Tag Archives: culture

Open Letter To Sarah Champion

Dear Sarah Champion,

Let me salute your dedication to the cause of equality for women and children. Bravo. You’ve done some excellent work. However, your use of the word ‘culture’ is deeply problematic and indicative of the kind of ignorance I see being displayed by the far-right, who seem to believe that culture is determined by skin colour. I realise that, as a Psychology undergraduate at Sheffield University, you were unlikely to have encountered the work of sociologist, Raymond Williams – especially his seminal book, Keywords. Let me enlighten you.

Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language

Williams, 1988: 87

The determinism behind your use of the word suggests to the gullible and the terminally bigoted that there is a unique culture of paedophilia among men of Pakistani origin. There isn’t. Did it ever occur to you that is the kind of language that plays into the hands of the far-right? I doubt it. You’ve written articles on this subject for The S*n, a paper that lied about the Hillsborough Disaster and has spent the past 40 years attacking the party of which you are purportedly a member. Today, you’ve given an interview to another Murdoch paper, The Times, which takes a similar line to your party. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you’re not really a person of the left and, given your complaints about the left in the Times, perhaps it’s time to reassess your political position? Just a thought.

Let’s return to the issue of paedophilia and culture. What’s interesting is how quick you were to claim that there is a culture of paedophilia, which is perhaps unique to Muslim men or men of Pakistani origin. What’s revealing about these statements is that they ignore the white male paedophile grooming gangs or lone offenders, whose ‘culture’ is never mentioned.  Take Jimmy Savile, for instance, whose depravity was frequently stated but whose ‘culture’ was never once mentioned. Let’s be clear here: Savile did not act alone. The VIP paedophile gang continues to operate in plain sight. Their ‘culture’ is never once referred to.

The far-right, to whom you have unwittingly handed a stick with which to beat your party, are also frequently in court charged with child sex offences. Again, their ‘culture’ isn’t once mentioned.  For your information, the Malatesta blog has regular updates on far-right sex offenders. I would suggest you at least take some time to look at it.

Channel 4’s Fact Check has also questioned your statement, which I shall quote here.

“Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.

Britain has a problem with paedophiles of all backgrounds. The VIP paedophiles are most likely white – just like you.

Channel’s Fact Check concludes:

Self-evidently, sexual abuse of children and young people by groups of men – including Asian men – happens in the UK.

According to the best available data, Asian men make up 75 per cent of “Type 1” group abusers, who target children and young women because they are vulnerable.

But white men make up 100 per cent of recorded “Type 2” group abusers, who target children because of a longstanding paedophilic interest.

From the information available, we know that actual number of group abusers who are Asian is around three times higher than the number of group abusers who are white.

However, it’s worth remembering that child sexual abuse by lone offenders is more common than abuse by groups. What we don’t know is how many of those lone offenders are white or Asian. We should be wary of drawing too many conclusions.

May I draw your attention to the final paragraph?

In 2014, a grooming gang of white men in Sydenham, London were gaoled for child sex offences. They were all members of the local CofE church. There was no mention of their ‘culture’. Interestingly, the story was ignored by the national press but published in the local press. Even the far-right ignored it, but that’s no surprise: they don’t want to draw attention to their own sex offenders. Here’s a quote from the article.

Five members of a Sydenham paedophile ring who systematically abused boys from a church in the 1970s and 1980s have finally been jailed.

Four young members of St Bartholomew’s Church, aged between eight and 16, met their abusers after being introduced by choirmaster Tony Brockhurst.

Maybe the story was ignored because the victims were boys (there seems to be a blind spot where the abuse of boys is concerned – especially among the far-right).

