Sporadic thoughts on British General Election

The British election is a success for the strategy that Theresa May pursued: winning over middle aged and elderly working class voters in the post-industrial north. According to a Yougov survey released on Tuesday, she increased the Tory share of voters with a GCSE or less from 38% in 2015 to 55%. In a very general sense that constitutes a success of the aforementioned strategy. The problem is with the strategy. May’s campaign was unarguably incompetent but the strategy itself was more costly than the implementation of it. The problem is that such a strategy was always likely to alienate other sections of society: the young and the educated. People, in short, more comfortable with globalisation and more likely to benefit from a labour market that gives greater returns to cognitive skills and educational attainment. An even more acute problem was that unless Labour lost quite a lot of working class workers such a strategy would be unlikely to compensate for Labour’s gains amongst young people and wealthy liberals in large cities in the country – the demographics disaffected by May’s affection for old-school Toryism. In truth, Labour didn’t lose that much working class voters from the last election and even regained some UKIP voters.

 

Although it is true that Labour was nominally committed to Hard Brexit – leaving the single market and ending free movement of people – it is nevertheless striking that Labour’s surge came primarily from those most likely to vote Remain. It’s interesting to note that whilst a YouGov  poll last month found that 68% of the public believe Brexit should not be stop, a Pew poll from the spring found that 48% of Brits think leaving the EU will be a bad thing in contrast to 44% who think it will be a good thing. Another Yougov poll conducted in April found that a plurality Brits think Brexit will be bad for jobs and leave us economically worse off, but a plurality also favour a Hard Brexit (36% preferring a soft brexit; 43% favouring hard). I don’t think personally believing something will be bad is mutually exclusive with thinking it should be implemented. In general I think Brexit constitutes a synecdoche for something else: a set of cosmopolitan values to which well-educated and young people sympathise with. I’ve seen some people reference the dementia-tax as critical to May’s failure but May did better than Cameron amongst over 60s. A more interesting question is would she have done better than she would have otherwise have done without that issue.

 

The Labour Party is primarily the party for middle class public sector workers. Two reports by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies illustrate this. The pledge to abolish tuition fees is a boon to the students who will become middle class and upper middle class and doesn’t really affect the working class as much. The IFS also finds that the sharp increase in minimum wage to £10 a hour will disproportionately benefit workers who already live in middle income households and is potentially very bad for low-income workers: not just through losing jobs, but in getting into the labour market in the first place, as their labour cost increase rather sharply to £14 billion a year. The least worst manifesto for low-income workers was, unsurprisingly, from the Liberal Democrats. 

 

The Tory Party, on other hand, is now primarily the party for pensioners and Hard Brexit. Strikingly, the only employment group they beat Labour were pensioners. The call to end the ban on grammar schools, the call to renew a debate on fox hunting – these were genuinely bizarre proposals that reflected a shift from Cameron’s attempt to modernise the party. They prided themselves on being strong and stable but became the very first party to do a U-turn on a manifesto pledge before an election. They denounced Labour as a coalition of chaos but have to rely on the DUP in something that’s sort of a coalition but isn’t really. Which, you know, sounds a bit chaotic.

 

I’m ambivalent about this election. On the one hand, I am sad that a man who has praised a host of tyrants and terrorists has been definitively empowered within a party ostensibly committed to equality and social justice. On the other hand, I am happy that a Prime Minister who embodies a turn from the liberal-ish politics I espouse has been given a bloody nose after calling an election with an unearned level of confidence in her leadership ability. 

 

 

Contrary to the fake news commonly propagated by the twitter personality Sarah Kate, I am actually a broke student and would really appreciate it if you could spare some cash here and reward my writing if you like it. Thanks. 

Review of “Stoner”

It is perhaps no coincidence that Stoner rhymes with loner. John Williams’s eponymous novel is an exquisite distillation of what it means to be alone. Not primarily a physical loneliness, an absence of intimacy, but a spiritual loneliness: the sense that no one in the world truly understands you. But more than that it is a book about lonely triumph.

Published in 1965, the book only gained its reputation as a canonical text of mid 20th century American Literature in the early 21st century. I was browsing Waterstones when I first saw it. A few months later I stumbled into Stoner again in an independent book shop. Surprised by the effusive praise it received on its back, and with a hearty recommendation from the bookseller, I bought it. I was stunned by its brilliance.

The novel charts the life of William Stoner, Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University in Missouri, from adolescence to old age. We first see Stoner as a farm boy from a rural working class family in Booneville, Missouri. It ends with Stoner as a cranky old man facing a terrible illness. Absent from his life is any solid indication of material success. He is often in debt, his neurotic wife loathes him, his students treat him with indifference, and he never ascends above the position of Assistant Professor.

Part of Stoner’s brilliance is in vividly reflecting a concatenation of fears familiar to many people: the fear our lives will stagnate rather than improve; the fear we will marry the wrong person; the fear that our imprint on life would be minimal. But Stoner also offers redemption from these common anxieties.

On the point of a stagnating life, Stoner’s affair offers him the intimacy and pleasure that his wife Edith would not provide. Compare the malodorous sense of shame associated with Stoner’s sexual interactions with Edith with his interaction with Katherine Driscoll, a young and intelligent Graduate student. During their honeymoon he attempts to make love to Edith for the first time:

When he touched the softness of her thighs she turned her head sharply away and lifted her arm to cover her eyes. She made no sound.

Stoner and Edith’s relationship seems like an excellent advertisement for the view that sex before marriage is good. Beneath this somewhat glib point is a significant one: Edith’s visceral revulsion and coldness toward Stoner shows they should never have got married in the first place. Contrast the passage excerpted above with the one below, which details the early stages of Stoner’s affair with Katherine:

 

Her flesh, that at a distance seemed so cool and pale, had beneath it a warm ruddy undertone like light flowing beneath a milky translucence. And like the translucent flesh, the calm and poise and reserve which he had thought were herself, masked a warmth and playfulness and humour whose intensity was made possible by the appearance that disguised them.

Some passages reach a level of stylistic elegance that make you gasp, and some passages capture so fully a particular experience that it interrupts your flow of reading. But to mingle both elegance with insight as the passage above does is to reach the pinnacle of any form of artistic expression: to change, in a fundamental sense, the way you perceive the world.

The fear of marrying the wrong person is a common one, but it presupposes the existence of a Mr or Mrs Right. It is an attractive idea expertly deconstructed by the passage below:

In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.

But the most potent redemptive point of the novel is the dignity that Stoner takes in the book he publishes. Significant historical moments in history, like the First World War, colour the background of the novel. But it is Stoner’s personal history that is the focal point. Although it often feels like he is sinking, Stoner’s pride in the book he publishes is his own form of private triumph. And the novel as a form – unlike the Epic, which depicts heroes and villains – is about depicting the private lives of ordinary men and women. By this measure Stoner is the quintessential novel. 

 

 

 

 

 

The student left’s broken moral compass

To anyone sufficiently familiar with the politics of the contemporary student left, attempts to censor speakers for the alleged crime of bigotry should not come as a surprise. Neither should the endorsement of Islamists and their list of grievances. Nevertheless, the endorsement by young progressives of a society that promotes regressive speakers in the service of suppressing the voice of a feminist ex-Muslim still has the capacity to shock. It is especially shocking because the groups who have endorsed these attempts to bully a progressive ex-Muslim are the feminist society and the LGBTQ society. 

On Monday, November 30th, Maryam Namazie, a plain-spoken critic of Islamism and tireless advocate for ex-Muslims, gave a speech organised by the Goldsmiths Athiest, Secularist and Humanist society. Earlier that day, the Islamic society at Goldsmiths University objected to her right to give the speech, citing that her alleged Islamophobia is in violation of the safe space policy at the university. Her speech went ahead. Or, should I say, started ahead – for during her speech, Namazie was constantly interrupted and heckled and abused by members of the Islamic society. It was thuggery befitting fascists. What was the response to this by the feminist society and LGBTQ society? Essentially: intolerant and thuggish fascists need safe spaces too. 

According to the feminist society

Goldsmiths Feminist Society stands in solidarity with Goldsmiths Islamic Society. We support them in condemning the actions of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society and agree that hosting known islamophobes at our university creates a climate of hatred. 

Maryam Namazie is a “known islamophobe” only to the ignorant or those who conflate criticism of Islam and hatred of Islamism with hatred of Muslims. In other words, she is a bigot to those who essentially support blasphemy law. 

According to Goldsmiths LGBTQ society

Following recent events on- and offline, we would like to state and show our solidarity with the sisters and brothers of our Goldsmiths ISOC society. 

