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A further reply to Johann Hari

Andy Newman


I note that Johann Hari has responded to my article, and indeed claims it to be libellous. The nature of the alleged libel is not made clear by him, except where I quote a letter from Andrew Murray to the Independent (that was not published).


I regret that Johann Hari indulges himself in his response with some rather cheap debating tricks rather than address the main issues.  In those areas where I was seeking to establish common ground or recognise that the situation in Iraq is resistant to simple solutions he has repeatedly asked how it is a rebuttal of his argument. Well Johann, the world does not revolve around you, and my article was intended to increase understanding, not simply to write a plus everywhere you wrote a minus.


Moreover, Hari sometimes misrepresents what I actually wrote in order to provide an easier target. For example, I wrote: "Many on the left may be surprised at Johann Hari's sudden interest in trade unionists being murdered. ... He castigates the left for being tardy in our response to the murder of Salih, but we could counter that he has never commented on Columbia, a country where US military intervention is directly linked to the death squads, and the murder of trade unionists."  To which Hari responded: "I have written about the horrors unfolding in Colombia repeatedly. I have also defended trade union issues repeatedly; browse through the 'British Politics' section and you'll find that I have consistently supported the British trade union movement. One of my first articles for the New Statesman was about supporting trade union campaigns to bankrupt the World Bank and I have been rock-solid in defending trade unions ever since. To suggest that I have suddenly become interested in trade unions now - as Newman clearly implies - is a statement that can only be made out of ignorance or worse"


I do not accuse Johann Hari of developing a sudden interest in trade unions; I have no reason to doubt his commitment to trade unionism, and make no such implication. I specifically refer to the issue of trade unionists being murdered. This is an entirely different matter, as Hari is commenting on the murder of Hadi Salih in the context of an imperial war that he still supports, and the main thrust of his article is criticism of the left for our alleged lack of condemnation of this murder. With regard to the horrors of Columbia, where has Johann Hari written about this? I have searched his web page and also carried out a google search using the terms "Columbia Johann Hari", and have been unable to find any such article.


The substantive issue in dispute is whether or not the Stop the War Coalition "passed a resolution recently saying the resistance should use "any means necessary", which is the specific claim in Johann Hari's original article. I explained that "these words were in the original draft of a statement from the StWC about the IFTU's intervention in Labour conference. However these words were apparently removed at the request of Ken Smith the Socialist party representative on the steering committee during an e-mail consultation before it was formally issued."


Johann Hari now says: "This is wrong. It was withdrawn after there was a great deal of fuss, a resignation and articles in the news sections of the Indie and the Guardian... It was e-mailed out in October 2004, with the note, "The attached statement is to be issued on Monday by the Coalition in response to the pressing political questions for the anti-war movement which have arisen from the Labour Party conference. It has been endorsed by the officers and will of course be on the agenda for discussion at the Steering Committee meeting to be held later this month. Kind regards, Andrew Murray and Lindsey German." It was due to be discussed after it was issued - as indeed it was. This gives us some idea of its status, and the fact that it was indeed openly distributed."


Now to be charitable to Johann Hari he has perhaps not participated in the type of collective decision making that goes on in the labour movement. Somehow Johann Hari and others received a forwarded copy of an e-mail that was distributed internally for discussion between the steering committee members and has mistaken this private and privileged communication for a public statement. It is the regrettable nature of e-mail that it does get passed on.


What happened was that a statement was drafted and approved by the officers of the coalition, which was then distributed by e-mail to the members of the steering committee prior to publication, I have no doubt that Johann Hari is correctly quoting the accompanying text, which clearly states that the statement will be issued in the future "on Monday", therefore the text being distributed was specifically referred to as at that time unpublished. Members of the steering committee had the opportunity to amend the text before publication, and Ken Smith actually did ask for the statement to be altered, and it was. The published version did not have the words in it that Johann Hari objects to.


This is what he actually said in his article: "Stop the War Coalition passed a resolution recently saying the resistance should use "any means necessary" - which prompted Mick Rix, a decent trade unionist, to resign from the STWC on the grounds that this clearly constituted support for the murder of civilians."


No motion was ever passed with the words in that Hari alleges. Therefore it is impossible that it could provide the motive for Mick Rix to resign. As a member of the steering committee Mick Rix was e-mailed the statement before it was issued and had an opportunity to comment. Had his main problem with the statement been the words "by any means necessary", then he would presumably not have resigned once those words were removed.  The subsequent controversy in the Independent and Guardian was occasioned by Mick Rix's resignation, and as the statement that was never made, it could not have led to its withdrawal.


Johann Hari now says: "[Mick Rix] has spoken on the radio more than once offering a more expansive reason for why he quit. He made it clear he found the statement abhorrent. Newman seems to be assuming - bizarrely - that this [his formal resignation] statement is all Rix has ever said on the matter." I don't have transcripts of these radio interviews, I did give Mick Rix an opportunity to comment on my original article before it was published but he has not responded. However, the reasons given by Mick himself at the time was that he was unhappy with a statement being issued at all that antagonised relations with the IFTU, and therefore those British trade unionists who support the IFTU. He also argued that the personal criticism of Abdullah Muhsin was irresponsible. Johann Hari expects us to believe that Mick Rix resigned over the wording "by any means necessary", even though those words were removed from the statement actually issued? I don't dispute that Mick Rix has political disagreements, but the nature of these political disagreements is being distorted in Hari's presentation of them.


It is therefore clear that Andrew Murray is right to say: "Johann Hari falsifies the position of the Stop the War Coalition". Hari now claims: [this libel is not backed up with any facts at all]. However I challenge Johan Hari to substantiate his claim that: "Stop the War Coalition passed a resolution recently saying the resistance should use "any means necessary". In making this untrue claim Hari is precisely falsifying the position of the Stop the War Coalition.


On the question of the ESF meeting. I wrote: "Hari also makes a sleight of hand by implying that a majority of the ESF audience jeered al-Mashadani, when surely it was only a tiny minority" To which Hari responds: "['surely'? I spoke to three people who were there; Newman has clearly spoken to nobody]".  It is clear therefore that neither Hari nor I were eye witnesses.  I have communicated with people who were there, as it seems has he. My understanding is that only a minority disrupted the meeting. Incidentally, it is worth noting that Lindsay German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition was sharing the stage with al-Mashadani.


Johann Hari more than once asks how the second half of my article is a rebuttal of him. As I clearly state "even once the slurs by Johann Hari have been disposed of, it is necessary to recognise that the differences of opinion that he is seeking to antagonise are real ones. There are two strands of disagreement, firstly as to the nature of the resistance, and secondly the nature of the IFTU, and those other parts of the Iraqi labour movement who do not support the armed insurgency." The second half of the article was therefore an elaboration of these issues unrelated to Mr Hari.


Finally, Johann Hari concludes by saying:  "Instead of writing this contradictory piece, Newman could have been supporting and fundraising for the Iraqi trade unions. Go to international for details about what the real left is doing to help the Iraqis."

Actually Johann, the real left, as you call it, is not only supporting Iraqi trade unions, but also opposing the imperial conquest of that country. Whereas you have been busy spinning illusions that B52s and Abrahms tanks are going to spread democracy and human rights amongst the carnage, anarchy and debris that is today's Iraq.


January 2005


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