A few weeks ago, I sent you a couple of links on Twitter to a couple of books by Pierre Bourdieu. One of those books was Language and Symbolic Power (2011). Did you get a chance to even look at the first page? I doubt it. Language isn’t uttered innocently. Ferdinand de Saussure, the ‘father’ of linguistics said that “language is a system of signs”. This tells us that the words we use open a window into our unconscious world.  Bourdieu claims:

“Utterances receive their value (and their sense) only in relation to a market, characterized by a particular price formation. The value of the utterance depends on the relation of power that is concretely established between the speaker’s linguistic competences, understood both as their capacity for production and as their capacity for appropriation and appreciation.”

Bourdieu (2011: 67)

Power is expressed through language. Indeed, as an MP, your use of words carry more weight than those of the pub bore. Why? Because you’re in a position of relative authority. That means you have a duty to choose your words carefully. It is obvious, that such a consideration is far from the front of your mind and may not even be located at the back of it.

So, paedophilia is not specific to one culture or another and it is not confined to skin colour or religion. Child sexual abuse is an abuse of power. Nothing more, nothing less. However, it is perfectly acceptable to claim there are paedophile subcultures, for these things do exist.

Finally, the role of the local police in the Rotherham scandal has rarely been questioned. When girls went to the police with their complaints, they weren’t taken seriously. You need to ask yourself some questions: is that because the police were colluding with the grooming gang, or was it the case that they don’t take the complaints of working class girls seriously? This is from The Guardian,

The agreed facts show, at best, an alarming level of police indifference in relation to these vulnerable children, several of whom had drug and alcohol problems and who were from broken homes.

One of the officers named in the trial, Kenneth Dawes, had a string of misconduct offences recorded against him. He is still on the force, although suspended pending further investigations following the allegations by two of the women in the trial. He denies any wrongdoing.

You’ll notice that I didn’t rely on The S*n or any of the Murdoch papers, nor did I make use of anything from The Express or The Daily Mail.

The Sheffield Star reported last December that police officers stood accused of sexually abusing children in Rotherham. I find it strange that you haven’t once mentioned that or their ‘culture’.

Stephen Watson disclosed this week that a number of police officers are the subject of probes by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into allegations that they abused children in Rotherham. The exact number has not been disclosed, but Chief Con Watson made the admission during a discussion about the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, which was laid bare in an independent report which found that 1,400 children were abused by men of largely Pakistani heritage while those in authority failed to act. Professor Alexis Jay’s damning report, published in 2014, found that police ‘treated victims with contempt’ and failed to investigate while Rotherham council failed to protect vulnerable children.

South Yorkshire Police have a history of criminal misdeeds from the Miners’ Strike to Hillsborough and now this. I suspect the reason the police haven’t been mentioned is because they’re white, and that doesn’t make for the kind of sensationalist headlines the gullible public and the far-right so desperately crave.

Have a think about those things, though I suspect I won’t be hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

 

The Cat

References

Bourdieu, P. (2011). Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press

Williams, Raymond (1988). Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana

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UKIP and their idea of culture

I’ve just returned home to find this UKIP election leaflet on my door mat.

Policies for Brain-dead People

Policies for Brain-dead People. But a UKIP government? Isn’t that wishful thinking?

My eyes were drawn to the section marked “culture” and nowhere does it mention the word ‘art’. Instead, we are treated to a list of things, which have little or no relevance to culture.

At the top of the list is this predictable pronouncement:

UKIP recognises and values an overarching, unifying British culture, which is open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain and British values, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

Two questions – and these are questions that I’ve posed to white nationalists when they bleat about “British culture”: what is British culture and what are British values? Readers, I have to tell you that I have yet to receive an answer. All I get for my trouble is personal abuse and paranoid assertions about how this country is being “contaminated” with “foreign cultures”. There is no such thing as “British culture”and  as for “British values” one could argue that this includes bullying, an obsession with property ownership and institutionalized child sexual abuse. But we don’t like talking about those things, do we?

One proposal states:

UKIP opposes ‘plain paper packaging’ for tobacco products and minimum pricing of alcohol.

Well, they would oppose these things because their glorious leader is a chain-smoker, who’s rarely seen without a pint of beer in his hand. But I can’t see the connection with culture here. Can you?

