Words Fail Me

Aug 3rd, 2005 2:30 am | By

God almighty. Sometimes things are just too surprising. I was dismayed (from afar) when Galloway was elected – but I clearly wasn’t dismayed enough.

Two of your beautiful daughters are in the hands of foreigners – Jerusalem and Baghdad. The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will. The daughters are crying for help, and the Arab world is silent. And some of them are collaborating with the rape of these two beautiful Arab daughters. Why? Because they are too weak and too corrupt to do anything about it.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Foreigners? Daughters? Your daughters? Your beautiful daughters? The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will? Rape? It’s difficult not to scream. It’s sheer bloody Julius Streicherism, it’s lynch-mob language, it’s misogynist sexist racist communalist slavering garbage. And this guy is an MP!

We live in very strange times. Harry’s Place (which is where I saw this) has the comments I would make if I had the time, as well as a few I wouldn’t say – but there is far more agreement than usual, in that thread.

Nobel Prize for Smugness

Aug 2nd, 2005 1:45 am | By

Well, smugness is a good thing, of course, but there is such a thing as too much of it.

Lots of people move to the right as they grow older, and newspaper commentators are no exception…So what are we to make of Nick Cohen, the most uncompromising left-wing columnist in the British press for most of the past decade? How far right is he going?…Cohen, who continues to write for the NS as well as the Observer, argues that the left has gone right, not him. The left should be secular and liberal, he says, but the anti-war movement has, in effect, found itself supporting Islamic fascists. “To read the liberal press,” Cohen tells me, “you would think the authentic Muslim is a religious fanatic. But there are Iraqi and Kurdish socialists and communists. I can talk to them. Most liberal journalists can’t and won’t.”

Ah, I see – that’s turning rightward, is it? Saying the left should be secular and liberal? Saying it’s worth talking to Iraqi and Kurdish socialists and communists? I see. Interesting definition.

What causes left-wing commentators to slip their moorings in their 40s? Perhaps some just follow the cliché that if you are not a socialist up to 40, you have no heart and, if you are still one after 40, you have no head. Others find that property ownership or parenthood make them right-wing. Others again get mugged or burgled. I suspect a good many just want more income; after all, there are only a few left-of-centre newspapers and magazines and most of them pay badly, or not at all. But I fear there is another reason. Leftwing commentators get bored…Cohen and Hitchens are among the cleverest people I know. In the end, I guess, the left proved too much of straitjacket for their restless minds.

So out of boredom they abandoned the dull old left for the meretricious excitements of – secularism, human rights, feminism, universalism, the Enlightenment, reason, equality and justice. Why those shallow frivolous shits. Leaving their comrades behind to plod along with the grim boring old duty of cheerleading for religion, cultural relativism, female subordination, communalism, postmodernism, anti-science, and inequality and injustice provided it’s the Other perpetrating it.

That column really does take the biscuit. Note the complete and total failure to engage with the ideas in question. Note the condescending armchair cause-excavating. Note the insulting quality of the suggested causes. But mainly just notice the stupid anti-intellectual bypassing of the ideas. [stupid voice] ‘Maybe the right smells better. Maybe the right has better sex. Maybe the right can get them tickets to sold-out plays. Maybe the right lets them sit next to it at playtime. Maybe they’re mad at the left because it broke their Spiderman doll.’

Or maybe, just maybe, they have real reasons, not venal or corrupt or frivolous or stupid or infantile ones. Unlike the people with the tricky rucksacks, they say why they do what they do, why they think what they think and write what they write, so we don’t need to sit around spinning theories about their reasons. But if we did we could hardly come up with stupider ones than those.

Two Kinds

Aug 1st, 2005 6:03 pm | By

You want martyr? I’ll give you martyr. Here’s a real martyr.

Mahmud Muhammad Taha argued for a distinction to be drawn between the Meccan and the Medinan sections of the Koran. He advocated a return to peaceable Meccan Islam, which he argued is applicable to today, whereas the bellicose Medinan teachings should be consigned to history. For taking this position he was tried for apostasy, found guilty and executed by the Sudanese government in 1985.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around on this subject.

The funeral of British suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer was held in absentia in his family’s ancestral village, near Lahore, Pakistan. Thousands of people attended, as they did again the following day when a qul ceremony was held for Tanweer. During qul, the Koran is recited to speed the deceased’s journey to paradise, though in Tanweer’s case this was hardly necessary. Being a shahid (martyr), he is deemed to have gone straight to paradise. The 22-year-old from Leeds, whose bomb at Aldgate station killed seven people, was hailed by the crowd as ‘a hero of Islam’.

That crowd is mistaken.


Aug 1st, 2005 1:00 am | By

A little from that sickening interview in Prospect.

Taseer: It’s martyrdom, isn’t it?

Butt: Absolutely. It’s something that makes me really depressed being stuck in this country because I know I’m so far away from it. I know that if I was to pass away in my sleep, then I would not have the mercy of Allah upon me because I have been such a bad person. And I don’t see myself in any way as getting into heaven that easily, except through martyrdom.

‘Allah’ won’t give him ‘mercy’ if he just dies of gangrene from an infected pimple. No, he has to kill himself and a lot of other random people – then ‘Allah’ will be nice to him. And of course that’s the important thing – not to mention what a swell guy this ‘Allah’ must be.

Taseer: You’re looking forward to death?

Butt: Absolutely. As long as it’s done properly. I’m terrified of dying normally, growing old, grey.

Taseer: You don’t see that as a selfish impulse, to care for nothing but your own salvation?

Butt: Ultimately, that’s everybody’s. The mother loves the child more than anybody. But even she, on the day of reckoning, will not look at the child; Allah says she will think of herself, solely of herself. Ultimately, that is what it’s about: I’m going into my grave, you’re going into your grave, everyone is ultimately going into their grave. In this duniya (world), we have as much as we can want, but ultimately it is for the benefit of your soul. It is the only point in Islam where an individual is actually allowed to be selfish.

No comment required.

Euphemism Piled Upon Euphemism

Jul 31st, 2005 2:20 am | By

Identity, eh. Identity, identity, identity – how sick we all are of hearing about it. The hell with identity. Get over it – you are what you are, never mind what your precious ‘identity’ is, just get on with it, do something useful, make a difference, forget about your darling self for five minutes, think about something more interesting.

Eve Garrard says a few words on this subject at Normblog.

