A Few Words On The London Bridge And Borough Market Terror Attack

London Bridge terror attack - fake suicide vest

Finally, a step change in our response to Islamist terrorism. But this new authoritarianism is not the answer

This one struck a little close to home. For several years it was my habit to walk across London Bridge from the tube station to the north side, and then on to my office on Fenchurch Street.

Sometimes I would drink after work at the Barrowboy and Banker pub at the foot of the bridge, or go to choral evensong at neighbouring Southwark Cathedral – still regretfully closed some four days after the terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. My wife now works in the shadow of the Shard tower, and only today was her firm finally allowed to re-enter their office building.

It is quite surreal to see places which are so familiar splashed onto television screens in such a grisly context. One of the smartphone-recorded videos played most often on cable news – showing police ordering stunned bar patrons to the ground – was particularly jarring, as we had celebrated a friend’s birthday at that vaulted beer hall just a few months ago. It is no longer just the bus or the tube – places where we have been conditioned to be wary since the days of the IRA. Now we are to expect violent death anywhere, a car swerving onto the pavement with too little time to react, or being confronted by a knifeman while eating at a downtown restaurant.

But enough of that – it is tempting to make these terror attacks all about us, when really we should focus on those people whose lives were deliberately, callously snuffed out by the onrushing vehicle or the blade wielded by the Islamist fanatic. We rightly praise the heroism of our first responders, the rookie policeman who took on the terrorists alone armed with nothing but his truncheon, and the paramedics and civilians who rushed to help as soon as they were alerted to the carnage.

And yet after the proper acknowledgements and the less-welcome platitudes, the same questions beg to be answered.

Firstly, why did the Metropolitan Police and numerous politicians make such a big show of advertising that it took eight minutes from the first 999 call being received to armed police arriving at the scene to terminate the terrorists? No doubt this was supposed to reassure. But does it not also advertise to every other terror cell currently lurking undetected (or shockingly unmonitored) that in one of the most central and well-protected parts of the country they will have at least an eight-minute window to inflict as much bloodshed as they are able?

Eight minutes sounds remotely laudable because the terrorists were armed only with a vehicle, blades and some preposterously, evidently fake suicide vests. But what if the next terror cell has access to firearms? We rightly applaud the quick-thinking revellers who repelled the attack by throwing chairs and pint glasses, but these projectiles are much less effective against even a single low-calibre gun. What if the next marauding terror attack takes place not in well-protected London, but in a leafy Midlands market town or a provincial city without armed police on 24/7 patrol?

This attack could have been much, much worse. It could have been a Bataclan-level massacre, had the terrorists stormed a pub or restaurant with few exits or escape routes, armed with a semi-automatic weapon. Worse even, because so few British police are armed. Having elite units on constant standby is all well and good, but it is unreasonable to expect a standard unarmed police constable to be the frontline of our response to a mass casualty terror attack.

And no, the medium and long-term solution is not to deploy more armed forces on the streets – though this may be necessary, given the shocking decline in the number of armed police officers. Though the net drop since 2010 (approximately 700) is not that great as a raw number, the idea that the numbers were falling at all given events in mainland Europe is simply staggering. Operation Temperer (or tempura, as I first heard it – like we were going to deep fry the terrorists) may be a necessary stop gap, but we need to look again at whether it is practical to maintain a largely unarmed police force.

We should look too at whether it is reasonable to deny the people the opportunity to defend themselves with legally purchased firearms when the state proves itself time and again to be so unwilling and unable to protect them from lethal harm, either by facing up to the toxic Islamist ideology that fuels the present terror threat or by ensuring that the security services make best use of the vast amounts of data they already collect about all of us. Of course, this discussion will never happen. But it should.

If nothing else, we seem finally to have pivoted from “terror attacks have nothing to do with Islam!” to “something must be done”. And about time, too. Only days before the London Bridge attack, I wrote a piece (piggybacking on Brendan O’Neill) decrying the fact that all of the left-wing party leaders practically wet themselves in shock and outrage when UKIP’s Paul Nuttall dared to talk about the Islamist (not Islamic, Islamist) threat. If nothing else, perhaps we have finally pierced that particular veil of idiocy. The idiots remain, but the general public is no longer in thrall to their denialism.

And yet the undiscovered country of Taking Firm Action may be almost as bad as the state of denial and complacency which is finally being dispelled.

The danger was always that when the government finally roused itself to righteous anger in the face of Islamist terror, the response would be one of jackboot authoritarianism rather than incisive, strategic action. As Home Secretary under David Cameron, Theresa May was quick to take advantage of the various terror attacks in Paris to push for sweeping new powers for the security services, and now elevated (above her competence, it seems) to prime minister she is gunning for civil liberties and pesky human rights laws all over again. But this time, Theresa May is swinging an even bigger emotional cudgel thanks to the immediacy and proximity of the attacks in Manchester and London.

The security services are able to gather vast amounts of metadata on all of our communications with barely a whisper of public dissent, and can begin spying on an individual with no judicial approval required, just a ministerial signature – essentially, the executive overseeing itself. They could not have a more favourable political and operating environment. And yet despite having some of the most draconian surveillance laws in Western Europe, somehow three individuals were able to mount an attack – one known to security services but not considered an active threat, and another flagged as an extremist by the Italians but apparently ignored by British security services.

This is what happens when you expand the haystack too much, when you collect so much data and intelligence on everything that moves that it becomes impossible to sort through the information, make sense of it and hone in on the most serious threats. Yes, there is also an issue of resourcing – as with the armed police, the government has been complacent and refused to spend money where it should be spent – but much of the problem surely comes from trying to cast too wide a net at the expense of watching those already caught in it.

And yet Theresa May now wants to force internet companies to undermine the encryption of their own services so that the security services can gather even more data and make the intelligence haystack even more unwieldy and difficult to search for needles. And the prime minister as a thousand and one other draconian ideas up her sleeve, like the extension of detention without trial from 14 to 28 days – not because such a revised law would have prevented the Manchester and London attacks, but just because she doesn’t want to let this crisis go to waste without extending the power of the state even further.

The only grace is that the prime minister’s desire to control the internet will likely come a cropper as soon as she tries and fails to secure international cooperation. To a bizarre and frightening extent, our civil liberties may now partly depend on the stubbornness of Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and (yes) Donald Trump in resisting Theresa May’s maniacal efforts to regulate the online world.

Concerning too is the fact that we are suddenly talking about the internment of suspected terrorists for whom there is too little evidence to seek prosecution. Even as the news of the London Bridge attacks was coming in, strident calls were made on Twitter for the police to “bring in” everybody currently on the terror watchlist and presumably detain them without trial in perpetuity. Perhaps at a new British Guantanamo Bay on the Isle of Man. Then the omnipresent Katie Hopkins went on Fox News to repeat the call for internment, while Nigel Farage followed, warning that “people” would soon start to call for this step if the government failed to get a grip. Well, they certainly will now that the idea has been so helpfully injected into the political discourse. Thanks, Nigel.

Astonishingly, there seems to be support for such a move from some sober conservative voices in America, which rather makes me question how strong their much-vaunted love for the Constitution can possibly be, when they encourage Britons to enact draconian laws which would rightly never pass muster in the United States.

I had a thoughtful exchange with the National Review’s Jim Geraghty on the related subject of whether merely expressing support for Islamist ideals should be criminalised – Geraghty initially expressed support but walked his stance back somewhat following my interjection, and we more or less came to a meeting of minds.

Sadly, the conversation elsewhere has not been nearly as civil, on either side. Of course anger is entirely appropriate when our fellow citizens are killed in cold blood by a religiously-inspired terrorist – young girls enjoy a pop concert in Manchester or Londoners of all backgrounds enjoying a Saturday night in town. But this anger has to be meaningfully directed, otherwise it will either achieve nothing or give known authoritarians like Theresa May the pretext they need to expand the state’s power.

But is this really who we are, as a people? Is this really who we want to be? A nation comprised of either self-abnegating terror apologists whose first reaction on hearing of an Islamist attack is to jump on social media to declare “nothing to do with Islam!” and patrol for “Islamophobic” comments, or jumpy authoritarians who want to do away with even the most basic civil rights in pursuit of the chimera of perfect safety?

We have certainly been called to action and shocked out of our complacency by the hideous events in Manchester and London, at long last. But at present there is precious little to suggest that we will start to move in the right direction now that we are finally awake.

 

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The Cult Of Social Justice and Identity Politics Has No More Worlds To Conquer, Yet Still It Marches On

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There may be no more worlds for the regressive Left to conquer, but the warriors of the Social Justice Army still see enemies all around

This blog has spent some time explaining that the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is far less about helping genuinely oppressed people and far more about a small, snarling pseudo-intellectual clerisy seeking to use the often dubiously legitimate suffering of various proscribed victim groups as a means of wielding power and influence over wider society.