Like the Tories and other right-wingers, UKIP hasn’t got a clue when it comes to culture. In fact, I would go as far as saying they don’t understand culture. When the Department of National Heritage was created under John Major in the 1990s, the word ‘culture’ was distinctly absent. “Heritage” is about paintings of dead people, statues, stately homes; in other words, it’s alien to most people’s everyday lives. Culture is a living thing and UKIP and the Tories, who are forever looking backwards, will never grasp this.

The rest of the Kippers’ election leaflet ploughs a tediously predictable furrow: shrink the state, reintroduce grammar schools, big up the military, spend more money on arms; abolish green taxes; frack everywhere; retain the benefit cap; keep bashing ‘migrants’ and so on and so forth. Their section on housing is especially woeful. There is no mention of the housing shortage nor is there any mention of possible solutions to the crisis. UKIP if you want to, the gentleman isn’t for kipping.

Just think: there are just under four more months left of this tedious bullshit.

 

UPDATE @ 2115 9/1/15

You know the image being used for the UKIP leaflet? Well, I’ve just spotted a similar image on Facebook being used for a YouGov advertisement.

Here it is.

The Kippers can’t even use an original image. How sad and pathetic is that?

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Filed under General Election 2015, Government & politics, UKIP

Culture for the Future (Note #1)

The cultural critic, Raymond Williams (1976), once said that “culture is one or two of the most complicated words in the English language”. Many people use the word “culture” to refer to specific artefacts or use it to refer to a set of rituals and customs that are practised by primitive tribal societies in the rain forests of South America or Central Africa. Some people use words like “cultured” to describe someone who has “good taste” in music and the arts. Such people will invariably come from upper middle class and upper class backgrounds and are acculturated at an early age to appreciate only those forms of culture, like classical music, opera and Shakespeare’s plays,  which have been consecrated by a legitimating authority (Bourdieu, 1989). Any cultural form that is produced outside this narrow band of cultural production will be regarded as vulgar by those people who regard their culture as something sacred. Hence the term ‘subculture’, which describes any cultural form that is produced by ordinary people and regards them as inferior. While it is tempting to think that such views are limited to the bourgeoisie, this narrow view of culture can also be seen among groups at the opposite end of the socio-economic scale, who have been educated to think that the culture they create isn’t culture at all or it is inferior. Other people, often those whose cultural interests never stray beyond bourgeois art, insist there should be nationally approved forms of culture. But the people who call for state-sanctioned culture pretend to know more about culture than they do in reality.

In the last four or five years, there has been a succession of politicians and political commentators who have remarked on the need for some kind of British national culture. Douglas Murray, for example, demanded that the government create what he called leitkultur to snuff out other cultures as a means to prevent young British Muslims from joining jihadist groups (sic). Such an idea is naive as it is dangerous. If the word leitkultur looks German, that’s because it is. It was coined by German-Arab sociologist, Bassam Tibi in 1998 to refer to a “core culture”. Unfortunately, whenever this word is used it tends to be cited in the same breath as monoculturalism and national identity. Like nationalism, monoculture regards all forms of culture that do not have the state’s seal of approval as a possible social contaminant. In Murray’s world, anything that sounds or looks Middle Eastern would be banned, as too would hip-hop, Bollywood and even West African high-life music.

A national monoculture has to be constructed by hand-picked cultural experts (presumably chosen by the government of the day or some other state body) who then project this construction onto the people. Here’s an example: when the state of Israel was created in 1947, its cultural nationalists rejected Yiddish as the national language and chose Hebrew (modernized)  instead. This is despite the fact that the majority of Israelis spoke either Yiddish (Askenazim) or Arabic (Mizrahim). Ladino, the language of Sephardic Jews, wasn’t even considered. Hebrew was the language of religion and of the law, it was not the language of everyday life. Yet it was imposed as the Israel’s official language.

Monoculturalists, the vast majority of whom are ethno-nationalists (some of whom are in denial), rail against the idea that immigrant groups should continue their cultural practices once they’ve moved to Britain. They constantly complain about multiculturalism, citing it as the principle reason for Britain’s economic and social decline, and for incubating ‘terror’. Yet, much of what we consider to be British culture was brought to this country by immigrants. Fish and chips, pizza and tandoori masala are a few examples of cuisine that had origins elsewhere in the world. Words like ‘bungalow’ and ‘pyjamas’ are examples of Hindi words that are now part of the English language. We have listened to jazz, R&B, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and other forms of American music for decades, often to the dismay of the Britain’s self-appointed cultural cognoscenti. When rock ‘n’ roll first became popular in the 1950s, the BBC’s initial response was to ignore it.  The BBC Light Programme grudgingly commissioned The Saturday Club to cater for this new youth market but sometimes, the songs played on this programme were performed by the BBC’s house band rather than by the original artists. The BBC eventually yielded to pressure but only when it was too late. By then, Radio Luxembourg and the pirate stations had stolen a march on the fusty old Beeb, who had to petition the government to outlaw the pirates. Radio One happened ten years too late and even then, it wasn’t much good.

So when I say that there needs to be a cultural intervention, some people will be confused and others will ignore me, believing culture should come a distant second to marching, demonstrating and signing petitions. Some people don’t think twice about culture and others will see it as irrelevant. According to Gramsci (2003) the dominant ideology maintains its grip on power through cultural hegemony rather than outright coercion. The dominant class controls mass cultural production and is thus in a position to influence the way people think of themselves and others. Simon Cowell is a member of the dominant group (he votes for and supports the Tory-led coalition) and is an exemplar of cultural hegemony. His cultural production line creates boy and girl bands who sound and look the same. This kind of standardization can also be found in fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Cowell produces music that is bland, but catchy, yet says nothing about real life. You will never find Cowell’s acts commenting on poverty, inequality or anything that the audiences who watch X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is the worst of the ‘bread and circuses’ notion of culture, which reduces arts to commodities.

According to Theodor Adorno (1991), each cultural product is produced industrially (like tins of baked beans) and bears the stamp of the dominant ideology. This is a rather crude way of looking at mass culture, which is produced by the same class that runs the country. The claim made by the artists who labour under this system is that all art should be free of politics. This suits governments and those who support them. The last thing they want is people asking questions and making demands. However all art is political, even if it denies it, because the artist has made a political decision to take an apolitical position. The old style stand-up comedians of the pre-alternative era would often claim that they weren’t political. This is absurd. The racist and sexist jokes they told expressed dominant social positions, whether they admitted it or not.

Whenever an authoritarian regime takes power, the first thing it does is arrest artists and musicians. Then they arrest academics and intellectuals who disagree with them. The authoritarian-libertarian Thatcher government effectively starved Britain’s political fringe theatre companies out of existence, not only because they were being subsidized but because they opposed the cultural status quo. Cutting off their funding wasn’t as violent as the brutality meted out to musicians, say in Pinochet’s Chile, but it was a form of what Bourdieu refers to as “symbolic violence”.

Finally, I spotted this article by Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore, who asks if right-wing people are “more uncultured” and then adds that they (the right) “don’t “get” culture”. It’s not that the right doesn’t get culture, they have their own view of culture, and they tend to view it as something created by people who have “taste” and who possess the right kinds of qualifications.  In other words, culture should only be created by people who have been sanctioned to do so: the offspring of the rich, for example . As I said in this blog, the right’s idea of culture is heritage, which isn’t a living being but a corpse. The event discussed in the Moore piece mentions celebrities, who may be cultural, others are not.

So they had Michael McIntyre and Kirstie Allsopp providing youth and edginess with some interchangeable TV presenters, and those stalwarts of light entertainment Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth. What a rum do. The Tory brand still appears toxic.

I’m not surprised to see the anodyne comedian, McIntyre, listed here. In some respects McIntyre’s ideologically neutral style is exactly what the right-wing view of culture is all about: it’s politically disinterested and socially disengaged.

