It’s the Wrong North, Gromit

By Saul Freeman

Three days and some sleep later and I have some thoughts.

Thought 1 is to make it clear that I was at all times – and still am – very much in the Remain camp. Thought 2 is to note how wearily reductive and predicable much of the post-cataclysm commentary from appalled Remainers on the Left has been.

Thought 3 is that I live in the North – heartland of Brexit.

Much of what I read in the media and on social media seems to boil down to a howl of outrage that those outside London were ever handed an opportunity to express their democratic rights. Draw a line somewhere north of Milton Keynes, South and West of Swindon and East of Peterborough and they simply can’t be trusted. Londoners are at this very moment petitioning the higher powers (Thom Yorke, perhaps?) to either hold another vote or to declare a city state that can rejoin Europe and run screaming from association with the grubby provinces: “You’re all a bunch of racists!”

When reasonable folk point out that this might display a degree of ignorance and prejudice in equal proportion to the alleged crime of the Brexiters, even hitherto sensible dead-centrist folk like Dan Hodges  – now of the Mail on Sunday – come over all self-assured and self-righteous:

Mention the “North-South divide” and the full weight of the South-East (with a per capita atomic mass roughly equivalent to that of a 3 bedroom loft-style apartment in groovy Hackney) drops from the sky onto those impertinent enough to suggest that the vote might tell us something important about our nation and that deserves scrutiny.

In the 1980s as the North bore the full brunt of the Thatcherite attack on the working classes who toiled in heavy industry, the Left expressed its love and admiration for those plucky Northerners. Both in London and up and down what was to become the M4 corridor, you couldn’t move for Constituency Labour Parties and the SWP, RCP & CPGB organising Miners Solidarity Groups. A cynic might imagine that there was a fetishising of the North and all who sailed in her from those who knew almost nothing of life there and what that looked, felt and smelled like. But never mind that – we all had the donkey jackets and Coal not Dole button badges. We loved those Northerners, fighting the fight on the sharp end of the class struggle. They were worthy.

A generation and a half later and the pits are now logistics distribution centres handily located close to the M1. Former pit villages are teetering under the weight of a structural unemployment that crushes and splits communities. Cities like Sheffield -built on the sheer good fortune of proximity to both seams of coal, rushing rivers and iron ore – lurch from one funding crisis to the next, locked in a death-grip with endless disappointment and never-quite-arrested decay. The North doesn’t die; distinct bits of it do – of course – prosper, thank you very much. But it’s not like London and the South East. It just isn’t.

Here’s the thing, and at face value it’s quite simple: there are not enough jobs. What jobs there are are often low paid and insecure. In London and the South East there are – broadly – enough jobs. That doesn’t mean they are all fulfilling, well paid and involve foreign travel, but the jobs are there.

In Sheffield, for example, if you’re a white-collar worker (say, an administrator) the reality is that if you can’t get a job in one of the two universities or the dwindling Home Office presence, you will a) struggle to find a permanent job and b) when you get one, it will pay roughly a third less than a similar job that your friend has at the university. Your mortgage or rent however will not go down by a third. If you’re an unskilled blue-collar worker – well, good luck with that one.

In the North this lack of jobs now and the lack of prospects of jobs and prosperity for the next generations has combined with a discourse around immigration. London’s “progressive” elite may find it distasteful – and some of this discourse is indeed unpleasant – but it’s there, it’s real and we have ignored it at our peril.

Here’s an example of how we got here. In 2013, Liberal, progressive proto-Corbynistas in the South poured rage and scorn on David Blunkett when he spoke out about the pressures facing Page Hall in Sheffield. That’s an area where just under 40% of families claim benefits and over 50% of children are regarded as “at risk” from poverty. Tensions between the existing residents of Page Hall and the newly arrived and rapidly expanding Roma community were escalating. After calling attention to this problem in his constituency, Blunkett was hounded for being a racist and accused of using language akin to that of Enoch Powell. It was the River Don of Blood speech.  Of course, a significant proportion of the settled Page Hall demographic was in fact Bangladeshi in origin, but not many of those branding Blunkett a simple, old-fashioned racist seemed to want to think about the complexities that might signal.

