Britain’s Problem With Islamophobia; or Three Times the Daily Mail Lied About Muslims This Week

That’s three times now: three times this week that the Daily Mail has been forced to issue a retraction over inaccuracies in its reporting of British Muslims.

And I hate to spoil it for you, but these were not nice confected stories about British Muslims of the sort conducive to harmonious society. They were not reporting that Muslims favourite sitcom was the Vicar of Dibley, for instance. Nor were they were reporting that they secretly really want to own a dog.

No, what they mis-reported betrayed more of a Czarist secret police approach to life in a multiracial society.

Firstly, you will remember the family – the Mahmoods – that was stopped from boarding a plane to the United States to go on holiday to Disneyland. Katie Hopkins wrote that this was a mere pretext – for God knows what – and for good measure, in another article, followed this up by accusing one of the sons – Hamza – of creating a Facebook page promoting extremism. It turns out that he was not responsible for this. Hence the Daily Mail settling on £130,000 damages and meekly publishing an apology and retraction on the MailOnline at 12 in the morning on Sunday.

Similarly, another libellous allegation against a Muslim had to be retracted. Some time ago, the Daily Mail reported that the head of the NUS, Malia Bouattia, refused to condemn ISIS. The statement was retracted this week with a full apology.

Also retracted this week was the headline and accompanying story “Isolated British Mulims so cut off from rest of society they see the UK as 75% Islamic”. This was an egregious misreading of Dame Casey’s report into integration. It turns out that this was just one class of primary school children. The same point was made in the Daily Express and the Times, and duly retracted.

I am sensing something of an agenda here.

We have to be honest that there is a real, demonstrable problem with Islamophobia in this country post-Brexit. And I really hate the word. It is the left’s counterpart to the way the (non actually anti-Semitic) right conflate any and all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Of course criticism of Islam is not de dicto Islamophobic. Go down the pub with me on a Friday night and you will soon get a sense of that (I’m also great at parties).

I would argue that there is a hardness to much anti-Islamic sentiment that cannot be solely attributed to ideological or intellectual distaste. It’s not the same as racism, granted, nor would I wish to make such a facile point. But I do not see how this precludes comparison between the two. What the Islamophobe shares in common with the racist is the same essentialism: the same shallow belief that what they observe cannot change and evolve as a part of the natural world or humanity like themselves, but is instead fixed, grey, immutable.

Christianity used to be the far more violent and intolerant of the religions in medieval times – just ask the Cathars or the conversos (hint: this is not possible). But it changed. Of course the tenets of Islam determine the parameters of its future development, and in many important ways these are different from Christianity, but it too can change.

I am deeply suspicious of this glib talk of “incompatible” cultures – or better/worse yet “clash of civilisations.” The very same was said of the Irish and their Catholicism well into the twentieth century. Now they are on “our” side.

And we can see similar transitions in our lifetime. It was considered unproblematic in the 1970s to talk of an Iberian culture, as distinct from an Anglo-Saxon culture, that was “authoritarian, patrimonial, Catholic, stratified, corporate and semi-feudal to the core”. It seems comical now. Now who is to say that Iberia did not develop in spite of this, but the fact is that the significance of its culture was grossly overstated. Culture is not fixed.

The people who blare the most about the cultural legacy of the west betray a lack of faith in one of the most distinguishing features of “the West”: our humanist and Enlightenment roots. Things like the power of reason to overcome superstition and brutality, individualism, the perfectibility of man, and the existence of universal values and truth, mean nothing. They do not look at a Muslim as a fellow autonomous man invested with the germ of human creativity, but as something belonging to an entirely different subjective and moral universe.

And is it any surprise we think like this when we have a media which frankly shit stirs and plays up our worst fears?



New Hampshire Primaries: Has America Now Jumped the Shark?

I don’t want to sneer. Truly, deeply I do not want to sneer. But then again I’m a socialist from the mean dinner tables of North London, with Jewish roots to boot, so allow me some latitude: it’s kind of my jam.


Now I’m not one of these people who cling to these unflattering clichés about America, such as them having no sense of irony. On the contrary, I think much of American comedy is bold and uncompromising, and makes ours looks moribund in comparison.


Nor do I think that their stupid are particularly more stupid than ours – it is to be noted that we do just barely better than them in the international league tables for literacy and numeracy. I do however, think that their stupid are far more numerous, far more flagrant and just plain more dangerous than ours.


