Saturday, July 30, 2011
Reaction to Breivik is troubling too
The impact and legacy of an act of mass violence is directly influenced by the significance and meaning that societies attach to it. Unfortunately, the task of making sense of such a senseless event often becomes complicated by competing groups of moral entrepreneurs who have every incentive to interpret the massacre from the standpoint of their own party line. Sadly, the search for answers often turns into an advocacy free-for-all as people use every violent disruption to life as an argument for vindicating their pre-existing agenda.
That is why, in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, many commentators sought to hijack this tragedy to provide a platform for their message.
Competing views about the tragic loss of lives in Norway are often informed by the speaker's political interpretation of the problems facing European society. Those who regard radical Islam as the problem could often barely conceal disappointment that the perpetrator of this act of terror was not a hardened jihadist terrorist. In turn, advocates of multiculturalism went to great lengths to remind their audience that this was the deed of a blond, white right-wing Christian fundamentalist. In Europe, where one person's fear of home-grown terrorism is dismissed by another as an expression of Islamophobia and where culture contact can be described as multiculturalism or an invasion of foreigners, the interpretation of Anders Behring Breivik's murderous behaviour is often driven by concerns that have little to do with this episode.
Almost immediately, the blame game acquired grotesque proportions. Glenn Beck, a well-known right-wing shock jock, compared the Norwegian teenage victims of the massacre to members of Hitler Youth. On the opposite end of the political divide, bloggers were implying that conservative commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Keith Windschuttle and Melanie Phillips, who were cited with approval in Breivik's 1500-page manifesto, were in some sense responsible for his violent behaviour. It is almost as if for some zealous moral entrepreneurs the massacre provided a wonderful opportunity for settling old scores.
The self-serving politicisation of the search for an explanation of this event can only promote the agenda of the perpetrator of this act of terror, which is to disorient the public.
A tragic act of misfortune always creates a demand for answers. But often individual forms of destructive behaviour possess no wider meaning for society. Whether it is the random killing of students in a school massacre, the depraved acts of the Unabomber or the methodical slaughter of young people camping on a Norwegian island, the search for meaning is unlikely to yield useful results. Society cannot second-guess which individual may participate in an act of human depravity. It is always tempting to point the finger at people and institutions that we despise, but such cheap point-scoring merely distracts attention from the fact we need to gain meaning from drawing on the moral resources of our community and not from pathologising our opponents.
A society that is confident about its values has nothing to fear from the incoherent ramblings of a mass murderer such as Breivik. The best way to respond to his demonisation of European society is by confidently upholding an open-minded, tolerant and democratic set of values and institutions. Unfortunately, all too often the response to Breivik betrays a lack of confidence in such values. So the otherwise exemplary management of this tragedy by the Norwegian government was marred by a censorious concern with insulating the world from being exposed to Breivik and his views. That is why the government decided that, to prevent him from addressing the media, he would appear in a closed court to hear the charges against him.
Of course there is an argument for not providing terrorists with the publicity they crave. But the reaction to Breivik is not simply fuelled by a distaste for those who glorify violence. It is also underpinned by a censorious agenda that seeks to prevent unacceptable views from being heard. This was the attitude signalled by Mark Colvin, presenter of ABC radio's PM, when he boasted that he got through the Norway story without mentioning Breivik's name. The idea that news presenters should be arbiters of what can and cannot be heard is antithetical to the values of a free society.
It is symptomatic of our illiberal era that so much energy has gone into preventing Breivik's manifesto from being accessed by people online. A group of activists led by Anonymous has called on people to destroy Breivik's legacy by republishing sabotaged versions of this text. The aim of this crusade, titled Operation UnManifest, is to create so much confusion that no one will be able to work out which version of the manifesto is the original.
Outwardly, this campaign appears as a harmless bit of fun at the expense of a social outcast. The censoring of Breivik's manifesto is not a loss to European civilisation. But this act of censorship has the paradoxical effect of endowing the content of this manifesto with a mystique and significance it does not possess. It is also motivated by a dangerous illiberal impulse that suggests that because "I loathe this man, you cannot read his statement". But who gave anyone the right to prevent people from reading Breivik's ramblings?
Trusting people to make up their own minds about the content of this manifesto demonstrates that the kind of free society that Breivik seeks to destroy continues to thrive. Perversely, this act of petty censorship undermines precisely the value of tolerance that Breivik himself so despises. Yet it is precisely in a moment such as this that the tolerance of a society is tested.
