Discussing identity politics : How lived experiences disrupt debate

By Freddy Bin Yusuf

In Hippias Major, one of the dialogues of Plato, Socrates and Hippias set out to find out what is the definition of beauty. Hippias offers definitions, and Socrates counters with four arguments, concluding beauty is difficult to define, something no doubt he knew before posing the question to Hippias. This is one of the great dialogues of Plato about Socrates, and these dialogues shape much of how the West define concepts, and form arguments.

Socrates was an ugly man, his statues affirming this, and with that in mind I’ll attempt to link it to this. The adherents of identity politics have laid a new card on the table, one which they use to silence debate and twist questions into attacks. This is the concept of “lived experience”

The term lived experience is used to describe the first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group. 

Essentially this original definition was that you cannot discount an experience and you should listen, as in the example in the link, a male in tech cannot comment on what is is like for a female tech, only listen to her lived experience. This, on face value, is simply common sense, get as many different viewpoints as you can.

However, it has been twisted further. I spotted this in a tweet on Twitter and have seen similar across social media:

“white people can’t decide what’s racist, straight people can’t decide what’s homophobic, cis people can’t decide what’s transphobic”

This is essentially used to close down debate as its used as a counterpoint to questions and criticism. It is often demanded that you cannot engage in an argument on certain issues unless you are part of the minority that is being oppressed.  This concept is used to reinforce claims and statements that are not derived not from data, or from evidence, but from feelings of the individual who is able to provide evidence of lived experience.

Lived experiences derive from postmodern critical theory, which politicises social problems by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, but takes it one step further in ignoring historical reality in favour of a self-affirmative reality.

This defies belief, and ignores history. The banning of slavery could not be debated by non-slaves? The argument for the vote for women could not be debated by men? What happens if the viewpoint is from an intersection of identities that form a sum of one person? No one can debate at all? This has even been applied to jokes and comments on various identities, with attempts to control the speech of everyone, not just those party to the conversation.

The ground rules for debate cannot be set by one side alone, they cannot decide what can be debated, what can be questioned or what can be disproved. It is fair to reject the basic foundations of debate within a closed community, but this is not the case as they are insisting that their concepts are now the universal societal rules which must not be broken, and they seek to enforce their domination of all culture by any means necessary.

Socrates: because they do not seem so to people; but that is not what I asked, what seems to most people to be beautiful, but what is so.” We shall, then, I fancy, say, as we suggested, “We say that that part of the pleasant which comes by sight and hearing is beautiful.” Do you think the statement is of any use, Hippias, or shall we say something else?

Socjus: As an ugly man you are not allowed to comment on beauty. Blocked. 

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Take the time to insult Erdogan

By Jake Wilde

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, does not like to be insulted. In that sense he is no different from the rest of us. Where he differs from most of us is that he arrests people who do so.

He doesn’t care if you’re at home, whether your insult was intentional or if you had no idea it was even an insult.

He certainly doesn’t care if you are a journalist, an academic, or a Tolkien-loving family doctor 

But matters have taken a more worrying turn. He now doesn’t care whether you’re Turkish or not.

Twitter is the bane of Erdogan’s life. He banned it in Turkey in March 2014 and again in July 2015. He is responsible for 60% of all of Twitter’s removal requests.

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Take the time to insult Erdogan. While you’re still allowed to.

Brown Men Can’t Wear Tweed

By David Paxton

‘Hit piece’ is a pejorative. Something trashy, something demeaning to the writer. It attempts to diminish its target under the guise of objective reporting and will use low tactics to get there. What makes a piece of journalism a ‘hit piece’?

Nathan Lean’s New Republic latest, What Does Maajid Nawaz Really Believe?, provides an object lesson.

Maajid Nawaz is a former Islamist who now heads the counter-extremist think tank Quilliam. Lean’s title suggests an emphasis on the ‘really’. There is the Nawaz that we see, hear, and think we know, and then there is the truth which Lean seeks to expose.

Glenn Greenwald shared Lean’s article, calling it a ‘great investigation’. What were the methods of investigation and what truth has it revealed? Why is Nawaz so worthy a target?

The opening paragraph hints at where we are headed.

