Far-Right Racists Are Just Fundamentalists With Western Names

Whether through the violent extremism of Anders Breivik or the legitimate democratic process used by Marine Le Pen, we are currently witnessing a groundswell in far-right feeling and actions throughout the populace of Western Europe. Many people here feel resentful of the immigrants who have arrived in the past few decades and the governmental policies that allowed them to do so.

I am not a fan of the term ‘far-right’, as it implies that ‘centre-right’ politicians are a little bit racist but not enough to be illegal and that ‘centre-left’ politicians are not. I would much rather the economic and social aspects of politics be separated from the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’. I would put myself on the right economically but the left socially, most people would class me as an economic and social liberal. The irony is that most politicians of the ‘far-right’ appeal to a voter base which is anything but right-wing economically. It is the poor and disenfranchised, those who feel they have more right to a share of a country’s wealth than those who have spent less time in their country who are voting for Geert Wilders. It is not the rich, be they industrialists, bankers, or sport stars that Nick Griffin is appealing to for votes, despite the popular opinion of the political spectrum and its ethnic grouping. The reactionary movements being seen throughout Europe are not ‘far-right’, they are racist and they work by appealing to the base instincts surrounding a fear of ‘otherness’. Lets not forget that the racist element in politics has always been there, as far back as you want to go populations were grouped according to ethnicity. The mass migrations started in the middle to the 20th century from the former colonies to Western Europe brought the general populace face to face with people from other cultures and the results have not always been positive as seen by the 1958 Notting Hill race riots and the rise of movements like the White Defence League, the National Front and the British National Party today. However, it is only in modern times that these types of organisations have become political parties of any note and not been generally supported by open violence against those who they perceive as ‘non-white’.

This is not just about religion or culture. Whereas in the past much talk of immigration was based on broadly ethnic grounds, with the immigrants arriving in a country being highly visible due to their different skin colour from the existing population, now much of the immigrant population is from within Europe, more specifically the EU. Despite the separation between the end of World War II and the late 1980s between East and West, much of Europe has a shared history with religious and cultural practises crossing national borders without impediment. Language and dietary tastes are often the only differences between immigrants from other European nations and the current residents. This has proven to be much more difficult for governments to deal with, the regulations within the EU allow for the free of movement of labour between member states, it is impossible to remain a member of the EU and restrict the movement of other member states’ citizens within one’s own borders. Politicians of mainstream parties have tried to tackle this issue by restricting numbers of immigrants from outside the EU but this has unintended consequences. Many of the immigrants seeking to come and work here from Asia or Africa are highly skilled graduates and therefore of obvious benefit to the economy but many unskilled workers also come illegally (or remain longer than legally allowed), changes to immigration policy alone will not solve this. The majority of immigration between EU member states happened during the boom the mid 2000s, when several former ‘Communist-Bloc’ nations were added,  before the financial collapse of 2008. Those most affected by this immigration were ‘blue-collar’ workers, especially labourers or skilled tradespeople, who found that their prices were often being undercut by the new migrants who had lower overheads by living communally or not having to support families. It is these people who find the appeal of the ‘far-right’ parties most powerful, although their feelings towards the immigrant population is not unlike that felt by the Luddites of the 19th century towards the mechanised working practises of the industrial revolution.

