Kenan Malik on “Islamophobia”

November 22, 2013 at 12:26 am (Anti-Racism, civil rights, democracy, Free Speech, intellectuals, islamism, posted by JD, Racism, rcp, reblogged, relativism)

Kenan Malik is not someone we often recommend, not least because of his dubious friends in the RCP/ Spiked Online / Institute of Ideas. Still, he’s often struck us as a bit more intelligent than most of that lot (the frankly embarrassing Claire Fox, etc), and this piece (from a couple of weeks ago), would seem to confirm that view:
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Kenan Malik
 
By Kenan Malik

I am taking part on Friday in a discussion entitled ‘When does criticism of Islam become Islamophobia?’, hosted by Oxash, the Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists. So, I thought it might be worth setting out the basic points that undergird my own thinking about the relationship between criticism, Islam and Islamophobia.

1

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

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2

When it comes to criticizing ideas, nothing should be out of bounds. Nothing should be unsayable simply because someone finds it offensive. Particularly in a plural society, offending the sensibilities of others is both inevitable and important. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities.

‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged.  To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority.

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3

If no criticism should be off limits, nevertheless some kinds of criticism need to be challenged. The other side of defending free speech is the necessity of confronting bigotry.  The whole point of free speech is to create the conditions for robust debate. And one reason for such robust debate is to be able to challenge obnoxious views. To argue for free speech but not to utilize it to challenge obnoxious, odious and hateful views seems to me immoral. It is, in other words, morally incumbent on those who argue for free speech to also stand up to racism and bigotry.

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4

When does criticism become bigotry? The line is crossed when criticism of Islam, of ideas or beliefs, become transposed into prejudice about people; or when critics demand that Muslims are denied rights, or be discriminated against, simply because they happen to be Muslims.

We should oppose all discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere, from discriminatory policing and immigration laws that might specifically target Muslims, to planning regulations that make it more difficult to build mosques than other similar buildings or restrictions on the ability of Muslims to assemble or worship that apply merely because they happen to be  Muslims.  Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be complete freedom to express them, short of inciting violence. Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to assemble to promote them. And whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to act upon those beliefs, so long as in so doing one neither physically harms another individual nor transgresses that individual’s rights in the public sphere. A Muslim should have the same rights and obligations as any other citizen.

We should also oppose all attempts to use criticisms of Islam to demonise Muslims. But criticism of Islam, of whatever kind, even if it is offensive or bigoted, should not be a matter for the criminal law. Bigoted speech should not be a legal but a moral issue. Just as Muslims have the right to express their beliefs, short of inciting violence, so should everyone else, including the right to express the most pungent beliefs about Islam. A society that outlawed anti-Muslim arguments would, in my mind, be as reactionary as one that banned Muslim immigration or pursued discriminatory forms of policing.

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5

It is important to make the distinction between criticism of Islam and prejudice against Muslims. There is also, however, a large gray area on the borderlands of bigotry that needs addressing, a gray area between, on the one side, vicious anti-Muslim hatred and, on the other, absurdly self-serving claims of ‘Islamophobia’ hurled at everyone from Salman Rushdie to Tom Holland. It is a large gray area where you may sometimes find, say, the likes of Sam Harris or Martin Amis. I have been highly critical of both; not because they are bigots in any reasonable sense of the word but because their arguments often so lack nuance, and are so bereft of context, that they both provide intellectual ammunition for bigots and can become a means of mainstreaming bigoted arguments.

Much of the problem arises from the way that the debate about Islam is filtered through the lens of the ‘clash of civilizations’, the claim that there is a fundamental civilizational difference between Islam and the West that will, in the words of Samuel Huntingdon, the American political scientist who popularized the term, set the ‘battle lines of the future’, unleashing a war ‘far more fundamental’ than any ignited by ‘differences among political ideologies and political regimes’. The ‘clash of civilizations’ is a threadbare argument, but it is part of a genuine academic debate. It is also the frame through which the ‘otherness’ of Muslims is established, a frame within which both popular discussion and the arguments of the bigots, including tellingly those of Islamists, have developed.

The academic arguments need challenging. So do popular perceptions, and the arguments of the bigots, too. The academic debate is clearly distinct from the popular discourse which in turn is separate from the claims of the bigots. Yet not only does each shade into the other, but the academic debate also provides the intellectual foundation for both the popular discussion and for the arguments of the bigots.

The real issue we need to address, then, is not so much where to draw a distinction between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ criticism, as how to remake the very framework within which Islam is viewed, a framework that helps define both mainstream and bigoted ideas. Or, to put it another way, we should stop being so obsessed by the distinction between legitimate criticism and Islamophobia, and start thinking about how an obsession with both Islam and Islamophobia distorts our culture and our debates.

