Centrism Is The New Extremism

Owen Jones - Brexit - Hardline Remainers - Extremism

For many years, the most angry and bitter invective in our political discourse hailed from the far Left and Right. But now it is the supposedly rational and pragmatic centrists who are becoming unhinged and increasingly uncivilised.

Like the stopped clock which still tells the correct time twice a day, once in awhile Owen Jones has a passing moment of clarity and perception and utters a statement with which a normal person can actually agree.

Today is one of those days. Noting that he is taking increasing amounts of flak not from hard Brexiteers but from hardcore ideological Remainers, Owen Jones noted on Twitter that “centrism – online at least – is at risk of becoming an angry, bitter, intolerant cult. Does that concern its proponents at all?”

Jones follows up by noting that “a certain type of Hard Remainer online have become angry, bitter, intolerant, and determined to root out the impure on their own side”:

Slow hand clap.

Jones isn’t wrong, and while one might legitimately question whether he is the best person to be accusing others of being angry and bitter, he makes a fair point – there is a very real and growing rage building among the pro-EU centre-left, a rage which is spilling over and causing people to say all manner of outlandish things.

In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum there was a sort of stunned silence from the Remain camp. Many arch-Remainers were also the same establishment centre-left figures who found themselves banished to the margins of the Labour Party by the Jeremy Corbyn ascendancy back in 2015. To be cast from power and influence within their own party and then to feel Britain’s EU membership – which has become emblematic of their perception of themselves and the country as enlightened, progressive internationalists – slip through their fingers only a year later was more than many centrists could bear. At first.

But it did not take long for shock to turn into anger and defiant resolve. Harnessing huge amounts of denial (“the referendum was only advisory”, “the Leave campaign had a monopoly on lies and so the result should be invalidated”) many centre-leftists, realising that their entire worldview was not only under attack but on the verge of defeat, stirred themselves into action.

We saw this with the court case brought by Gina Miller, in which the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Parliament must have a say on the final Brexit deal negotiate by the government. We saw it too in the flourishing of groups and social media accounts dedicated not to making the best of Brexit now that the country had voted for it, but rather trying to overrule that vote and remain in the EU at all costs.

I noted this phenomenon myself a few weeks ago, admitting that we Brexiteers had underestimated the ability of the pro-EU, centrist establishment to launch a reactionary hissy fit several orders of magnitude bigger than the anti-establishment backlashes which led to Brexit in Britain and President Trump in America:

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Effectively overruling the establishment’s carefully laid out plan for our lives was always going to generate a huge backlash, from powerful and well-connected people with the ability to make traditional grassroots anti-establishment backlashes look like a cake sale at the Women’s Institute.

Perhaps we forgot this fact because we Brexiteers and defenders of nation state democracy were so used to being part of a backlash ourselves – the backlash against the establishment – that we didn’t give enough credence to the fact that globalists, disinterested “citizens of the world” and other assorted types are equally as invested in their worldview as we are in ours, and in a far stronger position to defend it from attack.

And now that they have experienced repudiation at the ballot box, the establishment’s ability to turn howls of outrage into a full-on filibuster of democratically-made decisions is stronger than many of us planned for.

We are definitely witnessing an ossifying or hardening of positions among many Remainers. Before the EU referendum last year, some of these people could occasionally be found admitting that the European Union was not perfect and urgently needed reform, and even that membership had some downsides (even if outweighed by the positives).

You won’t find arch-Remainers talking like this in the press or on social media any more. Now that the prospect of Brexit looms, the EU is perfect and irreproachable, and Brexiteers aren’t just misguided but actively evil for casting Britain into the abyss. (Well, to be fair, many hardcore Remainers always asserted that Brexiteers were evil racists, but they now do so with increased frequency and venom).

The Guardian recently published a piece by Will Hutton, who declared that Brexit is “our generation’s Dunkirk”, as though tactical retreat in the midst of an existential world war is in any way comparable to the peaceful, diplomatically negotiated departure from a supranational political union.

In a spittle-flecked fury, Hutton wails:

Last week, Labour peer Lord Adonis compared leaving the EU as a mistake analogous to appeasement. He is right. Brexiters Davis, Fox and Johnson are from the same anti-modern, delusional world view that produced the strategic foreign policy mistakes of the 1930s and the emasculation of the mixed-economy, state-led approach that underpinned the economic success of 1931-50.

Then, at least, we had underlying strengths, representing the opposite of their philosophy, upon which to fall back on. Brexit is our generation’s Dunkirk, but with no flotilla of small boats and no underlying economic strength to come to the rescue. It’s just defeat.