Human rights are an indispensable part of a morally decent society (though the eager embracing of victimhood is not, and there’s no doubt that the discourse of human rights has, along with multiculturalism, encouraged many to regard the status of victim of rights-violation as the most attractive one going, and hence to reach for it at the slightest provocation).

That’s the one – the thing about regarding the status of victim of rights-violation as the most attractive one going. That’s one of the problems with the (often frankly formulaic and mindless) repetition of the ‘alienation – rage – grievance’ trope. It creates the very thing it’s talking about – and then uses the created thing as a reason to go on talking about it, thus creating more of it, thus having yet more pretext to go on talking about it, ad infinitum. And then the victim-status that’s been invented can curdle and warp and go stark staring mad, and then look what happens.

The New Republic has an article on some inspiring people. It’s about three ‘clerics’ in the UK: Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza Al Masri, and Abu Qatada. But the authors keep saying a strange thing, despite their lack of admiration for these ‘clerics.’ They say it repeatedly – which I find odd. Not surprising, because I see it all the time, but very odd. Stupid, in fact.

In fact, German law enforcement documents we recently obtained indicate that Abu Qatada has provided much of the spiritual inspiration for Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the most effective Iraqi insurgent leader…Abu Qatada is the mentor and spiritual authority for many militant jihadists, including the notorious Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi…Abu Qatada’s central role as the spiritual guide of European jihadists was highlighted by the fact that the members of the Spanish cell who killed 191 Madrid commuters on March 11, 2004, tried to reach him three times by phone before they blew themselves up a couple of weeks after the Madrid attacks. Indeed, the Spanish judge who indicted Abu Qatada characterizes him in the indictment as “the recognized spiritual leader of numerous extremist groups.”

I daresay you’ve spotted the strange thing I have in mind. What’s all this ‘spiritual’ nonsense? What do people mean ‘spiritual’? They mean religious, so why don’t they say that? Why do they want to pretty it up? Religious is a hooray word these days anyway, why is there this compulsion to make it even hoorayer? They wouldn’t call Hitler a spiritual inspiration, so why the honorific for these bastards? Spiritual inspiration (same word is the root, there – it means breath), spiritual authority, spiritual guide, spiritual leader. Why so respectful? Really, it’s baffling.

Another knee-jerk honorific got on my nerves yesterday. An irritating little item on the need to keep religious schools in the UK – only of course they’re not called that. Why? Because that would make it too obvious what a bad stupid idea they are? Yes, probably. When your case is feeble, resort to manipulative language. It works, too.

Abolishing faith schools is not the way to create harmony between different communities in the wake of the London attacks, Tony Blair has said…He stressed that he backed faith schools, including Muslim schools, which were part of the “proper” school system. And he insisted the schools did not teach children to “look at children of other faiths in a bad way” and often contained some pupils from other religions. Mr Blair said parents were attracted to such schools because they provided a “strong ethos and values”.

Yeah, because people like you go on implying that religion has a monopoly on ‘values.’ Another self-perpetuating self-creating trope, just like identity and victim status. I think this is where we came in.


Jul 29th, 2005 8:53 pm | By

Hmm. Should I do the charitable reading thing? Or should I just yell is Peter Singer nuts?

Let’s try the charitable reading. He mis-spoke. He left out the qualifying phrase. He forgot a crucial adjective or two. He – um – lives in a hole in the ground and has all his news filtered by hooded agents of a secret international organization?

Singer sought the clash with neo-con America, partly to revive a career that was going stale. True, when he was appointed Ira W de Camp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University in 1999, Bill Clinton was in the White House, but still Singer had been lured from the relatively liberal milieu of academic Melbourne because he thought the challenges in one of the world’s most selfish, reactionary societies would galvanise him anew as an ethical person.

Maybe it’s the reporter who left out the adjective or two, since that is a paraphrase or indirect quotation rather than an actual quotation. Surely. Because I have to say – bad and regressive as things are here, this is not even close to being one of the world’s most reactionary societies. (Selfish, possibly, depending on how you define it, but that’s not what I’m taking issue with.) It’s really not. I could give a great long list of examples of why not, but it’s so obvious I won’t even bother. I’ll just say – look at the lives of women and girls in a long, long, long list of countries, and then look at their lives here, and tell me the US is more reactionary than all those countries. Neither in practice, nor in law, is that remotely the case.

Thirteen Million Women

Jul 29th, 2005 1:44 am | By

It looks as if women in Iraq are in big trouble.

With the approach of the 15 August deadline for completing the new constitution, the role of women in society has become a political battlefield. It pits secular Iraqis against newly powerful religious parties who want a greater role for Islam written into the document…Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq had some of the most secular legislation in the region. But all that could change, with hardline Shia members of the national assembly pushing for the country to be named the Islamic Republic of Iraq.


A strict interpretation of Islamic law would mean that the evidence of a woman in court would count for only half that of a man. And women would have significantly less say in matters of marriage and divorce. “We believe in equality between men and women,” says Amal Moussa, a member of the Shia coalition that took the most seats in January’s elections. “But it is a limited equality. There are Islamic rules that regulate the family and society, and women and men have different rights and duties.”

I love that kind of thing. We believe in equality (well that sounds good). But it is a limited equality. It means that women are inferior and have to do what they are told. That kind of equality.

“We are a pluralist society and this constitution will determine our future,” Ms Edwar says. “It is crucial for us. We cannot allow it to move us backwards and make a mockery of conventions that Iraq has signed on human rights.” Secular women in Iraq have been through a difficult two years, with relentless violence keeping more and more women indoors and many feeling growing pressure to wear the veil.

Growing pressure to wear the ‘veil’? Oh but why is that a problem? Isn’t wearing the veil an expression of their deep devout pious faith? And of their culture? And of their Otherness? And of their postcolonialism and nonOrientalism? And of diversity? So why don’t they want to? Have they been corrupted by the West – is that it?

“I am worried,” says Yannar Muhammad, a prominent activist who runs a shelter for abused women. “I think the future of women in Iraq is very bleak.”

Not good.

Margaret Owen is also worried.

In March 2004, Iraq adopted an interim constitution called the Tal (transitional administrative law). It was then that Iraqi women won their battle to stop the passing of the proposed rule 137, which, if promulgated, would have destroyed all hopes for women’s equality, dignity and justice in the country, in effect allowing the total subordination of women to men within their families, in the community and in political life. This particular interpretation of the Qur’an would legalise polygamy; divorce by “talaq” (when a husband has only to declare “I divorce you” three times for the marriage to be at an end); honour killings; stoning and public beheadings of women for alleged adultery. But now rule 137’s provisions are back in the new draft constitution.

