On Burning Books.

This is a draft forthcoming in Space and Culture…

Sexy Sammy and Red Rosie? From Burning Books to the War on Terror.[1]

Author: John Hutnyk

Abstract: Writing within the sonic register of a soundtrack that plundered the diasporic mindset of a certain ‘London’ massive, Hanif Kureishi was widely criticised for his contribution as writer to two films in the 1980s: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). Less lyrically perhaps – and less filmic – Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was famously set on fire in Bradford in 1989. There is a soundtrack here that can map the anti-racist sexualities, street riots and book-burnings that are taken to mark the mobilization of a diverse and complicated British-Asian presence on the streets of the UK. The point that interests me here is the reconfiguration of the streetscape of diaspora and terror in the years since these films and the burning of the book. The figure of Rosie is interesting because her cultural politics helps occlude an older engagement that was first displaced by identity concerns and is now overwritten with sinister consequences. The street musicians that accompany her urban meanderings embroider affect in a way that segues easily into a culture industry resignation. Burning streets and books (not particularly good in themselves) are replaced with a more virulent racial profiling in contemporary times – a constant anxiety about and accusations against Muslims, and by extension all British-Asians, made uncomfortable (at best, bombed into democracy elsewhere). Sammy forlorn.

Key words: street, queer, riot, British-Asian, book-burning, Kureishi, Rushdie

Sexy Sammy and Red Rosie?

Book burning is something close to the heart of novelist Salman Rushdie, whose work, The Satanic Verses was famously burnt in Bradford more than twenty years ago, in 1989 (and in India six months earlier). The Bradford protest is said by many commentators to mark the public articulation and mobilization of a specifically Muslim South Asian presence on the streets of the UK (see Malik 2009). There is much scholarship on this theme and the changes it brings in: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak long ago pointed out how ‘the Rushdie affair has been coded as Freedom of Speech versus Terrorism’ (Spivak 1993:237). With a long history, the public burning of books of course agitated the liberal sensitivities of many commentators, some of whom were later all in favour of the bombing of Baghdad, including, presumably the destruction of various libraries, museums and bookshops. This is not to excuse death threats upon novelists, nor do I want to enter into the debates about censorship or appropriate handling of Islamic narrative (the wives of the Prophet as prostitutes was always going to get Rushdie into trouble, as his sales publicist no doubt knew, but horribly underestimated. Rushdie himself insists he did not intend to offend, as we shall see). In this essay I want to think through the reconfiguration of the streetscape of diaspora and terror that this book-burning achieved. Or rather, to examine how the incendiary street politics of the late 1980s prefigures, and yet is rather different from, the street politics of today. The book burning ‘stunt’ has strangely lost its innocence. It is now a terrorist outrage and prophecy as it reconfigures and then changes shape – as Rushdie’s characters also do – in the furnace of geo-political intrigues. What we might see is a morphing of an identity politics that now seems dated, and changed, so that the street scene invests these characters and issues with darker sentiments played out in suburban space.

I think it is useful to think about these issues through the prism of two other ‘texts’ almost contemporary but pre-dating Rusdhie’s satanic versifying. The films My Beautiful Laundrette (dir. Stephen Frears, 1985) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (dir. Stephen Frears, 1987), both written by Hanif Kureishi, invoke street politics in South London – where we will see burning cars and demonstrators fighting the police, riots, tenements in flames – in scenes that now look as if they come from another era. I think this will have significance for how we think of terror and security today, where, even in quiet times, there prevails a more persistent everyday anxiety about terror alerts and racial profiling in a surveillance state. Where Gayatri Spivak attends to a geographic and linguistic ‘really existing’ Asia[2] that has now become the major location for the sharp end of the war on terror, we must recognise that this is an Asia as if filtered through US foreign policy, and it should not be imagined only as a theatre of war. Spivak’s effort is to ‘provide exercises for imagining pluralized Asias’ (Spivak 2008:2). Alongside these Asias, insofar as there are several already, there can also be the multiple and varied globalized versionings that will extend possibilities. The trouble is that being Asian in Britain (or on the streets of other big cities, like New York) has lost the plurality that some had once had fought so had to establish (and which in other circumstances would be by now the the ‘normal’ plurality of settlement). Instead, the war at home (Homeland Security, UK Border Agency, Moderate Muslims etc.,) has managed to transmute multiplicity into stereotype. The work of Gayatri Spivak, makes it possible to read another Gayatri – Gayatri Gopinath, alongside the critical thinking of Biju Mathew, Vijay Prashad, Amitava Kumar, in a way that can, I suggest, return us to the films of Kureishi and Frears, and the novel of Rushdie, so as to reclaim a critique of stereotyping that is a necessary corrective to the current reaction.

Unfortunately, it may be now the case that we must also talk of an expanded, reconfigured diasporic Asia as host for another theatre of the same war of terror that codifies really-existing Asia as crisis in the global imaginary. This diasporic Asia as war zone becomes a matter of everyday low-intensity urban/street conflict, in locations like London, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham, and New York, etc. One argument of this essay then is that as we move away (in time and outlook) from the difficult multivarious ambiguity of Rushdie’s novel and Kureishi’s cinema, the convoluted, complicated engagement and contestation of identity that we see fought out on the streets of these texts (in Lewisham, London, etc.,) recedes. Diasporic British-Asia,[3] and the visibility of ‘British-Asians’, loses depth and gains a perverse specificity through being embodied in the figure of the threatening Muslim: the people of the book have become book-burners and Jihadis, and do duty for all Asians in a popular imagination run riot. Various commentators do not seem to agree on how this came to pass or what should be the response, but clearly there are multiple and varied globalized versionings of terror and multiple ways to resist, and the specificities should not be erased.

Dirty Laundry in Public.

What is there new to say about the old controversies? My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, with their self-consciously ‘post-colonial’ politics, are now inextricably mired in an ‘identity debate’, which they perhaps could have by now outgrown. Like Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, these films cannot be read without reference to the difficult politics of South Asians and Islam in Britain even as we might sometimes want this not to colour every reading and every pronouncement on diaspora. In the resurrected archive of British-Asian cinema[4] these films and texts are touch papers for recent times, even – and perhaps exactly – where today they seem dated. In an early scene in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Sammy and his father Rafi are returning home after witnessing street rioting, petrol bombings, conflagration and chaos in the inner city. Sammy turns a corner a little ahead of his father and begins to shout: ‘For fucks fucking fucks sake fuck it’. His father worries about his son’s language and bad education (‘that I paid through my arse for you’) but Sammy is more concerned that the street rebels have overturned and burnt his car. Sammy’s pompously knowing discourse on urban vitality is doused in personal commodity dispossession, mediated by sexual expletive. We will see more of this scene, which layers a kind of comedy over a kind of violence.