Now this blog has no time for Liam Fox or Boris Johnson, but even if Theresa May’s government drops the ball completely on Brexit the economic ramifications (bad though they may be) will still fall several degrees short of colossal military failure and impending invasion. To compare Brexit to Dunkirk or to Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement is wild hyperbole of the first order.

But this is what you now have to look and sound like to be accepted into the Remainer / centrist tribe – at least on social media, where nuance and restraint have never been in great supply. Just as the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics doles out “victimhood points” and social status depending on the number of ways that a person can describe themselves as oppressed, the Cult of the EU demands ever more flamboyant declarations of love for the European, furious denunciations of those who disagree and pledges of extreme measures to be taken to stop Brexit at all costs. Because being pro-EU is bound up so tightly in the centrist psyche, Brexit is making many establishment centrists behave like any other identity group that feels under attack, blindly lashing out and playing the role of the victim.

And so in many ways it was inevitable that arch-Remainers would be suspicious of the likes of Owen Jones, and seek to publicly denounce him. Back in 2015, when the EU was turning the screws on Greece and effectively subverting Greek democracy, Jones came close to openly advocating for Brexit. Of course, like many others (most notably Ian Dunt, who had virtually nothing good to say about the European Union until he realised that the EU referendum could boost his profile if only he switched sides) Jones eventually returned to the fold, taking the wishful thinking Varoufakis position that we should remain in the EU in order to reform it.

But like all extremist movements, the hardcore ideological Remainers have long memories and no statute of limitations when it comes to heresy. Owen Jones once expressed doubts about Our Beloved EU, Fount of All Good Things. And he compounded this thoughtcrime by accepting the reality of Brexit rather than raging against it, even penning a lengthy account entitled “Why I’m a remainer who accepts the EU referendum result”. Therefore he must be punished and cast out. As Jones notes, “the Hard Remainers want to overturn the EU referendum and regard the likes of me as traitors and impure for wanting a soft Brexit instead.”

The centrists of old – back when they were free and easy, on the ascendancy, certain that their basic worldview was coming to fruition and would perpetuate itself forever – had a reasonable degree of tolerance for differing opinions. That’s why the likes of Ken Clarke could fit (ideologically at least) under the same political umbrella as someone like Tony Blair, Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna. A few honest differences on a few political points were expected and allowed, since everybody was pulling in the same basic direction. But no longer. Cast out of power, hardcore centrists increasingly use a person’s attitude toward Brexit as an acid test to determine whether they are Good or Bad.

Where will this end? Well, certain excitable centrist MPs and their media cheerleaders seem to be itching to set up a new political party, first with the sole objective of stopping Brexit and remaining in the European Union, and once that deed is accomplished to turn into some kind of new centrist party, a shelter from Theresa May’s authoritarianism and Jeremy Corbyn’s unabashed socialism.

I wrote an entire blog post yesterday about why this idea is idiotic and will never come to fruition. But what would such a party look like, if the normal constraints of British electoral politics were magically removed and a new “centrist” party formed?

By definition it would be full of extremists – the kind of people whose fanatical devotion to the European Union is such that it overrides their previous party loyalties and makes them willing to jump into bed with other people who might have quite different ideas about the optimal size and function of the state, spending priorities, social issues or a million and one other policies.

Such a party would be full of EU-worshipping zealots who would pay any price and bear any burden to thwart Brexit – ironic, since many of them complain about so-called Brexit extremism. But more than that, it would be full of deluded souls who think that if only Brexit can be stopped, everything would just go back to how it was before David Cameron called the referendum; that the anti-establishment backlash which helped to deliver Brexit would simply melt away as people shrugged their shoulders and accepted being overruled by their social betters.

This is delusional. The reason that Blairite and Cameronite centrism lies discarded in the gutter right now is because its most ardent practitioners were content with a system which rewarded people like themselves while leaving millions of others in dead-end jobs or left on the welfare trash heap with little realistic prospect for self-betterment – and because they were openly, snarlingly contemptuous of anybody who dared point this out or raise an objection. Centrism is discredited because it inspired successive British governments to effectively outsource whole swathes of governance and policymaking to the European Union, with MPs and ministers enjoying the trappings of power despite having vested many of their responsibilities in a supranational government even less accountable or responsive to the popular will than Westminster.

A new political party (or government) full of centrist extremists, bitter and vengeful at having been temporarily dethroned, would immediately seek to roll Britain back to 2015 (or 2010, depending on whether they are centre-left or centre-right extremists). But the British people have moved on. A majority want to get on with Brexit even if they voted to Remain in the referendum. They want to move forward, not backward.

But despite being totally impractical and doomed to failure, expect to hear more talk of a new, dedicated anti-Brexit party. Expect to hear more overwrought headlines and tweets comparing Brexit to such and such atrocity or genocide. The rage continues to grow among the dispossessed centrists, and they have a vastly bigger platform to air their grievances than those on the ideological Left or Right.

You see, these people have never lost before. They are accustomed to winning, and do not know how to behave in the face of defeat. Since 1997, whichever party was in power, Labour or Conservative, the centrists’ worldview inched ever closer to fruition. And if that consensus failed to deliver for millions of Britons – those at the sharp end of globalisation or those who simply care a lot about democracy and constitutional matters – then so be it. They got theirs, and that’s all that mattered.

Thank goodness that this cosy centrist consensus has finally been broken, and that these arrogant, selfish and overrated people will have to take their failed and discredited ideology to battle in the political arena along with the rest of us, rather than continuing to win by default.

 

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The Abnormalization Of President Trump

Abnormalization of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is not the first US president to ride roughshod over the Constitution or flout the checks and balances on executive power – and an honest media with any credibility would acknowledge as much

In highlighting the latest craven example of oversensitive American university students and administrations rescinding invitations to prominent conservative-leaning speakers, the Washington Post reports:

Once reserved for cheesy senior photos at campus landmarks, college commencement exercises have graduated into something different six months after Donald Trump was elected president: a battleground for protesting conservative policies and the people who promote them.

This is incredibly disingenuous. The trend of academic institutions and strident students refusing to tolerate the presence of anybody whose opinions diverge from the current leftist, social justice orthodoxy has been on the ascendance for well over a decade now, has accelerated rapidly in the last five years and has been widely commented on, written about and discussed – not least on this blog.

And yet here the Washington Post seeks to present the “student snowflake” syndrome as a new development which only now is rearing its head “six months after Donald Trump was elected president”. This comes perilously close to excusing the rising tide of illiberalism as merely a symptom or reaction against Trump’s unexpected victory, when in actual fact anybody with a functioning brain knows that Donald Trump’s victory was largely the symptom or reaction against the illiberal, intolerant Control Left.

But we are now witnessing a trend of articles and Op-Eds such as this, all seeking to portray every last one of Donald Trump’s actions as US president as being extreme and unprecedented in recent history. On foreign policy, domestic policy, constitutional matters and social issues, critics of Donald Trump (including the prestige Washington media) often seek to portray Trump as far more extreme than he has thus far shown himself to be, at least as far as policy initiatives and executive actions are concerned.

None of this is to support Donald Trump or excuse the atrocious start he has made to his presidency, which has been characterised by one largely self-inflicted political wound after another. Rather, the point is that by falsely pretending that every time Donald Trump breathes he is gravely wounding the Republic in ways unmatched by any previous president, Trump’s critics and the media inadvertently excuse serious failings in US policy and of past US administrations which deserve to be studied, criticised and rectified rather than merely glossed over.

Nicole Hemmer picked up on some of these areas as part of an article in Politico Magazine:

Many journalists covering the White House have lapsed into a practice of “Trump exceptionalism,” a tendency to assume each move the administration makes is new and nefarious. This assumption comes from a well-meaning place—a worry that they will be complicit in normalizing dangerous behavior in an American leader. But there are real risks, too.

First, it leads to quick-trigger panic over events that are normal. Take the reaction to the administration’s dismissal of 46 U.S. attorneys. Journalists framed it as a purge, and the panic escalated when one of those attorneys, Preet Bharara, refused to resign and was subsequently fired. But the dismissal of U.S. attorneys has been standard practice since the 1990s. The novel behavior here was Bharara’s. There’s a cost to getting this wrong: Cry wolf too many times, and readers are less likely to listen when the real dangers appear.

But perhaps the more important consequence of Trump exceptionalism is that it encourages journalists to overlook continuities. Trump is an abnormal president, unprecedented in many ways. But he is not sui generis. His anti-Muslim policies, hard-line anti-immigration stance, even his economic populism and free-trade skepticism all have long histories—even within mainstream conservatism. His nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was as straightforwardly Republican as it gets.

One can quibble over the wording and focus of Hemmer’s argument – hysterically and disingenuously talking about Trump being “anti-immigration” when he has expressed no clear reservations whatsoever about legal immigration, for example. But her basic point is correct – inexperienced and superficial DC journalists have been too eager to cram every piece of news into their “Trump is unprecedented” narrative, whether each individual action happens to fit the mould or not.