…It’s January 2013 and the British activist, sporting a slick black tuxedo and a gelled coiffure…

He was wearing a dinner suit, the standard formal attire for a debate at the Oxford Union. On its own this is just some mediocre scene-setting but it ties in with a later passage.

Before long, the scrappy son of Essex had a book deal, and traded in his prison garb for Harris tweed waistcoats and red corduroy pants—a get up he described as “versatile and smart” in his 2014 Sunday Times “Masters of Fashion” profile. “My day can include being in the Newsnight studio or with friends or at Downing Street, so dressing is tricky,” he said.

It’s practically impossible to talk about your appearance during an interview for a fashion feature and not sound a dick when you’re subsequently edited and quoted. It’s easy ribbing, and I dare say, fair game.

Nawaz likes his clothes. I disapprove of his winged collar and dislike the way he keeps his blazer done-up when he sits but… is this meaningful? Why include it? The last time a hit piece came his way, disappointingly via the Guardian, meeting him was described thus:

…a buzzy private members’ club in Covent Garden. I find him in the second-floor bar, crisply turned out, ready with an engaging smile, sipping a skinny flat white.

His coffee, his clothes, his up-town location. These expressed irrelevancies, noticeable by their level of detail, form a pattern. It’s part of a wider narrative, Nawaz the “turncoat”. The “scrappy son” who abandoned his authentic roots for the temptations of The Man. Tweed, red trousers, dinner jackets, the uniform of the overlords, part of the establishment. He has sold out.

Lean continues:

Nawaz jet-sets from Ivy League lecture halls to annual gabfests in the Colorado mountains; from the stages of TED talks to awards galas; and from the backrooms of British officialdom to Senate hearings in Washington

‘Jet-sets’ is to ‘travels’ what ‘quaffs’ is to ‘drinks’. Have you got the picture yet? You must have, because it isn’t aimed at the reader who appreciates subtlety. We fight The Man, he draws from his teat.

he says, gazing out at a farrago of ambassadors, journalists, and luminaries.

David Cameron tapped him as an adviser on combatting extremism, Tony Blair gushed admiration in a front-cover book blurb, and George W. Bush picked his brain about torture at a backyard barbeque in Dallas.

Success in Nawaz’s stated mission means meeting politicians and raising awareness wherever possible. So the more successful he becomes the easier it is for the ‘sell-out’ narrative to be supported by such snark.

indications, they say, of a turncoat who cares more about being a well-compensated hero than he does about the cause he champions.

…shown Maajid a way of attaining the sort of fame and status he desired

[Maajid and Ed] were in a unique position [and] one that would equate to fame and riches, but rationalized it to themselves that they were fighting a good fight against Islamists

Such is Nawaz’s playbook for achieving fame…

He had an “insatiable lust to be recognized,”

Accepting the tale of Nawaz the turncoat and that he saw riches, wanted them, and acted accordingly is made easier by the idea that he never really believed in the fundamentalist ideology in the first place. He has always been about the fame/money/prestige.

“He is neither an Islamist nor a liberal,” he said. “Maajid is whatever he thinks he needs to be.”

Nisbet remembers Nawaz as a guy who wasn’t particularly religious, but labored to appear committed to Islamism in an effort to win popularity and promotion.

This is all psychological conjecture. To support it, Lean supplies us with quotes and opinions obtained from “interviews with his friends and relatives”. One must ask how many of these friends are still friends. Lean doesn’t always let us know which are ideological enemies with motivation to attack, which remain Islamists, or which are still Hizb ut-Tahrir. In one case, that of Ian Nisbet, he does state that his interviewee is currently a member of that Islamist group, a fact that would lead most journalists to discount his comments entirely: of course an extremist doesn’t have a favourable view of a counter-extremist. So which of the others isn’t an extremist? A credible piece of journalism would furnish the reader with relevant context such as this. But this is a hit piece. Information isn’t the aim.

Barely a paragraph of Lean’s passes without an obvious internal contradiction, cheap shot or half-truth. He claims that because Nawaz wasn’t vocally disavowing his Islamism while locked up with a plethora of Islamist hard nuts this amounts to something of a contradiction. He claims Nawaz became more radical and not less.

Even assuming Lean is correct about this, it would be proper to have considered that an intensified radicalism is among the things you could expect from someone losing the faith. Upping the ante and trying to drown out the doubts would be a reasonable expectation.

Lean draws inferences from Quilliam’s funding. If I were more of a ‘follow the money’ sort I would make a big deal of the fact that Lean is director-of-research for the Pluralism, Diversity and Islamophobia project at Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. This centre being funded to the tune of $20m by the aforementioned Saudi prince.

His timing was curious. Nawaz broke ranks with Hizb ut-Tahrir the same week that his Newham College classmate and ex-party member, Ed Husain, rose to quasi-stardom with the publication of his kiss-and-tell memoir

‘Kiss-and-tell’ is an interesting choice of description. It smacks of betrayal. Did Husain really rise to ‘quasi-stardom’ in a week? From a book? Was this when Nawaz insta-flipped from one thing to another?

Nawaz’s version, explained at length in his book Radical, seems far more plausible than the idea he saw somebody get some attention and immediately decided he wanted a piece of the action. Does his new-found fame, his income, his status please him? Probably. Does he have an ego of note? Perhaps. Has Lean come even close to demonstrating that this is all he is about and that we should doubt his ideas accordingly? No.

There’s value in ad hominem arguments to explain that which cannot be explained logically. Once you have exhausted attempts to understand somebody’s views by the validity and consistency of the arguments then there is room for analyzing other motivations. But as so often with discussions of Nawaz, this isn’t even attempted. This is about Nawaz serving ‘The Man’. This is the crux of the entire piece.

One might choose to call The Man, ‘liberal democracy’, or ‘the rule of secular law’, but in this story it is the rich oppressor. Nawaz extols and evangelises the former but it’s the latter Lean insists he’s part of. This is the ‘Uncle Tom‘ line of attack.

Lean has previously called Nawaz a ‘native informant’ and Sam Harris’ ‘Muslim validator‘ and ‘lapdog‘. Follow the thread below Greenwald’s tweet or run a search for “Nawaz+Uncle+Tom” to see how rife this abuse is. Nawaz is unable to be a man with agency, or with beliefs he has developed over time; he has simply crossed to the other team, the enemy, and has done so for corrupt reasons. A brown man in a suit speaking with non-brown men of importance. How dare he.

A search of who was keen to promote this article hints at why the ‘Uncle Tom’ narrative gains traction: Glenn Greenwald, CJ Werleman, Murtaza Hussain, and Nafeez Ahmed; are all fine examples.

The story of Uncle Tom is from a time of slavery. It is expressly racial. As a modern insult, he is on the side of the oppressors when he should be with his own side, the oppressed. The Regressive Left and their Islamist fellow travelers are well placed to see a parallel.

The former see the world as a relativist mush of identity politics and power dynamics. Secular democracy is not superior and there are no universal values. Under pure relativism, moral status is inversely proportional to power and the West is powerful.

The latter endorse all the Islamic grievance tropes they can find. There are reasons why those blessed with the final revelation aren’t running the world and these include the nefarious tactics of the Infidel. It is manichean.

Those who believe in ideas, those who believe secularism superior to theocracy, have little difficulty accepting a brown person, or even a Muslim brown person, supporting universal liberal values. Those who believe in identity politics do. They see a race traitor. They see an ‘Uncle Tom’

When this comes purely from Islamists it is explicable and expected. When it comes from those who claim to be of the Left it is as depressing as it is commonplace. The racism of the anti-racists. The know-your-placeism which drives the useful idiots of jihad to protect the extremists by attacking the moderates.

…many of his former close acquaintances …see him as an Islamic Judas Iscariot, a Muslim who turned his back on his fellow believers when state coffers flung open—and their testimony reflects that sense of betrayal.

Correct. They do. But these ‘former close acquaintances’ are Islamists. As the writer Jamie Palmer put it, “I’m pretty shocked to discover from Nathan Lean that Maajid Nawaz’s former Islamist colleagues think he is a traitor. Who’d have thought?” The real shame is when they are supported by those who should know better.

Stripped to its essentials, all we have in this piece is a description of some Islamists unhappy with Nawaz fighting Islamism. Oh, and that he’s an easy mark for tailors. That’s it.

In response to a complaint that the ‘lapdog’ comment was personally insulting rather than substantive, Lean said the following.

Yet somehow, the satisfaction I get at seeing how much it irritates your tribe, is, indeed, worth it.

Lean is in a tribal fight and will take satisfaction from saying what hurts rather than what informs. And I don’t need a juicy quote from an ideological enemy to demonstrate it. Lean is of course free to do this but The New Republic continues its destruction of its own reputation by enabling him.

Nawaz doesn’t obfuscate. He “jet-sets” to “Ivy League halls” and to stand on “stages” “crisply turned out”, sometimes “sporting” “tweed”, sometimes in front of a “farrago of ambassadors, journalists, and luminaries” and he clearly explains his views. Those views are not hard to find, he works hard to make sure you hear them. The New Republic could easily pay for a writer to engage with those ideas. What business has it giving space to a pitifully ineffective hit piece?

I would condemn a great hit piece as ethically poor while respecting its quality, but Lean has managed to do nothing bar produce a lesson in poor journalism and throw away any residual credibility he might have had. He is the sappy suicide bomber who forgets to find a crowd before detonating and only manages to kill himself.

For a writer, character assassination where the only character assassinated belongs to the assassin is a short-term gig. But others will come along to have a go. The more frequently such pieces appear, and the more the likes of Greenwald promote it, the more you know Nawaz is damaging the narrative and credibility of those who should be damaged. If there’s truth to the adage that you should know a man by his enemies, then Maajid Nawaz appears to be well worth the knowing. In spite of his taste in clothes.

Charlie Hebdo and the Turds That Won’t Flush

By David Paxton

‘Ding’ ‘Ding’ Round 57…

‘He’s obsessed’ you remark. Well yes actually, I am a bit. But even when I think enough should have been said on this matter yet more turds float to the surface and I think it important to try and flush them. By now however, it’s beginning to feel like nothing so much as playing whac-a-mole. But with turds.

Much has already been written about the PEN debacle. This by Tom Owolade is typically good. I have also attacked Glenn Greenwald’s laughable contribution here. But the same tropes keep coming up again and again. 10 days after the massacre I posted this long and, I had forlornly hoped, exhaustive piece breaking down the various forms of apologia. I think it holds up. However, the superbug like inability for some of this bullshit to die is quite something to behold and is itself worthy of examination.

As I said at the time, the filthy fifth-columnist detritus require little examination. They are Islamists and wish to exculpate Islamists. The Useless Idiots like Nabilla Ramadi suffer from a form of Muslim nationalism that makes her bend any truth or logic to ensure that all Muslims are not tarred with the same brush. Even though no serious person seeks to do so.

But there are the others. The sort of smart, talented and lauded person who when not writing novels sends letters to PEN explaining why the unbelievably brave shouldn’t be granted a bravery award. These are the ones deserving a second glance. Yes, because they really should be allies but also because their problems are seemingly a touch more complicated.

As Owolade wrote:

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine whose staff were murdered for the crime of blasphemy. This fact alone should entail support and sympathy from everyone who believes the right to mock ideas and cause offence trumps acquiescence to blasphemy law.

This is obvious. He goes further:

But Charlie Hebdo are not racist and their staff were not murdered for racism and hate speech. They were murdered for depicting a religious figure.

And yet those writing to PEN, months after the event, keep insisting black is white.

Good people, not horrible Tories like me, but proper lefty types, people who know, people who work for Charlie Hebdo, people who are French, folks that have actually sodding read it, tell them in many different ways, repeatedly, what Charlie Hebdo were/are about. It is crystal clear what they are about and there is no possible excuse for ignorance. Yet ignorance is what flows from the fingers and mouths of these weapons. This is no longer a lack of information, or even a difference of opinion. This is a mental condition. It is the practice of denying clear reality no matter how much evidence is smashed across their heads.

As tempted as I am to call this mendacious, I truly believe most of it is not. They just don’t have the faculties to face up to objective reality and accept what that would mean for their comfort blanket of a world view.

