Rage Boy And The Daily Hate  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

If you think I'm overly critical at times then check out this restaurant review in The Guardian - this guy sure has a sharp tongue !

A little over a century ago my Jewish forebears fled that part of Eastern Europe then known as the Pale of Settlement. Having eaten at Divo, described as London's first luxury Ukrainian restaurant, I now know why. It was to escape the cooking. There are many words I could use to describe the food served here, but this is a family newspaper and none of them should be available before the watershed. I can't deny my disappointment because the remaining candidates - awful, calamitous, the horror, the horror - don't quite do it justice without the visceral attack of the expletive. ...

Top of the list is the Cossack Pork Sausage. Any comedic value obtained from the innuendo in that name was completely trounced by the appearance of the dish itself. The lengths of gnarled, under-seasoned gristly sausage arrived atop a lattice covering a ceramic bowl, which held a reservoir of burning liquor. Heaped on the sausage were crisp onion rings, which were immediately ignited by the flames from below. 'Now you blow it out,' the waitress said, her anxiety rising with the plumes of smoke. 'Now, please! Now!' This was the Red Army's scorched-earth policy realised in food. My companion Amanda is a game girl. Not only did she blow out the flames, she even tasted the food. Now she knows what carbonised onions taste like. They taste like charcoal. ...

Apparently Divo is Ukrainian for 'amazing', a name I cannot argue with. It is amazing that anybody thought a restaurant like this would be a good idea, amazing that they invested a reputed £2 million in the conversion, amazing that the result is so staggeringly, comically, bowel-twistingly poor. As we left, I was overcome by a strong feeling of gratitude, and not merely because the meal was over, but to my great-grandfather, Josef Boruchowicz. He was the one who had the gumption to escape the region of Eastern Europe which has supplied Divo's inspiration.

He saved me from having to eat this stuff every day. Thank you Josef. I owe you.

Its not just Ukrainian restaurants that horrify The Guardian's staff - UK tabloid "The Daily Mail" is also at the end of some harsh criticisms.
And then came the next trial: actually buying the newspaper. As I entered my newsagent's on the first morning, my mouth struggled to form the words, "Daily Mail, please." It was as embarrassing as asking for haemorrhoid cream, and I realised how loaded your choice of newspaper is. If the Mail were a car, it would be a 4x4.

What surprised me, as I read the Mail on the first day, was how completely it lived up to its reputation. "Romanian crime gangs" roamed its pages, as did the criminals that a soft-hearted justice minister refused to lock up. By page five, the Black Death had erupted - a direct result of fortnightly bin collections, and further fuel to the fire of the "Great Dustbin Revolt" - and millions of children were malnourished because of junk food. It's not so much the stories themselves, but the apocalyptic terms in which they're cast. After a report on the numbers of children who care for disabled parents made Britain sound like a nation of Little Nells, Amanda Platell duly spoke of the "Dickensian child slaves" that shame Britain.

As the days and weeks went on, I started to feel that the world was a seriously menacing place. It wasn't just bubonic plague and mass malnutrition; danger was to be found in everyday household objects. "Found side-by-side, the couple executed by their mower," ran one ghastly headline. iPods stop your pacemaker working. Supermarket basil contains salmonella. Garden hoses induce Parkinson's disease. Even the Mail is bad for you - or that's what we must conclude from the report that "when you feel the world's against you it isn't just your happiness that suffers. You are in greater danger of a heart attack, a study suggests." (There are lots of studies in the Mail.)

And then there's the pervasive sense of an oppressive Them - "Paranoid? No, they really are out to get you," read yet another Littlejohn column denouncing speed cameras - which occasionally rises to a full-blown persecution complex. "As churches empty, and anti-God books sell by thousands, we try to replace conscience with CCTV cameras," wrote the perennially gloomy Peter Hitchens. The Big Brother state - from microchips in wheelie bins to a "spy planes in the sky" - is a constant Mail refrain. "The secret plan to turn us all veggie" turned out to be an email sent by a Defra official to a lobbying group acknowledging the environmental virtues of veganism.

