Race & Class, January 2004

Community, cohesion and the state, by Jonathan Burnett

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Criminologist Jonathan Burnett takes a critical look at what underlies UK home secretary David Blunkett’s commitment to ‘community cohesion’ as an answer to the simmering discontent that was manifested in the riots of summer 2001 in northern towns and cities. He argues that the notion, drawn in part from the work of Etzioni on communitarianism, is flawed and partial, treats white and Asian communities differentially and in effect manifests institutional racism. Notions of ‘community’ are linked, via concepts of race, with notions of criminality, as is evident from much of the media coverage on the involvement of Asian youth in the riots. In trying to instil a particular and specific ideology of citizenship, community cohesion strategies effectively require those targeted to subscribe to a particular and reactionary national identity.

Jonathan Burnett is a research officer at the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds.

Black urban utopia in Wideman’s later fiction by Kathryn Hume

John Edgar Wideman is one of America’s foremost writers and novelists. An examination of his fictional treatment of the radical black community, MOVE, that established itself in Philadelphia and was besieged and bombed by the authorities, this article explores Wideman’s notions of what makes community. How can impoverished black people live, link themselves to both a past and a future, in the racist, violent and decaying urban squalor they are forced to inhabit? How can they develop social and community rules to live by, despite all the forces arrayed against them? Hume looks in detail at Philadelphia Fire, Two Cities and Hoop Roots (in which basketball rules are a prominent theme) but her discussion ranges far beyond these works.

Kathryn Hume is a Distinguished Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University and author, among other works, of American Dream, American Nightmare: fiction since 1960.

American ‘prison notebooks’ by Joy James

Joy James is one of the foremost writers and thinkers on all aspects of incarceration in the US, which imprisons an increasingly high percentage of its population, especially blacks and people of colour. This article examines the nature, meaning and significance of radical and revolutionary prison writings from the Attica Liberation Faction’s manifesto of 1971 through the writings of George Jackson to contemporary prison activist intellectuals such as Mike Ngo. Collectively, these writings frame a profound and challenging critique of state practices and, as such, often meet with hostility among a wider public that finds them too discomfiting. Moreover, their proponents’ active opposition to state racism, violence and systemic injustice, mark them out for particularly harsh treatment while in prison. Yet, in the era of Guantanamo, of INS detention camps, of supermax prisons, it is more urgent than ever that these voices be heard and heeded.

Joy James is Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, Providence, RI. Her books include Imprisoned Intellectuals; States of Confinement and The New Abolitionists (forthcoming).

In the name of Europe by Peo Hansen

What really makes up Europe, geographically and culturally? What is the vision of Europe that is propounded by the agencies of the EU? And how does this notion of European identity square with facts on the ground? Hansen demonstrates how, in order to fit in with its own myth of itself, official Europe has had to excise much of its colonial past and current reality. For example, Spain exists in Africa, France in the Indian Ocean, South America and the Caribbean. Yet, when countries such as Turkey apply for EU membership, argument rages over their non-Europeanness. These are not merely debating points, but reach into the heart of a self-glorifying myth of European values, qualities and attributes that is partial and misleading.

Peo Hansen is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Department of Ethnic Studies, Linköping University, Sweden, and author, among other works, of Europeans Only? Essays on identity politics and the European Union.

Democratic transition in the shadow of terror: a talk by Tian Chua

Tian Chua, detained without trial for two years under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, nevertheless continues to campaign for civil and political liberties. He describes here the effect of the anti-terror measures, taken after September 11, on democracy and human and civil rights in south-east Asia, and Malaysia particularly.

Tian Chua is Vice-President of the People’s Justice Party of Malaysia.

Bangladesh – the proprietors of history by Jeremy Seabrook

This is a critical look at the recent political history of Bangladesh, focusing on the Bangladesh National Party and the Awami League. Seabrook shows how Bangladesh is riven by conflicting accounts of its own history, and how an unresolved cultural civil war, dating from its war of independence, haunts its politics and its relations with the rest of the world. And, in the aftermath of September 11, the war on terror and the coming to power in India of the Hindu BJP, Bangladesh is witnessing a resurgence of Islamist parties.

Jeremy Seabrook is a writer and journalist, and author of, among other books, In the Cities of the South and Freedom Unfinished: fundamentalism and popular resistance in Bangladesh.

Asylum – from deterrence to destitution by Frances Webber

In this detailed examination of New Labour’s ever more draconian measures to curtail asylum, Frances Webber shows how some refugees and asylum seekers are being forced literally on to the streets. There is scarcely any aspect of an asylum seeker’s life that is not subject to systematic degradation. Yet the financial cost of such measures, including some so swinging that the Home Office has been taken to court for infringing human rights, is far greater than that of the scheme of support that they replaced. NASS, short for the National Asylum Support Service, has been an expensive failure.

Frances Webber is a barrister specialising in immigration and human and civil rights.

Race & Class is published quarterly, in January, April, July and October, by Sage Publications for the Institute of Race Relations; individual subscriptions are £27/$47, for four issues, with an introductory rate of £20/$35 for new subscribers.

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Plus reviews. A5, 102pp., ISBN 0 7619 4423-0, 2004