Liam Neeson and #BlackLivesMatter

The actor Liam Neeson is all over the news this week, following some comments he made in an interview with Independent correspondent Clémence Michallon. While discussing his latest film Cold Pursuit, he revealed that several decades ago a friend of his was raped. Since the perpetrator was black, his response was to spend a week prowling the streets, hoping he would find a black man to kill in ‘revenge’:

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could,” another pause, “kill him.”

This has caused justifiable concern, that Neeson behaved in such a dangerous and racist manner. Many people have noted that this is the literally ‘lynch-mob’ mentality, where the protection (or avenging) of women, is considered justification to murder black people. Continue reading “Liam Neeson and #BlackLivesMatter”

Zac Goldsmith: Unprepared Even to Pander

Zac Goldsmith

There’s a video of Zac Goldsmith doing the rounds, where he claims to be ‘a Bollywood fan’ and then fails to name a single Bollywood film or actor that he likes.  As I remarked on Twitter yesterday, his floundering interview was evocative of the Sarah Palin calamity in 2008 when she could not think of a single newspaper or magazine that she read regularly.  Thanks to Sunny Hundal for providing this illustration. Continue reading “Zac Goldsmith: Unprepared Even to Pander”

Analogising Science in Political Debate

According to Sunny Hundal’s new web service Rippla, Joseph Harker’s Guardian article, about racism and the demonisation of communities, was the most shared article in the UK yesterday.

And quite right too.  It’s a truly sublime piece of analysis, comparing recent news sources, real demographic data, and an apt turn of phrase, to analyse the differing media coverage given to the same crimes, when committed by different perpetrators.  When Muslims are convicted of sex crimes, the stories receive much more attention than when generic white Englishmen are found to have done the same deed.  Worse, the actions of wayward Muslims are deemed to be somehow inspired by their culture.  This same extrapolation never happens for white people.

This article feels like the definitive statement on the issue of how the media treats minorities.  It raises its head in various guises all the time.  Like many people, I have been mulling it for years.  Back in 2003, when I was part of The LIP Magazine‘s editorial team, we published ‘Do You Belong To A Community?‘ by Aisha Phoenix which begins with a bite: “Whenever the media describes someone as coming from a ‘community’, you know they are not white.” Almost a decade later, and I see the same anxieties in this comment from the novelist Kamila Shamsie to the columnist David Aaronovich: “Could we have a moratorium on the phrase ‘Muslim leader’ please?”

Much rhetoric in politics is of a kind where the speaker (or writer) claims that his or her special interest group are being treated unfairly, and if they were of a different skin colour or religion (or whatever) they would be treated better.  This is often an incorrect assumption, which betrays a lack of understanding of the society in which we live.

Harker makes precisely this kind of argument in his article, too.  However, instead of making a vague assumption, the nature of the issue means he does have the ‘data’ to back up the rhetoric, and the article becomes akin to a scientific experiment.  Since the two prosecutions he examines are so similar, it is almost as if one is the control group for the other, in one of those attitude surveys invented by psychologists: Keep the details similar but change the ethnicity of the person, and see how attitudes change.

I would love to see other scientific analogies used in political discourse.  In particular, I yearn for an equivalent of dye tracing or radio-active marking when a controversy flares.  This would be very useful during some of the free speech arguments I follow, when some kind of institution has to decide whether to support or withdraw an offensive text, event or artwork.  It would be great to trace the decision-making process in such a way as to perceive the point where the support for the principle of free speech breaks down.  That would help us identify where these values should be reinforced.  Unfortunately, I cannot quite imagine how one might set the ‘tracer’ off… short of manufacturing an argument.  So, if Anjem Choudary is reading this, perhaps he would give me advanced warning of his next stunt?  Then I can track the reactions he provokes with academic precision.

Multiculturalism Jumps The Shark

Union Flag, by Adrian Clark on Flickr
Union Flag, by Adrian Clark on Flickr

Or rather, “State multiculturalism has failed” jumps the shark.

David Cameron had made a speech about multiculturalism this weekend.  When I heard news reports about his remarks, I thought to myself that this was probably nothing new.  I have only just got around to reading the speech today, and unfortunately, I have been proved right.

Cameron argues for the need to separate the concept of Islamist violence, from mainstream, peaceful Islam.  He complains about public money being given to ‘gatekeeper’ organisations who claim to speak for all Muslims.  He argues for a definition of identity that can encompass all British citizens, regardless of their faith or origins.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal points out that these are issues that we thrashed out long ago, and a sensible consensus has already been reached.

I vehemently attacked “state multiculturalism”, as Cameron did yesterday, back in 2006. At the time there was a problem with the government funding “community leaders” to deal with integration and counter-terrorism. There isn’t now. Organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain haven’t received state funding for years.

Sunder Katwala of the Fabian Society is equally scathing:

David Cameron said next to nothing new yesterday. Breathlessly briefed and largely received as one of his most important speeches as Prime Minister, I struggled to spot an original thought that he hasn’t been habitually been expressing for more than five years, from equating Islamist ideology with Nazism when running for Tory leader in 2005 or his frequent attacks on state-sponsored multiculturalism. Repeating himself as Prime Minister on the international stage gives it a certain status.

Cameron’s core narrative claim – that “muscular liberalism” must now replace decades of a lily-livered refusal to articulate our shared values – does depend upon one very silly founding premise: that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, John Major and Michael Howard, and presumably Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit too, were rarely or never willing to articulate shared British values. This is patently absurd.

The Prime Minister’s suggestion that we forge a shared British identity is embarrassingly behind the times.  The 9/11 terrorist attacks kick-started the debate.  Wars in the Middle-East and terrorist attacks in Europe have kept the discussion spinning.  Entire books have been written, published and reprinted during that time. Billy Bragg’s Progressive Patriot is one that springs to mind: it deals with far right extremisim, and how British people reconcile the fact that we all have (at least) two flags.  Kenan Malik’s From Fatwa to Jihad is another obvious example, where state multiculturalism is impressively critiqued.

David Cameron’s speech is soooo 2005.  This isn’t leadership.  He needs some new ideas… and some new speech writers who can articulate them.

Politics of Persuasion on Proportional Representation

Take Back Parliament
Take Back Parliament rally, 8th May 2010. Photo by Lewishamdreamer on Flickr

*This post contains excessive alliteration, which some readers may find offensive.

Politics means different things at different times.  During the election campaign, it was the politics of presentation:  of a leader (and his lovely wife), and of a suitable narrative that you think chimes with the voters.

Now the election is over, we seem to be moving into the politics of game-play and strategy.  The discussion centres around what Nick Clegg can force out of the tories, and how to bounce David Cameron into Proportional Representation.  Associated with this are the recriminations over failed tactics.  For an example, see @hopisen (his debates with @sunny_hundal yesterday were a good example of this kind of politics).

This kind of politics assumes an intransigence on the part of your political opponents, and it is useful to remember that this is not always the case.  At this crucial juncture, we need a politics of persuasion too, especially on the case of electoral reform.

@ellielevenson: RT @ericjoyce A near-painful read, near-pathetic, read. RT @krishgm: Guardian group feeling guilty? http://bit.ly/aQoDWA

The above comments, discussing the Guardian’s Saturday editorial, sits within the second type of politics, the politics of strategy.  But as a piece of persuasion, I think the article is very useful.

But the fact remains that victory, under the electoral system we have, means securing a Commons majority. Constitutionally, no other metric matters. If the Conservatives believe that share of vote and lead over the nearest rival should have some moral weight in deciding a winner, they have already conceded a vital point about the need for electoral reform: the proportion of overall support in the country as a whole matters. …

The Tories by contrast are confused about electoral reform. It cannot have escaped their notice that they have suffered as a result of the system they are determined to keep. It is Labour whose results are most inflated by systemic bias. The Tories insist that first past the post delivers clear results, when it has just failed to do exactly that. Conservatives have always grumbled that coalition politics means shadowy deals between parties cobbled together in dingy corridors. The opposite is now proven.

Now, I am not a Tory, but I think this sort of logic that might persuade them.  These kinds of arguments need to be in the foreground.  My three aspects of politics overlap here:  A persuasive argument, presented right, can give your cause a strategic advantage.  In this case, if the Conservative party become a little less cold to the idea of electoral reform, that’s a good thing.

There has also been some discussion over political power in the past few days.  Here’s Laurie Penny, barging in on that Sunny/Hopi debate I mentioned earlier:

@PennyRed:  @sunny_hundal @hopisen yes and no. I think there’s enough damage that only a real defeat, preforably temporary, can make us regroup.

@sunny_hundal: @hopisen @STEPearce @PennyRed I dint believe in power for it’s own sake. That is where labour is at and that is the path to hell

Its little comfort, but the politics of persuasion persists even when the party is out of power.

All of this is a way of saying, that while the Tories and Liberal Democrata hammer out whatever deal they can; while the Labour front bench has been told to keep quiet; and while Gordon Brown keeps a low profile, it would be a good use of Labour supporters’ time to help promote and grow the Take Back Parliament Campaign.  The coalition has taken only three days to amass over 41,000 supporters, which is very impressive.  However, I think it needs a broader base than the middle-class Lib Dem supporting demographic I saw at the rally on Saturday.  This is a practical task that Labourites can take on right now, while we all twiddle our thumbs waiting for opposition.

Here’s my Flickr photoset from the Take Back Parliament rally (though I think Lewishamdreamer’s photos, one of which is reproduced above, are better).