A lot of this is down to the poor provision of state education in the country; lack of access to higher education; the lack of a social safety net which makes it hard for many household to contemplate anything other than survival; a completely market driven media which is a) so completely shorn of regulation as to be virtual disinformation – much of Fox programming is not actually classified as news programming by the network, but entertainment – and b) without the public provision which makes more esoteric, enrichening, and commercially unviable programming possible; a culture of long working hours which makes it difficult to stay up to date with current affairs – this is the same American model Tory Atlanticist traitors like Liam Hunt want for Britain; a hyper-masculine, hyper-militarised culture which places little value by intellectual feats compared to physical ones (star athletes are rewarded with medals, whereas honour students are not); and a climate of anti-intellectualism based on a deep-rooted folksy abjuration of formal learning in favour of “common sense” (oh would that Paine were still around today).


Which naturally leads me on to the US primaries, where one cannot move for being raked in the face by an egregious fallacy. [Hyperlink to sideshow Bob walking into rakes.]


Trump and self-finance


One of the principle reasons for people supporting Trump is that he is free of the influence of the maligned “elite”. One yokel who had just voted for Trump was recorded by the Guardian as saying that he did so he was not “owned by anyone”.


What people seem to forget is that Trump himself is part of the elite. The man boasts, “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.” In so doing he shows himself as showing the same contempt for the democratic mandate that characterises the elite.


So in order to obviate the problem of the undue influence of large corporations, we’ll just vote them in directly. That’s like a Nazi conspiracy theorist voting in a Zionist.


Socialist taboo


One would think that if someone were seriously perturbed by the corporate hijacking of American democracy that they would vote for a candidate such as a Bernie Saunders who has campaign finance reform as a central plank of his bid.


But that would be to ignore the huge and irrational stigma of socialism in the US.


Has been remarked just how brave z move it was of Bernie Saunders to describe himself as a socialist. Or rather “democratic socialist.” And therein lies the rub.


Why the qualification? How jarring would the phrase “democratic nationalist” sound?


And yet nationalists don’t have to make reference to this. Indeed, it would appear to be superfluous for a nationalist standing in a democratic election to stick that in there.


But is socialism any more inherently authoritarian than nationalism?


Yes, there has been a link between socialism and authoritarianism in the past, but socialism has been implemented in a democratic context enough times now for it not to have to distance itself from it. I don’t see European or American nationalists having to distance themselves from the iniquities of the Cold War juntas, which is odd when you think how complicit they were in them.


Democratic governments such as that of Allende’s Chile, João Goulart’s Brazil and Árbenz’s Guatemala were overthrown by militaries that were heavily subsidised by the US. Even as late as 2002 an attempt was made to overthrow Hugo Chavez’s administration in a coup. In fact the US did far worse at the US School of Americas, drilling the death squads of the region in the latest methods of state terror under the euphemism of “counter insurgency tactics”. The Republican administration of Reagan went so far as to ignore the express prohibition of Congress and fund the gruesome Contras of Nicaragua. And how was this achieved? By the proceeds of weapons sold to Iran – an activity which also banned. A clear case of liberty at home being subverted to close it down abroad.


This is not to mention the countries outside Latin America. The Egyptian Army that overthrew the only elected government in its history was the recipient of $10 million per year from the US government, and just this week Obama has proposed to remove restrictions on funding that have been put up after the event.


Unfortunately, the taboo of socialism will be enough to undo for Bernie Saunders, much as it has often done in far less right wing European countries who are happy to enact socialist practise, but often under the menacing portmanteau of social democracy. The sheer weight of stultifyingly ill-informed public opinion – the ballast of popular anti left-wing sentiment – will ensure this.

Hamasexuality? The Sun and Homophobia in Britain and the Middle East

Great front page on the Sun on Wednesday, concerning Crispin Blunt’s admission that he uses party poppers. Well great for fans of alliteration, though utterly execrable for the rest of us. See if you can identify which adjective here is totally superfluous?


“The gay ex-minister confessed during a debate on Government plans to outlaw the legal high, often used to boost sexual pleasure.”


You wouldn’t say a straight ex-minister, or black ex-minister. Only makes sense when you realise that this is connecting into a very well-worn discourse that views homosexuals as deviant hedonists.


It’s slimy, underhand and insidious.


