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Brendan O'Neill

  • Summary: 

    Only a fool would cheer the banning of Tommy Robinson by Facebook and Instagram. It doesn’t matter if you like or loathe him. It doesn’t matter if you think he’s a searing critic of the divisive logic in the politics of diversity or Luton’s very own Oswald Mosley in Jack Wills clobber. The point is that his expulsion from social media confirms that corporate censorship is out of control. It speaks to a new kind of tyranny: the tyranny of unaccountable capitalist oligarchs in Silicon Valley getting to decide who is allowed to speak in the new public square that is the internet.

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    It is the definition of historical illiteracy to compare Islamophobia to anti-Semitism. And yet that is what is happening. People who feel put out by the discussion of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and possibly even envious of the attention that anti-Jewish prejudice is receiving in comparison with anti-Muslim prejudice, have taken to saying: ‘What about the cancer of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party? When are we talking about that?’ They fail to realise the fundamental difference between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: the former is one of the world’s oldest hatreds and has caused the deaths of millions of people; the latter is a word invented by the Runnymede Trust in 1997 to demonise criticism of Islam.

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    Why Western progressives are not fighting for this persecuted Pakistani woman. Where are the West’s solidarity marches for ? Where are the t-shirts? Why aren’t ‘Free Asia Bibi’ flags flying on campuses? Why haven’t student progressives elected Asia as the symbolic head of their unions, as they did with persecuted Eastern European writers in the 1970s or African liberation leaders in the 1980s?

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    Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil has led to global handwringing about the emergence of ‘actual fascism’ in the fourth largest democracy in the world. In response, we republish Brendan O’Neill’s 2017 essay on what fascism really is.

    The stability, or stasis, of the technocratic era, with its hostility both to ideology and to change, has led some to see all political upset, and even politics itself, as terrifying. One consequence of technocracy is that it denuded people, especially influential people, of the means of politics, of the very language of politics, of any ability to read the world politically and to understand that politics is the clash or interplay of competing interests, not, as they had imagined it, a managerial process of ensuring the relatively healthy maintenance of social and bureaucratic life. They are utterly unprepared for politics, and so the return of politics, the very political statements of Brexit and Trump, has convinced them not simply that they face a political challenge, but that their entire class and worldview and even their existence is under threat.

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    It presents violent anti-Semitism as yet another thing unleashed, or at least intensified, by Trump and by the political turn of the past two years. And this dangerously distracts public attention – purposefully, I suspect – from the fact that anti-Semitism has been growing and becoming increasingly militarised for more than a decade now, among the left as well as the right and within Muslim communities, too.

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    After all, where was their rage, their concern about rhetoric, their existential handwringing over hateful ideas and hateful language, back when anti-Semitism was deepening and militarising pre-2016, pre-Trump, most notably in Europe? Back when four Jews were slaughtered at a deli in Paris in 2015. Or when a gunman attacked the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015, during a bat mitzvah, killing one. Or during the massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, in which a rabbi and three children were murdered. A fourth child, an eight-year-old girl, was almost murdered: the anti-Semitic perpetrator grabbed her by her hair and pushed his gun into her face but it jammed when he pulled the trigger. He wanted to shoot her in the face for the crime of being Jewish.

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    One problem, of course, is that many of these attacks – notably the deli massacre, the Toulouse massacre, and the attempted Copenhagen synagogue massacre – were executed by radicalised Muslims. And we don’t criticise them too harshly, right? That would be a form of Islamophobia. It has in recent years been treated virtually as ‘Islamophobic’ to focus too much on the growth of militarised anti-Semitism in 21st-century Europe.

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    Why liberals are more disturbed by the pipe-bomb postings than they ever were by Islamist outrages. So now we’re allowed to get angry about terrorism? Now we are encouraged to talk about it openly? Now we are invited to dig down and discover the warped political prejudices that might be fuelling terrorism?

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    The political class’s silence on Muslim grooming gangs is shameful.

    Britain is a country where a politician putting his hand on a middle-class woman’s knee causes more outrage than the sexual abuse of scores of working-class girls by men from Pakistani backgrounds. This is the conclusion we must draw from the  scandals of the past year. Or rather from the striking disparity between what becomes a #MeToo scandal and what doesn’t. A posh  causes media meltdown, Twitterstorms about ‘the patriarchy’, and soul-searching in parliament about men’s wicked behaviour, while the exploitation and rape of working-class girls in towns like Huddersfield provokes little more than an awkward tut of disapproval.

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    Who was really marching against fascism in London on Saturday afternoon? The Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance (DFLA), which took to the streets to register its fury with ? Or the self-styled anti-fascist movement that gathered to block the DFLA, and which even chanted ‘No pasaran!’ as if it was the 1930s again and this was a replay of the  that pitted working-class radicals and Jews against Moseley’s fascist brownshirts?

    In truth, neither side was. Fascism is a vastly overused word these days. It now means, as Orwell predicted it would, little more than movements or people ‘I disapprove of’. Most people who call themselves ‘anti-fascist’ are really just being vainglorious, fantasising that their uptight agitation against whatever political movement is currently getting their goat puts them on a par with the men and women who fought on Cable St or who trekked to Spain with the International Brigades.

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    As for Islam – virtually every criticism of Islam is chalked up to racism these days. Witness the fuss over Boris Johnson’s jokes about women who wear the niqab. You’d think he was Goebbels the way people reacted. Basically, if you don’t curtsey every time you pass a woman in a niqab, you’re racist. But when it comes to the Jews, it’s an entirely different story.

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    Other left-leaning people in the media were most worried that there would be an Islamophobic backlash in response to the deli massacre and the Charlie Hebdo massacre. So even when there is racist violence against Jews, some people think to themselves, ‘Oh no… I hope the Muslims are okay’.

  • Summary: 

    Ayatollahism is everywhere. Witness the rage, sometimes physical, against feminists who criticise the transgender ideology. Or the arrest of people for making offensive jokes. Or the fashion for No Platforming anyone who holds non-mainstream views. Or the branding as ‘phobic’ anyone who criticises mass immigration, or same-sex marriage, or, of course, Islam. No one is sentenced to death. But all of these attempts to ostracise the holders of certain views share in common with the Ayatollah’s fatwa a pathetic intolerance of different thought.

    Thirty years after Rushdie’s novel was published, the battle isn’t over. It has hardly begun. The struggle for the right of people to think what they like and say what they please, and to mock all gods, prophets, ideas and fads, remains as pressing today as it has ever been.

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    With painful predictability, the release on bail of the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson led to much media handwringing about the dangerousness of his ideas. He must not be afforded media platforms, worried leftists said. When Robinson supporter Raheem Kassam was given a few minutes on Today to big-up his mate, the chattering classes spluttered in their cornflakes. Reading their commentary you could be forgiven for thinking Goebbels himself had risen from the dust to elbow aside Sarah Sands and take command of Radio 4’s morning show.

    The idea driving this demand of ‘No Platform for Robinson!’ is that the Tommy Robinson phenomenon is a product of too much freedom of speech. According to these people, Robinson looms large in the public imagination because the media have been too open to his ideas. He and his kind have enjoyed too much liberty in the realm of public discussion, and, in the neo-Victorian view of the Ban Tommy lobby, this has allowed him to poison the minds of large numbers of people and reduce them to a Muslim-hating mob. Monkey see, monkey do: the misanthropic motor of every demand for restrictions on speech.

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    It is the refusal to criticise certain groups that smacks of racism.

    Here’s the strange thing about the Boris/burqa controversy: the very people who constantly kick up a fuss about repressive male behaviour are now up in arms at Boris for talking about repressive male behaviour. The same tweeters and liberals and feminists who have spent the past year of #MeToo cheering the new public conversation about how awful men are now want to shut down a public conversation about the possibility that some Muslim men might be awful too and might be inflicting a repressive culture on women. The same people who think a bloke ever so slightly spreading his legs on the Tube on the way to work is committing the crime of ‘manspreading’ and is proof of the continued existence of the patriarchy refuse to accept that a man putting pressure on his wife to cover herself head to toe in a black cloak might just be a tad patriarchal.

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    A truly bizarre thing happened yesterday: Boris Johnson was branded an Islamophobe and a bigot for writing in defence of Muslim women who wear the niqab....He’s been slammed everywhere as a racist, a borderline fascist, a poundshop Mussolini who if he ever gets to No10 will declare war on Muslims and other minorities. What is the basis to these shrill and wilful misinterpretations of what he said? Because alongside defending women’s freedom to wear the niqab and burqa, he expressed distaste for these garments. And, as we now know, you’re not allowed to say anything even remotely critical about Islam or its practices these days.

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    The rash reaction to Boris’s comments, the depiction of him as a hard-right tyrant, confirms that it is now tantamount to thoughtcrime to say anything critical about Islam. To make any kind of moral judgement about Islamic practices, to question its beliefs or its prophets or its garments, is to run the risk of being branded an ‘Islamophobe’, a racist, a fascist.

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    Where’s the concern for Labour MP Sarah Champion? Where are the leftists demanding that this female MP stop being harassed merely for expressing her views? Where are the tweets drawing attention to Ms Champion’s plight — the fact that she now  an actual security team because people who hate her political views want to physically harm her? In this post-Jo Cox era, I thought we were all meant to have the backs of elected politicians who are under threat from extremists. And yet when it comes to Champion — just such an elected politician — people seem to be looking the other way.

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    The left treats Jews by a double standard. And this week we’ve seen that made crystal clear. Compare and contrast what happens to people who criticise Islam and people who criticise the Jewish State. A couple of days ago, grouchy New Atheist Richard Dawkins expressed dislike of the Islamic call to prayer. It sounds ‘aggressive’, he said. He said that, despite being godless, he prefers the sound of church bells. He was instantly denounced as bigoted. Even racist. Prominent Corbyn supporters branded him far right. He was a fascist simply for criticising an aspect of Islam.

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    Anyone who doubted that the accusation of Islamophobia is used to silence perfectly legitimate political debate will surely change their minds as a result of the Trump / Sadiq spat. In the rush to brand Trump an Islamophobe and a racist merely because he criticised Sadiq Khan’s response to terror attacks, Labour and its media cheerleaders have exposed how much of a conceit the phobia accusation is, how cynical it is, and that it really serves no other purpose than to shush unpopular opinions by slurring them as bigoted.

  • Summary: 

    In 2017 we witnessed the rise of the terror amnesia industry – an informal but effective effort by the political class and opinion-forming set to shush serious discussion about terrorism; to tame strong emotions post-terror; to make people forget, in essence, the latest bloody destruction of their fellow citizens, or at least stop thinking about it. ‘Don’t look back…’

    This Orwellian encouragement of forgetting, this cultivation of emotional passivity in response to radical Islam, this top-down demonisation of concern about Islamist terror as a species of ‘Islamophobia’, is the reason why even something as horrific as the Manchester attack, the targeting of our next generation, of girls, does not live in the collective memory in the way it ought to. The speed with which the Manchester horror evaporated from the national consciousness was one of the most disturbing political events in Britain in 2017.

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    Parsons Green: Scores dead in six months. When will we take Islamist terror seriously?

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    Why do liberals fear the working class and ignore anti-Semitic murder? Because they are bigots. The British press has never seemed as out of touch as it is today. All our broadsheet papers are packed with pleas to the people of France, and other European populations, not to turn into Muslim-killing nutjobs in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The Guardian frets over “Islamophobes seizing this atrocity to advance their hatred.” The Financial Times is in a spin about “Islamophobic extremists” using the massacre to “[challenge] the tolerance on which Europe has built its peace.” One British hack says we should all “fear the coming Islamophobic backlash.” And what actually happened in France as these dead-tree pieces about a possible Islamophobic backlash made their appearance? Jews were assaulted. And killed. “Don’t attack Muslims,” lectures the press as Jews are attacked.

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    If you thought the public shaming and punishment of people for ridiculing religion was a thing of the past — a dark past when you’d be put in the stocks, or worse, for failing to bend your knee to certain gods and beliefs — then think again. Just look at the treatment of Olympian gymnast Louis Smith. Since a video of him taking the mick out of Islam was leaked in October, he’s been pilloried in the press, pressured to recant his heretical humour, dragged on to TV to repent before the Loose Women (the new guardians of public morality, apparently), and now he’s been suspended from his job for two months. All for having a laugh about a religion. There have been no rotten tomatoes or licking flames, but Smith’s treatment nonetheless echoes that time when ‘blasphemers’ were made to suffer for their thoughts and words.

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