $700 billion, Islamic stocks, bonds and bank deposits remain a minority affair, just as Muslims remain a minority in global terms.
What fascinates the markets about Islamic finance, however, is its dramatic growth in recent years and confident predictions that it’s set to expand at 15 to 20 per cent every year. Its allure for moderately prosperous, pious Muslims – and quite a few non-Muslims recoiling from the debt crisis in anger and disgust – is different. They admire what they see as a promise to achieve stability and transparency, and a sense of proportion about money: look it in the eye, tell it you like it, but admit that you have lingering doubts about the transcendent value of paper. That’s an unsophisticated position, but since the credit crunch not many people trust the sophisticated keepers of the modern money culture; in this sense the rise of sharia-compliant products is also a challenge to the unofficial, polytheist faith of offshore Britannia: the worship of markets in general and financial markets in particular.

One of the central differences between the Islamic and conventional approaches to finance is that our own cults – which may well see a revision before the end of this crisis – ascribe supernatural powers to money. Cult specialists are at great pains to understand and control how it works, but admit that it does so in magical ways that go beyond the effects of human commerce (for the markets, too, have magical attributes, including innate goodness). Whatever we want from money, we suspect, as devotees, that in the end it will always behave as it sees fit. Our awe of it is a bit like a rapt meditation on the way the shower of gold behaves – shimmering and falling – when it cascades over Danaë in her cloister in Argos. In the story, it’s merely the form chosen by Zeus for her seduction, but in our meditation, there is no Olympian in disguise and no intention to seduce, just the metal shimmering and falling, in consummate self-expression, as deity and dogma. Islamic approaches – there are quite a few – are much closer to Nonconformist and Anglican traditions, where the divinity stands to the side of money, reminding the faithful that he is one thing and mammon another. Money, in this view, is an object of caution rather than superstition – and, in spite of its dangers, a useful tool for anyone who wants to build a respectable world, with God’s instructions pinned to the wall above the workbench.

Maybe this is why sharia-compliant products have been gaining popularity among British Muslims, even if they differ only slightly from conventional ones. Take the home-ownership scheme offered by HSBC’s sharia-compliant range, Amanah (amanah means ‘trust’ in the moral and legal sense). Muslims are forbidden to pay or receive interest and troubled by conventional lending, because it appears to put the burden of risk on the borrower not the lender: in the Islamic view, no transaction is ethical unless risk is fairly distributed between the parties. HSBC Amanah’s scheme is based on an Islamic contract known as ‘diminishing musharaka’ and it’s approved, like all HSBC Amanah’s services, by a board of sharia scholars. A would-be home-owner must put up 40 per cent of the cost price (much less before the credit crunch); the property is registered in a trust (amanah) as a jointly owned asset, with the bank’s majority ownership diminishing over an agreed period, as regular payments are made; the customer promises to buy the bank’s share, and the bank promises to sell it to the client. The property is envisaged as a set of units and the customer’s payments as twofold: one part is rental, for the right to live in it, another is a form of unit-acquisition. The trust keeps a tally of the bank’s diminishing ownership and the growing share to the customer. At term, the trust is dissolved and the home passes to the customer.

In the meantime, no interest has been charged. But the rental payments received by HSBC Amanah for its willingness to share a risk will have been reviewed – and therefore been subject to change, much like the interest charge on a variable-rate mortgage – at regular intervals. Indeed, rental charges are likely to track changes in a conventional interest rate, for instance Libor, the London Interbank Offered Rate. In the eyes of some Muslims, the resemblance of the rental element to an interest charge casts doubt on the ‘Islamic’ nature of the scheme; others are happy to say that even when two things are alike, this does not make them identical. The questions of likeness and difference, and what constitutes real compliance, are hotly debated among Muslims throughout the world.

As regards risk-sharing, HSBC Amanah’s scheme seems little different from those of other lenders when customers fail to keep up payments (‘default’ is not a sharia-compliant word). The bank will pursue a customer if it thinks the reasons for the failure were ‘avoidable’, because this would constitute a breach of the promise to buy. But it claims not to handle a genuine misfortune the way conventional mortgage providers deal with a default. Both parties share any losses according to the proportionate ownership at the time. The bank can seize the contents of a customer’s current account to offset some of its own losses, but there the matter ends. No question of a debt-collecting agency taking up where the bank left off. Most mortgage companies in the US also draw a line under default, but among Islamic home-ownership providers in Britain this approach has encouraged prudence. Amjid Ali, who heads HSBC Amanah’s UK operation, told me that in the first five years of its sharia-compliant home-ownership scheme, he had processed applications to the value of £700 million, of which, after judicious sifting, more than half had come good. He knew of only one case that hadn’t worked out: the customer was given 18 months’ grace, at the end of which the house was sold. Devout Muslims who think the HSBC Amanah approach is uncomfortably close to the way a conventional default is handled must surely have had their views confirmed by the government’s insistence to mortgage lenders, since the recession set in, that patience with people in difficulty would put a floor under falling house prices and send out a ‘caring’ signal (reluctant bankers call it empathy). But perhaps the same Muslims derive a certain satisfaction from the fact that conventional mortgage lenders are beating a path to the headwater.
A home-buyer signing up to a diminishing musharaka would have to take out buildings insurance with a clause that covered the bank as well. But Islamic tradition is uneasy with conventional insurance. First, there’s contractual uncertainty (the devilish detail of insurance policies); second, a risk has been bought by another party, and this is scarcely ever acceptable; third, far from looking like circumspection, conventional insurance has every appearance of a punt, with croupier and client sizing up the odds – and gambling is forbidden. An Islamic option, now available in the UK, allows devout Muslims to subscribe regular payments to a managed mutual fund and think of the process as an exercise in solidarity.

This arrangement, known as takaful, was on offer from HSBC Amanah until the end of last year, when it realised that customers found the costs too high: ethical products, like principles, are more expensive, and less profitable, than off-the-shelf alternatives. Collective underwriting was the main feature of the retired model, shared with other takaful services clinging on in a difficult market. The sharia board instructed HSBC that if the fund was underspent by more than £25 per subscriber in a given year, members could have money back or make it over to the launch of a micro-credit scheme in Pakistan. Rising costs are the reality of most insurance, but for takaful members they are mitigated by the concept of ‘donation’; subscribers may be grudging or disgruntled, but tradition urges them to see the cost of mutuality as part of their obligation to share risk with their fellow members. If it seems unacceptably high, and there are enough takaful co-operatives around, they’re free to chase down a better option.

