Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Insulting Behaviour

Cameron's Friend
I am almost tempted to feel sorry for David Cameron. After all, who among us cares to have our undergraduate behaviour paraded before a jeering mob, if the readers of the Daily Mail can be so described. The story is that the Ashcroft millions filling the Tory coffers failed to generate a Government post of sufficient gravitas, so he hired a Sunday Times journalist to put together a pastiche serialised in the Daily Mail mentioning juvenile indiscretions, real and, it appears, imagined, about the current Prime Minister. One of the more entertaining was the unverified story of an interaction with a pig as part of an initiation ceremony into an Oxford dining club. Its sheer salaciousness has sent the story stratospherically viral amongst the salivating twitterati who are unable or unwilling to devote more than 140 characters to vent their scorn and outrage. Even if it were true and it probably isn't, the best one can say about Lord Ashcroft and his shovel-wielding amanuensis might be 'is that all?' He probably hasn't quite come to terms with the fact that this kind of sub-tabloid muckraking makes the raker smell pretty strongly of shit. The only people who may suffer permanent damage are the prizewinning author of "Call Me Dave", who probably regrets offering her services as a hatchet woman, and her embittered employer.

Nevertheless, Britain is a free country, where people can pretty much say and publish what they like, and insulting the Prime Minister or even the Queen doesn't carry the death penalty.
from: "Spitting Image"

Not so elsewhere. It was hoped when the new ruler of the House of Saud took office, that a kinder, more tolerant Wahhabism might present itself to the world. It would seem not, however. A juvenile nephew of a Shia activist was convicted under torture on a range of charges including 'insulting the King', preaching a sermon which 'disrupted national unity' and taking part in a protest which turned violent.  There were no defence lawyers or what we in the West would describe as 'due process'. His punishment is first beheading followed by being strapped to a cross and his body left to rot. He is now just twenty-one years old.

We continue to do business with barbaric regimes, since not to do so might 'damage our interests', in this case, the interests of the petrochemical barons and weapons manufacturers. It seems there are always ways of getting around mutually contradictory policy objectives like arms sales and human rights. And, of course, primitive, medieval punishments carried out every day in lands where various types of Shari'a are practised, have 'nothing to do with Islam...'

If you're looking for the image of a crucifixion, don't bother. We have enough already.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Being Nice to Ladies

Sexist? No. It's just feet.
You know what? I really couldn't let this pass without remark. I am no fanboy of PC in all its forms, fatuous or otherwise, courtesy usually providing an acceptable alternative. If people find certain words, phrases and innuendis 'offensive', then so be it. Life is hard for delicate little flowers sometimes and occasionally its winds blow cruelly. This is all about one Charlotte Proudman - the irony did not escape me - who was complimented about her photograph on LinkedIn - where young Turks of all ages get to publicly joust for their next big break. OK, a bit patronising, much as the remark made by a senior lawyer, complimenting Ms Proudman on what was, after all, a quite well-taken picture of a pretty twentysomething. But, this was no ordinary bimbette. No, indeed. She happened to be a human rights barrister who took grievous offence to the gentleman's perceived sexism.   She responded rather robustly, I thought, saying in her own words that she found his message ‘offensive’ and that she was not on LinkedIn ‘to be objectified by sexist men’. She then went on to describe his behaviour as 'unacceptable and misogynistic'. Quite clearly, she doesn't know that the word means a deep hatred of women. She went on to suggest that he should 'think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message'; the irony of using ageism to bemoan sexism clearly escaped her.
The inevitable Twitterstorm produced champions for both sides, and it's been hilarious to follow the exchanges. The tweet-and-bleat feminazis versus the knights in shining armour for whom paying a courtly compliment is really rather dashing. Did he pat her bum? No. Did he leer at her suggestively and call her 'sweetheart'? No. They have never met. Did he ask her to send him a picture of her in her nightie? All he did was write a complimentary if perhaps misguidedly candid note on her LinkedIn page which she was at pains to point out was for *snigger*  'business purposes'.  Now THAT was a sexist and misogynistic remark. The words are exactly the same but... 
It's interesting to me when I notice that so many arrogantly believe they have a God-given right to go about their daily lives without ever being offended, or simply engaged with. But, hey, they can’t. Nobody's an island, thank God. What makes life grand, interesting and serendipitous is when we encounter all kinds of people, saying all sorts of stuff, some of them are 'nice', some oafishly rude, others paralysingly stupid. Far better to endure the occasional rough encounter – or receive an unexpected compliment–than to live in the emotional twilight and tyranny of social paralysis that the PC among us cultivate so enthusiastically.
I suspect that she might be regretting her strident little tantrum. Educated, grown up people should really be better equipped to deal with remarks which offend them and now she has to detach herself from an hysterical and schoolgirlish social media firestorm.  I wonder how she'd behave if she was subjected to serious, deliberate and sustained harassment, as many undoubtedly are, some of whom may be her clients. I hope she can defend them with rather more measured objectivity than she shows when defending herself.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Journeys of Hope and Despair