What a load of old guff about British values. We castigate Russia for its illiberal anti-gay propaganda laws (an injustice, for sure) and yet totally forget about Section 28 which was around until last generation despite our vastly better circumstances and much longer tradition of democracy.


There are two inferences that we could draw: firstly, that Russia is not far off the curve and, more broadly, countries should be allowed to develop “organically”, free of Western interference– a boon to authoritarian proponents of “sovereign democracy”. Wrong. Prejudice should be confronted wherever it occurs, even this happens to be in communities aligned against imperialism – my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. It’s this attitude which has led to the lamentable state of Islam in this country at least – though conversely it is one which has saved us from the fate of the more principled French… for now.


The nature of this opposition is of course up for discussion. The very laudable values that we espouse can easily be connected to the injustices that we perpetrate abroad, so that the two become inextricable. Simply put our Enlightenment ideals come to be seen as instruments of imperialism to the extent that not only are reactionaries empowered in their non-western domestic context, but discussion is precluded altogether. It is in precisely this way that the foreign policy IS linked to terrorism. The key here is to quietly empower advocates abroad where we can, while avoiding the moral grandstanding and talk of “clashes of civilisation” which undermine them.


I think the second one is to take this is an injunction to improve ourselves; for this to be a clarion call that cuts across the strangely soothing cacophony of jingoism and self-satisfaction.

Corbyn, the Conservative Sneer and the Freedom of Unspeech

The outrage over Jeremy Corbyn’s not singing the national anthem is just the latest example of the pathologically entrenched conservatism of the British media. This phenomenon grows so egregious, so palpable by the day that it has drawn mention in America of all places, that bastion of uncorseted misinformation. Respected commentators Paul Krugman and Jon Schwartz discuss this in their most recent articles.

The right are so apt to cry foul when there is outrage over something they have said – to sanctimoniously disparage it as elitist “sneering”, or “political correctness” – yet here they are raining down fulmination for something somebody has not said. It is beyond parody.

What is worse is the lack of support from within his own party.

His appointed Shadow Foreign Minister, Catherine West, expressed the concern that:

“for many people… singing the national anthem is a way of showing that respect. I think it would have been appropriate and right and respectful of people’s feelings to have done so. I think so, yes [he should have done].”

Such wet, pusillanimous cant. Other “people’s feelings” be damned, what about his? What about such things as integrity?

Why should Corbyn dignify the same mawkish and brutal illogic which tells us to hail the mere fact, in this most prosperous of ages, of our monarch outliving others as though it were some kind of achievement – such obsequiousness would make even a Republican blush; and that “our boys” buffeted by overwhelming technological sophistication and complicit in the terrorisation and exploitation of a prostrate civilian population with no question, are somehow “brave”.

He’s totally entitled to his pacifism and the espousal thereof, without being shrieked at for being “disrespectful”, in the same way right wing commentators perpetually gripe about.

And how telling are the terms on which he is dismissed: a tramp, scruffy, not “electable”. So sayeth the self-appointed anti-establishmentarians of the Murdoch right. And yet it is thought that sneering is the preserve of the left!

Farage’s Farrago: Notes from the Swivel Eyed Lunatic Fringe

Nigel Farage’s shameless co-option of the South Yorkshire child abuse scandal has dragged his party to new demagogic lows.

Farage is beyond the pale here – if you pardon the pun. “Political correctness” has not caused the horrific child abuse in Rotherham.

People are responsible for their actions – or lack thereof. The right bang on about this and yet they do not seem to want to apply it here. If people are so squeamish around notions of ethnicity they should not be social workers. Likewise, if they have twisted the idea of an engagement against the dynamics of discrimination to be mean that other ethnic groups cannot be reproached, that is on their heads. This is a grotesque caricature of what people refer to as “political correctness”.

If we are going to go about the insane, inane business of dismissing political stances on the damage that an erroneous reading of them results in, how about the anti-immigration violence your party could be said to give legitimacy to? The discrimination which destroys so many lives in our country’s inner-cities?

Just giving people carte blanch to be bigoted is not going to help things, either. There is cause to think that it will make matters worse. If we make it acceptable to indulge our prejudices and “common sense”, we will end up with a skewed picture of abuse and an inefficient distribution of resources towards an imagined type of perpetrator. This would make suffering more likely in the long run, but of course when you are busy making hay politically you are not bothered about this.

