07 August 2014

Douglas Murray Is Not a Liar

Here's how Douglas Murray (if you've not heard of him, he's just some dude who has opinions on Muslims for money) manages to make a politician sound like a 50ft bionic Osama Bin Laden, for having taken a principled stand he didn't approve of, without ever actually saying anything that is untrue.
Farewell then Sayeeda, Baroness Warsi. The most over-promoted, incapable and incompetent minister of recent times has finally done the nation one service and resigned.
This is basically just opinion, but I've a sneaking suspicion he deliberately included "over-promoted" so he didn't have to give the incapable and incompetent award to the former Minister for Education.
This morning she announced on Twitter that she can ‘no longer support government policy on Gaza.’ That would be government policy that now includes reviewing all arms export licenses to Israel? Not strong enough for Sayeeda, it would seem.
The 'all' is there to make it seem like a really big policy decision rather than just a "review".
It was not hard to see this coming. Not just because Warsi’s Twitter activity in recent weeks has mainly consisted of pumping out support for Hamas-run Gaza
Douglas's first big non-lie. If you call it "Hamas-run Gaza" you don't just get to make support for Gaza (a bit of land with actual human beings living on it) sound like support for Hamas, you actually get to include the phrase "support for Hamas", in case anyone is only half-reading the article to have their existing opinions massaged and worries that they might be wrong dismissed (this is the purpose of the Spectator).
and berating supporters of Israel for saying things she disagrees with,
Long-winded synonym for 'arguing with'.
but also because she has shown a career-long sympathy for Hamas and other Islamic radicals. In 2006, on an ‘Any Questions’ on BBC Radio 4, Warsi welcomed the election of Hamas in Gaza.
I wonder what she could possibly have said.
This was after the group had killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks. Apparently unable to imagine that Hamas governing Gaza might be a problem, she said: ‘I think what’s happened in the Middle East with the election of Hamas is actually an opportunity and I think that’s the way we’ve got to see it. When groups that practice violence are suddenly propelled into power through a democratic process they get responsibility and responsibility can be a tremendously taming factor.’
Turns out this was the kind of support for terrorism where you're happy that engagement in democratic processes might make them calm down and start doing less terrorism.
Well, how wrong she was. Hamas used the opportunity of their poll ‘mandate’ to kill their Palestinian Fatah opponents in Gaza, stage a military coup and never hold another election. They then spent the money sent from abroad in aid of the Palestinian people to arm themselves with weapons to fire at Israel and to construct tunnel complexes to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel on Jewish holy days. But Warsi’s ‘soft’ line on Hamas was just part of the broader picture.
I'm not sure who said "soft" but it seems here to mean "made what Douglas Murray considers to be an overly optimistic prediction regarding". You'll also note that the violence he describes after Hamas was elected is a lot less than the hundreds killed in suicide bombings before.
As the Times newspaper reported, back in 2006, in an article for the Asian newspaper Awaaz (written while she was vice-chairman of the Conservative Party) Warsi described the then Labour Government’s anti-terror proposals as ‘enough to tip any normal young man into the realms of a radicalized fanatic.’
Not only did she as a member of the opposition, oppose government anti-terror legislation, a thing Douglas Murray likes, she also opposed the war in Iraq.
And she wrote that ‘if terrorism is the use of violence against civilians, then where does that leave us in Iraq?’ In 2007 I discovered where she thought that left us. During a rather heated and angry Question Time, just after two car bombs had been placed outside a London nightclub on lady’s night, we got onto Iraq.
Here Douglas Murray makes condemning terrorism sound like approving of terrorism. He also doesn't specify who got heated and angry, but I bet it was the Muslim, you know what they're like. I'm also not sure how they got onto Iraq, but what probably happened was, after the question on the two car bombs was finished, they moved onto another question (the structure of Question Time involves several questions, one after the other). It sounds here like the discussion was cynically derailed.
I repeatedly asked Warsi to condemn the killing of British troops in Iraq. She repeatedly refused to do so. I don’t think I’ve ever had more emails from servicemen and women and their families, asking how it could be that a Conservative (then shadow) minister would not condemn the killing of British troops while they were on active service.
Douglas Murray, a man who gets angry with Muslims for opposing the killing of civilians, also gets angry when they don't condemn soldiers being killed on active service. This is because Douglas Murray literally doesn't know what soldiers are or what a war is and wants people to condemn the fighting you occasionally get on battlefields.
Warsi’s track-record of dubious support goes on. For instance, she expressed support for Kashmiri terrorist groups who she described as engaged in freedom fighting.
