Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Daily Mail writer branded 'mass murderer' by critics

One of my favourite newspaper tricks is what I like to think of as the 'critics say' gambit, wherein a writer of an ostensibly factual article uses references to unnamed 'critics' to tack on his opinions and turn it into an editorial piece. Although, in the case of DPP rejects Tory plans to give homeowners the right to kill burglars, the prejudices of the writer are so clear that it's more like the vaguely factual bits of the article have been tacked on to righteous sermonising.

The story itself is pretty straightforward. Recently, a man named Munir Hussain was sentenced to 30 months in jail for attacking a burglar who invaded his home and tied up and threatened his family. Hussain, unfortunately, went beyond the law's 'reasonable force' caveat when he and some of his friends chased the criminal down the street, pushed him to the ground and beat him with a cricket bat and other weapons in a sustained attack so violent that the cricket bat broke and the burglar was left with a fractured skull, so badly brain-damaged he couldn't stand trial for his own crimes.

Predictably, the same forces that supported Tony Martin in his infamous case came out in Hussain's support, and the Conservatives, ever keen to toss out populist soundbites that they know are unworkable so they won't have to deal with the consequences do the decent thing, are making noises about changing the law in some way that allows householders more leeway to knock seven shades of shit out of intruders (presumably unreasonable force?).

Anyway, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has come out and rather uncontroversially said he thinks the law is basically fine as it is; it allows for the use of 'reasonable' force, which by definition makes the law, well...quite reasonable. The Tories, the Daily Mail, and this DM writer (Tim Shipman), appear not to agree. See if you can spot any subtle hints as to the writer's opinion in this tentative opening paragraph;
Britain's top prosecutor faced charges he is a 'socialist' yesterday after he flatly rejected Tory plans to give homeowners the right to kill burglars.
In the next couple of paragraphs, Starmer is described as 'controversial' (to whom? Not stated), and 'a former left-wing human rights lawyer' (one rung above 'Islamic paedophile' on the Mail's morality ladder). The article drips with contempt for Starmer, going so far as tell him what he should have said;
But he then went on to dismiss Tory plans to help homeowners out of hand, when he could have stated simply that his job is to uphold whatever laws governments pass.
In reality, what Starmer actually said was;
'The current test works very well. I can't really see the case for a change in the law at this stage.

'I have faith in the current arrangement which is the use of reasonable force. There are many cases, some involving death, where no prosecutions are brought.

'We would only ever bring a prosecution where we thought that the degree of force was unreasonable in such a way that the jury would realistically convict.'
Now to me, that's so staggeringly uncontroversial that it verges on the bland. After a few paragraphs pointing out that Starmer was a bit left-wing as a youth, it tries to crank up the evil socialist-o-meter a bit more by including a bunch of paragraphs about Keir Starmer's namesake, Keir Hardie, the famous socialist from ye olden days. Hmmm. You might think that a writer with the surname SHIPMAN would steer clear of encouraging people to judge others by their given names, but apparently not. Now, please note, I'm not saying that Tim Shipman murders hundreds of old ladies in their sleep. There's absolutely no proof of that. But I'm not not saying it.

The last paragraph is probably my favourite, it's just so wonderfully 'Daily Mail' that it could have come out of a particularly clever Daily Mail outrage-generating machine;
His appointment as Director of Public Prosecutions in July 2008 was seen by critics as among the most blatant attempts by New Labour to pepper the establishment with those who share their ideological commitment to European human rights law, which is blamed for a host of politically-correct rulings.
What critics? They're never quoted. The closest we get to an actual attributable criticism is a BBC interviewer asking him a question about his youth editing left-wing journals. Oh wait, there's this anonymous criticism;
Privately, party officials were furious that Mr Starmer had again been drawn into a public denunciation of their policies. 'He is there to enforce the law,' one said. 'He is not there to make the law.'
...which Starmer would appear to be doing by saying that the current law is fine and just. But going back to that final paragraph, it's just so beautiful I almost want to frame it. Deftly it brings up political correctness, Europe, The Establishment (of left-wing ideologues), and of course that terrible human rights law. I wonder if Shipman spent a minute or so trying to figure out a way to get asylum seekers and Jonathan Ross in there somehow? Perhaps he didn't have time, there are a lot of sick old ladies that need 'help' at this time of year...

Monday, 14 December 2009

On Melanie Phillips and religion

Melanie Phillips normally considers Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams an obnoxious liberal moron, but happily she's found some common ground with him over his recent grumblings about politicians not giving suitable respect to Christianity, which she details in Just for once, the Archbishop is right ... treating Christians as cranks is an act of cultural suicide. As is her style, and as the hilarious 'cultural suicide' bit of the title suggests, Phillips takes his comments and appends to them some staggering hyperbole and myopia.

What Williams said was typically bland, of course:
...the trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it’s an eccentricity, it’s practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities.

The effect is to de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream. And, you know, in great swathes of the country that’s how it is.
(As an aside, I quite like how in Phillips' piece the bit about oddballs is immediately followed by a photo of the Archbishop in mandatory ceremonial get-up of pointy hat, giant flapping robe with sleeves that look like wings, and massive ornamental gold staff...nothing odd or eccentric there, of course, it's what all the kids are wearing down the shopping mall these days).

Phillips immediately goes on the offensive, suggesting there's a "war of attrition being waged against Christian beliefs". She cites some recent cases like that of Duke Amachree, a council worker who was sacked for, as Phillips has it, "encourag[ing] a client with an incurable medical condition to believe in God". What happened is that a woman with bowel disease came to see him in his capacity as a housing officer to see if she could be relocated nearer hospital, whereupon he apparently started telling she'd be alright if she believed in god. The full facts of the case don't seem to be public domain, with mostly the conservative newspapers covering it, but ultimately it was a case of a man who had been warned about his conduct before, using his position to do something he wasn't supposed to. I doubt Phillips would be as happy if it were a dogmatic atheist using his council position to talk believers out of their faith.

