Mehdi Hasan has received much praise and criticism for his opinions, and for him I have both. Mr Hasan is a superb speaker, an erudite and able critic of the right wing and a principled thinker. What comes with this, however, is fine attention; every little thing he has to say is closely examined which means one slip will be grounds upon which his critics will pounce almost without hesitation.
On BBC Question Time last night Hasan said:
“Lets look at the reaction to David Cameron’s speech, Nick Griffin said it was a provocative speech; when Nick Griffin says your speech is provocative you know you’re in trouble. The daughter of the leader of the French National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen said she wanted to congratulate David Cameron on his speech and the leader of the EDL in Luton said “he’s saying what we’re saying, he knows what his base is saying”, so when hear reactions like that I do worry about such speeches”
The bottom line is that as part of his criticism to Cameron, what adds to his “worry” is the reaction to “such speeches”.
I don’t often do so, but I agreed with Douglas Murray when in reply he mentioned the opportunistic nature of these far right sympathisers of Cameron’s, and that this says more about them than it does Cameron – who at least adequately distinguished in his speech the difference between Islam and it’s violent, politically extreme offshoot.
It also highlights the fact that the left have been rather slow to demonstrate its own opposition to extreme political projects as observed by militant Islamists – but instead of driving this point home, Labour MPs like Sadiq Khan resort to calling Cameron’s speech “propaganda for the EDL” (which Hasan has praised).
Hasan did not “equate David Cameron with the EDL” as he says, but he has accused Cameron of “dog-whistling” to them – a point he of course could not substantiate.
Imagine if all of us were accused of dog-whistling when politically unpalatable groups tried to jump on a particular bandwagon. Imagine if I were to judge Mehdi Hasan’s opposition to US drone attacks simply because the banned UK Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir cross-posted an article of his onto their website, where a commenter has replied to it with this disturbing message:
Soon, he [President Obama] too won’t see the funny side, as the people of Pakistan move to re-establish the Khilafah, Insha’Allah [Caliphate (Islamic government), God willing].
Or if I were to judge Hasan on account of the fact that his views on Jesus have been given praise by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group who tonight he said he did not “share the political or theological views of”.
I doubt anyone would think it fair to judge a person by the opportunists he attracts. This principle should be levelled at Hasan, as much as it ought to be at Cameron.
The nuts of David Cameron’s speech is as follows: it was badly delivered by the Prime Minister; it used vacuous terms no-one is familiar with like muscular liberalism; and though it chimed with things he has previously said, perhaps it was an error to deliver a speech addressing political and extreme Islam, in Germany, on the same day as the English Defence League marched in Luton.
Many bloggers and writers have been quick to point out that Cameron’s speech was ill-informed. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for example said:
“Many of us Muslims would be with David Cameron if his speech hadn’t shown him to be selective, hypocritical, calculating, woefully indifferent to Muslim victims of relentless racism and chauvinism. He was speaking the words of white extremists but in posh.”
An Independent leader article explained that though the PM was spoilt for choice as to where he could’ve delivered a speech of national interest – Luton, Bradford, Birmingham, London – instead he chose Munich, which for Indy editors seemed “especially odd … since Germany is going through a spasm of intolerance towards its ethnic minority communities at the moment.”
Cameron’s use of the word liberal concerned others. Victoria Williams at Labour Uncut wondered if by “liberal” Cameron meant “forcing your beliefs onto others and excluding them from society if they disagree”.
However none of these examples really get to why Cameron was flawed in his actual sentiments. Moreover they seem less inclined to engage with how we oppose all forms of segregation and extremism, while being tolerant and multicultural without being culturally relativist.
