Faith, Doubt and Brexit

Anti Brexit march

A warning about the disturbing fundamentalism of Continuity Remain and the anti-Brexit crusaders

In the course of arguing on Twitter this evening, I received back the following piece of friendly psychological analysis from a longtime follower and antagonist.

The text reads:

“You are almost always wrong, as if you’re from another planet. I’m starting to feel pity, not sure if for you or for the people who have to suffer the consequences of what you keep saying with grave conviction. Please take a step back and reflect.”

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Now, I don’t necessarily take issue with the charge of being “almost always wrong”, nor even the insinuation that I hail from extraterrestrial origins. But the funny thing is that I am actually a rather introspective person, and do spend quite a lot of time stepping back and reflecting on my beliefs and political worldview – perhaps in fact never more so than now, when law school has limited my available time to write.

Also, having never attained any level of fame or recognition from my writing (save a solitary appearance on the BBC and the very occasional retweet from a famed Twitter bluecheck journalist) I have not been subject to the temptation to lapse into permanent “transmit mode”, that gnawing need to be seen by my legions of followers as an all-knowing sage, privy to Great Knowledge and the secret schemes of the political elite.

In fact, performing a word count search on my blog reveals that the word “introspection” appears over 30 times in more than 20 articles – usually in the context of me demanding that certain politicians, journalists or other actors engage in some introspection as to their recent behavior, and precisely because I hold myself to this standard of regular self-reflection and accountability.

So I do take it somewhat personally when it is suggested I “take a step back and reflect” on my position on Brexit, because that is something I frequently do anyway. Having begun my age of political awareness as a devout europhile and even ardent euro-federalist, I already know many of the arguments in favor of the EU and against Brexit inside-out, without needed to hear mangled recitations of them from the Continuity Remain lobby’s telegenic campaign mouthpieces. In some cases, I was spouting many of those same tedious lines about “friendship ‘n cooperation” while pro-EU “celebrities” like EU Supergirl and Femi Oluwole were probably still watching children’s television rather than the evening news.

Having been on a journey from ardent euro-federalist (I once proudly wore a polo-shirt emblazoned with the Euro logo, soon after the single currency’s launch) to reluctant supporter to resigned leaver to committed Brexiteer, I have naturally examined and re-examined my views and the evidence supporting them on repeated occasions. That’s what it is to change one’s mind. And when it comes to the question of Britain’s European Union membership, I would always sooner listen to someone who once held an opposing view only to change their minds – whichever side they ultimately end up on – because at least I then know I am dealing with someone who has likely evaluated conflicting evidence or willingly exposed themselves to alternate viewpoints. The result is almost always a more productive exchange of ideas, and the avoidance of those dreary social media debates where two ideologues simply sling dueling talking points at one another with no intention of engaging in real debate.

Thus I continually questioned my beliefs before I started taking a more outspoken role in the Leave movement. Was the EU really as harmful to our democracy and impervious to attempts at reform as I had come to believe? Were many of the benefits of EU membership really replicable through other means that did not involve supranational government? Was the EU actually the best we could hope to do in terms of looking at governance beyond the nation state at a time of globalization? Were there realistic prospects of spurring that broader international discussion through Brexit, or would it be an act of national self-mutilation that had no ripple effects beyond Britain? Would it be better to just bide our time sheltering inside the European Union while we waited for someone else to finally address the pressing issue of balancing global governance with national (and local) democracy? Does it look like anybody else is about to step up to the plate and begin that work? Is the EU actually going to step up, admit its past failings and respond in a humble new citizen-centered way?

I also inevitably thought about how history would judge the positions I took and the statements I made, particularly at a time when social media records every throwaway remark or careless retweet, creating a rich seam of information that can be used by the unscrupulous to destroy one’s reputation and career. If Brexit was likely to fail and its opponents succeed in portraying it as a doomed nationalist spasm fueled primarily by xenophobia, was it worth the risk of me sticking my head above the parapet and supporting it? With so many powerful people on the pro-EU side, Remainers never seriously had to worry about being viewed by the history books as a latter-day Nazi if Brexit succeeded despite their opposition – they had more than enough manpower in the political, commercial, academic and cultural arenas to effectively absolve themselves from any blame for standing in the way of Brexit if it did lead to good things. Not so Brexiteers – like the American revolutionaries who would have been hung for treason had they not prevailed, history’s judgment would likely be merciless to Leave advocates and voters if Brexit did not go well, even if the fault was that of saboteurs determined to ensure that it not succeed.

Even after winning the referendum in 2016, I questioned my choices. The very next day, as Brexiteers toasted victory, I travelled with my wife and friends to Greece on holiday. As we passed through the EU flag-starred lane at passport control, I again asked myself if my decision to support Brexit had been a mistake; whether the EU, imperfect as it is, was the best we could do; whether it were better to remain in a vast bloc and regulatory superpower that looked likely to centralize further and become more powerful, even if it meant the further atrophy of British democracy, in order to remain “in the club”.

