Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It isn’t only Russia that punishes iconoclasm

Western observers have been thrilled by Pussy Riot’s sacrilegious antics in Moscow but are just as sanctimonious when their own idols are criticized:  Global warming, homosexuality, feminism etc.

In February this year, a bunch of balaclava-clad women, complete with garish tights, entered Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Given their get-up, it will come as little surprise to learn they weren’t there to pray. Instead, they were there to stick a punkish two fingers up at the then Russian president-to-be, Vladimir Putin, and his perceived partner in state crime, the Russian Orthodox Church. Their protest consisted of playing a song called ‘Holy Shit’, which called for ‘the Virgin Mary [to] put Putin away’, while dancing and mock-praying at the altar.

The jollity didn’t last long. In March, with Putin just days away from winning the presidential election, several members of Pussy Riot were arrested and three were charged with ‘a gross violation of public order, including inciting religious hatred as part of a planned conspiracy’. And last week, with the world’s media glare now firmly focused upon a sweaty courtroom in Moscow, the judgement was issued. The three accused - Maria Alyokhina, aged 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 - were sentenced to two years’ corrective labour in a prison colony. Handing down the sentence, Judge Marina Syrova stated:

‘Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alyokhina committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society. The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules.’

In Russia, the whole Pussy Riot brouhaha seems to have prompted a response quite heavily split down class lines. For the slim strata that is Russia’s cosmopolitan liberal set, well-travelled people for whom, as commentator John Kampfner noted, Putin is ‘uncouth’, the judgement was an embarrassment, an indictment of Russian backwardness. Yet while Muscovite and St Petersburg ‘creatives’, as Putin has been calling this upwardly mobile constituency, were outraged, the vast majority of ordinary Russians were less than sympathetic to Pussy Riot.

According to independent research group Levada, only six per cent of Russians polled sympathised with the women and 51 per cent felt ‘indifference, irritation or hostility’. It seems that like the British punk of the 1970s, indeed like its Dadaist, avant-garde precursors in the 1920s, Pussy Riot - itself formerly a performance-art collective called Voina - was premised upon an opposition to the conventions and tastes of the masses. The objective: to scandalise the stupid audience. Little wonder support has been muted.

Yet whichever way the Pussy Riot arrest, trial and conviction are spun, there’s no getting away from the principles at stake. Three women have been sent to a penal colony for playing sweary music in a cathedral; they have been punished for expressing themselves. And if you support freedom of speech, as we do at spiked, then the Pussy Riot trial can only appear as an affront to that principle.

Not that anyone in Western circles is saying otherwise. As the Pussy Riot trial started gaining media traction internationally (the BBC and CNN both broadcast the trial live), there has been a veritable deluge of seeming support for free speech. Pop royalty, from Paul McCartney to the Sex Pistols, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Madonna, have stood alongside the likes of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to condemn the punishment. Politicians, current and former, have joined in, too. Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt announced that he was ‘deeply concerned by the sentencing… which can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief’.

The commentariat was similarly staggered by, as Michael Idov of GQ Russia put it, the ‘depths of vengeful backwardness… teased out of the Russian soil’ by the case. In fact, so riled was Britain’s bible of the liberal elite, the Guardian, that on the day of the verdict, its website exclusively released Pussy Riot’s new single, ‘Putin Lights Up the Fires’. Elsewhere, a Telegraph columnist was content to contrast the draconian punishment meted out to Pussy Riot with that served up by the British judiciary to activist Peter Tatchell for interrupting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter sermon in 1998: he was fined £18.60.

Russia, it seems, with Putin’s quasi-autocracy to the fore, is providing the perfect stage for commentators, NGOs, politicians and tired old pop stars to demonstrate their liberal credentials. In doing so, they can implicitly celebrate the liberal virtues of the West - even if such virtues come in the form of an £18.60 fine. One columnist almost seemed nostalgic for a time when British or American pop culture felt radical. ’ In the West’, he wrote, ‘we seem to have forgotten that popular culture once produced people who thought it was their duty to decry some of the most ingrained aspects of their societies, and thereby become lightning rods for dissent’.