Takaful cover has its origins in Arab seafaring mutuals (not unlike the whaling mutuals, centuries later, of the Quaker communities in New Bedford and Nantucket). It is a small sector of the global insurance business, already thriving in Malaysia and said by its advocates to be growing throughout the world. In Britain, which prides itself on its multiculturalism and its financial services in almost equal measure, takaful has been endorsed by the minister for trade and investment, the Chartered Insurance Institute and the lord mayor of the City of London. Like all sharia-compliant products in the UK – and everywhere, as far as I know – it’s available to non-Muslims. One Muslim scholar told me that they already account for 16 to 20 per cent of the clientele for Islamic retail products in Britain. No need to recite the shahada if you want a sharia-compliant loan from the Islamic Bank of Britain, Lloyds TSB or a UK branch of the Arab Banking Corporation.

The idea of conventional insurance as a wager is taken seriously, and sometimes to extremes. Until he was denied the right to re-enter the UK in 2005, Omar Bakri Muhammad, the Syrian radical, was said to drive around uninsured on the grounds that a third-party policy with Kwik Fit or the AA was an abomination in the eyes of God. As a proselytiser for Hizb ut-Tahrir and later a star of Al-Muhajiroun, Bakri had a headstrong attachment to the sharia, even when he was a guest of the Home Office. Many British Muslims, pleased to see the back of him, thought that the danger he courted by refusing to take out cover was itself a gamble in which he wagered his faith against the laws of his host country. Perhaps, if he’d still been around, he’d have joined the first British sharia-compliant car insurance scheme, Salaam Halal Insurance, when it was launched last summer (call centres handle inquiries ‘in English, Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati or Urdu’).

It isn’t just in Britain, and it isn’t only in the retail banking sector, that sharia-compliance is catching on. The last ten years have also seen a surge in sharia-compliant securities available to corporate and institutional investors in many parts of the world who want to stick to the rules of the faith. It’s a new impulse: in the 1970s, when the oil-producing states were awash with money, there weren’t too many worries about petrodollars flooding into the purchase of US Treasury bonds, even though they bore interest, and there were few alternatives to conventional securities. This isn’t the case any longer. Malaysia is rich with opportunities for investors in compliant bonds; in Europe, the German Land of Saxony-Anhalt issued the first ‘Islamic’ government bond in 2004; the British Treasury has also looked into the possibility of issuing sharia-compliant bills. Meanwhile there’s no shortage of choice in equities. The Dow Jones Islamic Market (DJIM) started up in 1999: it now has dozens of indices and lists hundreds of companies whose products are approved by its board of sharia scholars.
Nation-states may decide to devalue their currencies or privatise their telecommunications, but the odds are against them adopting full sharia-compliance. A few years ago Sudan had a unitary sharia banking system, but since the peace deal between Khartoum and the non-Muslim SPLA in 2005, conventional banking has become the norm in southern Sudan. That leaves Iran as the only country that boasts a banking system operating fully on Islamic principles (the evils of interest, it argues, obtain only if the borrower and lender are wholly distinct, and since Iranian banks are nationalised, the country’s interbank lending rate is regarded as a family foible). All other Muslim-majority states have conventional or dual systems; in all cases, the central banks behave conventionally.

Conversion to sharia would be ruinous for a wealthy city-state like Dubai, thriving – until the crunch – on Western finance and the ‘conventional’ lifestyles of expatriates. At the end of last year, the monthly retail-purchase interest on a Platinum Visa card issued by the National Bank of Dubai was 2.99 per cent, while Dubai’s sovereign debt stood at 148 per cent of GDP – both well out of order for a conscientious Muslim. Dubai has been on the ropes since last September, but even in better times, the ruling family, like the government of Malaysia, had encouraged sharia-financing across a range of state-funded development projects. Gulf regimes are keenly aware of the changes in fashion that have driven demand for sharia-compliance.

So is the private sector. Many innovative sharia-compliant instruments have been theorised – and some of them applied – by companies whose interest in Islam is decidedly recent, among them Deutsche Bank as well as HSBC. Their idea is to access the large amounts of cash swilling around to no great avail in the Gulf: an ambition reciprocated by the owners of this money, who want to put it to work. The difference between now and 1973 is not one of quantity: liquidity in the Gulf has been high again, partly as a result of oil prices, partly because billions of dollars were repatriated from the West by worried owners after 9/11, but also because the Islamic revival has left many Muslims doubting the wisdom of conventional investment. The diffusion of sharia-compliant financial products has opened new routes for their money. For a while some of it headed towards Malaysia and, until the end of last year, plenty was creeping westward again. The appetite for world markets remains strong, but it now answers more closely to the will of God.

The prohibitions for Muslims are puzzling to the modern commercial mind. The first obstacle for a pious Muslim trading and banking in conventional economies is interest, the term I’ve been using for the Arabic riba, though its literal sense is closer to ‘excess’ and it is sometimes translated as ‘usury’. Often, in the Hadith and even more in recent proselytising on the internet, riba is said to be ‘eaten’. One of the objections to riba is its propensity to up-end the social order. A person who consumes riba bungles the proper management of need – his own and his debtor’s – whereupon the grand plan of give and take, sufficiency for rich and poor alike, begins to come apart. This, as Charles Tripp explains in Islam and the Moral Economy, is also a challenge to ‘the balance and proportion of God’s ordering of the universe’, which must be reflected in ‘human relations’. Islamic tradition warns that riba is likely to lead to injustice and exploitation.

There’s a categorical objection, too: that money may not be conjured up from money to generate like from like. The goods that served (we’re told) as currency in Islamic tradition – gold, silver, salt, grain and dates – can only be exchanged ‘hand to hand’, i.e. in a spot transaction, without deferment; and only at parity, one quantity for its exact equivalent, no more, no less. It’s not clear why you’d want to swap something – a gold weight, say – for its identical other, but the point here is probably that units of currency, unlike the shirt or the saddle for which they’re exchanged, must be beyond any cavilling with regard to value for the system to hold up: an Islamic marker set down 14 centuries ago against arbitrage. In a story told by Abu Said al Khudri, one of Muhammad’s younger companions, the Prophet describes the transaction of a greater number of low-grade dates for a smaller number of quality dates as riba.

The most famous chapter and verse on riba is in sura 2 of the Koran. It warns that dealing in riba will bring on madness or ‘torment’ (via ‘Satan’s touch’), and that if you’re not prepared to waive a mark-up on a debt, war will be waged against you by God and the Prophet. One sharia-compliant banker I met last year told me that’s about as bad as it gets. There is also an injunction to forgive debt in a broader sense: ‘If the debtor is in difficulty, then delay things . . . Still, if you were to write it off as an act of charity, that would be better for you, if only you knew’ (the rules followed by HSBC Amanah try to catch something of this). The charging of riba, it follows, is always a missed opportunity to act generously, to give where a gift is in order, a gesture highly prized in Islamic tradition. In a faith embodied by a trader prophet and espoused by an impressive trading community for which, at its height, knowledge was a key commodity, believers are admonished not to confuse riba with trade. From the second sura, again: ‘God has allowed trade and forbidden usury.’

