Sunday, 30 September 2007

Happy Birthday

The Heresiarch is a bit blogged out at the moment, but just wanted to note the 40th anniversary of the greatest cultural institution on the planet. Radio 4, of course. Though personally, the Heresiarch has always thought of the station as eternally 58. The rest of the BBC's output is mainly unforgiveable: politically biased and often just plain rubbish. And it's scandalous that we still have to pay a poll tax on our televisions. But Radio 4 almost makes it all worthwhile.

Radio 1 has its moments, too. Read the rest of this article

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Trevor Phillips talks sense - again


The Heresiarch likes Trevor Phillips. A career which has seen him progress seamlessly through the cursus honorum of the right-on establishment - presidency of the NUS, the BBC, the Blairite Labour party, chairmanship of the CRE - ought to have stamped him indelibly with the politically-correct evasions of the professionally cautious quangocrat. Yet from his lofty eminence, now become higher still as he takes the helm of the new all-encompassing new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, Phillips has not been afraid to question prevailing orthodoxies about multi-culturalism and other fashionable nonsense. Some, like the Fundamentalists' friend Ken Livingstone, accuse him of posturing and (absurdly) of being a closet supporter of the BNP. The reality, though, is that he's a rare (probably unique) example of someone who has made it through the brain-destroying sewage system of modern interest-group politics with all his faculties intact. And now he's in a position actually to do something.

In today's Daily Telegraph, for example, he hits the bullseye.

The typically generous British instinct is to say "live and let live". Things went wrong when it got bureaucratised. Local authorities started saying "we need to recognise this ethnic minority group" - so they would give them literature in their language or build them a community centre. It was like being in a restaurant where there's this great main table, then there are some other tables for the Africans or the Muslims. It was as if we were saying "you can have your own food over there but you don't really belong here at all".

Quite so. It's not just local authorities that have bureaucratised and regulated humanity and common sense out of existence, of course: schools, hospitals, the police, the social services and the courts have all suffered. Or, rather, the poor saps who have to come into contact with them have suffered. Professionals in all fields have been trained to stop thinking and apply rules, follow guidelines, hit targets. The problem was never really multiculturalism per se, appalling though its conesequences have been, especially for women in minority communities. The problem was with the administrative system which claimed that it was promoting equal rights when it was really a strategy of divide and rule.

As for Trevor's new empire, it could go either way. The breadth of its reach gives it a potentially dangerous ability to intervene in almost any aspect of life. Already Phillips is looking, Alexander-like, for new lands to conquer. "There are things we haven't thought of as equality issues" he says, "like carers, the mentally ill, genetic discrimination by insurance companies". Why stop there? How about the ginger-haired? They face a great deal of unfair prejudice. Or Goths?

On the other hand, if everyone belongs to some kind of minority group (which they do, even middle-class white men, who are actually a rather small minority) then everyone has the right to complain to Trevor Phillips. So the possibility (faint, admittedly) arises that the CEHR will not only test the ideology of group-rights to breaking point, but actually break it. If you are a poor, lesbian, disabled, Muslim woman, what category to you belong to? Easy. You are a human being. Read the rest of this article

Friday, 28 September 2007

Common Purpose: a Credible Conspiracy?

This thought-provoking video is worth a look if you've any interest at all in conspiracy theories, Euroscepticism or the inner workings of Britain's political and quasi-political elite. Apparently they all belong to a cult-like organisation called Common Purpose. Quite long but worth sticking with.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Presenter Brian Gerrish presents some disquieting facts, though I'm not really convinced that our new masters actually want to kill us. There's little obvious lunacy. There are no Ickean lizards, or even Knights Templar, and it's not until near the end that someone brings up the Bilderburg Group. Read the rest of this article

Suburban Terrorist has a Point

Miles Cooper, the 27 year old school caretaker found guilty yesterday at Oxford Crown court of sending a series of letter-bombs to government offices and companies working on government contracts, is clearly a twisted fantasist. Entirely innocent office workers were badly injured by the envelopes, which contained fragments of glass and nails, sent as part of a one-man protest against state surveillance and attacks on free speech. When police caught up with him, they found that he'd turned his bedroom into a bomb-making factory.

When he speaks, however, it's hard to disagree with anything he says.

We are one of the most watched societies on the planet. If you give a small group of people too much power, they will eventually end up abusing it. Based on what I learned at school and from history books, an authoritarian state develops, and free speech is stifled.

Cooper had been affected by such public incidents as the treatment of 82 year-old peace campaigner Walter Wolfgang at the 2005 Labour Party conference, and also his own father's inclusion on the DNA databased after he was accused (and acquitted) of assault.

