The Culture of Offence takes aim

Helen Flanagan is an actress who used to appear in Coronation Street, and was lately a contestant in ITV’s ever popular “Celebrity Jungle Torture”, or whatever it’s called. She’s one of that new brand of celebrities who tweets herself (rather than having a PR tweet for her, which is often the case), and treats us to the mundane minutiae of her day.

On Monday evening, she ran into a bit of a problem. Being hungover, she posted an image of herself taken in October, showing her in lingerie, pointing what appears to be a very obvious toy gun towards her head, with the caption “headf**k”.

Cue outrage.

As everyone who casts even a vague glance at the news would know by now, there was the small matter of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre last Friday. Twitter decided, in its hundreds, that Ms Flanagan was “insensitive” and “offensive”. Several newspapers – chief amongst them the Sun and Mail – decided to follow suit (complete, of course, with the offending image, because Ms Flanagan in lingerie is, one assumes, guaranteed to sell newspapers even without the addition of a very obvious toy gun). Ms Flanagan, who states she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder, ends up having to appear on Daybreak, ITV’s bland early morning snoozathon, to apologise profusely for her “crime”.

Each newspaper’s story included within it quotes from parents of children killed in the massacre. These parents were unnamed and unidentified. Now, there’s only two interpretations one could read of this: the first, is the charitable one, which is the Sun and the Mail made up these quotes. I’ve got no idea whether they did or not, by the way, and am not accusing them of doing so. But, as I say, that’s the charitable interpretation.

The uncharitable interpretation is this: a minor British celebrity posts a picture of herself on Twitter that only those stretching, reaching, aching for a connection, could actually connect to Sandy Hook and get “offended”. Ms Flanagan holds no assault rifle. Ms Flanagan is pointing the “gun” at nobody bar herself. Ms Flanagan offers no threat. Ms Flanagan, as the accompanying tweets show, is talking about having a splitting headache. Meanwhile, at the UK Cinemas, hundreds of thousands of people go and watch “Skyfall” and “Seven Psychopaths” and Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher”, revelling in fictional guns being used violently. On BBC1 on Monday night, the late film was “Matador”, featuring a washed up hitman. On the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to watch “The Killing” and “Homeland”, which both feature death, violence and the threat of violence. In this context, Ms Flanagan’s tweet is a mere drop in the ocean, it’s offensiveness diluted to almost homeopathic concentrations, and it takes a reach of almost gargantuan proportions to connect it to Sandy Hook. Convinced they have been “offended” by her “insensitive” behaviour, and determined to share the genuine pain of actual victims through their posturing, hundreds of people take to Twitter to berate a woman with self-confessed mental health issues. The British tabloid press, not to be outdone, decides the best thing to do in this situation is to run with the story and contact the families of victims just days after their children had died, to ask them their opinion about “news” they would never have heard of were it not for the Sun and the Mail contacting them.

Now, putting the story like that, one needs to ask, what’s really insensitive and offensive here? Because for the life of me, I can’t see that it’s Ms Flanagan.

Passing thought

I’ve been around the hard left for the best part of my adult life. I’ve seen various groupuscules offer support from everyone as diverse as Catholic Nationalist Exceptionalists such as the IRA, to organisations like Hamas and Hizbollah, I’ve seen Stalinists like Fidel and Bolivarian oddballs like Hugo get support. I’ve seen support, overt or covert, for terrorist organisations, clerical fascists, actual fascists, libertarians, anti-semites, seperatists, blah blah blah. The list of “causes” or organisations supported by one hard left group or another is probably as long as the list of groups I’ve seen NME describe as “the new Sex Pistols” since 1977. I’m trying very very hard, but I can’t quite, once, think of a moment the hard left backed a liberal democracy.

Despite, when they live in said liberal democracy, being up in arms if their democratic rights are curtailed in any way. Odd that, eh?

Stating the bleeding obvious. Again.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” – Mark Twain.

You would think that – after a week of often violent protests about an ineffably stupid and badly made YouTube video, on the day Salman Rushdie has the launch of a book based around the fatwa against his head – that maybe judges wouldn’t, for instance, convict someone for writing something silly and offensive on Facebook.

You’d have thought that. And you’d be wrong.

The culture of offense has become so ingrained in our psyche that we can’t shrug off an 18 year old boy saying “soldiers should all die and go to hell” (Note the phrasing, however. Not “I shall kill soldiers, and they shall go to hell”. Just the general, vague wish that they die and go to hell).

This follows on from various other incidents of internet legal shenanigans, all of which have had the depressingly similar narrative – someone says something offensive and instead of turning round and telling person (a) “Hey, you said something stupidly offensive”, we all run squealing to the law.

Laws that wouldn’t exist if politicians we elect hadn’t drafted them. Cases that wouldn’t be brought if we hadn’t asked for the police to investigate.

Karl Popper’s most famous work was entitled “The Open Society and its enemies”. I’m increasingly of the opinion that, were Popper writing today, the enemies would include “most of us”.

