Bad day for bigots II: President Obama’s 2nd Inauguration.

January 21, 2013

The President today gave a far more forceful and progressive Inaugural Speech than that of four years ago. He mentioned the word ‘gay’ for the first time in inaugural history, whilst discussing equality. He mentioned climate change. He mentioned equality in diversity, and being a friend of the poor along with support for the undocumented immigrant community. Words are of course, cheap. It would now be great if he backed up his words with actions, took on the insane American Right Wing, and left an enduring legacy.

After election night, I became aware of a vast array of tweets from those seemingly unhappy that Obama had been re-elected. You can see the flurry of right winged bigotry from election night, right here. As for today, it seems there has been another outpouring of insane, bigoted, putrid right winged sentiment coming out of the Twittersphere that i’ve come across. Here are a few of my favourites:

Untitled-1
– Where would these far right lunatics be, without referring to someone they don’t like as either Hitler or Stalin? This genius goes one step further and suggests President Obama is both Hitler and Stalin. Communist and Fascist. Quite the achievement!

marx– Oh and Marx too. Obviously. What with bailing out the auto industry and the banking system. EXACTLY as Marx demands.


saddam

– Oh and Saddam too.

freds
– YES! FACT! Except, it isn’t. The Nazis inherited gun restrictions from the former Weimar Republic. Actually, one of the first things Hitler did on coming to power, was to destroy all Union Power. Mitt Romney signalled his support for Ohio’s anti-Union laws in 2012. If you’re going to draw weak links to Hitler, at least get your research straight.

Untitled-2whiteboy

newt
– This is sensible from Ken Stephens. Politics, and whom we elect should not be based on the candidates personal life.

gaylifestyle
– Oh Ken. The sensibility has suddenly been reduced to a big pile of bigoted ashes.
nazigaymarriage

muslimsocialist

muslimass

bigotry
– It’s true. One mention in Leviticus that homosexuality is ‘abominable’. And it’s not like the Bible also endorses slaver….. oh wait: “When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21)“. I guess I can count on anti-gay Christian Americans to campaign for the re-introduction of slavery.

civilwar– Spirit of the Civil War still alive and well in 1860s/2013 Texas, I see.

So. That’s Hitler, Saddam, Stalin, Muslim, Communist, Fascist, Marx, Socialist, Kenyan, and Gay. The Right Winged Nut Jobs really did come out in force today to express their delusions. They provide great material, and i’m always thankful for them.

As to the Obama speech; I am inclined to be far more sceptical than four years ago. He still has to contend with a viciously regressive Republican Congress, and I’m a little concerned that his mention of climate change, and gay rights was simply a way to make the progressives sing his praises. In four years time, I hold out very little hope that there will have been any advancement in dealing with climate change, and no Federal recognition of the right to marry for homosexual couples. The President’s rhetoric really needs to be backed up by strong action, in spite of the opposition from the abusive far right.

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To fly the flag of the Confederacy

January 15, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: By Donald Lee Pardue (Flickr: Still Waving).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: By Donald Lee Pardue (Flickr: Still Waving).

In his 1953 novel ‘Bring the Jubilee’, Ward Moore imagines a revised history in which the Confederacy wins the Battle of Gettysburg and thus the Civil War. A key theme of the book, is the imperialist ambitions of the Confederate States between the end of the war, and the 1950s. President Robert Lee, whom takes over at the end of Jefferson Davis’ term in Office fights and fights to stop an imperialistic Congress invading Central and South America. The novel is of course imagined alternate history, but it is shockingly close to reality when we note the future aims of the Confederacy during the Civil War period, and the complete ignorance of this by those who still fly the Confederate Flag (appropriated from the original Army of Tennessee flag) under the misapprehension that it represents “State’s Rights”.

I have travelled from the UK to Michigan three times this year. The three seasons I have encountered have all had their merits, and the wonderful landscape adapts each time to reveal a hidden beauty that I hadn’t seen previously. The red leaves of autumn are calming whilst the summer evenings provide beautiful sunsets over the lake. I love Michigan.

However, as an outsider, I have been shocked to see that people still fly the Confederate flag.

I am ensured that it is a symbol of the South in general – and in particular, States rights. This is of course, nonsense. It pre-supposes that the Confederate flag and the Confederacy in general, along with secession was ever about State’s Rights. I believe this mythical idea of the old South used to be referred to as the ‘Lost Cause’; a devious yet charming little term of propaganda romanticising the South to a degree that it absolutely doesn’t deserve.

The ‘State’s Rights’ claim as to the cause of the Civil War suggests that the Southern States were ardent defenders of the individual States as a loose collection of autonomous States that could vote on and set their own laws and regulations, and trade with each other, without Federal interference. This is simply not true. The Southern States were far more anti-freedom, and anti-States Rights than the North.

For example, on the eve of secession, South Carolina issued a declaration entitled:

“Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.”

– Their grievences listed, are almost entirely based on slavery. In the most telling attack on State’s Rights, it is clear that South Carolina did not like that Northern States had at times refused to send fugitive slaves back to their ‘Masters’ in the South:

“an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery. … In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed …”

– Tellingly, the South Carolina Declaration demands that the Northern non-slave holding States conform to the views of slave holding States by allowing Southerners when visiting the North, to bring their slaves with them, as slaves:

“In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals.”

– The South didn’t care for States Rights. The South employed the most imperialistic, totalitarian, anti-liberty social and economic system, dreaming of empire, in the entire nation.

Now Southern propagandists will argue that tariffs, and Federal planning grants were just as to blame for secession, but those points are not mentioned in most Southern literature from the time. The Southern States seceded, because of the issue of slavery. It isn’t State’s Rights, it is White Male Rights.

Similar to South Carolina, Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession states:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world … a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

Perhaps most tellingly of all, is the Confederate Constitution. Section 9 of which states:

(4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

– This shows how little the Confederacy cared about State’s Rights. The State’s have no right to abolish Slavery. No individual State can pass a law impairing the right of property in slaves. The Confederate Federal Government did not care for State’s Rights. They cared only about maintaining and spreading slavery as a system.

So, the South essentially means that it is an ardent defender of States Rights, as long as the Southern States have the Right to demand the Northern States do as the South demands. But not only did the South wish to ensure the North did as it was told, they wished to expand their slave holding empire into different continents.

The American lawyer and journalist William Walker, in 1854, after a failed attempt to set up a Republic of Sonora in Mexico, with the intention of it becoming a State of the Union; invaded Nicaragua for control of a vital trade route between New York and San Francisco. He succeeded in his efforts, and took control of Nicaragua, renaming it “Walkeragua” (seriously, i’m not making this up). In 1856, President Franklin Pierce, officially recognised Walker’s regime in Walkeragua as legitimate. His regime began to Americanise Walkeragua, by instating slavery, using American currency, and making English the official language. He advertised his new Country to American Southern businessmen by advertising the fact that his new quasi-State was pro-slavery and would remain so.
By the time Walker revoked Nicaragua’s 1824 Emancipation Act, the rest of Latin America took note, and invaded. He fled and was bought back to the U.S where he was welcomed as a hero of the South.
He died before the Civil War kicked off, but the South referred to him throughout the Civil War as “General Walker“ and “The grey-eyed man of destiny”. The South did not just fight to preserve the institution of slavery, they wanted to expand it, on a grand scale, to the point where Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed that the 36°30′ parallel north be a line that separates the northern free states, and the southern slave states, all the way down to the tip of South America.

Walker wasn’t the only Southerner with Imperialist ambitions. The Confederate Secretary of State John C. Breckinridge decided that Southern States had the right to invade whomever they wished:

“The Southern states cannot afford to be shut off from all possibility of expansion towards the tropics by the hostile action of the federal government.”

As autonomous “States rights” go, invading another sovereign nation and revoking its anti-slavery laws, in hope of creating a slave owning empire, is about as big and as bad as a Federal Government can get.
So far, that’s State’s Rights to own people as property, and the State’s Rights to invade sovereign countries and force slavery upon them. Let’s also not forget State’s Rights to wander into other countries, and capture locals to be shipped back to Southern lands as slaves, as President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davies suggested when he mentioned reviving the slave trade because there was an abundance of:

“….new acquisitions to be made south of the Rio Grande.”

– The imperialist fantasies that prominent Southern politicians were expressing quickly evaporates the intensely faulty premise that for the South, the Civil War was about State’s Freedoms and Rights. It is therefore absurd to claim the Confederate flag stands for those qualities. It stood in defiance of those qualities.

