Monday, July 17, 2006


Excerpts from Roger Scruton

Now I do not doubt that there is such a thing as racism, that it has been immensely destructive and that our governments are right to look for methods to prevent its expression. Racially motivated crime carries an added penalty in English law, and incitement to racial violence is regarded as a serious offence. However, the adoption of such provisions should not blind us to the many double standards that haunt discussion of this issue.

First, the double standard over `racism': a charge constantly levelled against innocent members of the indigenous majority, and almost never levelled against guilty members of immigrant minorities. This is not a European phenomenon only. On the contrary, there is a kind of collective guilt-feeling that imbues all discussions of racial difference in the West today. I recently had cause to study an academic article in the journal of the American Psychological Association, setting forth its official policy regarding multiculturalism and the treatment of minorities. And I was stunned to come across the following sentence: `All whites are racist, whether or not knowingly'. There you have it, endorsed by a prestigious academic and professional body: all whites are racist, whether or not knowingly.That, to my mind, is a racist remark of the lowest kind, one that attributes to people of a certain skin-colour an enormous moral fault, and one which they can do nothing to overcome, since they possess it unknowingly. And the sentence is indicative of a widespread approach to racial and cultural relations in the modern world. Racism is defined as a disease of the indigenous majority, from which incoming minorities are genetically immune, even when they bring with them the visceral anti-semitism that prevails in much of the Arab world, or the Malaysian hatred of the ethnic Chinese. Why is our political ,lite so keen to charge their own people with racism, and to turn a blind eye to the racism of immigrants? The answer is to be found in another double standard, encapsulated in the charge so frequently associated with that of racism - the charge of xenophobia.

I do not doubt that there is such a thing as xenophobia, though it is a very different thing from racism. Etymologically the term means fear of (and therefore aversion towards) the foreigner. Its very use implies a distinction between the one who belongs and the one who doesn't, and in inviting us to jettison our xenophobia politicians are inviting us to extend a welcome to people other than ourselves - a welcome predicated on a recognition of their otherness. Now it is easy for an educated member of the liberal ,lite to discard his xenophobia: for the most part his contacts with foreigners help him to amplify his power, extend his knowledge and polish his social expertise. But it is not so easy for an uneducated worker to share this attitude, when the incoming foreigner takes away his job, brings strange customs and an army of dependents into the neighbourhood, and finally surrounds him with the excluding sights and sounds of a ghetto.

Again, however, there is a double standard that affects the description. Members of our liberal ,lite may be immune to xenophobia, but there is an equal fault which they exhibit in abundance, which is the repudiation of, and aversion to, home. Each country exhibits this vice in its own domestic version. Nobody brought up in post-war England can fail to be aware of the educated derision that has been directed at our national loyalty by those whose freedom to criticize would have been extinguished years ago, had the English not been prepared to die for their country. The loyalty that people need in their daily lives, and which they affirm in their unconsidered and spontaneous social actions, is now habitually ridiculed or even demonized by the dominant media and the education system. National history is taught as a tale of shame and degradation. The art, literature and religion of our nation have been more or less excised from the curriculum, and folkways, local traditions and national ceremonies are routinely rubbished.

This repudiation of the national idea is the result of a peculiar frame of mind that has arisen throughout the Western world since the Second World War, and which is particularly prevalent among the intellectual and political elites. No adequate word exists for this attitude, though its symptoms are instantly recognized: namely, the disposition, in any conflict, to side with `them' against `us', and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably `ours'. I call the attitude oikophobia - the aversion to home - by way of emphasizing its deep relation to xenophobia, of which it is the mirror image. Oikophobia is a stage through which the adolescent mind normally passes. But it is a stage in which intellectuals tend to become arrested. As George Orwell pointed out, intellectuals on the Left are especially prone to it, and this has often made them willing agents of foreign powers. The Cambridge spies - educated people who penetrated our foreign service during the war and betrayed our Eastern European allies to Stalin - offer a telling illustration of what oikophobia has meant for my country and for the Western alliance. And it is interesting to note that a recent BBC `docudrama' constructed around the Cambridge spies neither examined the realities of their treason nor addressed the suffering of the millions of their East European victims, but merely endorsed the oikophobia that had caused them to act as they did.

Nor is oikophobia a specifically English, still less specifically British tendency. When Sartre and Foucault draw their picture of the `bourgeois' mentality, the mentality of the Other in his Otherness, they are describing the ordinary decent Frenchman, and expressing their contempt for his national culture. A chronic form of oikophobia has spread through the American universities, in the guise of political correctness, and loudly surfaced in the aftermath of September 11th, to pour scorn on the culture that allegedly provoked the attacks, and to side by implication with the terrorists. And oikophobia can be everywhere read in the attacks levelled against the Vlaams Belang.

The domination of our national Parliaments and the EU machinery by oikophobes is partly responsible for the acceptance of subsidised immigration, and for the attacks on customs and institutions associated with traditional and native forms of life. The oikophobe repudiates national loyalties and defines his goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments, accepting and endorsing laws that are imposed from on high by the EU or the UN, and defining his political vision in terms of cosmopolitan values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community. The oikophobe is, in his own eyes, a defender of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism. And it is the rise of oikophobia that has led to the growing crisis of legitimacy in the nation states of Europe. For we are seeing a massive expansion of the legislative burden on the people of Europe, and a relentless assault on the only loyalties that would enable them voluntarily to bear it. The explosive effect of this has already been felt in Holland and France, and of course it is now being felt in Belgium too.

But there is a third double standard that can be perceived in the official policies of the EU when it comes to nationality. Where national sentiments pose a threat to the centralisation of power, the European machine is determined to extinguish them. Such is the case when it comes to Flemish nationalism, which threatens the very heart of the machine. Where, however, national sentiments serve to break down rival centres of power, the European machine gladly endorses them. It has dealt with my country as though Britain were a wholly artificial creation like Belgium, has encouraged Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and imposed on us an official map in which Scotland and Wales exists, but England is not mentioned, being merely the arbitrary sum of four independent `regions' by which it is to be eventually replaced. Britain won the war, and established thereby its immovable place in our affections, a place that it cannot yield to a power-hungry bureaucracy situated in a once occupied country. The only way to destroy Britain, therefore, is to emphasize the rival loyalties that will blow it apart and at the same time destroy its center which is England.

It is in the light of these double standards that the charge of `racism and xenophobia' should be assessed. It is a charge almost invariably levelled at members of the indigenous communities of Europe, and in particular against those at the bottom of the social scale, for whom mass immigration is a cost that they have not been schooled (and through no fault of their own) to bear. It is levelled too at political parties that attempt to represent those people, and who promise them some relief from a problem that no other party seems willing to address. Those who level the charge are almost invariably in the grip of oikophobia. Their sense of belonging is fragile or non-existent. They look on the old forms of European community, and in particular on the old national identities that shaped our continent, with barely concealed distaste. And by focussing on their cosmopolitan visions of politics, they are able to turn a blind eye to the fact that European states contain a growing number of people who have neither national loyalty nor the Enlightenment ideals that have stemmed from it. It is in this way, therefore, that we should explain the charge of `racism and xenophobia': it issues from the bad conscience of a liberal ,lite living in denial.


No-one has quite said that yet but it is only a small step away, given the report below

Watching repeated screenings of terrorist attacks on television alters the structure of the brain and increases the viewer's risk of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, research suggests. Joan Anzia, a professor of psychiatry, told the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists that footage such as from the attacks of September 11, 2001, played into the hands of terrorists by increasing stress impact on the brain.

Professor Anzia, of Northwestern University in Chicago, said that people who repeatedly watched footage of the attack in the days after had a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Research showed that prolonged stress caused an increase in the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes the basic emotions of fear, anger and anxiety. "TV companies that screen disaster footage to boost ratings should examine their consciences, as they are causing harm to their audiences," Professor Anzia said.

The conference, being held in Glasgow, heard that this increased sense of fear and anxiety was one of the main targets of terrorists. Psychiatric research of the attacks on New York has shown that people who watched the coverage most incessantly, even if they were thousands of miles away, were often as likely to be as traumatised as those who were actually there.

Other research has found that the closer a person lives geographically to the location of a disaster, the higher the chances of developing the disorder. One study even suggested that almost half the population of the United States had experienced at least one symptom of the disorder in the week after 9/11.



This week, on the same day that the defamation trial of the Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan began at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Irish justice minister Michael McDowell announced reforms to Ireland's defamation laws, which, it is believed, will have far-reaching implications for British newspapers. But the libel laws, whether in Ireland or Britain, do not need further tinkering. They need to be scrapped.

Sheridan, former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of the News of the World, and demanding 200,000 pounds in damages, over claims made by the paper in November 2004 that Sheridan had committed adultery, was a `swinger', and had participated in orgies. With his wife by his side, Sheridan stated: `We're taking on a big organisation that tells lies regularly. But we're confident we'll beat them in court.' Sheridan might fancy himself as a David facing up to a Goliath, but it is not particularly brave to sue newspapers. As a claimant - or plaintiff, as they used to be called - the odds are clearly stacked in your favour, whether or not what was said about you was true.

Indeed, Irish justice minister McDowell announced his proposals to reform Ireland's libel laws following a number of `bluff-type libel cases'. That is where claimants knew the allegations made about them were true but still managed to extract an apology and damages from the publisher because they knew the publisher was unlikely to be able to prove the veracity of the allegation in court.

So under the new proposals in Ireland, anyone who sues a newspaper will have to swear a verifiable affidavit that they know the content of the newspaper article in question to be untrue. But how much of a disincentive will this really be for those who know they are likely to get away with laundering their reputation through the libel courts? If a claimant is confident that the defendant will not be able to prove the veracity of the allegation, does it really matter to them that they have sworn an affidavit? It seems to me that Ireland's proposed reforms follow in the footsteps of Britain's many failed attempts to make the libel laws more egalitarian and less censorious.

Journalist Dominic Ponsford, writing in the UK Press Gazette, argues that: `Back in the 1980s, the London libel courts were likened to the most exclusive casino in the world, where only the very rich could afford the huge legal bills necessary to take on newspapers in the High Court'. The risks were high - with notoriously prohibitive legal costs - but so were the rewards. Take the case of the now disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer, who won 500,000 pounds in libel damages from the Daily Star, over allegations that he had sex with a prostitute. (He was forced to pay back the 500,000 pounds, with interest, in 2002 after his perjury conviction.)

However, in 1999, with the introduction of Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFAs), the kind of no-win, no-fee rules for lawyers that were pioneered in personal injury cases became a possibility in libel cases too. These no-win, no-fee arrangements have been welcomed by many for levelling out the playing field in libel. But setting aside the arguments I have made previously on spiked - that financial assistance can never make a fundamentally unjust and undemocratic law just and democratic - the CFAs have, in some ways, made matters worse.

Newspapers are raising concerns about the `ransom factor' - that is, being held to ransom by individuals who, whether or not they are likely to win in court, will land the paper with hefty legal bills. No-win, no-fee libel claimants are unlikely to be able to afford the defendant's legal bills should they lose. So publishers have ended up paying costs amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds to their own lawyers over stories that were found not to be libellous. Also, the stakes are higher for newspapers sued by individuals under CFAs, as lawyers are allowed to double their normal fees if they win their case since they get nothing if they lose - hence, there is an added incentive for publishers to settle early rather than to test the case in court.

Another ruling that was seen by many as a victory for press freedom was the House of Lords' decision in the case brought by the former Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Albert Reynolds against Times Newspapers Limited in the Nineties. The Lords ruled that newspapers that have made defamatory statements - even if they are untrue - should be protected if the information published is so important that the interest in publishing it outweighs safeguarding a person's reputation. `The press discharges vital functions as a bloodhound as well as a watchdog', the Lords ruled. `The court should be slow to conclude that a publication was not in the public interest and, therefore, the public had no right to know, especially when the information is in the field of political discussion. Any lingering doubts should be resolved in favour of publication.'

But, as spiked has argued over the Reynolds ruling, England still has a long way to go to catch up with the law as it exists in most other Western countries. In England, libel law rests on the assumption that claimants have an `unblemished record', and claimants only need to show that the words complained of are capable of lowering their standing in the estimation of `right-thinking members of the public'.

Those who sue do not need to prove that their reputation has been damaged, nor do they have to prove that the words complained of are untrue. The assumption is that the defamatory statement is false, with the burden falling on the defendant to prove it is true. This reversal of the burden of proof - with the defendant pretty much guilty until he proves his innocence - is almost unique to English libel law. The defendant does not only have to defend the literal meaning of what has been said, but also possible interpretations. So arguing that a particular defamatory meaning was not intended will not hold up as a defence in court. Claimants can - and often do - succeed in attributing defamatory meanings to statements that the defendant never intended as defamatory.

It is no wonder that London has become the libel tourism hotspot of the world. There have been numerous cases in which claimants have gone out of their way to bring actions in London, even when the alleged defamatory statement was made in a publication based in another country but which has a tiny circulation in the UK. Last year Roman Polanski, the Polish film director now living in France, and facing a statutory rape charge in the USA, won 50,000 pounds in damages from Vanity Fair, an American magazine, by suing it in the High Court in London.

Recent reports suggest that Belfast may soon challenge London as the libel capital of the world. Some US celebrities - including Britney Spears, who is suing the Florida-based National Enquirer - are reportedly looking to take libel action in Belfast's courts. Belfast, with similar libel laws to England, offers the prospect of higher payouts and lower costs.

Whether Belfast or London, American celebrities sue in the UK because their case would never go to court in their homeland. The landmark ruling in New York Times v Sullivan in 1964 created a `public figure defence', making it extremely difficult for public individuals to sue for libel in the US. To succeed in a libel case, claimants would need to show that not only were the allegations untrue but that they were made maliciously or with reckless disregard to the truth.

The US Supreme Court observed that in free debate erroneous statements are inevitable and must be protected - otherwise free expression would not have the `breathing space' it needs, and media self-censorship would become the norm. The fear of not being able to prove the truth of the published words in court - and the recognition of the expense and resources required to do so - would limit public debate, the Court argued.

In 1997, the US Maryland State Appeals Court refused to recognise an English libel ruling, arguing that the principles of English libel law failed to measure up to basic human rights standards and were `repugnant' to the First Amendment ideal of free speech.

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