I just watched a repeat of the best top ten lists of great top fifty comedy films. Top of the listing was… Life of Brian. I remember when it came out. There was a bussing system, because some local councils – including some that didn’t even have cinemas – banned it and people from those areas took organised coach trips to see it. The Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge argued against it on a television programme , during which John Cleese pointed out that if the Pythons had made it 400 years earlier they’d have been burned to death. That means, he said, we’ve made some progress. I watched that programme with my parents and was heartened, even then, to see how much the audience sided with the Pythons and how the Bishop’s secret weapon line about 30 pieces of silver was received completely unsympathetically as the contrived piece of bullshit it was.

If they made it now, or more to the point if they made a Life of Mohammed, they’d be hunted by Islamic Supremacists. Nobody would make such a film nowadays.

That is regress. Let’s roll it back, folks, to a better time. It’s the moment to get the old – and I do mean old – cameras out…

But let’s remember this: people voted it the best comedy. There is a huge majority against this religious intolerance revival. Time to make our presence felt.

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In other news:

Arshad Misbahi of the Manchester Central Mosque confirmed his views in a conversation to John Casson, a local psychotherapist.

Casson said: “I asked him if the execution of gay Muslims in Iran and Iraq was an acceptable punishment in Sharia law, or the result of culture, not religion.

“He told me that in a true Islamic state, such punishments were part of Islam: If the person had had a trial, at which four witnesses testified that they had seen the actual homosexual acts.”

“I asked him what would be the British Muslim view? He repeated that in an Islamic state these punishments were justified. They might result in the deaths of thousands but if this deterred millions from having sex, and spreading disease, then it was worthwhile to protect the wider community.”

“I checked again that this was not a matter of tradition, culture or local prejudice. ‘No,’ he said, ‘It is part of the central tenets of Islam: that sex outside marriage is forbidden; this is stated in the Koran and the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had stated that these punishments were due to such behaviours.'”

Peter Tatchell is quoted as saying:

Muslim and gay people know the pain of prejudice and discrimination. We should be working together to challenge homophobia and Islamophobia

Well, yes they should. But of course, Tatchell’s stance has caused him to be accused of Islamophobia, and to be targetted by the Workers’ Revolutionary Party front, Islamophobia Watch.

One of the more honourable reasons why the hard left has been unable to deal with Islamist hate speech is their wish to continue with the sort of analysis of the world they maintained up to the end of the Cold War. This is a dialogue of power and powerless, wealth and poverty, minority and majority.

Yet many evil movements come from the powerless and poor; the BNP’s membership isn’t drawn, on the whole, from the class of suave and accomplished boomers, but rather from the anonymous ranks of the unsuccessful and the poor. Nazism rose during a period of national shame at the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

This blinkered vision has in fact rendered the labour movement powerless in the face of the current wave of Islamic supremacist aggression. It remains to be seen how much damage this will have caused. But when the media gets over its reluctance to show pictures of Hitler-saluting Hezbollah, while RESPECT marches in their support, the damage could be vast, and long-lasting.

First, though, we need a realignment in the media. It might be coming sooner than you think.

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Mr Meat himself, Sheik Taj al-Din Al Hilaly, has been linked with terrorist groups for twenty years, according to Australian media reports:

ASIO warned authorities 20 years ago that Sheik Taj al-Din Al-hilaly could inflame communal violence in Australia.
Court judgments show ASIO initially believed the controversial mufti posed a risk to the community because of his alleged propensity to cause or promote violence.

Shortly after his arrival in Australia as the new imam of Lakemba Mosque in 1982, Sheik Hilaly was also linked with a shadowy terrorist group, Soldiers of God, which is thought to have been involved in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Sheik Hilaly was also alleged to have endorsed suicide bombing, verbally attacked women and preached a highly political message of extremism.