By flying the Confederate flag, what social system are you showing your support for, or your nostalgic sense of loss for? What economic system? Certainly the civil war pitted the more industrialised and Capitalist Northern economic system, against the more agrarian and slave-holding Southern economic structure. So what are you advocating? Surely not Capitalism, as Capitalism was most certainly considered a great evil in the old South, so much so that George Fitzhugh – a leading Social Theorist of the time, insisted that slavery protected African Americans from the pains of Capitalism, and attacks the idea of “free competition” no less than 42 times in his book ‘Slavery Justified’. On a Social level, Fitzhugh (who went on to work in the Treasury of the Confederacy, as well as counting numerous Confederate politicians among his friends and admirers) says of African Americans:

Half of mankind are but grown up children, and liberty is fatal to them as it is to children.

– The line of reasoning is reasonable when framed in the cold ignorance of the mid-19th century, but is widely unacceptable, and entirely incorrect by 21st century logic. We must remember that Fitzhugh was writing prior to Darwin’s understanding that racial differences were not biological. Fitzhugh would have been influenced by social theorists on racial and cultural differences, culminating in the studies of anthropologists such as Lewis Henry Morgan, who argued in his work ‘Ancient Societies’ that societies and thus peoples could be classed as primitive or civilised, and that the white European civilisation was far more advanced than ‘primitive’ African cultures. Morgan’s work was less based on evolutionary biology, and more on a Euro-centric cultural study, and very little else. His works later influenced Marx in his theory of Historical Materials, thus proving that his writings were widely available and respected.

State’s Right’s. What they mean is, the rich white male’s right to own people as property based on skin tone, without anyone telling them that it’s wrong. The African American had no right to complain, had no right to vote, no right to not be beaten, no right to anything. As the great Senator of the time Charles Sumner stated:

By the licence of slavery, an entire race is delivered over to the prostitution and concubinage without the protection of any law.

– Here Sumner is noting that the South revokes its claims on “Rights” when it imprisons the vast majority of its population in a state of bondage; breaking the ties of family, and brotherhood, of marriage and replacing parent/child relationships (natural relationships) with master/slave. When you appropriate the fruit of labour freely, when you take away their right to active political participation, when you deny education, and when you break natural bonds like that of family; you can no longer claim the defence of ‘State’s rights’, and any future generation flying the flag that represented that putrid system should be ashamed.

Often, I read insistences that the Confederate Flag today means Southern pride, or Southern heritage, or other equally manipulative benign terms. That narrative is misjudged. The Confederate flag was a very specific flag, for a very specific system, at a very specific time. It is a reason. So, if you must insist on ensuring the World knows just how proud you are to be from Southern States, why not have a new flag, predicated on State’s Rights, or Southern Pride? Designed for that purpose. Why use the EXACT same flag that was designed purely for the sake of representing the slave system. It is disingenuous to attempt to suggest the Confederate Flag is anything but a provocative flag of hate.

The Confederacy Flag represents, not States Rights, not Southern heritage or pride, but the following: An Economic and Social system built on slavery. Anti-Capitalism. Anti-liberty. Imperialism. Scientific ignorance. White Supremacy. The Confederate flag represents that system. Nothing else. Certainly not “State’s Rights”. It is very specific as a symbol.

The attempts to pose the Civil War as a State’s Rights issue, is simply to ignore and revise history in an attempt to create a sort of “David V Goliath” narrative in which the South is the victim of the big bad Federal Government. It is ignorant, lazy, and wrong.

To fly the flag of Confederacy today is shameful.


Defending Westboro

January 12, 2013

“He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
– Thomas Paine

I have been struggling with my conscience and with my ideas of liberty, to come to terms with the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church, especially in recent weeks as they expressed their wish to protest at the funerals of the victims at Newtown, and the fundamental principle of free speech; the most important right. It is a real test of personal belief in the beautiful sentiments expressed by people like Mill, or at the beginning of the Age of Reason by my personal hero Thomas Paine; that my right to offend is under attack the moment I restrict anyone else’s right to offend by being offended or upset by words. How do I rationalise the right of someone to offend the innocent and broken relatives of murdered school children, in the most malicious and sickening display of hate speech possible? The Westboro Baptist Church, for me are the ultimate test in my belief in freed expression.

The only way to rationalise my thoughts, is to take away my individual emotion, and focus purely on the abstract. And it is with that, that I have come to the conclusion, that the Westboro Baptist Church should be allowed complete freedom to picket, voice their hate, protest all they want. In addition, others should be allowed to protest against Westboro, to picket them, and to voice their opposition.

I have spoken to many ‘Unite Against Fascism’ members whom appear far more totalitarian than they wish to accept. I spoke to one guy a year ago in London, who had protested outside BBC studios as Nick Griffin was set to appear on the flagship show Question Time. Griffin is the leader of the British National Party; a far right party with ties to neo-nazi groups across the World. Griffin is the most repugnant man in British politics. And I too fell into the trap of totalitarianism in voicing my opposition to his appearance, accepting everything the UAF protester was saying. The Welsh Secretary at the Time Peter Hain voiced his totalitarian principles with:

“The BBC should be ashamed of single-handedly doing a racist, fascist party the biggest favour in its grubby history.”

Having had time to think it over, it seems to me to be equally as repugnant to have supported attempts to silence Griffin simply because Hain and others didn’t like what he had to say. Peter Hain is effectively telling me, as a viewer, that I shouldn’t be allowed to hear Griffin speak. I must automatically dislike what he has to say. I must trust conventional wisdom. He is telling me that he alone is more able to comprehend and analyse Griffin’s statements, whilst i’m not. Like a father, without any sort of justifiable authoritative qualification (being a politician certainly doesn’t qualify him in this way) over me, deciding he knows what is best.

Hain is also politicising the BBC, by subtly hinting that it must only reflect the voice of more centrist viewers. The BBC must reflect secular principles, not partisan principles. By denying Griffin the right to voice his contradictory opinion to mine, I am denying myself the right to form a rounded opinion; to investigate, and to inquire. Griffin once, like David Duke, denied the Holocaust. Now, when States ban the denying of the Holocaust, they are denying the Right to listen to dissenting opinions that might challenge me to both inquire, and solidify, or modify my own. It is almost criminalising the necessity to question. Why do I believe the holocaust happened the way it is consistently documented? I’ve only heard about it from two or three sources. Shouldn’t I be given a plethora of ideas since I have no way of fully accepting just one, given that I wasn’t there to experience it first hand. By accepting the banning of unpopular, and offensive views, I am also harming the Right of others to hear a plethora of views and to educate themselves further. I am institutionalising a way of thinking that exists on the left of centre, whilst criminalising those on the fringes for saying words I do not like. This way, I become a slave to convention. I have learnt that this is unacceptable.

We grow as people when we are challenged.

Benjamin Franklin Bache, in the late 1700s, wrote a newspaper called Aurora. The paper reflected his views, and soon he became staunchly antagonistic toward the Presidential Administration of John Adams, accusing him of ambitions of monarchy and incompetent governance. Bache was arrested and never spoke another word out of place. The Adams administration could therefore go on, unquestioned. John Adams was able to abuse the power of the Constitution, by enacting the Sedition Act. Though it was designed in an atmosphere of fear that the new Republic was under threat from secessionist voices in the Southern States, the Act was actually used to silence critics of the Adams administration whether calling for secession or not. The Act made it an offence to publish:

Malicious writing…

… against government officials. It hurt political discourse, it made a quasi-Monarch out of Adams, and led to countless imprisonments and fines.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
– Voltaire

I am however convinced that Westboro as a Church, are child abusers. Substituting teaching their children to be critical, rational, and to think for themselves; for teaching hate, and bigotry and forcing them to hold placards and repeat hate filled mantras that they cannot possible understand at that age, is child abuse. The children are being prevented from freely expressing themselves via systematic thought control and indoctrination.

