In the gutter with Boris and Nigel

I don’t know if you’re enjoying the referendum readers, but I can tell you that I’m not.  I can’t think of any national political process that has taken place in my lifetime that I’ve found so constantly dispiriting and depressing on an almost daily level.  It now looks at least possible that Brexit could win, despite the fact that its three most prominent representatives, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage are three of the greatest charlatans who have ever slouched across the national stage.

That these three are not simply laughed off every forum they appear on,  is one level a testament to to the biliously rancid nationalism that is spreading across the country at the moment.  Never mind how often these three lie almost every time they open their mouths, and smoothly oil the wheels of racism.  Let them  attribute  Barack Obama’s support of the EU to his Kenyan ancestry, or warn of a mass influx of 76 million Turks.  Let them tell British women that the  EU has endangered their security by allowing refugee ‘rapists’ into the country.

Such statements should be shameful, but in the current debased climate they are entirely normal, and even work in Brexit’s favour.  Every lie, every note of the dog whistle, every nudge nudge hint defamation of Johnny Foreigner  only makes these three Pied Pipers stronger, as they promise to ‘take back control’ – from a coalition of nations that Britain entered into voluntarily, as they promise ‘independence’ – from the European ’empire.’

It’s now clear that dangerously large sections of the British public, in the end, just can’t stand to share their country with foreigners.   Of course there are other ideas driving the Brexit process, but this is the big one, the driving passion that has dominated this ghoulish process   Let’s not kid ourselves that most ordinary members of the public go around worrying about.’EU red tape’ or ‘bureaucrats from Brussels’.   And as for ‘sovereignty’ – this is only a popular issue insofar as the lack of sovereignty is seen as an inability to ‘control our borders’, deport ‘foreign criminals’ etc.

Is Brexit a Trump-like rebellion of the disenfranchised against the political elite – and the detested Cameron in particular?  Maybe, up to a point, if you put aside the fact that the Tory Party’s divisions over Europe are essentially a quarrel between different sections of the ‘elite.’  No, this is ultimately about public ‘concerns’ over immigration – concerns driven by fear, prejudice and misinformation that have been whipped up relentlessly for decades by the media and the British political class.

Now we’re reaping those fruits, and boy, do they taste bitter.   In 1919 Colonel Charles Repington, a former British intelligence officer and an opponent of the Channel Tunnel, warned that the construction of a tunnel would lead to ‘the loss of our insularity and the easy access of shoals of aliens upon our shores’.  Repington was particularly worried that these ‘shoals’ would impregnate British women and ‘Latinize’ the national ‘stock.’

Brexit is a 21st century expression of this same desire for ‘insularity. ‘  Its Major Evans-Gordon and the British Brothers League, Enoch Powell and. Thatcher’s ‘swamping’ all distilled into the cheekie  chappie ex-stockbroker Nigel Farage.  In a country where too many people have come to regard immigrants  as parasites, intruders, criminals and terrorists, who give nothing, contribute nothing and take everything that ‘we’ have, the EU is evil empire that lets in too many immigrants, and leaving  it  offers the possibility – however remote in practice – that immigration can be stopped.

The result is a political phenomenon that represents everything that I fiind despicable about the British and the English in particular when they act collectively  – chauvinism, xenophobia, thinly-veiled racism, nativism, and selfishness.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t regard a Remain campaign led by Cameron and Osborne as a plus to put against that minus.   Nor do I see the European Union as a bastion or guarantor of progressive values.  But I have to choose between the Brexit version of Britishness or Englishness and the EU’s  admittedly truncated and increasingly debauched version of internationalism, it’s no contest – I’m voting in. .

I know that the Lexit campaign would like us all to embrace a wider movement of solidarity and internationalism that extends beyond Europeanism, and if that was a realistic choice, then I would choose it.  But in practice, it isn’t.  I accept many of the Lexit criticisms of the EU, even though I think some of them are overstated.   For instance, I think that Lexit – like Brexit – has a tendency to portray the EU as much more powerful than it actually is, and too easily overlooks the fact that EU policy – on refugees for example – is dictated largely by its most powerful member states.

I also find it crudely reductionist to describe the EU as if it were nothing more than a ‘bosses’ club’ that exists solely for the ruthless exploitation of the working class.  That the EU can be ruthless is not in doubt, as in the case of Greece for example – though once again it was the weight of particular states and the absence of pan-European resistance that made that outcome possible.

But the European Union is also the largest and – until recently – the most successful attempt in history to transcend the bordered world that came into existence in the first half of the twentieth century.   Those who underestimate or downplay the significance of that achievement seem too willing to forget the destructive history of European statebuilding and interstate competition  that brought about two world wars and countless others.