Shades of the Unabomber. Except that in comparison with the endless pages of rambling, but in parts intellectually astute, philosophy that Ted Kaczynski elaborated over the 18 years it took US authorities to track him down, Cooper's comments sound remarkably like a simple statement of fact.

His actions stemmed from a perverted sense of desperation, of the impotence it's easy to feel when a government with a large majority based on, if we're being generous, 36% of the vote can do more-or-less what it likes. Up to and including an illegal war. Cooper again:

It became more and more obvious that the Government was not going to listen to peaceful protesters and in fact they were starting to use anti-terror legislation against them.

Miles Cooper is a one-off. There isn't a legion of anti-war, anti-ID cards, anti-CCTV terrorists out there. But that won't stop the government using his actions to justify even more curbs on our freedom. Read the rest of this article

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Elton's Porn Panic

In a kitchen somewhere, two little girls are playing a game of let's pretend. And what are they pretending to be? Belly dancers. The elder, partially clothed, is posing with one arm upraised, looking down at the younger, naked girl, who is attempting to limbo-dance between her legs. They are clearly having fun. But a shadow cast by the elder girl throws a faint air of menace onto the scene. For there is someone else in the kitchen. A photographer. A voyeur. An investigator. You.

The photograph, by renowned American artist Nan Goldin, best known for her studies of lovemaking couples and AIDS victims, is now under police investigation. It had been about to go on show at the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art, Tyneside, for the first time since it was acquired, along with others in the collection, by Sir Elton John. But a curator, concerned no doubt by the provisions of a law both ambiguous and arbitrary, took fright and brought in the local constabulary. And so resources that could have been spent on chasing real child abusers have been diverted, and a photograph that until now had been confined to exhibitions and expensive art books is now all over the Internet.

There may well be people who find images like this a turn-on. There are some sick people out there. It is unlikely, though, that many would take the trouble of visiting an art exhibition in order to view them when it is so much easier to go online. The trouble is that the law (originating in the 1978 Protection of Children Act, since extended) takes a very restrictive view on the matter. Pictures of children swimming, in the park, in the bath, have all been treated as obscene for the purposes of prosecution. There was confusion in 2005 after an undoubted pervert was convicted of possessing 9000 indecent images, among which were those contained in a book by respected photographer David Hamilton. The police claimed that anyone who had a copy of the book in their possession was guilty of an offence punishable by many years imprisonment. And in 2001 the Saatchi Gallery in London was investigated after exhibiting some pictures by Tierney Gearon of her own children, on a beach, wearing masks. The investigation went nowhere, but caused the artist considerable distress.

Klara and Edda belly-dancing has been exhibited before, as part of Goldin's Devil's Playground exhibition, in Madrid, Paris, and even in London (at the Whitechapel Gallery) without attracting the attention of the police. But not without attracting adverse comment. In France, the French Union for the Safety of Children complained after the photo featured in a catalogue when the collection was exhibited at the Centre Pompidou; scarcely credibly, they were concerned that the image might encourage attacks on children. The museum apologised and withdrew the catalogue, but not the picture itself.

Viewed in that context, one can see where the Baltic Centre are coming from. Indeed, once the notion of child porn enters the picture, Klara and Edda suddenly seems disturbing. Captured mid-flight, the child's legs are spread, affording a clear view of her pudenda. The pose is, for those who know anything about art, uncomfortably close to that in Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du Monde, an echo which the artist might well have been intending.


Yet the implicit sexuality of these images is, in itself, a testimony to their innocence. The girls' expressiveness, their unselfconscious freedom, their delight in movement, their acceptance (pre-puberty and pre-shame) of the reality of their bodies, of the body's naturalness: these things are the opposite of sexuality. Because they are not aware of the sexual implications of what they are doing, it is in pointing to it that the obscenity lies. The sexual degradation of children robs them of their childhood; but seeing sexuality here is in itself, I would contend, a form of abuse. Imagine seeing children like this, having innocent fun, mucking about, enjoying their childhood, and then telling them that it was "wrong", that it was "sexual", that it was "porn"; and then trying to explain to them was porn was. Wouldn't that be an act of corruption?

In a 2001 interview, after the Saatchi controversy, Gearon said of the photographs at the centre of the storm,

I look at them and think they're funny - twisted and eerie, yes, but in a funny way, not in a bad way. I didn't think people would see something so dark in them. It was never because of the nudity, for instance; it was something else people were seeing, something in their own psyche.

