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Waking Up After Charlie Hebdo

CH Cartoon

As the latest outrage to peace, liberalism and free speech draws to a close in Paris, with at least 17 innocent people lying dead, one thing must be shouted through the fog of confusion that is inevitably already infecting media and social media commentary; an issue of major concern in the aftermath of this horror is not a consideration for the possible hurt feelings of anyone with regards to the contents of satire, cartoons and so on.  No one has the right not to be offended in a liberal society.

Due to the avalanche of usage, I must once again briefly deal with the word ‘Islamophobia’.  Islam is a set of ideas written in the Quran (the Islamic holy book, dictated allegedly by Allah) and the Hadiths (the sayings and the actions of the Prophet Mohammad).  Therefore, the word ‘Islamophobia’ actually implies that the liberal world is irrational if it dares to criticise a book, which is bad enough, but in reality it is always deployed in such a way as to imply bigotry against all Muslims.  There are two crimes here; the conflation of criticising ideas with bigotry, and the downplaying of actual anti-Muslim bigotry, which is abhorrent.  The intention of course, is to stifle debate.  The word’s very purpose is to frighten everyone into silence.  We must all reject it if we wish to honour the bravery of those who were killed defending freedom of speech in the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  Human beings have rights that deserve respect, books or ideas do not.

The correct and necessary response to the nightmare in Paris, is to make a stand against this assault on liberalism by publishing the above cartoon.  We must spread the risk.  Below, Ayaan Hirsi Ali explains why:

Video Link

 

“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

– Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, who was murdered in Paris on Wednesday.

 


2014 – Another Year In Denial

ISIS

So it’s been another big year for religion.  As such, it’s almost impossible to list all of its ‘achievements’ but below are some ‘highlights’:

In terms of wars, we’ve seen the growth of ISIS as they conquered large areas of Syria and Iraq, murdering, enslaving and raping tens of thousands of people in the process, and beheading four western journalists and an aid worker. We’ve witnessed yet another outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, resulting in the deaths of approximately 2,200 people, many of whom were innocent non-combatants. There has been a continuation of the bloodletting in the Central African Republic between Christians and Muslims, causing an unknown number of civilian casualties – but 5,000 is considered a very conservative estimate. Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamic group, have moved on from hit and run attacks to holding territory in the North East of the country, displacing over half a million people while doing so, and murdering at least 2,000 just between January and June of this year (a total number for the whole year is unknown), to say nothing of their habit of kidnapping and raping pre-pubescent girls by the truckload. Finally, the fight against the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to rage, with atrocities a regular occurrence, the worst of which we learned about only 2 weeks ago when 132 school children were shot and killed with automatic weapons at a school in Peshawar (9 teachers were also killed). Of course, though I will not make the case here, one could also argue that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is in part religiously motivated. Certainly much of Putin’s disdain for the West is linked to our increasingly secular, humanist and moral outlook that flies in the face of his professed and apparently sincere Orthodoxy.

With regards to religiously inspired terrorist attacks on Western soil, in the last few weeks alone there have been deadly strikes in Ottawa, Canada, in Nantes, France and in Sydney, Australia.

One thing that should instantly leap out at you from the above information is that this is truly a global struggle, with every continent regularly falling victim to attacks by individuals or armies high on religion. Last year of course, we had to endure the assault on the oilfield in In Amenas, Algeria, the Boston Marathon bombing in the US and the vicious murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of London, England, to name but three corners of the globe forced to mourn the loss of innocents.

In a sane universe, something like the following would make sense:

In response to the threat of religiously motivated violence, the world’s 2 billion atheists, along with the moderate faithful and the many leaders across the West in particular, are decrying these outrages against humanity in no uncertain terms. They are highlighting the obvious link between some religious texts and the actions of certain groups and individuals and demanding that these scriptural passages are universally rejected as simply wrong and pronounced as incompatible with a desire for a peaceful, moral and tolerant world. They are not only insisting that all religious leaders drive through reform from within their communities but furthermore are doing all that they can to intercept the passing on of terrible ideas to the next generation by attempting to ensure that every child receives a modern, secular education, free from religious dogma. Finally and more generally, the separation of church and state is being steadfastly defended and reinforced.

Unfortunately however, we appear not to live in this sane universe, but one parallel to it, where truth and logic are strangers. Here is David Cameron’s response to the massacre of 132 children in Peshawar:

“There is not a belief system in the world that can justify this sort of appalling act. I think what this shows is the worldwide threat that is posed by this poisonous ideology of extremist Islamist terrorism. It is nothing to do with one of the world’s great religions – Islam, which is a religion of peace.”

Here is US president, Barack Obama, on ISIS:

“ISIS is not Islamic because Islam is a religion of peace.”

After the self-appointed Iranian Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, a man previously known for his habit of writing crude letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, walked into the Lindt Café in Sydney (incidentally, an establishment I have visited myself) with a shotgun and a black flag with the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) written on it, and murdered two innocent people and shot a policeman in the face, Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, spoke these words:

“(Man Haron Monis) is a deeply unstable person with a long history of violence and mental illness… I guess one of the encouraging things is there are less and less of people trying to explain and justify terrorism in the name of religion.”

This mindless currying of favour with the public, rather than making nuanced arguments, is not only popular with politicians; some celebrities are also big fans, as was demonstrated recently by ‘Affleck-gate’. In the video below, mediocre American actor Ben Affleck loses both his marbles and his manners when he calls comedian Bill Maher, and author and neuroscientist Sam Harris “gross” and “racist” merely for articulating some of the undeniable intolerance and inequality that exists in parts of the Muslim world toward women, free-thinkers and homosexuals:

Video Link

At this moment in time, there appears to be no discernible plan at all by Western politicians to find a way out of the circle of violence.  I’m sorry to have to sign off the year on such a low.

