Tuesday, March 28, 2017
‘Political correctness’ in modern America
The phrase “politically correct” is about as combustible as any. Bring up those words and you know you’re treading into ideological war territory.
So, gulp. Here I go.
For many, I think the term “politically correct” represents a type of stifling of honesty. People feel hemmed in by a societal pressure to conform to a belief system that they don’t accept — an “elitist” message, which restricts language and actions. I feel that’s why there’s such a fierce rejection of “political correctness.” It’s received as a type of pat of the head, a sort of “let me tell you how to think, cause you’re an idiot and not intellectually or morally on my level.”
Does anyone ever respond well to that sort of feeling? I’ve always felt bitter when I’ve thought someone is looking down on me. I think our partisan politics have been reduced to this disrespect battle. One side is bitter at the perception of intense disrespect. The other side feels exactly the same thing. And because we all feel so angry and disrespected, we’re ready to lash out with a hostile dismissal of strangers’ humanity, which is a circular problem, a tornado gathering velocity.
I think Donald Trump has so much power because he is the big societal voice of a common individual rage against a perceived collective pat on the head. He is absolutely a finger in the eye of that idea of liberal condescension. Because of this, his questionable behavior and statements seem to pale in comparison — for many, at least — to his aggressive fight against liberal condescension, which he rails against without apology. I think that’s why he gets a pass on things that would surely doom other politicians and why there is such huge passion at his back. Let me add, I don’t claim to know what you think. This is just my perception of bigger political trends. And I may be wrong.
Of course, when we talk of “political correctness,” we inevitably turn to college campuses. And I think colleges have erred in a really big way — acting out of fear, not bravery when it come to ideas. What I mean is, I don’t think colleges should have “safe spaces” or “trigger warnings” regarding ideas. A college should be a place where ideas aren’t muzzled but are expressed with passion, whether they’re left or right, nice or mean. Then, such speech should be opposed with whatever passion and eloquence another speaker can muster. College is not a place to restrict thought but to realize that the world is big and that your own worldview is contradicted, no matter how right you think you are. And how are you going to deal with that? Well, that inner conflict is actually critical to education and critical thinking. Hateful speech calls for forceful rejection, but it doesn’t call for a muzzle. It calls for more speech, delivered, hopefully, without mirrored hate.
But I also think “political correctness” is used in lazy ways these days. Any action, any language that angers someone can be dismissed as “politically correct.” But I think actual “political correctness” can apply to left and right. I see it simply as the pressure of a societal norm on an individual, which can be good or bad, depending on the pressure. For instance, it’s good for someone to feel pressure not to call someone the “N” word in public, right? That form of political correctness was once not there. But, for the good of civilized society, it needs to be. However, shutting down conservative dissent on a college campus would be an example of such political correctness gone too far. So, there’s a sort of balance worth seeking.
We should recognize that there is always societal pressure on you to be a certain way depending on where you are. And what is that pressure anyway? Well, it’s the battle over common decency. We feel there’s a type of common sense that we understand and that others should see too. And we’re horribly frustrated — furious, actually — when they can’t see things the way we do. If they can’t agree with my decency, well, then they’re indecent, right? Who hasn’t felt this? And sometimes, maybe we’re right. But it’s worth being skeptical of our own passionate judgment about strangers, because people are usually more complicated than we understand.
Many people don’t seem to have any hesitation to judge strangers with extreme passion based on very little information. I don’t find this admirable in a Democrat or a Republican or in myself — which I certainly do at times. Who doesn’t? But I can at least recognize that what is admirable is the effort to learn more about others and to resist simple judgments in my head.
London attack: Why no amount of political correctness will save the world from Islamist terrorism
The attack near the British Parliament, we have been told, was carried out by a Birmingham-based Briton called Khalid Masood whose birth name was Adrian Elms before he converted to Islam. The 52-year-old was a history-sheeter who had previously dallied with terrorists, without throwing his hat into the ring, and was briefly a subject of interest for British spy agency MI5.