And here we come to one of the problems with the Western liberal riot over Russia. Its protagonists seem incapable of grasping the extent to which the blasphemy Pussy Riot were punished for has acquired a secular form in the West. Because that’s the thing about blasphemy, indeed about heresy, heterodoxy or dissent - their content changes with the times. So, yes, in the UK for instance, actual blasphemy laws have been abolished. The church is not authoritative, the sphere of the sacred is not demarcated on religious or theological ground. So you can take the Lord’s name in vain, and you can, as the Archbishop of Canterbury often does, criticise politicians in a church.

But if Christian pieties no longer rule national life, liberal pieties most definitely do. The ‘ingrained aspects’ of our society that need challenging are no longer those of old-fashioned religious conservatism; they are the contemporary pieties, from environmentalism to official ‘anti-racism’. Around such ideas, a new sacred forcefield has been drawn. To spout wrongheaded Social Darwinist ideas, as a Cambridge University economics supervisor did recently, won’t land you in a gulag, but it will win you the antipathy of large sections of the respectable press, not to mention the prospect of losing your job should you persist in saying what you think.

So yes, anyone who dissents from, or decries ‘some of the most ingrained aspects of their societies’ in the West is certainly not subject to the draconian legal sanctions of Putin’s Russia - there is quite enough shrillness in the Pussy Riot furore as it is without adding to it. But such Western heretics are subject to a subtler, less severe, but no less constraining form of external pressure: informal censure usually from self-styled progressives.

Over recent years, there have been countless examples of the ‘you can’t say that’ sentiment which inhibits and informs so much of public life today. Ironically, one of the things you can’t express in public, without feeling the soft hand of liberal censure on your shoulder, is religious dogma. Think, for instance, of the fury vented a couple of years ago both at the guest-house owners who refused homosexuals entry to their lodgings and the then Tory shadow home secretary Chris Grayling who defended them. Or think also of the wacky Christian campaign group, the Core Issues Trust, which, a few months ago, was forced by the London mayor Boris Johnson to remove posters promoting its belief that homosexuality is curable through therapy and religious teaching.

And when it comes to environmentalism, criticism or dissent isn’t just collectively frowned upon by the right-thinking set, many of whom were to be found last week wearing tights and balaclavas in support of Pussy Riot; it is also seen as a sign of mental derangement, of ‘being in denial’. Whereas old-fashioned religious dissenters were accused of being in league with the devil, contemporary dissenters from the creed of global warming are accused of being in league with big corporations.

What is orthodox and, consequently, what is effectively blasphemous in the West is not decided by the church any more - it is decided by those self-same illiberal liberals currently clamouring for Pussy Riot’s release. No wonder they cannot identify, let alone defend, instances of parallel blasphemy in the West. As I say, shrillness is to be avoided here. While some, such as ranting Twitter tool Liam Stacey, received a prison sentence for ‘racially aggravated abuse’, many contemporary heretics do not suffer legal punishment. Invariably they are sent to Coventry, not a penal colony. But make no mistake: the informal straitjacket in which free speech is constrained, in which certain issues are deemed de facto sacred, is at work in the West. While I have no desire to defend daft or racist sentiment, for instance, the ‘you can’t say that’ attitude is just as offensive, suggesting as it does that we, the masses, will be incapable of hearing a statement without either unthinkingly acting upon it or becoming incredibly upset by it.

So if Pussy Riot’s freedom of speech deserves support, so too does free speech for those dissenting from Western orthodoxies, be they so-called environmental sceptics or devout, old-fashioned Christians.


More than 20,000 spared jail in Britain reoffend: Alarming figures 'prove community service isn't working'

Nearly 400 criminals a week commit another crime while they are supposed to be doing community service.

Shocking figures show more than 20,000 reoffended last year after being given ‘soft’ sentences instead of being sent to jail.

A similar number failed to comply with the terms of their punishments and had to be hauled back before the courts.

In total, this means one in four offenders fail to complete their community sentences because they break the rules.

The revelations will raise further doubts about the effectiveness of the punishments – which ministers want the courts to use more often.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has ordered a major overhaul of community service to toughen it up.  However, he has criticised the alternative – short prison terms – as ineffective in rehabilitating criminals.

The latest figures will raise concerns the public are not being properly protected.

Conservative MP Priti Patel said: ‘The public will be alarmed to see the large number of criminals breaching their community sentences and committing more crimes.  ‘The courts must start sending these criminals to jail and handing down stronger punishments to keep the public safe.’

Jonathan Isaby of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘When only two thirds of these community punishment  orders are being carried out, how can taxpayers feel that the system is delivering justice?

