Saturday, March 17, 2007

A fight over principles in France

The verdict in the Charlie Hebdo case was originally expected to be handed down last Thursday but has been postponed to next Thursday now. That would seem to be of some concern as a verdict in favour of the magazine and against the Muslim plaintiffs was almost universally expected. To remind readers what it is all about, I reproduce below a post from the British blog EU Referendum -- written in early February, when the case was initiated

As we have pointed out before, it is not the Continental countries that were found wanting in the War of the Danish Cartoons, but Britain. To be quite precise, the British media, not a single one of whom dared to reprint the cartoons, bleating idiotically about not wanting to upset people. Especially people who might come after you, one suspects. The Guardian and the Independent have had no problems about printing anti-Semitic cartoons of the kind that could have come out of Der Stürmer.

One of the magazines that did do the right thing was the French Charlie Hebdo, now sued by the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organizations for inciting racial hatred.

It is not that they want censorship, they whine, but they do not think cartoons that make fun of Islam should be published.
A televised debate between Charlie Hebdo publisher Val and Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Grand Mosque, broke up acrimoniously on Tuesday after they squabbled over the limits of free speech.

"If we can't criticise religion anymore, there will be no women's rights, no birth control and no gay rights," Val said in the raucous TV debate.

Boubakeur said the controversial cartoon showing Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was not simply satire, but an insult against all Muslims by suggesting they were all terrorists.

"We don't want censorship, we don't want the sacred to be protected by blasphemy laws or medieval jurisdiction," he said.

Boubakeur said last week he wanted to show that reprinting the cartoons was a provocation equal to acts of anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial, which are both banned under French law.
Um, well, of course, anti-Semitic attacks have gone up in France (and in Britain) in the last few years and many of them originate with the Muslim community. Those attacks are not simply words or cartoons but actual physical acts against people, schools, cemeteries and synagogues.

To repeat for the benefit of those of our readers who do not bother with most of what we write: this blog does not believe Holocaust denial should be illegal in any country.

It seems that the case may well be one of the seminal ones in French legal history, though in a different way from the Al-Dura one, which we wrote about here and here.
Politicians, intellectuals, secular Muslims and left-wing pressure groups have lined up behind Charlie Hebdo, arguing that Muslim groups have no right to call for limits on free speech.

"I just cannot imagine the consequences not only for France but for Denmark and Europe if they lose the case," Fleming Rose, the Danish editor who first published the cartoons, told a news conference with Charlie Hebdo publisher Philippe Val.
The left-wing newspaper, Libération has reprinted the cartoons, saying quite firmly that it is not words or pictures that kill but bombs. True enough and time it was said forcefully. Are we going to see a similar outburst of bravery in our media or will it all be left to the blogs again?

The Passive-Aggressive Jihad

Post lifted from David Thompson

Last week, I noted how the language of religious coercion has undergone a softening since the era of William Berkeley, and how old struggles for censorship and dominance are now routinely couched in the rhetoric of personal injury: "No-one would use words like 'authority' and 'power.' Not about Islam. Not out loud. Now we hear about much fluffier things, like 'feelings', 'prejudice' and 'sensitivity.' It's the passive-aggressive approach." Efforts to control what can be said about Islam - and by extension what can be thought about it - have been recast in terms of supernatural sensitivity and an allergy to criticism. Or, no less shamefully, as a reaction to `racism.' 

As, for instance, when the Abu Bakr Jamia mosque in Cambridge invoked a "compassionate and merciful" Allah to intimidate staff and students at a Cambridge college, while describing an innocuous student newspaper as "hate speech" and an "incitement to ethnic hatred." Or when that tragicomic convert to Islam, Yvonne Ridley, pompously declared: "My faith is my nationality and when you attack it you are being racist." Some have resorted to other, no less tendentious, ploys; most recently with the notion of "cultural racism" - a term that's used freely in certain quarters and without clear definition, but which nonetheless imprints on the reader an unmistakable suggestion of nefarious intent.