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Simpson apologises over Bosnia libel

April 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, Free Speech, Guardian, history, intellectuals, internationalism, Jim D, rcp, SWP, terror, thuggery)

It’s a rare thing for anyone in the public eye to come out and simply admit they were wrong about something important. Oh yes, we’ve all heard the non-apology (“If you stupidly misunderstood me, I’m sorry about that,” as perfected by A. Blair Esq) and the “I was taken out of context”-type wriggling. But for a public figure to come out and plainly admit they were wrong on a major issue is, these days, a rare and wonderful thing.

So all credit to BBC world affairs editor John Simpson who admitted in Sunday’s Observer that he was wrong to have supported the so-called Living Marxism (LM) magazine when ITN sued it for libel in 2000:

“Vulliamy’s account of what happened in the camps is completely unanswerable; and I’m sorry now that I supported the small post-Marxist magazine Living Marxism when it was sued by ITN for questioning its reporting of the camps. It seemed to me at the time that big, well-funded organisations should not put small magazines out of business; but it’s clear that there were much bigger questions involved,” writes Simpson in the course of a review of The War is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia – The Reckoning by Ed Vullamy.

For those who don’t remember the case, it’s probably worth just running through the basic facts:

Early in the Bosnian war  (August 1992) Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian, together with Penny Marshall of ITN and Ian Williams of Channel 4 managed to reach two Serbian prison camps, Omarska and Trnopolje, where emaciated Bosnian Muslim men were being held  under conditions that looked very much like those of the Nazi’s concentration camps in WW2.

 

Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams witnessed the skeletal figures at Trnopolje, but, at Omarska they managed to speak to some of the men: one said, “I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth.” Later it emerged that at Omarska prisoners were forced to bite the testicles off one another and had live pigeons stuffed into their mouths as they died in agony. Prisoners were forced to load the corpses of their friends onto trucks by bulldozer.

Vulliamy later wrote “Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes.” Less satanic than Omarska perhaps, but that isn’t really saying very much, as Vulliamy would be the first to agree.

Naturally, on their return the journalists reported what they had seen and ITN’s images of the emaciated figures at Tropolje (and especially that of Fikret Alic, above) came to sybolise the barbarity of the Serb genocide of Muslims and Croatians in Bosnia. They also almost certainly played a major part in bringing to an end the British foreign office’s appeasement of the Serbs.

Fast-forward to 1997 and an article in the trendy “post-Marxist” magazine LM (as in Living Marxism, its previous name), by one Thomas Deichman: “The picture that fooled the world.”

Centred upon the Fikret Alic photo, the article claimed that there was no barbed wire around Trnopolje and that “it was not a prison, and certainly not a ‘concentration camp’, but a collection centre for refugees, many of whom went there seeking safety and could leave again if they wished.” Deichman, who turned out to be consistent supporter of Serb war criminals like Dusko Tadic and Radovan Karadzic, claimed that ITN and the other journalists had deliberately misrepresented what was going on at Trnopolje and had failed to correct the allegedly false impression they had created when other media repeated their claims. ITN believed that their journalistic integrity was at stake and sued LM for libel.

LM initially succeeded in obscuring the central issue by presenting the case as a ‘David v Goliath’ free speech issue, and persuaded some leading liberals to rally to their support: Harold Evans, Doris Lessing, Paul Theroux, Fay Weldon and John Simpson all condemned ITN’s “deplorable attack on press freedom.” To this day, the likes of Noam Chomsky, Diana Johnstone and Alexander Cockburn refuse to acknowledge that what ITN and the other journalists said and wrote was true and that Deichmann and LM were simply apologists for Serb genocide.

Professor David Campbell of Durham University studied the case and summarised it thus:

“…as strange as existing British libel law is, it had an important and surprisingly beneficial effect in the case of ITN vs LM. The LM defendants and Thomas Deichmann were properly represented at the trial and were able to lay out all the details of their claim that the ITN reporters had “deliberately misrepresented” the situation at Trnopolje. Having charged ‘deliberate misrepresentation’, they needed to prove ‘deliberate misrepresentation’. To this end, the LM defendants were able to cross-examine Penny Marshall and Ian Williams, as well as every member of the ITN crews who were at the camps, along with other witnesses. (That they didn’t take up the opportunity to cross-examine the Bosnian doctor imprisoned at Trnopolje, who featured in the ITN stories and was called to testify on the conditions and others suffered, was perhaps the moment any remaining shred of credibility for LM’s allegations evaporated). They were able to show the ITN reports to the court, including the rushes from which the final TV stories were edited, and conduct a forensic examination of the visuals they alleged were deceitful. And all of this took place in front of a jury of twelve citizens who they needed to convince about the truthfulness of their allegations. They failed. The jury found unanimously against LM and awarded the maximum possible damages. So it was not ITN that bankrupted LM. It was LM’s lies about the ITN reports that bankrupted themselves, morally and financially. Despite their failure, those who lied about the ITN reports have had no trouble obtaining regular access to the mainstream media in Britain, where they continue to make their case as though the 2000 court verdict simply didn’t exist. Their freedom of speech has thus not been permanently infringed” (quoted on Wikipedia).

