Moronic Misrepresentations of Muslims

As I write this, I’m spending a few days in Egypt – by my count, this is the eleventh Muslim-majority country I’ve visited (though that count includes a fast, accidental journey through the Palestinian West Bank, driving a car with yellow Israeli number plates, so perhaps ten is a more accurate number). A few minutes ago I took a seat in a café. At the next table was a veiled woman with two small boys; I smiled and nodded at her – she met my eyes and nodded back. Maybe she smiled back too.

Western misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Muslims and Muslim-majority countries don’t begin with the 9/11 attacks – the seeds of the fear have been there for centuries. I admit that when I took my first trip outside the “Christian world”, to Turkey, I expected to meet some unfriendliness at the least, and resolved to keep my Jewish identity a secret. I had already travelled in Europe and North America, but nowhere else. On my first day in Istanbul I asked a local how to get somewhere; he beckoned me to follow him, and I reluctantly did. We walked to a main street and boarded a bus. I looked around at the other passengers and listened to them talking their incomprehensible language, and wondered if I was heading into danger, or at least that my guide was going to try to fleece me for some cash. After a little while we got off the bus in a residential area. The man pointed up the street to show me my destination. Then he waved goodbye, turned and walked away. My first real encounter with a Turk, and he’d been more friendly and helpful than pretty much any Western stranger I’d ever met. Coincidence? It turned out not – Turks, I found, are generally more friendly and welcoming than any European population I’ve encountered (by which I include European diaspora cultures including North America and Australia).

My second venture into an Islamic culture worried me more. I’d been offered a few weeks’ work in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Growing up Jewish, having been taught to love Israel and having vague childhood memories of Arab-Israel hostilities, I had a negative view of Arabs. Nobody had overtly told me they were bad people, but somehow I’d developed that idea anyway. I was worried people might spot that I didn’t look particularly English, and enquire about my origins. At immigration, my passport was checked by a man in traditional Arab dress. I admit I was worried – but of course I had no problems. As my time in Abu Dhabi passed, I relaxed, and would stroll the city in the evenings, eating in local places. After a while, I confided in a work colleague (a Lebanese man) that I was Jewish. No alarms sounded; he didn’t look shocked; but shook his head sadly: “The Jews and the Palestinians are the smartest people in the Middle East”, he said. “If only they could work together, they would lead the region”. The people of UAE proved to be welcoming and friendly enough – though perhaps less approachable than Turks. Given that native-born UAE residents are fairly wealthy and form an upper class over a largely immigrant workforce, that’s not surprising though.

Later travels took me to several Muslim countries in North and West Africa. Each time I found people who were generally more welcoming of outsiders than Europeans; indeed, I started to realise that a natural hostility to outsiders seems to be a characteristic found more strongly in European cultures than elsewhere. Given our continent’s position as a remote north-western outpost of the Old World, that’s perhaps not surprising. Europe has been of little interest to outsiders for most of human existence, and Europeans aren’t used by nature to foreigners visiting us. We are still the fortress continent, and we (including our white American, Australasian and South African cousins) carry that old European fear of anybody different to ourselves. The only long-term visitors to Europe from outside are the Jews and the Gypsies – and neither group has fared well.

I have frustrating conversations on Twitter with ignorant morons, largely in the US, who have never visited a Muslim country – many who have never even met a Muslim person – and yet persist in a ludicrously narrow, stereotypical view of Muslims. There’s nothing that can be truly described as “Islamic culture”. Surface Arab conservatism hides the same vices that exist in the West. Morocco was a haven of tolerance for European homosexuals long before they were accepted anywhere in Europe. I’ve danced in a local Moroccan night club that doubled as a gay venue and a brothel; I’ve seen Gambian and Sierra Leonean women dance far more outrageously than would be considered “decent” in many American bars. Saudis drive to Bahrain to get drunk for the weekend just as Brits head out to Amsterdam to get stoned.

Is the Islamic world packed with uniformly wonderful people? Of course not – and it’s the diversity of cultures that gives the lie to the idea that there such thing as Islamic culture. (Muslim) North Africans I’ve met, who have worked in wealthy Saudi Arabia have described the (Muslim) Saudis to me as the most racist people they’ve ever encountered. The Muslim world contains communists and fascists, atheists and fundamentalists, just as the Western world does.

