Monday, January 16, 2006


The British police now make the law, apparently. What would happen if a Christian pastor defended on TV the Old Testament teaching (Leviticus 20:13) that homosexuals should be put to death? It will be interesting to see

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has moved to end pointless and costly investigations into commentators who voice politically incorrect opinions on radio and television. Sir Ian launched a review of how his force responds to complaints about allegedly homophobic and racist statements broadcast on radio and television. Under current rules police are duty bound to investigate any such complaints from viewers and listeners but officers are understood to be exasperated that they have to look into all of them as potential "hate" crimes. Inquiries can tie up resources and cost thousands of pounds before establishing that people are only exercising their right to freedom of speech and have not committed offences under either the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act or the Public Order Act.

The announcement of the review comes just days after the Met began investigating Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, over a BBC Radio 4 interview in which he voiced his view that homosexuality was "not acceptable". A listener made a formal complaint to police suggesting his comments were homophobic. However, the Met made clear that the investigation into Sir Iqbal's comments will continue and will not be affected by the review.

In another controversial case last month family campaigner Lynette Burrows was spoken to by Met officers after she aired her opinion that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt in a discussion programme on BBC Radio Five Live. A listener called police.

Sir Ian has in the past faced criticism for his own perceived adherence to political correctness but appears keen to end frivolous investigations. His review raises the prospect of an increasing role for police in deciding what constitutes free speech and could lead to officers being able to immediately disregard complaints they deem absurd or trivial.


NEW BOOK: The Retreat of Reason - Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain by Anthony Browne

Summary of the book:

For centuries Britain has been a beacon of liberty of thought, belief and speech, but now the freedom of its intellectual and political life is being subjected to a subtle form of 'censorship', according to a new study of political correctness published by the independent think-tank Civitas.

Anthony Browne argues in The Retreat of Reason that political correctness, which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and allows no dissent to be expressed, is poisoning the wells of debate in modern Britain.

'Members of the public, academics, journalists and politicians are afraid of thinking certain thoughts' (p.xii). Political correctness started in academia, but it now dominates schools, hospitals, local authorities, the civil service, the media, companies, the police and the army. Since 1997 Britain has been ruled by political correctness for the first time. 'The Labour government was the first UK government not to stand up to political correctness, but to try and enact its dictates when they are not too electorally unpopular or seriously mugged by reality, and even sometimes when they are' (p.34).

Anthony Browne describes political correctness as a 'heresy of liberalism' (p.2) under which 'a reliance on reason has been replaced with a reliance on the emotional appeal of an argument' (p.6). Adopting certain positions makes the politically correct feel virtuous, even more so when they are preventing the expression of an opinion that conflicts with their own: 'political correctness is the dictatorship of virtue'.

Whether an argument is true or not is a secondary consideration to whether it fits with the PC view of the world: 'In the topsy-turvy politically correct world, truth comes in two forms: the politically correct, and the factually correct. The politically correct truth is publicly proclaimed correct by politicians, celebrities and the BBC even if it is wrong, while the factually correct truth is publicly condemned as wrong even when it is right. Factually correct truths suffer the disadvantage that they don't have to be shown to be wrong, merely stated that they are politically incorrect. To the politically correct, truth is no defence; to the politically incorrect, truth is the ultimate defence. (p.7)'

He argues that PC is much more than just a dispute about words, or the hope of avoiding hurtful expressions: it leads to an incorrect analysis of real problems, which means that the wrong solutions are attempted. People suffer as a result:

'Black communities are encouraged to blame racist teachers for the failings of their boys at school, rather than re-examine their own culture and attitudes to education that may be the prime reasons. The poor sick have ended up having worse healthcare in Britain than they would in mainland Europe because PC for long closed down debate on fundamental NHS reform. Women's employment opportunities can be harmed by giving them ever more rights that are not given to men. The unemployed are encouraged to languish on benefits blaming others for their fate. Poor Africans are condemned to live in poverty so long as they and their governments are encouraged to blame the West for all their problems, rather than confronting the real causes of poor governance, corruption and poor education'. (p.xiv) The end of political correctness?

Political correctness is the invention of Western intellectuals who feel guilty about the universal triumph of Western values and economic prosperity. However, threats to the influence of the West may bring political correctness to an end:

'Political correctness is essentially the product of a powerful but decadent civilisation which feels secure enough to forego reasoning for emoting, and to subjugate truth to goodness. However, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, and those that followed in Bali, Madrid and Beslan, have led to a sense of vulnerability that have made people far more hard-headed about the real benefits and drawbacks of Western civilisation'. (p.84)

Even the long-unrivalled economic dominance of the West will come under challenge from the newly flourishing economies of India and China. Westerners will stop feeling guilty about their position when it has to be defended against rival cultures and ideologies. Anthony Browne lists several steps that could be taken to limit the malign influence of political correctness before it does further damage:

Free speech should be protected with an equivalent of the first amendment to the US constitution. A binding referendum should be called on any proposal if supported by a certain percentage of the population. Such 'citizens' initiatives' return power to the people, encouraging ordinary citizens to re-engage with the political process. Un-PC groups should be formed and promoted to oppose PC flag-wavers like left-wing charities. A taxpayers' alliance could argue for lower taxes; a homeowners association could campaign on issues affecting homeowners, like council tax and crime. There should be more objective teaching of the history of the West. Foundations should be set up to preserve and promote the Western heritage and values (pp. 86-7).