We condemn AHS and online supporters for their islamophobic remarks, attitudes, and harassment. If they feel intimidated, we urge them to look at the underpinnings of their ideology. We find that personal and social harm enacted in the name of ‘free speech’ is foul, and detrimental to the wellbeing of students and staff on campus. 

We hope this series of events prompts reflection in all parties involved, but also onlookers. Allyship consists of apologies, bearing with and deconstructing discomfort, respecting the necessary privacy of safer spaces, and opening our hearts to humans unlike ourselves.

Before examining the underpinnings of the Atheist and Humanist society ideology, one should first examine Goldsmiths’ Islamic society. 

In 2011, they invited to speak at their annual dinner Abdurraheem Green and Hamza Tzortzis. Green believes that a husband is permitted to beat his wife if she misbehaves, and that homosexuality should not be permitted in society; Tzortzis has supported child-marriage

In 2014, Goldsmiths Islamic society invited Cage Prisoners – a group whose dalliance with terrorism and extremism is well-documented. CAGE has supported a wide range of Islamist terrorists – from Abu Hamza to Anwar al-Awlaki. The deputy director of CAGE, Asim Qureshi, has twice refused when interviewed on TV to answer whether he thinks adulterers should be stoned to death. 

So the feminist and LGBTQ society think it appropriate to ban a vocal opponent of wife-beating, lethal homophobia, apostasy laws and terrorism, whilst supporting a society that promotes and invites misogynistic and homophobic Islamists. No-platforming for left-wing critics of Islamist oppression; safe-spaces for thugs that endorse theocratic fascists: this is the dysfunctional moral compass now crippling the mainstream student left.  

Ideas and beliefs should not be beyond scrutiny in any society that regards itself as free – especially if those ideas are used to oppress. Universities should not be considered safe spaces for any young person cognisant of the fact that open societies necessitates you tolerate speech that you dislike. Instead, what we have here is a culture of progressives, disaffected by liberal principles, pointedly incurious or delusional about the people they’re defending, marginalising the voice of someone who speaks up for vulnerable people. For people who don’t have the benefit of languidly complaining about safe spaces; for people who don’t have the benefit of coming out as gay to their parents or telling them they’re atheist or having a boyfriend; people who dare to behave in a way that doesn’t suit the stereotype of brown people, and instead think for themselves. People who don’t cry or wallow in shallow victimhood because they’re offended by the misuse of a pronoun or the wearing of problematic clothes. These people are alone because the student left has abandoned them in pursuit of the solipsistic politics of grievance. 

Let’s recap: A feminist society and a LGBTQ society are supporting the marginalisation of a feminist and pro-gay rights ex-Muslim by a group that promotes homophobes and misogynists. End of analysis. 

Corbyn’s supporters should be honest 

The charge levelled by many at Jeremy Corbyn is not that he is anti-Semitic. He himself has said little to draw that damning conclusion. The charge levelled, with evidence increasing by the day, is that he endorses anti-Semites and attends events organised by anti-Semites. The charge levelled, therefore, is that he views anti-semitism as insufficiently worrisome, and, at times, views anti-Semites as even praiseworthy – particularly anti-Semites who hide under the cover of anti-Zionism. This is dangerous in itself. Racism, even when couched in terms that may draw your ideological sympathy, merits outright condemnation. Nothing else. This is especially true if your raison d’être is social justice and equality. Instead, opposition to Israeli policies – not in itself anti-Semitic, and at times morally justified – has blinded some people to clear expressions of bigotry. Corbyn suffers from this disabling myopia to a remarkable degree. 

Those who defend Corbyn rely on two arguments: firstly, that guilt by association – attending the same event as anti-Semites – is an insufficient base on which to build an argument. Secondly, that opposition to Israeli policies doesn’t entail anti-semitism, and consequently those that criticise Corbyn are doing so from a position of bad faith; out of a wish to shield Israel from legitimate criticism or part of a general right-wing agenda. Both arguments are strawmen that rely on a misapprehension of most people’s motives and inattention to their arguments. 

Owen Jones – perhaps the most staunch defender of Corbyn in the mainstream media – contends that guilt by association is a fallacious way of critiquing a political figure. I agree. But in his defence of Corbyn, he argues: 

having spent his life attending more meetings and protests than virtually any other MP, he will have encountered and met countless people. I can’t remember people I’ve shared platforms with and met (which has led to many embarrassing moments in my case) and the idea an MP like Corbyn juggling his constituency and campaigning work and meeting the number of people he does will remember is pushing human capabilities to an extreme degree.

The problem, though, is the main charge levelled at Corbyn isn’t who he associates with; the main charge is who he endorses and publicly supports. Jones also argues: 

And here is the problem facing Jeremy Corbyn. If he knew somebody had anti-Semitic views or indulged Holocaust denial, he would find their views utterly repulsive.

That may be the case. But when he called Hamas “a group dedicated to bringing about long term peace and social justice and political justice”, was that an expression of ignorance on his part? Is he ignorant of the Hamas charter which calls for the destruction of Israel and the extirpation of her Jewish citizens? Perhaps he is ignorant of their suicide bombings and deployment of human shields – the pinnacle of suicidal martyrdom. Or rather, is their propagation of anti-Semitic canards, such as the protocols of elders of Zion, too discrete for his busy political gaze, too hidden under their righteous objective to end the occupation? (The occupation, not of the West Bank and Gaza, incidentally, but of the whole of Israel.) 

He called them “a group dedicated to bringing about peace and social justice”. This is not an expression of diplomacy, a conciliatory measure to advance the peace process. This is an endorsement of a fascist theocratic group that supports everything a progressive should hate and hates everything a progressive should support.  

He similarly extended this endorsement to Hezbollah. Whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, similarly seeks the massacre of Jewish citizens. Corbyn doesn’t engage with diplomacy towards ‘unsavoury characters’; he endorses fascists who share with him a hostility to western foreign policy and her allies. Guilt by association? No. What we have instead is guilt by affirmation. 

The suggestion of guilt by association is used more explicitly, though, to defend the rallies that Corbyn attends. In August 2012 – and a few times since then – Corbyn spoke at an Al Quds day rally. The rally was created by the Iranian regime in opposition to Israel’s existence. Shouts of “Death to Jews” are routinely proclaimed. The banner of Ayatollah Khomeini is proudly displayed. Someone who is apparently dedicated to peace was attending a rally of hatred – where revolutionary violence and virulent anti-semitism is the main and not a side dish. 

Note who else also spoke at that event. Neturei Karta – an extremist Jewish sect that views the holocaust as divinely mandated – were introduced as “the true Jews”. Stephen Sizer – a reverend that believes Israel was behind 9/11 – was similarly greeted with praise before he spoke. Also invited to speak was Sheikh Bahmanpour, a Shia cleric that believes Israel should be the destroyed and replaced by a shariah state. 

What unites all these guests, what common thread is evident from them? Support for Palestinian rights? Perhaps. Would you, though, allow your support for Palestinian rights to be corrupted by attending events that demonise Jews? In other words, would your support for Palestinian extend to legitimising those who hate Jews? If not, Corbyn’s attendance of these rallies deserve to be viewed for what they patently are: legitimising people who hate Jews in the purported service of a progressive goal. 

But to criticise Corbyn for attending this rally is guilt by association, so argue his defenders. How could he have known Al Quds day features anti-Semites? Corbyn’s defenders assume that the event just happens to have anti-Semites, as an unfortunate but unintended consequence of pro-Palestinian politics. This is spectacularly wrong: The wish to destroy Israel is animated by hostility to Jews and a wish to subordinate them to suffering and fear. It is not a specific political dispute; it is blanket bigotry.

Imagine If you decided to speak at a rally organised by neo-nazis, with pictures of David Duke displayed proudly, and with a significant chunk of your fellow speakers sharing the neo-nazi ideology. Is to scrutinise you an example of guilt by association? Should we assume, as a politician of some 3 decades and a man dedicated to peace, you’re extremely ignorant of the anti-semitism at the core of neo-nazism? Corbyn’s defenders will now say the analogy I’m offering is hyperbolic. 

For the claim of hyperbole to hold water you’d have to believe that calling for the mass murder of Jews, viewing the holocaust as a hoax, viewing the elders of Zion as real, and inviting to your event an assortment of well honed anti-Semites, has no significant similarity with neo-nazi anti-semitism?
 