As for the growing myth that Muslims and Jews are natural enemies: this is spread by Christians, the true historic enemies of both Jews and Muslims. Muslim nations sheltered Jews in the 1930s and 1940s when Europe was no longer a safe place for them. Further back, the Islamic Moorish Empire in Spain protected the right of Jews to worship; when the Catholics retook Iberia, they forced Jews and Muslims to convert, under the threat of death. My own ancestry includes some Sephardic Jews who fled from Portugal to the Netherlands following the Christian victory over the Moors. Until the establishment of the state of Israel, every Muslim country in the Middle East and North Africa, plus Turkey, Persia/Iran, Pakistan, and others had thriving Jewish communities; most of these countries still have small Jewish communities, sadly diminished by the pull of Israel. Israel itself owes its existence to the Nazis; the vast majority of European Jews had no interest in joining the Zionist extremists until they were slaughtered en-masse by Christians.

As for alcohol? This is very much the European’s drug of choice, but I’ve drunk legally in every Muslim country I visited; in the UAE, only foreign passport-holders can drink legally, but in the other nine countries it was freely available, including locally-produced beers and wines. This is the case in the vast majority of Muslim countries. Cannabis and hash were also easily available in most of the countries, and generally more tolerated than in the majority of European countries or US states. Many Muslims drink, though more moderately than Westerners, and many tend to give up as they get older, seeing it as a drug for young people.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which recently polled around 40% of the vote here in Egypt, is conservative, and against much of what I believe in; yet most of its beliefs are markedly more tolerant and centrist than those on the Christian right of US politics. It’s sad but inevitable that democracy in Arab and North African countries has unleashed conservatism; the people of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are in the majority, poor and rural. Rural people are naturally conservative. The only way towards liberalism in these places is to allow democracy, development and urbanisation to occur. The next, better educated and wealthier generation in turn will demand their sexual and personal freedoms from the religious right.

The religious right in America, despite being the most bigoted and loudest voice against Muslims, is the natural ally of the religious right in Arabia and North Africa. They believe in the same things: that sexual liberty needs to be reigned in, that drugs and alcohol should be tightly controlled, that abortion and homosexuality are wrong and that people shouldn’t be allowed the freedom to choose these things for themselves. The far-right in Europe is more secular, intelligent and cynical – they use the supposed “intolerance” of Muslims against them; yet this intolerance is a lie. For example, a recent poll in the UK showed British Muslims were marginally more accepting of homosexuality than British Christians were.

Sadly, even some liberals have fallen for this propaganda. Some have supported France’s bigoted ban on veils, accepting the lie that most women don’t choose the veil for themselves; they often accept the “Muslims are intolerant” line almost as easily as bigoted right-wing Christians do. They believe that Western troops in Afghanistan can somehow “improve” the lives of women (forgetting that the rise of the Taliban conservatives was caused by our own destabilising of liberal, secular regimes there).

Oh, and let’s get past the lie that Muslim-hate isn’t racist. Yes, as our bigoted moron friends will constantly point out, Islam isn’t a race. But Islamophobia has just become a proxy for race hate towards old targets: Pakistanis in the UK, Moroccans in the Netherlands, blacks and Arabs in the US, Turks in Germany.

We need to confront the lies and the liars head-on. The terrorism in the world comes overwhelmingly from ourselves in the West. We can strengthen liberal tolerance and freedom in Islamic countries by strengthening it in our own, and lending support to struggles for democracy, social equality and tolerance elsewhere. The rise of religious crazies in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will only be strengthened by the rise of fascist, Christian crazies in Europe and North America. Our job is to expose their moronic lies at home – our Muslim cousins can deal with their own problems.

As I prepared to submit this post, a little Egyptian boy came and offered me a bowl of sweets – I took one, saying Shukran. the boy’s mother and grandmother, both wearing hijabs, walked past and smiled at me. “It’s his Mum’s birthday”, explained the grandmother, gesturing at her daughter, flashing me a broad smile, before they hurried on after the child.

The Racist Tram Woman And Her Moronic Defenders

Racist Tram Moron
Racist Tram Moron

You’ve probably seen the video of racist-tram-woman ranting at “non-English” people on a tram in South London; it went viral yesterday, culminating in the woman’s arrest. The arrest was predictably followed by moronic screams about attacks on free speech or authoritarianism. But the woman’s behaviour was clearly within the definition of hate speech, and was clearly upsetting to those she chose as targets. It also came close to inciting a violent response. It was a textbook example of why hate laws exist.

People who have never experienced such an attack may have difficulty understanding how it feels to be on the receiving end. As I’ve mentioned before, I have experience of being a “visible minority”, to use the politically correct terminology. At my London school, I was among a white minority of around 10%. Through my adult life, largely because of choices I’ve made, I’m often in a minority of one among black people. And black crowds are no more enlightened in their treatment of minorities than white crowds are.

I experienced something very similar to yesterday’s incident, a few years ago on the Subway in Brooklyn. I was the only white person on my train carriage; this didn’t strike me as weird or frightening, as I’m used to being in that position. Nothing happened until I caught the eye of a man staring at me; my natural response was to nod in greeting, to which his reaction was to scream at me: Who the fuck you looking at, you White Bastard? My initial response was rage, then a mixture of fear and embarrassment. In London, I’d know how to respond, but in New York, I didn’t know where I stood. Unlike the other passengers in the South London tram incident, nobody on that train stood up for me. Every coward or racist on that carriage found something else to stare at. If there’s a shred of comfort from the London video, it is that people stood up to the racist bully; London 1, New York 0.

There’s no such thing as “reverse racism”; it’s a myth. Racism is racism, and it’s always moronic. The idea (that I’ve heard from liberals at times) that racism directed at white people is somehow more excusable due to the actions of other white people towards other black people at other times is ludicrous. Because some other white people were/are guilty of “oppressing” some other black people somewhere else doesn’t make my skin colour a valid target of hatred.

I’ve experienced racism many times – usually in subtle forms. Walking with a black woman in London, New York or Accra I have been met with confrontational stares from passing men. My only option as a man on the receiving end is to puff out my chest and stare back. To look down, to back down increases the risk of an attack escalating. This can become tiring; it drains you, makes you angry, makes you start to misjudge people’s attention and see racism where there isn’t any. Those black and Asian people on the London tram have all faced racial aggression before – probably not so overt, but nonetheless, it’s hardly a novel experience for any of them to know that a person dislikes them for their skin colour or accent. I fully understand the reaction of the young black man who rose to respond; but was glad that he was persuaded to sit down again.

People have the right to ride a tram or walk the streets without facing aggression. The moronic woman broke hate laws and it’s right that she was arrested. A failure to react condones the behaviour; at a time when racism and nationalism are on the rise, failing to deal with hate crimes will inevitably result in the crimes multiplying and becoming more serious.

The same applies to hate speech everywhere; for example, South Africa too is experiencing increased racial tension, not just against the white minority but against foreign blacks too. South African minorities need hate laws to be enforced every bit as much as (or perhaps even more than) minorities in the UK need protecting. So do minorities in Rwanda, where hate laws (for obvious reasons) are ruthlessly enforced. Racism is a universal problem, affecting minorities of every race, tribe, religion and colour. To protest that arresting the tram moron was an attack on free speech is simply moronic.

Moronic Referendums

Last week, the most comprehensive (and expensive) deal so far was put together by the European Union to save Greece (not to mention the rest of us) from uncontrolled default. Billed (naturally) as the deal that would solve all of Europe’s problems, it was inevitably oversold; yet it was a serious and worthy effort to draw a line under the Greek debt crisis and prevent the spread of the Greek disease to other countries. The deal would write off a portion of Greece’s debt and underwrite banks and governments that may be thrown into difficulties as a result. Markets rallied, as they always do when a little tension is relieved, then slid downward again once the financial dealers of the world returned to work the next day, having consumed a little too much cocaine and fine wine the night before.

Then the unexpected happened: Greek Prime Minister Papandreou decided, without even first warning his cabinet or other EU leaders, to call a referendum on the deal. Europe’s leaders were mortified, as were Papandreou’s fellow cabinet ministers, and of course the markets. The decision was bizarre at many levels. Greeks have been hugely punished for the atrocious financial management of Greek governments (mostly not Papandreou’s, but the conservative administration that preceded it). Incomes have fallen by a shocking amount in a short time, and many Greeks are unable to make ends meet. But the decision was a moronic one: it was impossible to organise a referendum before Greece was owed €8bn from the EU, meaning it would have to default on some debts, and be unable to pay public workers at a time when they are already living on the bread line. It was a slap in the face for other EU countries (chiefly Germany) who were keeping Greece afloat at their own, huge, expense. And the concept of the referendum itself was simply moronic – the Greek people would effectively be asked whether to face financial hardship or the meltdown of their democracy. One can’t help but sympathise with Papandreou who is under unbelievable pressure, but the decision seemed to show he had lost the plot completely.

A rebellion in the government forced Papandreou to U-turn and the referendum was cancelled again within a few days.

I had tweeted that the referendum decision was moronic, and was met with a response from a number of tweeters, left and right, that I was “opposing democracy” or “opposing the right of the Greek people to decide”. I’m not ideologically opposed to referendums, but I can’t think of many cases where they make sense. We (in most of Europe and the US) have representative democracies rather than direct democracies for good reason: most of the population don’t have the time or the inclination to inform themselves on complex issues, nor should they have to – that’s why we have professional politicians, and provide them with the funding to employ economists, historians, political scientists, statisticians and so on.

Attempts by economists to quantify the options have put the cost of preventing a crash at €1tn to €2tn – a mind-blowing amount of cash. Attempts to quantify the alternative are difficult, as chaos is basically unpredictable: would the EU unravel? Would that lead to trade wars or actual wars? The only firm answer seems to be that the cost of not saving Greece would be many times higher than of saving it. Does it make sense to allow the people to make that decision?

The question would seem simple enough: Should Greece accept or reject the EU deal? But more honestly, it would say: Should Greece continue with this pain and try to turn the economy around, or should we face economic collapse, a likely military coup, and drag the rest of Europe down with us? Is it ethical to give Greeks a say as to whether Italy, Spain, France and eventually the rest of Europe down with it? What right do they have to decide that? In reality, Greeks had their say years ago: they elected weak or corrupt leaders who failed to tax the wealthy, and who funded improved lifestyles for the Greek people using cheap loans from European banks. It’s harsh, but it happened. Why not give the Norwegians a referendum on whether it should be sunnier in mid-winter? Surely they have the right to decide that? It would be equally nonsensical – the poor Greek people need and deserve leaders who will make tough but informed decisions on their behalf, not useless paper exercises of “choice” when there is no choice.

The nationalistic British right is becoming equally agitated in their demand for a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU. If you listen to the small minority who actually understand the implications of that choice, you’ll hear that an exit would cause huge, lasting damage to the British economy. A referendum may fairly be phrased: Do you want to see a large cut in your standard of living or not? To which the average Brit may actually make an informed decision. But masking that as “do you want to exit the European Union?” would be another question which 90% of the population is unqualified to answer. You could, of course, make voting contingent on demonstrating a good understanding of the economic and historical issues – which thankfully would exclude most of the electorate. But if you did that, why not just ask those people who are actually qualified instead?

Earlier this year, the British people heavily rejected the Alternative Vote, a minor change to our voting system that would have improved the quality of our democratic process and given us more of a say over who governs us. It was a moronic decision – but how were most voters to know that? They took their lead from the moronic tabloid newspapers. And they represented the interests of the two main political parties, which would have lost their power duopoly under the new system. So rather than spend time and money asking the electorate, why not just ask unelected newspaper owners instead? It would be fast, cheap and give exactly the same result.

Referendums allow the mob to decide, and the mob is easily swung. Two years ago in Switzerland (which runs a system of direct democracy), the people voted to ban the building of tall towers. But not all tall towers: specifically those attached to mosques, also known as minarets. The Swiss, not the most racially diverse people, basically ran an exercise in minority-lynching, in full public view. Democracy at its best? If democracy is another word for lynching, I’ll give it a miss, thanks. As a member of the Jewish minority comprising about 0.3% of the UK population, the thought of such a system of “democracy” makes me queasy.

And look at California: the state adopted a system of direct democracy, allowing measures to be added to every ballot and voted on in each election. Given that most people have little time to research every ballot proposition, the propositions that make it are usually backed by big money interests. In trying to give more power to the people, California instead gave more power to wealthy vested interests. The results? More people in prison (thus profiting prison operators and prison unions). And the biggest debt of any US state. Why? Because people, quite naturally, vote for better services but no tax rises. Who wouldn’t?

Wouldn’t I like referendums on issues of concern to me? It may have been nice to stop the Iraq war from going ahead, for example. Except, we wouldn’t have been able to stop it. If a referendum was called, we’d have been bombarded by the media with the same lies and fear that MPs were, and the majority of people, unable to separate fact from fiction, would have buckled and voted for war. Love or hate our MPs, and moronic as many of them are, they’re still far better informed on world issues than the average Brit. They took the wrong decision on Iraq. So would have most British people.

There are many ways to improve our democracies: elected employee representatives on corporate boards, the right to recall our representatives, freedom of information so journalists can tell us what our politicians are up to, and proportional forms of voting so no vote is wasted. But referendums? They don’t improve democracy, they’re just a straightforward race to the bottom.

The Reality of Right-Wing Nationalism Hits Norway

75 years ago this October, my grandfather, the son of Jewish immigrants to London’s poor East End, took to the streets with thousands of others to stop the ultra-nationalist British Union of Fascists from marching through a largely Jewish area. The event turned into a pitched battle, with Oswald Mosley’s fascists and the Metropolitan Police on one side, and locals, Jews, Irish, socialists and communists on the other. The fight (which became known as the Battle of Cable Street) ended with victory for the anti-fascist side, with the fascists and police beaten off the streets.

Following the Holocaust, Fascism became a dirty word, but Nationalists have continually tried to detoxify their brand and reinstate themselves into the mainstream. Mosley returned in the 1950s, this time labelling black immigrants, rather than Jews and Irish, as the main “threat” to the “British way of life”. In the late-60s, Conservative MP Enoch Powell became famous for predicting that mass immigration would lead to “rivers of blood“. Through the 70s, right-wing nationalism and street-thuggery rose in the form of the National Front, but the movement was resisted on the streets, and finally dissolved in the early-80s as a new, multicultural music scene brought young black and white people together socially. By the 90s, nationalism seemed to be a thing of the past, but the 9/11 attacks gave the racist right a chance to re-brand as an anti-Islam force. Nearly ten years on, and we can see that the “Islam is a threat” message has worked its way from fascist meeting rooms into the political mainstream-right in Europe and the US.

Gradually, the anti-Islam message has morphed back into a more traditional anti-immigration message, being amplified by the right-wing tabloid press here (and Fox News in the US). The nationalist, anti-immigration message isn’t easy to sell; it relies on persuading people that the past (or rather, an imaginary, idyllic past) is being replaced by a more dangerous future as immigrants join their society. Prior to 9/11 it seemed that the Western World had moved beyond irrational fear of foreigners, and that society’s liberal tendencies had prevailed; but we soon learned that race hate and xenophobia weren’t far beneath the surface; that US and European society had changed less since the 1940s than we’d convinced ourselves.

When the drum of fear and hate is being pounded consistently, the infection will naturally spread. For most fear-infected morons, the outlet of Twitter or a blog is enough. But it’s inevitable that angry or mentally-disturbed individuals like Anders Behring Breivik will become infected too, and violence will follow, as it did last Friday in Norway. Breivik’s choice of target, the mainstream, liberal Norwegian Labour Party, was a natural one for anyone understanding the history of European nationalism. He chose a multicultural youth camp, something designed to ease racial tensions in Norway, but also proof (in Breivik’s confused world view) that evil forces were trying to dilute Norway’s racial and cultural past into something new and alien.

Whether Breivik acted alone, it can be stated with certainty that he was influenced by master-manipulators of the nationalist movement. It’s already been established from his own blog (English translation provided by @Dilmunite) that he admired the far-right English Defence League; according to many EDL Facebook posts, Breivik had many EDL Facebook friends, and attended an EDL rally in the UK in 2010. I’d recommend following @BanTheEDL and @EverythingEDL on Twitter for a collection of evidence linking group members with Breivik.

Another key Breivik influencer was someone I’ve often mentioned: Pamela Geller, a self-appointed “defender” of America against “creeping Islamification”. Pamela spent the weekend tweeting new myths distancing herself from the terrorist, for her army of moron followers to disseminate.

In my Twitter feed, I’ve long watched morons large and small disseminate misinformation about Islam, Muslims and immigration. Their purpose was to spread enough hatred widely enough that sooner or later someone would take action, and set a chain of violence underway. It looks as though they found a new disciple (though not their first – right-wing terror plots have long been of concern, especially in the US), and no doubt other “white heroes” are watching and contemplating whether to follow Breivik’s example (as was clearly his intention).

Western governments now need to decide whether Islamaphobic lies and smears equate to hate speech, and whether to prosecute the most virulent of these liars. The shock following the Norway attacks will quickly pass, and lack of action against armchair-nationalist morons by governments will result in more confidence in the nationalist movements, and inevitably more violence.

Is Fascism Back in Europe? Did It Ever Leave?

Like all European Jews, I was taught about the Holocaust during childhood. The facts of the event are too staggering for even an adult to comprehend, let alone a child. But the explanation given was fairly straightforward: the German people went through some kind of temporary madness; the “good guys” (Britain, The US and the Soviet Union) went to war; we won and killed Hitler; surviving Jews were freed from the camps; it couldn’t happen again.

Some less palatable facts were left out of the account; the Holocaust was massive in scale, but was just one of countless European attacks on Jews and Gypsies throughout history; it wasn’t just the Nazis, or just the Germans, but a mass genocidal movement that rose spontaneously across large parts of Europe; the only reason it may not happen again was that this time it was a “success” – so many Jews were killed, and so many more fled to New York and Israel that Europe’s thirst for Jewish blood may have finally been sated.

What was “special” about Jews and Gypsies? Simply this: that both groups originated outside of Europe. And Europe hates outsiders.

Most people I know like the simplicity of the “one-off madness” theory. It saves thinking too much, and avoids any worry that similar could happen again. British Jews in particular like to blame Germany for everything; acknowledging you live in a continent that has taken repeated joy in slaughtering our ancestors is too much for most Jews to think about.

I believed in the simple view myself until I started travelling to Italy on a regular basis. I’d fallen in love with the style and beauty of the country, and learned to speak Italian to a good level. Visiting a friend’s family in the Alto Adige, a mixed Italian/German province in the far north-east of the country, helped open my eyes. It was casually explained to me that the city council of Bolzano (the main city of the region) regularly changes hands at elections – between the German-speaking Fascists and the Italian-speaking Fascists. I thought this must be some mistake; surely Fascism died in 1945, never to return?

While in Bolzano, I accompanied a friend to visit her father’s grave. She thought I’d be interested in the Jewish section of the cemetery so we walked around it. She said she didn’t think there were any Jews left in Bolzano – but she didn’t know where they had gone. That was my moment of revelation: by punishing the Nazis for the crimes of WW2, most of the guilty had gone free. History had been re-written. As Europe rebuilt, it had learned fewer lessons than it liked to pretend.

The European far-right struggled to re-establish itself for decades, but bit by bit it has returned to strength. The movements are deeply adaptable – unlike its cousin in America that finds it hard to hate anyone except black people, the European far-right is pragmatic in its choice of scapegoats. It’s no longer considered acceptable to blame Jews for everything? Then parade your “love” for Israel and blame Muslims instead. Homosexuality has become acceptable in Europe? Then gays will no longer be lynched – in fact the new fascists positively embrace homosexuality, brandishing their “tolerance” to show how “intolerant” Muslims are (cleverly ignoring the fact that European gays used to travel to Morocco on vacation when they were not acceptable to the average European).

Suddenly, apparently within a few months, far-right nationalism is confident and resurgent. The seed of this growth was in large part sown on 9/11, but it’s taken a decade for the anti-Muslim narrative to evolve. Mostly, the new nationalism is finding strength in the same places that embraced fascism in the 1930s: France and Italy, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, across much of Europe. Nationalism is presented in fresh, acceptable forms. While we were on the lookout for jackboots and racist mobs, it instead presents itself in the form of Geert Wilders, who has gained popularity in The Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and the boringly-British duo of Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage in the UK. It cloaks itself as “concern” over “excessive” immigration or as “defending our sovereignty” from the European Union. We forget so fast that Europe, by nature, is the world’s most warlike continent, and that the EU has created the longest period of peace in European history.

So here we are again – it’s not so much that far-right nationalism is back, it’s just that we forgot it never went away.

(Update: a Dutch translation of this article is available. Thanks to krapuul.nl)

Happy St George’s Day!

Happy St. George’s Day! Today is the day when the English celebrate their patron saint, party and have fun.

Ha! Only joking… this is the English we’re talking about. Rather than enjoy themselves like most nations on their national day, this is the day for doing what the English do best: moaning. The atmosphere isn’t helped by the right-wing media (notably the Mail and the Express) and far-right provocateurs from the English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) spreading lies and disinformation. “Patriotic” bloggers will predictably complain that flag-flying has been banned by some council or other (almost always based on false stories) or just whine that English people should be flying the flag, but aren’t.

Twitter has already seen many tweets like this:

The end result is that English morons spend the day complaining they’re not allowed to fly a flag of St. George (which of course they are) or some other piece of nonsense they read in the gutter press or on Twitter.

Part of the problem is that the flag of St. George has been seized by far-right racist groups; which is ironic, given that St. George wasn’t English (he was a Roman soldier from Palestine), and that he’s the patron saint of many countries and regions besides England (including Ethiopia, Serbia and Catalonia). Most horrific of all (at least from the viewpoint of the Muslim-hating EDL) is that St. George is celebrated as a Saint in early Islamic texts. Irony – don’t you just love it?

Aside from the irritating minority of “patriots”, England has much to be proud of: our tolerance, our sense of humour; our green and pleasant landscape; even some of our unfairly-maligned food. Despite our imperial transgressions, we led the world in abolishing slavery; and most of us believe in fairness for all.

So here’s the MoronWatch guide to enjoying St. George’s Day.

Do:

  • Celebrate everything good about England.
  • Fly the flag if you want to, or wear a badge or plastic hat with the flag on. Go on, it’s fine.
  • Have fun! Another thing the English are good at (besides moaning) is drinking. So go on, fill your boots!
  • Sing Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land loudly and out of tune outside the pub.

Don’t:

  • Say “Why aren’t you flying a flag you Paki bastard?” to your Brazilian neighbour.
  • Use your flagpole to assault someone when you’re drunk.
  • And for-fuck’s-sake DON’T MOAN!

Have a nice day now!