'In the long run of history, political correctness will be seen as an aberration in Western thought. The product of the uniquely unchallenged position of the West and unrivalled affluence, the comparative decline of the West compared to the East is likely to spell its demise. Finally, Western minds may be free again to reason rather than just emote, to pursue objective truth rather than subjective virtue'.


A BBC documentary broadcast last night (11 January) served as a reminder of the disastrous consequences of the theory of 'Satanic ritual abuse' that gripped many British social services departments in the late 1980s and early 1990s (1). Following similar stories in the USA, allegations were made across the country, from Nottingham to Orkney, of devil-worshipping, sexual abuse of children and even human sacrifice.

All of the cases, in the USA as well as the UK, turned out to be unfounded, but not before generating a media frenzy, and putting the families concerned through hell. Children were taken from their parents, in many cases for several years, while those parents stood accused of acts that would have seemed absurd were the consequences not so serious. Not only rape and incest but all manner of outlandish occult rituals were said to have been performed by ordinary-seeming families across the land. Sacrificing animals, locking children in 'caves', drinking human blood, even making girls pregnant so the fetuses could be torn out and sacrificed: the social workers at the centre of these cases claimed to have uncovered the bestial underside of apparently civilised, secular societies.

It ought to be said that even at the time not everyone was convinced. Notably, regular spiked contributor Dr Michael Fitzpatrick challenged the myth of Satanic ritual abuse in the pages of Living Marxism. In many ways, 'Satanic abuse' was a classic moral panic, and transparently so, but it was given special impetus by the peculiar political character of the child abuse issue. While concerns about the occult might seem more in keeping with religious conservatism, especially coming from the USA, in fact the uncovering of child abuse had become a feminist, even left-wing cause, and the idea that sinister things were going on behind the closed doors of the family had a certain resonance even beyond the lunatic fringe. The former Communist and noted feminist Beatrix Campbell wrote a series of articles and made a Channel 4 Dispatches programme promoting the myth more enthusiastically than any American evangelist group or salacious tabloid.

The Rochdale case revisited in the BBC documentary began in June 1990 when a quiet young boy who liked to hide under tables at school was referred to social services. A series of conferences and training videos had convinced many in the profession that Satanic ritual abuse was widespread. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) published so-called 'Satanic indicators', a shameful endorsement of irrational panic that has not prevented the organisation retaining respect and patronage for its ongoing promotion of the idea that more mundane child abuse is routine today.

Having read up on the hot topic in the profession, social workers in Rochdale were excited to come across a case that met the promiscuous indicators of abuse. These included such innocuous things as a child's obsession with urine and faeces, fear of ghosts and monsters, and reluctance to be left with babysitters.

A total of 12 children were taken from their homes for investigation, and the documentary revealed some of the mechanics of how the panic took off. The BBC took Rochdale Council to court to gain access to tapes of interviews with the children taken at the time, which make for fascinating viewing. It is clear that the children were led by the social workers. They were encouraged to talk about 'ghosts', indulging what they thought of as fantasies but which the social workers interpreted as revelations about their abuse at the hands of various adults. Even when one child insisted that these were 'nice ghosts', the skewed interpretation was maintained, while in many cases their statements were simply distorted.

Following similar practices in America, the children were asked to play with anatomically-correct dolls, and again, the social workers led the children and interpreted their play according to their own preconceptions. The children are now suing the council for compensation and an apology for their ordeal.

As in other similar cases, it is clear that the social workers were utterly convinced that the ritual abuse was going on before they began collecting 'evidence'. In another case, in Nottingham in 1997, the outlandish claims made by children in such circumstances included the following: babies being stabbed in a balloon and cooked in the oven; Jesus being chopped up and eaten off a silver pad; an uncle killing a man, cutting him up and putting him in a bag after going to a fantastic castle in a boat with Mr Pooh Pants and the local vicar; the family witches killing a big sheep brought in a plastic box with their finger nails and taking it to the hospital to get better and bringing it back; a swimming pool with crocodiles, sharks and dragons that kill the children.

It seems incredible now that such charges could ever have been taken seriously, but once the theory had taken hold, it became a point of principle that there must be truth even in the most absurd accusations, and above all that children must be believed no matter what.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the Satanic panic as a freakish aberrance, however. The generally unhealthy suspicion of social workers towards families is revealed by the fact that the family at the centre of the Rochdale case had been on the radar of social services even before the false allegations were made; they were judged not be looking after their kids very well and were criticised for having financial problems. (Certainly they come across in the documentary as unsophisticated, which no doubt made it difficult for them to defend themselves against the false allegations.)

While the Satanic panic is generally seen as a thing of the past, the misanthropic assumptions underlying it have only been strengthened since the early 1990s. Organisations like the NSPCC are more rather than less influential, and the idea that child abuse is going on in countless apparently normal homes is absolutely mainstream. It is this institutionalised suspicion that means the apparently irrational Satanic ritual abuse panic can be explained, and also that it has never completely disappeared. It is still important to challenge the myth wherever it flares up, but more than that to question the more mainstream misanthropy that feeds it.

Moreover, at a time when it is increasingly fashionable to cast doubt on the ability of parents in general to feed, discipline and socialise their own children, it is worth remembering what the professionals are capable of, especially when they are convinced they are on the side of the angels.


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