He doesn't have to quote this bit for some reason, which probably means it wasn't very shocking, and odds on began "one man's terrorist is another man's…"
And all the time she got away with it because she held herself out as the voice of the Muslims, and in particular of the ‘middle ground’. In fact she simply created this image by attacking people who almost anybody from the Muslim communities can attack — Anjem Choudary, al-Muhajiroun etc.
This is the bit where he concedes she condemns extremism without actually having to concede anything.
But her interests were clearly not in trying to move opinion in a genuinely constructive direction. Increasingly as ‘minister of faith’ she used her position not to tackle the extremists who she should have been tackling but to persuade the UK government that it should make ‘a priority’ of tackling ‘Islamophobia’.
Editorial point: stylistically speaking any prejudice you hold yourself should be placed in quotation marks.
Her priorities remained skewed. When, earlier this year, she tried to put together a panel at the Foreign Office looking into ‘Religious Freedom’ (fine subject though this is at a time when Christians are being massacred and religiously ‘cleansed’ across two continents)
This is not a thing Warsi was actually involved in, I should point out. Douglas Murray cleverly agrees with the aims of the panel, while making it sound like the panel is opposed to them.
those she invited to join it included the Muslim Brotherhood dauphin Tariq Ramadan.
You may not know the word 'dauphin'. It's French for 'prince', specifically the heir apparent. It has a double meaning, since it sounds very important and powerful, but it also means the son of the king. While university lecturer Tariq Ramadan is not himself in the Muslim Brotherhood and holds no kind of office in the organisation, his father was at one point a prominent figure. You also get to include the phrase "included the Muslim Brotherhood".
Her time in government was filled with disasters. She repeatedly narrowly avoided being sacked. Her car-crashes mostly came over her attempts to develop what was effectively a parallel set of policies to those of the British government of which she was meant to be part. Word was that she had become increasingly angry after various reshuffles in which it became plain that she would never be given a ministry.
It's rare that you get to call a senior Tory catastrophically inept in the Spectator so I'll let Douglas enjoy it.
She doubtless concocted in her mind various conspiracies as to why this might be
We have no way of knowing if this is the case, but Douglas Murray is not a man to ever doubt his own speculation.
but the reason was single and obvious: she did not have the ability. Realising that this ambition was to be thwarted, she manoeuvred to turn her position in Cabinet into one which was somehow meant to ‘represent’ Muslims. Purest, as well as dangerous nonsense. Everybody in Cabinet is there to represent everybody in Britain.
Here Douglas stops taking about a politician giving extra focus to one section of the electorate, and starts talking as if she was exclusively representing that group. Rumour has it Douglas Murray is also extremely angry about ministers trying to represent pensioners or small business owners but his editor won't accept the pitch.
But Warsi encouraged sectarianism rather than diminishing it. And where she could have used her position to side-line the extremists within Britain’s Muslim communities, she spent more of her time trying to stop people criticising the extremists within Britain’s Muslim communities. She was a notable behind-the-scenes critic of genuine Muslim reformers, in particular.
Behind-the-scenes criticism is the best sort of criticism for this article because nobody will ever expect you to say who or what she was criticising for what or in what words. For a translation of "trying to stop people criticising the extremists", see earlier translations of "berating…disagreeing" and the above stylistic guidelines regarding "Islamophobia".
Warsi’s time in government set back the fight to detach the extremists from the majority, and repeatedly blurred the lines around extremism.
This is a very vague in terms of what the fuck she actually did, but it does contain two variants on the word 'extremist' so you get as much of the picture as you need to have an opinion.
She was promoted by David Cameron because of her sex and religious identity. Her fast-tracking into the Lords, Shadow Cabinet and then the Cabinet was identity politics at its most cynical and — in the end — counterproductive.
'Identity politics', here, refers to the inclusion of peers, rather than MPs in a cabinet, and the offering of peerages to figures the government wishes to include in politics, two otherwise unheard of practices.
David Cameron wanted to promote a Muslim woman, grabbed the first one he could see, and promoted her. She turned out to be a bad one.
Well if you will pick a fucking Tory…
The only good thing is that, were David Cameron at all tempted to repeat this reach-out today he would find that there are actually talented, capable and inspiring minority ethnic candidates in his parliamentary party and elsewhere. Perhaps he will have learnt his lesson, in which case we might be able to declare the age of identity politics — epitomised by Sayeeda Warsi — as very happily over.
Remember, "identity politics" rarely means anything beyond "I am a white man angry about race and/or gender issues but don't really know why", and of course we'll all be glad when this age is over.