The Sunday Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman writes today that a former intelligence officer said Sheik Hilaly’s name first surfaced in a report by one of Australia’s most senior intelligence assets in Cairo. The claimed the sheik spent a number of years training in Libya and was sent to Australia to train extremists.

The Sheik is Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric. The BBC’s Nick Bryant described him on Thursday as a:

softly-spoken man, who clearly commands both enormous respect and affection within his community

and suggested that Hilaly is being criticised for reasons of cynical political partisanship:

Pru Goward, the country’s outgoing Sex Discrimination Commissioner, also weighed in, calling for the cleric to either be deported or prosecuted for incitement to rape.

A leading light in the Liberal Party, Ms Goward is a parliamentary candidate and is said to harbour prime ministerial ambitions of her own.

She will not have done her chances any harm by speaking out so forcefully on this issue.

While yesterday, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty blamed the media for negative perceptions of Islam:

“You hear more and more stories of treatment of the Islamic community that really is substandard by members of our own wider community,” he said at a lunch hosted by the South Australian Press Club. “It is vilification, picking them out of the crowd because they dress differently or they speak differently.

“If we are not careful we risk raising a generation of Australians who will have a bias against Islam.”

Meanwhile, Abduljalil Sajid of the Muslim Council of Britain backed up the Sheik:

saying that “loose women like prostitutes” encouraged men to be immoral. Dr Sajid, visiting Australia, said that Sheikh al-Hilali was attacking immodesty and loose dress, or “standing in the streets, inviting men to do these bad acts”.

Although the Australian cleric did not use the word prostitute, but appeared to be attacking women wearing revealing clothes, Dr Sajid said that the sermon had been taken out of context. Referring to the thrust of the Sheikh’s argument, he said: “So what is wrong in it? Who will object to that?”

Who indeed?

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I have been posting about a change in the attitude of the Labour Party to their white working class bedrock who, I have suggested, are shown by private polling to be deserting the Labour cause. That’s speculation, based on observations of the statements and policies we have been hearing recently, not on inside knowledge.

Now Iain Dale has weighed in, quoting an article in The Economist (paid link omitted):

Apart from election campaigns, when rising support for far-right political parties in areas such as Dagenham causes alarm, the traditional working class is largely overlooked. When politicians say that some communities are failing to integrate with mainstream society, they mean Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. When campaigners complain that schools are failing some children, they often cite black boys. Yet the nation’s most troubled group, in both absolute and relative terms, is poor, white and British-born.

Iain’s conclusions are:

none of the three main parties seem willing to accept what is happening under their very noses. Social Justice has to mean bringing opportunity and hope to ALL parts of the community, not just those which appear to be politically correct. The question is, is it too late? Are people in the poorer white communities so disconnected from the political process that they are out of reach of mainstream politicians? This is why it’s so important that the Conservatives get back into the Cities for the long term.

While Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ approach was derided by many, perhaps he had cottoned on to (wittingly or not) the fact that it is this group of kids who are the ones in real need of attention.

I had missed the significance of the “hug a hoodie” speech. The Tories were quicker to understand and react to this situation than Labour.

This change is just beginning.

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to end all war and famine? Is that just a utopian ideal, straight out of the John Lennon songbook? Isn’t it just what the Stop The War crowd want? The answers might be yes, no and no respectively. Funnily enough, it’s more likely to be what George W. Bush and the neo-cons are trying for, or at least were trying for before realpolitik reared its ugly face again.

The Bush Doctrine, as outlined in 2002, was :

a commitment to “extending democracy, liberty, and security to all regions”. The policy was formalized in a document titled The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, published on September 20, 2002. The Bush Doctrine is a marked departure from the policies of deterrence and containment that generally characterized American foreign policy during the Cold War and the decade between the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11.

Objections to this idea tend to be based on allegations of hypocrisy (Bush does treat with tyrants when it suits him), hidden agendas (these are fine words to mask a new imperialism) or a more generalised suspicion of what might be termed “preventative war” best summarised, interestingly enough, by Abraham Lincoln in a letter dated 1848:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure…. If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us,” but he will say to you, “Be silent; I see it, if you don’t.”

