Saturday, 20 September 2014

Austrian School Chris


Two days into our new job, we were summoned to a meeting. Via a translator, we heard the encouraging words of the principle. He spoke of the "opportunities" that we English teachers should expect, and the "bright future" that the school has. After the principle left, we were left with the faculty. With the Chinese management on one side of the long, rather presidential, table, and us foreigners on the other, it was a little tense. The Chinese staff are young and inexperienced. They told us, much to my alarm, that we were obliged to come up with a curriculum, using the American text books they provided. "Hang on," I said, "didn't you say in the interview that you had a curriculum?" "They don't," came the American voice to my right. 

The American voice continued. It was the voice of Tyler, who has been teaching here for a while and hence has some experience with the system and the material. He said that it was unfair to put this pressure on us new teachers. Uh, yah, thought I. 

With Tyler having broken the quiet, nodding acceptance on our side of the table, the protests began to arose. Holly's was the most damning. In Holly's class is a young girl from America who, obviously, has a somewhat different capability from the local kids when it comes to Chinese class. Holly wasn't happy that the Chinese teacher didn't seem to appreciate this difference, and instead simply levelled some discipline at the girl. "That class is a waste of time," said Holly, "And all it will do is upset her."

That girl is the daughter of one of the teachers, Arizona Man. Another teacher, Austrian School Chris, also has kids in this school. He was late to the meeting because he had come across his daughter crying in the hallway. Upon hearing the Chinese teacher's treatment of one American girl, Austrian School Chris started wondering about the treatment of his own kids, and after seeing one crying, was beginning to put two and two together...

"Do you think this is a sound pedagogical methodology?" he asked. "That's a serious question."

The Chinese staff across the table smiled awkwardly, saying little until the vice principle said, "You have to understand, you're in China now, and there is some difference to how school works."

Austrian School Chris' hand slammed down on the table. He followed the slam by expressing himself at a high volume, threatened to quit, and left the room. Arizona Man and a few other teachers explained that the "China is different" explanation gets a little worn, and the teachers with kids should expect a decent education for said kids, as promised. This is, in name at least, an "international" school.

I got chatting with Austrian School Chris in the cafeteria only the next day, where he explained to me his take on monetarism and inflation, and how this relates to wage stagnation. He referred to Hayek rather than Friedman, and seemed to have problems with Keynes. After the financial crash in '09 Chris opened some economics books to try and make sense of things, and it appears that the ones he opened have been ones with what Foucault called "state phobia" as a general guiding principle. I do see some friendly arguments on the horizon, for it appears (but hasn't been stated) that Chris is a GOP supporter in the States. 

"I once got into this argument with this guy back home," he said, "who, after I told him which party's economic policies make more sense, he started assuming all my, you know, social principles and beliefs, saying what an evil guy I must be, and I was like hang on, we're talking economics here. No, I say, give me your take on fiscal discipline and spending; all the rest don't matter."

Chris is certainly a nice guy. But,... Republicans...? Ouch.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Lynne the Explorer


"You're a whiner," screamed Lynne the Explorer. A whiner! All I said was I need windscreen wipers on my glasses. We were riding our pushbikes by the lake, and the rains came. Lynne had already scouted out this whole area, somehow finding time between classes and sleeping. She'd biked along the highway, up to canals, turned back, gone through townships, shouted ni hao at the locals, hit another dead end... Now she was taking me there. She's a fearless explorer, with the spirit of a true adventurer. "We met the president of Honduras, we did," she told me. "He was just getting off the plane and we were there. Oh we took a photo with him, sure."

Lynne is from Minnesota, with a voice I recognise from Fargo. It's relentlessly friendly, and loud too. The locals light up on hearing her admittedly terrible Chinese. We biked into this small town, with one high street. I had my eye out for coffee but there wasn't a lot on offer. We followed the canals and strolled past tiny houses, cute bridges, barges made of, ahem, concrete, and plenty of intrigued Chinese faces. Lynne stopped to get all luvvie with the Chinese baby and her mum. No one spoke a word of English. 