And this, of course, is the point. Gearon's photos, like the one by Goldin, are disturbing not because they are themselves sexual, but because it is difficult to look at them without being reminded of sex. Because sex is everywhere. We drown infants in a sea of sex, surrounding them with images of sexual provocation. Small girls are dressed to resemble streetwalkers. Much of what passes for sex education is barely distinguishable from porn. It's hardly surprising that youngsters become sexually active at ever younger ages, get pregnant, contract STDs.

And then we obsess about paedophiles, as though they were at the root of the problem. The worst excesses are to be found in the News of the World, a newspaper not distinctively different from a top-shelf magazine, but which is always the first to cry "paedo!" as it attempts to salve its distinctly soiled conscience. The hypocrisy of it stinks.

But it's not just the News of the World. We are all complicit in the paedophilia of society. The old sexual taboos have gone. Sex outside marriage went first, then homosexuality, then abortion, then porn. And a good thing too, many will say. But now childhood sexuality remains the final, the untransgressible taboo. And so all the tension and guilt that used to surround sex between adults has been loaded onto children. They cannot cope. We cannot cope.

Which is why provocative art like Klara and Edda matters. For make no mistake, the photograph is a provocation. In itself, it is innocent; but it is being shown, not as a family snap, but as a work of art. And the purpose of art is (among much else) to ask questions, to stimulate debate. I have no doubt that Nan Goldin knew precisely the reaction this photograph would produce: nor that she was right to provoke it.

It's a mistake to categorise this as an "Is it art or is it porn?" debate, as several newspapers have tried to do. In that category belong products like Michael Winterbottom's depressing film 9 Songs, or the Made in Heaven series by Jeff Koons. Whatever one's views on the quality of Nan Goldin's photography, this isn't porn. No, the trouble goes deeper than that. The genie can never be put back in the bottle: we can never return (perhaps thankfully) to the days when Lewis Carroll could take snaps of a partially-clothed Alice without anyone batting an eyelid. But we could perhaps allow these issues to be considered in the restrained and civilised atmosphere of a museum, rather than the cauldron of the media, let alone the rule-bound world of the police station or the courts.

As a character in Avenue Q put it so memorably, the Internet is for porn. Art galleries are for art. There's a difference. Read the rest of this article

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Yes, we have no bananas


The famously compos mentis President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured here with his friend Evo Morales), created considerable bemusement at Columbia University with his claim that there were no gays in his country: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals. In Iran we don't have this phenomenon. I don't know who has told you we have it."

Perhaps the fear of being tortured and hanged from a crane, as teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni (who were only fourteen and sixteen at the time of their arrest) were in 2005 provides sufficient deterrent. Or perhaps Mahmoud was of the opinion that homosexuality is a Western construct, part of the decadence against which he is so valiantly (and, at the moment, successfully) struggling. In which case, he might care to look into the fine tradition of Persian erotic poetry, much of which is at least implicity homosexual.

Or if he's too busy plotting the destruction of Israel, this image, an 18th Century miniature from Isfahan, might give him some inspiration.



Is that a man or a woman? Perhaps it's a eunuch. Read the rest of this article

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Why the Conservatives can never be Right


Gordon Brown's speech to the party faithful in Bournemouth yesterday was a predictable exercise in right-wing demogogery, equally predictably characterised as "stealing Tory clothes". Except, of course, that no Conservative would talk, as Brown did, of "British jobs for British workers", or indulge in the kind of authoritarian language that ought to have the hang'em and flog'em brigade speaking in tongues.

There's a paradox here, one which has often been pointed to but never really understood, because it has been misinterpreted as one of language. It's too easy to say that an assumed "man of the Left" can "get away" with right-wing rhetoric which no Tory would have the temerity to utter. For to say this is to buy into the cosy "left-of-centre" assumption that Tories would obviously like to say such things, and much worse, and only the salutary effect of a liberal media obliges them to bite their tongues. For some Tories, at some times, this is no doubt true. But to imagine that it is true of all Tories, at all times, is to buy into a left-liberal Toryphobia that has contributed in no small way to the catastrophic erosion of democracy and civil liberties in this country.

Toryphobia: that hate that has no problem at all speaking its name. This struck me forcefully the other week (although it had certainly occured to me many times before) when I heard the saintly Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the radio preface some mildly complimentary remarks about David Cameron with the mealy-mouthed disclaimer, "I hate Tories but...". Now, I doubt Mrs Brown meant it literally. It's hard to imagine her actually hating anyone. But the fact that she felt able, even obliged, to say it speaks volumes. Should she have said "I hate black people", or "I hate homosexuals" or "I hate Jews" she would never have been allowed back on the airwaves. But then even the spokesmen of the BNP would never say anything like that.

