Monday, 1 September 2014
Your blogger has been drinking too much chamomile tea
One of the most interesting aspects of blogging is the way the personal and the public interact. An aspect of this is the way events in one's personal life interact with leading news stories to prompt a blogpost.
Publicly? Well, wars and the rumours of wars -but also (and it feels extremely intense here) the impending Referendum. So lots of prompts towards thinking about the military, violence, particularity and national identities. And personally, in terms of reading at least, an odd and serendipitous mixture of Weigel's biography of St John Paul II, Maritain's The Peasant of the Garonne (slightly icky review by Michael Novak here but which does give a flavour of some of the complexities of the book) and a raft of stuff by Pierre Manent. So my thoughts, gentle reader, turn to Vatican II and modernity...
If you're an orthodox Catholic (ie one of those strange beasts who actually believes that the Church has a divinely given teaching authority which you'd better listen to) you can find yourself in that odd situation of starting to make excuses for an Ecumenical Council of the Church. Because so much rubbish entered Catholicism after Vatican II, and because so many Catholics you agree with locate the seed of those troubles in the Council, you can find yourself very easily on the defensive: explaining that this or that document isn't that bad, or that it is perfectly easy to interpret it as not changing this or that traditional teaching (provided you read the original Latin rather than the translation, or by a charitable interpretation of this parenthetical phrase...). To put this another way, it becomes easier to read the identity between the tradition of the Church and Vatican II always from left to right: it becomes second nature to try to explain away Vatican II as simply restating tradition. Nothing to see here. Move on.
The problem -particularly in revisiting St John Paul II- is you have this saint walking around and clearly under the impression that something big and wonderful had happened: not that anything had essentially changed, but that the identity had to be read from right to left: Vatican II interprets the tradition and illuminates it in perhaps unforeseen ways.
Of course, the identity is more dynamic than reading just one way or t'other: the idea of a hermeneutic of continuity brings out this mutual illumination. But unless there are some moments where Vatican II is genuinely helpful in illuminating previously hidden or obscure aspects of the Church, I can't help thinking that we are doing less than justice to the Council.
So what aspects might they be? Here are two suggestions:
1) Fraternity between Jews, Muslims and Christians (in Nostra Aetate). It is hard to read this document as forbidding anything other than fraternal respect from Christians towards these other religions. Whatever the essence of previous tradition, this truth can hardly be said to be always uppermost in the lives of earlier Catholics. It is extremely helpful (to put it at the mildest) to remember that, surrounded by heightened emotions at genuine atrocities in the Middle East, hatred of Judaism and Jews, or of Islam and Muslims, just isn't an option. (Of course, that leaves open an awful lot of detail, but it's surely helpful that this truth be taught with the full authority of an Ecumenical Council. At the least, it should steady some nerves.)
2) Religious freedom. (Primarily in Dignitatis humanae.) One thing that comes over particularly strongly in St John Paul II's writings is his emphasis on political and spiritual freedom, reflecting the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae. (This is of course one of the key areas in which those who worry about/reject Vatican II identify a difference from previous authoritative teachings.) For simple folk like myself, seeing one of the supreme sources of authority in the Church teaching this is enough. Whether or not I can articulate how this teaching is in accordance with previous teachings (Thomas Pink's attempt is widely considered as one of the most successful), or whether I simply have to say with St Robert Bellarmine 'rather that we do not understand them than that what is demonstrated is false', as Le Paysan de l'Ecosse, I can be sure that I am right to acknowledge the importance of the free pursuit of our common spiritual end, that liberty that is the essence of the 'flight of the alone to the alone'. And thus, when I see the imposition of secularizing authority opposed to both this supernatural end and the teachings of natural law, I know where I should stand.
We are living in bloody. dangerous times. (Our forefathers lived in worse, but they were stronger.) In the end, the only weapons that will work will be truth, goodness and beauty -and a trust in Christ and the Church. That may not save us from suffering and death, but a martyrdom for the Prince of Peace is not the worst fate that may befall us:
Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.
[Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Friday, 29 August 2014
One of the great things about being conservative is that you're allowed to be stupid: indeed, it's positively a vocation. One resists grand narratives of decline and fall and the cheap theories of bearded Germans, and one sticks to more local verities. In particular, one assumes that evil and criminality are abiding features of the world, and primarily one doesn't worry too much about that except to arrest criminals when you find them and lock them up.
Of course, being a highly complicated and interesting chap myself, I don't mind slumming it with a little Hegel or even Marx now and then. But it's strictly a hobby, you understand. Mostly, I just want the criminal justice system to get on with protecting the virtuous and harmless against the vicious and harmful, and not worry too much about the grand sociology that underlies it all. (To put a Catholic spin on all that, we should be suspicious of theories that attempt to pin down the mystery of evil and explain it away as a factor of society or culture: evil is fundamentally a matter of intelligent agency and traditional Western law recognized that.)
So when one comes to the Rotherham rape gangs, I see it primarily as a police and criminal law issue. Bad men did bad things and got away with it for far too long: there seems little merit in worrying about deeper theoretical issues such as the putative link between patriarchy in Islam and child abuse. Most of the things that went wrong seem to be fairly straightforward failures in policing or control of children (particularly by the council operating in loco parentis) (all para references to the report here):
One parent, who agreed to her child being placed in a residential unit in order to protect her, wrote to children’s social care expressing her fears for her daughter’s safety. She described her despair that instead of being protected, her child was being exposed to even worse abuse than when she was at home:
“My child (age 13) may appear to be a mature child, yet some of her actions and the risks to which she constantly puts herself are those of a very immature and naïve person. She constantly stays out all night getting drunk, mixing with older mature adults, and refuses to be bound by any rules.” (5.11)
Or the case of criminal gangs being allowed to intimidate without police response:
Within just a few months, Child B and her family were living in fear of their lives. The windows in their house were put in. She and her family received threats that she would be forced into prostitution. (5.22)
most of the men in South Yorkshire who were involved in the sexual exploitation of young people for the purposes of prostitution were also believed to be involved in drug dealing. They might also be involved in rape, violence, gun crime, robbery and other serious criminal offences; (10.22 (a))
If one looks more widely than the Rotherham problem, we see here recurrent social issues: the difficulty in exercising adult control over teenage behaviour; the difficult of the police in exercising effective responses to criminal gangs.
It is clear that one area that police action failed miserably was in the control of taxi drivers:
One of the common threads running through child sexual exploitation across England has been the prominent role of taxi drivers in being directly linked to children who were abused. This was the case in Rotherham from a very early stage, when residential care home heads met in the nineties to share intelligence about taxis and other cars which picked up girls from outside their units. In the early 2000s some secondary school heads were reporting girls being picked up at lunchtime at the school gates and being taken away to provide oral sex to men in the lunch break. (8.16)
The paragraphs following this makes absolutely clear that, whether as a result of poor regulations or poor application of those regulations, taxi drivers became a key way in which girls were brought into abuse or kept in it. I've no doubt that most drivers are probably Pakistani (as has been widely claimed in the press): it's also completely clear that effective action in this area is not dependent on identifying ethnicity or religion.
