Religion and Politics Blog

Card-carrying Liberal Democrat. My views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect party policy.

Ken Livingstone has a lot in common with Richard Dawkins. The recent public pronouncements of both seem to come from their unfiltered Id. Saying the July 7th bombers “Gave their lives to protest against the war” is at best grossly tone-deaf, and at worst something I really don’t want to think about.

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More thoughts in the aftermath of Paris

Like many others I’m still struggling to make sense of what happened in Paris. It’s wrong to pretend this act of terrorism has nothing to do with the Islamic world, but it’s just as wrong to try to demonise Islam itself. Most of those killed by ISIS are Muslims. I’ve tried to make sense of things by looking a parallels in Christian history; the Thirty Years War is an obvious one, and you could see parallels between Wahhabism and Calvinism if you squint hard enough.

But unlike some people I’m not going to pretend I actually know what I’m talking about.

ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, call them what you want. They’re an apocalyptic cult masquerading as a throwback to a earlier, purer version of Islam. There are many similar cults and sects in the Christian world, particularly parts of the US, who hold broadly similar beliefs, with a warped and selective interpretation of The Bible.

The only difference is those sects not committing large-scale non-state violence at an international level. But it’s not impossible to imagine an alternative history where the American Civil War turned out differently and parts of the Old South are a patchwork of unstable failed states and oil-rich theocracies, subject to proxy wars and ham-fisted interventions by rival European powers. Such a world could easily spawn something looking very much like ISIS except for the religious symbols they display.

There are a lot of responses that would be completely wrong from a xenophobic backlash against Muslims to pretending nothing is wrong or blaming everything on the west. As someone once said on Twitter, it’s better to be a zero than a minus one, and one way to avoid being a minus one is to read up a bit more widely than blogs and op-eds that simply tell you what you want to hear. We may all need to absorb some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult collective decisions in the coming months and years.

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Goldsmiths student union implodes

The saga of Bahar Mustafa takes another turn with  apparent implosion of the entire executive of the student’s union. President Adrihani Rashid has resigned citing bullying and a hostile work environment. Bahar Mustafa, the controversial Welfare and Diversity officer has also resigned stating her desire to clear her name of accusations of bullying.

Given previous controversies including refusing to commemorate the holocaust because it was “Eurocentric” and refusing to ban ISIS propaganda because that would be “Islamophobic” makes me wonder if the fallout from the terrible events in Paris was the final straw for some people.

And, presuming there’s some truth in the bullying accusations, it’s yet another example of social justice identity politics enabling a sociopath. It’s almost certainly the law on unintended consequences in play, but it’s almost as if some of the rhetoric and ettiquette was designed by and for people like her, bullies who dish it out but can’t take it.

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First they came for the cartoonists. And some people wrote ugly victim-blaming thinkpieces in response, preferring to denounce the victims than criticise the ideology of the murderers.

Then they came for the rock fans.

Like so many others on Friday night, I was at a gig. At the time the terrible events in Paris were happening, Mostly Autumn were playing at The Grand Opera House in York. In a dark coincidence they were performing the album “Dressed in Voices” in full, a concept album told from the point of view of a victim of a senseless massacre.

After the gig I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in a pub with several members of the band. Someone did mention that there had been some kind of terrorist attack at a gig in France, but details were still sketchy. It was only when I got back to my B&B and checked the news websites that the full scale of the tragic events in Paris became apparent. As someone who goes a great many gigs, that struck very close to home.

In a sense it was like an attack on a place of worship. It’s what you expect from a cult who regularly attacks mosques that belong to Islamic traditions other than their own during Friday morning prayers.

Terrible events like this bring out the worse in some people and the best in others. The usual attention-seeking blowhards are spouting predictably offensive things; I really do not want to hear what racists, Christian fundamentalists, militant atheists or the US gun lobby have to say and wish others would stop signal-boosting their garbage. The same goes for anyone who’s first instinct is to pin all of the blame on anyone else but the terrorists and their direct supporters. There’s plenty of other blame to go around from the neocons’ ill-conceived and incompetently executed wars to the postmodern left’s unholy alliance with radical Islamism. But it was neither neocons nor postmodernist academics who pulled the triggers on Friday night.

Life has to go on. If Europe becomes a meaner, more xenophobic and more authoritarian place, it will let terror have what it wants. There is great danger that bad actors such as the far right and the security-industrial complex will try to exploit this tragedy, but we should resist them. We must not give in to fear. But we also need to be able to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions about what sort of society we want to be, and exactly what we are prepared to do in order to protect it.

I haven’t enabled comments on this post, because I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with the drive-by trolls any post on this subject is likely to attract.

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It’s a sobering thought that there are people alive today who will be alive in the year 2112. And by the looks of it, some of today’s students sound like they would make good Priests of the Temple of Syrinx.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Seamas Milne and the hard-left bubble

Seamas MilneI’m no Labour supporter but I was willing to give Jeremy Corbyn a chance to revitalise the British left and shake up the establishment consensus. I’d hoped he’s galvanise a broad-based movement rather than retreat into sectarian zealotry. Unfortunately his appointment of Seamas Milne to the powerful post of communications director does not bode well.

Milne gives every impression he’s an unreconstructed and unrepentant Stalinist who sometimes seemed as though he was only employed as a columnist for The Guardian to make some of their other leftist writers look like voices of reason by comparison. He’s close to a caricature of the worst kind of public-school leftist, the product of an expensive private school and Oxbridge education that’s filled his head with Marxist theory, undiluted with much contact with ordinary working people.

It’s as if David Cameron had appointed the notorious Daily Telegraph columnist James Delingpole to the equivalent post for the Conservatives. Except worse; Delingpole is a noxious button-pushing rightwing troll, while Milne is a staring-eyed True Believer. Milne’s acolytes are meeping about “smears”, except that most of those so-called smears are links to his Guardian op-eds, which let people read, in context, what he said about everything from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the murder of Lee Rigby. And none of it is pretty.

Searching for “Seamas Milne” on Twitter and the overwhelming message is dismay from across the centre-left. This hard-hitting piece from Labour PPC Kate Godrey sums up that dismay rather well. As for Milne’s cheerleaders, a blog called The Canary thinks Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of Comms Chief should delight his supporters and terrify his enemies which actually speaks volumes about the delusional bubble inhabited by much of the hard left. It’s difficult to imagine that bubble surviving contact with electoral reality on the doorsteps next May.

Liberal Democrat blogger Stephen Tall nails it rather well.

Of more interest to the Labour party is whether he will be any good at the job. Key question: will he be able to see issues clear-sightedly from his opponents’ point of view? “Never neglect to think like a Tory,” advises John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former Director of Political Operations – a job title which guarantees his words will be dismissed by Corbynistas, whose only true experience of fighting and winning elections is against their own side.

The truth they’re unable to accept is that a hard-left Labour Party has little chance of being elected unless Britain suffers a Greece-style economic meltdown. And if you’re really hoping for a Greek-style meltdown so you can benefit from it politically, then you’ve not the sort of person anyone should trust with political power.

And this is before we start on how the whole controversy is distracting attention away from the really nasty stuff the Tories are doing.

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The Tim Hunt saga contines

Just when you thought that perfect storm of social media outrage and backstabbing academic politics, the Tim Hunt saga, was fading away, it’s all flared up again with Colin Blakemore’s resignation as honorary president of the Association of British Science Writers.

Their reporting of his departure is awful example of weasel-worded dishonesty.

We have accepted with regret Sir Colin Blakemore’s resignation as honorary president of the ABSW, with thanks for his support and assistance over the years.  He has made it clear that he disagrees irreconcilably with the statement we issued in June about media attacks on our former president, Connie St Louis.

As anyone looking at this web site knows already, this relates to her reporting of remarks to the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations by Sir Tim Hunt at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul on June 8. Sir Tim has not disputed the accuracy of St Louis’s reporting and has apologised to the Federation for his comments. Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, is on record as saying that Sir Tim’s comments were unacceptable.

Sir Paul Nurse withdrew his initial comments and has since completely exonerated Sir Tim. But their statement completely fails to mention this.

What’s also telling is the way it uses Sir Tim Hunt’s apology as an admission of guilt, in the manner of a Soviet show trial or medieval witch hunt. It’s a natural human response to apologise when you’ve inadvertently caused offence, something we’re taught to do as a means of de-escalating conflict. But it relies on the other party playing by same rules of of etiquette, and that does not seem to be the case here. It looks far more like dealing with an aggressive bully, to whom a forced apology just gives them power.

The story is no longer about Tim Hunt himself, but about the misreporting both by Connie St. Louis and other parts of the media. This does make the stories of her inflating and exaggerating her qualifications and experience on her CV published online at City University entirely relevant.

St. Louis is a director of The Association of British Science Writers. While it’s human nature to close ranks and circle the wagons, they’re starting to look as credible FIFA under Sepp Blatter.

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This Royal Throne of Feels: Popehat on Bahar Mustafa

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 Mustafa 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 Mustafa 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 Mustafa 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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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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