In Economics, Ethics and Religion (1997) Rodney Wilson went through the 6226 verses of the Koran and found that 1400 refer to ‘economic issues’. It follows that there is a vast body of scholarly opinion dealing with money. A fatwa about charging for debt, or any financial matter, issued by a group of experts such as the Fiqh Academy in Jeddah can carry great weight for certain Muslims, and less for others. In the sharia, like any code which hasn’t ossified, the element of interpretation is crucial and within each of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, there are divergent views, especially between conservatives and modernisers and especially about money. Yet not all the source material under interpretation is stable or straightforward. In the Hadith, for instance, it’s said that the Prophet warned against 70 different forms of riba. These have decayed and combined under the pressures of modernity, but there’s still room for doubt. Modern nuance can be as puzzling to a non-Muslim (maybe even a Muslim) as the founding inventories: Wilson records a sharia ruling in the United Arab Emirates which found that simple interest was permissible and only compound interest forbidden.

Riba catches many non-Muslims out. After a long study of Islamic finance, the anthropologist Bill Maurer couldn’t settle on ‘interest’ as the perfect translation: it seemed clear at first but became streaky as he looked closer. ‘Usury’ is the obvious alternative, but are we to rely on the older sense of the term – any charge, however small, for the use of borrowed money – or on the way it’s understood today, as extortionate interest only? Wilson, a professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham who is intrigued by ‘the influences of religious belief on economic behaviour’, holds that riba is usury in the first sense. That’s the view of most practising Muslims; it seems to echo the meaning of the word in Deuteronomy, where Moses instructs the people of Israel not to lend to their own kith and kin at a rate: ‘Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury.’ Very close to ‘interest’ after all then. Yet if, like Melanie Phillips, you believe Islamic banking in the UK merely hastens the day when a green flag is raised over Westminster, it’s important to think of ‘usury’ in the later sense, in order to insist that Muslim law is either deluded or deceitful: ‘The whole issue of sharia finance,’ Phillips wrote last year, ‘is based on a fabrication . . . sharia does not proscribe interest. It proscribes usury.’ Were riba just a term for exploitative lending, however, one or two countries might have shuffled nearer to a unitary sharia banking system. But the sharia has few attractions for exchequers and central banks in a modern economy, where the interest rate is a basic tool of monetary policy. The appeal of sharia-compliant banking and investing is in essence to the individual conscience.

The emphasis on risk-sharing in HSBC Amanah’s products – and all Islamic products – is related to the prohibition on interest: it’s obvious to the devout Muslim that collecting interest on a debt involves no risk worth the name; all that’s required, in this view, is for a creditor to sit back and wait. The exposure involved in the mere lending of money – self-evident to a non-Muslim – is an unticked box in Islamic tradition, while savings, for which non-Muslims see interest as a fair reward, give rise to worries about hoarding: money should be out there doing the work that enables trade to flourish. A Treasury expert would say Islamic tradition approves of narrow money; a historian would remember Bacon’s essay ‘Of Seditions and Troubles’ and his famous dictum that muck is ‘not good except it be spread’. (The essay goes on: ‘This is done chiefly by suppressing, or at the least keeping a strait hand upon the devouring trades of usury.’)
Risk-sharing, like generosity, puts human relations on an even keel in the Islamic view. A capitalist can weigh a risk but shouldn’t accept a promise from a partner to eliminate it: that would be ‘risk-transfer’, which denies the inherent truth of risk. (In the eyes of sharia scholars it also opens up a vista of potential exploitation, especially when risk is passed on in unknowable ways, say in the form of a mortgage-backed security with a dodgy rating.) No one must guarantee investors’ money, except against fraud.

Interest and risk-evasion are largely absent, Islamic investors believe, from the world of stocks and shares. To invest in a company is to sign up to joint ownership and collective risk, while ordinary shares pay dividends not interest. Even so, there are constraints. It is forbidden to invest in companies that have anything to do with gambling and you’re unlikely to find a business listed in the Dow Jones Islamic Markets indexes with more than a toehold in this area of the leisure industry. In sura 2 of the Koran, the evils of drinking and gambling are deemed to outweigh their benefits – though these are granted – and maisir (the drawing of arrows, like straws, to divine a course of action or simply to bet) is condemned in sura 5. There are other exclusions for devout shareholders. Clearly breweries and distilleries are off-limits, along with pork products. Pornography offends on three overlapping counts: shame, obscenity and baghi, loosely speaking, ‘transgression’, ‘injustice’ or ‘trespass’, anything intrusive then, from a misunderstanding of privacy to a foreign occupation. The DJIM indexes exclude most media businesses but also hotel chains, where minibars and adult channels lower the tone (basement gaming rooms too). Critically, daily trading in debt and riba makes almost all conventional financial institutions, including banks, unacceptable.
The way companies that survive this triage are run must next be examined closely. Sharia scholars are unlikely to approve of a firm whose clients owe it large amounts of money – ‘accounts receivable’ – or one that depends on high returns from interest. The bigger question, though, is a company’s financial structure – how much of its capital it has raised by borrowing and how much by selling its performance or potential in the form of share distributions. The DJIM board of sharia advisers screens out any company whose debt is higher than one third of its market capitalisation (a valuation based on the total number of shares issued times the prevailing share price).

Debt is a problem in its own right. Borrowing on a regular, matter-of-fact basis is open to question since sharia scholars are wary of conventional banking’s dependence on interbank borrowing. The ideal Islamic bank, Rodney Wilson told me, is financed entirely by its depositors’ money. In practice, there is plenty of imperfection, but a compliant bank will want to stay as close as possible to this model. Like riba, debt also raises fears about poverty and injustice (some Muslim NGOs are as evangelical about Third World debt as their Christian and secular counterparts). In the Hadith, debt presents a troubling face once the possibility of deferment arises, as it might with a debtor in difficulty. Is it a good thing or a bad thing to put off repayment? Does it matter whether the debtor is wealthy or poor? Bad faith is always threatening to break in on the relationship between a debtor and a creditor: a debtor says he can pay back a loan but how can he be sure? All this drags human relations into the realm of uncertainty – gharar – from which faith, the discourse of absolute certainty, was supposed to protect them. In commerce, gharar is best avoided. Whence the persistence of doubts about contracting for things that don’t (yet) exist: tradition might allow for a joiner taking orders on furniture he hadn’t yet made, but it disqualified the sale of a foal that was still in the body of the mare. Even the benign, textbook version of the forward contract – a farmer and a miller agreeing a grain price ahead of the harvest – brings a sense of uneasiness.