It follows, then, that for this cult to perpetuate itself there must be a constant stream of wronged victims at all times, on whose behalf the social justice priests and priestesses can claim to speak. When your career and entire worldview is built on the bedrock of seeking to end “oppression”, one inevitably sees oppression everywhere and in the smallest of things. To acknowledge that we actually live in an historically free and prosperous era would be to admit that their services are no longer required – that their whole raison d’être is no more.

And this is why even now, when the fruits of SJW hyper-sensitivity, snarling authoritarianism and utter contempt for ideological agnostics lie strewn across the political landscape in the form of President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress, that portion of the American Left which has fallen under the spell of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics cannot admit wrongdoing or overreach, and refuses to change tactics or re-examine their mission.

This is why despite having lost the White House by racking up superfluous votes in liberal enclaves while actively chasing away votes in key swing states with their out-of-touch policies and narratives, the bulk of the American Left and the Democratic Party are unable to conceive of any other possible course of action than shouting the same shrill, divisive message even louder.

Ben Shapiro captures the essence of the problem in a great piece for the National Review:

For decades, the Left consistently put front and center its vision of an America in which Republicans were victimizers: Either they were evil racists, or they were John Lithgow–in-Footloose holier-than-thou sexual prudes, or they were old-style Mad Men sexists looking to shove women back into the kitchen. Celebrities helped push these narratives through the stories they told, the movies they filmed, the books they wrote.

And Americans accepted the critiques.

Americans accepted racial equality. Americans celebrated female empowerment. Americans went libertarian on sexual behavior.

And the Left had to go searching for a new civil-rights struggle with which to cram conservatives back into their “victimizer” cubbyhole.

There was, however, one problem: All the good civil-rights issues have been dealt with already. And so the Left, which focuses all of its efforts on social issues, was relegated to pushing crime-increasing myths about the evils of cops; the celebrities were forced to pretend that men peeing next to women was the next great Martin Luther King, Jr.–style struggle; Democrats were forced to march on their next target, not merely church involvement in state, but private beliefs of churchgoers.

And herein lies the biggest problem facing the American Left: America is the most tolerant country in world history. There are no more serious civil-rights struggles for the Left to push. In fact, the Left now pushes against civil rights in its ignorant search for the new struggle: Religious bakers must be destroyed if they won’t bake a cake for a same-sex wedding; young girls must be forced to go to the same bathroom as middle-aged men, hosts on HGTV must be policed for belief in Scripture regarding sexual sin.

No wonder Americans reacted by telling the Left to shove it.

That phenomenon could very well continue. The Left has run out of aggressors to target; instead, they’ve become the aggressors, self-righteous morality police dedicated to wiping out dissenting thought. Americans aren’t up for that sort of thing. We think we’re pretty tolerant people, and, by and large, we are. Trump won, at least in part, by refusing to kowtow to the Left’s newest social crusades, in word if not in deed.

And Shapiro’s conclusion may well prove prophetic, unless the American Left change course:

In Die Hard, villain Hans Gruber misquotes Plutarch: “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” The Left will never recognize that simple fact — and so they will push ever onward, steadily encroaching on liberty and driving a blowback they cannot comprehend.

There may be no more worlds to conquer, but the Left is strangely unwilling to disband its standing army – or rather is unable to do so, knowing that their electoral coalition of competing special interests and designated victim classes is only held together so long as there is a clear Enemy Oppressor to fight.

Having helped to achieve civil rights, women’s equality and gay rights, the American Left should now be beating its swords into ploughshares, hanging up the social justice armour and generating a tide to lift the boats of all Americans (including the maligned white working class), not only their favoured interest groups.

Hint: this might have something to do with trying to solve the great political question of our time, as frequently mentioned on this blog.

But they can’t. There are too many greedy over-powerful generals to feed and reward with war spoils, and these generals (the leaders of the various social justice movements) in turn must keep their troops happy by providing them with bounty in the form of political victories, legislative accomplishments and tangible real-world perks – including those which encroach on individual freedom, as Ben Shapiro notes.

Thus the American Left has become an unstoppable social justice juggernaut, perpetually seeking out new offences to take outrage over, in order to give the troops something to do and keep the fractious coalition together a little longer.

Even if Democratic Party leaders could see the folly of their present path (and the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader clearly shows that the vast majority still do not get it) they would be powerless to change course. The unfolding slow-motion car crash is not pleasant to watch. As Ben Shapiro notes, the fury of the American Left (and the British Left too, to a slightly lesser extent) is “driving a blowback they cannot comprehend”.

While plenty of Donald Trump supporters may spend their leisure hours percolating in an online ideological echo chamber, their necessary interaction with a broadly large-L Liberal media and culture means that they are at least constantly aware of the existence other political viewpoints. Conservative college and university students often learn how to debate, defend and refine their ideas through having them constantly challenged and disparaged on campus.

Not so for the Left. Depending on geography and occupation, it is entirely possible for many on the Left to go for long periods (interrupted only by the odd traumatic microaggression experienced when venturing beyond their safe space or carefully curated social media feeds) without ever bumping into the Other America at all. Judging by the ongoing howls of outraged incomprehension, some on the Left only ever glimpse this America once every four years, at presidential election time.

This is why the American Left is unlikely to change course, even now. When your view of the path ahead is skewed to the side so that you cannot see the iceberg field directly ahead, the first light impact may not persuade you of the need to stop or change course. Nor may the second, slightly more jarring collision with reality. And only when a massive head-on collision holes your social movement and political party beneath the waterline does the folly become truly apparent.

 

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After Brexit, A Swift US-UK Free Trade Agreement Will Be Economically And Diplomatically Beneficial

The National Review might not be down on all the fine details of Brexit*, and quite possibly put too much faith in the elimination of tariffs as a means of spurring trade, given the modern shift toward non-tariff barriers, but their forthright and optimistic call for a swift US-UK trade agreement is most welcome nonetheless.

(*In which they are hardly alone, joined by most of the UK media and many elected British politicians, who unlike the National Review have no excuse for their ignorance)

Stephen Meyer writes:

First, a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and U.K. would foster trade and growth in both countries without subjecting either to the onerous external regulation and loss of democratic control that Britain has experienced in the European Union. Until now, the exclusive nature of the EU prevented Britain from establishing a free-trade pact with America, its most lucrative trading partner, to the detriment of tariff-paying businesses in both countries.

Nevertheless, under treaties governing EU membership, the U.K. cannot make free trade deals with non-EU partners. It must apply the growth-suppressing common EU external tariff, an average of 4.5 percent, to all imports. Once Britain legally extricates itself from the EU, that can change — and should. An agreement between the world’s largest and fifth-largest economies will create a huge free trade zone, benefiting businesses and spurring growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

Second, an agreement that focuses on eliminating tariffs, but not creating supranational oversight bodies, will protect both countries from the loss of sovereignty that British voters rejected with Brexit and that Mr. Trump has criticized. Such a simplified deal would require U.S. companies operating in (or exporting to) the U.K. to accept U.K. law, and U.K. companies operating in the U.S. to do the same. Since U.K. and U.S. law is so similar and both countries have so many lawyers versed in the commercial law of the other, international oversight would prove largely unnecessary. In a bilateral treaty, significant disputes or grievances can simply trigger provisions to renegotiate terms — or to accept arbitration in limited cases before mutually agreed tribunals.

This, of course, serves to underscore the importance of freeing ourselves from the customs union as part of any interim and permanent Brexit deal. To do otherwise would truly be an act of self-harm, constraining Britain’s ability to negotiate freely with other countries just so that bitter Remainers can cling slightly closer to the vestiges of their European dream, with no commensurate benefit whatsoever.

But as Meyer notes, a US-UK trade deal would matter symbolically and diplomatically just as much as economically:

A free trade offer will also help repair the U.S.-U.K. special relationship after eight years of intentional neglect and decades of slow erosion as the result of Britain’s gradual absorption into the EU. Strengthening the alliance with Britain will promote U.S. national security because it will free the U.K. to act decisively as a bilateral partner when the strategic interests of our two countries align — as they often have.