Any concept of "Toryphobia" is, like the concept of Islamophobia, open to the objection that Toryism is a set of ideas, and you can't be racist against ideas. But Tories, like Muslims, aren't ideas, but people; and people who hate Tories seem to hate them not for their ideas, but for who they are. And just as it's easy to stereotype Muslims as woman-hating terrorists, it's easy to stereotype Tories as privileged, fox-hunting, bigoted, closet racist, crypto-fascist "toffs". But just as the majority of Muslims are decent, honest folk just trying to get on with their lives, so within the ranks of the Conservative Party are a great many hard-working, compassionate, charitable pillars of society.

But Toryphobia isn't just morally suspect. It's also politically highly dangerous, because it hands carte-blanche to left-wingers in power to hack away at the foundations of liberalism: civil society, civil liberties, and the rule of law. The New Labour attack on the British constitution, on the presumption of innocence, the discretion of judges, and trial by jury; not to mention their authoritarian schemes for identity cards and detention without trial, the assaults on free speech, the official secrecy, the corruption of office, the cronyism and quangoes: all this has gone, if not entirely unchallenged, then insufficiently challenged. Even strong opponents of such measures on the left still tell themselves, come polling day, that "It would be worse under the Tories".

No it wouldn't.

All these things have happened under a Labour government. Not because Labour happened to be in power at the time, but because these are the sort of things only Labour governments can do. Not because the media would restrain the Tories by shrieking "lurch to the right", either. But because they are the sort of things that only a Labour government would want to do. The last Conservative government looked at the case for ID cards and decided against them. It took a socialist regime determined to brand the population like cattle to introduce the appalling scheme, whose consequences (unless it collapses under its own weight) will be baleful. This isn't an isolated incident. Conservative governments, even Mrs Thatcher's, have never been particularly right-wing. Name a liberal Home Secretary. Unless you're thinking of Roy Jenkins, the name that most readily comes to mind is a Tory name. Hurd. Clarke. Whitelaw. In the criminal justice system the Eighties was a time of liberal reform. Now name an illiberal Home Secretary. Blunkett, anyone? John Reid?

People who are neither liberal nor conservative, or liberal but not conservative (or indeed conservative but not liberal, like Gordon Brown) find it impossible to understand the liberal conservative position. They imagine that liberal conservatives are liberal despite being conservative, whereas the truth is that it's being a conservative that enables you to be truly liberal. "Liberal" is not a euphemism for "libertarian", either, although freedom is a large part of it. No, conservatives are so-called because they want to conserve things. In particular, British conservatives want to conserve ancient British liberties like free speech, trial by jury, the Whig tradition of moderate progress, honour and restraint in pubic office, and being left alone to live one's own life.

A state that asserts its power over the individual is an oppressor, however benign its intentions, however well-meaning and morally comfortable its supporters. Any government, even (perhaps especially) a "progressive" one which expands the scope of state supervision over the individual and over the institutions of civil society tends towards tyranny. Civil libertarians and others who value personal freedom and oppose state control should take off their blinkers and learn to love the Tories. Read the rest of this article

Monday, 24 September 2007

Voltaire upsets Muslims


The latest Muslim blasphemy story comes from Bangladesh, where a cartoonist was arrested after riots erupted over a cartoon featuring a cat named Mohammed. But these stories, though increasingly (and tiresomely) common, didn't start with Salman Rushdie. Here's a footnote from Chapter 50 of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which the Heresiarch discovered recently:

"After the conquest of Mecca, the Mahomet of Voltaire imagines and perpetrates the most horrid crimes. The poet confesses that he is not supported by the truth of history, and can only allege, que celui qui fait la guerre à sa patrie au nom de Dieu est capable de tout [anyone who makes war in the name of God is capable of anything]. The maxim is neither charitable nor philosophic; and some reverence is surely due to the fame of heroes and the religion of nations. I am informed that the Turkish ambassador at Paris was much scandalised at the representation of this tragedy."

Personally, I'm with Voltaire. But it's striking just how similar this story is to the current controversy. On the one hand there's the French secularist claiming his right to artistic criticism of religion. On the other, the English liberal intellectual more worried about showing "respect". Interesting, though, that the reaction seems to have been confined to a diplomatic protest. They were so much more civilised in the 18th century.