Appealing to a sense of (muscular liberal) Britishness – which John Milbank yesterday noted for sounding far too ‘Cleggian’ and ‘Osbornite’ – was one notable error of Cameron’s. Most people oppose extremist tendencies of any stripe, but do so with a set of tangible ideas, which “Britishness” is not. Instead it is a term which can be twisted and turned into whatever meaning one wishes. Ideas which Cameron was quite happy to promote – universal human rights for everybody including women and people of other faiths; equality of all before the law; democracy and the right of people to elect their own government – are formed through political appeals to freedom and prosperity for all, border markings are irrelevant here, and serve only to trivialise.
There is nothing contradictory about multiculturalism and integration, but Cameron – if he was any kind of ideas man, transcending the Conservative Party’s recent past of patriotism for its own sake – ought to have spent less time trying to work out what Britishness means and reject what Nick Johnson, author of a recent Fabian Society report on integration, calls the “narrow conservatism that erodes diversity into a monolithic whole.”
Credit where it is due, Cameron does understand that diversity ought not to be forced, and individuals in a society should not be tenuously pigeon-holed in what he rightly referred to as “state multiculturalism” (though it’s fair game to ask what Cameron imagines can replace it?).
Finally the criticism levelled at Cameron’s speech that it was propaganda for the EDL (which Sadiq Khan accused the PM of) is way off the mark. The impetus here should be for leftist groups and anti-extremist movements who rally against the far right to make their opposition to fundamentalist Islam more vocal, ruining any opportunity the EDL have of saying Mr Cameron is talking their language. To be sure, nothing Cameron said on extremism in some communities should be to the contrary of what the left fights for, and yet instead of engaging with this angle, some are happier to accuse Cameron of propaganda and leave that void wide open for the EDL.
Cameron made a pigs ear out of his recent speech, but many on the left have hardly been accurate in their critiques.
I put off writing this because I had already got the subject out of my system, but it has returned and it’s very difficult to ignore: it is the question of multiculturalism, and more specifically what this means to anti-fascists.
Richard Seymour recently produced a blog entry about philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s attempts to critically analyse violence and provocation carried out against the Strojan family – an extended family of 31 Gypsies, 14 of them children.
Seymour’s beef is with two things: firstly the outcome of the events, which culminated in the police succumbing to pressure by violent mobs and forcing the family to leave, who, as he notes, had they not “driven the gypsies out, the racist mob would have done so with fire and blades.”
The second thing Seymour has beef about is Zizek’s poor research on the matter. Zizek has used this example to underline his own controversial view of multiculturalism (more of which in a moment) but what he has failed to do is properly understand what happened to the family. As Seymour says in a reply to critics of the aforementioned entry:
I find no evidence that the Strojan family are car thieves, and they didn’t murder anyone. It is true that locals blamed the Strojan family for a number of thefts, but it’s also true that they acknowledge when pressed that the Strojans have been scapegoated on this issue.
I’m with Seymour here; had Zizek done his homework, he would’ve seen that this is a case of scapegoating, or at best a heavy-handed response to petite-theft among some individuals of a family, perhaps spurred on because of the family’s racial background. Zizek here is not being racist, he has just erroneously placed this disgraceful event in the wrong context; by implication I feel that Zizek’s “apologia for anti-Roma racism” is due to a misjudgement by the Slovenian.
As it happens I find Zizek’s critique of multiculturalism very useful (which is why one can agree with Seymour on this issue, and still be in defence of Slavoj Zizek, so to speak). I will attempt to place it in its correct context.
Multiculturalism, according to Kenan Malik, author of From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy, has come to be defined as a policy promoting diversity among a society of people with fixed identities, partly as a reaction to inharmonious feeling at a time of increased immigration into the UK. For Malik this has simultaneously become the problem and solution to intolerance. While it rather nobly aims to celebrate difference, it also rather crudely pigeon-holes people, on account of their racial or national heritage.
In trying to effect “respect for pluralism [and] avowal of identity politics” – which have come to be “hallmarks of a progressive, anti-racist outlook” – segregation has simply become institutionalised.
