- Published on Thursday, 14 January 2016 08:00
Are you an "extremist"? Of course not; you wouldn't hurt a fly. But are you a "non-violent extremist"?
"What's one of those?" I hear you cry. Well, quite possibly, it's YOU.
The UK Government plans to introduce sweeping new powers called "Extremism Disruption Orders" and "Extremism Banning Orders" to combat individuals and organisations it deems to be "extreme". Who are "extremists"? Well, terrorists, of course. But what about political activists? Religious groups? Anti-religious groups? Trade unionists? Environmental campaigners? Are they "extremists" too? Well, they could be under the Government’s vague proposals: plans that are so opaque, poorly defined and broad in scope that they risk shutting down all kinds of legitimate speech in the UK.
Hello everybody, Julian Charles here of TheMindRenewed.com, coming to you, as usual, from the depths of the Lancashire countryside here in the UK. And as that bracing rendition (from 1914) of the patriotic rouser, Rule Britannia! Britannia Waives the Rules fades into the background, welcome to TMR 122: “Don't Let David Cameron Turn You Into an Extremist”.
Now, last time I said that this time―as it has recently been the UK Conservative government's Jingoism Conference in Manchester, which thankfully finished last week―I said I wanted to talk about the government's proposals for so-called “Extremism Disruption Orders”. (Now, I could add to that “Extremism Banning Orders”, but since they're essentially the same kind of thing aimed at groups instead of individuals, I'll take those as read.)
And part of me is tempted, throughout the podcast, to use this prosaic Orwellian phrase, “Extremism Disruption Order”, over and over as a constant reminder of just how comfortably it would sit on the pages of 1984, or Animal Farm, but I think if I constantly said “Extremism Disruption Order” it might get a bit tedious. So, instead of saying “Extremism Disruption Order” all the time, I'll substitute for “Extremism Disruption Order” the acronym “EDO”, which will serve fairly well in place of “Extremism Disruption Order”, so long as you keep in mind that EDO does in fact mean “Extremism Disruption Order”.
What Is an EDO?
So what is an EDO? Well, if you're fortunate enough never to have heard of one (and I'm sorry to change that for you now), it's intended to be a court order that can be slapped on people to silence them.
“Silence whom?”, I hear you ask.
“Non-violent extremists”, says the government.
“And who are they?”, I also hear you ask.
Well, those who exhibit what the government describes as:
“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” [external PDF]
So, let me just say that again. An EDO could be applied to people who engage in:
“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
Now, just a word on “British Values”. I loathe that phrase―it's horrible―but I love my country. In fact, I didn't realise how much I love my country until I went on a three-week holiday to Canada once. (Sorry, James Corbett, if you're listening, and my other Canadian friends out there.) It's nothing to do with Canada―in fact, I seriously considered staying in Canada, it's so beautiful (and the housing was cheaper)―but I just felt homesick for old Blighty. So, yes, I love this country, with its red pillar boxes, cream teas, Gilbert & Sullivan (you can't get more British than Gilbert & Sullivan, even though the music's 90% German). And I even love wonderfully stupid things like Black Rod striking the door to the House of Commons three times with a stick after having it slammed in his face during the State Opening of Parliament. Or the stuffed skeleton of Jeremy Bentham being wheeled, on special occasions, into meetings of UCL's College Council and minuted as “present but not voting”. Completely Daft. But I wouldn't be without these things. It's all quintessentially British.
So I love Britain, but I don't necessarily love its leaders, especially when they do and say things that are evil. And when they get up and say that drone to death British citizens who are secretly suspected of being an imminent threat to national security, even though they're 2000 miles away. It all makes me sick to my stomach. It's an insult to everyone else in the world, and it smacks of a certain desperation. Why, if Britain has such an impeccable track-record, would anyone need to trumpet it so? (Glenn Greenwald put it best: “”, he said.), as they did a few days ago, while thinking it's perfectly OK to
Now, if you're anything like me―and suspect most of you are because you're listening to TMR―you will quite rightly be asking yourself: “What on earth does all this incredibly vague language actually mean?” It sounds OK, on the surface, to talk up things like democracy, liberty, respect, law and tolerance, but what does the government actually meanby those things?