When it comes to the Trump administration’s recent overtures to more authoritarian regimes (including Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s dictator-in-gestation Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), Glenn Greenwald does a far better job counting the ways that US support for morally questionable allies is far from unprecedented:

Since at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: In a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policymakers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for its mass killings and aggressively enabled the genocide carried out by one of the 20th century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

Nor is Trump’s foreign policy behaviour a particular departure from more recent US administrations:

U.S. devotion to the world’s worst dictators did not end, or even recede, upon the end of the Cold War. Both the Bush and Obama administrations continually armed, funded, supported, and praised the world’s worst dictators.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually said of the murderous Egyptian dictator supported by the U.S.: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” When Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew that country’s first elected government, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, hailed him for “restoring democracy,” and as Sisi became more brutal and repressive, the Obama administration lavished him with more weapons and money. The U.S. government did the same for the human-rights abusing dictators in Bahrain.

And of course this is to say nothing of Saudi Arabia.

It is bad enough having a US president who seems to suffer from self-delusions. That the Washington media and commentariat are engaging in fantastical delusions of their own is doubly dangerous for American democracy and policy.

To read the combined output of the American media, one would be forgiven for thinking that the George W. Bush administration never sanctioned the illegal torture of prisoners through dubious legal memos, and that the Obama administration never once decided to blast American citizens off the face of the earth with drone strikes, maintaining a “kill list” of US citizens who could be zapped without any due process.

No, apparently all of these sins are now forgiven – to the extent that the servile, sycophantic Washington media bothered to hold past administrations or senior officials accountable for their actions in the first place, generally preferring to party and intermarry with the political elite rather than be remotely adversarial.

In fact, the harsh truth is this: the only reason that Trump administration officials are being dragged over the coals for their own skirting of the Constitution and departures from US diplomatic and international norms are that Donald Trump has refused to cozy up to the Washington media class in the manner typical to all previous presidents, and so has failed to build up the traditional reserves of goodwill which would otherwise lead to effective immunity from scrutiny or criticism of himself and his administration.

This is a real and pressing problem, because every instance when the mainstream US media freaks out and acts as though Donald Trump is breaking new ground in authoritarianism by simply behaving in the same way as his predecessors only serves to drive a wedge between those media outlets and Trump-sympathising voters who already widely distrust the mainstream media – often with good reason.

Trump supporters need to be legitimately informed of occasions when the US president is acting in an unprecedentedly negative way, and examples of such behaviour – like the firing of FBI director James Comey for an ever-changing kaleidoscope of official reasons – are already rapidly mounting up. But their impact is massively diluted when Trump supporters have legitimate reason to believe that the media, angry at their rude treatment by the White House, is deliberately whipping every story into a major scandal, regardless of individual merit.

And the same goes for the rest of us, too. It does dissenting Republicans, Democrats and independents no favours when their every prejudice about Donald Trump is endlessly reconfirmed by an hysterical media which was only too happy to overlook some of the same faults, vices and mistakes in his predecessors of both parties. This behaviour by the media is not new, but the partisan debasement of political journalism has certainly sunk to new lows since Donald Trump took office.

A strong, almost irrefutable argument can be made that Donald Trump has brought the US presidency to an historical nadir through his personal coarseness, egotism, vengefulness and sheer inability to get to grips with public policy. The degree to which Trump’s political radar – so astute in helping him triumph over the establishment in the Republican primaries and general election – has now deserted him as he seeks to manipulate the levers of power in Washington D.C. is remarkable, if somewhat predictable.

Last week, a journalist was arrested in Washington D.C. for questioning Donald Trump’s Health & Human Services secretary, Tom Price, supposedly too aggressively. The alarming story was widely covered in American media at the time, but it has not driven the news cycle to nearly the same extent as other events which have ultimately proved to be little more than Donald Trump following the precedent set by previous administrations.

Why? Because too many in the media are ready and eager to go to DEFCON 1 every time that Trump opens his mouth, rather than cross-checking to see whether the latest presidential pronouncement or action is genuinely unprecedented or merely a more coarsely-worded rehash of something which would have gone unreported during the Clinton, Bush or Obama years.

Those of us with an active interest in the US media repairing and retaining its credibility in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency should demand better from journalists, pundits and TV talking heads who currently paint every decision made by the Trump White House as an unprecedented step down the road to dictatorship.

The prestige media pretending to its audience that Donald Trump’s upcoming meetings with authoritarian dictators like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are somehow unprecedented in American history is every bit as “fake news” as the ludicrous stories on the fringe Right about President Obama operating a paedophile ring out of the White House – only the prestige media’s lies and distortions are ultimately far more damaging, being read and believed by people with real power and influence in American society.

In short, Donald Trump is providing enough fresh new worrying material for us all. There is no need for the media to add to the drama by inventing more.