In one episode of Extras, there is a spoof Mail headline: "Asylum Seekers Are Eating Our Pets". In the real Mail - during the time I was reading it - the "Town Hit By Invasion of Romanian Orphans" came close on the migrants front. But it was in the story about English horses being plucked from their paddocks and served up in Paris restaurants - with its classic mix of animal sentimentality, horror of foreign eating habits, and continental-bashing - that life most closely imitated art.

"The ideal Daily Mail story," a former Mail journalist told me, "should leave you hating someone or something" - this, at least, was the advice he was given by his sub-editor at the time. As a mission statement, it shows remarkable consistency. The Mail's founder, Lord Northcliffe, is said to have ascribed the paper's success to the fact that it provided its readers with a "daily hate", and critics have long acknowledge this to be the case. "Democracy knows you as the poisoner of the streams of human intercourse, the fomenter of war, the preacher of hate, the unscrupulous enemy of a peaceful human society," wrote the author of A Letter to Lord Northcliffe in 1914, adding for good measure that he was "the most sinister influence that ever corrupted the soul of English journalism".

Then there was the infamous rallying cry for the British Union of Fascists, headlined "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" and penned by Lord Rothermere himself, which cemented the impression that the Mail's politics are fundamentally nasty. Certainly, it casts the paper's current stance on migrants in a lurid light.

But is the Mail actually bad for you? In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock called on nutritionists, dieticians and assorted doctors to chart the physical effects of eating nothing but McDonalds for a month. My own means of gauging the effects of a Daily Mail diet were more subjective. Once, when a helicopter flew overhead, I reflexively thought "surveillance society". But it wasn't so much specific issues, as a general shrinking of horizons. The Mail has almost no foreign news - sometimes not even one story from the rest of the world - and my own interest waned correspondingly.

Most striking of all, a few days before the end of the experiment I realised that I had stopped worrying about global warming. For the Mail, it barely exists an issue - and certainly not as something to frighten us with - and this, surely, is the secret of the paper's success. Phantom menaces are given prominence over real ones. The anger it stirs requires no action, no moral or intellectual effort, but simply confirms existing prejudices. By painting the world as a dystopia, we cling to our own cosy certainties.

Recently, an Ipsos Mori poll looked at the issues that concern Britons most, and crime, the NHS and immigration all ranked above climate change. It may or may not be a coincidence that, in the 28 days that I read the Mail, there were 12 stories about the justice system collapsing, 22 about chaos and disaster in the NHS, and 25 about migrants - not one of them positive. Just three mentioned global warming.

The chicken, or the egg? Dacre would cite this as proof that his newspaper's priorities are spot-on. After a month reading the Mail, I'm not so sure.

While I'm not a reader of the Mail myself, every now and then i come across some borderline conspiracy theory tale from them which will have some snippets that are interesting - and the big brother / police state stuff always appeals to my libertarian streak.

I also noticed this article high up on the Reddit rankings recently - "The surprising truth about Rage Boy, America's hated poster-boy of Islamic radicalism" - which turned out to be a surprisingly sympathetic tale about a Islamic radical in India, who is famous for his bug-eyed outbursts of rage during demonstrations. It does, unsurprisingly, swing across to immigrant bashing at the end - but how many Mail readers make it that far ?
Don't you hate Islamic Rage Boy ? 'MoBlows', writing on the Jihad Watch website, certainly does. "I just want to put my fist down his throat," he says. The 'boy' in question rose to prominence earlier this year when he was photographed at a demonstration in Srinagar, capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Later, he was spotted waving his fist at another camera during a protest against the awarding of a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie. With his straggly beard and big shouting mouth, Rage Boy certainly looks like a threat.

His scary face now appears on boxer shorts and bumper stickers, and he scores more than a million results on Google. A regular spoof diary appears online in his name and he has come to stand for all that is most frightening about radical Islam. But who is the real person behind the cartoon and what does he believe in? I travelled to Kashmir in search of the poster-boy of fundamentalism. ...

Arriving at a simple, traditional three-storey Kashmiri house, I was taken up steep wooden steps by the light of a gas lamp to the top of the building. There, standing in an empty room, dressed in a salwar kameez and zip-up cardigan, with crooked teeth and a quizzical look on his face, was Islamic Rage Boy.