Reuters quoted London police as saying that Masood "had a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH (grievous bodily harm), possession of offensive weapons and public order offences" but there was "no prior intelligence about his intent to mount a terrorist attack."
Till this Wednesday.
The Islamic State connection
A petty criminal without any known linkages with religious fundamentalism, Masood fits right into the profile of individuals targeted or recruited by Islamic State which has since claimed responsibility for the attack. The New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who covers Islamic State/Al-Qaeda operations and has done extensive research in areas of global terrorism, recently wrote in an article how a "secretive branch" of Islamic State built a global terrorist empire by tapping into the local criminal network. Harry Safro, an Islamic State defector from Germany, told her that "new converts to Islam" with no established ties to radical groups are extensively targeted either online or through sleeper cells.
The bond between Islamic State and so-called 'lone wolf' attackers (who may have never travelled abroad and have either been self-radicalized or via an operative) is a trade-off. Islamic State finds it easier to transfer petty criminal "skills" to jihadism and for the crook, the act of terror offers a path to glory and perhaps even redemption.
A study on the link between petty crime and jihadism by authors Rajan Basra, Peter R. Neumann and Claudia Brunner (referred to by Callimachi in a tweet) finds evidence for this 'redemption narrative'. According to the study, "jihadism offered redemption for crime while satisfying the same personal needs and desires that led them to become involved in it, making the ‘jump’ from criminality to terrorism smaller than is commonly perceived."
At this stage it is not very clear whether Masood had been in any contact with an operative or had pledged allegiance to Islamic State but the telltale signs indicate that he perhaps got self-radicalised, becoming what the media describes him — 'the lone wolf'.
'Lone wolf', a semantic jugglery and study in self-delusion
There is already a mountain of literature, reports, studies and articles on why the term 'lone wolf' is misleading when it comes to Islamist terrorism. In an article for The Guardian Jason Burke has written why "talk of lone wolves misunderstands how Islamic militancy works"; research analyst Bridget Moreng has written in Foreign Affairsjournal on how Islamic State inspires, recruits and trains 'lone wolves' and Callimachi has cited the example of an aborted terrorist attack in Hyderabad to explain this in her article: 'How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar'.
Media has already started calling the London terrorist incident a 'lone-wolf' attack even though London Metropolitan Police have acknowledged its links with "Islamist terrorism" and have since arrested several people after raids in Birmingham and in other parts of Britain.
The term 'lone wolf' is a semantic jugglery and a study in self-delusion. It is an attempt to disconnect any instance of terrorism from larger ideological moorings and transfer the onus of the moral failing from society to the individual, as if he was "acting on his own".
Jason Burke, writing for The Guardian, says that this "implies that the responsibility for an individual’s violent extremism lies solely with the individual themselves or with some other individual or group, all of which could be eliminated. The truth is that terrorism is not something you do by yourself. Like any activism, it is highly social, only its consequences are exceptional… People become interested in ideas, ideologies and activities, even immoral ones, because other people are interested in them."
Reuters, quoting a US government source, has already informed us that though some of Masood's associates were suspected to have keen interest in travelling and joining jihadi groups overseas, he "himself never did so." But the signs are interesting.
The Kent-born Briton became a religious convert and according to Sky News, he was a "very religious, well-spoken man. You couldn't go to his home in Birmingham on Friday because he would be at prayer."
It's Birmingham again
This brings us to the curious case of the West Midlands city of Birmingham and its close links with Islamist terrorism. According to NBC News, cops have arrested two women in their twenties and four men in their mid to late twenties from separate addresses in Birmingham. Another person, a 58-year-old man, was arrested on Thursday morning at another address in Birmingham, according to the report.
This would then point us to the inference that Birmingham had some sort of influence on Masood in his transformation from a petty criminal to a jihadist. The city has a troubled connection with Islamist terrorism and Reuters tells us, quoting a study by Henry Jackson Society (a British think-tank), that 39 of 269 people convicted in Britain of offences related to terrorism between 1998 and 2015 came from the city. British newspaper The Independent further parses the figures, pointing out that one in 10 of all those linked to Islamist terrorism in Britain and abroad came from just five council wards in the city — Springfield, Sparkbrook, Hodge Hill, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. A fifth of Birmingham's population are Muslims (2,34,000) and Masood's vehicle was rented from the Birmingham branch of a car rental firm.
In an article titled: 'Why has Birmingham become such a breeding ground for British-born terror?', The Independent's Kim Sengupta writes that most of the terrorists (linked to 7/7 London bombings, 9/11 attacks) "have family links to Kashmir. Many young men went to Pakistan to train to fight against Indian forces in Kashmir… Some joined Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Indoctrination took place in mosques which had been taken over by radical clerics and, it is claimed, a number of schools. Birmingham is in the centre of the so-called 'Trojan Horse' plot in which, it is alleged, an organised group of Islamists seek to infiltrate and take over state education establishments."
Why "inclusiveness" alone can't prevent terrorism
This clearly points to a huge problem of assimilation of culture and belies liberalism's core argument that multiculturism is the only antidote for Islamist terrorism. London's top counter-terrorist officer Mark Rowley recently said that if 13 plots of terrorism have been busted in the UK since 2013, when Lee Rigby was murdered, then it stands to reason that despite its all-pervasive political correctness and fierce inclusiveness, there exists deeply dissenting areas of defiance against England's multicultural ethos.
From London Mayor Sadiq Khan, France President Francois Hollande to former US president Barack Obama, political leaders have harped on the grievance narrative of Islam whenever there have been Islamist terrorist attacks. Wide range of excuses — from poverty to victim-hood to alienation — have been offered to contextualise terrorism and the world at large has been constantly reminded that the moral failing of a terrorist attack lies with the people who have been victimised, not the poisonous ideology that lies behind it.
A little scratching of the surface exposes the truth. In an erudite article, Praveen Swami ofThe Indian Express explores the reasons behind Britain's brushes with Islamist terrorism and finds that the "idea that the English terrorist is a product of the well-documented economic and educational backwardness of its Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities isn’t true in all cases." He gives examples of a student from King's College, or members of Britain's affluent middle class or even the wealthy among 800 of its nationals who are actively engaged in terror or another 600 who have been reportedly prevented from doing so.
Swami argues that the problem lies with Britain's identity politics: when Britain "outsourced its engagement with ethnic minorities to a new contractor-class" and in time, this strategy backfired as it created pockets of profound resentment against the "secular-democratic order."
Swami writes: "Instead of a rich cultural landscape, official multiculturalism created a homogenised Muslim identity. Thus, Choudhry defended her attempt to kill Timms by pointing to his support of the Iraq war — a land she had never visited. 'We must stand up for each other,' she said. 'We must fight them,' said Adebolajo — 'I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same'. "
This then, right here, is the biggest problem with the argument that 'political correctness and more stress on multicultural inclusiveness will be enough to tackle terrorism'. France tried and failed. Britain, too, seems to be failing. The failure lies in the fact that we are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of throwing money or trying to figure newer and newer methods of contextualising and justifying terror and floating a multiplicity of grievance narratives, the world must encourage Muslims to have an honest self-engagement on terrorism.
Hussain Haqqani, member of US-based think tank Hudson Institute and a former Pakistan envoy to US, puts his finger on the pulse in his column for The Telegraph, UK.
"The violence over 'Islam’s honour' is a function of the collective Muslim narrative of grievance. Decline, weakness, impotence, and helplessness are phrases most frequently repeated in the speeches and writings of today’s Muslim leaders. The view is shared by Islamists – who consider Islam a political ideology – and other Muslims who don’t. The terrorists are just the most extreme element among the Islamists."
Let the liberal media and politicians urge Muslims to tackle the problem on their own while, as senior journalist R Jagannathan says, empower the reformist voices from within the community, only then may we rid the world of this scourge.