In describing the behavior of the UK Left around the common “anti-Israel “ discourse, David Hirsh uses the concept of the self-declared progressive circle whereby the virtuous Left defines and polices the borders of normative discourse. Step outside the circle (i.e. give voice to an idea that may not be on the tick box list of pre-approved tenets) and the full force of disapproval and anger comes crashing down: “We understand what you are saying. We can decode it instantly. We have the tools. And what our tools show is that you are bad. You are not virtuous like us”.

Dan Hodges and all those rushing off to sit in front of their laptops and log into the latest post Brexit petition seem to me to be engaging in exactly this type of behavior.

Significant parts of the North (and of course Wales & Cornwall) have never recovered from the loss of heavy industry. London and the South East is simply not in the same boat. Unless you live in the North (or Wales & Cornwall etc) there is a very good chance that actually you don’t understand. Not really. Now, the smart thing to do with this is to engage and unpack. The easy and less smart thing to do is to draw out the virtuous progressive circle. The trouble is, it really is much easier to get out the felt tip pens and start drawing, so largely that’s what people seem to be doing.

Gone is the eye-welling tsunami of love from the Left for the brave, noble North. It’s been replaced by a visceral disgust and a knowing mistrust: “it’s not us that have changed. We’ve compared the circle we drew back in 1984 and it’s more or less exactly like the one we drew out yesterday. So if it’s not us, it’s them. In the North. They’re not who they once were.

It’s the wrong North.


Simple question, complex answer

By Deanne DuKhan

How quickly a conventional wisdom can be created. Within hours of the referendum result, with no information or data other than geographic available on who voted how, a collective decision emerged about the reason Out had prevailed. It was a triumph for extremism, a successful harnessing and exploiting of ignorance and bigotry, so it went. As murmurs and mutterings of a working class revolt spread, to many, that explanation seemed to make even more sense.

Are you among those convinced that only xenophobia can explain this outcome, gloating that you’ve been vindicated by the final dropping of the mask by the Outers in the last week of the campaign? You should know that for some of you a mask of yours has slipped too. Your story has changed. The portrait of the enemy you depicted has changed. How many times you have raged, rightly, at Westminster’s caricaturing of the working class as scrounging, treating them as politically expendable. You’ve been appalled at assaults on them through the bedroom tax and radical benefit changes.

But now they’ve rejected the campaign you were backing, it’s perfectly fair to paint them as ignorant racists.

You even have well meant theories of how they could be so misguided in their choice. It’s ignorance fed by what they’ve seen on telly, you say. As you decide this labelling is justified because you just saw a bloke on the news say he regretted voting Out. You know, on the telly.

It’s unedifying watching all this apoplexy, on the right, on the left, in all the usual places by lots of usual suspects. Spluttering at the discovery that the rest of the UK has turned out not only to not think like us, but to not BE like us. This shock realization might suggest none of us were bothering to listen very hard. To what they’ve long been trying to tell us.

In many places, Leave will have won in spite of the Out campaign, not because of it. In time research may well show the repudiation of the In campaign resonated more deeply than any acceptance of Faragism. With no positive story to tell, only scare-mongering and dripping condescension, some voters will surely have rejected Remain because to do otherwise was to accept being told how irrelevant their own experiences and instincts were. Nothing Remain offered addressed perfectly legitimate expressions of fears, concerns and even resentment of the EU. No one spoke of its recent glaring failures, its likely direction of travel in the future, its utter impotence in the face of rising extremism. As it went on, the In campaign began to wear its presumption of moral superiority on its sleeve. There could be no specific criticisms of the EU and its workings, only general principles and values that gave an indication of your worldview and by extraction your very character.

Are you feeling confused, disorientated? Understandable. You don’t like the result. Place the blame squarely where it belongs then. No license to demonise people who disagree has been issued. There were massive failures, the campaigns themselves were both failures, the result notwithstanding. Nothing was achieved, nothing was settled. And there should be shame in that. Not shame in leaving the EU, or any perceived victory for populism, but in an inability to have a measured, grown-up conversation. Shame in a widespread and collective failure to reject hyperbole and knee jerk reacting; to make the sacrifices and do the hard work of having and showing basic respect for another point of view.

