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June 2007

Image Problem

Further to yesterday’s post on Salman Rushdie’s knighthood, this caught my eye. Here’s Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain:

“The granting of a knighthood to him can only do harm to the image of our country in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world.”

There’s something insanely funny about Muhammad Abdul Bari talking about image problems. Bari, like his predecessor and many of his colleagues, is an admirer of the totalitarian fantasist, Syed Abul A'ala Mawdudi. In April 1939, Mawdudi wrote: “Islam requires the Earth - not just a portion, but the whole planet… [Muslims are] under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge [non-Muslims] from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life.” Lest we forget, Mawdudi's writings influenced Sayyid Qutb, who in turn inspired bin Laden.

Some readers may recall Bari’s awkward evasions regarding the preaching of supremacist hatred during John Ware’s Panorama documentary, A Question of Leadership. Others may recall Dr Bari’s assertion, made last year, that while there are “a few bad apples in the Muslim community”, “negative attitudes” towards Muslims would result in Britain being faced with “two million Muslim terrorists — 700,000 of them in London.” Again, like his predecessor, Bari has the knack for undermining his own arguments and turning protestations of victimhood into barely-veiled threats. And this is the man who presumes to lecture others on the importance of how one seems.

For some reason, I’m reminded of this Cox & Forkum cartoon, published during the last bout of indignation on demand:



Salman Rushdie’s knighthood has, predictably, upset the Iranian authorities. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said the decision to praise “the apostate” had “insulted Islamic sanctities,” before wheeling out the familiar stall of pretension, gasbaggery and affected victimhood:

“Giving a medal to someone who is among the most detested figures in the Islamic community is... a blatant example of the anti-Islamism of senior British officials… Paying tribute to this apostate and detested figure will definitely put British statesmen and officials at odds with Islamic societies, the emotions and sentiments of which have again been provoked.”

Today, and no less predictably, the Guardian ran a generically tendentious piece by Priyamvada Gopal, a lecturer in literature and “postcolonial studies” at Cambridge University:

“More interesting is the question of why this ‘honour’ comes now and what Rushdie's alacrity in accepting it tells us about politics and letters in our times… Driven underground and into despair by zealotry, Rushdie finally emerged blinking into New York sunshine shortly before the towers came tumbling down. Those formidable literary powers would now be deployed not against, but in the service of, an American regime that had declared its own fundamentalist monopoly on the meanings of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’…

[Rushdie] is iconic of a more pernicious trend: liberal literati who have assented to the notion that humane values, tolerance and freedom are fundamentally Western ideas that have to be defended as such… Now [Rushdie] recalls his own creation Baal, the talented poet who becomes a giggling hack corralled into attacking his ruler's enemies.”

One might, I think, argue that Rushdie’s defence of basic, universal freedoms has little to do with being “corralled” by “his rulers” (whoever they might be) and rather more to do with the countless followers of a “most merciful” Allah who wish to murder him due to their own hysterical vanities. And perhaps it has something to do with a painful realisation that much of the “liberal literati” is unwilling to defend either him or the freedoms now at stake.

Oddly, Ms Gopal seems unconcerned by the passive-aggressive pretensions of Mr Hosseini, now so commonplace, or by the explicitly genocidal intent of the government he represents – factors, among so many, that would appear to support Rushdie’s position rather than her own. Nor, it seems, is she concerned by the fanatics who burned a novel they hadn’t read, or the psychopaths who hunted down and murdered translators of that novel, or those who set fire to occupied buildings as an act of protest and piety. Or indeed by the familiar pattern established by those acts. Instead, Gopal’s indignation is aimed at Rushdie’s criticism of violence committed in the name of Islam and his support for ousting the Taliban – an act that allowed almost 4 million exiled Muslims to return to their homes and which allowed millions of young girls to resume an education forbidden by the Taliban. But such are the moral priorities of the esteemed educator, Priyamvada Gopal.

I scarcely need to point out that Mr Hosseini and Ms Gopal have something in common. Both dislike apostates, albeit of different kinds. In Ms Gopal’s case, Rushdie’s sin is to depart from the guilt-clotted gospel clung to by Ms Gopal and so many of her peers.