At her last job in China, in Shaanxi province, Lynne moved out of the apartment block where the teachers lived and settled down in a cave with the locals. A cave is called a yaodong, and about 40 million people live in such things, would you believe it. 40 million and one, once Lynne heard about it. She still wants to kit out her new apartment in authentic stuff like the locals have, and down by the canal I found myself attempting to mediate a conversation in Chinese, with Lynne trying to ask where a wooden pot, like the one owned by the woman, could be bought. We never worked out the answer, and went away wondering if that pot was in fact a toilet.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Arizona Man



When, on the first night in my new flat, my internet seemed to be predictably faulty, typical for me, I reached out to the neighbours. Working my way down the corridor to a soundtrack of unanswered knocks, I came to room 506. A blond man with thick glasses and a walking stick answered. He was perhaps pushing 50, and spoke with a drawl. He looks like that drag queen from Under Siege, I thought. "Gary Busey!" he cackled on another occasion, remarking on his new persona in China. Would they even know Gary Busey? I thought. 

He hobbled down the hall telling me that he "dropped a goddamn piano on ma foot last week. Hurt like hell. Yeah, ah was moving it, getting reading to leave 'n come out over here, an' the thing slipped on me." He paused to point at his foot. "Broke both these bones." We picked up walking again. "Yeah I'm still walkin'. Just about ahaha. Yup I was in the army, can take a little pain all right. Little kids think I'm a machine." He paused again and pulled up his sleeve to flex his bicep. "I just show 'em this and, hahah, they're all 'wooa', haha, yea. Well, let's take a look at this internet of yours, I'm no wizard with the computer stuff, ah just stick it in there, seemed to work OK...."

In the flat I tried again with the ethernet cable. Arizona Man opined that I might have the wrong "hole". For all I knew he was right; I'm also no wizard with computer stuff. But then it just worked and all was well. 

It turns out that Arizona Man was a military man. Military intelligence, he told me under his breath, in case the CIA was listening. He been shot and blown up and all sorts. Now he's married to a Korean lady and they've adopted Arizona Man's son's daughter. The three of them are out here, seeking a new life. I popped by their flat for a cheeky can of Sprite and before five minutes had gone by, Arizona Man had his binder of songs out, his acoustic guitar on his knee, and was playing the Beatles. He followed that with a repertoire of blues songs, never finishing the whole song, but instead stopped to flick another page over in the binder and say, "Yea ah got all sorts in here, a ton 'a songs."

Next day, I was walking back to the school after a stroll, when I heard a holler: "You stand out man!" Arizona Man was waiting on the other side of the road, at the bus stop. I stand out? Where was he going. "Bought maself a printer yesterday, at the Metro," he shouted at me, waving a box. "Got back 'n there ain't nothing in there. Gone and bought maself an empty box, gonna head back and git the damn thing." Didn't you realise there was nothing in the box? I asked. Or you thought it was a really light printer? He flexed his bicep again. "Most thangs not much heavier than air to me, hahah." 

And off he went, sunsetwards.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Trapped!


As of last Monday I am an English teacher again. This time it's China. I'm now sitting in my on-campus apartment with the air-con blowing, looking over the running track towards my classroom. It's a long weekend because of the mid-Autumn festival, and I'm going to join my middle-aged Arizonan colleague and his Korean wife for a trip to town.

Changshu city is a 40 minute bus ride away. The isolation of the campus was a surprise, something that the school hadn't quite explained during the interview. This area, like many in rapidly ballooning China, is to become a new Central Business District. Until then, it's slick black roads, five lanes each side and unused streetlights cutting through the green shrubby foliage, bamboo and corn, in all directions. Large, incomplete apartment blocks are not far away. 

Getting out of the campus will involve nodding at the security guards. Apparently a white face is enough of a security pass for getting through. There are no guns or imposing Chinese flags, so scary communist China seems less scary than squeaky clean capitalist America, when it comes to schools at least. Apart from the bus, we've been promised some electronic scooters which will make travel a little easier. Travel to where? I was in the city on Wednesday to visit the deadened hole that is Wall-Mart. There are canals and a downtown area to visit. There's also a massive lake called Kuncheng Lake which is worth exploring. It's got a theme park.

Suzhou is where I wanted to live, and I thought I was close. I asked two Chinese teachers if it's possible to drive an e-bike to Suzhou and they exclaimed loudly no! I'm not sure if they mean the roads between the cities don't allow bikes, or the battery will run out, or it's simply too adventurous. I'm hoping it's the latter.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

"Bring Me Peter Pan."