Why is this important? Well, as I noted at the outset, it makes a refreshing change to read a clear-cut, unambiguous apology and admission of error from a figure like Simpson (compare and contrast Chomsky’s self-righteous evasions). Secondly, it’s important to set the record straight about the Bosnian war and Serb genocide, as vile revisionism, repeating all Deichman’s lies is still to be found on the web, as though the ITN case had never happened. Thirdly, LM has succeeded in transforming itself into first Spiked Online and then the ‘Institute of Ideas’ and their people, as George Monbiot has pointed out, have succeeded in getting themselves lucrative and high-profile employment as supposedly ‘reputable’ commentators in the mainstream media (eg Mick Hume at The Times and Claire Fox on Radio 4’s ‘ The Moral Maze’).

And one final point: it wasn’t just the degenerates of the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)/Living Marxism who were de facto apologists for Serb genocide during the Bosnian war. A lot of the left did much the same, albeit less blatantly, including those who a few years on would pose as great friends of Muslims everywhere…

The Bosnian war still holds important lessons for the left.

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You can bet on some things

April 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm (crap, rcp, Rosie B)

There’s no surer way of looking foolish than making predictions, so I don’t usually risk it. However, here’s one I got right.

I wrote a piece about Spiked on 12 October 2010:-

The masses, working class and sturdy proles are useful bricks which Spiked always keep at hand to hurl at the dismissive liberals.  I haven’t yet come across a piece about the liberal fear of and contempt for the EDL only shows how cut off they are from the English masses, but it must be out there somewhere.

Spiked, 6 April 2011

The answer is that, for many liberal campaigners, this 90-second interview with one ‘thick EDL bastard’ represents the views and the intelligence of the EDL in general. Far from going on a march and speaking to EDL supporters about their views to understand them better, this one short internet clip is seen as enough to confirm all their smug prejudices: EDL members are badly dressed, incoherent, pissed-up yobs whose anger is more bestial than human.

This video does reflect the reactionary nature of the EDL outlook. Seemingly unable to make sense of the undoubted isolation and demonisation of the white working-class community and its traditions, EDL members blame outsiders – mostly Muslims – for making Britain feel more foreign. Yet instead of seeking to tease out what fuels this reactionary outlook amongst some sections of the disenfranchised white working classes, liberal anti-EDL campaigners have had a field day with it. It is nothing less than confirmation of their political and cosmopolitan superiority over the uneducated, provincial lower orders.

There are some things you can bet on.

H/t Mod for the pic.  I find this demonstration of a “reactionary outlook amongst some sections of the disenfranchised white working classes” repellent.  But then I’m a superior, cosmopolitan cow.

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MediOcs

October 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm (political groups, politics, rcp, Rosie B)

If you want to read serious and considered analysis about the group formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party, have a look at a piece by Bob over here.

The RevCommParty members are band sluts who play in outfits like Libero!, London International Research Exchange, Transport Research Group and a festival line up of others as well as getting together for all stars performances at the Battle of Ideas while being the house band at Spiked (producer, Brendan O‘Neill, the hands-on head of the record company, Frank Furedi). They are the punk rockers of the left, who love to outrage the progressive dinosaurs, and their set list contains numbers like Dead Polar Bears – Who cares?;  Melt the glaciers! and Speech Free, Markets Freer.  After a while their riffs become predictable and their intellectual progression sticks at three chords but with their glossy production they get gigs all over the radio and the press.

One of their favourite themes is Piss off the Liberals (Any Way You can) and how they tackle that is best described here (scroll to August 22 – for some reason can’t do a proper link to it.)

This is the work of the Furedification Machine

1) Open a newspaper; grab the dumbest media spaz-out in it as your subject material, then put pen to paper.

2) Lay out the entire, sorry episode, making it entirely clear that it’s an electorally-driven spankathon confected out of bugger all by insane right wing bigots for political purposes, with the support of dupes and cranks.

3) Concede that liberal criticisms of said spankathon are essentially correct in every major aspect.

4) Suddenly announce that the real issue is not the confected right wing spankathon, but is instead the fact that condescending Yankee liberals think they’re so bloody clever.

5) Waffle at length about how out of touch with, like, working class concerns and shit the libs are by pretending that belligerent stupidity is a class issue.

6) Round it all off with a spurious declaration about how, if only those godawful libs weren’t so obsessed with political correctness, they would somehow magically squash the controversy by focusing instead on some unrelated horseshit.

You can see the above method in action here.  The Tea Party, you understand, is all the liberals‘ fault.

Liberal activists’ dismissal of the Tea Party as ‘insane’ only shows how cut-off they are from the American masses.

