Tuesday, October 01, 2013
I'm sorry, but we have to talk about the barbarism of modern Islamist terrorism
In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC's yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word – terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend. Across the commentating board, people are sheepish about pointing out the historically unique lunacy of Islamist violence and its utter detachment from any recognisable moral universe or human values.
We have to talk about this barbarism; we have to appreciate how new and unusual it is, how different it is even from the terrorism of the 1970s or of the early twentieth century. We owe it to the victims of these assaults, and to the principle of honest and frank political debate, to face up to the unhinged, morally unanchored nature of Islamist violence in the 21st century.
Maybe it’s because we have become so inured to Islamist terrorism in the 12 years since 9/11 that even something like the blowing-up of 85 Christians outside a church in Pakistan no longer shocks us or even makes it on to many newspaper front pages. But consider what happened: two men strapped with explosives walked into a group of men, women and children who were queuing for food and blew up themselves and the innocents gathered around them. Who does that? How far must a person have drifted from any basic system of moral values to behave in such an unrestrained and wicked fashion?
Yet the Guardian tells us it is “moral masturbation” to express outrage over this attack, and it would be better to give into a “sober recognition that there are many bad things we can’t as a matter of fact do much about”. This is a demand that we further acclimatise to the peculiar and perverse bloody Islamist attacks around the world, shrug our shoulders, put away our moral compasses, and say: “Ah well, this kind of thing happens.”
Or consider the attack on Westgate in Kenya, where both the old and the young, black and white, male and female were targeted.
With no clear stated aims from the people who carried the attack out, and no logic to their strange and brutal behaviour, Westgate had more in common with those mass mall and school shootings that are occasionally carried out by disturbed people in the West than it did with the political violence of yesteryear. And yet still observers avoid using the T-word or the M-word (murder) to describe what happened there, and instead attach all sorts of made-up, see-through political theories to this rampage, giving what was effectively a terror tantrum executed by morally unrestrained Islamists the respectability of being a political protest of some breed.
Time and again, one reads about Islamist attacks that seem to defy not only the most basic of humanity’s moral strictures but also political and even guerrilla logic. Consider the hundreds of suicide attacks that have taken place in Iraq in recent years, a great number of them against ordinary Iraqis, often children.
Western apologists for this wave of weird violence, which they call “resistance”, claim it is about fighting against the Western forces which were occupying Iraq in the wake of the 2003 invasion. If so, it’s the first “resistance” in history whose prime targets have been civilians rather than security forces, and which has failed to put forward any kind of political programme that its violence is allegedly designed to achieve.
Even experts in counterinsurgency have found themselves perplexed by the numerous nameless suicide assaults on massive numbers of civilians in post-war Iraq, and the fact that these violent actors, unlike the vast majority of violent political actors in history, have “developed no alternative government or political wing and displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern”.
One Iraqi attack has stuck in my mind for seven years. In 2006 a female suicide bomber blew herself up among families – including many mothers and their offspring – who were queuing up for kerosene. Can you imagine what happened? A terrible glimpse was offered by this line in a Washington Post report on 24 September 2006: “Two pre-teen girls embraced each other as they burned to death.”
What motivates this perversity? What are its origins? Unwilling, or perhaps unable, to face up to the newness of this unrestrained, aim-free, civilian-targeting violence, Western observers do all sorts of moral contortions in an effort to present such violence as run-of-the-mill or even possibly a justifiable response to Western militarism.
Some say, “Well, America kills women and children too, in its drone attacks”, wilfully overlooking the fact such people are not the targets of America’s military interventions – and I say that as someone who has opposed every American venture overseas of the past 20 years.
If you cannot see the difference between a drone strike that goes wrong and kills an entire family and a man who crashes his car into the middle of a group of children accepting sweets from a US soldier and them blows himself and them up – as happened in Iraq in 2005 – then there is something wrong with you.
Other observers say that Islamists, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the individuals who attacked London and New York, are fighting against Western imperialism in Muslim lands.
But that doesn’t add up. How does blowing up Iraqi children represent a strike against American militarism? How is detonating a bomb on the London Underground a stab at the Foreign Office? It is ridiculous, and more than a little immoral, to try to dress up nihilistic assaults designed merely to kill as many ordinary people as possible as some kind of principled political violence.
We have a tendency to overlook the newness of modern Islamic terrorism, how recent is this emergence of a totally suicidal violence that revels in causing as many causalities as possible.
