Speaking freely about the unspeakable
By Luke Malpass
The performance of a play discussing the British Nationalist Party (BNP) has been banned by the town council of Dudley in the North of England for fear it would offend the local Asian community and appease right-wing sympathisers.
The play, ‘Moonfleece,’ has already been shown in racially diverse areas of Britain without causing riots in the streets. The offence to free speech is made worse by the fact the play – which features a multicultural cast – is hardly a rabble rousing treatment of the subject of race and racism.
In fact, it critically examines the ‘new-look’ BNP (which recently altered its articles to permit non-white members) and exposes the continuing brutality behind right-wing nationalism.
Racism is an unspeakable thing. But it must never become a subject we can’t speak freely about.
Insidious racism must be countered, and one way society critiques itself is through the arts. Movies, songs, and plays constantly explore the themes of diversity and acceptance regardless of race, class, or sex. This is one of the ways people challenge their preconceptions and discover their better selves.
Britain was once renowned as the home of free speech. Banning ‘Moonfleece’ to not offend anyone appears to be mindless hyper-sensitivity. But the fact that the civic fathers and mothers of Dudley thought a serious play about serious subject could not go on stage ‘up north’ has more dire implications.
This suggests the social fabric in these communities might have frayed to breaking point. The irony, therefore, is that a play dealing with the rise of right-wing extremism could not be more timely.
The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated April 9. Enquiries to email@example.com. Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.
Judge in charge of British family courts criticises ‘arrogant social workers’
Good to hear an eminent judge saying what I have so often said
Social workers have been criticised as “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents” by the judge who takes charge of the family courts today.
Lord Justice Wall said that the determination of some social workers to place children in an “unsatisfactory care system” away from their families was “quite shocking”.
In a separate case, on which Sir Nicholas Wall also sat, Lord Justice Aikens described the actions of social workers in Devon as “more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the West of England”.
The criticism of social workers from two of the most senior family court judges came as the number of children placed in care has reached a record high after the Baby Peter tragedy.
Social workers say that they are not prepared to take any chances after the death of the 17-month-old toddler at the hands of his mother, her lover and their lodger in Hackney, East London. He was being monitored by social workers at the time of his death.
The remarks are likely to be seen as a warning to social workers not to take children into care before all other avenues have been exhausted. They may also be seen as a signal to the family courts to challenge more robustly legal orders to take children into care.
Lord Justice Wall made his comments in a highly critical ruling against Greenwich Council, where social workers had taken two children into care and begun adoption proceedings despite their natural mother’s best efforts to change her life. The Greenwich case involved a mother known as “EH”, who is seeking the return of her son “R”, aged 5, and daughter “RA”, aged 2, from care.
The children were taken into care in 2008 after the parents had taken RA, then a baby, to hospital, where her left upper arm was found to be broken. Doctors considered that the injuries were not accidental, social services were informed and both children were removed from their parents that day.
Initially they went to live with their maternal grandmother but were moved into foster care after a dispute between the grandmother and their father. Since June last year the father ceased to have any contact with the children and the mother has attempted to separate from him, alleging domestic violence.
Social workers refused to believe that the relationship was over, while rebuffing the mother’s request for help in ending the relationship. Lord Justice Wall described the conduct of the social workers as “hard to credit”. “Here was a mother who needed and was asking for help to break free from an abusive relationship. She was denied that help abruptly and without explanation. That, in my judgment, is very poor social work practice,” he said.
“What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that.” The adoption order has now been set aside after the ruling made last Friday.
In the Devon case, on which Lord Justice Wall also sat, Lord Justice Aikens criticised the actions of social workers in pursuing plans to have a baby adopted without giving his mother a last chance to show that she could look after him. The Devon legal team was given time to read the Greenwich judgment and withdrew their case.
Lord Justice Wall will be sworn in today as the president of the High Court’s Family Division. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, originally challenged his appointment. Lord Justice Wall has been an outspoken critic of some government policies, including the funding of family courts.
"Can we have that conversation?"
“Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international censure—out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” -- Thomas Friedman
I open with Thomas Friedman with reason and purpose, as backdrop to that posted recently by our go to Religious Leftist Mike at Waving or Drowning who isn't happy and I apparently had something to do with it:
With the posting* I’ve been doing about our time in the West Bank, I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened. And as you might imagine, I’ve got a few things to say about being labeled an anti-Semite......I tried to opine at Mike's place but it was deleted. Par for the course. So he wants to have that conversation but only with those of his choosing. I'm not one of the chosen. Fine. Maybe he can have a conversation with some of these folks.
This perfect, protected, closed system exists, and to even suggest the existence of the system itself is to be labeled an anti-Semite. We all know the saying about absolute power, and so it seems to me we're not doing anyone a favour by granting a group absolute power without any accountability. The unspeakable injustices Jews suffered during the Holocaust make a moral demand on those who stood idly by as it happened, but it does not demand that we turn a blind eye when injustices are perpetrated against Palestinians. The greatest way to respond to the injustices done against Jews is to stand against injustices committed against anyone, anywhere....
As I've already stated I am very sympathetic to how the haunting memory of the Holocaust has become imprinted in the identity of Jews everywhere. I don't expect that to change. What I am hoping to accomplish here is simply to reopen the issue of blind support for Israel from the western church. If we believe that God is a God of justice, then we must be willing to consider all issues in that light. The alternative is to state clearly that God's concern for justice applies to every people group on the planet except the Palestinians. We simply cannot have it both ways. Can we have that conversation?
Like Cathy Young at the Boston Globe:
As Gabriel Schoenfeld documents in his forthcoming book "The Return of Anti-Semitism" (Encounter Books), the anti-Israeli backlash has often taken the form of physical attacks on Jews, including beatings of Jewish children in schools, assaults on Jews wearing religious garb in the streets, and vandalism against Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. But there is also the question of what Schoenfeld and many others regard as a more "genteel" anti-Semitic bias perpetrated by progressive intellectuals.More genteel anti-semitism. That seems to fit Mike a little better... he is certainly genteel in that passive aggressive sort of way. Perhaps I should go back and amend my offensive remarks. Or perhaps I should continue this conversation, through others (naturally), with Mike.
Let's go to Jack R. Fischel:
The Left, which included both Communists and Socialists (but not Labor Zionists), argued that the solution to centuries of anti-Semitism was not the creation of a future Israel, but for humankind to confront bigotry and eliminate the evils of prejudice, which included not only anti-Semitism in particular, but racism in general.That seems to fit Mike (and more particularly, the many who think like him) to a 'T". Virulent opposition to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, silence in response to Palestinian (and radical muslim) atrocities against freedom loving peoples, most especially Israelis.
The divide between Zionists and “universalists” did not vanish with the formation of Israel. Subsequently, many on the left continued their opposition to Israel, calling instead for the creation of a democratic Palestinian state consisting of Arabs and Jews but shorn of its Jewish identity. At the same time, a coterie of hostile opponents, which included the Arab world, right-wing extremists, such as neo-Nazis, and Holocaust deniers, as well as traditional anti-Semites, rejected the very legitimacy of Israel and, as remains the case with Palestinian extremist groups, such as Hamas and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, called for the destruction of the Jewish state. As Alan Dershowitz points out in his The Case for Israel, ever since its founding, Israel has had to defend its legitimacy in ways not required by the immigrants who settled Australia, or those who came to the United States and displaced the native American population. Dershowitz labels this double standard anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.
What is new about the “new” anti-Semitism, according to a spate of recent books, including Dershowitz’s, is that the hatred of Jews has been cloaked behind a virulent anti-Zionism which holds the Jewish people everywhere responsible for the policies of the Israeli government in its conflict with the Palestinians. Phyllis Chesler, in her book The New Anti-Semitism, finds this especially prominent on the left, especially among her comrades in the feminist movement, where the new anti-Semitism masquerades as antiracism and anticolonialism. She concludes that inasmuch as anti-Jewish violence is justified by opposition to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, it has become politically and psychologically acceptable to be anti-Semitic, despite increasing reports of the burning of synagogues and the vandalizing of cemeteries in Europe. Added to this situation is the silence of leftist intellectuals in response to suicide bombings in Israel, which reached endemic proportions during the past decade.
Let's now go to Ralf Dahrendorf:
The more worrisome source of anti-Semitism is different and justifies speaking of a new anti-Semitism. It has to do with Israel. To be sure, America is the first name in anti-Western resentment. But its second name is Israel, the only successful modern country in the Middle East, which is also highly militarized, an occupying power, and ruthless in defense of its interests.Mike's attempt to downplay his anti-semitism is no surprise. Downplaying his perspective is what he does best. Hell, isn't that the Leftist way? Downplaying your ideology to make it more palatable to the ignorant so that they'll buy into your way of thinking? Sadly, it works. Doesn't say much about the dumb masses out there who gullibly sign on.
It is difficult to exaggerate the strange sentiment in the West which one might call Palestine romanticism. Intellectuals like the late Edward Said gave voice to it, but it has many followers in the United States and Europe. Palestine romanticism glorifies the Palestinians as the victims of Israel’s rule, points to the treatment of Israeli Palestinians as at best second-class citizens, and cites the many incidents of oppression in the occupied territories, including the effects of Israel’s “security fence.” Implicitly or explicitly, people take the side of the victims, contribute by sending money to them, declare even suicide bombers legitimate, and move ever further away from support for and defense of Israel.
Of course, it is true that in theory one can oppose Israel’s policies without being anti-Semitic. After all, there are enough critics of Israel’s policies among Israelis. Yet the distinction has become more and more difficult to maintain. Jews outside Israel feel that they have to defend – right or wrong – the country that, after all, is their ultimate hope of security. This makes their friends hesitate to speak up for fear of being painted into not just an anti-Israel, but also an anti-Semitic corner. The defensiveness of Jews and the uneasy silence of their friends mean that the stage of public debate is open for those who actually are anti-Semitic, though they confine themselves to anti-Israel language.
Anti-Semitism is disgusting in whatever form it arises. This is true also for other kinds of group hatred, but the Holocaust makes anti-Semitism unique, because it is an emotion complicit in the near annihilation of an entire people.
The new anti-Semitism, however, cannot be fought successfully by education and argument in the rest of the world alone. It is linked to Israel. If one belongs to a generation that regarded Israel as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century, and admired the way in which the country provided a proud home for the persecuted and downtrodden, one is particularly concerned that it may now be at risk.
I close this piece, much longer than I had intended it to be, with the following. I think it to be poignantly wise and a beautiful summary:
"If Israel’s enemies dropped their weapons, there would be peace; if Israel dropped its weapons, there would be genocide." -- Alan DershowitzMight all anti-semites, genteel or otherwise, take those words to heart... assuming they freakin' have one.
Aristocracy is good?
This is a REAL example of cultural relativism. What some Europeans deplore about Australia is precisely what Australians are most proud of.
There may be more devotion to high culture in Europe but so what? I myself have a devotion to much high culture -- from Buxtehude to Janacek -- but if one of my fellow Australians enjoys reading "Phantom" comics as much as I enjoy reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English, good luck to him. As the Romans wisely said: "De gustibus non disputandum est".
Besides, it is precisely to avoid the social rigidities of Germany, Britain etc., that millions of their citizens have migrated to Australia.
Despite my "highbrow" tastes, I personally am most at ease among working class people here in Australia. I think their realism, relaxed attitude and sense of humour is hard to beat.
For Europeans, as the Swiss banker father of a friend of mine once said, Australians are the plebeians of the Western world.
