A liberal response to the refugee crisis.

January 8, 2016

The grotesque coordinated sex attacks on women in Cologne on New Years has rightfully sparked a discussion in the Western World on the issues that the refugee crisis has brought with it across Europe. The response seems to range from a willful refusal to engage with the issue through fear of being labelled a bigot, to the dogmatic idea that all refugees should be blocked from fleeing to safety. When the liberal left fails to create a narrative, the far-right pounces. I thought I’d offer my perspective, but before I do, I think it prudent to note that I genuinely have no idea how to solve such a complex issue, and that in itself aids a bizarre far-right narrative:

refugeecrisis

– I say I don’t know how to solve the issue, he hears an apologist for sex abuse. His response implies just two choices; either European women, or sex attacking Syrians… who do you choose? A simplistic and weak straw man. But this highlights an important issue; if liberals have no basis by which to start the conversation, we lose the base to the far-right, and that has always been exceptionally dangerous.

There is a risk when appealing to our philosophical and political values, that we treat the people we are essentially discussing the future of (as if we have that inherent right anyway) as an abstraction, a variable, an object in our philosophising. It is dehumanising to an extent and makes it easier to offer illiberal solutions, as those human beings stand with Assad’s gun at their backs, and Europe’s far-right fist to their face. I will endeavor to express why liberalism must focus on those people as individual human beings first and foremost, and not a collective, nor an abstraction.

It is important to know that refugees are fleeing persecution. That is to say, they have had their rights as human beings with property over their own person – liberty we are all naturally born with, regardless of the political framework we are born on to – completely and unjustly stripped from them by abusers. It is a sense of terror that we cannot imagine, given our entire existence has been within a framework that grants us those rights without question. The liberal World, the World that understands and protects those natural liberties must therefore predicate its response on restoring those natural liberties and rights, to people fleeing. It must not abuse them further. This is done in several ways.

Firstly, there must be a global effort to end the conflict that causes so many to flee their homes and take an extremely dangerous trip to the safety of Europe. If you are willing to put your child on a small boat and make a terrifying journey across seas and land with no guarantee of safety, you are desperate for help, and no country that basis its framework on the protection of civil rights should refuse you entry simply for where you came from. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be refused entry for other reasons. But our obligation toward those fleeing persecution is not to be compromised based on ethnicity or country of origin. For too long the rest of the World has simply sat by as human rights were so cruelly abused in Syria, despite having the power to prevent it. The only way to stop people fleeing persecution in the long run, is an end to the refusal to recognise and protect the rights of those refugees, which is to say, an end to civil war.

Secondly, hand-in-hand with ending persecution in Syria, is a frank and honest discussion on illiberal policies, cultural norms, and religious oppression and supremacy. This includes highlighting illiberal notions in our own society. For example, you might be under the impression if you listen to certain anti-refugee sections of society, that refugees disproportionately commit crimes. This is wrong, and works to fuel a dehumanising narrative of suspicion. Indeed, ‘Die Welt’ using police reports, notes that refugees are no more likely to commit crimes than German citizens.

That isn’t to say that cultural attitudes outside of our own are not an issue also. We must not be afraid of critiquing culture. Culture is not off-limits, it is not to be protected from criticism. If a specific culture has obscenely illiberal misogynistic norms, we musn’t be scared to say so and to empower and defend voices of dissent in those cultures. We must champion the rule of law, secular humanist values, gender and sexuality equality, liberal civil rights, democracy, and speak up for those seeking democratic reform in cultures with deeply entrenched oppressive structures. The freedom to inquiry and express, and the same rights and dignity applied to all regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and belief is what separates the civilised from the barbaric, and we must champion the civilised, holding to account those who defend and excuse the barbaric. We must not be afraid to highlight the fact that religious doctrine and dogma, influences behaviour, and that doctrine of moral ideals from a single time and place centuries ago, might be problematic in the 21st century. This discussion is too often cut short by fear of being labelled bigoted, or racist. I do think we can have a debate on cultural regressive attitudes and dangerous religious dogma that limit so many chances across the World, without resorting to racist stereotypes and dehumanising rhetoric.

