Very incomplete personal takes on Brexit

“Certainly going to be interesting to see what happens in the UK in this coming week” I wrote here on 21 June. Well, that was a bit understated, eh!

Now I’m wondering if they should be dusting off the Honours of Scotland.

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Perhaps because I am conscious that the greater part of my ancestry derives from Scotland and Ulster (maternal and paternal lines), I still tend to see the UK through that lens.

The Brexit vote showed interesting divisions on those lines.

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See more maps here.

I must admit this aspect rather pleases me: “People gathered in Edinburgh and Glasgow to demonstrate against the result and show support for migrants.” Then there is this:

[Scotland’s First Minister] Ms Sturgeon said: “After a campaign that has been characterised in the rest of the UK by fear and hate, my priority in the days, weeks and months ahead will be to act at all times in the best interests of Scotland and in a way that unites, not divides us.

“Let me be clear about this. Whatever happens as a result of this outcome, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will always be Scotland’s closest neighbours and our best friends – nothing will change that.

“But I want to leave no-one in any doubt about this. I am proud of Scotland and how we voted yesterday.

“We proved that we are a modern, outward looking and inclusive country and we said clearly that we do not want to leave the European Union.

“I am determine to do what it takes to make sure these aspirations are realised.”

Here is a personal take from Edinburgh.

Amelia Baptie, 36, a mother of twins, said she was “heartbroken and devastated” by the result, as were most of the parents she spoke to in the playground.

She said: “I think if it was about hope on the Leave side then some good could come out of it, but it was about hatred.

“I am upset and worried. I don’t know what has happened to England. They have gone so much to the right and Scotland is being pulled along. My parents live in France and they are very worried now if they can stay, and about their income.”

I worry about some of the types in Europe who have been rejoicing about the UK’s choice – the likes of Le Pen and Wilders.

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See Exploring my inner Scot

I really do think we might see another Scottish Independence referendum not far into the future.

Another element in the UK vote was generational. This 21 June article by Chris Cook on BBC foreshadowed that.

A new piece of evidence on this has been released by Populus, a pollster that is doing a lot of work for the Remain camp. Their data suggests:

  • People aged 65 and over are 23% more likely to vote Leave than the average voter. Voters aged 18-24 are 37% more likely to back Remain. Those aged 25-34 are 19% more likely to back Remain than the average voter, the poll suggests
  • Students are 54% more likely to back Remain than the average person. Graduates are 21% more likely. Meanwhile, people with no formal qualifications are 48% more likely to back Leave…

After the event see  ‘What have we done’ – teenage anger over Brexit vote.

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Finally, a different, wider viewpoint: The Long Road to Brexit.

Markets are stunned. Commenters are shocked. But future historians may view this moment as inevitable…

The debate has cut across the usual divisions of Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat. There are left-wing Brexiteers (who dislike the EU for its lack of democracy and enforced economic austerity) and left-wing Remainers (who like its internationalism); right-wing Remainers (who see the EU as a huge market) and right-wing Brexiteers (who see it as an affront to national sovereignty). There has also been a national dimension: The biggest supporters of Brexit have been the English, and now suddenly the Welsh; the Scots and Irish, for different reasons, have taken the opposite view.

The campaign has highlighted differences too among generations, among regions, and perhaps most importantly among classes and among cultures. Supporters of the “Remain” campaign were disproportionately the young, educated middle classes, who saw the EU as both in their interests and as the political equivalent of motherhood and apple pie. Supporters of Brexit were disproportionately older, less educated, and less wealthy, and think their voices are more likely to be heard in an autonomous national state. Attitudes to immigration from the EU — unrestricted under EU law and running at nearly 200,000 per year — became the shibboleth. Remain saw immigration as a token of enlightenment, economic freedom and cosmopolitanism. The “Leave” campaign saw it as a cause of depressed wages, stressed public services, and long-term danger to national identity. The EU question has become more polarized ideologically in Britain than anywhere else in Europe…

Where indeed will it all end?

Post script

Have been reading heaps of posts. This one stands out: Called back to the present by Scottish physician Bob Leckridge, now living in France.

… and Jim Belshaw:

I watched the UK’s Brexit vote first with interest then with fascination and then with a degree of  horror. I was opposed to the original decision to join the EEC, but after forty years membership unpicking the whole thing becomes difficult. Further, the campaign itself and the consequent vote played to and accentuated divides in the UK….