Rule 137 would legalize honour killings? Really? I’m naive – I thought honour killings were tacitly permitted in many places, but I didn’t realize they were actually legal – anywhere. At least I don’t think I knew that. I wonder if that’s right.

Despite the appalling security situation in Iraq (two Sunni members of the committee who are drafting the constitution were gunned down last week), thousands of brave Iraqi women, from different governorates, risked their lives last Tuesday when they congregated in Baghdad’s Al-Firdaws Square to protest against their exclusion in the draft constitution. The international press, busy reporting the continuing violence of the insurgency, failed to cover this event and it got little publicity within Iraq.

Hmm. That BBC article above said it was two hundred women – not thousands. Unless it’s a different demonstration, but that seems unlikely. I wonder which is the right figure.

The drafts released last weekend are a cause for deepest concern. Written by a committe of 46 men and nine women, they expressly state that the main source of legislation in the new Iraqi constitution is to be sharia law, which will take precedence over international law. Sharia law decrees that “personal status” (that is, family law relating to marriage, divorce, custody, widowhood and inheritance) is to be determined according to the different religious sects. Depriving women of their long-held rights and rendering them subservient to interpretations of Islamic law could well lead to the “Talibanisation” of Iraq and an escalation of violence towards women who rebel. Indeed extremists and insurgents are already using rape, acid attacks and violence to force women to wear the veil. Now a law is set to be passed that will ban widows from working for three months following the deaths of their husbands.

That’s how it went in Iran. (I’ve just read Persepolis – read and looked at. Great book.)

If Iraq is truly to become a democratic state, complying with international human rights treaties and conventions, then its constitution, while upholding sharia law, must ensure that its interpretation does not breach its international obligations.

Wait – what? While upholding Sharia law? After what you just got through saying? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Every day in Iraq, women are beaten, raped, abducted and murdered in “honour killings”. Millions more live in poverty and fear. The new constitution must uphold their rights, for we know that it is only when women have equality with men that there can be true democracy, justice and peace. Iraqi women are imploring the international community to act to protect the lives of 13 million women. Tony Blair and Jack Straw must not remain silent.

Second that.

Update. Sort of legal, maybe, semi-legal. “In November 1998, the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights condemned the practice of honor killings. The two articles in the Jordanian Penal Code, which apply to crimes of honor, are the exonerating law: a section of article 340 in the Jordanian Penal Code (no 16, 1960) stating that “he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty”; and Article 98 that states: “He who commits a crime in a fit of fury caused by an unrightful and dangerous act on the part of the victim benefits from a reduction of penalty.” That’s from January 1999 and they were working on reforming the law.

It’s an Outrage

Jul 28th, 2005 8:08 pm | By

A reader tells me I’m wrong in the Flexible Labour comment – that Muslims (from the Indian subcontinent) were not recruited to move to the UK in the 50s, and that I have them confused in that respect with West Indians, who were. Okay. I did look it up before posting, in a reference book I happened to have handy (the Oxford Companion to British History) which did say people were recruited from the subcontinent, because I thought I thought that was the case but wasn’t sure. But one reference book can always be wrong.

I also apparently didn’t make my meaning entirely clear – probably because I knew so well what I meant that I didn’t notice it wasn’t clear. By ‘dirty little secret’ I didn’t mean the recruitment itself, but the broader or perhaps vaguer point that immigration policy is not motivated solely by altruism or multiculturalism but also by a demand for cheap labour. The reader tells me that’s not a secret, dirty or otherwise, in the UK. Okay. Perhaps I’m misled by the way the subject is discussed in the US, which is generally extremely euphemised and dressed up and generally disguised. Maybe that’s just as well, maybe a blunter discussion would be disastrous. But I think euphemised discussions tend to be confused.

In any case, this article suggests a different reason for ‘alienation’ and grievance and generally feeling pissed off.

What is revealing is that the feelings of alienation suffered by Muslims in the YouGov poll are far greater among men than women. Muslim girls, on the whole, are liberated by living in Britain. Their education is deemed as important by the State as their brothers’. Those whose parents don’t encourage them to stay on at school and go to university will be encouraged by their teachers instead. For many of them, Western society offers the chance of escape from oppression by fathers, brothers and husbands.

Not to mention from ‘the community’ at large. ‘Community’ has become such a hooray word – a usage which overlooks how oppressive and coercive and narrowing a community can be. Not to mention punitive. And if it’s a community that hates women – well, it’s all those and more, for women and girls.

This suggests that the problem with Britain — and the West as a whole — is not that it is un-Islamic. If that were the case, then Muslim women would surely feel as alienated as Muslim men. More plausible is that Muslim men resent the way in which their traditional feelings of superiority over women are challenged in the West. Here, they simply can’t get away with subjugating their womenfolk in the way that they can in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Somalia.

Actually, often, they can, if they do it behind closed doors. But they can’t subjugate all women. They’re constantly affronted by the presence of women who are not generally globally subordinated and submissive and inferiorized. There’s a grievance for you.

Impossible Dreams

Jul 28th, 2005 1:34 am | By

The Christians are coming, the Christians are coming. Well, at least, a dozen or so of them are, to part of South Carolina. And they got plans, dude.

In the South Carolina of their dreams, abortion would be illegal. The Ten Commandments would be proudly displayed. Public schools would be a thing of the past. Taxes would be severely limited, and property rights would be paramount.

Doesn’t that sound like paradise? Doesn’t that just sound like a little corner of heaven right here on earth? The Ten Commandments would be proudly displayed. Cool. So no graven images then – no graven images of anything in the sky, or on the earth, or in the water. No stars, no fish, no flowers, no airplanes, no leviathan, no mountains, no birds, no kelp, no 2005 silver Mercedes with leather upholstery. No family snaps, either. But so then what about family values? That’s the part I don’t get. I thought family values were all about sitting around the stove on winter evenings looking at pictures of Junior sledding down hill and Sis with her blue-ribbon pie at the county fair and Grandma pouring herself a stiff drink. No? Well okay, I wouldn’t know, I’m a stranger here myself. Next item – public schools would be a thing of the past. Well that’s a lovely thought. So – everybody in this dreamland is rich enough to pony up for private school? Okay – then who does the shitwork? Has it escaped the dreamers’ notice that rich people don’t do shitwork? Who’s going to do it then? Who’s going to work on their cars, and pass their food over the scanner and take their money, and clean their houses? Or is the plan that women will do all that – homeschool the children and do all the shitwork? So – they’ll be working part-time at the supermarket then, and the garage, and the restaurant? While homeschooling? Could get tricky. But, hey, property rights would be paramount, so no doubt they would work it out somehow.

And if the federal government tried to interfere, well, they’d secede.

Aha! The Civil War, Part Deux! Great!

Many South Carolinians, including conservatives, are skeptical about the new group.

Gee, I wonder why.

Oh well – look on the bright side. They don’t have a back room full of nail-studded bombs all ready to go, at least not that they mention, so I suppose that’s something.

Muriel Gray has a better take.

For the government of a secular country such as ours to treat religion as if it had real merit instead of regarding it as a ridiculous anachronism, which education, wisdom and experience can hopefully overcome in time, is one of the most depressing developments of the 21st century…we have debates on TV news shows between hardline Muslim scholars and moderate Muslim politicians without any intervening voice of scepticism suggesting that the whole darned thing might be just as invented as virgin births and Mormon tablets.

Which apart from anything else is so condescending. Amartya Sen might as well not even have bothered publishing that book.

Since these are dark days, it’s time to stop all this polite tiptoeing around religion and harden up accordingly. Our elected leaders constantly bleating their respect for religion is not political correctness but a public declaration that intellect, tolerance, democracy, reason and enlightenment are of less value than dogma and delusion…No bishops, mullahs, Presbyterian ministers, rabbis, or Scientologists should be gifted special hearings at Downing Street…

Good idea. As impossible of attainment as the dream of the Christian South Carolina, but a good idea all the same.

Flexible Labour

Jul 26th, 2005 11:12 pm | By

However. I said I think there actually is a genuine grievance lurking behind all this rage and alienation we’re hearing about. I don’t know, I’m only guessing, but it’s my suspicion that this grievance is less bogus and worked-up than the ones that are more usually rolled out are. I don’t see this one mentioned much, if at all. Because – ? Because it’s too sensitive, too close to the bone, too uncomfortable to talk about? Maybe – but I don’t know.

Muslims in the UK are the underclass, and that’s why they’re there. They were recruited to move to the UK for that reason – to provide cheap (meaning unskilled, uneducated) labour. Just as Turks were in Germany, and Mexicans in the US. It’s not that Clement Attlee and his cabinet decided in the late forties that Britain was too pasty-white and monocultural and wouldn’t it be a great thing to be more diverse. No. One might be forgiven for thinking so, to hear people drivel about diversity now, but in fact that was not the reason. There was what is always called a ‘labour shortage,’ meaning a shortage of people willing to work for low wages, after WW II, and a surplus on the subcontinent, so a demographic re-arrangement was made. Not a terrible solution in some ways; both sides benefit; but it shouldn’t be prettied up as a way to make London more right-on and cosmopolitan, because that’s not what it was. Still less was it a way to make Bradford and Leeds more diverse.

That’s not necessarily a great source of pride. It can be – because in fact it takes a lot of courage and ambition to make such a move, and children and grandchildren of impoverished immigrants often do derive pride from that history. (Read Carl Sagan on his grandfather at the beginning of Pale Blue Dot, for example. ‘My grandfather was a beast of burden.’ It’s quite moving.) But that depends on a lot of factors, and the truth is that it can also be a considerable narcissistic wound.

David Goodhart touched on this a week after the 7th.

First, the relatively poor socioeconomic position of most British Muslims has little to do with Islamophobia or racism and a great deal to do with the fact that nearly two-thirds of British Muslims come from Pakistan and Bangladesh, often from these countries’ poor, rural areas. (Indian and Arab Muslims do better.) The starting point in terms of education, skills and traditional cultural attitudes is worse for most Muslims than it is for, say, the Hindu or Chinese minorities, both of which outperform white Britons. To expect Muslims to rise to the average level in terms of education and jobs within a generation or two is not realistic, although progress is being made.

That’s just it. The starting point in education and skills is the point, because it’s not an accident, it’s not something that just happened – it’s integral to the cheap labour aspect. This is the dirty little secret (at least, if it’s not, I don’t know why it doesn’t get mentioned more) of the economic imperative.

I have no idea whatever if this has anything to do with the bombings or bombers, but with the generalized alienation of Muslim young men that we hear about, I suspect it does. It’s only a suspicion though.

Make a Splash

Jul 25th, 2005 9:29 pm | By

This comment says pretty much exactly what I was thinking (and saying) a few days ago. I would guess that a lot of other people are thinking it too – but that’s just a guess. But it is related to Mona Eltahawy’s point, that it’s insulting for non-Muslims to think Muslims can’t take responsibility.

The notion that the British Muslim suicide bombers of July 7 were spurred on by some passionate form of public-spiritedness, of course, is both flagrantly idiotic and deeply dangerous…Yet Mr Ahmed’s apparent reasoning – that his nephew was compelled to kill himself and seven innocent people near Liverpool Street station by a combination of righteous anger and sheer desperation at injustices suffered by fellow-Muslims – is not too distant from the explanations that have in the past been provided for Palestinian suicide bombers by non-Muslim British public figures…I wonder, however, if the recent apparition of British suicide bombers – raised in circumstances that were far from desperate – might have caused Baroness Tonge and Mrs Blair to reconsider the psychological ingredients they once naively deemed necessary to the phenomenon…Suicide bombing, however, fired by a volatile combination of religious and political fervour, is a vigorous act of self-assertion: the bomber hopes to make his triumphant, bloody mark upon the world before proceeding to his reward in Paradise.

Bingo. It’s not righteous anger, it’s not altruistic rage at injustices suffered by other people – it’s narcissistic mark-making (peeing on a bush writ large and bloody, one might say) and Look At Me-saying, dressed up as altruistic whatnot. It’s not about other people, it’s about me, me, me. Get me, look at me, admire me, respect me, fear me, scream when you see me, dream about me, run away from me, tremble at the thought of me, hate me, pay attention to me. Be blown to pieces by me, be blasted full of nails by me. I’m powerful, I’m scary, I’m brave, I can make things happen, I can pee higher than you.

That impulse should never be confused with altruism.

It is no accident that the bulk of suicide bombers are young men, a group particularly drawn, not necessarily to hopelessness, but to the potent romance of a “cause”. They are easily bored by the dreary, complicated business of living peacefully: the dull job, the squalling baby, and the round of minor compromises. Their professed desire to “avenge injustice” is not their driving motivation: that is a palatable excuse to buoy up their self-image. The real spur is an arrested, adolescent craving for immortality and legendary status among their peers.

Well – exactly. At least I think so. I think it’s all about self-image, combined with disaster-porn. A bunch of dreary shits bigging themselves up. No, I know, as commenters pointed out the other day, I don’t know that. But boy it’s plausible.

But let us be under no illusion that Islamist suicide bombers, whether they immolate themselves in a Haifa restaurant or the London Underground, have any love for justice: they murder the most vulnerable without compunction. Nor have they any protective instinct for their fellow-Muslims, despite their rhetoric: one glance at the newspaper photographs after the July 7 bombings will proclaim that. For there, staring back from the page of victims, is Shahara Islam, a beautiful 20-year-old bank cashier from Plaistow; Atique Sharifi, 24, an Afghan man whose parents were killed by the Taliban, and who was struggling to forge a new life in London; and Ihab Slimane, a 24-year-old student from France. They were all Muslims too, and they are all dead, their dreams forcibly extinguished by a bunch of selfish fools who hoped, with some frantic gesture, to render themselves more significant in death than they could ever be in life.

There it is, you see. Their desire for significance at the expense of other people’s dreams. That’s why pious talk of their grievances and disaffection is so – loathsome.

Eltahawy and Manji

Jul 25th, 2005 2:30 am | By

Mona Eltahawy in the Washington Post.

The July 7 London bombings did it for me. Perhaps it was because my parents moved us from Cairo to the British capital when I was 7 years old, and so London was my childhood “home.” Or maybe it was because our route to work and school every morning crisscrossed those same Underground stations that were targeted.

I know the feeling. As, of course, do countless other people – literally millions of them. They live there, they once lived there, they visited there, they have friends and relatives there. Many, many millions of people know the feeling.

I’m sure it was also those dog-eared statements that our clerics and religious leaders read out telling us that Islam means peace — it actually means submission — and asking us to please forget everything they had ever said before July 6, because as of July 7 they truly believe violence is bad. Their backpedaling is so furious you can smell the skid marks.

Yes, I’ve been noticing that ‘Islam means peace’ bromide lately, and wondering at it. I certainly was under the impression that it meant submission. I thought maybe it meant both, or that the two words are the same thing in Arabic – so it’s good to see that correction. (Of course, it may be that in the minds of clerics, sumbission in fact is peace. Reminds one of that old bitter remark of Tacitus’: they make a wilderness and call it peace. Submission is peace, in a sense, as is being dead. Give up, give in, empty yourself, empty your mind, become an obedient blank – and that’s peace. In a way. But if that’s peace, give me turmoil.)

I was against the invasion of Iraq and would not have voted for George Bush if I were a U.S. citizen, but I’m done with the “George Bush made me do it” excuse. We must accept responsibility for this mess if we are ever to find a way out. And for those non-Muslims who accept the George Bush excuse, I have a question: Do you think Muslims are incapable of accepting responsibility? It is at least in some way bigoted to think that Muslims can only react violently.

It’s also in some way bigoted – or condescending – to apply special standards to Muslims. If the bombers were anti-abortionists or Nazis, would the same people be talking the same nonsense about rage and alienation in the same tone? Give me a break.

Irshad Manji in the LA Times.

I believe thursday’s bombings in London, combined with the first wave of explosions two weeks ago, are changing something for the better. Never before have I heard Muslims so sincerely denounce terrorism committed in our name as I did on my visit to Britain a few days ago. We’re finally waking up. Except on one front: the possible role of religion itself in these crimes…To blow yourself up, you need conviction. Secular society doesn’t compete well on this score…Which is why I don’t understand how moderate Muslim leaders can reject, flat-out, the notion that religion may also play a part in these bombings. What makes them so sure that Islam is an innocent bystander?

And not only moderate Muslim leaders. For some understandable reasons, plenty of non-Muslims also don’t want to admit that religion may play a part in the bombings.

What makes them sound so sure is literalism. That’s the trouble with Islam today. We Muslims, including moderates living here in the West, are routinely raised to believe that the Koran is the final and therefore perfect manifesto of God’s will, untouched and immutable. This is a supremacy complex. It’s dangerous because it inhibits moderates from asking hard questions about what happens when faith becomes dogma. To avoid the discomfort, we sanitize. And so it was, one week after the first wave of bombings. A high-profile gathering of 22 clerics and scholars at the London Cultural Center produced a statement, later echoed by a meeting of 500 Muslim leaders. It contained this line: “The Koran clearly declares that killing an innocent person [is] tantamount to killing all mankind.” I wish. In fact, the full verse reads, “Whoever kills a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all humankind.” Militant Muslims easily deploy the clause beginning with “except” to justify their rampages.

Interesting clause for clerics and scholars to leave out, isn’t it. Interesting game to play. Produce a statement saying ‘the Bible/the Torah clearly states [something with a key phrase that profoundly alters the meaning omitted].’ Not good. Not honest.

How about joining with the moderates of Judaism and Christianity in confessing some “sins of Scripture,” as Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has said of the Bible? Anything less leaves me with another question: Why is it that in diverse societies, those who oppose diversity of thought often feel more comfortable getting vocal than those who embrace it?

Interesting paradox, isn’t it.

Wrong Verb

Jul 25th, 2005 12:03 am | By

The Guardian has booted Dilpazier Aslam, because of his membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. You may remember his comment in the Guardian July 13:

Second- and third-generation Muslims are without the don’t-rock-the-boat attitude that restricted our forefathers. We’re much sassier with our opinions, not caring if the boat rocks or not. Which is why the young get angry with that breed of Muslim “community leader” who remains silent while anger is seething on the streets.

Sassy. Rocking the boat. Oh, is that what this is – sassy boat-rocking. Interesting take. Okay, and what is it that all this seething is about? Somalia? Bosnia? Kosovo? The Kurds? No?

Anyway, as Norm points out, Aslam did a silly thing after getting the boot. He chose the one word of all words in the dictionary that would most make him look like a hypocritical prat. The same word Louis chose – sarcastically – when he raided Rick’s. Dilpazier Aslam is shocked, shocked, at the naughty Guardian.

Aslam said: “I am shocked by the manner in which this whole affair has been handled. My treatment throws up issues which will be of grave concern to all journalists. I am currently taking legal advice.”

But what did he just get through saying, in that boatrocky sassy comment?

If, as police announced yesterday, four men (at least three from Yorkshire) blew themselves up in the name of Islam, then please let us do ourselves a favour and not act shocked.