France’s Racist Burqa Ban

So France, flying the flag for secularism, equality and modernity, has bravely banned an item of clothing worn by an estimated 2,000 women – the veil properly known as the niqab, though often referred to as the burqa. Before we congratulate the French for this bold move, let’s explore some background.

Anecdote: A Mauritian friend, a light-skinned, mixed-race guy, was in Paris recently visiting family. Walking down the road with his blonde wife and their toddler, they passed a respectable-looking guy… who racially abused them and spat on their child.

Anecdote: A French friend of mine, “N”, grew up in the notorious estates (projects) in the Paris banlieues (suburbs). His mother was French, father was an Indian Muslim immigrant, and so in French terms, he’s foreign. He grew up along with other excluded sections of French society: Arabs, North Africans, Jews, Sub-Saharan Africans. Racial harassment from police was a daily part of life. He became a gifted graphic designer, but no company in Paris would hire him. He moved to London and quickly found a well-paid job. He still sees France as home, but without employment, couldn’t live there.

Anecdote: A French friend of mine lives in London. She’s white, “native” French. She visits family regularly. She tells me that racist talk is now openly accepted among white French people, with no shame or stigma attached.

Anecdote: The black British journalist Gary Younge studied for some time in Paris. He’s written of his experiences during that time, when he faced regular racial abuse and police harassment, to the point where he began to feel hatred for white people.

Anecdotes are interesting but don’t prove anything: But what about the UN report that advised on a “significant resurgence of racism” in France? The 1998 poll showing France to be the most racist country in Europe, where 38% of French people described themselves as racist? The 2005 uprisings by poor North Africans who had finally had enough? My friend N’s experience wasn’t unusual: in 2005, 5% of white graduates were unemployed, compared to 26.5% of graduates of North African origin.

Outside of football, non-white faces are barely seen in public French life. France applauded itself when its first black newsreader appeared on TV. In the 70s? 80s? 90s? Actually, it happened in 2006.

The picture at the top of this article is of a yellow Star Of David with Juif written on it (“Jew” in French). In Nazi Germany and occupied Poland, Jews were forced to wear stars saying Jude – “Jew” in German. But in Vichy France, the French carried out the persecution of Jews, and they did it the French way. While some European countries resisted German demands to hand over their Jewish citizens, France sent over 75,000 French Jews, Jewish refugees and other French citizens to the death camps. After World War 2, Germany was forced to live up to the horror of what it had perpetrated; but France was not. The willingness with which the French turned on their own Jewish population was buried, and the myth of the French Resistance was amplified instead, to present France as a heroic nation under occupation.

This is the France that banned niqabsyesterday. Europe’s most racist country, a segregated state that has never allowed equality or integration for its minorities, a country where people of Muslim origin have trouble finding employment or good housing, and face routine harassment and brutality from the police. Those who believed that this is about women’s rights or promoting secularism have been fooled – this is simply France doing what it does so well: bullying powerless minority groups that can’t hit back.

Looking Ahead: Morons in 2011

At this time in a new year, you can expect political pundits, economists and “futurologists” to give their predictions for the next 12 months. As the world’s leading Moronologist (self-appointed), I’ve decided to share my predictions for the coming 12 months. Where will be the hotspots of moron activity? Who are the morons to watch? What will morons be doing and saying in 2011?

Prediction 1: Winter will be colder than summer

OK – that’s obvious. However, this simple fact takes morons by surprise every year, and provides their small minds with “evidence” that man-made global warming is a myth. Meanwhile, the oil, coal, gas, motor, road and aviation industries will continue to fund denialist organisations in order to keep millions of morons confused.

Morons to watch: in the absence of any actual scientists who deny climate change, the serial climate liar Christopher Monckton is likely to again be wheeled out by deniers. It doesn’t matter that he’s been repeatedly discredited; morons don’t check facts anyway.

Probability: 100%

Prediction 2: The Tea Party will become increasingly confused

Given the extreme levels of confusion already existing within these moronic groups, this is a braver prediction. The Tea Party is a loose-knit collection of assorted morons, who believe they are part of an “anti-elite” movement, but who in fact are funded and nurtured by some fairly “elite” types. As activists realise they’ve been primarily used as a tool to win lower taxes and looser regulation for the super rich and big business, many will drift away, disillusioned.

Morons to watch: this may be a make-or-break year for Sarah Palin, the Moron Queen of Morondom. Her chances of becoming 2012 presidential candidate seem to be slipping, and she’s likely to end 2011 by drifting further from politics towards lucrative celebrity deals.

Probability: 75%

Prediction 3: Islamaphobia to rise in Europe/Israel, peak in US/UK

This is a complex one; since 9/11, morons have been inciting even dumber morons to believe that Islam poses a threat to life, the universe and everything. Islamaphobia has helped fuel the growth of neo-fascist movements across Europe, that were already in recovery as collective memories of the Holocaust faded away. Xenophobia is at the core of European identity, though Europe plays well at being “tolerant” in between the odd genocide. Neo-fascists have been making electoral gains for some time in places like France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and across the old Soviet bloc. Israel has also seen a long rise of neo-fascists being elected – something that has deeply disturbed Holocaust survivors.

Meanwhile in Britain, which has always been less fertile ground for fascism than most of Europe, the BNP (British National Party) appears to be heading for collapse amidst electoral failure and financial meltdown. The EDL (English Defence League), perhaps Britain’s dumbest organisation, has gained somewhat as a result, but I predict that they too will splinter and decline during 2011, largely because they don’t seem to have any member who can read or write.

And in America, where mainstream politics are further to the right, the far-right have always found a home within the Republican Party, which ironically seems to rein in their more extreme elements.

Morons to watch: Publicity-seeking Pamela Geller will keep ranting to ever-smaller crowds before vanishing from public view. BNP Leader and British eyesore Nick Griffin may well be ousted as BNP leader. Creepy-looking Dutch MP and inciter of hatred Geert Wilders will continue to be the rallying point for Nazis across Europe.

Probability: 50% – very much depends on whether Islamist terrorist morons (or people pretending to be Islamist terrorist morons) succeed in any major attacks in the West during this year. Also depends on unemployment levels across Europe.

Prediction 4: US economy will gain strength as UK weakens

2011 will provide the results of the big test: stimulus spending (as tried by the Obama administration and by the outgoing Labour government in the UK until May) and government spending cuts (as favoured by the UK’s new Conservative leaders). UK consumers are already reacting badly to VAT rises and government jobs cuts… which is likely to lead to lower tax revenues, and the need for even more cuts (as already demonstrated in Ireland).

Morons to watch: the new Republican speaker John “Crybaby” Boehner needs to help derail the recovery if the Republicans are to have a good chance of winning the 2012 presidential elections. UK Prime Minister David “Rich Boy” Cameron will announce that the recovery is weaker than expected (without taking the blame) and “regretfully” announce further spending cuts.

Probability: 60% – depends on many factors including Prediction 5…

Prediction 5: Oil price rises, morons draw wrong conclusions

Upwards pressure on oil prices continues for simple reasons: the easiest-to-reach supplies are dwindling, pushing oil companies to exploit more expensive sources like oil sands and deep-sea wells. America uses in excess of a quarter of the world’s oil supplies, but developing countries are growing much faster than the West, and use more oil each day.

If your friend was addicted to a substance that is becoming increasingly expensive and hard to come by, which of the following advice would you give them?

  1. Try to use less of it, or
  2. Keep using more, and spend more time and money looking for new supplies.

The oil industry runs the Republican Party, and the Republican Party now runs the House of Representatives, so America will try 2) the moron approach. Being chronically addicted to oil, the moron approach is to spend huge amounts of money to find more oil, and deepen the addiction in the process, leading to an even deeper crash when global oil supplies finally peak. At the time of writing, the oil price is $89 per barrel, and will probably be significantly higher at the end of 2011.

Being so deeply in the grip of oil morons, America’s choices are a painful adjustment now, or an even more painful adjustment later. “Kicking the can down the road” is the moronic choice, and no doubt the approach America will take. Meanwhile China, apparently less in awe of everything the oil industry says, is investing heavily in green energy alternatives.

Morons to watch: The newly-empowered Republicans will stall attempts to invest in green energy, and try to kill rail investment (which would cut transport energy usage). The oil industry will continue to claim that there are centuries of oil supplies left, despite all the evidence. Morons will complain that the price of gas keeps rising, but keep on driving their SUVs anyway.

Probability: 80%

And finally… Predictions 6 and 7: Jesus won’t return and the world won’t end

And now for some morons we can all laugh at (well, almost all of us anyway).

A group calling itself We Can Know ran posters last year in Nashville, Tennessee to advertise their web site. They claim that Jesus will return on May 21 2011, and the world will end on October 21 2011. Their campaign was reported in The Tennessean, but the story was later removed (original link). Meanwhile, many other groups have settled on December 21 2012 as the true date.

For those who believe in the Rapture, and are worried about their pets’ wellbeing after they float up to heaven, a kindly group of atheists have set up a pet care service.

Morons to watch: look out for religious nuts acting even angrier than usual when they wake up on May 22 and find they shouldn’t have sold all their worldly belongings on eBay for a dollar.

Probability: 100% (actually, make that 99%… just in case)