The concept of gharar doesn’t just apply to goods whose status is in doubt, but to bargains whose terms are ambiguous and contracting parties whose liability is vague. Though it’s often translated as ‘hazard’, it’s not the same as risk, which Muslim societies understand as well as anyone. Business risk is unavoidable and begins when a cargo plane taxis towards the runway. Gharar has more to do with the commercial imagination running ahead of itself: speculation still troubles Islamic scholars; many take a dim view not just of credit derivatives, the villains of the banking crisis, but of any instrument whose value is based on a contract for an underlying asset rather than the asset itself. This is changing, slowly, as a growing number of experts wrestle with intellectual tradition till they get to a place where derivatives, some in any case, appear acceptable. But no sharia adviser would approve of an Islamic financial institution bundling toxic mortgage debts into securities and packing them off to market, still less buying them up. To a conscientious Muslim, this is the perfect storm, in which opaque liabilities, the unknown nature of the underlying debt, fair-weather forecasts by ratings agencies, plus risk transfer and riba, conspire to wreck large parts of the fleet. Is there anyone clinging to the flotsam, post-9/15, who disagrees?

Non-Muslims will recognise the process of screening companies out of a portfolio: many charities and individuals have been doing it for years. The fashion in the West for Socially Responsible Investment (SRI), which gained ground in the 1980s and 90s, has become a model for Muslims. That’s the view of Mufti Barkatulla, a scholar trained in Uttar Pradesh, and now an adviser on several sharia boards in the UK, among them the Islamic Bank of Britain and Lloyds TSB. He points out that sharia scholars (including the ones who advise the DJIM) rule against investments in tobacco companies and arms manufacturers, even though Islam has no quarrel with either. The sharia is strictly speaking a matter of law, but sharia-compliance and SRI are, in Barkatulla’s sense of it, largely about the intimate decisions of prosperous individuals and the grandiose ‘ethical’ claims of big business. Sharia-compliance doesn’t have the boycott component that turns SRI from a sum of personal choices into a self-conscious movement. Opting away from a conventional current account is hardly the same as refusing to buy sugar grown by slaves, as the Quakers did in the 1790s, or divesting from companies with links to apartheid, as American universities did in the 1980s.

Even so, it’s sometimes seen as a front for Islamic supremacists scheming to overrun the West. The crusader-jihadist wars are a favourable habitat for this kind of idea, which feeds off suspicion and a regular diet of incidental detail. Eccentric Islamists announce that they hope to see Britain under a caliphate; angry groupuscules and male covens dabble in jihadist ideology and scour explosives websites; the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks aloud on Radio 4 about the sharia as ‘an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them’ and congratulates Muslims ‘on the faithful completion of Ramadan’ as though he were handing round the sherry on Easter Sunday. With all this and years of high-profile terrorist attacks, from New York to Lahore, plus two wars that have not gone well, a person in Birmingham seeking a fee-based home loan begins to look like the enemy.
Before the surge of Islamic banking, many devout Muslims shied away from banks: for the poorly educated, everything, even a non-interest-bearing current account, came under the general heading haram – ‘impermissible’. Banks dealt with interest, therefore Muslims shouldn’t deal with banks. Mufti Barkatulla told me he’d had to mediate in several cases where police raids had turned up large sums of money stashed in people’s homes. Sometimes, he remembered, people were holding £30,000 or more. To the police, this was deeply suspicious; in fact people were hoarding their way out of riba. One of the changes that sharia-compliant banking is bringing in Britain, Barkatulla believes, is that working-class Muslims, older ones especially, are at last shifting ‘from a cash-based to a cashless society’, as Muslim professionals and businessmen did years ago.
If Muslims can’t take part in a conventional economy without breaking the rules, at least they can compromise by keeping track of their infringements and ‘purifying’ the balance by charitable giving equivalent to the amounts in question. These self-administered transfusions are payable over and above the mandatory deduction, known as zakat, that devout Muslims must make and donate to charity in the space of a year. The most common zakat payment is 2.5 per cent per annum on cash, savings and investments less liabilities. (It can be a finicky piece of accounting; the ‘zakat calculator’ at is worth a visit.) Unbelievers who worry that Muslims may not wish them well – a complicated piece of projection, but not wholly fantastic right now – should put a yellow highlight over the word zakat, and another over ‘purification’. Successful Muslims in the West remitting to the ‘poor’ and ‘needy’, as the rules require, are the worry here. Their money may well go to families of the unemployed in Bradford, NGOs in Kuala Lumpur or prosthetics clinics in Sarajevo, but it can also be headed in the direction of people under fire in the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir.

At the beginning of last year the Pakistani cleric Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani was a member of the sharia supervisory board at DJIM. A scholar, judge, financial expert and prolific writer, Usmani was also involved with a sharia-compliant mutual in Illinois which Dow had allowed to manage its ‘Islamic’ fund. But there were internet murmurings about Usmani and in the spring, the McCormick Foundation and the ultra-con Center for Security Policy held an anti-sharia finance workshop in Illinois where his published views about jihad and the subjugation of unbelievers came under scrutiny. Media attention now turned to the Illinois mutual. In 2007, somewhere in the sprawling paperwork for a federal ‘terror-funding’ trial in Dallas, it had been named by the government as an ‘un-indicted co-conspirator’ – one of about three hundred – with alleged links to the US Muslim Brotherhood. These, apparently, were forged via the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a US-based charity at the centre of the investigation. Usmani’s thoughts on the obligations of jihad – in the CPS presentation, they were non-ecumenical to say the least – have done sharia-compliant finance in the US very few favours; he’s no longer a DJIM adviser. As for the Illinois mutual, it’s had to call in the American Civil Liberties Union to help it restore its damaged reputation.

Last year, after a mistrial in 2007, a jury in Dallas found the HLF and five of its members guilty of funding Hamas to the tune of $12 million or more, even though the prosecution conceded that the money was spent on medical facilities and good works. But in the US, charitable gifts, purifications and zakat simply cannot go to Palestinians without donors risking a federal investigation. As David Feige explained in Slate after the mistrial, the HLF was accused of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation by helping it spread its ideology and recruit members. Translation: even those who support good works are guilty of terrorism if the good works make the terrorists look good.’

