Moral Panics: a useful political tool?

In 2010 I found myself in the middle of a moral panic, so began reading around the subject and watching how moral panics unfold. The panic was around East End strip pubs where I worked and that had been in the area for decades. Usually family businesses, run by the matriarch of the family, and an accepted part of the East End. Then a panic hit and suddenly these places were the gates of hell and all that was evil in the world emanated from them. People who had previously been oblivious to them were suddenly on a crusade. I went to a ‘debate’ in October 2011, called ‘Lap-Dancing: a choice or exploitation’ which demonstrated the mechanisms of power and politics perfectly and shocked me.

A small lobby group whips up fear until they create a panic. The narrative then moves on to ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ and when it gets to this point you have manipulated your audience correctly and you will be able to legislate. But there was also a lot of manipulating being done to those who were creating the moral panic. A group that called it’s self Communities Against People Exploitation, that claimed to be helping the East London community, had a ‘feminist’ spokeswoman. This woman would give the full dramatic performance about the evils of ‘pornification’, ‘objectification’, ‘sexualisation’ throwing out all the fashionable buzzwords to appeal to her audience. However a little investigation using the Land Registry and the good old Internet showed that she was not running this organization. It was actually run by a man who lived in leafy Surrey but, surprise surprise, owned property right next to one of the strip pubs he was trying to close down. From this moment on I lost what little respect I still had for the 3rd wave feminist movement. Was this all about property development and investment? Were they being manipulated by the ‘patriarchy’ that they so despised in order for that ‘patriarchy’ to make money? Were they complicit or ignorant?

So it seems that moral panics can be very useful. They are generally created by pressure groups and lobby groups, often through good intentions and a genuine trigger, which is then picked up by media as they have a lot of space to fill. Column inches, 24-hour news, websites etc. There is a lot of content to be generated so even if the journalist or editor doesn’t really believe in the panic it’s their job to explore all the angles. They run opposing editorials asking ‘Is this right? Is this wrong?, look for the human angle, can they get a confessional piece from someone involved? Run the story for a bit as it gives you something to talk about, to fill airtime with, to fill column inches. These mechanisms of the media are borne out of necessity but do our governments look at these panics and view them as useful? Are they a very convenient smoke screen? Can they use them to implement certain policies that the public may find unpalatable?

The panic of the moment is porn on the internet, the very thing that drove the early development of the internet, and it makes sense if you look at it in an historical and political big picture way. So let us look at the timeline of the last 3 years, the changes that have happened and the role of the Internet in all of this. Three years is a really short space of time for governments to lose control and I’d take a bet that there have been some fraught behind closed doors meetings.

1.The first strand is that too much classified information has been freely distributed online beginning with Bradley Manning. The decorated US private released around 750,000 restricted documents to Wikileaks causing major embarrassment to the United States government and many of its allies. Including of course the UK but also allies such as Saudi Arabia when it was discovered they had been urging the west to go to war with their Middle Eastern nemesis Iran. Then between April and November 2010 Wikileaks and news outlets around the world published these documents to all their readers and viewers. To these news outlets this was like striking gold (or oil). Julian Assange is now running from the US government rightly fearing a fate similar to Bradley Manning. So first it was Bradley and Julian and then when all had seemed calm Edward Snowden struck. Releasing all the details of the Prism surveillance operation that included America spying on it’s European allies and once again causing great embarrassment to the US and UK governments. (As GCHQ had also been implicated.)

I would take a guess that western governments and especially the UK and US governments are no longer enamored with the idea of a free and open Internet.

2.The second political and historical strand that has been a feature of the past three years is revolution. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly ignited the Arab world into demanding freedom and democracy. From the success of Tunisia to the disaster of Syria, the Arab world has been finding it’s voice, and this has been coordinated on social media. Syria has been especially bad as Iran and Hezbollah are now involved and this could result in years of trouble. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Buzzfeed have allowed those protesting against their governments to organize and sometimes win. Western politicians have been watching, and saying carefully vague sound bites in support for democracy, as long-term allies like Mubarak were toppled. Even prosperous and relatively secular Turkey has seen a popular uprising that no mainstream media reported until the din on social media got so loud they couldn’t ignore it.

I wonder if there is a general fear in governments that us normal people are starting to get a little too knowledgeable and possibly feeling a little too empowered?