22 April 2014

Atheism FAQ: Myths and Facts

MYTHAtheist men are forced by their faith to wear the Fedora.
FACT: False. The Fedora is not, and has never been inherent to the Atheist religion. It is in fact a local cultural practice, thought to originate in the Reddit region of the Internet, which has spread widely among adherents of the faith. Not all male Atheists wear the Fedora, while many who do have freely chosen to wear it and do not consider it at all degrading.

MYTHWomen are subjugated and considered inferior by the doctrines of Atheism.
FACT: Partly true. While hardline Atheists do have traditional, often hateful attitudes to women, there are some progressive sects within the faith, such as AtheismPlus, which fight to change this. Needless to say, these brave moderates and reformers frequently find themselves subjected to harassment and violent threats by the hardliners and traditionalists, but there are signs of change!

MYTHAtheism is a racist ideology.
FACT: False. Atheists are forbidden to even see colour, and are commanded to identify and drive out The Real Racist wherever he should be found.

MYTHAtheism is a religion of peace.
FACT: False. While there are peaceful Atheists, for every moderate there is a Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens ready to justify the harassment, torture, murder and even mass-genocide of non-Atheists at home and abroad. In conclusion, Atheism is diverse and mixed, but there are some Atheists who do not advocate violence or terror.

MYTHAtheism is not a religion, for it has no beliefs or dogma.
FACT: False. This is a common belief among Atheists, and rests on a different understanding of the terms. Whereas, in Atheist theology, 'belief' refers to the beliefs of other religions, the unquestioned and unsubstantiated beliefs of Atheism - such as "Islam is not a race" - are referred to within Atheism as 'facts'. It is not objectively incorrect to call Atheism a 'religion', however to do so conflicts with Atheists' own understanding of their faith, and for this reason they consider the term offensive.

MYTH: Atheists worship the Dictionary.
FACT: False. Atheists are actually forbidden to worship anything, even the Dictionary. Many Atheists do not even believe the Dictionary to be infallible! However, Atheists do see the Dictionary as a source of absolute, incontrovertible Truth. Atheists believe apocalyptic prophecies regarding the fate of the world should the Dictionary ever be questioned or abandoned - namely that "language would lose all meaning" and "a word could mean literally anything". For this reason they are often afraid to deviate from its teachings.

MYTHAtheist Dogma considers Richard Dawkins to be divine and his statements to be infallible, much like the role of the Pope in Catholicism.
FACT: False. While Atheists do not always believe Richard Dawkins cannot be wrong, it is an official dogma of Atheism that Richard Dawkins cannot be racist.

MYTHAtheism is a Millenarian or Messianic movement, anticipating an "end to religion" and a final "age of reason".
FACT: False. Atheists often believe the coming Age of Reason to be the final culmination of human history. However, while Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are frequently referred to as "horsemen of the apocalypse" in Atheist mythology, the vast majority of Atheists choose to interpret this as a metaphor.

MYTHAtheists believe the martyr Christopher Hitchens to be immortal.
FACT: False. Dead as fuck mate.

MYTHAtheists practice a catechism, and must through questioning establish if all earthly things are or are not a race.
FACT: Partly true. Certainly Atheism is characterised by a spirit of curiosity and enquiry and an emphasis on learning for its own sake - as such it is comparable to Islam or particularly Judaism. However the catechistic practice of questioning is neither a method of enquiry or meditation, nor a declaration or test of faith. It is in fact a protective charm invoked when the central dogma of Atheism is questioned by an outsider.

MYTH: The central belief of Atheism is that "Islam is not a race".
FACT: False. While the majority of Atheists do believe "Islam is not a race", and are more vocal in their declarations than with any other article of faith, this, along with "a religion is not a race", and "it is not racist to criticise a religion" is derived from the central dogma of Atheism, namely: "Something you can convert to is not a race. A statement of simple fact is not bigotry."

MYTHIt is forbidden for an Atheist man to enter an elevator.
FACT: False. The official doctrines of Atheism say nothing about stairs or elevators. However, traditional Atheist folklore frequently invokes a malevolent trickster-goddess known as Rebecca Watson, said to use an elevator to ensnare and humiliate Atheist men. Many Atheist men are thus afraid to enter elevators, and should thus be treated with sensitivity and respect.

