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.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant