Who works for you?

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This picture is the “Foreigner ID Card” I was required to have to live and work in Switzerland back in the early 1990s. I had to update this on three occasions (for three different seasons) on entering Switzerland and had to stop initially at the border and attend a clinic for a chest X-ray, as did every other foreigner who was looking to reside and work there.

On arrival at the places I resided, I had to report to the police station, where my passport details were taken. There were also rules in place at the time about jobs being prioritised for Swiss nationals, where they could reasonably be filled by Swiss nationals. I had to prove that I had a job to go to and a place to live before I was given leave to remain.

I was very clear that I was there as a privilege and not as a right, and I was grateful for the chance to work there on all three separate occasions.

At no point did I feel that I was living in a nascent Third Reich. I wouldn’t have even considered to have such a self-entitled, arsey attitude. I was a foreigner and a guest in a foreign country, paying local, cantonal, and federal taxes in return for the privilege of working there.

My time spent living and studying in Germany and France required similar registration with local authorities. My entry into Germany to live and study there came at the end of 1992, just prior to the introduction of freedom of movement around the then EU of 12 states through the Maastricht Treaty, and, while my passport was retained by German police for some weeks, I was effectively unable to leave the country. Again, I was aware that I was lucky to be a guest in both Germany and then France and I was grateful for the opportunity to live and study in both countries.

So, the furore over the mere proposal that companies should disclose how many foreign workers they employ is stupefying and has me doubting the sanity of my compatriots.

Seriously, which part of a company disclosing these figures, which, apart from anything else will allow us to identify in real terms where we are lacking as a nation in providing training for youngsters, suggests the imminent creation of a new Auschwitz?

Which part of merely reporting statistics betrays a xenophobic agenda? Perhaps we should scrap the census, which clearly requires by law a declaration of nationality.

The primary duty of a government is to protect and act in the best interests of its citizens and not, despite the incessant whines of a section of self-entitled idealists to the contrary, to the world’s population at large.

We don’t live in a world of global government. If that’s your ultimate goal, we need to agree on the rules to be followed across the world and on which cultural values, economic system and legal system will apply. Do we follow western norms, those of the Islamic world, or perhaps those of North Korea?  Then we need to establish parity of wealth across the world to ensure that certain areas aren’t instantly impoverished by brain drain and others aren’t overwhelmed by immigration. Yes, we know that’s how you think it should be, but we’re not there; we’re far from there, even within Europe.

To those protesting about the proposals for the mere reporting of foreign workers within a company, get a grip! It may well be that certain businesses do actively have to seek out foreign workers for specific skills, as they claim (e.g. the agricultural sector in Lincolnshire and East Anglia). Such a report may even allow us to identify this need and prioritise residency rights for these people.

Your tedious portrayal of anything which seems to hint at any deviation away from your naïve and utopian “no borders” vision of the world as racist or as an indicator of the onset of Nazism is an insult to your own alleged intelligence, and belittles the memory of those who really did suffer at the hands of the Third Reich.

Nuclear Bore

I know Mhairi Black’s a hero to many, but in the speech she’s sharing from the Trident debate, she shows that she doesn’t understand:

  • the basic notion of a deterrent through MAD… “If I’m dying, I’m don’t care if we’re sending one back or not.” No, but the point is the other side probably does care*, so it prevents it from making a first strike. That’s how deterrents work. See Defence 101.
  • that just because there are more immediate threats from terrorism, cyber crime, and climate change, national security is not a game of either/or. All those threats need to be treated seriously, but the threat of nuclear attack remains in a world where proliferation is a reality or aspiration to many unstable and undemocratic regimes. “What terrorist attacks have nuclear weapons protected us from?” is as meaningless as asking how a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions can protect us from credit card fraud.
  • the existence and purpose of non-proliferation treaties against the backdrop of the aspirations of many states to acquire nuclear weapons. How come so many countries don’t feel the need to have nuclear weapons? Because, in large part, they’ve been prevented from obtaining them, wherever and whenever possible – sometimes forcibly, but more often by incentives (e.g. Iran). The core nations with nukes acquired them during the Cold War. They have them, and in the absence of full multilateral disarmament and in an uncertain world, are probably wise to keep them.
  • that the specific purpose of Trident is to keep an independent, at-sea, as opposed to land-based deterrent, so that potential aggressors know that even in the event of a strike on the UK, the UK will be in a position to retaliate.
  • that she has a simplistic view of national defence. Why don’t we spend the money we spend on Trident to invest in our energy and engineering sectors? Erm… possibly because doing so wouldn’t maintain an at-sea nuclear deterrent. We don’t spend our whole GDP on the NHS, schools, and diversity re-education programmes for Conservative Party members for the same reasons, much as Mhairi may prefer that we did so.

Much of the rest of her speech is straw-man, national socialist, and anti-British (but not anti-Scottish, of course) ranting. She claims we’re isolating ourselves from the world more and more at a time when new government ministers are sounding out new agreements in a wider, global context and outside the bounds of the little EUer mindset, in preparation for Brexit, and these same ministers are advocating a continuing role of cooperation with fellow European countries. Leaving the EU does not remove us from Europe. The widespread inability to differentiate between the EU and Europe has become a hallmark of whining Bremainers.

Her final few words about the possibility of an accident involving trains transporting nuclear waste through Paisley Gilmore Street have nothing to do with Trident. Just standard techophobic conflation of nuclear energy with nuclear weapons, which is actually always quite helpful in identifying someone driven by dogma rather than facts on nuclear issues.

Like it or not, nuclear weapons prevented another world war between the super powers over decades and continue to do so. If you dispute that and the military expansionism of the Soviet Union, you’re simply being ahistorical. Read up on post WW2 history and pay special attention to flash-points: the Cuban missile crisis; Berlin during the 1948/1949 Airlift and during the building of the Wall in 1961, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968. That’s not to say that the western allies are blameless in this period. From the earliest days following Nazi Germany’s defeat, from the seriously considered Operation Unthinkable and support for dodgy regimes on the basis of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, to the numerous other proxy wars, the West can’t pretend to play the innocent. Nevertheless, the potential doomsday scenario of an all-out nuclear exchange was an insurance policy against reckless conventional acts of aggression across Europe.

So, I love nukes, right? Wrong. I hate them. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, which is a time that millennials probably won’t fully grasp; a time when our cinemas and music were dominated by themes of imminent nuclear war. Many of my age will be familiar with “Protect and Survive”. For those of us at the time, it wasn’t a question of if, but when nuclear war broke out. This formed the backdrop of my teens and was frankly thoroughly depressing. Mhairi Black wasn’t even conceived when the Berlin Wall fell. This isn’t an appeal to authority of age on my part, but a simple observation that I at least spent my formative years in constant fear of impending nuclear war and yet, despite that, and my own preferences, I must reluctantly concede that they did keep peace in Europe.

I write as a multilateralist. Yes, I believe that the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but I’m also a pragmatist. The mindset of those who’ve enjoyed decades of peace means they grow complacent of what precisely has enabled them to enjoy that peace. It’s a sad indictment of how history is taught in schools, often by teachers with leftist agendas, that many people believe that the European Union has kept the peace in Europe since the end of World War 2 when the unpalatable truth is that this very peace has been maintained by NATO with overwhelming U.S. support (something that sticks in the throat of so many) against the backdrop of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Fortunately, those in charge of our national defence aren’t of the “but everyone just wants to be our friends” school and don’t believe that the defence budget would be better spent on safe-space bongo-playing diversity workshops. They are not historically illiterate and they appreciate that there remain state equivalents of the school bully, of whom someone of a nice and kind disposition doesn’t approve, but who nevertheless exist, irrespective of and indifferent to such sensitivities.

The greatest failing in the collective mindset is the view that reality has to fit around our own personal moral preferences. It would be impressive if a few more people at least considered that even though they may loathe the notion of nuclear weapons, the idea of unilateral disarmament at a time when the likes of North Korea is actively working on a long-range delivery system is not just foolish, but downright dangerous.

The real worry now is not so much that pacifists and self-loathers share the odd meme and parliamentary ramblings of a fellow anti-establishment spokesperson, but that such people are once again so close to power and risking our civilisation in the interests of easing their consciences.

*The caveat here of course is an enemy which has a sincere belief in an afterlife and doesn’t especially mind committing state martyrdom. Faced with a nuclear threat from a theocracy, all bets are off, which is why theocracies must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Is there a real doctor in the house?

This blog entry is in response to a blog post by a certain Doctor Andy Williamson, called 10 points to comsider about Brexit and the EU referendum (see http://www.andywilliamson.com/10-points-to-consider-about-brexit-and-the-eu-referendum/). A friend suggested that I might want to write a response, but it is tough to go over similar ground time and time again.

Nevertheless, since I am on my hols and have some quiet time, I’ve taken the opportunity to address Doctor Williamson’s ten, supposedly frequently made pro-Brexit comments and his responses. The doctor’s original comments and responses are in italics.

So, here goes…

1. We’ll have control over our own laws. No. We won’t, we will still need to harmonise with Europe. The only difference between now and then is that at the moment we get to influence those laws. If we leave we just have to adopt them (See Norway).