Ironically, Voltaire's play was banned shortly after its first performance in 1742; not because of the ambassador's protest, but because the French censors viewed it as a veiled attack on Catholicism (which of course it was). Today, by contrast, a play about Catholicism might end up being banned if it appeared to contained a veiled attack on Islam! Read the rest of this article

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Never the Twain

There's one word that never fails to turn rational, thinking, and generally normal people into demented screamers a la John Sweeney in these intellectually and morally bankrupt times, and that word is, of course, Islam. The comment columns of the Guardian have been turning green again lately following a provocative and clearly bonkers article from Seumas Milne, the import of which was (as you'd expect from its crypto-communist author) that an "anti-Muslim media campaign" is in full swing, driven by "a political agenda which seeks to justify war". By which he meant programmes like the recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary which unearthed the very real dangers faced by Muslims who convert to Christianity. Milne himself seemed hopelessly confused, like many on the Left. On the one hand he admits that subjects like this, or the hardline takeover of British mosques, or the involvement of radical clerics in inspiring terrorism, is a legitimate subject to report. On the other, media coverage is "sensationalist and disproportionate" and will thus (and here we come to the nub of the matter, so far as he is concerned) "feed ethnic tensions." It has made Britain the most "Islamophobic" country in the developed world.

Perhaps he was just stirring; so, perhaps, was the often brilliant William Dalrymple yesterday with his piece arguing that because Islamist political parties have been winning more elections lately, we should blame Western foreign policy for all our woes. My point, though, is that it doesn't take much stirring to produce a fine poisonous brew. From those who think any
criticism of Islam is a form of racist abuse, to those who believe even the most mild-mannered Muslim is secretly plotting to re-introduce decapitation and force women to wear burqas, to those in the middle who... actually, there don't seem to be many people in the middle.

Take "Islamophobia". Is it akin to racism? Can you be racist against against ideas? Milne seems to think so, on the grounds that Islam is as much a cultural identity as a set of beliefs. The likes of the MCB would like us to think so, since the concept, usually defined as an "irrational" hatred of Islam or Muslims (for believers in Islamophobia, of course, all criticism of Islam is irrational) is such a convenient way of shutting down debate. And it's not just about laws, or even
circumspect self-censorship. If you can convince a decent, well-meaning person that thinking a certain thought is akin to racism, they will very soon cease to think it.

And yet, and yet. Islamophobia, if it exists, is certainly not a disease of the Right, much as the smugger kind of Guardianista likes to assume that everyone critical of Islam has a secret yen for leiderhosen and the Horst-Wessellied. For Conservatives, in fact, there would seem to be many reasons to embrace the religion, which does after all have a strong tradition of family values, law and order and sobriety. Many of the values assumed to be Islamic, like putting women in their place, or getting upset about blasphemy like the people in this much-reproduced photo, were fairly common in Western Europe before the decadence. On the other hand, the hard Left's embrace of Islam, based largely on the characterisation of Muslims as members of an oppressed group, and as victims of Western colonialism, is a fairly recent one. In the days when the Left was dominated by radical feminists, the right-wing nature of traditional Islam was obvious for all to see.

The Heresiarch's view is simple. We are all Islamophobes now. I'm an Islamophobe, you're an Islamophobe. Polly Toynbee is an Islamophobe, Salman Rushdie is an Islamophobe, Melanie Phillips and Simon Heffer are Islamophobes. Christopher Hitchens and his brother Peter disagree on almost everything, yet both are dyed-in-the-wool Islamophobes. Secularly-inclined European Muslims are deeply Islamophobic, which is why they prefer to live here (like the Muslim feminists who campaigned against headscarves in French schools), but so are the Islamist radicals, for what can be more Islamophobic than trying to convince everyone that Islam is out to get them? It's possible that some Islamophiles might be found within the higher eschelons of the Church of England; but, by and large, Islamophobia rules. OK?

Western society is not only deeply Islamophobic, but is in itself a sort of institutionalised Islamophobia. It is the Western way to separate, and Westerners have been defining themselves against the Other, the people in the East, at least since the time of the Trojan War. But it was with the Muslim conquest of most of the Byzantine Empire, bissecting the old Roman Mediterranean, followed by the Crusades, that modern Western self-consciousness came into being. And far from being merely the aggressive invasion of peaceful and blameless Muslim societies that the liberal conscience would like us to think, the Crusades were a response (and a much delayed response) to Muslim incursions. When Charles Martel turned back the Ummayad armies at the battle of Tours in 732, he not only saved Western Christianity, he in a sense invented the West.