It is true that whilst people like myself are irritated, disgusted, and offended by the speech spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church, and neo-Nazi’s like Griffin, we are also ignorant to offence caused to others, when for example, we insult, degrade, and belittle religious figures and symbols of faith. I have long been an advocate for the right to blaspheme, and judging by my posts on this blog…. I blaspheme at a rate of about three times a paragraph. It is a sign of intellectual maturity, that we can take offence without resorting to banning words, books, or calling for Salmon Rushdie to be killed for The Satanic Verses. We take offence, and we move on. Or we take offence, and we debate. Many religious people will be just as offended by my characterisation of their deeply held beliefs, as someone else is by the actions of Westboro. If the Pakistani delegate to the UN, who now has the right to publicly seek out and condemn “abuses of free speech, including defamation of religions and prophets” is able to restrict speech based on weak religious conjecture…. shouldn’t someone else have the right to publicly seek out and condemn Koranic abuses against non-believers and women? I am fully aware that I may offend the religious – be them Muslim or Christian – when I suggest Islam and Christianity, whilst having their peaceful merits, have very fundamental totalitarian and fascist principles at their core. For people who consider Islam to be a major part of their lives; insulting or degrading their faith is a sickening act. I respect their Right to be offended and disgusted. Those who call for punishment for anyone who insults their faith, are reflecting the tactics of Peter Hain and the UAF in attempting to silence anyone who fundamentally disagrees with them. If I were to claim that fundamentalist Muslim groups should be banned from, or even extradited for protesting against ‘Western Aggression’, or demanding Shariah for Britain, then I forfeit my Right to claim secularist values, and place myself on the side of totalitarianism.
I can protest, argue, shun, and degrade their view, but I cannot rightly suggest they should be banned from protesting, or throw out of the country. Eliminating what one person considers “hate speech” from public discourse solves nothing. The ideas are still there, they are simply violently repressed. In the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, by protesting the funerals of children killed in such horrific circumstances, they open themselves up to criticism, and actually, for a brief moment, unite both right winged and left winged, both religious and atheist, in condemnation. This is a positive effect of freedom of expression.

Extreme political movements tend to begin, where the freedom to express their views are oppressed. When they are allowed, they open themselves up to criticism, ridicule, and can be swiftly dealt with. The best way to counter hate speech, is to openly debate it, and shame it for the nonsense that it is. It is dangerous to silence dissent.

Words can inspire, they can hurt, they can upset. Without directly calling for violent action, they should not be shackled by convention. Westboro holding a sign with “Thank God for dead soldiers” is disgusting and shameful, Islamic fundamentalist groups calling for Shariah for Britain, Nick Griffin insisting that Muslims cannot be considered British are all offensive ideas to me. But they are not restricting my Rights by their words. The moment that is criminalised as “hate speech” is the moment we advocate the use of force, against none force, against words. Opinion is personal. The use of force cannot change the opinion, in some cases it hardens the opinion, and makes a martyr out of the individual. The use of force against words simply makes sure convention is not tested.

A rather wonderful Islamic writer, head of the Islamic Society for The Promotion of Religious Tolerance, Dr Hesham el Essawy espouses secular principles in a spectacular way:

The manner in which we conduct such dialogue is also important. And how should this be? In goodness, gentleness and tolerance, the Koran says. Each must present his evidence, and each must respect the right of the others not to accept it. “Your job is to pass the message along. Whether they believe or not is none of your concern” God said to His Messenger in the Koran…. What is important, and least emphasised, is the social function of belief, the all important earthly purpose of religion. It is what you do with your belief that should concern one, not the belief itself…. The test of your beliefs, whatever they may be, is in how you treat me….

In this case, it would be wrong to suggest that religion is solely responsible for attacks on free expression. There are certainly many in the religious community that are hardened supporters of free expression, many having tasted the cruelties that come about from restricting basic human rights.

Religion may emphasise a level of loyalty or faith, that makes offence far more likely, and so heightens a desire to silence, but it isn’t responsible for it. It is a state of mind, that seems to afflict those with such strong loyalties but also insecure loyalties, be them religious, cultural, patriotic etc. It is a totalitarian mind set, whether consciously so or not, set in fear of ‘different’. The administration of John Adams as pointed out above, or Stalin’s silencing of any dissenters, or the UAF’s attempts to silence Griffin, or Polpot’s extermination of those he considered ‘intellectuals’, or the lynching of any abolitionists in the Southern States of the US, or any pro-slavery writers in the Union silenced by Lincoln during the Civil War. It is totalitarianism borne out of the fear of ‘different’, a challenge to insecure loyalties. Usually, the anger stems from what might happen, if people hear the dissenters. Will power structures be challenged? Certainly Stalin and Pol Pot worried about this. When it comes to Westboro, I think it is just an emotional defence mechanism. Perhaps we need to be seen to show an outward display of disgust, to insist upon others, or mainly upon ourselves, that we are morally outraged for the second or two that we allow the subject to cross our minds, before we forget all about it and move on to something more inconsequential and easier to intellectually deal with. Either way, if we wish to uphold the values of the enlightenment and secularism – as I do – then we must take the bad and the disgust, with the good and the decent. The balance of the two is what separates us from the uncivilised, and the cowardly.