In his recent Civitas report, We're (Nearly) All Victims Now, the criminologist Dr David Green explains how, "politically-recognised victim status... has begun to do lasting harm to our liberal culture. Groups who have been politically recognised as victims are starting to use their power to silence people who have had the cheek to criticise them." Green goes on to argue: "Modern victim groups create entrenched social divisions by defining opponents as oppressors who not only must be defeated by the state, but silenced by the state."

These efforts to short-circuit realistic debate have proved all too successful, not least among those whose political outlook is premised on Designated Victim Groups and claims of collective guilt. It seems the word `Islamophobe' - like its pseudo-synonym, `racist' - has acquired the status of a declamatory WMD. Deploying the term, even by vague insinuation, can generally be counted on to shut down the frontal lobes of pretty much anyone on the left, like some rhetorical kryptonite. Loaded as the term 'Islamophobia' is with connotations of irrationality, those who brandish it as a talisman of virtue may suppose they're defending the weaker party against unfair attack. In practice, they may simply be excusing the party with the weaker argument, or no argument at all.

Thanks to Franklin at Artblog, I stumbled across another textbook example of this passive-aggressive pantomime, this time involving the cartoonist Doug Marlette and his "offensive" cartoon `What Would Muhammad Drive?' The background for the cartoon and the "outrage" that followed - inflamed and co-ordinated by the dubious "civil rights" organisation CAIR - can be found here. The piece is worth reading in full, not least for some tips on how to deal with being denounced as a tool of Satan. But I thought I'd share some of Marlette's comments on the incident as they illustrate the mechanics of professional victimhood:
"Can you say `fatwa'? My newspaper, The Tallahassee Democrat, and I received more than 20,000 e-mails demanding an apology for misrepresenting the peace-loving religion of the Prophet Muhammad - or else. Some spelled out the `else': death, mutilation, internet spam. `I will cut your fingers and put them in your mother's ass.' `What you did, Mr. Dog, will cost you your life. Soon you will join the dogs . . . hahaha in hell.' `Just wait . . . we will see you in hell with all Jews.'

The onslaught was orchestrated by an organization called the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR bills itself as an `advocacy group.' I was to discover that among the followers of Islam it advocated for were the men convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre. At any rate, its campaign against me included flash-floods of e-mail intended to shut down servers at my newspaper, as well as viruses aimed at my home computer. The controversy became a subject of newspaper editorials, columns, web logs, talk radio, and CNN. I was condemned on the front page of the Saudi publication Arab News by the secretary general of the Muslim World League.

The threads that connect CAIR and the literary fatwas. are entreaties to `sensitivity', appeals to institutional guilt, and faith in a corporate culture of controversy avoidance. Niceness is the new face of censorship in this country. We are in deep trouble when victimhood becomes a sacrament, personal injury a point of pride, when irreverence is seen as a hate crime."
It's difficult to adequately convey the dishonesty of this flourishing grievance industry and the scoundrels who exploit it. But such is its effectiveness in coercing genuflection and self-censorship, a precedent has been set. As has previously been noted, the Bishop of London and the Dean of Southwark have all too readily embraced the rhetoric of victimhood practised so expertly by our most prominent Muslim lobby groups, whereby howls of bogus injury are accompanied by vague threats of "social disorder" and demands for special treatment.

Crudely summarised, that rhetoric runs along the following lines: "Poor us. Feel our pain. We're victimised by words, even statements of fact. You owe us for our injury. So do as we say." Perhaps we'll soon have a grievance arms race on our hands, as various Tribes of Perpetual Hurt and Indignation follow the Islamic model and vie for the upper hand, with tears in their eyes and a list of unilateral demands: "Feel my pain." "No, feel my pain!" "My pain is the greatest! Feel it! Feel it now.!" And with each exhortation to empathise and comply, a little more freedom may well be lost, perhaps irretrievably, along with a little more honesty and a little more self-respect.