The sexual politics of Kureishi’s fiction stresses ambiguity. In her book on queer Asian diasporic cultural production and politics, Impossible Desires, Gayatri Gopinath begins her book with the scene from Kureishi’s film from two years earlier than Sammy and Rosie. In My Beautiful Laundrette, Johnny and Omar’s back-room caress ‘unbuttons’ an ‘erotics of power’. For Johnny, ‘sex with Omar is a way of tacitly acknowledging and erasing’ a racist past, but for Omar, ‘queer desire is precisely what allows him to remember’ rather than ‘succumb’ and give in ‘to the historical amnesia that wipes out the legacies of Britain’s racist past’ (Gopinath 2005:2). In 1985 and throughout the 1990s this scene continued to raise problems amongst the left (and no doubt the far right!), some of whom found it difficult to reconcile Kureshi’s up-front (shirt-front, brown shirt, national front) provocation with recognition of the ‘barely submerged’ histories of colonialism and racism that the film also depicts. ‘We did not fuck fascists, we fucked them up’ insists one activist friend, with somewhat surprising aggression. My feeling is that the sort of provocation Kureishi achieves in Laundrette is far less provocative today – indeed, in Kureishi’s 2008 novel Something to Tell You (Kureishi 2008:159), Omar reappears as a Blair-appointed Lord of Parliament, drunk and on his knees in the toilet of a working class pub (more below). Of course there are always fascists caught in their own vicious contradictions who find guilty pleasures through which to articulate their incoherence, and they found willing partners in the likes of Omar, with motives and desires all now beyond censure.[5] But even if the flash point of this debate has past, the suggestion Gopinath makes about memory deserves attention: ‘Queer desire does not transcend or remain peripheral to these histories [of colonialism and racism] but instead it becomes central to their telling and remembering’ (Gopinath 2005:2). Omar interrupts Johnny’s caress to remember, remind and accuse him of his racist connections, of his having been seen marching in the street with the National Front. At this point Kureshi is also asking the question of Omar, and fucking fascists is not all that is at stake.


One problem that emerges alongside Gopinath’s otherwise important arguments is that the rendering of diaspora is perhaps overplayed as a ‘conservative imaginary’ with a ‘peculiar’ and ‘backward-looking’ ‘relation to the past’ (Gopinath 2005:3). The reference here is to Stuart Hall, but Hall does not tarnish all those in diaspora with the same conservative brush. It is worth adding a caution when Gopinath asserts that ‘in the queer diasporic texts’ she examines, ‘queer desire reorients the traditionally backward-looking glance of diaspora’ (Gopinath 2005:3). Certainly her work evokes a useful contrast to those who present ‘myths of purity and origin that seamlessly lend themselves to nationalist projects’ and to those who support Hindutva and Hindu nationalism abroad, and of course it is true that a complicit diaspora can articulate quite well with ‘processes of transnational capitalism and globalization’ (Gopinath 2005:7). The caution to introduce here would be that attributing reorientations to ‘queer desire’ allows a slippage that can be sustained only if the radical anti-racist anti-imperialist and communist progressive ‘parts’ of diaspora, historically quite important, are also gathered under the label ‘queer’. I would be sympathetic to this idea (Kureishi as queer is plausible, Rushdie less so), but complicity has a variety of forms. A further problem with an extension of the terminology of queer to include all parts of a radical diasporic sensibility would be that not all of those so gathered together would necessarily want to march, for example, in the India Day parade in New York today, or at least not without considerable debate over the idea of nation thus celebrated[6].

Consider those whom Biju Mathew writes about in his book Taxi (2005) where he makes the point that in present day New York City the ‘politics of community representation evolved out of the basic symbolic material of social justice activists’. The universalism of the civil rights struggle morphed dialectically over time into ‘the particular right to mark difference’ in the ‘framework of multiculturalism’, itself breaking down into a ‘separation of communities’, with ‘each’ producing its own institutions, priorities and campaigns (Mathew 2005:192). This is called and ‘inward-looking, self dividing politics’ (Mathew 2005:193), but the burden of Mathew’s book is to note alliances across differences are still very much a part of the politics of diaspora today. Similarly, Vivek Bald’s work on history and migration to New York would also stress a more convoluted notion of diasporic cultures, drawing on maritime, restaurant and neighbourhood block narratives to bring out ‘a different set of stories’ (Bald 2007:59).[7] Vijay Prashad’s outstanding work Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity adds several other transnational Left dimensions in reporting the ‘council’ meeting of Marcus Garvey with the Gandhian Haridas T. Mazumdar and a certain Nguyễn Ái Quốc, later known as Ho Chi Minh (Prashad 2001:67, see also Prashad’s The Karma of Brown Folk 2000:173). In Kung Fu Fighting, Prashad argues that ‘polyculturalist’ claims of cultural belonging offer ‘solace’, but implicitly acknowledge a defensive trap that is ‘able only to garner crumbs from the racist table’ (Prashad 2001:68). Instead, a broad anti-racist platform that retains the idea of cultural difference, does ‘not abdicate the right to adjudicate between different practices in struggle’, and fights to ‘dismantle and redistribute unequal resources and racist structures’ (Prashad 2001:69).

Certainly the grounds of alliance are present with Gopinath in an opposition to what she condemns as ‘an imaginary homeland frozen in an idyllic moment outside history’ and where the ‘violences of multiple uprootings, displacements and exiles’ are remembered in her focus on the queer body (Gopinath 2005:4). Yet, it is important that contestation and transformation of racist and colonial histories occurs through a range of very present, diverse, but often also submerged, alternative practices of diaspora and the varieties of opposition, intervention, reorientation and resistance should not be left unacknowledged or displaced by other necessary recognitions. The work of Mathew, Bald and Prashad establish lines of inquiry that can be extended – for example, South Asian communists in Britain also have a long and proud tradition of anti-racist, anti-imperialist struggle that is neither conservative nor backward-looking, nor can study of this important tradition be dismissed with vague repetition of a refrain that suggests Marxist analyses inevitably ‘run the risk of replicating’ a totalizing framework (Gopinath 2005:38). There is no total schema, but to use fear of one to erase communist anti-racist history would be an error, and to recover and extend the multiplicity of oppositional movements is always a worthwhile project, undertaken critically.


