Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This is no time to avert our gaze

by Jeff Jacoby

SCARCELY HAD ISIS posted its video showing the grisly beheading of American journalist James Foley than the rush to stifle it began.

"Don't watch the video. Don't share it. That's not how life should be," entreated Foley's sister Kelly in a message on Twitter that was heavily retweeted. Thousands of social media users, some of them journalists, called for an #ISISMediaBlackout — the hashtag quickly went viral — and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo announced that the company was "actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery." YouTube removed versions of the video posted on its site, invoking its policy on "gratuitous violence, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts."

Most mainstream news organizations chose not to show or link to the sickening videos, or to publish still photos showing Foley being beheaded. One exception was the New York Post, which ran a front-page picture showing the journalist just as the knife was put to his throat, with the one-word headline: "SAVAGES." For doing so, the paper was vehemently criticized. Buzzfeed editor Adam Serwer echoed the widespread view that to publicize the gruesome image was to give the terrorists more of the notoriety they crave. "Pretty sure ISIS could not be happier with the New York Post's front page today," he tweeted.

Would that have been Foley's reaction? Would he have clamored for self-censorship and a media blackout? Or would he have wanted decent people everywhere to know — and, yes, to see — the crimes being committed by the ruthlessly indecent killers calling themselves the Islamic State?

The intrepid and compassionate reporter from New Hampshire didn't travel to Syria to sanitize and downplay the horror occurring there. He went to document and expose it. The 4-minute, 40-second video that records the last moments of Foley's life may be slick jihadist propaganda designed to intimidate ISIS's enemies and recruit more zealots to its cause. But it is also a key piece of the news story that Foley risked everything to pursue. That story cost him his life. The least we can do is bear witness to the courage and dignity with which he met his awful end.

Anyone with a heart understands why Foley's anguished loved ones would want his murderers' gloating depravity to be suppressed. When the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl was beheaded by Al-Qaeda in 2002, his family issued a similar plea. "We should remove all terrorist-produced murder scenes from our Web sites and agree to suppress such scenes in the future," urged Daniel's father, the scientist Judea Pearl, in a published essay.

But we will never prevail over an enemy as barbaric and totalitarian as the Islamic State if we avert our gaze from what it does to those it vanquishes. There are times when it is necessary to see the evil, not just to read or hear about it. Images, especially of man's inhumanity to man, can often convey truths and illuminate reality with an urgency that the best-chosen words cannot match. It would have been unthinkable for the media to suppress the photos and video of the carnage at the Boston Marathon last year, or of the mutilated bodies of US soldiers being dragged through Mogadishu in 1993, or of Senator Robert Kennedy's assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. In a similar vein, jurors in the Whitey Bulger trial weren't just told what the gangster did to his victims. They were shown the ghastly crime-scene photos.

Granted, social networks like Twitter and Facebook are under no obligation to provide a platform for the unmediated ravings of terrorists and psychopaths. As private companies, they have every right to enforce standards of taste, safety, and the public interest. So, of course, do news organizations, which have wrestled with such dilemmas for many years. There is no universal litmus test that can always distinguish what is vital and newsworthy from what is mere gratuitous sensationalism.

But this isn't a close call. What was true of the video of Daniel Pearl's beheading is true of James Foley's. It is true of the other videos of mass-murder and beheadings that ISIS terrorists have been disseminating as their so-called caliphate metastasizes through Syria and Iraq. They clarify beyond all denial the utter monstrousness of an enemy we must destroy, or be destroyed by.

James Foley didn't hide from that unvarnished truth, and we shouldn't either.


The way we were: The Baedeker Guidebooks

An Englishman on holiday in Spain a century ago found a country with little to recommend it. Waking up on the first morning and consulting his guide book, he would have read the following description: ‘Spain is a bleak and often arid land, with few traces of picturesqueness.’

The towns, the guide continues, are wreathed in tobacco smoke and the cafes are ‘very deficient in comfort and cleanliness’. The guide further warns that the service from waiters, chambermaids and porters is generally very slack and that the traveller should always count his change.

In the Spanish countryside there is great danger of highway robbery, while in the cities the police will arrest anyone they can lay their hands on.

The railway carriages and omnibuses are so filthy that a clothes brush, a duster and some insect powder should always be at hand. As for the national sport of bull fighting, it is ‘the most unsportsmanlike and cowardly spectacle’ a civilised man will ever see.

This is the account of Spain given in the 1914 Baedeker Guide. These small, red books, bound in leather, were the first recourse for an Englishman abroad in the late 19th and early 20th century.

I came to Baedeker through my maternal grandfather, who amassed a collection of more than 130 of the red guides. He was possessed by a particularly keen sense of wanderlust, even into his 80s, and bought many hundreds of antique travel books.

The tone of the Baedeker guides is informed, detailed, authoritative — and riotously, unguardedly rude.

Alongside the city maps, ferry time-tables, and guides to churches, monuments and museums, there are unforgiving comments on the ‘natives’ a traveller might have the misfortune to encounter.