Yes, terrorism has existed throughout the modern era, but not like this. Consider the newness of suicide attacks, of terrorists who destroy themselves as well as their surroundings and fellow citizens. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were an average of one or two suicide attacks a year. Across the whole world. Since the early and mid-2000s there have been around 300 or 400 suicide attacks a year. In 2006 there were more suicide attacks around the world than had taken place in the entire 20 years previous.
Terrorists’ focus on killing civilians – the more the better – is also new. If you look at the 20 bloodiest terrorist attacks in human history, measured by the number of causalities they caused, you’ll see something remarkable: 14 of them – 14 – took place in the 1990s and 2000s. So in terms of mass death and injury, those terrorist eras of the 1970s and 80s, and also earlier outbursts of anarchist terrorism, pale into insignificance when compared with the new, Islamist-leaning terrorism that has emerged in recent years.
What we have today, uniquely in human history, is a terrorism that seems myopically focused on killing as many people as possible and which has no clear political goals and no stated territorial aims.
The question is, why? It is not moral masturbation to ask this question or to point out the peculiarity and perversity of modern Islamist violence.
My penny’s worth is that this terrorism speaks to a profound crisis of politics and of morality. Where earlier terrorist groups were restrained both by their desire to appear as rational political actors with a clear goal in mind and by basic moral rules of human behaviour – meaning their violence was often bloody, yes, but rarely focused narrowly on committing mass murder – today’s Islamist terrorists appear to float free of normal political rules and moral compunctions.
This is what is so infuriating about the BBC’s refusal to call these groups terrorists – because if anything, and historically speaking, even the term terrorist might be too good for them.
British Students Ban "Blurred Lines" From Their Own Universities
Once upon a time, students’ political leaders kicked against authoritarianism; now they enforce it.
Over the past fortnight, five prestigious institutions in the U.K. have banned Robin Thicke’s saucy R&B ditty Blurred Lines from playing anywhere on their premises, on the basis that its overly sexual lyrics might encourage bad behaviour in men.
Which institutions, I hear you ask? Stuffy churches, perhaps, aghast that a song would promote casual sex? Islamic groups, maybe, believing that lines like “I know you want it” are not suitable for young ears, especially female ones? Or maybe it was killjoy police forces, not exactly renowned for their ability to chill out, which forbade the playing of Thicke’s tune?
Nope, it was student unions. Five student representative bodies—at the Universities of Edinburgh, West Scotland, Leeds, Derby and Kingston—have banned Blurred Lines in all the premises in which they have dominion, including student bars and dancehalls, on the basis that it “undermines and degrades women” and “promotes an unhealthy attitude toward sex and consent”.
Once upon a time, students’ political leaders kicked against authoritarianism; now they enforce it.
In the space of a generation, they’ve gone from demanding the right of young adults on campus to listen to, dance to, read and watch what they want, to placing a paternalistic hand over students’ ears and eyes lest they hear something a bit raunchy.
Blurred Lines, a massive global hit sung by Thicke with Pharrell Williams and the rapper T.I., has been the subject of controversy since it was released in March. The modern breed of sexless, censorious feminist has been particularly vocal in slamming both the song and its accompanying video, which features the three singers, fully clothed, cavorting with some very attractive models wearing only flesh-colored thongs. Blurred Lines is “creepy” and “a bit rapey,” says one observer.
Now, British student unions have taken this shrill reaction to what is just a pretty good and perfectly harmless pop song to its logical conclusion. The student union at Edinburgh kicked things off on 12 September by banning Blurred Lines from every student building. It did this as part of its policy to “End Rape Culture and Lad Banter” on campus.
It’s hard to work out what is most shocking about the Edinburgh union’s ban-happy antics: the fact that it thinks nothing of behaving like a nun at a convent-school disco and switching off any song that mentions the sex act, or the fact that it has an actual policy to “end lad banter”—that is, to prevent young men from speaking in a certain gruff, licentious fashion. Quite when student leaders switched from fighting for students to fighting against them, and against their apparently demonic thought and speech patterns, is a mystery.
The Edinburgh union said Blurred Lines “trivializes rape,” and in doing so it contributes to “a culturally permissible attitude to rape.” Really? Are the minds of male students so malleable, so putty-like, that a single encounter with lyrics like “You’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature” and “Let me liberate you” might be enough to push them towards committing rape?