MYTHAtheism is nothing more than non-belief in god(s); indeed, the term should not even exist.
FACT: Partly true. While Atheists consider "non-belief in god(s)" to be the defining quality of their religion (distinct, in Atheist theology, from the belief that there is no god), for many, Atheism and the beliefs associated with it are a defining part of their personal identity, often prioritised above all others. For this reason a certain amount of sensitivity is necessary when criticising Atheism.

16 January 2014

Cultural Imperialism: How it works

How, you ask, could I be so crass as to talk about "cultural imperialism" or "imposing Western values" when mass underage Hamas child weddings are taking place RIGHT NOW* in the Gaza Strip?
(*2009. I blog slowly)
But it's time we rethink one major aspect of our Euro-American/Christian sensibilities, cultural suppositions and traditional practices, a highly prevalent taboo that most of us take as read:

In the West we have ingrained cultural beliefs that:

  1. The bride at a wedding wears a white dress
  2. The bridesmaids and wedding guests should not upstage the bride
  3. The bridesmaids and wedding guests should especially not wear a white bridal dress
  4. It's really embarrassing if two or more people at a party wear the same clothes
So yeah, then this happened.

Even ignoring their weird, racist beliefs about Islam and paedophilia, a bunch of slow-witted Europeans and Americans imposed their cultural assumption that The Person in the White Dress Is the Bride, looked at somebody's wedding photo, and, believing their own local values to be universal, decided it was full of child brides.

Concepts like "cultural imperialism" and "imposing our values" aren't excuses for irrationality or abhorrent behaviour, they're tools to stop fucking idiot westerners being quite such fucking idiot westerners.

04 January 2014

Stop the Big Damn Heroes, Just for One Day

I'm going to start by saying something controversial: I think Stephen Moffat is a pretty good TV writer. There might be certain flaws in his characterisations. He might be pathologically incapable of making anyone actually properly die. But as a writer he has an impressive talent for messy, complicated situations, where all the loose ends neatly knot together at the end in a fun surprise. So, he's not only come up with two of the scariest monsters in Doctor Who - not just scary-looking but conceptually terrifying - but, by the end of the episode/double bill, the main, terrifying aspect of them has been used to defeat them. Coupling had its spectacularly fuckawful moments and got entirely unwatchable after two serieses, but the two funniest episodes ('Sex, Death and Nudity' and 'The Girl With Two Breasts') were funny because they did this tying together thing very, very well. And obviously this is a useful talent for 1. Programmes about bizarrely incomprehensible time-travel and 2. complex whodunits. He also does a lot of quite good self-referential running gags and one-liners.

But the main reason I found his Doctor Who refreshing was that I hate heroes. I was sick of Russell T. Davies's dashing, handsome, heroic heroes, swaggering round being dashing, handsome and heroic. David Tennant being all cool, Captain Jack with his chin drawn with a set-square, the swishing fucking trenchcoats of it all. It was refreshing to see Matt Smith and Stephen Moffat turn Doctor Who into a madman with a box, an exciteable idiot on holiday. An exciteable idiot with terrible dress sense in a stupid tie and a hat nobody likes. Sherlock, too, is funny because, as well as being an affectionate parody, it plays up what an obnoxious, insensitive, arrogant little dickweasel Sherlock Holmes really is.

Trouble is, Moffat has his own set of problems with heroes. By the end, Number Eleven is swaggering around, swinging a prop in fiery silhouette, as heroic-saga narration explains how much buns he kicked. Genuinely intelligent people are acting as if bowties and fezzes actually are cool, rather than this being the opinion of a badly dressed box-madman. We've got the same insufferable hero worship we got with David Tennant, but with a novelty geek theme. More importantly though, almost all Moffat's major characters and antagonists tend to have the hero as their main or only motive.

Take Moriarty for example. In 'The Final Problem', when Conan Doyle introduces him, he'd barely been aware of Sherlock Holmes, and for a long time completely unaware that Sherlock Holmes had heard of him. Sherlock Holmes needed this to win. In the meantime, Moriarty had a whole crime empire to run rather than pissing about trolling amateur sleuths. In BBC Sherlock though, he's the mastermind behind five of the six episodes in the first two series, specifically targetting and toying with Sherlock Holmes in at least three of them. I wouldn't be surprised to see his ghost surface in Series 3 either. Rather than Sherlock giving up his life pursuing Moriarty, Moriarty devotes his entire existence to pursuing Holmes, seemingly just for the fun of it.