 

Donald Trump speaks to reporters

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The Southern Poverty Law Center Is Enabling Islamist Extremism By Smearing Its Most Stalwart Opponents

maajid-nawaz-southern-poverty-law-centre-splc-extremism

By labelling dedicated anti-extremism campaigners like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Majid Nawaz as anti-Muslim extremists themselves, the deluded and morally compromised Southern Poverty Law Centre is doing the Islamists’ work for them

There have been few sadder debasements of once-fine and noble institutions this year than the Southern Poverty Law Center’s decision to stop serving as a fearless searchlight highlighting violent extremism and instead become a trendy-lefty Islamism-denying propaganda outlet.

That might sound harsh, but there really is no other way to describe the SPLC’s fawning, slavish deference to leftist SJW dogma – a philosophy which furiously denies that there is any problem within the Islamic community or with a certain branch of the Muslim faith, and that anybody who disagrees and dares to draw attention to problems within Islam is effectively Hitler.

Last week, in a blaze of publicity, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a list of fifteen individuals singled out by that organisation as holding and disseminating false and extremist information and opinions about Islam.

In the preface to their report, the SPLC declares:

The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.

This misinformation and hateful rhetoric have consequences. When huge numbers of Americans believe that a majority of Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it can hardly be a surprise that some percentage of them engage in hate crime attacks. After all, they learned of the threat they believe Muslims pose from sources who were presented by the media as authoritative experts.

This country faces an array of complex and daunting problems, the threat of terrorism indisputably among them. Let’s not make them worse by allowing self-described “experts” to propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods. Our media, in particular, has the opportunity to present an objective picture that illuminates, rather than distorts, reality.

So far, so noble, you might think. There is certainty a lot of hyperbolic and often baseless scaremongering about Muslims and Islam in the media, and flagging particularly odious or disreputable sources for media attention is not in and of itself a bad thing. Until you realise who is on the list.

Some of the names are old suspects that one would expect to see. But in news which has provoked widespread outrage, the list also includes the names of entirely innocent and worthy activists fighting against Islamist extremism, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz.

And what is the SPLC’s charge sheet against Maajid Nawaz? What actions classify him as an “extremist”?

In the list sent to a top British security official in 2010, headlined “Preventing Terrorism: Where Next for Britain?” Quilliam [Nawaz’s anti-extremism think tank]  wrote, “The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics.” An official with Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit told The Guardian that “[t]he list demonises a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism.”

Well, what’s so shocking about that? It as an entirely logical statement on Nawaz’s part. Unless the people at the SPLC are truly dim and do not recognise a difference between Muslims and Islamists then there is no excuse for trying to turn a perfectly obvious point – that some people who support a fundamentalist ideology will choose violence while others do not – into some kind of “gotcha” smoking gun evidence of Nawaz’s secret Islamophobia.

And worse:

According to a Jan. 24, 2014, report in The Guardian, Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad. He said that he wanted “to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge.”

Was this provocative? Perhaps. But again, Nawaz is himself a Muslim. Who better to judge what is or is not offensive to one’s religious moral code than the person tweeting the image? And even if doing so is “offensive”, are there not times when the offence is a price worth paying to make a broader argument in support of universal free speech? And if the Southern Poverty Law Center is so concerned about the emotional harm that may be inflicted by “blasphemous” acts like this, how do they explain their deafening silence when it comes to Christian beliefs and symbols being mocked in the popular culture?

The SPLC is not taking the side of ordinary Muslims here, some of whom may indeed be quietly offended by depicting Muhammad. They are taking the side of violent Islamists who seek to enforce blasphemy laws in the 21st century.

And then the SLPC really descends into the gutter:

Nawaz, who had described himself as a “feminist,” was “filmed repeatedly trying to touch a naked lap dancer,” according to an April 10, 2015, report in the Daily Mail. The paper apparently got the security film from the owner of a strip club who was incensed by Nawaz’s claims to be a religious Muslim.

And how we have the inevitable SJW identity politics hit job, seeking to ruin Nawaz’s reputation in the court of public opinion by repeating the shocking news that Nawaz has not at all times lived according to the letter of his faith. Well, so what? Sometimes, without thinking, I accidentally eat meat on a Friday during Lent. Does that make me virulently anti-Catholic and unable to fittingly discuss my faith in the media? Of course not. People’s actions diverge from their faith in a myriad of ways, small and large, and this applies just as much to those who got upset about Nawaz’s strip club visit (like the Muslim strip club owner) as to Nawaz himself. None are in a position to judge. Yet the SPLC feels that any divergence from Islamic teaching is sufficient to declare people that they don’t like to be somehow anti-Muslim.