Whether or not Bush is a hypocrite, or has a hidden agenda, are fit subjects for debate. But I’m interested here in the question of whether or not the doctrine itself is a valid one, and whether it might hold the key to lasting world peace and plenty. In saying that, it needs to be noted that neither of those goals are exactly imminent. It also needs to be emphasised that, if it is accepted that the only valid end for foreign policy, beyond immediate responses to circumstances, is the spread of democracy, there is still a great deal of room for disagreement as to how that might best be prosecuted.

Here are the two critical assertions:

  1. “…in the the 1816-2005 period there were 205 wars between nondemocracies, 166 wars between nondemocracies and democracies, and 0 wars between democracies.”
  2. “…no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.”

The first comes from the Wikipedia entry for R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and exponent of Democratic Peace Theory. A good explanation of this theory, including the objections that have been raised against it, can be found here.

The second is a quote from a paper by Nobel Prize in Economics winner in 1998, Amartya Sen.

It needs to be emphasised that both of these theories have their detractors. However, nobody disputes that Democracy makes external aggression (especially against other democracies), internal repression and large scale famine very much less likely. War, tyranny, torture and starvation are not vote-winners, indeed the present electoral prospects of the Republicans in the U.S. and the Labour Party in the U.K. have been adversely affected by the Iraq invasion.

I quoted the Iraqi blogger Iraq The Model in an earlier post:

One of our biggest problems here is that many of us and of our politicians in particular seem to have lost the ability to strategic vision

When people do refer to a strategic vision, it tends to be one of fighting an enemy. Comparisons between the threat of Islamic Supremacism and that posed by the Nazis in the 1930s are frequently made. Here’s Nick Cohen from a recent book review:

Suppose there had been one million Germans in Britain in the 1930s, most of them at the bottom of the heap and all of them the potential victims of racism. Suppose only a few were actual Nazis, but many others either sympathised vaguely with Hitler’s demands that the punitive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles be lifted or were pushed back into a German identity by the constant harping of the rest of society on the Nazi menace. The liberal left of the day would have feared inciting racism if they joined the chorus, and found it far harder to oppose Hitler consistently

Cohen is as ever making an important point, but it is couched in terms of what one might oppose rather than the advocacy of something positive. It is also trapped in the disputes of one section of the political spectrum, the left. It is part of a squabble, not a vision for the future.

There have been other reasons for war than religious expansionism. There will be again when we have seen off this specific attack. There is widespread hunger and frequent famine around the world, and a general sense that we are all diminished by allowing it to continue.

If the only way to bring peace to countries, regions and, eventually, the world, and the only way to eliminate famine, is to spread democracy, then we should not be reluctant to say so. Moreover, migration in the world is almost entirely from unfree countries to free ones, and it is the free ones that are prosperous, not because they exploit the rest of the world, though occasionally they do, but because they are energetic and enterprising, because the energy and enterprise of individuals is free to be expressed in commerce and wealth creation. People generally prefer to live in free countries and to suggest that this somehow doesn’t apply to those of darker complexions is simple racism.

In the name of our common humanity, for the sake of world peace and for the elimination of famine, we should openly be following a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world. This should be a cornerstone of the foreign policy of every free country. What tactics we might use in furtherance of this could then be more widely discussed, and could benefit from the contributions not just of neo-conservatives and neo-liberals.

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Last month, Lord Falkoner came out fighting for the Human Rights Act, and this was sniped at, elegantly, by Tim Worstall. I won’t reprise either – follow the links if you want to see what they are saying – but the conflict here is between ancient English liberties and a different, more continental and more leftist approach to rights (yes, I know the Human Rights Act was based on a British initiative after the Second World war, but the point stands; WWII was a long time ago and contemporary interpretations of human rights wouldn’t have crossed even a fevered judicial mind in 1946).