From idyllic Greek islands to the fertile plains of southern Hungary, an avalanche of human misery, deprivation and increasing desperation has massed, gathering momentum, overwhelming the flimsy processing agencies which have proven inadequate to manage the sheer numbers of applicants who are desperate to reach the security of Europe. Twenty thousand are wedged on the picturesque little island of Lesvos, west of the Turkish coast. Crossing the Libyan desert, paying out their life savings to unscrupulous and cynically passionless bounty hunters for a square foot of space on an unseaworthy little boat, many have perished en route in the greatest mass migration since the end of the Second World War. Some are escaping persecution because their brand of Islam is insufficiently jihadist. Others are fleeing because they are Christian, hence targets for persecution, imprisonment, or worse. Others have been bled dry by incompetent and corrupt governments incapable of performing the one single task justifying their existence, that of looking after and protecting their citizenry. Some just want to work and find a better life for them and their children. Still others may have a more nefarious agenda, to infiltrate the land of the kuffar and plot its takeover. They are given names like 'economic migrant', 'refugee', 'asylum seeker' or 'illegal immigrant' to attempt to distinguish and classify them, to decide whether or not they have a right to be here.

Of a party from Eritrea who all left together, almost one hundred and forty souls, bound for Europe, twenty survived. People are dying in trucks, bodies are washing up on Turkish beaches, dead as starfish. So many stories, making all of us sit down, appalled, and ask what we, or our government can and should do.

The sheer scale of the invasion and its rapidity this summer has taken everyone unawares. It is naive to criticise the use of the word 'invasion', since so many are using ingenious means to circumvent the authorities. Agencies are supposed to fingerprint new arrivals at their place of entry but some migrants do not wish to settle in Italy or Greece, where processing them could take months, even years, and the social security packages are paltry compared to those offered in Scandinavia. So, they burn their fingers with lighters or use the liquid goo from a burned plastic bag to make their fingerprints unreadable. Such is the scale of the problem, the authorities simply wave them on so the next country in the chain can take responsibility for them. Fake passports are on sale in Rome to make journeying easier.

An Egyptian billionaire has offered to buy an island from Greece or Italy to house everybody temporarily until they can be processed. A brave idea, but not one which many of the hopeful travellers would be prepared to invest in, I suspect. After all, islands have been prisons for centuries.

Why is it that Germany seems to be welcoming so many? Perhaps it is, brutally, a matter of demographics. The German population is shrinking, and there are less able-bodied and, above all, young workers to keep the industrial wheels turning with legendary German efficiency. Cynical as it seems, the Germans may have hit the motherlode by tapping in to a source of cheap labour for a generation, whose taxes will pay for an increasing number of pensioners in their system, assuming, of course, that new arrivals will be able, indeed willing to assimilate and not huddle in racist ghettoes as exist in parts of France. The rightist Government in Hungary, however, whose demographic problems are not dissimilar, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to just keep them out. A Syrian lawyer desperate to reach Germany, scrambled under its razor wire, leaving a bright, bloody trail behind him. The Slovaks are only admitting Christians, not Muslims; they can thank ISIS, bin Laden and all the other bloodthirsty crazies for that. And, how many are the GCC countries, the ideological home for Muslim refugees, taking? None. Not one. Someone should be asking them some hard questions.

As Angela Merkel pointed out, the world is watching us. How we deal with this as governments and individuals will speak volumes to those who detest our democracies and spit on our way of life.
A government has the moral responsibility to protect the welfare of its citizens. At the same time, each individual has the responsibility to love his neighbor. Many of us will shortly have new neighbors with strange, unfamiliar customs, curious, unintelligible speech, different social norms. We can choose to tread this unknown territory of rapprochement with fear, as children who fear the dark, the unknown, or, we can take firm hold of our own heritage, confident in its ability to protect us emotionally and spiritually to reach out, one-on-one and in our groups, to do justice, love kindness and, above all else, remember mercy.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reflections on Gay Marriage

Tying a knot
I've resisted the temptation to write about gay marriage for quite some time, firstly because I'm not gay and secondly because I have been married and divorced more than once, thus disqualifying me experientially, morally and ethically from engaging with the issues it raises.
Quite a number of the historic denominations seem more concerned with being inclusive than being the 'church', whatever certainty this presupposes. I don't think that we have much idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving and, of course, it's a necessary strategy for survival in what is denominationally a buyers’ market; it's a smorgasbord of intellectual and social paradigms out there and one size doesn't fit all. Furthermore, the inclusive church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between gay people.