Dissecting British prejudice about Australia

A comment below on the Patrick West article by Guy Rundle, European editor of the Australian Leftist magazine, "Arena". It is a long time since I have seen a copy of Arena and it has only a little of its content online but I surmise that, like "Spiked", it is these days more a magazine of retired Marxists than of current Marxists. It is, however, a lot "Greener" than "Spiked". Green is a common refuge for former Reds. The article below certainly does not spare the Left. I am slightly pleased that Mr Rundle has picked up Mr West's incorrect spelling of "schooner". I thought of mentioning that as a pointer to Mr West's lack of erudition but concluded that it was a bit trivial

`The Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition of Kylie Minogue's costumes' said Sandi Toksvig on a recent episode of BBC Radio 4's News Quiz. `It's on loan from the Australian Arts Centre, which is now presumably empty.' Boom boom. As far as anti-Australian gags go, that is pretty much par for the course. Increasingly, British views of Australia - especially as expressed by the middle-class commentariat - take as their starting point the idea that Down Under symbolises all that is cultureless, naive and vulgar.

As an Australian in Britain, you simply get used to it. More often than not such anti-Australian sentiments find their expression in the leftish mainstream press, where ostensible liberalism often serves as a mask for cultural elitism. It was a bit of a shock, then, to open up spiked last week and find in Patrick West's TV column every British cliche about Australian culture and life stuck into one article.

Based largely, it would appear, on conversations with a few ex-pats, West's startling conclusion is that Australia is not the sunny, fresh-minted utopia of Neighbours, but is more like the Gothic suburban fantasy of Kath and Kim - a cultural predicament which has apparently driven from Australia not only record numbers of smart people but also just about the whole A-list of Aussies, from, er, Clive James to Germaine Greer. However, wherever they go, Australians retain a childlike naivet‚ which comes to the fore when they've had a skinful, says West, which is very often of course. Oh, and the women will push you to the floor and have your fly open before you've even finished your `scooner' (sic).

Well, if your research sample is the front bar of the `Shebu Walkie' (the Walkabout beer barn in Shepherd's Bush, London) over a schooner (a beer) or two, then inevitably you're going to uncover those kind of back-of-the-beermat findings. Let's dispel a few of the myths in West's piece.

For a start, there's the ex-pat diaspora. There are around one million Australians living outside of Australia, or about seven per cent of the adult population. About half of them say they have left permanently, although a proportion of these subsequently change their minds (1). By contrast, the number of British citizens living overseas is 5.5 million, or about 12 per cent of the adult population; around 100,000 Brits a year leave Britain permanently (2). Their most favoured destination is a place called Australia, with Spain coming second.

True, the make-up of British and Australian ex-pat communities differs, with the British composed of more retirees and fewer professionals than Australia's diaspora - but that is simply a consequence of Australia being part of the global periphery. Like Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and many other fairly sparsely populated places, Australia's citizens are responding to the increased mobility afforded by globalisation, and to the creation of global capitals like London and New York, which offer professional opportunities that are unavailable in their homeland.

The second mistake in West's article is his claim that all Australia's leading intellectuals have left. This leaves me no choice but to take the odious path of cultural boosterism and reel off a list of those who haven't left, or didn't leave, Australia: Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick White; world-class poets Les Murray and AD Hope; Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty; philosophers David Armstrong and Rai Gaita; Booker Prize-winner Thomas Keneally; France's most performed overseas playwright Daniel Keene; Pritzker (architecture's Nobel) winner Glenn Murcutt; actor (now artistic director) Cate Blanchett; scientist Tim Flannery. There are many more.

Those whom West cites as ex-pats (and he left out the most talented ex-pats, such as novelist Peter Carey and critic Meaghan Morris) are overwhelmingly those who are either global travellers, such as John Pilger, or metropolitan performers such as Germaine Greer (who alternates between A-list work and Celebrity Big Brother-style fiascos) and former clip-show host Clive James. It's those who stayed - such as White, Murray or Murcutt - who produced world-class work, connecting local traditions to global modernism. Maybe West hasn't heard of them because they don't work in his narrow world of the London media.

What is really awry in West's piece is that he has missed the way in which the image of Australia is used within British culture and debate for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the southern continent. The fashionable disdain in Britain for the suburbanism that dominates the image of Australian life is a barely disguised form of prejudice directed at working-class and mainstream culture, displaced in such a way that it can avoid charges of naked elitism.