In her extensively detailed study of South Asian women in Britain, Amrit Wilson notes that there was both ‘an ever-present undercurrent of resistance from women’ against patriarchal oppression within South Asian families and within the wider society, but also ‘a plethora of superstitions, fears and taboos [that] served to stigmatise female sexuality’ (Wilson 2006:11). Wilson rounds upon attitudes to sexuality and staple controversies like izzat, arranged marriages, illicit and ‘mixed’ relationships, parental discipline, the hijab, work and religion to present a considered and convoluted, even dialectical, picture of the ways women in Britain are neither fully free of patriarchy, nor simply ‘victims’ without a strong tradition of struggle, including against the colonialism, imperialism and capitalism which has ‘shaped and reshaped’ (Wilson 2006) social relations.

Gopinath’s reading of the disappearance of Tania at the end of My Beautiful Laundrette is a brilliant critique of the limits of Kureishi’s ‘filmic universe’. That we do not know if Tania throws herself on the tracks, or leaves on the train ‘to seek a presumably freer elsewhere’, provocatively suggests the potentials of moving beyond the normative female diasporic subjectivity figured as ‘vanishing point’ (Gopinath 2005:4). Victimhood and flight are not the only options, as we might glean from another scene from Kureishi’s late 1980s work. Two years after Laundrette, we find the lesbian characters Vivia and Rani performing for the male gaze of the patriarchal father, Rafi, in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. It might be argued, in identitarian terms, that these two do not move very far beyond the ambiguous marking of Tania, even with their aggressive visibility designed to shock Sammy’s father. A critical leftist reading will observe that they are crucially important as harbingers of Rafi’s doom. Spivak notes that this is ‘not a subplot, their function is crucial’ (Spivak 1993:249) as their researched political intervention offers a more nuanced and informed (bi-lingual) characterization of Rafi’s impotently faded power. Here the ghosting of torture and terror in the postcolonial elite’s betrayal of the promise of independence struggles says much more than Kureishi’s (bad-)boy’s-own view of (black) lesbian-display, even as it does not displace the cliché of the clinch. Of course a scenario like this could plausibly happen (despite denials), but that it happens in the film in just this ‘controversial’ way says as much about stereotypes of sexuality as it does anything necessary to the plot. Dutifully acknowledged, the plot then thickens when Rosie’s sexual experiments with cross-dressing Victoria manifest alongside the colonial era romance of Rafi and Alice, and the loft-living liaison of Sammy and Anna are portrayed in the justifiably famous Bollywood-style triple-horizontal-split-screen sex shot.

Urban Perspectives

What strikes me as strange now, watching that sequence again, is how well the horizontal frame of the screen suits the filmic version of Thatcherite London. Flat, low-rise, oppressive London – life lived under the weight of the overpass. This was also the framing first moves of the film, street rioting and flames decorate the opening sections. Rows of houses burning in the riot torn streets of Brixton, Peckham, Lewisham and New Cross are glossed in Sammy and Rosie as if they merely offered a panoramic backdrop to the entertaining explanation Sammy offers to his father about being a Londoner. Yet the film had begun with a tribute to the police or immigration squad persecution of settled Londoners and the death of a woman who had been protecting her son from arrest. Kureishi was writing after the deaths of Cherry Groce and Cynthia Jarret, killed by police (see the film Injustice dir. Fero/Mehmood 2001 for an updated commentary on deaths in custody[8]). There are vigils, protest and escalating tension. The street contestation as presented in this perspective is also horizontal; the Police enter from the right, the protesters surge from the left. A fire engine is attacked, a fancy dress group of busker musicians move in colourful single file amongst the crowds. The riot is not a riot but a carnival, the police retreat. Choreographed street fighting is perhaps not always the first perspective that contemporary sociology would bring to bear on a city like London. While I think the presentation owes a great deal to Kureishi’s sentimental, and participatory, attachment to the metropolis of his birth, many years later the riots and the Thatcherite ambience (intentionally, ironically, grim upper lip) looks antique.[9]

A very different view of London is offered by Rushdie in the opening pages of The Satanic Verses, where the British-Asian, Asian-British mixed up, muddled up, transformed and hybridized characters Farishta and Chamcha fall from the sky after a bomb goes off in their plane. This in itself is an example associated with immigrant horrors, with stories of unfortunate frozen stowaways dropped over London as the wheel-housings into which they had climbed were lowered in preparation for landing. Amitava Kumar, in his book Bombay London New York, links this story to both the Rushdie narrative and the bodies that fell from the World Trade Centre in the hours after the planes hit, but before they collapsed, on September 11th 2001. He describes the earlier tragedy:

“According to a July 2001 report in The Guardian, a body was discovered in a parking lot of a department store in West London. A workman in nearby Heathrow airport had seen a figure in jeans and a black t-shirt suddenly ‘plummet from the sky like a stone’ … The report said the man who had fallen to earth was Mohammed Ayaz, a twenty-one year old stowaway” (Kumar 2002:230)

Against this vertical trauma, Sammy and Anna, Rosie and Victoria, Rafi and Alice all get to lie together in cross-race, but hetero-normative, embrace.[10] In his informative book on Kureishi, Bart Moore-Gilbert says the author ‘anatomises the quasi-colonial attitudes, institutional structures and social hierarchies which subordinate minorities within contemporary British society’ (Moore-Gilbert 2001:3), but it is also possible to feel that the split screen sex scene flattens what might have been a radical orientation to urban living. A racial radicalism masquerades as shock in a predictable algebraic formation, even as Sammy and Rosie raises the spectre of postcolonial violence alongside, or perhaps displaced by, the emergent neo-liberal opportunism of Thatcher’s de-industrializing, neo-colonial, little-racist, god-save-the-queen, jingoistic, union-jack Britain.

Rafi’s nostalgia for Britain’s colonial grandeur runs to having his toast all buttery and ‘cunty fingers’. Just what this is remains obscure enough to leave at least one innocent colonial migrant in the dark. A kind of a crumpet perhaps? The point is that Rafi’s England of yore is not prim and proper, but engages Alice in a wonderland horizontal embrace. As Moore-Gilbert reminds us, ‘some critics have followed Spivak’s lead’ in ascribing a ‘multi-perspectival point of view’ in the ‘triple-fuck’ scene to ‘Kureishi’s desire … to produce a more “collective” mode of representation, in which the polyphony of narrative points of view reflect the film’s pluralistic and democratic social vision’ (Moore-Gilbert 2001:95). I am inclined to agree.[11]

The American journalist Anna in Sammy and Rosie takes a great number of photographs during the rioting. It is with her in mind that Gopinath’s queer warnings can be taken as a corrective supplement to the stark anti-Thatcherism of the film and not just a sectarian insistence that ‘my issue is the main issue’. The salient point being that it might also be good to try today – as Kureishi perhaps does in Sammy and Rosie – to reorient the perspectives that frame multicultural encounters in the city, so to speak. This is to locate the settler in the city, already involved, even if American. The assumption with which to break here, the complacency that needs to be challenged, is the idea that at ground level there is chaos. The photographer takes still shots and gets actors to pose amongst the rubble. Widows are smashed, there are flames in the upper stories of the houses, sirens wail, but there is a degree of intentionality, and community. Everyone knows when to run. The street photographer is as much at home amongst the ambiguities of the urban as any of the other characters, as any of the Londoners. Then, at least. Sadly, perhaps no longer.