And of course the dismal events of the past two years – as Article 50 was triggered prematurely and without a plan, negotiated ineptly by a government sorely lacking in expertise, held to account by a Parliament full of MPs who cared more about appearing superficially knowledgeable or striking partisan poses than actually understanding the important minutiae on which everything depends, watched over by a debased and infantilized national media which either failed to contain its bias or do its due diligence – only led to more such introspection. Was it all a terrible mistake? Was there never anything good to be won? Was it inevitable that things would end up this way, with our government, opposition and legislature beclowning themselves in front of the world on a daily basis?

Yet after all of my questioning, my answer remains the same – Britain was right to vote to leave the European Union. I was right to campaign for Britain to do so. Even now, we are right to pursue Brexit and to resist those who would like to simply maintain the status quo in our governance and relationship with the EU. The fundamentals have not changed – indeed, Continuity Remainers seeking to overturn the result have generally still not bothered to discern precisely what those fundamentals are, in order to better communicate with Leave voters.

I do, however, wonder whether my far more famous and eminent counterparts on the Remain side have ever once engaged in the kind of introspection and self-questioning as to their stance of opposing Brexit and uncritically embracing the EU that I perform on a routine basis regarding my opposition to the project. And I strongly suspect that many of them have not.

Do you think for a moment that James O’Brien, LBC’s anti-Brexit polemicist-in-chief, as ever once taken a break from his task of finding the most inarticulate, confused and angry Brexit supporters to “defeat” in argument on his show to question any of the fundamental issues about the EU and Brexit that I and other Brexiteers consider every day?

James Obrien Brexit LBC

Do you think that eminent celebrity academics like AC Grayling ever once take a break from rending their garments and peddling conspiracy theories on Twitter to consider whether they might themselves be trapped in a closed ideological echo chamber which prevents them from fulfilling the basic academic and scientific duty of exposing their dogmas and hypotheses to scrutiny and criticism from alternative perspectives?

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Do you think that grandees like Tony Blair and John Major ever really stop and reconsider the pivotal moments in their administrations, and ask themselves whether they might have ever misjudged the march toward greater EU integration without public consent? Or is it more likely that they are simply desperate to cement their legacies rather than concede potential error?

Tony Blair and John Major warn against Brexit

Do you think that progressive-left religious leaders like the vast majority of bishops of the Church of England – people who are supposed to unite the nation in faith but who have often chosen instead to use politics to divide us while idolizing a slick salesman’s vision of European unity – have ever prayerfully reflected on their behavior?

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Do you think that issue-illiterate, virtue-signaling woke celebrities like Gary Lineker and Eddie Izzard ever engaged in a serious evaluative process of understanding valid complaints about the EU and the driving forces behind Brexit, or is it more likely that their publicists simply spotted a good opportunity for them to effortlessly win acclaim from the chatterati?

Gary Lineker celebrity Remainer Brexit

Do you think that the self-regarding doyens of the prestige international media ever take a break from communing with Bono to learn the causes of populism in order to question whether their very actions might contribute to the problem, and whether their uncritical acceptance of the legitimacy of bodies like the European Union (and consequent feeble scrutiny of them) was harmful to the very democracy they claim to defend?

Fareed Zakaria Bono Populism Brexit

Do you think that the plum voices of the BBC ever take a break from smearing UKIP voters or flatly declaring without evidence that Tory MPs belong to the “far right” in order to question whether they are really promoting the cause of truth and serving the whole of society?

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Do you think that shamelessly biased Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow ever actually seriously considered whether he was wrong to negatively highlight and criticize the number of “white people” attending a pro-Brexit rally in Westminster?

Jon Snow Brexit Protest criticise white people journalism media bias

In all of the above cases, I believe that the answer is probably “no”. Convinced of their righteousness from the start, these individuals and many others switched into permanent transmit mode on 24 June 2016 (and in some cases long before), never once subjecting themselves to the discomfort and potential cognitive dissonance of questioning their own assumptions.

Maybe these people have actually forfeited the public trust and the right to their bully pulpits in the media.

Maybe when evaluating how Brexit is being attempted, resisted and portrayed in the media, we should ask ourselves who is actually engaging in an intellectual exercise of any kind, and who has simply lapsed into triumphantly bleating articles of faith, with little questioning of their own side. I would argue that many of the latter can be found in prominent positions on the Continuity Remain campaign, or at the apex of those organizations and industries which most strongly support it. And ironically, many of them can also be found publicly marveling at the inability of Brexiteers to reconsider their stance, question their dogmas and change their minds.

The truth is that Brexiteers have had nearly three years of unremitting exposure to the scorn, derision and hatred of many of the most respected and influential groups in our society – the politicians elected to our Parliament; the people who staff our civil service, lead our educational institutions, run our largest companies, lead our charities and edit our newspapers; the people who act in our favorite films and television shows, entertain us with their stand-up comedy or represent us at the pinnacle of professional sports, literature, music and the arts. Three years of this unremitting negativity and hostility from opposing forces in the most powerful reaches of the country; three years of embarrassing failure after failure by the people tasked with executing the decision we made at the ballot box on 23 June 2016, and still there is no overwhelming desire among Brexiteers nor the country as a whole to scrap Brexit and remain a member state of the European Union.

You could say that this is emotion over reason, that it is faith over fact, that it is a desperate act of confirmation bias by people who simply don’t want to admit to themselves that they were wrong. But every single one of these attack lines is also a piercing dagger which can just as easily be aimed right back at the heart of the Continuity Remainer “resistance” movement – people who despite being rebuffed at the referendum against all the odds and opinion polls have still not engaged in any kind of meaningful introspection at a group or individual level, and many of whom never once questioned their stance on Brexit, prior to nor after the referendum.

We are continually told that Remain voters and their movement’s heroes are more highly educated – even more moral – than those of us who had the nerve to imagine a future for British democracy outside the European Union. We are told that they are stringent disciples of reason while we are base creatures motivated by nativist superstition and easily led astray by nefarious outside influence. But it’s all a total sham. Theirs is a priesthood with no monopoly on fundamental truth, just a desperate faith in the European Union as the solution to problems which it has shown no capacity to meet.

There is indeed an emergent quasi-religious movement in Britain, one which holds its truths as unquestionable dogma, which views nonbelievers as automatically “lesser than” and which blindly fetishizes a flag as representation of all that is good and true in humanity. But the new faith militant in British politics is not the fractured and browbeaten Brexit movement. It is the Cult of Continuity Remain, and the banner under which it triumphantly marches bears the twelve yellow stars of the European Union.

 

EU flag body paint

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The Seven Deadly Sins Of Momentum – NHS Edition

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Catastrophisation, Identity Politics, NIMBYism, Militant Trade Unionism, the NHS Industrial Complex, Ideological Echo Chambers and Socialist Fundamentalism – the Seven Deadly Sins of Britain’s NHS-worshipping Taliban

This charming missive from the Camden Momentum NHS Working Group pinged its way into my mailbox this afternoon, and in an idle moment I thought I would point out all of the things that are wrong with it, and which actively undermine the vital cause of healthcare reform and thwart necessary moves to improve healthcare outcomes for ordinary Britons, all for the sake of rigid adherence to failed socialist dogma.

The email reads in part:

Our NHS is in crisis and under attack, we must stand up and fight for it!

Please come to our Reclaiming the NHS public meeting:
– 30th November 7-9pm
– Council Chambers, Camden Town Hall Judd Street, London WC1H 9JE.

The junior doctors strike has alerted us all that our NHS is being stolen from us. It can only be saved by a massive public campaign. Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party by a landslide, we have parliamentary backing to stop and reverse privatisation. Come and hear about:

  • 80% of NHS staff are women. Over 30% are immigrant. Hear what they have to say on the impact privatisation has already had on the NHS and emergency services.
  • Find out which local services are threatened by cuts and privatisation (Sustainability & Transformation Plans – STPs).
  • Plan together what we can do to stop this.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Momentum and assorted other NHS-worshippers that I have identified are as follows:

1. Catastrophisation. Perpetually suggesting that the NHS is on the brink of destruction. Leftists have been making these breathless allegations during Tory administrations going back to the 1950s, including some long spells of Conservative rule, and yet miraculously the NHS survives – and with it, our unthinking devotion to government-provided healthcare. The hysterical alarmism card is really starting to get quite tiresome at this point. The NHS is far more likely to bury all of us (after quite possibly hastening us toward an early demise) than we are to bury the NHS.

2. Identity Politics. There is always time for identity politics now. If NHS acolytes can find an ethnic, gender or sexuality angle to support their argument they will inevitably do so, because they know just how fatal an allegation of institutional racism or sexism can be.

3. NIMBYism. A monolithic, socialised government healthcare delivery organisation must ration and allocate resources across the country in the most efficient way possible if it is to stand a chance of functioning correctly. Yet at every opportunity, NHS worshippers protest reorganisations that would close small and failing departments in favour of building regional centres of excellence because despite living in the age of the car and the air ambulance, these people come out in hives if they are not within five minute’s walk an NHS building at all times.

4. Militant Trade Unionism. Leaked emails revealed months ago that the junior doctors’ strike was nothing more than a tawdry, grubby pay dispute, with BMA chiefs and key junior doctor agitators deliberately hoodwinking the public by pretending that it was a high-minded dispute about public safety or indeed the very future of the NHS. Of course, every grubby public sector strike in history has been defended on the grounds that participants are engaged in a selfless stand for public safety, and in 2016 we really should be capable of seeing through these left-wing political antics.

5. Supporting the NHS Industrial Complex. The UK’s National Health Service is the fifth biggest employer on the face of the Earth, employing nearly as many people as global fast food giant McDonald’s and many more than the Indian railways, all to service a country of just 65 million people. When nearly the entirety of Britain’s healthcare sector is nationalised, there is inevitably a vast ecosystem of suppliers, support businesses, lobbyists and vested interests with every incentive to maintain the status quo so that they can continue milking the system. But such is the reflexive, unquestioning love that many have for the NHS that we never really stop to consider whether it is run for our benefit, or for the benefit of those vested interests. Just as the military-industrial complex has been a very real phenomenon in the United States of America following World War 2, so the NHS-industrial complex is a real phenomenon in modern Britain. We should be less credulous and recognise this fact.

6. Ideological echo chamber. As the UK general election, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president have shown, by living in an hermetically sealed ideological bubble in which people talk only to others of the same political viewpoint, consume only news sources which validate their existing biases and mistake social media “clicktivism” with real activism and change, leftists end up talking to themselves while ignoring the wider country. The NHS cultists can continue to share social media memes and infographics all they like, but they are only preserving the failing status quo and making it impossible for reformers to be heard.

7. Socialist fundamentalism. Nothing reveals the NHS cultists’ devotion to socialist ideology over and above actual healthcare outcomes more than their blind, hysterical insistence that all privatisation must be eliminated and every NHS service brought back in-house as a matter of ideological purity rather than clinical value. These people will only be happy when the government (through our tax pounds) funds and delivers every single aspect of healthcare, from support functions like laundry, catering, cleaning, construction, marketing, staffing and management through to the front-line clinical work. Never mind the fact that no other advanced country in the world successfully operates a healthcare system as completely nationalised as the one which they favour. Forget learning from best practice around the world, or (heaven forbid) trying something new and bold. No, NHS cultists insist that Britain is to be a socialist beacon to the world, and if you or I have to die because of substandard care in order to glorify their vision of socialised healthcare then so be it.

What do you think? Would you change any of these Seven Deadly Sins, or add any others?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

NHS Logo - Cross - National Religion - Worship - Idolatry

NHS Junior Doctors Contract Strike

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Banning The Burqa And Burkini Is Not The Correct Liberal Response To Conservative Islam

Free Speech - Say No To Burqas - Burkini - Mural

In a liberal democracy, government has no business dictating what clothing is or is not acceptable to wear – and banning the burqa or burkini only further delays the long-overdue day of reckoning between conservative Islam and modern Muslim women

France is now taking its official ban of the burqa one step further, as the mayor of Cannes announces a ban on burkini beachwear on the grounds that the concealing garment poses a security risk.

The New York Times reports:

The mayor of the French resort city of Cannes has barred women from bathing on public beaches in swimsuits that reveal too little skin.

At issue are the full-body, head-covering garments worn in the water by some Muslim women, which have been nicknamed burkinis, an amalgam of burqa and bikini. The mayor’s ban has drawn protests from French Muslims who say it is discriminatory.

That the debate is occurring on the Riviera, the Mediterranean vacation area that has been on edge since the terrorist attack on a Bastille Day celebration in nearby Nice, has only added to the controversy.

Critics of the ban say it risks deepening rifts with France’s Muslims. It is the latest example of the long-running tensions between France’s forceful — some say inconsistent — commitment to secularism and the desire of many Muslims to express traditional values like modesty through their attire.

The mayor’s ordinance, which runs until Aug. 31, bars people from entering or swimming at the city’s public beaches in attire that is not “respectful of good morals and secularism” and that does not respect “rules of hygiene and security.” Offenders risk a fine of 38 euros, or about $42.

Why are burkinis against the rules? “Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order,” the ordinance says.

If this were being done in a public place on the grounds of security, the mayor of Cannes would be in a much stronger position, and would gain this blog’s sympathy, particularly after the appalling terrorist truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day. There is a very logical and powerful argument to be made against the prohibition on wearing any overtly concealing clothing when entering public buildings such as town halls, courts, public schools, parks or beaches, just as motorcycle owners are asked to remove their helmets before entering a bank branch.

But the mayor of Cannes has taken this action with specific reference not to security, but in the name of  laïcité (the separation of church and state). We know this because French government officials have explicitly said so:

This costume [the burkini], Mr Lisnard [the mayor] declared, “ostentatiously displays religious affiliation”, could “disrupt public order”, and might even, in the words of one official, demonstrate “an allegiance to terrorist movements”.

Now secular government is broadly a very good thing, and societies become more free as they cast off the remaining vestiges of theocracy – one of the reasons that this blog is so keen to get rid of the Lords Spiritual and remove Britain from Iran’s company as the only countries where unelected theocrats sit in the legislature by right.

However, while citizens – even those of faith – should absolutely demand secularism from their government, it does not follow that the government can unjustly impose secularism on the people as they go about their lives. That would be a grave wrong, and the growing movement to ban the burqa represents an abuse of power by governments against their own citizens.

The Telegraph’s Juliet Samuel agrees:

Now it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for the burkini. It harks back to an age, still dominant in much of the world, when a woman’s worth was measured by her modesty. It belongs to a belief system in which women cannot experience one of the joys of the natural world – feeling the wind and sea on her body. It suggests that the female form is shameful and provocative. But those who want to ban the burkini for these reasons are forgetting one of the most important values of a free society: we don’t all have to believe the same thing in order to live together.

Every day, thousands of Britons wake up and do things I think are crazy and wrong. They drink instant coffee, listen to Magic FM and wear Spandex. Some wear high heels or bowties. Others have plastic surgery, get tattoos, cheat on their spouses, drink too much, shout too much and vote Labour. They get their news from Facebook and watch hours of trashy TV. Many of them pray to a god, convert to Buddhism, believe in crystal healing or sing in Church on Sundays with their eyes closed and their arms in the air. I don’t do or understand any of these things. But I let them get on with it.

[..] Like a theocratic regime, the Cannes burkini ban forces some Muslim women to choose between their religious and their national identity and perniciously suggests that their choice of dress is a political statement, whether they mean it to be or not. It is unsurprising that the French should lead the way in this kind of thinking, because in France nothing is allowed until the law permits it, whereas in Britain, everything is allowed until the law forbids it. So, in the name of enforced secularism, France forbids covering the face in any public setting, whether it’s for religion or Hallowe’en, and bans religious symbols like hijabs (hair coverings) in state institutions such as schools. The burkini ban takes this illiberal trend even further by making it illegal to wear “ostentatious” religious symbols even when going about one’s own private business.

[..] A normal Muslim, who has grown up seeing a hijab as an unremarkable but important symbol of womanhood, finds herself forced to choose between respect for the law and her family’s everyday customs. Is this senseless, banal and brutal ban more likely to awaken a hidden feminist creed and a love of La République in her heart or to make her feel attacked and excluded from mainstream society?

Strong societies cannot permit parallel legal or political systems, such as Sharia courts or caliphates. But they can cope with differences in dress and customs. They should not allow obstructive religious clothing like face‑coverings to disrupt teaching or court hearings. But if a Muslim woman wants to wear a baggy wetsuit and go for a swim on a public beach, that does not make her a threat to Western society. The real enemies of freedom are not the burkini-wearers, but the politicians who want to ban them.

Amen to this. Samuel is quite right to fear the politicians over the burkini-wearers, even if we may disagree with their sartorial and religious motivations. Indeed, we should fear any further legitimisation of the idea that our rights derive from the state, who can suspend our freedoms at will in the name of “security”.

One of the most alarming things about this century has been the rejuvenation of authoritarianism, spurred on by the growing threat of Islamist terror. Whether it is manifested in airport security theatre, the banning of religious jewellery or other symbols from the workplace or the dystopian suppression of free speech in universities, public squares and social media, we have become markedly less free in sixteen years with precious little to show for it.

But more than all of that, if we are serious about tackling the skewed ideology and belief system which preaches that women must be modest to the point of having to bathe fully clothed, then a government ban is the absolute worst way to go.

Such a diktat of law effectively exonerates conservative Islam (or fundamentalists of other religions) from any responsibility to reform and recognise the equality of women, gay people and other minority groups. Ban the burqa (or burkini) and conservative Muslims may obey. But not only will they immediately be able to portray themselves as victims in the process, claiming persecution for their religious beliefs, they will be under no further internal pressure to reconsider and reform centuries-old religious diktats in the changed context of modern society.

If we want a world where the burqa is relegated to fringe extremists and museums, then the pressure must come primarily from Muslim women. Only when they demand their right to dress as they please and force the reluctant accommodation of religious authorities will they be able to win the parity of treatment which has been missing for so long.

The job of Western governments in all of this is not to interfere or seek to be a white knight, banning the burqa or burkini on the behalf of oppressed women. Government’s role is to make sure that Muslim women have full access to the legal system to sue for their equal treatment in court where it is being infringed, and to clamp down insidious efforts to set up parallel justice systems based on Sharia law or any other religious code instead of shamefully welcoming them in the name of “multiculturalism”.