Governments may strive in their own jurisdictions to compound the hardships of the Palestinians; freedom-loving think tanks may vent their dismay (verging on disgust) about the rise of sharia-compliant mechanisms in the West; but it is too late to quarantine Islamic finance. Alongside the notional clash of civilisations and the real collisions, a very different encounter with Islam has taken place in the worlds of banking and finance. The constant exchange of money and ideas, the morphology of ingenious instruments that can accommodate a different philosophy of wealth-creation, the familiarity with Islamic tradition among conventional financiers and lawyers who draw them up – all this suggests a convergence both more real and less visible than anything that multiculturalism in the arts, the media or interfaith groups was meant to bring about. The old imperatives of trade and profit are at work here, but so is the recent radical style of the money culture itself.
The 1980s may have mourned the death of avant-gardes in the arts, but there was a thriving avant-garde in the City, which became a magnet for cadres of bright, ambitious, untried people with remote horizons, dealers sans frontières. By the end of the 1990s, this gilded bohemia had a good grasp of sharia-compliance and the breadth of modern, secular trading it could offer Muslims with qualms about the way their money had been doubled back in the 1970s. There were fortunes to be made, and an intellectual challenge in the air. The idea that Islamic finance was out to hobble Western values – ‘financial jihad’, as the Center for Security Policy calls it – was greeted with scepticism, even a subversive ‘So what?’ Radical innovation was the watchword and the search was on for complex products that could lock more and more transactions into a compliant framework. Since last September, the dangers of innovation have become clear and the ideal of reckless creativity has taken a hammering.

The world of sharia-compliant finance is largely unscathed: Islamic banks in the Middle and Far East have not followed the low collateral/high borrowing regimes favoured by their conventional competitors at home and abroad; Islamic principles have denied investors any real access to shares in the banking sector and thus any exposure to toxic debt. Yet there is still a hunger for access and experimentation – what Mufti Barkatulla describes, enthusiastially, as a willingness to take risks with interpretation itself; ‘sharia risk’, as he calls it – and a fascination with the sums of money that have been made on markets forbidden to Muslims. To that extent, convergence is still the order of the day, as sharia-compliancy wizards, Muslim and non-Muslim, seek to open up the trade in derivatives to the small but growing number of devout investors who can be persuaded to bid for a calf while the camel is still in labour.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Jean de La Fontaine revisited

The ongoing strikes in Guadeloupe inspired my friend Bubulcusibis a beautiful translation and détournement of the French poet Jean de La Fontaine. Cheeky and well-focused.

THE AGING LION by Jean de La Fontaine

A lion, mourning, in his age, the wane
Of might once dreaded through his wild domain,
Was mock’d, at last, upon his throne,
By subjects of his own,
Strong through his weakness grown.
The horse his head saluted with a kick;
The wolf snapp’d at his royal hide;
The ox, too, gored him in the side;
The unhappy lion, sad and sick,
Could hardly growl, he was so weak.
In uncomplaining, stoic pride,
He waited for the hour of fate,
Until the ass approach’d his gate;
Whereat, ‘This is too much,’ he saith;
‘I willingly would yield my breath;
But, ah! thy kick is double death!’

THE AGING LION, A French Modern Tale by Bubulcusibis

France, mourning, in its age, the wane
Of might once dreaded through its wild domain,
Was mock’d, at last, upon its throne,
By subjects of its own,
Strong through its weakness grown.
Guadeloupe his head saluted with a kick;
Martinique snapp’d at its royal hide;
Reunion, too, gored it in the side;
The unhappy France, sad and sick,
Could hardly growl, it was so weak.
In uncomplaining, stoic pride,
It waited for the hour of fate,
Until Guyana approach’d its gate;
Whereat, ‘This is too much,’ it saith;
‘I willingly would yield my breath;
But, ah! thy kick is double death!’

Please find the full version of the article here

Friday, 17 April 2009

Why Ian Tomlinson died?

"Why Ian Tomlinson died?" is asking Indymedia 5/04/09.
It was before the second postmortem examination revealed there was no heart attack - Read Times Online 18/04/09: Beaten G20 man Ian Tomlinson died of 'internal bleeding'. Not mentioning the police in the headline is at that point some kind of light - but still disgraceful - bias.

Internal bleeding, heart attack, etc. are not the first cause of death.
First cause is being beaten by the police.

Why Ian Tomlinson died?

Certainly not because his heart was fragile.
Certainly not because of bad luck.

Ian Tomlinson died because he was not wearing a banker suit.

Jean-Charles de Menezes died because he was neither white nor blond.
Looking like an Arab - strange idea in a context of global war on terror.

Moral of these unfortunately true stories:

Being an Arab (= terrorist), an Asian, a Black person
A working-class person, black, white, red, blue or whatever
Can dangerously increase your chances as an innocent person to be killed by the Metropolitan police in London.

by Charlotte Middlehurst and Dominic Sullivan
New Statesman 16/04/09

15 June 1974
Kevin Gately, 20, died when demonstrators from Liberation and the National Front clashed with police in central London. The cause of death, alleged to be a blow to the head from a police truncheon, was never proved.

23 April 1979
Blair Peach, a schoolteacher from New Zealand, died at an anti-National Front demonstration. Eyewitnesses reported that he was hit over the head by a policeman, but no inquiry took place.

5 October 1985
Cynthia Jarrett’s death from a heart attack, as police searched her north London home, caused outrage and sparked the Broadwater Farm Riots.

28 July 1993
Joy Gardner, an illegal immigrant, died of a brain haemorrhage during a raid on her flat. Three policemen were tried for her manslaughter, but were later acquitted.

16 December 1994
Shiji Lapite asphyxiated in a police van in east London. The inquest recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. No charges were brought.

8 May 1995
Brian Douglas died after police fractured his skull with a baton while arresting him in south London. A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded.

5 December 1995
Wayne Douglas died in police custody after his arrest. A ruling of accidental death sparked riots in Brixton, but a fresh inquest was ruled out in 1998.

16 March 1996
Ibrahima Sey, an asylum-seeker, asphyxiated in custody. An inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing. Those involved were neither disciplined nor prosecuted.

21 August 2008
Sean Rigg collapsed in custody at Brixton Police Station and died two hours later. His case raised questions about police treatment of the mentally ill. The investigation is still open.

22 March 2005
The charity worker Simon Murden was shot dead driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway. An inquest ruled officers were justified in firing at him.

22 July 2005
Jean Charles de Menezes was shot eight times in the head at Stockwell Tube station. The inquest reached an open verdict and no officer has been charged.

1 April 2009
Ian Tomlinson died of a heart attack during the G20 protests. Initially the police reported no contact with Tomlinson; video footage later showed he had been pushed to the ground by police in riot gear.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

I'm Looking for the Poet of Troy

I'm looking for the poet of Troy because Troy didn't tell its story
Can a people be strong without having its own poetry?
I wanted to speak in the name of the Absentee
In the name of the Trojan poet
I bear the obedient language like a cloud
I bear the obedient language like a cloud

free adaptation of Mahmoud Darwish's words in Notre musique - Jean-Luc Godard, 2004

Saturday, 11 April 2009

"Seize the moment" - Ford Visteon Occupation

Source: Socialist Worker

A Ford Visteon workers support group is helping to coordinate support by sustaining the pickets and publicising the Ford Visteon workers struggle for justice. By agreement with the pickets, Haringey Solidarity Group will channel financial support to the pickets through their bank account. Cheques made out to 'Haringey Solidarity Group' or 'HSG' may be sent to HSG, PO Box 2474, London N8 0HW (write Ford Visteon on the back). Next support group meeting Thursday 16th, 7.30pm, Millennium Centre, 386 West Green Rd, N15 3QL.