Fear of a CCP Planet

The biggest story of this year has undoubtedly been the Edward Snowden leaks, which have done so much to show how entrenched and systematised the practise of mass surveillance is in western society. What is perhaps more egregious than this is the response of the state towards such revelations. Despite the undeniable contribution of Snowden’s revelations to public life he is still denied the status of whistle blower and considered a spy by an Obama administration which has declared war on whistle blowers. It is worth pointing out that of the eleven people to be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, conceived to stop sabotage during World War I, fully eight had their proceedings brought about by the Obama administration. In Britain the government’s harassment of the Guardian for breaking the story of the leaks, and by doing so exposing GCHQ’s collusion and use of warrantless surveillance, is also well known: accusations of criminality, spouses of journalists being withheld under terror legislation, the calling of editors to McCarthyist select committees to be asked if they “love their country”. Such thuggery has not gone unnoticed abroad as evinced by the comments of Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, that it was “unacceptable in a democratic society.”

That Snowden’s actions constitute an act of whistle blowing and criminality is beyond doubt. Even in the USA, this realisation is starting to take hold: there are currently three motions going through Congress and a report recommending the scaling back of NSA activities has just been delivered to Obama. It’s an altogether more muted in Britain, however. Without his revelations neither the people nor their democratic representatives would know of the scale and nature of government surveillance thus leaving us with the absurdity of a democracy without the informed consent of the electorate, even indirectly through those they chose to legislate for them. Instead of being thankful for this necessary and empowering disclosure though, our democratic representatives seek to crush it.

What is driving this assault on our democratic rights?

For the answer we have to look beyond the government’s disingenuous and hysterical representation of terrorism as an “existential threat” and divert our gaze towards the most portentous geopolitical phenomenon of our times – the rise of China, for the first time in centuries, to international pre-eminence.  


That China’s undemocratic and highly regimented road to global power will challenge and confound our cherished assumptions about how the modern state should relate with its people and economy has been much commented upon. Pankaj Mishra, writing about Asian nations, writes how China’s rise has proven that “wholesale adoption of western ideologies” do not work.  

What is less common, however is extrapolating from this observation to ask how the politics of the west might be effected. One of the few exceptions is Martin Jacques. Jacques writes in his book, When China Rules the World, that as China rises “ideas such as ‘advanced’, ‘developed’ and ‘civilized’ will no longer be synonymous with the West. This threatens Western societies with an existential crisis of the first order, the political consequences of which we cannot predict but will certainly be profound… [for] our belief in human rights and democracy, for instance”. However, he has distanced himself from this, writing in a recent blog post that “with the deep roots of democracy in the West — and the absence of it in the Chinese tradition — the overall influence of Chinese governance in the Western world will remain very limited.”  

It is odd that at a time of growing awareness of how change transcends borders – with the Arab Spring so recent in memory and transnational history all the rage in the academy – that we seem so reluctant to acknowledge that the changing of the guard and the explosion of our paradigms could have an enormous effect in the west.

China’s rise will likely have a profound effect on us; it presents the right with far too good an opportunity – much like terrorism – to remould the state in line with their interests. Just as they agitate for lowering wages, working conditions and living standards by invoking the idea of international “competitiveness”, expect them to use the same concept to justify an erosion of democratic rights more and more often. How, they will ask, can we compete with disciplined China if denied recourse to the same apparatus as they?

The process has already started. Liam Fox is one of the leading voices in calling for the prosecution of the Guardian for its role in breaking the Snowden leaks. In his recent book, Rising Tide, he argues for such unaccountable secrecy on the grounds that “it was a gift to Beijing to have its activities overshadowed by a debate about civil liberties in America”. Here, political rights and democratic empowerment are subordinate to the need to “compete” with China, whose surveillance activities he not coincidentally frames as a “threat to the very essence of Western prosperity”. People like Fox would have us believe that in the face of competition with China, we cannot afford such trifles as democratic accountability and protection from unwarranted surveillance.  

In this way the political rights of the majority will be sacrificed for a negligible growth in GDP that will go to an already wealthy minority but celebrated as though indicative of the well-being of the nation. Expect democracy to come under attack in such a way as the right enviously eyes up the cool “efficiency” of Chinese technocracy. 

As the next century progresses, there is the danger that we will see the onset of a deep spiritual and political malaise in west as the idea that democracy and economic development do not go hand in hand becomes more prevalent. Basic liberal values held dear to western civilisation since the Enlightenment like privacy, democracy and equality will come to be seen as increasingly anachronistic.