Depression, Fashion, Reaction in the Commentariat.


I remember Robin Williams' diametrically opposed characters in Aladdin and Good Will Hunting with the same fondness, wackiness on one end, sensitivity at the other. Robin Williams' character manifesting in two distinct forms – one didn't contradict the other. Depression amongst well paid funny men and women is no unique phenomenon (considering the pervasiveness of mental illness – 1 in 4 – it would be amazing if this group was somehow excluded), and the cries of why! he was rich! everyone loved him! he was so chipper! show what a mountain we have to climb before we get some understanding about depression and mental health in general. 

While some of these comments are just ignorant, there is something poignant and disarming when a comedian kills him/herself. With tragic romantics like Kurt Cobain and Sylvia Plath such introspection seems to logically lead towards total shutdown – but the apparent extroversion, the smiley exterior, of a comedian appears as a shield against depression. 

Now's not the time go start psychoanalysing Robin Williams, suffice to say that people are complex – "A guy who made people laugh wasn't a happy guy!? And clouds aren't made from cotton wool??" Every suicide is a failure of society to make allowances for the complexity of people, and support to those who need support. Cries of selfishness or cowardliness straight after the event are the first sign that the message isn't getting through. 

There's also the charge that mental illness is somehow fashionable. I have a particular interest in this notion because I think it cuts to the heart of many anxieties of the current age, from the obsession with celebrity to trends in social media to identity politics to moralising about the poor. It is said that creative people are prone to mental illness, and successful people too. Perhaps an illness which 'apparently' lacks physical damage, which appears from the outside to be almost optional, might seem like a useful way to market oneself as a creative genius is this age of self-promotion. A contrarian writer at the Telegraph bemoaned this supposed trend, backed with a report that expressed concern about the medicalisation of society. A psychiatrist he cites wrote, in a short article for the BBC, 

A new diagnosis of bipolar disorder might also reflect a person's aspiration for higher social status and a feeling that by having the condition they too are creative. 

She referred to an increase in people thinking they might have bipolar disorder following Stephen Fry's announcement that he has it. She related the story of a depressed patient 'self-diagnosing' herself with bipolar disorder. Due to the lean of the article you'd expect to go on to read that this woman was making it all up, just following the fashion, but no. 

We later diagnosed her with bipolar disorder.

In fact the article had no evidence, or even a single example, that this was a trend. The editor had however picked out the buzzwords 'celebrity effect' and 'desirable diagnosis' to use as markers throughout the article, showing that this was the message that was to be conveyed. It's pretty poor for the 'unbiased' BBC and a doctor to be feeding the right-wing commentariat like this, sans evidence.

So why the increase in self-diagnosis? Could it be perhaps that Stephen Fry's announcement raised awareness? That it was somehow educational, or helpful, or diffused embarrassment? Since the internet has made self-diagnosis easier, there's been a rise in hypochondria (what they call cyberchondria – very cool name). Does that mean that testicular cancer has become a more 'desirable diagnosis'? Since the Jimmy Saville scandal, reports of sexual violence has increased. Are we to assume they're making it up? Or that they now feel able to discuss it? It's a warped person who immediately assumes it's being made up.

Nowadays, people blog and tweet about their worries, and sometimes think that a Facebook status "– feeling down", or a sad emoticon is an appropriate reflection of their mood. It comes alongside (what reactionary writers see as) a general trend of an increasingly self-involved, lazy and superficial society who've lost their moral integrity, their wartime spirit. The right wing hold on dearly to the notions of individual freedom, choice and responsibility, and anything that challenges these values is suspect. Hence, as that Telegraph article concludes, "It can feel comforting to be diagnosed with a mental illness; it can appear, unrealistically, in my view, as a doctor-approved catch-all explanation for one’s personal troubles, travails and failings."  

And voilĂ ! You have yourself a catch-all explanation of why mental illness is common amongst the wretched and feckless poor!

Unneeded medicalisation is a valid concern (big pharmaceutical companies do have this agenda, make no mistake), and there's no doubting that depression has developed a sense of cultural allure that comes with anything mysterious which concerns the human condition. There's a clothing brand called 'depression', exploiting as best as they can the dark aesthetic that goes with low mood. They even have a 'philosophy'.