Stand up for our right to criticise Islam
Since the Enlightenment we’ve been free to poke fun at religion and a blasphemy offence has no place in a modern society
‘It is wrong to describe this as Islamic terrorism. It is Islamist terrorism. It is a perversion of a great faith.” This is what the prime minister said last week in parliament. While I completely accept that the sins of extremists should never be visited on the vast majority of moderate believers, I am increasingly uneasy about how we handle the connection between religion and extremism. The ideology to which Khalid Masood was converted in prison may indeed be a perversion of Islam, but it is a version of it. We should not shy away from saying so.
After Nice, Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation wrote that saying such terrorism has nothing to do with Islam (as some do) is as dangerous as stating that it has everything to do with Islam. The terrorists in London, Paris, Brussels, Nice, Munich, Berlin, Würzburg, Ansbach, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sydney, Bali, New York, Bombay and many other places have been white, black and brown, rich, poor and middle class, male and female, gay and straight, immigrant and native, young and (now) older. The one thing they have in common is that they had been radicalised by religious preachers claiming to interpret the Koran.
Moreover, while a few sick individuals find within Islam justification for murder and terror, a far larger number find justification for misogyny and intolerance. We must be allowed to say this without being thought to criticise Muslims as people.
Islamist terrorism has become more frequent, but criticism of the faith of Islam, and of religion in general, seems to be becoming less acceptable, as if it were equivalent to racism or blasphemy. The charge of Islamophobia is too quickly levelled. Friday’s press release from Malia Bouattia, president of the National Union of Students, is a case in point. It failed to mention by name the murdered policeman Keith Palmer, and highlighted how Muslims “will be especially fearful of racism”. Race and religion are very different things.
I admire many religious people. I am prepared to accept that being religious can make some individuals better people, though, as a humanist, I also think it is possible and actually preferable to be moral without having faith. I am even open to the possibility that the best defence against extremism is a gentler version of religion rather than none at all — though I need to be convinced. But I think that, rather than there being good religion and bad religion, there is a spectrum of religious belief from virtuous, individualist morality at one end to collectivist, politicised violent terror at the other.
At one end are people who are inspired by faith to think only of how to help those in need. At the other are people who kill policemen and tourists, throw homosexuals off buildings, punish apostasy with death, carry out female genital mutilation and throw acid in the face of women who have stood up against the male code (there were 431 acid attacks in Britain last year).
In between, though, are positions that also contain dangers, albeit more subtle ones. There are people who would not commit violence themselves, but think women should be the chattels of men, wearing of veils is mandatory and that Sharia should reign. Then there are people (and here I include those in other Abrahamic faiths) who think homosexuality is sinful, contraception is wrong, evolution could not have happened and slaughtering animals by cutting their throats is more moral than stunning them. I do not condemn such beliefs as evil, but nor do I respect them.
On LBC radio last week the journalist James O’Brien said of those, like Masood, who have made the journey from faith to extremism: “Don’t we have to start mocking the early stages of that journey? People who believe that chopping off a child’s foreskin is going to make it easier for them to get into heaven. People who believe that eating fish on Fridays is somehow going to please their god.”
In 1979, some Christians took offence at Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a witty if mordant satire on the phenomenon of cults (and Romans). The Christians were angry but the Pythons did not go into hiding.Two years ago, in the wake of the murder of his fellow satirists at Charlie Hebdo, the late Australian cartoonist Bill Leak went further than simply saying “Je suis Charlie” and drew cartoons of the Prophet. As a result he was forced to sell his house and move to a secret location. That does not feel like progress to me.
In 2004, after the media was filled with discussion of how the Boxing Day tsunami was an “act of God”, I said to a friend, in all seriousness: the tsunami was not an act of God, but 9/11 was. I was consciously echoing Voltaire’s mockery of the argument that the destruction of Lisbon in an earthquake must be a punishment for the sins of its inhabitants. Would I dare say the same today about the events of last week, or would I pause now to consider how it would get me into trouble?
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali wrote at the weekend of the “creeping Islamisation of communities” and called for an Islamic reformation to respect freedom of religion, abjure legal punishment for blasphemy or apostasy and agree that women should be free and equal in law. Yet, despite two decades of partly religion-inspired violence, those who call for an Islamic reformation, such as Mr Nawaz, or the ex-Muslim campaigners Sarah Haider, Taslima Nasreen and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are increasingly vilified by many on the left.