For sure, that outcome has to some extent been predicated on the ‘hardening’ of  the EU’s new ‘external’ borders and its catastrophic response to undocumented migration from outside the EU,  but freedom of movement within the EU, however much it serves the interests of ‘the bosses’, has also allowed millions of working people the opportunity to change and improve their lives and live outside their own borders.

Many of these people can be found living all over the UK.  What is wrong with them being here?  Why should I support a movement that essentially despises them or regards them as nothing but a problem?  Would I like to see that same freedom of movement, and the mechanisms that made it possible, extended to other countries beyond the European Union?  Yes I certainly would.

But Brexit obviously has no such agenda.  Cameron and Osborne clearly don’t have it either and prefer to bray about ‘Britain stronger in Europe’ than talk about international solidarity or opening borders.

But    Brexit, far more than Remain,  is an explicit rejection of any notion of transnational solidarity, cooperation and internationalism.  It rejects Fortress Europe only because it wants to fortify the UK even more than it already is, and these objectives are only likely to debase our political culture even further than they already have.

In this context, Lexit’s call for a ‘real’ internationalism sounds to me like a pretty chorus trying to sing Kumbaya at a gathering of satanists.   The Lexiters, like the Brexiters,  would like to demolish the entire structure of  the European Union, for very different reasons admittedly,  but the former don’t seem to me to have clear idea of what would replace it except a great deal of optimistic speculation, and – as far as I can see – no real power to replace it with anything.

Do I have any idea of what will happen if Remain wins?   No, not really.  I don’t regard a Remain victory as something to celebrate – except that it would represent a defeat for Brexit – and a demonstration that the British public rejects the shrunken, inward-looking and xenophobic nationalism that drives the Leave campaign.

That would be something to celebrate.   Apart from that, I think that the Tory party would definitely be weakened whether Remain wins or loses – the divisions have been too sharp and vicious for the contenders to miraculously converge.   On a European level, the same challenges will remain that already exist; struggles against austerity; against Fortress Europe; for greater democracy within the EU.

Can the EU be reformed, as Yanis Varoufakis and others insist it can be?  Perhaps not.   And if we get a situation where a coalition of leftwing governments decide it can’t be, and want to leave or create a different kind of union, then I know what side I’ll be on.

I find it touching that so many Lexiters who once had nothing good to say about bourgeois democracy have suddenly rediscovered their faith in parliament, if only to counterpoint it with the EU, which they now say can’t be reformed, whereas in this country we can get rid of our own government in an election.

Well we can – in theory.  But in practice we’ve had Tory governments for more than thirty years now, broken by three rightwing Labour governments.  Even after four years of one of the most extremist governments in British history, after food banks, massive cuts, work assessments, forced academisation and so much else,   the public voted in a Tory government again.

Of course that could change – conservatism isn’t written into any country’s DNA – but I don’t see how a Brexit driven by the hard right is going to make it any less so.  In fact I think the opposite is more likely to be true, and that the political forces that brought about our ‘independence’ will be strengthened and vindicated.   So I may be pessimistic, but more than that I’m alarmed, outraged and horrified by the grim, nihilistic jingoism that is driving this process closer to that outcome.

If we leave, it will be Brexit, not Lexit, wot  wun it.   As the English fans in Marseille sang ‘ Fuck off Europe, we’re all voting out’.

They might be, but not all of us are, John Bull will never get my vote, even if he has blonde hair and holds a pint in his hand.

Truth, Lies, and Politics

In Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, a  pompous eighteenth-century professor asks the idiot-savant Kaspar Hauser a variant of the classic logical puzzle: You are traveling down a path and come to a fork in the road. One fork leads to a village where everyone tells the truth and the other to a village where everyone tells lies. Someone from one of the villages is standing at the fork, but you don’t know which village he comes from. You may ask him one question to determine which path goes to which village.

According to the professor there is only one correct solution to the puzzle, and he is completely flummoxed – and angered – when the uneducated wild boy Kaspar says that he would ask the  stranger  ‘ Are you a tree frog? ‘ – a left-field question which nevertheless resolves the puzzle.

I was reminded of this episode by an article by Jonathan Freedland today, lamenting the rise of ‘post-truth’ politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.  In Freedland’s view, both Trump and Johnson come from the village of lies, but you wouldn’t bet on either of them to admit it unless they thought that such an admission would advance their careers.