But the appeal of melancholia goes back to the Romantic poets, so it's nothing new. Is it different now, with the democratisation of the everyday voice, and the capitalist drive to make everything a consumable item? Is it somehow dangerous, leading to increased teenage suicides following in the wake of their favourite doomed rock idol? Or is it a bit of a myth, just another aspect of human expression? Are people who don't understand assuming that depressed people are suspiciously quick to 'admit' to it, rather than hiding off in a darkened room where they belong?


Depression is not a period of down-in-the-dumpsness. There's a difference between a bit of sadness and depression, and one of the problems is objectively locating a point on this misery spectrum at which one becomes 'depressed'. There is an element of self-diagnosis in depression, it has a variety of causes – largely experiential and cultural, sometimes totally mysterious – and people experience it in different ways. But just as the distinction between sadness and depression is real and significant, marking a categorical difference in the condition, so too is there a categorical difference between aesthetic melancholia of the type satirised with the goth kids on South Park, and depression proper. One is not going to simply 'become depressed' by liking Marilyn Manson and wearing dark clothes.


To 'admit' to having anxiety problems has become far more common amongst writers, actors and comedians. As I wrote before, I find the 'strange celebration' of mental illness (as an awareness-raising project) a little irksome, an aspect of personal branding. That's because I'm a cynic myself – I have the same feeling about charity wristbands. Yet overall I think it's a positive discursive shift. A response yesterday to Laurie Penny on Twitter expressed an opinion that I understand, if not agree with. 


Of course such a sweeping diagnosis about what 'true' depression is is ridiculous, but that's opinion for you. Both of those tweeters who disagreed with Penny went on to explain, with varying degrees of ferocity, that they had been affected by depression and suicide, personally or in the family. Penny's followers berated them both for their 'ignorance'. 


It's not pleasant to see such a reaction made to a difference of opinion which comes from other people's experiences of depression. But then again, Twitter is made for cruel venting. Most give as good as they get.


(And some people just hate Laurie Penny – what's that about?!)

I think people who experience depression tend to find themselves quite isolated, emotionally adrift and misunderstood. The sense of hopelessness is going to feed this impression and deepen it. Arguments will go on about whether depression is a disease, or whether it's cultural, biological or chemical, and so on, but the misunderstandings continue, the ignorance prevails, and often depressed individual exists very much on the periphery of all this chatter. 

There seems to be two general responses. One is defiant outrage as seen on Twitter and the SomeOfUs campaign which seeks to hold Fox News to account for their insensitive analysis of Robin Williams. This response uses creative analogies and talk-to-the-hand sarcasm in an attempt to explain depression, and states 'if you've never experienced it, you don't know.' The arguments are sound, but it's a cliquey, belligerent approach and provokes a reaction. It's common on Twitter on many subjects, the (slightly passive aggressive) 'advice' from well-meaning types sent out into the ether. Whilst I agree with the content, I can't help feeling that they're really getting off on expressing it.

The other is the silent response of those who do not engage. Depression can be a very individual experience, and it's somehow at odds with the idea of a collective community which seeks to change attitudes, in the way that, say, feminism takes up a cause. I think this leads to cynicism from depressed people about other depressed people. Depression is also deeply political, which is in part why there is an interest in dismissing it. If the Left want to 'use' mental illness to fight the establishment, it can't be at the cost of the sufferers – being told that your plight is due to post-Fordist labour conditions, creeping surveillance or the pervasive ontology of competitive capitalism offers little practical help to a depressive on a bad day. (Might be suitable on a good day though).

If there is an element of romanticism about depression then this is a shift in a long-term conversation about a little understood thing, and insofar as the conversation widens, and the dismissive attitude of some is intelligently challenged, then it's not a bad thing. One might seek to understand it in terms of the Hegelian dialectic, a part of historical progress. One might caricature the respective social attitudes as such: 1. mental illness is dangerous (thesis). 2. mental illness is cool (antithesis). Number 3 (synthesis) would be a negation of the antithesis, a kind of resolution.

It makes little sense to me that the epidemic of anti-depressants is caused by a load of oversensitive romantics looking for a bit of sympathy and self-promotion. If someone who isn't really depressed says that they are depressed, it's not really a big deal. The important thing is that people who do have problems feel that the environment is right for them to be able to express it any way that's most comfortable to them. This is undoubtedly very difficult. For that, any celebrity, or any friend, or any stranger, deserves the benefit of the doubt at the very least.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Whack or Wipe?


