Thursday, January 31, 2013
Political correctness hasn't blinded the French public to Muslim realities
A survey in one of France’s largest newspapers has found that the country holds largely positive views of Jews and a generally negative opinion of Islam.
The study, published Jan. 24 in the left-leaning Le Monde, reported that a decisive majority of French citizens consider Judaism and Christianity “tolerant,” while an even larger number consider Islam “intolerant.”
According to the survey, carried out by the Ipsos polling institute, 72 percent of the French consider Catholicism either “completely” or “fairly” accepting of other groups, with 66 percent sharing similar attitudes toward Jews. Seventy-four percent see Islam as intolerant.
Published Jan. 24, the survey also found that eight out of 10 French people believe Islam is trying to impose its views on others, with 74 percent describing the religion as “incompatible” with French values.
Dawkins causes Twitter row with Islamic barbarian jibe
Not content with upsetting the Jewish religion, Professor Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist, has now annoyed some Muslims.
Speaking about the damage caused to the library in Timbuktu, in Mali, he described those who burnt it down as Islamic Barbarians.
His comments have been interpreted as being derogatory to Islam and insulting to followers of the religion by some on the social networking site Twitter.
The best selling author of The God Delusion and Oxford Professor, Tweeted that “Like Alexandria, like Bamiyan, Timbuktu's priceless manuscript heritage destroyed by Islamic barbarians”.
His comments were met with a backlash with many people condemning him of unfairly attacking Islam and ignoring the many acts of vandalism carried out by Christians.
But he hit back saying: “Some people (perhaps 1st language not English) think I was calling ALL Muslims barbarians. No. I was calling Islamic BARBARIANS barbarians.”
The row is reminiscent of a storm he caused last year when he was accused of making a “profoundly anti-Semitic” remark by criticising the Old Testament.
Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, claimed that a remark in Prof Dawkins’s The God Delusion, likening God as portrayed in Jewish scriptures to a fictional villain, was based on centuries of prejudice.
He said that although Prof Dawkins does not believe in God, he was nevertheless a “Christian atheist” as opposed to a “Jewish atheist”.
Prof Dawkins, an Oxford evolutionary biologist, dismissed the allegation as “ridiculous” and said he was not “anti-Jewish” just “anti-God”.
We must shine a light into the dark corners of Britain's secret state
The Coalition should ditch the Justice and Security Bill, which would cover up Britain’s complicity in torture
When I worked on the City pages of The Daily Telegraph a quarter of a century ago, we young reporters were advised by Christopher Fildes, the paper’s legendary financial columnist, to take note of three corporate sell signals.
The first concerned the chief executive. If he purchased a string of racehorses, it meant that he wasn’t concentrating on the job and had got ideas above his station. The second was the appearance of a fountain in the head office foyer, a sure indication of extravagance and frivolity. Finally, Mr Fildes urged us to view with distrust all companies that shifted to a lavish new headquarters. Too often for comfort, he asserted, such a move presaged disaster.
When I moved to cover politics, I soon realised that the same rule applied in the public sector. The textbook case concerns the Home Office, which notoriously descended into a dysfunctional shambles after it moved from its headquarters in Queen Anne’s Gate to gleaming new offices in Marsham Street eight years ago. Likewise, the government Whips Office lost all purpose after being shifted from its historic 12 Downing Street base.
Something went wrong with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) shortly after it moved into its hideous new HQ, whose rear end overlooks the Thames with the same elegance and charm as the stern of an expensive cruise liner. I am not talking about the operational errors, of which one of the most recent has been the failure to grasp, despite warning signals, the role played by al-Qaeda in the Syrian uprising until too late. Far more troubling have been the structural problems that emerged after the existence of SIS was formally acknowledged in 1994 – by curious coincidence the same year as the building in Vauxhall was opened.
The first of these has been the propinquity between the intelligence and political establishments, a normal state of affairs in authoritarian states but always very troubling in democracies. This became manifest after 1997 under New Labour, when for a time SIS and the Blairite machine in effect merged. New Labour spin doctors travelled to Vauxhall to brief intelligence chiefs on how to conduct their public relations. Meanwhile, SIS shockingly tolerated New Labour’s use of secret intelligence as political propaganda.