Shakeel Ahmad Bhat is a 29-year-old failed militant. Over two days, sitting cross-legged at the home he shares with his mother and smiling shyly much of the time, Shakeel told me, through an interpreter, his life story and why he had come to wave his fists at the cameras.

His story was not what I had expected and showed the personal torment of life in a society that has gone wrong. Although it is hard to prove the authenticity of his story, given my knowledge of Kashmiri political history over the past 20 years, everything he told me sounded plausible: after all, what reason would he have to lie?

Shakeel's religious family followed the Sufi tradition, a mystical and tolerant form of Islam that is common in Kashmir. His father would often take him to mosques and taught him two lessons: do not be greedy and help Islam to spread by peaceful means.

Shakeel did not like school and he had difficulty learning to read and write. His teacher thrashed him with a stick but it did not improve his studies. Aged ten, he refused to go to class and stayed at home with his family.

At this time, in response to rigged elections, Pakistani-backed terrorist activity against Indian rule in Kashmir was beginning. The Indian government's reaction was brutal. While searching for militants, police raided Shakeel's home and threw his 18-year-old sister Shareefa out of an upstairs window. She broke her spine and died from her injuries four years later.

In the early Nineties, thousands of young Kashmiris streamed over the border to Pakistan to take up arms against India. Shakeel, just 13, decided to join them. He was so small he had to be carried on an older boy's shoulders when he went up to the mountains.

In Muzaffarabad he was taken to a snow-covered training camp run by the Pakistani army in conjunction with the militant group Al-Umar Mujahideen. Armed with an AK-47, he returned to Srinagar hoping to drive out the Indian army. "I thought Kashmir should have the right to self-determination," he told me.

Shakeel was not a very good militant. When I asked him how many people he had killed, he looked embarrassed. "I gave scares but I never killed anyone," he said. "I couldn't. I never hurled a grenade in a public place." His greatest achievement was opening fire on the cavalcade of a visiting Indian government minister. Even when his team caught a police informant, Shakeel called for him to be set free. "I thought I would set an example. Forgiveness is better than killing."

In 1994, when he was 16, he was arrested and taken to a military barracks. Of the 20 boys and young men who had crossed the border to Pakistan with him, only eight were still alive. Shakeel was tortured. He was stripped, doused with water and given electric shocks. A nail was pushed through his jaw (he showed me the scar). His head was immersed in water.

When he was released, he remained under police surveillance. An injury to his right arm as a result of the torture had left him unable to lift anything and he has relied on his brothers to support him since then. Shakeel is still unemployed and says he feels as if he is 110 years old.

Not long after his release, the paramilitary Special Task Force came to the house to look for Shakeel but he was not there. They beat his 75-year-old father instead, leaving him with a broken leg; he spent the rest of his life bedridden.

While we were talking, one of Shakeel's brothers brought in a pot of sweet tea and a plate of cakes. Since there was no furniture in the room, he spread out a plastic tablecloth on the floor and served me tea. It was evening by now, and the Kashmiri night was going to be cold. The brother brought in a rug and spread it over my legs.

Shakeel's understanding of the world is limited by his inability to read or write. He likes going to demonstrations and has an ambition to start a political party. "But not to be the puppet of Pakistan or India," he insisted.

He sometimes watches Al Jazeera English on television and although he cannot comprehend much of what is said, he told me he can work out what is going on from the images on screen and from what his brothers have told him.

If something upsets him, he organises a demonstration. He seems to be quite an idealist. He has demonstrated against the Pope's comments about Islam, against the sexual exploitation of Kashmiri girls, against police violence and 'encounter' killings and against the honouring of Rushdie. Why did he object to Rushdie being knighted? "He has a reputation for Muslim-bashing," he said solemnly. "Why is the London government encouraging someone who does these things?"

To my surprise, Shakeel seemed to have no time for Bin Laden, although he does not believe he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. ...

