Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

This Royal Throne of Feels: Popehat on Bahar Mustapha

Bahar MustafaI am seeing some schadenfreude from some of the more libertarian-minded people in my social media feeds over the news that Goldsmith’s College Student Welfare and Diversity Officer Bahar Mustapha has been charged with malicious online communication and is to appear in court.

But while it may amuse some to see a “Social Justice Warrior” (I still hate that term) hoist on their own petard, there are much more important principles at stake, and anyone who considers themselves any form of liberal ought to understand.

The best words on the subject come from a lawyer from the land of the First Amendment, Ken White of Popehat:

The hashtag “#killallwhitemen” is an in-joke, an example of somewhat belabored signalling and irony with a dash of trolling. It’s meant in part to ridicule overblown rhetoric directed at people like Mustafa. It’s not a true threat (no men are specified, no time or place is specified, no means are specified, and it’s obviously not meant to be taken literally) nor a genuine exhortation to violence (ditto). In a sensible legal system it shouldn’t generate anything more than an eye-roll. But in a feels-based legal system, it’s actionable.

And it teaches a few lessons.

First, you censorious Guardians of Feels on the Left: if you thought that the norms you created wouldn’t be used against your “own side,” you’re fools. It is apparently your theory that the law is sexist, racist, and every other -ist, driven by privilege and wealth, and that free speech norms serve to protect rich white guys — yet somehow exceptions to free speech norm will be imposed in an egalitarian, progressive way. That is almost indescribably moronic. Go sit in the corner and think about what you have done.

I have very little time for the speech-policing identity politics driven by postmodernist critical theory that’s taken root in parts of academia and the media; it’s profoundly illiberal. But if freedom of speech is to mean anything at all, it means the right to speak ill-informed complete cobblers that others may find offensive. And the right to ridicule that ill-informed complete cobblers without mercy.

Sustained targetted harassement and direct threats of violence are another issue entirely, but I have yet to see any suggestions that Bahar Mustapha has engaged in anything beyond playground-level name-calling. The law is a very blunt instrument for dealing with such things. Prosecution sets a dangerous precedent.

Even if Bahar Mustapha takes advantage of freedoms she would seek to take away from others, that’s still not the point. If they come after her, who will be next? Will you risk jail time for calling George Osborne a bellend?

Update: There are suggestions on Twitter that the court summons isn’t in connection with any of those controversial tweets from months ago, but much more recent tweets that could be interpreted as a direct incitement to violence in connection to the Tory conference in Manchester.

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Quote of the Day

In a lengthy post entitled “Ethics” is advertising about western Buddhism and its relationship with socio-political tribes, David Chapman comes up with this gem:

In the ’60s and ’70s, hair length was a reliable badge. If you were a guy with long hair, you definitely liked tofu (or pretended to), and if you had a crew cut, you hated it (or were careful never to try it because that’s sissy food). This was highly efficient and a Good Thing. Then, in the ’80s, rural working-class heavy metal fans grew long hair, and that screwed everything up for everyone else.

Yes, blame metal for everything, won’t you?

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When we were kids we used to make up imaginary Parliaments made up from the family pets. We had one guinea pig with a brown patch over one eye that always looked like Denis Healy’s eyebrows. So she was always Chancellor of the Exchequer in the cabinet.

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It’s being suggested that Jeremy Corbyn is the political equivalent of a craft ale, something that might also be applicable to Tim Farron. Which makes you wonder what sorts of beers other politicians might be. Are Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendal three different but indistinguishable brands of Interbrew generic lager? And what about Nigel Farage? Tesco’s Value Bitter that’s gone off and turned into vinegar? And what about anyone else?

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The worst part of PigGate, apart from some of the worst of the bad puns, is the way it makes a critical re-evaluation of Supertramp so much harder.

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Given his age, a few years too old to have been a punk, Jeremy Corbyn strikes me as the sort who’d have been into psychedelic folk or prog. But if he ever saw Hawkwind with Stacia, he wouldn’t be allowed to reminisce about it. He would only end up getting a stern lecture from Diane Abbott about objectification.

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AhmedTwitter is ablaze again. This time it’s about the story of Ahmed the 14 year old Texan schoolboy arrested for taking a home-made clock into school. The whole thing is a perfect storm of small-town xenophobia and the idiotic “zero tolerance” policies so beloved of small-minded petty authoritarians.

Of course they knew it wasn’t a bomb. You can tell they knew it wasn’t a bomb by the simple fact they didn’t evacuate the school. As was pointed out on Twitter, there’s a strong element of humiliating the irritating smart kid who won’t conform. You wonder why bullying of “geeks” is endemic in American schools? It’s because whole educational cultures from administrators down encourage it.

A educational establishment that stifles the enthusiasm of the next generation of scientists and engineers isn’t going to produce a community with a thriving technology industry. I can’t imagine any startup or existing business wanting to open a new regional office wanting to invest in Irving, Texas. It’s a town that gives the impression it only wants to turn out insurance salesmen.

Not that racism isn’t still a major factor when the town’s mayor is a noxious bigot and is loudly defending the school’s actions in order to play to his racist base. And in The Great Venn Diagram Of Life, “Small-minded petty authoritarian” and “Racist bigot” have a significant overlap.

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One or two Libdems on Twitter have been wondering who might be the Liberal Democrat equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn. Lembit Öpik is just too obvious, but the truth is there is probably no-one in the Labour party quite as ridiculous as Lembit Öpik. Tony Greaves as the bearded idealistic grassroots activist is much closer. But perhaps the best equivalent is actualy Nick Clegg, the man who decimated the Parliamentary party?

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The Trolling of Joshua Goldberg

The saga of Joshua Goldberg is hard to take in. Here is a prolific troll who managed multiple personae and passed himself off in different spaces as a radical feminist, a white nationalist, a Jihadi supporter of ISIS, a Gamergater, a Zionist and an anti-Semite. He even spent ages arguing with himself on Twitter. I’m wondering if he has two sock puppets fighting both sides of the EM vs P4 wars.

It’s a reminder of just how much of the toxicity of internet discussions is the work of a tiny number of people. It’s also a reminder that many of the worst trolls aren’t true believers in a cause, but just delight in causing mayhem and damage for their own entertainment.

Most of those groups accepted Goldberg as one of their own, since he reliably repeated their memes and talking points. Which makes the “Hurr, hurr, my outgroup fell for him” I’m hearing sound a bit hollow. Your own sect probably fell for him too. As I’ve said before, if your rhetoric so predictable that an outsider can fake it without being immediately recognisable, you have a problem.

Has a successful troll ever passed themselves off as a pragmatic, principled moderate? It’s difficult to imagine, because they would involve laying themselves bare and expressing doubts, something that’s orders of magnitude harder to fake than fanaticism.

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Jeremy Corbyn

As a Liberal Democrat it’s tempting to grab a big bowl of popcorn over the Labour Party’s meltdown on the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership ballot. The latest episode is the rejection of many new members who “don’t uphold the values of the party”. While some of those are people who publicly supported other parties in the General Election, and we don’t really know the scale, in the event of a close result it’s going to undermine the legitimacy of whoever wins.

Although conventional wisdom is that a Corbyn-led Labour Party will be unelectable, we have no idea what likely to happen if he wins. The truth is that Labour is a hollowed-out shell of a party which no longer knows what it actually supposed to stand for, merely satisfied to triangulate in pursuit of power and let the Tories set the political agenda. That’s why they lost the election.

My guess is that a critical mass of Labour members have concluded that none of the other three candidates look remotely like election winners either, so they’ve put their faith in someone who, even if they can’t win, will at least widen the Overton Window in favour of things that won’t emerge from Tory-leaning think-tanks. A serious challenge to the austerity narrative would be a good start.

We can’t assume that Jeremy Corbyn intends to lead the party into the next general election. He does have far too much negative baggage, especially his links with anti-Semitic Islamists and his support for the IRA rather than the constitutional nationalists during the Northern Ireland troubles, and this will count against his party in the ballot box. But perhaps the plan is to spend two or three years revitalising the grassroots and changing the national conversation before stepping down in favour of someone else?

Liberal Democrat blogger Jonathan Calder is predicting a Corbyn victory will be bad for the Liberal Democrats. But I’m not so sure. The truth is we really don’t know what will happen. And if there’s another economic crash, all bets are off.

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