Alas!

Yes, Jim’s post has disappeared! But now it’s back!

And finally…

Look at Steve Cannane, Brexit: Is Scotland brave enough to defy the UK? and Ian Verrender, Brexit will deliver a few home truths, both on ABC.

Watching the UK’s big decision

Jim Belshaw did a good job on this last Sunday: Brexit Conundrums.

The Brexit campaign has been quite messy. According to the BBC, there is a large pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons, 454 MPs to 147. The vote is being held because of Euro-sceptic views within the governing Conservative Party, views that appear unrepresentative of the Parliament itself.

The electorate is polarised, with the majority of the young supporting remain, while leave support climbs with age. UK nationalists support leave, while Scottish nationalists support remain.

Do read the rest of Jim’s post.

My email Foreign Policy Morning Brief today says:

Top news: Sayeeda Warsi, the former chair of Britain’s conservative party, quit the country’s campaign to leave the European Union on Monday, in protest of “hateful, and xenophobic” tactics.

Warsi, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants to Britain, cited a decision by the so-called Brexit campaign to disseminate posters showing migrants queuing at a border crossing, with the caption “Breaking point,” as a reason for leaving.

“This kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink xenophobic racist campaign may be politically savvy or useful in the short term but it causes long-term damage to communities,” Warsi told the BBC in a radio interview.

The Vote Leave campaign denied that Warsi was ever a member, an accusation she described as “disingenuous.”

Magnate Richard Branson threatened on Monday to further erode support for the Vote Leave campaign by launching his own remain campaign. The billionaire founder of the Virgin Group said leaving the EU would hurt British businesses.

Recent polls have shown the British public evenly divided ahead of the June 23 referendum.

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UK flags flying over EU Commission London Offices

Scotland seems firm against Brexit: New poll gives Brexit campaign a 10-point lead as Scots seem to want to Remain. That story is dated 11 June.

The UK appears to be heading out of the European Union after a poll showed the Leave campaign has opened up a 10 point lead with less than two weeks to go.

The shock result marks the end of a week of furious campaigning by both sides…

Things have tightened since then. The shock of the murder of pro-Remain parliamentarian Jo Cox on 16 June has had an effect. The latest polls show a swing back to “Remain”.

…since then [16 June], three more polls have shown a significant shift in support following a week in which the Brexit camp appeared to be gaining a significant advantage.

Nigel Farage has acknowledged that the drive to win over waverers may have been hit by Mrs Cox’s death.

“We did have momentum until this terrible tragedy,” he told Peston on Sunday. “It has had an impact on the whole campaign for everybody…”

This opinion piece by venerable commentator Neal Ascherson appeared two days ago in Herald Scotland:

FOUR days to go. As in Scotland two years ago, the torrent of public participation in England is running faster than the politicians can keep up with it. And there’s another resemblance. This referendum is supposed to be about membership of the European Union, in or out. But at a deeper, hidden level it’s a debate about English independence – England’s own indyref.

For all who remember Scotland in 2014, that giddy, looking-glass feeling only grows stronger. Giddiness can make you laugh, but it can also make you nauseous. It’s as if a film of 2014 was being played to us inside-out: the same lines, but spoken by lousy actors in strange costumes.

Here comes Project Fear again, with its dust-storm of factoids and fairy statistics. But here, too, come all those figures who brayed at the Scots that their banks would emigrate, their trade would be in deficit and their pensions would shrivel if they left the Union. And today many of these same voices, now in Leave, say that the banks will prosper, the trade balance will boom, the pensions will actually increase if Britain leaves the other Union.

Now it’s English voters who ask: “Why should our laws be dictated to us by distant people we never voted for?” (Aye, right …) On the other flank, those who dismissed the Yes movement as “anti-English racialism” now dismiss English anxiety about immigration as “racialist bigotry”. Which it sometimes is, but more often expresses the ill-informed but genuine worry of decent people…

And Donald Trump has had a bit of a go too:

As he prepares for a quick trip to Scotland this week, Donald Trump is again weighing in on Great Britain’s vote as to whether to leave the European Union.

“I would personally be more inclined to leave, for a lot of reasons like having a lot less bureaucracy,” Trump told the Sunday Times. “But I am not a British citizen. This is just my opinion.”