Even if they concede there is some significant similarity, they’ll argue that Corbyn’s main focus is pro-Palestinian politics and not the anti-semitism of the people who organised the event, and certainly not the anti-semitism of people who were invited. This will be conceding Corbyn knew about the anti-semitism, and views it as insufficiently worrisome. Would you, as a supporter of a party with a rich history of social justice and advocacy for equality, want to elect a man who thinks anti-semitism under the cover of anti-Zionism is justified? Or who can’t identify it when it’s in close proximity? Many would, alas, and it proves that many on the left don’t view anti-semitism as badly as they view other forms of racism. Jews – sorry, Zionists – are assumed to be privileged, and this privilege means they’re never the victims; only and always the victimiser.
 

A Zionist that screams anti-semitism at Corbyn is a Zionist that wants to protect the oppressive state of Israel. A Zionist that worries about someone who is enabling and legitimising the oldest hatred in our civilisation should shut the fuck up and think instead about austerity and our support for Saudi Arabia. This is what is being suggested. And it has flowered into such a foul spectacle that the word “Zionist” is spat out with the same malice that traditionally underpinned the use of the word of “Jew”: to denote a group allegedly dedicated to treachery and division. 

The second defence of Corbyn is that criticism of him comes from a position of bad faith. It is argued that Zionists and people with an explicit right wing agenda conflate legitimate criticism of Israeli policy with hostility towards Jews. They allegedly support this conflation because they blindly support the interests of western power. A recent article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown offers the clearest attempt at this argument. Alibhai-Brown argues

 Just as pernicious is the way Zionists use the charge of anti-Semitism to block probes into Israel’s oppressive practices, its weaponry, and its influence in Western parliaments. Some public intellectuals and politicians – who should have some understanding of nuance – have become propagandists for Israel, be the country’s actions right or wrong.

 Most people critical of Corbyn don’t think criticism of Israel entails anti-semitism. Most people who are critical of Corbyn don’t even suppose Corbyn is personally anti-Semitic. The argument advanced against Corbyn is clear: it’s inappropriate to have as leader of the opposition party in a western democracy someone who endorses racists. This is not to do directly with Israeli policies. Endorsing Raed Salah – proponent of the blood libel, and someone who thinks Jews were behind 9/11 – should be viewed for what it is: an endorsement of a racist ideologue. It should not be viewed exclusively through the lens of Palestinian rights.

 If someone called Nick Griffin “an honoured citizen”, and attended a conference that celebrated him, how far would you go to listen to the political context provided as justification before you call “bullshit”?

The implication obvious from this is that racism should concern only if it is perpetrated by those who are the oppressors. White westerners – and now Jews – are the oppressors; Palestinians, and Muslims more generally, are the oppressed. The oppressed cannot be racist. Any expression of alleged bigotry by the oppressed is an expression of a legitimate political grievance. Attempts to scrutinise such expressions must therefore come from a position of bad faith. Ergo, if Salah is racist, but he also hates the occupation, Corbyn’s endorsement of him is an endorsement of a legitimate political grievance. Bigotry is the burden only of the white westerner and its Zionist accomplice. 

This argument is shoddy because it infantilises one group to excuse the hatred of another. We should view Palestinians as humans: this entails viewing them as capable of religious prejudice that should merit the opprobrium of leftists, usually the most sensitive to accusations of prejudice. This also entails holding Corbyn to account for doing the exact opposite. In indulging anti-Semitic reactionaries, from Hamas to Hezbollah and Raed Salah, in his effusive support of them, he is treating bigotry not as bigotry and, by doing that, he is betraying the dignity of Palestinians and the trust of Jews.  

The argument that criticism of Corbyn comes from a position of bad faith fails to account for the fact that the people Corbyn supports don’t hate Israel but Jews – a distinction which, for them, is meaningless anyway. It fails to account for the fact that it is not just Blairites, neocons, and neoliberals who worry about a potential political leader palling with racists. People who think anti-semitism is worrisome in itself worry too – and so they should, for it is a matter of principle first and foremost. 

What it irritates me most is the dishonesty with which Corbyn’s apologists have defended his links to racism. The charge is he endorses and willingly attends events organised by anti-Semites, not that he merely and accidentally associates with them. This charge is supported by evidence of him saying positive things about racists and attending events organised by groups ideologically committed to racism. Corbyn’s supporters should be honest: they should concede Corbyn supports anti-Semites. But they should then concede, that to them, this support doesn’t matter. They should be honest and concede that anti-semitism under the cover of anti-Zionism doesn’t matter to them, and is secondary to opposing austerity and opposing western foreign policy. 

Let them then concede that parts of the left are now morally bankrupt on the issue of racism. They should admit that they’re diminishing the values they pretend to espouse. Let them concede all of that, and support the MP from Islington with a candid heart – but not, in reality, with an anti-racist one. 

Secularists shouldn’t support anti-Muslim bigots.

In the process of editing this blog, it came to my attention that the Mohammed exhibition has been cancelled . I don’t know the reason why, but if it was due to external pressure and or overt coercion then that would be a shame. I didn’t support the exhibition because I think the main speakers are unsupportable, but their right to host the exhibition should be paramount and free from coercion or any external pressure. So bear in mind that I had written this piece without knowledge of the cancellation of the event. I think some of the general points I make are still salient though.

Part 1 – Principles

Perhaps the most stinging attack that is levelled at left wing people who side with Islamists is the accusation of hypocrisy: as progressives ostensibly dedicated to advancement of individual liberty and human rights, it is hypocritical to work with those who support the antithesis of these principles. This reasoning justified the angry response against Amnesty International for their alliance with CAGE; it also explains why, for example, Islamist apologist groups like the NUS have faced considerable opprobrium from some quarters. It is a straightforward appeal to moral integrity.  

Of course it is sensible to work with those who, although they disagree here and there, broadly share the same vision as you. This does not, however, entail working with people whose vision and agenda are wholly different. To fight one form of intolerance by accommodating those who carry with them extreme intolerance of their own is to empty your fight of moral integrity – all you have is righteous indignation; your principles have been irrevocably polluted. This is the argument levelled at left-wing people who side with Islamists, and this argument is correct in principle. 

So it is curious, then, to witness a parallel phenomenon taking place. The Lawyers’ Secular Society – a group created to support and advance secular principles – is supporting an event organised by an online magazine called Vive Charlie. The event is a Mohammed cartoon drawing exhibition organised by Vive Charlie in concert with former parliamentary candidate for UKIP and head of ShariaWatch, Anne Marie Waters. The event and exhibition has a goal: to demonstrate implacable opposition to Islamic blasphemy codes, and the ideology of political Islam that fosters it. 

Or is it Islam itself that they’re opposed to? Or is it, in fact, Muslims? 

For the main guests invited to speak at the exhibition, the distinction between the three are entirely dissolved: Paul Weston, head of Liberty GB, wants Muslims to be banned from public office; Geert Wilders, Dutch politician, holds that Muslim immigration poses an existential threat to European society, and wants to ban the building of mosques. So you have secularists – whose remit includes promotion of equality and opposition to discrimination – supporting a conference whose main speakers hold discriminatory and bigoted views; in other words, you have a demonstration of hypocrisy and a betrayal of principle. You have a case, therefore, analogous to the alliance between “progressives” and Islamists.

To expand on the analogy further, take the example of CAGE. A group of Bath academics have written an article for OpenDemocracy which said it is important to work with CAGE – an Islamist lobby group – because they share with the academics an opposition to the governments counter-extremism measures. They argue:

Islamophobia needs to be understood as centrally related to the interests of the British state, and the practices of the security apparatus in particular. This is why Cage’s work is so important and why it should be defended.

So the obstacle faced by CAGE, their alleged victimhood at the hands of the British state, means we have to support them – irrespective of other comsiderations, such as principle. This reasoning, that our support of something should be dictated by how it is treated by our enemies, is similarly acceded to by secularists who support anti-Muslim bigots: those who draw the prophet and risk the wrath of Islamists deserve not just support for their right to do so, but support for the exhibition itself. Morality is shaped by ever-changing circumstance, rather than being derived from a general set of principles. (I’m not making a direct moral equivalence between the British government and Islamists here. Rather, I seek to highlight that is improper to subordinate your moral principles to considerations of who is most oppressed at a particular time.)

It’s important to note a distinction here – between supporting their right to host the event, and supporting the event’s agenda. Supporting the right to blaspheme Islamic precepts is axiomatic: it is essential for any self-regarding liberal society that no idea or doctrine is beyond scrutiny, and no taboo beyond the scope of satire. Those who say otherwise, and buttress their objections with reference to the alleged oppression of Muslims in the west, undermine the beating heart of a free society. It is just as important for Muslims as non-Muslims that blasphemy codes be abolished. The abolishment of blasphemy codes will constitute a leap to modernity, whereby dissenting Muslim voices are at liberty to challenge the core taboos of their faith without coercion or fear. It will constitute a liberal ideal.  