Blogs your brain can whack-off to.

Another Angry Voice
Words on the Street
Snowblog

The blog is a an awkward place – part journalism, part rant, part poetry, part diary. Anyone can start one and spend time and words on useless outpours, unregulated, slanderous, inaccurate nonsense which no one reads or cares about – my own blog is testament to that. But occasionally you come across a blog which is worth more than its weight in bits. Here are a few that I've come across lately.

Another Angry Voice, a blog by Thomas G. Clark, is a triumph of blogging potential, a go-to resource whenever some silver-tongued suited politician starts patronising you with oh-so-much conviction. Informed and measured, yet perfectly outraged by political manipulation, hypocrisy and ignorance, Clark's approach is to dissect issues and expose the rarely mentioned trickery that goes on behind politics are presented by the likes of Nick Robinson and his journalism-lite colleagues. AAV treats his readers with intelligence, going into details that most media outlets assume are beyond us, using facts and a generally egalitarian social position to present some views. Most of it makes you sick of the political establishment – the difference between AAV and the general media is that it gives reasons and examples which explain why you should be disgusted, rather than a lazy and sweeping 'they're all the same' cynicism which instead serves to blunt critiques, and continue the norm by infusing a sense of powerlessness in everyone. See Zizek on cynicism for more on this.

CLark describes his political leanings as 'angry'. Observers would naturally put him on the left, and they'd be correct. Thomas would say 'libertarian-left'. By my mind, considering that contemporary political consensus has moved to the right over the last few decades, an intelligent critique has to come from what would be considered the 'left'. More idiotic critiques of contemporary politics make issues with things like social equality, the demise of empire, climate change, and superficial political scandals (see the Daily Mail, Niall Ferguson, James Delingpole and the Daily Mail again for examples). These people are evidently disappointed that Thatcherism, globalisation and post-colonial geopolitics hasn't yet stopped the poor from being able to breed, and want to convince you to endorse their crazy march towards dystopian elitism.

While AAV investigates party politics, party funding, fascism in the UK, the media, etc. Thomas's general target is the pervasive and little-understood ideology of neoliberalism which informs much of the socio-political landscape, so if I could endorse just one article from this blog it would be What is Neoliberalism, from September 2012. Get educated!

A Facebook friend offered up a link of Words on the Street, stating that it was the best blog in town. Ian Beetlestone is a London cabbie. No, not like the ones you get in Stewart Lee's anecdotes, which are all true, of course. In fact, Ian defends the image of the cabbie, pointing out that he's gay, socially liberal, and left-wing.

But with such a rarely heard voice, it's no surprise that many people have unfair preconceptions of cab drivers – they're used as a synonym for 'the man on the street', and a Sun-reading one at that – a vehicle (if you'll pardon the pun) for unreasonable bigotry and monosyllabic conversations. Ian Beetlestone is here to put that right.

Driving a taxi isn’t just about taking passengers from one place to another – in fact, that’s secondary. No, driving a taxi is about drawing lines on a map. It’s art, and it can be beautiful at times.
In the post where this is taken from, from March 2014, our cabbie talks about driving from Kings Cross to Wimbledon Park at midnight, some quite passenger in the back. Some of the landmarks I know, some I don't, but that doesn't really matter. You wind through dark and dusty London streets at a comfortable pace, just absorbing stuff, as he fondly describes the journey. It's refreshing to see someone so at ease with what he does, so at home in the city where he lives.

And especially for this week, Jon Snow's Snowblog. Few news anchors do their job with such a well measured combination of sensitivity and tenacity. Eddie Mair scores high for sensitivity; Paxman for tenacity. Snow's got both. Thankfully, Channel 4 allows him to use it to great affect on many occasions, and during the current Gaza conflict has been no exception. He has been bullish towards the Israeli politicians who he's interviewed, and sometimes gets over excited. But Jon is only human and, as this blog post shows, it is Jon's deep sense of humanity which makes him such a righteous dude.

