Politics, et Cetera

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

They Said It:

One of my motives for writing Against Method was to free people from the tyranny of philosophical obfuscators and abstract concepts such as “truth”, “reality”, or “objectivity”, which narrow people’s vision and ways of being in the world.  Formulating what I thought were my own attitude and convictions, I unfortunately ended up by introducing concepts of similar rigidity, such as “democracy”, “tradition”, or “relative truth”.  Now that I am aware of it, I wonder how it happened.  The urge to explain one’s own ideas, not simply, not in a story, but by means of a “systematic account”, is powerful indeed.

Paul Feyerabend, Killing Time, The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend, 1995.

 

CULTURAL MALAISE.

Rarely have we seen a story as horrifying or as deceptively misinterpreted as the story of Rotherham, a small city in South Yorkshire, England.  Rotherham is, in many ways, a cautionary tale, a warning about the future of the West.  It is also, tragically, an explanation for much of what is happening in, to, and because of the West today.

Barack Obama declared last week – at a fundraiser, naturally – that the world today is much the same as it has always been; we just happen to be paying closer attention to it.  “The world’s always been messy,” he said, “we’re just noticing now in part because of social media.  If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart.”  We’d argue, rather, not only is the President of the United States flat wrong about this, and pathetically and self-absorbedly so, but his explanation is itself part of the problem.  And believe it or not, all of this, from the world falling apart to Obama’s denial about it, is connected, loosely but substantively, to Rotherham.

Rotherham, for those of you who are fortunate enough to have other things to do than follow the twists and turns of global news and politics, burst onto the last week, when the local government council released the report of an independent inquiry into crimes against children.  The report was damning.  But worse than that, it was classically paradoxical, both shocking and unsurprising at the same time.  London’s Guardian newspaper described the horrors:

About 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham over a 16-year period, according to a report that concluded “it is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered”.

The uncompromising report on events in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013 said in more than a third of these cases the youngsters were already known to child protection agencies.

Warning also of “blatant” collective failures by the council’s leadership, the report by Professor Alexis Jay prompted the resignation of the council’s Labour leader. . . .

Jay said she found examples of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone”.

Jay said: “They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.”  She said she found girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.

The report said: “By far the majority of perpetrators were described as Asian by victims.”  But, she said, councillors seemed to think is was a one-off problem they hoped would go away and “several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist”.

First, a note of clarification:  when the members of the British press describes someone as “Asian,” they have a specific and, at least to Americans, unusual connotation in mind.  As it turns out, there is no band of North Koreans running around Yorkshire terrorizing young girls.  Rather, the perpetrators here are Pakistani.  And as such, they are almost all Muslim.

There is, we’re certain, a great deal of important material in the report on Rotherham and, for that matter, in the entire article published by the Guardian.  For our money, though, the critical details lie in the first and the last lines that we have quoted.

If you do the math, 1,400 girls over 16 years works out to roughly 88 girls every year.  That’s 88 NEW victims, EVERY YEAR, over a period of just over a decade-and-a-half.  In a city of roughly a quarter-million people.  By way of comparison, South Bend, Indiana – home of Notre Dame University – has roughly a quarter-million people.  Imagine if almost 90 discrete cases of child rape occurred in South Bend every year.  Actually, let us rephrase that.  Imagine 90 NEW, discreet victims, most of whom would be accosted in several cases over extended periods of time, were assaulted every year.  Now imagine if these crimes were systematically covered up, not by the perpetrators or their friends and family, mind you, but by the civic authorities.  That’s what precisely happened in Rotherham.

Now consider the excuse given for the cover-up, fear of being labeled a racist.  This excuse, were it accurate, would be hopelessly pathetic.  But it isn’t accurate, not even remotely.  And still it has dominated the media coverage of the whole Rotherham disgrace.

The most common response to the Rotherham report, particularly on the political Right, has been to declare that the whole business is the inevitable byproduct of “political correctness” or “anti-racism.”  Too many people are cowed by the PC police and fear being labelled racist.  And so too many choose to look the other way when crimes such as these are committed by political and racial minorities.  They would rather ignore the crime than put their careers on the line by reporting an uncomfortable truth.  Or so the argument goes.

This anti-racism, or political-correctness, argument has been a popular explanation for the Rotherham business on both sides of the Atlantic.  Several American conservatives and even several American liberals have joined their British compatriots in making this claim, perhaps best summarized as follows by the British journalist Ed West in a post for The Spectator:

How could this have happened?  A clue is given by the report’s authors, who state that ‘several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist’.