The Obama years have witnessed a dramatic weakening in the strategic position of the United States and the West, as well as a diminution of U.S. military power. In addition to rebuilding military capacity, as Trump has promised, the United States now badly needs genuine allies with shared interests who have demonstrated the will and capability to stand alongside America in times of international crisis. More than any other ally, Great Britain has consistently demonstrated that proclivity and capability: Apart from France, only the U.K. among U.S. allies maintains an independent nuclear deterrent and the capacity to project significant naval power. Among NATO allies, only the U.K. keeps its treaty commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Whatever else one may think of Donald Trump – and this blog is not a fan – it is at least heartening to hear some vaguely warm sentiments being spoken about Britain again from soon-to-be White House aides.

This blog has generally admired Barack Obama’s temperament (if not his policies), but his thinly-disguised disdain for Britain and the transatlantic alliance will not be missed. President Obama can be as chummy as he likes with Chancellor Merkel, but when the going gets tough, it is the UK with our nuclear deterrent, blue water navy, deployable armed forces and positive disposition toward America upon which the United States will immediately rely. America’s natural closest allies have not always felt the warmth they might have reasonably expected from the Obama White House. Hopefully this will soon change.

Meyer concludes:

Offering the right kind of trade deal to the British — as they negotiate the return of their own national sovereignty — will decisively advance that goal.

A pragmatic assessment of the mutual shared interests of two great powers and firm allies. Now, doesn’t that sound an awful lot better than Barack Obama’s rigid and unimaginative defence of the failing European supranational project, and his haughty insistence that Britain would go to the “back of the queue” in America’s estimation?

 

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

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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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Shameless Conservatives Try To Blame The Rise Of Donald Trump On Barack Obama And The Democrats

Anti-Trump conservatives need to stop trying to blame Democrats for the rise of Donald Trump, and take a good look in the mirror instead

While it is admirable that many prominent American conservatives are refusing on principle to support Donald Trump, far fewer seem introspective or self-critical enough to consider their own role in fuelling the mania which brought a reality TV star to the cusp of the presidency.

Latest to hop aboard the “look what the Democrats made us do” bandwagon is a writer I like and respect very much, the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. There is much to admire in Goldberg’s continued and principled criticism of Donald Trump, but he goes too far when he tries to shift blame for the rise of Trump away from where it belongs – the hysterical and alarmist nature of Republican opposition to President Obama – and create an alternative universe where the dastardly Obama “trolled” the helpless GOP and effectively forced the Republican base to become frothing-at-the-mouth crazy people uniquely receptive to Trump’s message.

Goldberg writes:

Consider President Obama. One of the central insights of both the Obama campaign and administration (the difference is subtle but real) is that Obama benefits when his critics overreact. In 2008, then-political adviser David Axelrod coined the phrase “no drama Obama” to describe not only his client’s personality but his messaging. By seeming unflappable in the face of criticism, Obama comes across as presidential. The more heated the criticism, the more presidential he seems.

The thing is, Obama often intentionally provokes the conservative base. As the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman put it in January 2015, Obama “seems to come up with a new idea every couple of weeks to drive [the GOP] up a wall.” That makes him a master at trolling.

[..] Obama played a similar game with his birth certificate and the whole birther craze. He could have released his birth certificate as early as 2008, when the Mephistophelean Clinton henchman Sid Blumenthal was whispering in reporters’ ears. But Obama didn’t for years — in part because he knew the conspiracy theory would galvanize his base. It not only confirmed everything liberals wanted to hear about the Right, it also provided Obama with an endless supply of one-liners. And for a long time that worked well for Obama; he got to mock birthers and play the dignified victim.

You can probably already see the problem. When you throw out so many buckets of chum, you have no idea what kinds of creatures you’ll attract.

Obama chummed the waters for so long, he pulled in a great white shark. A man often in error but never in doubt, with a thumbless grasp of facts and a total willingness to repeat conspiracy theories, rumors, and innuendo as the truth, Trump was almost the personification of the collective id of the angrier strata of the Republican base.

It takes quite some gall to accuse Barack Obama (of all people) of fuelling the birther movement, while keeping a straight face. No other presidents in history have been forced by relentless fringe political pressure to release their birth certificate in order to prove eligibility for office, and to suggest that Obama’s understandable reluctance to rise to the conspiracy theorist bait was motivated primarily by a desire to smear the Republican Party is like blaming a homeowner you just burgled for not warning you in advance that burglary is illegal and will get you in trouble with the law.

Is Barack Obama now responsible for the welfare and fortunes of the Republican Party? Does he have some hitherto-unknown obligation to save his political foes from their own worst excesses? The idea is laughable. Republicans loved having fringe birthers on their side when it helped them storm to victory in the 2010 midterm elections – it is disingenuous in the extreme for American conservatives to pretend that birtherism was something foisted upon them by Obama himself now that it has finally become a liability.