The “Brexit” vote on the European Union is Thursday, a day before Trump attends the reopening ceremony for one of his golf courses in Turnberry, Scotland…

On Trump’s interest in Scotland see my March 2016 post The Mad World of You Know Who on WIN/9 last night.

Certainly going to be interesting to see what happens in the UK in this coming week.

Ripping yarns

Recently I have been amusing myself with eBooks from Project Gutenberg by the extraordinarily prolific Lt.-Col. Frederick Sadlier Brereton.

1995Lt.-Col. Frederick Sadleir Brereton was born on 5 August 1872… He died on 12 August 1957 at age 85.

He was educated at Cranleigh School, Cranleigh, Surrey, England. He was educated at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, London, England. He fought in the Boer War. He graduated with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). He fought in the First World War. He gained the rank of Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in the service of the Royal Army Medical Corps, formerly Army Medical Service, and attached to the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards. He held the office of Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Hertfordshire in 1918.1 He was decorated with the award of the Commander, Order of the Crown of Italy. He was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1919. He was decorated with the award of the Commander, Order of Avis of Portugal. He was registered as a Licentiate, Royal College of Physicians, London (L.R.C.P.). He was registered as a Member, Royal College of Surgeons (M.R.C.S.). He was author of many stories of military campaigns.

Prolific he certainly was.

The first I read was his one and only school story, quite obviously owing a lot to Cranleigh School. The school in the novel is Ranleigh. Incidentally there is an Australian connection with Cranleigh, as Arthur Upfield, creator of the once very popular “Boney” series of detective stories, attended the school around 1900.

pg42862.cover.medium“Shut up!” growled Susanne promptly. “Well, Trendall?” he said encouragingly. “We don’t think it.”

“Then I do. I’ve acted like a pig and a bounder, and I’m sorry. I’ve been an ungrateful brute all along and want to apologise. It’s late in the day, of course, but then, there it is, I’m sorry.”

He held out a hand, lamely again, as if fearful that it would pass unnoticed. But Susanne seized it instantly. It was like Susanne, the warm-hearted Frenchman.

“Good! Very good!” he said. “We’re to be friends from now, eh? I’m glad.”

“So am I; it’s no use being enemies,” declared Bert, taking the proffered hand too.

“Rotten!” reflected Clive. “It’ll be something nice to look forward to after the hols.”

“Ripping!” cried Masters warmly.

 

Yes, Susanne…

“Where do you come from? Who’s your father?” demanded Rawlings roughly, as if to gain time in which to decide how to act.

Feofé was not to be hurried. He had never been to a school of any sort before, save the local one he attended in France. But he had met boys and youths in plenty. And always this quiet, shambling boy, with his broad shoulders and appearance of hidden power, had won respect without recourse to violence. He took another puff at his cigarette, a habit, by the way, rather more indulged in by boys in France, and regarded the resulting smoke with something approaching affection. His eyes twinkled. He shrugged his massive shoulders.

“Monsieur is somewhat curious,” he said, using excellent English. “I am from Lyons. My father, he is a banker. My mother, ah, she is his wife, you understand. Then there is a sister. Susanne, Monsieur, younger by a year than I am. That is the sum of the family, but I will tell you all. There is a dog—yes, two—and a cat, and——”

Rawlings was purple. Beads of perspiration were breaking out on his forehead. Catching a sight of Clive’s grinning face he ground his teeth with anger.

“Hang your family!” he shouted at Feofé. “Who wants to hear about Susan?”

Feofé shrugged his shoulders. “You were so very curious,” he said. “But I will proceed. We live at Lyons, but sometimes we go to Paris. There I have an aunt and two uncles, Monsieur. Ah! Yes, I must tell you all. The aunt is Susanne also. A pretty name, Monsieur.”

Rawlings was on the point of exploding. His dignity had long since gone to the winds. If he dared he would have seized this Feofé by the neck and shaken him. But the young fellow’s broad shoulders and smiling, easy assurance warned him that that might be dangerous. But he must assert himself. He must show this Frenchman that he was a superior, and that that must be the light in which he must view him.

“Look here,” he said at length, smothering his anger, “no more of your confounded cheek. Susanne’s good enough for you, so just remember. You’re  going to Ranleigh, and it’s just as well to tell you that I shall be a prefect. Know what that means?”