Against the narrative of brutal Paki males abusing second class women, the report continually emphasises the unfinished business of the investigation of homosexual abuse:
Generally, there has been relatively low reporting of sexual exploitation of young males, with the exception of the police operation and a criminal conviction in 2007 of an offender who abused over 80 boys and young men. Over the years, this was identified at inter-agency meetings and in CSE plans as an issue that required attention in Rotherham. That continues to be the case today. (4.16)
Or the (continued) underassessment of abuse of Pakistani women:
The Deputy Children's Commissioner’s report reached a similar conclusion to the Muslim Women's Network research, stating 'one of these myths was that only white girls are victims of sexual exploitation by Asian or Muslim males, as if these men only abuse outside of their own community, driven by hatred and contempt for white females. This belief flies in the face of evidence that shows that those who violate children are most likely to target those who are closest to them and most easily accessible.' The Home Affairs Select Committee quoted witnesses saying that cases of Asian men grooming Asian girls did not come to light because victims 'are often alienated and ostracised by their own families and by the whole community, if they go public with allegations of abuse.' (11.16)
What to make of all this? First, that race isn't the most immediate issue here. (And, by covering up abuse of Muslim/Asian girls and boys rather than girls, the narrative of Muslim patriarchal violence against women is likely to be positively harmful.) Far more important are (eg) issues such as listening to women (and boys), following up evidence. These are pretty clear lessons that have come out again and again in the various permutations of the child abuse scandals that have come up over the years, and some are merely straightforward issues of traditional good police practice. Secondly, it's not surprising that child sexual abuse is so difficult to deal with. Here, you are dealing with rape (never easy to prosecute), child witnesses (again, not easy to deal with in adversarial criminal system), and often issues of mental health and drug use (leading to obvious difficulties in credibility). That's not a complete excuse for failure, but it is an explanation of how failure took this particular shape (and why it's likely to be resistant to solution).
The overwhelming impression in reading the report is less one of a cover up of Muslim/Asian complicity, and just of the sheer hell that awaits those who fall out of protective social structures: basically, you'll be written off as vermin by those of us who are all right, and left to the mercies of the more violent among your fellow Lumpenproletariat. If race is an issue at all, it's because it made some officials tread carefully (hardly surprising if regrettable) and because it just seems to be a fact that the vast majority of abusers in this particular episode were Muslims of Pakistani origin. I'm not sure why this matters so much. Criminality often has some sort of cultural dimension. (Why was America dominated by Italian gangsters such as the Mafia?) Doubtless, there's some interesting sociology to be done here. But in the meantime, such speculations seem entirely irrelevant to struggling with identifying and successfully prosecuting crime.
So I disagree profoundly with (eg) Melanie McDonagh:
But, as the report on abuse in Rotherham makes embarrassingly clear, the ethnic character of the predation was the reason why the initial police report was simply stuffed under the sofa (and in passing, this oversight shouldn’t be investigated by the same force that perpetrated it).
I've read the report a few times now and -allowing for having missed something in its 159 pages- I don't see anything of the sort made 'embarrassingly clear'. (If someone wants to point out the relevant paragraphs, I'd be grateful.) Certainly, the ethnic character of the predation was played down (and should it have been played up? difficult to get the balance right) but the real problems seem to be elsewhere. She goes on:
When the issue was abuse in the Catholic Church, the church underwent prolonged soul searching about the background of individuals accepted for the priesthood and about the requirement for priestly celibacy (though the issue was power, not celibacy). In England, the church commissioned the Nolan report on child protection, which was a model of its kind.
When it came to the abuse of minors by celebs like Jimmy Savile, we examined our collective conscience about the cult of celebrity and the immunity it seemed to convey to those in that bubble; we’re still agonising about it.
I'm not convinced by either of these. To take celebrity culture, how's that 'agonising' going? (Have the Kardashians disappeared? Have pop musicians disappeared into the anonymity of mediaeval craftsmen?) On the Catholic Church, the main advance has not been so much a conclusive analysis of the causes of the abuse (what would that look like? Instead you have the sort of 'combox punditry' convinced that it's all the fault of celibacy, analogous to that attributing all fault to macho Islam) so much as the systems needed to prevent it: the sort of dumb, conservative 'how to catch them and lock them up' sort of response I'd suggest.
Monday, 25 August 2014
I'm surprised no one (or at least no one I've come across) has yet said it, but let me be the first: Enoch was right.
Having said it, let me add that I don't mean it: I actually think he was profoundly wrong. But it's probably worth saying it out loud, because large numbers of commentators are muttering things about Islam that are very hard to understand in any way other than words disguising the thought too terrible to utter explicitly: that Enoch Powell was right in warning about the dangers of immigration, particularly Muslim, and we must now do something to prevent the rivers of blood he predicted -if indeed there is still time. And now that line of argument has been brought into the air, let's dispose of it.