The masses, working class and sturdy proles are useful bricks which Spiked always keep at hand to hurl at the dismissive liberals.  I haven’t yet come across a piece about the liberal fear of and contempt for the EDL only shows how cut off they are from the English masses, but it must be out there somewhere.  The history revisionism wing of Spiked is working on very short monographs with the following sub-headings:-  “Liberal dismissal of lynch parties as “outrageous and murderous bigotry” only show how cut off they are from the Southern states masses” and going back to the nineteenth century, “Abolitionist dismissal of slavery as “vilely unjust” only shows how cut off they are from the secessionist masses.”

So when I heard about the London Anti-Street Harassment Campaign I was waiting for Spiked to come out with an article that this was just a middle-class attack on sturdy proles.  Sure enough when I was listening to Weekend Women’s Hour a few weeks ago there was an item covering the campaign and the BBC’s obligatory dissenting voice was from Spiked’s editor Brendan O’Neill (fast forward 15:41 minutes here).  Brendan O’Neill regards street harassment as a freedom of speech issue and describes guys shouting “Nice tits” as “interchange” or “banter”.  Then the sturdy prole moment came:-

BO: What’s really going on [very Spiked that, the “what’s really going on“] is that a really old style Victorian attitude is being rehabilitated because the idea that women are fragile and easily victimised particularly by working-class men really comes from the Victorian era when women would never go out. .

Women’s Hour presenter – It’s not just working class men

BO: This is the implication.  When you read these discussions, when you read the newspaper reports it is often the implication, dustbin men as we heard in the earlier report.

The answer to that of course is that 1) those are the men who work outside and so the ones you encounter in the streets:- 2) it’s only some men, not all or most; 3) men who work in the City can be total sexist bullying jerks as well but they’re tucked behind their glass walls.

BO goes on:-

Feminism used to be about liberating women and now feminism has become about policing men.  Policing men in the workplace Policing men on the streets.  Policing men’s speech.  Policing men’s thoughts and attitudes. This is actually what you’ve called for.  I think it is a great tragedy that feminism has sunk from demanding liberation and equality for women which I 100% support to demanding the closer policing and the authoritarian control of men.

As no-one on Women’s Hour pointed out a big part of feminism was getting the crime of rape to be taken more seriously and rape victims not to be sorted out into the chaste and unchaste.  Another part of feminism was getting domestic violence to be treated as a crime, not a private family matter.  In short, quite a lot of feminism has been about policing male behaviour when it is criminal. Also, the women on the programme were asking for policing against actual intimidation and for the rest thought education and campaigning were a good idea – which is not “policing thoughts and attitudes” but influencing them.

Anyway, that was the editor of Spiked in action calling for female empowerment, which, for a woman trailed by a gang of blokes in a car shouting remarks at her, could only come if she was armed with a Kalashnikov (something many women would like to have folded in their handbags at such times). Very Spiked, very predictable.

Spiked are libertarians and lay great stress on not stifling individualism.  You could reasonably expect that this would be shown in the Spiked writers’ quirkiness and sudden, surprising opinions along with a highly idiosyncratic and distinctive expression.  When it comes to wide cultural range, wit, and richness of expression the Spiked stable should out gallop Howard Jacobson, Christopher Hitchens and H L Mencken.  They may of course be producing brilliant prose and original ideas but before any of these are published, they go through the special Spiked software  MediOcs.  MediOcs, as well as filtering out any dissension from the Spiked political line, puts the style through a word blender.  Designed with advice from Tony Parsons MediOcs flattens any sparkling cascades into the bright shallowness of the overflow from an air-conditioning unit. and the result is the universal tabloidese that arrives at my in-box every Friday.

I do read Spiked, and find their freedom of speech absolutism meets my mood when the last government was passing its anti free speech laws and when some idiots are arrested for burning Korans. They are a funny lot though – a trained squad of contrarians who march in unison carrying the standard of individual self-development.

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Revolutionary Conservative Party?

March 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm (Conseravative Party, multiculturalism, rcp, voltairespriest)

BBC Question Time is, in many people’s rosy-tinted hindsight, a shadow of its former self. The same old routine platitudes are spouted week in, week out by members of the two major parties, like the same episode of a bad soap opera set to constant repeat. Occasionally there’s a comic turn from some fringe figure or other who at least has the value of winding everybody else up, but by and large the standards of debate are not high. I usually have it on in the background whilst reading something else, like televisual wallpaper.

However this week my attention was drawn back by Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi’s spectacular attack on the Government’s community relations strategy, specifically their habit of giving out grants to projects and bodies run by self-appointed “community leaders” from minority groups in the UK. This was all in the light of the Al-Muhajiroun (cough, sorry I mean “Ahle Sunnah al Jamah”) demonstration in Luton earlier this week, where that particular miniscule group of weird extremists once again achieved the feat of making themselves even more unpopular with all communities in the UK by staging a protest which included such incisive slogans as “”Anglian soldiers go to hell”, and other not-at-all stereotypical remarks.