As a consequence to the respect agenda, all cultures have become of equal value, which may mean that in purely multicultural terms everything is permissible if it can be justified on the grounds of cultural heritage – which leads to the question who can authoritatively account for what a cultural trait is (for Malik, such policies in the eighties served only to strengthen conservative Muslim leaders in Birmingham, on the daft assumption that they alone could authoritatively account for what Islam is).
For Zizek, there is a bourgeois liberal variant of multiculturalism that is repulsed by (far) right wing populism of the Other (the immigrant for example) to the extent that it starts to fetishise the Other. Not content with opposing all racism directed at this Other, it starts to think the Other can do no wrong. Take as an example the song “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer” often sung by Julius Malema, President of the African National Congress Youth League; the real anti-racist would oppose this song in spite of its historical context, for whatever the white farmers’ crimes during the apartheid, this is a song that is derogatory towards a race. The bourgeois liberal fetishist, of the ilk to which Zizek refers, may justify singing the song on the grounds that such retaliation is historically justified (you could perhaps ascribe to this the notion of “white guilt”).
For Zizek, the bourgeois liberal justifying Malema singing the song is akin to expressing the belief that Melama knows no better, leading Zizek to assert that certain modes of politically correct tolerance of the Other is grounded upon the belief that certain groups can be judged differently (which is why the BNP for example are wrong for being racist populists, but Malema is clear on the grounds that he has experienced racism himself). This ends up being monoculturalism based upon a rather stereotypical ideal of how the Other should act – the point being that the bourgeois liberal, for Zizek, is deluding himself by thinking he is a mutliculturalist, since it is almost a colonial understanding of the foreign Other who he is identifying.
In short, this notion of multiculturalism masks a racist idea of the Other who needs to be “tolerated” (for more on this see Naadir Jeewa’s excellent analysis).
The confusion here lies in who we identify as this bourgeois liberal, naïve apologist? For many people who subscribe to multiculturalism this simply doesn’t resonate. For me, Zizek’s analysis is less a critique of multiculturalism, and more a critique of naïve, neo-colonial monoculturalism (which I assume he is well aware of, though if not, we ought to understand that the bourgeois liberal variant of multiculturalism is not necessarily inherent to multiculturalism proper). But maybe the word multiculturalism lends itself too easily to the idea that cultural relativism is appropriate– since we’re immediately in a struggle to identify what we can call culture (authority on which, as Malik explains, can often fall into the wrong hands).
When most people support multiculturalism, what they mean is that a country ought not to have a dominant national character immigrants are obliged to adopt as a guarantee of their debt to their new homeland. Instead a country should allow all to practice what they wish, as they wish, provided that it doesn’t harm anyone. Perhaps I’ll adopt the term socialist universalism?
Reading over the speech Michael Gove made to the Conservative Conference, I’m glad that I’m already trying to get out of teaching. If the period of the last twelve years in education has been marked by increasing spin, pointless bureaucracy and policy announcements, the next five under a Conservative government appear unlikely to be any different, judging by the Shadow minister for Children, Schools and Families. In fact, in some aspects, the future promises to be worse, with plans to turn our kids into ‘patriotic’ automatons.
Most of the words that come out of Gove’s mouth are in fact piffle; meaningless. They only have meaning and relevance to a lot of people who for years have been imbibing every scare story printed in the Daily Mail about riotous kids and political correctness gone mad. Gove praises a headteacher who apparently spoke to the Conservative conference:
“He insists on a proper uniform – with blazer and tie – respect for authority, clear sanctions for troublemakers and no excuses for bad behaviour. He sets classes by ability – so the brightest can be stretched and the weakest given special support.
He teaches traditional subjects in a rigorous way and when the bureaucrats try to insert the latest fashionable nonsense into the curriculum he tells them where to get off.
There are fantastic extra-curricular activities, proper competitive sports and an amazing team of teachers – who work into the evenings and on Saturdays to give their pupils the best possible chance in life. Why isn’t every state school like that?”