After the Enlightenment, Europe evolved in ways based based on fundamentally different philosophical and intellectual premisses from those of Islam. Quite the opposite, in fact. In Islam, society is a divine order, whereas in the West it is essentially a human construct. The West has increasingly stressed the autonomy of the individual, and promoted the individual's rights against the group. Islam places more importance on family, community, and especially the totality of all believers, the Umma, a concept entirely alien to Western sensibilities. The West is restlessly looking forward, not back to some imagined golded age. The West has an economy based on interest and debt, ideas anathema to Islam. In terms of marriage, the role of religion, the idea of the state, the two can never be reconciled. Yet both maintain the underlying assumption that they alone are right: even the self-hating left-liberals don't really believe in the superiority of Islamic culture to their own; if they did they'd stop drinking and screwing around, wouldn't they?

Islamophobia is an essential part of European, and American, identity. We can respect Islam, we can acknowledge the contribution that the mediaeval Arabs made to human knowledge, we can cultivate an extreme cultural relativism which, combined with the usual self-hatred, will constantly seek to apologise both to and for Islam. Some can even "turn Turk". But we will never truly understand it, and we will always secretly fear and despise it. We are Greece and Troy, Rome and Carthage, Cain and Abel. Maybe we should get used to the idea.
Read the rest of this article

Friday, 21 September 2007

Moral Madness

Two stories, one tragic, one merely absurd, that illustrate the mess we're in.

In Kirby, staff at Morrissons refused to serve Tony Ralls, 72, on the grounds that he refused to prove that he was over 21. Yes, I thought the legal age for drinking was 18, but apparently they have to challenge you for ID if you
look under 21. When the fortysomething checkout assistant refused to let him buy a bottle of wine, he demanded to speak to the manager, who responded by putting the wine back on the shelf. According to Mr Ralls, a grandfather of three,
"It is bureaucracy gone mad. If the checkout lady had asked me with a twinkle in her eye perhaps I would not have been so tetchy.

"But she asked me the question with a perfectly straight face and I said I wouldn't dignify the question with an answer.

"And if the manager had explained that all the staff had to ask everyone because they had previously been fined, but said I was clearly over 21, it would have been fine - but he showed no sense of humour."


By no stretch of the imagination, of course, does Mr Ralls look too young to buy alcohol. So what was the problem? Just some bone-headed application of a policy that was never intended to apply to the over-thirties, let alone the over-seventies? Not a bit of it. As a singularly humourless spokesman for Morrissons explained,
"We take our responsibility with regard to selling alcohol very seriously and all our stores operate the Task 21 scheme, which addresses the difficulties our staff face in being able to determine if a customer is legally old enough to buy alcohol.

"To further limit any element of doubt staff at the West Kirby store are required to ask anyone buying alcohol to confirm that they are over 21."

There you have it: no apology to their embarrassed customer, no regret for the loss of business to the store. The staff "did the right thing". They were "just following orders" (where have we heard that one before?) Actually, I suspect that this demonstrably crazy policy has nothing at all to do with removing doubt and everything to do with being afraid of seeming to discriminate. But do they really ask all their elderly customers their age? Or was Mr Ralls singled out at random. If it really is their policy, it must become a bit tiresome. And do their other customers meekly go along with it? If there were more people like Mr Ralls Morrissons would have to change their tune.

This story comes out at the same time as the inquest into the tragic death of 10 year old Jordon Lyon, drowned while trying to rescue his younger step-sister from a pond. Two police "community support" officers stood by an watched while the brave youngster struggled for breath, waiting until a proper policeman arrived, by which time it was too late. Two of them? What were they talking about?

Condemnation of the inactivity of the part-time coppers has been universal and uncomprehending. How could they have been so robotic? Don't they have lives and families? Don't they care? The boy's stepfather spoke for the nation,

"I can't understand it. If I had been walking along and seen a child drowning I would have jumped in."

Well I can understand it. Like the staff at Morrissons, they were just following orders. Orders put together by some bureaucrat in an office, who clearly didn't envisage drowning children. Orders that probably make perfect sense in theory.

Any apology from the police? Of course not. DCI Philip Owen told the inquest,

"Having made an assessment, one of the PCSOs called the Greater Manchester Police control room and an officer was at the scene within five minutes of this.

"PCSOs are not trained to the same extent as police officers, so wouldn't have been taught how to deal with a situation like this. It would have been inappropriate for PCSOs, who are not trained in water rescue, to enter the pond."

Inappropriate? Saving a child's life inappropriate?

We have become a nation of robots.

Read the rest of this article

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Grandmother is a wolf

One of the great obstacles to social progress has often been the resistance of those who ought to be on its side. Forelock-tugging serfs. Self-hating gays. But the worst offenders are probably misogynistic women. A hundred years ago, there were plenty of intelligent, sophisticated ladies who thought it shameful that women should go out to work, or even consider asking for the vote. Today, the plight of victims of domestic violence compounded by the prevailing attitude of many that "standing by your man", even when he's a violent drunk, is something of a virtue.