So I support the right to blaspheme, irrespective of those who do the blaspheming, because the ideal sustained by blaspheming – that no idea goes unchallenged, and dogma remains enclosed – is important to a liberal society. My support for this right does not, however, entail supporting the agenda and beliefs of whoever chooses to exercise it. I support, for example, the right for writers to publish books, irrespective of the books’ content, because I believe the right to artistic or intellectual liberty to be an essential one for any culturally vibrant society. This does not entail support for the content of a specific novel published or for the message advanced by a specific polemic. 

I support the right to host the exhibition, because such rights are axiomatic; I do not, however, support the agenda of the exhibition, because the main speakers hold racist views, and view Muslims as a threat rather than Islamists – a distinction which, for bigots, is meaningless anyway. 

 It’s also important to note that whilst being a conventional racist is not as morally objectionable as being a racist who supports medieval punishments, being a racist still carries with it an attitude towards fellow humans that should concern secularists for its own sake. 

Another distinction to lay out, therefore, is between someone who supports theocracy – straightforwardly anathema to the principles of secularism – and someone who is “merely” a racist. A theocrat embodies the antithesis of secular principles, but does a racist? Being a secularist means you believe certain belief systems shouldn’t have monopoly on state legislation. Implicit in this is the view that religious people and non-religious people should be treated equally; so a secularist supports equality and tolerance. Therefore, a secularist, animated by the value of equality, should oppose racism for the same reason he or she opposes Islamism: both breed intolerance. 

 The conventional racist in this instance breeds intolerance of the brown person or the Muslim; the Islamist breeds intolerance of the degenerate kuffar. Both, therefore, are contrary to the values fostered by secularism – the values of treating each person as an individual deserving of equal dignity, and scrutinising only ideas and doctrine. Supporting the agenda of an event headlined by either racists and Islamists should consequently run contrary to the values of a secularist. 

For secularists who are insufficiently hostile to Islamism, to argue that you shouldn’t associate with Islamists is to scaremonger about Muslims and undermine Muslim political activists. For secularists on the other side of the ideological spectrum, hostility to an alliance between secularists and bigots is a cowardly demonstration of political correctness. For both, secularism is a means to an end rather than an end itself. 

Part 2 – Lawyer Secular Society and Vive Charlie.  

A prominent member of the Lawyers Secular Society, Charlie Klendijan, blogged about the reasons why the group had decided to support the Mohammed exhibition. He argues for the principle of solidarity. The debilitating nature of the threat posed by Islamist violence means that whoever draws the prophet, and thereby challenges Islamic blasphemy law, deserves the moral support of secularists – irrespective of other considerations. Klendijan argues:  

Supporting from the sidelines by remarking banally, backside-coveringly and while subtly slipping in a dagger that “Everyone has the right to free speech, even bigots” is simply not good enough. It’s weak. Deep down, I suspect those who trot out this stock phrase know they’re being weak.   

 The best way to support an event like this; the best way to show the LSS is truly committed to free speech; and the best way to show solidarity with those who have been killed and who continue to risk their lives, is to publicly associate ourselves with the event and to speak there in a spirit of solidarity with the other speakers.

“A spirit of solidarity” is a powerful phrase. It captures something now distinctly lacking in progressive politics: solidarity with those who stand against a totalitarian doctrine held – inconveniently – by people whom the left assume to be innately victims. “Spirit of solidarity” is a powerful phrase because it captures that important value and it renders it elegantly. But solidarity with whom, exactly? Does this mean, then, that the ultimate worldview of whoever contests Islamic blasphemy code has no bearing in forging alliances with that person – if you happen, in that instance, to share the same specific goal. Does this mean, then, that progressives working with Islamists are morally legitimate in their alliance if the progressives share with the Islamist the same goal?  

Klendijan argues specific viewpoints are irrelevant. He argues that the threat of Islamism looms larger than the squabbles and disputes one may have with Weston and Wilders. He argues thus:   

Individual views towards Wilders and Weston will differ but in the context of this event those views are irrelevant, for this reason: we mustn’t create a “hierarchy of victims” of blasphemy codes where Charlie Hebdo are at the top but others, for whatever reason, are at the bottom. 

It is correct that we mustn’t create a hierarchy of victims, all victims of Islamist terror uniformly deserve our support. But I’m not sure how refusing to endorse an exhibition headlined by racists will make the speakers any less deserving of our sympathy if they’re attacked by armed Islamists. Isn’t supporting the right to do something – a necessary precondition for any committed Liberal, and one desecrated by armed violence – and supporting the agenda of something being conflated? If to refrain from supporting an agenda implies that I think the people expressing that agenda deserves to die, then anything threatened by murderous ideologues deserves not just the support for the right of that thing, but also support for the thing itself. This is a dangerous elision. It would, for example, entail endorsing the event if BNP members and more explicit Neo-Nazis headlined as main speakers. It would essentially mean being obliged to endorse something because circumstances out of your hand dictates you do so – not very liberal. It would mean transforming Voltaire’s apocryphal dictum from “I may detest what you say but I’ll defend to death your right to say it”, to “I’ll defend to death your right to say something which means I endorse that thing itself”. 

This is not very liberal from Klendijan. And not very secular either. Because secularism means opposition to racists as well as Islamist ideologues, and supporting an event headlined by either constitutes a betrayal of secular principles – even if that event is threatened. Yes, supporting the right to host that event should be unwavering, and this unwavering support should stiffen in the face of Islamic fascism. But supporting the right to something is not the same as endorsing that thing, unless, perhaps, that thing isn’t headlined by racists but people with eccentric views on immigration. For this is how Klendijan presents Wilders and Weston:  

Wilders and Weston are considered controversial perhaps primarily because they have strong views on immigration. Immigration discussions are not possible without “racism” accusations – think making an omelette without breaking eggs.

 This is a clunky attempt at euphemism by Klendjian. Wilders and Weston view Muslims as a demographic threat to European society, and neither distinguish between doctrines and people – the very definition of bigotry. 

Weston is an advocate of the white genocide theory: he believes that the demographic rise of non-white people in Europe threatens the existence of white people, the result of which would be a civil war. His constituency and support are “native” white Europeans, terrified by the prospects of brown faces infiltrating European society. In his words:  

.So it’s not going to work, cultural nationalism is not going to work, which is a great shame because at one stage it perhaps could have done. But the numbers are now so great we now have to look at the only viable option on the table, which is to remove Islam from Britain.

In other words, he supports repatriation and discrimination. And this is his further view on immigration:

What is a dreadful, awful thing to happen is for the white English to be reduced to a minority in their own country – which is something that they were never asked about – in the face of people who are implacably hostile to us. This is, I believe, – and this is something the Left wants to happen, this is what they [are] deliberately engineering – I believe this is the greatest racial crime that has ever been committed in the history of mankind. And asking people to go back to their own countries as an alternative to fulfilling this racial crime of reducing us – the indigenous us – to a minority in our own country … there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking people to go home. There is absolutely everything wrong with doing this awful racial crime to the white English.

In other words, he is a racist – and I don’t use the term lightly. His supporters will, doubtless, accuse me of political correctness. But if political correctness means identifying racist people as racist, then I’m enthusiastically, passionately, unapologetically politically correct.  

Wilders also supports discrimination. He supports trying to stop the building of mosques, a clear infringement on religious liberty exclusively against Muslims. He also supports halting immigration from Islamic countries, which suggests he views Muslims as a threatening mass. 

Weston and Wilders, alongside Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, are the lodestars of the counter jihad movement. A movement animated not by concern about particular Islamic doctrines, and its manifestation in the form of Islamism, but by hostility to Muslims – expressed through hyperbole, conspiracy theories and open demonisation. It is important for avowed secularists to morally oppose them because secularism means freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, and the counter jihadist movement is clearly against freedom of religion for Muslims, endorsing the exclusion of their citizenship in the west, and consequently their entitlement to equal rights. 