We must not meet regressive and violent attitudes, with a victim-blaming mentality. Maajid Nawaz writing for The Daily Beast highlights the obscene letter from Martin Thalhammer, the headmaster at Wilhelm-Diess-Gymnasium, in which he advises parents to make sure their children dress ‘modestly’ simply because refugees are accommodated close by. The letter says:

“The Syrian citizens are mainly Muslims and speak Arabic. The refugees are marked by their own culture. Because our school is directly next to where they are staying, modest clothing should be adhered to, in order to avoid discrepancies. Revealing tops or blouses, short shorts or miniskirts could lead to misunderstandings.”

– This is obscene for two reasons. Firstly, it implies that ‘misunderstanding’ are the responsibility of the people at the gym to prevent, to change their behaviour, rather than the fault laying with the attitudes of individuals who might be offended or use it as an excuse to attack. It is classic victim blaming. Secondly, it implies that the refugees – as a collective (we shall come onto this shortly) – are somehow unable to help themselves. It is bigoted as well as victim-blaming. Regressive attitudes must not be met with victim-blaming. It must be met with progressive attitudes. As Nawaz says:

“The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. Employment and education among migrant males will be a more conducive and far more consistent approach than asking European women to change how they dress or when they go out.”

Thirdly, if liberalism is to mean anything it is to place and empower the individual above the group. We pride ourselves on advancing the freedom of individuals to be themselves, to express themselves, to love whom they choose to love, to vote how they choose to vote, to pursue their own happiness, to dress how they choose to dress without coercion from the ‘group’, where it does not harm the same liberty for others. If we believe this true for ourselves, we must defend it for others, and we must be consistent with how we apply it. I support helping refugees in this country, because I see no other way of protecting those rights and freedoms they were born with immediately.

We believe in the fewest restrictions on the individual by others as is necessary to protect each other from each other, so that the individual is empowered with their own life to achieve and enjoy such a short time on the planet as they see fit. And so the response from some, that no refugees should be granted safety in Europe, thus arguing for the complete withholding of the core concept of liberty that we hold so dear, for people who have committed no crime, simply for the country they were unlucky enough to be born into, is to me unfathomable at best, and an admission that our values are not universal and so are completely worthless at worst.

We do not equate the individual with the collective, we do not hold responsible an individual within a loosely defined collective – ‘refugees’ – as responsible for the actions of other individuals within that collective. We do not ban men from teaching in schools because they might be a sexual predator. Indeed, we do not ban American military personnel from Europe, despite Donald Trump’s statistic that implies – if we are to be consistent – that they might be dangerous:

trump

The rights of person A to security and liberty must not be determined by the actions of person B. Individuals are responsible for individual actions. Their belonging to a group – and a group not of their choosing, but of necessity – must not infringe upon their right to life. The Syrian families who live in the city that I am from, whose children are now safe, and who are not harming anyone are the lucky few who escaped and are protected. Others like them must not be cast out into the ocean by a liberal, democratic nation, for the crimes of those who attacked so many women in Cologne.

To summarise; liberals must pressure governments to work together to end the conflict. Liberals must feel free to critique illiberal and oppressive power structures across all cultures without fear of being stigmatised, whilst supporting our democratic, secular, liberal friends within those cultures working hard for reform. And lastly, liberals must not equate the individual with the group, nor decide who is deserving of rights based simply on nation of origin. Whilst I do not have the answers to how we solve the refugee crisis, I do not believe that compromising liberal principles is at all a basis upon which to start the conversation. Much the opposite; we must be stronger in our values in the face of inhumanity, than we are at any other time.

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If we can drop bombs on IS, we can drop food on Madaya.

January 7, 2016

It is one of the most harrowing videos you are likely to watch, from the comfort of yours and my safe home. A child who hasn’t eaten in days and will only get weaker and weaker, a baby who eats water and salt because there is no milk left. A new mother helplessly watching her baby starve to death. The computer screen is a horrific barrier between children suffering the most obscene deliberate starvation enforced by adults, and your ability to reach in and pull them out. Indeed, if they tried to escape, and presuming they get through the landmines placed around the town, Hezbollah and Assad’s forces will kill them.

When the debates arose over whether or not to extend British airstrikes against strategic IS positions in Syria, I was swayed by the lack of alternatives. Indeed, it seemed the anti-air strike position rightly called for regional powers and the West to come to a long term peace settlement, whilst refusing to acknowledge that this is a process that takes a long time, and crucially does not aid allies on the ground right here and now. It was a nice sentiment, one that sounded peaceful, but one that inevitably requires more beheadings, more girls taken as slaves, more sex attacks, more gay people thrown from buildings whilst we wait patiently for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Hezbollah, the US, Israel, Iraq, and President Assad to actually come to a table and settle centuries of differences. And so I was swayed to support air strikes for the simple fact that waiting for political solutions whilst not providing our allies on the ground with much needed air support, is nothing less than abandoning those allies. I supported air strikes on IS targets in Syria, for humanitarian reasons.