North Korea is Best Korea

Today the Guardian published an article on Comment is Free from a football journalist. Mr Watson, author of the hilariously titled “Up Pohnpei” (yes, I know) wrote an article about the nasty media representation of the DPRK.

Mr Watson’s article begins with the tale of Ro Su Hui:-

Earlier this month a shocking scene played out at Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.

Ro Su-hui, the South Korean vice-chairman of the Reunification of the Fatherland Union, was returning from North Korea where he had paid his respects at ceremonies to mark the 100th day since the death of leader Kim Jong-Il. Before re-crossing the border to the South, he declared “Hurrah for the unification of the two Koreas!” to a cheering crowd and was presented with flowers by his hosts.

But as the grinning 69-year-old crossed the border, he received very different treatment by the South Korean border security. The watching North Koreans howled in horror as Ro Su-hui was thrown to the ground and carried off in a headlock.

The arrest made a very small splash in the western media, which comes as little surprise because a story with a warm North and a cold South is doesn’t square easily with the message that has been delivered by media outlets in Europe and the US for the last two decades.

Of course, the truth of the situation is a little more complex than that. Firstly, North Korea and the South are still, technically, at war. A ceasefire has been in place since the Korean War ended, but this is not an armistice, and it is not peace. Secondly, Mr Su Hui crossed the border to the North illegally, and spent his time there calling for the reunification of the two countries under North Korean leadership. Thirdly, it is illegal to advocate communism in the South (not something I defend, but Mr Su Hui was not unaware of this law, and would have been aware a previous activist suffered the same fate three years ago).

So, we’ve already got several elidings of the truth here, at the start of a piece that purports to tell the truth. A cursory examination of YouTube videos of the event uploaded by DRPK supporters show that – far from being thrown to the ground, and then carried away in a headlock – Mr Sui Hui resisted arrest, which lead to him falling to the floor, and was then carried away because he continued to struggle. Whilst the police action was no doubt excessive, the picture painted is slightly different.

So two countries are technically at war, and a citizen of the South enters the North illegally, publically supports the the regime of the North, and then, when re-entering the country, resists arrest. Meanwhile, a stage managed crowd back in the totalitarian North which has previously been lustily cheering as though – ahem – their life depended on it, now howl in dismay.

Doesn’t read quite so “warm” versus “cold”, does it?

Of course, the point of the opening paragraph was a rhetorical trick. I’ve done it, we all have. I recall during the Jubilee frenzy comically turning around comparisons of North Korea and the UK. That joke became tired very quickly, as everyone jumped on it, but the point remains – to make a point, first you revert the “normal” narrative (Most web based satires tend to stick to that idea – Al Quaida warning that Students at British Universities “Could end up radical tories” was one highlight of the recent past), to show how biased you are.

Of course, it helps if you aren’t using the worst examples in the world.

The article continues:-

Reunification and conciliation are usually portrayed as South Korean concepts, while North Korea is seen as a closed state, hostile to such talk on “idealistic grounds” – a view perpetuated by media outlets’ lack of interest in all recent North Korean initiatives. In fact it is almost impossible to find any piece of positive European journalism relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The days of cold war pantomime journalism and great ideological battles might be over, but North Korea remains an area in which journalists have free licence for sensationalism and partiality.

This isn’t actually true. The North has been pushing reunification for many years but – as the welcome given to Mr Su Hui illustrates – reunification under their terms. Meanwhile, there have been many articles with opinion polls in the South asking what they would think of reunification. Now, can you – perhaps – suggest a reason why opinion polls on reunification are more likely to be undertaken in the liberal, democratic South, rather than the totalitarian North? Anyone? Anyone?

Mr Watson continues:-

The lack of western sources in North Korea has allowed the media to conjure up fantastic stories that enthrall readers but aren’t grounded in hard fact. No attempt is made to see both sides of the Korean conflict: it is much easier and more palatable to a western audience to pigeonhole the DPRK as a dangerous maverick state ruled by a capricious dictator and South Korea as its long-suffering, patient neighbour.

To quote the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in rejoinder to these “fantastic” stories, the DPRK is guilty of:- “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, public executions, extra judicial and arbitrary detention, the absence of due process and the rule of law, imposition of the death penalty for political reasons, the existence of a large number of prison camps and the extensive use of forced labour;

Sanctions on citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who have been repatriated from abroad, such as treating their departure as treason leading to punishments of internment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or the death penalty;

All-pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association and on access of everyone to information, and limitations imposed on every person who wishes to move freely within the country and travel abroad;

Continued violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, in particular the trafficking of women for prostitution or forced marriage, ethnically motivated forced abortions, including by labour inducing injection or natural delivery, as well as infanticide of children of repatriated mothers, including in police detention centres and labour training camps.