Even now he hoped to impress Feofé with his magnificence. But the lad merely raised his brows enquiringly, and shrugged his shoulders still lower against the upholstery of the carriage.

“A prefect. Someone in authority. Well?”

“And to be obeyed. Just chuck that smoking.”

“But,” began Susanne mildly—we call him Susanne at once, seeing that that name stuck to him forthwith—”but, by the way, what’s your name?”

Imagine the impertinence of such a request! A new boy actually having the temerity to coolly ask the name of one who had been three years at the school. Rawlings gasped; he mopped his damp forehead.

“Rawlings,” he growled.

“Then, Rawlings, you’re a prefect, yes?”

“Not yet,” came the somewhat confused answer. “But I shall be this term. It’d be a confounded shame if they passed me over.”

“Quite so. A confounded shame. You would be a loss to the other prefects.”

Susanne took another appreciative suck at the weed, while Rawlings went hot and cold. Satire went to the depths of his being. This Feofé was covering him with derision…

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And next I read…

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Now if you can accept that one 17-years-old English lad, aided by two English chaps and a friendly native, can subdue God knows how many Somalis… Wonderful what a Public School education and lots of plunges into cold water and of course Cricket can do…

Keeping their revolvers in their hands, in case of treachery, they crossed the deck to the fallen native, and turned him upon his back, Jim in vain attempting to disguise the horror with which the sight filled him.

“Dead!” he said in a whisper. “It’s terrible to think that I killed him.”

“I dare say it is, old boy,” Tom answered calmly. “But then, you see, it would have been far more terrible if he had run you through with this murderous-looking sword, and had then thrown you into the sea. It’s not nice, I admit, to feel that that ugly-looking wound is due to your bullet, but then, you know, he fully deserved it, for he had every intention of killing you, and, as you saw, did his best to rid the world of my presence. So, cheer up, Jim. It was a splendid shot, and I’m still marvelling at your pluck and coolness. If it hadn’t been for you, I really believe that our bodies would have been floating a mile or more astern by now, a prey to the sharks, for I was completely unhinged by my struggle with them. You behaved grandly, I tell you, and you saved both my life and your own.”

“I don’t think so,” replied Jim modestly. “You see, I couldn’t very well have behaved in any other way. Your shout awakened me with a start to find you fighting with those two ruffians. Naturally, I went to your help, and as an Englishman’s first weapons are his fists, I used mine with a result that fairly astonished me. After that, everything was, of course, plain sailing.”

“There’s no plain sailing at all about it, Jim, my boy,” said Tom sharply, “and I’m not going to allow you to run down the share you took in the matter. You behaved splendidly, and with the greatest pluck, while I made a fool of myself. First of all, I fell asleep when I should have been keeping careful watch, and then I was so thoroughly upset by the attack made upon me that I was practically useless. But there, I can see you don’t like the subject, so I’ll say no more. Shake hands! That’s right. I feel better now.”…

… Then, satisfied that everything was in readiness, Jim sat down upon a boulder at the entrance of the gorge, and waited there with what patience he could command. It was exciting work sitting there in the darkness surrounded by precipitous walls, and without a sound to break the silence save the occasional jar of a rifle as it was struck against a piece of stone. All sorts of thoughts and fancies passed through his mind during the hours of waiting. He wondered whether his school-friends were thinking of him, what time it was in old England at that moment, and whether the boys were even then engaged in battling with the same tasks which he had so lately forsaken. Yes, it was strange to reflect that barely a month ago he was a mere boy, acting a boy’s part, and with scarcely a thought for the future. And now he was the recognized leader of a real expedition, about to invade the country of the Mullah, as fierce a fanatic as had ever sprung to power to be a scourge to his neighbours. It was strange indeed. It was almost beyond belief that it was he, Jim Hubbard, sitting there upon that rock, listening to the beating of his own heart, and straining his ears for the sounds which seemed as though they would never come. Supposing this tribe did not attack after all. Supposing Ali had made a huge blunder, and was the victim of too vivid imagination. Supposing——Hark! What was that? A stone falling from the cliff away above his head, or a footfall upon the road which led through the gorge?…

On #QandA and comments and cabbages and kings…

Let me begin with one “Garrett G Rice” whose contribution to my spam comments just now is really rather heart-warming:

Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It actually used to be a entertainment account it. Look complex to far brought agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?

