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February 2008

Territory (2)

Further to recent comments on the ideological disdain of territory, this may be relevant. Over at Harry’s Place, David T says something I find bizarre. In discussing the Nassim Saadi deportation case and its broader implications, he says,

I think it is quite right that we should not deport individuals to countries where they will be tortured. A country which deports - or even connives in the rendition of - a person who they know or suspect will be tortured bears moral responsibility for any torture which takes place. If you oppose torture in all circumstances, as you should, then it does not do to argue that your country bears no guilt for what happens after deportation.

This is quite a remarkable bundle of claims and one that’s often asserted wholesale rather than argued. Why doesn’t it do? One might, for instance, take the view that a person of foreign citizenship convicted of serious crimes, whether they include terrorism or not, has broken a fundamental covenant with the host society. And thus, one might argue, the conditional protections extended to visitors by that society are forfeit. Tax payers could conceivably have moral objections to paying for the food, medicines and accommodation of foreign prisoners intent on doing them harm, and possibly spreading their intentions among others, either in prison or at large.

In light of that, expulsion from the host society seems a not unreasonable consequence and certainly within the realm of consideration. If a person facing expulsion runs the risk of ill-treatment, even torture, by third parties overseas, it’s not exactly clear why that should imply some vicarious moral responsibility. (Though one could argue it may discourage foreign nationals from committing serious crimes in the first place.) Awareness that such acts may or may not take place in other countries doesn’t imply that one condones those acts. It merely implies one no longer feels an obligation to protect an unwelcome and hostile visitor from the actions of third parties. Indeed, in instances of egregious criminality, including terrorism and attempted terrorism, I suspect quite a few people would be happy to see the perpetrators dropped into international waters and allowed to fend for themselves, to whatever extent they can.

Update: More in the comments.

Update 2: Over at Harry’s Place, Brett Lock is angry.

I am angry because there is more public debate about the rights of terrorists and criminals facing deportation than there seems to be for genuine, innocent and vulnerable people.

I wonder whether legitimate asylum seekers might fare better in their applications, and their welcome, if the broader public was reassured that visitors who abuse such favours could be expelled without great difficulty.   

Friday Ephemera

A 5-minute history of evil. (h/t, Coudal.) // Star Wars subtitles malfunction. “Dishevelled hair projection.” (h/t, Maggie’s Farm.) // Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. // Garfield minus Garfield. It gets quite strange. // The Einstein Archives. // The Large Hadron Collider. // The Stanford Linear Accelerator. // “That’s the essence of experimental particle physics: You smash stuff together and see what other stuff comes out.” // The silicon womb. // Cheeseburger in a can (mentioned here) finally gets a taste test. // Marijuana school. Higher education. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus.) // A brief history of aviation. (h/t, Stephen Hicks.) //Aurora Australis. // The power shirt. With nanogenerators. // Vivid Audio loudspeakers. These are rather fetching. // Cuddly Venereals™. // Barnacles and cocaine. // $2.6 million necklace. 1,290 diamonds. Only one ever made. // Circular communities. // Daniel Finkelstein on dictators and their groupies. // Caroline Fourest on Tariq Ramadan. “He is a professional when it comes to lying.” // Islam: What the West Needs to Know. September 11, 1683. // Tall buildings. // Even taller buildings. // Skyscraper made of wood. // Wind tunnels we have known and loved. // Kate Bush, Cloudbusting.       

Protected Species

Cath Elliott shares her wisdom in today’s Comment is Cheap Free. The self-proclaimed feminist and trades union activist targets an Aspen Times column by Gary Hubbell, whose grumbling about the presidential candidates’ alleged pandering to special interest groups is promptly, and inevitably, compared to that of the BNP. What catches the eye, though, is Elliott’s highlighting of this passage from Hubbell’s article:

Angry White Man loathes Hillary Clinton. Her voice reminds him of a shovel scraping a rock. He recoils at the mere sight of her on television. Her very image disgusts him, and he cannot fathom why anyone would want her as their leader.

A fair point, one might think. Much as many have recoiled from the current incumbent of the White House, due in part to his limited ability to convey whatever thought processes may take place behind his eyes. Ms Elliott adds,

This isn’t because she’s a woman, he goes on to say, but because she is who she is.