In fact, just go to the Wikipedia article on “Human Rights in North Korea”, which – despite being on Wikipedia, has 104 source documents. Whereas Mr Watson’s article in the Guardian has a link to a previous article in the Guardian. That article is on the sinking of the Cheonan, which Mr Watson brings up next:-

These roles are dusted off whenever there are flare-ups, such as the Yeonpyeong Island incident of 2010 when North Korea was condemned for firing shots at South Korean military and civilians in an “unprovoked attack”. It was not widely reported that South Korea had been test firing artillery in a patch of ocean that North Korea claims ownership of or that North Korea’s repeated demands for an explanation were ignored. While military intervention may not have been wise, it was far from the random act of hostility it was made out to be.

When the South Korean navy ship, the Cheonan, sank on March 26, 2010, the South Koreans accused their neighbours of having fired a torpedo. A detailed rebuttal by North Korea’s military was disregarded by the wider world, as was the offer to aid an open investigation.

One of the South Korean investigators, Shin Sang-cheol, sacrificed his career to express his belief that the Cheonan had run aground in a tragic accident and with reports of evidence tampering circulating, even the South Korean public wasn’t widely convinced of North Korean involvement: a survey conducted in Seoul found less than 33% blamed the DPRK. Nonetheless North Korean guilt was stated as fact in the British press.

In order:-
The Yeonpyeong Island incident involved South Korean vessels in waters they too claim (and which the North Koreans only started claiming in the 1970s), firing at water. It was part of an annual exercise that had not led to trouble before. Several days beforehand, the North Koreans had revealed they had uranium enriching materials. The North Koreans retaliated by shelling villages. Four people died and 19 were injured by the North Korean actions (as opposed to…possibly some fish dying due to the South Korean exercise).

Secondly, on the Cheonan. A cursory search of articles on the incident shows they all carried the denial of the North Koreans. A cursory search of Reuters articles showed they carried the North Korean report. What Mr Watson doesn’t set out in this article is that the “South Korean” report was a 300 page Joint Civilian and Military report featuring members from the United Kingdom, Australia, America, Canada, Sweden. The expert who resigned, Shin Sang-Cheol, stated as his main reason the fact that he thought the bodies retrieved did not resemble those killed in an explosion (rather than, say, a ship sinking?). Again, his killer sceptical stat is based on opinion polls from the South. Lucky southerners, eh? Able to put their opinions across…

Mr Watson finishes with a flurry of rhetoric:-

Since the bloody coup of 1979, South Korea seems to have had journalistic carte blanche as the “lesser of two evils”. While North Korean actions are condemned and derided, very few column inches are devoted to scrutiny of South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak and his oppressive policies.

The National Security Act, of which Ro So-hui fell foul, gives the South Korean government the right to prosecute anyone speaking in favour of North Korea or communism in general. There are frequent reports of detention without trial, human rights abuses and clampdowns on freedom of speech. Both Koreas are quite justifiably scared of the other but when South Korea flexes its military muscles, the North is expected to watch passively with any attempt to do the same reported as an act of despicable brinkmanship.

Whatever your view on the actions of North and South Korea’s governments, the hypocrisy of using one-sided journalism to label North Korea a rogue, propaganda-led state is surely self-evident and fans the fire of intolerance and animosity. The Korean divide is a complex, multi-faceted political situation. Nobody benefits from turning it into a moral melodrama and we should demand more from our supposedly impartial media.

What’s very clever here (well, mildly clever. Partially clever. Lazy rhetorical trick clever) is the way Mr Watson opens his segment with “Since the Bloody Coup”…cleverly ignoring the fact that that was 33 years ago, and South Korea has had democratic government since 1987. And whilst one can rightly point that human rights in the South need improving, one only has to compare the web record for “Human rights in South Korea” with “Human rights in North Korea” to get the point (ironically, much of the repression in South Korea appears to be around…arrests or suppression of people criticising North Korea). And whilst nobody would argue that Lee Myung-Bak is a poster boy for freedom of speech, the number of arbitrary arrests in South Korea appear to be in the region of around 100 a year. As opposed to North Korea which has an estimated 150-200,000 political prisoners…

And President Lee Myung-Bak is limited to one 5 year term which expires…this year. Unlike, say, the Supreme Leaders for life in the North.

So, yes, some more critical reporting on South Korea would be welcomed. Less of the “warm North” though, eh? Little bit…disingenous? Barking mad? Apologia for tyranny? Delete where applicable.
*Edit – I forgot to mention – “Both Koreas are justifiably scared of the other”. Because, of course, South Korea launched an unprovoked attack on the North in 1948 and poured millions of men North in an attempt to convert them to capitalism.
Only, err, they didn’t. That was the North attacking the South. SEE, WATSON? We can both do the inversion for rhetorical effect trick. Only, I did it better.

An old rant

The White Working class disconnect – Multiculturalism, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Immigration, and the economic elephant in the room.