Except that most schools have a proper uniform, “respect for authority”, clear sanctions, classes by ability and support for the weakest. Except that not every school is funded to the same degree and thus you have secondary schools which can afford special units for literacy and so forth, while others languish. So in the first sentence above, Gove is not proposing anything new – and he will find, if he gets his feet underneath the ministerial desk, that his hot air counts for very little when set against the cuts by which the Tories are promising to outdo their Labour equivalents, against even capitalist economic sense.
Of course it wouldn’t be Conservative conference is someone didn’t get a dig in at the curriculum. Yet, perhaps overcome by the sort of adrenaline-testosterone high that waving your cock about on stage tends to give, Gove has said something patently stupid. He has conjured up the image of the heroic headteacher fending off the bureaucrats; except that the headteacher in question is from an Academy, a group of schools to which Labour gave specific powers to shape their own curriculum. Whoops.
Not that I’m praising the system of Academies: despite double-figure millions being poured into such schools, some forty of them are still failing. Apparently the all-conquering initiative and cost-efficiency of private and third sector enterprise isn’t so all-conquering. As for the rest, where Gove discusses extra-curricular activities etc, every State school is like that. I have spent my fair share of evenings after school and friends of mine have spent their fair share of Saturdays running activities for the kids.
Even where there are no Saturday activities, the government’s Extended Schools programme is pushing every state school to offer more services during the week – whether it is breakfast club or track and field competitions. Even some of the worst schools in this part of the country are fiercely competitive at sport – the Abbey School in Faversham, for example. So Gove is laying out nothing new – but what I suspect will happen is that even more pressure is piled on without funds or personnel to achieve the goals, and yet more teachers will suffer.
Gove’s not done there though. Other pointless declarations include giving “teachers effective power to confiscate banned items and restrain violent pupils”, powers which we already have and which are clearly laid out for every new teacher. We can confiscate anything and we can restrain any pupil who is a danger to themselves or others. Plenty of state schools even have teachers given a free period once a week to wander the halls and to call into classrooms to ensure that the teacher has an effective grip on classroom discipline.
There’s also the claim that the Tories will
“…change the law so that when a head teacher expels a violent pupil– that pupil cannot plead that his human rights have been violated and then stick two fingers up to authority.”
When I was at school, I was part of the movement which organised a walk out on Day X, the day the bombing of Iraq began in 2003, I was lucky, in that some three hundred pupils walked out of my school and there was safety in numbers. A friend of mine was expelled from his school, however. He took the school to court, arguing that the expulsion was a victimisation of political dissent – which it was, whatever bureaucratic language one wishes to dress it up in. School kids, like any other section of the workforce, have the right to withdraw their consent from the State.
Walking out of school was our way of showing it – and it was remarkably successful. Literally thousands of school kids all around Northern Ireland took a (brief) interest in what was going on when people their own age began getting interviews on local and national radio stations in the run up to the outbreak of war. When war happened anyway, interest waned, which is to be expected – but the actual gesture changed the attitude of many young people. Protecting that right is important – and the basic point is that authority is not always right.
I was threatened with expulsion not just for organising the walkout but also for speaking on the radio and identifying myself as a student of Our Lady and St. Patrick’s College, Knock. The principal was raging because I brought the school into what he called ‘disrepute’ and he and the Vice-Principle kept me behind school one day in order to lecture me about appropriate behaviour. If I had been kicked out of school, it would have been a flagrant breach of my right to free speech. The sort of human right which kids don’t have, when it comes to school, according to Michael Gove.
Other elements to Gove’s speech are simply the re-announcement of existing policies, such as city technical schools to supply apprenticeships, which have existed since John Major’s government if not before and have continued under Labour. The only seeming exception is covered by Lee Griffin at Liberal Conspiracy.
Talk of social mobility rings a bit hollow in the mouth of Michael Gove when we know the cap for third-level education fees will be coming off under the next government. It rings hollow when we realise that no matter how hard anyone – everyone – works, poverty, deprivation and worklessness will continue to exist under capitalism and potentially get worse if George Osborne gets his wish to attack the deficit by massively slashing government expenditure – some of which keeps people in socially useful jobs. Like, er, teachers, teaching assistants and their support.