There's no doubt that Australia has a different set of class relations to Britain - and that is partly because Australia has a far smaller cultural elite (or core of knowledge/cultural producers, to put it more technically) and larger suburbs of detached houses with gardens and a cultural life largely based around mainstream (and mostly American) films, TV and music. In terms of comfort for basic wage-earners, Australia is one of the most congenial societies yet devised, though it is at the same time frustrating and unsatisfying for those who want a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. Hence the grousing from the professional diaspora who have either permanently relocated to London or are in the first flush of enthusiasm for London life (usually put paid to by a couple years of London rents, rain and trains).

Yet even a cursory glance around everyday British culture - from Big Brother to the half-hour lobotomy of Emmerdale or Gillian McKeith's poo TV, to Soho on a Saturday night - should show that Britain is hardly lacking in cheerful assertive vulgarity. So why does the Australian version get such a kicking, especially from the left or `progressive' direction?

The answer, of course, is because it's safe to bash Australia. No one from the liberal or left-leaning fraternity can come out and say - as Simon Heffer or Theodore Dalrymple have done - that the British working classes are a slatternly disgrace. So instead such disdain is displaced on to a white settler country which does have - mainly in rural areas - all the residual racism common to white settler countries. And then such disdain is presented as a critical and progressive attitude. So in West's article we find that the kind of thing once patronisingly said about blacks - that they have a joyful sense of rhythm - can now be transferred on to white Australians (or Kiwis or South Africans or the Irish) who are praised for their naive childlike drunkenness that we jaded metropolitans have long since lost.

This easy chauvinism serves another purpose, too. It assuages the all-pervasive anxiety amongst the left-liberal elite that mainstream culture is actually winning - that Jade Goody, Garry Bushell and Girls Aloud are setting the pace today, and that the remaining institutions of liberal elite culture (Radio 4, the Guardian, David-fucking-Hare) are being pushed to a position of utter irrelevance reminiscent of, well, Australia. More and more British liberals project their fears for their own self-preservation against the hordes on to a nightmare vision of Australia, where they imagine the hordes have been victorious.

The point is that Australia is ahead, not behind, the curve the UK is on - it is dealing with the problems that any society faces when it has started to satisfy the basic needs of a large section of the population. Kath and Kim is neither a clown show nor a proletarian minstrel turn. It is a slightly rueful self-reflection on the difficulties you face when you have got everything you think you wanted - the house, the garden, the holidays, the shopping centres - and now you're wondering what else you can do. Not understanding that, Mr West, leaves you looking, well, a bit of a galah.


Australian approach to Islamofascism more realistic

Comment from British writer Melanie Phillips

Coming from Britain to Canberra to interview members of the Australian government is like leaving a fetid malarial swamp to be douched with fresh cold water from a mountain spring. These guys are so on-side in the great fight for civilisation against barbarism that they make `Bush's poodle' Tony Blair sound like a Harold Pinter wannabe on a bad day in Basra.

As Britain impatiently awaits the disappearance of the Prime Minister it has impaled on the turnpike of Iraq, as it pulls troops out and as both Gordon Brown and David Cameron delicately signal that they will distance themselves from US foreign policy, John Howard's government is increasing the number of Australian soldiers in Iraq and its ministers remain passionately committed to the battle for democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.

Their scorn for the current British mood of defeatism and appeasement is palpable. What, for example, does Foreign Minister Alexander Downer think about those in Britain who claim that the Iraq war has made the world a more dangerous place? `Their proposition that we should let the extremists win in Iraq and that will reduce terrorism is like saying, let Hitler take France and that will secure things a bit more. Or that if only we hadn't taken on Hitler he wouldn't have bombed the East End. It's a completely fatuous proposition. For the extremists, it's fantastic that people are saying this -because the logical conclusion is to surrender.'