Street Writing.

The narrative of Sammy and Rosie takes us through the streetscape menagerie of Sammy and Rosie’s social acquaintances, some of whom are sexual partners, some of whom are more interesting and colourful. In one scene Rosie explains her thesis study on the varieties of kissing – a kind of cod-anthropology humour on Kureishi’s part, again referencing his peculiarly conflicted concerns about intimacy. Rosie was described by Gayatri Spivak as the best hope we have. I agree, but…

In Sammy and Rosie the street riots are described by Sammy, quoting Rosie, as ‘an affirmation of the human spirit’. Rafi scoffs somewhat. Rey Chow suggests that we need to rethink the culture of protest and its relation to a work ethic that belongs to modern secular capitalism (Chow 2002:viii). The game of street protest as representational politics, vying for a space on the spectacular news hour, forcing a minister to comment is something like a chore or a vocation – not necessarily in the most righteous sense. Do those who protest by-the-numbers (like the two million who marched against the Blair/Bush doctrine in February 2003) do so with the reflective critical awareness of what might be the best strategic response to the coercive and co-opting powers of capital, or is this too complicity? Scripted again, visible as part of a drama.

Perhaps with Rosie in mind, Chow writes:

“As long as minorities’ rights to speak and to be are derived from and vested in the enabling power of liberalism, and as long as these minorities are clearly subordinate to their white sponsors, things tend to remain unproblematic for the latter. Should the reality of this power relation be exposed and its hierarchical structure be questioned, however, violence of one kind or another usually erupts, and naked forms of white racist backlash quickly reassert themselves” (Chow 2002:ix).

Rosie is never obviously troubled by the violence on the streets. Her pathos is in the death of the old white man in his bath in the council flats. The arrival of Sammy’s father Rafi, which both offers and threatens to transform Sammy’s previously inconsequential existence into one that promises money and power (however corrupt) also changes the comfortable dynamic over which Rosie rules. She goes out and seduces Victoria, demanding Sammy accept their polyamorous arrangement. Sammy, at least not insisting on monogamy, still enacts a fantasy of retribution in the loft with Anna. Liberalism here is the syncopated flip-side of white supremacy, as a propertied ownership of representational space. Rosie is writing a thesis, Sammy is an accountant, writing the ledgers of commerce. Liberalism implicates well-intentioned ‘progressive’ politics in an everyday violence that references and is underpinned by racism, economic privilege and brute force. The bulldozers move the alternative anarchist camp from beneath the flyover (under the modernist overpass) and yet Rosie continues to be lauded as centre of her world. That there are other political options in this scenario must be seen as a matter of urgency.


Twenty-five yeas after the Miners’ Strike, Thatcherism and the advent of neo-liberalism, it might now read as (sadly) normal that Sammy and Rosie evidences a surprising absence of reds. No communists and not even socialists of the newspaper-wielding Trotskyite variety have any major role. At best, an anti-National Front poster. The approval of Rosie as the best hope has to be understood alongside this exclusion.

Spivak notes Rosie is in a ‘beleaguered position’ and says ‘you cannot really be against Rosie … she loves all the right people. She’s a white heterosexual woman who loves lesbians, loves blacks, is in an interracial marriage, etc, etc.’ Yet Rosie has ‘no final determination’ (Spivak 1993:245). Thus, while she is the most tolerant of all characters, and her guidance is love, or at least pleasure, she somehow cannot be left like that. I want to approve all this, but am chastened by Chow who reminds us that ‘tolerance remains cathected to advantage’ (Chow 2002:13), such that the notion of ‘neo-racism’ (Balibar 1991:21) manifests in ‘anthropological culturalism’ as ‘inherent’ to an ‘expansionist logic’ and accelerating ‘racial and ethnicist violence’ (Chow 2002:14). I am reminded of how Sammy is cathected to his car as its destruction undoes his allegiance to the street protests, and cements instead his filial investment in his father’s dubious wealth. On the other hand, Rosie is something like the other-loving anthropologist who, despite the very best intentions and declarations of fidelity to, at least, ideals of diversity and equality, still manages to have her chocolate cake and eat it too. There is little good to be said for what Chow calls ‘well intentioned disaffiliations from overt racist practices’ if professions of concern by those who scrupulously will not ‘speak for others’ (for example by leaving postcolonial theory to people of colour) coincide with the claims of those who would help in a charitable hidden vanguardist role. These moves ‘often end up reconstituting and reinvesting racism in a different guise’ (Chow 2002:17).


In Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993) Spivak identified the postcolonial figure of Rafi as the one who betrayed anti-colonial struggles in the crucible of a new elite real-politik and neo-colonial restitution of global power. This film from long ago can give us materials to think through problems and inform us of historical contexts  – the role models in Sammy and Rosie are themselves mediators of entire socio-political networks – Rosie (white guilt, best we can hope for), Sammy (identitarian narcissism), Victoria (sexual ambiguity/narcissism), Anna (display as photographer, with two W’s tattooed on her buttocks), Rafi (postcolonial betrayal, exposed), Vivia and Rani (activist lesbian commitment and ‘fact-finding’ [Spivak 1993:249]), while the taxi driver (as damaged Naxalite – the betrayal of the progressive politics) seems the key critical – and significantly ghostly, haunting – vector of the film. I do not want to lament a lost complexity, but perhaps these characters open up possibilities for discussion of political diagnostics of the present time. Sammy in particular: To his fathers’ question as they negotiate the burning streets: ‘Why do you live in a war zone?’, Sammy replies, with an assertion of urban pride: ‘We’re not British, we are Londoners’ and asserts that Leonardo Da Vinci ‘would have lived in the inner city’.