Warsi agreed that Al-Muhajiroun did have the right to protest, but made it quite explicit that she thought they were “fringe nutters” who had nothing to do with the sentiments felt by most people in the UK who define themselves as Muslim, including those (the majority) who opposed the war in Iraq. Indeed, she herself opposed that war, and by her own testimony has marched against it. What she did object to however was the way in which groups proclaiming themselves as representatives of “mainstream” Muslims, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, are feted by the Government and legitimised in that role of “community leaders” via patronage, consultation and project funding. Muslim people in the UK do not have a “leader” she said, any more than white people do or indeed than any other community does. In fact, at this point I had to remind myself that I was in fact watching a Tory rather than a progressive raging against the patronising nature of a “multiculturalism” which thinks that people from minority communities can only enter general political discourse via a “gatekeeper” who is almost always a religious or political conservative bigwig of one kind or another. Then she used an interesting word – “state multiculturalism”.

“State Multiculturalism” is a favoured term of some amongst the members of the ex-Revolutionary Communist Party who went on to found the Manifesto Club, the Institute of Ideas and various other libertarian political bodies after that party’s Leninist-disciplined turn away from its own structures in 1997. Specifically, one of their number, Munira Mirza, who now works in the Mayor of London’s office under Boris Johnson, has written specifically on the subject. Her 2007 report “Living apart Together:British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism”, co-written with Abi Senthilkumaran and Zein Ja’far, specifically calls for British Muslims to be engaged with as individual and autonomous citizens rather than as a “faith group” via those self-appointed “community leaders” of whom the Government (and some of the left) are so fond. Another ex-RCP’er, Kenan Malik, has an article on a similar subject in this week’s New Statesman, referring to the historical consequences of the Satanic Verses affair. In the course of the article Malik argues that the furore following from Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie gave various groups affiliated to Jamaat-i-Islami the impetus to form the core of the Muslim Council of Britain, and also gave both Government and liberal commentators the spur that they needed to accept the entirely unrepresentative MCB as “the voice of British Muslims”.

Sounds remarkably like Warsi, does it not?

In many ways it’s quite unremarkable that a libertarian social policy which has the added attraction of being better than the utter sham which constitutes the Government’s desperate attempts to preserve reservoirs of inner city votes which are under threat following the Iraq war community relations strategy, would appeal to the Tories. After all it can only be appealing to the great untapped reserve of educated, socially liberal, economically right-wing voters in the 20-35-ish bracket who constitute a huge bloc which would already be voting Tory if they didn’t still have a certain aversion to slogans like the infamous “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” campaign.

What is interesting though, is why they appear to be taking an ex-Trot group of right-wing libertarians so seriously. I’d always taken the employment of Mirza to be a stunt on the part of Boris Johnson’s publicity-hound press office, but to see Warsi mirroring her terms in depth brought to mind the question as to who is playing whom. David Cameron has used the same language as Warsi in the not-too-distant past, and I certainly find it a stretch to believe that such terminology comes naturally to him. Could this be a case of entry politics gone rootless? Enquiring minds want to know.

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Frankie Goes to Wasilla

September 14, 2008 at 9:30 am (elections, Feminism, rcp, United States, voltairespriest)

OK, so it’s Frank Furedi. OK, so I shouldn’t be surprised, and maybe I shouldn’t bother reading Spiked Online anyway. But this really is utter, arrant nonsense of the most vacuous kind. Turning away from his occasionally interesting essays about the growing obsession in the UK, the ex-RCP’s guru now focuses his attention on US politics, specifically Sarah “Moose Hunter” Palin, John McCain’s pantomime choice of running mate.

Palin has (quite understandably) been subjected to a firestorm of criticism by liberal writers and Democratic politicians, not least for her ultra-reactionary social views, and stances on foreign policy that put her well to the right of George Bush. Republicans meanwhile have sought to defend her on quasi-feminist grounds, with some accusing Barack Obama of outright sexism when he made his widely misquoted and decontextualised “lipstick on a pig” comment. Certain conservative commentators appear to be suffering from amnesia when it comes to recalling their own ad hominem attacks on female Democrats – and their children – in the past. It is within this context that Furedi writes his article.

He defends Palin. Not only does he claim that feminists have signed up to a “vicious internet-driven witch-hunting club against Palin”, he also appears to think that the attacks on the anti-abortion, creationist, state-trooper-victimising governor of Alaska are symptomatic of a wider malaise. Specifically, Furedi states that:

The virulence of the language used by the anti-Palin crusaders reflects the contempt with which the American cosmopolitan elite regards common people. Such explicit denunciations of ordinary people’s morality and lifestyles by self-confessed progressive or liberal commentators are rare today, at a time when American culture professes to be non-judgmental and tolerant – certainly such vicious stereotyping would be condemned if it was directed at minorities or any other section of society apart from ‘rednecks’. That is why, normally, such top-down contempt is expressed through euphemisms and nods and winks.

In other words, the fire being directed at Palin’s right-wing stances on social issues is symptomatic of a pampered liberal elite picking on the working man or woman by sneering at his/her beliefs and morals. Sound familiar? The same theme, albeit differently expressed, could be taken from Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan or any number of other hard-right wing commentators in the USA. Coming from a self-professed “libertarian humanist” like Furedi, it is just bizarre.

Furedi even makes clear in the article that his own beliefs differ from Palin’s on issues like abortion. Leaving aside what may or may not be revealed by the fact that Furedi feels the need to make this explicit at all, it would seem that he has made something of a kindergarten level political error. Under the system of free choice that Furedi advocates, Palin would still be free to live as Bible-literal a life as she so wishes. Under the system that Palin would like to institute, women who have abortions would be criminalised. This is not an esoteric debate, and real lives are at stake in it.

There are many debates at the moment about what constitutes a left-wing political outlook on the world, as people on the Marxist left and beyond seek to define themselves following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decline of social democracy. In recent years, we in the UK have most often seen this in the realm of foreign policy, especially in the cases of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. In reality however, this debate has often descended into pantomime, with “anti-imperialists” and the “pro-war left” equally to blame. My personal favourite was the bizarre denunciation by Nick Cohen of that evil organisation Amnesty International, but there are ample and equally risible examples of hyperbole on both sides. The question of how progressives relate to working class communities that will often be more socially conservative than an overwhelmingly middle class, urban and university-educated left, is another real one which must be answered. Furedi’s article, however, is not of value as a contribution to that debate.

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RCP hegemonise The Moral Maze

June 25, 2008 at 10:21 pm (cults, Jim D, media, perversity, rcp, serbia, strange situations, Uncategorized)

I’ve just been listening to Radio 4’s The Moral Maze – supposedly an up-market, intellekshul discussion of matters ethical. This week the debate was supposed to be about Zimbabwe and “who’s to blame?”

It was crap. Mainly because (in the absence of  “Mad Mel“) the programme was dominated by longstanding Moral Maze ethics girl Claire Fox of the so-called ‘Institute of Ideas’, backed up by new boy Kenan Malik, whose qualifications and affiliations were not divulged (the other two panellists were Catholic theologian Clifford Longley and ex-Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo) .

Kanan Malik is a very interesting fellow, who has written some good stuff about racism, secularism and equality. So why was he lamely (and, it seemed to me, embarrassedly) backing up Claire Fox’s crass “anti-imperialist” excuses for Mugabe? Could it possibly be because Malik, for all his erudition, is a member of the same organisation as Claire Fox? They’re both members of the bizarre ex-Marxist outfit led by Professor Frank Furedi (University of Kent), that started out as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), became ‘Living Marxism’ (LM Group) and now operates as an ostensibly ‘libertarian’ outfit  through such front organisations as The ‘Institute of Ideas’, ‘Spiked-online’ , ‘Sense about Science’ (who famously upset George Monbiot by denying the reality of global warming) and the ‘Manifesto Club’ (now much favoured by London Mayor Boris Johnson).

Their other claim to fame is (for all their proclaimed ‘libertarianism’) acting as opologists for some of the vilest and most genocidal regimes and dictators in recent history – notably in 1992 when (operating as ‘Living Marxism’) they attempted to defend Serb ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and claimed that ITN journalists had fabricated a report and photographs of the Serb concentraton camp at Trpopolje. ‘Living Marxism’ and its editor, Mick Hulme (now a columnist on Murdoch’s Times, but still part of the ex-RCP organisation), lost a libel action brought by ITN, closed down the magazine and went online as Spiked online.

Since then the ex-RCP has renounced the remnance of its Marxist/Trotskyist past, positioned itself as ‘libertarian’ and ‘iconoclastic’ (actually, its claim to be ‘iconoclastic’ is mainly pretence, as Claire Fox’s banal standard-issue “anti imperialism” – aka defence of national sovereignty as an absolute principle – on the Moral Maze regularly demonstrates) and concentrated upon infiltrating the bourgeois media. They’ve had some success, what with Mick Hulme’s column in the Times , Living Marxism’s former Science Correspondent John Gillott conning Channel 4 into giving him and fellow RCP’er Martin Durkin a series, and Prof Ferudi popping up all over the place on Radio 4 to comment on such matters as the excesses of Health and Safety legislation and the dangers of mollycoddling your kids.

But the crowning triumph – so far – of the RCP is their colonisation of Radio 4’s Moral Maze. Not only is Claire Fox an established permanent panel member, but she now seems to be able to bring on ‘deps’ like Kanan Malik whenever one of the other regulars is away. So, this week, 50 per cent of the Moral Maze panel was RCP! I must get on to Mad Mel about this…

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Johnson’s Marxist Cabal?

May 24, 2008 at 2:35 pm (left, perversity, rcp, Uncategorized, voltairespriest)

Has anyone else noticed that Boris Johnson appears almost as keen on shadowy ex-Trot groups as Ken Livingstone was? No sooner do John Ross, Redmond O’Neill et al shuffle off from City Hall into (presumably equally lucrative) employment in Socialist Action’s next target area, than a new Sheriff comes to town. And who, I hear you ask, could be better at deep-deep-deep undercover colonisation than Socialist Action? Why, the Revolutionary Communist Party of course!