 

“Islamophobia; a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

– Someone on Twitter


Christopher Hitchens – 1,000 Days Gone

Christopher Hitchens

The 10th September, 2014 marked a 1,000 days since the passing of the greatest rhetorician and debater of our time.  As a tribute to this fearless warrior, I thought I would post a video of some of his best moments, together with 25 of my favourite ‘Hitchslaps’, philosophical quotes and other highlights of highlights from Hitch’s career of rallying against organised religion and all forms of tyranny across the world.

So immense is his reservoir of wit and wisdom that the list below would look entirely different were I to undertake this task tomorrow.  As such, I implore you all to embark on your own voyage of discovery of this great man.

In order to gather the list below, I raided the Twitter account of @Hitch_Slapping – set up in honour of Christopher, and which reminds us almost hourly of just why he was so loved by his friends and feared by his enemies.  I highly recommend ‘following’ this account – or joining Twitter even if for no other purpose!

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and comrades, I give you Christopher Hitchens (13th April 1949 – 15th December 2011):

 

Video Link  (15 mins)

 

“Go love your own enemies, don’t be loving mine.  My enemies are the theocratic fascists.  I don’t love them, I want to destroy them.”

“Your question cannot possibly be as sappy as it sounds.  I mean, you must have meant to say something more intelligent than that.”

“If you call someone a man of faith it seems, for the moment, like a compliment. I’d like that to change.”

“I’d like to exempt myself from the host’s kind offer of protection. So if there’s anyone who would like to get rough, I’m willing to play.”

“Perhaps the clearest empirical proof of the non-existence of god is that he appears to have given up on the battle against stupidity.”

“By the way, scientists don’t condemn one another to eternal punishment for getting things wrong.  I just thought I’d point that out.”

“There is an inverse relationship between the claims religion makes and the evidence it can produce for them.  You must’ve noticed that?”

“I don’t concern myself with what people think of me.  I much prefer to think: do they realise what I think of them?”

“Millions of secular people thought Mother Teresa was a saintly woman; instead of the douche bag and liar and thief that she actually was.”

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.  The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”

 (“My question is for Mr Hitchens.  I don’t think he’s going to like it”) “Bring it on.  You’ll probably like the answer even less.”

“It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone; these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.”

“I won’t have it said that I only judge religion by the extremists. I could just as easily attack it at its best if you prefer.”

“Anyone who wants to say anything abusive to me or about me is quite free to do so, and welcome, in fact.  At their own risk.”

“Don’t I ever get tired of debating the religious? Absolutely no I don’t, because you just never know what they are going to say next.”

“If I find when I pass from this veil of tears that I’m confronted with a tribunal, I’d say, I hope you noticed I didn’t try and curry favour.”

“How much vanity must be concealed – not too effectively at that – in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan?”

“You no doubt, as a Christian, or whatever you are, require hypocrisy of people. Well, I’m sorry, but you’re asking the wrong person.”

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself; much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.”

“How can the church say it has moral superiority?  It has difficulty catching up to what ordinary people regard as common and ethical sense.”

“People say, ‘respect faith’.  Well actually I don’t.  Because I don’t think that lying to children is a respectable occupation.”

“Every time I open a newspaper I see theocratic infringement upon free society, and I won’t put up with it!  Up with which, I will not put.  I hope that’s clear.”

“I could’ve asked that question 50 times more eloquently than that, and I will now, without conceit, answer it 50 times as comprehensively.”

“Let me take your points in reverse order, if I may, just so I am dealing with the most ridiculous one first.”

“People who claim to be offended can by all means do so; it takes a lot to make me cry.”

 


The War On Terror And Why We Should Care About Everyone

world

Over the past few days I’ve had to endure numerous tweeters and bloggers pondering whether the west should intervene in Northern Iraq, predicated upon concerns over cost, imperialism, what we might hope to achieve, how long it might take, the lives of our soldiers – almost everything in fact other than what ought to be worrying us; the lives of those poor Iraqis who are being starved, shot, beheaded, crucified, buried alive, raped and so on by the tens of thousands.  Of course, it goes without saying that if a group like ISIS took control of northern Europe for example, everyone in the developed world would know why America, let’s say, should intervene militarily, as indeed they did in June 1944.

But I think what has made this latest catastrophe in Iraq particularly unpalatable to me is that public opinion only seemed to turn in favour of air strikes against ISIS when it became apparent that Christians were being threatened in large numbers.  I thought perhaps I ought to check a calendar in case I’d entered a parallel universe where the year was 1400.  Having the love of Jesus in your heart sure seems to harden it in ways unfamiliar to myself at least.

So why wouldn’t the West help people in need if they have the resources to do so, regardless of the skin colour, nationality or religious belief of those who are in danger?  Why do we seem to have more concern for people who were born within the same lines drawn by other people (not God) on a piece of paper, or for people who worship the same God?  Why do we proudly boast about this?  For me, these questions run to the heart of the problems the world is currently facing, whether the subject is the economy, poverty, climate change or terrorism.  For sure we cannot hope to prevent scenarios such as that in Iraq re-occurring unless we begin to come up with the right answers to these questions – or in other words, until we begin to acknowledge what our responsibilities really are.

The status quo is nothing new.  Flagrantly misguided and irresponsible (to say nothing of outright mean and selfish) attitudes toward the wellbeing of other people have been writ large in recent years.  There is almost unanimous agreement that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and that now we have cleared Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, we should leave and allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, as they surely will.  In Iraq, we are currently witnessing what happens if a tyrannical regime is ousted, advanced weaponry is stock piled, and then the liberators leave before properly securing it – i.e. before ensuring that a nation has its infrastructure fully rebuilt, its army well trained and its governance stabilised.