The event itself is organised by two products of the counter jihad movement: Sharia Watch and Vive Charlie. Vive Charlie is a magazine journal conceived in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks – where 10 cartoonists (and 2 guards) were murdered for the purported crime of blasphemy. The journal exists as a tribute to the bravery of a magazine which, initially threatened by intolerant ideologues, continued to draw the prophet and, after losing 9 of its staff, still continued to draw the prophet – warmly, humanely and compassionately, with the words “all is forgiven” attached to the issue following the attack. In short, they faced the consequences of religious fascism and didn’t capitulate. The raison d’être of Vive Charlie, like Charlie Hebdo, is iconoclastic: viciously satirising Islamic precepts and the taboo that demonstrably accompanies it. Unlike Charlie Hebdo, though, who were explicitly anti-racist, and came from a tradition that welcomed ethnic diversity but despised toxic doctrines, Vive Charlie is polluted by a propensity to produce racism. The values that inform Charlie Hebdo, the warm humanism and cheerful, indiscriminate irreverence, is markedly different from the values that inform Vive Charlie – which is a repository for cultural chauvinism and anti-immigrant sentiment.  

For example, In a recent issue cover, they portrayed a group of migrants as swarms and insects, being hosed down by Boris Johnson – in effect, dehumanising them. 

NoisyKaffir, one of the founders of Vive Charlie, contends in a tweet that: 
 

Secularists that accuse other secularists of being islamophobic forget that even moderate Muslims believe every word of the Qur’an.

Forgetting the word “Islamophobic” for one second, he is effectively encouraging his followers to distrust Muslims who claim to be moderate. He is fomenting distrust and suspicion. 

Similarly, JihadistJoe, another founder of the journal, is renowned for recycling anti-Muslim cartoons. For example, when referring to Syrian civil war in a tweet, he says

In a battle between Muslims, there is no good side. 

He has also directly compared Muslims to Nazis. (Not Islamists, but Muslims). 

So Vive Charlie comes from individuals who recycle and propagate anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant bigotry. This should concern anyone who finds such sentiments objectionable. It should concern any well-meaning and principled secularist. 

The right of Vive Charlie to pursue their objectives and agenda is paramount, especially when they are faced by those who would shut them down. And those who would shut the event down similarly deserve our scrutiny, for they too are betraying, in a sense, not just liberal values, but the concept of Muslims as autonomous and mature beings. We should subject HopeNotHate to scrutiny. 

HopeNotHate is an anti-racist group that recently wrote a report decrying, not just the agenda of the exhibition, but also their very right to hold it. They argued that the exhibition would incite Muslim violence and spark the first flickering of a civil war – endangering and potentially undermining social cohesion. This sounds scary. It isn’t, however, true. And what follows from it isn’t a liberal proposition either; in fact, it’s the antithesis of liberalism in almost every sense. HopeNotHate posits in the report

We believe that the authorities have to prevent the cartoon exhibition from taking place in Central London because it is clearly an attempt to provoke a violent reaction and divide communities.

This argument rests on two premises: that the exhibition will provoke violence; and that Muslims are provoked into violence by offensive cartoons. To view Muslims as a group incapable of witnessing offence without recourse to violence is to view Muslims contemptuously. This reasoning rests on a denigration of Muslim autonomy. Muslims are the noble savage, recast in contemporary multicultural Britain, whose sensitivities must trump the freedom of wider society – and also the freedom of Muslims themselves, as stated earlier, to challenge and scrutinise aspects of their own faith and culture. HopeNotHate are presenting the progressive case for de facto blasphemy law. 

It homogenises Muslims into a mass of grievance-mongers, dangerously coinciding with the vision presented by anti-Muslim bigots. But a more elementary problem is this: freedom of expression involves the freedom to say and host things that may offend other people. HopeNotHate argue, “this is not a case of free speech but incitement”. But when you try to ban something, and your justification is based – through the conceit of incitement – on not offending certain groups, it is evidently a freedom of speech issue. If you arrest a person without a warrant, it becomes a law and order issue; if you ban something without compelling justification – that is to say, because it offends people – it becomes a freedom of speech issue. 

I fear the debate may polarise irrevocably. If it continues to widen, the options are equally bleak. Either you become an anti-Muslim bigot or you become apologist for political Islam. It is critical that such a situation doesn’t materialise. For that, people who believe it is wrong to subject people to bigotry and it is wrong to impose religious doctrines on society should plainly say so. 

I endorse the right of the exhibition to be hosted. And if the exhibition is attacked, no one is responsible but the attackers themselves. I don’t endorse the exhibition itself because I can’t subordinate my opposition to racism for an end-goal. Principles are important, too; and certain principles should be fairly unshakeable, such as the principle to morally oppose intolerance. The guests are racist, and I think racism is immoral. Therefore, I can’t endorse the exhibition. 

Progressives allying with theocrats again 

Nothing illustrates the alliance between the far left and the religious far-right more lucidly than the work of two university of Bath academics: Tom Mills and David Miller, both of whom, in concert with Bath researcher Narzanin Massoumi, wrote an apologia of CAGE for OpenDemocracy, denouncing those who are critical of the group. 

The article is a tsunami of misinformation, misrepresentation, euphemism and hysteria. When it isn’t demonising progressive individuals like Gita Sahgal, or progressive groups like the council of ex-Muslims, it identifies CAGE as a human rights group and presents Haitham al Haddad as a misunderstood conservative cleric.   

In a manner like this:

 There is no doubt that Haddad expresses a conservative strand of Islam, in particular on the appropriateness of punishment fitting the crime (Hudud) and on questions of sexuality. It is not clear, though, that the other views attributed to him are accurately rendered. Much of the substance of the question from Neil appears to be based on a report from the Council of Ex Muslims, an organisation close to the ‘new atheist’ movement which enjoys the ‘generous support’ of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, amongst other benefactors. Their 2014 report Evangelising Hate: Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), was drawn to Andrew Neil’s attention on Twitter in advance of the programme.

There is something so rotten about supposedly left-wing people siding with theocrats against secularists. It’s a betrayal of values. It’s not merely a disfigurement of moral clarity, but an inversion. The demon presented here is a group that believes, without equivocation, individuals should be free to leave the religion of their birth and free to criticise the ideas imbibed through their culture – a secular ideal. Whereas the innocent in this battle, the defamed and misunderstood “conservative” cleric, is a man who believes that to be born into Islam is to be chained by Islam; and those that escape, even discreetly, deserve the most severe punishment – the death penalty. If a person believed to be a Christian is to be chained by Christianity, and to escape is to deserve death, the term “conservative” would not suffice. This is a totalitarian ideology: compliance is murderously enforced, and dissent is savagely curtailed. 

So why does Asim Qureshi, research director of a “human rights” group, endorse an individual who supports the antithesis of human rights? And why are self-identified progressives euphemising this man and his beliefs? Not just that, why are the authors of this article so keen to euphemise Asim Qureshi’s convoluted defence of hudud punishments on Russia Today, and his refusal to condemn in principle the stoning of adulterers on This Week. Pathetically, they attached the term “right-wing” to Andrew Neil, as though that term itself constitutes an argument against the legitimacy of his questions. (“You’re a Tory? How dare you even scrutinise someone who condones medieval and totalitarian beliefs”). 

Even more pathetic is their demonisation of Gita Sahgal. Sahgal, former head of the gender unit at Amnesty international, objected to the organisations open alliance with CAGE. Her objection was a matter of principle: it was improper for an organisation explicitly dedicated to the advancement of human rights to align itself with a group whose interests serviced terrorists and fascist clerics. 

In her words

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Contrast the moral clarity displayed by Ms Sahgal with the moral diarrhoea produced by the authors of the piece: 

Gita Sahgal was suspended and later forced to resign from Amnesty, becoming something of a cause célèbre for neoconservatives, the pro-war left and similar Islamophobic groupings. She and her supporters then wrote a number of articles attacking both her former employer and Moazzam Begg.

These “groupings” are not specified you notice. This isn’t even a good attempt at guilt by association. One fact that is conveniently omitted, and bears repeating, is that Sahgal opposed the Iraq war. (Though I don’t see how support for the war would undermine one’s argument against an Islamist advocacy group). She was also – and is – opposed to torture and rendition. What distinguishes Sahgal from Mills, Miller and Massoumi is that while the Bath academics are all too willing to indulge the Islamic far right in their opposition to western folly, Sahgal’s opposition to torture and CAGE proceed from the same principle: impartial support for human rights. 

Not content with making insinuations about neocons and Islamophobes, the authors of the piece also objected to Sahgal calling Abdullah Azzam, a jihadist operative, a fascist – a fastidious semantic dispute if I ever saw one! They claimed:  

This is a remarkably inflammatory passage and the sort of political rhetoric that has for the most part been limited to the more extreme fringes of the Zionist and Counterjihad movements. But let us assume that the analogy is meant to be taken seriously. In what sense is Abdullah Azzam comparable to Hitler? Mein Kampf is a racist, genocidal, ultranationalist tract and the movement its author led was committed to territorial expansion, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. Can the same be said of the writings of Azzam or any other seminal figure in the various political movements conventionally referred to as ‘Islamist’ or ‘jihadist’?

