Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thoughtless Anti-Patriotism

I am, as some readers will have tired of hearing, a Telegraph reader. Sometimes this is easy to justify.

Baggini's background and philosophical training gave him the intellectual honesty to be as critical of the biases he and his friends shared as he was of the biases of others. Even before he went to Rotherham, he was wary of the thoughtless anti- patriotism that lay behind David Hare's cry that "most of us look with longing to the republican countries across the Channel. We associate Englishness with everything that is most backward in this country."
Baggini told me he had noticed that when his friends went overseas "they always found something to delight in. ..."

Nick Cohen in the Staggers this week. (Funny that Nick didn't consider that philosophical training helped Ted Honderich with 'intellectual honesty.')

Here is Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph (yes, the Torygraph really does employ a Ivan and a Boris) on the Berlin Festspiele.

It's one of many signs that Berlin takes its culture seriously - as London does too, but Berlin's music scene has a special edge, a combination of innovative daring and stellar quality, which makes it utterly distinctive.
This is partly a cultural difference. German new music often has a dark intensity and political heat reminiscent of German artists such as Anselm Kieffer. But it also reflects the fact that in terms of funding, Berlin really puts its money where its mouth is.
This isn't just the mentality of a high-spending social democratic nation that invests in high culture, though it's partly that.

That fits finding something to delight in perfectly. Good for Ivan Hewett.

The Torygraph also employs the splendid Sam Leith. He's a columnist and their literary editor. In the latter role (I assume) he commissioned Nicholas Blincoe's review of What's Left? and Mary Wakefield's review of Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The latter concludes after praising the author's courage:

Most readers of most political persuasions will bow to Hirsi Ali's experience when she tells us that violent anti-Semitism and misogyny is at the heart, not just the fanatical periphery, of Islam. But for a liberal to work for a Right-wing think tank such as the AEI? It's a little weird.
Here's a woman who has put her life at risk to speak out against militant Islam, in the service of the brain-boxes who pushed for the war in Iraq, which served if not to radicalise Islam, at least to consolidate its hatred of the West. Here's a one-time refugee, lit up with admiration for the kindness Holland extended to a Muslim in distress, joining forces with the sort of neo-cons who talk of draining the swamp of the Middle East.
One of the great lessons of this painful and mostly clear-headed memoir is that people are not identical with the nasty ideas they espouse. It would be sad if the AEI failed to encourage Hirsi Ali's most impressive talent - for compassion.

In a slow week, Sam Leith wrote about meeting Nick Cohen. Redoubtable blogger Matthew Turner said in thec comments to a post "I've known Sam [Leith] a little for about ten years and he does not look like David Milliband." Nick Cohen is allegedly (I don't want to be sued over this after all) a political journalist. You'd think he'd know what David Miliband looks like.

A dim memory stirs. Years ago, at a party, I ran into the political writer Nick Cohen. We had been chatting for a while when he peered at me afresh through the gloaming, and goggled. "So sorry," he said. "I thought you were a Miliband."

And now here's another reason for liking Sam Leith and not reading the Staggers, the man's a thoughtless anti-patriot. Of all our moral nonsenses, patriotism is the dumbest.

'Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today," wrote D H Lawrence. "They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it's a marvel they can breed. They can nothing but frog-spawn - the gibberers! God, how I hate them! Why, why, why was I born an Englishman?" Clear where he stood on the great patriotism debate.
More and more of us, it seems, stand with him. This week a YouGov poll discovered that less than a third of Britons take pride in their Britishness, and around a quarter of us feel a stronger allegiance to their county, town or village. Hooray for that, say I. Of all the moral and intellectual nonsenses available to us, patriotism is among the dumbest. It's not the last refuge of a scoundrel. It's the first resort of a dipstick.

It is, remember, middle-class liberals who hate patriotism. (Orwell, BTW, had some nasty words for 'Jingoes' as he called shallow declarers of love for the mother country.) Though Baggini isn't a typical exemplar:

For Baggini isn't quite the standard middle-class liberal. His mother is from the Kent working class and his father from an Italian farming family.

Well, bully for him! A working-class mother, yet. How could he ever aspire to being an intellectual? Imagine being, say, [t]he fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a barely literate miner. Ellis Sharp has some observations of the parentage of some intellectuals. You can almost hear Chris and Martin discussing a certain miner's son.

CH: What what? The fellow doesn't like England! I suspect he's all for Sharia Law and stuff.
MA: Not an Oxford man is he? What did his father do, and why didn't he follow his father into it? That's the way we do things in this country. Not like those dirty Muslims.
CH: Careful Martin, if people didn't know who we are, they might think we're racists.
[Both guffaw at Hitchens' ineffable wit.]
MA: I wouldn't say there's riff-raff down every mine, because I am, after all, a socialist, but there must have been riff-raff down Lawrence senior's mine. And what did he contribute to literature? Did he write about the struggle of defecation with the tenderness I put into my Mohammad Atta story? I doubt it.
CH: No, he wrote about sex.
MA: Well, that's the professional interest coming out.
CH: I'm afraid I don't understand, old stick.
MA: They must have had sex when he was growing up.
[CH looks blank.]
MA: To keep the coal in when the bath was full.

Today, in the Telegraph's review pages (which don't make the web until the following Thursday as a rule), there's a review of the paperback of Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam.

"Messianic violence can attach itself to any creed," he concludes. If only all commentators on the war on terror were as sane.