Yes, Munira Mirza of RCP off-shoot the Manifesto Club follows her illustrious predecessors including Martin Durkin (he of totally bollocks documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle” fame) into a high profile job with unlikely political implications, as she becomes a “cultural advisor” to the floppy-haired fop. As the RCP’s merry band of contrarians go, Munira is one of the more interesting. Indeed, whether one agrees or disagrees with what she writes, it seems to me clear that she’s very bright, and willing to think new thoughts about multiculturalism and its implementation in public policy. In at least as much as she opens up a debate, she’s really quite impressive.

Well, it doesn’t get much more contrarian than this. Munira, good luck and I hope your new job helps you to get get the booze ban overturned.

Update: A trawl reveals that this was already mentioned at Harry’s Place. Hat-tip of sorts to my favourite limpet, Jules, who presumably must have some interesting choices of bedtime reading. xxx VP

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Heathrow: to hang with the hippies or not?

August 14, 2007 at 8:56 am (Civil liberties, environment, green, left, rcp, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThere’s a mini-debate going on at the moment about whether or not to support the eco-protestors’ gathering at Heathrow Airport in protest at proposed expansion plans. Whilst on the one side there’s overwhelming backing for the stance that climate change is one of the greatest threats that humanity has ever faced, on the other there’s a certain queasiness in sections of the Left about some of the Green movement’s more hair-shirted solutions to the issue. Regarding airports in particular, this largely surrounds the point that if the volume of air traffic were radically reduced through the likes of Heathrow, the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair would be forced to either raise their prices to cope with a squeeze on passenger numbers, or to go out of business. The knock-on consequence of this would be that whilst middle-class hippies would still be able to go mountain trekking and spritual journeying in the Himalayas, your average working class family would be left with little option other than a return to Blackpook beach. A worthwhile sacrifice obviously if you happen to be one of said middle class hippies, but if you work on the checkout at Tesco you might be wondering if there’s another alternative which still enables you to go on holiday with the kids once a year.

Janine has had a careful think about this already, and comes down on the side of not attending, albeit in thoughtful fashion. She is concerned precisely about travel once again becoming a preserve of the rich, and as a consequence is reluctant to support the protestors, at least until they make it clear that they don’t support this outcome. She says:

“I think the fact that many working-class people regularly travel abroad is a Very Good Thing. From my parents’ generation where only the rich set foot outside these shores, we have progressed to a society where most people in most developed capitalist countries have seen a bit of the world. That’s good for quality of life, for broadening horizons, and – union jack boxer shorts notwithstanding – for integration and internationalism. I have no desire to curtail it by objecting to airports or demanding hikes in taxes on flying.”

She is of course quite correct to say that travel expands the mind, and is tremendous fun to boot. As someone who has been fortunate enough to visit several countries other than the UK, and to live in one of those for some time, I can honestly say that I found all of those experiences tremendously valuable. However, if the cost attached is of the pollutants partly stemming from mass air travel eventually reducing all of these places to devastated wastelands that future generations will not be able to enjoy, then is it really worth it just for the sake of my enjoyment?

Janine does seek for alternatives around targeting specifically business air traffic, and she does acknowledge the reality that climate change is a problem. I’m far from accusing her of being a Nigel Lawson-style climate change “sceptic”. However I simply cannot see how purely slapping restrictions and taxes on business traffic, with no concomitant restrictions on leisure travel, would adequately tackle the issue. And let’s face it, no one ever really suffered a collapse in quality of life because they had to holiday in Scotland rather than Spain.

An altogether more hard-line stance on the camp comes (perhaps predictably) from Ethan Greenhart of Spiked Online magazine, who seems to think the whole thing is totally risible. Posing satirically as someone who supports the camp, he says:

“We Climate Campers are taking on the World Capitalist Oil-Producing Neocon Superstructure that privileges the right to sunbathe over the right to life… we’re calling for LESS choice and LESS freedom in the name of saving the planet from the poisonous gases of the holidaymaking hordes. My chant during the Climate Camp week will be: ‘What do we want?’ ‘A 65 per cent reduction in all forms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2017, a minimum tax of £1 per mile on all short-haul flights under 600 miles, and greater investment in pro-cycling policies including the painting of at least a 175cm cycle lane on all major thoroughfares!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now!’”

Of course, I’m aware of the RCP’s rather wacky politics on this issue, and therefore of the probable roots of Ethan’s indignation. However, what he says isn’t simply nonsense, at least in the context of the misanthropic tendencies in sections of the Green movement. If there’s a solution to this issue then it has to square to circle of firstly (and obviously) actually working, but secondly also being humanitarian.