This is humankind’s most grievous cancer, for its cells infect conflicts in every corner of the world. We fail as humankind if we do not devise a coming-together. Our leaders, as a vast priority, have to try and try again to use every mechanism in our rare animal capacity - our considerable intellects – to bring these peoples to resolution whatever the cost.
He was writing about being in Gaza over the last few days, somewhere few of us would wish to be, but somewhere we all feel like we know intimately as we've watched the death toll resolutely climb. While many, including Jon himself, issue polemics, tirades and accusations in the cyclone of self-righteous commentary which surrounds the Israel-Palestine conflict, this small article, despite the token words of what must be done, had interwoven throughout it one man's sense of hopelessness.

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.
And a blog you can wipe your arse with.

FrontPageMag

While writing this post a few days ago I came across FrontPage Mag, which boasts the utterly inspired subheading "Inside Every Liberal Is A Totalitarian Screaming To Get Out". Time to prepare for some sweeping paranoia...

The rant that caricatured every Israeli critic as a racist Islamophile Marxist caricature was by Daniel Greenfield, but he is only one of many paranoid columnists for FrontPage. The mag itself is published by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. "Freedom" is a word that always has to be qualified, used as it is by those who appear to endorse their own freedom over that of others. Freedom for the Palestinians, for example, wouldn't quite fit the Horowitz definition. The thrust of FrontPage arguments seem to be about avoiding the subject matter at hand, and taking aim at the left's assumed hypocrisy on the subject. This tactic leads to articles such as The Left isn't pro-Gay – It's Pro-Power and #BringBackOurGirls and the Left's Empty Moral Outrage.

Horowitz, like other disappointed young hippies, like Melanie Phillips and Jon Voight, made the charged leap away from socialist principles to self-interest and fear as they aged. Disastrous legacies of badly executed communism is enough to tar the entire left with the same brush; legacies of capitalism go unexamined, perhaps because these individuals have privately benefited...

In a choice article from April 2007, Michael Reagan, son of neoliberal maestro Ronald, laments that the real culprit of thirty-two recent deaths at a school are the laws that prohibited "the students and faculty from exercising their Constitutional right to protect themselves and others by bearing arms on campus." I had to read that twice! Yes – more guns! In schools! To solve the problem of on-campus shooting! 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Well you, sir, are a racist!


Argument: Protesters whine about Israel, but ignore other examples of large-scale bloodshed. Implication: anti-Israeli demos are anti-Semitic.

Oh yeah, well I dropped my toast butter-side down this morning – where was your protest then! #hypocrite.

Since the recent strife in Gaza kicked off, those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have been taking to the streets. Not everyone agrees with these protester's demands. Let's explore some of the responses to Israeli criticism by way of two of the most treasured darlings of the right, Douglas Murray and Melanie Phillips, and a few others.



Douglas Murray's article in the Spectator most neatly summed up the right-wing grievance with pro-Palestine protesters. He first states that they were a 'non-diverse crowd', with women in burkas and headscarves. This off-topic jolly into passive-aggressive Islamophobia neatly reminds the reader what they are supposed to think about Muslims. The pics on this pro-Israel blog, which also labelled the protest anti-Semitic, show a pretty diverse crowd, much like London itself. Anyway, Murray returns to the meat of the problem – hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. It's a two-pronged accusation that is levelled energetically by those that support Israel, used gleefully by journalists and netizens alike. Here it is in action... 

1. #hypocrites!



In his article, Doug spake thus: 'These are the people who stayed at home throughout the Syrian civil war, stayed at home when ISIS rampaged across Iraq, stayed at home when Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab carried out their atrocities across central Africa and showed no concern whatsoever when the Muslim Brotherhood was running Egypt into the ground. Yet they pretend to care about Muslims.' That guy from ConservativeHome agrees...

Even Stan Collymore got put in his place!
The joke being that there is no protest against Assad!

This is my personal favourite.

2. #Anti-Semites! 

Doug: 'I suppose some of the people in London today might still try to pretend that they don’t hate Jews.'

And introducing... Melanie Phillips! Compared to Murray's sweeping accusations, Phillips is a little more measured, giving the illusion that she's thought about it. The caveat she provides is that the protesters are 'accessories' to anti-Semitism.


Mel in this article says: 'When London demonstrators and British intellectuals declare that Israelis are the new Nazis, colonizing land to which they have no historic connection and which they have stolen from the Palestinians, they make themselves accessories to an infernal creed which is inciting violence and murder against Jews.'



Bonus Bigot basher! 