I've no idea who the review, Alastair Sooke, could be thinking of.


Blogger ejh said...

I don't share the writer's enthusiasm for Sam Leith, who is one of many people on the Telegraph who would be lucky to hold their posts if they didn't have famous relatives. His main business is writing entirely inconsequential comment pieces that would be uninteresting and unoriginal in an unread blog.

3/31/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...


Most readers of most political persuasions will bow to Hirsi Ali's experience when she tells us that violent anti-Semitism and misogyny is at the heart, not just the fanatical periphery, of Islam.


3/31/2007 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy to prove violent anti-semitism and misogyny are at the heart of christianity as well, citing the history of the religion and it's key texts.

3/31/2007 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Ex Ponto said...

I quite enjoyed the Sam Leith column when I read it. It was a refreshing corrective to the more outraged and bloodthirsty patriotism in evidence elsewhere (not least The Times). Although I'm ashamed to say I haven't had the courage to read the recent Daily Mail editorials: life really is too short.

I could almost feel Daniel Finkelstein's self-righteous spittle on my face as I read today's editorial (for it is surely he who penned this masterpiece). I particularly liked the use of "intimidation torture" to describe Iran's treatment of the hapless hostages. If I had to choose between American "coercive interrogation techniques" and what we've seen of Iranian "intimidation torture" count me in for some torture.

3/31/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy to prove violent anti-semitism and misogyny are at the heart of christianity as well, citing the history of the religion and it's key texts.

True, but these sorts of idiots are now confined to Louis Theroux documentaries, while in Islamist circles they are commonplace and mainstream - even to the extent that they get invited to tea with Livingstone.

4/01/2007 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

The only thing that has changed about the Roman Catholic Church in the last few decades is that it is no longer able to wield power. The idea that it has suddenly discovered modern ideas about women is laughable. The role of women in the organisation is still overtly subservient.

4/01/2007 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

The point of course is that what differs is not the religions per se but the societies around them: religion plays a very different (and considerably reduced) role in, say 21st century Spain than it did in the same country before the social transformations that came with economic boom and the death of Franco.

Of course it's perfectly possible for modern secular societies to engage in violent bigotries of their own, largely directed at the considerable proportion of the world that stands outside it. The currently fashionable anti-Islamism operates in much that manner: "we are more civilised than these people, therefore we are in the right when we lock them up and make war on them".

Worth mentioning the Catholic Church in the context of the Telegraph since on the death of the late Pope, that newspaper's view of the man was, to put it mildly, reverential. This was a rigorous opponent of contraception whose view of the world was so removed from the mediaeval that he created more saints than any of his predecesors. But was superstition and the oppression of women "at the heart" of Catholicism? Apparently not...

4/01/2007 06:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It almost certainly wasn't Finkelstein who wrote that editorial. Why would ex ponto imagine otherwise?

4/01/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, when people don't sign their names you have to guess, don't you?

4/02/2007 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but your guess tells the readers more about you than about anyone else. Why would the editorial not been written by Rosemary Righter or Michael Binyon, both foreign policy leader writers, but by the comment editor? Why Finkelstein and not Binyon?

4/02/2007 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous James O said...

'True, but these sorts of idiots are now confined to Louis Theroux documentaries, while in Islamist circles they are commonplace and mainstream - even to the extent that they get invited to tea with Livingstone'

Hirsi Ali wasnt refering to Islamists, but Islam universally - Sunni, Shia, Sufi, in their entirety, so your defence of her falls down immediately. The reactionary politics of the US religious right, or the role of the Catholic church internationally in supporting dictators and in retarding abortion and gay rights easily disproves your second claim.
In the case of Yusuf Qardawi, he is a proponent of some reactionary views but is also an advocate of women's rights - essentially the same mix of progressive and conservative views you can find in most practising christians and jews.

4/02/2007 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Ex Ponto said...

Fine, anonymous, you clearly know better. The piece could quite conceivably have been written by Righter or Binyon. It was certainly in keeping with the stridency and general awfulness of the rest of Righter's commentary. She clearly has a knack for accurate predictions:
At last, a glimmer of hope for Somalia

The peremptory ousting of the Islamic courts by Ethiopian forces is Somalia’s first piece of potentially good news in two devastating decades.

Fast forward almost three months:,,2048343,00.html

Somalis today buried their dead and ventured into the streets in a respite from the worst fighting in Mogadishu for 15 years, which has left several hundred dead...But the halt in the fighting is unlikely to last. The weak Somali government, backed by Ethiopian forces, has called on civilians in areas of Mogadishu held by Islamist forces to leave their homes before a new military offensive...The International Contact Group on Somalia, which includes the US, European and African nations, was due to meet in Cairo tomorrow. But analysts said foreign nations were increasingly at a loss as to how to handle Somalia...The UN said 47,000 Somalis have fled Mogadishu in the last 10 days, making a total of 96,000 since February.

Yes, that's 96,000 since February.

Even The Economist, hardly known for its opposition to military interventions, predicted this one in particular would turn out to be a disaster. The Times really is printing absolute guff on its comment pages . (Matthew Parris and Simon Jenkins are much appreciated exceptions, of course).

Oh, and please save the cod psychology for someone who gives shit. What nefarious motive do you intend to attribute to me? What, pray tell, does my guess tell readers about me? Would you also have the courtesy of choosing a username?

(To AW, sorry about the length of the post!)

4/02/2007 02:19:00 PM  

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