There's an argument to be had about immigration whether past or future. But let's put that aside. Even if you closed the gates tomorrow, there are going to be many people within this country of the Muslim religion (2.7 millions) most of whom will be British citizens born and raised here. (And if any one is wondering why I'm focusing exclusively on Islam just now -please don't be silly.)
Now, these are people with human and legal rights and, just more generally, a right to respect as persons. (This really ought to be bread and butter stuff for Catholics. Anyone else can just accept it as a statement of my starting point.) So there can be no question of 'sending them back where they came from' or making them disappear in some unexplained way, and that means there are going to be large numbers of Muslims in the UK for ever. So whatever doing something about Islam might mean, it can't mean getting rid of Muslims. (I think we ought to be profoundly shocked by the very idea, but there is wild talk out there.)
So presumably it means changing them in some way. Multi-culturalism is its loony sixties best was founded on the thought that, deep down, we all agree, and that having different religions is merely a matter of exchanging samosas for Scotch pies: cultures were all beautiful and all mutually fertilizing. Any 'odd' traditional practices like sexism would disappear under the benign influence of the Western sun, and we'd just be left with all the nice, entertaining colourful differences. As such, multic-culturalism was really a variety of the secularisation thesis: that modernity would lead inevitably to a reduction in religion. Either way, any unfortunate aspects of other cultures or religions would be smoothed away over the generations in the West.
Well, no. And because that doesn't seem to have happened naturally, we now need (so the story goes) to do something about it, by, for example, getting them to adopt wiser, British values. The problem with this is twofold. First, there is the question of practicality. If we have abandoned the secularization thesis that modernity will do its work without any help, there are very few plausible mechanisms for enforcing religious change. If we knew how to mould people religiously, believe me, the Vatican would be far more successful in retaining Catholic children in the Church. To take a specific example which I have spent a great deal of time blogging on, the attempt to clamp down on the influence of parents in the 'Trojan Horse' schools a) cannot have any relevance to current radicalized adults since the supposed Islamicization of the schools has only taken place in the last few years; and b) is just as likely in my view to promote further radicalization by alienating (conservative but peaceful) Muslims from the education system and the state. Secondly, there is the question of what values we mean them to adopt. Do they have to be sexually licentious for example? Must they drink? Are they allowed to accept traditional understandings of Islamic punishments, or do they have to adopt some sort of liberal Protestant figurative interpretations? (And if the later, by what mechanism do we get current Muslim authorities to teach these revisions?)
Again, much muttering and very few explicit statements in this area, but there does seem to be widespread view that Islam as an intellectual/cultural system is inevitably prone to producing offshoots such as ISIS: in Gove's words, we need to 'drain the swamp'. But people are not mud: what is a mechanical action in drainage, becomes that chimerical goal of a sure way to change people's minds: we cannot (should not) stop people from being Muslims and we cannot (should not) stop the values of that religion from challenging certain 'British' values. Moreover, we cannot control the shape of Islam: it has its own history, its own depths which go beyond the control of governments or schools.
But we must do something. Surely? Well, it's worth considering the possibility that we should do absolutely nothing or at least very little. Part of the problem here are emotional associations between different problems. There is undoubtedly a geo-political/foreign policy problem with ISIS. There is undoubtedly a moral problem with regard to the fates of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. There is undoubtedly a problem in Gaza and Israel. (And so on.) Some of these can be helped. Some possibly cannot. But I put those foreign aspects aside. There is no direct link between these and the 'problem' of Islam at home.