The truth is that the events that have led to the ISIS incursion are almost comical.  All that was needed to avoid it was a change of emphasis.  We should have prioritised actually doing a good job for the people of Iraq.  One can only wonder what conversations take place amongst ordinary Iraqis with regards to the Allied effort over the past 25 years.  For sure it’s too awful to even try to estimate how many lives might have been saved, including those of Allied soldiers, had we finished the job the first time around in 1991.

So firstly, I want to reiterate unapologetically that I think it is a good thing that we (finally) freed the Iraqi people from the tyranny of the Baathist regime, which essentially held Iraqis hostage to the will of the Hussein crime family for the worst part of 30 years, while continuously threatening the borders of neighbouring countries.  The oil money went straight into the pockets of Baath party thugs or was paid out as rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers – clear evidence of sponsorship of international terrorism by the way.

Though millions in Iraq lived in squalor due to 12 years’ worth of crippling sanctions imposed by the West in order to curtail Saddam’s military ambitions, he built countless palaces and mosques of ever increasing grandeur.  Freedom of speech was non-existent, thousands were being murdered regularly at Saddam’s behest to crush any hint of rebellion, and WMD’s were being vigorously sort after from North Korea and other pariah states.  Having gassed 250,000 people with chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan, no one should be under any illusions as to whether Saddam would have used such weapons again had he managed to get hold of them – the only debate should be where – or where first?

As for those types predisposed toward spouting inane drivel about the so called stability in Iraq under Saddam, maybe they might pause to ask themselves whether the families of the million and a half or so who died in the wars he started with Iran & Kuwait miss ‘that’ stability.  What a shame it is that we didn’t have the nerve or the will to win the peace after winning the war.

Perhaps even more astounding is the insistence that Allied forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, regardless of the situation and in spite of the fact that the current Afghan government has nowhere close to the means required to defend itself against a resurgent Taliban.  Why would anyone believe it to be a good thing for Afghans to again be exposed to such feudal brutality?

Mullah Omar’s men ruthlessly enforce Shari’a.  If a woman is raped in Afghanistan, they are immediately in even more danger the moment their ordeal of sexual assault is over because they are very often brutally punished for the perceived dishonour they have brought upon their menfolk by having sex out of wedlock – and sometimes they are stoned to death for it.  All women are forced to live their whole adult lives in a cloth bag with only a thin slit to look out through and they are forbidden from gaining an education or having a professional career.   Those who are caught attempting to defy these suffocating restrictions are most commonly attacked by having acid thrown in their faces, causing hideous disfigurements and occasionally death.  As if having their public lives mandated isn’t bad enough, Afghan women also have their home lives decided by other people.  Their husband is chosen for them (and the husband-to-be’s family pay a dowry, which equates to them paying for their son to rape an often pre-pubescent girl) and women must be a virgin on their wedding night or face violent reprisals from their communities, essentially meaning that they can never experience a loving relationship or have sex with someone of their own choosing.

I cannot think of any endeavour that should be more pressing upon our consciences than to try to protect the women of Afghanistan from having to live this reality, yet it seems to be almost an article of faith that we should leave them to the mercy of pious men as soon as possible.  Why aren’t feminists angry?  If nothing else, in an environment such as this, what does anyone imagine might be the mind-set of the next generation of men who are raised to subjugate women and only read one book?  Doesn’t anyone think that this might become a problem for us again one day?

We really do have to stop being so tribal.  We really must stop thinking of ourselves as British or American, as Christian or Islamic or whatever.  It’s meaningless.  Every life must be considered equally important for its own sake.  That might shake some people’s sense of identity but just think; instead we could identify ourselves with something far grander – the whole of planet earth.

There was a time when villages battled against each other, before realising it was counterproductive.  Later, whole regions, such as counties in England (Yorkshire against Lancashire for example) used to fight.  Then people turned their suspicions on neighbouring countries until, at least in the developed world, it became obvious that millions of people were dying for nothing, exemplified never more so than by the pointless bloodbath of The First World War.  Finally now, we have entered a new era – often controversially termed the clash of civilisations.  But with thousands of nuclear warheads in existence, most with a destructive force 30 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (just imagine the catastrophe), we really cannot afford to continue to be so childish or short sighted any longer.  We must start to think of ourselves primarily as members of the human race, with mutually shared goals to survive, flourish and minimise suffering.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we should intervene immediately everywhere that tyranny exists.  In many circumstances, thankfully, diplomacy is the best option.  However, we must get to grips with the fact that sometimes such a human emergency can unfold that immediate, decisive action is the only correct and effective course of action.  Turning a blind eye is not a moral choice.  Doing nothing does not mean that nothing happens, it just means that something else happens.

How long will it be before a crude nuclear device reaches our shores?  Many experts put the timeline for such an eventuality at less than ten years.  We are in much more danger than a lot of people seem prepared to acknowledge and isolationism is not the answer.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not western intervention that offends the likes of ISIS & Al-Qaeda, it is the uncovered face of a woman, homosexuals, the continued existence of Israel, and non-Muslims.  The extremists have been murdering dissenters for over a thousand years.  As Sam Harris pointedly asked: “What sanctions did we have in place in the year 900 AD?”

Check out the recent Vice News videos regarding ISIS on YouTube.  These people are truly terrifying and they mean business.  Here is their latest report:

Video Link

Our goal must be to encourage the formation of more stable, democratic governments and thus allow educated, secular communities to flourish.  This will undoubtedly take a very long time.  But we have no choice other than to commit to this path because the alternative is to un-movingly watch mass graves being dug from afar and await the next assault on our homelands?


