Sunday, September 28, 2008

Try to define Britishness and not sound banal

There was once a set of ideas and customs that were characteristically British but years of being ground down under the millstones of socialism and moral relativism have destroyed most of that. Just as one instance: British justice was once a source of pride. But now all Britain has is political police who ignore threats to life and limb but pursue forbidden political speech with great energy -- and who refuse to acknowledge any culpability for executing an innocent Brazilian because the deed was supervised by a prominent Lesbian (the aptly-named Cressida Dick). Who could be proud of that?

To update Dr Samuel Johnson, it appears that "Britishness" is now the last refuge of a politician who hasn't a clue in what country we live. New Labour is obsessed with promoting a shared sense of Britishness, claiming anything from an Olympic yachtsman to a chicken tikka masala as a safe symbol of "what unites us". The latest chapter of this sad attempt to write a new island story is a pamphlet A More United Britain by Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister.

After a year consulting the public, Mr Byrne has come up with 27 ways to celebrate the British bank holiday proposed by Gordon Brown. One look at the list - Morris dancing, drinking in the pub, listening to a Queen's speech, looking at pictures of Winston Churchill, multicultural street parties, all to be done "cheaply" - might have many taking to the lifeboats for a day trip to France. Some have suggested Mr Brown could best bring everybody together on a Thursday, by calling a general election when they can unite to vote out the Government.

But could you do much better? I defy anybody to define Britishness today, without sounding as banal as Mr Byrne or as archaic as John Major rambling on about warm spinsters drinking beer while playing cricket on bicycles. It is not just new Labour's proposals that are vacuous. They reflect the way that any notion of "Britishness" is now empty of real meaning. National identities that count for something cannot be dreamt up by committees.

When the British had a strong sense of national identity, nobody had to ask what it meant. The "British way of life" was something whose shared meaning could be taken for granted. But any such sense of national superiority or self-confidence has long gone, along with the empire.

It is not only our new immigrant communities who fail to identify with Britain today. The obsessive search for Britishness through the Blair-Brown years shows that uncertainty about who we are and what we stand for goes right to the top. The more unsure they are of how or where we live now, the more politicans talk about our "shared values", although the only one they seem able to name is "tolerance" - ie, we accept everybody's values.

As one whose political loyalties have long been red, without the white and blue, I have no problems with the decline of the old conceited British nationalism. But what Mr Byrne and Mr Brown's banal celebration of both "Britishness" and "difference" reveals is that we have not found any universal values to replace it. I wouldn't want to drink to that on their "cheap" British bank holiday, even if the Prime Minister was paying.


Epitaph for a failed bank

What happens when you fail to concentrate on business

I really thought this was a joke, but it's not. WaMu's final press release, before it sank beneath the waves:
WaMu Recognized as Top Diverse Employer-Again

Company ranks in top ten of Hispanic Business' Diversity Elite and earns perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index

SEATTLE, WA (September 24, 2008) - Washington Mutual, Inc. (NYSE:WM), one of the nation's leading banks for consumers and small businesses, has once again been recognized as a top employer by Hispanic Business magazine and the Human Rights Campaign.

Hispanic Business magazine recently ranked WaMu sixth in its annual Diversity Elite list, which names the top 60 companies for Hispanics. The company was honored specifically for its efforts to recruit Hispanic employees, reach out to Hispanic consumers and support Hispanic communities and organizations.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) civil rights organization, also awarded WaMu its second consecutive 100 percent score in the organization's 2009 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which measures progress in attaining equal rights for GLBT employees and consumers. WaMu joins the ranks of 259 other major U.S. businesses that also received top marks in the annual survey. The CEI rated a total of 583 businesses on GLBT-related policies and practices, including non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits.

In both surveys, WaMu earned points for competitive diversity policies and programs, including the recently established Latino, African American and GLBT employee network groups, all of which have a corporate executive sponsor and champion.

"Diversity is an integral part of cultivating a welcoming, innovative and dynamic workplace here at WaMu. We are proud to be recognized for the opportunities and benefits we offer to all of our employees, including the specific efforts we have made to engage Hispanics and the GLBT community," said Steve Rotella, WaMu president and COO. "We are committed to diversity at WaMu and pledge to listen to our customers and work closely with our employees to continue to make progress."

These two recent honors build upon diversity recognitions WaMu received earlier in 2008. WaMu was named one of 25 Noteworthy Companies by Diversity Inc magazine and one of the Top 50 Corporations for Supplier Diversity by Hispanic Enterprise magazine.

Official Fascism resurgent in Cologne

Readers of my blog ( know that over this past week, as a maelstrom of buffeting economic crises has sucked the air out of the news atmosphere, I have been all-but-transfixed by events unfolding in the German city of Cologne. With the unabashed fascination of the rubbernecker, I have watched in horror, combing online foreign press reports and a few favorite blogs (Brussels Journal, Gates of Vienna, Atlas Shrugs), as local authorities yielded their charge of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly -- indeed, yielded civic space and civic peace -- to a lawless band of violent leftists, who, in their weekend stint of mob rule, successfully prevented a political rally against the Islamization of Europe from taking place.

What's more, these same authorities, including the mayor of this fourth-largest German city (about 1 million people), yielded to the mob happily and with much self-congratulation. Indeed, Cologne Mayor Fritz Schramma called the episode "a victory for the city of Cologne and a victory by the democratic forces of the city."

Schramma may well count squelching peaceful political discourse with a violent mob as a victory for his city, but there is nothing "democratic" about it, or about the "forces" responsible. This twisting, weasel-use of language, however, is only one example of the campaign of disinformation waged against reality in Cologne this past weekend.

In brief, elected officials from several different countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy), politicians who campaign and win elections on the politically incorrect issue of resistance to the spread of Islamic law (Sharia), were invited to speak in Cologne.

Why Cologne? After a long and contentious battle, the city council last month narrowly approved the construction of a giant mosque complex funded by a group called the Turkish-Islamic Union to serve some portion of the city's 120,000 Muslims. While the American take on any house of worship going up is generally one of approval based on a straightforward belief in freedom of religion, in Europe, given the heavy influx of Islamic populations, there is a political and legal dimension to such mosque construction that we just don't recognize here. For example, Germany's Muslim population is largely Turkish; and it is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is infamous for having said in 1998, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers." Such a declaration of, well, religious war from someone who is now a head of state adds the threat of conquest to any serious mosque debate.

And that's not all. Earlier this year in Cologne, Erdogan declared before 20,000 cheering Turkish expatriates that "assimilation is a crime against humanity." On that same trip to Germany, the Turkish leader also proposed the German formation of Turkish-language schools. What's going on here? If Turkish assimilation is out, is Turkish colonization in? Isn't it the duty of politicians to debate these and other transformational questions within the political process? As a crossroads of Islam and Europe, as a frontline in the colonization of Europe, Cologne becomes the logical meeting-place for such a debate.

But it wasn't to be, not in "democratic" Cologne. As some 1,500 Europeans prepared to assemble to listen to the political opponents of Islamization make speeches last weekend, many more thousands of counter-demonstrators converged on the city specifically to deny rally supporters their right to assemble, and the politicians' right to speak. And yes, by whatever means necessary.

The thugs among the counter-demonstrators mounted a rock-and-bottle attack that shattered windows on a river boat plying the Rhine where the politicians attempted to hold a pre-rally meeting. They blocked urban trains in order to keep rally participants away. They ringed the city center with barricades (tolerated by German police), hurled paint bombs, lit fires and launched violent attacks on some of the participants who managed to draw near the rally location. One would-be rally participant, a Jewish man, sent in an account of his ordeal to Gates of Vienna, writing: "I was wearing my kippah and readily identifiable as a Jew; however, they (the leftist counter-demonstrators) screamed at me 'Nazi Raus.'" He reported they also shoved him, spit on him, and called him a fascist pig. "I was pummeled in the head several times and then shoved to the ground where I was beaten and kicked with steel toe boots in plain sight of police who did nothing." He later discovered he had a broken rib.

And yet, the consensus narrative, dutifully repeated in the mainstream European media, is that it is the silenced and hounded politicians and their supporters who are the "fascists"; while it is the silencers and hounders who are the "anti-fascists."

Such lies and distortions are probably what help convince our own media to ignore such events altogether as just so much marginal "extremism" going on somewhere in Europe. Anyway, how does it affect us? Nothing like that is happening here, right?

Yes and no. As in Europe, huge mosque complexes are opening across the States -- one very recently in Boston and another in Atlanta. Do they portend the extension and entrenchment of Islamic law in the United States? One difference between the United States and Europe is that we don't have street thugs enforcing a code of silence on the subject. That's because of the other difference: We don't have any political parties willing, or even able to discuss it.


The revolting world of middle class prejudice

A new `protesters' handbook' is about as rebellious as the newspaper that published it: the Guardian.

In August, that well-known agitator for social progress, Prince Charles, was prattling incoherently about the `evils' of GM crops to a journalist from the UK Daily Telegraph. The BBC's news report on Charles' outburst was accompanied by stock footage of young protesters dressed in faux-science lab garb, awkwardly prancing around on fields where GM crops were being developed. Who would have guessed that being a supposed radical protester today would mean being on the same side as the mad and reactionary Charles Windsor?

Such is the peculiar state of what passes for radical politics, or what sociologists call `New Social Movements'. Increasingly, single-issue campaigns for the environment or against global corporations tend to win approval from the very elitists they claim to oppose. In recent years, these dreadlocked stilt-walkers have also joined forces with the fag end of the Labourist left to protest against the war in Iraq. Such developments apparently scotch rumours that `radicalism' is dead. Anyone who dares to question the political viability of all this protesting must be a black-hearted cynic, right.?

Indeed, to combat the pernicious influence of those who criticise today's supposedly radical protests - and to `shake you out of your apathy once and for all' - journalist and activist Bibi van der Zee has compiled Rebel, Rebel: The Protestor's Handbook. In each chapter, van der Zee outlines how to fundraise, how to demonstrate, how to lobby parliament and, with an eye on New Labour's Key Skills agenda, how to write a letter. Thanks for that.

And yet, the very manner of this handbook, even the fact that it exists, suggests that it is not very rebellious at all. In the 1980s, another type of protesters' manual - The Anarchist's Cookbook, which gave handy tips on how to use a catapult with ball-bearings on demonstrations, amongst other things - was only available under-the-counter at radical bookshops. By contrast, Rebel, Rebel is published and distributed by a national broadsheet newspaper, the Guardian, which columnist and Tory Party supporter Max Hastings has described as the newspaper of `the new establishment'.

Indeed, much of the ideological content of Rebel, Rebel echoes and champions the petty concerns of. well, the new establishment. Top of the agenda is concern about climate change and other `environmental issues', which are peppered throughout the handbook like an unwanted rash of measles. Perhaps van der Zee hasn't realised it yet, but with everyone from UK prime minister Gordon Brown to London mayor Boris Johnson to Tory millionaire Zac Goldsmith banging on about `environmental concerns', being green is not very rebellious. In fact, rarely has `rebellion' looked and sounded more like an unthinking, unblinking form of mindless conformity than when it comes to the green issue.

Van der Zee at least starts off at the right place. She cites John Locke's Social Contract theory and points out that protests and campaigns have long been central to the safeguarding and extension of our freedoms and rights. Van der Zee starts each chapter by quoting Hobbes, Locke, Marx and Engels, the Suffragettes and Martin Luther King to make a parallel between grand political visions of the past and the `how to' mechanics of organising a protest today. Yet where those illustrious radicals of yesteryear were motivated by a desire to liberate humanity from its constraints, Rebel, Rebel seeks to do precisely the opposite: to impose unnecessary limits and restraints on everyday human behaviour.

In the side-panels titled `Why I Fight', Joss Garman, an environmental activist, says he protests to stop people from flying abroad on holiday; Bernadette Vallely, founder of the Women's Environmental Network, wants to stop mums from using disposable nappies; Rebecca Lush Blum, an anti-road protester, wants to restrict people's mobility by car.

`Are you desperate to right a wrong?' asks the blurb on the back cover of Rebel, Rebel. And in almost every instance throughout the book, the `wrong' that apparently needs to be righted is the unthinking behaviour and poor choices of ill-informed plebs or those tacky `new money' types. So after Vallely was met by hoots of derision from time-stretched mothers who refused to give up disposable nappies - which, after all, were invented precisely to make mums' lives easier - she condescendingly writes, `They didn't seem to understand how privileged they are', as if she was talking about a bunch of spoilt five-year-olds.

Outwardly, the handbook purports to be concerned with combating global warming, but references to `these people' exposes, yet again, that green radicalism is frequently a transparent cover for banal and old-fashioned class snobbery. And the chatty, kids' TV presenter style of prose means that some very revealing, quite spiteful comments - such as `I started discussing politics recently with a London cabby (I know, I know - next time I'll remember to start chewing my own hand off first)' - manage to slip through.

Such barely concealed disdain for ordinary people leads inexorably to a form of campaigning where activists don't have to talk to Joe Schmo at all (and thus save themselves from getting gnarled hands in the process). Rebel, Rebel naturally salutes the direct action methods of Greenpeace and crusty rioters who find chainstore coffee shops so very offensive. Van der Zee makes a fanciful connection between these pantomime antics and Martin Luther King's civil rights campaigning in the 1960s. Yet where King took his argument to the white American working classes, to try to win them to his cause, today's direct activists prefer to shun democratic participation in favour of protesting `on behalf' of others: victims, the vulnerable, animals, the planet.

And where King campaigned for equal rights and better living standards for black Americans, today's `demands are NOT for more anything - more rights, more votes, more wages', says van der Zee. Instead `they are for something "different"'. In fact, after reading Rebel, Rebel, one becomes convinced that today's campaigners are freakishly demanding less and less of everything: less driving, less holidaying, fewer consumer goods. In essence, the desire to do `something different', as van der Zee describes it, is similar to that adolescent urge not to become one of the `rat race drones', which most of us grew out of in our late teens.

Rebel, Rebel has its work out cut out when it examines the former bˆte noire of middle-class liberals: trade unions. One chapter republishes a famous photo of a striking miner from 1984 squaring up to a policeman, yet the chapter's tone is one of relief that those days of class warfare and picket-line violence are long gone. Indeed, Rebel, Rebel is delighted that these old organisations are `relaxing the idea of trade-based unions and making them far more inclusive and adopting a new kind of internationalism that's not just about voting in a notion of solidarity but actually applying pressure in several places at once'.

In other words, trade unions are no longer sectional interest groups but rather morally altruistic outfits in tune with prevailing middle-class sensibilities. As van der Zee points out, sounding oddly like the old union-busting Tory minister Norman Tebbit, `the old stereotype of the "I'm All Right Jack" 1970s striker is slowly eroding' (er, slowly?). Elsewhere, Rebel, Rebel expresses delight that trade unions have devised `environmental representatives' in the workplace similar to traditional union reps. Of course, this particular chapter closes by advising readers to join unions, but only in the safe knowledge that they no longer aggressively fight for the material self-interest of their members.

If Rebel, Rebel is uneasy about trade unions, it is downright hostile to political parties. Van der Zee asks a question: `Is there really any point in forming your own political party?' After a brief history of the Labour Party's `betrayals', and the recent fiasco of the Socialist Worker's Party's RESPECT campaign, the answer to van der Zee's question is the same again and again: `Of course there's no point setting up a party!' It is true that the days of mass political parties are over, and it would be a waste of energy to mourn the demise of the Labour and Conservative parties as mass organisations. But what van der Zee really seems to object to is the idea of being partisan, of organisations being defined by their members' sectional interests, as the old mass parties once were.

