Friday, February 23, 2018

Max Hill: An official British ostrich

Britain's terrorism watchdog, Max Hill QC (Queen's Counsel), recently told a parliamentary committee that it is "fundamentally wrong to attach the word 'terrorism' to any of the world religions," and suggested that the term "Daesh-inspired terrorism" should be used instead of "Islamist terrorism" to refer to attacks carried out by Muslims ("Daesh" is the Arabic acronym for ISIS). His recommendation comes despite the fact that Hill himself, whose official title is Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, referred to the "threats from Islamist terrorism" in his first report, released in January.

In that first report, Hill also argued that "what [Islamic terrorists] claim to do in the name of religion is actually born from an absence of real understanding about the nature of the religion they claim to follow."

How impressive that he knows more about their religion than they do, despite the fact that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, received a PhD in Koranic Studies from Saddam University for Islamic Studies in 2007.

Although Hill's statements ostensibly put him at odds with Prime Minister Theresa May, she too has mystifyingly called terrorism "a perversion of Islam."

There are two problems with this expression of political correctness. One is that although the Quran and Sunnah contain inherently contradictory texts, most jihadi leaders and ideologues follow and act upon the most extremist and violent interpretation of them. Therefore, constantly apologizing for the religion is worse than counter-productive: it is incorrect. The other, related, problem is that British policy is forged and implemented on the basis of ideas; so when those ideas stem from a fear of offending Muslims, the policy is necessarily flawed.

In October, for instance, Hill told BBC Radio that Britons "possibly [brainwashed] in their mid-teens... who travelled [to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS] out of a sense of naivety... and return in a sense of utter disillusionment" should be spared prosecution upon their return home.

"Really," Hill said, "we should be looking at reintegration and moving away from any notion that we are going to lose a generation from this."

Meanwhile, also in October, MI5 Director General Andrew Parker delivered a speech in London, during which he talked about the threat of Islamist terrorism. He said that jihadists are increasing the speed at which they plan and carry out attacks, many of which security services have thwarted. In 2017 alone, there were four ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in the UK.

Hill's skirting this issue impairs his ability to carry out his highly important and sensitive role, which is to review terror legislation for the British government and the public. His aim to ban the term "Islamist terrorism" indicates that political correctness is more important to him than strengthening Britain's counter-terrorist efforts.


Art should not have to bow down to political correctness

Grammy and Oscars rows are based on a puritanical idea about the function of artists

To hear many critics tell it, last weekend’s Grammy awards got the pick of winners all wrong. Not because they overlooked deserving performers or tracks on artistic grounds, the kind of complaint you’d expect to be levelled at an event dedicated to the subjective business of judging popular culture. No, the consternation stemmed from the event’s supposed failure to send the correct message about inequality and sexism, particularly during a period of reckoning around sexual harassment.

To many, the decision to award Ed Sheeran the award for best pop solo performance ahead of four female performers – Lady Gaga, Pink, Kelly Clarkson and Kesha – was a case in point.

Writing at Splinter, an American news website, one critic described Sheeran’s win as a damning comment on the “music industry’s commitment to highlighting the work of underrepresented and oppressed women”.

Over at Cosmopolitan, another writer lamented that, in a night with few female winners, Sheeran had beaten a field of women with a song containing the refrain “I’m in love with your body”.

Oscars run-up

The run-up to the Oscars has similarly been overshadowed by controversies to do with the political connotations of various nominated films.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, has been singled out for its supposedly “problematic” depiction of race.

In the UK Independent, one commentator complained that the “vitriolic racism” of one character “is not condemned or tackled in the film”. A white, male director such as McDonagh, he continued, should be “sensitive and truthful” when tackling a subject such as racism.

Fintan O’Toole: If theatre is not a safe space, what is left?
Truthful? A prerequisite for a documentary, no doubt, but a work of fiction?

In our current age of warring internet tribes and social media-fuelled outrage, such moral criticism dominates discussions of popular culture.

Barely a day seems to pass without another book or film being taken to task by critics, professional and armchair-rank alike, because it does not conform to a certain world view or brand of politics.

Embedded in these critiques is a curiously old-fashioned and indeed puritanical idea: that art exists only, or at least primarily, for our moral betterment. Forget the local priest or university philosopher professor – the instructions for a good life should be laid out in easy-to-follow steps in your favourite Netflix series or romance novel. To this mindset, it seems, entertaining or engaging the audience is an afterthought at best.

Much as religious censors demanded that art be wholesome in times past, our contemporary moral arbiters reject as impure any narrative, fictional or otherwise that contains even a hint of the “incorrect” politics.

More often than not, this includes anything that doesn’t belong unambiguously on the liberal-left edge of the political spectrum. The sins may have changed, but the underlying impulse to view people as easily-corrupted moral simpletons remains much the same.


While resurgent, the idea of art as a moral guide isn’t new. In fact, it’s literally ancient, fittingly described by a word, “didacticism,” that has its origins in ancient Greek. It’s also an extremely limiting principle on which to moor the creative impulse. By the 19th century, artists had accordingly begun abandoning the notion that art had to function, in the words of literature professor Carolyn Burdett, as “a means of self-improvement or a spur to good works”.

Oscar Wilde, a man who knew a thing or two about puritanism, wrote, in a similar vein, “A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy.”

One doesn’t need to look hard to see the chilling effect on artistic expression that has resulted from applying political purity tests to every facet of popular culture.

Last year, an article in US entertainment outlet Vulture detailed the rise of vitriolic social media campaigns aimed at ensuring that certain “problematic” works of young adult fiction don’t see release. Tellingly, the piece noted that many of those leading the charge against texts that “engage improperly with race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other marginalisations” had never read them.

The artistic realm is surely the very place where contentious, dubious or even blatantly offensive ideas and scenarios can be explored without harm. Since when does a depiction constitute an endorsement of real-world behaviour?

Micro-parsing everything we watch, listen to and read for its moral connotations is a recipe for dull, staid art. Worse, it risks making us all dull people, too.


Steven Pinker at Davos: excessive political correctness feeds radical ideas

At the January 25th panel of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Steven Pinker, popular science author and cognitive psychologist who teaches at Harvard University, made the case that political correctness may be responsible for feeding some of the most odious ideas out there, developed by tech-oriented loners who grow such thinking in isolation from the mainstream discussion.

Pinker pointed out that by treating certain facts as taboo, political correctness helped “stoke” the alt-right by “giving them the sense that there were truths the academic establishment could not face up to.” He said the alt-right feeds on overzealous political correctness, pushing back with wrong-headed ideas that develop in their own bubbles - ideas on differences between the genders or capitalist and communist countries or things like crime statistics among ethnic groups.

Pinker thinks all discussion should be in the open so the bad ideas can be weeded out instead of inadvertently fueling movements like the alt-right and making them grow.

“If those beliefs are allowed to fester in isolation,” said Pinker, then people who hold them can “descend into the most toxic interpretations” of them. If such beliefs were in the open, then “they can be countered by arguments that put them in perspective that don’t allow them to become fodder for some of the more toxic beliefs of the alt-right”.

Pinker also argued that members of the alt-right are not necessarily all torch-carrying “knuckle-dragging brutes,” but often quite intelligent and literate, with some studying at Harvard University. He does think they “stay under the radar,” afraid of being put in professional jeopardy.

The professor related the story how at a previous panel held at Harvard University, he expressed such thoughts and immediately became praised by the alt-right for supposedly supporting their views, while being blamed by the left for somehow giving the alt-right cover. Of course, no such thing really happened as Pinker’s thoughts were grossly misrepresented by the opportunistic alt-right websites. But the incident illustrated how quickly even the meta discussion of political correctness was attacked by the “political correctness police” who distorted his views and misdirected the discussion.

Should there be some views that are taboo and that cannot be legitimized through discussion? Pinker thinks we should be “mindful of excessive taboos” on opinions because the demonization could “backfire by sapping the credibility” of academics and journalists, especially when discussing certain topics that are self-evident to many people. This can only help poisonous opinions grow.

Pinker explained that this problem extends further because it can make the knowledge offered by academia and experts less legitimate. If there are some opinions that are squashed and proper debate is not allowed, then who is to say that the bigger claims from the experts like climate change should be trusted?

“If only certain hypotheses can be discussed, there’s just no way that you can understand the world because no one a priori knows the truth. It’s only by putting hypotheses out there and evaluating them that you can hope to increase your knowledge about the world,” said Pinker.

Pinker warned against “left-wing orthodoxy” as much as any radical movement from the right, because there has to be a “range of opinions” to preserve the credibility of academia and journalism.

He also proposed that students are not necessarily more intolerant today towards dissenting opinions. The students in the 60s were much the same in their practices. “Free speech is highly unintuitive,” remarked the author.

"Everyone understands why there should be free speech for themselves. The idea that there should be free speech for people that you disagree with is a major accomplishment of the Enlightenment and one of the things America should be proud of,” pointed out Pinker.

He elaborated that the idea of free speech in a way goes against human nature and always deserves fighting for. This is why the rationale for free speech needs to be articulated and people need to be reminded that the principle is important for our society.

“Human beings are highly fallible," proposed Pinker. "Most of the things we think are right, history will show to be wrong. A lot of human progress was advanced when people voiced heterodox opinions in the face of opposition.”

Our world today has features, like improved civil rights, that were banned just recently, pointed out the professor. And many of these changes that we experienced in our society began as opposition voices that were allowed to be heard under the commitment to free speech. For that reason, it's important to not sink into tribalism or make free speech “an alt-right issue."

He also cautioned that societies which enforce their version of political correctness are often the ones experiencing a “descent into totalitarianism.” Just look at Soviet Russia, Maoist China, and Nazi Germany. They all began by criminalizing speech, said Pinker.


Whither political correctness?

A striking illustration of lunacy perpetrated in the name of political correctness is the banning by some US cities of two classic American novels, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, from their schools.

The first novel describes a principled white lawyer fighting a losing battle for the life of a colored man wrongly accused of murdering a white woman, and Mark Twain’s story tells of two boys, one white and one black, who run away together, and the white boy’s affirmation of friendship over racial discrimination.

It does not require a bachelor’s degree in literature to grasp that these books are two of the most forceful and dramatic arguments against racial discrimination.

Beautifully and, in the Harper Lee novel, heart-wrenchingly written, one does not have to search for a hidden message to understand that these powerful writers bent their creative skills to making people understand that the dignity of the human being is blind to color and race.

That the ban on these books should be praised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) makes me wonder whether the lunatics really have taken over the asylum.

What do the burgomeisters of the cities issuing these proscriptions imagine is the meaning of a free world?

It is bad enough that university students in Hong Kong think it is acceptable to shout down a speaker with whose opinions they disagree, forgetting that for free speech to have legitimacy it must apply across the board.

It used to be that civilized communities were based on consideration for others, in every form of social intercourse

What is meant by political correctness? It does not help that the very concept is highly subjective. From where does it spring?

May I respectfully suggest that at bottom, it is a question of good manners. Before Donald Trump erupted on to the scene, there was an almost universal norm of accepted behavior. Quite distinct from criminal behavior, it was not permitted to insult people for no good reason or describe people in derogatory terms just for the sheer hell of it.

It used to be that civilized communities were based on consideration for others, in every form of social intercourse.

When societies experienced discriminatory practices, it became necessary for those discriminated against to take a public stand against such practices. Inevitably, some of those advocating non-discrimination expressed themselves in a manner that offended parts of those societies. In so doing, these overzealous advocates alienated part of the community they wanted to win over, leading to a backlash.

Again, each situation had to be looked at through the prism of those discriminated against, and where the discriminators were themselves excessively vocal, it required equal emphasis to overcome it. Thus the oppression of America’s black communities demanded powerful advocates. But it was voices of reason like Dr Martin Luther King who achieved the results, rather than those of the Black Panthers and their ilk.

The quest for equal opportunities and rewards for women is an ongoing evolution, but it is not strident feminism that wins the day but the reasoned professionalism of successful women that will succeed eventually.

Underlying all these movements are fundamental principles that the liberal Western democracies recognize as givens.

At its heart, the battle against discriminatory practices is a quest for balance in society. It is no less true for being trite that moderation in most things is to be preferred.

If a rabid Christian sets fire to a mosque, that is no cause to blackguard all Christians any more than condemning all Muslims for an attack on a church. This leads to blind, indiscriminate hatred and anarchy.

Humor is a particularly interesting area in the context of political correctness.

John Cleese has gone on record asserting that only humor that is intentionally hurtful should be considered politically incorrect. Think of the countless jokes that Englishmen tell about Irishmen, Jews tell about Gentiles, indeed the whole cornucopia of jokes that involve one nationality poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of another. Unless they are manifestly cruel, why can there not be an equality of humor by one race at the expense of another?

Or are we to live in a world where only Chinese can tell jokes about Chinese and only Irishmen can tell jokes about the Irish?

It is both sad and mad to see students at universities, places where people go to have their minds opened, to learn to think and reason, insisting on statues of historical figures being removed lest the students’ sensitivities be offended.

Historical figures have to be viewed through the lens of the norms of civilization of their time, not with eyes that no longer see or understand the complexities of the age in which they lived and achieved pre-eminence. Oliver Cromwell was responsible for beheading King Charles I, but Cromwell’s statue still stands, albeit in a ditch. It is historical fact and if we allow others to select what parts of history accords with their current philosophy, we will never learn from history.

In a world whose principles and priorities are being thrown into such turbulence, it is even more important for children to have the opportunity to have their minds opened to the events of the past.

Political correctness, improperly applied, is the greatest threat to our civilization.



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.  Email me (John Ray) here


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you written anything about holocaust revisionists ? If you are genuine in your claim to be against political correctness then do you condemn the jailing of people in EU countries such as France and Germany for simply expressing a dissenting opinion on WW2 events ?
They claim to have used science and chemistry to disprove the gas chambers -