Update: More on this at Normblog.

Update 2: Speaking of predictable, the madness begins. More here. Doubtless we can expect more threats, burning and hysteria after Friday prayers. Note that the BBC website asks, apparently in all seriousness: “Is Mr Rushdie's award an insult to Islam?” Readers aren’t, of course, asked whether the Muslims calling for the murder of a novelist are an affront to civilisation.

Related, this.

Soft Student Brains

Further to the recent post on Vanessa Engle’s Lefties documentaries, here’s another curio from a bygone age. The People’s Cube highlights video, probably from around 1984, of KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov explaining psychological warfare and the demoralising effects of Marxist-Leninist ideology. It isn’t clear exactly how much is boasting and embellishment, and it isn’t clear whether the word “demoralise” is intended to mean “destroy the morale of” or “render morally impotent.” Both would seem to apply. Of particular interest is the KGB’s apparent focus on influencing the “soft” brains of Western students and rendering them impervious to inconvenient facts.

Make of it what you will.

More at Roborant. Related: this and this

Friday Ephemera

There are too many Wangs in China. “There are 93 million Wangs and 92 million Lis.” // When squirrels attack. // Warfare with drugs. And pterodactyls. // Lego furniture. Not really made of Lego. // The Music Sofa. // Robo-chair. // Mary Jackson on Deleuze and the passing of gas. // Oh, look. It’s Carolyn Guertin. Deploy the weapon. // Photoluminescent acrylic brick. // Flow. Trailer. // Julie Szego interviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “The term ‘enlightenment fundamentalist’ makes reason and tolerance seem negotiable.” // Iranian judiciary advisor defends stoning. “We had a revolution so that Islamic laws would be implemented.” // Mick Hartley on Jihadi Etiquette. Killing bystanders with car bombs isn’t a problem. Allah will sort innocent souls from their disassembled bodies. // Education as social engineering. Making sure youngsters have the right kind of thoughts. // Via 1+1=3, ambient intermission sounds. Murmurs, coughs, tuning. An extract. More here. // Vintage comic books and dust jackets. // Pies Across America. Where to find good pie. // Exercise your teeth. (1939) // The International Toaster Museum. “The world’s largest online toaster collection.” // The Toaster Film Festival. // Typorganism. // Via Artblog, a rather wonderful TV moment. Nicely done, Mr Potts. Nicely done.

A Tolerance for Contradiction

Readers with an interest in philosophy will probably know Richard Rorty died last week. Of the summaries of Rorty’s thinking, two in particular caught my eye. Their connection to each other, and to recent posts, is, I think, pretty obvious.

Norman Geras wrote:

“Rorty's anti-foundationalism, his refusal of the idea of an objective realm beyond the language in which we try to apprehend it, leaves us intellectually defenceless in the face of a cognitive relativism for which any view must be just as good as any other. Rorty denied this consequence of his own arguments, but the denial struck me as one example among many of his tolerance for internal contradiction.”

Roger Scruton had this to say:

“[Rorty’s] venture into political theory took [him] in new and unforeseeable directions, as he tried to reconcile his view that some versions of political order are superior to others, with his belief that there is no trans-historical perspective from which any such judgment can be made. It is a testimony to his literary skills that he was able repeatedly to stare refutation in the face, and to go on staring…

Undoubtedly he was the most lucid of the postmodernist philosophers - though that is, given the competition, no great achievement... Rorty was paramount among those thinkers who advance their own opinion as immune to criticism, by pretending that it is not truth but consensus that counts, while defining the consensus in terms of people like themselves.”

Rorty was a learned man, to be sure, but, like so many of his postmodernist peers, he tried to deform logic to fit a political prejudice.

Related: On Derrida’s clotted prose.

Imparting Knowledge

Further to my article on the ludicrous Carolyn Guertin, here’s another example of how not to impart knowledge to soft student brains. From Jacques Derrida’s 1994 book, supposedly on the relevance of Marxism, Spectres of Marx, the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International:

“Capital contradiction. At the very origin of capital. Immediately or in the end, through so many differential relays, it will not fall to induce the ‘pragmatic’ double constraint of all injunctions. Moving about freely (aus freien Stucken), on its own head [de son propre chef], with a movement of its head but that controls its whole body, from head to toe, ligneous and dematerialised, the Table-Thing appears to be at the principle, at the beginning, and at the controls of itself. It emancipates itself on its own initiative: all alone, autonomous and automaton, its fantastic silhouette moves on its own, free and without attachment. It goes into trances, it levitates, it appears relieved of its body, like all ghosts, a little mad and unsettled as well, upset, ‘out of joint’, delirious, capricious, and unpredictable…”

“But also at stake, indissociably, is the differential deployment of tekkne, of techno-science or tele-technology. It obliges us more than ever to think the virtualisation of space and time, the possibility of virtual events whose movement and speed prohibit us more than ever (more and otherwise than ever, for this is not absolutely and thoroughly new) from opposing presence to its representation, ‘real time’ to ‘deferred time’, effectivity to its simulacrum, the living to the non-living, in short, the living to the living-dead of its ghosts. It obliges us to think, from there, another space for democracy. For democracy-to-come and thus for justice. We have suggested that the event we are prowling around here hesitates between the singular ‘who’ of the ghost and the general ‘what’ of the simulacrum.”

Now it’s possible you find this meaningful and “skilfully poetic”, as others claim to do, and you might argue that I’ve taken these passages out of context and thus obscured some deep and elegant insight. In fact the sequence of many paragraphs appears arbitrary and I suspect one could rearrange them in any number of ways to much the same effect. And if you think I’ve been unfair and scoured for the most “difficult” passages, please feel free to read a much longer extract here, from which these passages were taken. Caution is advised, however, as prolonged exposure may induce fits of nausea or hilarity, or an urge to bite one’s own fist. Those who survive will, no doubt, be rendered very, very clever.


Some of you may have seen Vanessa Engle’s witty BBC4 documentary series, Lefties, screened in February last year. The 3-part series revisits the “alternative politics” of the 70s and 80s, when the far left was an all-too-serious force in British political life. Among the gems to savour are the endless factional disputes over exactly how capitalism should be toppled, the farcical mismanagement of the News on Sunday, an earnest exposition on “penile imperialism”, and interviews with former self-styled radicals, now sitting by private swimming pools, fretting about fridge ownership or planning to work on llama farms.

Here’s a brief taste.

Online Videos by

The three episodes – Property is Theft, Angry Wimmin and A Lot of Balls - can be viewed online here. Given a generation of young lefties with little, if any, experience of what their dreams entail when applied in the real world, it’s worth casting an eye over what happened when Socialism wasn’t just something people laughed at.

Help me buy my own llama farm.

Friday Ephemera

Kazuko Shinoka’s tofu robots. 4” high. Extra firm. Not really made of tofu. // Also available: Astronaut Jesus. // Via Ace, Dr Grordbort’s retro-future ray guns. Atomise those moon soldiers. // Arcade games of the Soviet Union. // Okayama’s slightly alarming pedal-powered rollercoaster. // Aging Haight-Ashbury hippies hassled and disgusted by younger, “uncivilised” drop-outs. Bummer. // New age hippies bang drums, attempt “astral travelling.” One hippie leaves body. Permanently. (H/T, Tim Blair.) // The alien abduction lamp. (H/T, Technabob.) // Cow abduction. Watch the skies, click the cow. // Via Coudal, the best looking supermarkets in the world. // New punctuation mark to denote irony. Winking smileys not suitable for literature. (H/T, 1+1=3) // Remember the interrobang? Thought not. // 3D web browsing. // Inscrutable planetary clock. “The beautiful object where magnificent outer space is made to think.” // Flies on a window. // Beer-pouring robot. Noisy, slow and pointless, but lovely nonetheless. // Disembodied robot head grimaces at scary words. Later models could be “companions for the elderly.” // The ultimate deer hunting truck. Can drive over most large mammals. // The Dreidel Song