You can already see it now in the apathy in Britain over the NSA’s untrammelled access ot its data: privacy is passé.

Do not look to the right to “conserve” western civilisation. Look at how our communities have been uprooted, our sovereignty superseded and our culture debased in search of a quick profit.

Of course, there will limits to our emulation of China. When it comes, for instance, to their use of state owned industry, the sentinels of entrenched private interests will make sure to advocate vociferously for the axioms of the “free market” – or, basically, the current one sided arrangement whereby that state acts as a guarantor for large business through bailouts, subsidies and the outsourcing of large government contracts all the while providing it with tax breaks and a legalised system of “avoidance”. No: no matter how successful China’s state capitalism, this is a lesson that will remain resolutely opaque to us.

During the Cold War we looked at the totalitarianism of the East and redoubled our commitment to civil rights, the rule of law and democracy (ours, at any rate). But something has happened since and we seem so much more cynical and unsure. We value markets and consumer goods, but not our own liberty. Is this what decadence looks like?

On Drugs: In Defence of Flowers and Ford


Good on the citizens of Toronto and their at least partial rehabilitation of Rob Ford – disgraced (or is he…) mayor of the city who has been found to have taken crack cocaine. The most recent polling taken after his “outing”, as it were, has seen a 5% increase in his approval rating.

It makes a very instructive comparison with how the British public has dealt with similar revelations about the former head of Co-op Bank, Reverend Paul Flowers.

The reaction has been quite spectacular. After video evidence of him buying a variety of bespoke narcotics became public knowledge, he has been: denounced in the press; expelled from the Labour Party; suspended from his ministry; and yesterday, never one to miss a trick, the coalition decided this would be the best time to announce an inquiry into the floundering Co-op group.

When did we become such a pusillanimous, hysterical, staid bunch of milquetoast bed wetters.

It’s like we’ve gone back to the 50s, only a weird dystopian 50s where McCarthyism won out and a soulless, mass produced smut (some of which has the gall to masquerade as art, as even a cursory look at the world of fashion, music videos or the magazine “rack” – if you pardon the pun – down your local shop will tell you) pervades our culture; a 50s without the consolation of genuine community and consensus.

By any measure, these men are stonewall legends and EXACTLY the sort of men we need in public life – at least say the denizens of Toronto, 19% of which tell pollsters that they would vote Rob Ford as a future Prime Minister of Canada.

“Oh, wah wah wah. He took drugs. Wah wah”.

So what he lives life on his own terms – and quite frankly it is none of our business.

There has been much about Flower’s behaviour that has been disagreeable of late. His patronage of anti-drugs charity LifeLine looks to be totally hypocritical; under his leadership Co-op Bank overvalued their existing loan portfolio by £3.6 billion and so had to be bailed out by US hedge funds; and that’s not to touch on his scandalous expense claims which forced him to resign from the position in 2011. It has yet to be proven that this is an effect of his recreational use of drugs, of which know little about the extent and nature. It is just lazily assumed that two are related somehow. In a fit of crude reductionism borne out of a puritanical mind set, Deborah Orr in the Guardian imagines Flowers to have “destroyed the Co-op” single handedly.

In fact, for many these questions of utility are irrelevant: the real issue is that he has done drugs at all. Doing drugs is wrong and it just is, so the dictates of common sense state. This weird sense of moralityis best evinced by Peter Popham in the Independent who states that compared to the heinous “sin” of drug taking, “some of his offences were relatively trivial, like a drink-driving bust in 1990.” But what’s risking other people’s lives compared to snorting a few lines, eh?

It is an irony seldom pointed out though that most of the anti-drug set so eager to denounce users as “low lifes” tend to be far more mediocre. Yet no one pesters these hypocrites for their hopelessness – because so long as it hurts no one else it matters not a whit what someone chooses to do with their life. I thought we have reached a point in history where we try not to moralise about the lifestyle choices of others?

Maybe save your ire for, I don’t know: the shameless appropriation of public assets by a party far more in thrall to corporate lobbyists than its individual members if the Conservative Party Conference is anything to go by; the mass evasion of tax by multinational concerns and it’s entrenchment in law; the stripping away of the right for all to a decent education; one of the worst levels of social mobility in the OECD; and the spread of warrantless surveillance.