Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Despite its dubious history, the cry of ‘outside agitators’ remains a favourite stand-by. In the UK, it’s recently been deployed against the human rights campaigners working with the family of Jean-Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot dead by anti-terrorist police at a London tube station.
The Daily Telegraph, the country’s biggest selling broadsheet, complained that the campaigners are ‘exploiting his death to criticise the police and the Government. One man’s tragedy is becoming everybody’s circus.’ The Sun, the biggest selling tabloid, described the campaigners as ‘Marxist agitators’ ‘using the tragedy.’
Meanwhile, in the USA, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier killed last year in Iraq, has been staging a vigil outside Bush’s vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding a meeting with the president and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. She has been joined by thousands of supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds, and her direct challenge to the President has revived the grass-roots anti-war movement. The White House’s defenders have hit back by denouncing the grieving mother as a dupe and tool of ‘outside agitators’ with a ‘hidden leftist agenda’.
In Pakistan earlier this year the government blamed its embarrassment over gross violations of women’s rights on meddling ‘foreign-funded’ NGOs. Similarly, Honda attributed its recent troubles in Gurgaon, India to ‘outside forces.’
The tactic is transparent. By suggesting that voices of protest are somehow alien and inauthentic, those in authority seek to cloud the issues and evade accountability for their own actions.
What’s most pernicious is the assumption that the victims of injustice lack the wit or the will to challenge their superiors, that they are incapable of acting on their own grievance and rationally choosing their allies. Presumably, in the absence of the outside agitators, the de Menezes family would have graciously accepted the slaughter of their son as a sad but unavoidable by-product of the war on terror.
The outside agitator ploy depicts the victims as muddled and passive and their allies as furtive and Machiavellian. Sections of the British media would like us to be shocked to learn that the people assisting the de Menezes family have been active in anti-war, anti-racist and anti-globalisation activities. Why shouldn’t the de Menezes family draw on their skills and experience? Would it be better if they hired a PR firm?
The two activists singled out for attack in Britain – Asad Rehman and Yasmin Khan – are British Muslims. Confusingly for a media addicted to stereotypes, they are not jihadis but independent leftists with a broad commitment to human rights. The same people who noisily demand that Muslims ‘integrate’ into British society then attack individual Muslims when they engage energetically with the democratic process, when they insist that the summary public execution of an innocent man poses urgent questions for us all.
Campaigns against injustices are never ideology-free. The real crime of the de Menezes campaigners and those supporting Cindy Sheehan is not that they have an ideology but that they do not share the ideology of the powerful.
The snarling attacks on outside agitators are signs of panic. In the USA, the unexpected ramifications of Cindy Sheehan’s protest have taken professional commentators by surprise. Because they haven’t predicted it, they treat it as the result of a conspiracy. The reality is that because the occupation of Iraq is proving a nightmare increasing numbers of US citizens are coming to agree with Sheehan’s call for immediate withdrawal. Bush’s apologists hope to dampen the fire by suggesting that this call has its sources in an alien, duplicitous force. And they are joined here by people who oppose Bush but who are eager that anti-war protest should remain within the safe confines of the bi-partisan political elite.
In the UK, there’s clearly anxiety at the highest levels over the unraveling of the de Menezes killing. In recent weeks it’s been revealed that, contrary to initial police statements, the victim was not wearing a puffy jacket nor had he vaulted over the turnstile. It’s now also emerged that police fired (eleven times) without issuing a verbal warning, and that they sought to prevent the Independent Police Complaints Commission from investigating the shooting. Having been so discredited by their own behaviour, the police now seek to discredit their critics.
The facts of the de Menezes killing are also highly inconvenient for the British government, which wants to use the 7 July bombings as a pretext for increasing police powers, curtailing civil liberties and prosecuting the war on terror. To make their case stick, they have to ensure that people in Britain see the de Menezes shooting as merely a ‘tragic mistake’ rather than the cumulative result of high-handed, wrong-headed policies. For them, the de Menezes family, active and sceptical, aided by ‘outside agitators’, are an obstacle and a threat. Which is precisely why their refusal to slink away is good news, in Britain and well beyond.This is an edited version of an article originally appearing in The Hindu.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright