Saturday, April 09, 2016

The Imaginary Bacon Rolls Of Terror

Brendan O'Neill isn't happy with the liberals and multiculturalists this week, or any other week, for that matter.

He's concerned about that Charlie Hebdo think-piece, the one about how the Muslims are oppressing everyone by wandering around wearing headscarves and so on.  Specifically, he's worried that  

"...chilling of discussion around Islam encourages a climate of mutual apprehension and tension in European communities, where non-Muslims are implicitly told to keep their concerns to themselves while Muslims increasingly come to live in a kind of protective bubble of non-criticism or just non-discussion".

And I mean, he has a point here.  It's certainly true that you can attract plenty of hysterical abuse, simply for speaking reasonably on various Islam-themed topics.  I'll add that the same is true of sport journalists who get on the wrong side of football fans; critics who e.g. give superhero movies bad reviews and women who have the temerity to say things while being female.

Still, Brendan's describing an existing phenomenon here*, and the Hebdo case is very unusual in that it's one of very few involving the threat of actual violence, rather than just some twatty comments on social media.

It's worth noting though that the Hebdo piece didn't piss people off because it was telling us uncomfortable truths.  It mainly annoyed people because it's yet another example of folk intentionally acting like stroppy, belligerent dicks, while theatrically complaining about how they're not allowed to act like stroppy, belligerent dicks.  Basically much like The Spectator, but French.

And of course, folk have every right to act like stroppy, belligerent dicks if they so please, much as other people have every right to respond by calling them racists, or whatever.

Is it racist, to kick off on a mad ramble about how pissed off you are that the Muslims won't even let you buy a bacon roll in an imaginary bakery?  Is it bigoted, to make illogical claims conflating headscarves and nailbombs?

Well maybe it is and maybe it isn't, and the distinction doesn't really matter much to me.  The iron rule remains the same either way - you don't have to be racist to be an arsehole.

That being the case, the Hebdo piece looks to me like that very modern form of opinion journalism - the deliberately antagonising cry-wank.

All I did was deliberately go out of my way to annoy people, and now they're all annoyed because they are so very thin-skinned and unreasonable.  Oh, woe!

And none of this is happening in a vaccuum.  The French generally are a bit more... robust than we are, on such issues.  Their public figures certainly aren't afraid to say precisely what they think.  French intellectuals routinely announce that Everything Is Fucked because white people are too nice to the ethnics, and it's always seemed to me that there's a strong undercurrent in French thought that foreigners can never be French, mostly because of their wacky religious beliefs.

And let's remember that there is currently a cultural and political movement that is rocking like a hurricane in France, and that it isn't self-censorship or bashfulness in the face of fruity foreign fatwas.  It's the fucking National Front.

While the hacks wail in terror about snotty Tweets, the actual real far-right is booming.  Let's not insult Brendan, or any of the other howlers and chucklers, by assuming that they aren't aware of precisely the type of politics that is driving headscarf bans or pork-only school lunches.

I think that ultimately, what we're looking at here is deep confusion** about the difference between

- Secularism
- Intentionally being as dickish as possible, and
- Media types going out of their way to annoy people and then complaining about tyranny when people get annoyed.

Secularism itself involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether e.g. boiling with resentment about the unavailability of imaginary ham sandwiches is an example of secularism, or just of people being as dickish as possible.  

What I will say is that this confusion isn't at all cost-free.  It's precisely this kind of nonsense that's brought us such unedifying occurrences as:

British soldiers kicking down doors in Helmand in order to liberate Afghan women from their husbands, fathers and brothers; 

The French government freeing women from oppression by threatening them with arrest if they wear the wrong outfits, and French authorities giving schoolkids the choice between eating pork or fucking off, and

The British government trying to help oppressed Muslim women by deporting the ones that don't speak English.

If there's some kind of intellectual battle going on here, I suspect that it's between people who are trying not to be dicks about everything, and people who are determined to be as dickish as possible, all the time.

It's not always easy to tell which is which, because there's a hell of a lot of overlap between the two sides and because both deploy similar levels of apocalyptic boo-hoo, but it can be done.


*As it happens, I often agree with Brendan on most free speech issues.  I think it is problematic that many political and media types are afraid to speak their minds openly because they think they'll be branded racists.  As I've argued in the past of characters including Nick Griffin, Nigel Farage and David Starkey, the best thing for everyone is to encourage cranks to be as frank as possible, and to let the public decide whether they're arseholes or not.  I'm very confident about the public's judgement on that, at least. 

**A deep confusion that is being intentionally sown by hacks including Brendan O'Neill, by the way.

19 comments:

septicisle said...

I have conflicting views on that editorial because while a: I don't think it is conflating bombs with women wearing headscarves and bakers not selling ham/bacon rolls as Nesrine Malik in the Graun argued (she was one of the "punch up not down" crowd previously), indeed making clear with its description of the Brussels attackers that it doesn't consider them in any way representative of Islam it b: does seem to argue that being criticised for criticising those who openly practice their religion sets society on the road to murderous bastards shooting up satirical periodicals because of pencil drawings.

Which doesn't make a lot of sense, however much in the way of allowance you make for, well, exactly the former. This said, this is pretty much the first time Charlie has gone out of its way to be dickish in English rather than just in French, and I think they have every right to be peeved about a fair amount of the previous non-French reaction to their cartoons in the aftermath of the shooting. More than anything, Charlie seems to see itself as the last defender of a peculiarly French form of secularism that everyone else has abandoned. There's something to be said for their demand that everyone justify their beliefs, but as we saw post-Brussels that inevitably leads to fuckwads asking random Muslim women (it always is women they pick on, isn't it?) to condemn something that had nothing to do with them.

As you say, often these raging bells are right about free speech, the problem is they are raging bells while being right.

flyingrodent said...

it... does seem to argue that being criticised for criticising those who openly practice their religion sets society on the road to murderous bastards shooting up satirical periodicals because of pencil drawings.

It does seem to do that, and to cast the very idea of criticism as active cowardice.

Frankly, I'd fully understand if the Hebdo mob had been considerably angrier and more offensive about Islam as a whole. Some events tend to discourage reasonable consideration, and having a pair of wannabe space-ninjas of death execute your friends en masse is definitely the kind of thing that would prompt most people to some intemperate remarks, at very least.

My attitude to religion has always been like HL Mencken's: You respect another man's religious beliefs, in much the same way that you respect his belief that his wife is beautiful and his children are smart.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing consensus amongst The Serious Pundits that rather than following this perfectly reasonable advice, we should all instead get out there and really resist Islam super-hard, with all of our Islam-resisting powers.

The problem with this is that after we're all done really resisting Islam super-hard, we're going to be in exactly the same situation that we are now - we'll still all have to live together with religious believers in something approaching peace. If anything, we'll have made this more difficult, since the actual practical meaning of "Resisting Islam super-hard" seems to be "Non-specific reactionary belligerence aimed at all the Muslims".

The entire debate just seems stupid and childish to me. Let's be really, really belligerent towards the Muslims this time! Alright, and then what? Well, let's be even more belligerent at them! Okay, and then? More belligerence!

Quite what the hell any of this is supposed to achieve is anyone's guess, really.

Bonus points too for the Hebdo piece though, for the complaints about how people are afraid to say that they don't like the headscarf.

This, in a country where the government have literally banned the headscarf and have made wearing one an arrestable offence. Just bizarre stuff.

flyingrodent said...

As you say, often these raging bells are right about free speech, the problem is they are raging bells while being right.

It's very unfortunate that our leading free speech advocates are mostly a bunch of angry and very unreasonable people but then, I suppose that isn't surprising.

organic cheeseboard said...

A few things on THAT editorial. Feel free to ignore.

[Tariq Ramadan's] task, under cover of debate, is to dissuade people from criticising his religion in any way. The political science students who listened to him last week will, once they have become journalists or local officials, not even dare to write nor say anything negative about Islam. The little dent in their secularism made that day will bear fruit in a fear of criticising lest they appear Islamophobic. That is Tariq Ramadan's task.

This seems another manifestation of the belief that 'University students are simply incapable of thinking for themselves and if they hear a speaker they will simply agree with them forever' which we see so often in e.g. Nick Cohen's writings about postmodernism (which apparently no student has ever dared to criticise, just like no academic has ever criticised it, etc).

why go on whining about the wearing of the veil and pointing the finger of blame at these women? We should shut up, look elsewhere and move past all the street-insults and rumpus.

Having read the editorial several times, I still don't understand this section. On whose part are these 'street-insults and rumpus'? Charlie Hebdo fairly clearly and consistently use the language/images of bigots in order to make legitimate points about bigotry. But here it seems like they're encouraging the insulting, and maybe even physical assault ('rumpus'?) of women in the street on the basis of their appearance...? Am I missing something? I also wonder how often the author of this piece actually enacts this street-insulting, if it is indeed the case.

It is secularism which is being forced into retreat.

As you say, I really don't see how this is happening, especially in France. And the logical conclusions to the fairly odd examples they use are, in order: banning religious speakers from appearing at Universities - or indeed anywhere that future politicians/journalists might hear them (thus banning them from the airwaves too?); to ban headscarves (so, er, check); to force all bakeries to sell pork products (what are they going to do, give restaurants a list of dishes they're allowed to make)? And given that the editorial specifically says that it's not just a question of Islam, are they actually suggesting that France should ban people wearing skullcaps?

From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts.

But we're not, though, are we? And if we follow this stupid logic, then we end up by being submerged in guilt because we can't admit that McDonald's is 'forbidding us' from eating fillet steaks. In Summer, builders also regularly forbid me from admitting that I'm troubled by their naked beer bellies. Etc etc.

Also:

we should all instead get out there and really resist Islam super-hard, with all of our Islam-resisting powers.

This is, I think, the Decent line on Islam and free speech - that we should vociferously condemn 'political Islam' wherever we can. Unfortunately the poster people for this kind of criticism are almost inevitably people who criticize Islam per se, in all its forms and manifestations, often using some seriously worrying language (here e.g. Douglas 'brown people aren't really British and the EDL are great' Murray, Ayaan 'secular dictators who are Muslim are actually Islamist dictators because Islam' Hirsi Ali, and even Charlie 'you're just too scared to admit that you want the law to compel Muslim people to make you ham sandwiches' Hebdo).

Anonymous said...

Secularism itself involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law

That's certainly how some people use the word, but others use it to mean something subtly different: the idea that not only should the state be separated from religious institutions, but that the state should actively resist / discourage religious institutions.

That is; some people, when they say 'secularism', mean the state should be areligious; some mean that it should be actively anti-religious. Perhaps not quite so far as the ultimate 'secular state', the USSR, which actively tried to abolish religion, but certainly more to that side of the spectrum.

British secularism, due in large part to the history of fudging and various compromises which produced the Church of England, has always been more of the first sort; but French secularism, on the other hand, thanks to the legacy of the Revolution in which the Church was seen as being the enemy, has tended towards the second. Hence, for example, support for things like their anti-veil laws.

I haven't read the editorial in question but it seems to me that as it was written in France, it must be understood in the context of the French flavour of secularism, rather than the English.

flyingrodent said...

Yes, the definition of secularism there is lifted from the National Secular Society's website, so it's the UK version.

I'm absolutely fine with understanding all this in the context of the French version of secularism. If we're doing that though, it's only fair that we make it pretty explicit that the French version of secularism involves a surprisingly large amount of people and the state going out of their way to be antagonistic towards people, most of whom are minding their own business rather than actively dictating terms to their countrymen.

ejh said...

For instance

organic cheeseboard said...

I wrote a big thing responding to the CH editorial on here but it seems to have been eaten, and maybe that is for the best, though below I have ended up rehashing bits of it, sorry. One thing I think I said therein though, and which is echoed in other comments here, is that it's a bit unfortunate that the voices who claim to be champions of free speech have such a habit of saying things that are really unsupportable and seem to be being said for the sake of causing offence.

For instance, despite being more or less a secularist in the English sense, I don't really think I can agree with much in the CH editorial - I still don't really see what they can want re: bakeries other than forcing all bakeries to sell a state-mandated list of pork products (and indeed, I guess, meat products, if the owners are e.g. vegetarian). I can't really see any other ways to read that section, but it's surely a colossal 'solution' to a problem that doesn't really exist. And in any case, as you say, the French state is already openly antagonistic towards Muslims - are CH seriously arguing for a complete ban on headscarves on their own grounds of feeling 'troubled' by them? And if they are, are they going to ban e.g. skullcaps too? There's also a passage in that editorial that seems to approve of women being shouted at and physically hassled in the street if they're wearing headscarves too. I might be reading that wrong, but I can't really agree with the state banning any items of clothing. This might all be part of that aforementioned 'peculiarly French tradition', but still.

But the main reason for posting this was to refer to another one of the Decent-approved 'writers who speak their mind on Islam', Douglas Murray. In one of his now very rare Spectator posts: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/trevor-phillips-is-finally-discovering-the-pitfalls-of-the-term-islamophobia/ he seems to have decided that in fact he does still believe that 'all Muslim immigration into the country must stop' on the basis of a shonky poll of 1000 Muslims, which he thinks proves that allowing Muslims into Europe is a 'suicide mission' (that's from a differnt recent piece).

gastro george said...

Re the Phillips prog, I wonder what would have been said if the main target had been Hasidic Jews - especially considering the acreage of print that has recently been devoted to antisemitism in the Labour Party.

flyingrodent said...

I wrote a big thing responding to the CH editorial on here but it seems to have been eaten...

Yes, I saw this and read it at the time. Five minutes later, it was gone. As in, like it was never there - not in spam folders or email, or anywhere.

Apologies to anyone who's had this happen. Blogger is very, very old.

ejh said...

Shouldn't happen though. Is this something that actually appered on the blog, and then somehow winked out of existence? It's not in the Spam section in Posts > Comments? And do you have the function activiated wich sends you the text of comments by email?

flyingrodent said...

*Now* it's in the spam folder - released now, see above.

God only knows how it works. It was published, then suddenly disappeared; it wasn't in the spam folder this morning, but was there when I looked two minutes ago.

Very weird, and apologies again to anyone who's had comments eaten.

organic cheeseboard said...

Weird, but thank you!

ejh said...

See, first they won't let you get a bacon roll and next thing you know it's McDonald's under threat.

organic cheeseboard said...

That McDonalds thing is so obviously concocted, coming as it does just after lots of puff pieces for the company in the press and just ahead of a dubious relaunch (introducing table service to try to beat the 'gourmet' places - i really can't see it working), and carrying absolutely no good way for Labour to deal with it (they accept, therefore the leadership have no principles and love tax dodging, anti-union companies; they reject it and they hate the poor who obviously all absolutely love McDs) and yet so many journos lapped it up as if it were some sort of 'avoidable gaffe'.

Bonus points though to the journos who presumably guffawed at Tories not actually eating pasties often, who clearly never eat McDs themselves (e.g. Rentoul claiming to like the universally-hated Filet O'Fish - though actually, given how many things he likes which everyone else hates, maybe he does actually like it).

organic cheeseboard said...

Totally off topic, but I notice that the Rentoul and thus Blairite line on the Junior Doctors' strike is apparently this one:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/25/the-tragic-naivety-of-immature-junior-doctors-and-their-strike/

You'll never guess what it involves. Oh wait, you will - it involves taking a few unnamed and anonymous Twitter accounts as representative of doctors per se, and it also suggests that doctors are all idiots who don't understand politics, 'having had no contact with politics at all until this year' (yes really). It suggests, with no evidence, that Jeremy Hunt and the Govt know what's really best for the NHS, with again no evidence given (and, as above, the piece requires its author to totally ignore e.g. the Tory top-down reorganisation that everyone admits was a total shambles - because clearly, the people responsible for that knew what they were doing, and it clearly had no impact at all on doctors who've never heard of politics til now).

But ZOMG those evil twitterati! some of them, though they weren't actually doctors, and actually there was just one, was homophobic too! Well played Rentoul, I'm convinced - unions bad, Tories good. (But don't ever suggest that e.g. Rentoul is supporting so many Tory policies, without even giving the opposition basic good faith understanding, that it's hard to see how and why he supports Labour. That's on the 'banned list' obvo). as again, 'genuine Labour opposition' for Blairites means supporting the government at the expense of workers and the NHS.

Phil said...

That's James Kirkup, who I think is just a Tory.

organic cheeseboard said...

Well yeah that's sort of my point - Blairite 'opposition' seems to mainly involve agreeing with Tories about everything because People in Government Know What They Are Doing. I've seen Rentoul suggest that he admired this in Cameron when he was in opposition - when he made a big deal of the Tories carrying the Labour education reforms - but the whole point of that was to demonstrate, among other things, that Blair couldn't carry his party with him. The fact that Rentoul seems to have totally missed this - pretty much the clearest indication of how they ended up with Corbyn - says quite a lot I think.

I can't really see how this would work with Corbyn - is he genuinely meant to start e.g. supporting Tory policy on education now? Is he meant to go along with their NHS reforms? It seems they're still stuck in the Liz Kendall school of Labour which is 'agree with the Tories and tell your party members who disagree that they're stupid for not understanding why you're doing it'.

The fact that almost every single Government policy has unravelled in the past few months, in no small part down to the fact that they've all been so fucking awful, full of holes and unjustifiable, again obviously demonstrates weak opposition, I guess. Because if Corbyn was strong then the Tories would have - er - what?

I can't be bothered too much with this obvious dead cat of an 'antisemitism crisis' but I wish just one journo would look at the in-no-way-coincidental timing of the Paul Staines blog releasing what little they have a week before council elections. They'd obviously been sitting on it for months, and given that they continued to use Aidan Burley as a source after he'd literally arranged a Hitler theme stag do, I'm not sure they're all that useful an ally in, well, anything. Equally I can't understand how more people haven't questioned the sincerity of John Mann's preposterous actions - asking the press to turn up and film him haranguing Ken, who was on the fucking phone, I mean for god's sake. The cameras wouldn't normally have been on at that point - Mann actively asked to be filmed doing it, and for what purpose? I mean Ken is a fucking idiot, no doubt, but it'd be nice if just one political writer in this country actually asked questions about this stuff instead of going waa waa Corbyn all the time.

Bonus points to Nick Cohen this week for managed to write an anti-feminist (women talking about rape never get asked personal questions about it), antisemitic (anti-Zionist Jews are conflict-shy weaklings who don't really mean what they say) and also Muslim-hating (Labour have to hate on Jews because they need Muslim votes) piece about how awful Lefty prejudice is. Kudos, mate.

organic cheeseboard said...

Nice to see, in my continuing Nick Cohen obsession, that's he's abandoned the Decently-admired stance of having 'left the left' and is now suggesting that a 'new left' take over the Labour party. The identity of this 'new left'? Well, its policies seem to be exactly the same as those of the the current party leadership, but it just won't be run by Jeremy Corbyn, but A. N. other, as long presumably as they meet the Decent 'seriousness' test - yet the policies Nick's proposing automatically fail it:

My fear is that it will be replaced not with a serious commitment to reform, but with the terrified conformism that characterised the Labour party after Tony Blair became leader. Labour will be so desperate to prove it is strong on national security that it will agree with whatever the generals and security services propose. It will be so desperate to appear economically reputable that it will endorse rather than oppose the stagnant system the Cameron government has presided over.

Wait. What? how can e.g. John Rentoul praise this article when it's suggesting doing EXACTLY what Corbyn's Labour is doing, in its apparent 'lack of serious opposition'? Nick here is suggesting that Labour oppose austerity and treat any military ventures with extreme caution. The chtutzpah (wonder if newly-Jewish Nick knows what that means eh, given his lack of knowledge of 'Mazeltov') is amazing. Do Decents even read the things they promote any more?

Kudos to Nick also for going into genuinely conspiratorial thinking, claiming twice in a week that Labour has been running on antisemitic platforms in Muslim-dominated areas. Surely if this had happened there'd be actual evidence for it? It'd be a bit more serious than e.g. someone liking a Facebook post, no? Yet this is not conspiratorial race-baiting. But e.g. suggesting that the Tories want to sell the NHS off - for which there's a lot of actual evidence - is conspiracy theorizing of the most loony kind. Christ on a bike.