A True Expression Of Faith

Gaza

Fantasy, by comparison, is the drunken bore to reality’s life and soul of the party.  It’s Lennon’s sugar-coated ‘Imagine’ to Dylan’s biting ‘Masters of War’.  Fantasy is merely the representation of the limits of our imaginations.  Reality doesn’t require imaginations though, and it certainly doesn’t acknowledge man’s limitations in this regard.  The briefest of excursions into the worlds of biology, physics, & cosmology in particular, will reward you with information about this life that will leave you breathless.  Fairy tales are a poor substitute, trailing behind, clinging to the coat tails of truth.  Facts inform and inspire fiction, but the reverse is impossible.  How fascinating it is then that so many seem to have so much disdain for evidence based decisions.

It may sound as if I have something against ‘make believe’.  I really don’t.  I love a good story.  This truth about me gives rise to just another item on the list of reasons why I hate religion.  Religion survives on the myth that we all need to pretend sometimes.  Of course we don’t – but occasionally it’s fun.  The godly tarnish, dare I say poison, even this.

For sure being hostage to our imaginations is the least of fantasy’s crimes – it’s when it becomes a tool of fascism, used to justify genocide, murder, rape, torture, cruelty to animals and all the rest of it that we have to worry.  When grown-ups with access to guns and rockets start to believe, and I mean really believe that their wishes will come true, predicated only on certain behaviours, it really matters what these behaviours are and where the reasoning for them comes from.

And so it is that there are now only two clocks running in Israel and the Palestinian territories; one is what we might depressingly call the annihilation clock.  That is to say the moment when one side decides to go all in and commit the very worst of crimes.  The other is the atheism clock.  The moment of clarity when everyone in the region (and elsewhere) realises that even a two state solution is one more than is actually necessary.  It’s not clear yet which one of these clocks will rundown fastest.  Either way, what is clear is that while we wait for the ticking to stop, we will have to witness thousands of children being blown to pieces, interspersed with periods of calm where we’re all hoping that one side doesn’t look at the other the wrong way again.

Alas, fear not, I’m not about to write yet another analysis of this latest human catastrophe in the Middle East.  I simply wish for us all to admit what the real problem is, if only because that always seems like a good place to start when trying to resolve an issue.  It can be summarised with this graphic:

IsraelPalestine

These pronouncements, which are taken seriously by far too many, leave very little room for compromise or reason to hope that a permanent agreement is achievable.  They’re also why the war has a majority of public support on both sides of the conflict.

I think I must say one more thing.  None of us have done enough to prevent this.  None of us.  We all make concessions to untruth every day.  We all normalise it.  Scientology seems crazy to everyone, but that’s only because it’s new.  It’s no crazier than Judaism, Christianity or Islam.  We should be much more outraged at the miss-education of children, the ritual slaughter of animals, the unashamed resistance to equality for homosexuals, the misogyny and so on, in our own countries.  That’d be a start at least.

As Bill Maher said in his 2008 film ‘Religulous’: “Wherever there is mass delusion, bad things will follow.”

Trojan Horse Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

Faith Schools

The more that I read about the situation in some, who knows how many, of the schools around the UK with regards to the influence of religious teachings, the more I become convinced that the relevant authorities have not and will not get a grip of the situation.  And how can they, for not only do the inspectors themselves seem unable to navigate the ground between calling out the teaching of intolerant behaviour and insulting minority groups unnecessarily, but more pertinently, they are working in an environment that makes effective action almost impossible in any case.

The appropriate fear has of course been brought to the forefront of our minds by the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scheme by hard line Muslims, who are allegedly attempting to infiltrate UK schools, specifically in Birmingham and Bradford that we know about, so that they can indoctrinate children with ‘extremist’ Islamic ideas.

But the real issue here is the very concept of faith schools.  It matters not whether there actually is an organised plot to takeover schools because we do know for sure that children have been repeatedly segregated by gender.  We know that the teaching of evolution is often ignored, instead replaced by a grab bag of creation myths.  We know that sex education is likewise regularly completely omitted.  We also know that some children have been taught that homosexuals should be killed and that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands.

Yet for weeks, months, years, successive Governments have been acting as if this is a difficult issue to resolve.  In fact, it’s a little worse than that – the numbers of faith schools have increased year on year.

I will tell you what we can do.  We can demand that every child has a fair chance in life.  We can truly treat all cultures equally by insisting upon the same level of education for all, rather than the slightly insulting notion that learning by rote is ok for some people, but not others.  Religion must be entirely removed from all schools and replaced with classes based on a modern understanding of morals & ethics.  Sex education could easily be a part of this.  As I’ve argued before our societies must teach children kindness, empathy, altruism and so on, with as much vigour as it teaches them mathematics.  But alas, we are still in a world where most seem to believe that morals should be taught by the religious, whose institutions are doctrinally homophobic, misogynistic, anti-scientific and cruel to animals.  What hope can be found there?

Last week Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, sought to move the conversation away from religion and the issue of faith schools by suggesting that the problem was a lack of “British values” being taught in schools.  As if being nice is ‘British’.  And of course, slyly insinuating that people behave badly because they are not British enough is just piling on more divisive rhetoric.  I despair!


UKIP’s Conjuring Trick (And What We Can Do About It)

UKIP

On the 22nd May 2014, 4.3 million UK residents voted for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the European Parliament elections.  That’s about 1 in 10 of all UK adults.  Bearing in mind we are talking about a political party that wishes to privatise the NHS, legalise handguns, introduce a flat rate of tax (though they are apparently ‘re-thinking’ this), outlaw gay marriage, remove women’s rights to maternity leave, re-introduce hunting with dogs, and is led by a man who is proud to boast of his disdain at hearing foreign languages and his desire not to live next door to people of certain nationalities, this looks pretty alarming on the face of it for all moral, tolerant, liberal people.