For the same humanitarian reasons, I support immediate food drops on the besieged town of Madaya.

Madaya is a small town not too far from Damascus. As we speak, 40,000 citizens of the town are besieged by troops loyal to President Assad and Hezbollah. Those citizens have no food. A kilogram of rice, currently costs £170. Stories have flooded onto social media of children forced to eat leaves, starving people killing their pets for valuable nutrition, and utterly horrific images detailing the horror as President Assad uses a familiar tactic of his, and deliberately starves an entire town.

The siege and starvation tactic, is said to be in retaliation for Jaysh al-Fateh attacking and besieging the two Shia towns of Fua and Kefraya. An appalling excuse. It takes the mentality of a monster to believe you defeat an enemy, by deliberately starving children.

The siege is maintained, by Hezbollah placing landmines all around the town, and setting up checkpoints to prevent anyone from leaving. In the meantime, mothers cannot find milk to feed their babies, babies who cannot speak, they cannot tell you just how starving they are. Babies. Anadolu Agency of Turkey has reported that six children died last month through starvation, with eight people killed after trying to escape and hitting landmines.

The situation emphasises just why President Assad must not be included in any political solution. He must be held accountable for some of the worst human rights abuses the 21st Century has witnessed, he must not be allowed to get away with starvation as a tactic of war. He is not an ally. He is not to be engaged with. He is deliberately and cruelly murdering children. This is not a statesman.

Waiting for a political solution to stop Assad starving his victims does nothing to aid the problem now. And right now, if the Western World can defend our values by dropping bombs on IS, we absolutely and immediately must help those victims starved to death by monsters, by dropping food.


Twisting Charlie.

January 6, 2016

There was a distinct lack of irony in the Vatican’s statement about the new cover of Charlie Hebdo’s publication, to coincide with the anniversary of the murders:

“Behind the deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism, the weekly is forgetting once more what religious leaders of every faith unceasingly repeat to reject violence in the name of religion – using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy, as pope Francis has said several times,”

“In Charlie Hebdo’s choice, there is the sad paradox of a world which is more and more sensitive about being politically correct, almost to the point of ridicule, yet does not wish to acknowledge or to respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion.”

– Ironic that an institution dedicated as it has been, to murdering heretics, to waging imperial wars, to crushing blasphemy, to backing the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, to scaring people into rejecting birth control, to Cardinal Turkson (a candidate for the Papacy) rejecting calls for human rights for gay folk, suddenly has the nerve to tell anyone that it rejects violence in the name of religion. I’m also not sure why claiming that religion might have a violent element represents a “deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism”. The reason secularism is a thing in the first place, is because religion didn’t deal too well with human rights when it had power. Indeed, it has power now in much of the World, and has very little respect for basic human rights. For the Vatican, not much has change, the Pope believes that if you commit blasphemy, you should expect a violent reaction:

“if my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.”

“It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

– The Vatican is violence in the name of religion. It wishes to hold illiberal ideas dear, to empower those ideas across the World politically, whilst desiring that no one criticise or satirise on fear of attack.

But the Church is not the only place you’ll still find anger at Charlie Hebdo. It seems to loom mainly on the regressive left of the political spectrum, from those who simply do not understand that Charlie Hebdo is a left-leaning, publication satirising the right wing, in much the same way that Stephen Colbert manages so brilliantly in the US. The point of the publication is to exaggerate right winged stereotypes, to absurd levels, whilst keeping the fundamental arguments they often make. Regressives struggle with this.