(from 2010)
Recently, I have been working my way through Anthony Julius’ monumental “Trials of the Diaspora”, which is a history of anti-semitism in the UK. A very good, and worthwhile, book. In several instances I may disagree with Mr Julius – for example, several times, a defence is offered of Zionism as not being in any way the same as other European nationalisms because it is in essence a reaction to the fact that Jewish people were oppressed. Well, the end point of that is indisputable – anyone with any inkling of history would rightly grant Mr Julius that (as an aside, the current prevalence of Holocaust memorial days and the like, the drowning of the history book market with titles related to the Nazis and WWII, I think to a degree actually helps to hide that. The idea may sound counter-intuitive, that the focusing on the greatest mass genocide in modern history – and I mean modern history, by the way, it’s arguable, for instance, that the actions of someone like Tamurlane were comparable in scope and relative size, to say the least, without the technology that the nazis used – helps hide European anti-semitism, but the point is, the narrative is pretty much always focused on the exceptionalism of German crimes – to take merely 20th century examples, what A Level history student knows much, if anything, about the pogroms in Tsarist Russia? Who knows about the anti-semitic and authoritarian nature of the pre-war Polish state? The crazed anti-semitism that Stalin succumbed to? The anti-semitism of Poland in the 60s? Very few, I would contend), however, the idea that a nationalism differs because the ethnicity or nationality suffers oppression is a fallacy – Polish Nationalism was still nationalism. Zionism is a product of the 1800s, and can trace it’s roots to the same wave of nationalisms that the French Revolution encouraged. It’s a blood and soil nationalism. End of. In fact, one could argue that it’s the last surviving Western blood and soil nationalism, but to do so would be ignoring, say, the Balkans. One could also argue – a lot more convincingly – that of those nationalisms, it’s caused (comparitively) the least pain and hurt and here – looking at the mess such movements made of most of Europe for at least the latter half of the 19th, and first half of the 20th century, one would be on firmer ground, but at the same time, one must concede that any nationalist project generally does cause suffering to someone. Most “soil” is under disputed ownership. To argue otherwise is to ignore reality.

Other points he makes regarding the subject of Zionism – for example, the curious prevalence that it plays in political narrative – are less disputable. There is, undoubtedly, a healthy dose of anti-semitism in our obsession with the Israel/Palestine situation (and indeed, the philo-semitism of supporters of Israel is pretty much just anti-semitism reversed. Rather than taking Jewish people as individuals, instead, they are examplars of morality and nobility, of ethics – in it’s own way just as patronising and false a viewpoint – although, obviously, not as menacing – as the anti-semites), which, on a realistic level, affects a very small proportion of the planet. Of course, one can offer other reasons for our media and popular fixation with the situation – the legacy of Empire being one, after all, the UK held control of the region for a vital period of time. Or the cultural fixation with “The Holy Land”. The (in)convenient placing of the place at the meeting point of 3 continents. The west/east clash of civilizations thesis that goes back to at least the Ancient Greeks versus the Ancient Persians. The racist overtones (and, again, racist overtones on both sides. The fact that here are some pretty white, European looking fellows in dispute with some not quite as white, not quite European looking fellows colours both sides of the equation – on the anti side, it feeds into post colonial guilt, and they practice transference – the jews become scapegoats for the sins of Imperialism. On the pro Israel side, here is “democracy” fighting “barbarism”. Both these most definitely feed into the media representation of the situation). The idea that the conflict is the major obstacle to world peace, which is a constant trope throughout European society, is another example of an anti-semitic fixation. If you step back a step or two, you’ll see the Middle East policy of the west is not dictated by Israel/Palestine. The Middle East policy of the west is dictated by our reliance on several regimes there who supply us with oil. It’s dictated by our craven acceptance of them, our unwillingness to challenge them, and it’s dictated by the tricks they play to hold on to power.

(That’s all said by someone, by the way, who thinks there should be a solution, not one of those “hatfield and mccoy, it’ll never be solved” types. I’m just saying idealism and ethics can also have a sense of proportion about them)

What’s equally fascinating (and I say “equally fascinating” because firstly, I want to make the point that the subject of anti-semitism is completely and utterly worthy of studying on it’s own, but at the same time, it’s what we could call the “Urtext” of racisms. Pretty much the first, and pretty much the template for most that follows) about the book is the way it informs a reading of other, current debates and disputes. The similarities between it, and the dreaded “Islamophobia” being one.

Now, I’m not a fan of the word Islamophobia. For a good number of reasons. The first, and perhaps to me most pressing, being that as a secular individual, I believe we have the right to criticise any religion whenever we like. I’ve got no time for being told that I’m not allowed to do so, that a belief set that dictates how we should live our life is not open to criticism, that it is akin to racism to critique it. This is ardent bollocks. I object to all religion, and I object to all religion equally. Am I going to demand you stop believing in it? Make it illegal? Mock you for believing in it? Not in the slightest. You believe what you want, chums. But should your religion set itself up as the supreme authority on law, morals, ethics, behaviour – from the repressive sexual elements of all religion, to the quite frankly bizarre dictats on what you can and cannot eat – then I have the right to say “hang on”. So I am always going to be wary of being told that my rationally arrived at critique at what I Believe at best to be comforting fairy stories (and key words there are “what I believe”, again, re-iterate my point, you believe what you want, I believe what I want, my critiques can be critiqued, your beliefs can be critiqued, quid pro quo, innit?) is a phobia. It really isn’t. I was not scared as a child by a hell and damnation preacher. I was not frightened in my pram by an imam. No priest molested me, no rabbi circumcised me when I was young and scared, no guru took my money and bought a rolls-royce. I have no phobia. Sorry.