This process reached its apotheosis in the notorious Iraq dossier of September 2002. Ten years have passed since the start of that catastrophic conflict and still questions remain to be answered. The Chilcot Inquiry, which was supposed to answer them (then again, perhaps it wasn’t) appears to have sunk without trace.
The second problem involves British complicity in torture. Like the repudiation of traditional intelligence methods that led to the Iraq fiasco, this had its origins in the merger between the security elite and the political class after 1997.
Bear in mind that Margaret Thatcher, when prime minister, had refused to countenance the use of evidence gathered under torture. This doctrine was turned on its head by Tony Blair’s government. After 9/11, though under pressure from the United States, British intelligence officers (from both SIS and the domestic intelligence agency MI5) were still barred from carrying it out themselves. But a new convention permitted them to seek evidence gathered under torture.
In particular, Britain became heavily complicit in what is known as extraordinary rendition, or the kidnap and subsequent torture of individuals as a matter of state policy. It goes without saying that this activity is against the law, and wholly contrary to our international obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention against torture.
Reports of British involvement leaked out at an early stage, but for a very long time were denied by ministers. Foreign secretary Jack Straw exploded in indignation when Britain was accused in 2005 of being party to the CIA extraordinary rendition programme: “Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also, let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there is simply no truth that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.”
Mr Straw has since gone quiet in the face of a mass of overwhelming evidence. This silence brings me on to the Justice and Security Bill, whose committee stage will today be debated in the Commons. A superbly researched Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet titled Neither Just nor Secure, by Anthony Peto QC of Blackstone Chambers and the Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie, argues that the Bill may stop the truth ever emerging about British involvement in torture. It enables government secretly to present evidence in civil cases, without allowing the other party or his or her lawyers to see it. The other party can never even know, let alone challenge, the evidence presented against him. A judge will decide whether the evidence should be heard in open court.
Second, the Bill blocks the courts from using the information-gathering legal principle known as Norwich Pharmacal. “This would make it harder,” argue the authors, “to uncover official wrongdoing in matters such as extraordinary rendition.”
Third, the authors demonstrate that the mechanisms set up by John Major in the Intelligence Services Act of 1994 to make the security services accountable have failed. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is beyond incompetent. It is supposed to oversee the security services. In 2007, the hapless ISC found no evidence of complicity in any extraordinary rendition operations in a notorious report from which, it has now emerged, 42 vital documents had been withheld. The Gibson Inquiry into rendition, set up by David Cameron in 2010, was just as useless and has now been abandoned.
Successive ISC chairmen (the former foreign office minister Kim Howells has been the worst) have been bossed around by government, and shown a feeble-minded naivety. “In recent years,” the authors note, “a string of appointees have come out of Government to chair the Committee only to return to the front bench afterwards.” Nothing in the Justice and Security Bill remedies this toothlessness.
John le Carré once wrote that “the only real measure of a nation’s political health” is the state of its intelligence services. For much of the last century (as readers of Mr le Carré’s novels can surmise) they have manifested a distinctive British integrity, ruthlessness, tolerance, eccentricity, and breathtaking heroism when required.
But, if Mr le Carré is right, something must have gone wrong with 21st-century Britain. Few sensible people would deny that we need effective security services, nor that the great majority of people who work for them are highly capable and patriotic, condemned by the nature of their work to stay quiet about their achievements and the bravery of what they do.
But the best intelligence officers admit that British complicity in torture has amounted to a thoroughgoing betrayal of our values, acted as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, and made intelligence gathering more difficult. Deepening the secret state is a step in the wrong direction. The objective of any decent government should be to expose as much of the truth as we can about British involvement in torture, not to hush it up. It’s time for the Coalition to ditch its shameful little Bill.
State funding for political parties leads to arrogance, corruption and authoritarianism
One of the saddest consequences of the Westminster expenses revelations is that sensible people are now wondering whether there might, after all, be something in the idea of state funding for political parties. Perhaps you are one of them. Perhaps you imagine that, for all its disadvantages, it would at least take some of the sleaze out of the system. Perhaps you have reluctantly concluded that it would be a lesser evil than making parties dependent on trade unions and wealthy donors. If your thoughts are trending that way, my friend, look at what is happening in Brussels.