‘When the criminals subject to these orders who re-offend or fail to comply with their conditions return to court again, they must be handed tough sentences if the public are going to have any confidence in the system.’

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that last year 20,121 convicts who were placed on a community punishment order committed another crime.

Another 22,817 orders were stopped because the subject was failing to follow the rules set down by the court – such as unpaid work, meeting their probation officer or attending drug treatment.

It means that almost 43,000 community orders or suspended sentence orders – more than 800 every week – are being stopped because of criminals’ wayward behaviour. That is one in four of the 172,910 orders  for last year.

Just two thirds were carried out, while another nine per cent were stopped because the criminal fell ill or died.

Last year it emerged some 50 people a day endure a violent or sexual attack by a convict who was spared jail.

Every year more than 18,000 criminals given a community punishment commit a sexual or violent crime within 12 months of being sentenced.

A report by the Policy Exchange think-tank revealed that robbers and burglars were working in charity shops or making costumes for the Notting Hill Carnival, instead of doing hard work.

Other ‘work’ projects included helping to look after animals on farms or serving lunch at old people’s clubs.

The Justice Secretary wants to send fewer criminals to prison and has criticised the ‘warehousing’ of inmates in jails.

He has set new rules to ensure community orders include a minimum work requirement of 28 hours a week, including ‘hard manual labour’.

Current rules allow offenders to do as little as six hours each week spread over 12 months.

A spokesman  for the Ministry of Justice said: ‘The majority of offenders successfully complete their community sentences and do not go on to commit further crimes.

‘However, reoffending rates are too high which is why we are reforming the criminal justice system so offenders are properly punished and the root causes of their behaviour addressed.

‘We have completed a consultation on the future shape of community sentences to make them tougher and will set out our approach in due course.’

The Justice Ministry spokesman added: ‘Our plans to restore public confidence in community sentences include prohibiting foreign travel and imposing longer, more restrictive curfews.

‘We will also be making Community Payback more intensive and demanding with unemployed offenders serving longer hours, carrying out purposeful, unpaid activity which benefits their local community.’


Hatred's Strange Bedfellows

Muslims and the Left

Last week’s near-massacre at the Family Research Council (FRC) put into sharp relief a curious fact:  The people most aggressively denouncing others for their “hatemongering” sure are engaging in a lot of it themselves – with dangerous, and potentially lethal, repercussions.

Take, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Back in the heyday of the civil rights movement, the SPLC helped counter the Ku Klux Klan and other racists and anti-Semites.  At the moment, though, the SPLC is hanging out with today’s counterpart to the KKK and the preeminent threat to civil rights – especially those of women – in America: Islamists bent on insinuating here their anti-constitutional, misogynistic and supremacist doctrine known as shariah.

A case in point occurred last Wednesday night, just hours after a gunman named Floyd Lee Corkins entered the headquarters of the FRC. Corkins apparently was bent on killing as many of the Center’s employees as possible, perhaps because of the social conservative group’s listing (along with this columnist and a number of others) earlier this year by the SPLC as among the worst hate groups and bigots in America. 

It turns out that, as with the Family Research Council, what seems to qualify one for smearing by the Southern Poverty Law Center is disagreement with its political agenda.  If you lawfully object to, say, the erosion of traditional marriage or open borders, you stand to be condemned by the SPLC as a hater.  It seems that if you are militantly in favor of the radical homosexual agenda or racist groups like La Raza, however, you get a pass from that organization.

Particularly striking in this regard is the utter blindness of the SPLC to the hatemongering in which Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist organizations in this country regularly engage.  If you warn, on the basis of abundant evidence – including such Islamist groups’ own statements – that they are seeking to subvert our freedoms and form of government by insinuating shariah into this country then, boom, the self-appointed arbiters of hate will brand you a monger of it.  But those whose Islamic creed promotes hatred of other religions, man-made laws and people who embrace them are never mentioned as a problem.

On Wednesday, August 15th, the director of the SPLC’s “intelligence project,” Heidi Beirich, participated in an open conference call organized by one such Islamist group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council.  She used the occasion to inveigh against anti-Muslim hate groups and to declare that her group was “very, very concerned” about their proliferation.

