The Sad Inevitability of Discussion on Belgium


If sensible people don’t have a sensible discussion, stupid people will have a stupid one.

The conversations and stories after these all-too-common terrorism attacks are also all too common. They’re chillingly similar to the conversations that follow school shootings in America. On the one hand you have people so deep in denial they could be extras in The Mummy. On the other you have people simplistically blaming.

When it comes to the problem of Islamic terrorism, what follows these events is just as tiresomely predictable. On the one hand you have people deep in denial that Islam is part of the problem, who will not even countenance that the ideology entangled with Islam be part of the discussion and who blame everything on the west in an orgy of self-flagellation. On the other you often do have the kind of paranoid ‘white supremacy’ lunatics and racists who latch on to what isn’t a race issue (Islam being a religion and ideology adhered to by many races).

The Regressive Left will not allow a remotely nuanced or wholly inclusive discussion of the problem, because the problem includes Islam and like their opposite numbers on the far right they mysteriously see that as a racial issue, when it’s an ideological and religious one.

Unfortunately, the chilling effect of the spurious accusations of racism etc means that sensible, intelligent, nuanced people are rendered virtually unable to discuss the issue. Either because they daren’t – having seen what happens to others who do – or because they become so entangled in defending their reputation against people who will not listen, that they can’t progress the conversation.

Even calm, collected and ruthlessly rational people like Sam Harris get ‘greenwalded’ to death. Even former Islamists like Majid Nawaz get the most racist insults (porch monkey) for making more measured and complete arguments for Islamic reform and addressing the fact that the religious ideology is part of the issue.

Because the left is rendered incapable of having this discussion, that means the discussion happens on the right instead. Most especially within those circles on the far right where accusations of racism – spurious or accurate – have no meaningful impact and can’t or won’t silence people.

By not having the difficult, realistic, complete discussions we are ceding the discussion, and power, and popularity, to the right. Much of it to the far right. To the kind of paranoid lunatics who espouse ‘white genocide’ and similar conspiracy nonsense. The ones who are made credible when governments apply pressure to censor Facebook, when the police daren’t arrest rape gangs out of fear of accusations, when the news media isn’t replicating what people are reporting on the ground, then we’ve lost the argument and we lose people to the worst and most extreme elements – and we lose more and more of them.

To fixate on Islam and exclude the other factors is incomplete, but this is true the other way around as well. It has to be acknowledged that Islam is an unreformed religion with a tendency to be interpreted in absolutist and uncompromising terms. It needs a reformation, but that needs to come from within, via people like Nawaz and via more liberal interpretations of Islam as found in the smaller sects and culturally amongst people like the Kurds. The Kurds, rather than the house of Saud, is who should get Western support – they and people like them have a, frankly, more civilised interpretation of Islam that could be the vital seed for a greater reformation.

War will not solve this problem, nor will paranoiac security concerns, but in the short term these may be needed things – applied properly without overreach (which is not an easy thing to do). We won’t solve the problem by ignoring the issues people have around immigration, or treating them as stupid. We won’t solve the problem by conflating economic migrants and refugees, we’ll just help continue to demonise the second. We won’t solve the problem by failing to encourage integration, by creating (or allowing) ghettos or not encouraging or expecting people to integrate and adapt to the values of their new home.

The left, my left, seems unable to cope with Islam. Here is a religious ideology that massively and overwhelmingly counter to everything the liberal left supposedly stands for. It is elitist, repressive, genuinely patriarchal and misogynistic, violently homophobic. Everything we are supposed to be against, yet – apparently – because it’s a religious minority (in the west), largely followed by people who happen to have brown skins it is somehow beyond reproach.

People of any colour are capable of hideous deeds. Ideologies and religions frequently encourage or excuse the worst depths of poor human behaviour. We do not see the same reticence to criticise or attack other bigoted ideologies such as (genuine) neo-Nazism and the double standard on this issue is blatant.

We simply cannot afford to have these conversations only happening on the right and the far right. It’s alienating people. It’s undermining the left. It’s making us look like hypocrites.

The hard conversations need to be had.

Explaining #TheTriggering

090316feminist2#TheTriggering is really just one more flare up in the conflict between those who settled ‘The Wild West’ of the internet and enjoyed the freedoms therein, and those who seek to civilise and commercialise it.

If you’re not especially steeped in internet culture it can seem confusing. There’s a huge variety of things being posted on the tag. There’s genuine insights and arguments into internet censorship and the worries surrounding it, there’s shock images, there’s unpalatable political opinions (of every stripe) and deliberate racism, sexism trolling deliberately made to provoke a reaction.

A useful analogy in understanding #TheTriggering is to see it in the context of a somewhat similar events – ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’.

In the same way that Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is a forceful assertion of the right to free speech in the face of religious nonsense about blasphemy and the violent enforcement of that by fanatics via safety in numbers (I’m Spartacus!) so #TheTriggering is a forceful assertion of the right to free speech in the face of attempts to enforce secular blasphemy laws.

Fuck knows, I don’t agree with much that anyone on the right says. I see a lot of shitposting as childish nonsense. Provocation for the sake of it – with some deeper point to it – strikes me as witless. Shock images make me sick. There is, however a greater point to this rejection of censorship and exultant indulging in free speech and the mix within it helps prove the point. Ban the one, you hit the other.

Many of those who stand opposed to free speech, for some reason, have also been posting on the tags. Posting things that they think will be ‘triggering’ to the stereotypes that they think are participating. Predictably, this has had no effect since the people on the tag agree that they should be free to express themselves. Others have, credulously, reacted as though everything on the tag is meant in seriousness and have taken it as proof of… something or other, certainly something other than their own naive credulity. Participating has only bolstered the worth and the point of the tag, as have the other reactions.

Some have built a blocklist, a de-facto blacklist, extracted from those who have posted on the tag. This both shows how moronic the censorship situation has become (they want social media to censor others and see this as a way to do it without their participation. The thing is, that by blocking and organising in this way they show the lack of necessity for top-down imposition of censorship and that the tools available are more than adequate and sufficiently dangerous in and of themselves – and all this over a hashtag which could simply be ignored or muted in the first place.

Of course, I seem to think about these things more than most people do…