But, larger than that, beyond my own personal beliefs, is disquiet at the way it blends three seperate strands of thought together. The first strand – and, despite the various jeremiads delivered against yer Hitchens and yer Dawkins – the least malign of these is the secular tradition – the secular state, the democratic secular belief system is the best friend of religious freedom the world has ever seen. Not for us, the pogroms. Not for us, the Inquisition. Not for us, the cleansing, the crusade, the jihad. We believe whole-heartedly in your freedom to believe. We just want our freedom to believe and criticise, as adults do, in healthy, grown-up debate. However, this is now blending – in the case of “Islamophobia” with two other traditions, namely, the sectarian, and the racist.

(I’ll make the point here, by the way, that this is not just the case with Islam. It’s most constant, and pressing, with Islam. But it’s also noticeable with other religions. What we have in the UK at present is a strange mix between secular critique, sectarian – Protestant, or Church of England – assaults and racism. The reactions to the papal visit of 2010 are a very good example. On the one hand, some valid criticisms were made. On the other hand, some facile criticisms was made. And, also, this tied into a – small P – protestant anti-clericalism; lots of sneering remarks about priests and small children which – whilst informed by certain undeniable historical events – were often beyond the pale. And beneath it, a contender for England’s oldest racism with anti-semitism, anti-irish feeling, mixed with one of our more recent hates, anti-german feeling.)

Now, leaving aside the sectarian, because you essentially know what it means (“our god is bigger than your god”), people are going to look at the racist part, and make the obvious, and oft made retort “but Islam is not a race, it’s a religion”. Yes indeedy, well spotted sherlock, it is indeed a religion. A religion that – I think I’ve made perfectly clear already – I dislike and that I believe people should be both free to follow and free to criticise. And the reactions of certain elements within Islam to those criticisms are entirely beyond the pale. Let’s not pretend, however, that they are new and unique. The long trail of auto-da-fes and witch trials and inquisitions and the like stretching back to (hah) god knows when disprove that notion pretty conclusively. Yes, fatwas and mobs demanding the burning of cartoonists and asassins and etc etc etc – wrong. There. Should be stood up against. There, Should not be pandered to. There. This is a point I will return to when I address multi-cult, but, let’s move on to the racist element, shall we, just for a while?

It’s an unfortunate truth that the racists have – on several levels – assimilated the language of the secular, and on a greater level, the language of the sectarian (Nick Griffin and his language about Britain being a Christian nation spring to mind…that’s the Christianity originally devised by your Jewish pals, Nick? Because you really like the Jews don’t you? Always have, and never ever been a Holocaust denier, have you?) and are using them. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen anyone making a song and dance about white muslim converts. Nobody, really, is up in arms about Chinese muslims (of which there are a healthy number in the world, and, undoubtedly, a number in the UK). It’s not really been an issue about Indonesian Muslims, either. Not really. I’ve very rarely heard remarks about Muslims from the Balkans, but that was more to do with their alleged criminality.

I’ve encountered racists who use the language of being anti-Islam and no doubt you have too, and we all know what they mean. They mean, predominantly, the individuals who come from a span of land from North Africa to Pakistan. With their primary fixation, given the whole seeds of empire thing, being those from the Middle East and the Indian Sub-continent. Now, an extremely charitable reading of this would be that there are more of them here than the other sorts, and that’s why the focus is on them. That is, however, an extremely charitable reading. The actuality is, there is racism, lurking underneath the discourse (or, often as not, right there, front and centre, IN the discourse).

And there’s no point claiming, firstly, as is the wont of certain elements, that it is only Islam the issue is with. Because I have no doubt that you and I know a person whose skin colour approximately matches the above indicated targets but is in fact a Hindu, or a Sikh, or even (in the case of some of my relatives) a Roman Catholic. And the same insults have been, no doubt, shouted at them. As well as, basically, everyone who is from that enormous spread of land being a fucking Paki, they are also, often as not, a fucking Muslim.

So, cloaking their racism in universalism, in talk of human rights, in talk of how women, or homosexuals are treated under Islamic societies (because of course, there is never homophobia or sexism in the makeup of the racist), they have – to a great degree – turned a secular discussion about religion into one about race and immigration. And they have turned a very important discussion – the discussion of how a society exists with many different cultures in it, how you match liberal values with viewpoints that often challenge or seek to replace those liberal values without losing what makes your values liberal in the first place – into one about race.