Behind the Edinburgh union’s pseudo-radical, feminism-justified banning of Blurred Lines there lurks the old, highly discredited spectre of media effects theory—the idea that media images and words pollute people’s minds and make them behave in all sorts of sordid and even criminal ways. Just as Britain’s stuffy old censors of the pre-1960s period refused to let the public read D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the basis that it might make them immoral and depraved, so today’s youthful, rosy-cheeked student censors refuse to allow their charges to hear Blurred Lines on the basis that it could turn them bestial.
The instinct behind the Edinburgh union’s banning of Blurred Lines is the same one that has motored every act of censorship in history: a paternalistic urge to keep the little people’s base motives in check by protecting them from sexy, blasphemous, or shocking imagery.
Other student unions have followed Edinburgh’s authoritarian lead. The union at Leeds University banned Blurred Lines on the basis that it “degrades women.” Kingston University in London has banned it due to “the disrespectful nature of the lyrics.” If universities only play songs with respectful lyrics, what will happen to gangsta rap, the Sex Pistols, the Velvet Underground, death metal, or any other musical genre that broaches the old chestnuts of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll?
Student leaders’ intolerant war on Blurred Lines fits a depressing pattern in modern British university life. In the UK, as in other parts of the Western world, students have become extraordinarily censorious in recent years, seeking to obliterate from campuses any song, book, newspaper or person that has the temerity to offend their sensibilities.
Various British student unions have banned Eminem’s songs (they’re homophobic and misogynistic, apparently); the tabloid newspaper, The Sun (because it has a naked woman on Page 3, and men and women over the age of 18 can’t possibly be exposed to tits); and right-wing or Zionist speakers—numerous unions have “No Platform” policies, which means they forbid inviting far-right or Zionist spokespeople to take part in debates on campus.
We seem to have nurtured a spectacularly narcissistic generation, many of whom seem truly to believe that it is perfectly natural and reasonable to demand the squishing of anything that offends them. This is the grisly end product of the self-esteem culture: having educated young people to believe that their self-esteem is sacrosanct, and that anything which dents it is evil, we cannot now be surprised that they believe they have the right to erect a moral, censorship-powered forcefield around themselves and their peers in order to ward off any idea or image or song that makes them feel bad.
Universities, or at least some of them, were once hotbeds of radicalism, sites of feverish and excitable political debate in which any idea was permissible, especially if it railed against adult society. Not now. Today, universities in Britain and elsewhere have become breeding grounds for nanny staters and nudgers, training courses for the blue pen-wielding authoritarians of the future. That’s the most worrying thing about the student reps currently bashing Blurred Lines—one day, these joyless, casually censorious, fun-allergic misanthropes will be running Britain
British government minister says that welfare claimants will have to work for their dole money
Welfare claimants will have to “work for the dole” by cooking meals for the elderly, picking up litter and cleaning up graffiti, George Osborne will announce.
The announcement, at the Conservative Party conference, is the latest toughening of the Coalition’s welfare rules, a key part of the party’s pitch to voters at the next general election.
The Chancellor will also use his conference speech to sound an optimistic note about the economy, but warn that the Coalition’s “battle to turn around Britain” is “not even close to being over”.
Despite coming under pressure from Ed Miliband’s pledge of a cap on energy prices, Mr Osborne will not announce specific help on the cost of living, insisting that a stable economic recovery is the only way to improve household finances.
The Tories have dedicated their conference to “hardworking people” and will use the meeting in Manchester to highlight Coalition policies, which they say will reward work.
The new Help to Work scheme will be put in place next year and could see as many as 60,000 long-term unemployed people doing Community Work Placements. Other claimants will have to visit Jobcentres every day to find work, or attend mandatory training and therapy sessions to deal with problems like poor literacy or drink and drug addiction.
The rules will mean that it is no longer possible simply to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance without doing anything to earn it, Mr Osborne will say. “No one will be ignored or left without help. But no one will get something for nothing,” Mr Osborne will tell the conference. “Help to work – and in return work for the dole.”
He will add: “For the first time, all long-term unemployed people … who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits to help them find work.”
The new rules will apply to around 200,000 long-term Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants a year, who have failed to find employment after completing the Coalition’s Work Programme.
They will then be given an “end of term report” assessing why they have not found work and assigning them to one of three compulsory programmes. Ministers estimate that around a third of those would end up on the Mandatory Intensive Regime to address underlying problems including illiteracy, alcoholism or mental health troubles.