Add culture into the mix, and you often have a recipe for disaster. From teenage girls demanding their "human right" to wear a burqa or happily submitting to arranged marriage to a forty-year
old first cousin they haven't actually met, to African mothers holding down their screaming five-year-old daughters while the local wise-woman saws off their genitalia with a rusty knife, women are often complicit in demeaning themselves or others. All too often, the pillars of the "patriarchy" have been the matriarchs. In societies that give women little power outside the home, those who gain power within it compensate by becoming tyrants.

Take seventy year old
Bachan Athwal, who yesterday was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in jail for ordering the murder of her daughter-in-law Surjit. (Her son, Sukhdave, 43, Surjit's husband, was also jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years.) The judge had no doubt that Mrs Athwal was the prime mover in the case. Her authority over her (Sikh) family was absolute, and she used it in the persecution of a young woman who had "besmirched family honour" by leaving an abusive relationship and falling in love with another man. Clearly, Athwal is a nasty woman, but equally clearly her nastiness was encouraged and supported by her understanding of morality.

The authorities were notably useless in the case, too. It took fully nine years for the offenders to be brought to justice. According to Sujit's brother Jagdeesh, "We battled with the incompetence and disinterest of the Indian police, the apathy of the Foreign Office and slow initial movement of the Metropolitan Police. It was a lonely and tortuous experience for us. The Athwals had managed to murder my sister and it appeared with their manipulation and planning they were going to get way with it."

Abused women within these communities have a doubly hard time. They're often up against a stunning lack of sympathy and understanding by their families and neighbours. And they have to battle against a system that would rather not know, thank you very much, about practices which disrupt the cosy liberal assumption that because something is cultural or "ethnic" it is somehow good. And in the current climate being loyal to one's ethnic and religious identity seems more important than being loyal to oneself. Or other women. Zohra Moosa lays it all bare here. Read the rest of this article

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Welsh Anglicans need a Doctor

You've got to hand it to the C of E, they're always up for a bit of self-abasement. Usually it's just the genuflection towards Islam, fuelled by self-hatred and their touching belief in the uniform goodness of "faith". (Why is it the liberal, Gurardian-reading tendency who feel the most need to suck up to the woman-hating homophobes of the MCB? Is it because they feel obscurely guilty that the Muslims actually seem to believe in something? But I digress.)

At least Islam is a serious player. In Wales, Anglicans are now busy demonstrating their religion's similarity to Doctor Who.


Listen to Fr Dean Atkins, the Cardiff cleric who is organising a
Who-themed service at the Cardiff church where, fans will recall, Billie Piper travelled back in time to meet her dead father.

"The figure of Doctor Who is somebody who comes to save the world, almost a Messiah figure. In the series there are lots of references to salvation and the doctor being almost immortal. We are using the figure of Doctor Who as a parable of Christ. The language used in the series lends itself to exploring the Christian faith.

"Christ is a kind of cosmic figure as well if you like, somebody who does not travel through time but all eternity is found in him.
He is a kind of encapsulation of the beginning and the end, in fact he existed before time began and he will exist when time ends."
Any excuse to put bums on pews, I suppose. But it seems to the Heresiarch that Fr Atkins could go even further. There's the Doctor's penchant for regeneration. Is this not, "in a very real sense", similar to Jesus' trick of coming back to life. Except that it took JC three days to perform something Doctor Who seems to do with increasing frequency and remarkable ease. Is not each successive regeneration, in turn, a remarkably precise analogue with the Christian doctrine of Incarnation, an immortal being taking mortal flesh? Doctor Who has the Tardis, Jesus ascended to heaven on a cloud. Jesus had a disciple named Martha. The better known Mary Magdalene was famously an ex-prostitute; in a strange reversal, ex-companion Billie Piper can shortly be seen on our screens getting it on as a hooker.

One difference, though;
Doctor Who fans tend to be a great deal more passionate than the postmodern sell outs of the C of E. Read the rest of this article

Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Heresiarch excommunicates the First Emperor



The British Museum is currently packing them in with its "First Emperor" exhibition; a spectacular show, to be sure, and in marketing terms a triumph. What disturbs the Heresiarch is the BMs apparently unquestioning celebration of one of history's most ruthless tyrants, and most compellingly loopy megalomaniacs to boot.

We are invited, for example, to marvel at the individuality built into every one of the individual terracotta warriors. But individuality is hardly the word that first comes to mind when contemplating the ranks, row upon row, column upon column, lined up in the burial pits in China. Rather the unique characteristics of each figure seems to point to the monotony of the whole, the grim subjection of the individual to the mass, the ghastly regimentation of an entire society.