The Spanish are indolent, the Greeks filthy, the Italians dishonest and the ‘Orientals’ as stupid as children. The guides reflect an imperial attitude that would be unthinkable today.

For a century, Baedeker — founded in 1832 by German publisher Karl Baedeker — was the indispensable guide to Europe, the Middle East and beyond.

He prized himself on the accuracy of his books and was once discovered keeping count of how many stairs there were to the roof of Milan cathedral by placing a coin on every 20th step. He wanted his readers to know exactly how far they would have to climb.

By the outbreak of World War I, 992 editions of the guides had been published, covering Europe, Russia, North America, India and the Middle East.

After Germany, Britain was the biggest consumer of the books. It was the red Baedeker, small enough to fit in an overcoat pocket, which the British took as protection when they ventured abroad.

Today, many people know of Baedeker through reading or watching the film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View. In the opening chapters, our heroine Lucy Honeychurch (played in the film by Helena Bonham Carter) finds herself in Florence without a Baedeker.

The guide is supposed to be a shield against Italian passion and without its protective influence, Lucy finds herself being kissed by an Englishman made hot-blooded by the Tuscan sun.

The name was also made famous by the Baedeker Raids of World War II when the Germans targeted bombing campaigns over English cities such as Bath, Canterbury, and Norwich, singled out for their architectural beauty by Baedeker’s Guide To Great Britain. The aim was to depress morale by destroying our Regency terraces, cathedrals and medieval streets.

In return, the RAF razed Leipzig, demolishing the Baedeker HQ.

Reading the guides today you are struck by how patrician they are in their view of the world. These are books for travellers from the two great European imperial powers: Britain and Germany.

In an age before political correctness, it was possible to be really very rude indeed about foreigners. It is not just the Spanish who are liable to run off with your change. In Italy, according to my grand-father’s 1912 guide, extortion is the national hobby and begging the national plague. Customs officials unfailingly pilfer your luggage and the cab-drivers, boatmen and porters are insolent and rapacious to ‘an almost incredible pitch’.

The guide explains that while the ‘evil sanitary reputation of Naples’ is often exaggerated, it remains a filthy city. The southern Italians, Baedeker explains, believe the ‘brilliancy’ of their climate more than makes up for the dirt.

Travellers are advised to stay in hotels with iron bedsteads as these are less likely to be infested with the ‘enemies of repose’ — Baedeker’s dainty euphemism for bedbugs.

Still, the guide cheerfully concludes, things have improved greatly since the cholera epidemic of 1884, though travellers are advised not to order oysters as they have been known to cause typhus.

Greece is worse. The bedclothes at the inns are full of ‘fleas, bedbugs, lice . . . and other disgusting insects, winged and wingless’. You cannot even console yourself with a glass of wine for the Greek vintages are universally ‘insipid and weak’.

Tangiers market in Morocco is ‘an indescribable mass of Oriental humanity’; and in Egypt, any traveller who comes into contact with the natives ‘should avoid rubbing their eyes with their hands’.

You couldn’t get away with that in a Dorling Kindersley guide today.

Indeed, some of Baedeker’s advice will appal modern sensibilities. In Syria, you are advised to ward off stray dogs with an umbrella and in Egypt it is acceptable to hit a cab driver with your walking stick.

You are, however, advised to ‘sternly repress’ the urge to prod a donkey with a stick to encourage it to gallop. (The original owner of my grandfather’s 1914 Egypt guide, a C. Crampton from Harrogate, put an emphatic ‘X’ in the margin next to this advice.)

Overall, the poor Egyptians are given a hard time of it. The average native, explains Baedeker, is ‘no more intelligent than a child’.

Baedeker is not just guilty of terrible racial stereotypes. He also has a very dim view of the capabilities of women.

A female traveller is a delicate creature who cannot possibly manage certain activities. When it comes to climbing Mount Vesuvius, for example, a man may do it on foot, but as this is too ‘fatiguing’ for ladies, they are advised to take the train. I can say with great satisfaction that I managed it perfectly well as a 13-year-old schoolgirl.

Few countries escape Baedeker’s censure, although the Dutch are grudgingly admired for their cleanliness: ‘Spiders appear to be regarded with special aversion and vermin is fortunately as rare as cobwebs.’

Germany, of course, is beyond reproach. But what of Great Britain?

Certainly, we fare better than some countries. ‘As compared with Continental hotels,’ explains the 1927 guide, ‘British hotels may be said as a rule to excel in cleanliness and sanitary arrangements.’

So far so good, though the guide adds that some hotels can be tolerated by gentlemen, but certainly not by ladies.

Our cuisine is inferior and monotonous and the national dish, the guide remarks disparagingly, is tea with chips and steak.

As for the British themselves, Baedeker observes that the country is ‘a place of parsons, puppy dogs and peculiar people’.

After World War II, Baedekers disappeared from British shelves. Other guides such as Dorling Kindersley, the Lonely Planet and Time Out took their place.