Even if this is a family drama, it is an educational one. We do live in a war zone. It is the faulty father who fails to lead the anti-colonial struggle beyond its initial gains (an even worse father than drunken Papa in My Beautiful Laundrette[12]). The son finds solace only in an accommodation with materialism that must also fail, to be comforted in the end by a cross race, cross-generation community, but one that is about to be destroyed by Thatcherism (and paves the way for Blair and ‘New Labour’). The anarcho-community of musician-squatters is moved on by the bulldozers. Rafi dies. The story is a painful one, the prognosis as bleak as the urban squalor of the time. Intellectual leadership fails – as it often does in films of the time, as with the faulty father in Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola 1978), Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who cannot lead, despite all his learning (see below). Rosie with her thesis tends towards the sensational, and events transpire despite her efforts. Similarly, the father, Santosh, in Mrinal Sen’s film Ekdin Pratadin (1979), must leave the house at the denouement – under postcolonial restitution there is no place for him, a man of books. Those who took the funding offered after the Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton riots[13], after the destructive end of Sammy and Rosie, have become parodies of the committed intellectual. We are of course inclined to trust more those without such leadership pretensions, but we had not been in the presence of an organized left. Hardly at fault for the decline of radical politics, Rosie was a different sort of party girl.

Viewing the film today, it looks like a rehearsal. The performance of street protests – on the anniversaries of the New Cross Fire,[14] the Battle of Lewisham,[15] Brixton SUS[16] – are made more poignant and have to be evaluated in the context of pressing neo-imperial crises that again evoke the co-constitution of Empire and metropole – the US and Britain with the Iraq war and Afghanistan, the end of civil liberties and the Green Zone security of the Governance; with both here and there brought together in an intimate, almost pornographic, embrace – and this is perhaps just as Kureishi’s Sammy and Rosie joyously intended.

Burning books

The moment when celluloid burns in the projector holds a certain fascination. Cinema Paradiso (dir. Giuseppe Tornatore 1988) and so many other films use this scene to great effect. The curtains burn as Rafi sleeps in Sammy and Rosie, but we could also imagine this as a direct commentary on the burning book that (allegedly) started the New Cross Fire in 1981. A potent and relevant tragic moment of terror and destruction. A phone book forced through the letterbox opening of a three storey house, 13 dead, nothing said. Clearly I also have Rushdie in mind.

There is much to consider here, I would want to link the atrocity of book burning also to the emotional charge that comes from book learning as enlightenment. My favourite version of this is Somerset Maugham’s short story, ‘The Razors Edge’, made into a great film starring Bill Murray, whose quest for knowledge leads him down mines and up mountains, where, frozen in a hut where he has been sent by a holy man to contemplate, he runs out of firewood and finally burns his texts to survive – cue uplifting music and satori-enlightenment inducing break of the sun through clouds over the Himalayas (dir. John Byrum, 1984). Tyrone Power in the 1942 film of the same name is also good, and his book-burning moment reaches forward to the final sequence from Apocalypse Now, where we see a ritualised working through of the father-son relation between Colonel Kurz and Willard (Martin Sheen), where Kurz throws a book at Denis Hopper’s character to shut him up. In that last scene Kurz is reading Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. There has to be a book, according to the script, but we might wonder at the knowing conceit of choosing just that book. It was a shipping book in Conrad’s original tale; the Golden Bough references an entire series of fire rituals. The horror, the horror…

Urban guerrilla-style struggle on the streets is something that we may think belongs to the past, to the 1960s and 1970s, to the Algerian Revolution (Gillo Pontecorvo’s film Battle of Algiers), Calcutta 1971 (dir. Mrinal Sen) or the Red Army Faction struggles in Germany, the years of lead in Italy, and perhaps the England of the early 1980s – Brixton, Peckham, Lewisham, as above. Aside from the occasional flare up in the northern cities, and bad news from remote sites in Asia or the Middle East, the contemporary relevance of such struggles seems historical or theatrical (for the cameras). Mogadishu, Gaza, Fallujah, should have changed this but now that London, New York and Madrid sweat in the same war, it perhaps might pay off to re-examine some of the street scenes from earlier times. Notting Hill, Brixton, Toxteth, Manningham, Oldham, Bradford – one set of responses. Stop and search, custody deaths, profiling, detention – scaled up internationally on TV as live news, but with special rendition. Kidnapping and remote-controlled drone death, inserted in-between the routine bureaucratic arabesques of finance, health, education, workplace and housing scandals. At the high profile ends of hypocrisy we have the pomp and circumstance of Westminster, and the bad faith of humanitarian bombing campaigns. Pretension and war – both for democracy.

Of course, the burning of books has its own charged and charred history: degenerate art and texts burnt in Nazi Germany, McCarthy-era removal of ‘communist’ books from US libraries (they were burned, as reported in Fried 1990:136). Umberto Eco’s burning library in The Name of the Rose (1983), echoing of course the famous destruction of the Alexandria library, and, as Georges Bataille recounts in Literature and Evil, Franz Kafka left instructions that all his books and papers be burned upon his death. Of course he told this to ‘the one friend who had already informed him that he would never do so’ (Bataille 1957/1985:151). Burning books is the premise of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and there are many others. Although the Rushdie controversy starts in India, commentators keep on locating it in Bradford because that burning book image was so evocative…


Why aren’t the streets of London burning today? (They were in Manningham and Oldham in 2001 – with resultant police crackdown[17]). What I would suggest is that the complexities of Kureishi’s, and even Rushdie’s, texts belong to a ‘back then’ and that now South Asians in this country are rendered more simply as terrorists or moderates. Rather than a ‘backward looking’, ‘conservative imaginary’ (Gopinath 2005:53), I think we can learn something of the future present from these texts. While for some, the British-Asian condition has been glossed as harmless fun through comedy shows and Bollywood fashions, many Britons of South Asian provenance have suddenly been repackaged in an unrecognisably one-dimensional stereotype and retrofitted for extra-judicial deportation or detention. It is not simply an ideological distraction that saturates our screens with the perverse alternative of either terror reports/docu-dramas or celebrity real estate personal make-over reality TV shows. Burning the streets, overturning cars, burning books even, is for sure all a bit macho; a posturing that no longer has the counterpoint context of left-leaning Rosie and her friends to affirm its validity as political expression of resistance (‘affirmation of human spirit’). Thus street struggles today lose all ambiguity and all legitimacy – to be rendered merely ‘terror’ in the press without critical commentary or comprehension of grievances. This becomes now a scene in an old movie. In the restricted field of South Asian diasporic production screens are now filled with ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ (2001), ‘The Kumars at Number 42’ (2005), Bend it Like Beckham (dir. Chadha 2002) and Bride and Prejudice (dir. Chadha 2004). No respite from entertainment vacuity and ideological heartburn.

