After reading an unrelentingly grim article by Suzy Hansen, describing the collapse of the rule of law in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup in July 2016, I noticed one problem with what had been written.
I recalled a dinner in Istanbul with a couple bon vivant UN diplomats, less than a week before the abortive uprising. During our congenial discussions, fuelled by some excellent Turkish craft beer, the three of us realised that we were using terms like ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘nationalist’ and ‘conservative’ to mean rather different things as we were British, Turkish and Czech respectively. By Turkish definitions, as I was neither religious nor nationalist, I was automatically on the left, regardless of the fact I am a laissez faire free trader. The Turkish chap ‘assigned’ me to the centre-left, to differentiate me from socialists or communists… it seemed vastly amusing at the time (of course that might have been the beer laughing).
Although Suzy Hansen’s linked article in the New York Times is not without merit, this made me realise how unwise she was to bandy about terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’ when describing Turkey to an American readership: the bad guys of the article are on the right, so perhaps some US readers might conclude Erdogan’s AKP are something like the Republicans? Er, not really. In fact not in the slightest. Given the radically different cultural, political and historical frames of reference between the USA and Turkey, there are simply no meaningful analogies to be made other than at the far fringes.
It is rather hazy what ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean in Britain or America these days, let alone what they mean elsewhere. Comparing political labels in different countries is always fraught with risk and more likely to confuse than enlighten. Michael Jennings of this parish often becomes exasperated when folk in London try to compare UK and Australian political parties, as the attempt usually falls at the second fence… and this is between two countries with vastly more shared history.
Was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or… genuine concern about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces (and they have form for that)… or the need to demonstrate he is not in Putin’s pocket? Or something else?
If you haven’t already partaken of this bit of video, then you really should. It lasts just under twenty minutes.
Tim Harford is speaking, in 2011, at some gathering of the clever and the smug, but it’s better than that. The name H. R. McMaster comes up several times, and this is, among other things, a very good quick way to learn why McMaster’s appointment by President Trump as his National Security Adviser might turn out to be such a very good one. It certainly explains why this appointment is already so very popular. You don’t have to believe that the USA rearranging matters in faraway countries is always or even ever a wise policy to get the points that Harford is making.
Harford also mentions, in passing, Hayek. From this, you may guess that this is a talk about decentralised decision making, and how on the spot knowledge, again and again, trumps the wisdom of the Central Committee or the High Command. If that is your guess, you would not be wrong.
The story that Harford tells reminds me of another transformation of policy that happened in China, and gave rise to what is now called the Chinese economic miracle. This miracle is now starting to look rather less miraculous, but it was still a massive improvement over what preceded it. That change too is usually attributed to a change of top leadership and of its top-down policies, but that policy also, I seem to recall reading, began at the bottom of the chain of command and in spite of the chain of command.
I even seem to recall having linked to stuff about that from here. Yes, here is that posting, about teeth of all things, and here is the article at Planet Money that the posting linked to. It’s the same story as Harford tells in the above-linked-to video.
It is reported in the Guardian that the career of a noted creative artist is coming to an end.
… the offences of Phil Shiner, the human rights lawyer who has just been struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal, are worse even than they appear at first sight. It is hard to comprehend the nightmare faced by British soldiers he wrongly accused of torture and murder in Iraq. But he did not only fail those he traduced in court. He failed Iraqis who believed they had a case; he failed genuine victims of abuse who will face a harder fight in future. And his dishonesty and deception, and the bringing of baseless cases, risks tainting the whole case for human rights.
There is quite a bit to agree with in this editorial, but the insouciance of the writer takes my breath away. Will the Guardian, so long his leading patron and publicist, be holding a retrospective exhibition of its own extensive Phil Shiner back catalogue?
Iran is a country full of hot women forced to wear binbags on their heads by religious fascists.
– Samizdata Uber driver of the day
“UKIP leader Paul Nuttall says UK should ban burqa”, the Independent reports.
In the 2015 election I was pleased to note that UKIP, the third most popular party in the UK in terms of number of votes, was also the closest to libertarian among the mainstream parties. Since then the United Kingdom Independence Party has both fulfilled and lost its purpose. Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, seems to want to achieve his aim of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories by outcompeting Labour in the field of authoritarianism. Just listen to the tail-wags-the-dog justification for banning the burqa that Mr Nutall gives in the video clip linked to by the Independent:
“Whether we like it or not we are the most watched people in the world. There’s more CCTV in Britain per head than anywhere else on the planet and for the CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces.”
In the book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, the author – a BBC radio producer (boo, hiss) – attempts to provide an overview of the various strands of Islam in the UK. Her aim is not to tell us what to think but simply to provide the facts – what are they called? how many of them are there? where so they come from? what do they believe? etc. It is up to us, the readers, to draw conclusions.