 (Notice how, like little pavlovian anti-zionists, the mention of anything fiendish triggers the response: “Zionist”). 

Islamism is a totalitarian doctrine that believes in the decadence of democracy and the degeneracy of plural societies. In its expressly violent form – jihadism – it seeks to immediately transform a society by enforcing regressive Islamic precepts on every facet of human life: from what we can eat and do, to what we can say and whom we can fuck. Fortunately, the authors descriptions of this ideology graduates from “conservative” to “highly reactionary”. But this still doesn’t suffice. For the analogy to another totalitarian doctrine is an apposite one.

Take Sayyid Qutb – arch ideologue of Islamism who, in 1950, wrote a book entitled “Our struggle against the Jews”, which detailed the perfidy of Jewish influence and corruption. He posits:  

...any source of division, anyone who undermines the relationship between Muslims and their faith is by definition a Jew

 

Here is Mr Qutb again, this time on Islam as a political ideology:  

When Islaam makes it declaration for the liberation of mankind on earth, so that they may only serve God alone, those who usurp God’s authority try to silence it. They will never tolerate it or leave it in peace. Islaam will not sit idle either. It will move to deprive them of their power so that people can be freed of their shackles. This is the permanent state of affairs which necessitates the continuity of jihaad until all submission is made to God alone.

Qutb is not an insignificant figure. He is widely considered to be the father of Islamism and a chief inspiration for Al Qeada. As evidenced above, he was an unabashed racist. Not only that, he also believed in the capacity of revolutionary violence to create a utopia – what he termed offensive jihad; he believed that the Muslim world was in a state of jahiliyaa – ignorance and decay, for which the only solution was revolutionary violence and the consequent absolute submission to political Islam. 

So, here we have the chief ideologue of Islamism, and his beliefs are: racist – especially towards Jews; supportive of revolutionary violence for utopian ends; against democracy, and believes freedom can only be attained through total submission to a system that enforces what is permissible and kills for what is impermissible. 

Would it suffice to call this ideology “conservative”? Or even “highly reactionary”. Stalinism and fascism both contained anti-semitism (though, admittedly, one far more than the other), the thirst for revolutionary violence as a way to achieve utopia, and the rejection of every western value – a seething nihilism, totally at odds with modernity. “Conservative” wouldn’t do. Islamism shares with fascism and Stalinism the seeds of totalitarianism and its thirst for nihilistic violence. 

And even if he wasn’t exactly “fascist”, Azzam still abided to a totalitarian ideology; and even if he didn’t actually commit genocide, Begg selling those books in a store should be greatly worrisome in itself – is any abhorrence below the act of genocide now acceptable by progressives? (Let’s not forget that the most vile contemporary expression of Islamism – the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant – is attempting to exterminate the ancient minorities of the Middle East). 

So Mills, Millers and Massoumi’s critique of Sahgal amounts to nothing more than shoddy guilt by association and an ill-informed attack on terminology. The article is rotten; but it’s also staggeringly incompetent. 

Let’s not forget that their suggestion that Quilliam is presently being funded by the government is untrue, or their lack of research – as academics! – in blithely dismissing the council of ex-Muslims’ report on Haddad. What’s most striking, once again, is progressive people demonising progressive dissidents of a different cultural background in the service of excusing the religious far right – a group who, with sufficiently lower melanin, would face uniform opprobrium in civil society. The first victims of the religious far right are feminist Muslims, secular Muslims, gay Muslims, and those who reject Islam altogether. To fetishise Muslim victimhood and grievance for political capital, and to define Muslim victimhood as an essential trait, is to conceal the oppressors that victimise the truest dissidents in our society: those who want to be free from traditionalist cultural mores. 

I’m sick and tired of articles like these – reproducing the same trite nonsense. Excusing the same sort of people, even in the face of evidence. Deploying the same tortured reasoning to sidestep their open betrayal of universal values. I hope they are consigned to writing stupid and silly defences of clerical fascists and their viewpoint doesn’t contaminate wider society. I’ve been encouraged by the response to the article so far. I hope that continues. 

For a more detailed read on the link between Islamism and other totalitarian ideologies, I highly recommend Paul Berman’s “Terror and Liberalism”. 

Thoughts on political correctness and SJW

An ideology that exists primarily in university campuses and online activism is gaining greater prominence. This ideology is distinguished by its starkness: conferring absolute power to those without privilege; and fomenting hostility to those who, by accident of birth, assume the status of oppressors. 

The oppressors are defined as such because they are privileged, and consequently benefit from institutional oppression. This is not material or economic privilege, but the privilege of being a white, heterosexual, cisgendered male. To be powerful is possess all these characteristics; and so to challenge inequity is to attack those who possess these characteristics. 

This ideology is justified by social justice, and thus its advocates are colloquially known as social justice warriors. But its consequences for justice – or for the principles that underpin justice, such as equality – have been dire. It doesn’t have an egalitarian ethos. It is anti-humanist. It doesn’t see each person as an individual. Instead, it sees each person as either oppressed or oppressor, and defines its norms from this pure dichotomy: the oppressed should be treated with lower moral scrutiny, exempt from the rule of law, and free to enforce censorship. Whereas the oppressors, stained by the original sins of patriarchy and colonialism, can never be victims but only victimisers, and a transgression of their rights should consequently not concern us. 

Ultimately, this ideology, known to many as ‘political correctness’, subordinates the principles underpinning a free society – freedom of speech, rule of law, rationality, and an egalitarian ethos – to power relations. What’s important is not supporting individual liberty and equality, but focusing on who is privileged, and acting accordingly to undermine their privilege. And thus, under the banner of social justice, illiberal politics are excused in places that should be bastions of freedom. 

With this in mind, it was refreshing to read Robert Hughes’ ‘Culture of Complaint”. In it, Hughes, art critic cum bon-vivant, brilliantly dissects the problems that undergird political correctness: its dependence on critical theory and jargon to analyse the world; its neurotic fixation on language rather than politics as a means of changing the world; Most critically, its attack on objectivity and universal values in favour of identity politics. 

A noteworthy section of Hughes’ polemic is his critique of critical theory combined with identity politics, and its negative impact on objective values. Critical theory completely decapitates the concept of objective values. Everything becomes politicised. One can’t discern values from culture without understanding the ideological implications of a cultural product.

As Hughes notes: 

As a maudlin reaction against excellence spreads to the arts, the idea of aesthetic discrimination gets tarred with racist and sexist discrimination. 

In other words: 

The idea of quality in aesthetic experience is little more than a paternalistic fiction designed to make life hard for black, female and homosexual artists who must henceforth be judged in their ethnicity, gender and medical conditions. 

In other words, how good something is is secondary to who made it. This is one of the reasons why writers like Shakespeare – England’s imperishable bard, someone who according to Harold Bloom “invented the human” – are not being taught in some schools for fear of contaminating the curriculum with more dead, white men. Doing this misses something crucial: people ought to teach Shakespeare because he is the best, nothing else. Denying working class and black children the chance to read Shakespeare is simply denying them the chance to read the best. Critically, he is the best because the insights he offers into the human condition are universal. However, identity politics fused with critical theory is hostile to the concept of universal values. 

The successful attempt to ban Exhibit B, an art installation that portrayed slavery, was attacked for partly the same reasons. The person who created the exhibition lacked the sufficient melanin to touch a sensitive subject; he was white. Touching subjects that are sensitive to some members of minority groups is tantamount to blasphemy.  

Considerations of an art’s inherent qualities are discarded. What matters is who made it and whether it offends. And if it is made by the wrong person, and if it offends, a braying mob, undeterred by the principle that artistic freedom extends to offensive art, will do their best to strike it down. Social justice warriors legitimise censorious activism by politicising every activity. This makes ‘problematic’ art fair for censorship because ideological purity is considered more important than artistic freedom. Whilst ostensibly noble in wanting to empower minorities that are insecure about expressing themselves, this is ultimately counterproductive and unprincipled. Counterproductive by valuing the unprivileged for their identity and not their work, thereby stunting their capacity to improve and develop; and unprincipled because, fundamentally, art is an individual form of expression that has the capacity to transcend the individual rather than be solely defined by it. It is one of its key qualities. 