Some may see a correlation between the rise of the ‘far-right’ across Europe and the rise of fundamentalist Islamic ideologies throughout the world, especially among 2nd or 3rd generation immigrant muslims in Europe, as evidenced by the public transport bombings in Madrid and London following the invasion of Iraq. While it may be true that some have a ‘I hate them coz they hate us’ attitude, it should not be forgotten that the causes of fundamentalist ideological groups are almost identical to the causes of the ‘far-right’ political movements opposing them. The overriding fear of losing one’s way of life, feeling ostracised from your local or national community and a feeling of persecution by foreign powers can drive people to commit horrendous acts, as we have seen throughout history via revolutionary wars and the fall of colonialism. Whether those feelings are caused, in the modern world, by immigration, foreign policy or global capitalism, the effects are the same. People feel that the only way to maintain the way of life they enjoy or believe is ‘right’ is by violent opposition to any change, especially change proposed by or for the benefit of those who they see as ‘other’ or ‘different’ from themselves. This sentiment is evident currently in the French election campaign, with the Front National party led by Marine Le Pen pledging to virtually stop immigration and pull out of the single currency if elected, following the European parliament’s decision to limit member states’ budget deficits. These type of feelings are rooted in the fear of the unknown which is present in everyone but they are truly irrational. Why would the European parliament want to weaken the economy of an EU member state? Disagreeing with governmental policy is not the same as knowing they are ‘out to get you’, there is no ‘master plan’ of European ministers, socially engineering the nationality and culture out of all EU citizens, there are just people trying to do what they feel is right, trying to make the best of a bad financial situation.

I think the current economic situation is highly relevant to this situation, with people not only having less spending power due to wage inflation lagging behind the increases in the cost of living, help that people previously had from public bodies is decreasing due to the lack of available funds. The perceived injustices created by the myths perpetrated by certain sections of the media (immigrants do not, for example get preferential treatment in social housing) that could be tolerated during times of plenty, have come to a head with many people believing that allowing people from poorer countries to live and work here is not only an affront to those born in their country of residence but that it is also a major factor in the privations now being felt. That many immigrants work jobs often unwanted by the local population into which they move, continue to pay taxes while being unable to access the benefits afforded to those who are work-shy or benefit dependant seems to be regularly ignored.

How then, to solve the problems (if you see them as problems, which I do) of the feelings causing this divisive drive?

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better”
 – Abraham Lincoln

There is a difference, in my opinion, between diversity and multiculturalism. Diversity does not affect how people interact with each other, it is the objective aim of good governmental policy, rather than the policy itself. Multiculturalism, is the governmental policy that has failed in this aim. It is the policy of preserving individual cultures by keeping them separate from each other, ghettoising whole communities, forcing them to become even more insular. In a diverse, cosmopolitan city such as London, multiculturalism can never work because the density of the population forces some overflow into the surrounding areas but with multiculturalism still at the heart of much local and national government policy, it can only ever happen at the fringes. This causes resentment as people see their neighbours change and now living in ‘white’ or ‘British’ pockets feel isolated and resentful towards their new neighbours, who they feel are ‘swamping’ the area and the new residents turn to what they know, their own culture, exacerbating the problem. As is so often the case, education would appear to be a solution on many levels. If a person from an immigrant background becomes educated, they often want more from their lives than can be offered by staying in the areas the grew up in, driving them to integrate fully into wider society. This is also the case with those at risk of becoming ‘far-right’ sympathisers or even voters. Sadly this does not happen often enough.

This does not mean I want the whole of Europe to become some kind of huge homogenous cultural and ethnic blob with no differences between people but that with experience of other people comes understanding. I wouldn’t want to go back to 1950 when shops didn’t sell pasta or rice, nobody knew what a curry was or how to hold chopsticks and the closest most people got to another country was the seaside. Nor should you.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

Big Gay Bus? Or Ex-Big Gay Bus?

I woke up the radio news this morning to learn of a London bus advert that has been banned by TFL (Transport for London). If you’re in Britain you may already know about it but if you haven’t yet heard you can read the story from the bbc here. In summary, an advert from an organisation claiming to be able to ‘cure gayness’ has been banned for being offensive. This is the text (capitals intended as on the advert) that was to be printed down the side of the buses:

“NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT.”

It was meant as a response to (and copied the style of) the advert by Stonewall, the LGBT charity which, since 1st April has 1000 buses with this on the side:

“SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT.”