We should be encouraging a more liberal form of Islam to prevail over the more oppressive and fundamentalist conservative wings. We need more Ahmadis and others like them, openly tolerant of other faiths and proudly patriotic. And when these groups of progressive Muslims are attacked we should stand shoulder to shoulder with them rather than shamefully currying favour with their persecutors in the name of “multiculturalism”.

But ultimately, this is an internal enlightenment which must take place within Islam. It is not the job of provincial mayors in France or government departments in Britain to “rescue” their female Muslim citizens from oppression; nor would any such rescue hold any legitimacy. Western society can take certain actions to encourage this revolution among its Muslim communities, but ultimately the heavy lifting must be done by Muslim women standing up to claim their own full rights as citizens.

Widespread bans on the burqa or burkini may make us feel good or even allow some of us to burnish our feminist credentials, but that is the only good that they will accomplish. And meanwhile, the long-overdue day of reckoning between modern Muslim women and the conservative wing of the Islamic faith will be deferred indefinitely, to everyone’s cost.

 

Burkini ban

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Not All Muslims

Muslim call to go to Sunday Mass

After the appalling terrorist murder of a Catholic priest committed in the name of Islamic State, a moving gesture of interfaith solidarity by French Muslims should be acknowledged and applauded

It is important, I think, when criticising the fundamentalist element of Islam and the degree to which it is often tolerated or tacitly encouraged by parts of the mainstream, to give credit where it is due and acknowledge work done and gestures made against extremism by the Muslim community.

One way that we have been doing that this week is by celebrating again the life of slain US army capt. Humayun Khan and his gold star parents, who appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week to repudiate the anti-Muslim rhetoric spewed forth by the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

And another way should be to acknowledge the moving gesture of so many French Muslims attending Catholic Mass at their nearest church or cathedral, showing solidarity with a Catholic community still reeling from the murder of a beloved parish priest at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

From the Daily Mail, displaying unusual magnanimity:

Muslims in France and Italy flocked to Mass on Sunday, a gesture of interfaith solidarity following a drumbeat of jihadi attacks that threatens to deepen religious divisions across Europe.

From the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, only a few miles from where 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel was killed Tuesday by two Muslim fanatics, to Paris’ iconic Notre Dame, where the rector of the Mosque of Paris invoked a papal benediction in Latin, many churchgoers were cheered by the Muslims in their midst.

[..] French television broadcast scenes of interfaith solidarity from all around France, with Muslim women in headscarves and Jewish men in kippot crowding the front rows of Catholic cathedrals in Lille, Calais or the Basilica of St. Denis, the traditional resting place of French royalty.

There were similar scenes in Italy, where the head of Italy’s Union of Islamic communities — Izzedin Elzir — called on his colleagues to “take this historic moment to transform tragedy into a moment of dialogue.” The secretary general of the country’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino spoke at the Treasure of St. Gennaro chapel; three imams also attended Mass at the St. Maria Church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, donning their traditional dress as they entered the sanctuary and sat down in the front row.

Ahmed El Balazi, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in Italy’s Lombard province of Brescia, said he did not fear repercussions for speaking out.

“These people are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists. That is not the case,” El Balazi said. “Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don’t represent us.”

This blog and others often focus, reasonably, on the failings within the Muslim community – failure of integration and assimilation, failure to stand up for British values (though we are often just as much at fault for failing to transmit those values), failure to confront and root out the extremism in the midst of families and communities. These things are important.

But it is also sometimes the case that we fail to acknowledge those times when the Muslim community does come out strongly in condemnation of fundamentalist, Islamist terror. Anti-extremist counter-protests by Muslim groups often do not receive the media coverage extended to telegenic extremists and their “behead those who insult Islam” placards. Hard and difficult work accomplished in communities goes unrecognised.

And so, as an outspoken opponent of fundamentalist Islam and as a practising Catholic, it is important that I choose to be magnanimous and welcome this touching gesture made by so many Muslims in France and Italy.

Archbishop Cranmer is also moved:

Praying before a blasphemous icon of another Jesus, standing in the shadow of a sacrificial cross which they deny, beneath the dome of a cathedral church steeped in idolatry, myths and deception, Muslims throughout France and Italy attended Mass yesterday. From Rouen, Nice and Paris to Milan, Naples and Rome, hundreds flocked to express solidarity and compassion with Europe’s Roman Catholics, many still reeling, weeping and mourning the loss of a much-loved elderly priest, Abbé Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamists as he celebrated Mass last week.