And it is.  Although it’s true, as one tweeter put it, that Nigel Farage can’t even move a wheelie bin as his party have no seats in the House of Commons, control no councils and the European Parliament is still dominated by pro-EU members, UKIP do have one heck of platform.  They may look and sound like the BNP (that’s because they are almost indistinguishable on policy and rhetoric!), the BNP have never managed to mobilise 10% of the population, gain almost 40,000 members, or be recognised by OFCOM as a major political party.  When we consider all of this alongside the British Social Attitudes Survey released last week, that reported, amongst other things, that 30% of British people admit to being racist, we should perhaps be a little worried about the direction in which our politics may be heading.

Nigel Farage’s ‘achievements’ are all the more remarkable when we observe just how un-correlated his rabble-rousing is with reality.  Here are some statistics:

  • The UK population is approximately 64 million.  Around 56 million are white (approximately 87% of the population).
  • 7.5 million UK residents are immigrants (approximately 12% of the population).  About a third of these are from within the EU.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, immigrants were 45% less likely to claim benefits than people born in the UK and 3% less likely to live in social housing.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, immigrants arriving from within the EU contributed 34% more in taxes than they claimed in benefits, whilst British people paid 11% less in tax than they received.
  • 5% of UK residents are Muslims.
  • In the 2011 census, approximately 3.6 million people identified themselves as homosexual (approximately 6% of the population).
  • Between 2002 and 2012, total incidences of recorded crime in the UK fell from approximately 5.7 million to 3.5 million, including plummeting homicide and violent crime rates.  See the table below:

UK Gov Crime Statistics

These numbers hardly represent a United Kingdom being overrun by non-whites, foreign nationals, Muslims and homosexuals (not that that would be a problem of course!), who are destroying our once great nation by living off of benefits and causing spiralling rates of violent and sexual crime.  Yet all last week I had to listen to UKIP voters explaining that they don’t recognise their own country anymore.  Really?!

So how has Nigel Farage done it?  How has he convinced so many people of such pernicious untruths?

As has been the case time and again throughout human history, he has exploited the genuine misfortunes of people who are struggling to adapt to a fast changing world and (I suspect deliberately) misdiagnosed the cause of their problems in order to give his own prejudices a day in the sun.  To put it bluntly, he has spread lies about certain minority groups that he doesn’t like, apparently merely because he doesn’t like them, and is using this false narrative to convince people that those minorities are the root cause of their problems.  Let’s look at some more numbers:

  • In 1960, life expectancy was approximately 65 years.  In 2014, it is 78.
  • In 1960, 23 out of every 1000 babies born died before their first birthday.  Nowadays, less than 5 do. 
  • In 1960, the UK population was 52 million.  In 2014, it is 64 million.
  • By the end of the 1960’s, UK immigrants already totalled more than 3 million.  See the table below:

Population Growth

This ought to make it clear that the UK has been hurtling toward an emergency for decades.  Our population has increased by 12 million over the past 50 years (or almost 25% in half a century) but only about a third of this is due to immigration.  Thus the recent increase in the rate of immigration has only accelerated our confrontation with this emergency by a few years.  The jobs being taken by those damn foreigners that UKIP despise so much (which is odd because I thought they were mostly claiming benefits?!), would soon be unavailable in any case.

The truth is that the stresses currently being experienced in the UK are a microcosm of what is happening across the developed world (which is why many other countries are also witnessing a rise in the popularity of their far right political party’s).  We are quite simply victims of our own success.  Due to massive improvements in medicine and nutrition, the ‘baby boomers’ are refusing to die, and though we’re now having less babies over the long term, more are making it to adulthood fit and healthy.  Technological advancements have reduced the numbers of labourers required in agriculture and industry, have allowed us to import much of our produce and have enabled the offshoring of, for example call centres and helpdesks.  Though it might not seem so due to 24 hour News channels thrusting conflicts into our living rooms in high definition, we are living in increasingly peaceful times, meaning there is no longer a need to have large scale standing armies.

In short, most modern towns and cities are now painfully over-crowded and so we spend a lot of our time in queues and traffic jams.  Juxtaposed to the improvements in standards of living is the fact that even well qualified graduates are currently struggling to find work due to there being many more people and far fewer jobs.  And such is the huge demand for everything, prices are sky rocketing.  Life is hard and many people are angry and confused.  Unfortunately, this is fertile ground for the likes of UKIP and Nigel Farage.  For all too many it is enough simply to point a finger at the person with an unfamiliar accent and they will (inaccurately) fill in the blanks themselves.

Clearly then, along with disease, poverty, nuclear weapons proliferation, climate change and terrorism, over population is one of the huge questions that our generation must find an answer to.  And as with all the other issues listed above, we will not find the answer in isolation.  UKIP’s insistence upon leaving the EU and ‘closing the doors’ is guaranteed to fail to resolve the problems facing modern Britain simply because it has almost nothing to do with them.  That is not to say that the EU is perfect in its current form, but we must certainly seek to cooperate with, influence and build a strong European State.  The equal opportunities, fair minimum wage and other social welfare and health care advantages available in Britain must be nurtured and strengthened at home and exported abroad, so that other countries are equally appealing places to live, work and raise a family.  We must also of course increase tax revenue to pay for the ever growing demands on our social services.  Whilst it’s impossible not to notice that the very wealthy are in a good position to contribute to this, we should also cease to subsidise whims of fancy with the public purse.  The tens of billions of pounds spent every year funding organised religion and fighting the drug war can no longer be entertained, even as sport.  This money is entirely wasted (actually it’s worse than that – it pays for failed policies that harm society), yet it would all by itself fill the current funding gap within the NHS, with more than a little spare change left over.