Daniel Greenfield's article, 'It's Another "Death to the Jews" Weekend', is one big impassioned declaration that pro-Palestinian protesters are anti-Semites. It's a full-steam-ahead veritable parade of left-wing and Islamic stereotypes. Here are some randomly selected fragments... 

'At the Israeli embassy, the hipsters imagine that they’re guerrilla fighters. They scream themselves hoarse about oppression, duck into a Starbucks, come out with a few cinnamon lattes and then begin screaming again.'

'Bored Yemeni teenagers peel off to throw stones at a synagogue. The Marxists get into an argument over the Fourth International. Someone begins loudly reading their own self-published poetry through an unauthorized megaphone. ISIS sympathizers fly the black flag of the Jihad over the crowd where it tangles with a Hezbollah flag.'


'Max Blumenthal shows up to lead a Students for Justice in Palestine protest while shouting about colonialism. Then he tags himself on Instagram.'

'Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahood,' cry the Muslims. 'Down with Zionist Supremacism,' scream the Marxists. 'Death to the Jews," shouts everyone else.'

Beyond this relentless hyperbole, this imaginary 'Day in the Life of critics of Israel', the article says nothing.

Who are you people?

Murray is a devout neoconservative. Neoconservatives believe that Western liberal democracy, such as it is, is by definition superior to all other forms of governance. It takes this position as morally absolute, and evokes notions of freedom, liberty and justice of which the west is supposed to be exemplary. It seeks to radically encourage parts of the world which do not share this view to adopt it. It does this with neoliberal economics and war. For a neoconservative, the fact that the Iraq war was based on lies is irrelevant, for it is the West's role to spread democracy; the fact that this magical democracy didn't arrive, and Iraq has plunged into deeper problems is also irrelevant because the West has its duty and that is that.

Neoconservatives in America are the people who preach libertarian values and despise socialist values. Then they endorse protectionism for their own agriculture, state funding for the military, and you can bet they were the first to propose bailing out the banks. It is hence a double-standards nationalistic ideology with its interests favouring capitalist leaders over the ordinary Western folk in who's interest they claim to be acting. 'Foreigners' are little more than dangerous and simple-minded scum until they can be made to work for the benefit of Western corporations.

Murray is the Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, the people who came up with the oxymoronic Inclusive Capitalism love-in a couple of months ago.

In this article, Murray bewilderingly puts Occupy London to rights by pointing out that the Church of England is much older than Occupy. Take that, anti-capitalists! He also paints them as having a sense of 'entitlement', seemingly because they take an issue with economic hegemony, and selfishly point out social problems such as '"youth unemployment," "women's unemployment," "police racism," "racism" in general, an alleged rise in "Islamophobia," the failure of the market economy, insufficient freedom for sex workers and terror suspects..."'

Occupy London, for Murray, wasn't a heterogeneous group of disaffected citizens with different concerns and different ideas attempting to engage in the national debate from which they are so often excluded. Oh no, they were apparently part of a culture 'of all sorts of narcissisms, special-interests groups and organizations actively devoted to the destruction of our society.'

Destruction, no less! Of our society. Who is this 'we'? one wonders. What mostly comes through from Eton and Oxford-educated Murray's articles is his derision for the uneducated, i.e. ordinary, citizen, whom he assumes is ill-positioned to have an opinion on anything beyond primetime TV and cinnamon lattes. He speaks for the elite, and his unquestioning conviction of the superiority of the West is matched only by his unquestioning conviction of the superiority of himself.


Melanie Phillips writes for the Times, but still has the Daily Mail flowing through her veins. People from all political stripes will know her because she appears to make ridiculous statements simply to irritate the left – '[The traditional family] has been relentlessly attacked by an alliance of feminists, gay rights activists, divorce lawyers, and "cultural Marxists" who grasped that this was the surest way to destroy Western society' – and exploit the prejudices of the right – 'the potential for tipping into outright calamity what is an already socially disruptive situation — with illegal Romanian shanty encampments even in the middle of London’s Mayfair, for heaven’s sake — is very high.'

Her Jewish faith is something she refers to frequently in her articles, and whilst being Jewish doesn't make anyone a Zionist, Phillips is an avid one. King David having built the Old City in Jerusalem in the 11th century BC (in Biblical history) is reason enough for all Jews to have claim to Jerusalem. Elsewhere, I'm sure she supports Mexican's claiming Texas or New Mexico, or Native American wishes to expel the newcomers from the Old World, and if I went to Scandinavia and chucked some family out of a house where I'm sure my Viking relatives lived, I assume she'd support that too. Hey, why don't we all go back to where our ancestors lived!