This National Review editorial laments the SPLC’s corruption and decline:

The SPLC is an example of the way in which the Left corrupts and perverts the institutions it controls, from the IRS to the universities. While decrying “conspiracy theorists,” the SPLC itself is obsessed with “Terror from the Right” that is, pardon us for noticing, so rare as to be nearly insignificant. For all of the SPLC’s hysteria about neo-Confederates, skinheads, secret Nazi cabals, and the like, there is very little evidence that these organizations, to the extent that they exist as more than shared social-media fantasies, are actually up to much of anything. Even if we accept the tendentious characterization of SPLC favorite Timothy McVeigh as some kind of right-wing extremist (as with many such figures, his actual beliefs were confused, contradictory, and eccentric), the main organ of white-supremacist nuttery in the United States is prison gangs, which constitute a fairly constrained and peculiar phenomenon with relatively little effect on the outside world.

Not so violent Islamic radicalism, which is a factor in the United States and in practically every country in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and beyond. That is the great irony here: People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are doing the work the SPLC is supposed to be doing — understanding and countering violent extremists — and the SPLC denounces them for it.

Very strange.

Some of those on the SPLC list are Muslims, former Muslims, and lifelong students of Islam. What they mostly have in common is that they are, broadly speaking, conservatives, people who are influential among conservatives, or writers and activists admired by conservatives. The SPLC is so drunk on its own poisonous ideological brew that it has simply come to conflate conservatism with violent or potentially violent extremism. One of these things is not like the others: A category of social tendencies that includes both Aryan Brotherhood felons in San Quentin and Somali-Dutch atheist women with celebrated literary careers is not an especially useful category.

While Nick Cohen provocatively (but accurately) declares in The Spectator that “the white left has issued its first fatwa” against Nawaz:

It is an organisation that ought to share Nawaz’s values, but because of the crisis in left-wing values does the dirty work of the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes, the censors, and the murderers it was founded to oppose. It does it with a straight face because, as I am sure you will have guessed, the fascism in question is not white but Islamic. And once that subject is raised all notions of universal human rights, and indeed basic moral and intellectual decency, are drowned in a sea of bad faith.

Nawaz is from Essex. He has fought and been beaten up by white British neo-Nazis. He fell in with Hizb ut-Tahrir while he was young. When he ended up in a torture chamber in an Egyptian jail, he abandoned Islamism for liberalism. Since then, he and his Quilliam Foundation have struggled against both the white far right and the Islamist far right. They have defended liberal Muslims and, indeed, all of us from lethal blasphemy taboos and the threat of terrorism. They respect freedom of speech, including the freedom of their enemies to speak.

A significant faction on the left hates them for upholding the values they have forgotten,  and will use any smear to denigrate them. As my secularist friend Faisal Saeed Al Mutar observed, when he, Nawaz and hundreds of others step forward and try to liberalise Muslim communities from within, they are attacked, ‘for being not Muslim enough, not Arab enough, not Pakistani enough, not filled with enough revenge and enough hatred’.

In the liberal orientalist world view the only ‘authentic’ Muslim is a barbarian. A battery of insults fires on any Muslim who says otherwise. They are ‘neo-conservatives,’ ‘native informants,’ and ‘Zionists’: they are as extreme as jihadists they oppose, or, let’s face it, worse.

This searing criticism could not be more accurate. For there is nothing so racist as the tyranny of low expectations in which the fashionable leftist intelligentsia holds the Muslim world, viewing them not as people with moral agency of their own but as little pets to be protected (or overgrown pets to be cowered from), people whose sometime decision to commit violence and murder cannot be condemned because it is supposedly “provoked” by forced beyond their control.

I have personally interviewed Maajid Nawaz, back when he was running as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the London constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn in the 2015 UK general election, and whatever one may think of his domestic political views, this is clearly not somebody who belongs on a list of violent, hateful extremists.

What is concerning is that the Southern Poverty Law Center would actually now prefer the old incarnation of Maajid Nawaz, back in the days when he was a member of a legitimate extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. As such, he would be protected under the umbrella of leftist denial and fawning appeasement, so central to the SPLC’s new dogma, and they would bend over backwards to excuse his fundamentalist beliefs and violent actions.

By contrast, having long since rejected violence and an extremist fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, the SPLC would have us believe that Nawaz is somehow full of hatred and antipathy to normal Muslims, the equivalent of a knight of the Ku Klux Klan. It is absolute nonsense – pure, amoral leftist bilge.

This is also how Western civilisation destroys itself – by furiously denying the existence of opposing forces or in some cases openly bending the knee to them, while attacking those who actually recognise the danger and seek to confront it. In a world where precious few people have a remotely coherent strategy for tackling fundamentalist Islamism, Maajid Nawaz stands out as one of those with genuine understanding of the problem, and a plan for addressing it – and so the debased SPLC must now attack and undermine him at all costs, by pretending that he is an anti-Muslim extremist.

And one can only concur with Nick Cohen’s assessment that it is “heartbreaking” to witness an organisation so integral to the American Civil Rights movement, which bravely shone an unforgiving light on genuine violent extremism where it once existed, now creating McCarthyite lists of people who offend leftist/Islamist dogma and labelling them with the same term of “extremist”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list too. Why? Because she actively and gleefully foments prejudice and violence against ordinary innocent Muslims? Of course not. The SPLC include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in their leftist collaborationist fatwa because she had the temerity to renounce her faith and speak out passionately for the cause of secularism, thus gravely offending the real extremists to the point where she has to hire bodyguards to ward off assassination attempts.

It takes some twisted morality to come down on the side of those who seek to carry out an execution for the crime of apostasy over their intended victim, but somehow the SPLC has found a way.

Cohen concludes:

Do these jerks not think about the consequences of their rote-learned, pseudo-leftist bombast? Have they not heard that, across the world, lists circulate of ‘apostates’ along with invitations to the faithful to kill them when they can?

Maybe they have but do not care, and it will take drastic action to shake them out of their spiteful stupor.  A court action could do it. If Nawaz sues, SPLC’s work in fighting the white far right will suffer grievously. But, as it is so eager to be on the wrong side in the fight against the religious far right, I think we could call it evens.

It is hard to disagree. Gone, it seems, are the days when the Southern Poverty Law Center could be found seeking justice for the victims of real prejudice, oppression and extremist violence.

Where once the SPLC battled segregation and fought civil cases to ensure that racist lynchings and arson attacks were acknowledged at a time when the criminal justice system did not want to prosecute them, now they can be found patrolling the borders of our language, seeking to excommunicate decent and honest people from polite society for the high crime of having caused “offence” to certain protected groups.

And when an organisation has drifted so far from its founding ethos to the extent that a one-time civil liberties group is now in the business of making McCarthyite-style lists of people whose blasphemy offends Islamist extremists, then the time has probably come to wash our hands of that organisation, sad though it may be.

 

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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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A Black Flag Flies In London, Revealing A Schism In Britain

Will Crooks Estate Flag London

 

A black flag was flown from the gates of an east London housing estate, and an entire neighbourhood was effectively declared last week not only to be in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the cause of Palestinian statehood, but – contrary to any available evidence or the residents’ consent – to also be united in a shared, extremist interpretation of the Islamic faith.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

The flag bears similar writing to the jihadi flags that have been flown by the extremist group in Iraq and other jihadi groups since the 1990s. When the estate was approached last night, a group of about 20 Asian youths swore at Guardian journalists and told them to leave the area immediately. One youth threatened to smash a camera.

When a passerby tried to take a picture of the flag on a phone, one of the gang asked him if he was Jewish. The passerby replied: “Would it make a difference?” The youth said: “Yes, it fucking would.” Asked if the flag was an Isis flag, one local man said: “It is just the flag of Allah.” But another man asked: “So what if it is?”

Should the black flag be banned from the streets, as it is in some European countries such as the Netherlands? Absolutely not – the right to free speech and freedom of expression is one area where it is actually right to take a maximalist, uncompromising stance despite the difficulties and tensions that it may cause.

Banning the black flag, despite its similarities to the jihadi flags flown by ISIS, is not the right move. If a private individual wishes to mark themselves out in public as a ideologically extremist bigot with pro-terrorism sympathies, that should be their protected right. But the flag had no place being flown on council-owned housing property as though it spoke for all of the residents when it did not, and so it was right that the flag was removed by Sister Christine Frost, a Roman Catholic nun and local community activist.

Douglas Murray summed up the most appropriate reaction to the provocation at the time in The Spectator, explaining in stark terms the gravity of the fact that some British Muslims chose to proudly display a flag of this type in London, so far removed from the various conflicts:

When historians look back on Europe in this era, they will rub their eyes in disbelief. ISIS is carrying out actual genocide, ethnic and religious cleansing on the people of Syria and Iraq. Their exact ideological soul-mates in Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are doing everything they can to set light to the same region. Right now the western states are finally talking of intervening in Iraq to stop ISIS wiping out the ancient Yazidi and Christians communities of Iraq. Yet we do nothing to stop the same murderous ideology thriving here.