It's here that Phillips and I really part ways:
Christians are being removed from adoption panels if they refuse to endorse placing children for adoption with samesex couples.

Similarly, a Christian counsellor was sacked by the national counselling service Relate because he refused to give sex therapy sessions to gays.
I read those things and I think 'Good!'. We should be taking action against people who discriminate on the grounds of sexuality in 2009. If the religious want to believe that homosexuality is a grave sin, they can do so, but when they're in public positions they should be treating everyone as equals. It doesn't just apply to Christians, of course, but anyone who discriminates against gays. But amazingly, Phillips turns this on its head; instead of it being a case of the religious denying access to services on the grounds of sexuality and thus infringing their rights, this is somehow an assault on religion:
What this amounts to is that for Christians, the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs - one of the most fundamental precepts of a liberal society - is fast becoming impossible. Indeed, merely professing traditional Christian beliefs can cause such offence that it is treated as a crime.
This would be funny if the equality legislation Labour had introduced didn't strongly protect religion. Phillips then goes way back to 2001 to cite the case of Harry Hammond. This is fun, because she started the piece defending Williams' view that religion wasn't just about eccentric oddballs, and is now throwing her backing behind a man who stood in the street with placards demanding an end to homosexuality. His placards bore the legends 'Stop Immorality', 'Stop Homosexuality' and 'Stop Lesbianism', which Phillips apparently considers 'traditional Christian beliefs'. Are they? If they are, this might explain why Christianity is fast becoming perceived as an 'eccentricity' practiced by 'oddities'. When it comes to parading with placards telling people who they shouldn't be having sex with, based on centuries-old teachings which we're told are the divine words of an invisible, unknowable being, then maybe shit has got a bit strange.

It's enjoyable to watch Phillips attempt to defend this stuff though. She talks endlessly of liberty and freedom, but in doing so is defending people who have actually been intolerant to the liberty and freedom of others. She goes on, first trying to reconcile her belief that Labour hates religion with her other belief that Labour is cosying up to the Muslims, a 'double standard' which she conspicuously provides dick-all evidence for. Hilariously, she goes on to accuse the Left of 'racism':
The root of this double standard is the unpleasant prejudice that minority faiths hail from cultures where people are less well-educated and so cannot be blamed for their beliefs. This, of course, is a deeply racist attitude, and is commonly found on the Left.
Again, she backs this up with nothing, and is surprisingly casual about tossing the racism accusation around, an accusation she finds abhorrent when it's directed at 'her side', as it were, (for example when she says that "those who shriek racism want to destroy British identity").

She's not finished though. She asserts that religion is suppressed in political discourse...

As his former spin doctor Alastair Campbell once famously observed: 'We don't do God.'

This is because among the intelligentsia, the animosity to religion runs even deeper than the upside-down value system of the multicultural agenda. It springs from the fixed view that reason and religion are in diametrically opposite camps.

There's a kernel of truth here in that politicians in Britain don't talk loudly and strongly about their belief in god. This is not a conspiracy, it's just because we, the people, no longer react well to it. We don't really want our politicians to be acting on the word of god; they should be acting for those of us unfortunate enough to be constrained to the physical realm. By the same token though, there's very little outspoken atheism in politics either, to the point where Nick Clegg's declaration that he didn't believe in a god was actual news, despite being what I would consider the default position. Amusingly, his admission of atheism was seen as so politically dangerous he was moved to issue a statement that his wife was a Roman Catholic, that he raises his kids as Catholics and that he fully respected religion and so on and so forth. And that, my friends, is about the closest a mainstream party leader has come to being an outspoken atheist. This is not suggestive of a country where the political discourse is dominating by raving religion-bashers of the kind people imagine Richard Dawkins to be. Politicians are so desperate to be all things to all men that they don't want to 'do god' or do atheism.

Hold onto your seats though, because she's got more to say, and this one is fucking awesome:
Anyone who prays to God must therefore be anti-reason, anti- science and antifreedom - in other words, an objectionable, obscurantist nutcase.

But this is the very opposite of the truth. Rationality is actually underpinned by Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Without the Biblical narrative, which gave the world the revolutionary idea of an orderly universe that could therefore be investigated by the use of reason, science would never have developed in the first place.
Unfortunately all that investigatin' never found much evidence for many of the wilder things that happened in the Bible, but somehow for Phillips, science still legitimises Christianity because Christianity preceded it, and if we hadn't had Christianity, then of course we couldn't possibly have had science. She goes on to yearn for a Britian where politicians and the public were as religious as those in the US, but this is always a stance I've never quite understood from traditionalists. British history and culture has led us to the point where most of us aren't strongly religious; that's now, broadly speaking, the British way. Why try and reimpose something that is no longer natural to us? She ends with a warning to Williams:
But unless he starts promoting the Church as the transcendental custodian of a civilisation rather than the Guardian newspaper at prayer, the society to which it gave rise will continue to sleepwalk off the edge of a religious and cultural cliff.
This whole 'sleepwalking' thing is a recurring theme in Phillips' pieces; her Spectator blog in particular is littered with dire warnings that we're sleepwalking into something or other. It always seems like a strangely arrogant thing to say, in this case with its implication that the decline of religion is something we shouldn't want or should be protected from having, because only visionaries like Phillips are awake enough to see the dire consequences of a potentially godless UK. Imagine, a nation whose beliefs aren't derived from ancient scripture and as a consequence don't openly discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of public services. What a terrifying world!