Freedland rightly excoriates the narcissism and vacuousness of both politicians, and their indifferent attitude to fact-based arguments and empirical evidence.  But his  lament seems to regard these two dangerous clowns as some kind of freakish aberration – a manifestation of some inexplicable of intellectual and political decline that is particularly striking in the United States.

‘In this era of post-truth politics, an unhesitating liar can be king, ‘ he wails. ‘ The more brazen his dishonesty, the less he minds being caught with his pants on fire, the more he can prosper. And those pedants still hung up on facts and evidence and all that boring stuff are left for dust, their boots barely laced while the lie has spread halfway around the world.’

A depressing state of affairs, to be sure, but ‘post-truth’ politics didn’t begin with vapid mountebanks like Trump and Johnson.   There are few brazen examples political dishonesty than the manipulation of the 9/11 attacks by the American and British governments as a justification for endless war against enemies of strategic choice that had nothing to do with the attacks. .

You may quibble about whether politicians like Bush, Cheney, Rice and Freedland’s hero Tony Blair lied directly or lied by omission to justify war against Iraq, but their relationship with ‘the truth’ was no less contingent on short-term calculations that Trump’s or Johnson’s, and the ‘pedants still hung up on facts and evidence and all that boring stuff’ were often conspicuously absent when it came to holding their spurious claims to account.

These weren’t ‘mistakes’; they were lies and fantasies, intended to mislead and terrify their populations and realize certain strategic objectives, and there are many, many others where these came from.   The Republican Party has certainly lowered the benchmark for evidence-free political lying.   For years rightwing politicians in the United States like Tom Tancredo have claimed that the US-Mexico border is being regularly infiltrated by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

No such groups have ever been seen – why would they?  Talk like that and you can’t be surprised if you get Trump offering to ‘build a wall’.   And it isn’t only Republicans with orange hair who tell lies.   We also have Hillary Clinton,  one of the most breathtakingly mendacious politicians in living memory.  ‘ Crooked Hillary’, as Trump calls her, is no less dishonest than Trump himself, yet Freedland doesn’t mention her.

Closer to home we have a government that routinely disseminates lies and half-truths for political advantage, whether falsely accusing Naz Shah of calling for Jews to be ‘transported’ to the US, inventing phony stories of jobseekers who supposedly benefited from Ian Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms, or peddling fake death rate stats at weekends to justify imposing a new contract on doctors.

Freedland quotes Washington Post editor Marty Baron, who asks ‘How can we have a functioning democracy when we cannot agree on the most basic facts?’  It’s a good question, but the fact is we haven’t had such a democracy for a long time,  and its partly because we have tolerated this situation for so long,  that men like Trump and Johnson feel able to say whatever they like.


After Cage: 10 Steps to prevent ‘radicalization’

I’m grateful to the British media and political establishment for the typically rigorous, balanced, and honest debate that has taken place over the last week, which has now enlightened me about the true objectives of the Muslim advocacy organization Cage.   I now understand that Cage’s purpose was not to defend Muslims who may have been unjustly imprisoned or harassed as a result of the post-9/11 directives of the war on terror, but that its members are in fact closet jihadists and fellow-travellers with al-Qaeda.

Admittedly I had my doubts about whether Cage might be overstating its case in this instance.   But I now know that Cage’s admittedly tactically maladroit attempts to suggest that the radicalization of ‘Jihadi John’   may have been in part due to his treatment at the hands of the British security services meant that the organization was in fact   an ‘apologist for terrorism’ waging stealth jihad against the secret services who are trying to keep us all safe.   It’s now blindingly obvious to me, thanks to the Daily Mail‘s forensic investigative journalism, that its director Asim Qureshi is in fact a ‘very privileged apologist for evil’ whose only motive is to destroy the country that welcomed him.

I’m not the only one to be enlightened.   Because now the Joseph Rowntree Trust and the Anita Roddick Foundation have pulled their funding, following pressure from the Charities Commission, and Amnesty have said it will no longer participate in joint campaigns with Cage.