Then, in 2007, the series was relaunched. The red covers remain, but they now come in wipe-clean, plastic jackets. Practical, but with none of the romance of my grandfather’s red leather hardbacks.

In tone they are indistinguishable from other guidebooks. There is nothing to match Baedeker’s sniffy comment on visiting large towns in England: ‘We need hardly caution newcomers against the artifices of pickpockets and wiles of impostors.’

Nor are they as evocative as the originals — for there are passages of lyrical description amid the scorpions and bedbugs. The scenery of Southern Greece, for example, is celebrated for ‘its mountains, its deep-blue gulfs and its clear, ethereal atmosphere which brings distant objects close to the beholder and robs shadows of their depth and gloom’.

While I don’t advocate a return to the days when Edwardian guides advised travellers to wash their hands if they so much as touched a foreigner, there is something refreshing about Baedeker’s acerbic comments on the food, hotels and manners of foreign climes.

This week, many of us will return from August holidays in France, Spain and Italy rather wishing someone had warned us that the local taxis smell like goat sheds, that the paella will make you desperately ill and that you cannot get a decent cup of Earl Grey anywhere in the Mediterranean.


Multiculturalism has brought us honour killings and Sharia law, says Archbishop

Multiculturalism has resulted in honour killings, female genital mutilation and rule by Sharia law, a former Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed, as he called for Britons fighting with Isil to be “banished” from the country.

Lord Carey of Clifton said Muslim communities must “discipline” their young people or see them “banished” from Britain after leaving to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic leaders in Britain have failed to clearly denounce religious fanatics in the wake of the murder of James Foley by a suspected British jihadist, he suggested.

Britain must “recover a confidence in our nation’s values”, Lord Carey wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

“For too long we have been self-conscious and even ashamed about British identity. By embracing multiculturalism and the idea that every culture and belief is of equal value we have betrayed our own traditions of welcoming strangers to our shore.

“In Britain's hospitable establishment different beliefs were welcomed but only one was preeminent - Christianity. The fact is that for too long the doctrine of multiculturalism has led to immigrants establishing completely separate communities in our cities. This has led to honour killings, female genital circumcision and the establishment of sharia law in inner-city pockets throughout the UK.”

Islamic radicals should be challenged with the values of liberal democracy, he said.

“In this must involve the power and co-operation of Muslim communities who need to state, more clearly than they have done so far, their denunciation of these fanatical forms of Islam.”

British Muslims preparing to travel abroad to commit terrorist acts, and those who have already travelled to the Middle East to fight, should be stripped of their passports, the Archbishop says.

“Young people who travel abroad to commit violent Jihad should know before they go that there is no way back to civilised society. It may focus their minds to know that the privileges and luxuries of our country (including our gyms, games consoles and relative peacefulness) will be denied to them in future.”

Lord Carey added: “Muslim communities are being challenged as never before to discipline their young people or face the consequences that such radicalised young men will be banished from our shores.”

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, currently has the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals, or from immigrants who have become naturalised citizens and are now fighting overseas.

However, Home Office lawyers argue that it is illegal for a country to make their citizens stateless.


A young woman with very "incorrect" conservative views is an active supporter of the UK Independence party

Whether it's their views on immigration or admiration of Adolf Hitler, UKIP politicians are never far from controversy.

Now a new supporter has spoken out in an attempt to refresh the image of her beloved party, although she may not have been entirely successful.

UKIP follower Laura Howard has given an interview to The Debrief in which she said she hopes to debunk the myth that the party is a just 'bunch of old white men'.

But in doing so, the 19-year-old student nurse from Birmingham could enrage many with her anti-feminist sentiments.

She told Rosamund Urwin that she's against modern feminism because 'it’s gone almost beyond equality: they want women to have more rights than men. They want quotas for women in businesses and I don't agree with that.'

She believes it isn't sex discrimination preventing women taking on more highly paid, powerful roles but their own life choices. 

'I think the main reason behind that is that women want to have children and a family life,' she said of the male domination of company boards.

She added that politics is also male dominated not because of a lack of opportunities for her gender, but because women are simply not as interested in it.

'If you look at someone like Theresa May, she's a really well-established politician. I just think women aren't as interested as sad as that is,' she said.

The outspoken teenager's opinions echo those of UKIP leader Nigel Farage who said earlier this year that mothers are 'worth less' to employers in the City than men.

He said that women can succeed in the industry as long as they are willing to 'sacrifice the family life'.

Laura has been campaigning for UKIP for the last two years and stood to be a councillor in Quinton in Birmingham.

She has ambitions to one day run for parliament and her converts to the party so far include many of her own family members.

Where they once supported the Conservatives and Labour, she's now persuaded her parents and grandparents to vote UKIP.

She said it was the party's animal rights and EU stance that attracted her to them.

'I am anti-the EU because I'm pro-democracy,' she says.

She adds that she doesn't think of UKIP as far right but 'just something different.'

The student believes the party has much to offer people her age as 'immigration affects jobs and house prices - those are things that really affect young people today.'



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 and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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