Thos that might once have joined street demonstrations and offered a militant anti-racism that had – however difficult – a relation, and relationship, to a left critique of capital are now demonized. South Asian Britons who protest are cast as threatening – only moderate and cowed ‘community members’ are, at best, tolerated in the new security compact. What the years between Bradford/Brixton and the post Sept 11/July 7 period have brought us is a narrowing and even erasure of political expression.


There are those who would attempt a more convoluted explanation of this impasse, of the emptied out terrain (comedy Asians on the one side, bearded terrorists on the other) and attempt a political diagnostic. Kenan Malik, for example, offers a strange amalgam of anti-racist activist history and condemnation of ‘the multiculturalist’ tendency in the British context, a failure of the ‘left’. Malik’s anti-racist history owes much to, but does not fully acknowledge, the work of Sivinandan and the Institute of Race Relations, but on multiculturalism he only sees misguided tolerant liberalism paving a path for reaction. What happened around Rushdie’s book? A celebrated, televised, burning of the book in Bradford by those who, according to Malik, acted in large part:

“because of disenchantment with the secular left, on the one hand, and the institutionalisation of multicultural policies, on the other. The disintegration of the left in the 1980s, the abandonment by leftwing organisations of the politics of universalism in favour of ethnic particularism, and the wider shift from the politics of ideology to the politics of identity, pushed many young, secular Asians towards Islamism as an alternative worldview.” [18]

The critique of ethnicity, identity and multiculturalism misfires, however, where Malik insists on universalism as if it were the only and antithetical inverse of identity and ethnicity. Caught in a complimentary logic, Malik’s scorched earth policy burns his own anti-racist credentials and repeats the obvious and automatic reaction – endorsing an integration model for Britain today, at a time which also sees a resurgent ultra-right in the British National Party and the centre-right drift of all the established parliamentary players (some would call this drift more or less a firesale or bonfire of older principles). Agreement with some of Malik’s points is possible, and the case can be, and has been, made that ‘ethnic funding’ elevated culturalist ‘community leaders’ as a complicit ‘bulwark’ with which to undermine militant anti-racist alliances, but to then diagnose the problem as culture and insist on its overcoming in some naïve secular French Republic type model is a deeply conservative, even nationalist, error.


More interesting is Spivak’s essay on The Satanic Verses, which uses the occasion of Rushdie to consider other cases written out of the record (the internationalist feminist reading of Shahbano made a ‘figure’ in a contest over votes is exemplary [Spivak 1993:240]), to reflect on the position of Southall Black Sisters in relation to the ‘controversy’ as crisis, to then in this context think about ‘freedom of expression’-talk and the ‘uses to which the spectacular rational abstractions of democracy can sometimes be put’ (Spivak 1993: 241). Rushdie, himself accused of complicity with the West’s imperialist ‘crusade’ against Islam by Ayatollahs and others, surely did not know or intend the extent to which his little fiction would offend, even as he aimed to offend indeed (as he had oftentimes done – Midnights’ Children and Shame both also banned). More recently of course Rushdie has been forced into many, even far too many, ‘explanations’ of his work of fiction: ‘I never set out to insult anybody’. He says he offered ‘an extremely sympathetic portrait of a Muslim (and non-Muslim South Asian) community wrestling with the consequences of transnational migration’ (Rushdie 2009:139).

It is still the case, so many years later, that it is worth remembering that The Satanic Verses, as literature, went unread. At the time, something of a rumour (Spivak 1993:228) spread that Rushdie had engaged in ‘gossip’ about the prophet, that he had blasphemed against the Quran. Of course it is almost bad taste now to think of Rushdie’s book in terms of the theoretical interests or fashions of its time of writing: when the death of the author thematic was hip, signed under the proper names of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, alongside celebrations of the schizoid self, and a rampant mixture and hybridity that itself celebrated difference and punning. The rumour of promiscuity, in language and more, were welcome then. But author-(and bookseller-)death did not make for easy jokes about the fatwah. These controversies have a different context now, one that cannot ignore the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and threatening escalations. Then, Iran was central in a different way, and the Ayatollah railed against America.

Notwithstanding, there is still something to be recalled for today in the literary political analysis of before. Spivak pointed out in her 1993 essay that critics of her reading of The Satanic Verses could complain that she ‘gives resistance no speaking part’ in Rushdie’s text (Spivak 1993:226). But if the book does not enact resistance as a character, perhaps we can agree with Spivak that to ‘state the problem’ [of the hybrid, shape-shifting, complicit postcolonial migrant and the ossified, clerical, conservative] is not bad politics’. She continues: ‘In fact, it might be poor judgement to consider academy or novel as straight blueprint for action on the street’ (Spivak 1993:227). I do not find this far from Adorno’s critique of an introspective protest against order that is indifferent to, and so ultimately compatible with, that order (Adorno 1970/1997:116).[19] Rushdie’s book explores blasphemy and ambiguity within Islam – a complication neither trenchant defenders of the Holy Book, nor those who attack Islam, and desecrate the book in prisons like Bahgram, Abu-Ghraib or Guantanamo, can assimilate. The situation is different now. A belligerent white racism fuelled by international weapons commerce, detention and private security army regimentation, out and out invasion and geo-politics, has emerged in to the vacuum created here. This vacuum is a consequence, if not of the burning of Rushdie’s book, it at least in some sense follows on from a retreat from the politics of ‘stating the problem’, where the problem requires a fight against stereotypes and their vicious consequences.  I do not think that burning a book today would make one iota of difference here – entire libraries have been destroyed and we see only a mild outrage in the staged statecraft of those who have responsibility for these things. The books are not sacred, of course, but to burn them misses the point.

Spivak writes of Adorno’s article, badly translated in English as ‘Commitment’, and reports that he says Brecht’s use of montage ‘simply turns a political problem into a joke’. Sammy and Rosie is genuinely funny in parts, but Spivak likes it for different reasons:

“One hopes that Kureishi’s montage technique would have satisfied Adorno. It is much more concerned with negotiating a certain kind of unease, a laughter tinged with unease and bafflement. That comes through in the montage particularly well as the film moves away from realism and the ghostly figure of the torture victim becomes more prominent” (Spivak 1993:254).

