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Once upon a time, there was this thing called 'Multiculturalism'. 
I write about those turkeys who've voted for Christmas.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

On Suffrage

In a New Statesman article from October 2014, Willard Foxton put the case for the TV debates preceding the UK General Election to be more inclusive – in particular, for them to accommodate the Green Party. Despite the suspicion that the Greens bear the stigmata of the damned (i.e. dullness), he insisted that they should be included anyway because ‘…this isn’t just TV, guys.’ His point being that where a political party finds itself on the ‘sex appeal’ spectrum, should be irrelevant:

'…TV producers making these debates should not be chasing ratings, looking for the best guests – this is TV channels doing a huge public service, not the latter rounds of political X Factor.'

And the point has indeed registered – the second of the televised debates will include Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, in a seven-way debate. Mission accomplished, then. Britain’s democracy is alive and well. Right..?

Oh, what a lovely war!

In an era of continuous, 360 degree media streams, the weight given to these flagship debates must be questioned. After all, what prospects can a political party expect when its message is regularly not broadcast (or broadcast but poorly amplified?) In modern, democratic politics, one axiom is clear: exploitation of media potential is not a side show - it is the show. Which elevates its gatekeepers to demi-gods:

History informs of the power of the media over public opinion - not just in Britain, but globally. When the Prols simply fall in line behind the Pied Pier, what matters is convincing him to play your tune:

So whose petition will be heard? The one who is right? The one who is earnest? The sop of Public Service aside, the media’s role is not to educate or inform. To strike a chord, one must aggravate the nation’s humors: hence the unceasing demand for agitation and titillation. And this is why UKIP are so ‘hot’, and conversely, why the Green Party suffers – their ‘dullness’ is not about individual personality, but rather, is bound up with their agenda; their mandate. Question – which of the following will make ‘better copy’: the breakup of the Antarctic ice sheet, or some muffled comment about golliwogs? Quite…

But we only reflect the concerns of ordinary people,’ is the stock defence to the ‘media created UKIP’ charge. In other words, the media is but a reactive organ. But this is subterfuge: the public’s concerns and priorities do not take shape in some hermetically-sealed environment. And that is why the surround-sound white noise generated by some theatre in a desert, and all that flows thereafter, takes top billing:


Dear Britain – who wants to discuss the economy? Or rather, who can discuss the economy? Who is able to grasp the thrust of debate, and keep up with argument and counter-argument? Or shall we just zoom out from all that tricky detail and enjoy the Punch and Judy show? Alternatively, to really capture everyone’s imagination, let’s brush all that boring, important stuff aside, and talk about immigration:

Friday, 6 March 2015

Jihadi John and Chris Kyle: brothers in arms

So we all now know that Jihadi John, the infamous master of masked ceremonies, is Mohammed Emwazi - a Kuwaiti-born West Londoner with ‘…anger-management issues.’

The revealing of his identity precipitated an intense debate around how he should be viewed: as a villain or a victim? For some, it must be said, he is but a hero: the ultimate expression of Muslim manhood; a diamond among false stones. Side-stepping that constituency, a more interesting tension lies between those who see him as the distilled manifestation of Islamo-fascism, and others who insist he is a victim, a reluctant fundamentalist: a one-time ‘beautiful young man', turned by the heavy hand of fate (i.e. MI5).  

Stepping back from the heat surrounding present debates, one notes the historic precedent for different groups viewing the same figure, through polar lenses. William Wallace, a leader during the wars of Scottish Independence, is someone who can still divide opinion. After his capture in 1305, the English tried and convicted him on charges of treason and, in an eerie echo that resonates through to the present with Alan Henning, ‘…for atrocities against civilians that spared neither age nor sex, monk or nun.’

Back to Emwazi, and the consensus that he is a brainwashed extremist - one whose innate violence was given a homecoming within the corpus of Islam, and thus for whom there can be no remorse, no mitigation. Fine. Now let’s switch focus to Chris Kyle, the decorated Navy Seal and veteran of the Iraq War, whose life story was made into the hugely successful film, American Sniper. In his autobiography, he wrote:

Clearly he bought into a popular narrative, but even a cursory look into history makes this admittedly neat perspective, seem ridiculous. Here’s an executive summary of recent Anglo-American/Iraqi relations:   

Following the 1991 Gulf War to ‘liberate Kuwait’ after Saddam Hussein's invasion, decade-long sanctions were imposed that, according to UNICEF, resulted in the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. Then in 2003, the US and UK initiated Gulf War II after successfully peddling what transpired to be a deliberately manufactured lie about weapons of mass destruction. According to Iraq Body Count, the invasion led to 112,000 violent civilian deaths. A group of US, Canadian and Iraqi University researchers reported a figure of 500,000. And due to the use of depleted uranium, doctors have since observed a massive spike in cancers and congenital deformities. All of which, for Chris Kyle, got collapsed down to ‘…they hated us cause we weren’t Muslim.’ 

It must be noted that Kyle loved his job – he delighted in killing Iraqis, and moreover, saw himself as a religious warrior:

The question that now surfaces is this: what is the difference between Jihadi John and Chris Kyle?

In both cases they willingly killed, their conscience cossetted by seductive fantasies: on the one hand, Jihad and al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, and on the other, holy war and '...they hate us cause we're not Muslim'. Indeed the similarities are so striking, it would be easy to re-cast the eponymous American Sniper as a brainwashed fanatic: the sort of individual deserving execution, imprisonment, or at the very least, compulsory registration onto some de-radicalisation programme.

And the parallels continue - just as Western governments are concerned about shady figures radicalising young, impressionable minds via grainy videos of Jihadis and martyrs, Muslims are aghast at the effects of the West’s propaganda machinery - a.k.a Hollywood – on Western youngsters:

There is, however, one arresting difference: there is currently a vigorous and free-ranging debate among Muslims about Emwazi, and all that his very existence entails. In stark contrast, there is no mainstream discourse concerning Chris Kyle, and whether he deserves his heroic status. Indeed the very suggestion of the same would, in much of Pax Americana, be met by a brick wall.

A recent article suggested that ‘…terrorist ideologies would only be stopped when young people are taught to think for themselves.’ It’s a good point. However, boxed-in thinking and the export of terror may, in reality, be more deeply woven into the Western world, than the Muslim world. How’s that for irony?  

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo: crossing the Rubicon

“We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed,” declared the attackers at the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as they executed 10 journalists and two police officers on 7th January, 2015.

Since Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie in 1989, through to the Jyllands-Posten ‘Mohammed’ cartoons of 2005 and beyond, there has been a debate over freedom of expression: in particular, the right to offend. And now, with such a brazen attack in Europe, in Paris, in cold daylight, and on journalists – those at the very forefront of the battle of ideas – many will hold that this is no longer a matter for polite debate, but an epoch-defining struggle between liberty and totalitarianism; between secular and fundamentalist forces.

Following the attack, the instinctive reaction was one of solidarity, and millions around the world took to the streets and social media to declare that they, too, were Charlie:

But does the journal merit such totemic status? The official line is that Charlie Hebdo is a leftist, secular publication that lampoons religion, holding Islamists in particular in its crosshairs. Indeed, some of its covers have made a distinction between Islamists and Islam, going as far as to portray the former as anathema to the latter:

However the same cannot be said of other artwork, which, without doubt, would have sickened anyone who self-identifies as Muslim:

The secular response to this is, of course, ‘…so what?’ In a world where there are no idols left, all that is sacred is the right to ideas: to analyse and critique anything, anyone, any belief. And yes – the right to offend. Liberty is only meaningful when all bets are off; where there are no sacred cows.

Fine… So let’s see how that ideal stands up from other angles. Here are some more illustrations, the first depicting black French politician, Christiane Taubira, followed by a front cover that dovetails commentary on Boko Haram with domestic politics:

To the untrained eye these might look like ugly, racial caricatures, but others will claim that, in context, they are anything but. That with full view of the French political landscape, an understanding of the journal’s unique selling point (i.e. radical subversion), and an appreciation of satire, these are actually sophisticated statements.

Still, one wonders, is everyone getting the joke? How are these images being received, digested and assimilated, on the French Street? Is it not sophistry to defend the following depiction of a delighted Pope, on discovering that the French are ‘…as dumb as niggers’?:

Running further with the blank-cheque of ‘free speech’, here’s Insurgent, a white-supremacist magazine in the US, with their take on Black history:

I await the liberal clamour to hold this in the same, sacred space. All freedom-loving people of the world repeat after me: Je Suis Insurgent!!

And looking into the history of Europe, here’s an uncanny resemblance from the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, to Charlie Hebdo’s venerated expression of freedom:

Spot the difference?


Back to the present, and depictions from Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza that were printed in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, before being withdrawn. The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies accused Fairfax Media of racial vilification and demanded an apology for the cartoon, which they said was “a grotesque stereotype of a Jew”: 

And In perhaps the ultimate irony, Charlie Hebdo themselves have shown that, in actuality, all bets are not off: in 2009 they dismissed one of their own cartoonists over anti-Semitism.


Here’s an interesting fact… On the same day as the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices, terrorists struck in Yemen, killing 37 graduates from a police academy. As the world’s media went into a 9/11-esque meltdown over events in Paris, suggesting that this was the worst calamity to hit planet Earth since that fateful day in 2001, it was not even the worst terror attack on that Wednesday. And yet, the world stopped spinning for Charlie:

UN Council standing in silence after the Paris attack -

One wonders who else’s death might merit the same global shudder? Clearly not those of some hapless Yemenis, but more interestingly, neither did the killing of journalists in Gaza (2014), or Al Jazeera journalists being blown up by US forces in Iraq (2003).

Bien sur, everyone is equal, but some are clearly more equal than others…

Commenting in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, said: ‘…We (Europeans) have our own culture based on Christianity, Judaism & humanism...' This is a valid point. It is reasonable for the majority to expect minorities outside of this framework, to accept the dominance of this axis in the public sphere. That some proportion of Muslims do not is, without qualification, a massive problem. The reality of émigré Muslims who are happy to live under the protection of a foreign flag, benefitting from shared resources, and yet feel they can impose their values through threats and violence, presents a huge challenge to modern European states; one that they must counter. That the de facto media coverage however casts a cloud over every Muslim, is risible. The scale and ‘slant’ of popular presentation feeds the ‘clash of civilizations’ notion, with ever deeper battle lines being dug between ‘Islam and the West’. It’s a miscalculation on many levels. Further, it paralyses the ‘Muslim’ response, with all reduced to merely bleating cod apologies and running through inane defences (i.e. Islam is a religion of peace). Ironically, the same fear factor that liberals bemoan vis-à-vis discussing Islam, is being applied in reverse.

There is of course more to Charlie Hebdo than Muslim-baiting, but I am free to judge the journal by its lowest common denominator, and thus conclude that the #JeSuisCharlie sentiment is naïve. Or put another way, I too reserve the right to analyse, critique, offend – and insult. If I don’t write you a blank cheque of support, that does not turn me into Al-Baghdadi’s foot soldier. My place in this world is not simply to express solidarity and shame. I will not be pinned down and inspected on some secular Judgement Day, by the god of Western Outrage. Why..? Because I didn’t kill anyone. What happened in Paris on 7th January 2015, really had nothing to do with me.