3.The third strand in recent years is the recession, which has hit Europe particularly hard. Countries like Greece are languishing in a terrible depression with lots of anger amongst people and extremist groups growing popular. There has also been a raising of awareness in the United States with the Occupy movement starting in November 2011 with Occupy Wall Street. One of the causes of the Arab Spring was youth unemployment and cost of living. The world is getting more and more populous and those at the top are not releasing any wealth so an anger is fermenting. Many young people in Europe are unemployed and over qualified with no hope of attaining the future they dreamed of. What if revolution is not confined to the Arab world? Which can be understood in terms of freedom, what if a European nation is the next to fall? Then it is no longer an ‘us and them’ situation it becomes something bigger? Maybe something about social justice in general?

Again, I can’t imagine our governments feeling very easy with all of this anger, and the information in the hands of the masses.

Information, revolution and recession; it’s like a perfect storm of poverty, over population, inequality, empowerment and access to all information and the ability to communicate it. I’m pretty sure these three strands have made our leaders feel rather uneasy. So what are the governments of the world going to do about this potential dangerous set of circumstances that have evolved in only three short years? Conveniently for the UK Government, the ‘sexualisation’ moral panic has been rumbling away for around a decade, and conveniently it has reached the ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ stage. The groundwork has already been laid which is very handy indeed. So could it be that David Cameron’s recent attack on Internet porn is in fact a smoke screen?

The porn panic has been fuelled by supposedly well-meaning but extremely foolish people and lobby groups and will now come back to bite. After all we are not party to the late night phone calls from Washington that may go something like this,

‘The United States may be unable to work with the United Kingdom unless …… (insert instructions here)’.

It seems like this has everything to do with limiting access to information in general and protecting the power structure. The clamp down on Internet porn is, in my opinion, all about censoring the Internet brought to the fore due to recent world events and absolutely nothing to do with protecting the innocence of children. It may also be run by Chinese Internet filtering firm Huawei, who are no doubt censorship experts.

So beware of moral panics, as there may be a hidden agenda behind them. All is not what it seems on the surface and be aware of new ones forming. What is the end game of these panics and who exactly benefits from them?

Online Free Speech: Sticks And Stones…

Barely a week goes by in which the British “left” doesn’t display its increasing disdain for free speech, but this past week has been especially troublesome. The idea that only free speech and rational thinking can allow civilisation to advance isn’t exactly new; it descends from the Enlightenment. And yet, however many times mankind has to relearn this lesson, it gets forgotten again.

The thing that much of the left can’t grasp is that free speech (in practise, encompassing free expression in any form) really means Free Speech. Including – brace yourself – speech that you might find offensive, disgusting or just plain unnecessary. As the Enlightenment thinkers explained, only in a truly free market of ideas can the good ideas be separated from the bad. Any attempt to coerce speech in any direction, by any means, even for the best of reasons, can only distort and suppress, and will crush good ideas along with the bad ones.

What’s even more annoying (to me, as an ex-tribal leftie) is that parts of the right grasp this concept better than the left. The Telegraph (which I’ve spent most of my life loathing) today defends free speech far more stridently than The Guardian (which I’ve spent most of my life reading). Free speech is a progressive idea – how dare those righties take it from us?! But then, the left doesn’t seem to want it any more.

So, for example, here is how I started last Sunday:

A little explanation: last week, idiots in the UK government and Home Office decided to send vans to immigrant areas carrying a pleasant message to illegal immigrants: “Go Home or Face Arrest”. How lovely. The vans were designed to appeal to the racist vote that might be shifting from the Conservatives to the even-more-racist UKIP. The word “wog” is pretty much extinct now, but was a favourite of racists in the 1970s, referring either to black people or all non-whites, depending on preference.

I had sent the tweet on Sunday because I was planning to spend the day at Jamaican independence parties, including one in Brixton, south London.

My tweet had two replies of any substance: a black follower kindly pointed out that Jamaican independence day was actually on Tuesday 6th, not Sunday; and a PC follower objected that the tweet was offensive. Yes, because it included the word “wog”.

Sigh. Let me just point out, again, that offence is taken, not given. Words are not offensive, or harmful, though they have the power to cause offence in some, especially in the more delicate souls among us, the poor fragile dears. And, as we all learned in school, “sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Easily offended Guardianistas are on the rampage against any form of expression that they consider to be offensive. “Free speech doesn’t mean you can cause offence”, they lecture. But yes, morons, it does! The legalisation of homosexuality required speech that offended many people. The abolition of slavery could not have been achieved without “offensive” speech. If you accept that offensive speech can be policed, then all speech is policed. And if you think minorities will actually benefit from such a system you truly are a moron. Censorship only benefits the powerful.