Again, sounds like a fair point. My own impression of Hillary Clinton is of a shrill and dissembling harpy forever peddling victimhood - quite often her own - and struggling with rather vengeful authoritarian urges. Pointing that out says nothing in particular about the rest of womankind, at least among those of us who think in terms of individuals, not symbols of some designated group. However, Ms Elliott disagrees: 

I for one don’t believe him. Hubbell and his new-found cheerleaders across the net give the game away when they reserve the worst of their ire for Hillary Clinton. This isn’t about a crisis of identity for poor working class men; it’s a defence of masculinity and a last desperate effort to cling on to the power that men have enjoyed for centuries. Just another anti-Hillary misogynist rant, then.

And nothing at all like a hackneyed far left rant against the “defence of masculinity” - which, as every good-hearted person knows, is an unspeakable vice and almost certainly a cover for something more unspeakable still. But hold on a minute. Does this mean that we men folk aren’t allowed to take a dim view of a presidential candidate if she happens to be a woman? What about Clinton’s female critics - do they get some special license to be unkind by virtue of having internal genitalia? What about men who dislike Hillary Clinton but quite like Condoleezza Rice? And, by the same thinking, does any disparaging of Cath Elliott immediately signal misogyny and oppression, regardless of what claptrap falls from her mouth? Are quasi-Marxist power dramas and the dislike of an entire gender the only conceivable motives here? And if I point out that Ms Elliott looks and sounds like an Eighties cliché, is that just my desperate attempt to cling to masculine power? I think we should be told.


A few weeks ago, Georges and I were discussing Margaret Thatcher’s often-taken-out-of-context “society” quote and the idea of the nation state as a marker of solidarity. Georges was struck by,

How much people seem to need larger forms of affiliation than self and family and immediate social circle.

To which I replied,

Well, indeed, and some more than others. But I don’t see why that should necessarily conflict with Thatcher’s statement, or with her broader outlook, or with a Conservative outlook generally. And the people who most vehemently disdain national identity and national pride - those “larger forms of affiliation” - tend to be on the left of the political spectrum. Which strikes me as counter-productive.

In today’s Observer, David Goodhart elaborates on a similar theme and offers reasons why such disdain is counter-productive.

Most of today’s cabinet were students in the 1970s and 1980s. If their student union had been debating the motion “The nation-state is a bloodstained anachronism”, most of them would probably have voted for it. And why not? I was there too and we were growing up in the shadow of nationalism’s 20th-century horrors… People on the left… were pro-mass immigration - among other things it added colour to the staid stoicism of Anglo-Saxon life. Meanwhile, a broader political world view emerged - there was no common culture in Britain, but, rather, a multicultural ethnic rainbow…

The fact is that the liberal baby-boomers were too insouciant about the nation-state and feelings of mutual obligation and belonging. Events, and voters’ responses to them, forced them to adjust. In Britain, those events included the asylum crisis in the late 1990s, the unprecedented increase in legal immigration, the unexpected East European surge after May 2004, the 7 July London attacks and, most important, the hostility of public opinion to mass immigration amid anxieties about public services and rapidly changing communities.

This does not mean that the average British citizen has become more prejudiced, though the far right gets more votes than ever. The principle of anti-discrimination is now more widely practised than ever… and the average Briton is more comfortable with difference - consider the rise of interracial marriage. But the liberal baby-boomers have come to grasp that a belief in universal moral equality does not mean that we have the same obligations to all humans - we do not consider our families to be on a different moral plane, yet would not hesitate to put their interests first. Until a few decades ago, the basis of national ‘specialness’ would have been ethnicity - shared ancestry, history, sacrifice. In multi-ethnic and multiracial societies, the basis of specialness is citizenship itself.

The justification for giving priority to the interests of fellow citizens boils down to a pragmatic claim about the value of the nation-state. Without fellow-citizen favouritism, the nation-state ceases to have much meaning. And most of the things that liberals desire - democracy, redistribution, welfare states, human rights - only work when one can assume the shared norms and solidarities of national communities.

Given the above, one might wonder how it is much of the left came to embrace dogmatic self-loathing and a pretentious disdain of territory. As when Joseph Harker, the Guardian’s deputy comment editor, repeatedly claimed “all white people are racist,” before identifying any fluttering of national identity as suspicious and, almost by default, a sign of xenophobia. When such views appear in the mainstream organ of the British left, voiced by a member of its own editorial staff, this isn’t exactly a cause for optimism. Nor is it encouraging to discover that even the most positive expressions of shared national identity can meet with official censure and threats of punishment. As, for instance, when Pendle council reprimanded Matthew Carter, a black dustman born in Barbados, for wearing a St George’s Cross bandana to keep his dreadlocks out of the way:

Ian McInery, the operational services manager for Pendle council, defended the decision to discipline Mr Carter. He said: “We have made it clear to staff that they are not allowed to put stickers or flags on bin wagons or wear clothing which shows support for a particular team, group or country… It’s just a common-sense approach that we are sticking to.”