With difficulty, Garrett, considering you are a bot and thus not human, were caught by Akismet and are now consigned to some black hole or other.

KVD, on the other hand, is very human and often entertaining and provocative. Most recently he questioned my use of #QandA thus:

So I’m thinking – what is the point of these QandAs if there’s no particular ‘expertise connection’ between, or held, by the various talking heads, and the subjects under discussion? It just seems totally pointless to me.

Anyway, you report their reactions to the Woolwich murder. (As, of course, you would ask of a theoretical phycantspellit, a gay bishop, a morals campaigner, a past due date Liberal, and an Age Discrimination Commisioner – solely because it is in the news). Taking as a given that I agree with their expressed horror, revulsion, and hopes for a better future – I’m just asking why should I place any weight on their opinions over those of any other sentient being?

Or maybe it’s more the relevance of the questions to the assembled ‘experts’? Takes me back to Monty Python’s “who won the FA cup” sketch.

Thanks for reminding us of that, KVD!

I replied:

My immediate point in this post was that I rather admire Amanda Vanstone’s answer on the particular issue of how best to respond to the latest Muslim outrage in contrast to the approach Fred Nile took. The post as a whole expressed my own ambivalences on the matter of Islam/Islamism and how best to think about it, and in fact the most recent QandA and a very interesting pronouncement the other day by Tony Blair have set me thinking again. It is part of a very long-standing argument I have been having with myself and others all this century, and not only online or in blogs.

As for QandA, except in the case of a single panellist like, most recently, Bill Gates, I don’t see the expertise of the panel on all the issues raised as being all that relevant. Mostly they are able to express a view fairly articulately, and at best it makes for pretty good conversation given the constraints of the medium and the time the show runs. It also can fall very flat. Nonetheless I rather enjoy the show…

To turn then to one question on the most recent QandA.

Kaia Thorpe asked: have a problem with a school text book “LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER – bringing Muslim perspectives into Australian schools 2011”. Why is Islam part of the syllabus for primary and secondary school children? Muslims comprise only 2.25% of our population, Buddhists are more at 2.5% while Christians at 64% are the majority, yet Christianity is not part of the school curriculum. Why are we giving Islam preferential treatment? Why are we promoting to our children a cruel culture which has nothing but contempt for our democracy?

There is so much wrong about that question. For starters, the document referred to (PDF) is not part of any syllabus, but is rather a quite useful support document, or set of suggestions for countering unnecessarily offensive or negative perceptions about Islam and more importantly about the great mass of our fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim. Nothing in the document is mandatory. I have no problems with it. It is very easy to trace among the usual suspects where the questioner got the “facts” on which she bases her question.  As for Christianity not being part of the curriculum, Catholic and other Christian schools excepted, all I can say is that I spent an extraordinary amount of time elucidating English language and literature quoting, referring to, and explaining many a Christian teaching and Biblical reference, not to mention teaching History on such matters as the Renaissance and Reformation or the Medieval Era and the Crusades. Here is just one actual example from my teaching/tutoring files.

Cory Bernadi – who was generally better than I expected – did get into several knots on this question.

CORY BERNARDI: We have the equality between men and women.
TONY JONES: If we can get to that point quickly.
CORY BERNARDI: Yes, I will. We have the separation of Church and State. If we’re not prepared to defend those sorts of things, we will see people try and replace them with others.
TONY JONES: But defend against what, exactly?
CORY BERNARDI: Well, I don’t want to see legal plurality happen in this country and we’ve already seen demands for that. I don’t want to see a state-sanctioned religion in this country. I want to maintain the separation between church and state. I want to see men and women treated equally. I want to see the ethic of reciprocity.
TONY JONES: So where do you see the danger coming from, to put it baldly?
CORY BERNARDI: Well, we see it in submissions to the multicultural inquiry, for example, when the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils requested legal plurality and made that case. We see it when people are asking for, you know, religious law to guide their divorce settlements. We’ve seen it in the case of the Government, the Labor Party, when they were trying to facilitate the establishment of sharia-compliant finance in this country, which they denied at the time. I mean these are there. They are not unique to this country, we’re seeing it all over the place, and people like me are going to defend what I think are important principles.