Then – apparently thinking he’s onto a good trope, here – he starts no fewer than four paragraphs with the same word. He gives us all a damned good talking-to for having the nerve to be shocked about the July 7 bombs when we should have realized that the bombings happened through our own responsibility. Right. We mustn’t be shocked by bombings that kill 56 people and injure a lot of others, but he is shocked because the Guardian told him to piss off. What, apart from any other consideration, an admirable sense of proportion. Mass murder, entirely understandable; the firing of a seething trainee, shocking.

Dazed and Theorized

Jul 24th, 2005 4:15 am | By

Apparently in Australia schoolchildren are being taught Theory. Or postmodernism, or critical literacy, or deconstruction, or cultural relativism. Poor little tads. Bad enough there are all those dingoes around eating your babies – but critial literacy theory for schoolchildren? Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream?

For Australian academics John Stephens, Ken Watson and Judith Parker, compilers of the manual From Picture Book to Literary Theory, the story of the Three Little Pigs is really about “the virtues of property ownership and the safety of the private domain” — both “key elements of liberal/capitalist ideology”.

Mind you – there is interesting stuff about the not very hidden messages in fairy tales – Jack Zipes, Marina Warner, and the like – but they’re slightly more subtle than those Australian academics sound, and anyway I didn’t read them when I was ten.

But postmodernism’s intellectual assumptions – truth is a matter of opinion, there is no real world outside of language and hence no facts independent of our descriptions of them – render it an entirely inappropriate teaching tool in an era of information excess. As Julian Baggini, editor and co-publisher of The Philosopher’s Magazine, observes in Making Sense, Philosophy Behind the Headlines, that cultural relativism is widespread in the classroom.

But in From Picture Book to Literary Theory, a booklet addressed to teachers pushing the barrow of postmodern theory in the classroom, edited by academics JohnStephens, Ken Watson and Judith Parker, John Brown demonstrates to students the way in which we are socially constructed as readers.

From Picture Book to Literary Theory – doesn’t that just make you laugh and laugh? From the Little Red Hen to Grammatology, from the Mary Poppins to Discipline and Punish, from Five Children and It to Social Text. Makes you wish you were a child again, doesn’t it?

Present Mirth

Jul 23rd, 2005 9:12 pm | By

Howard Jacobson’s a funny guy. Writes well, too.

The other proof of our philistinism is our politicising of literature…The old complaint that Jane Austen left out the Napeolonic wars is making itself heard again. If a novel isn’t politically au courant, if it isn’t ratified by events outside itself, we have trouble remembering what it’s for.

What used to be (tediously) called ‘relevance.’ How is Shakespeare ‘relevant’ to the yoof of today? Answer: he isn’t, so let’s not read the pesky old bastard any more.

It takes the most responsible of writers to see why irresponsibility is so important…Once upon a time, when we knew aesthetically what we were about, the novel was comic or it was nothing…Gargantua and Don Quixote are novels of grand design and purpose; they mean to liberate us from the debilitating certainties of God and hero worship, whether those certainties take the form of sermons, laws, sagas, patriotism, idealism or romance…

Yeah. If only someone would – liberate us from all those debilitating certainties. We’re all badly in need of some certainty-liberation these days.

In their guidelines for aspiring writers of eroticism, the publishers of Black Lace warn specifically against comedy. What they do not go on to say is that laughter is the operation of intelligence, an act of criticism, and the moment you subject porn, soft or hard, to intelligence, it comes apart like a mummified artefact exposed to light. Ditto The Da Vinci Code. Ditto the modern novel of highly responsible ideological intent.

Now that is really interesting. ‘No comedy, don’t forget, it messes up the concentration. Focus on the throbbing genitalia, and leave the wit at home.’

The isolation of comedy from everything else we do is symptomatic of this. We are right to shrink from the very idea of a “funny” book. There should be no such genre. We should expect laughter to be integral to the business of being serious. We are back in a new dark age of the imagination. We read to sleep.

And that’s even more interesting (well, to me), because that’s the Dictionary. It is funny (in intention), but it’s also serious. We even bothered saying that in the introduction. And I felt quite squirmy about having it shelved in the comedy section with all the chav books and crap town books. It’s not that kind of book. (But, as Jeremy kept sagely pointing out when I whined, more people would see it among the crap town books. They still wouldn’t buy it, but they would see it.) But anyway, this idea of laughter being integral to the business of being serious – that’s very B&W, I think. B&W has been lashed and laced and intertwined with mockery from the very beginning – but it’s also been quite serious.

Some things, we believe, should not be scrutinised or ridiculed. And day by day the list of sacred sites and objects – like one of Gargantua’s spiralling menus of excess – gets longer. Soon parliament might even harden our jokelessness into law. A radical confusion between art and action is at the heart of this. What we consider unacceptable in human behaviour, we consider unacceptable in art, forgetting that art exists precisely to say the otherwise unsayable.

Just so. The list of sacred stuff gets longer and longer and longer. That trend really needs to be reversed.

Pretentious! Moi?

Jul 22nd, 2005 4:56 pm | By

I have to learn to write in words of one – um – syllable. I am too – er – pretentious. People keep telling me that. ‘OB,’ they say, looking all stern and disapproving (okay, mostly one syllable – anyway, I said I have to learn: I haven’t learned yet, I’m working on it) – looking all grim and censorious, ‘you are too pretentious. You use big words that you don’t know what they mean or that other people don’t know what they mean, and you only do it to be pretentious. You should be cool and ironic like us. We have 75 degrees and you have one, and that is why you are pretentious and we are cool and ironic. You see, people like you, who know nothing but wish they did, do not like it when people like us, who know everything, are cool and ironic about knowing everything. And that is not entirely a bad thing – it is mostly a bad thing, but not entirely. It is a little bit good that people like you who know nothing should go on thinking knowledge is a good thing, because that gives people like us something to be cool and ironic about. May I pat you on the head? Hold still – there. However, you are too pretentious. You don’t talk about pop culture enough. You don’t talk about how ironic you are enough. You don’t write a book every three months. All that adds up to a severe case of pretentiousness. You must do better.’

So I have to try to do better, you see. When people get all grim and censorious at me I take it for granted that there is something badly amiss with my behavior and way of thinking, and I resolve to improve – I mean fix it.

Actually I suppose the simplest way to do that would be to say the hell with all this and get a job cleaning toilets. Nobody ever tells janitors they’re pretentious (well, except other janitors).