The cliches were presented by the editor-in-chief of the German broadsheet Die Welt, Thomas Schmid, last year in an editorial. He argued that Australia lacks civilisation, everyone is dressed informally, there is a lack of social differentiation and the only thing setting the upper class apart from the middle is its higher income.
It is an empty place with nothing in the middle - in geography nor identity. These are prejudices Australians have had to deal with almost since the arrival of the First Fleet, a fate they shared with other New World societies such as the United States.
One reason was that while on the political spectrum undemocratic Old World societies constituted one end of the scale and democratic New World societies the other, it was the other way round on the cultural spectrum, which ranged from the distinguished, educated European gentleman to the materialistic, uncouth philistines in the colonies.
In Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the aristocratic Frenchman lamented that the United States - the first and worst example of democratic excess - lacked an aristocratic elite, which made great art and literature possible. He found a "depraved taste for equality which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level" .
In the second half of the 19th century, Australia started looking into matters of a distinctive national identity. It found the bushman, a myth that neatly fitted into the 19th-century intellectual landscape.
It was closely connected to the notion of the "coming man", a reaction against the social snobbery the English middle-class exhibited against the colonials and amplified by Australia's foundation population.
In contrast to this larger and socially inferior group, the colonial gentry did not regard Australia as "home" but kept close and respectable connections to England, and therefore left the creation of a distinctive Australian identity to the less powerful but numerous "lower orders".
The ritual of egalitarianism helped to shape the new order. It is always what people believe that matters, yet while the idealism of the bush hardly claimed more than sentimental commitment, Australia's democracy had a real basis. It was an "egalitarianism of manners".
A highly efficient economy together with a shortage of labour after the discontinuation of the assisted migration scheme produced high standards of living for male workers. They became more independent and self-confident.
They found dignity and did not have to be humble before their "betters". There was no need for "improvement".
The manners of public life were direct, open and non-deferential. In this egalitarianism lie the deeper reasons for the condescending view upon Australia - it devalued the cultural capital of the average European intellectual.
In contrast to mass culture, the consumption of high culture implies certain competencies. We need to be able to decode a piece of art, the ability for which is conveyed by education. This helps social groups to set themselves apart from others which lack these capabilities. Everyone understands mass culture; it does not serve any form of status. Matters are different, however, with "restricted" culture; by a conspicuous refusal of other tastes, a class tries to depict its own lifestyle as something superior.
As a result, in Europe cultural distinctions functioned as social distinctions. Aversions to different lifestyles became one of the strongest barriers between the classes.
In Australia, ordinary men enjoyed "cultural dignity". Claiming to be better than the rest because one could competently talk about art did not suit a society of "common man". Tastes were often shared. Everyone met at the races. This did not mean art was not appreciated; it meant the exchange rate of cultural capital into power was less favourable than in Europe.
The "holy men of culture" and their inimitable nuances of manners and behaviour were confronted by Australia's democracy. This annoyed them to no end. Australia was not only the end of the world, it also became the end of civilisation and of any worthy cultural endeavour.
Take the Englishman John Pringle, for example. In his classic book, Australian Accent, he complains about art being just "part and parcel of the general background of entertainment and recreation".
That was exactly the problem. There was culture in Australia, however it did not not serve a political economy of power as existent in Europe. Artists were just like other people, they even lived in suburbia. Accordingly, they and their work had to be inferior. Australia became the victim of an international version of class discrimination.
It should not pay attention to the knockers. Offended European capital and the cringe should not stand in the way of recognition of its achievements. It should celebrate its achievements more self-consciously, be they culturally, socially or economic.
It survived the global crisis relatively unscathed. It is a vibrant nation in a booming region. It has more to offer than beach, beer and (alleged) crassness.
Australia enjoys culture and democracy in more equal parts. In short, it has every reason to be taken seriously, especially by a tired Europe which increasingly loses meaning on the world stage and faces almost insuperable demographic problems.
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 or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.