‘How to save the world’ is a detailed manuscript few of us have the time to write, but we can be sure of some general themes; we know that the emancipation of women is a good cure for poverty.  Free universal health care is an obligation of any moral society, as is the tolerance and equal treatment of people from all countries, of all skin colours and of all variants of consensual sexual preferences.  The strict control of firearms has never come up short of useful for reducing violent crime and murder rates, particularly in relation to gang disputes, and a concern for the welfare of animals is also a vital health check for any community as it is inextricably linked to how people tend treat each other.  This list could hardly be more opposed to the policies of UKIP and most other far right wing groups, and so it should be obvious that it is essential for our survival and progress that we reject them.

But how do we convince the disillusioned that Nigel Farage is a false prophet?  As ever, facts are our best weapon.  You will find that almost everyone you know thinks that immigrants disproportionately claim benefits and that violent crime is on the rise, due at least in part to mass immigration.  Likewise, although Eastern Europeans, homosexuals and Muslims make up only about 15% of the UK population combined, many people seem to imagine these groups are individually approaching the majority (again, it wouldn’t matter if they were, but proving they’re not goes a long way to exposing the false narrative).  We must all be on high alert to such erroneous statements and be ready to set people straight.  Knowledge of the true state of affairs directly impacts how people view the world.  Clearly this is not a guaranteed win – the religious debate has taught us that.  Some people do prefer to live in ignorance, but such is the extent of the misinformation doing the rounds, correcting it must be a great place to start.

So argue.  Argue as if your life depends on it.  It is possible that, in Britain at least, those who believe in fairy tales will avert serious consequences of their delusions regarding the nature of the cosmos, but we can all be sure of a reckoning in this lifetime if we take a wrong turn on the political spectrum at this crucial moment in our history.  Voting will probably help as well…


Why Boxing Should Be Banned

Boxing

As a teenager I loved watching boxing.  In particular, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, as so many people are, and I had most of his fights on VHS.  Indeed, my first draft of this essay included an extended adulation of his feats in order to affirm my credentials.  While doing so, even I was surprised at how little research was required – all the key dates, opponents and statistics were readily accessible from memory.  Similarly, to this day I would still rank Rocky II as one of my top ten favourite films.

But boxing must be banned.  Simply nothing else will do.  It’s impossible to square such a barbaric concept with the stated goals of civilised societies, where violence is illegal in all its forms, other than as a last resort for self-defence.  A boxing match is merely a form of organised, legalised violence, where victory is achieved by punching an opponent in the head, preferably hard enough to knock him or her unconscious, if only for one’s own safety in that your opponent will then be unable to inflict any future damage to your own brain.

Almost every major medical association in the developed world has spoken out against boxing.  In 2008, The American Medical Association noted in its ‘Report on Science and Public Health’ that boxing is a health hazard and whilst it disappointingly concluded that a legislative approach is unfeasible, it made the following comments and recommendations:

“The AMA supports publicising the deleterious effects of boxing on the health of participants and encourages the elimination of boxing from amateur scholastic, intercollegiate and governmental athletic programs as detrimental to the health of participants.”

The British Medical Association has been demanding a total ban on boxing since 1985.  In 1998 its then boxing spokesman, Dr Bill O’Neill, had this to say:

“We are very concerned about the chronic brain damage that boxers are susceptible to from repeated injuries in the ring. It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing. As long as the head is a valid target in boxing, these injuries are going to occur.  None of the safety measures that have been introduced over the last 10 to 20 years have had any significant impact on the brain injury and eye damage that occurs in boxing.”

The Australian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on boxing since 1997.  In 2007 they released this statement:

“The AMA opposes all forms of boxing.  All forms of boxing are a public demonstration of interpersonal violence which is unique among sporting activities. Victory is obtained by inflicting on the opponent such a measure of physical injury that the opponent is unable to continue, or which at least can be seen to be significantly greater than is received in return.”

It should also be noted that the World Medical Association has been calling for a total ban on boxing since as early as 1983.

Interestingly, boxing has already been banned in some parts of the developed world.  It is forbidden in Iceland and Norway – and Sweden only recently lifted a total ban to allow fights of just four, three minute rounds in both amateur and professional boxing.

Currently ‘The Journal of Combative Sports’ shows that approximately 10 people a year die due to boxing.  This number has been fairly consistent since 1945 but it is generally accepted to be a case of significant under-reporting, especially in amateur boxing and from certain parts of the developing world.  As more data becomes available online, the number of known deaths is expected to grow.

Of course boxing advocates continually point out that people die or suffer serious injury in other sports, and in some cases, such as American Football, very much more so.  Aside from acknowledging that two wrongs do not make a right, many more people play American Football than participate in boxing and studies have been done to show that statistically, the chance of dying whilst boxing is actually higher.  But this fails to capture the important moral considerations relating to intentions and outcomes.  Outcome is not everything – intentions matter in a just society.  As has been repeated numerous times already in this article, in boxing the actual intention is to hurt your opponent, ideally to such an extent that he or she is incapacitated, unable to stand, unconscious etc.

Some insist that the State would be over-reaching itself by imposing a ban on boxing.  But is ‘Nanny State’ really a fitting accusation toward a government that doesn’t allow people to punch each other in the face?  Surely one of the most important obligations of any government is to discourage such behaviour among its citizens.

So how problematic might it be to ban boxing?  I have to say that I don’t find the threat of underground boxing, with all its associated gore, a particularly convincing argument.  Of course to begin with, as a matter of principle, we ought not to give in to that which is undesirable just because it might be difficult to prevent.  But I wonder whether illegal boxing really would become as widespread as some believe, or be as difficult to police as, say, illegal drugs.  The latter are desired by a significant portion of the world’s population and are easy to conceal.  There is clear motive and opportunity.  Boxing is nowhere near as popular, requires a large venue and the gathering of lots of people.  Also, the appeal of fighting for the competitors would cease (if anyone is tempted to insist it is the noble art, I suggest they are not looking hard enough for ways to be noble).  I think it is highly questionable as to whether so many would be keen to step into the ring if life changing sums of money weren’t available, especially given the increased health hazards of unregulated fights, to say nothing of the risk of going to prison for a very long time for GBH or murder.

None of this should be taken as a recommendation not to learn the art of boxing via non-combative training.  The world can be a dangerous place and it is a very good idea to learn how to defend oneself.  It is also of course a fantastic way to keep fit.  But punching someone should never be considered sport, in line with its spirit of goodwill and respect.


The Shame Of Sochi

Putin

If I appear a little slow out of the blocks on this topic, what with the Winter Olympic Games now only a few days away, it is only because the perfect article had already been submitted by the brilliant Stephen Fry.  It is here, please read it:

http://www.stephenfry.com/2013/08/07/an-open-letter-to-david-cameron-and-the-ioc/.

However, further crimes have since come to light, one in particular close to my heart, so I thought I ought in fact to summarise why I agree that a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is indeed essential.

As should be clear, the price, that is to say principally the moral price, of victory for any athlete was already too high before recent developments, but now, to the outrage of holding a major global event in an openly homophobic state, we can add to the list unprecedented corruption, the non-payment and intimidation of migrant workers, the environmentally unsound disposal of waste from the development project and, despite assurances to the contrary, the senseless murder of thousands of stray cats and dogs.

Putin’s law which bans homosexual propaganda, bought and paid for by the Russian Orthodox Church he’s desperate to court, is so obviously sending a message that it hardly warrants discussion.  The basic claim that gay people wish to convert children, and are actively seeking to expose them to overtly sexual material, is baseless of course.  It is such a familiar tactic by homophobes to invoke a concern for children that it’s almost a cliché.  We can all agree that sexual material is not for children but this doesn’t require a specific law regarding homosexuals.  And whilst it is easy to see what may be in it for religious people to indoctrinate children at a young age, it’s not clear (even if it were possible) what is in it for gay people to do likewise.  The law is in fact so vague in its wording that it could be used against gay people for doing almost anything, at the whim of god knows who.  As if the real intentions of this legislation were not transparent enough then, Putin polished away the final smudges two weeks ago when he said this: “You can feel free in your relationships, but leave children in peace.”  If these Olympics awarded medals for being covertly sinister, then Mr Putin would surely take home the gold.

Everyone agrees that the Sochi games have cost at least £30 billion to prepare for, but no one really knows the true figure, if only because more than half the workers at the various construction sites have not been paid.  To give this number some context, the previous Winter Olympics cost £1.2 billion, and the London 2012 Summer Games, criticised as they rightly were for their lavishness in the face of growing austerity, cost £11 billion.  The Mayor of Sochi denies there is a problem with corruption however, just as he denies the intimidation of journalists reporting it and the destruction of surrounding habitats with the illegal dumping of ‘Olympic waste’ – but then this is a man who also refutes the existence of a single homosexual person in the whole of Sochi, in spite of there being several thriving underground gay nightclubs.

Today it is being reported that authorities in Sochi are undertaking the shooting of an estimated 2,000 stray cats and dogs.  Dogs are apparently attacking children (notice the invocation of children yet again) and straying into Olympic venues.  One might wish to table a few objections; firstly, if dogs are attacking kids on mass on the streets of Sochi, then why have they not attempted to resolve the problem (humanely) before now?  As stray dogs are usually weak, cold, tired, hungry and/or pregnant, it seems to me unlikely that they are wasting their much needed energy on attacking people.

Secondly, if dogs, not dissimilar in size to a human being on all fours, are getting into Olympic venues unnoticed, should we be more than a little concerned that terrorists may be following on behind?

Finally, as I assume cats are not forming gangs and dragging the children of Sochi off into the night for ritual slaughter, it is unclear what the official justification for their murder really is.

Perhaps then, we might dare to wonder if this has in fact been an issue long overlooked in Russia, and so to avoid its exposure via the eyesore of thousands of starving animals most of us in the west recognise as pets, the problem is being cruelly fast tracked.  Apparently nothing must ruin Putin’s big day out.

There really are some things more important than sport, even Olympic sport.  Certainly it can never justify diabolical abuses of human and animal rights.  Long before now we ought to have taken a stand against this international advertisement and promotion of a regime that insults human dignity during its most precious moments.  Whilst it is still not too late for the athletes to put their consciences before personal sporting ambition, even I can concede that it may be unfair to expect them to do so at the eleventh hour.  The correct procedure would have been to change the venue months ago.  However, everyone else can boycott it.  Journalists can refuse to write about it.  Television companies, especially the tax payer funded BBC, can put into effect a media blackout, sponsors can ask for their money back, and all the rest of us can show absolutely no interest in it.  This is a crucial moment in our history.  We must show that we have learnt from the past (for example, Berlin, 1936) and not be seen yet again to celebrate and endorse the rule of a murderous tyrant.


Are Foreign Players In The Premiership Hindering England’s Chances Of Success?

Cantona

I must apologise to many of my subscribers, as I realise this is not what you signed up for, but nonetheless I’m going to write about football.  I’ll be as brief as I can.