Moving back to the subject of fascism that the history of the Mail looked at, Energy Bulletin has an article by ArchDruid John Michael Greer on "Fascism, feudalism, and the future". I liked the way he points out something Jeff Wells finally realised a little while back - a lot of the conspiracy theories the far left has taken on in recent years have rather a lot in common with those that the far right used to go on about (once you swap a few villains in and out, though sometimes they are pretty much the same ones).
One of the things that I can’t help noticing, as someone who listens for narratives in the ways people talk about the future, is the way that certain motifs reappear over and over again in discussions surrounding peak oil and the future of industrial society. These are distinct from the great mythic stories that shape so many accounts of the future – the myth of salvation through technological progress, for example, or its usual debating partner, the myth of redemption from an evil society through apocalypse. The motifs I’m speaking of here are more self-contained and more flexible, and pop up in most visions of the future in circulation these days.

One classic example is the image of mindless, marauding hordes spilling out of the dying cities and ravaging everything in their path. This one has been a recurring cultural nightmare in the western world for a couple of centuries now, since the cities of the industrial world disconnected themselves socially from their agricultural hinterlands and began filling up with immigrant populations. Read such classic fictional treatments of the theme as Newton Thornburg’s Valhalla (1980) and it’s clear that on this side of the Atlantic, at least, it roots into the enduring emotional legacy of American racism, the terror of the dark Other on which the shadow of white America’s unacknowledged desires has long been projected.

You can look through history books in vain for examples of urban populations invading the countryside en masse in the twilight years of civilizations, but the motif remains stuck firmly in place. The inhabitants of Willits, one of the few American towns that have taken the imminence of peak oil seriously, have apparently laid plans to blow up highway bridges leading into town from the south, to keep those imaginary mobs at bay. Willits is in liberal northern California, but it’s embraced the same fantasy that leads survivalists on the opposite end of the political spectrum to indulge in wet dreams about automatic weapons blazing away at marauding hordes.

The motif I want to talk about in this week’s post has equally complex roots, and bridges the narrowing gap between the far left and the far right in a similar way. This is the belief that the American political class – those rich and influential people whose unity, power, and malevolence are articles of faith across the farther shores of American politics – are plotting to impose an authoritarian regime combining feudalism and fascism in the wake of peak oil. Like the belief in rampaging urban hordes, the imminence of this “feudal-fascist” takeover can be found in peak oil literature from every point along the political spectrum.

The words “feudalism” and “fascism” appear so often and are used so loosely in this context that it’s worth remembering that they actually do have exact meanings. Feudalism is a specific form of social organization that springs up in the aftermath of sociopolitical collapse. When central government disintegrates, money economies implode, and pervasive violence is everywhere, one of the few effective responses is a radical decentralization of power that hands control over small regions to magnates who can raise a corps of professional warriors, feed and support it with local agricultural produce, and defend their fiefs against all comers.

A feudal society is a legal hierarchy of decentralized force. In feudalism, the place of every human being from monarch to serf is measured precisely by that person’s ability to wield violence, and is matched by an elaborate hierarchy of rights and responsibilities. It bears remembering that the Magna Carta, the foundation of Anglo-American constitutional law, is a quintessentially feudal document; under feudalism, serfs had rights that at least in theory, kings could not arbitrarily set aside, though those rights were doubtless honored about as often as the rights of the poor in industrial societies today. Harsh and by modern standards unjust, feudal systems nonetheless flourish in desperate times because they offer an effective bulwark against violence and chaos, and provide each person some measure of security under the rule of law.

Fascism, even in the broadest sense of the term, is a far more culturally specific phenomenon that sprang up in Europe and Latin America in the aftermath of the First World War and faded out, where it had not been forcibly blotted out, after the Second. Allied wartime propaganda from the 1940s still has most people thinking of the metastatic nightmare of Nazi Germany as the archetype of fascism, but the mainstream of the fascist movement came out of Italy, where Benito Mussolini launched it with with his seizure of power in 1922. In Italy as elsewhere, fascism was a radically centralized socialist-capitalist hybrid that opposed communism while borrowing many of the Soviet regime’s own features.