I previously described such people’s world view as following the 3 Stages of Stupidity. In it short it goes thus:

1: Always holding unequivocal support of the underdog

2: Divide the world into oppressor/oppressed

3: Assume the superior virtue of the oppressed.

When David Frum obliterated Gary Trudeau he expressed a similar variation, which he knocks down into two stages:

1. Identify the bearer of privilege.

2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.

I won’t quibble.

There is really something in this. Please read my full and fleshed out explanation as I still think it is the clearest answer to the mystery of their pathology. Add to this explanation the tendency in many educated ‘liberals’ to be singularly unable to empathise with a thought process involving any aspects that mean nothing to them. A fervent devotion to religion and the feeling that blasphemy is enough gets no dice. It must be identity politics or economics. Those are the only tools in their box.

But I really didn’t expect things to have sunk quite this low:

Francine Prose on Comment is Free:

The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists

The fucking narrative? It was a massacre. It was events. Strange it should take a novelist to attempt remove all flesh and life from such a discussion. Though I suppose when it serves her purpose so clearly…

As for her summation of the narrative, white folks killed by ‘dem brown folk, if this were true it would be a fact and not a narrative. But it isn’t even true. Check the list of the dead. And who is spreading this ‘narrative’? Something this wrong needs a reason. She is actually willing to change the facts in order to not have to adjust her own pitiful ‘narrative’.

Comment is free but she comes close to making one wish it wasn’t.

She goes on:

The bitterness and rage of the criticism that we have received point out how difficult people find it to think with any clarity on these issues and how easy it has been for the media – and our culture – to fan the flames of prejudice against Islam. As a result, many innocent Muslims have been tarred with the brush of Islamic extremism.

The bitterness and rage is because people such as herself are denying reality and propagating 24 carat bullshit to obscure the obvious clarity about the murder of innocents.

If it is easy to fan the flames, perhaps it has less to do with our difficulties and more to do with the postjudice that follows yet more users of the right to free speech being slaughtered by religious maniacs. The very rights she nominally campaigns in support of. Her final sentence takes the biscuit though. If she wishes for the Muslims that have nothing to do with these crimes to be free from association with them, is it not best that her and others stop representing these crimes as springing from the collective anger of the same mass of people? By pretending it isn’t blasphemy but some reaction to socio-economic factors the suspicion is cast on those they have lumped together by a demographic distinction. If one seeks to deny the real motivation and replace it with their ‘narrative’ about reactions stemming from Muslim anger are they not doing the heavy lifting in this job of tarring?

She has plenty more:

But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government.

When one realises the opponents in this war are the greatest threat to free speech going, it most certainly should be. It is all of ours. But nobody is asking her to pick up a rifle and stag on. There is some part of this fight that calls for removing the taboo of religious offence, which aids in demystifying the beliefs of these loons. That as it happens is dangerous work. Charlie Hebdo was doing that work. It is what they were to be recognised for. At worst she is seeking to undo that work and at best pretending it wasn’t being done.

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims and survivors.

This is untrue. She also has contempt for their output. She makes this clear.

As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award.

If only we could all have friends so insightful and quotable. This thought from her chum works to show it is possible to stick up for the worst speech imaginable without approving of it. Fine. The problem is though, Charlie Hebdo weren’t Nazis, or even close. In fact, they were anti-Nazis and everyone is sick to death with having to point this out. There is no way she doesn’t know this. Yet still she pretends and willingly smears the dead as purveyors of detestable speech. It really is becoming ever more clear that reality is not unknown but merely unwanted.

And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking

No. A thousand times no. Some people are for us. Some people are against us. That is rational and it is careful. If you have a masturbatory sense of your own intelligence that requires a masochistic search for nuance where there is none to be found, you have a problem. Not only were the attackers against us, they couldn’t be more clear and loud about this fact. Yet again they choose to listen to themselves rather than the facts.

One of the more disappointing aspects of this is that they are helping least the people their pitifully solipsistic sense of guilt is meant to be considering. The peoples most in need of the liberating view points of Charlie Hebdo are the Muslims, atheists and others stuck in places far less amenable to a free existence than France. Try Raif Badawi, Avjit Roy or Sabeen Mahmud if you wish to get specific.