What does Attorney-General Philip Ruddock think of the British government's long-standing opposition to what it sees as America's indefinite detention of terror suspects without a proper trial in Guantanamo Bay? `This shows an ignorance of the rules of war, which recognise you are entitled to hold those who engage in hostilities against you until the end of that war. It's not a question of holding people indefinitely because generally you expect to see a war conclude. `This is not war as conventionally understood. It's something worse. If people are waging war by using unconventional weapons in order to target civilian populations, you tie your hands behind your back by saying you must treat this as a normal breach of the law. We have an obligation to protect the safety and security of our populations. Law enforcement in its traditional sense does not protect our community.'

As for Treasurer Peter Costello on the subject of radical Muslims in Australia -well, he's hardly likely to win the Tories' Patrick Mercer Memorial Cup for cultural sensitivity: `Basically, people who don't want to be Australians, and they don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off.'

The Australian government understands something that many in the beleaguered administrations of both Blair and Bush (not to mention the British Tories or US Democrats) just don't get. The Aussies grasp that the free world is under sustained attack from the same enemy on a myriad global fronts; that taking the path of appeasement on any one of these fronts is to undermine that world's whole defence; and that it is busy undermining itself at every opportunity.

In Britain, Blair is portrayed - unflatteringly - as Bush's closest foreign confidante. In fact, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard is said to be more influential, stiffening the Bush spine against Blair's obsessive fantasy that a solution to the Israel/Palestine impasse will somehow magically deflate the Islamist global balloon and reinforcing the Americans in the surge in Iraq.

His government is solid in the belief that the war in Iraq simply must be won. `If we were to withdraw from Iraq it would make Darfur look like a Sunday afternoon picnic', says Downer. `There would be widespread massacres spreading through the country. Neighbouring countries wouldn't just stand back; they would feel a kith and kin obligation to become engaged and once they were dragged into this cauldron the consequences would be horrific. It would be the greatest victory al Qaeda had ever had and would energise their forces around the world, including in Britain.'

To a Britain which parrots the Islamists' line that the war in Iraq is, on the contrary, the principal recruiting sergeant for terror, Downer retorts that in south-east Asia, the war in Iraq has produced a decline in support for Islamist extremism and terrorism. `Partly this is because the Indonesian government has promoted the notion of moderate Islam. The world's largest Islamic country and our next door neighbour is a vigorous democracy, where people are able to dissent from government and form political movements. That's why I believe that democracy is a very important means of defeating terrorism. The claim that brown guys don't do democracy is just outrageous. So if you happen to be Asian or Arab you're supposed to enjoy oppression? Just bring on the evidence!'

One can't help wondering how this most neo-con of foreign ministers would fare if transplanted by serendipity into those temples of overseas appeasement in London's King Charles Street or Washington's Foggy Bottom.

Of course, the Aussies' moral and political clarity springs in large measure from the robustness of John Howard himself. Howard's political genius - his Liberal party has won four general elections on the trot - derives from his extraordinary ability to articulate the values and aspirations of Middle Australia. And those values are shaped most fundamentally of all by Australia's place on the globe. Australia sees itself as profoundly vulnerable: an outpost of European civilisation surrounded by alien ideologies, which might at any time have designs upon a rich country with a huge land mass but too small a population to defend it. The outcome is that Australia is driven by the need to retain the protection of the US, and also to hose down any global disturbances which might conceivably affect it.

So apart from Iraq its troops are currently engaged in more than a dozen other regional conflicts. But the big thing that Howard understands is that the war upon civilisation is being waged both from without and from within. He arrived at this view through two seminal events in 2001. The first was 9/11, which he witnessed at first hand since he happened to be in Washington that day. The second was the hijacking of that year's anniversary celebration of Australian federation by those perpetrating historical myths to portray Australia as fundamentally illegitimate.

As a result, his government is leading from the chin against both Islamist radicalism and the multicultural orthodoxy which paralyses the country's ability to acknowledge the reality of such a threat. So not only has it taken tough measures against illegal immigration and is now tightening its citizenship requirements, but at a stroke abolished multiculturalism by renaming its Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Of course, effective policy is about more than such grand gestures; but they certainly help shape public debate. It's that elusive quality called leadership. Howard has got it. We haven't. Oz rocks.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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