But if you’re in the camp that is happy to reach a decision about those who voted Out after watching a couple of vox pop interviews – that they’re all bigots, or just gullible, too lazy to inform themselves, that they were manipulated by pandering politicians – you might have some soul searching of your own to do. The remedy to your feelings of dislocation isn’t to double down, to commiserate with your fellow angry/confuseds/betrayeds/disorientateds, to give yourself hope by thinking of ways this judgment could be overturned. You’d be wise to open your ears and open your mind. If nothing else, large swathes of your countrymen and women have just told not only the EU, and Westminster ‘elites’, but pretty much everybody else as well to go fuck themselves. You have no obligation to give them the benefit of the doubt on their reasons, of course, but spare the rest of us your conception of yourself as a progressive, if what you really believe is that the people you call working class are too stupid to think for themselves.

Getting out of this with all of our influence and our economy intact will take concerted effort. It will take imagination, and an openness to other ways of doing things. What’s been lost could well be replaced or substituted through other means. But none of that kind of vision will be able to flourish in an environment dominated by anger and division. And no contribution or voice should be dismissed or stifled out of hand. It’s too late for the referendum, but not too late to consider whether we are in need of more information every bit as much as those who voted differently.


The image used to illustrate this article is from this story by Buzzfeed

The Muslim leader who can defeat Islamism

By Jake Wilde

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels three months ago I wrote about the danger of under-reacting, in particular about not making the mistake of thinking that Daesh were comparable to traditional European “liberation” movements such as the IRA.

“Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.”

I think this is being missed in the analysis of the atrocity in Orlando, described by President Obama as terrorism (and there are other factors involved too). This is understandable shorthand for ideologically based mass murder but it is incorrect. The purpose of terrorism is to induce fear amongst a population in order to modify behaviour, such as the withdrawal of troops or political concessions, or flight amongst a civilian population. Daesh have no such motivations. They do not demand that the United States stop their bombing campaign. They do not demand peace talks. These are not terror attacks, these are death attacks.

In my previous piece I also drew the contrast between Al Qaeda and Daesh, in that the latter have generally relied upon radicalised national citizens to undertake their attacks, either as part of a centrally organised and coordinated campaign using cells and networks, or inspiring individuals to act alone without any direction. This is covered in greater detail in an excellent piece by Kevin D Williamson today in National Review:

“We speak of “lone wolf” jihadists as though this phenomenon were somehow independent of the wider Islamist project. It is not. The model of “leaderless resistance” in the service of terrorist projects is not new, and it has not been employed by the Islamists at random. If Omar Mateen turns out, as expected, to have had little or no substantive contact with organized Islamist groups, that fact will demonstrate the success of their communication strategy rather than the limitations of their reach.”

Max Boot, writing in Commentary today, also makes the point that there is no magic bullet for stopping the “lone wolf”, but diligence and extensive (occasionally undercover) intelligence:

Of course, the best human intelligence-gathering depends on the cooperation of the communities where you are trying to gain information. Thus, maintaining good relations between the American Muslim community and various law enforcement agencies is of critical importance. Unfortunately Donald Trump’s crude anti-Muslim rhetoric and his calls to “ban” foreign Muslims (which would not have stopped the American-born Mateen) detract from this goal by sending Muslims a message that they are less than wholly American. Part of the reason why there has been less terrorism in the U.S. than in Europe is that we have done a better job of assimilating our Muslims. It would be a costly tragedy if that achievement were to be undone.

The multi-layered Islamist war upon non-Islamists claims lives across the world, in Iraq and Syria, in Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Western Europe, the United States and countless other countries and regions besides, with the fifty people murdered in Orlando the latest western casualties. The Islamists involved in this war are a mixture of conventional troops, cell-based terror groups and individuals motivated to act alone. The latter two concentrate upon, almost exclusively, “soft” targets amongst the civilian population. As Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister who is still the clearest voice in The West on what needs to be done, observed after the Paris Attacks “We are at war”. So why are we not behaving as though we are? There is no sense that we, as a society, have been galvanised to do anything other than mourn when yet another atrocity is committed.

We need to be honest with ourselves. We have an enemy, and that enemy wants us dead. We must abandon our normal concepts of an enemy that can be subdued, educated and brought back into the fold. I fear we have yet to convince people, especially in the West, that this is not like the terrorism they are either used to or have read in history books. The blunt truth is that the only good Islamist is a dead Islamist. This is a difficult concept for our Western liberal sensitivities to accept.

But we forget that we are not the only enemy of Islamism and we need to work harder to build alliances at home and around the world, not just with Muslims but with everybody who isn’t an Islamist. This requires genuine leadership. It is understandable why some have mistaken Donald Trump’s overblown, ill-conceived and insubstantial rhetoric for leadership.

The controversy surrounding Owen Jones’s appearance on Sky News illustrates what needs to happen. People who attend a gay-friendly nightclub are targets in the same way as Nigerian schoolgirls, Jewish shoppers, or Parisian rock fans. Gay people are targeted because they are gay, and that, to Islamists, is an additional crime upon their broader crime of not being Islamists. It follows that there should be common ground between the LGBTI community and every other non-Islamist section of society on this one issue if nothing else, and this is important enough to be called a matter of life or death.

To create such an alliance between the LGBTI community and non-Islamist Muslims is certainly a challenge but we have, in Europe, an example of the leadership that is required. Earlier today I tweeted about the importance of Muslim leaders like Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi:

President Thaçi is a Muslim who fought to liberate his country, not to impose a caliphate but a liberal democracy. He is the fifth President of a country that saw 314 of its citizens join Daesh in the last two years. Constitutionally secular Kosovo has found itself at the centre of the broader conflict between the old West and the new East. This is from Carlotta Gall’s detailed piece for the New York Times on Daesh’s Kosovar recruits:

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

In May of this year President Thaçi was at the head of Pristina’s first ever Gay Pride march. Those who think that it is impossible for Islam and the LGBTI community to work together against hate and death need look no further than President Thaçi. More than that, he also knows the perils of failing to act. Carlotta Gall again:

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the Prime Minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Writing in The Guardian towards the end of 2014, while Prime Minister, Thaçi said:

“Kosovo is a country where the majority of the population declare themselves to be Muslim. But Kosovars wholly reject the religious dogma proposed by radical strains of political Islam, and we shall not allow it to endanger our path towards eventual NATO and EU membership.

We will crush any cells that believe, wrongfully, that they can find cover in Kosovo. Just as my former guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army rejected offers from jihadists who wanted to volunteer in the 1999 war, we now reject the new evil that is stemming from Islamic State and related groups in the Middle East.”

Here is the model then, for both Western countries and Islamism’s enemies amongst Islamic countries, to follow. Kosovo have turned the situation around, destroying the networks that acted as recruitment to Daesh and putting the perpetrators on trial. The result has been popular support for Hashim Thaçi’s election as President in February and Kosovars having the highest approval rating in the world for the United States.

Writing after Austria’s Presidential election saw a narrow defeat for the far right candidate, Norbert Hofer, Thaçi explained the potentially crucial role that Kosovars, and other Balkan citizens, could play in the quest for a peaceful future:

“Hofer’s platform, like other far-right movements in Europe is based on the Huntingtonian concept of the clash of civilizations and on promoting the theory that Islam is incompatible with Europe. For us in Kosovo, Albania or Bosnia, with large strata of our societies belonging to the Muslim faith, this effectively excludes us from feeling part of the continent where we have lived for centuries, indeed millennia.

Besides, Kosovo is not Muslim: our society is secular and civic.

Kosovo became the first Balkan country to elect a woman president in 2011 and is the only Balkan country to have recognised the LGBTI community in its constitution. I led the LGBTI Pride Parade in Kosovo last month to mark our support for this community precisely to show our citizens and the wider world that extremism and prejudice has no place in our midst.

Neither are we a safe haven for extremists. Our security services have made 110 arrests and secured 67 indictments and 26 convictions against ISIS supporters in our country. US Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a recent visit to Kosovo that Kosovars are the regional leaders in combating violent extremism.”

The bombastic soundbites and the vague military strategy offered by Donald Trump needs to be rejected, not because the use of force is not the solution, but because Trump suggests that he can solve the problem without Muslims. That is to ignore the most fundamental of simple facts – more Muslims die at the hands of Islamists than anyone else. Islamism is a far bigger problem for Muslims than it is for The West and Muslims like Hashim Thaçi have proved they have the answers to destroy Islamism while retaining a commitment to liberal democracy. If it’s a strongman you want then at least look to the real thing.