Hughes’ polemic was published in the fall of 1993, detailing trends that had asphyxiated academia in the 1970s and 1980s. That the themes he describes still ring true today, and that his arguments still sparkle with relevancy, testify to the potency of political correctness. It is hard to kill. It has recently leached into a new location to energise itself – the internet. And it is creating echo chambers where young people conceive a special language accompanied by righteous anger.

There is a group on Facebook called Cuntry Living that discuss politics and culture. This group concentrates all the features of political correctness exquisitely. Posts have to be prefaced with trigger warnings – an idea initially conceived to offset to PTSD, but now collapsing under its own absurdity, with everything from racism to discussions of racism potentially triggering. This sanitises the world. It offers an excuse to hover over difficult subjects rather than confronting them. With this attitude to difficult subjects, this assumption that controversial issues should be sugarcoated, it is unsurprising that social justice warriors are hostile to dissenting views and hostile to the very concept of unfettered dialogue. 

Anything resembling dissent, such as questioning trans identity or, say, arguing western values are better than Islamist ones, is met with hostility. Ideological deviation is a crime. It is not an open and critical place for debate but a palace of conformity. Like all radical politics, political correctness is easy to caricature but harder to break. Its main attraction is, I posit, the peculiar sense of belonging that comes with being part of a partisan movement. Their power proceeds from their status as victims of oppression. They don’t need argument but forceful assertion. 

Appealing to argument may, therefore, not be the best way to the dissuade its followers. What makes it appealing is tribalism and power. 

You have your enemies, and you have your righteousness. You have a narrative of passionate grievances. This makes it receptive to people bored by liberal values. Such values have been withered away by relativism: universal rights and egalitarianism now look distinctly unsexy. It is seen as the thing “white, privileged men” defend rather than transbi-centric, über-radical Activists. This is silly for multiple reasons. This disregard for liberalism and portrayal of earnest liberals as staid or, worse, oppressive, undermines a key feature of progressive activism  – universalising values. In many communities, and many cultures, both here and around the world, liberals – those who believe in choice and freedom and equality – desperately plead for the values enjoyed by the West to be extended to them. If you denigrate liberalism as unsexy, you brush away values that are genuinely emancipatory, and impair the possibility of forging links with those who live in unfree cultures and consequently seek these values more intensely. 

Political correctness has been damaging for freedom of speech in universities. In Oxford university, an abortion debate was called off because the debaters were men and people found it offensive. In Edinburgh university, a music video was banned because people found it offensive. In LSE and UCL, rugby clubs and philosophy societies have been disbanded because people have found them offensive. Offence has been weaponised, given a power open societies should not concede. Rather than saying “so what” to people saying, in effect, they’re offended by something, authorities are actually considering whether to circumscribe the most distinctive feature of a free society for its most pathetic objection.

Academic freedom is viscerally important: it guarantees the individual liberty to say what you want; and assumes your agency to hear what you don’t, or, choose to ignore. Censorship and self-censorship only disempower. In universities, it disempowers an individual from saying what they want in a place that should be a crucible for experimentation and discovery. More critically, it disempowers the people it wants to empower; assuming minorities can’t manage the condition that accompanies a free and open society – being offended by something. Political correctness is anathema to the values that constitute a free society. What’s more, it visibly undermines these values in places that should cherish them most – universities and academia. 

Another distinctive feature of political correctness is the hodgepodge of critical race theory and identity politics. Discrimination is excused under the banner of liberation. Discrimination is not only being excused, but also conferred an attractive righteousness. Thus, individuals can say “kill all white men”, or declare white people are trash, or argue white people should be banned from events, without anything resembling compunction. Their justification is simple: their prejudice against whites isn’t racist, and doesn’t carry the peculiar stigma of racism, because racism is prejudice married with power. With an ugly sleight of hand, they pollute the conventional meaning of a term to absolve themselves from the scrutiny this term rightly merits. It doesn’t actually redress power balance, but reverses it. By suggesting power is an inherent feature of whiteness, where it ultimately resides, political correctness removes the possibility of non-white people exercising power and being fully responsible for their own actions: the concept of moral autonomy is undermined. This means that the non-white advocates of political correctness are free to act however they please without the moral scrutiny that attends white people – and should, in fact, attend every human.

The power-powerless concept is toxic because power is more fluid than assuming to be brown is too be powerless; a brown Islamist may be more powerless than a Jew because his skin is visibly darker, but when he murderously re-enacts the oldest hatred of our civilisation on the streets of Europe, who dares dilute the significance of his racism?

This power-powerless concept is faulty because it enables someone like Bahar Mustafa to assert she can’t be racist, after saying and endorsing perfectly racist things. It enables articles after articles after articles to be written that invert reality and reproduce something that should be consigned to history: one set of standards for one group of people, another set for another. The way to challenge inequality is not by reproducing the conditions of inequality – but, rather, by proceeding from an egalitarian basis: viewing each individual as deserving of equal dignity. The identity politics of Bahar Mustafa are a consequential challenge to this premise because they separate rather than stress our common humanity. Political correctness is a fundamentally anti-egalitarian movement. 

The term ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ captures an important truth: an effective way to leverage power is by assuming the status of a victim. A culture of victimhood is inherent to political correctness. It is through this victimhood, ultimately, that the tribal hatred of its advocates are nourished, and the dignity of its opponents are undermined. 

Take Laura Kipnis for example, professor of communications at Northwestern university, who faced a lawsuit and accusations of gender discrimination for the crime of writing a ‘problematic’ essay on the issue of university administration. Or take the author of an anonymous Vox piece, so frightened by his students he can’t disclose his identity, so distressed by the atmosphere of fear he can’t fully express his personality. Or take Teresa Buchanan, associate professor of education at LSU, fired for using “salty language”. University professors have to toe an ideological line or face potential dismissal. One of the key ways these university professors are undermined is by dissolving the distinction between speech and actions. Speech that some consider offensive is made equivalent to physical harm. Confusing speech with actions enables authorities to circumscribe a marketplace of ideas; thus, ideas can’t be expressed freely because ideas could literally endanger the well-being of students. 

Two problems attend this. Firstly, is the right to be protected from supposedly dangerous ideas an adequate tradeoff for individuals fully expressing their personality? I posit a definite not. Secondly, if speech and actions are indistinguishable, rather than asking what should be considered for censorship, the question should be: what shouldn’t be considered for censorship? Some say no limits, a lot say up to incitement to violence, others say up to incitement to hatred. Conflating speech with actions means that there is no secure basis for freedom of speech at all. There is no up to anywhere because there is no spring to bounce from. 

Another consequence of the culture of victimhood is its impact on the rule of law. The presumption of innocence – the bedrock of a civilised society – is being attacked by those who confer perfect status to victims. The Rolling Stones case was eye opening. Sabrina Erdely, a journalist now thoroughly discredited, wrote a story of mass campus rape against a young woman called Jackie and presented it as fact. The uncritical acceptance of Jackie’s story crystallised the manifold problems of this culture. The most obvious of which is the subordination of facts and evidence to ideology. And the most salient of which is the trivialisation, the utter exploitation and embellishment, of a very serious and very important issue – sexual assault.  

The culture of victimhood inherent to political correctness poisons the twin principles of freedom of speech and presumption of innocence. These two principles are the organs of an enlightened society, guaranteeing equality under law and individual conscience. Those who imperil them, therefore, through victimhood and deceit, urgently deserve rebuttal.

Political correctness is a problem because it nourishes reactionary values. On top of that, in aggressively enforcing codes of behaviour and correct language use, it betrays the spirit of liberalism: freedom to do, freedom from coercion, and an assumption of equality. That political correctness features most prominently in a place traditionally viewed as an incubator of liberalism – universities – should concern all who value freedom. 

The racism of some anti-racists.

Certain assumptions pervade the thinking of particular progressives. They assume because they use the term ‘racist’ a lot, pander to critical race theorists, and lament the malignancy of western culture, they can’t be racist. They assume that using the term “Uncle Tom” – and its variants, including “house nigger” and “native informants” – is perfectly consistent with their credentials as anti-racists. They’re very wrong. 

Because inherent in those terms is a sinister implication: ‘if you disagree with how I think a brown person should think, you’re still a nigger’ – a slave subordinate to the interests of white people. ‘If you disagree with me, you can’t be thinking for yourself’ is the message. 

Notice how clunkily it removes agency – depersonalising and dehumanising in turn. Notice how its implications are both racist and arrogant. Racist in supposing that your racial identity should dictate how you think and what you think, rather than being contingent on those two factors. And arrogant in supposing that ‘only blacks who agree with me are doing so out of their own volition’. The idea that a person of colour can disagree without being conditioned to do so is too objectionable to these anti-racists.