So thank you to all those who have removed the blindfold from my eyes and stripped away the delusions that I have had in the past.       And now that I can see again I would like to offer some modest proposals and principles by way of compensation,   to suggest how we might repair the terrible damage that Cage has already inflicted on our national community – and our national security – and prevent other organizations from taking advantage of my politically-correct naivete in the future:

  1. It should be understood as an absolute and unquestioned principle that Muslims never have been and can never be victims of state anti-terrorism policies under any circumstances.   At no point during these last fourteen years has any Muslim been unjustly arrested, extradited, imprisoned, tortured, harassed, blackmailed or subject to control orders.       Anyone who suggests otherwise should be immediately neutralised or shut down. The government should only engage with Muslim organizations that uncritically support British foreign policy and the British security establishment. Any criticism of either is unhelpful and divisive and hinders the attempts of the latter to keep us safe.
  2. Such organizations should be approved and vetted beforehand by a ‘de-radicalization committee’ made up of experts chosen for their deep understanding of terrorism, radicalization and the lived experience of Britain’s Muslim communities.   May I suggest Douglas Murray, William Shawcross, Nick Cohen, Maryam Namazie, Boris Johnson, and any representative of   the Quilliam Foundation.
  3. We should encourage the publication of memoirs, books and public statements by former Muslim radicals who have repented their extremist views, and ensure that they are checked by Whitehall officials beforehand and rewritten if these officials deem in necessary.
  4. We should increase funding to the Quilliam Foundation – an organization with massive and overwhelming support amongst the UK’s Muslim communities.
  5. We cannot and should not engage at any level with any ‘Islamist’ organization whose members may have religiously conservative or reactionary social views because it has been scientifically proven that these views lead inevitably to terrorism.     For this reason we should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization or at least an ‘ideological precursor to terrorism’ and ban it.   Our liberal democratic allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia both want us to do this, and we should do as they ask, because driving the Brotherhood underground will definitely help our outreach efforts with British Muslims both in the UK and beyond.
  6. We should be more assertive and even coercive in ensuring that British Muslims learn British values.   Suggestions that these values should be taught to Muslim toddlers don’t go far enough.     There is no reason why pregnant Muslim mothers shouldn’t also attend prenatal de-radicalization classes in which tapes of the Magna Carta and Churchill’s speeches can be played to their unborn children.     Anyone refusing to do this may be considered vulnerable to radicalization and susceptible to extremism.
  7. We should punish universities that invite ‘hate preachers’ to speak at their institutions, regardless of whether these speakers are doing anything illegal.     There is no more need to define   or explain ‘hate preacher’ than there is to define ‘hate’, ‘radicalization’ or ‘extremism’- the meaning of these words is self-evident and any attempts to impose an objective definition will only inhibit our efforts to prohibit them.
  8. We should transform all the organs of the state (schools, Ofsted, nurseries, job centres) into instruments of surveillance and regulation so that we may know what British Muslims are thinking and doing at all times, and immediately punish or exclude anyone who may be thinking thoughts that we don’t approve of.   These efforts should include a CCTV camera in every mosque.     Any complaints about the impact of these procedures should be ignored or perhaps taken as evidence of radicalization and extremism.
  9. We should create a website called ‘ I condemn…’ followed by the latest atrocity perpetrated by Islamic State or any other similar organization.     All Muslims must be obliged to click it.   Every Muslim neighborhood in the country should support these efforts with a public display of condemnation and anyone who fails to do this should be expected to explain themselves, otherwise their passivity may be regarded as evidence of radicalization and extremism
  10. Children who are in danger of being radicalized by their parents should be taken into care, as the mayor of London has wisely suggested.  They should then be fostered out to good British families while their parents are deported to where they or their grandparents came from.

These measures are only part of a blueprint that I hope will put an end to the climate of   division, suspicion, and false victimhood which has done so much to hinder our counterterrorism efforts over the last fourteen years, and will surely lead our country to a brighter, more hopeful and above all safer future, defined by the British values of rule of law, justice and democratic accountability.

I hope readers will accept these suggestions as a gesture of genuine repentance.

And by the way, just so you know, I also condemn Jihadi John.

Boris Johnson and the rise of the porno-terrorist

Seasoned readers of this site might be surprised to know that the single most common search category that brings new readers to this site is pornography, more specifically, a category known as ‘British army porn.’     Readers interested in this phenomenon usually end up here because of an old post I wrote called ‘the British army’s war porn’ – a post that provided no obvious reason not to keep both hands on the keyboard, and probably won’t detain these seekers for long.

I used to think this was funny, but now I’m wondering if it’s dangerous in the wake of the Lord Mayor of London’s depictions of jihadi terrorists last week as ‘literally wankers, serious onanists.’       Maybe it’s Churchill’s anniversary or the smell of cordite from the machine gun that he fired in Iraq last week went to his head, because Johnson is not known for his insight into terrorism.     Nevertheless he told the Sun:

‘If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are tortured. They will be very badly adjusted in their relations with women, and that is a symptom of their feeling of being failures and that the world is against them. They are not making it with girls and so they turn to other forms of spiritual comfort – which of course is no comfort.’