When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, some ministers think it’s mandatory to ask if they love one another. The couple dutifully admits that they do - if they said otherwise, the priest or whoever might have serious doubts about joining them together, especially if the denominational slant is sacramental. But, in truth, how would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is offering the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which we can look back and call all those collective decisions, hopes and fears 'love'. It is a hard discipline over many years and some of us weren't, it seems, quite up to the task.

The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, for socially advantageous or politically expedient reasons, just like a lot of other religious practices, Christians married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony, and they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t 'know' one another. Where does all this 'love' come from? As the song says "what's love got to do with it..." They could have sex because they were married, not, as is the case today, with whomever and whenever they felt like it.

Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling, carrying with it a transcendent holiness that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because quite a lot of self-confessed so-called Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.

What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters with the requisite honesty so as not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental lies. We have become serial polygamists, confused about whom we're allowed to sleep with and who we're not. We're confused about our reasons for having children and the moral relativism which we practice is justifiable in the broader ethical context in which we find ourselves. It would be surprising indeed in such a climate if gay marriage legislation actually failed.
If you were expecting me to come out firmly on one side or the other, sorry to disappoint. I make no judgement on horrifying Levitical pronouncements - I am not sufficiently qualified to do so, neither am I qualified to demand certainty in the face of moral confusion. The whole purpose of intellectual wrestling is that sometimes, the two protagonists are locked in inertial combat, where neither appears to be moving. My hope is that some internally fruitful debate is produced.
My thanks to Stanley Hauerwas for some of his thoughts.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Fly Trap for the Islamists

Jizya. Everybody's favourite tax
I have to confess to a small but delicious sense of schadenfreude when reading that the radical cleric Anjem Choudary has finally been arrested. I wonder, whatever can be done about a British-born man who is qualified to work but appears never to have done so, and who instead spends his time taking his "dole" money, boasting that he is entitled to it as 'jizya' and using it to fund a lifestyle devoted solely to preaching against the state? Britain can't withdraw his citizenship or otherwise render him "stateless." He has a young family who cannot be allowed to starve on the streets. These are admittedly late liberalism problems, but they are problems nonetheless.
He has been undone by his own self-aggrandisement and attention-seeking, but the  problem is that over many years he has been involved with innumerable people who have shown themselves to be more than simply loudmouthed blowhards. They have attempted to bring serious sectarian conflict as well as murder to the streets of Britain. A number of Choudary's associates were imprisoned a few years ago for attempting a Mumbai-style attack on London landmarks, including the London Stock Exchange. Others have been to prison for incitement and countless terrorist-recruitment offences; and since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, a number of his followers or supporters have gone to Syria and Iraq to join and fight with ISIS.
Choudary himself is a trained lawyer and is sufficiently slippery to know on just which side of the law to keep his remarks. The last Labour government's creation of a new offence of "glorifying terror" ought to have caught him within it, but it appeared not to have done. Frustratingly, he has remained at large.
I wonder why. One theory is that Choudary has been, to some extent used as a "fly-trap" by the police or SO15.  He is well known enough to have anyone seriously interested in the most radical forms of Islamic extremism find their way to him. Perhaps there was some clandestine agreement to allow him to get away with what he does because it is better for such extremism to have an observable and open meeting-point than to be forced underground where tracking and monitoring becomes so much more difficult. Also, second tier commanders - those who are more directly involved with fomenting hatred and plotting terror, may be drawn out into the open. 
Bomb threats have been made by radical Islamists against members of the Royal Family during celebrations on Saturday commemorating the capitulation of Japan in WW2. Ultimately, they were unfounded, but their very existence is the terrorists' main weapon, to try to make people afraid. Is it possible, I wonder,  that  the timing of Choudary's arrest is not accidental? 
The Brits may only tolerate their Royal family sometimes, but if such an attack took place,  the consequences for the perpetrators and indeed anyone suspected of being the least bit radical would be catastrophic and it would change the British attitude to Islam and its involvement in the Middle East crisis, perhaps for ever. 
The British National Anthem has a number of verses, often forgotten and rarely sung. Verse Two goes like this...
O Lord our God arise,
 Scatter her enemies,
 And make them fall:
 Confound their politics,
 Frustrate their knavish tricks,
 On Thee our hopes we fix:
 God save us all.
Knavish tricks. Quite so.