At the climax of each Moffat series, it turns out most of the episodes have been building up to a big conspiracy. As likely as not, all the monsters in the galaxy have turned up in their spaceships and are waiting for him. Maybe they want to put him in a big box, maybe they've stolen a baby and they want it to kill him and he cheated, maybe Withnail has been listening to their prophecies and lured him to his own grave to sneak inside his life. But whatever it was, every Moffat series has a conspiracy against Doctor Who. And then, in this year's Christmas special, it turns out that all those conspiracies - the exploding Tardis that made everyone want to put him in a box, the stolen assassin-baby, the weird Trenzalore knock-knock joke adaptation - were all part of the same conspiracy. An entire version of Doctor Who - and Moffat's entire session as showrunner so far - has been driven by the same conspiracy just to get one bloke. Even the Daleks - who have thousands upon thousands of other sentient races to destroy - put ludicrous amounts of time and energy into chasing round one idiot in a stupid hat.

You also see this with Irene Adler. Now what I will say for Moffat's Adler is she gets a massive upgrade from the books. She goes from a small-time blackmailer who he tricks and exposes, but who outwits him enough to give him the slip and escape with her dignity, to having a ninety-minute intellectual duel with him. But her motives have to change. She's no longer an ordinary musician trying to sneak away with an incriminating photo of her high-profile lover, she's a fangirl who wants to play with him. Maybe she wants to bone him, maybe she wants to play detective powerplay brain-chess with him, maybe she wants to play detective powerplay brain-chess with him as a kind of substitute boning, but either way, her motive is Sherlock. This, it turns out in the end, is her undoing (though if you count it up she might still win on aggregate).

Then we see Doctor Who's lady friends. In and of themselves, I'd say the Female Companion is quite a good way to do it. Yeah, it's quite creepy, even more so after it we got rid of the eccentric uncles and brought in cool handsome young Doctors the companions almost always end up fancying. But the character the audience identifies with, the character whose eyes we're supposed to look through while we try and make sense of this enigmatic, irrational character and his mysterious whims and thoughts, is invariably a woman. It's at least a neat, believable gender-swap of a lot of very old clichés. River Song too, is a brilliant idea for a character, especially since she's seen it all already and runs rings round her husband - though obviously as the story arc goes on the roles get reversed. The problem is, not only do Amy Pond, River Song and Clara Oswald end up becoming mysteries Doctor Who has to solve, the answer is always the same thing: Because of Doctor Who. River is an assassin made to kill him. Amy is her mother. Clara is a succession of variants of herself sent to get him out of sticky situations. Only Amy is introduced as someone who was just getting on with her life before he clattered in and turned everything upside-down, and even that ends up with some odd 26th-June-2010 magic behind it. Then in turn, Rory has the same relationship to her: a plot-device to service a plot-device.

One major thing I like about Doctor Who is his way of saving the day, not after seeing some sort of horrible-bowtie bat-signal and running in, but after blundering accidentally into situations that are already going on. Here, the Weeping Angels are sort of Moffat's saving grace: since they don't have any agenda besides eating time or whatever, he can just stumble in - though even with 'Blink' their initial motive is to get their hands on his delicious Tardis. Sherlock Holmes is the same - he sits around smoking, taking cocaine and playing the violin until someone rings his doorbell with some petty crime that intrigues him. Moffat can't do this. Moffat can do flawed, idiotic, bumbling, arrogant, prickish, quasi-genocidal, actually-slightly-embarrassing heroes, but he can't do heroes who are just there. He can't do heroes who the surrounding characters are indifferent to, or have lives independent of, or would be getting on fine with their galactic crime empires if it wasn't for these meddling nerds. He can't even do heroes without every woman in the show wanting to bone them - at least Captain Jack's square-jawed pan-sexy stud act was funny rather than dim background hum.

Initially this was clever. The Doctor had spent ten, if not twelve, incarnations going round bollocksing up various alien empires' dastardly plans, so it's not surprising a few might be out to get him. Tardises probably are really powerful and desirable. The unwanted fame and cult status and fan speculation become a really good running gag in Sherlock. The "question as old as time itself", broadcast throughout time and space, is quite a smart nod to the "Doctor who?" thing being a really, really old joke, if not a funny nod to it. For all the characters to be basically caused by the hero, for their lives revolve entirely round some galaxy-trotting idiot in a box, can work in small doses. Even Moffat has made it work very well at times. But you need very, very careful gender politics to pull that off, and, well: