Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Representative democracy: a new phase of terminal decline?

A correction to the post entitled Dialogue and illusion: don't be scared, world. One of the Conservative party election posters for 2005 of course read 'imagine five more years of him', not four as I wrote. Maybe the soon-to-be-former prime minister's presidential style of government and delusion thereof got through to me. But then after ten years, had Blair failed to make his mark by moulding perceptions, surely that failure would have been an abuse of office.

But it did lead me to think of that campaign afresh. The poster with the doctored grin had the line quoted above, Blair resembling Jack Nicholson's Joker character from Batman rather than a serious politician. Blair's obsession with celebrity, and politics as performance art, might mean he wasn't too displeased. But more seriously, what of the 'democratic deficit' the Conservative posters revealed? The posters read 'are you thinking what we're thinking?'. There was a point to this. I worry for our democracy when it appears to deny its citizens the right to speak out loud, and doesn't fight the pressures of anonymous authority. The controlled immigration poster was a case in point. It's not the political bruising I comment on; all parties do that and the Conservatives are no angels. It was rather the mood such posters alluded to, as a precursor to apathy, which was the issue in 2005.

I make no comment pro- or anti-controlled immigration, merely speak of the defects in our democracy in allowing suppressing of debate. It may well be that the UK has to model its raison d'etre to be an immigrant nation, a la the US; or it may be that a more sensible debate on the retention of the prevailing national identity while absorbing others has to be had. To this end, the media has had some offsetting impact vis-a-vis the deficit. Mid-decade, Newsnight ran a feature on Asian taxi drivers in Birmingham, fearing loss of their economic status from immigration-led competition; John Snow on Channel Four News interviewed Imran Khan who defended Islam at a time when the teaching of the religious schools was coming under scrutiny; identity cards as an effective national security measure remains an issue; this list is highly selective, but does pose a question of whether in a fully functioning democracy, real debate should be left exclusively to the press.

And that's the point of the Blair decade. The media has done its best to fill a democratic vacuum. Spin killed political opposition, leaving us to whisper in corners about what we really want to debate. Representative democracy indeed.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A new human settlement for the twenty first century

Where does the west versus Islam debate sit in a wider context? As can be seen all around, the battle for universal values is on. Computing power is said to double every eighteen months; China and India see rapid industrialisation as their right; global software infrastructure now means that a middle class can begin its rise in India, creating the mobile phone-using service sector employee, property owning aspirants western societies are long used to. The Great Game is back too, central Asian oil and gas now geopolitically significant. By way of contrast, Pope Benedict XVI says his message of fundamental Christianity is needed to avert a growing rise in secularisim, there remains almost a fated tendency to reduce politics to an economic base, which is surely one of mankind's greatest mistakes, and one must not understate the emergence of global terror, partly driven by the force of information flow which either governments cannot or have unwittingly conspired not to control (be as that may, it does not excuse those who perpetrate heinous acts).

Rather condescendingly, Tony Benn on his Free at Last tour that Margaret Thatcher equated freedom with the use of English; 'We all speak English now' he rebuked her for saying, while pointing out that he is related to Indians in what he implied to be his more morally virtuous world as a result. Both Benn and Thatcher are wrong. There is no more moral superiority in the English language than there is in making diversity a virtue for its own sake. Benn and Thatcher need to ask what values result from the situations they describe. It's fair to say in both cases there have been many. But the examples do illustrate humankind's search for the universal as something fundamental, to triumph over another, when maybe what is needed is a kind of pagan style equality of many illusions.

Illusion is what we are and how we view things. Can the twenty first century be the real century of the self, unlike the false start given by consumerism, failed utopias and fundamentalism in the twentieth? Or do these scenarios above depict a pattern of failure humankind is once more repeating? Humankind needs a new settlement with itself; Islam and the west look very different when seen as firmly embedded with other interlocking human drives seeking non-existent truth.

Dialogue and illusion: don't be scared of them, world

When looking at the supposed argument that says the world is undergoing a 'clash of civilisations', it is instructive to look at the mutual misunderstandings that the supposed protagonists ie the west and Islamism, share in their perceptions of each other. To this end, the eradication of misunderstanding, I would like to think, can be furthered by attempts at closer interfaith dialogue.

Recents events suggest the portents are not good. Cancellation by the Malaysians of the Dr Rowan Williams interfaith conference Building Bridges, cannot be said to have furthered the cause of freedom. A strange one this, in that profession and practice of religion is said to guaranteed by the Malaysian federal constitution but the freedom to convert remains controversial. On the other hand, the west must ensure that if it attempts to confront those aspects of Islam it feels it needs to (I must point out here that nobody, no belief or institution is above the checks and balances of its fellows as a democratic necessity) , it does not do so from moral inviolability but from good faith. Jack Straw may well wish to see a person's face when talking to them, but he can make no moral claim. Blair's perceived malevolence with those demon eyes and doctored grin on the Conservatives 2005 election poster ('Imagine four more years of him'), were seen in and on a face unhidden and used as a political tool by Blair as well as his opponents. Hardly a face guaranteeing truth, the message ran.

Human rights groups in Malaysia appear to be on the back foot. In Pakistan there have been similar Sharia vs civil divides in respect of adultery and rape, with human rights groups having the upper hand this time. Although my knowledge of Nigeria is not up to date, in the past there have been attempts at imposing constitutional primacy above those states which have declared Sharia law. These civil v Sharia clashes may lead to the development of a new jurisprudence which meets human rights concerns. All creeds must be open to scrutiny and thereby evolve. There is no claim of moral superiority for the state or religion in these notes; for who is to say that the best of a religion cannot humanise the worst of a state? The point is: the primacy of checks and balances as a democratic, not a moral, tool, is essential. Nothing can place itself above the duties of others who have democratic obligations in relation to them.

Perceptions of the west by others also need to change. As said above re the veil, in seeking interfaith values nobody can take an inviolable stance. This is as true of the gentleman Richard Dawkins met on his Channel Four documentary on atheism as it is of western observers; when Dawkins insisted western women dressed as they wanted, his Middle Eastern interlocutor said they dressed like 'whores'. Now admittedly the west does have a technology fuelled secularisation that has corroded the concept of identity-within-community. The west is adrift in that it has attained freedom for people which in some cases is neither understood, wanted or used. But those ladies have the right to liberty as they perceive it. We all have the right to our humanity, whatever we do with it.

The search for new universal values need present no threat to the practice of any religion. Which makes the current Malaysian constitutional settlement all the more unsettling. To finish with Dawkins again, he said something recently that for the first time I agree with. Even though he is an atheist, he spoke of the understanding of 'literally allusion' which can be acquired through reading the Bible. Some truths can indeed be told only as fictions.

Interfaith dialogue can bring all the world's belief systems together and by underpinning them with new global understanding, preserve rather than threaten them. Insecurity in one's religion suggests that as humans, we haven't fully understood the extent to which illusion is our natural condition (for more on this, see Mesinus on his blog the Descent of Man, which can be entered through beernsandwiches).

In the News: Comment - 26-28 May 2007

Islamic Intolerance:

Malaysian court to rule on right to abandon Islam This illustrates the lack of respect that Islam gives to other religions in some Muslim states. This story focuses on the "moderate" Muslim country of Malaysia, but also mentions Jordan and more "extreme" Saudi Arabia. This perhaps provides and argument against the multiculturalist promotion of Islam in the West and shows how dangerous this politically correct trend really is. It also shows why it is imperative to avoid even paying lip service to calls for any form of Sharia law in the UK which would be to create a very dangerous and very slippery slope indeed.

Political correctness:

Political correctness in a time of terror Shows the dangers of political correctness with regard to terrorism. If people fear the label racist if they report suspicious behaviour then there will be a cost in lives. This story illustrates why political correctness is not just stupid and self-defeating but also very dangerous and very deadly. This ideology has gone far beyond ensuring equality and now represents a very dark and sinister agenda on the part of the political left that threatens the very rights and freedoms that make our society open and tolerant.

Pirates Protected By Political Correctness This is another example of how political correctness leaves efforts to alleiviate suffering hamstrung. Piracy, like other forms of terrorism, needs to be dealt with by a firm hand and should not be allowed to hide behind international humanitarian laws. Organisations such as the UN are too bogged down in their own ineffective bureaucracy to have any long term effectiveness in dealing with the serious problems than afflict our world.

Political Correctness: The Inclubator of Islamism Illustrates the 'loony-left' head in the sand approach to the Islamist threat to Western Civilisation and the left itself. This article pours cold water on the left's ridiculous and dangerous ideas, and shows how the Islamist's agenda does not have the interests of the freedom at heart. The religious intolerance in Muslim lands is show in stark contrast to the doe-eyed story irresponsibly put about by many in the West.

The Poison of Multiculturalism Exposes some of the myths of multiculturalism and suggests that it is more about anti-westernism rather than the promotion of equality. It mentions Western guilt for Western success and the urgent call from multiculturalists for us to give away our ill-gotten gains to those who we have ruthlessly exploited in the past.

Only White People Can Be Racists A look at the hypocrisy of those that shout racist while at the same time promoting their own brand of racism as a good thing. It would seem that racism is a street to which all non whites are confronted with a no-entry sign.

Terrorism:

Do some in Europe believe in 'terrorism with a human face?' This article refers to Turkey's PKK, but I think represents a wider tendency on the part of many on the 'tambourine banging, sandal wearing, tree hugging, hippie elements' that currently rule Europe. I think that Palestinian terror groups seem to be given a human face by the European elite who seem to despise, Israel, the United States, and their own cultures. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blair vs Harry: victory for the king of spin

It seems odd that General Sir Richard Dannatt, should cite 'specific threats' as the reasoning behind preventing Prince Harry fight in Iraq. Isn't everyone in war subject to a 'specific threat'? And even odder to say this is purely a military decision. War used to have values but never rules, still less exceptional circumstances; it seems odd that in modern warfare, a mood-distracting celebrity, exempt from duties he trained to perform, becomes primus inter pares. Queen Elizabeth said that it was only after the bombing of Buckingham Palace that she could 'look the East End in the face'; King George VI was visting the bomb wracked ruined shell of Coventry cathedral within days of the city's 'Coventration'. Is war now meant to go on while the majority of people remain indifferently distracted? Is that Prince Harry's role in war, not to be a part of it?

The parallel with World War II is obviously not exact. But as Falklands Major General Julian Thompson recently said, we must remain in touch with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, however remote they may be from the UK, to appreciate as best we can the sacrifices being made by many good men and women of all nations. To that end Harry should go, duties in armoured reconnaissance being secondary to being the conduit for the human stories we all need to be told.

Royalty in war has galvanised our nation. King Harold in 1066 was defeated, but has been remembered for a millennium. From Henry V at Harfleur, Elizabeth I's Tilbury address, George II leading his troops at Dettingen during the war of the Austrian Succession, the Duke of Wellington's defeat of Napoleon and later prime ministerial service, and Queen Victoria's great grandson Lord Louis Mountbatten, in the hands of our royal leaders has the nation placed its trust. Today, in a war justified by what have been controversial means, Blair asks us not to doubt the sincerity of his conviction, whether right or wrong. Fine; but then why are the people being denied, by whichever part of the establishment, the symbolic underpinning for the cause he so believes to be right? Why train Prince Harry to fight and then deny him the chance to go? Moreover, could Prince Harry demonstrate his conviction by resigning his commission; spin that one in the dying days of your premiership, Blair.

Maybe parallels with the Vietnam war can be drawn, in that daily television coverage influences public opinion rather more than the less invasive Pathe News, radio and newspapers of sixty years ago. It seems incredible to think that television research was suspended during World War II in order to focus resources thus saved on the war effort. But as is little understood and barely realised, new technology introduced into the human realm changes the dynamic of power in unforeseen ways, for try going to war without television today. But are more sinister forces at work?

Distract the people by keeping their celebrities alive in a plasticine world. Shield the people from the true horrors of war by denying them the symbolism around which their sense of judgement will coalesce. Could this be the Blair legacy, not only burying bad news but taking measures to prevent it? In saying this, I declare that I wish Harry no harm; but is there a hidden agenda? To let Harry's celebrity status occupy the minds of millions; to let the nation chatter on about which nightclub he scuffled outside ad inifinitum; but deny him his place in history because were he to take it, he might jeopardise Blair's.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The West must address issues - not fashions

Does nobody regard globalisation as a threat any more? Is it the case that post-Millennium societies are deliberately distracted from global economics, which renders lives ever more insecure unknowingly? I do not say, because I do not know, what those forces of distraction are, if indeed they exist. But did we all simply decide globalisation is innocuous, just like that? I do not deny that the world is more dangerous now than for a long time. It is. These dangers have changed the agenda. But more fundamental to society than its agendas are its shifts in consciousness, because they determine how it reacts, and to whom.

The 'Establishment' learnt how to fence itself in at Seattle, Genoa, Cancun and the Gleneagles G8, the fighting at the WTO meetings shifting from surprise to the institutionalised. The E-word is in inverted commas to illustrate its nebulous nature; and once fenced in, it brought under its aegis celebrities pledging to hold politicans to their promises on Africa. I support their intentions but not the illusions. The electoral cycle will defeat the nation of accountability for a start; who'll be holding Blair to account for the state of Africa in 2015? I hope nobody needs to.

World governments pledge action on climate change while remaining in thrall to Middle Eastern energy. Post-Ottoman Empire, the wealth of the Middle East has greatly enlarged its power and purpose. The west consumes, becomes over more technologically advanced, its citizens ever more insecure and guess what: we no longer talk about globalisation.

It seems odd that globalisation has dropped off the radar. I do not refer to capitalism or communism when speaking of global economics, rather the hidden forces of the vices of technology making us feel free while at the same time tightening those Rousseauesqe chains.
Technology does have some virtues of course; but the West has to stop trying making a god of everyone, and training us all to be contestants on the Apprentice or Big Brother in a world of remade emotions. Look at the results of the god making process and weep.

Nietzsche said that God is dead but it has taken a century to see the consequences of his remark. Switching off the background noises which give our lives meaning has perhaps, not surprisingly, had unintended consequences. Status anxiety as a whole afflicts us. To what extent can Western society absorb external stresses and strains?

Change is coming. The West may have correctly guessed its sources already; but then it may not . It must identify and proportionalize the dangers with precision, not rely on shifts in consciousness which slip in and out of fashion.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New ways of life are never expected - who's best prepared?

When Gerald Ford assumed the office of the United States presidency in the wake of Watergate, he said that while the nation had not given him his votes he requested the peoples' prayers. In Florida in the 2000 presidential election, many disputed votes became the subject of actions going to the US Supreme Court. The Americans have a political system which when it fails it is still said to work, owing to the nation's cohesion in self-belief. Surely though, Ford's remark is an interesting take on church-state separation!

The dynamic of any political system extends far beyond the power it gives to people through its institutions, as the Americans know; but it is always as well not to stretch that institutional inertia too far, hence Republican efforts to get out the vote for the 2004 presidential election.
Is it possible though, that the American way of life can absorb all ways of life under the common denominator of being American? Or will a new way of life arrive on the seaboards threatening the existing order, much like early settlers in Jamestown, Virginia and New England back in the seventeenth century?

The question is whether there is anywhere in the world which can absorb changes imposed on it by virtue of its raison d'etre being the vitality of what it absorbs. Can Europe become another United States of comparable flexibility? Will international crises be the end of Europe as we know it? But then there's the irony of all human affairs; while a crisis of a global kind is coming, invariably it's never the crisis anyone expected or thought of.

And who'd have thought American democracy would have been rescued by a man believing his lack of votes could be overcome by prayer (literal and metaphorical)? Not to mention his lack of ambition for the highest office in the land being a virtue in his holding of it? Democracy moves in mysterious ways when at its best.

The challenge within - to strengthen Europe's nations

It seems a long time ago that the Danes were told that 'the European show must go on' after their 1992 rejection of the Maastricht treaty. It's an epoch in political terms when one considers the profile of some of the leading European Commissioners of the eighties and early nineties as opposed to now: Delors, McSharry, Jenkins et al were men of destiny, giving political midwifery to EMU, faced by the likes of Ridley, Shore and others in the Bruges Group who argued for retention of national sovereignty and co-operation between national states. Where is the European Union today? Jose Manuel Barroso may make the right noises about employment, technology-led growth and the rest. Peter Mandelson appears on trade issues and was prominent at the time of the ending of the Multi-Fibre Agreement causing the 2005 'bra wars'. But who really listens to the EU any more? And is it capable at times of international crisis?

Geoffrey Howe may well have been right to say sovereignty isn't like virginity, that you either have it or not. Any despite EU enlargement, there is a sense of the peculiarly national state prerogative reasserting itself in Europe's choice of national leaders. The 'Polish plumber' and others, so to speak, has given rise to national electrates seeking national politicians with powers to deal with real or imagined insecurity. France has elected Nicolas Sarkozy, dubbed by those who loathe him as 'France's Berlusconi'. Ironically, the UK's Berlusconi leaves office this summer; and just look at how reluctantly the real Berlusconi left office himself. But can it be denied that these are and were national politicians appealing to insecure electorates? Geoffrey Howe may have had an implied point that Tony Benn speaks for: the power of people when mobilised, if only by their own insecurities, makes power coalesce only temporarily within any given structure. To put the point simpler, people have more power than they realise.

But what will make them exercise it at times other than insecurity? Benn went on his 'Free at Last' tour with the intention of recreating the public meeting. Agonised voices spoke of things governments did in their name but without their consent, and surely the European Union has a democratic deficit and loss of credibility it hasn't faced in years. Benn spoke of elected officials being accountable unlike any other employee and referred to California's recall system whereby voters can remove elected state officials. The public need to be aware that they can be a vital mechanism in democracy wherever they are.

But political power isn't only about voting. In fact, citizen empowerment is about doing the things that the vote is merely a culmination of, which is Benn's raison d'etre. And there is the danger of the challenge from within, in the face of politicians who manipulate mood and spin the story to deflect accountability.

An institutionalised European Union is a politically dead one. The national states will elect the leaders who appear capable of addressing their concerns only when pushed. Let's be grateful for small mercies, but await and argue, campaign and debate, for the true representative-voter relationship that does justice to European nations working together in tackling international issues.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy wins Presidency - Vive la France, liberte egalite, fraternity!


A vote for common sense and reason has taken place in France with the election of Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy to the Presidency today. I sincelely hope that France, under its new President, can help stem the tide of Islamist radicalism that afflicts the continent of Europe. France is a central player in the EU and therefore has great influence. The election of Sarkozy, I hope, will be a boon to all of us in the counter-jihjad community and will ensure that our cause is pushed forward. Sarkozy, Europe expects that you will do you duty for the benefit of all.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Justice for England Demonstration on 1 May 2007

I attended the 'Justice for England' demonstration in London last Tuesday. The day was the 300th anniversary of the union of the English and Scottish Parliaments. On this date in 1707 the English and Scottish parliaments ceased exist and the British parliament was born.

In 1997 the Labour Party came to power and set about a programme of constitutional reform which resulted in the creation of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. England was deemed unworthy of having the same privilege. This iniquitous state of affairs is completely unacceptable and there are 2 real choices. The first is the creation of an English parliament and the transformation of Westminster into a federal British parliament. The second is the abolition of the Scottish parliament and the Welsh Assembly and for groups in both these countries to desist from their divisive separatist activities. I must admit that my preference is for the latter option, I support the Union but oppose the injustice.

The 1 May demonstration took place under blue skies and was blessed by warm sunshine and I would say was a great success. The English flag, a flag that has been slandered in some PC circles, was much in evidence and the march followed on behind a horse drawn hearse with a coffin draped in an English flag. To me this seemed to represent the funeral for England and English liberty under the heal of leftist inspired constitutional reform. It is now time for our political representatives to revisit the issue of constitutional reform and either abandon the divisive policy of devolution or provide justice for England within the constitutional system. This is a much more preferable option than an English Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom. It is time for politicians to start to speak up in the service of justice and equality for the English.

More photographs of this event can be found HERE.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Stop the Islamisation Of Europe (SIOE) - New Google Group Launched

A new Google Group has been lauched to help co-ordinate the SIOE's (Stop the Islamisation Of Europe) demonstration outside the EU Parliament in Brussels on 11 September 2007. The google group can be accessed via the following link: http://groups.google.com/group/sioe

If you oppose the Islamisation of Europe, then why not get involved?