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter is the most tolerant of free speech. While my “wog” tweet remains on Twitter, Facebook not only removed it from my page, but banned me for 12 hours. Yes, a post satirising racism was considered racist because it contained a word considered (by the unthinking) to be offensive. What clearer illustration is needed that censorship is not the solution to racism, or any other nasty attitude?

Given Twitter’s defence of speech, it is no surprise therefore, that well-orchestrated outbursts of rage against Twitter are becoming frequent. The latest anti-Twitter panic also came last week, when some very nasty tweets, including rape threats, were sent to a number of high-profile women. Although I was raised with the feminist idea that women are just as capable as men of looking after themselves, modern-day feminists apparently agree with 1950s women’s magazines that women, like children, need special protection from their benevolent menfolk. Threats against men? No problem. Threats against women? SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

Threats of violence are as old as mankind, and I can testify that I’ve seen them online for over two decades, and indeed have received many myself. The beauty of free speech is that, left to itself, it allows the good to overcome the bad. High-profile female journalists with many Twitter followers have the perfect solution to abusive tweets: no, not the block button, but the retweet button. Transmit an idiotic comment about rape to 50,000 adoring fans, and the abusive tweeter will soon wish he had kept his mouth shut.

No black person was ever kicked in the balls by the word “wog”, although many black people have been kicked in the balls by police officers, who now (according to some morons) should be preventing people from being offended online. No Jew was ever gassed by a swastika, and no woman was ever raped by a tweet. The most dangerous enemies of free speech are those who argue persuasively that the world will be a better place if just these few words, these few symbols, these communication platforms were just a little more policed.

Of course, censorship advocates are a little more sophisticated, and try to prove that some speech is actually harmful. Rape tweets feed into “rape culture” (they tell us) which leads to actual rapes. Do they provide evidence of this process actually happening? Of course not. They ignore the fact that rape tweets can generate anti-rape tweets in far greater numbers. They forget the lesson, provided to us by Jimmy Savile, the Catholic Church and their supportive police forces, that the greatest victory for rapists is to suppress speech. Only the powerful benefit when some subjects are deemed unworthy of public discussion.

I find it a little annoying when I’m referred to as a “fucking Jew”, as has happened recently, and not for the first time; but I’ll get much more worried when the authorities ban the term in order to “protect” me from being offended. Minorities know better than to trust somebody else with our protection. So long as “offensive” words are allowed, I can defend myself. The moment they are banned, supposedly in order to protect my feelings, is the moment Jews and other minorities can really start to worry.

Under David Cameron’s new Internet filter (aka Internet censorship), this blog will probably find itself blocked to households that have chosen not to see “hate speech”, because it contains terms that the authorities consider hateful. Discussion of hate speech is being crushed under the banner of stopping hate speech. We need to go back and learn again the lessons of the Enlightenment, before we all live in a benign dictatorship that protects everybody’s feelings. Because there’s no such such thing as a benign dictatorship. Surrendering one’s right to free speech by attacking somebody else’s is about the dumbest thing any person can do.

Why Don’t Women Hunt? Sex Work: The New Civil Rights Struggle

Recent debates about sex and sexuality, in the context of moral panics and attempts at censorship, have revealed a lack of understanding among “experts” of the core subject itself: human sexuality. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, given how taboo sex has been – and still is, for many.

Both left and right have found themselves equally drawn into the panic, each one imposing its own values on sexuality. Meanwhile, scientific understanding of the subject develops rapidly, and undermines the assumptions and dogma of both sides. The left rejoiced when it was discovered that homosexuality is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. This demonstrated both that homosexuality is natural, evolved behaviour (rather than a modern-day “sin”) and that sex is about far more than procreation: it appears to have social and health purposes too.

But new research also undermines left-wing dogma. Many on the left are as keen to demonise prostitution as the right are to attack homosexuality. The existence of prostitution is blamed on “Capitalism” or the ethereal “Patriarchy”. And yet, we are discovering that the sex trade too has its origins deep back in nature. Conservatives on both sides of the political spectrum are keen to paint the animal kingdom as “innocent”, while we humans have somehow polluted and twisted our idea of sexuality in modern times. It is a deeply conservative view of the world – that somehow our ancestors were pure and unsullied, while modern society is dirty and tainted.

It becomes increasingly clear that all widespread sexual behaviours – including homosexuality, masturbation, prostitution and rape – are inheritances from our animal past. That we are still struggling to accept the first three, and eliminate the fourth, is a measure of how young our civilisation really is.

The evolution of gender created a massive imbalance in nature. Males (of any species) are designed to create vast numbers of offspring, while females can have relatively few. In humans, men have been known to father hundreds of children (and theoretically could father thousands), while a woman can manage – at great cost – a few dozen. The same imbalance exists across all sexual species, both plant and animal.

Economics take over. Such an imbalance of supply and demand will have consequences. A fertile human egg has huge value to a male, while sperm (as any young man or woman can tell you) are so common as to be almost worthless. Masturbation is one way in which the imbalance can be corrected, and this, too, is common in nature.

The anthropologist and author of some wonderful books, Jared Diamond, published a small book called Why Is Sex Fun, featuring a chapter titled Why Do Men Hunt? Here’s the spoiler: it’s not for nutrition. There are easier and safer ways to get good nutrition from plants and small animals. Men (in early societies) hunt because they can trade the meat for sex. Diamond shakes his head at the way in which successful hunters that he has studied, in tribal societies, use their catch to spread their seed around the village.

Diamond looked at the male perspective, but the corollary is: Why Don’t Women Hunt? I put a similar question to a “liberal” in a Twitter discussion, and they told me it was because The Patriarchy oppresses women, making them stay home and cook. And yet hunting is hard and dangerous. Cooking in the village is not. Similarly, in all modern societies, men take on the most dangerous jobs: soldier, fisherman, security, construction, late-night taxi driving, etc. Men have lower life expectancies than women, partly because they are far more likely to die from violence or accidents. Could The Patriarchy have its wires crossed? Why is it sending men off to do the nastiest, most dangerous jobs?

Just as the answer to Why Do Men Hunt? is: to increase their chances of having sex, so the answer to Why Don’t Women Hunt? is: because they don’t have to. Sex is the oldest commodity of them all, and female sex is far more valuable than male. The first commercial transaction between two humans was almost certainly a gift of food from a man to a woman in exchange for sex: people had nothing else to trade in pre-civilised times.

This isn’t human behaviour. It’s sexual behaviour. In an experiment in 2008, an economist introduced monkeys to the concept of currency, and they swiftly responded by inventing prostitution (to the great surprise of the researcher).

So how would men respond to this unfairness of nature? It’s obvious in hindsight: men would seize ownership of female sexuality and take it for themselves. The Bible is full of laws to enforce just this: laws which make a daughter the property of her father, to be sold in marriage to a man. Laws which punish rape as a property crime against a father, not a crime of violence against a girl. Female fertility, humankind’s most valuable possession, was stolen by men.

And now, beginning in the past couple of centuries, women are reclaiming their bodies. As women take back control of their own fertility – via their right to sleep with who they want, their right to contraception and abortion, and, still most contentiously, their right to sell sex – they have created a shock through a male-dominated economic order that is many centuries old.

Those who cling to the old order attack sluts, contraception, abortion and prostitution, not because they want to protect women, but because they want to restrain female economic power. They claim that these things weaken, rather than strengthen, women, and (in order to protect the poor, delicate things) they must be outlawed.

Progressives claimed the right to “sluttishness”, to contraception and abortion in the last great culture clashes of the 1960s. Today, front-line battles are being fought by sex workers against prejudice, hate and stigma. Conservatives are manning the barricades against them – and many of these conservatives have adopted liberal language, falsely linking prostitution to trafficking, and claiming to be saving, rather than attacking sex workers. This “saving fallen women” mantra is, of course, an old trick, often employed to keep women in their place.

This is the civil rights battle of the 21st century, and it demarcates the modern line between conservatism and progressivism.

Blaming Women For Rape

The skirt is no excuse to rape - neither is porn

The skirt is no excuse for rape – neither is porn

This blog recently carried an article by Edie Lamort on the current moral panic about pornography; here’s another article on the subject. This is no accident – most people will have noticed a sharp rise in scare stories recently about porn, nude imagery, strip clubs and “sexualised” imagery in the media. The stories are the result, not of actual problems or any evidence of harm, but of widespread, well-organised campaigns by authoritarians to increase censorship of the media, and in particular of the Internet.

I won’t revisit the evidence here – but in summary, there is no solid evidence that erotic imagery leads to harm against women or children: in fact, the reverse is true. This, of course, doesn’t deter the anti-sex, pro-censorship campaigners in the slightest. They have no interest in whether porn is in fact harmful to women – their end goal is for censorship and control of sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality.

You may remember the birth of the Slutwalk movement about two years ago. This was triggered by a Toronto police officer who suggested that, in order to avoid rape, women should avoid dressing like “sluts”. The outrage that this victim-blaming caused led to the birth of Slutwalk in Toronto and then globally. A huge, young feminist movement took to the streets proclaiming the right of women to be sluts, without either being judged or raped.

I was a great supporter of Slutwalk; not everyone was though. The anti-sex feminist campaigner Gail Dines, for example, thought that women were misguided in trying to reclaim the word slut, and said this would “make life harder” for adolescent girls. This was typical of the clashes between the anti-sex and the sex-positive wings of feminism.

Today, another policeman tried to avert the blame for rape away from the rapist and onto women. This time though, unlike in the Toronto case, he was strangely applauded by some women. In a Daily Record article entitled More women will be raped if online porn isn’t tackled, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham made an explicit link between porn-viewing and rape.

This, of course, is victim-blaming; but it’s a little more subtle than the Toronto variety that launched Slutwalk. Instead of saying that a rape is the fault of the woman who is raped, it claims that a rape is the fault of women who appear in porn, and thus incite men to rape. In both cases, women who dare to bare flesh in public are being blamed for the act of a rapist.

This logic is the same as that used by orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim sects, especially the Wahhabi Muslims, who cover women’s faces with niqabs “for their own protection”. The logic, whether blaming a woman for her own rape or blaming porn stars, Page 3 girls and strippers for another woman’s rape, is identical. The very sight of female flesh, we are told by the policemen, conservative feminists and religious fundamentalists, incites men to be rapists.

I’ll repeat: there is no evidence that this is true; indeed, evidence from studying rapists shows the opposite: that rapists tend to have repressed sexualities. Rather than enjoying porn, they are likely to find it disturbing. An article in Psychology Today entitled Sexual Repression: The Malady That Considers Itself The Remedy makes this point well: sexual repression, far from being blamed for sexual problems, is touted as the solution: Lengthen that skirt! Ban Page 3! Porn leads to abuse! Strips clubs lead to rapes! In every case, women are blamed for rape, and men are considered stupid creatures who, having seen a nipple or a vagina, cannot stop themselves from attacking someone.

So let’s remind ourselves: when a woman is raped, it is not her fault. Nor is the fault of the girl who appeared on Page 3 that morning. Nor is it the fault of the woman who chose to make a living by having sex on camera. It’s the fault of the rapist. The fact that a police chief has chosen to lead a morality campaign against porn is very disturbing. Police in free societies should have nothing to do with the consenting sex lives of adults. Stalin, Hitler and other dictators carried out conservative morality campaigns against their populations. Women did not benefit from these.

If we want to remember what pre-porn Britain was like, just look at the emerging facts from the Jimmy Savile case. Is that an innocent, “unsexualised” world that we should return to?

NRA: National Rapist Association?

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association's new logo

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association’s new logo

Morons never seem to rest, especially on Twitter, and yesterday saw yet another surge of moronic activity as the hashtag
#LiberalTips2AvoidRape trended. In case you’re wondering, the gun lobby has found yet another way to sell guns to frightened people: the idea being that women should carry guns to prevent themselves being raped, and that in calling for gun control, those evil liberals are actually helping out the rapist.

The NRA, of course, has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a very long time – for example using school shootings as an excuse to sell even more guns – but if there was any bottom still left in the barrel, this latest ruse may have finally worn all the way through. In its hysteria, the pro-gun American right has left behind any sense of decency, but also any sense of reason.

To start with, if guns are freely available, who is more likely to be carrying one – a rapist who pre-meditated his crime, or a woman who didn’t expect it? And if the victim is carrying a gun, how much use is it to her (or him) if there’s already a gun pointed at her (or his) head? Only two weeks ago, let’s not forget, Spanish tourists were raped at gunpoint in Mexico. Rapes at gunpoint are sadly common (as a quick Google will reveal); stories of potential victims escaping because they (and not their attacker) far less so. Guns are, it seems, far more the friend of the rapist than of his victim. I therefore feel it fitting to give the NRA a new name: the National Rapist Association; because no doubt, any American who has ever used a legal gun to rape anyone is grateful to the NRA for their tireless campaigning work on his behalf.

But let’s look at some hard statistics. How do we determine whether gun availability makes rape more or less likely? As the NRA constantly whines, there are US states (typically Democrat-voting) which do implement gun controls, as well as states (typically Republican-voting) that do not. Luckily, I already produced some statistics for a post I wrote a year ago, breaking down rape statistics by red vs blue states. The statistics revealed as follows:

Rapes per 100,000:

  • Average in Republican-voting states: 34.96
  • Average in Democrat-voting states: 28.33
  • Average in marginal states: 29.47

(Full table is available here as a PDF).

Or, to put it another way, rapes are 23% more prevalent in Republican states than Democrat ones. Not only does the right to buy a gun not make women safer, but it appears to make them less safe.

As I’m not a lying, rape-loving, spokesman for the National Rapist Association, let me make clear that I have only revealed a correlation, not causation. We don’t know that the guns are making rape more likely – we only know that states with softer gun laws have more rapes, but not why.

It should also be pointed out that America, uniquely, has a huge prison rape problem. A quarter of the world’s prisoners are American, and the brutality of the system turns a blind eye to rape in prisons – both by prisoners and guards. Given the NRA’s insane position on guns (that guns always make things better), let’s not be too surprised if they start calling for prisons to be filled with guns. After all, if guns help prevent rape on the outside, surely that same approach will work behind bars as well?

Yes, we live in a strange world where many people seem to be convinced that violence of all sorts can be solved by more guns. And then more guns. And then guns, guns, guns, guns, guns. The fact that America has both the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest violence of any developed nation doesn’t seem to stop morons from taking this plainly idiotic position.

And if you’re worried about being raped? Well, in gun-loving Alaska, you are around seven times more likely to be raped than in gun-restricting New Jersey. Take your pick. And if you’re an aspiring rapist? Buy a gun, and send a thank-you donation to your friends at the National Rapist Association.

Liberal Racism and Africa

Back in London’s bad old racist days of the 70s, many council estates were National Front strongholds, and dangerous places for blacks and Asians to go. London’s middle classes, of course, abhorred the crude violence of the working class NF supporters. We fast-forward into the 90s, and the picture had changed drastically. London’s working class areas were now becoming racially mixed, and were producing ever greater numbers of mixed-race kids. Working class Londoners were creating new, mixed cultures, cutting-edge music and were transcending race.

Meanwhile those middle-class neighbourhoods that had scorned the National Front were as white as ever. White liberal London was almost untouched by the explosion of racial mixing, or the new cultures and musical forms it was generating. It seemed that the liberal aversion to racism didn’t extend as far as actually mixing with racial minorities. London developed two distinct cultures: a multiracial one formed of immigrants and their offspring mixing with white working class Londoners; and one of the middle/upper classes that avoided mixing at all costs – either with immigrants or the poor. Ironically, the children of the fascist gang members of the 1970s were far more likely to grow up having non-white friends and sexual partners than the kids of NF-hating liberals.

Liberal racism is far more effectively veiled than the more crude types, but being better disguised, it’s also far harder to identify and tackle. In Uganda, parliament seems set to pass a draconian anti-gay law this week; this was originally drafted to include the death penalty for “aggravated” offences, but as it currently stands, looks set to be passed but without the death penalty. It’s almost impossible to discuss this subject with liberal-minded white people without someone pointing out the role of Westerners in this law. You’ll be told that existing homophobic laws are a hangover from British rule, and that American evangelists are backing supporters of the law. Both of these things are true, but the implicit assumption in this “liberal” thinking is a colonial one: that Africans couldn’t possibly have invented homophobia without our help. That these simple people have been corrupted by our influence. It assumes that African minds are so supple, so easily corrupted, that Westerners can make them believe anything.

This argument is dishonest, flawed and fundamentally racist. Yes, anti-gay laws were exported by European powers to their African colonies; but so were entire legal systems. It can be noted that while Europeans have scrapped homophobic legislation since African independence, most African states haven’t. Perhaps Africans can think for themselves after all… perhaps homophobia is a factor of African society, rather than something “we made them do”. Perhaps African culture even goes back further than European colonialism? Well yes – Africa has the oldest and most socially developed human cultures on Earth. African language, music and social customs are often far more advanced than the equivalents anywhere else. Yet still, the liberal racist can’t grasp that African actions – such as viciously anti-gay laws – are the creations of Africans themselves, not us.

One of the most blatantly racist articles I can remember reading in the mainstream media was (surprise?) in the Guardian. Film-maker Tim Samuels wrote in 2009 about Western-made porn reaching Africa. He starts the article with:

I used to think porn was tremendously good fun. The adolescent thrill of sneaking a copy of Fiesta home inside the Manchester Evening News. Crowding around a PC at university as a smutty picture revealed itself pixel by pixel…

and goes on later to say:

The moment porn truly stopped being fun came in a remote Ghanaian village – mud huts, barefoot kids, no electricity … but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists…

So you see, Tim Samuels and his uni pals can look at porn and not become rapists. But Ghanaian men are obviously made of something different. What could the difference be? Samuels doesn’t explain, but the implication is clear. The old stereotype of the over-sexed, out-of-control African male is alive and well in 21st century Guardianista-land.

If Samuels had provided evidence, the article may have been of some value. But the only evidence he provides comes in the form of a few anecdotes from locals. There are no stats provided to show an increase in rape since the arrival of porn videos – just a smug “it stands to reason” attitude. The Guardian editor accepted and published this racist article – an article that blatantly brands black men as potential rapists – because it is sold on the liberal pretext of protecting women. Bizarrely, this is very similar to the thinking that saw black men lynched for rape in the Deep South. They can’t help themselves, you know? We have to do something about it. Incidentally, the same thinking was part of the justification for banning marijuana in the US - it was said to turn blacks and Mexicans into rapists, which of course was sufficiently frightening to get whites behind prohibition.

In fact, in the West, there is evidence of a correlation between increased sexual openness (including access to porn) and a decline in sexual violence. This is backed by scientific evidence, such as the paper Porn Up, Rape Down, as well as much other research. Samuels doesn’t explain how the Democratic Republican of Congo simultaneously has the world’s worst rape statistics, coupled with among the world’s lowest levels of Internet access. But evidence matters little to those who have a doctrine to sell, whichever part of the political spectrum they come from.

The most overt and vicious racism still comes predictably from the right, and the left has done a huge amount to tackle racism in society. But white middle-class liberal society hides a racist core, and in its infinite belief in its own superiority, it doesn’t even seem to notice.

The Left’s Huge Failure Over Julian Assange

Julian AssangeA couple of months back, I wrote a blog post lamenting the sad decline of the left: once the home of free thought and scientific reasoning, now the home of political correctness (aka “nice censorship”) and authoritarianism. A few weeks later, I was vividly vindicated by the furore around the British threat to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange was claiming political asylum (now granted by Ecuador).

For those of you have been off-planet for the past few years: Assange ran Wikileaks, a courageous organisation, dedicated to free speech, that has been publishing government and military secrets from around the world on its website since 2006. Government after government was revealed to be embroiled in corruption and illegality; but when in April 2010, Wikileaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video, providing strong evidence of the US military murdering civilians and journalists in Iraq, two things were instantly clear: first, that Assange was a hero of free speech; and second, that he was a marked man. The US has committed war crimes for decades, but now it was clear that it could no longer keep them under wraps. The only logical act for the US war machine (other than apologising and cleaning up its act) would be to make an example of those behind the leaks, and instil terror in anyone who thought they might emulate Wikileaks’ behaviour.

Bradley Manning, a US soldier suspected to have leaked the video, was arrested, and remains in detention without charge; his treatment appears to fall within the definition of torture. That, of course, left Assange. The Obama Administration, far from embracing the new openness, has declared war on whistle-blowers, especially anyone associated with Wikileaks. Those denying that the US is after Julian Assange, or that it would deprive him of his liberty permanently if captured, have clearly not been paying attention.

The accusations of rape that surfaced in Sweden in August 2010 were greeted by Wikileaks-watchers with instant suspicion, and with good reason. By early-2011 it had become crystal-clear that this was not being treated by the Swedes like a normal rape case, as shown by testimony from former senior Swedish prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem, and an article by global rape law expert Naomi Wolf. Assange was in London fighting extradition to Sweden. He suspected (again with good reason) that the Swedes were working with the Americans to transfer him into US custody; in June this year, he offered to submit to extradition on the condition that the Swedes promised not to hand him to the Americans. This was refused, and Assange decided (and yet again it seems, with good reason) to claim asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

None of this, of course, casts doubt on the rights of the Swedish women to see justice done; but the behaviour of the Swedish and British authorities is blatant; they obviously have little interest in rape allegations, and every interest in grabbing Assange.