Birmingham's historic Gun Quarter is renamed... because PC critics say it glorifies crime
It encapsulates a manufacturing heritage stretching back 250 years. During the Napoleonic Wars, almost 1.9million muskets, rifles, carbines and pistols were manufactured for the Government in the district's numerous weapons factories.
But Birmingham's historic Gun Quarter is now to be renamed because of concerns that it could be linked with the firearms crime which blights other parts of the city. Officials said residents no longer wanted to be associated with weapons of war.
Instead the district to the north and west of the city centre will be known as St George and St Chad in recognition of a local church and Birmingham's catholic cathedral.
Yesterday, opponents of the rebranding exercise said the Gun Quarter had been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, while even the Dean of St Chad's Cathedral said the decision sounded 'irrational'.
Tim Huxtable, Birmingham City Council's Tory head of regeneration, said the decision had been taken after a public consultation, although one petition received by the council was signed by just 50 people objecting to Gun Quarter.
He said: 'We listened to the local community, which is the whole point of consultation. The views of local people seem quite clear.'
Sir Albert Bore, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: 'What kind of nonsense is it when we replace the Gun Quarter with St George and St Chad? 'Like it or not, and I am not into the arms trade myself, the Gun Quarter has a historical connection with this city. This is just political correctness.'
The name change was described as a 'terrible shame' by the owner of one of the few surviving gun makers in the district. Simon Clode, managing director of Westley Richards and Co, said: 'This is an important part of Birmingham's history. The area is not well occupied by gun makers now, but it's still the Gun Quarter.'
The Very Reverend Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of St Chad's Cathedral, said the name change was 'almost as irrational as deciding not to call the Black Country the Black Country'.
Reverend Larry Wright, Rector of St George's Church, however, said he was among those who had lobbied the council to change the name. 'We wrote on behalf of our own congregation - many of whom wanted a name change to move away from any suggestion that this area was associated with gun crime,' he said. 'But they could have come up with something snappier (than St George and St Chad).'
A council spokesman insisted the gunsmith area would live on as a separately defined part of the new St George and St Chad quarter.
Wolf-whistling is "intimidation"?
As stereotypes go, it's a classic. And when two young builders wolf-whistled an attractive woman as she passed by they probably imagined they were indulging in a bit of harmless fun.
The woman's husband, however, failed to see the funny side, and following a complaint to their bosses the pair have been suspended.
Council officials in Royston, Hertfordshire, received a furious email from the husband, who has not been named. He accused the builders of harassing his wife, leaving her so uncomfortable that she was refusing to walk past the area again.
The allegation was passed on to the council's contractors Maylim Ltd and the alleged offenders - described locally as Albanians - were taken off the job for several days.
They will now be allowed back after their accuser decided not to take matters further, although they are still facing a `discussion' with bosses today. Maylim yesterday insisted sexist behaviour was `terrible for the company image' and it was taking the allegations seriously.
Managing director Thomas O'Mahony said: `We acted within half-an-hour of being alerted to the complaint. It's company policy to immediately suspend anyone who is made the subject of a complaint by the public.
`We don't tolerate wolf-whistling or any form of sexual harassment. It's unacceptable - we are in the public eye and our image is important.
`The two men are in their mid-20s and they have been invited in for a discussion. They denied the allegations and were frustrated to be off work. Now we know that the complainant doesn't want to take this further the men will be allowed to go back to work.'
The incident was said to have happened last week in Fish Hill Square, where £400,000 is being spent turning the area into a `civic space' with seating and a sculpture.
Locals - both male and female - expressed sympathy for the builders yesterday. Hairdresser Jane Westley said: `I don't think wolf-whistling's too much of an issue. If I got wolf-whistled I think I'd find it a compliment. It's just what builders do.'
Another woman, who asked not to be named, said: `I guess it's their bit of harmless fun while working - to admire girls walking past in the summer.' A 34-year-old man added: `Everyone thinks it's a strange complaint to make. I feel bad for the guys off work.'
Wolf-whistles originated among sailors to draw colleagues' attention to a pretty woman. A number of building firms have now banned them as inappropriate. Workmen who repeatedly make obscene comments to passers-by can also be convicted of a breach of the peace.