Friday, 10 April 2009

"Widening opportunities through collective action", Eric Hobsbawm

Article published by Eric Hobsbawm in the Guardian, Comment is Free (10/04/09)
"Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?"

The 20th century is well behind us, but we have not yet learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a way that fits it. That should not be as difficult as it seems, because the basic idea that dominated economics and politics in the last century has patently disappeared down the plughole of history. This was the way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because the globalisation of the economy was not then as far advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don't yet know how grave and lasting the consequences of the present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that captured the world and its governments in the years since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.

Impotence therefore faces both those who believe in what amounts to a pure, stateless, market capitalism, a sort of international bourgeois anarchism, and those who believe in a planned socialism uncontaminated by private profit-seeking. Both are bankrupt. The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another. But how? That is the problem for everybody today, but especially for people on the left.

Nobody seriously thinks of returning to the socialist systems of the Soviet type - not only because of their political faults, but also because of the increasing sluggishness and inefficiency of their economies - though this should not lead us to underestimate their impressive social and educational achievements. On the other hand, until the global free market imploded last year, even the social-democratic or other moderate left parties in the rich countries of northern capitalism and Australasia had committed themselves more and more to the success of free-market capitalism. Indeed, between the fall of the USSR and now I can think of no such party or leader denouncing capitalism as unacceptable. None were more committed to it than New Labour. In their economic policies both Tony Blair and (until October 2008) Gordon Brown could be described without real exaggeration as Thatcher in trousers. The same is true of the Democratic party in the US.

The basic Labour idea since the 1950s was that socialism was unnecessary, because a capitalist system could be relied on to flourish and to generate more wealth than any other. All socialists had to do was to ensure its equitable distribution. But since the 1970s the accelerating surge of globalisation made it more and more difficult and fatally undermined the traditional basis of the Labour party's, and indeed any social-democratic party's, support and policies. Many in the 1980s agreed that if the ship of Labour was not to founder, which was a real possibility at the time, it would have to be refitted.

But it was not refitted. Under the impact of what it saw as the Thatcherite economic revival, New Labour since 1997 swallowed the ideology, or rather the theology, of global free-market fundamentalism whole. Britain deregulated its markets, sold its industries to the highest bidder, stopped making things to export (unlike Germany, France and Switzerland) and put its money on becoming the global centre of financial services and therefore a paradise for zillionaire money-launderers. That is why the impact of the world crisis on the pound and the British economy today is likely to be more catastrophic than on any other major western economy - and full recovery may well be harder.

You may say that's all over now. We're free to return to the mixed economy. The old toolbox of Labour is available again - everything up to nationalisation - so let's just go and use the tools once again, which Labour should never have put away. But that suggests we know what to do with them. We don't. For one thing, we don't know how to overcome the present crisis. None of the world's governments, central banks or international financial institutions know: they are all like a blind man trying to get out of a maze by tapping the walls with different kinds of sticks in the hope of finding the way out. For another, we underestimate how addicted governments and decision-makers still are to the free-market snorts that have made them feel so good for decades. Have we really got away from the assumption that private profit-making enterprise is always a better, because more efficient, way of doing things? That business organisation and accountancy should be the model even for public service, education and research? That the growing chasm between the super-rich and the rest doesn't matter that much, so long as everybody else (except the minority of the poor) is getting a bit better off? That what a country needs is under all circumstances maximum economic growth and commercial competitiveness? I don't think so.

But a progressive policy needs more than just a bigger break with the economic and moral assumptions of the past 30 years. It needs a return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people. Look at London. Of course it matters to all of us that London's economy flourishes. But the test of the enormous wealth generated in patches of the capital is not that it contributed 20%-30% to Britain's GDP but how it affects the lives of the millions who live and work there. What kind of lives are available to them? Can they afford to live there? If they can't, it is not compensation that London is also a paradise for the ultra-rich. Can they get decently paid jobs or jobs at all? If they can't, don't brag about all those Michelin-starred restaurants and their self-dramatising chefs. Or schooling for children? Inadequate schools are not offset by the fact that London universities could field a football team of Nobel prize winners.

The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the "capabilities" of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing private accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy - not maximising economic growth and personal incomes. Nowhere will this be more important than in tackling the greatest problem facing us this century, the environmental crisis. Whatever ideological logo we choose for it, it will mean a major shift away from the free market and towards public action, a bigger shift than the British government has yet envisaged. And, given the acuteness of the economic crisis, probably a fairly rapid shift. Time is not on our side.

Eric Hobsbawm's most recent publication is On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, who's next?

"The man who died during last week's G20 protests was 'assaulted' by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack, according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Investigators are examining a series of corroborative accounts that allege Ian Tomlinson, 47, was a victim of police violence in the moments before he collapsed near the Bank of England in the City of London last Wednesday evening. Three witnesses have told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson was attacked violently as he made his way home from work at a nearby newsagents. One claims he was struck on the head with a baton." (Guardian 5/4/9)

"Exclusive footage [here] obtained by the Guardian shows Ian Tomlinson, who died during G20 protests in London, was attacked from behind by baton–wielding police officer." (Guardian 7/4/9)

"In the statement after his death, policemen initially said protestors impeded medics from treating Tomlinson." (Guardian 7/4/9)

Convulsive Beauty Lies in the Ears

Resonance FM is offering Le Theatre et son double by Antonin Artaud.

Radio France recently broadcasted a piece about Guy Debord.

Both Artaud and Debord had this fascinating, willfully awkward and inventive relationship to radio.
Unfortunately, almost every document about Guy Debord is now wrapped in phoneyness. This probably to prevent people - I mean those who happened not to be students, artists and professors - to listen to him.
In some extent, Artaud is hopefully spared by this annoying post-situationnist babble, even if some academics are really trying their best to intellectualize his screams.

If only experts could shut their mouths and open their ears.

Still wondering why the "pro-situ" (as they call themselves) are speaking with such a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-profound and pseudo-modest voice, punctuated of course by silence - which is actually, in this context, the most disgusting symptom of their self-importance.
To paraphrase May 1968 graffitis: humanity won't be happy until the last expert is hung with the guts of the last radio producer.
So please don't edit, don't analyze - and just leave sounds, breath, noises and rhythms alone.
It is perhaps under this first condition that their political - as well as aesthetic - potential could eventually fulfill.