Three days before the Westminster attack, the BBC’s Asian Network quite rightly apologised for asking “what is the right punishment for blasphemy?” shortly after an outspoken atheist had been hacked to death in Coimbatore, India, for expressing his views. There have been 48 murders of atheists in Bangladesh in recent years. Yet it is now more acceptable to attack “militant atheists” than militant theists. Blasphemy is back.
We can and must make an offer to the fundamentalist Muslims: abandon your political ambitions and become a religion as this has come to be understood elsewhere in an increasingly diverse and tolerant world — a private moral code, a way of life, a philosophy — and you will find the rest of us to be friends. But threaten the hard-won political, intellectual and physical freedoms now accorded to every man and woman, yes even and especially women, in our essentially secular society and you will be resisted and, pray god, defeated.
Political correctness has become the new truth
THE Australia I love is disappearing. It’s been hijacked by faceless people who worship at the altar of political correctness and personal offence.
These messengers of the new morality paint themselves as victims. They believe they are entitled to compensation or apology if they are offended. They seek reward or retribution for the slightest inconvenience.
These self-proclaimed victims use social media with such devastating effect they have wrested control of the nation’s political, social and moral agenda. They tear down people who dare express a contrary view. They humiliate and intimidate anyone who challenges their beliefs. Megaphone politics.
They know best. Their view of Australia in 2017 must prevail. My way or the highway. Never mind that it is not the view of the majority of people.
These purveyors of the new morality are reminiscent of the racially-based Ku Klux Klan in the US. They plant a burning cross in the front yard of someone they accuse of breaching their often warped moral code while dressed anonymously in white robes and pointed hats.
They have crushed free speech and free expression by destroying community debate. People are now too frightened to say what they believe.
Political correctness twists and manipulates truth. It has become the new truth, the selective truth. Yet truth is no longer a defence. Just because someone expresses an opinion based on fact, they are not immune from being attacked and discredited on social media.
If someone dares criticise or even raise political, religious or racial issues which are contrary to the beliefs of the anonymous purists, the reaction and retribution can be swift and brutal. Often it resembles hate-speak.
Look at poor old Coopers, the beer makers. They were lampooned for being associated with a private discussion between two Liberal members of Parliament about same-sex marriage. The attack on social media was vicious. Then IBM copped it because one executive is in a Christian group.
Now they’ve turned on proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act which currently threatens freedom of speech.
The Kokoda Track in Papua-New Guinea has become a target, with words like mateship being quietly erased from the lexicon. Mateship has been replaced by friendship. Never mind the Diggers and their families — let alone the wider community — who are offended.
In the new social agenda, mateship has become hateship. It has transferred power from the individual and a structured system of authority to a faceless, intangible force fuelled by moral indignation.
We are no longer allowed to be involved in civilised debate or think for ourselves. If the trend continues, then as a nation we are no longer civilised.
The Australian character has been stripped and reconstructed in the image of political correctness. The Australian larrikin has become an endangered species. Whatever happened to Australia’s “have a go” spirit? What happened to our irreverent sense of humour? What happened to common sense and the brave “she’ll be right” credo which helped build this country?
The Australian community has fragmented. We are no longer a single, coherent society. People are judged on what they are, what they believe and not what they have achieved or contributed.
For too many people, the first reaction is to lay blame and seek compensation through intimidation or litigation. Whatever cloak they wear — race, colour, gender, occupation, age, religion, physical appearance — they claim the moral high ground.
I don’t begrudge people holding strong beliefs. That’s their right in a democracy. I agree with some of them. But I resent being bullied into accepting those views under duress — or remaining silent.
Those promoting victimhood and personal offence as the path forward have used social media to promote their agenda by fear and suppression.
It’s time those who have taken the alternative path of meek silence spoke out and exposed the politics of victimhood as a false god.
If not the face and character of Australia, the Australia I love, will be lost. At the moment the people with the loudest megaphone are winning.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.