Since 2003, the European Parliament has paid for pan-European political parties. There are currently 13, and each is funded in proportion to the number of MEPs who support it. The little ones might get a couple of hundred thousand euros a year. The behemoths – the Party of European Socialists and the European People's Party – qualify for several millions.
Europe's various fascist movements recently buried their mutual loathing for long enough to set up such a party, which means that they qualify for, by my reckoning, a little under €300,000 a year.
Most MEPs have reacted with drooling horror. But, under the current system, there is no question that the BNP, Jobbik and the rest are eligible for their share. The best legal brains in the European Parliament examined the matter, but could find no loophole. Shaven-headed losers who spend their time trolling blogs from their mothers' basements are as entitled to representation as anyone else, and their representatives can't be distinguished in law from other duly elected MEPs.
When the law doesn't serve their purpose, Euro-integrationists are quick to discard it. They are currently amending the rules so that a party can be deprived of funds if it fails to uphold 'European values'. Who will determine whether it meets the criteria? In the last analysis, a plenary vote of the European Parliament. In other words, the question of whether a party qualifies will be in the hands of its political opponents, who will have a direct financial interest in barring it since, if it is dissolved, its share of the funding will be divided among the other parties.
If that doesn't alarm you, it should. The de-registration of opposition movements is the favoured tactic of dictators the world over. Most autocracies now hold regular elections: Iran, China, Zimbabwe. But participation in those elections is restricted to approved parties. A Polish MEP, shocked by the current proposal, told me: 'This is exactly what the Communists did. They didn't ban elections. They just banned the people they didn't like from contesting the elections'.
Depriving a party of funds is not the same as preventing it from fielding candidates, of course. But the principle has now been established that some parties, in effect, get to sit in judgment on others. ‘Ah, but this is aimed only at the far Right,’ say supporters. This is not the moment to rehash my argument about how the parties in question might just as well be designated ‘far Left’: they subscribe to an ideology called ‘Third Positionism’, whose roots lie in Strasserism and National Bolshevism, describe themselves as ‘beyond Left and Right’, and want authoritarian governments, high tariff walls, regulated economies, confiscatory taxation and the repatriation of immigrants.
That, though, is a discussion for another day. I really shouldn't have to distance myself from the parties in question. It is surely enough to note that we are abandoning a law-based system for an arbitrary one. Who is to say which parties might are 'anti-European'? Today, it's the BNP. Tomorrow it might be UKIP. The day after, perhaps, the Conservatives.
Yet people are afraid to complain because they know that their objections, however phrased, will be caricatured as sympathy with the fascists. Here, for example, is Nick Lowles from Hope Not Hate commenting on UKIP’s principled opposition to the system: 'It's bad enough that almost £400,000 of taxpayers' money is going to line the election war chest of Nick Griffin and his extremist chums. But what really sticks in the throat is that Nigel Farage and his party are prepared to sit back and let this happen.' Here is the almost unbelievably small-minded Labour MEP Mary Honeyball: 'UKIP shows true colours by refusing to oppose EU funding for far-right parties.'
For the sake of full disclosure, let me declare an interest. I am involved with running the trans-national conservative alliance, the AECR. I like to think that we are doing useful work spreading free-market doctrines in Europe, and encouraging the rule of law in the former Soviet Union and the Arab Spring countries. But, obviously, I would much rather that there were no such things as state-funded parties. Conservative MEPs voted against their establishment, and would vote for their abolition. If there were way of returning our funds to the taxpayer, we would do it tomorrow, but there isn't: if we didn't exist, our share of the budget would simply be divided up among the other parties. That's how state funding works: everyone is, in effect, forced to take part.
As for the idea that subsidies are an antidote to corruption, look at the countries in Europe which rely on it most heavily: Greece, Italy, Belgium. I'm afraid that, human nature being what it is, once people know that there is a subsidy to be claimed, they start arranging their affairs around qualifying for it. And, of course, being able to compel donations by law, rather than having to solicit them politely, does nothing to make politicians more modest.
To present the choice as being between plutocratic donations and state funding is quite misleading. The Internet has made it possible for parties to raise large sums in small denominations. More than three million Americans contributed financially to the recent Obama election fund. The average donation was $85. British and European parties should try to do the same. And if they can't manage it, well, they'll just have to learn to get by with less.
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, 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. Email me (John Ray) here.