All Muslims are exhorted to the greater jihad, to strive against the flesh and persevere in the purposes of Allah, but not all jihad is holy war. All Muslims are not Islamists, but Muslims are becoming terrorists. It is futile, patronising and dangerous to deny it. Islamists are extremists who kill the innocent; Muslims who are moderate and enlightened seek to worship in peace. Islam is not all about oppressing, torturing, murdering and slaughtering. It just seems like it. And no wonder, when the news dishes up a daily diet of Islamic State videos exhorting the faithful to attack the enemies of Allah; Western Muslims who fight for their country are condemned as apostates; hotels are bombed; ancient shrines blown up; ‘spies’ are beheaded; oil fields blaze; and British imams preach to young boys that it’s okay to have sex slaves. That’s just today’s coverage of degradation and destruction.

Amidst all this global trauma, suffering and strife, it is a cause of great hope that so many Muslims can put aside their theological scruples and multifaith ecumenical aversion to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is profoundly offensive to their beliefs, and utterly repugnant to their teachings: Jesus is not the Son of God; he is not divine; he did not die on a cross; he does not become a wafer; praying with wine is haram.

[..]

There were tears during the sign of the peace. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself‘ (2Cor 5:19). In their shared humanity, Muslims and Christians bore witness to the humanity of Jesus, his sacrifice and death, his reconciling love, his resurrection and glorification. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them‘ (Mt 18:20). The Living God is present in the world, if not in bread and wine. We can meet Him, pray to Him and listen to Him. That is our privilege through Christ. And in that communion we stand with all believers in the world and throughout all history. And we stand with all participant peace-loving Muslims, too. ‘This is my blood…

Wordless interfaith dialogue is the best remembrance.

In a sign of just how bad things have gotten in Europe, this blog was actually surprised when there was no major, high-profile terror attack last Friday, perfectly timed to dominate television coverage leading into the weekend, when previous weekends had seen such attacks.

No matter how routine this destruction and insecurity may become in the short and medium term, we should not allow this “new normal” in Europe to become in any way acceptable or excusable, and we should hold European leaders firmly to account for the whole range of bad decisions they have made – from social policy and a lack of focus on protecting national culture and encouraging assimilation right through to the migration crisis – which have increased the risk of Islamist terror attacks on our soil.

But as we witnessed at Catholic Masses across France this Sunday, it is not all bad news – a fact which those of us who report or comment on human events should be careful to acknowledge.

 

Fr Jacques Hamel - Catholic Priest

Top Image: Time

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Bastille Day Terrorist Attack In Nice – The Enemy Which We Refuse To Name Strikes Again

Nice Attack - Truck - Terrorism - France

As #PrayForNice trends on Twitter and another European city is plunged into terror and tragedy, what action have we taken to name, confront and defeat the evil which threatens us?

The news and images coming from the French city of Nice on what should be the most celebratory of days for the French people – Bastille Day – are awful, and heartbreaking, and wearily familiar.

As of this time, 77 people are confirmed dead, mown down on the Promenade des Anglais by a truck driven at high speed and containing an arsenal of weapons and explosives. This is clearly an act of terror – the numerous bullet holes in the windshield of the blood stained truck a testament to the amount of force it took the security services to stop the vehicle. And of course this is the third time in nineteen months that the French have suffered a grievous, high profile terrorist attack on their soil – first Charlie Hebdo, then the Bataclan, both in Paris, and now the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice.

To this we can add the Brussels terrorist attacks in March this year and, looking beyond Europe, numerous deadly attacks in Turkey as well as the terrorist shootings in San Bernadino and Orlando.

This is the future. This is the kind of terrorism which we are now going to face – not truly grand attacks on the level of 9/11, where casualties run into the thousands, but a long, slow grind of relentless medium-sized attacks, often on lower-value targets or in second tier, provincial cities. Often their planning and execution may turn out to be quite crude – this is not the age of the cunning master plan coordinated from a supervillain’s lair, but of “quick and dirty” plots hatched by autonomous cells and all the more unsettling precisely because they do not strike where we expect.

Now, murder comes to the airport entrance before the security checkpoints, or to an unremarkable concert venue, or a nondescript office or the main strip of a seaside town. Places which with the best will in the world are impossible to defend 24/7.

Radical Islamist terror has moved firmly into the age of the lone wolf, or the quasi-autonomous sleeper cell.

Why? Think of it like WiFi. Terrorist networks can no longer safely rely on coordinating large scale attacks in the West from a remote location with a reasonable degree of confidence that they will go undetected. Therefore, if ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamist organisations cannot physically cooordinate logistics and dispatch operatives to conduct attacks in Western cities, they must resort to other, remote means.

When the traditional methods of internet, telephone and even face-to-face communication are at risk of being intercepted by the security services, proponents of fundamentalist Islamist ideology must instead rely on transmitting their ideology and broad objectives through more general means, including YouTube and social media, targeted at the right susceptible population – usually disaffected and alienated young Muslim men who do not feel connected to or fully invested in society. The leaders of this death cult then rely on some of their indoctrinated targets possessing sufficient initiative to become their own mini terrorist masterminds.