Besides, the real roots of Donald Trump’s rise – besides the pervasive weariness with political elites in general, a phenomenon witnessed on both sides of the Atlantic – lie in the behaviour of leading conservative politicians and media personalities, and the way in which they chose to portray Obama’s centre-leftism as a unique and unprecedented socialist assault on America.

As this blog recently noted:

It was the tri-cornered hat brigade whose admirable devotion to fiscal responsibility only materialised once Barack Obama took office, and then failed to force any meaningful change in Washington despite many of their number being elected to Congress in the 2010 midterms which, who have a case to answer. They were the Great White Hope whose inevitable failure formed the third strike against the political class.

It was not the Democratic Party which fanned the flames of birtherism (and then considered a nominee for president who was born in Canada) and refused to stand up to angry constituents demanding to see a birth certificate. That was all on the Republicans. Donald Trump led that effort, and nearly the entire GOP sat back with a tub of popcorn, thinking that the circus would benefit them politically. And so it did, until their attack dog finally broke the leash and turned on its handlers.

Has Barack Obama been a decidedly left-wing and in some (though by no means all) ways unimpressive president? Yes, he has. But is he a closet Communist, a secret Muslim planning to enforce hardline Islamism on America or a hopelessly incompetent buffoon? Absolutely not. He is a centre-left politician with undeniable skills, twice elected on a centre-left platform and governing according to a centre-left approach. But in their greed to quickly win back power without doing the hard work of making their own pitch to the voters more appealing, too many Republicans were willing to tolerate and sometimes actively participate in the anti-Obama hysteria for short term political gain.

[..] Yes, the Democrats peddle in identity politics and often come down on the wrong side when it comes to favouring political correctness over freedom of speech, religion and behaviour. But it was the Republicans who opted to whip up (and profit from) blind fury about the state of the country instead of articulating a serious, coherent alternative. And in the end they were beaten at their own game. Why vote for the politician who smirks or winks when someone else is making ignorant, bigoted remarks when now you can vote for the real deal?

And again, even earlier, here:

As Barack Obama’s second term reaches its end, the size and scope of the federal government is still stubbornly large, but America has by no means transitioned into a Soviet-style planned economy. Even the hated (in right-wing circles) ObamaCare has only tinkered around the margins, funnelling a few million uninsured into some form of health coverage, inconveniently disrupting the existing coverage of a number of other people but otherwise doing nothing to change the private insurance, private provision model of American healthcare. The Second Amendment has not been substantially undermined, let alone repealed. Defence spending may be misaligned but still eclipses the rest of the world, and the US military has not been decimated. In terms of domestic policy, in other words, the world has not ended.

Has America become a libertarian paradise under President Obama? Of course not. But that’s because a Democrat won the White House and focused (as much as he could, given a spineless Democratic congressional caucus and entrenched Republican opposition) on the kind of centre-left priorities you would expect from a Democrat. And crucially, neither has America become a socialist dystopia in that time.

That’s not to say that the Republicans did not often have a point, or that they were perpetually in the wrong – in many cases, their opposition to Obama’s agenda was justified. But at all times this opposition was carried out in a shrill, alarmist and hyperbolic manner – much as British left-wingers are currently mirroring the American Tea Party with their “pass the smelling salts” horror at the thoroughly unexciting, centrist government of David Cameron.

And when you go trawling for low information votes by feeding on prejudice and stoking up concerns about the personal motivations, the loyalty and even the American-ness of the president in a childishly obstructionist scorched earth strategy, you can’t really feign surprise when the sentiments you unleash give rise to a populist demagogue like Donald Trump.

Remember, this is a political party which urged Americans in all seriousness to vote for Sarah Palin as vice president back in 2008. Sarah Palin. The Republicans have been dabbling in crazy and courting the proudly ignorant vote for decades. Donald Trump is nothing but the GOP’s longstanding approach taken to its logical extreme.

And if decent conservatives want to ensure that they never again find themselves in a position of seeing their movement taken over by an ignorant, populist demagogue then they might want to stop blaming Democrats for their own self-inflicted misfortune and instead re-examine their behaviour both in government and opposition.