This brings us on to Teju Cole. This ball of self-regard and pretension specifically draws a line between Charlie Hebdo and Roy and Badawi. In his letter to PEN he wrote:

I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s.

Much more progressive? This really does confirm either startling ignorance or a willful denial of reality. I would like very much to hear his response to this question: What are Charlie Hebdo’s ideals? As I wrote in my Letter to Laurie Penny:

Charlie Hebdo consistently and unfalteringly engaged in opposition to the following:

  • Corruption in government
  • Unwarranted power of big business
  • Europe’s disastrous austerity policies
  • Israeli actions in Gaza
  • Restrictions on immigration
  • Anti-immigrant policies
  • Any form of racism
  • Organised Religion
  • The Le Pen family, the National Front and their populist politics

This list hints at some pretty progressive ideals no? I will go further, I cannot conceive of an organisation with more progressive ideals than Charlie Hebdo. On what grounds does Cole feel qualified to draw this line? He needs to back this up. Avijit Roy was described by many as Bangladesh’s Charlie Hebdo and Raif Badawi is in prison for the same reasons so many at Charlie Hebdo are dead. Could it be that there isn’t a real difference in their ideals but that the other two happen to be a bit brown? It’s the only answer that fits the facts. And it is pathetic.

To read the letters justifying the grandstanding of these people is depressing. I am both saddened and maddened that such self-serving discharge is openly expressed by people considered to be thinkers and that in our time this is what passes for an intelligentsia.

We are bound by duty and decency to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. But more than that we are bound by self-preservation. A case I have made previously. (Shit, hasn’t all this been said previously?)

Their bravery is beyond question, that giving them an award for it should be questioned on taste grounds is wrong. That the objections to the taste are fabricated from falsehoods and smears is odious. Salman Rushdie said “I hope nobody ever comes after them”. It’s a noble sentiment. My nobility is really beginning to show cracks.

The limits of Cultural Appropriation

By Robbie Travers (@RobbieTravers)

Cultural appropriation is a concept that should be viewed with deep suspicion.

 My objections to it are simple: Firstly, it is deeply authoritarian to police the behaviour of people because they are deemed to be appropriating the property of other cultures, often ones that are deemed to be marginalised. We should never seek to police behaviour that does not call for violence, or behaviour that are not violent. For example: teens wearing Bindis and Indian headdresses at festivals.

 The argument that many of these teens don’t understand the culture behind these items of clothing is levelled. The argument that they are participating in oppression by wearing them, either in a state of blissful ignorance or actively, is actually redundant. Cultures often take items from other cultures and integrate them as part of their culture, and whilst it may offend some, not allowing cultures to share and adopt traditions of oppressed cultures becomes authoritarian. How so? It creates privileged groups of people with culture that cannot be mocked, discussed and that their culture is there property and theirs alone.

 But also, what is an oppressed group? as different groups have different ideas of oppression. Are our values universal? as many of those who dress as Arab’s are criticised, but yet not all Arabs are oppressed, look at the Saudi Royal family for example. The argument falls to scrutiny.

 Secondly, the often hypocritical proponents of cultural appropriation define culture as a commodity that is in the possession of marginalised groups. That this is something they alone should have the ability to control and they alone possess. Culture should never be anyone’s property, nor should it exclusively belong to one group: this is how culture stagnates as it goes without discussion or adaptation.

 However, these same proponents are incoherent when it comes to the culture of groups in perceived positions of power, with some individuals claiming that cultures only occur due to marginalisation, hence groups in power have no culture and others claiming that only marginalised groups have ownership of their own culture. This is ridiculous, promoting the thinking that only certain groups should be privileged to have ownership and control over their culture. I don’t think any group should have said powers, but it is inconsistent to suggest that certain groups should and shouldn’t have this ability.

 Yet somehow, it remains their belief that culture should remain in the property of those who own it, rather than anyone outside said groups to try and adopt or adapt aspects of it.

 Cultural appropriation also tries to appeal to the idea of collective and ancestral guilt, that white people are somehow responsible for the actions of their ancestors and hence should respect other cultures due to their “sins.”