“I didn’t want to appear racist” is truly the “I was only obeying orders” of our time.

Racism has become so hysterical a subject that it has crowded out all other moral concerns, including in this case the concern to look after children.  (One doesn’t often get the chance to praise one’s own profession — so it is worth pointing out that, if it weren’t for some courageous reporting, notably in The Times, the full scale of the Rotherham scandal may never have been widely known.)

Of course it is right to be disgusted by racial hostility or aggression, but when the war on racism makes the subject such a taboo that child abuse is overlooked, then it is time to ask questions.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees with this assessment.  And as is almost always the case when someone complains about the fear of being labeled a racist, someone else – usually on the Left – is standing by to suggest that in order to avoid being labeled racist all one need do is stop being a racist.  In this case, the British Left has responded by insisting that even to suggest that “anti-racism” is the problem is to engage in racism.  The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland happily explains:

Whatever its origins, not many are laughing now.  This week political correctness was blamed for a vicious and persistent series of crimes: the organised rape and sexual exploitation of 1,400 children, most of them girls, in Rotherham.  The Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan – said to be the intellectual guru to Ukip’s Douglas Carswell – argued that “these children were victims of ‘anti-racism’“.  In this he echoed much of the press commentary, seizing on a finding of the Jay inquiry that those who should have protected Rotherham’s young from predators of Pakistani heritage were instead cowed by fear of being branded racist.

My colleague Hugh Muir has raised a sceptical eyebrow at that claim.  If fear of the accusation of discrimination is so potent, how come it’s not inhibiting discrimination in the rest of our national life?  Minorities, he wrote, are “over-represented in courts and prisons at one end of the social scale, over-disciplined and marginalised in the professions at the other”.

To Muir, PC sounded like a rather convenient excuse.  How much easier for police or council officials who had neglected their duty to blame the terrifying commissars of political correctness rather than admit they messed up.  If that strikes me as plausible, it’s partly down to personal experience.  Several years ago I witnessed an incident in the East End of London when an outdoor memorial service was disrupted by a handful of Asian men, who pelted the mainly elderly mourners present with vegetables and eggs.  The police were called but insisted they could do nothing.  One officer told those who’d been hit he’d like to go after the offenders but he couldn’t: “It’s the Human Rights Act.”

That sounds laughable now, so obviously an excuse for inaction.  But I’d go further.  In a subtle way, such a claim – and indeed similar invocations of political correctness  – represent a kind of racism.  For what is being implied when a council or police force say they cannot stop a ring of men raping children?

Part of us wants to call this the dumbest thing we’ve ever read, an argument so riddled with logical fallacies – the Composition and Black-and-White fallacies, to name just two – that it’s hard not to laugh it off as the desperate flailing of an ideological hack.  The other part of us, though, acknowledges that all of this prattling on about “racism” is indeed as counterproductive as it is counterfactual.  Freedland doesn’t have the foggiest idea why this is so, of course, but he is right about that at least.

The Rotherham report suggests that the pervasiveness and brutality of the sexual abuse of adolescent girls was abetted, in part, by a government culture that consciously refused to name the origin of the liable perversion, for fear of giving offense.  If so, then the current response to the report and even the report itself simply exacerbate the problem.  Pardon us for having the tactlessness to state that which no one with any tact apparently will say, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with race.  Let us repeat that:  the sexual exploitation of girls and young women in Rotherham, South Yorkshire has absolutely nothing to do with race.  It has everything to do religion.  And the ongoing focus on the one over the other, suggests that even now, very few people are willing to take this problem seriously.

Now, we know that we’re supposed to issue the usual caveats here.  We’re supposed to say that Islam is a religion of peace.  We’re supposed to say that, clearly, not all Muslim men are gang-raping vile human beings.  We’re supposed to say that most Muslim men and women are undoubtedly perfectly moral and decent and perfectly civil people.  We’re supposed to say that Islamism and Islam are two completely different things and that the politicization of the religion has allowed it to be “highjacked” by those who do not represent its true spirit.

Consider it done.  Consider all of those things said.