Yes, we will. We can have precisly the same relationship with the EU that the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, or any number of the majority of countries around the world have with the EU, if we decide to, following failed negotiations with the EU, by leaving the Single Market. As a major export market for the EU, with a large trade deficit, it is very likely that the EU will want/need to tread carefully with the UK. We hold the cards in this respect. The EU has more to lose if trade barriers are established, so it can be pragmatic and negotiate a good deal with the UK or be irresponsible and put the jobs of thousands of EU citizens at risk. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy; Switzerland and Norway are the 20th and 25th largest respectively. Our prospective deal post Brexit looks likely to be on much better terms than those enjoyed by Switzerland or Norway, who nevertheless manage just fine thank you… but more of that later.

2. British courts can make the final decision. More complex this one but, in short, no. They can’t. At least not any more than now. The European Court of Human Rights (the Daily Mule’s biggest enemy) has nothing to do with the EU. The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of EU law (not national law)… see point 1.

British courts will be able to reclaim judgements over issues currently ruled over by the ECJ. You effectively make this point in your own words. As for the ECHR, we agree that it has nothing to do with the EU, although EU accession does require subscription to the ECHR.  The UK government has touted withdrawal from the ECHR and the establishment of a British Bill of Rights, but this is separate from the debate around the EU. And yes, many of us Brexiters do know the difference—we don’t all rely on newspapers for our information, be they the Daily Mule or the Grauniad, which is no better, but merely has an editorial policy which is probably more in line with your mindset.

3. We can control our own borders. Er… We already do. You remember that passport thing you have to show the man?

We have no legal means to prevent an EU citizen from entering the UK without good cause for doing so. That is indisputable. This leaves us in the situation where Italy and Greece threatened last summer to offer all immigrants their respective nationalities and thereby to allow them to move unhindered out of their countries and onward to their preferred destination countries (after all, a genuine refugee could well feel in danger in Italy or Greece). The ‘man’ (or indeed ‘woman’) couldn’t stop any such person from walking into the UK. A sovereign UK could, as it used to.

4. We can control immigration. In theory, yes, we could. We could pull up the drawbridge and fill in the tunnel too. But it won’t happen because we lose more than we gain.

The financials on the benefits of mass immigration are hard to prove either way (see https://fullfact.org/immigration/how-immigrants-affect-public-finances/). There is conflicting evidence and it depends on how you measure. What is beyond dispute to people living in areas directly affected by large numbers of immigrants is the real effects on school places, doctors’ surgeries, transport, wage suppression and housing. Witness also the large number of house-building projects on farm land around most towns now.

Irrespective of this, you imply that those who campaign for Brexit wish to stop immigration. We don’t—we’d merely like to control it along meritocratic lines, so we can prioritise welcoming a citizen of any race from anywhere around the world whose skills we need over a probably white, unskilled EU citizen. The latter seems discriminatory and, well, just a bit racist.

Use of straw-men and talk of filling in tunnels and pulling up drawbridges is a little pathetic from an academic, but at least it identifies you as someone reluctant to argue based on facts.

5. Staying in makes terrorism more likely. One of the more facile claims, this is so brilliantly stupid that it is almost genius. Staying in the EU makes us a hotbed for terrorism whilst leaving means we’re all safe. There you have it! The only problem is, it’s not true. First of all, see point 4 above. Then consider that terrorists are just like multi-nationals – they don’t respect national borders, they don’t play fair and they don’t care about you.

Many terrorists have been EU citizens by birth. You’ll find that many identify with a certain faith which transcends mere boundaries and races, but those who come from outside the EU may acquire EU citizenship. Either way, see point 3 above, as this statistically makes terrorism more likely, since we can’t easily prevent potentially high-risk EU citizens from entering the country without good cause. It’s not the physical stops so much as the right to freedom of movement across the Single Market which is the problem. Someone doesn’t have to be transporting Kalashnikovs or nail bombs across borders to be a security threat.

In the EU’s preferred borderless Schengen area, the Paris attacks were carried out by fellow EU citizens who were able to travel unhindered across borders, without even ‘the man’ checking their passports. Had their passports been checked and had they been questioned at the border, their plans may indeed have been thwarted. So yes, while controlled borders won’t can’t guarantee that terrorism will be stopped, they do make it less likely.

However, this isn’t really a strong point I would make for Brexit.

6. We’ll renegotiate free trade deals to replace the EU. We won’t. Certainly not quickly at least. We’ll trade with the EU as a member of the EEA so we get pretty much the same as now but we lose the power to influence any future changes. Again, see Norway. And the US has already made it clear it has no interest in a FTA with a newly isolated and rapidly sinking UK. But if you believe we can do instant deals why don’t you start with Scotland. As it will undoubtedly leave if the UK leaves the EU. As eventually will Northern Ireland. And then Wales… starting to feel like the ugly kid at the school disco yet?

We won’t necessarily trade as a member of the EEA at all. The likelihood will be that the UK government, the day after our vote to leave, contacts partners around the world with whom we trade and asks them if they wish to remain on current terms. It is highly likely that most will. Those that don’t will have to be involved in negotiations on a one-to-one basis, which can be far more easily concluded than those where 28, often conflicting interests must be considered on one side alone. Switzerland has more free trade agreements than the EU does and reacts far more dynamically to events than the EU can. The UK can hardly be called ‘rapidly sinking’ compared to much of the EU! Christ, the self-loathing education we have seen over the last few decades has indeed work well on many of its products, hasn’t it?

What an outgoing US president says in his own interests does not reflect the UK’s interests. Tell me, who is in this US trade agreement line, I mean “queue”. Can you show me it? I would have thought that governments and civil services would work in parallel rather than series.

As for the prospect of another Scottish referendum, despite the assertions of the SNP, all the opinion polls show largely similar views vis-à-vis the EU in England and Scotland. This notion that the SNP has of being able to be more sovereign in the EU, where it would have 6 out of 684 (0.87% of seats for 1.8% of the population) MEPs in the European Parliament post Brexit, none of whom have legislative initiative, compared with 59 out of 650 (9% of seats for 8% of the population) MPs in Westminster, all of whom do have legislative initiative, and many of whom have gone on to be Prime Minister of the UK, is as factually accurate as Braveheart. Not only that, but Scotland would have the status of a minor country in the EU.

With these facts in mind, the stance of the SNP in desiring to rejoin the EU post-Brexit can only be rationally explained by anglophobia.

Nevertheless, if the Scottish people (or Welsh, or Northern Irish for that matter) voted for independence from the UK, I would wish them well. You see, I’m consistent in my belief in empowerment of citizens and decentralisation of political power.

7. We’ll be strutting our stuff as world power again. Newsflash! The UK is a world power. It has a seat on the UN Security Council. It punches enormously above its weight on the international stage. This is in part because of its connectedness to Europe and its power within the EU. Leave and what are you left with? There is momentum building to review the UNSC membership, what do you think are the odds that an isolated UK will still be there?

Blimey! A mere bullet point ago we were ‘rapidly sinking’! Our “punching above our weight” has precisely nothing to do with our EU membership. The UK was a world power and had its seat on the UNSC long before we joined the then Common Market. It is the EU which is seeking to assume control of the roles historically occupied by the UK (and presumably France). I can’t see the UK giving up that seat on the UNSC easily, although the rights, wrongs, and failings of the UN are for another debate. You carry on arguing for the precious 1/28th (3.5%) share in influence at the EU’s “table”, despite us being outside the majority of euro members, who are bound to and moreover need to act in their own best interests. I’ll argue for us regaining our own table once again. We are indeed a top economic and military world power.

8. The economy will thrive if we’re outside the EU. Seriously? It’s not even worth bothering trying to answer this one! The statement is just so blatantly devoid of logic. We’re not Norway. we sold off most of the family silver years ago. And what’s left is rapidly being outsourced and sold off too. And that great shining generator of wealth (for a small few), the financial sector? That will move to Frankfurt, did you ever see a bank with loyalty? (OK, I accept that this could be seen as a plus). In short, if we leave, we get to live through a fire sale at the sunset of a once great economic and political power.

We’re back to the doom-mongering, I see. Well, I suppose the unrestrained patriotism couldn’t last long. There you go, bringing Norway into it again. Indeed, we’re not Norway—we’re a much bigger economic power on the world stage, but make up your mind; is Norway a positive or a negative model?

All the negatives you insist on being an accurate assessment of the UK have happened and are presumably continuing to happen while we’ve been a member of the EU. We’ll take it as read that I have a little more faith than you in the UK. Your scenarios of doom don’t appear to reflect reality. The financial sector (I assume you mean ‘centre’, as there are existing financial sectors in all EU nations) could have moved to Frankfurt at any time and indeed the very same assertion was made in an attempt to cajole us into joining the euro.

It is nonetheless worth pointing out, that the record of small, independent countries around the world is extremely good, and since you insist on invoking Norway as an example, would you care to tell me which non-EU European country (along with Switzerland) is in the top five wealthiest per capita not only in Europe, but in the world? Then perhaps, moving away from money matters to the more important measures, would you like to take a guess which three non-EU European nations are in the top five happiest countries in the world according to the UN? Go on… Have a go.

9. The EU is incompetent, badly run and a drain on resources. Yes. It is. It is beyond incompetent in many cases. But we’re stuck with it one way or the other – leaving does not change that. It might be hard to change it but at least it’s possible from the inside (now more than ever). What can we do from outside? It’s also worth pondering that many of the problems with supposed-EU dictates lie in the local implementation (remember, it was the UK’s fault it didn’t impose the moratorium in immigration in 2004, as Germany and others did).

We’re largely in agreement here, only your advice appears to be akin to the poor advice given to victims of domestic abuse to stay and to try to change their partners. I’m more inclined to go down the ‘get the feck out of there’ route. What can we do from the outside? The same as every other country outside the EU does. It may have escaped your notice, but several less powerful countries thrive outside the EU.

You claim that many of the problems with “supposed-EU dictates” lie in the local implementation of them. OK, fine. Even if we grant you that, in what way would having EU dictates implemented better locally be better than having none?

But the EU does issue dictates. They aren’t supposed dictates, but absolutely meet the dictionary definition.

A moritorium on immigration is as useful as Cameron’s negotiated farce of a handbrake on benefits for EU migrants, except that the latter needs to be pulled by the EU itself—it’s merely temporary and kicks the issue into the long grass.

10. What’s it ever done for us anyway? Nothing much. Other than working time directives and other ways that protect your rights at work, protect your children. Then there’s consumer protection and European peace. Not to mention the wholesale transition of Eastern Europe from volatile authoritarian states into thriving democracies. Maybe you don’t care about any of those things. But you should. In short, the idea of leaving the EU is somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide.

Are you seriously going to attempt to claim that workers’ and children’s rights didn’t exist before we joined the EU, and that they wouldn’t have been implemented in the course of the last forty years but by the grace of the EU in its benevolence? Again, you’re supposedly an academic, for Chrissake! At least make the tiniest effort to attempt to retain the illusion of impartiality! Just how much EU funding do you receive, by the way? Just interested.

Sweden, before it joined the EU, had some of the most progressive social policies in the world, which far exceeded those of any EU country. All modern, developed economies have various measures of protection of rights. These are driven by societal pressures in a connected world and have nothing to do with the EU. To claim that such rights would otherwise not be enjoyed by UK citizens when such rights are enjoyed by Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, is simply ridiculous.

So, that’s the good doctor’s points dealt with individually. Most telling, however, as to his own bigotry was one of the opening paragraphs…

“Well, what exactly is the motivation not to be part of a modern Europe? It feels like a naïve and shortsighted hark back to the glory days of Empire, with a worryingly modern dose of isolationist xenophobia. It’s regressive. Hardly a platform for the future.”

This marks the doctor’s post out clearly as an appeal to virtue signallers everywhere through blatant straw-man portrayals of opponents of the EU. In effect, the doctor is making the following statement.

“If you believe in the EU, you must be a forward-thinking, liberal-minded, good ‘un. If you’re anti-EU, you’re stuck in the Victorian era, hate foreigners, and want to shut out the world.”

Well, perhaps this will be effective in bringing in a lot of young minds to the doctor’s side—that class of student who, sheep-like, falls in line with the prevailing group mentality and de rigeur opinion; those happy many, who like to be seen to have the right opinions rather than having to go through the trouble of examining evidence and thinking things through for themselves. It is, after all, far better and easier to be handed your socially-acceptable opinions, à la carte. And we see this now all too clearly and too often in institutions of higher education, where to have an original thought or to deviate from received knowledge was once considered positive or at least worthy of discussion, but is now more likely to see you no-platformed and sworn at by the mouthy, unwashed, “safe-space” numpties.

But the doctor has let slip his poor judgement and own prejudices. No doubt there are some who favour Brexit because they fit the doctor’s description, but I must admit, I haven’t met any of the Colonel Blimp would-be types.

No, quite the opposite in fact.

Speaking personally…

1. I’m not motivated not to be part of modern Europe.
2. The EU is a political construct; Europe is a continent.
3. I love Europe. I want the French people, Germans, Italians, Greeks, and British to have their politicians directly accountable to them. It’s hardly a radical proposal!
4. Nobody is harking back to the glory days of empire, except perhaps those who are looking to BUILD A FECKIN’ EMPIRE IN EUROPE! Pot, kettle, black.
5. Isolationism includes putting up borders and privileging people within those borders. The EU does precisely this by forcing the UK to discriminate in favour of unskilled EU citizens over skilled non-EU citizens. That seems rather more xenophobic.

Frankly, I don’t give a toss how it feels to Doctor W, because that’s wholly subjective. The doctor either utterly misunderstands my and many others’ motivating factors for campaigning for Brexit or he’s seeking to misrepresent them. Neither is especially good from an academic.

Many of us favour Brexit to increase political accountability, to bring decision-making closer to the people, and to ensure that the taxes we raise under the goverment we elect are used in ways we can influence. Furthermore, we seek to move away from the protectionist EU and embrace the wider world, welcoming talented and useful people to our shores from across the globe.

We recognise the EU for what it has become, not for what we might wish it were.

As I posted in a recent Facebook post…

If you’re going to decry people for nationalism and harking back to the days of empire while voting to remain in an anti-democratic political construct whose core purpose is to build a large, single, protectionist state through the acquisition of neighbouring countries… you haven’t really thought this through properly, have you?

Doctor Williamson… I’m afraid that my advice for others would be to urgently seek a second opinion!

Defending Ignorance

The news is awash with examples of reporters trying to undertake school tests intended for 10/11 year olds, and Caroline Lucas hit David Cameron with some grammar questions during PMQs today.

Comparing the grammar skills of generations who were not taught English grammar with those of youngsters who have been taught grammar rules tells us what exactly?

I’m not commenting on the matter of testing of young kids, to which I’m generally opposed, nor whether the methods by which children are taught grammar are good or bad, but based on the generally poor standards of written English widely on display by people who were schooled from the 1960s onwards, often put to shame by people who learn English as a foreign language, and widely complained about by higher education establishments and employers, something has had to be done.

As much as it may seem important that little Beyoncé can write creatively and rap about her interests, out in the real world it will be more important and will do her far more favours if she knows the difference between there, they’re, and their; two, to, and too; and that she never follows a modal verb with ‘of’, because she thinks that would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve are actually would of, could of, and should of when she writes in a professional capacity.

People judge a person with poor spelling and grammar, whether we like it or not. So, by all means dismiss the small matter of learning your own language properly for yourself, but can we please stop the knee-jerk anti-grammar crap, for the sake of our kids? Just because we don’t understand, because we weren’t taught it, doesn’t mean that they don’t.

Politically Correct Denialism

You can hate an ideology without hating all those who are born under its umbrella.

This appears hard for people to grasp, but then they are the same people who seemingly struggle to differentiate between religion and race; see no causal connection between Islam and an organisation which calls itself Islamic State, which is run by someone who has a PhD in Islamic theology from the Islamic University of Baghdad; and which carries out atrocities accompanied by cries of ‘God is great’ rather than ‘I strongly object to western foreign policy’, and whose thugs require that their hostages recite a koranic prayer to establish who is and isn’t Muslim when they decide whether or not to kill them.

Yes, we know. It has nothing to do with Islam. I am clapping my hands very, very, slowly. Keep on reciting that mantra to yourself; you’re part of the problem.

Look, I wholeheartedly agree that most Muslims in western societies aren’t the problem. Islam is the problem. Not only that, but most victims of Islam are Muslims themselves, both in direct terms as victims of warfare and (to an equally abhorrent level to those of us who value human rights above religious or cultural beliefs, or about hurting the feelings of the religious) those who live under the daily oppression of religion, whether under the discriminatory nature of religious law or due to societal pressures within religious communities.

Those of us who reject all religious doctrines recognise that there would be no Islamic terrorism without Islam, because there would be no means of using those particular teachings of a 7th century warlord, his view of how his god operates, and his acolytes to manipulate the easily-led into believing that they are doing evil things for an ultimately godly purpose.

Those of us who argue vociferously against Islam are doing so because it is clearly at the root of sectarian conflict within the Muslim world and a wider conflict with the outside world, and is the means with which people can be convinced to kill themselves in the real belief in an afterlife.

The people who kill themselves are exhibiting the ultimate act of faith. How many people do you know who have such a strong belief in their religion that they will happily die for it? Are we supposed to believe that people will willingly surrender their lives, proclaiming ‘God is great!’ because they’re displeased with western foreign policy and not because they have absolute faith in an afterlife? Who buys that narrative? Well, apparently thousands of people – even senior politicians.

I dislike rap music intensely, but I’m not prepared to blow myself up proclaiming ‘God is great’ as a sign of my unhappiness at being subjected to it.

We are told that faith is a virtue. Surely, then, killing yourself is the ultimate expression of faith.

This ‘ultimate expression of faith’ is why many of those of us who reject faith – i.e. belief in something without evidence and on the basis of geographical and temporal accident – will do all we can to fight it.

Some mystify martyrdom, making it out to be something more than the mere actions of a prick who is far better off out of the gene pool and is doing evolution a massive favour. In an inspired comment, I recall the words of a soldier in an earlier conflict against the ‘armies of God’ , who calmly demystified and undermined the whole woo around martyrdom by using the term as a straightforward euphemism for killing these idiots.

“Martyrs? Sure, we’ll help a few of them become martyrs.”

The term may be meaningful to those who respect the whole concept of dying for dogma, but to those of us who reject this, it’s a meaningless term and far from worthy of respect is worthy of nothing more than ridicule, or, if we’re feeling generous, patronising pity.

The only worthy martyrs in my book are those who sacrifice their lives to save the lives of others – the heroes who throw themselves on grenades to save a greater number of their comrades in arms.

So, to those who engage in this collective self-deception… Call my disdain for religion any ‘phobia’ you like to gain your social-posturing brownie points and back-slapping from your platitude-peddling buddies, but get used to growing numbers of us making a vocal stance against all faiths, and against one in particular at the current time.

We’re under no illusions that we can prevent people from believing all manner of several-hundred-year-old nonsense, but we can point out its absurdities and educate the young against it, fighting against the very respect for it which society still, STILL, in the 21st century, tries to inculcate in it through our schools.

We hope that as humanity evolves, it will finally exit this dark period of history and move to a time when people don’t define themselves and fight each other over who has the best invisible friend, or whether that friend is edible or not (one for the Christians there – just for a bit of balance).

Mistake our disdain for religion as racism if you like and on that basis, I’ll call your dislike of my favourite music racism too.

Trust me though, you’ll never have our respect while you sustain and side with pre-Enlightenment superstition and neither will those of us with any backbone be curbed from our ultimate desire to rid the world of superstition once and for all; to cast aside an aspect of our history which truly divides people and has caused millions of deaths.

Earlier last week, Labour MP Keith Vaz said he would support the reintroduction of blasphemy laws, a mere seven years after we finally rid our country of these ridiculous laws. Does it not even occur to otherwise seemingly intelligent people that an omnipotent being really doesn’t need to be defended from having its feelings hurt?

Your religion is important to you? Fine. Keep it to yourself and ideally let your children decide for themselves. Don’t expect any civilised country in the 21st century to even consider blasphemy laws. What’s next? Witch trials? I mean, I know they’re still popular in Saudi Arabia, but bloody hell!

Rest assured, I would willingly subject myself to the full force of the law in the event of the reintroduction of such a law. I would love to see an advanced, supposedly liberal society in the 21st century forever condemn itself in the eyes of future generations by prosecuting someone for insulting religion, merely to pacify the most willingly and pathetically outraged factions of society.

If you are willing to debate the issues, and you’re one of the very few who can do so without name-calling or building more straw men than the Crow Man, let’s talk.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

On an optimistic note, I am reading more and more about people in extremely religious societies, especially those under Islamic laws, turning away from religion. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those people, because, as much as many people in my culture appear to see all religions and cultures as the same, I am only too aware that speaking out against religion in many countries around the world can see you sentenced to death, and even where the state itself isn’t quite ready or prepared to carry out the sentence, it is more than willing to stand aside and let angry mobs carry out ‘God’s justice’.

I note that the #ExMuslimBecause hashtag has been trending in recent days. Not only are some decent Muslims brave enough to state ‘not in my name’ (yes, even objecting to the actions of ISIS can have you branded a ‘coconut’ by some enlightened citizens), but some who have been born into Islam are going one massive step further and abandoning religion altogether. Make no mistake, this is a very big development. Renouncing Christianity will have no effect on most people born into it (although there are still some less, erm, enlightened parts of the world where such a move could see you ostracised), but renouncing Islam – i.e. apostasy, does carry the death sentence according to the Hadith, and I’ve yet to see any believer deny this. So, those taking that step deserve massive support and respect from those of us who have already abandoned faith or never had it in the first place.

It’s perhaps somewhat ironic that ISIS, in attempting to foist the purest version of literalist Islam on those lands it occupies, may in fact be having a polarising effect and driving many of its co-religionists away.

To those who continue to act as apologists for religion, and especially those who claim to hold otherwise liberal values, if you’re happy to side with those on the wrong side of history, go for it. If you’re happy for your descendants to laugh at your support or respect for those clinging on to odd, Bronze or Dark Age beliefs, and for holding back human progress, fine. If you’re happy to facilitate oppression of those who are seeking to drag Islam through its own reformation by acting as an apologist for the most conservative and reactionary members of Islamic society, simply to validate your anti-western narrative, that’s your decision.

Just spare us the holier-than-thou social posturing and platitudes.

 

Talking up to children

The TV show The Apprentice last week featured both teams writing books for children and then attempting to sell as many copies of these as they could. One team had three or so words which were outside the vocabulary of most kids of their target age. Stock buyers at the biggest book store in London expressed concern at this, as though challenging kids with words they didn’t immediately recognise is a bad thing.

I couldn’t help but contrast this with the prevailing attitude of my formative years and also with what I learnt some time ago about language acquisition, as a linguist myself.

One of the key ways we learn vocabulary in our own mother tongue and in foreign languages is by hearing words we don’t recognise in context with other words. How somebody who doesn’t grasp this is charged with sourcing suitable books and buying stock for London’s biggest book store is truly shocking.

Our youngest (aged 7) is currently reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You will already have gathered that some of the vocabulary is beyond him. He loves the book. Last night he was reading to me from an English translation of Wilhelm Busch’s German classic children’s book, Max and Moritz, which uses words and expressions completely alien to a modern child, even using a borrowed French word in the line “Are our Max and Mo’ perdu?”

This reluctance to patronise children didn’t used to be confined to the written word either. By way of demonstration, see if you can spot the source of this…

“This calm, serene, orb, sailing majestically among the myriad stars of the firmament.”*

Homer? Confucius?

Nope. All from the pen of the creator, writer, and narrator of Bagpuss, The Clangers, Pogle’s Wood, and Ivor the Engine; the late, great, Oliver Postgate.

I grew up watching his work from the time before I could crawl. He didn’t do “dumbing-down” and a generation of my contemporaries are all the better for it. Children born now are no less intelligent than children of my generation were. Unfortunately, some of those overseeing their education in key positions of influence appear to be.

*https://youtu.be/Ok6CoIwcJ-E?t=45s

Still Droning On

Clearly I’m missing something. I hear a lot of objection to the use of military drones and I don’t quite understand why.

If people’s objections are based on incidents where civilians have been killed by drones, that is not an issue related to technology, but a moral objection. Civilians have always been killed by warfare and the area (blanket) bombing tactics used in World War 2 are surely more objectionable than the use of precision weaponry.

If the objection is a generic objection to war, again, that is a legitimate point of view, but that does not relate to drones, but to a pacifist point of view. It’s not one I share, for reasons of history and realism, but I can understand it. However, if the objection is war per se, I wish people who decry the use of drones would declare their position honestly at the outset; otherwise, they’re just muddying the debate.

So, excluding those two standpoints leaves us with the objection that using drones just ‘isn’t cricket’ when it comes to killing people in wars.

These same objections have been raised in the past, from the original objections to the use of long-distance weapons, notably the church’s attempts to ban use of the crossbow, longbow, and gunpowder at different points in history. It’s odd, really, but if your objection to drones is based on the remoteness or desensitisation of the nature of combat, are you saying that you’d prefer good, honest, hand-to-hand combat with axes, daggers, pikes, spears, claymores, or swords? And why isn’t there more general moral outcry about the use of guns and conventional missiles, which can kill from hundreds of metres to continents respectively without any need for the person responsible for firing/launching to come face to face with the recipient(s) of said lethal force?

Personally, I welcome the move in recent decades away from area bombing of cities. I’ve lived in Coventry and been to Dresden. I know full well the effects (both actual and psychological) that the raids had on civilian targets and they’re far, far more horrific than any modern audience can truly grasp. My own mother was almost six when war was declared and was never again able to hear the air raid siren on television or even hear German voices comfortably without recalling bad memories of her early years growing up in Brixton during the Blitz.

No, precision weaponry, in the grand scheme of things, has to be welcomed. If we are going to fight wars (and unfortunately, when civilisations clash and we wish to defend our values, wars must be fought), I am glad that we no longer target civilian areas en masse, but are able to deploy weapons to precise targets.

The use of drones takes the risk away from at least one set of combatants – i.e. those we should be supporting in these struggles, since they are on OUR BLOODY SIDE! I don’t quite understand a mentality which says we should put our military personnel at risk to fight fairly. Most of our military enemies in recent years have not ‘fought fairly’ in any case, choosing instead to hide amongst civilian targets, from schools to mosques, because they know full well that public opinion will not tolerate ‘collateral damage’ or damage to what are ‘holy places’, despite their own disregard for the sanctity of their own people or places of worship.

Indeed, operating drones from remote locations means that those involved in operations can be overseen by senior officers and there are fewer opportunities for rogue actions by individuals who are operating out of sight.

There are of course the stories of wedding parties hit by drone strikes. Again, there’s little to suggest that similar mistakes wouldn’t be made by conventional, battlefield decisions. Indeed, such mistakes have always been made and operative stresses are surely more likely to lead to collateral damage than decisions made in the safety of remote locations, where all the focus can be placed on selecting the correct target rather than defensive concerns.

Warfare has always involved one side striving to get the upper hand on the other side, through better weaponry, technology, tactics, or superior numbers. Our enemies are free to advance technologically, if they choose to do so, but while the self-loathers among us appear to infer that our enemies have the moral high ground, there is something they must consider seriously…

We could utterly destroy our enemies using WMDs if we chose to do so. Isn’t it at least a mark of our civility that we choose not to do so? And if your response to that involves Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I invite you to read up on casualty figures involved in taking just the remote, outlying Japanese islands as a prelude to the mainland invasion of Japan, and extrapolate, as Truman must have done when he made that fateful decision in Potsdam, on how many lives would in fact be saved by that decision, as horrific as the outcome was.

I also invite you to consider carefully what some of our nihilist, religious enemies would do, given the same opportunity to use WMDs, and given that they already proudly and openly declare that they ‘love death more than we love life’.

We may yet live to find out.