One also has to wonder if viewing Mr Carter’s choice of headgear as a sign of xenophobic atavism, or as likely to be perceived as such, is what multicultural theorists really had in mind. And does this affected distaste for national symbols suggest progress, or its opposite?

Conscience in Extremis

I gather some of you are fans of the retooled Battlestar Galactica, which remains one of the more intelligent and compelling science fiction series. Given the issues raised during the last three seasons and their real world resonance, law professors Daniel Solove, Deven Desai and David Hoffman have taken an interest and interviewed BSG’s creators, Ronald D Moore and David Eick.

Bsg Bsg_5 Bsg_6

Part 1 deals with the trials and legal systems of the human survivors. Part 1-B explores the depicted use of torture. Parts 2 and 3, on the series’ treatment of politics, cylons and religion, will follow shortly.

Those of you unfamiliar with BSG can watch the episode 33 below.


(h/t, Volokh.)

Friday Ephemera

Peter Callesen’s paper cuts. Each one made from a single sheet. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus.) // The Agbar Tower, Barcelona. More. // Zoudov. A Cold War thriller. (h/t, Coudal.) // 9 improbable weapons of war. Pigeons, rats, unspeakable lust. // Robo-fawn. // Robo-ferret. // Robot water strider. // Advanced prosthetic arm. // Deluxe finger painting. // Cutest. Thing. Ever. // A feline wake-up call. Scroll down. (h/t, Andy.) // Marvelous aquariums. (h/t, Things.) // The relative sizes of stars. Let it play. (h/t, Stephen Hicks.) // Methane detected on world 63 light years from Earth. // Is the Earth flat? A debate ensues. (h/t, Mick  Hartley.) // The People’s Quiz. Who said what. // Knowing what’s best for poor people. // Madsen Pirie on the pursuit of happiness. // Oliver Kamm on CND. // Fabian Tassano on Cornelia Parker’s politics-as-art. // Exploding flower arrangements. Frozen with liquid nitrogen, then shot. // Self-healing rubber. // Bubble gum drum machine. // Bubble gum alley. // Bubble gum sculptures. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s the Ohio Express.

What to Think, Not How

During Evan Coyne Maloney’s 90-minute documentary, Indoctrinate U, the historian Daniel Pipes shares his impression of the modern American university: “It’s like joining a church; you have to be a believer. You have to have the right set of views.” The nature of those views and how they’re enforced is ably documented, as example after example prompts both hilarity and alarm. During the opening titles, Professor David Clemens of Monterey Peninsula College reads out a directive regarding new course proposals: “Include a description of how course topics are treated to develop a knowledge and understanding of race, class and gender issues.” We learn that this directive isn’t confined to courses in, say, sociology or politics, but is expected of all subjects, including mathematics and ornamental horticulture. Failure to comply is not a trivial matter and, as Clemens later points out, “They’re quite ruthless about their desire for a kinder, gentler world.”

Indoctrinate_u_logoMaloney’s film begins with the campus free speech activism of the 1960s and 70s, in which his own parents took part, before highlighting how dramatically those principles have now been discarded, even upended, in many of the same universities. We see conservative speakers being shouted down, intimidated and howled off stage, unable even to start an exchange of ideas. We hear students’ accounts of incongruous political sermons being shoehorned onto lessons. (“I’ve been learning in geography class that gender is socially constructed.”) We also see a procession of academics voicing their dismay at the belligerent orthodoxy of campus politics. One psychology professor, Laura Freberg, recounts being told, “We never would have hired you if we knew you were a Republican.”

Freberg’s story is among the film’s more disturbing revelations, in that it shows how the most innocuous of details can identify someone as incompatible with orthodoxy and a target for punishment. Freberg explains how despite her excellent performance she was labelled a “problem” by her colleagues and subjected to a campaign of harassment until finally, and successfully, she sought legal remedy. Freberg’s students later admitted they’d known she was a “closet Republican” precisely because she didn’t use the classroom to air her political views.