Max Blumenthal – no stranger to inventing what other people say or mean – stripped all context away from this, when he posted the front cover of a Charlie Hebdo publication, on Twitter:

charlie-hebdo-racist-monkey-cartoon copy

– The clear implication is that Hebdo is a racist magazine, that has just called France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, a monkey. As if the cartoonists have sat around a table, and decided it’d be really funny, to compare someone with dark skin, to an ape. What Blumenthal predictably left out, was that the picture was actually commenting and satirising the views of Anne-Sophie Leclere, a former Front National local election candidate who had recently compared Christiane Taubira to a monkey several times across media platforms. In the photo, you see the logo of the Front National. Further, Le Pen at this time was on a PR mission to reposition the Front National as less racist as they come across. She had started a group called “The Marine Blue Gathering” or “Rassemblement Bleu Marine”. The words in the photo satirise the attempts to reposition the Front National, replacing the word “Marine” for “Raciste”. The publication is essentially saying, you can try all you want…. you’re still a racist party, and here’s why…” thus the image on the cover is not devoid of context. Blumenthal left out the context, instead choosing to allow people to believe that Charlie Hebdo had just compared Christiane Taubire to a monkey.

Further, the image was drawn by the Charb; the late Editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo. His funeral was attended to by…. Christiane Taubire. The same Christiane Taubire who also delivered a wonderful eulogy to another murdered Hebdo journalist, in which she spoke so eloquently in support of Enlightenment values, and so wonderfully of the Hebdo journalist Bernard Verlhac (Tignous):

“The violence of these murders, of these assassinations, the barbarity of these crimes, the numbing, the stupefying horror, let us recognize it, has smashed our everyday sense of security, our routine, and, let us admit it, our drowsiness about these values, which we thought we had inherited from the Enlightenment, but about which we had forgotten that they carried with them the necessity of vigilance. And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.”

– She characterises Bernard Verlhac (Tignous) as dedicated to equality, to education, and to social justice. Meanwhile, Blumenthal implies that Charlie Hebdo just randomly decided to show a cartoon of a black lady as a monkey.

Political satire, that focuses on the victims of hypocrisy and indifference is not new. This piece for the Financial Times includes a similar photograph of the victims of Congo’s looted wealth, whilst the UN turns a blind eye. No one is implying that the cartoonist is mocking the victims. No one is implying white supremacism at the Financial Times. Charlie Hebdo is deliberately misinterpreted much of the time in a way that no other satirical publication or media outlet is.

On the anniversary of the murders of Charlie Hebdo’s writers and cartoonists, we liberals must defend and speak up consistently for the right to criticise and satirise political settlements, ideological frameworks of power (including religions), indifferent and illiberal responses to events, regardless of whether it be through satire, through serious critiques, through art. This is how we progress. We hold human rights, civil rights to be indestructible and undeniable, whilst ideas are simply targets to be scrutinised. We do not demonise for the scrutiny of ideologies. The scrutiny of ideas and the real World effect of those ideas, is a value we do not compromise for the sake of protecting bad ideas. Hebdo understands this. The Vatican, Islamists, and the regressives do not.


The Racism of the Regressives.

January 2, 2016

A constant theme that runs through the thought processes of the regressives – as I’ve noted several times – is racism. Their often excitable attempts to claim ‘New Atheists’ as white supremacists with colonial ambitions, is swiftly dealt with by pointing to numerous non-white, non-western atheists who seem to fit the neat little ‘New Atheist’ box. When those non-white, non-western atheists are mentioned, the humble thing to do would be to back down and re-evaluate your narrative. The regressive response has been to engage in unbelievable irony.

They tend to describe those non-white atheists or liberal Muslims using exceptionally racist language. Whether it be Nathan Lean referring to Maajid Nawaz as a ‘lapdog‘ for Sam Harris, or CJ Werleman referring to Ali Rizvi as ‘brown faced white mask water carrier for empire’, it is a desperate attempt to salvage a failed narrative – failed, because those critical of Islamic doctrines are from across the World, failed because liberal, secular principles and values are not ‘Western‘ nor have they been framed by white people only – and in the meantime it strips non-white folks of their individual faculties of reason. It tells us that anyone with darker skin, who does not share CJ Werleman’s ‘white supremacist’ narrative, is simply a pawn used by far more intelligent white folks who have manipulated the poor ‘brown faces’ into doing their bidding. Ironic, because it is this that happens to be deeply white supremacist in principle, and deeply colonial. Ideas are given a skin tone, and incredibly intelligent people, with their own memories, stories, thoughts, ideas, are simply reduced to the shade of their skin.

I’ve said all of that before (see my article on the racist bigotry inherent in CJ’s rhetoric, and my article on Nathan Lean’s dismissal of Maajid Nawaz on account of the apparent supremacy of Sam Harris’ skin tone) and tried to highlight the inherent racism to the regressive left’s failed narrative, but today a regressive on Twitter highlighted my point perfectly during a predictable rant over my previous article in which I criticised his hero, CJ Werleman, and so I figure it is always worth pointing out the hideous bigotry to their arguments.