New Labour for Old

Who's he?
Sometimes, I wonder, idly, about British politics. The Canadians are about to vote, the Brits have a right wing mandate for the next four years and all credible opposition has descended into factional infighting and recrimination. Labour is not so much licking its wounds but has been placed on life support. All through my life the Labour party have been at the gates of Downing Street, and often enough stormed them, only to be beaten back at a subsequent election. Even Tony Blair's soft centrism failed to sway my own instinctive pull to the right. But, what might happen to the Conservative party if those barbarians disappear? Jeremy Corbyn, the vegetarian cyclist and teetotaller represents the barbarian, old-school face of the Labour Party. Steeped in Marxist-Leninist ideology, a union man to his toenails, a fiercely combative and frequently bad-tempered debater, he may take some beating. But, one should not assume that he will lift the Labour leadership, despite the best efforts of the Socialist Workers, rightist fifth-columnists and Communists to inflate the voting numbers. The slender possibility remains that when second preferences are counted Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham will scrape through. But theirs would be a miserable, half-hearted victory: humiliated before they even begin. Their party now faces one of two alternatives: a 'real' hard left, miners' revenge victory for Mr Corbyn, or a Pyrrhic victory for Ms Cooper or Mr Burnham who says the Labour party may split and I do not doubt him. The Right, and especially the Kippers will at first rejoice. The barbarians are fighting among themselves and no longer threaten us! Huzza! And it is true that a Labour party rushing headlong to destruction would guarantee the Conservatives’ return to office in 2020. Shall I, then, live under a Tory prime minister until I’m at least 75? Perhaps. But the isolationists' pulling up the drawbridge may be too high a price to pay. Corbyn keeps strange bedfellows - he has hosted Hamas and Hezbollah leaders, amongst others which isn't surprising since an irreligious man has sno understanding of the religiously motivated agendas of such people. He is the favourite by a mile at this point - so just as a marker, here's the odds for today. Let's hope the old saying is right, 'it ain't over till the fat lady sings.'

Meanwhile... Calais migrants are storming the Channel tunnel in their thousands, desperate to get to the UK, seen still as the Promised Land and the Brits' response is currently feebly ineffectual. All over Europe, people desperate to flee war zones and destitution are beating a path to their doors. Greek islands and Lampedusa are overrun by those who have survived the perilous and ruinously expensive journey, trafficked by those who have cynically  made money out of the desperation of others. The whole demographic of Europe is changing and the least that the British voter can expect is a Government both muscular enough and compassionate enough to take appropriate action. If Corbyn gets in, he'll fling wide the immigration gate and have them all working down the Welsh coal mines he wants to re-open. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Problematically Correct

...but getting married soon...
There's a tyranny of forced sensitivity, alive and well in a pleasantly cocooned part of North America. I refer, of course, to the wonderfully liberal, inclusive and welcoming University of New Hampshire - surely home to multitudes of young persons, eager to join the well-meaning throngs of the socially and politically aware. The website positively shouts inclusiveness. If you are lesbian, gay, queer, trans, not sure or even mildly interested in being any or all of the above, there's a place for you. After a series of (probably minor) protests, they have recently removed from their site  the  somewhat tautologous "Bias-Free Language Guide", where words like “American,” “illegal alien,” “foreigners,” “mothering,” and “fathering” are deemed “problematic”.  By this, one assumes that somebody, somewhere might be slightly offended by the use of such outrageously provocative terms. According to the university’s website, the guide “is meant to invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.” Leaving out, just for a moment, the fact  that the sentence as written is meaningless, what can possibly be so very precious about people's sensitivities that they are not able to deal emotionally with having their feathers ruffled a little bit? I rather imagined that part of the purpose of higher education was to learn to listen to disagreeable points of view. What's worse, the neutering of language robs much dialogue of the robustness necessary to bring a point home. Resorting to beige, nondescript and damply meek wording only subtracts from the dialectic, hardly ever adding to it.
The guide defines words such as “homosexual” as “problematic,” offering “Same Gender Loving” as a more inclusive substitute.  What a shame that people feel it no longer necessary to learn classical languages, since if they did so, they'd realise that the substitute term means something rather different to the original. Similarly, a lack of gender-neutral bathrooms is, according to the university, “ciscentrism.” Doesn't everyone use the one with the shortest queue?
There's a big, wide difference between a deliberate, gratuitously offensive remark or form of words chosen precisely because the speaker wants to do some damage and a figure of speech used with no malicious intent and I'm tired of the endless tiptoeing around people's real or imagined sore spots.

Oh dear. So it's not OK to call someone a nigga? Even as a term of affection? Even if they are one?