My initial reaction to the story was, ‘good, I can’t believe they thought it was ok to say stuff like that in public’ and I still feel like that. The sentiments behind the ad, although not explicitly printed on it, are that homosexuality is some sort of mental illness or disease that can be cured through therapy. That is what the group who put the advert forward, Core Issues Trust, promote:

“CORE is a non-profit Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression”

Clearly with a mission statement like that, I think we should be wary about promoting their adverts. However, there is a part of me that is uneasy with the banning of any advert merely on the basis of it being offensive to some people. It is, after all, not obscene, crude or crass. This is a topic over which two of my most strongly held beliefs, freedom of speech and freedom from prejudice, are in direct opposition with each other. That the advert is offensive and designed to be so is not in question, that it is designed to cause controversy and promote discussion is also clear. The same could also be said of the humanist ‘there probably is no god…’ bus advert from a few years ago, yet that was not banned. Should these groups be free to express their views in public forums? My ‘freedom of speech’ head tells me yes, one cannot claim to live in a free society without having to listen to opinions one thoroughly disagrees with, just as those who disagree with me should not be able to silence me for the same reasons. My ‘freedom from prejudice’ head tells me no, you cannot allow those among us who have such horrendously outdated, divisive and bigoted views to promote the concept of homosexuality as something that is to be cured, akin to drug addiction or gambling.

Is it the subject matter that’s the difference between this and the humanist advert? What if the British National Party wanted to run an ad campaign based on race? ‘Stop being so Black’ or ‘Asians should be in Asia’ ? This, I think, would attract nearly unanimous negative attention and would certainly be banned, rightly. There are fundamental differences between ethnicity, sexuality and religion. While I don’t personally believe that religion is a true ‘choice’ in the same way as a political vote, it is certainly a lot closer to choice than ethnicity, over which one has not control whatever or sexuality, where the only choice is whether or not to practise. A person can choose to learn about different religions and beliefs and may well change their views with age. Openly projected sexuality may change with age but it is normally a ‘coming out’ experience from a repressed position rather than some sort of ‘switch’. Prejudices on any grounds have no place in the public sphere but debates over the subjects of the prejudices can be welcome. It is when the subject is a matter over which one has no control, that the debates become unwanted, unwarranted and often truly offensive, this is where the metaphorical ‘line in the sand’ is drawn in many people’s minds.

I think the difference between the adverts in the news today and the humanist campaign from a few years ago is the sentiments behind them. The humanists did not openly criticise anyone in society who believed in god or attended any religious congregation, they merely pointed out their own beliefs. They did not attempt to lure people into an atheistic ‘conversion’ or even assert that one belief system was better than the other, only that you shouldn’t worry if yours doesn’t quite match up to what people expect of you. The advert by CORE, on the other hand, is directly aimed an already victimized section of society. A minority who, despite recent advances, still face prejudice and persecution from many vocal and sometimes violent members of our society.

Do I believe in free speech? Yes, of course. Do I believe in untrammelled freedom of speech? Yes, but not on the side of a public bus. I believe that I (or anyone else) should be free to say whatever I think using certain mediums, public buses are not one of them. In short, the demography of the readership and their sensibilities do need to be taken into account. Thats not to say that all public adverts and promotions should be mundane or banal but there is a balance to be found and I believe Boris has found it on this topic.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

I’d love to hear some of your comments and opinions on this as I’m not fully committed either way.

Why You Can’t Argue With God

Over the past week or so, I have taken the (not recommended) path of commenting on other people’s blogs rather than posting my own. Partly because I didn’t really have time and partly because I couldn’t think of a juicy topic to get my teeth into. This was probably a bad idea but I did learn some of the strange ideas that people who post under the ‘atheism’ tag have. I say not recommended because it can be incredibly frustrating dealing with people who have already made up their mind about your opinions without even knowing what they are. It is not so much the lack of understanding of the arguments and evidence but the refusal to accept that opinions other than their own are valid which I find so difficult. However, I was given the fuel for this post so I thought I’d share some of it with you.

The first and possibly most bizarre reaction I got was that if I, or anyone else for that matter, cared enough to comment on a post criticising it, I must think it to be correct and it was my sense of guilt from my sins that were causing me to disagree with Christian teaching rather than any actual lack of belief on my part. I wasn’t really sure how to answer this because really if you start off with that you can’t really go anywhere, anything can just be batted away with the same response. Of course it doesn’t really stand up to any logical argument, one can accuse anyone of secretly agreeing with oneself if one wants but that will never make it true, when I asked why she had posted under the ‘atheism’ tag she (unsurprisingly) didn’t answer. This kind of thinking may work for people who post on conspiracy theories about the moon landings but their suppositions are not taken seriously by anyone who has the power to implement public policy. In short, I don’t comment on conspiracy theorists pages because I don’t care whether they think that or not and their thoughts will not affect me, if one of them got elected to a position of power my view would almost certainly change. Anyway, this doesn’t alter the fact that having a strongly held opinion on a point of view is not equivalent to agreeing with it, although this may be true of some homophobes it is a bit like saying that everyone who campaigns for lower taxes secretly wants to pay more, it really doesn’t hold any water (holy or otherwise).

The next reaction I came up against was an invitation to disprove the existence of god. If you’re reading this (and of course you are), you may have read my previous post ‘There Is No Onus Of Disproof’, where I asserted what is in the title of the piece but there is more to it than that. The burden of proof is put on the believer, not for some arbitrary or ‘standard practise’ reason. That burden has to be put on the believer because it is impossible to prove the non-existence of anything, especially when the believer has chosen to describe the object of his or her belief as being in some way ‘above’ the physical world and therefore impossible to detect using not only current scientific methods but also any possible conceivable or even inconceivable scientific apparatus. We’ve come a long way since the renaissance when we realised that facts about the world needed to be found by real-world experiments and could not be deduced from purely Greek philosopher style rational reasoning, let’s not go back eh?

Now on to one of the ones I love. ‘You must believe in god and his teachings because you’re not in prison for crimes against humanity’. I love it because its one of the oldest ones in the book and is quite easy to counter. That assertion can only work if one of 2 premises is true :

  • Every person who lived before the complete version of the bible was available to them (or was never taught it in their lifetime) had no morality and consequentially they were all serial-killing maniacs or:
  • Morality was injected into the human psyche at the time of creation and has been inherent ever since despite only being written down piecemeal over a couple of thousand years.

The first point is clearly wrong because we wouldn’t have survived as a species if it had been the case, while there have clearly been many examples of them throughout history, serial killing maniacs have to be a small minority or they would be having to kill each other before long and I wouldn’t have thought they’d be too great at procreation, farming or city building. The second point is one that many evolution deniers believe to be factual, yet if it were true, the question wouldn’t need answering. If you believe that god gives you your morality and it is not learnt, how can you question why I have morals? If you believe that it is the belief in god that gives you your morality, we go back to the first point. More on this in ‘The True Origins Of Morality’ and ‘All Morality Is Relative’.

Another argument doing the rounds, although only by the more moderate sections of the believing community (I know that it’s not really a community but the word helps with the description) is the whole ex nihilo thing, that nothing comes from nothing. This could be a topic I write a separate post on later but I think I need to touch on it here. The theory goes that if the universe was created in the ‘Big Bang’, there had to have been a cause, this ’cause’ is god, a bit like Aristotle’s unmoved mover (actually a lot like, it’s a total rip-off). This makes assumptions which are not known to be true. Firstly that there was a ‘before’, time itself was created at the Big Bang so I’m not sure it makes any sense to speak of ‘before’. Secondly that all things have a cause, quantum fluctuations do not, it seems sensible to suspend judgement when we cannot know if all things must have a cause. Thirdly and I believe most importantly, why would any cause have to be conscious? The supernovae whose debris we are made of were not conscious and neither is any other creative or destructive force in the universe that we know of (other than our own), it is not a logical conclusion that any ‘first cause’ would be conscious, aware, omnipotent, just or any of the attributes humans so often attribute to god.

When all else fails, I’m usually told that I’ll find out I was wrong when I spend eternity in hell. Aside from the fact that eternity in hell would be no different from eternity in heaven ( I may explain that later), what those who say that don’t realise is that they have just stated knowledge of god’s intentions for me, showing their vanity while using his name. That’s real blasphemy.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

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