A lot of this is down to the press. This, by the way, is when one of the most glaring similarities with the Julius book hoves into view. A number of newspapers – the guiltiest party by far being The Express (which after nigh on a decade having Diana on the front page every day, and after a year or so of Maddy McCann replacing her) has been consistently misinforming a section of the population about the threat of the Muzzies.

See also, stablemate The Daily Star (both owned, by the way, by pornographer Richard Desmond, who made his fortune with titles such as “Asian Babes”. One could argue that there is a degree of hypocrisy in this, or one could say he is being consistent in protecting his business, and look at market demographics for pornography – when there are a few hundred thousand brown skinned people in the country, a porn magazine filled with semi naked lovelies from the Indian sub-continent is sufficiently exotic to corner a large market. When there are several million brown skinned individuals, on the other hand, the exotic nature begins to wear off. I’d be interested to see the sales for the title, and seeing whether there has been an increase or decline as the “asian” population of the country has increased. That may sound facetious, but there is the undeniable fact that a lot of porn is based around taboo or exoticism, and glimpsing the occasional brown face may give you a fetish and a yen for that skin colour, but when you live cheek by jowl with a reasonable number of people with that skin colour, the exotic element will most definitely wear off, as you start to lose the orientalist viewpoint and just appreciate people as people…).

But mention must also be made of The Mail, The Sun (shockingly, “only to a degree”, the Sun’s real enemy in the past ten years or so has more often as not been our “bonkers” response to immigration than to immigrants itself, certainly the language used has been less demonising than that of the Express, Star and Mail), and The Telegraph (with, often, the same caveats as The Sun, but read the online comments beneath a Telegraph article and you’ll find the target audience out in force). Quite frankly, if you compare and contrast turn of 1900 articles in The Mail, with turn of the Millennium articles in the Mail, and replace the word “jew” with “muslim” (or, often as not, the words are not used, and some non-specific phrase such as immigrant put in it’s place), the language and imagery is pretty much the same. The concept – Olde Englande is under attack from foreign hordes – remains the same. The elite remain pandering to them, the honest working man is being done down by them etc etc etc

Ah, the elite pandering to them. Which brings us back to multi-cult, and the white working class disconnect.

A point was made in argument a while back, the same point I have been arguing quite vociferously for at least a decade. The “multi-culturalism has failed” trope has been kicked around at least for twice this length of time, maybe even longer. There is a two fold thing going on here. The first is, quite simply, again, racism. Make it about immigration or make it merely about race, but I have heard that phrase used by racists for the best part of 20 years.

Back in the good old days, when they were more front and centre about what they meant, they used to say “the multi-cultural experiment has failed”. Which language implied…an experiment? Therefore, there is an experimenter. And shock horror, wouldn’t you know it, the experimenter always used to turn out to be the Joooos. Sometimes it would take them another level of prevarication to get there – “Marxists” was usually the fig-leaf they used to cover it with – but given sufficient questioning, the marxists were all revealed to be of a certain ethno-religious grouping…quelle surprise there, eh kids?

Before you knew it, it was all Zionist Overgoverment and International Marxism/Finance and you were in some bizarre mash-up opinion piece, about how the country has gone to the dogs, and it’s the hidden hand, half written by Hilaire Belloc, and the other half a mix between Peter Hitchens and Peter Sutcliffe, for all the rationality that was displayed. But then there’s the second part of the equation. The second part being, to a degree, what has been sold to us as multiculturalism has failed.

Now, here’s where I got overly atheistic, and possibly stridently left wing on your asses. Sorry about that. But…the working class of this country have always lived alongside immigrants. Going way back when. Generation after generation would come in to poorer areas, be assimilated to a certain degree (and we can’t say it was never without any problems, because it quite obviously was, as the history of race riots and the like shows us), and then spread out and join the wider populace at large. Within a generation, generally, those “immigrants” would be British (or English) to a larger or greater degree. My friend from Uni, Matt, is a frightfully English boy, despite his forefathers having come over here from Holland. But when the immigrants had a different skin colour…

When the immigrants had a different skin colour, their adaption to the general populace was halted. Not in the sense that the poor areas didn’t have them come in and they didn’t become part of the community there. But…the less poor types didn’t want them moving in next door. A combination of subtle and not so subtle methods of keeping them out emerged. So after a generation, there was far less dispersal from the ghettos that had formed. Instead, there was more concentration. And more. And what do we do, to keep the immigrants happy in their ghettos? Well, we keep well out of discussions of their religion, we turn a blind eye to cultural practices that are antithetical to laws of the land, we hand over control to self appointed community leaders (one of the most ignorant, and racist tropes is the constant referral to some preacher of whatever god as a community leader – you see it in the States with the urban black community as well, ignoring the plurality of voices and viewpoints and cultures that are within any community). And this goes on and on, with the embracing of faith schools (well, it worked with the catholics, didn’t it? But then the catholics could disperse into the general population, being on the whole white, which as I have just pointed out, makes a bastard of a big difference).