We saw this approach in San Bernadino last winter, and again in Orlando last month. As more facts emerge, it may become clear that the Nice attack followed this pattern. Alternatively, it may be that Europe’s porous border and chaotic influx of migrants allowed foreign terrorists to slip through the net and aid in the planning or execution of the attack (press reports currently indicate that ID found on the truck driver suggest that he is a 31-year-old with dual French-Tunisian nationality, but this ID could well be fake or stolen).

But what is already crystal clear is the stark, uncomfortable fact that since Paris and Brussels (or Madrid and London, if you want to cast back a decade) our leaders have done nothing – nothing at all – to meaningfully grapple with this scourge of Islamist terrorism. So terrified are they of being accused of intolerance or racism that all we hear is the furious insistence that these atrocities have “nothing to do with Islam“.

And it’s just false. Of course the barbarity in Nice has absolutely nothing to do with the peaceful, moderate Islam practise by millions of adherents in the West and elsewhere. But it cannot be denied that those who do commit mass murdering acts of terrorism often explicitly reference Islam as their inspiration and justification – and do so from a very literal reading of certain Islamic texts. Moderate Islam does not inspire terrorist attacks, clearly. But fundamentalist, radical Islam often does, and we need to admit as much, for if we cannot even name the threat which we face what chance do we have of overcoming it?

As Douglas Murray rightly pointed out in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

Contra the political leaders, the Charlie Hebdo murderers were not lunatics without motive, but highly motivated extremists intent on enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws in 21st-century Europe. If you do not know the ideology — perverted or plausible though it may be — you can neither understand nor prevent such attacks. Nor, without knowing some Islamic history, could you understand why — whether in Mumbai or Paris — the Islamists always target the Jews.

[..] We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.

The cost of this furious pretence that Islam is totally unconnected to the “so called” Islamic State and the terror attacks committed in its name can now be measured in a growing toll of human lives. And the slickness with which we now mourn these events, with standardised tributes and modes of behaviour, only serves to emphasise our utter lack of coordination in preventing their recurrence.

As this blog commented after the recent Brussels attacks in March, charting the inevitability of the public grieving followed by zero meaningful action:

Impromptu shrines appear in a major square of the afflicted city, with candles, chalk drawings and sometimes a bit of impromptu John Lennon.

And the day closes with Europe and America’s major landmarks illuminated to resemble the national flag of the afflicted nation. They’re getting really good at that part now.

Fast forward a day, and plans are well afoot to grant even more powers to the well-meaning but overstretched security services – who were unable to make use of their current extensive powers to thwart the attack – and generally at the expense of our civil liberties. Particularly our rights to privacy and free speech.

Fast forward a month, and we have all moved on. Domestic political concerns, celebrity scandals and daily life have reasserted themselves.

I think we can all agree that we’ve got the public grief, cathartic expressions of solidarity and stern faced authoritarianism down to a fine art at this point.

When are we going to start acknowledging – and maybe even tackling – the root causes?

Unless our leaders can openly and unequivocally acknowledge that the terrorist scourge which sees murder brought to the streets of Europe on a near-monthly basis has its roots in a fundamentalist, literalist and militant strain of Islam, how are we ever to really get to grips with the issues of radicalisation and non-assimilation?

If the deaths of eighty slain people in Nice have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam then how do we hope to save young and impressionable Muslim schoolgirls in London from stealing away to Syria to join ISIS, or young and impressionable Muslim boys from falling under the seductive spell of jihadist recruiters?

If we cannot openly and comfortably name the enemy which we face – not an entire religion, but certainly a very real and present strain of Islam – then how do we even begin to formulate policies which will meaningfully reduce this threat over time?

The answer is that we cannot. We can clamp down further on our precious civil liberties, bartering away even more of our freedoms in the hope of purchasing additional security (and letting the terrorists win, since they count as a victory anything which diminishes our liberal democratic way of life). We can ramp up the surveillance state and clamp down on freedom of speech to make it look like we are doing something purposeful, even though the costs of such draconian measures far exceed the benefits. But none of these measures will stop two radicalised guys and a truck from repeating the horrors of Nice in Camden Town or Edinburgh.

It is impossible to create the perfectly secure country, and the closer one tries to get to this ideal, greater and greater are the liberties which must be traded away in exchange. Therefore, the only way to stop more Nice attacks from happening is to approach the problem from the other end and seek to tackle the radical, fundamentalist Islamist extremism.

And this is the one thing which our leaders, in their tragic fear of giving offence, shamefully refuse to do.

 

Paris Terror Attacks - Eiffel Tower Dark - 2

Top Image: Guardian

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