Daily Archives: 27 October 2008

Lembit finally answers? Sort of.

Lembit has now answered my questions, after a fashion. Linda Jack has rephrased them and got a response. But neither he nor his campaign team have deigned to even refer me to them.

Is this what he means by “courage” and campaigning in “primary colours”? Is this “I’m not talking to you” act not just a teeny bit childish?

I’ll respond to them another time since I’ve been concentrating on other things today, but meanwhile I wouldn’t want you to be deprived.

Prof Dawkins vs Prof Dumbledore – AND ONE MUST DIE!

Apparently Richard Dawkins thinks that Harry Potter damages children. Except he doesn’t.

Dawkins’ views on Harry Potter remain to be seen. Personally, I think the politics of Potter are slightly iffy (being a paean to meritocracy in which the bad old elitists get their comeuppances while the good new elitists get to inherit the earth and lord it over the “undeserving” muggles), but fail to see how anyone could describe it as damaging (that’s the role of religious nutjobs anyway). However, it does take me back to my undergrad dissertation in which I commented on Dawkins’ 1997 Reith Lecture (which, annoyingly, doesn’t appear on the BBC’s website and is misdated on RichardDawkins.net) where he said:

How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium — in which case it’s depressing to realise that the millennium is still three years away [it was four years away! Sheesh!]. Less portentously, it may be an attempt to cash in on the success of The X-Files. This is fiction and therefore defensible as pure entertainment.

A fair defence, you might think. But soap operas, cop series and the like are justly criticised if, week after week, they ram home the same prejudice or bias. Each week The X-Files poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar?

Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: “But it’s only fiction, only entertainment”.

This of course is utter bilge. Generally speaking, the formula of the X-Files was that a rational theory and a paranormal theory was presented, both of which turned out to be cobblers, and a third, semi-scientific explanation was found. The monster wasn’t a figment of people’s imagination or a wolf, but it wasn’t a spawn of hell either. Generally speaking, these things were explained as freaks of nature.

In other words, while rarely ascending beyond its pulpy origins, the X-Files formula was the very epitome of scientific method. But Dawkins couldn’t see beyond the fact that it explored the supernatural and space aliens. He should have been celebrating a series which was, at its best, profoundly scientific and prised out these underlying themse. Instead he denounced anyone who enjoyed the show as lunatic irrationalists. Thanks a bunch.

So if Dawkins is to turn his attention to Harry Potter et al, I hope he will be paying a little more attention than he was back then.

Global Peace and Unity: only connect

On Saturday night, I was on a Northern Line train heading back to north London. At Charing Cross, a group of Asian youths got on the carriage, five girls and three boys. The girls were all wearing headscarves and trousers, but had full makeup on. The boys were manhandling the girls in a way reminiscent of, well, most horny teenage boys – and were hardly being put off.

I mention this because one of the girls – and manhandlees – was wearing a tshirt that identified her as a warden of the Global Peace and Unity Conference which I happened to be aware was taking place because of this piece on Lib Dem Voice. That debate – essentially over whether the Policy Exchange should be “privately briefing” against the conference and whether Clegg (along with several other senior politicians) was right to attend the conference – has continued raging over the last few days. David T from Harry’s Place has been wading in to criticise Clegg for attending the event, likening it to a White Supremecist rally.

It all sounds rather reminiscent of the debate over the 2003 anti-war demo. Back then I was on opposite sides with Harry. Now I am… erm…

Having looked at the Policy Exchange document (word file here, still not available via main PE website as far as I can see, cheers Alex Hilton Andy Hinton), I agree it is somewhat dodgy. Some of the biographies are tenuous at best and criticising people for selling shahadah headbands on the basis they are associated with Hamas is desperate to say the least. But for all the fluff, there are some genuinely concerning people mentioned on that list.

But you have to weigh that up against the fact that it is a genuine opportunity to engage with tens of thousands of British Muslims. This includes the teenagers I encountered on the tube on Saturday night. If they were hardline Hamas supporters, they had a funny way of showing it. Should we really write off an opportunity to connect with them, show them solidarity, because there are other people on the platform we don’t approve of? Should Clegg really have used his ten minute slot, as David T suggests, to hector the audience about the ne’er-do-wells they may or may not have listened to that day as well? What would that achieve apart from earn Clegg a few brownie points in the blogosphere?

There are no hard and fast principles Clegg should be sticking to here, only rough and messy pragmatism. If politicians are serious about engaging with the Muslim community, they have to go to them; the mountain must come to Mohammed. The potential reward? The opportunity to pull people away from the extremists.

Is it comparable to Clegg (or anyone else) attending the BNP’s annual Red, White and Blue Festival? No, because mainstream white Britons don’t attend it in any significant numbers. The Lib Dems should engage with BNP voters, but the way we do that is on the doorstep.

Back in 2003, we were told off by Harry’s Place and others for participating in the anti-war demo on the basis that it was also attended by Muslim extremists and the far left. As anyone who was there can tell you however, all those groups were drowned out into insignificance by the large numbers of ordinary members of the public. I very much hope that after this latest event and the controversy surrounding it, Clegg, Jack Straw, Dominic Grieve et al are getting together to discuss how they might collectively encourage the GPU event further into the mainstream. But start boycotting it? They’d be insane to.