Would I support the camp? I think there are two issues here, both of which lead me to the conclusion that I would do so. Primarily, I would support the camp because I believe that climate change is an overriding issue affecting every man, woman and child on this planet. I think that protests of the sort that this camp represents (whether or not their politics is somewhat flawed) serve to highlight the issue in the minds of a general public who would often seemingly rather talk about anything else. And secondarily, I support the camp on civil liberties grounds – for its right to be there per se. The police are proposing to use anti-terror legislation to dislodge what is essentially a group of dog-on-a-rope crusties from a field full of tents. If this is the kind of responsible use of such legislation that the Blair government promised, then I’d hate to see them using it recklessly.

So support the camp, go visit the crusties and if they say something you disagree with, discuss it with them. You might get muddy feet, but it’ll be far more productive than sitting at home and sulking.

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Our desperate quest for immortality in a culture of fear

July 29, 2007 at 11:24 pm (Civil liberties, libertarianism, rcp, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAm I turning into an RCP’er? I’ve been getting seriously concerned about the above point lately, because of my increasing agreement with uncle Frank and company about a particular political point. There’s an article this week in the New Statesman by one Lois Rogers (who I should make clear is not an RCP’er to the best of my knowledge), called “The End of Risk”.  Without going into too much detail, it describes a very real malaise that nowadays seems to infest our political culture in the UK – that of having become driven to legislate the risk out of our everyday lives. It’s an imperative that seems to hide an underlying wish to become immortal on the part of a populace fattened on affluence, lack of war and a general decline in want, coupled with an increase in material aspirations on the part of those who do not have that affluence in all its fullness.

Now how does this all relate to the contrarians so beloved of the theory of the lizard fart which provoketh global warming more than the car? Obviously I’m not someone who is inclined to agree with everything they’ve ever said; the gross lies that they told (and were sued for) over Srebrenica being an obvious example of where they and I parted company. However, where they do have a point is when it comes to the extraordinary willingness of people within today’s society to unquestioningly accept a certain bounded consensus. Funnily enough, both sides of the debate on the Iraq War accuse each other of being the representatives of that consensus, whereas in fact it’s perfectly possible to get either a pro- or anti-war opinion into the national press, as even a cursory examination of the national press shows quite clearly. But when it comes to minmisation of risk to ourselves, it touches something more primal. What could possibly mitigate against lifestyle choices that make us less “at risk” than we otherwise would be? Why not have a salad instead of an egg sandwich? Why not have a J2O instead of a beer? Isn’t it just common sense?

There’ve been several articles by people in the RCP’s online journal “Spiked” around this subject, many of which I’ve been very surprised to find myself in agreement with. But the most recent of these is by Emily Hill, on the subject of sanitising celebrities. There’s one quote in it (concerning the percieved foibles of artists such as Amy Winehouse) which I found particularly poignant and true:

“Nowadays, no one is allowed to be miserable. Or very thin. Or very fat. Or very different. They should all be balanced, happy, nourished by Omega-3 supplements. Rage, drunkenness, crying, screaming, feelings of misery, tears of longing – all are now pathologised, to the extent that even creativity (which often springs from all of these things) has come to be seen as a disease.” 

Hence, for instance, we get a massive popular upsurge in relief (fuelled of course by a media panic about passive smoking) which can be heard in general conversation, at the introduction of a smoking ban in public places. After all, if we can just sanitise our immediate personal environment a little more, we can perhaps convince ourselves just that little bit further that maybe our bodies can stave off their natural decline and death for a few years more. Maybe if we sterilised the ground at every step we took, shot dogs that crapped on street corners and shut down every greasy spoon takeaway in the country that didn’t obey an asparagus quota, we’d be able to force even more people to take sensible lifestyle choices which don’t “impact on the rest of us”. God forbid that we should be in a smelly room, or confronted with fat or inebriated people on the streets – they might become sick, and the one thing that we enlightened liberals cannot cope with is to be reminded of our own vulnerabilities. Far better to sanitise them out, slap conditions on their health care (or deny it to them, you know it’s coming), but however we do it, remove them from sight. After all it’s their fault, they could drink acai berry smoothies and shop at farmers’ markets like we do, right? And they could afford it too, if they didn’t insist on spending their benefits money on nights in the pub rather than on organic duck eggs…

It seems to me that all of the usual civil libertarian versus authoritarian/statist arguments around these issues rather miss the point. Isn’t the simple reality that we’re averse to understanding a universal truth, which is that I, you, gentle reader, and everyone else in the world will die, and that the great likelihood is that it will be of something deeply unpleasant, whether that something is neurological, physical, psychological, whether it’s genetic, accidental or self-inflicted? It won’t be nice, no matter whether you live off beansprouts or fried bacon. So move on, and stop asking governments to make laws to keep you alive forever. Pay some taxes and maybe the NHS will take care of you when you get ill. That’s what you get to ask for. 

It’s time to pull yourselves together. And for God’s sake have that kebab if you want it. You might get run over by a bus on the way home anyway.

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