There are running problems with the concept of rights and their relationship to responsibilities. How can animals have rights, ask some, when they cannot have responsibilities? Yet almost everybody would feel it would be wrong to gratuitously torture an animal. Why, if they don’t have rights?

Well, they don’t, and nor do we. The concept of rights is convenient to a certain type of absolutist mind. It is one of the mechanisms whereby opinions are presented in the guise of natural laws by people who are strangers to uncertainty, questioning, skepticism, honest enquiry and doubt.

If you want to know the intrinsic qualities of an object, chemical, phenomenon, you isolate then examine it. So let’s isolate a human being – strand them alone on a desert island. What rights do they have? What responsibilities do they have? None, and none. But they do have to take the immediate consequences of their actions, or of their inaction. They can say whatever they like, do whatever they like, but if they don’t build a shelter they’ll get wet when it rains and if they don’t hunt, or gather, they’ll go hungry. That is our intrinsic state, as individuals.

But we don’t live alone on desert islands. We are still autonomous, because that’s our intrinsic quality. Living in a social group means we have responsibilities, and we all acknowledge this freely. The problem is, we don’t agree what those responsibilities are.

This is the proper terrain for debate: what are our responsibilities? Suddenly, everything becomes clearer. Whether or not animals have rights is neither here nor there. It’s a non-question. Instead we have to talk about what responsibilities we have to them – acknowledging that they are also autonomous creatures. We are, relatively, very powerful. Do we accept that this brings with it responsibilities? If so, what are they?

I don’t want to walk past starving people on the street, and I’m willing to pay tax to provide a safety net. But how much tax and what sort of safety net? The “rights” of the people in question disappear and suddenly the onus is on me. What should I be doing?

Nobody could present themself at a port and claim asylum based on their rights. Instead, I have to face the question of what I’m prepared to do – what I think it is right to do – not just for migrants but for every citizen of a despotic country.

The issue of free speech becomes very simple. We are autonomous. Plainly, what we say will annoy and offend others. The onus is on them to be tolerant. And the onus is on us – on me – to be tolerant of expressions that annoy or offend me.

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I tried to show, in an earlier post comething of the variety of opinion amongst Iraqi bloggers. Of these, Iraq The Model may be the most hawkish on the war situation. In his most recent post, he explains some of his reaoning:

One of our biggest problems here is that many of us and of our politicians in particular seem to have lost the ability to strategic vision and allowed themselves to indulge in details and are satisfied by looking at only one corner of the image that they are no longer able to comprehend the magnitude of this critical conflict of our time.

I am an Iraqi so naturally I am only interested in what’s going on within the borders of my country or even the city where I live, just like most people in the third world are, and this is fine and expected.
But what’s neither fine nor acceptable is to see politicians and decision-makers, who are supposed to be the leaders of the new world order, think and behave in the same manner as third world citizens.

All they seem to think about is how to get away from this debilitating conflict in Iraq no matter what the outcome would be. Even worse, few people seem to realize what the amplifications of a defeat in Iraq would be on the Middle East and the rest of our small global village.

Let’s call the battle for middle east, and I think politicians do not need anyone to explain to them what this part of the world means…the outcome of war in Iraq does not affect Iraq alone, a victory means disrupting the ring of terror and extremism the enemies are trying to establish while failure would be equal to allowing them to establish that huge ring, or should I say that gigantic octopus of terrorists and terror-supporting regimes that would extend from Afghanistan in the east to Libya in the west and from Iraq in the north to Sudan and Somalia in the south.

And instead of creating islands of democracy and liberty, connecting them and extend from there to change the world to the better, the enemies would engulf those islands and add them to their multi-jointed entity of terror.

We need the decision-makers to rise above the rhetoric of who’s right and who’s wrong and focus on protecting the world from falling prey to the vicious enemies of civilization.

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