Two Observers

Jul 22nd, 2005 3:55 am | By

Ian McEwan, July 19.

Inevitably, we’re going to start seeing around the preposterous political correctness that allows us to have radical clerics preaching in mosques and recruiting young people. We have been caught too much by a sense that we can just regard these clerics as being like English eccentrics at Hyde Park Corner.

So being ‘devout’ isn’t enough then? Huh.

I don’t buy the arguments in the Iraq war. What keeps getting forgotten here is that the people committing massacres in Iraq right now belong to al-Qaida…But the massacres in Iraq now are being conducted by al-Qaida against Muslims. I also think it’s extraordinary the way in which we get morally selective in our outrages. When there was a rumor that someone at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the lavatory, the pages in The Guardian almost caught fire with outrage, but only months before the Taliban had set fire to a mosque and destroyed 300 ancient Korans.

I didn’t know that – remind me to look into it. But the selectiveness of the moral outrage – oh yeah. Big time. All the guff about rage and alienation and disaffection – no, not offered as pure disinterested explanation, as one might offer overexposure to the midday sun to explain a sunburn – which never, ever gets rolled out for the BNP or Timothy McVeigh or murderers of doctors who do abortions – that guff. Why is that? I don’t know, but I hope people get over it soon.

Polly Toynbee, July 22.

The death cult strikes again, unstoppable in its deranged religious mania. This time no deaths but a savage reminder of the unknown waves of demented killers lining up to murder in the name of God…In the growing fear and anger at what more may be to come, apologists or explainers for these young men can expect short shrift. This is not about poverty, deprivation or cultural dislocation of second-generation immigrants. There is plenty of that and it is passive. Iraq is the immediate trigger, but this is about religious delusion.

Partly – I think. Religious delusion joined to testosterone-syndrome joined to a fascist love of violence for its own sake joined to thrill-seeking. But r.d. sure does its bit.

Enlightenment values are in peril not because these mad beliefs are really growing but because too many rational people seek to appease and understand unreason…Meanwhile the far left, forever thrilled by the whiff of cordite, has bizarrely decided to fellow-travel with primitive Islamic extremism as the best available anti-Americanism around. (Never mind their new friends’ views on women, gays and democracy.)

Exactly – except for the far left bit. I refuse to consider anyone who hugs talibanism as any kind of left at all. If that’s far left it’s so ‘far’ that it’s gone all the way around to the other side.

Bombs do change things, maybe not in the extremists’ favour. A great shift in attitude seems to have swept through many Muslim groups who signed the full-page newspaper statement yesterday headed “Not in Our Name”. Many were equivocators on the fatwa that had Salman Rushdie locked away for years.

And as ‘The World Tonight’ pointed out on Tuesday (I think it was Tuesday), if people who rush off to interview ‘the Muslim community’ would stop talking exclusively to men, that might help too. The Muslim women that reporter talked to had nothing but contempt and anger for the whole sorry mess.


Jul 20th, 2005 11:32 pm | By

Wait – what?

It is 97 per cent certain that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead – based on sheer logic and mathematics, not faith – according to Oxford professor Richard Swinburne…This conclusion was reached after a complex series of calculations. In simplified terms, it began with a single proposition: the probability was one in two that God exists. Next, if God exists, the probability was one in two that he became incarnate.

A single proposition – that the probability is one in two that God exists. Um.

We talked (or wrangled) about this last year, when this article on a similar but not identical theme appeared.

A scientist has calculated that there is a 67% chance that God exists. Dr Stephen Unwin has used a 200-year-old formula to calculate the probability of the existence of an omnipotent being. Bayes’ Theory is usually used to work out the likelihood of events, such as nuclear power failure, by balancing the various factors that could affect a situation. The Manchester University graduate, who now works as a risk assessor in Ohio, said the theory starts from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing, and then factors in the evidence both for and against the notion of a higher being. Factors that were considered included recognition of goodness, which Dr Unwin said makes the existence of God more likely, countered by things like the existence of natural evil – including earthquakes and cancer.

Big assumption to start from, as we said at the time. A commenter knowledgeable (at least apparently, and as far as I could tell) about probability, said yes, it’s quite reasonable to take as a starting point a 50/50 shot of God, or the Easter Bunny, Spider-man, Attila the Hun, or anything else, existing if you don’t know better. If you don’t know better. If you start from zero, with no idea either way of the likelihood that the Easter Bunny does or does not exist. But we’re not starting from there, are we. So – why should the probability be one in two that ‘God’ exists? (Not to mention what exactly Swinburne means by ‘God’ in this, er, equation.) No doubt Swinburne says why in his book, but the probablity is 492 in 493 that I would be unconvinced. And then the business about becoming incarnate – please.

“Does he have reason to become incarnate? Yes, to make atonement, identify with our suffering and to teach us things, ” Professor Swinburne said. Even Jesus’ life is not enough proof, he said. God’s signature was needed, which the resurrection was, showing his approval of Jesus’ teaching.

Bollocks. He has reason to become incarnate so that he can have sex, and go hang-gliding, and eat peach ice cream, and get a new hairdo and a sweatshirt with the B&W logo on it. ‘To teach us things’ – well is it working? I’m not so sure. I think we must need somebody cleverer to teach us things, because the things we know seem to get us into some bad places. So skate off back to disincarnateland, Goddy baby, and let someone else take over.

Another item from the ‘Yes religion is mandatory, why do you ask?’ file.

The next big debate for Democrats concerns the r-word: Do they need to get — or at least start talking about — religion? A progressive evangelist and an aggressive secularist have at it.

Perfect, isn’t it? A ‘progressive’ evangelist and an ‘aggressive’ secularist. Good job, American Prospect! Don’t tip your hand or anything.

Absurdity and manipulation – whatever it takes to win, eh.


Jul 20th, 2005 8:42 pm | By

The trouble with the ‘rage, injustice, grievance, violence inflicted on Muslims, marginalization’ approach is that it takes the action being explained too seriously, too politically, too as-if-rational-y, too as-if-adult-ly, and above all, as an instrument, a tool, a means, rather than as an end in itself, which is what it is. It is not a case of: bang: redress our grievances lest we do it again; it’s a case of: bang: hooray, ha ha, nyah nyah, take that, suffer, die, hooray. Period. The killing is the goal. 7/7 is not October 1917 or the Easter Rising, it’s Auschwitz and Rwanda and Srebrenica.