Is it the case that Sammy and Rosie also offered a multi-perspectival and collective mode of storytelling, as Moore-Gilbert (2001), lining up alongside Spivak, would have us believe? This mode of address now seems to have been suppressed in the constant barrage of station announcements, security alerts, low-level anxiety about security and surveillance – and the suspicion that your neighbour with a beard is no longer a friend called Sammy – instead a more sinister Salman. The tropes have changed, Farishta has morphed again – this is a diagnostic of our time, or rather, can be brought forward to do different duty for our times, even as we recognise the dangerous diminution of the ways in which storytelling as a mediation of multiple points of view, (and varied sexualities, identities, politics) exceeds any easy calculation or ascription of the ‘proper’ and correct interpretive framework (contra Gopinath). What Kureishi’s difficult cinema supplied – and which is lost if the public view of Asians in the metropole ignores the richness of the work of Mathew. Prashad and Kumar, let along the ‘queer’ diasporas of Gopinath and the potentials of pluralizing Asians of Spivak – must be actively restored. The book-burning and the fascist-fucking (as well as the triple-fuck scene) was a welcome articulation of a diverse and unsettling settlement. The vehicles of mediation, the pathways for making intentional illustrative juxtapositions or montaged, alliterative, associative points are more than a single image and more than the narrative iteration of next next next. This stacked up ambiguity was important, to lose it is to lose the war.

It is still perhaps an unresolved question as to whether old literary and cinematic controversies can rise again as prompts for debate. At present they seem damped down under a stark reaction and the global dominant. The quietening of a critical, sexually and intellectually rampant and promiscuous radical tradition in popular culture – that both Kureishi and Rushdie once wrote for, in some sense – means that efforts to restore the politics of a ‘ruthless critique of everything that exists’ (Marx, letter to Ruge[20]) must be more than a shrill voice in the flames. Without Marx and queer, without Spivak’s Rosie and Sammy, there is no play of perspective, no multiplicity, and the books are ashes that we cannot read.


Adorno, Theodore W. (1970/1997) Aesthetic Theory, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

Ali, Nasreen, Virinder S Kalra, Salman Sayyid 2006 A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain London, Hurst.

Back, Les (1995) New Ethnicities, Multiple Racisms: Race and Nation in the Lives of Young People, London: UCL Press

Bald, Vivek (2007) ‘Lost’ in the city. Spaces and stories of South Asian New York, 1917–1965 in South Asian Popular Culture, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 59–76
Balibar Étienne (1991) Race, nation, class: ambiguous identities, London: Verso

Bataille, Georges (1985) Literature and Evil, London: Calder and Boyars

Bradbury, Ray (1953) Fahrenheit 451, New York: Ballantine Books
Bunting, Imogen (2003) Rationality, Legitimacy and the “Folk Devils” of May, Left Curve, Vol 27, available at: http://www.leftcurve.org/LC27WebPages/ FolkDevils.html (accessed 29 March 2010)

Chow, Rey (2002) The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism, New York, NY: Columbia University Press

Eco, Umberto (1983) The Name of the Rose, London: Harcourt
Fried, Richard (1990) Nightmare in red: the McCarthy era in perspective, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Gopinath, Gayatri (2005) Impossible desires: queer diasporas and South Asian public cultures, Durham: Duke University Press
Hutnyk, John (2000) Critique of Exotica: music, politics and the culture industry, London: Pluto Press

Hutnyk, John (2005) The Dialectic of Here and There: Anthropology ‘at Home’ and British Asian Communism, Social Identities 11(4), pp345–361

Kaur, Raminder and Ajay J Sinha (2005) Bollyworld: Popular Cinema Through a Transnational Lens, New Delhi: Sage

Kaur, Raminder and Virinder S. Kalra (1996) ‘New Paths for South Asian Identity and Musical Creativity’ in Sharma, Sanjay, John Hutnyk and Ash Sharma (eds) Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music London, Zed books, pp 217-231.

Keith Michael (2005) After the cosmopolitan? Multicultural cities and the future of racism, New York, NY: Routledge,

Kumar, Amitava (2000) Passport Photos, Berkeley: University of California Press

Kumar, Amitava (2002) Bombay London New York, New York: Routledge

Kureishi, Hanif (1988) Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, London: Faber and Faber

Kureishi, Hanif (1996) 1996 My Beautiful Laundrette and other writings, London: Faber and Faber

Kureishi, Hanif (2008) Something to Tell You, London: Faber and Faber

Malik, Kenan (2009) From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy, London: Atlantic Books

Mathew, Biju (2005) Taxi! Cabs and Capitalism in New York City, New York, NY: New Press

Maughham, W. Somerset (1949) The Razor’s Edge, London: Heinemann

Moore-Gilbert, Bart (2001) Hanif Kureishi (Contemporary World Writers) Manchester: Manchester University Press

Prashad, Vijay (2000) The karma of Brown folk, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Prashad, Vijay (2001) Everybody was Kung Fu fighting: Afro-Asian connections and the myth of cultural purity, Boston: Beacon Press

Prashad, Vijay (2007) The darker nations: a people’s history of the third world, New York, NY: New Press

Rushdie, Salman (1998/2006) The Satanic Verses, London: Verso

Rushdie, Salman (2009)‘A Response’ in Herwitz, Daniel and Ashutosh, Varshney (2009) Midnight’s Diaspora, Delhi: Penguin, pp136–140

Sharma, Sanjay, John Hutnyk and Ash Sharma (eds) (1996) Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music London, Zed books.

Sanjay Sharma (2006) Multicultural Encounters, London, Palgrave Macmillan
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1993) Outside in the teaching machine, New York, London: Routledge

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (2008) Other Asias, Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell

Wilson, Amrit (2006) Finding a voice: Asian women in Britain, London: Vintage


Apocalypse Now (Film, 1978) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Battle of Algiers (Film, 1966) Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo

Bend it Like Beckham (Film, 2002) Directed by Gurinder Chadha

Bride and Prejudice (Film, 2004) Directed by Gurinder Chadha

Calcutta 71 (Film, 1971) Directed by Mrinal Sen

Cinema Paradiso (Film, 1988) Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

Ek Din Pratadin (Film, 1979) Directed by Mrinal Sen

Goodness Gracious Me (TV programme, 1998-2001) BBC2

Injustice (Documentary, 2001) Directed by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood, UK:

Migrant Media

My Beautiful Laundrette (Film, 1985) Directed by Stephen Frears
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (Film, 1987) Directed by Stephen Frears

The Kumars at Number 42 (TV programme, 2005) BBC2

The Razor’s Edge (Film, 1984) Directed by John Byrum

Wild West (Film, 1992) Directed by David Attwood.