At the same time, though, it’s hard not to notice that Islam as it is practiced throughout much of the world today is rather pronouncedly misogynistic.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram kidnaps women and girls to sell them into sexual slavery.  In Iran, women are punished – sometimes brutally – for the “crime” of wearing makeup.  In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, much less to be out in public without their father or their husband.  In Egypt, 90% of women and girls are subject to genital mutilation.  In Afghanistan, girls are aggressively, sometimes violently, discouraged from attending school.  In Pakistan – the nation of origin of the “Asian” men who assaulted 90 NEW girls every year in Rotherham – Malala Yousafzai, a then-15 year-old girl, can be shot in the head for advocating that girls be allowed to go to school.  In Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim can be sentenced to death for the heinous act of marrying a Christian.  In Somalia, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, 13, can be stoned to death for having the temerity to report that she had been gang raped.  In Australia, 14 young Muslim men can carry out a two month terror spree, raping  and brutalizing at least seven adolescent girls in Sydney.  And everywhere that Muslims live – in the West, in the East, and everywhere in between – women and girls are compelled to cover themselves, lest they “incite” lustful thoughts in the hearts of men.  Indeed, 15 Saudi schoolgirls can be forced back into a burning building to die because – the little minxes! – they dared to try to escape the fire without first donning the requisite headscarves.  Etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The fact of the matter is that contemporary Islam fosters attitudes in men whereby women and girls are considered second-class citizens at best.  Now, whether or not this is a “true” version of Islam that fosters these attitudes, we are unqualified to say.  But true or not, this is the version of Islam that is extant throughout the globe today and particularly among certain extremist sects.

Despite all of this, no one – or at least no one with any public standing – will admit the obvious, that the sexual assaults in Rotherham were the result of a deviant culture, a deviant culture spawned by a religion that, at least in its contemporary form, encourages men to think of women as lesser beings.

And why won’t anyone say it?  We would think that it would be obvious by now.  The reluctance to name this evil – or even to call it “evil” – is part fear of giving offense, part fear of having one’s head hacked off, and all crisis of cultural confidence.  As we noted last week – and several weeks before – the West has, for the last century or so, struggled to assert its values or even to acknowledge that said values exist.  The attack on the traditional moral code that began with the Enlightenment was exacerbated by the deconstruction of the turn-of-the-century nihilists and eventually found its fulfillment in the moral and cultural collapse of the post-modernists.  Or, as we put it last week:

Postmodernism, of course, has both facilitated and compounded this descent into cultural and military nihilism.  If the Western conception of right and wrong is mere social construct, and not absolute, objective truth, then who are we to impose that conception on others?  And certainly who are we to kill indigenous people in pursuit of our own, presumably selfish ends?  In this construction, the Americans are the greatest “terrorists” in the world, killing indiscriminately and wantonly; the Iraqi Islamists are akin to the American “minutemen;” and any war fought must be fought in as humanitarian a way as possible, so as to ensure that the “enemy” is relatively unharmed and that Western values – which are ultimately arbitrary – are not imposed upon innocent and earnest indigenous populations.

On the domestic front, this crisis of confidence manifests itself in part in the cult of multiculturalism.  To be fair, multiculturalism, as a general, nebulous term, is a perfectly acceptable and laudable aspiration.  The knowledge of many cultures is important, critical even.  But of course, that’s not how the term is applied in the West today.

In the West, multiculturalism suggests not merely knowledge of many cultures, but acceptance of them, indeed, moral equivalence between them.  Without launching into another long and mind-numbing philosophical rant, this is “cultural relativism,” the cousin of moral relativism and the foundation of the post-war world order, particularly as fostered by the Left and the global institutions it created.

Over the course of the last seven decades, the tenants of cultural relativism and the theories about imperialism and Orientalism combined to create a noxious brew, Marxist in spirit, post-modern in epistemology, and destructive in practice.  All cultures are equal, of course, but some are LESS equal.  The “oppressor” cultures of the imperialistic West are less equal because they have treated people throughout the world shabbily.  They have dominated, subjugated, and tormented others simply because they look or sound different.  And thus should they know and accept their place today and attempt to avoid perpetuating their repressive nature.

Or to put it another way, Western Christian peoples, given their own shortcomings, ought to shut up about the perceived shortcomings of others.  And if those shortcomings involve the systematic despoliation of women and girls, so be it.

As you may have guessed, this crisis of confidence applies throughout the West and applies to issues far beyond the gang-rape of young white women in Yorkshire, England.  On all sorts of matters and in all sorts of places, the crisis of cultural confidence affects public perceptions and, more to the point, public policy decisions.  In Britain, obviously, it’s the rape business.  In France, it’s the toleration of “youth” violence, looting, and rioting.  In uber-open-minded Amsterdam, it’s the “mysterious” appearance of violent attacks on gay men.  In Canada, it’s government acceptance of polygamy.  And in the United States, it’s all sorts of things, but especially timidity and feebleness with respect to the conduct of foreign policy.  Should we Americans really be the ones telling the Islamic State what it can and cannot do?  After all, we’re responsible for the power vacuum that enabled the group to develop in the first place.  We fought a war killing many Iraqis.  Is it really our place to tell other Iraqis to stop killing Iraqis?  And if so, how do we do it without being bullies?

Last week, as you may know, Barack Obama, the President of these here United States, held a press conference in which he declared that his administration has no strategy yet for dealing with the Islamic State.  For this admission, Obama was blasted on the Right, on the Left, and in the Middle.  It is one thing not to have a strategy, his critics cried.  It is something else altogether to admit it and thus to encourage the enemy.  Obama had done significant damage, simply by admitting his befuddlement.

Of course, not everyone accepted Obama’s admission or bought his bewilderment.  In fact, many commentators on the Right insisted that while claiming not to have a strategy might be embarrassing, admitting his true strategy would be even more so.  One such critic was the national security consultant Michael Ledeen, who wrote the following:

They DO have a strategy, but they prefer to appear indecisive.  That’s because the strategy would likely provoke even greater criticism than the false confession of endless dithering.

The actual strategy is detente first, and then a full alliance with Iran throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  It has been on display since before the beginning of the Obama administration.  During his first presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama used a secret back channel to Tehran to assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with his policies.  The secret channel was Ambassador William G. Miller, who served in Iran during the shah’s rule, as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and as ambassador to Ukraine.  Ambassador Miller has confirmed to me his conversations with Iranian leaders during the 2008 campaign. . . .

The central theme in Obama’s outreach to Iran is his conviction that the United States has historically played a wicked role in the Middle East, and that the best things he can do for that part of the world is to limit and withdraw American military might, and empower our self-declared enemies, whose hostility to traditional American policies he largely shares.

If we look at the current crisis through an Iranian lens, our apparent indecisiveness is easier to understand, for it systematically favors Iran’s interests.  Tehran’s closest ally is Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.  If Assad were to be overthrown by opposition forces hostile to Iran, it would be a devastating blow to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has committed tens of thousands of fighters (from Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij) to shore up the Damascus regime.  Everything Iran does in the region revolves around the necessity of preserving Assad’s tyranny.

Obama surely understands this.  It therefore made no sense to bomb Syria in the otherwise baffling about-face on the “red line” a year ago.  In like manner, the refusal to take decisive action today against the Islamic State caters to Iranian and Syrian concerns.  Remember that ISIS was supported by Iran and Syria as a weapon against anti-Assad and anti-Iranian forces (from the Kurds to the FSA), none of whom is receiving serious American support.

For our part, we are unconvinced that Obama’s “strategy” in the Middle East is intentional.  But then, if anyone in the world should know about secret deals with the Iranians, we suppose that it would be Ledeen.  More to the point, we’re not sure that it matters.  This is a point we’ve raised before in these pages, but it’s worth raising again:  Think about the situation in the Middle East.  Think about Iran, Syria, the Islamic State, Iraq, and the rest.  How would things be any different if Obama were, as Ledeen suggests, intentionally doing the Mullahs’ bidding?  What would he have done or be doing differently?  Maybe we’re just not all that creative, but as best we can tell, the answer to both questions is “nothing.”  Obama may (or may not) have stumbled entirely accidently into this predicament, but it’s hard to imagine how conditions would be any different had he not.  Ledeen’s analysis rings true at least in this respect.

It rings true in at least one other respect as well.  When Ledeen writes that “the central theme in Obama’s outreach to Iran is his conviction that the United States has historically played a wicked role in the Middle East,” that sounds about right.  Obama was, almost literally, subjected to anti-colonial dogma from birth.  His mother was an anti-colonialist who resented her Western roots.  His father was an anti-colonialist who resented the role of the British in his homeland.  His step-father was both a participant in and a victim of Western economic imperialism.  The academic circles in which Obama ran, from college to law school and beyond, were littered with anti-colonial, post-modernist, critical theorists and cultural relativists.  Like most men and women his age on the Left, he has always been a part of the anti-Western, anti-American academic and cultural milieu.

We should note, sadly, that aside from a few biographical details, none of this makes Obama particularly unique.  He is, as we said, very much a product of his environment.  But that environment is one that dominates nearly all of Western academia and has therefore influenced, to some extent or another, nearly all of the children educated by that educational establishment over the last half century.  The crisis of confidence in Western culture is a near universal phenomenon in the West.  And so its influence can be seen in a whole host of issues.

Obviously, we can see the influence of the crisis of confidence in the case of Rotherham.  We can, as we noted last week, see it in the emigration of young Western men from their homes to the Middle East to participate in the Islamic jihad.  We can see it in American policy toward the Middle East.  We can see it in American and Western policy toward Russia as well.  Obama openly declares that he will not use force against Putin.  The EU openly chafes at the suggestion of sanctions against Russia and the possible resultant economic disruption.  No one has the guts to tell Putin that the annexation of sovereign territory is a violation of international law, human rights, and several bi-and multi-lateral agreements.  One suspects – and with reason – that Russian expansionism will next target the Baltic States.  And still no one in the West feels justified to call Putin a monster, a villain, a global menace who must be stopped dead in his tracks.  Instead, we hope, apparently, that his appetite for conquest will wane or, at the very least, that when it waxes, it will do so when other matters are in the headlines so that the voters don’t notice.

The influence of this crisis is not limited to foreign affairs or matters far-off places.  In Ferguson, Missouri, for example, one side insists that the entire matter is one of race and of the malignant “legacy of slavery.”  The other side, for its part, deals with local, urban protestors by unleashing the weaponry that the state has amassed in the thirteen years since Islamic terrorism struck the homeland, demonstrating that the powers that be in this nation feel it is more appropriate to deal with security threats by expanding the security state rather than by addressing the threat itself.  To do the latter would be too difficult, too sensitive, too culturally patronizing.  And so they prefer the former and thus turn the streets and boulevards of the American suburbs into Baghdad-on-the-Mississippi.

We note here that the crisis of American confidence has been a longtime coming and has, in fact, manifested itself before.  The administration of Jimmy Carter suffered from a similar crisis of confidence.  Remember that Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech, in which he lamented the national conditions that he and his fellow travelers had helped to create, didn’t actually contain the word “malaise.”  It did, however, contain another phrase, indeed was meant to be remembered for this other phrase.  To wit:

Ten days ago I had planned to speak to you again about a very important subject — energy.  For the fifth time I would have described the urgency of the problem and laid out a series of legislative recommendations to the Congress.  But as I was preparing to speak, I began to ask myself the same question that I now know has been troubling many of you.  Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?

It’s clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper — deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession.  And I realize more than ever that as president I need your help. . . .

These ten days confirmed my belief in the decency and the strength and the wisdom of the American people, but it also bore out some of my long-standing concerns about our nation’s underlying problems. . . .

I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation.  I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties.  They will endure.  And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways.  It is a crisis of confidence.  It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.  We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The Carter crisis of confidence was, of course, resolved when Carter was removed from office by a man who accepted no crisis and never lacked for confidence.  Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan’s conviction and self-assurance could not overcome the cultural tide for long.  Even more unfortunately, the current political class seems devoid of men and women with Reagan’s confidence, not that it would matter much of they weren’t.

The crisis of Western confidence is not, primarily, a political problem.  As Carter seemed to understand, it is a spiritual problem, a problem that has settled deep into the American psyche and which cannot and will not be permanently exorcised by mere politics.

We have said it before and we will say it again.  More to the point, others have said it as well and have said it far better than we.  The crisis plaguing the West must be attacked at the narrowest and nearest possible institutions, starting with the family, working its way up to the neighborhood, the school district, the churches, the clubs, and the city.  Baby step by baby step the confidence of the West, in its institutions, history, and values, must be restored.

And if it is not, then chaos will indeed reign.

We expect that all of this will be part of the political conversation leading up to the 2016 presidential election in particular.  The controversy of the national “Common Core” curriculum; the efforts to imbue AP history courses with a more severe leftist bent; the ongoing conflict between church and state with respect to religious freedom, gay rights, and birth control; the decidedly isolationist foreign policy of the presumed Republican frontrunner; the failures in office of the presumed Democratic frontrunner; and the omnipresent question of race and equality in this country; all will shape the debate over the next 26 months.

In the meantime, we can expect for there to be little change in the current administration or its global counterparts.  American power will be used only grudgingly.  A rough moral equivalence between “them” and “us” will dominate the rhetoric.  And always, the focus will be on the concessions and the sacrifices “we” can make to accommodate peace and harmony.

All bets are off, of course, if all of this accommodation leads inevitably to a security breach of some sort.  We’re not sure if even Obama will have the courage of his convictions to deny the American people their thirst for “justice” in the event of another terrorist attack.  We can only hope that we don’t get the chance to find out.

Copyright 2014. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.