Culture for the future. Culture for the 99%.

References

Adorno, T. (1991). The Culture Industry, London: Routledge.

Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (1996) The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception in Durham, M.G. & Kellner, D. M. (Ed.) Media and Cultural Studies Keyworks. Oxford: Blackwell

Bourdieu, P. (1986) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.

Gramsci, A. (2003) Selections From The Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Williams, R. (1976) Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana

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Filed under Arts, Ideologies, Society & culture

God Save the Queen

Well, you didn’t expect me to play the *coughs* national anthem did you?

Refresh Connection

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Filed under Diamond Jubilee Bollocks, Society & culture

Douglas Murray, nationalism and monoculture

Douglas Murray is a busy little bee. First, he found the time to defend the English Defence League in this video.

Then to show his commitment to Transatlantic Judeo-Christian brotherhood, Murray also penned this article for the Wall Street Journal and this one for the New York Daily News. On Wednesday, when he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, he was at his most shrill, paranoid and delusional. You can listen to him attacking Kenan Malik for his ‘extreme left wing views’  here,

Now if Murray had bothered to do his research before going into the studio, he would have known that the Revolutionary Communist Party has been dead for quite a few years.  Murray doesn’t like views that conflict with his own distorted ideas on national identity and culture. Instead of responding to the points put to him, Murray chooses to play the man and not the ball. But “personal vendettas”? Please. Get real. On the subject of culture, he ends up sounding like a cheap version of Otto von Bismarck. Leitkultur? He’s more Kulturkampf“, if you ask me.

Thursday night, he appeared on BBC 1’s Question Time. Dimblebum introduces him as “neoconservative”. Fine. Neocon. Plastic Cassandra. Whatever. But once again, he gets into a tangle when he talks about culture. He loves his strawman arguments too. What’s all this stuff  about ‘forced marriages’? Has he never heard of the tradition of  the shotgun wedding made famous by this song?

Murray’s understanding of the word “culture” appears to stem from his notions about national identity and, possibly, so-called ‘high culture’.  But nation-states, as Benedict Anderson tells us, are imagined communities. That is to say they are conceived in the imagination and are imagined as a community by those who live within the borders of a nation-state.  Anderson also says  that “there have been no nationalist philosophers”. So what does that tell us about nationalism and those who wrap themselves up in flags? Nationalists, particularly extreme nationalists, have a fixed idea of both nation and national identity. Some people, in the eyes of these nationalists, do not fit in with the narrative that has been constructed around their idea of the nation. They may have a different religion or skin colour. They make speak a different language and have particular dietary habits that don’t chime with the  self-constructed ‘majority’. They are marginalized, smeared and attacked in the streets by those calling themselves ‘patriots’. In short, nationalists are caught in a mental feedback loop, where they can only view the world in binaries. Good and evil. Black and white. Us and them.

Murray self-describes as a neoconservative but is he, at his very core, an extreme nationalist? Well, his idea of leitkultur tells me that he is. He may not like me describing him as an “extreme nationalist” and may even try to connect that phrase with words like “Nazi” or “fascist”. But extreme nationalism can exist outside Nazism or fascism. For example, Israel’s Likud Party could be described as an “extreme nationalist” party. It is a party that is dedicated to a particular strain of nationalism:  Revisionist Zionism. Murray is a supporter of Revisionist Zionism. In fact, he works for the Israel-based NGO Monitor, which claims as its objective, to “make NGO’s accountable“. It has in mind certain NGO’s, in particular those NGO’s that provide relief for the Palestinians as well as the various human rights groups that are working in the region.

So who is going to pen the mawkish national hymns? Who will write the breast-beating jingoistic stories of derring-do, complete with rock-jawed heroes battling against the odds? Is Murray volunteering himself and his cohorts at The Centre for Social Division Cohesion to do the work? Heaven help us all.

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Filed under Ideologies, Islamophobia, Society & culture