Questioned about these observations later Johnson said he could not believe that ‘anyone could seriously contest a word I said.’ Well I’m sorry but I just have to contest it, not because I care about anything that this Tory narcissist says about anything, but because according to him, he took this thesis from M15 reports.

This could be because the security services have decided to adopt ridicule as a form of propaganda – as in ‘let’s all laugh at the terrorists and they’ll all go away’, because otherwise it is really quite alarming.

The tendency to reduce terrorism to a question of individual pathology has a long pedigree.   Governments and establishment ‘terrorism experts’ have been doing it for years in conflict after conflict.     It’s comforting to think of terrorists as weird psychotic loners from another planet to the rest of us.       The main purpose of this kind of profile is not so much to understand what makes such and such a person become a terrorist – a category that tends to be subjectively defined if it is even defined at all,   and often has no meaning beyond ‘bad person.’

More generally this kind of psychological profiling is intended to obscure, deny or marginalize the political conflict or context that gives rise to this kind of violence, by reducing the entire phenomenon to a bunch of maladjusted losers.

The Russian prosecutors of the People’s Will assassins who killed Alexander II tried to do this.     So did German society with Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader.   Doris Lessing once did the same thing in her pretty awful novel The Good Terrorist.     When Americans discovered to their horror that the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh was not an Arab of a Muslim, many media ‘experts’ concluded that it was all down to his parents’ divorce.

A look back at the history of non-state terrorism can certainly find numerous examples of ‘losers’, and dysfunctional and marginalized people of the type that Johnson describes, but you can also find such people in most armies.     And just like the army, you can also find highly intelligent and even talented terrorists too.     Muhammad  Atta was a Phd student.     The Peoples Will included extremely gifted young men and women,   one of whom was an engineer who some Soviet scientists claim developed a prototype of the Sputnik.

As for women, well some terrorists are women.     And Andreas Baader had plenty of success with ‘girls’ .   The first World Trade Centre bomber Ramzi Yousef spent some time whoring with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in Filipino bars while plotting how to blow up passenger planes.   The 9/11 pilot Ziad al-Jarrah was by all accounts an attractive, charming and well-adjusted bloke who was going to get married to his fiancée before he decided to engage in a suicidal act of mass murder instead.     Nor do the 7/7 bombers fit Johnson’s profile.

Admittedly there are no simple answers as to how these men were able to convince themselves that it was their religious and/or political duty to murder ‘soft targets’, but the idea that you can reduce the modern jihad to a few sad young men with low esteem who are hooked on porn is self-serving empty blather.

Johnson’s profiling is no more vacuous than the UK government’s list of the ‘engagement factors’ than educators, parents and other people in authority are expected to regard as signs of potential radicalization as part of its Prevent strategy.

These include ‘Feelings of grievance and injustice’,   ‘A need for identity, meaning and belonging’,   ‘ A desire for status’, and   ‘ A desire for excitement and adventure’.   Then there is ‘ Being at a transitional time of life’ and ‘ A desire for political or moral change’ – a category that includes most of the Greeks who voted for Syriza, the 100,000 who gathered at the Podemos rally yesterday, and the million and half demonstrators who marched against the Iraq war back in 2003.

Now you all probably know many people who fit into one or more of these categories.   Just as you probably know young men who ‘typically look at porn.’   But the assumptions behind them change radically when applied to Muslims.     Then, it seems ‘ a desire for excitement and adventure’ or ‘ a desire for political or moral change’ becomes part of the conveyor belt that leads to ‘radicalization.’

In the same way,   the notion that ‘porn-driven’ Muslims are likely to end up blowing themselves to pieces or murdering cartoonists is a kind of variant on the cliché of sexually-frustrated young men seeking to gain access to the ‘virgins in paradise’ by blowing themselves up.

As is often the case with Johnson, it’s difficult to know whether he really believes in the onanism/terrorism connection or whether his statements were yet another expression of his seemingly endless need to get the world to take notice of him.   In the same week that Johnson described porn-watching as a security problem, Richard Dawkins appeared   to see it as some kind of solution, tweeting: ‘ Good idea to beam erotic videos to theocracies?     NOT violent porn, but loving, gentle, woman-respecting eroticism.’

It’s probably safe to assume that Dawkins didn’t mean the Vatican when he proposed to ‘beam’ erotic videos to ‘theocracies’ and I’m not exactly sure what he intends to achieve by it.

Anyway good luck with that one Richard.     And keep the ideas coming, but anyone who comes to this site looking for war porn: watch out, because I will be reporting you to the terror police for signs of radicalization.