We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Discussion point: the new normal

For many people, 9/11 remade their political world. Excluding 9/11 itself, has continuing Islamist terrorism in the years since 2001, such as last night’s attack at London Bridge, changed your beliefs?

“Of course people change what they do when this stuff happens. That’s why it happens.”

Stefan Molyneux on the Manchester bombing.

Samizdata quote of the day

The post-terror cultivation of passivity speaks to a profound crisis of – and fear of – the active citizen. It diminishes us as citizens to reduce us to hashtaggers and candle-holders in the wake of serious, disorientating acts of violence against our society. It decommissions the hard thinking and deep feeling citizens ought to pursue after terror attacks. Indeed, in some ways this official post-terror narrative is the unwitting cousin of the terror attack itself. Where terrorism pursues a war of attrition against our social fabric, seeking to rip away bit by bit our confidence and openness and sense of ourselves as free citizens, officialdom and the media diminish our individuality and our social role, through instructing us on what we may feel and think and say about national atrocities and discouraging us from taking responsibility for confronting these atrocities and the ideological and violent rot behind them. The terrorist seeks to weaken our resolve, the powers-that-be want to sedate our emotions, retire our anger, reduce us to wet-eyed performers in their post-terror play. It’s a dual assault on the individual and society.

Brendan O’Neill

How to deal with atrocities?

Attacks by suicidal religious terrorists against soft targets like a concert are very hard to counter. Indeed preventing such atrocities by ruthless fanatics requires luck and some degree of ineptitude by the perpetrators. In truth, the only way to fight back is the same way the UK government fought back against Mr. Corbyn’s friends, the IRA… and that is targetted infiltration of terrorist support networks.

But one approach I am quite certain does not work is candlelight vigils, weepy hashtags and a refusal to face up to who the enemy is and why they are doing what they are doing.

The EU Fairy

Shot 1: An office, somewhere in Europe. Well-dressed yet approachable EUROPEAN PEOPLE of diverse race and gender TALK SERIOUSLY.

Back in 2015 the organisation Européens Sans Frontières (Europeans Without Borders) sponsored a competition to make a short film to raise public awareness of the issue of migration in Europe. The European Commission was involved in financing it somehow, though I am not clear whether it was funding just this film or the Européens Sans Frontières organization as a whole.

Shot 2: A studio full of keen, passionate young EUROPEAN FILM STUDENTS, hipster but not too hipster, you know what I mean, are doing FILM THINGS.

The film that won the competition was called “Eurodame, Help!”

It’s the weirdest thing since Captain Euro, not the new ironic Captain Euro, the original “yes, they actually did think this was a good idea” Captain Euro.

Anyway, back to Eurodame. On April 26th the film appeared on YouTube.

Shot 3: a EUROPEAN TECHNOLOGICAL PERSON clicks a mouse and sits back with a SIGH of SATISFACTION, conscious of a job well done.

Then the plot goes off the rails. Jack Montgomery of Breitbart London found the film on YouTube and posted about it today: Fairy Godmother’ Brings Migrants to Europe on a Flying Carpet in EU-Backed Cartoon. Oh dear. This is not going to end well.

Here it is direct from the creators: EURODAME, HELP!

As well as the French original, they also made versions in several languages, including Arabic.

Questions abound. Why is the entrance to Europe guarded by one rude man in short sleeves and a baseball cap? Why does the Euro-fairy need glasses? Who is the Obi-wan Kenobi bloke with the flying carpet? How is he different from the evil people-smuggler? How does the portrayal of Eastern Europeans contribute to intra-EU solidarity?

That really is an issue, you know. Here is an excerpt from the official script:

Shot 14:
The carpet arrives in an Eastern European country where they meet a hostile crowd.
The shopkeeper:
– There are refugees here, also seeking asylum.
The crowd:
– Immigrants!
The shopkeeper:
– But it’s their right!
The crowd shouting:
– No refugees here!

Shot 15:
The carpet resumes its course to the compass and turns west (W).

Shot 16:
The carpet arrives in a Western country. Eurodame is there to greet them.
Eurodame: – Welcome to our home!
The shopkeeper invites them to step down from the carpet. He smiles.
An eager crowd takes care of them, gives them food and clothing.

Shot 17:
Eurodame shows them into a nice house.

Why are the comments still on?

Who was the audience meant to be?

What on earth were they trying to achieve?

The end of the rule of law in Turkey… and the perils of political labels

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.

Question: was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or…

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?

Discuss.

Tim Harford on the power of bottom-up decision making (and on H. R. McMaster)

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.

In retrospect

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?

Samizdata quote of the day

Iran is a country full of hot women forced to wear binbags on their heads by religious fascists.

– Samizdata Uber driver of the day

Dear UKIP, you’ve changed

“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.”

Book review: Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam by Innes Bowen

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.