Make no mistake, Chin Shi Huang Ti (or however we're supposed to spell his name these days on the say-so of his appropriately totalitarian successors in Peking) was a grade one monster, a Stalin de ses jours. More Stalin than Mao, in fact. Here was a ruler so philistine that he buried philosophers alive, a man who executed doctors for suggesting that he might need treatment, who died (it is pleasant to report) from the ill effects of elixirs he took in an attempt to live for ever.

Yes, he unified China. But he did so not out of idealism but in order to impose his rule. He showed, for example, a devotion to uniformity that ought to make him the pin-up of our masters in Brussels, forcing different "regions" (they were actually countries) to adopt the same writing, the same industrial methods, the same weights and measures, the same money. Worse, he managed to persuade the next two thousand years or so of history that all this was a good thing. It wasn't: it was Chin who prevented the emergence in China (and fancy naming a country after yourself, an act of hubris rivalled only by Cecil Rhodes, but with rather more long-term success) of the kind of rich, plural history that we take for granted in the West.

And think what he destroyed. Actually, we don't really know what he destroyed, since he made such a thorough job of destroying it. But imagine how impoverished our own civilisation would be if Augustus (perhaps the closest Western parallel) had set out to knock down the Parthenon, burn the works of Homer, Euripides and Cicero, not to mention the Hebrew bible, forced the Greeks, the Jews and the Germans to all speak Latin, and then built a ruddy great wall to keep us all trapped inside.

What worries me is that the attitude of mind represented by the tyrannical Chin is so admired, and not just in China. Modern governments pay lip-service to multiculturalism, a polite word for divide-and-rule, while imposing ever more uniformity. The First Emperor would have loved CCTV, just as he would have loved biometric ID cards, satellite tracking and the rest. In the name of security, a new tyranny is insinuating itself among us, and few people really seem to care. Perhaps the enthusiasm for Chin and his nefarious works is only to be expected. Read the rest of this article

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Some Heretical Thoughts about the War on Terror

Osama bin Laden is actually rather sweet, isn't he? He just wants us all to be happy. Of course, in his mind being happy equates to embracing a dark-ages creed and destroying Western civilisation, but in comparison with some of the fulminating Islamist radicals Osama's really a moderate. You don't see him calling for the death of the pope. And he looked rather fetching in that neat new beard of his.

As for the Islamists generally, they probably just don't get enough sex. Yes, I know most of them can demand on-tap intercourse from submissive wives trained from birth to do their bidding, but it's likely to be their cousin and, in any case, they probably wear those veils for a reason. And, of course, the more radical sort of Muslim is usually a repressed homosexual.

Ah yes, the great unmentionable: Homosexuality and Islam. Isn't the reason that most Islamicising regimes, like the Taliban, are so down on gays something to do with the fact that the left-hand path has always enjoyed a more than average prevalence amongst the sons of the Prophet? Not that old Mo was a djellebah-lifter himself, you understand. He was as hetero as they come, even if his tastes did run to little girls. Still, the fact is that, historically, Muslim societies have often been damn sight more gay-friendly than Christian ones. A hundred years ago gay men threatened with Oscar-style exposure often used to hop it to Morocco or Istanbul and shack up with a pleasant looking dusky youth. And as for Turkish baths...

No women equals lots of gay sex. Ask any ex-convict. It was the same in ancient Athens, where respectable women stayed at home and unrespectable ones tended to be slaves. But the Athenians managed to cope psychologically because they didn't have this religion telling them to stone each other to death.

No wonder they're so consumed with self-pity. No wonder they want to bomb us.

Give them all some therapy. Read the rest of this article

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Heresiarch speaks to a benighted world

Peering up through the abyss where I was confined by the excommunications of that Babylonic whore, the Pope (I forget which, but I think it was one of the Innocents), I see everywhere on the surface the malodorous effects of conviction.

Humanity is frozen out by dogma. Thought by caution. Democracy by common sense.

Everywhere I see snarling reactionaries disguised as pillars of reason, totalitarians disguised as liberals. I see resentment, and ill-concealed rage. I see nice, moral people placing themselves in positions of authority and then acting with ruthlessness and cynicism to feather their own consciences. I see enlightenment besieged by the children of Voltaire.

And I think to myself, Why do they still love dogma? Why do they still need dogma? Why don't they think for themselves?

Come here and think. Be outraged, be offended, be comforted. Get angry. Hate those who oppress you, but hate yourself more for letting them.
Read the rest of this article