What he hadn’t noticed is that such “exceptions” already apply to Jewish Australians. See for example Sydney Beth Din (established in 1905) and Ian Crawshaw, Courts outside the usual legal processes can offer better outcomes. But yes, while “what is good for the goose is good for the gander” thus applies in my view to Muslims, there is an issue about how far we can go in our multicultural yet integrated country. But full marks to Linda Burney:

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. Linda Burney? We’ll come back to our questioner in a moment. Linda Burney?
LINDA BURNEY: I am about to summon up all the grace that I can to participate here. I want to read out to you what people do or say when they take the pledge to become a citizen of Australia. They can either do it under God or they can say, “From this time forward I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.” I used to be on the Board of Studies in New South Wales and I was also on the Curriculum Council that developed religious studies curriculum in New South Wales and I can assure you that Christian beliefs are part of religious studies. I also want to say that I am the Member for Canterbury. 7% of the people in Canterbury speak Arabic, about half of those people are Muslim and I also want to say that they are the most committed people, generous people and the fear that you are talking about, madam, and the sorts of things that you’ve just expressed, Cory, I find hard to understand in the place that I represent and the amazing mix of people that are there. It is one of the good things about this country. In fact, it is what this country is, a mix of people from everywhere.

Turning now to Tony Blair.

In a column for the Daily Mail, former British prime minister Tony Blair stated “there is a problem within Islam” and implored officials to acknowledge radical ideology is “profound and dangerous.”

The piece regarding the Woolwich terror attack, which resulted in the death of soldier Lee Rigby, also urged governments to “be honest” about the problem radical deology poses.

There is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam,” he wrote. “We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.”

“At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So by and large we don’t admit it,” he added.

So long as you are very careful how you phrase this and are conscious of the fact you are far from characterising ALL Muslims, I really can’t object to what he says – in fact I agree with it, as my previous post would suggest. However, a British Muslim whose blog I respect is also worth considering here: Britain’s mosques are not a ‘swamp’.

… There is a persistent claim that the reason behind acts like Woolwich is “the ideology”, yet this ideology is the preserve of a diminishing hard core of activists and fighters and it is off-putting to many other Muslims, as is the behaviour of its adherents when they achieve power anywhere. Much the same is true of Muslim support for the Iranian regime, which burgeoned in the 1980s when it appeared to be the only régime which stood up to the USA and implemented a sort-of Islamic state. These days, they are an irrelevance, their main mouthpiece, the Muslim Parliament, having switched to a pro-western position (certainly the EU sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear weapons issue makes it more difficult for them to fund religious organisations here, but their influence had diminished long before then). The ideology (and the theology attached to it) are alien to most British Muslims, and it is quite possible that some are driven to these groups by anger at western foreign policy and join in spite of the ideology rather than because of it. It may have been the motivating factor behind major al-Qa’ida operations such as the east African embassy bombings, 9/11 and the Madrid bombings; others, including the 2005 bombings and the recent Woolwich murder, may have been motivated by anger and disaffection, something the “drain the swamp” mentality refuses to consider.

It is quite disgusting to claim that the EDL poses less of a threat in 2013 than Islamist extremism which was connected to no successful operations in the UK between July 2005 and May 2013 — and that was not a bombing or the destruction of a building, but a stabbing — while the EDL has been a menace to the public since its foundation in 2009, and while nobody has been killed as yet, it cannot be ruled out that a violent incident involving them will result in someone being killed or injured in the future….

And a footnote on Tony Blair, which had hitherto escaped my notice: How Tony Blair’s sister-in-law converted to Islam.

Finally, tangential perhaps but I think deeply relevant: A Small World After All.

At a recent conference on media reform, I found myself talking to a professional activist and technologist. He told me about some online images—customized for sharing on Facebook—that civilians in Syria had circulated to protest Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on dissent in their country. The images were both powerful and deeply moving, he told me. “It’s like we are building a giant empathy machine,” he said, referring to the Internet. The effortless sharing of memes, he explained, was a crucial step toward a more peaceful world. In fact, he went so far as to insist that the invasion of Iraq would have been impossible today, given the ubiquity of social-media platforms.