But that isn’t multi-culturalism is it? That’s mono-cultural thinking. That’s saying – instead of “we welcome you here and we will adapt to you and you adapt to us, and sooner or later we are living in a nice plural democracy where people’s views and cultures are respected and allowed but there are no – apologies to hindus hah – sacred cows” – rather “you keep over there and don’t come into our area and you can do what the hell you want. That way, we don’t have to change one iota, we can bleed anything nice from your culture we want – hello cuisine, hello fashion, hello musical styles – but we don’t have to live with you. We’ll leave that to the poor, thanks. Which, by the way, by and large you will be because you’ll be living in their areas which have been starved of investment and jobs for decades” (Oh, and the kicker, remember those corrupt dictatorial regimes in the Middle East that we support with our dependence on oil? They channel money into certain areas, mosques, faith schools, so their – not representative – version of Islamic thought becomes the dominant strand in thinking. That’s what religion does. Push the faith. “Nasty” religion and “nice” religion. That’s why faith schools should never be built, why religious education should always only be about religions and not for religions, why I have as much disquiet about Islamic faith schools as Born Again Christian academies, catholic schools, jewish schools et al).

No. That isn’t multi-culturalism. That’s ghettos. That’s the same thing that happened to the jews for centuries (see how it all ties together, I wasn’t just using the Julius book to go off on one you know).

It’s inherently stupid, and inherently illiberal. It’s racist and it’s demeaning. And it’s culturally backward – look at the impact Jewish people made on the rest of European culture in the century after they were “emancipated” by Napoleon, and the control of their culture by the forces of religion fell away. This isn’t – sorry my semitic and philo-semitic friends – proof of the innate superiority of the jewish race. It’s proof that once multi-culturalism is properly applied, that great moral, intellectual and economic strides can be made, both in the individual communities and the wider community at large. Our language of human rights may have come from the Enlightenment, for instance, but often as not, since the Jewish emancipation, the most strenous and forthright activists for it have been from the Jewish community. Which benefited both the jews of the world and the cultures they lived in.

Finally, the white working class disconnect? This seems to be a big issue with newspaper columnists. Often newspaper columnists who for the past 30 years who have been at least mildly “yay capitalism!” to quote Austin Powers…Well, for 30 or so years, the governments of this country have been practicing economic practices completely antithetical to the needs and – more often than not – desires of the working class. And whilst doing so, that same working class has seen the number of brown faces around them grow (and, indeed, watching the party that is meant to represent all their class only really make any strides in winning the argument on race – and sexuality, to be completely fair to the poor derided Labour party – to a degree where even racists pretend not to be racist anymore. That’s not to say they shouldn’t have fought and won those battles, but a little more consideration for the wider picture, for the fact that a poor black or brown skinned individual is still, at heart, a poor individual, just like his poor white neighbour, would maybe have helped a fucking bit there, you know? Instead of making all the noises and none of the actions, maybe lifting people out of poverty is as much of a priority and inextricably linked to the battle on race. Rather than, say, jumping on board the neo-liberal express and announcing “we are all middle class now”. Which – sorry? to say – we aren’t). It’s understandable that a proportion of them wrongly interlink the two. Wrong, but understandable.

But really?

You want to connect with the working class, perhaps stop shitting on them economically from a great height and then pandering to the bigotry they are fed by feckless tabloids. Stop telling them they have “justifiable fears” about immigration whilst taking away their rights at work and making their life more and more insecure financially, all so a very small proportion of the population can live in gilded splendour unseen since the late 1800s.

Maybe then, they’ll stop getting misled by the – very small – proportion of actual, full on racists within their class. Just as maybe, if you stop treating a broad mass of people as though they are somehow unique and different because they believe in a different version of a sky fairy than you do (and, as a bonus, make constant societal noises about how it’s wrong to question the sky fairies, even when their sky fairy says something remarkably horrible and silly, just as your sky fairy used to, before you told off the people in charge of the sky fairies messages and they realised “hang on a bit, because i said this, nobody is interested in my sky fairy any more, perhaps I should change what my sky fairy says”), perhaps those people will act like people and individuals and not be a huge scary mass of muslims you are able to be scared shitless of.

Just an idea.

The answer is secular, egalitarian, multi-cultural plural democracy. Always has been, always will be. The problem is, we haven’t been practicing it. And we really should.

(ps: yes, the sky fairy stuff was offensive to religions. Sue me, I’m a religionophobe)

First World Problems.

Donata Huggins writes a Telegraph Blog about “Life in the Westminster Village”. Whatever that means. You can find it over here :- http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/author/donatahuggins/ if you are really interested. She seems a nice enough stick. So I’ll try not to be too harsh.