 However, consider this closely, are all white people the same? No. Those who often claim that white people appropriate other cultures and hence create mindless stereotypes appeal to mindless stereotypes to prove their arguments are solid. But also we should bear in mind that we don’t judge groups not perceived to be in positions of power for the sins of their ancestors, why should we do so to groups in power.

 Or why at all. If someone hasn’t committed a crime, don’t punish them for it.

 Hence, Cultural appropriation should fail to be convincing to any logical and rational thinker, as it is illogical and hypocritical thinking.

A rebuttal to the censorious student Left

By Tom Owolade (@owolade14)

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The recent attitude displayed by the NUS Women’s campaign received scorn on twitter and elsewhere but they revealed a mindset undimmed by shame or contrition. Whether it was suggesting clapping be replaced by jazz hands, or insisting gay men stop culturally appropriating black women, the absurdity of these suggestions were plain to see. Yet, despite this, the values that informed these suggestions – emphasising narratives over facts, and identity over principles – is espoused unabashedly by many, and therefore merits examination.

 

The influence of these values is clear and growing. In universities, Individual liberty and moral universalism continues to dwindle whilst identity politics and a culture of moral relativism flourishes. Freedom of speech, a pre-condition for free and open societies, is being curbed by censorship and self-censorship, from debates to classrooms to online forums. This censorious climate is caused by a widespread belief that the freedom to express oneself must be balanced against securing the comfort of those without ‘privilege’. The assumption of individual liberty – and its possibility of offending anyone – is replaced by an assumption of collective responsibility to tiptoe around our thoughts, trying desperately not to offend those most vulnerable in society- namely people of colour, LGBT people and women. Freedom is speech is transformed from a right into a privilege, to be exercised responsibly in accordance with particular issues.

 

Firstly, self-censorship is nourished by this attitude: individual viewpoints are burdened with the responsibility of not being offensive when talking about issues that affect victimised groups. An offence to them, it is argued, constitutes an act of oppression, disabling their dignity and therefore requiring a response even – especially!  – at the expense of certain principles; principles are married with privilege and thus are meaningful only in consequential terms. Because of this, censorship in some instances can be excused under the invocation of victimhood – and the consequent challenge to privilege – however spurious: from no-platforming feminists with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ opinions to banning music videos with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ messages. And because of this, the central tenets of liberalism are unravelling in a relativistic swamp. The fundamental logic justifying this new censorship is indistinguishable from the logic that justified old censorship: the sheer arbitrariness of ‘offence’ legislating against individual liberty and conscience. Who is defined as oppressors and oppressed is done spuriously, one persons oppressors is another persons oppressed – to some, because of her identity, Julie Bindel qualifies as a victim. However, because of her views on Trans issue and Islam, her censorious critics paint her as a perpetrator of oppression. The fact that her censors don’t subscribe to objectivity means that there isn’t a meaningful criterion for distinguishing whether she is privileged or unprivileged – they rely on a binary that doesn’t account for the fluidity of identity and beliefs. Liberal minded people rely on an insistence on objective principles. Julie Bindel should be afforded the right to express her beliefs unencumbered by attempts to silence or intimidate her, as should anyone expressing their beliefs irrespective of whether their identity qualifies as victimiser or not.

 

We live in a world where the lucid expositions of Locke and Paine have lost their allure and potency and given way to postmodernism: an ideology so convulsed by a cult of victimhood it censors without compunction under the pretext of protecting the ‘victims’ and arraigning the ‘privileged’. It is through this context that we can observe the flourishing of safe spaces, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These practices contain within them principles one can reasonably be sympathetic with: empowerment of previously persecuted groups and an attack on structural inequality. The incontestable progress made by society partially depended on advocacy of these principles, it would be wrong to entirely dismiss them.

 

However, when these beliefs – admittedly noble – are shot through with the fanaticism induced by identity politics, then censorship and the policing of behaviour is normalised: a vital component of free societies –  individual rights – is made secondary to special rights accorded to groups, people are thereby viewed through regimented and differentiated moral prisms rather than through a universalism that views each person as an individual. Following from this, people are infantilised; People who, by accident of birth, happen to be ‘privileged’ have their behaviour and individual conscience policed; It also infantilises the victimised groups who, by accident of birth, are assumed to be allergic to controversial views, and are thus mollycoddled from dangerous and contestable beliefs. It is therefore counter-productive to its stated aims of empowering victimised groups.

 

It is also wrong in principle. It is carried out with noble intentions, confidently posturing as ameliorative. It intends to inoculate downtrodden groups from dangerous ideas and the hostile terrain of those with privilege. In reality, it limits civil discourse and stifles the engine of free societies: the capacity to discuss ideas and express one’s moral convictions with the inviolable liberty conferred to all citizens. This is why, most of all, this new manifestation of censorship necessitates a rebuttal.

James Snell has written a piece arguing the concept of trigger warnings is both wrong in principle and counter-productive in practice.

Robbie Travers has written a critique of the concept of cultural appropriation. Arguing it is myopic, dysfunctional and fundamentally reactionary.

Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and Freedom of Religion

This is a cross post from Dead White Male by Allan Gilmour (@allanglmr) The original article is here.

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Following the attacks in Paris made on the Charlie Hebdo staff, there has been a clear need to restate and reaffirm the need and importance of freedom of speech: the freedom to question, parody, and puncture any ideology is an essential part of democracy and a healthy society. However, some questioned the wisdom of publishing (or even re-publishing) the images of Muhammad on the Charlie Hebdo covers (for example, Jonathan Freedland and Joseph Harker of the Guardian) because they thought it would cause needless offence to a very large number of Muslims – maybe even the “vast majority of Muslims around the world”. But to argue that the cartoons shouldn’t be re-published because they might offend a large number of people is to simply reinforce a religious taboo; it’s an argument to make blasphemy an acceptable restriction on free speech. This makes it more difficult for those who are not offended to express themselves as Maajid Nawaz found when he went onto Twitter to say that he didn’t find one of the Jesus and Mo cartoons offensive. He was expressing an opinion about his own faith and for this he received death threats. If it becomes normal in the media, and in public life in general to take blasphemy seriously, then this will in fact restrict the freedom of Muslims to express their faith as happened with Nawaz. For anyone who might think there is a need to be sensitive to the feelings of Muslims that are against depictions of Muhammad because of the general prohibition of it in Islam, and who do not want to offend a large number of these Muslims by reproducing the pictures in question, they should remember another principle; one that is inextricably linked to free speech – freedom of religion. Respecting this prohibition is insensitive to the diversity of opinion and practice in Islam. Not only that, it fosters the conditions in which an idea is immune from being challenged by anyone – especially other Muslims. A tradition of depicting the prophet in some Islamic art does exist. For some Muslims it is part of their worship. They should be allowed to create and admire these images without fear of censorship or fear of violence. A prohibition which silences critics, or anyone who wants to break any of these taboos for whatever reason, is only helping one group of Muslims force their interpretation on the rest of the Muslim population and everybody else. By taking the demands and actions of one group of Muslims seriously (and taking it as the general opinion of all Muslims) narrows the definition of Islam and makes it harder for others to express their thoughts on it and to practice it how they wish. It smothers diversity within the religion and any dissenting voices. The prohibition of the depiction of Muhammad is open to interpretation for those that want to follow it. Whether this interpretation is correct or not (and that goes for any rule that a religion sets out), it does not need to be followed by everybody. Even if it were undeniable that scripture prohibited depiction, that would not mean that people have to follow it. And even if the majority of Muslims find it offensive as is claimed, it still does not mean all Muslims or anyone else must observe it. With freedom of religion comes the right to interpret your religion as you want to and to practice it in the way you want to. This means you don’t have to follow all the rules that you don’t think are important, and nobody should be able to make you. Whether it is extremists, conservative Muslims, or anyone else who thinks that nobody should be depicting Muhammad, they are all damaging the diversity of practice in Islam and making it harder for other Muslims to express their faith in different ways. For Muslims who want to be able to discuss, develop, and express their faith without limits to doing so, there needs to be a commitment to freedom of religion and ultimately freedom of speech.

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