In the sections on party politics, there is also a cynical and contemptuous undertone in relation to the mass of the people who, through the democratic process, hold parties to account. A book that champions middle-class individuals who hector busy mums about nappies, but which denounces political parties comes across as deeply anti-democratic. Indeed, protest is presented as a way of getting around and even controlling mass sentiment, rather than harnessing it and representing it.

Rebel, Rebel's preferred politician is Martin Bell, who in 1997 successfully defeated the Tatton Conservative MP Neil Hamilton. As both Labour and the Liberal Democrats withdrew themselves from the election in Tatton, Bell won by occupying the moral high-ground over the scandalised Tories. Van der Zee's message seems clear: one man-in-a-white-suit's subjective sense of `what is right' is preferable to old-style party politics and issues-based democratic engagement. The chapter on `Legal Action', which advises on how to get unelected lawyers and crusty judges to challenge government decision-making, further reveals the contempt of Rebel, Rebel for the democratic participation of the masses.

Little of this is new or surprising. Many of the issues in the handbook have been championed by the liberal intelligentsia and the new political elites for more than a decade. In particular, `saving the planet' and cancelling Third World debt are campaigns that have been supported by everyone from anarchists and radical lefties to Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Far from this handbook putting forward anything truly radical or rebellious, it is a bible of contemporary conformism and consensus. Why else would a national newspaper which in the past has expressed hostility to popular protest movements publish it?

And if there is so much common ground between political decision-makers and the contributors to Rebel, Rebel, it makes you wonder who exactly van der Zee is railing against.

Of course, the manual points the finger at global corporations and big business. Yet this sounds unconvincing, especially when you consider that many of today's global giants have rebranded themselves as green and ethical. Indeed, the rise of environmentalism has provided something of a boost to certain capitalist sectors, stimulating fresh demands for `ethical' consumer goods and enabling capitalists to restructure business practices and boost profitability in the process.

No, the main targets of the protesters lauded in Rebel, Rebel are those who are really seen as standing in the way of the middle-class, caring, ethical agenda: the unethical masses. Those who still shop at Tesco, fly abroad on holiday, drive 4x4s, and haven't got round to buying low-energy light-bulbs yet. Clearly, they don't understand how `privileged they are' and must be taught to rein in their unethical consumerism and follow the lead of more sussed individuals like van der Zee.

As the section in society that is most estranged from the production process, either as workers or as capitalist decision-makers, the middle classes have always found it difficult to relate to modern, mass society. Their response has usually been to adopt a detached bemusement at the two great competing classes, or to offer themselves up as society's `moral conscience' against both corrupt capitalists and materialist, oafish proles (but mostly against the proles).

Today, the middle-class activists' self-styled position as the `watchful ones amongst the slaves' - as one green-leaning author recently referred to himself - has been boosted as the traditional sources of elite authority and rule have diminished. Ethical activism has, slowly but surely, become a kind of amorphous, pervasive mechanism through which other people's behaviour can be morally judged as either `acceptable' or `unacceptable'. Far from offering progressive rebellion, the rebels of Rebel, Rebel seem really to be concerned with imposing and popularising these new behavioural standards across society at large.

In this context, protesting is recast as opposing those who do not conform to ethical standards of behaviour. Protesting against McDonald's, smashing up Starbucks or setting up camps near Heathrow airport are all designed to shame those who have bought the `wrong' type of burger or chosen the `wrong' type of holiday. The language of limits, which is dominant in this deeply cynical handbook, is really about placing limits on personal freedom via a new form of ethical and moral blackmail.

Rebel, Rebel is a handbook packed with the new establishment's prejudices and all of its petty, authoritarian concerns. Even by their own miserable standards, the middle classes have never sounded quite so revolting.



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 INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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