In fascist societies, property remained in private hands, but capitalist competition was replaced by government coordination, and wages and prices were set by edict; labor unions existed, but workers were forbidden to strike and disputes were arbitrated by government tribunals. Public officials were appointed by the party leadership rather than being elected by the people, as in democracy, or inheriting their positions, as in feudalism. The rule of law was explicitly abandoned in favor of the “will of the nation,” which in practice meant the will of the party leadership. Fascist political philosophy explicitly argued that there should be as few levels as possible in the chain of command between the leader and the individual citizen, and the result was unfree but distinctly egalitarian – that is, everyone outside the top leadership of the party had the same lack of rights as everyone else.

Compare fascism to feudalism and massive differences outweigh the few similarities: a radically centralized society versus a radically decentralized one, a complete lack of individual rights versus an elaborately detailed code of rights for each person, the unchecked will of the leader versus the formal rule of law, and the list goes on. In the modern world, certainly, the two have also appealed to different social classes – fascism to the lower middle classes and skilled laborers, feudalism to the old aristocracy. It’s not an accident that the most sustained opposition to Hitler’s regime in Germany came from the Prussian aristocracy; the famous bomb plot that nearly vaporized the F├╝hrer and ended the war most of a year in advance was planned and executed by as blue-blooded a conspiracy as any in history.

So what on earth would a feudal-fascist regime be? A radically decentralized centralized state with an egalitarian hierarchy that both had and lacked individual rights and the rule of law? Clearly the words “fascism” and “feudalism” are not being here used to mean what they actually mean. Rather, they are what S.I. Hayakawa used to call “snarl words:” terms of abuse invoked because they evoke a predictable emotional response.

Behind this lies the ugliest of the left’s bad habits, its habit of demonizing those who disagree with its political stances. It’s not enough, for example, to argue that the political hacks and free market ideologues who make up the current US administration have pursued bad policies with astonishing ineptitude and more than the usual dollop of corruption, as indeed they have; for many people on the left today, the dismal performance of the Bush administration has to be forced into the Procrustean bed of a conspiracy theory in which every bumbling misadventure becomes a step in a sinister plan deliberately aimed at creating a dystopian society.

Now it’s only fair to point out that today’s left borrowed this habit from yesterday’s far right. The dubious claims of concentration camps under construction now being circulated by the left have their exact parallels in the equally dubious rumors about black helicopters and uniformed UN troops on America’s highways in the aftermath of Clinton’s 1992 electoral victory. More generally, it’s remarkable to see how much of today’s left-wing thinking has its roots in the ideas of the extreme right a half century ago. Trace back the rhetoric today’s radicals use to denounce the Council on Foreign Relations and multinational corporations to its source, and you’ll find an unlikely godparent: Robert Welch, founder and chief ideologue of the John Birch Society, who made all the same accusations in the 1950s under the banner of extreme conservatism.

It needs to be recognized that any time somebody starts insisting that the political party they happen not to like is a fair imitation of evil incarnate, what’s going on has little to do with the sort of dispassionate analysis that might actually give us a sense of the shape the future holds. Like the motif of marauding urban hordes, I’ve come to think, the mythology of an evil elite plotting world enslavement is the projection of the shadow of unacknowledged desires – in this case, the desire for power over others. It’s a normal human desire; the political systems of most stable countries have checks and balances to contain it and channel it in useful directions; but the ideology of the contemporary left, like that of the extreme anticommunist right in America half a century ago, denies it any place at all. A scapegoat thus has to be found to bear the onus of unacknowledged desire. To Robert Welch, that scapegoat was international communism; for the contemporary left, it’s George W. Bush.

Even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, mind you, and the fact that much of today’s radical rhetoric was invented by a man who believed Barry Goldwater was a communist sympathizer does not necessarily disprove it. A feudal-fascist society may be every bit as possible as a square circle, but fascism and feudalism – as social systems rather than snarl words – may well end up playing roles in the complex historical tapestry of industrial society’s decline and fall. Most modern industrial societies had already adopted fascist habits of government economic coordination and leadership by charisma rather than law by the time Mussolini’s corpse was laid to rest, and the temptation to push things further in the same direction in a time of emergency is always present. ...

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