To Have Done with the Judgement of God, a radio play by Antonin Artaud

kré puc te
kré Everything must puk te
pek be arranged li le
kre to a hair pek ti le
e in a fulminating kruk
pte order.
I learned yesterday
(I must be behind the times, or perhaps it's only a false rumor,
one of those pieces of spiteful gossip that are circulated between
sink and latrine at the hour when meals that have been ingurgitated
one more time are thrown in the slop buckets),
I learned yesterday
one of the most sensational of those official practices of American
public schools
which no doubt account for the fact that this country believes itself
to be in the vanguard of progress,
It seems that, among the examinations or tests required of a child
entering public school for the first time, there is the so-called
seminal fluid or sperm test,
which consists of asking this newly entering child for a small
amount of his sperm so it can be placed in a jar
and kept ready for any attempts at artificial insemination that
might later take place.
For Americans are finding more and more that they lack muscle
and children,
that is, not workers
but soldiers,
and they want at all costs and by every possible means to make
and manufacture soldiers
with a view to all the planetary wars which might later take place,
and which would be intended to demonstrate by the overwhelming
virtues of force
the superiority of American products,
and the fruits of American sweat in all fields of activity and of the
superiority of the possible dynamism of force.
Because one must produce,
one must by all possible means of activity replace nature
wherever it can be replaced,
one must find a major field of action for human inertia,
the worker must have something to keep him busy,
new fields of activity must be created,
in which we shall see at last the reign of all the fake manufactured
of all the vile synthetic substitutes
in which beatiful real nature has no part,
and must give way finally and shamefully before all the victorious
substitute products
in which the sperm of all artificial insemination factories
will make a miracle
in order to produce armies and battleships.
No more fruit, no more trees, no more vegetables, no more plants
pharmaceutical or otherwise and consequently no more food,
but synthetic products to satiety,
amid the fumes,
amid the special humors of the atmosphere, on the particular axes
of atmospheres wrenched violently and synthetically from the
resistances of a nature which has known nothing of war except
And war is wonderful, isn't it?
For it's war, isn't it, that the Americans have been preparing for
and are preparing for this way step by step.
In order to defend this senseless manufacture from all competition
that could not fail to arise on all sides,
one must have soldiers, armies, airplanes, battleships,
hence this sperm
which it seems the governments of America have had the effrontery
to think of.
For we have more than one enemy
lying in wait for us, my son,
we, the born capitalists,
and among these enemies
Stalin's Russia
which also doesn't lack armed men.
All this is very well,
but I didn't know the Americans were such a warlike people.
In order to fight one must get shot at
and although I have seen many Americans at war
they always had huge armies of tanks, airplanes, battleships
that served as their shield.
I have seen machines fighting a lot
but only infinitely far
them have I seen the men who directed them.
Rather than people who feed their horses, cattle, and mules the
last tons of real morphine they have left and replace it with
substitutes made of smoke,
I prefer the people who eat off the bare earth the delirium from
which they were born
I mean the Tarahumara
eating Peyote off the ground
while they are born,
and who kill the sun to establish the kingdom of black night,
and who smash the cross so that the spaces of spaces can never
again meet and cross.
And so you are going to hear the dance of TUTUGURI.
The Rite of the Black Sun
And below, as if at the foot of the bitter slope,
cruelly despairing at the heart,
gapes the circle of the six crosses,
very low
as if embedded in the mother earth,
wrenched from the foul embrace of the mother
who drools.
The earth of black coal
is the only damp place
in this cleft rock.
The Rite is that the new sun passes through seven points before
blazing on the orifice of the earth.
And there are six men,
one for each sun,
and a seventh man
who is the sun
in the raw
dressed in black and in red flesh.
But, this seventh man
is a horse,
a horse with a man leading him.
But it is the horse
who is the sun
and not the man.
At the anguish of a drum and a long trumpet,
the six men
who were lying down,
rolling level with the ground,
leap up one by one like sunflowers,
not like suns
but turning earths,
water lilies,
and each leap
corresponds to the increasingly somber
and restrained
gong of the drum
until suddenly he comes galloping, at vertiginous speed,
the last sun,
the first man,
the black horse with a
naked man,
absolutely naked
and virgin
riding it.
After they leap up, they advance in winding circles
and the horse of bleeding meat rears
and prances without a stop
on the crest of his rock
until the six men
have surrounded
the six crosses.
Now, the essence of the Rite is precisely
When they have stopped turning
they uproot
the crosses of earth
and the naked man
on the horse
holds up
an enormous horseshoe
which he has dipped in a gash of his blood.
The Pursuit of Fecality
There where it smells of shit
it smells of being.
Man could just as well not have shat,
not have opened the anal pouch,
but he chose to shit
as he would have chosen to live
instead of consenting to live dead.
Because in order not to make caca,
he would have had to consent
not to be,
but he could not make up his mind to lose
that is, to die alive.
There is in being
something particularly tempting for man
and this something is none other than
(Roaring here.)
To exist one need only let oneself be,
but to live,
one must be someone,
to be someone,
one must have a BONE,
not be afraid to show the bone,
and to lose the meat in the process.
Man has always preferred meat
to the earth of bones.
Because there was only earth and wood of bone,
and he had to earn his meat,
there was only iron and fire
and no shit,
and man was afraid of losing shit
or rather he desired shit
and, for this, sacrificed blood.
In order to have shit,
that is, meat,
where there was only blood
and a junkyard of bones
and where there was no being to win
but where there was only life to lose.
o reche modo
to edire
di za
tau dari
do padera coco
At this point, man withdrew and fled.
Then the animals ate him.
It was not a rape,
he lent himself to the obscene meal.
He relished it,
he learned himself
to act like an animal
and to eat rat
And where does this foul debasement come from?
The fact that the world is not yet formed,
or that man has only a small idea of the world
and wants to hold on to it forever?
This comes from the fact that man,
one fine day,
the idea of the world.
Two paths were open to him:
that of the infinite without,
that of the infinitesimal within.
And he chose the infinitesimal within.
Where one need only squeeze
the spleen,
the tongue,
the anus
or the glans.
And god, god himself squeezed the movement.
Is God a being?
If he is one, he is shit.
If he is not one
he does not exist.
But he does not exist,
except as the void that approaches with all its forms
whose most perfect image
is the advance of an incalculable group of crab lice.
"You are mad Mr. Artaud, what about the mass?"
I deny baptism and the mass.
There is no human act,
on the internal erotic level,
more pernicious than the descent
of the so-called jesus-christ
onto the altars.
No one will believe me
and I can see the public shrugging its shoulders
but the so-called christ is none other than he
who in the presence of the crab louse god
consented to live without a body,
while an army of men
descended from a cross,
to which god thought he had long since nailed them,
has revolted,
and, armed with steel,
with blood,
with fire, and with bones,
advances, reviling the Invisible
to have done with GOD'S JUDGMENT.
The Question Arises ...
What makes it serious
is that we know
that after the order
of this world
there is another.
What is it like?
We do not know.
The number and order of possible suppositions in
this realm
is precisely
And what is infinity?
That is precisely what we do not know!
It is a word
that we use
to indicate
the opening
of our consciousness
toward possibility
beyond measure,
tireless and beyond measure.
And precisely what is consciousness?
That is precisely what we do not know.
It is nothingness.
A nothingness
that we use
to indicate
when we do not know something
from what side
we do not know it
and so
we say
from the side of consciousness,
but there are a hundred thousand other sides.
It seems that consciousness
in us is
to sexual desire
and to hunger;
but it could
just as well
not be linked
to them.
One says,
one can say,
there are those who say
that consciousness
is an appetite,
the appetite for living;
and immediately
alongside the appetite for living,
it is the appetite for food
that comes immediately to mind;
as if there were not people who eat
without any sort of appetite;
and who are hungry.
For this too
to be hungry
without appetite;
the space of possibility
was given to me one day
like a loud fart
that I will make;
but neither of space,
nor possibility,
did I know precisely what it was,
and I did not feel the need to think about it,
they were words
invented to define things
that existed
or did not exist
in the face of
the pressing urgency
of a need:
the need to abolish the idea,
the idea and its myth,
and to enthrone in its place
the thundering manifestation
of this explosive necessity:
to dilate the body of my internal night,
the internal nothingness
of my self
which is night,
but which is explosive affirmation
that there is
to make room for:
my body.
And truly
must it be reduced to this stinking gas,
my body?
To say that I have a body
because I have a stinking gas
that forms
inside me?
I do not know
I do know that
are nothing to me;
but there is a thing
which is something,
only one thing
which is something,
and which I feel
because it wants
the presence
of my bodily
the menacing,
never tiring
of my
however hard people press me with questions
and however vigorously I deny all questions,
there is a point
at which I find myself compelled
to say no,
to negation;
and this point
comes when they press me,
when they pressure me
and when they handle me
until the exit
from me
of nourishment,
of my nourishment
and its milk,
and what remains?
That I am suffocated;
and I do not know if it is an action
but in pressing me with questions this way
until the absence
and nothingness
of the question
they pressed me
until the idea of body
and the idea of being a body
was suffocated
in me,
and it was then that I felt the obscene
and that I farted
from folly
and from excess
and from revolt
at my suffocation.
Because they were pressing me
to my body
and to the very body
and it was then
that I exploded everything
because my body
can never be touched.
- And what was the purpose of this broadcast, Mr. Artaud?
- Primarily to denounce certain social obscenities officially sanctioned and acknowledged:
this emission of infantile sperm donated by children for the artificial insemination of fetuses yet to be born and which will be born in a century or more.
To denounce, in this same American people who occupy the whole surface of the former Indian continent, a rebirth of that warlike imperialism of early America that caused the pre-Columbian Indian tribes to be degraded by the aforesaid people.
- You are saying some very bizarre things, Mr. Artaud.
- Yes, I am saying something bizarre, that contrary to everything we have been led to believe, the pre-Columbian Indians were a strangely civilized people and that in fact they knew a form of civilization based exclusively on the principle of cruelty.
- And do you know precisely what is meant by cruelty?
- Offhand, no, I don't.
- Cruelty means eradicating by means of blood and until blood flows, god, the bestial accident of unconscious human animality, wherever one can find it.
- Man, when he is not restrained, is an erotic animal,
he has in him an inspired shudder,
a kind of pulsation
that produces animals without number which are the form that the ancient tribes of the earth universally attributed to god.
This created what is called a spirit.
Well, this spirit originating with the American Indians is reappearing all over the world today under scientific poses which merely accentuate its morbid infectuous power, the marked condition of vice, but a vice that pullulates with diseases,
because, laugh if you like,
what has been called microbes
is god,
and do you know what the Americans and the Russians use to make their atoms?
They make them with the microbes of god.
- You are raving, Mr. Artaud.
You are mad.
- I am not raving.
I am not mad.
I tell you that they have reinvented microbes in order to impose a new idea of god.
They have found a new way to bring out god and to capture him in his microbic noxiousness.
This is to nail him though the heart,
in the place where men love him best,
under the guise of unhealthy sexuality,
in that sinister appearance of morbid cruelty that he adopts
whenever he is pleased to tetanize and madden humanity as he
is doing now.
He utilizes the spirit of purity and of a consciousness that has
remained candid like mine to asphyxiate it with all the false
appearances that he spreads universally through space and this
is why Artaud le Mômo can be taken for a person suffering
from hallucinations.
- What do you mean, Mr. Artaud?
- I mean that I have found the way to put an end to this ape once and for all
and that although nobody believes in god any more everybody believes more and more in man.
So it is man whom we must now make up our minds to emasculate.
- How's that?
How's that?
No matter how one takes you you are mad, ready for the straitjacket.
- By placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy.
I say, to remake his anatomy.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally,
and with god
his organs.
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.
They you will teach him again to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.