When animal activists attack!
Comment from Australia
Sometimes, you wonder who the real animals are, and what kind of condition they keep themselves in.
On the weekend, I dropped my daughter at a friend’s birthday party at Lennon Brothers Circus. Lennon Brothers is one of the few remaining Australian circuses with animals, and a group of protestors had set up shop out the front.
Never in my life have I encountered such an unruly, rude rabble of misfits, thugs and foaming-at-the-mouth ideologues. Not content to peacefully pursue their aims, they actively victimised the poor helpless children attending the circus with some of the most vile slurs imaginable.
In one instance, one of the protestors yelled through the megaphone “keeping lions in cages is like your mummy and daddy keeping you in jail”. Can you imagine how my eight year old daughter felt? Or any of the other kids walking in? How on earth does victimising children legitimise any grown-up cause – worthy or unworthy?
After dropping my daughter, I calmly approached some of the protestors to express my indignation. Part of that conversation involved me identifying myself as a journalist and pointing out that I have previously written pieces supporting animal welfare.
“Liar!” a woman wearing a lion mask screamed. A man with a spotted bow tie was even worse. Pointing at my four year old son under my arm, then pointing at the lion’s enclosure, he screamed “mammal, mammal!” as though to indicate that both my son and the lions deserved the same humane treatment.
I don’t necessarily disagree with his sentiment. But his tone was another thing entirely. It was the wild, manic tone of someone with severe anger management issues. And it was right in the face of my frightened son.
Now, it just so happens that I’m not such a big fan of circuses with animals, for two simple reasons.
Firstly, I believe the most exciting circus acts are always the ones involving people. Indeed, my daughter came home raving about the contortionist but had little to say about the lions.
Secondly, I don’t believe that performing animals send a good message to kids. It suggests that animals are there for our amusement, which I most firmly believe they are not.
That, by the way, is an entirely different issue from the issue of animal cruelty, which is the main issue the protestors were banging on about in their vicious, mean-spirited way.
So are circuses with animals cruel? Not according to fifth generation circus man and lion tamer Warren Lennon. “The lions have exercise yards available to them from 7 am to 9 or 10 o’clock at night,” he told The Punch yesterday.
“The tricks they do are similar to the movements they make in the wild. They jump, they walk along a plank. We don’t make them jump through fire or anything like that, we don’t use whips and although we use sticks, they are used for direction, not to hit the animals.
The Punch contacted Animal Liberation, who organised the protest. They said their immediate goal is to lobby local councils to outlaw animal circuses, while their long term goal is to shift all circus animals to free range zoos. This is what happened with the elephant Arna from Stardust Circus, who trampled and killed a handler.
Animal Liberation believe the animal “snapped”, although there was some suggestion the animal was only trying to nudge its handler awake after he suffered a heart attack, and inadvertently crushed him.
Whatever the truth in the case of Arna the elephant, Warren Lennon believes free range zoos would be a death warrant for circus-raised lions. “These lions they would die in a free range zoo. They were born in the circus and they are used to the companionship of the trainers. I’d like to see these animal libbers save some species from dying over in Africa. Lions are on the endangered species list, you know.”
Lennon believes that Australia leads the world on regulations for animals in circuses and zoos. But Animal Liberation Communications Manager Lynda Stoner doesn’t see it that way. “Animals were never intended to be objects of entertainment,” she says. “At Taronga Zoo in Sydney, there are signs explaining the dysfunctional behaviour of former circus elephants, who spend much of the day swaying back and forth.”
Stoner and her colleague Emma Hurst, who helped organise the protest, were both shocked when I told them of the behaviour of many of the protestors. That’s shocked as in disgusted, not shocked as in surprised, because this was not the first report of shonky misbehaviour that had filtered back to head office.
Hurst suggested that the news of the protest went out via Facebook, and that some of the protestors might have been blow-ins who were not members of Animal Liberation. “I stand by our right to be there and hand out flyers, but Animal Liberation is a completely non-violent organisation, and we do not support any sort of abuse towards people or anything like that,” she said.
That’s good to hear. Most animal rights groups these days are reasonably level-headed. Well, maybe not PETA, but most. But those lunatic protestors out the front of Lennon Brothers circus were anything but level-headed, that’s for sure.
And with their inexcusable behaviour, they completely invalidated their cause.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). 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.