Instead another pattern is set. When we see this disgusting ideology at work, as we have done for the last month, much of Europe turns its hatred onto the Saturday people for defending themselves. Israel continues to defend itself. And we may do something to hold back ISIS in Iraq. But what will we do in our societies when we finally realise that behind the flag of Hamas is the black flag of jihad, and that after failing to stand up for the Saturday people there will be fewer people left to stand up for the Sunday people?

Most importantly, what will we do when we wake up to the fact that, far from being in some neighbouring or far-flung country, we have allowed the enemy to plant itself deep inside our own countries?

But perhaps predictably, LondonLive is now reporting that the same young people who raised the flag over a housing estate in east London are complaining that the flag’s very removal is a sign of racism and Islamophibia:

A controversial black flag flown above the gates of an east London council estate is being defended by young Muslims.

The flag – which has been linked to some jihadist groups – has been removed twice by a concerned nun and police officers. 

But youths at the Will Crooks estate in Poplar have today said assumptions that the flag is linked to extremist groups is ‘racist’. 

One youth said: “It’s just racists complaining. If it was the St George’s flag, it would be alright. But this is our version and there’s this big reaction.”

More than the fact that the flag was raised in the first place by one or two deluded hotheads, it is the fact that the flag was then defended by other, supposedly representative local youths, that should give everyone the greatest cause for concern.

Here, in the young peoples’ protest, is the whole problem in a nutshell, the root of the problem with Islamic extremism in Britain. It’s the regrettable attitude by some Muslims that proclaims “You may be English, but we’re Muslim”. It’s the stubborn belief among its adherents that they are Muslims who just happen to live in Britain, rather than British people who happen to follow the religion of Islam. And yes, it’s the craven support from some appeasers on the left, who overlook or excuse the lack of  integration with British society, and echo their accusations of Islamophobia and racism directed at anyone who argues for greater cultural assimilation and the embracing of British values.

The fact that the go-to defence offered up by the local youths was a comparison with the St George’s Flag, one of the home nation flags of the United Kingdom, reveals the height of the mountain that must be overcome. The St George’s Flag belongs just as much to the angry Muslim youths in the Will Crooks housing estate as it does to anyone else in England, but they choose to reject it in favour of a religious flag, despite the fact that their chosen standard has a violent, gory recent history.

In modern Britain (with the partial exception of Northern Ireland, where sectarianism and flags are still linked with intolerance and violence), one’s religion and faith is not demarcated with a flag. Indeed, religion and national identity or patriotism exist, for the most part, on separate planes – and much the better for it. A British Catholic may follow Church doctrine and hold the Papacy in the highest reverence, but will likely identify as British first and foremost, and it is to the country that their primary allegiance lies. The same could be said of most British Jews, or mainstream British Muslims.

But there is a sizeable, vocal block of non-mainstream Muslims who clearly do not identify themselves as British first and foremost, who in some cases feel that they are pitted against their non-Muslim neighbours and compatriots because of their faith. And these people are eagerly capitalising on events taking place many thousands of miles away – in Iraq, Syria and Gaza – to pledge their solidarity with and allegiance to this religious, cross-border fraternity before they give any thought to Britain, the country that gives them life and liberty.

This has to stop, but in order for the situation to change it must first be recognised as a problem. This recognition needs to come from Britain’s mainstream Muslims first and foremost – of course community leaders and parents can only do so much to teach tolerance and British values when social media and internet voices speak the language of extremism, but still an effort must be made commensurate with the scale of the problem.

But the rest of us have a role to play too. Where there is genuine Islamophobia, we must confront it and correct misconceptions about moderate, mainstream Islam. But equally, we must not be cowed into defending extremism when we encounter it, for fear of being labelled racist or intolerant. We have seen the insidious harm that can be done when a blind eye is turned to the extremist threat in the case of the Birmingham “trojan horse” schools scandal.

The people who chose to hung the black flag from the gates of the Will Crooks estate in Tower Hamlets were not merely expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza in the course of the current conflict with Israel. They went above and beyond that statement of solidarity (which was itself inappropriate as it presumed to speak for the whole community without their consent), and flew a flag which they knew to have connotations of violence and extremism. Any pretence that it was all just an innocent misunderstanding was shattered when the flag was re-flown again days after being taken down.

Unless and until the wall of stubborn, self-imposed segregation is broken down between tolerant, mainstream Britain (including moderate British Muslims) and those sullen holdouts who feel stronger identification and fealty to primitive, medieval dogma than to their own country, Britain will continue to wrestle with this toxic (and increasingly existentially threatening) issue.

And before long, an offensive flag flying in the shadow of Canary Wharf will be the very least of our concerns.

 

Photograph: From Trial by Jeory blog.