In the 1970’s England failed to qualify for four major international tournaments in a row, and this at a time when International football was far less competitive than it is nowadays.  In short, we were rubbish.  During the early 1980’s we fared little better, exiting at the group stage of Euro ’80, the second round stage of the 1982 World Cup and failing to qualify for Euro ’84.  Largely due to the heroics of Gary Lineker, the England team managed to create something to cheer about during the 1986 & 1990 World Cup Finals, but ultimately one man was not enough.  That these performances were a break from the norm is highlighted never more starkly than by the fact that we finished bottom of our group at both Euro ’88 and Euro ’92, registering the dismal return of four losses and two draws.  We then failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup Finals.  1966 sure seemed a long time ago.

But then something amazing happened (if you’re an English football fan).  In August 1992, there was a change in our domestic game.  The top division of the Football League broke away to form The Premiership, and huge sponsorship deals soon followed.  An inevitable consequence of this was the attraction of players from all over the world due to the large sums of money on offer.  From now on, kids across the country could watch the likes of Eric Cantona and Jürgen Klinsmann every week on television.  This sudden exposure to the superior technique and skill of continental players seemed to take effect in no time.  By the late nineties and early noughties we had players such as Shearer, Owen, Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney to select from.  Predictably, all of these players went on to score hatful’s of goals for England (almost 200 between them to date).  Even our defenders could finally control and pass the ball.  The contrast between the England of 1991 and 2001 was breath-taking – now we could play!  The England team had become a genuine contender at major tournaments for the first time since the heady days of the mid-sixties.

Some might point out that surely we always had players of genuine ability – what about Waddle, Hoddle or Barnes?  Well none of these players ever scored at a major tournament, they have a combined scoring record of only one goal in every ten games and their overall contributions can at best be described as frustrating.  Kevin Keegan also never scored at a major tournament and had a one in four goal scoring record for England – way short of the world’s elite strikers.  Ray Wilkins managed only three goals in his 84 appearances.  These were players who were flattered by the old First Division and whom were unable to excel on the world stage.  Bryan Robson and Paul Gascoigne were of course the genuine articles, and along with the aforementioned Gary Lineker, standout as exceptions to the norm between 1976 and 1995.  However, both Robson and Gascoigne were continually hampered by injuries at vital moments, with Robson effectively missing two World Cup Finals.  Gascoigne was brilliant at two major tournaments (Italia ‘90 and Euro ’96) but was often unavailable between these two career peaks, and in the end managed only seven competitive goals for England, almost all of them during demolitions of Turkey and Moldova.

So this is the England story that the facts inform us of.  Of course, right from its inception there were grumblings about foreign players in the Premiership, but as this seemed to have no point to it other than xenophobia or racism for its own sake, I assumed it was just an embarrassing remnant of a bygone era and the moment these fools expired, so to would the grumbles.  But then something else amazing happened – these protests gained favour with a new generation, only this time they had a philosophy attached to their complaint that appeared to have nothing to do with hatred or prejudice.  Apparently, so we are being told, foreign players in the Premiership are ruining the England National Team.  Here is what Joey Barton says on his blog page:

Joey Barton Blog1

However, what really spurred me into writing this article was the piece printed in the Mail On Sunday on 01/12/13.  Former Manchester United player Gary Neville conducted an interview with Paul Scholes, also a former Manchester United player, and Eric Harrison, the Manchester United youth scout who helped guide Neville and Scholes at the start of their careers.  Here are the relevant parts:

Neville Column

I have at least three problems with the statements from Joey Barton, Paul Scholes and Eric Harrison.  Firstly, as a matter of principle, I must insist upon some evidence!  However, neither article provides any.  They simply state in various different ways (none of which are particularly ingratiating or inclusive sounding) that there are less English players in the Premiership now than 20 years ago – and then predict impending disaster.  Perhaps they have the evidence for all this doom and gloom, but chose not to share it.

Personally, I fail to see how restricting the pool that Premier League Clubs can select from will maintain the quality therein, and I’m not aware of a statistical model that supports such a thesis.  To state it in footballing terms, promoting a Championship or League One player to the Premiership will not suddenly make him play like Hazard or Yaya Toure – or Rooney for that matter.

Secondly, noticing that 75 is not 32% of 220, I thought I’d better do my own research.  The actual number of English players who started for their clubs in the first matches of the 2013/14 season is 72, which rounds more accurately to 33%.  But the point is that this is not a numerical emergency.  You only need 11 players for a football team.  72 is more than enough to choose from.  Isn’t it better that these 72 are pushed to reach the highest possible standards?  This will only occur if competition is at its most potent – that’s just capitalism 101.

Thirdly, as I’ve hinted at already, I feel it’s more likely that the evidence for the influence of foreign players in our leagues on the National team points in the opposite direction to that which is suggested by Neville, Scholes, Harrison and Barton – at a minimum the consequences must surely be zero sum.  But let’s see what the numbers tell us:

England International Statistics

England Major Tournament Performance1

These numbers do not represent the collapse of the English National team in the wake of an influx of foreign players to our domestic teams.  It’s true we had a terrible 2014 World Cup (though we qualified in impressive style without losing a game) but who doesn’t experience short term dips in results – Spain and Italy also went out at the group stages and no one is suggesting they are in a moment of crisis.

Clearly football cannot allow itself to drag its knuckles behind other industries.  No one would have a problem with a talented young oncologist wishing to ply their life saving trade in this country – so neither should they have a problem when it comes to professional sportsmen and women wishing to do so.  And just as there is a common misunderstanding with regards to immigrants in general, who contrary to popular belief provide a net benefit to our economy, there is also no reason at all to fear the influence of foreign players on our National football team.  In fact, a brief study of the history of immigration ought to teach us to be rather unsurprised by the fact that foreign players are having a positive effect.  Fear is a useful survival tool, but it becomes self-defeating if it is not tempered by an honest consultation of the facts.