Author: Jairus Banaji

Jairus Banaji is a well-known historian and Marxist intellectual

February 8, 2020 /

The massive carpet that adorns the famous Morning Drawing Room of Holyrood House (the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh) was made in a weaving village near Mirzapur in northern India. It took seventeen months to make and was put together by 12 workers, all males, each paid about 600 rupees a month (equal to roughly £25 in 1987 when the carpet was commissioned). OCM (Oriental Carpet Manufacturers), which received the commission (and well over a million pounds for it??), had for decades had no presence in the Mirzapur carpet industry and only established one when it took over E.F. Hill’s business in 1944. By the late 1980s OCM had become a division of Ralli Brothers, having been acquired through a City investment firm whose partners were directors of Rallis; this happened between 1969 and 1972. The gap between the royal sum received for the Holyrood carpet and the wages that went into its Indian manufacture seems staggering, but of course it was and is typical of the carpet industry worldwide.

May 3, 2018 /

Gillo Pontecorvo (1919–2006), whose masterpiece “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) remains the most perfect example of a ‘reconstructed realism’, the purest cinematic equivalent of Marx’s famous metaphor of the ‘life of the subject-matter’ being ‘ideally reflected as in a mirror’. What Pontecorvo set out to do was, in his words, ‘represent the irreversibility of a revolutionary process when a colonized people acquire consciousness of its identity as a nation’. And he did this so well that the film was boycotted by the French delegation at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and banned for over three years in both France and England (till 1971).”

April 6, 2018 /

But of course it cannot be said that the fascists of any single nationality have a monopoly over the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of libraries. In 1943 the Nazis had ‘soaked each room of the Royal Society Library in Naples with gasoline and ignited them by throwing in hand grenades’, destroying about 200,000 books and manuscripts, ostensibly in retaliation for the shooting of a German soldier (Knuth, Libricide, p.53). More recently, in 2013, Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu in Mali ‘set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts’, according to the mayor of the town. The vast majority of those were in Arabic, others in Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara, showing just how much the self-styled protagonists of Islam (in this case, AQIM, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) care for the heritage of Islam itself.

September 21, 2017 /

Ali Shariati was throughout his life a deeply committed Muslim but his Shi‘ism was of a radical, revolutionary type, thoroughly anti-clerical in its opposition to what he called ‘Safavid Shi‘ism’ (as opposed to his own ‘Red Shi‘ism’), the kind of Islam that disarmed the masses through its passive complicity with the ruling classes. Given that in modern Iran the clergy depended on the financial support of the richer merchants (bazaaris), Shariati’s ‘visceral contempt for the bourgeoisie’ extended to the ulama as well. His lectures and writings enraged the clerics, especially the influential group that saw in Khomeini the true face of the ‘revolutionary’ movement against Muhammad Reza Shah, and led to repeated fatwas condemning him after the revolution.