He was such a pleasant and positive fellow that I felt a bit bad raining on his parade, so I resisted the urge to point out the innumerable and very popular corners of the Internet that give full and lavish attention to empathy’s enemies—xenophobia, racism, misogyny, condescension, and bullying. Instead, having just read Rewire, Ethan Zuckerman’s patient and thoughtful rebuttal to the widespread embrace of the Internet as a facilitator of global understanding, I tried to channel the author, who doesn’t denigrate the utopian impulse that fuels grand pronouncements about the revolutionary power of social media. Rather, Zuckerman carefully demolishes such assertions for “conflat[ing] what could be with what will be.”…

Thrills from my childhood

… or early adolescence perhaps. Sometime between the ages of 10 and 13 I had a passion for the works of William Harrison Ainsworth (4 February 1805 – 3 January 1882).

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I have been rereading Windsor Castle, set at the time Henry VIII was transitioning from Catherine of Aragon to Anne Boleyn. It is pure tosh, really, with characters of pure cardboard, but is also very vivid in recreating a romantic version of the pageantry of its setting.  And then there is Herne the Hunter, who intrigued me no end when I first read the novel sometime in the mid 1950s.

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Quitting the Home Park, they shaped their course at once towards the forest. It was a stormy night, and the moon was obscured by thick clouds. Before they reached the hill, at the end of the long avenue, a heavy thunderstorm came on, and the lightning, playing among the trees, seemed to reveal a thousand fantastic forms to their half-blinded gaze. Presently the rain began to descend in torrents, and compelled them to take refuge beneath a large beech-tree.

It was evident, notwithstanding his boasting, that the courage of Shoreditch was waning fast, and he at last proposed to his leader that they should return as soon as the rain abated. But the duke indignantly rejected the proposal.

While they were thus sheltering themselves, the low winding of a horn was heard. The sound was succeeded by the trampling of horses’ hoofs, and the next moment a vivid flash of lightning showed a hart darting past, followed by a troop of some twenty ghostly horsemen, headed by the demon hunter.

The Duke of Richmond bade his companion send a shaft after them; but the latter was so overcome by terror that he could scarcely fix an arrow on the string, and when he bent the bow, the shaft glanced from the branches of an adjoining tree.

The storm continued with unabated fury for nearly an hour, at the expiration of which time it partially cleared off, and though it was still profoundly dark, the duke insisted upon going on. So they pressed forward beneath the dripping trees and through the wet grass. Ever and anon the moon broke through the rifted clouds, and shed a wild glimmer upon the scene.

As they were tracking a glade on the farther side of the hill, the spectral huntsmen again swept past them, and so closely that they could almost touch their horses. To the duke’s horror, he perceived among them the body of the butcher, Mark Fytton, sitting erect upon a powerful black steed.

By this time, Shoreditch, having somewhat regained his courage, discharged another shaft at the troop. The arrow struck the body of the butcher, and completely transfixed it, but did not check his career; while wild and derisive laughter broke from the rest of the cavalcade.

The Duke of Richmond hurried after the band, trying to keep them in sight; and Shoreditch, flinging down his bow, which he found useless, and grasping his staff, endeavoured to keep up with him. But though they ran swiftly down the glade, and tried to peer through the darkness, they could see nothing more of the ghostly company.

After a while they arrived at a hillside, at the foot of which lay the lake, whose darkling waters were just distinguishable through an opening in the trees. As the duke was debating with himself whether to go on or retrace his course, the trampling of a horse was heard behind them, and looking in the direction of the sound, they beheld Herne the Hunter, mounted on his swarthy steed and accompanied only by his two black hounds, galloping furiously down the declivity. Before him flew the owl, whooping as it sailed along the air.

The demon hunter was so close to them that they could perfectly discern his horrible lineaments, the chain depending from his neck, and his antlered helm. Richmond shouted to him, but the rider continued his headlong course towards the lake, heedless of the call.

The two beholders rushed forward, but by this time the huntsman had gained the edge of the lake. One of his sable hounds plunged into it, and the owl skimmed over its surface. Even in the hasty view which the duke caught of the flying figure, he fancied he perceived that it was attended by a fantastic shadow, whether cast by itself or arising from some supernatural cause he could not determine.

But what followed was equally marvellous and incomprehensible. As the wild huntsman reached the brink of the lake, he placed a horn to his mouth, and blew from it a bright blue flame, which illumined his own dusky and hideous features, and shed a wild and unearthly glimmer over the surrounding objects.

While enveloped in this flame, the demon plunged into the lake, and apparently descended to its abysses, for as soon as the duke could muster courage to approach its brink, nothing could be seen of him, his steed, or his hounds.

Here is a rather sexier version of Herne.

Herne the Hunter