For a bit of clarity before we go into the inherent racism that permeates his – and the regressive left in general’s – arguments, here is who we’re dealing with:

liberalsecularvalues– After referring to me as an ‘apologist for empire’, I responded. A quick side note, the regressives over the past year have succeeded in misrepresenting and distorting the points raised by others. Glenn Greenwald did this over the past week with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris faces it daily, and you’ll never fail to see one of them refer to Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a huge fan of Anders Breivik. Regular readers of Stephen Knight’s The Godless Spellchecker blog, will already be aware of him, after GSpellchecker masterfully responded to previous distortions from Spooner. So it wont surprise you to see that when I responded by saying I value liberal, secular, principles ‘Johnny Spooner’ seems to have heard ‘I really love drone strikes on children’. This is who we’re dealing with.

I wanted to know what he considered to be oppressive, and whether the language CJ Werleman had used to describe Ayaan Hirsi Ali – “brown faced white mask” – was acceptable or oppressive, in its clear attempts to strip her of her own opinions and thoughts:

casebycase
I would hope that for anyone considering themselves a liberal, racist language is racist language regardless of whether or not we agree with their views. With Ayaan, I disagree with her on occasions, and agree with her on others. At no point do I consider racial abuse and stripping her of her agency to be acceptable. Whether someone resides on the left, the right, or in the centre, racist language is unacceptable. For the regressive left, racist language is to be judged on a ‘case by case’ basis, which appears to mean, if an African woman does not agree with the regressive left perspective, they open themselves up to racist abuse, it’s their own fault. I think here, Spooner has unwittingly given us an insight into the mind of a regressive.

So you see, having been abused by an oppressive system in her native land, Ali now faces it from those who should not be compromising their support for her right to her own views even if those views are not identical to your own.

And then, having already displayed his racial prejudices, he decides that it’s not racist at all:

notracistI’m not sure where anyone has ever suggested that it is ‘racist‘ to question the motives of anyone who sides with oppressors. I don’t find it ‘racist‘ for Jeremy Corbyn to side with Hamas every so often. I find it hideous, but not racist. But the phrase “brown face white masked” is language heaped in racism, and if you cannot criticise Ayaan’s arguments, without attacking her for the colour of her skin, you are not simply ‘criticising‘ her motives, you are a bigot.

And then he backtracked.

conservativeI suspect he may have become uncomfortable with his own argument, and rightly so. We have gone from defending the idea that African intellectuals who do not fit the regressive narrative are merely “white masked water carriers for empire” – a white supremacist empire, if you (like Spooner) are hooked on CJ’s bizarre narrative – to the much less racially charged, colourless term “conservative policy“. The goal posts have shifted all of a sudden. But here lies more stripping of agency. It automatically assumes ‘conservative policy’ to be a white thing. As if we should be surprised that ‘brown people’ might be conservatives too, coming to the conclusions they come to, all by themselves. What a wonder!

Spooner’s narrative – like CJ’s – is simple. First it was necessary to paint this new enemy – ‘New Atheists’ – as white supremacist, imperialist, Western colonialists simply for their often outspoken criticisms of Islamic dogma and the practical implications of that dogma. When it then becomes clear that critics of that kind are not all so simply boxed in as bigoted white men, and when in fact it includes liberal Muslims as well as atheists, well now they have a problem. They suddenly need to keep the absurd narrative alive, whilst also dealing with those who don’t fit it…. and thus racism is the only answer.

True liberals do not judge an argument by the skin tone, the sexuality, the gender, the belief of the one making the argument. We would consider it an absurdity to judge an argument based on the eye colour, or length of hair, or density of freckles on the arms of the one making the point, the same is true for any other human trait that does not correspond at all to the argument being made. We judge it on its merits, we encourage open debate on the topic, we support the right of all to come to their own conclusions, to inquire, to express, and to cultivate an individual perspective on the World free from the judging chains of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, or bigotry. These are values we expect to be granted to all, and we do not compromise on that, we do not let ideas off the hook regardless of where they come from, if those ideas are the complete opposite to our values. We do not sacrifice those values at the alter of cultural or religious relativism.

I’ve said it a million times before, because I am convinced that the narrative of the regressive left abandons those principles of liberalism and that it requires the embracing of racism, like humanity requires oxygen, in order to survive.