Anyway, this week, Donata has decided to share with us her opinions upon the rumbling ongoing scandal of Jubilee Slave Labour. In Donata’s world, we are all making a slight fuss about nothing. Here’s what she has to say on the subject:-

“In the case of the Jubilee workers, it was good experience. Sure, the “bridge incident” that left the workers sleeping outside tarnishes this claim, but in principle it offered them the chance to learn new skills at no personal cost. They were bussed to London, clothed and given training that resulted in an NVQ in crowd safety. Not to mention that many of them had a good time.

Making sure people get work experience is important. Business groups have been complaining that young people are ill-equipped for working life for years. The CBI has even launched a campaign “Making young people ready for work”  to combat this. This is particularly true for graduates: from my university cohort, those who spent their summers interning were hired after graduation; those who didn’t floundered.”

Donata, actually, may have a germ of a point somewhere in there. It’s mainly a germ of a point, though. When I graduated from University I floundered for a while, and didn’t find work. And, I admit, I hadn’t spent my summers interning. I’d spent every term working evenings, mind you, and worked before Uni. The main reason I floundered would be the main reason most people floundered – because I graduated in the teeth of a recession. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme choose, as I believe those French fellows put it.

What young Donata is doing here is, of course, buying into the myth of meritocracy. In this world, the failure to get a job in the teeth of an enormous recession was, well, my failing. But, let’s be fair to Donata – she’s a band-aid kind of Tory, rather than your open wound kind, because she accepts that this isn’t my failing entirely, but a wider social issue. The only problem is that, yet again, the wider social issue is about education and training and preparation. She’s of the school that thinks every child can succeed in life given certain tools.

There are two problems with this approach, beloved of the soft right, and the pastel pink left. The first is that it ignores the real Macro issue – the real macro issue being, there aren’t enough jobs to go around because the economy is in a recession. Every young person in the country could go out and get the best education known to man, and the most complete and rounded work experience ever seen and there would still not be enough jobs to go around. And the nature of the economy means that the work that is there to go around is transient, unskilled and badly paid. Like a few months stewarding at the Olympics, for instance, which was the gorgeous carrot being dangled for the above peons (the stick was losing benefits, as always. Plus ca…oh, I’ve said that already).

The second problem is, of course, this slightly Panglossian view of the jobs market – where if we all get the right skills, everything works out for the best, in this best of all possible worlds – is that it ignores privilege. You see, for instance, Donata and I are already using a common language about Uni. That is one level of privilege, right there. It appears not to cross Donata’s mind in the slightest that the kind of people who get dragged out of bed to sleep under a bridge before spending a day doing unskilled labour so they don’t lose their benefits and get rewarded by a – gasp – NVQ in crowd safety are generally not the sort of people who have been to, or have the opportunity to go to University. To these unfortunate proles, it isn’t a case of not getting the proper job training, but a case of there are no bloody jobs, there will be no bloody jobs, and the jobs that will finally appear for them will be as transient and unsatisfying as the British summer time.

All that said, I wouldn’t have got irate with Donata on this issue, if she hadn’t moved on to the meat of her piece. Which is a tremendous piece of Privilege Woe, or what we may dub “First World Problems”:-

“a lot of unpaid work experience harms social mobility. You only have to look at the political internships listed on the w4mp website to see this. Just ask yourself if a full-time, 12-month, unpaid, unexpensed job with John Leech MPdoes anything for social mobility? For someone to do this job, someone else – usually the intern’s parents – needs to pay for their food, rent, travel and clothes for a year. The travel alone is too expensive for a low-income family: a Tube ticket for the year costs £2,136 at the moment.

The costs of interning were far too high for a friend of mine and her family. She had to spend two years working in a shop after graduation, saving before she could afford to commute to London to work for free. As a result, she got a graduate job three years later than my middle-class friends. It took her grit and determination to do it. Queues of people told her she was setting her sights too high. I admire her for sticking with it. Especially given that many other friends gave up trying.

Two weeks ago, all three political parties were clambering over each other to talk about social mobility. Perhaps they could start by offering a fair deal to their interns.”

Again, contained within this is a germ of a fair point. The fair point being, that the political classes of the country shouldn’t be able to use graduates as slave labour. You know, I agree with you Donata. They truly shouldn’t. But the point Donata is making is that *this* is the scandal, and it harms social mobility. The fact that perhaps 600 or so posts in the country(which allow the holders to build a network of contacts and experience par excellence)  will go to applicants from backgrounds wealthy enough to subsidise them for a year after University, rather than, say, to honest, cloth capped applicants from backgrounds errr wealthy enough to go to university in the first place.

Perhaps someone should explain to Donata that social mobility doesn’t describe movements within the middle class. Maybe a start. And maybe while they are at it, they could explain to her that being used for unskilled slave labour that will lead you to a short term, lowly paid post in a service industry is perhaps slightly more demeaning than spending your time hanging around with the legislators and wonks of the world, building up a lifetime’s worth of contacts that will sustain you in a *career*, rather than in a succession of low skill, near slave labour posts. Just a suggestion.

Maybe they could change her blog description as from “inside the Westminster Bubble”, while we are at it.