Along with a huge element of childish fun and games. It’s important not to overlook that. It’s necessary not to ignore the sheer and mere thrill element, the disaster movie element, the fire-crash porn element, the video game element, the macho element. Don’t think all that is not part of it, because it is. Everybody must know that, at some level (because it’s kind of obvious), but it doesn’t get mentioned much. Odd, that. It must be true. (It was true of many of the people – maybe all of them – who put together Little Boy and Fat Man, too. They were scared, they were overawed, they were worried, but damn, they were excited and thrilled too, and not just at the success of the physics, although that was part of it. They were thrilled about the great big bang and the fire. People like this stuff. It’s as well to remember that.) I’d be willing to bet (not that there is any booky I could place the bet with, because no way to confirm) that if there had been a way to achieve the same number of deaths instantaneously silently and painlessly – that way would have been rejected with scorn and derision. No – the bang and the smoke is part of the fun, and would not have been given up. The whole undertaking was an Excellent Adventure. I can do that, watch this, ooh let’s get rucksacks, ooh let’s do it at 8:50 just like 9/11, ooh people will see us on CCTV just like the guys at the airport on 9/11, ooh aren’t we cool.

This is Eichmann in Jerusalem stuff of course. The court, and people in general, wanted to see Eichmann as scary and grand and important, in proportion to what he wrought. But Arendt pointed out that he wasn’t. He just wasn’t. There is no proportion. There just isn’t. There is no mechanism that prevents terrible things happening for the most trivial of reasons, or wonderful valuable people from being casually killed by shallow petty unthinking people with nothing much in mind. It happens.

Narcissus Leaves the Pool

Jul 20th, 2005 2:56 am | By

I wrote that comment before I read David Aaronovitch’s piece which says some of the same things.

Mass murder, however, with your own slaughter centre stage, is a pretty extreme act. It is an act of such narcissistic destructiveness, displaying such an incapacity to empathise (you have to be there in the carriage with the Polish girls), that you’d imagine some warning signs, if only you could recognise them…It was also, in a psychological sense, a perverted act. The boys will have known (don’t the relatives remind us?) something of the wrongness of what they did, just as the Columbine school killers did. For whatever reason, however, the pleasure of contemplating the act was greater than the knowledge of its error.

Just so. It’s the narcissism that is so striking – and so oddly ignored by the people who babble about their ‘rage.’ It’s so me me me – I’m pissed off, I want justice, I’m upset, I want to do something, I want to make a difference. Well it’s not about you. Why should it be about you? Why should what you want outweigh all those other people? What makes you so damn special? And don’t tell me it was because they were so concerned about their fellow Muslims, because I don’t believe a word of it. I just don’t. I think it’s all about vanity and showing off. Get me I’m a martyr.

I blame the ideology and the psychology of Grievance — the pleasurable, destructive business of imagining that “they” are being bad to “you”, and of therefore calculating every event on that basis. We call it “nursing” a grudge for a reason. We take this aspect of existence and add to it, almost lovingly…It’s not me, it’s not us, it’s them. They keep doing bad things to us.

Go together, don’t they – narcissism and Grievance. They have to. Grievance-hugging goes with having a badly inflated sense of one’s own importance to the scheme of things.

The elected Government in Iraq, the Shia majority, the new fact of Kurdish rights in that country, don’t count. All these peoples are de-Muslimified for the purposes of victimology. And that happens because they simply don’t fit the narrative. The Sunnis of Iraq are imagined to be “us”, but the Shia and the Kurds aren’t. The bombed villagers of Afghanistan are “us”, the liberated women aren’t. The Kosovan Muslims aren’t, either, though you can bet they would have been had Nato not intervened to save them. As it is, they too have disappeared from Muslimhood…It simply is not an accident — in psychological terms — that anything that conflicts with the Grievance is discounted, and anything that contributes to it is emphasised…All populist right-wing movements, inciters to violence and hatred, are adept in the language of Grievance. The only way to fight it ultimately is to argue — again and again and again — that it just ain’t so.

Hanif Kureishi is not so skeptical. He thinks the rage is genuine.

The burning sense of injustice that many young people feel as they enter the adult world of double standards and dishonesty shock those of us who are more knowing and cynical. We find this commendable in young people but also embarrassing. Consumer society has already traded its moral ideals for other satisfactions, and one of the things we wish to export, masquerading as “freedom and democracy” is that very consumerism, though we keep silent about its consequences: addiction, alienation, fragmentation.

Oh, crap. Really – just pure unadulterated crap. Can’t you do better than that? Consumerism? ‘Damn, look at all these people with their Starbucks cups and their expensive undershirts – I think I’ll bomb them all into atoms.’

Burning sense of injustice my ass. Please. Rampant hormones and an insufficiently tamed ego do not add up to a burning sense of injustice – they add up to a tendency to posture at having such a thing. And as for consumer society – yes yes, I used to whinge about it a lot myself, but it has become way too clear to me that there are far worse things. I’ll take people buying stupid garments and kitchen artifacts they don’t need over religious bullies any day. Though to be fair, Kureishi does get there in the end.

If we need to ensure that what we call “civilisation” retains its own critical position towards violence, religious groups have to purge themselves of their own intolerant and deeply authoritarian aspects. The body hatred and terror of sexuality that characterise most religions can lead people not only to cover their bodies in shame but to think of themselves as human bombs.

David Goodhart also talked about grievance the other day.

But the overwhelming theme of public comment, even after the recent bombings, is one of Muslim grievance. Britain’s Muslims are among the richest and freest in the world and most of them are groping successfully towards a hybrid British Muslim identity, but when did you last hear a Muslim leader say so? Iqbal Sacranie is a capable leader who has helped to turn the Muslim Council of Britain into an effective lobbying body, but his organisation’s default position remains grievance. Here he is in the introduction to a recent booklet for British Muslims: “The unleashing of a virulent strain of Islamophobia, inflammatory media reporting and the misconceived wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have all contributed to the undoubted increase in prejudice we face.”

An undifferentiated rhetoric of grievance contributes to alienation, lack of integration and even indirectly to extremism. If you are constantly being told by even moderate Muslim leaders that Britain is a cesspit of Islamophobia and is running a colonial anti-Muslim foreign policy, you might well conclude, like one young Muslim quoted after the bombs: “I would like to give blood but they probably won’t want mine.”

Like so many things, Grievance gets a momentum of its own. Once it gets started, it’s hard to back away from it, because that seems conservative and ruthless and indifferent. But…there’s a price for that.