What makes this performance absolutely bizarre is the fact that MPAC is not simply a Muslim Brotherhood-associated organization that, by definition, is in the business of promoting shariah’s virulently intolerant code.  The organization also has a documented history of anti-Semitism, including such hatemongering as: the contention on 9/11 by its executive director, Salam Al- Marayati, that the Jews should be viewed as possible perpetrators of the attacks of that day; repeated claims that Zionists and Jews “own” the Congress, its staff and the American media; and vitriolic support for the designated terrorist organization, Hamas, whose explicit goal is destroying Israel.

So egregious is Muslim Public Affairs Council’s record of hatemongering that an ecumenical group of seven leaders of national faith-based and civil rights organizations wrote the leadership of the Southern Poverty Law Center last week urging the SPLC not to associate with those Islamists.  An attachment noted that  an MPAC-sponsored event in December 2000 featured an exhortation from Imam Mohammed Al-Asi, a supporter of the quintessential Islamist hate group, Hezbollah, and director of the Islamic Education Center in Potomac.  He declared on that occasion:

“Now, all our khatibs (speakers), our imams, our public speakers, should be concentrating on militarizing the Muslim public.…Rhetoric is not going to liberate Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and Al-Aqsa [the mosque on the Temple Mount]. Only carrying arms will do this task. And it’s not going to be someone else who is going to carry arms for you and for me.  It is you and me who are going to have to carry these arms.”

It is deeply regrettable that the Southern Poverty Law Center has been reduced to a propaganda arm of enemies of freedom.  It should be embarrassed about its evident refusal to hold accountable any of the myriad Islamist entities that are authentic promoters of hatred – apart from Louis Farakhan’s Nation of Islam, a group so racist, so anti-Semitic, so hateful that even the SPLC evidently could not overlook its record.  And the SPLC should abandon its odious practice of listing as hate groups those – like the Family Research Council – with whom it simply disagrees politically, and seeks to silence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is quick to allege ties between people it calls haters and people who use violence against the object of the purported hatred.  If the SPLC is genuinely interested in preventing such behavior, then the organization and its leaders should stop what amounts to encouragement of it.


Australia: Opposition to multiculturalism emerges  in  in local elections

NICK FOLKES doesn't object to people learning a foreign language, or even dabbling in ethnic cooking. But call other cultures equal? That's "madness", he says.

"Our culture is better than the Muslim culture, it is better than the African culture," he said. "At the end of the day, why did they come here? There must be something wrong with their culture.

The Australian Protectionist Party firebrand joins a growing number of controversial far-right candidates chasing the xenophobic vote at next month's council elections.

Australia First, the anti-immigration party hoping to fill the political void left by One Nation, is running 23 candidates across western and south Sydney and the Blue Mountains, up from 15 at the last council poll.

The party's website takes aim at the Channel Ten program The Shire and its sprinkling of ethnic characters, labelling it "media contrived assimilation". Several candidates attempt to link urban sprawl and rate increases to immigration.

The artist Sergio Redegalli, who painted the controversial "Say no to burqas" sign outside his Newtown workshop, is making a first-time bid for Marrickville Council as an independent.

Mr Folkes, 42, an industrial painter from Rozelle, wants Leichhardt council declared a "sharia-free zone" and would scrap council grants to multicultural groups.

"There is a vacuum in politics at the moment. We believe that a lot of people, in time, will definitely vote for us," he said.

History indicates that day is a long way off. Mr Folkes attracted 289 votes, or 0.6 per cent of the vote, when he ran as an independent for the seat of Balmain last year.

A University of Western Sydney immigration expert, Kevin Dunn, said only 12 per cent of Australians held negative views towards cultural diversity and that anti-immigration candidates typically polled badly.

But their agendas could influence council decisions on issues such as building mosques or religious schools, especially during times of national unrest over boat arrivals.

"The general nature of debate at the national level has a direct effect locally in terms of community relations, attitudes and local politics," Professor Dunn said, and racist attitudes "fade or flourish" depending on public discourse.

Ready to counter the racial supremacists is the Unity Party, a multiculturalist group that has shifted its gaze to local government since its federal and state ambitions faded five years ago.

The party, which has two elected councillors, promotes cultural diversity and respect for religion and has fielded 40 candidates across NSW, the party's founder, Peter Wong, said.

"I think Australia is a lot more broad-minded since Pauline Hanson's time," Mr Wong said. "I don't really think those candidates will make great headway."



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 WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING 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.  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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