Then in mid-August, something truly astonishing happened. The British government threatened to raid the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange. This was truly unprecedented and dangerous, and provoked outrage around the world; wars have been started for lesser reasons than this. Not only did the threat cause huge damage to Britain’s international standing, but the sheer scale of the threat provided proof that the Swedish charges were a cover for something bigger. Mass murderers have walked free from British custody, yet Assange’s arrest mattered enough that Britain was prepared to wreak huge damage to international relations, and breach a vital core principle of modern diplomacy: the right to claim asylum.

Twitter burst into life, followed by the blogosphere; demonstrators materialised outside the embassy. As I tracked events online, I began to wonder where the mainstream left were – they seemed entirely absent. OK, the threat against Ecuador did come in the middle of holiday season – but surely the opposition couldn’t be silent at such a moment?

In reality of course, poor Ed Miliband’s hands were tied. Senior Labour figures, including Ed’s own big bro are implicated in crimes against humanity; they played along with the worst excesses of America’s “war on terror”, including illegal kidnap, detention, torture, and mass-murder. Labour is as much a part of the repressive, illegal machinery as the Conservatives and the intelligence services, and it seems unable to separate itself from the Blairite clique that disgraced the party so badly. By the end of the day, the moronic, mainstream left had chosen its line: ignore Britain’s disgraceful actions, and instead play the rape card by restarting the old arguments over the Swedish allegations from two years previously. Followers on Twitter followed suit. Soon, anybody who supported Assange had been slurred with the moron buzzword-of-the-week “rape apologist”, as I blogged at the time.

The first word I saw from a Labourite came in the next day’s Independent from Owen Jones, a young and apparently left-wing activist/journalist who is a popular up-and-coming Labour figure. Jones’ article was entitled: There Should Be No Immunity For Julian Assange From These Allegations.

I have three basic problems with the article:

  1. It is bland and populist. It contains all the ingredients needed to appeal to the centre-left, without saying very much of substance. It is a rallying cry to the Labour heartland, and it seems designed to rally Labourites against Assange. It contains the kind of meaningless-yet-popular phrases that would go down brilliantly at a Labour conference – for example, “Let’s be clear: rape is rape”. Whatever next – “Education, Education, Education”?
  2. It is inaccurate. It amplifies some of the old arguments that had been used against Assange, but ignores some other key points. An excellent blog post, Don’t Call Me A Rape Apologist by @EthicalGirl, covers Jones’ apparent bias regarding his coverage of the “facts” of the rape allegations. In addition, Jones repeats an old slur against Tory Minister Ken Clarke, which I blogged about at the time. I’m all for Tory-bashing, but prefer when it’s done with honesty and good reason. Again, this was great for the Labour heartland, not so great for accuracy and integrity.
  3. But the biggest problem is, of course, that Jones almost entirely ignores the big, Huge, ENORMOUS story of the day. His only, tangential reference to it is as follows: “Though its UK Embassy must be protected from any British Government attempt to attack its sovereignty, it is wrong to offer Assange political asylum”. Yes, that’s it. No comment on the government’s quite-probably-illegal behaviour, at all.

I have no idea whether Jones’ omissions are made through genuine ignorance or not. If he was (hypothetically) building up his profile ready for a safe Labour seat at the next election, his Independent article would have been perfectly pitched to capture grassroots support, while giving a wink to Labour top-brass that he could be relied upon to behave himself when it came to the Big Issues.

I generally agree with much of what Jones writes – but I selected this article as the earliest and most high-profile example of how the mainstream left managed to ignore (or deflect from) a very important story. I’m pretty sure that if Assange had been accused of something else – violence against a man, for example – many more of his supporters would have largely raised eyebrows and stood by him. But the “rape apologist” slur is one that terrifies the “liberal” male, and many good people buckled and became silent under the onslaught. I’ve no idea who first used it to label Assange supporters, but it was very well-chosen to have a chilling effect on the debate. Apparently a rape allegation is sacred; no man may ever cast doubt on it, however bizarre the behaviour of the prosecutors, because he will be accused, stupidly, of somehow supporting rape.

It is only thanks to brave and unimpeachable female anti-rape campaigners, like Naomi Wolf (above) and the veteran British group Women Against Rape, who wrote a marvellous article defending Assange, that debate wasn’t crushed altogether. But what a sad state the left is revealed to be in, if it is afraid to defend a hero of free speech for fear of being branded with the R-word.