Along the way there are a number of surprises. One of them is how different Islam is from Christianity. You would expect them to be rather similar given that they are both book-based, mono-theistic religions that revere both Abraham and Christ. Not a bit of it.
For example, in Christianity there is usually a close relationship between denomination and building. In Islam (at least in the UK) it is far more vague. A sect might be said to be “in control” of a mosque, the implication being that that control is temporary and could be lost. Many influential Muslim organisations such as Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami have no mosques at all or very few.
Another is that the largest two sects in the UK are the Deobandis and Barelwis. No, I’d never heard of them either. For the record they are both Sunni (one definitely Sufi the other arguably so) and both originated in British India. It is worth pointing out that for the most part Bowen focuses on Sunni Islam but that is hardly surprising given that Sunnis vastly outnumber Shi’ites both globally and in the UK.
Another is that interest in Islam seems to be a second-generation thing. The first generation brought their Islam with them but seem to have regarded it as something they did rather than thought about. The second generation are much more inclined to read the Koran, take it seriously and ask questions. Even so, the most influential Islamic thinkers still tend to be based abroad.
I said earlier that it is left up to the reader to draw his own conclusions. So what does this reader conclude? Well, my biggest takeaway was that despite there being many strands of Islam and many weird and wonderful doctrinal disputes within Islam, there is no “good” Islam. The best you get is “less awful” Islam.
We are all well aware of the religion’s major dos and don’ts: praying, fasting (which includes liquids in case you didn’t already know), pork, alcohol, Halal etc. But there are others. The Deobandis, for instance, deprecate watching TV and listening to music. Almost all sects oppose celebrating the birthday of Muhammed which I assume gets extended to birthdays in general. There isn’t even the avenue of creativity in the service of the religion. Christianity has inspired great art, great songs and great buildings. But Islam has nothing to show for itself – at least not recently. The fact is that to be Muslim is to be miserable.
Of course, people are free to be miserable in private. What we really want to know about is whether they are going to blow us up or not. The news is not good. Islamic thought – of whatever strand – has little time for infidels and their institutions. Almost all sects are inward looking and wish to isolate themselves from the surrounding society. In this, they are helped by the welfare state and an ideology of political correctness. There seems to be no inquiry as to why it is that the followers of the one true God have ended up so poor while the non-believers and wrong believers are so rich. At best infidels are to be tolerated. At worst, to be eliminated. As such, Islamic terrorism is a bit like a genetic disease. Millions of Muslims by their faith can carry the disease without ever showing the symptoms but every so often it becomes virulent and people die. Islam and violence are inseparable.
This even has an impact on language. In the West words like “scholar” and “pious” tend to have positive connotations. But when they are applied to Islam – as Bowen does from time to time – they imply something altogether more sinister.
The only real challenge to Islam and violence comes from Ismaili doctrine which allows women to go around unveiled and for alcohol to be drunk in moderation and whose adherents do not appear to have got mixed up in terrorism. Ismailis have never had political power (at least not recently) and have a long tradition of trading. It is a general rule that the more trading that goes on in an Islamic community the less likely it is to produce terrorists. Even so the very small amount of tolerance that the (Nazari) Ismailis permit is largely – if not entirely – due to the influence of the Aga Khan. A different Aga Khan could easily change things.
I just spotted, in the Radio Times, this:
I seem to recall reading not that long ago about this TV show, at Mick Hartley’s blog. Yes, in this posting. The show goes out on ITV, this coming Thursday, at 10.40pm. I love my Gogglebox (see above right) and will be watching this show, and recording it. I may even, although I promise nothing, have more to say about the show here, after I have actually seen it.
Judging by the blurb about this programme that I just read here, it deals with a quite wide range of nastinesses that ex-Muslims get subjected to by Muslims, nastinesses both legal and illegal, from merely nasty to downright evil.
Although this show will describe and criticise the merely nasty things that ex-Muslims are subjected to (being ostracised by their families, for instance), I doubt if it will go as far as saying that nastiness of that sort should be illegal, any more than I would. On the other hand, the programme will also be noting that many Muslims favour doing things which in Britain are illegal and which elsewhere ought to be illegal if they now aren’t. I refer to things like murder, incitement to murder, assault and the forcible denial of the right of ex-Muslims to express ex-Muslim opinions in public. For that I applaud this programme, and its maker, Deeyah Khan.
I focus on the illegal and thoroughly wicked things that are done by Muslims to ex-Muslims because this particular issue strikes me as one that ought particularly to be focussed on, by all who dislike either the general influence of Islam (as I do – I believe in being nasty to Islam), or by those who merely wish Muslims to stop doing uncontroversially terrible and terror-inducing things to ex-Muslims, and to infidels generally. Me, I think that the content of Islamic doctrine leads pretty directly to Muslims doing terrible things, but that is a different argument, and one that divides those who merely want “Islamic extremism” to abate.
The matter of what is divisive, and for whom, is important. When engaged in an ideological war, it can help to focus particularly on issues which will unite the people on your side, while dividing your opponents. Whatever your opinions about the nastiness of Islam in general (I think it very nasty), you will surely agree with me (even as you perhaps denounce me for telling all Muslims that their religion is nasty and thereby uniting them all against all infidels) that murdering ex-Muslims merely for being ex-Muslims is wrong and should be cracked down on with the full force of the law. So, the illegally evil things that happen to ex-Muslims are an issue that should be focussed on with particular enthusiasm. Hence my particular enthusiasm about this televlsion show.
I recently heard about how a quite prominent British Muslim, of the sort who argues that Western Civilisation, and Islam in approximately its present large and very influential form (just somewhat nicer), are capable of getting along amicably, and even in a state of mutual creativity. I think something like this may one day happen also, but only after Islam has at least been put on the ideological defensive (hence my belief in criticising Islam in general), in other words not for a longish while.
So anyway, this “good Muslim” was asked whether he condemned the murdering of ex-Muslims. He equivocated. I say that people like this should be faced again and again with this question, and made to pick their team. Is he so terrified of offending the many Muslims who, although not themselves murderers, nevertheless side with those who do murder ex-Muslims, that he is instead willing to offend all of the rest of us, including those Muslims who vehemently oppose such murders? Make up your damn mind, mate. In the not inconceivable event that he reads this, he may recognise himself. Good.
And Muslims who do pick their team, by unequivocally and publicly supporting such murders, should be confronted even more severely, in ways that perhaps include them being prosecuted for incitement to murder:
The programme finds that a number of senior British Bangladeshi imams, mainstream figures in society, have called for the execution of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, claiming they have insulted Islam, and making a number of anti-atheist statements.
Making “anti-atheist statements” is fine, from the strictly legal point of view, provided no incitement to murder or to violence is involved. Just calling atheists wicked and mistaken shouldn’t be illegal. But nor should “insulting Islam”. However, calling for the murder of ex-Muslims is utterly vile, and it is a very good idea to make such Imams either squirm and equivocate in front of television cameras, or else show their true and vile colours, whichever they choose to go with, and for the rest of us to sneer at them for the morally and intellectually vacuous individuals that they are.
More importantly, we should be supplying moral and practical support to all those ex-Muslims who speak out about their beliefs. We should all try to make this an easier path to follow than it is now. This most definitely includes making, and watching and blogging about, television shows about ex-Muslims, full of admiration for them and for their courage and their wisdom, and full of contempt and denunciation of those who want them to shut up.
“History,” wrote Edward Gibbon “is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” One can well believe that his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire contains many lamentable tales wherein, for instance, after a barbarian attack the citizenry would take some random woman of the same tribe and humiliate her in a misdirected act of revenge.
French police make woman remove clothing on Nice beach following burkini ban
Photographs have emerged of armed French police confronting a woman on a beach and making her remove some of her clothing as part of a controversial ban on the burkini.
Authorities in several French towns have implemented bans on the Burkini, which covers the body and head, citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country.
The images of police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais, the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack.
France, like the rest of the liberal West, gets this exactly and lethally wrong. First we forbid individuals their natural right to set the rules within their own property, to exclude and admit who they choose, to demand the burkini or to ban it. Then we set the law on people for the crime of wearing too much cloth on the public beach. A photograph is reproduced worldwide showing three armed male policemen standing over a Muslim woman and making her remove the clothes she considers necessary for modesty. Whatever your opinion of Islam and its clothing taboos, does anyone in the world believe that this makes the next jihadist attack less likely? To call it “security theatre” would be a compliment. The popular entertainment it calls to mind is that of the mob stripping and parading une femme tondue.
It wasn’t a failed coup; it’s a successful purge.
– Stephen Green, writing about Turkey.
Middle East Eye reports:
Bob Crow brigade ’30 miles’ from IS-stronghold of Raqqa in Syria
The Bob Crow Brigade (BCB), a group of British and Irish volunteers fighting in northern Syria named after a famous British trade union leader, are edging closer to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
A spokesperson from the BCB told Middle East Eye that the group was based on the “Raqqa front” around 30 miles from the IS group’s de facto capital.
The BCB is named after the late leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), who was known for his down-to-earth combative style and a staunch supporter of left-wing causes. He died in 2014.
I must confess that when I first heard of a brigade named after Bob Crow I thought it was a joke. It seems not. They are real, and they are really fighting some of the worst people in the world. Good luck to them.
Added later: Sure, they’re commies. And they support the strikers on Southern Rail. But they are doing it from Northern Syria while fighting Daesh. As Winston Churchill said during WWII, “if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”
The people at Charlie Hebdo may be a bunch of benighted lefties with only the most tenuous grasp on reality, but they sure know how to thrown a party! Nice to see folks taking it all in calmly.
→ Continue reading: Charlie Hebdo once again seeks to sooth the savage beast