So what is the 'problem' of Islam at home? That a few hundred youths have gone off to fight? Not new and, whilst regrettable, of no real effect on the Middle East. (By all means use military force and the criminal law to punish the guilty and preserve the innocent -but here, either we are in the area of the marginal (how to treat a few criminals) or the area of foreign policy again.) That the fighters may come home as terrorists? A real issue, but one that can only be dealt with by police measures or personal engagement with the returners. (And even if, per impossibile, we could ensure that no British youths fought for ISIS, this wouldn't remove the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism hitting our shores.) I think these are genuine problems but are of the sort that can only be dealt with as part of an ongoing security awareness in a dangerous world: the main driver for a terrorist threat against the UK is the unstable state of the Middle East, and the solutions there are extremely unclear. There is a general historical lesson here that each generation needs to remember: most people don't think like you and some will try to kill you.
Back to 'draining the swamp'. Part of the inchoate, vague sense of 'something must be done' is that Islam represents a threat to 'British' values, not so much through violence, as through its very presence. I think the main response to this is agreement: of course it does. That's what democracy means. If large numbers of people think a current aspect of British life is wrong, it is, ceteris paribus, liable to be changed in a democracy. There is absolutely no guarantee that, in one hundred years, our country will be dominated by the same values it has now. If you think that, despite the comparative smallness of the Muslim vote and cultural weight, it might in future be able to exert more influence, then, unless you are willing to do something about Muslims, you are going to have to accept that possibility.
To dig down into the range of issues a little more here, if British values are just the preservation of a snap shot of British culture now, then they are clearly not going to be preserved: the snapshot will change. If it means preserving a subset of 'key' values, then much depends on what those key values are. Roughly, we might distinguish between the political liberal values (say, representative democracy, an independent judiciary and the rule of law, freedom of speech etc etc); and the ethical, substantive values of attitudes to sex, family, religion, art etc etc. I don't see any particular reason why the first class couldn't be preserved simply on the grounds of effectiveness: almost any society works better with such structures. But there is certainly no way that a society with a greater traditional Islamic influence upon it would have the same attitude to the ethical issues I've mentioned. And of course it's precisely those issues that many moderns are obsessed about: if you are a feminist, for example, the structure and ethos of the family is not so much just one more item up for negotiation over the years as the very heart of political life. And it's precisely these 'non-negotiable' issues that are most likely to be negotiated in a society with a lively Islamic contribution.
As a Catholic, I have no doubt that society would be better run with a Catholic view on those ethical, substantive issues. But equally, I accept that I can only do my best to persuade others and utilize my rights to preserve what I can of the best life within my own private sphere: I cannot (indeed have not been able to) stop others, unpersuaded of my views, making use of the political values to support their (wrong, I believe) view of the ethical values. Equally, in the future, there is nothing that I (or they) can do to guarantee that Muslims will not influence ethical values in ways that the currently victorious progressives will dislike. If they (and I) want to do anything about preserving what the correct ethical, substantive values are, then we need to fight the culture wars (or, more pacifically, defend our view of the correct nature of human flourishing and seek to persuade (not compel) others). The outcome of that dialogue is indeed not certain.
Back to Enoch. He was right, I suppose, to see a threat to British values from immigrant communities: to substantive ethical British values rather than political ones (to use that rough and ready distinction). Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is almost irrelevant: it is simply a fact that is not going to change. (I can't resist pointing out, however, that the major change in (destruction of) ethical British values from those (say) of the fifties to those of 2014 has been nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with Powell's cronies in the existing educational, political and artistic (native) elites.) I see every reason to be optimistic that the political values can survive over the future. Or, to be more precise, I see rather less threat from Islam in this direction than I do from progressives who wish to impose their views of human flourishing on everyone at the expense of freedoms of speech and family life.
To finish, let me put all this from a more positive direction. I think a Britain (or Scotland etc) with a politically active Islamic population challenging the ethics and aesthetics of our current society within the peaceful political values I've sketched above would be a better place than it is now or was with Enoch. Not only would Muslim youths find themselves with a better struggle in which to channel their young energy, but the critical edge provided by such a critique would mean that Britain might arrest some of the cultural decline that was presided over by a predominantly white, male and aboriginal elite.