To Have Done with the Judgement of God
(Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu),
a radio play by Antonin Artaud, 1947
Excerpted from the collection: Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings
Edited, and with an Introduction by Susan Sontag
Translated from the French: Oeuvres complètes, by Helen Weaver
Published by University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles

Picture: Université de Brest, Faculté de Médecine - Schémas d'anatomie du Professeur Nguyen Huu

"There's been no truce. There's bombing everyday"

Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat files a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over $5.2 billion to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel’s assault the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip.

Full script here

Introduction by Amy Goodman:
"We turn, though, now to, well, an international story, a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over $5.2 billion to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel’s assault the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this truck, which Israel permitted in late March, was the first carrying construction materials to be granted entry since last November."

Justice, not charity - by Abu Omar:
We don’t want to beg the world for money. We just want to take those who destroyed our houses to court. If we are really criminals and our houses are terrorist houses, then OK, this is what you get. But if our houses are innocent and our factories are innocent, then the Israelis need to account for what they destroyed. They are the ones who should give us the reparations. Why do we need to rely on the sympathy of the world? We don’t want that. We want the world to stand by our rights. We don’t want their charity, little bits of money and food. We’re full, thank God. We are just asking for our rights, nothing else.

Land of Ruins: A Special Report on Gaza’s Economy

Thursday, 2 April 2009

G20 Coverage by Dissident Island Radio

Download Part One here

"Protesters focused the Royal Bank of Scotland because it was bailed out by the British government after a series of disastrous deals brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Still, its former chief executive Fred Goodwin — aged just 50 — managed to walk off with a tidy annual pension of 703,000 pounds ($1.2 million) — just as unemployment in Britain is at 2 million and rising."