Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Week In Panic-Stricken Commentary

Let's start with the usual inane rattle from Nick, who appears to have convinced himself that a few French malcontents armed with 1940s weaponry are a "powerful" force to whom we must all speak truth in the precise terms that he demands.  He even helpfully includes the exact words he wants to hear us say - "We loathe the murderers who enforce their taboos with Kalashnikovs".

His target, as ever, is a particular section of the UK press and a nebulous, non-specific "liberalism", neither of which have spent the week falling over themselves to heap praise upon the Paris killers and have, if anything, been really quite down on them.

As is ever the case with Nick though, a closer reading reveals that simply being against religious nutters killing people for insane reasons is insufficient for his purposes.  His entire schtick this last ten years or so has been to hold hoops ever higher and demand that everyone jump through them on command, so we find yet again that even the strongest condemnation will not save us from denunciation.   For Nick, refusing to publish images of Mohammed is "cowardice", making the British "the world's worst cowards".

(Nick himself has a personal blog that's currently quite untainted by images of any centuries-dead Arabian prophets, but we'll charitably assume that he's been far too busy calling out other people's cowardice to update it).

Some other goodies: Nick acknowledges that radical Islamists want to "create a civil war" and "encourage the white far-right so that ordinary co-existence becomes impossible", but doesn't then ask himself whether e.g. re-publishing the cartoons in question will help or hinder said Islamists in fostering chaos.

I'll answer that one by saying that this would probably help radical Islamists to stir up further grief and violence between Muslims and others, because it looks a lot like Nick doesn't intend to answer that question.

He also invites European liberals to question their attitudes towards Islam generally because the Saudi dictatorship are horrible and repressive, which is fun.  There are certainly people in the UK who are overly soft on the Sauds, but I suspect it's not the liberals who are at fault here.

Anyway, some other observations on the week's awful events:

- The Paris killers' long-term goal was no doubt intimidation against criticism of Islam, and to set an example to like-minded fuckwits by doing so, but their immediate aim was to commit atrocities, then get their stupid faces on television to frighten the entire continent.

24 hour news, being what it is, immediately obliged, plastering their faces all over TV and newspapers under headlines screaming - These Terrifying Badasses Are Terrorising Us All. 

During one particular exchange on Friday, a BBC presenter asked a guest what these terrorists actually wanted.  Mystifyingly, the guest didn't point out that grown men who put on ridiculous special forces ninja outfits then run around killing people in broad daylight probably want television journalists to treat them like they're the second coming of Dillinger or something, and instead proceeded to treat them like they were Dillinger.

- In fact, the idea that these guys are just some poxy, small-minded little twats with big guns and ludicrous views was pretty much absent from coverage.  

This continent has managed to survive the Mongol Horde, Nazi invasion and Soviet occupation, so I'd say it'll probably manage to endure a murder spree by a small gang of revanchist throwbacks.  That being the case, it'd probably be a good idea if we all said so a bit more often.   

- One way to avoid giving terrorists the perception that "they have won" is to not wave your arms and scream about how We must do (x) or the terrorists have won.

Because it didn't take long for this kind of thing to rear its head - essentially, calls for everyone to shut up and bend over for infinite intimate cavity searches by the security services, forever. 

There's a lot of this Everyone who is not a belligerent, bellowing bell-end like me must now be silent stuff around, and it doesn't usually take us to good places.

By Friday night, I'd say that I'd seen somewhere around two hundred times as many screechy, handbag-clutching comments about the theoretical opinions of imaginary relativists and apologists than I'd actually seen daft comments by real people.  The actual existence of such comments is clearly less important than demands that anything resembling them be immediately hunted down and exterminated, to prevent contamination of our fragile eggshell minds.

Let's just note that these pre-emptive strikes upon disagreement and anguished demands for absolute unanimity are always a feature of major terrorism stories.  If there's a particularly nasty whiff of 2003 about their current volume and intensity, that's only because it's the same people pushing them, and because some folk are congenitally incapable of changing or learning lessons.

- Demands for unanimity also betray an utter lack of understanding of who we are and who the enemy is.

The fact that everyone disagrees about everything and that lots of us are basically idiots, is one of the defining characteristics of western societies*.

Meanwhile, there's a certain loopy misreading of reality in the idea that our own lack of singular purpose makes us weak, while the Islamist nutters' certainties make them strong.  

You'd think that most people would've spotted that crazy, violent Islamists aren't exactly rocking all before them at the moment.  Isis have spent months trying to capture one town on the Turkish border and have made a spectacular cock of the job, even though it's only protected by civilian militias.

Elsewhere, crazy militant Islam is failing utterly to convince even a sizeable minority of the world's billion-strong Muslim population.  You might have spotted the massive intra-faith conflict going on in Syria and Iraq, for instance, and concluded that such things do not usually betoken unified collectives of like-minded thinkers.  One wonders how it's managed to pass so many other people by.

- In the end, despite the hundreds of opinion pieces claiming that the Paris killings show the failings of, say, liberalism or multi-culturalism or whatever, they actually show us that two things are failing quite badly - Islamic radicalism itself, which has now been reduced to taking potshots at cartoonists rather than its stated goal of establishing a global empire of doom, and the idea of security through surveillance.

But then, neither of those ideas sell papers or butter any parsnips for wars, so they're not likely to be headlined.

But they are, you know, true.

*And societies in general, although nastier countries take steps to keep any public objections to a minimum.


Tom Barry said...

The Kobane militia are quite heavily backed by the USAF and indeed the French Air Force, who have finally found an enemy stupid enough to play on their terms. The result of this is that it's quite possible more Islamist homicidal maniacs have been killed by Frenchmen than vice versa in the last few months, which again doesn't indicate imminent doom for Europe.

Ken Eadie, the Prince of Strikers said...

Yeah, as ever its double standards central. You get a white Norwegian mass murdering lunatic who produces a manifesto saying he was inspired to undertake the massacre by Euro loony tunes such as Geert Wilders and its “a lone wolf crazy who took words out of context.”

On the other hand, Muslims- all of them, every sect, every sub sect, every denomination, every grouping, every man and every woman is susceptible to being radicalized because Islam is Totalitarian. End of. Every adherent of the faith is potentially capable of grabbing a Kalashnikov and spraying bullets all across Western offices and supermarkets. It was proven last week. Murdoch’s tweets were a classic example.

Incidentally, that Cohen article has one of the most impressive mutual masturbatory love-ins in the comments underneath that I’ve ever had the misfortune to read on Comment Is Free.

“Nick gets it because, you know, because Muslims.”

Igor Belanov said...

The contrast between reactions to the IRA and responses to Islamic terrorism are striking as well.
Back in the days of the Thatcher government we constantly heard that IRA terrorists were simply murderers, without any cause or reason.
Now, the Islamists are described as pure ideologists, and the idea that the recent killings were simply targeted murders rather than a co-ordinated assault on Western civilisation is treated with scorn, or not even considered at all.

organic cheeesboard said...

I just posted a long response and it got eaten so I'll make this a bit shorter:

1) You can feel the anger from Decents that nobody, pretty much, has yet written a piece that can even vaguely be interpreted as 'maybe we need to understand the motivatiosn of the CH killers'. The 'Gerasites' post you linked to on Twitter was hilarious - nutpicking random Twitter feeds (without, seemingly, being able to work out how to screengrab comments or post them directly) and obviously misinterpreting perfectly sensible articles. My favourite bit of that was the one where they found it abhorrent that someone said 'the CH murders were awful but let's not allow them to lead to a general anti-Muslim campaign' - apparently the issue there was that the author used the word 'but' which is somehow not allowed any more (of course Nick Cohen uses it, but (dammit) hey).

2) Nick claims that the BBC won't say that they're too scared to republish images of Mohammad. But isn't the much more likely reason that they don't want to needlessly piss millions of people off? I'm all for offensiveness if it's necessary, but it really isn't necessary to repost, ad nauseam, cartoons from 2006 (or whenever) just to demonstrate one's commitment to the values of free speech. As you say, Nick's written at least one book about how gutless the West are and how free speech is in peril yet he's never personally published any images of Mohammad on his blog.

3) The Michael Weiss column about all this was priceless - claiming that it's fine for Stephen Pollard to admit he won't republish these images because he has his staff and the UK Jewish community to think about, and that he's not a 'coward' because he's, um, 'honest', but a load of non-existent lefties have a duty to republish cartoons of Muhammad because, er, universal values.

4) Nick Cohen claims that you will never hear a single word of opposition to Islam at UK universities. This ladies and gentleman is one of those straightforward lies you've heard so much about.

5) Has anyone ever seen a single cartoon involving Mohammad that's actually, you know, either funny or interesting? The 'Jesus and Mo' cartoons which are so beloved of Decents are the worst things I've ever seen. It'd be nice to see some images of Mohammad that were worth republishing because they, you know, were actually good, rather than because they piss people off.

6) Nick's finally changed his mind about Islam, and rather than wanting a Reformation, he now wants textual criticism of the Koran and the Hadiths like that of various German theologians in the C19th. Fair enough, but the main problem here is that a) this already happens with the Hadiths, and not all Muslims follow all of those anyway - not sure where he's regurgitated this talking point from, well actually it's almost certainly Douglas Murray, and b) the Koran is the literal word of God for Muslims. To do what he wants, you have to first renounce a central part of the faith. Which is fair enough, but if his solution to the 'problem of Islam', such as it is (and I do find the idea that Islam itself is 'the problem' a really horrific view, painting lots of my friends as somehow in cahoots with these horrific murderers) is for more or less all Muslims to reject one of the five pillars, thus rejecting the religion itself, then he really is incredibly stupid.

flyingrodent said...

I think that this issue, more than any other of the last fifteen years or so, demonstrates that there's simply no need for the dreaded relativists and apologists to even exist. Nick names none there and Alex Massie named none in his similarly bombastic I Condemn Thee!!!! piece yesterday. It's a wondrous thing, that these grand denunciations can be so widely accepted as true and just, when the phenomenon that they attack is so plainly abstract and ethereal.

As best I can tell, the full rogues gallery of bad-thinkers currently extends as far as 1) A twatty editorial in the Financial Times; 2) An off-the-cuff remark by Jon Snow and 3) Tweets by various ordinary joes and/or nutty fuckheads, people whom even Nick has the sense to recognise as just some fannies on the internet.

No doubt some idiot will be along presently to provide our pals with a worthy target for their theatrical screams of fake horror but for now, let's just notice that their blazing anger doesn't even require a pretext. They started out angry, then went looking for people to be angry at. I'd say that this tells us a lot about the standard methodology on less emotive issues.

And I can't say I'm as upset as Nick is about the "cowardice" of the BBC & Channel 4 in not showing the cartoons, although I do think it's hilariously revealing that he chose those particular targets when none of Sky News, ITV, the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Sun, the Express or even Nick himself have republished the cartoons.

When not one major UK media company has put their head above the parapet, it speaks volumes when folk choose to explicitly name only the TV stations that they already didn't like.

davidly said...

Oh god. Please tell me that the first slew of comments at the Salon thread were from a massive cadre of trolls drawn to the article with help from their brethren. Because that shit is way scarier to me than the Islamic takeover they fantasize in their tiny cipherin' centers.

ejh said...

I have been telling anybody who will listen, for ages, that Alex Massie is a pompous arse.

It's been quite a festival so far for Everybody Must Agree With Me Or They're A Friend Of The Terrorists. And, on a smaller csale, for Everybody Must Agree That Charlie Hebdo Was Racist Because No Other Interpretation Is Possible. I guess you can't expect the murder of civilians to result in an increase in the sum total of tolerance and thoughtfulness in debate, but at the same time it's quite evident how numerous people on various sides of the argument have basically used the discussion to go screaming after enemies they had identified long previously. Which isn't really a proper way to show respect for the dead.

chris y said...

OC, there have in fact been a fair number of people trying to "understand the motivation of the CH killers". A leading theory is that it's an attempt to "heighten the contradictions", though whether this strategy was thought up by the cell on its own or by some controller carefully keeping himself out of the line of fire remains unknowable. I find this quite convincing.

What there isn't is people trying to justify the atrocity, but then there wasn't in 2001 either, contrary to some people's belief.

organic cheeseboard said...

Yes, the Massie piece was awful, but he's been getting worse for a while.

for more straw man fun see this 'parody' (sorry EJH) in which the invented debater, who's meant to be some kind of cultural theorist, claims never to have heard of Edward Said. um...

and also here, a piece that's been getting a lot of props but is really awful:

The first 'false assumption' is that ‘Charlie Hebdo magazine was needlessly provocative’. But surely it was - and that was part of the point of it? They didn't need to draw cartoons of Muhammad, they chose to, to piss people off. The author doesn't even respond to the idea that the provocation was 'needless', instead claiming, entirely correctly, that opposition to pictures of Mohammad tends to be orchestrated - but that doesn't mean that CH wasn't needlessly provocative.

flyingrodent said...

on a smaller scale, for Everybody Must Agree That Charlie Hebdo Was Racist Because No Other Interpretation Is Possible.

I've seen a fair amount of this although it's worth noting that not once have I seen it accompanied by And thus the cartoonists deserved to die or Which means we must accept that the killers were infuriated beyond responsibility for their actions.

Frankly, I'm not surprised there's a good bit of Oooh, these cartoons look a bit racist don't they around. That tends to happen when you e.g. draw black people as chimps, even if you're doing it so you can laugh at the stupidity of the National Front, and I don't think it's altogether surprising that people have missed the subtleties. It's not exactly subtle.

Having myself posted a lot of daft and ridiculously OTT articles to lampoon various nutters, misunderstandings like this are the kind of thing that you come to expect - even good, sensible people will sometimes give you their kneejerk response.

Mind you, when people tell me they think things I've said are racist or sexist or whateverist, I don't immediately start screaming in terror about how they also think I deserve to be murdered by violent idiots, but that's perhaps because I'm less attached to turning horrible murders into political opportunities.

also here, a piece that's been getting a lot of props but is really awful...

That article is really fucking bad, and would be massively improved by a couple examples of noteworthy people expressing these supposedly false assumptions in the terms that they're laid out, rather than repeated assertions that loads of people must think this stuff, because they just must.

ejh said...

It's not the kneejerk response I object to, so much as the intransigent refusal to accept that other readings are reasonable.

Well actually I say that - I'm not sure people should be coming out with kneejerk responses of any political kind in the circumstances. If bloody murder isn't a time when we can learn to think before we speak - something Nick Cohen forgot to do about a dozen years ago - then when is?

It's possible to be wrong, and it's possible to be wrong about images, as I am sure many people would you looked at this one, for instance. And it doesn't matter, because it's OK to be wrong. Provided you've left yourself the retreat space for being wrong by not aggressively and repeatedly insisting that you're right.

ejh said...

(Not sure that link works. Try this. Your preview box is fucked, sir.

flyingrodent said...

Everything about this blog is fucked, including the author. It's barely had an update to the template since 2006.

...the intransigent refusal to accept that other readings are reasonable.

I have noticed this and to be fair, the people I've seen doing this are mostly people who I knew to be intransigent, stubborn and often quite dense before this incident occurred.

And it doesn't matter, because it's OK to be wrong.

Now, you just be careful with that Conchie talk now, sunshine. We don't want to give aid and comfort to the enemy by implying that it's occasionally okay to make mistakes.

organic cheeseboard said...

A very minor thing, but something I thought interesting regarding this discussion of reading images carefully - in at least one of the montages of CH covers that were flying around Twitter last week, an outrightly antisemitic 'parody' of CH entitled 'Shoah Hebdo' was included as if it were an actual CH cover. (I saw it via Zelo Stret - it's one that nobhead Harry Cole tweeted, as evidence that CH 'mocked everyone', but Index on Censorship apparently also used it til they were advised not to).

I'm not sure what this demonstrates, aside from the fact that people on the internet are lazy; had I more energy I'd try to come up with something about the problems of reading caricatures and thinking about the merits of causing offence. The flipside to thinking carefully about pictures is that people don't usually think carefully about pictures they see out of the corners of their eyes on newsstands etc, so yer average French Muslim might well decide against subscribing to Charlie Hebdo; but context is important.

I was reminded in all of this by a discussion on here a while about - dsquared definitely contributed - about the quenelle, and the really very different approach to race and religious relations in France. Particularly pertinent in light of Farage blaming this on 'multiculturalism' where the French aren't fond of that in general.

flyingrodent said...

Monsieur Cheeseboard - voila ici

davidly said...

This thread represents the most intelligent discussion on the general issue, which is saying a lot, considering how loaded it is.

Frankly, I'm not surprised there's a good bit of 'Oooh, these cartoons look a bit racist don't they' around. That tends to happen when you e.g. draw black people as chimps, even if you're doing it so you can laugh at the stupidity of the National Front, and I don't think it's altogether surprising that people have missed the subtleties. It's not exactly subtle.

Having myself posted a lot of daft and ridiculously OTT articles to lampoon various nutters, misunderstandings like this are the kind of thing that you come to expect - even good, sensible people will sometimes give you their kneejerk response.

Quite simply 'racist' is not I would describe any one of the CH cartoons I have seen or pieces I have read. And while I would posit that like so much nomenclature, there isn't necessarily a Manichean interpretation as such, I understand how one might find that assessment, especially here, to be unfairly wishy-washy.

Still, as regards satire: the question "Is it rational" comes to mind. Especially when its employment is done without taking anyone's feelings into consideration except for ones' own.

The "provoking for provocation's sake" nature of many of the cartoons do not take into consideration that it is not just extremists who are offended and it's not just the cartoonists who take on risk when they continually kick the hornet's nest. That is, unless they really believe anyone who believes in a god is an extremist - and when I consider the evangelical Atheist movement, I cannot entirely discount that suspicion.

Moreover, this idea that publishing such material is essential to maintaining free speech is an idea that CH fomented with a capital OH!!11

Other things I have heard from je suis Charliers run the gamut from either "you don't understand French culture" or "the French are the master race of satire" (okay I'm satirizing that particular bit) to CH attacks all religions and extremists, or they are at the forefront of the leftist anti-racism movement.

The key to fully understanding CH, however, I believe lies in getting a grasp on the history of inner politics of the joint, particularly as it relates to the holy day of nine-eleven. This piece by former CHer Olivier Cyran paints a credible picture:

(there is a link to an equally incisive update from the publisher therein)

I am reminded of what Dennis Miller was like - at least back when he had his talk show with a fledging FOX in the early nineties - and how "nine-eleven changed everything". Or Christopher Hitchens.

I can only judge from what I've seen and read, and "irrationally inflammatory" is how I would describe how they chose to focus their satire beginning in earnest puerility with the Wests' war on terror.

Given my attitude about all of the above, I sure as hell wasn't gonna suis Charlie, but, moreover, don't feel like I have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they were operating in anything resembling good faith.

It is a shame and a tragedy what happened to them, but I do not see their demise itself as a loss to the free-speech movement. But it is indeed a loss and a sad one.

ejh said...

Thing is though, saying #JesuisCharlie doesn't imply endorsing the magazine as such, if you don't (for perhaps very good reasons) wish to do that. It basically means that you're in solidarity with journalists who are gunned down in their own offices. It doesn't mean you have to endorse their publication or anything in it.

I mean I'm not interested in Nick Cohen and his screaming-idiot admirers with their heresy-hunting and their hysteria. I do pretty much, for instance, endorse the post on which I am commenting. And if people don't feel, for good reasons of their own, like signing up to that particular hashtag-campaign then cool, and it's not my business. But at the same time I do look a little askance at the "Je ne suis pas Charlie" mob. I'm not at all sure that it's important to disassociate oneself from the magazine. I'm less than completely comfortable with that.

organic cheeseboard said...

Sadly my French isn't good enough to read that article and Google Translate isn't good enough to help me with it all that much.

Just to interact with your post though, and some of the other things - for certain free-spech campaigners, chief among them Nick Cohen, the value of a piece of writing or cartoon lies specifically in its ability to offend, as opposed to its message. That's how Nick has proceeded with arts criticism for some time now (see his writings on MF Husain), as has Andrew Anthony - the latter iirc basing an entire column on how the English hate free speech and are all cowards on the fact that there aren't tens of copies of The Satanic Verses in every single bookshop in the country.

I just looked up Charlie Hebdo in Nick's last book. There's one mention, here he refers to CH's cover, featuring Muhammad saying '100 lashes if you don't die laughing'. Cohen claims that this was a direct response to the electoral success of a Tunisian Islamist party. He says 'As its target was a religious group, it satirised religious beliefs - what else was it meant to do?' Well - ok - but Islamists winning, and even supporters of Sharia gaining ground, doesn't mean that you HAVE to depict Muhammad, even if you've a track record of doing it. (NB this doesn't mean I think they shouldn't have been allowed to do it, deserved firebombing or killing, etc - am just noting that you don't have to respond to a particular strain of thinking on Islam by doing something that will offend all Muslims).

ejh said...

How here or there, though, is whether they had to do it?

flyingrodent said...

How here or there, though, is whether they had to do it?

I don't think it really matters. Frankly, this could've been a KKK circular and it still wouldn't be okay for a pair of boo-hoo blubbing dipshits to massacre the staff.

organic cheeseboard said...

Yes, I agree - was just noting Cohen's approach to them which seemed a bit obfuscatory and linking to my earlier point about him admiring art because of the offence it causes rather than its merits - and point taken about je suis Charlie too.

flyingrodent said...

Well yes but then, as Nick's TV reviews show, his approval of thrillers is pretty much contingent on whether they stick it to the Jihadis or not, so he's not exactly a good judge of what does and doesn't have e.g. artistic value.

I think we're back in Aayan Hirsi Ali territory a bit here - lots of people taking ostentatious offence if and when anyone suggests that the subject of violence & threats might not also be a bit whiffy when it comes to prejudice.

In this case, it looks like the criticism is unwarranted but you know, since it looks like nobody of consequence is actually suggesting that it's okay to murder journalists, it probably doesn't matter that much. Lots of people are contrary bawbags and so when horrible things happen, you can be sure that a lot of people are going to be contrary bawbags about it.

davidly said...

Thing is though, saying #JesuisCharlie doesn't imply endorsing the magazine as such...

Well, the inferences thereof are pretty much out of the control of whomever sports the catchphrase. I choose not to identify with it quite simply because I am not in solidarity with the journalists, however much I am in solidarity with the idea that they didn't deserve to be gunned down.

The reaction to the killings, however fleeting it is, strikes me as a seemingly spontaneous mass movement that is more the result of an instrumentalised divergence of intention and intense emotional response than it is a simple thoughtful paying of respect to the dead or representation of solidarity with free thinking humankind everywhere. The extent to which demonstrators showed up out of support for anti-backlash, I can appreciate it, but it all smacks a little too post nine-eleveny for my taste.

If CH had spent any energy rip-snort riffing on the horrifyingly perfidious war on terror and all of its little cousins, I might feel differently. There sympathies didn't lie with mine more than mine not with theirs.

flyingrodent said...

I also notice that there's none of the rampant snottiness about "clicktivism" and so on this time round.

Back when it was mainly left-wing and feminist types expressing solidarity by e.g. hashtagging Bring Back Our Girls re: the horrors of Boko Haram, the lot of us were painted as a bunch of self-indulgent wankers - smug, contemptable and ineffectual Twitter arseholes whose clickery had no merit whatsoever.

Fast-forward a few months and suddenly mere hashtags are the height of personal courage and integrity. #JeSuis!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - you can't win with these fuckers. No matter how loud your declarations of sympathy for the victims of atrocities or how angry your denunciations of their perpetrators, you'll never meet their exacting standards... Because if you could, those standards would then be revised to be even more exacting.

Us failing to meet them is the whole reason for their existence in the first place.

organic cheeseboard said...

A couple of things... On clicktivism - it's always struck me as odd that the same people who spent such a lot of time clamiming that the best thing anyone can do is to be 'blogging for Iranian democracy' (said blogging of course consisted of making fun of Seumas Milne's name in a vaguely racist manner), and who think signing online petitions so impirtant (see that horrible Nick Cohen rant about the awfulness of Owen Jones because he'd failed to sign a petition that, er, Nick had also ignored) were also so dismissive of the 'bring back our girls' thing.

There's a good, very long piece on the backgrounds of the French killers on the guardian website today. What struck me more than anything else was the difficulty with which their kind of beliefs and mindset can be stopped. They clearly didn't really understand all that much about religion, for instance, operating as much as cult members or members of a criminal gang, as anything else. They seem to have been radicalised in people's houses or parks, outside of mosques (or Universities etc); a pretty clear link was that they had all been held near each other in prison, simply because they came from nearby areas. It's difficult to see how anyone could really have stopped their radicalisation, especially since they were using the threat of violence to stop anyone who'd noticed suspicious behaviour from taking their concerns anywhere. Though it's equally weird that they were on US no-fly lists yet the French authorities seemed to have let them alone...

flyingrodent said...

There's a good, very long piece on the backgrounds of the French killers on the guardian website today.

That article chimes a lot with the perpetrators of previous terrorist outrages, both of the Islamic extremist and not type.

The common factor seems to be (although definitely isn't restricted to) studious, easily-led young men who have a lot of unfocused anger and aggression, and a desire to take it out on some supposedly but not actually deserving target. This kind of suicidal voluntary insanity isn't even vaguely a new phenomenon, as e.g. the massive piles of dead British teenagers who got rubbed out charging machine gun nests with no armour on 100 years ago would attest, among various other phenomena.

When the first outlet these idiots encounter is fucknut radical Islam, the likelihood that they'll wind up killing some innocent punters five years down the line goes through the roof. There doesn't seem to be much of a template for predicting who's going to get into radical religious lunacy, which of them are just going to flirt with it or stand around shouting about it, and who's going to put on ridiculous Action Man outfit and start machine-gunning civilians.

All of which leaves us in exactly the same boat that we were in circa 2001 and earlier - namely, can we deal with a small but very violent number of our countrymen unexpectedly turning into murderous throwbacks without entirely losing our shit about it?

The answer was "No" back then, and it looks like it still is.

flyingrodent said...

There's also interesting stuff going on in this short radio debate from today, between French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani and our very own Dave Aaronovitch - from about 15 mins in...

Now on the straight questions - Is the new Hebdo cover offensive? Should it be shown? Should other people's opinions on it prevent it being published - etc., our Dave massacres his opponent. She refuses to answer direct questions about this image and is comically evasive, bringing in all manner of unrelated issues. Dave wins effortlessly and leaves NR looking a ridiculous.

And yet, it's not exactly difficult to work out what Ramdani is saying. It seems to me that she's saying that she sees this cartoon as a single part of a broad range of similar cartoons and extremely negative portrayals, all of which are designed to make people like her seem threatening and ugly and stupid and ignorant and violent and horrible. Thus, she won't condone the cartoon.

Dave's having none of this, as you can imagine, but the interesting thing is that they're both right to a certain extent, and both ignoring each other's point of view.

I fully understand why Ramadi thinks these cartoons shouldn't be published - she thinks they're part of a wider cultural trend deliberately aimed at belittling and dehumanising her and people like her. And I'm not convinced that she's wholly wrong about that, either.

And yet Dave is absolutely correct to say that she's slippery and evasive over this cartoon in particular, and that her feelings on it don't trump the cartoonist's right to publish anyway.

What we have here is two people who are barely even discussing the same issue, and getting quite upset about it too.

(This, incidentally, is in microcosm why I keep saying that I think further Mohammed cartoons help Al Qaeda more than they do western free speech, but this is by the by).

flyingrodent said...

And, if I can be forgiven the triple post, I note with no surprise that Nick's website remains a cartoons-of-Mohammed free zone.

Like I say, with this many liberal relativists to slay, there's probably not much time left in the day for practicing what you preach.

ejh said...

It's maybe a bit late in the comments box to mention this, but living where I do, it's hard not to reflect on the 2004 bombing at Atocha station in Madrid, which killed 191 wholly innocent people.

This didn't result in a war on terror in Spain, or a crackdown on Muslims or on immigration or on civil liberties - or indeed on anything much.

And Spain has been much better off, as a society, for the absence of all these things. It has lost nothing for not going down that road.

I have not seen this experience much reflected on in the UK media. Fair enough, we could all swap examples that suit our point of view. But perhaps it would be good to think about this.

Organic cheeseboard said...

Has there not been debate about, say, integration, "hate speakers" etc in Spain since then? (notwithstanding a lack of the things you mention). Am personally unsure of how much London, where I live, had changed since the 7th July attacks or the Woolwich one. Doesn't seem like it's changed much - if anything the riots had a bigger effect.

That Aaro interview cut out for me before it finished. It struck me that his opponent did a pretty bad job of explaining why images of Mohammad are offensive, but that Aaro was pretty boorish in telling a Muslim directly that there is nothing they can find offensive about an image of Muhammad - I've said this too often on here, and have overstated it previously (it isn't a pillar of Islam) but it's not the nature of the images that's necesarily the problem for (most) Muslims, it's their existence - since most strains of Islam forbid depictions of the prophet. That's not to say that images shouldn't be published, clearly they should, but for him to pretend to not understand why Muslims find any images of Muhammad offensive is ridiculous and betrays something that the Cohen piece did as well - a real lack of understanding of a religion he spends an awful lot of time writing about.

The other part of his comments that seemed pretty awful were when he said sarcastically "and don't start on Iraq, or the history of colonialism, just talk about the image itself" - fair enough, but standard Decent Debating Technique in holding someone to standards you don't yourself live up to. When Aaro writes about instances of contemporary antisemitism, does he suddenly forget the history of it and sarcastically suggest that to raise it is off topic? If he discerns a blood libel in coverage of Israel, does he keep schtum on the history of it through the ages? Surely context can matter. Clearly she feels (rightly or wrongly) that these Hebdo cartoons are part of a larger-scale project to demonise Muslims, both through depictions and also engendering opposition, which I'm guessing also relates to the banning of the veil in France among other things, dating back probably at least to the Paris Massacre - it is very unlikely she'd have mentioned Iraq.

That's, again, not to suggest she's right in saying that they shouldn't be published, she is wrong; but Aaro's total lack of willingness to think about the history of the treatment of Muslims in France, and how these cartoons might be perceived by the victims of racism have a part in it, is something he'd have a lot of time for in other situations.

flyingrodent said...

Justin - And Spain has been much better off, as a society, for the absence of all these things. It has lost nothing for not going down that road.

That damned Conchie talk again!

I actually think our post 9/11 reaction was about as counter-productive as it could have been, for reasons that can be summarised as "Giving Al Qaeda exactly what they want - wars, inter-ethnic strife and blazing arguments, for fifteen years".

Our situation isn't the same as Spain's was, I don't think - I think we had e.g. a lot more hook-handed nutters hanging around Finsbury Park, and I suspect a lot more gullible youngsters too - but given the contrast between Spain's experience and ours, it might not hurt to ask what it was that they did right.

OC - That's, again, not to suggest she's right in saying that they shouldn't be published, she is wrong; but Aaro's total lack of willingness to think about the history of the treatment of Muslims in France, and how these cartoons might be perceived by the victims of racism have a part in it, is something he'd have a lot of time for in other situations.

I think there's a very fine line to be trodden here between humouring various religious cranks who could probably do with a cold dose of reality, and just plain turning a deaf ear to people who are putting forward a legitimate point of view.

I don't think it's unreasonable for e.g. Muslims generally in the UK to say that they feel there's a hate campaign been waged against them in the press, and that this is impacting on their view of cartoons about Mohammed, for instance. There obviously has been such a campaign, and if we want people to take our own points seriously, then giving theirs a respectful hearing is the least we can do. I notice that this isn't what Dave does, and like you say, it's noticeable that this isn't always his stance on complaints from thin-skinned minorities.

But then, there's definitely a time and a place for telling people to grow up and sending them off with a flea in their ear as well. Some of the folk I've come across on TV and radio talking about the Paris killings could certainly stand a sharp smack upside the head with the reality club.

It's a matter of picking when to do so and when to show a bit of basic respect, I suppose - I don't think Dave came out of that debate at all as well as some of the folk I've seen talking about it seem to, even if he is in the right.

Igor Belanov said...

And ejh's point about the Atocha bombing is also relevant in that a much greater death toll received much less media attention than the recent attacks in France. They weren't 'only' third-world people either.

gregorach said...

I actually think our post 9/11 reaction was about as counter-productive as it could have been, for reasons that can be summarised as "Giving Al Qaeda exactly what they want - wars, inter-ethnic strife and blazing arguments, for fifteen years".

This is where we head into "no persistent failed policies" territory... It's actually been exceptionally successful for a lot of people and institutions. They've managed to fulfil many of their wildest fantasies off the back of it, and show absolutely no sign of slowing down. The spooks get free rein to rummage around in everybody's lives, defence companies get lucrative new contracts, assorted shysters got handed shrink-wrapped pallets of hundred dollar bills, vicious sadists got to indulge their mediaeval torture fantasies, and so on and so forth.

It's only been counter-productive if you care about stupid, meaningless shit like innocent people's lives, which clearly nobody does. (Well, nobody important anyway.)

Ken Eadie, the Prince of Strikers said...

So the ISIS Herald and Al Qaeda Bugle, publications colloquially known as The Guardian and The Independent, are the only two dailies to publish the new CH Mohammed cover in full.

Nick's head is going to blow up in confusion.

ejh said...

I think we had e.g. a lot more hook-handed nutters hanging around Finsbury Park, and I suspect a lot more gullible youngsters too

Mebbe, though of course we should bear in mind that the total amount of nutter activity is not directed related either to the degree of moral panic it engenders or the likelihood of that panic being translated into governmental action.

Also, Spanish Catholicism is built on the principle of being at war with Islam. Of course, the political representatives of Spanish Catholicism lost power a few days after the 2004 bombing through their own dishonesty and arrogance - mercifully - but as far as I am aware there was no great public desire to see a programme of punitive measures put in place.

(I don't know if there are Spanish equivalents of Nick, Aaro and so on. I kind of assume there are, but I don't need to know that badly.)

organic cheeseboard said...

That French link has been translated now:

Back on that interview - it strikes me that a lot of print journos in the digital age, and the age of rolling news, think of themselves as slightly better debaters than they actually are. It's fine to make arguments in print, which strikes me as Aaro (and maybe Nick's) strength; when they're broadcast live those two in particular have a tendency to come across as belligerent and hostile, and less rational than they might like. Cohen in particular is really poor at keeping calm, especially on the topic of Iraq, descending really quickly into 'you all love Saddam' and 'toppling dictators isn't illegal' - without the space of a column, this stuff sounds even sillier.

It's poor form in a debate to start saying things like 'I put it to you that you don't find this cartoon offensive' as Aaro did - even if her reasons weren't phrased well, to near-immediately accuse her of lying seems uncharitable at best; he also unpleasantly tried to pre-empt responses, coming across more as an amateur interviewer than a talking head. It was all the worse for that, giving it the feeling of two people ganging up on one, who just happened to not have English as her first language (though she was fluent) - the effect wasn't great. This also happened when Aaro debated with that weirdo Gilad Atzmon - Aaro had turned up armed with a bunch of quotes cobbled together from Harry's place, and just recited them at Atzmon, which didn't make it a debate at all; that kind of thing won't succeed in getting the audience onside.

I'd be interested to see what Aaro's written today. The first para looked like unpromising nutpicking.

flyingrodent said...

I'd be interested to see what Aaro's written today. The first para looked like unpromising nutpicking.

To be fair, he does actually name a couple of people this time - Mehdi Hassan of the New Statesman and Alice Thomson of the Times. However, it's noticeable that these two are the only ones that he exempts from the charge he slings at all the unnamed people he mentions, of "blaming the victim".

The other people he talks about - a Guardian assistant editor; an anonymous BBC reporter; unnamed letter writers - are all explicitly accused of saying that "the cartoonists (had) brought this on themselves".

This is quite a grand claim to make, when the very worst thing that any of these nameless people have said is that the cartoons are either a bit dodgy or inflammatory.

I suppose we're back to the old HP Sauce-standard level of debate whereby a person saying that something is "inflammatory" is indistinguishable from a person saying that folk who kill cartoonists absolutely aren't responsible from their own actions, and that cartoonists deserve to die.

Anyway, I'll add a brief and very unfair summary of Aaro's article this afternoon and I'll reprint the whole thing, if anyone specifically requests it.

organic cheeseboard said...

It'd be nice to put it up here if ye don't mind. Having looked on Twitter, Andrew Adams pointed towards a 'Gerasites' piece which includes this:

Has it really been beyond [the editors of UK newspapers'] wits to get together, do the right and proper thing and decide to publish as one? I suggest no. And it is time they did.

once paragraph later:

It seems strange to need another terror attack or threat to achieve one’s goal.

Now, I know he isn't ACTUALLY encouraging another terror attack, purely so every UK newspaper is forced to reprint images of Muhammad (which is his 'goal' - not for newspapers to be able to choose, but for every paper to be forced into printing these images).

Surely even its own author could see just how awful that word 'need' looks though...

flyingrodent said...

Dave's column today - spelling/punctuation errors are probably mine.

The weasels of "free speech" need strangling

Let's be clear: There is no justification for limiting what people say or express unless serious damage would result.

David Aaronovitch, The Times, 15 January 2015

Of course we are not all Charlie. Many of us never were. So much so that in the days since the great Paris march a Venusian, scanning newspaper letter and comment pages, might be excused for imagining that last week a gang of armed cartoonists had stormed a houseful of slightly combustible Muslims and shot themselves. When the new Charlie Hebdo front-page cartoon appeared on Monday, an assistant editor at the Guardian wrote that in depicting Mohammed holding the “Je suis Charlie” placard the magazine was “adding insult to injury by claiming the prophet would support the values of the magazine”.

Not all the various ways that people found not to defend free speech were quite so inane. But find them they did and it is now time to strangle some weasels. They were to be spotted in the familiar red-brick rectory insistence, which found several niches on our own letters page, that (lamentably) the cartoonists had brought this upon themselves by being impolite to people whose capacity to withstand such robustness was not great.

This strand was familiar from the Rushdie days. Poke a hornet’s nest with a stick and what do you expect? I’ve written here before that we British do quite a line in victim-blaming: she must have said something, he must have provoked her and so on. My thought is that such a form of apologism makes the apologists feel safer, because they would never be so provocative, so under-dressed, so drunk. Therefore no-one would kill or rape them.

The BBC reporter’s phrase du jour on Tuesday, much repeated, was that the new cartoon was “fanning the flames”, a suggestion that was a provocation in itself. Wouldn’t you, if you were a bit flamy, consider this an invitation to be fanned? An unconsidered possibility was that people might be sensible, look at the cartoon of someone supposed to be Muhammad saying “All is forgiven” and think “OK, fair enough”.

In her column on this subject yesterday my colleague Alice Thomson referred the matter to the court of good manners. Just because you can say something, she wrote, doesn’t mean you should. Some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons had been crude and a bit insulting. “There is a difference,” she pointed out, “between being informative, challenging and provocative and simply being offensive”.

The leap over complexity in that sentence is the word “simply”. What are we to do where a play or an artwork, say, is informative, challenging, provocative and offensive. Or where I say it’s offensive and you say it’s challenging?

flyingrodent said...

...Or where she says its offensive in one way, when she really means it’s offensive in another. On Tuesday I found myself on Radio 4 debating the latest cartoon with a Muslim commentator. I set out to discover what specifically she found offensive about the cartoon. She talked about other cartoons being racist stereotypes. She referred to Nazi era cartoons of Jews. She talked about how other people out there would be angry. It was one obfuscation after another, until finally she said: “As a deeply spiritual and religious person I cannot, I do not accept that the Prophet is depicted on the front page of a cartoon magazine”.

And that was it – the rest had all been different tinted concealers applied with a mop. No matter how you dressed it up, you couldn’t draw something and call it Muhammad. Perhaps she knew and perhaps she didn’t that the origin of the proscription was a fear of the Prophet being over-exalted, not of his being insulted, and that – in any case – perfectly spiritual Persians had depicted him for centuries.

Part of the rectory response was an assertion that people’s deep “beliefs” are not to be mocked. But when people say this they always mean religious beliefs. They accord religion a special status of protection that does not apply to politics. But Stalin was genuinely venerated, as was Mao. Kim still is. If we are talking offence to belief, should we have held off satirising the Great Leaders of Humanity because of the sensibilities of their followers?

I have little time to discuss the proposal that Islam is not a fair target for lampooning because its adherents in the west are a powerless minority. Even if that were a good reason (and it is actually a condescension) there are five Islamic republics and 21 other countries where Islam is the official religion and where mighty and usually despotic governments lay claim to legitimacy based on Islamic precepts.

Possibly the grubbiest and most disreputable of the weasels used to justify or offset threats to free speech concerns the hypocrisy of those who are defending it. This one runs thus: X who wants freedom for Y doesn’t support it for Z, therefore we shouldn’t worry about Y. Ugh.

But the greatest and most common weasel is what I would now call the Hasan formulation, laid down by the Muslim commentator Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman this week.

After the usual light-footed trip round the outhouses he stayed still long enough to deliver this oh-so plausible proposition: “None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech. We all agree there are always going to be lines that, for the purposes of law and order, cannot be crossed; or for the purposes and decency, should not be crossed. We differ only on where those lines should be drawn”.

The Hasan formulation (which is to be found everywhere) is pernicious because it is both superficially true and utterly untrue. I shouldn’t have to rehearse why freedom of speech is good, and why consequently there has never been a tyrant or despot in history who hasn’t tried to restrict it. An absence of freedom of speech distorts and terrorises. It creates ignorant, cowed people and vile, unaccountable government.

It follows from this that the test for limiting speech or expression would have to be a stringent one. Only if you could show that people would suffer significant damage as a direct and intentional result of this expression do I think bans can be justified.

So when someone says “we differ only in where those lines should be drawn” – the critical word being “only” as in “just” or “merely” or “in the insignificant matter of” – they are engaging in an intellectual fraud. Mehdi Hasan, for whom freedom of speech may be significantly less important than, say, community cohesion or order or his idea of his prophet, does not differ with me only about lines. He differs with me – and, I hope many of you – about principles. Essential principles.

organic cheeseboard said...

I saw EJH mention this on Twitter but still:

Only if you could show that people would suffer significant damage as a direct and intentional result of this expression do I think bans can be justified.

This is, if nothing else, real eye-of-the-beholder stuff, isn't it? Who's to say what 'direct and intentional' means, after all? And what kind of 'damage'? It's an amazingly weaselly way to conclude a piece that's meant to oppose weaselry in all its forms.

Also this is really unkind:

No matter how you dressed it up, you couldn’t draw something and call it Muhammad. Perhaps she knew and perhaps she didn’t that the origin of the proscription was a fear of the Prophet being over-exalted, not of his being insulted

I'd imagine she ('a Muslim commentator' - has he forgotten her name?) knew that full well, but the religious edict still stands. And - to go on about this, but still - he specifically said to her 'you are not offended' in the exchange. He didn't ask her why she was, h told her she wasn't.


in any case – perfectly spiritual Persians had depicted him for centuries

which she's probably opposed to as well. surely he's not now suggesting that all Muslims should follow their example? This would be like telling Catholics that they should abandon all interest in the Pope, since 'perfectly spiritual Germans' have been doing so for centuries.

There's an awful lot of 'perhaps he thinks X' and 'perhaps she knew, perhaps not' in it too. Couldn't he have asked them?

flyingrodent said...

This is, if nothing else, real eye-of-the-beholder stuff, isn't it?

It really is and I do have to note that my definition of what should be covered by "free speech" is probably broader than Dave's. He's previously had quite a lot to say about speech involving official secrets and the circumstances in which it is and isn't acceptable, which isn't one of my bugbears. Also, I clearly recall that Aaro once finished one of his columns - in which he essentially alleged that the BBC was rooting for Colonel Gadaffi in the Libya War - with the sentence "I think that sometimes the messenger should be shot". (TBF, he didn't mean literally, but IIRC he did actually mean some kind of professional sanction).

There's an awful lot of 'perhaps he thinks X' and 'perhaps she knew, perhaps not' in it too. Couldn't he have asked them?

In typical Dave fashion, there's a good bit of "let's leave loose implications hanging that some people think that cartoonists deserve to be murdered, without providing any evidence to that end". It's not a coincidence that this sentiment is directly applied to the people he doesn't name, rather than the ones that he does.

flyingrodent said...

And while I'm at it, I suppose what jibs me about Dave and his ilk giving it fire and brimstone 24/7 at everyone who offends them is that we don't need anyone to tell us that e.g. Islamist murderers are bad. We can see that for ourselves. We don't need Dave to tell us that the ideology that drives Islamist killers is bad either, since that's obvious to all.

We don't need Dave or any other op-ed hacks to protect us from e.g. Mehdi Hasan or Lenin out of Lenin's Tomb, because barely anyone reads these people or gives a shit what they have to see. Half the people who encounter their work wouldn't, if not for other hacks linking to them and shitting their pants in terror about their awful opinions.

And we don't need Dave to tell us that free speech is great, any more than we need him to tell us that alcohol is great, because good products have a way of selling themselves. You never see an advert for shagging, for instance, and yet there's plenty of it going on all over the place. Some things, you just don't need to advertise, and free speech is one.

What we do need is people to keep an eye on our own government and let us know when it pulls loopy crackdowns on the sly, because unlike even a few angry twats with machine guns, they actually can screw all of us effortlessly.

And yet whenever the Tories come up with some new wheeze on free speech, you can pretty much guarantee that Dave and his mates will be working PR for them on what a good idea it all is, in very condescending tones.

ejh said...

Who's to say what 'direct and intentional' means, after all?

Well, the answer is that this would presumably be set out in the legislation and subsequently clarified by actual judgements in actual court cases, most of which would probably not be about pictorial representations of the Prophet. Which is why I am far from convinced that Aaro has actually thought this through, because while his criteria might be very suitable for that particular issue they might very well not be where other instances are concerned.

I can't see, for instance, how such criteria could avoid legalising quite a lot of hate speech, albeit presumably not that aimed immediately and directly at given individuals. But I'm not a lawyer.

Talking of not being a lawyer, it's only that accident of fate which saves me being confident that were Teju Cole to sue John Dolan over the latter's ludicrous Pando article, it'd be a foregone conclusion in Cole's favour.

ejh said...

Also re: Hasan, Richard Seymour* or, for instance, Seumas Milne. I'm not particularly interested in the War On Columnists We Don't Like, for a few reasons: partly because I tend to like these columnists more than I like the columnists who don't like them, partly because I dislike attempts to purge "the left" by being vastly unpleasant about individuals and partly because, you know, I don't get all my news from Seumas Milne. Nor do I get it all from Noam Chomsky. I'm well aware that people such as these tend strongly to take a line against whatever the West is doing at any given moment, but in fact from my point of view this is a service rather than a deficiency because they are going to tell me things which otherwise I'm not going to know. And if I don't agree with their overall view, if I think it lacks balance then so what? I can top it up from somewhere else.

In different contexts this is called "pluralism" and is considered a good thing.

[* it should be noted that I have in the last been a contributor to Lenin's Tomb. I have not, as it happens, seen Richard's Jacobin piece.]

flyingrodent said...

I'd say that the best way to work e.g. hate speech legally is to keep certain things crimes, such as: threats, racial abuse, open incitement to violence and what would amount to a breach of the peace under Scots law - screaming insults in the street, and so on.

The good thing about that proposition is that all that stuff has been illegal for decades and it doesn't require any new legislation to make it so. What we actually have now (at least up here) is, to put it mildly, open to broader interpretation and far harsher on football fans than it is on other citizens.

Aaro's theory probably wouldn't cover much of this, I expect, but then years of reading his output makes me suspect that he's not really thought through this statement in light of some of his previous comments.

I'm not particularly interested in the War On Columnists We Don't Like, for a few reasons...

God knows how you wound up here, since I cover this stuff both as kind of a public service, and because once you've got into the habit, it becomes second nature.

organic cheeseboard said...

I finally looked at that (indeed ludicrous) Dolan piece and it's kind of an extreme example of what we're seeing a lot, from Aaro and Nick especially; find some articles you don't like (to quote EJH - all by writers who are, uncoincidentally, people you're predisposed to dislike anyway, and possibly even have a history of clashing with in public), then squint really hard and pretend they're saying the things that the imaginary leftie 'relativist'* baddies in your head have said. That guardian assistant editor one is especially rubbish - the piece itself is poorly-argued, granted, but to get so upset at one slightly unfortunate turn of phrase is just silly, especially when his point was pretty clear and uncontroversial, if wrongheaded.

As your other post says FR, we already do have pretty good freedom of speech in this country. And I'm really unconvinced by the Aaro line - as you both say, it would probably lead to the legalization of most hate speech. The typical Decent response to this - that hate speech will wither away and die in the face of 'robust debate' - is disproven by pretty much every shouty, angry intervention by Nick and Aaro in this kind of debate. It's also, again, entirely in the eye of the beholder, and it would take some brass balls from Aaro to suggest that UK law's definition of racism be changed, given previous debates on e.g. the EU's definition of antisemitism. and to reiterate:

significant damage as a direct and intentional result of this expression

Who's to say what the intent is here? Hasn't there already been a fairly sizeable debate about the CH cartoons, e.g. the one with women made pregnant by Boko Haram as welfare scroungers, where the 'intent' is not in fact clear at all? Wouldn't it effectively legalise all intentional racism free for its producer to claim 'misinterpretation'? I don't think he's thought this through at all - it feels like, in his zeal to attack Mehdi Hasan, that he's come up with something that on a different day he'd castigate.

* incidentally, even the least charitable caricature of what 'relativism' is wouldn't go so far as to justify these murders.

ejh said...

and because once you've got into the habit, it becomes second nature.

I imagine there must be people who have had precisely the same argument about Iraq, with precisely the same other people, just about every day for a dozen years now.

Everybody's got to have a hobby, etc.

flyingrodent said...

Everybody's got to have a hobby, etc.

Indeed and, in that spirit, I note that Nick is today telling people who do not think that the Pope is a liberal, that the Pope is not a liberal...

...In tones that suggest he thinks he's landing a powerful and courageous blow upon the dominant forces of people who think that the Pope is indeed a liberal. Such people appear largely to be figments of Nick's very fertile imagination.

Elsewhere, our old mucker Paul Berman has discovered a modern pathology so depraved and all-pervading that there's apparently no need at all for him to provide even circumstantial evidence that it exists.

It's really quite telling that, stripped of its assertions and speculations, Berman's piece becomes the literary equivalent of a grown man wrestling to the death with a rubber chicken.

Organic cheeseboard said...

Herman has a fucking cheek claiming that the only Muslims who would oppose depictions of Muhammad are "pious Muslims who adhere to an old-fashioned Sunni faith" or some such - that'd be news to the Shias I know who also oppose them. Bonus points for the unsubtle insinuation that anyone who opposes them just might be a little Islamist themselves.

My favourite thing about Nick's Twitter feed is seeing his personally chosen titles for his pieces - the ones the subs obviously laugh at. This one is about "the pope's dangerous deceptions" apparently, despite containing the total of zero references to the pope having lied. I think he's trying to suggest the thing you mention, FR, about the Pope not really being a wet "liberal", but nobody thought that in the first place. Carholics I know think he's a major improvement on the last one but nobody thinks he's "liberal", whatever that even means.

That Tablet magazine also has another piece which quotes Berman saying that massacring Jews simply because of their Jewishness is "European" and an alien concept in the Muslim world. Did he just miss that Synagogue attack in Jerusalem?

flyingrodent said...

In different contexts this is called "pluralism" and is considered a good thing.

Skimming this thread again, I see that I failed to address Justin's point, and should have done - so, I agree strongly with you here.

However, after years of arguing about this stuff, I've learned that there's just no point in digging your heels in over whether badthinker (x) said (y), or whether he was actually saying (z). You can't convince people who are determined that it was one or the other, if their whole point is utterly dependent on it - the best you'll get is an admission that okay, (x) might not have meant (z), but he should've been more cautious and anyway, we all know what he really thinks.

What I've learned to do over the years - and it is very effective - is to say well, even if (x) did say (unacceptable horror), who fucking cares? It affects the world around us not one jot.

And I have to say, I keep using it because it absolutely clamps people who are making grand, unsupported claims about (x) and the wider whatever of everything.

Now, I can see why folk might think it unsporting to just concede like that, but I'd assert that it makes it much easier to cut through all the bullshit and get to the point.

And, nine times out of ten, it becomes quickly apparent to all but the most biased reader that the point is usually that the person you're speaking to is talking absolute shite.

Which is, I'd say, more important than an extended, open-ended and unwinnable rammy.