The zealotry of these anti-racists means that they cannot, ironically, countenance a plural society – because brown people, believe it or not, can be progressives, conservatives, liberals and fascists. The beliefs of black and brown people do not derive from their identity like a linear well. They are human, and as human should be free to believe whatever they want without accusations of treachery. 

Liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims are tarred with this foul brush. In a Bath university conference, organised by academics who believe the greatest threats to the world are neocons and Zionists (interesting), a speaker called ex-Muslims native informants because they have the temerity to oppose Islamic extremism more stridently than they oppose the West – the same West which, as a matter of fact, has given them the freedom to criticise Islamic extremism without facing death or jail. If, as a Muslim or ex-Muslim, you don’t hate the west and Israel, and don’t despise Sam Harris with equal fervour, the value of your opinion is greatly diminished. Maajid Nawaz found this to his great surprise. 

The white author of a book and a litany of recent articles on Islam, Nathan Lean, mocked the white Sam Harris for writing a book on Islam. This is idiotic enough. What makes it spectacularly idiotic – And Lean probably knows this – is that the book is written in conjunction with Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim. Lean – understandably not trying to make himself look even more idiotic, but willing to risk looking like a twat – ignored Nawaz in his condemnation of Harris. Then, after some prompting, referred to Nawaz as Harris’ “Muslim validator“. 

Now is probably a good time to mention that Lean’s book on Islam was a critique of the “Islamophobia industry“, therefore it is reasonable to suppose he considers himself staunchly anti-racist. But how can an anti-racist use the term “validator”, blithely denying a person’s agency, depersonalising their thoughts and mind and critical faculties, decoupling that individual from their humanity? The righteousness conferred by simply stating you’re an anti-racist doesn’t preclude you from saying racist shit, and shouldn’t absolve you from the opprobrium this merits. You have to demonstrate you’re an anti-racist, and Nathan Lean has failed miserably to do so. 

Hari Kondabolu, a comedian from New York, started a hashtag called#bobbyjindalissowhite, in response to a speech given by the Louisiana governor where he said: 

I’m done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans. We are not Indian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans – we are all Americans.

Kondabolu, apparently distraught by this shocking statement, released a set of tweets about the whiteness of Jindal which were apparently funny. 

 Like this one. 

And this one

And this one.  

This one is well worthy of a gravestone I’m sure you’ll agree. 

These tweets demonstrate that this form of racism is grounded in portraying minority views held by black and brown people as inauthentic, and consequently views dissent as betrayal. This racism has been allowed to fester for too long and it is finally flowering, and it is foul and it is ugly. It carries with it the pernicious idea – which I thought was long buried – that individuals shouldn’t be individuals but effectively stereotypes: the west-hating Muslim, for example. Let’s bury it, consign it to where it belongs; the obscure conversations of a few obscure racists. First of all, let’s start by challenging it.

Why I’m a Eustonite.

When I was younger I was an anti-imperialist leftist who believed in moral relativism. I believed that western values – democracy and freedom, nourished elsewhere but best embodied by the west – were morally equivalent to non-western values, and so to make moral judgements of non-western cultures displayed undue arrogance. I accepted Noam Chomsky as a high priest, benevolently bequeathing Truths about western states, unmasking their cynical facade, and exposing the sham of liberalism. 

Then I became a Eustonite, and accepted the principles plainly expressed in the Euston manifesto: pro-democracy; anti-totalitarianism; and a support for universal rights.  

Following these principles has enabled in me greater moral clarity, and consequently made transparent the problems that befall much of the anti-imperialist left: a willingness to indulge reactionary forces, under the caveat that they’re anti-western; and an abandonment of liberal and secularist individuals in reactionary cultures, puncturing the principle of solidarity. 

A couple of incidents have reinforced my beliefs. The first was the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The response by some to the murder of anti-racist and secularist cartoonists by theocratic fascists stunned me. The need to equivocate and relativise a plain assault on liberal principles was revealing. It revealed, that for some, certain principles ought to be subordinate to power relations. That freedom of speech can’t be defended unequivocally. If it allows an attack on Islam – which, as a set of ideas, deserves scrutiny in an open society – it is attacking an underdog. The value of freedom of speech is then defined solely by whether it attacks oppressive power structures. The assumption made is that only western cultures are meaningfully oppressive, or, more perniciously, only western power structures deserve our moral scrutiny. 

So when some individuals, inspired by a totalitarian ideology, decided to slay blasphemers and Jews (the classical victims of totalitarian forces), the response is not to straightforwardly condemn. For their non-white identity precludes them from being meaningfully oppressive or deserving of our moral scrutiny. The response is to equivocate. The response is to qualify the most ennobling principle our civilisation affords – the freedom to satirise, speak, express our moral conscience – with an inelegant ‘but’. Witnessing this elucidated something important: some are so captivated by the idea of western oppression, they think when men with guns, enthralled by a fascist ideology, shoot men and women with pens and liberal hearts, the oppressive forces are those subsequently declaring “Je suis Charlie” rather than the murderers who bellowed “Allahu Akbar”. 

The tendency to abandon liberals and excuse regressive forces is a general problem. The consequences of doing so means that individuals who embody liberal values, and are therefore more likely to face the tyranny of regressive forces, are not given support. When you have tax-funded, public institutions organise conferences that smear ex-Muslims as native informants, and portray liberal Muslims as imperialist stooges, the concept of solidarity is demeaned beyond recognition.  

When the agglomerate of student unions, The NUS, aligns with a pro-jihad group that can’t condemn the chopping of adulterers’ heads, and when it supports banning feminists and banning philosophy societies, these progressives have scorched the principles that underpin a progressive society: challenging bigotry and intolerance; supporting freedom of speech; and, critically, extending solidarity to liberal – rather than reactionary – forces in minority communities.

This can be solved by abiding to universal values. That, irrespective of gender, racial and sexual differences, we as humans are fundamentally the same, and are thus deserving of the same rights. This is why I’m a Eustonite. I believe a significant chunk of the left don’t believe we are deserving of equal rights and don’t believe some values are better than others. They’re paralysed by a racism of lowered expectations. This has disfigured their moral clarity and led them to indulge reactionary forces. They need to be exposed and rebutted.

We need to reaffirm the values of democracy and universal rights. This is not just for the sake of our society but, more importantly, for the sake of solidarity with individuals tyrannised by different cultures, espousing the principles that underpin free societies with utmost bravery. 

Raif Badawi and the value of thinking differently. 

Raif Badawi has been punished for the crime of thinking differently. In Saudi Arabia, the crime of thinking differently can land you with 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison. The consequences of thinking differently endanger not only the physical health of dissidents like Raif Badawi but the very concept of an intellectual culture. Freethinkers, atheists and liberals can’t express their moral convictions. Individual conscience – the bedrock of a free and open society – dissolves completely under conformity.  

What can be done to save Raif Badawi? Not much. Saudi Arabia is a geopolitical ally and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

What can be done to challenge the ideology that justifies Badawi’s oppression? A significant lot. 

Civil society in the west is insufficiently hostile to Islamism because it assumes criticism of ideas is equivalent to bigotry against people. It assumes that a progressive case against fascism with a brown face is a contradiction in terms. It assumes, most of all, that Islam is a defamed religion and further criticism of it intensifies this defamation. In its desperate plea to eschew racism, the left has nourished de facto blasphemy law – and its primary victims are Muslims like Raif Badawi who think differently.

When gender segregation is condoned by some, and when the niqab is celebrated as a symbol of empowerment, and when student groups cheerily align with theocratic fascists, something stunningly clear emerges: In fetishising Islam as the religion of the oppressed, the left has lost sight of the people Islamism oppresses.

This is the great travesty of our age, for there are many like Raif Badawi out there. Freethinkers, feminists and liberal Muslims, embedded within communities in fear. Of course they do not face the severity of Raif Badawi’s punishment. But they face the shame and loneliness. They face the challenge of confronting a toxic ideology that has been enabled by those who should be the first to resist it. They face ostracism from people who want to kill them for thinking differently, and people who care more about western oppression than the plight of their fellow citizens who face intimidation and threats for thinking differently.

It’s important to support groups like the council of ex-Muslims. And support progressive Muslims like Tehmina Kazi and Sara Khan and Maajid Nawaz. We should challenge Islamism whenever we see it, and defend liberalism whenever we don’t. It is important to celebrate our right to think differently – for it is our most precious freedom, and it should be extended to all.