Another third will be expected to visit a Jobcentre every day, signing an attendance register in the morning then spending the day working on job applications.
The remaining third would go on to Community Work Placements, spending 30 hours a week doing community work organised by Jobcentre staff or local charities.
Claimants who fail to attend any of the compulsory programmes will face an accelerated sanctions regime with fewer appeals. The first breach of the rules will mean a loss of four weeks’ benefit and the second will forfeit three months’ money.
However, the total number following each of the three routes is expected to be significantly lower than 200,000.
Ministers say that many claimants, faced with a tougher new regime, will simply choose to stop claiming benefits.
One source predicted a large reduction in the total number of claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance when the new scheme starts next spring. “A lot of these people are actually working on the black economy, and as we make the rules tougher, we know that many of them will just drop out of the system because it is no longer worth their while trying to claim,” the source said.
The new welfare rules, devised by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will cost around £300 million to implement — money Mr Osborne will find from Whitehall departments’ budgets.
The fact that Mr Osborne is unveiling Mr Duncan Smith’s policy reflects a thaw in relations between the two men. A book published this week discloses that in the early months of the Coalition, Mr Osborne told friends he believed Mr Duncan Smith was “not clever enough” to oversee the complex welfare system.
The Coalition has been in office since May 2010, but Mr Osborne will argue that the number of long-term benefits claimants is Labour’s fault.
The last government left office with almost 5 million people on out-of-work benefits, something Mr Osborne will describe as “a waste of life and talent” that the Coalition is addressing.
Cabinet ministers privately admit that Labour’s eye-catching pledge on energy prices has put them on the defensive over living standards, but Mr Osborne will not respond with a similar offer. Instead, he will insist that only the Coalition’s plan to reduce the deficit by 2018 will reduce the strain on household finances squeezed by inflation.
He will add: “Our economic plan is the only plan for living standards. In fact, if you don’t have a credible economic plan, you simply don’t have a living standards plan.”
BBC gives Left the freedom of the airwaves: Radio 4 and 5 Live give pressure group with links to Labour's radical wing extraordinary on-air platform
During BBC coverage of David Cameron’s marriage tax break, a little-known campaign group was given an extraordinary – and largely unchallenged – platform to voice its opposition.
Listeners to Saturday’s news programmes on BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live could have been forgiven for thinking the pressure group Don’t Judge My Family was politically independent.
The 10am Radio 4 bulletin, in which the group was the only quoted organisation, was typical.
Newsreader: ‘Announcing the move David Cameron said he wanted to recognise the commitment and responsibility of married couples. But Julianne Marriott from campaign group Don’t Judge My Family explained why her organisation was opposed to the measure.’
She said: ‘It’s not going to help families who need it the most – single parents, widows, widowers, cohabiting couples and couples who both work... It’s out of touch and out of date. The Tories should be trying to help families and not judge them.’
No mention was made of any political affiliations, but a cursory look at the group’s directors reveals deep ties to the Labour Party – so much so that a Conservative MP questioned if the group was merely a Labour ‘front’.
Miss Marriott, its campaign director, is a professional Left-wing campaigner and a Labour Party member with links to the radical wing of the party.
Part of the Labour Uncut blogging team, she is also involved with Pragmatic Radicalism, the self-proclaimed ‘New Forum for Labour Ideas’ and reportedly handles Government relations for the Press regulation lobby group Hacked Off.
Another director, Josie Cluer, describes herself as a ‘public sector reformer with fingers in many pies’, including the Labour Women’s Network which exists to get more Labour women elected to public office.
And according to Labour MP Chuka Umunna, the campaign was launched by Matthew McGregor, the man hailed as Barack Obama’s ‘digital attack dog’ in last year’s US presidential election – who has just been recruited for Labour’s 2015 General Election campaign.
The trio are inextricably linked to the Labour Party, yet there was no mention of any political affiliation when Miss Marriott was given a platform to speak on the BBC at the weekend.
Don’t Judge My Family was launched in 2010 with a video in which soap star Michelle Collins and actor Neil Pearson attacked Conservative plans for the marriage tax break. It has urged supporters to sign its online petition against the allowance, although by last night it had attracted fewer than 5,000 signatures.
Conservative MP Greg Hands said the group was a front for Labour to attack the policy. He said: ‘What is it about the family that these people can’t stand? Setting up front groups like to criticise our policies is nasty politics all over again.’
The BBC did not respond to requests for comment.
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. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.