Phillips wrote a book called Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within, a hysterical rant which is happy to allow its readers to assume that Islamic extremism is Islam's default condition. We hope she's proud of her fascist spawn, Britain First, who have been threatening mosques and facing down curry restaurants in Brick Lane.

Melanie Phillips cares little for those who take to the streets, like those pesky teachers and their damned union representatives. How dare they demand pensions and stuff, while 'the harm the striking teachers will cause children by disrupting their education is, of course, not acknowledged'? For a day off school is second only to a thorough beating on the child abuse scale. 

She also deplores 'greedy' doctors who went on strike, stating that the 'public' will never trust them again. Or perhaps she was telling the public not to trust them again... Needless-to-say, all other professions who strike, or go on anti-cut demos, Occupy London – they're all idiots who you should hate. Phillips's poisonous diatribes routinely seek to condemn ordinary people by way of cajoling other ordinary people into despising them. How can she sleep at night? you might ask – well all that hatred must be exhausting!

And, as with all of Phillips' outpours, it comes back to the shocking demise of the country – in terms of moral clarity and absolute power – at the hands of conspiratorial leftie ideologues who've infected the political class with their sick relativism. Nothing, apparently, can't be solved with a good old time machine.

So...

The offending accusation is that the pro-Palestinian protests are singling out one aggressor (Israel) while ignoring others (Boko Haram, ISIS, Assad, etc.) As Mehdi Hassan points out in an article addressing this very argument, it's strange that supporters of Israel would categorise themselves amongst the likes of explicitly murderous groups, just to take a pop at anti-war protesters.

If Mehdi's aricle is a little too polemic, this article by Brian Whitaker also seeks to explain the reasons for the appearance of a 'singling out' of Israel by western critics. In it, Brian opines that the central reason is that the standards that Israel is supposed to uphold, as a Liberal Democracy vehemently supported by the West, are higher than those of Putin, Boko Haram, ISIS, Assad, etc. I would add, and this is the thrust of Hassan's argument, that a large scale protest in the UK is intended to draw the attention of our own elected leaders, to hold them to account, and to make demands for change. One suspects that Douglas Murray and his reactionary bandits of neoconservative privilege have never quite understood why anyone might need to protest, and I guess that's where the confusion lies.

If hypocrisy wasn't enough, the critic of Israel is also charged as an anti-Semite. Some brainless individuals just hate Jews, sometimes for religious or cultural reasons, sometimes because they're simply Nazis. Laura Penny, who is half-Jewish, no friend of the right and no Zionist, made the worrying observation...  



But for some every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, as Penny argues in this article today. It's not just simple-minded everyday citizens on Twitter who level this accusation, but also right-wing journalists who, alas, command influence. This sweeping argument is not unlike when criticism of a black person is said to be simply racist, or when criticism of a woman is assumed to be simply sexist. Sometimes they are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic, but not by definition. This is the 'finger in your ears shout "prejudice!"' argument, both sides do it to shut down debate, and it's lazy and stupid.

When critics of Israel evoke the upsetting memories of the Holocaust, Hitler or swastikas they do so to (crassly) point out a grim irony, an irony that should make a Jewish state pause for thought – Israel, founded as it recovered from such horrors, was founded on the principles of racial prejudice and religious intolerance. The fact that these principles underline the Israeli raison d'etre means that Netanyahu's claims of pragmatism and proportionality in attacking Gaza are treated with a hefty dose of suspicion. Indeed, if the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, the stranglehold on Gaza, and the regular deaths of Palestinians is anything to go by, a Zionist drive to expand trumps any logic of self-defence. 

Opposition to Zionism is also assumed to be support of Hamas, which is to see things in a very binary fashion. Hamas is a complicated organisation born of a complicated situation, but most pro-Palestinians would see its position as a voice for Palestinians as unfortunate at best. When they rightly point out that Hamas are Islamic fundamentalists, Zionists show themselves to have a massive blind spot. Such attitudes expose the truth of the overriding aim for fundamentalists on both sides, the unquestionable superiority of their own faith, land, people and blood.