[1] Thanks for comments and help on this chapter to Joanna Figiel, Mathias Danbolt and Carrie Clanton.

[2] This Asia reaches from South East to North East (Philippines, North Korea) and North West to Middle East (Afghanistan, Palestine).

[3] There are immense problems with the terms here, but it is useful to keep them difficult. I favour the uncomfortable and slightly awkward neologism ‘Br-Asian’ (Kalra and Kaur 1996) used in Dis-Orienting Rhythms (1996) and A Postcolonial People (2006). I don’t use it in this paper because the commentary is about the projection of allegedly ‘not-quite’ Britishness, and the ‘ish’ is erased in Br-Asian (though of course on purpose).

[4] For a Br-Asian cinema studies I am keen on Kureishi, the pre-Bhaji work of Gurinder Chadha, the excellent Wild West (1992, written by Harwant Bains), and the critique of East is East by Sanjay Sharma in his long awaited book Multicultural Encounters (2006). The critical primer on this cinema is still in draft form.

[5] No less a ‘firing squad’ than the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry soft peddled the war crimes and encouragements to reaction given by bleeding heart prime ministers of dubious reputation. Blair’s questioning by Chilcot was more a pre-election stump speech than investigation or war crimes tribunal – documentation here: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/ (accessed March 10 2010).

[6] To march or not to march – a politics of ambiguity of course can offer all manner of justifications and rationalisations on many sides – that is why it has political purchase. But the conservative politics of model minority South Asians in the US is a peculiarly pernicious thing – not much understood in the UK context, but perhaps emergent as we watch Asian business leaders jockey for favour in the House of Lords and so forth. I am not saying that queer Asians should not make a statement on Republic Parade day – but how much more would I like it if they did so carrying the banners of the Indian Workers Association, for example. See Hutnyk, John 2005 ‘The Dialectic of Here and There: Anthropology ‘at Home’ and British Asian Communism’ Social Identities 11(4):345-361

[7] See also his forthcoming film ‘Bengali Harlem’, presented at Goldsmiths College in 2010 as part of ‘Border Infection’, a Beyond Borders AHRC Beyond Text Workshop, 22nd March 2010 http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/beyond-borders/ (accessed 22 March 2010).

[8] Injustice deals with the stories of families and friends fighting for justice in the cases of police custody deaths in the UK. A report on this film, and the controversy surrounding its screening, can be found in Bunting’s 2003 article, ‘Rationality, Legitimacy and the “Folk Devils” of May’

[9] It may be possible to identify a sociological aesthetic from 1980s era urban studies which spawned, and continues to some degree to inspire, a number of good ‘ethnographic’ studies. From Les Back’s New Ethnicities (1995) through to Michael Keith’s After the Cosmopolitan? (2005) there are many examples of necessary and still urgent work.

[10] This triumvirate of the missionary position was much discussed on the film’s release, for many viewers the first irruption of Hindi film aesthetics into popular British cinema. Now, the major cinema chains regularly feature Bollywood screenings (see Kaur and Sinha 2005).

[11] In passing, note that though it is not necessarily Kureishi’s ‘Rafi’ that is names on the album Rafi’s Revenge, (2006) Asian Dub Foundation also talk about the old ‘we are here because you were there’ slogan of anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics. The slogan is not simply something to chant at a demonstration. A demonstration is nothing if it is merely a masquerade drama festival or carnival – though of course it can have, and perhaps must have, these performative elements to succeed. (See Hutnyk 2000)

[12] I have written on this elsewhere, see the essay ‘Pantomime Terror’ forthcoming XXX

[13] Lord Scarman was head of the Government Inquiry into the Brixton riots of 1981 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/3631579.stm

[14] The New Cross fire occurred in 1981 and involved the tragic loss of 13 young lives in an incident many thought was a case of arson on the part of fascists against local youth. A massive protest march from New Cross into the centre of London took place with protesters chanting ‘13 dead and nothing said’ in the face of police indifference and incompetence. An inquiry in 2001 was largely inconclusive, and leading up to the 30th anniversary of the fire discussion continues, for example at the guided walk part of the Border Infection workshop at Goldsmiths, noted here: http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/border-infection-goldsmiths-22-24-march-draft-tbc/

[15] Battle of Lewisham 1977 was a day of running protest against the National Front, commemorated recently in a peripatetic part of workshop, Migrating University, held at Goldsmiths, in part organised by Paul Handrich. See http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2007/08/21/migrating-university-goldsmiths-to-gatwick/

[16] Stop under Suspicion laws allowed police to disproportionately harass black citizens of London, fuelling tensions. Three decades later and similar police powers have lead to disproportionate numbers of Asian men being harassed, under the guise of ‘terrorism alerts’. With much less of a public outcry this time round.

[17] The street protests in the North of England during the summer of 2001 were not unanticipated, and in some quarters were quite a conflagration. That Mosque leaders and families subsequently ‘shopped’ wayward sons to the police was problematic enough, but that the lag between these events and the court cases for these youth meant that September 11th 2001 became a back-story and the sentences handed down for minor misdemeanours and first offences were unconscionably severe. See BBC article  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1428374.stm

[18] http://www.kenanmalik.com/lectures/rushdie_boi.html accessed 6 June 2009

[19] Adorno is worth quoting at length here as his commentary underpins my critique of what has happened subsequent to Rushdie/Kureishi: ‘[There now is a] witch hunt against expression … Although inwardness, even in Kant, implied a protest against the social order heteronomously imposed upon its subjects, it was from the beginning marked by an indifference to this order, a readiness to leave things as they are and obey. This accorded with the origin of inwardness in the labor process: Inwardness served to cultivate an anthropological type that would dutifully, quasi-voluntarily, perform the wage labour required by the new mode of production necessitated by the relations of production. With the growing powerlessness of the autonomous subject, inwardness consequently became completely ideological, the mirage of an inner kingdom where the silent majority are indemnified for what is denied them socially’ (Adorno 1970/1997:116) and, more directly relevant, or perhaps more succinctly: ‘Immediately back of the mimetic taboo stands a sexual one: Nothing should be moist; art becomes hygenic’ (Adorno 1970/1997:116 Aesthetic Theory)

[20] ‘Hitherto philosophers have had the solution of all riddles lying in their writing-desks, and the stupid, exoteric world had only to open its mouth for the roast pigeons of absolute knowledge to fly into it. Now philosophy has become mundane, and the most striking proof of this is that philosophical consciousness itself has been drawn into the torment of the struggle, not only externally but also internally. But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be’ Marx to Ruge 1843 http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09.htm accessed April 5 2010


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