Then there are the elements to Gove speech which are plain fabrication or wishful thinking:
“Teachers have been deprived of professional freedom, denied the chance to inspire children with a love of learning and dragooned into delivering what the bureaucrats decree.
And we’ll ensure that experts in every field – especially mathematicians, scientists, technicians and engineers – can make a swift transition into teaching so our children have access to the very, very best science education”.
Teachers do not deliver what the bureaucrats decree. Most teachers, though I will explicitly limit this to my own experience, deliver what they want – and so long as it gets results, no one asks any questions. So long as the teacher controls the class and the exam results reach the expected target, teachers are left to do what they want. Even in terms of teaching methods, which Ofsted can be shit-hot on seeking, so long as a teacher makes a few gestures towards active learning (which actually works), then they’ll get a grade one on their observations.
As for ensuring that “experts in every field…can make a swift transition into teaching” I will be watching that policy with eyes glued. The few “experts” in their field – PhDs in history and chemistry and so on – that I’ve seen try and cut it as teachers failed miserably. They weren’t cut out for speaking in front of a class, or class discipline or some other aspect of teaching. Which isn’t something to be ashamed of because teaching is a hard job. These experts were weeded out at PGCE or GTP or NQT level, during training. So any policy planning to fast-track experts better have exactly the same safeguards as the extended training, and I doubt that it will.
This rant could continue but I shall end it with the following:
“There is no better way of building a modern, inclusive, patriotism than by teaching all British citizens to take pride in this country’s historic achievements. Which is why the next Conservative Government will ensure the curriculum teaches the proper narrative of British History – so that every Briton can take pride in this nation.”
What is surprising is just how similar this is to Labour ideas from the most recent version of the national curriculum. So similar, in fact, that there’s no difference. Every Key Stage 3 class studies British history from 1066 to late 20th Century. All the key periods are there: the wars with France, the English Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the world wars and so on. The ‘historic achievements’ notably left off are the millions of people the British Empire killed through mass starvation, war, colonization and the occasional genocide.
Which seems to match up precisely with what Gove wants us to teach. It’s bullshit. Any self-respecting academic would choke to see the sort of drivel that gets ladled out for KS3 history. Names, dates, places, inventions. Causes are occasionally talked about but these are largely focused on individuals; Did Charles cause the English Civil War? The fight between crown and church becomes a tiff between Henry II and Thomas Becket. Actually some of this is unfair; on subjects like the Crusades, the new Folens books are excellent, especially on religion.
My point, however, is that the “achievements” of this country are often achieved or paid for by one part (the rich part) employing another part (usually poor) to slaughter and rob the rest of the poor part, or the Catholic part, or the ancestors of the immigrant parts: Pakistani, Indian, Middle-Eastern, African or Afro-Carribean. I’d teach that til the cows came home, then point to the Tory Party with the words “And those fuckers are the ones who sat back and got rich off all of it”. Then see how happy Michael Gove is when confronted with a generation aware of real ‘British’ history.
Truly there is little difference between Tory and Labour education policy. They’re both equally rubbish. The only difference is in emphasis; whereas the Tories want teachers to construct a semiotic civic code based on “modern patriotism”, Labour call that “multiculturalism”. Where the Tories simplistically emphasize “discipline” and attack “bureaucracy”, in their bid to win Daily Mail approbation, Labour are more about the multisyllabic spinning into six paragraphs of what could be said in one – but the actual proposals are relatively similar.
So once again the country seems set to elect a party which can talk a good show to its supporters whilst fundamentally changing nothing. The real change is being exacted by ‘economic circumstances’, forcing cuts, in which Labour are equally complicit. The bottom line: if you want education reform don’t vote for New Labour MPs and certainly don’t vote Tory.