Was it wise, for example, to pretend to be super tough on immigration, yet ultimately do nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants or otherwise reform the system, simply because Republican donors had no interest in changing the status quo, with its plentiful cheap labour for corporations and affordable illegal domestic service for households?

Was it wise to continually shriek not just that Democrats wanted to impose stricter gun control but that they were actively seeking to abolish the Second Amendment? (The big push to completely outlaw guns trumpeted in GOP propaganda has been just weeks away for the past eight years now – is Obama waiting until his very last day in office to take America’s guns?)

Was it smart to prance around as the party of national security while consistently involving America in foreign conflagrations which increased anti-American sentiment, or to pose as the party of civil liberties while loudly cheerleading for the surveillance state?

Was it really such a genius move to talk endlessly about the benefits of tax cuts for ordinary Americans while focusing them overwhelmingly on the wealthy, or to cynically pretend that America’s lost manufacturing jobs could be easily brought back home in the age of globalisation and international supply chains?

At nearly every election going back to the Bill Clinton administration and probably earlier, the Republican Party has been writing rhetorical cheques that its politicians cannot or will not cash when they are either in office or a position of influential opposition, at a national or statewide level.

They promised to be on the side of ordinary wage and salary earners, yet together with the Democrats they did nothing to address the economic stagnation of the middle class.

They ran around screaming that ObamaCare (originally a conservative think tank idea, in large part) was socialism incarnate, an evil government takeover of healthcare rather than merely a messy and flawed patch to America’s abysmal healthcare system.

They took tons of cash in campaign contributions and small donations in order to fight the Culture Wars, enriching many pundits and activists in the process, and then rode to glorious defeat on nearly all fronts.

In other words, the Republican Party was acutely vulnerable to a Trumpian takeover because they have consistently been a party of failure. They sucked at doing the things they promised their base that they would do, and they did a whole load of other things in office or opposition which their base never wanted. And still they coasted by for years, knowing that they were their supporters’ least-worst option, until a brash new arrival appeared on the scene, a stranger to Washington politics, who promised – however glibly – that instead of mere talk he would deliver decisive action.

I think this is one of those times when I see things a little more clearly and with better perspective than American conservatives like Jonah Goldberg who have been in the trenches, fighting Barack Obama from Day 1 of his presidency. Aside from eighteen instructive months in Chicago, I spent the past eight years living in Britain, where the legacy and tradition of socialism is much stronger and more pervasive than it is in the United States.

In Britain we make the NHS, our nationalised healthcare system, into a ghastly national religion and worship it from dawn to dusk even as it kills people. We accept a much bigger welfare state than Americans would tolerate. Many of us actively demand a large, activist state to protect us from the consequences of our own decisions. Even our nominally conservative party supports many of these things.

And while I may not have the painful first-hand experience of socialism as someone from, say, Venezuela, I am surrounded by enough monuments to it for Republican wailings that Evil ObamaCare is going to destroy the “greatest healthcare system on the face of the earth” and institute socialist “death panels” to dispatch infirm Americans as the opportunistic, partisan rabble-rousing that it is. Those conservatives screeching about Obama’s plot to force “socialism” on America need to take a vacation in Venezuela, and then come back and moderate their language.

As proclaimed conservatives, the Republicans are supposedly the party of personal responsibility. Well, Donald Trump is 100% the responsibility of conservative politicians and pundits, and their scorched earth approach to opposing President Obama’s agenda. It was never the job of Barack Obama to protect the Republicans from their own worst excesses, though the GOP has done a remarkable job of “socialising” the consequences and spreading the cost of their greed and idiocy across the entire country in the risk of a potential Trump presidency.

Jonah Goldberg and other conservative thinkers peddling the “look what the Democrats made us do” defence are better than this. Donald Trump is the product of decades of establishment and conservative failure to address the needs, concerns and aspirations of millions of traditional Republican voters. And rather than blaming a Democratic president for failing to keep their own supporters in check, influential conservatives should hold themselves accountable for their part in this failure.

Hopefully the price of their failure will not be a Donald Trump presidency. But if Hillary Clinton does prevail in November, Republicans should be aware that opposing her in the same shrill and apocalyptic manner as they opposed Obama may see the donations come rolling in to conservative candidates and Super PACs, but it will leave them acutely vulnerable to takeover by someone far worse than even Donald Trump in 2020.

In other words, this would be a very good time for American conservatives to learn the right lessons from their own recent history.

 

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