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Sir Simon Jenkins’ response to the Kenyan shootings: get rid of large buildings

I haven’t read anything by the Guardian columnist Sir Simon Jenkins for a while. He’s one of those infuriating grandees of the media who can be relied upon to say a mix of sensible things along with some jaw-dropping pieces of rubbish. Case in point in the rubbish department, regarding the mass murders by Islamists in a Kenya shopping mall (H/T, Douglas Murray in the Spectator) :

The modern urban obsession with celebrity buildings and high-profile events offers too many publicity-rich targets. A World Trade Centre, a Mumbai hotel, a Boston marathon, a Nairobi shopping mall are all enticing to extremists. Defending them is near impossible. Better at least not to create them. A shopping mall not only wipes out shopping streets, it makes a perfect terrorist fortress, near impossible to assault.

“Celebrity building”. Note the sneer. So what is Sir Simon’s suggestion: that Kenyans go back to living in all those cute little mud huts and not frequent markets where more than a handful of folk are in the vicinity, is that it? And that Westerners, or indeed anyone else, should stop going to large buildings, such as theatres, football stadiums, rock concerts, large rail stations, underground stations, skyscrapers….? We stop running marathons, or gathering for other peaceful reasons, lest nutters go on the rampage? Of course, people can choose to avoid such events and places as much as they want, but Sir Simon, a fan of planning legislation, no doubt would not draw the line at just letting people associate where they want.

It is not as if he is even consistent about this issue of density of people in certain places anyway. Jenkins and those of like minds often also decry suburbia, and wish we all went back to living in denser cities and used public transport (which tends to be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks). It is obscene in my view, as people were still dying as a result of the shootings in Kenya, that this fuckwit writes about “the modern obsession with celebrity buildings”, as if there was something almost shameful or foolish about erecting them and enjoying visits to them.

What this man is proposing is, to put it simply, a form of surrender. I remember when George Bush responded initially to 9/11 by urging people to continue shopping and enjoying life as a way to defeat the Islamists. He got criticised for this, but he was right. According to the logic of what Jenkins says, we should stop being Western, stop making big things, or glossy, flash buildings that people enjoy visiting, and revert to a smaller set of gathering places instead, at least for however long it takes before the death-cultists of Islam decide to turn their attentions elsewhere. Great. Let’s hide under our beds. (So long as the beds are not too large or ostentatious, of course.)

Of course, Jenkins is an opponent of large, modern buildings and has been banging the drum in opposition to such things as long as I can remember. But I did not think he would resort to this line of argument. What is this man going to say if a bomb is set off in one of his favourite classical pieces of architecture, I wonder?

(I have updated my item a bit to remove some clunky expressions. Insufficient coffee and anger do not make for great writing.)


24 comments to Sir Simon Jenkins’ response to the Kenyan shootings: get rid of large buildings

  • mike

    “Defending them is near impossible.”

    That’s what he thinks. Or at least, that is what he thinks other people should think.

    I think it just means a market demand for figuring out how to properly defend shopping malls and other populous buildings, which in the end might just be as simple and imperfect as civilian firearms ownership and training. Clearly, calling the police once an attack is underway is a bit late.

    Incidentally, the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay that was bombed in 2008 actually opened in 1903, so that can hardly be cited as an example of a “modern, celebrity building” anyway.

  • Dishman

    Methinks he’s just a closet racist.

  • Paul Marks

    I am not a fan of a lot of modern architecture – but this article by Sir Simon Jenkins is absurd.

    Sadly it is not an isolated example – I have read quite a lot of the writings of Sir Simon Jenkins over the years, and what he writes (on many subjects) is normally absurd.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way, a shopping mall is one of the examples of modern architecture that does make sense.

    Walking indoor “streets” is a very good idea when shopping – outside tends to be wet, or cold, or hot (and so on) walking the (outside) streets looking for shops, is a horrible experience compared to the indoor shopping experience that a “mall” provides.

  • Kevin B

    So Mr Jenkins, what about all those people killed in the last week in open air markets in Iraq, Christian churches in Pakistan, schools in Afghanistan, mosques in Iraq, and everywhere and anywhere in Somalia and Yemen. Not to mention Indonesia, India, Malaysia etc. etc?

    What’s the architectural solution to their terrorist problem?

  • I guess he would be for the idea of all women wearing burkas too, since wearing provocative clothing would be ‘enticing’ to rapists.

  • Laird

    Well, I for one think he’s correct that certain large buildings are a problem that needs to be addressed. We can start by eliminating the Pentagon and the NSA headquarters building.

  • Current

    The irony is this is that Jenkin’s was just criticizing how alarmist people have become over terrorism last week. But, this is the most alarmist thing I’ve read in ages.

  • Richard Thomas

    If one believes large buildings are a problem, one is free to avoid them. Not that I am concerned that they will go away anytime soon but the underlying subtext is disturbing.

    And Paul, finally something to disagree with you on. Wandering through a mall is a depressing experience. But horses for courses.

  • Achillea

    So, I take it the Guardian is run out of the back room of a small haberdashery?

  • John K


    September 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    So, I take it the Guardian is run out of the back room of a small haberdashery?

    The way its circulation is going, it soon will be.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    When someone who tells you to do X for reason Y also tells you to do X for reason Z, suspect both reasons.

  • The way its circulation is going, it soon will be.

    One can hope.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Jenkins is rehashing the classic adage of the platoon sergeant to his men on patrol in a battle area: “Keep your interval!”

    We must stay spread out so that the enemy can’t hit a lot of us with one volley or blast.

    No spectator sports. No religious services. No residential or office buildings larger than a few thousand square feet. No airliners with more than 50 passengers. No cruise ships, ferries, or buses. No lectures. No factories. No multi-classroom schools. No parades. No town fairs. No dance clubs or concerts. No theaters. No restaurants with more than 50 seats. No circuses. No passenger trains. No amusement parks. No public markets. No pubs. No department stores.

  • Dom

    “No public markets. No pubs. No department stores. …”

    And no women without burkas. Let’s not forget this was aimed to make non-muslims convert — a long-term strategy of militant islam.

    There has since been another article in the Guardian, from Giles Foden (who he?) which offers this gem:

    “Corruption as well as geopolitics made possible a horrific situation in which Muslim shoppers in Westgate were apparently left alive and non-Muslims killed…”

    Yes, apparantly. Good thing it wasn’t a medieval death-cult then.

  • Richard Thomas

    Rich Rostrum: No circuses? But where will we eat our bread?

  • bloke in spain

    Another product of Oxbridge with the inevitable PPE. What do you expect? An intellect?

  • Boy on a bike

    The worst celebrity buildings are libraries, opera houses, art galleries, government offices and universities. Best start by closing them down.

  • The one unquestionable article of faith for many leftists today is that the West is the root of all evil. It is the assumption on which all their other opinions are based, and as long as they cling to it they cannot acknowledge the existence of an imperialist ideology of non-Western origin without challenging their own most fundamental beliefs. Therefore they will use any distraction or evasion they can possibly think of to avoid facing it. They are in a similar position to global warming alarmists trying to explain away “the pause” and will be just as effective at destroying their own credibility.

  • bloke in spain:

    The Oxford PPE is the “Party Politics Exam”. It’s just an entry ticket for the Westminster bubble.


    The Guardian has only survived this long because it’s subsidised by more popular titles owned by the Guardian Media Group. But the problem with champagne socialism is that eventually you run out of Auto Trader’s money.

  • Billy Oblivion

    It would be cheaper to give everyone who wanted it a pistol and a couple hours training than to re-arrange the entirety of western culture.

    it makes a perfect terrorist fortress, near impossible to assault.

    Nonsense, it just requires different techniques.

  • Gordon Walker

    I wonder if Jenkins would include Mecca in his list of “publicity-rich targets”?

  • Paul Marks

    The Guardian has a circulation of 89 thousand, no owner – and very expensive staff (especially the senior ones).

    It used to get a lot of government advertising – but I think that has been cut down a bit.

    It survives partly by being based in a tax haven (although it denounces everyone else who uses tax havens) and partly by eating the profits of “Auto Trader” magazine.

  • Paul Marks

    My apologies – the above should read 189 thousand.