Despite Maloney’s own right-of-centre leanings, Indoctrinate U is surprisingly non-party political and, as FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff explains, many mainstream Democrats could well be shocked by how a supposed marketplace of ideas has become so intolerant and congealed. Indeed, one wonders how many liberal parents would regard Bucknell’s Professor Geoff Schneider, who confidently asserts, “A lot of our students are unconsciously racist”, and who defines as harassment “anything that offends.” Or Professor Noel Ignatiev of the Massachusetts School of Art, who echoes the sentiments of Dr Shakti Butler and Peggy McIntosh, and says, “My concern is doing away with whiteness. Whiteness is a form of racial oppression… Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” (Schneider and Ignatiev are, of course, both white.) At Tufts and Brown universities we see how a fixation with identity politics and leftwing grievance theatre has resulted in racially segregated student orientations. Elsewhere, students are offered racially segregated housing, even segregated graduation ceremonies, and all in the name of multicultural “diversity”.

Maloney also highlights the spread of “speech codes” on hundreds of campuses, the particulars of which include, at Brown, the “banning of verbal behaviour” that “produces feelings of impotence, anger or disenfranchisement.” The University of Connecticut prohibits “inappropriately directed laughter”, while other campuses, including Colby College, have outlawed any speech deemed to result in a loss of self-esteem. Also documented are the absurd and sinister travails of several students, among them Steve Hinkle, whose flyer – advertising a speech by a black conservative author and quoting the title of his book – led to police involvement, lengthy entanglement in campus judicial proceedings and suggestions that he should seek psychological “counselling”.

Other extraordinary moments include San Francisco State University’s vehemently “pacifist” anti-military protests; the banning of patriotic expressions and symbols, including the American flag and the pledge of allegiance; and a satirical “affirmative action bake sale”, with cupcakes sold at different prices according to a person’s colour. (Needless to say, this culinary satire isn’t received terribly well and threats of arrest ensue.) 

A recurrent and revealing theme is just how readily these PC principles can be abandoned if the target is deemed politically deviant. Sukhmani Singh Khalsa, a conservative Sikh student critical of liberal bias, was unwittingly sent an email from the University of Tennessee’s Issues Committee, a student group responsible for inviting speakers to campus. Justin Rubenstein, an Issues Committee member, referred to Khalsa in less than edifying terms: “If you see one of those ragheads, shoot him right in the fucking face.” The University of Tennessee saw fit not to discipline Rubenstein or remove him from the committee. Yet when students at that same university arrived at an off-campus Halloween party dressed as the Jackson Five and complete with “black” makeup, this attention to detail resulted in the entire fraternity being suspended. 

Indoctrinate_u_security2_2Maloney’s attempts to raise these concerns with university administrators are, alas, unsuccessful, and of course symbolic. Invariably polite and decidedly unthreatening, our hero nonetheless finds himself rebuffed, then escorted off campus by burly security guards. Maloney’s alma mater, Bucknell, proves no more accommodating. (Watching these encounters almost becomes a game - guessing exactly how little time will pass before spotting the Stare of Death™ and hearing the administrator say, “Call the campus police.”) Some viewers may wonder if many faculty members are bewitched by the homogeneity of their insulated fiefdoms and are thus unaccustomed to their assumptions being challenged. Others may suspect that some of these educators are less naïve and all too happy to do in private what they cannot defend in public. Either way, a question arises for supporters of identity politics and pretentious sensitivity: What happens when the most oppressive “hegemony” in town is, in fact, your own? 

Those lucky enough to see Maloney’s film may differ in their views of exactly how this political lockstep became so pervasive and entrenched. Fixated by a Holy Trinity of race, class and gender, leftist ideologues have certainly played a pivotal role; as have squeamish administrators anxious to avoid controversy. Few, though, could deny that a serious problem exists. On the subject of an increasingly politicised classroom and the reluctance to voice unfashionable views, one student points out perhaps the greatest sin of all: “Education becomes a spectator sport.” Charming, alarming and not quite polished, Indoctrinate U is likely to amuse and enrage in more or less equal measure. If you can, see it. Then get angry. 

Watch the trailer here.

Buy the film as MPEG4 or Virtual DVD via the online store

Related. And. Also. Plus.

Fire Starters

Today brings further confirmation that the Guardian’s moral compass is performing as normal, if not, alas, properly. Jakob Illeborg tells us,

Over the weekend numerous schools in Denmark have been set on fire and one completely burned down. Every night for almost a week the sky in Danish city centres has been lit up by burning cars and bonfires started in the middle of the high streets.

Indeed. For some pious souls, arson and death threats are very cheap currency. But first a detail. Note that the link chosen for the passage above is headlined, Cartoons Blamed for Danish Riots. If headlines are to be believed, the cause of the current riots is the publication of a cartoon drawn by a 73-year-old who is now forced to live in hiding in fear of his life, and the lives of his family. The cause is not, one notes, the individuals who chose to take part in those riots and burnings, and nor is it the absurd theological vanities that, for some, validate such behaviour. This strange causal manoeuvre is one that Mr Illeborg, like many others, has embraced with shameless enthusiasm. In his previous Guardian column, Illeborg argued that,

Once again the Danes could, with some justification, be seen as fire starters, even if all we were trying to do was to stand up for freedom of speech and democratic rights.

In case you missed that, here it is again.

the Danes could, with some justification, be seen as fire starters.

We’ve been here before, of course, and more than once. Last year, Newsweek ran an article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, accompanied by a sidebar with the extraordinary heading, A Bombthrower’s Life. As Christopher Hitchens remarked,

The subject of this absurd headline is a woman who has been threatened with horrific violence, by Muslims varying from moderate to extreme, ever since she was a little girl. She has more recently had to see a Dutch friend butchered in the street, been told that she is next, and now has to live with bodyguards in Washington, D.C. She has never used or advocated violence. Yet to whom does Newsweek refer as the “Bombthrower”? It’s always the same with these bogus equivalences: They start by pretending loftily to find no difference between aggressor and victim, and they end up by saying that it’s the victim of violence who is ‘really’ inciting it.

Quite. But back to Mr Illeborg.

The fire starters are frustrated young Muslim men who claim that their action is sparked by the re-publication of one of the prophet cartoons –

Yes, that does seem to be the perpetrators most commonly stated motive.

although it probably has little to do with religion,


and much to do with an entire generation of young migrants who have not been integrated into Danish society.

Well, when you think about it – and, please, let’s – that may well amount to much the same thing. Certainly the two aren’t easily disentangled. A more integrated Danish society would not, one hopes, be faced with an inassimilable minority of a minority trying to violently impose its superstitious vanities on others. That would, I think, be a plausible marker of an integrated Western society. Indeed, it was also a point of the original Jyllands Posten article, published some two years ago. However, Mr Illeborg is in too much of a rush to linger on such details.

Anti-Danish sentiment seems once again to be gathering pace both locally and around the Muslim world. On Friday 1,000 of Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters were demonstrating in Copenhagen. In Gaza more than 5,000 protesters were on the streets and in Teheran the Danish ambassador was summoned to meet the government… The odd thing is that all this was very predictable from the moment the Danish press insisted on making a headstrong idealistic response to the murder threats towards a Danish cartoonist by immediately printing / reprinting the cartoon that depicts the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban…

Well, yes. But the predictable nature of the lunacy doesn’t address the issue of the lunacy itself, or its grotesque disproportion and coercive, non-reciprocal intent. It doesn’t address the issue of whether those complaining, or demanding, or setting fire to something, have any sane and legitimate reason to do so. This is quite an important point, and one that Mr Illeborg seems determined to avoid. And it’s somewhat odd for him to describe the publishers of a cartoon as “headstrong” for doing something which is perfectly legal, while avoiding such pejoratives when referring to the people actually breaking the law and burning down schools

The Danish editors say they are making a stand for freedom of speech and many readers of CiF in their response to my article felt that the action was both brave and justified. But if, as the current press rumours in Denmark would have it, the accusations against the three suspects are less than waterproof, the quick and firm response may come to look clumsy and silly at best. Most of us agree that the Danish newspapers have the right to print / reprint the cartoons, but they don't have an obligation to do so.

One wonders, then, what kind of right one has – say, to publish an unflattering cartoon – if that right cannot be exercised for fear of riots, arson and death threats - and then of being blamed by Guardian columnists for the actions of those who actually did the rioting, burning and threatening. And, again, another fundamental point whistles by, unregistered. Whether or not the individuals arrested last week are ultimately found guilty, they are merely the latest suspects in a series of violent acts spanning decades and continents, and which are intended to intimidate and cow the free-thinking world - including, lest we forget, quite a few liberal Muslims.