Quite apart from this obnoxious sound-bite “British Values”, what does it mean to talk about “vocal opposition to democracy”? Are we provided with a definition of democracy? No.
Are we given guidelines as to what would constitute “opposition” as opposed to mere critique of that democracy, whatever it might be? No.
Are we told what the phrase “opposition to the rule of law” means? Does it mean “opposition to any law whatsoever”, even including laws we might find unjust or immoral? We're not told.
“Mutual respect for beliefs”! If I say that I think David Cameron, because of some of the things he seems to believe, is looking more and more like he should be wearing a brown shirt and jack boots rather than a blue suit and tie these days―which, I hasten to add, in the interests of not receiving an EDO, I'm not necessarily saying, although I'm not necessarily not saying―is that extremism? Who knows?
And what of “tolerance of different faiths”? Years ago, before the victory of radical postmodernism specifically in the realms of religion and morality, tolerance used to mean something like: “I think you're wrong, but we'll peacefully agree to differ.” Now, tolerance has come to mean: “I must never say you're wrong, because that would be to “impose”―(and I use that word deliberately, I've heard it so much)―that would be to “impose” my views upon you. “What's true for you is your truth, and what's true for me is my truth.” So, which is it? Which definition of “tolerance” does the government have in mind? The old-fashioned coherent one, or the new-fangled incoherent one? Again, we don't know, because they haven't said.
So, it's absolutely essential that we get to know what they mean, because, as many people have been saying for a long time now, these EDOs are founded on such woolly and vague language that they could easily end up being applied to people who are acting well within the law. But then, David Cameron's government doesn't seem to be interested in the law. As he famously said to the National Security Council: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”
I mean, with all this vagueness, why shouldn't we be worried? Why shouldn't we think that, say, the following hypothetical persons might soon be at risk of receiving one of these official Shut-Up Orders? Let me offer a few possibilities:
I could go on, but I won't. And it doesn't matter whether I agree with what those hypothetical people say or not―whether I find what they say agreeable or unpleasant―they are exercising their right to freedom of speech, and they should be left alone. But will they be left alone? Well, I don't see how we can know, one way or the other, until we're provided with some clarity on what all this language actually means.
And that's where we hit another problem. The government seems determined not to be clear. I mean, why, if they really know what they're doing, or they really have nothing to hide, would they be unclear? And yet, persistent lack of clarity seems to be a hallmark of this so-called Counter-Extremism proposal. Just listen to the Home Secretary Theresa May, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme back in May this year. John Humphrys―who, I have to say, did a pretty decent job interviewing her―asks her to clarify what these EDOs are all about, and specifically what kinds of speech they're likely to slap down. And Theresa May's responses are, frankly, lamentable. She either doesn't know, even as Home Secretary, what this important legislation would actually do, or (even more worrying) she doesn't want to say.
Theresa May: First of all, the reason for doing this, John... I mean, you talk about tolerance and intolerance. I mean, there are people out there, sadly, who are seeking to divide us. We are a government of one nation; we want to bring people together to ensure we are living together as one society. But there are those who are trying to promote hatred and intolerance, seeking to divide us into a them-and-us and undermine our British Values. And what we are proposing is a Bill which will have certain measures within it: measures such as introducing Banning Orders for groups and Disruption Orders for individuals, for those who are out there actively trying to promote this hatred and intolerance, which can lead to division in our society, and undermines our British Values. But it will be part of a bigger picture, a strategy, which will also have as a key part of it actually promoting our British Values: our values of democracy, rule of law, tolerance and understanding and acceptance of different faiths...
John Humphrys: And freedom of speech, an essential prerequisite of a tolerant and decent society. And if you ban groups of people from getting together and talking about the things that worry them about the way our society is heading, don't you become a part of it?
Theresa May: No, well first of all I would say that your description of what we're proposing to do is not right. We're not talking...
John Humphrys: Well, you're talking about banning certain groups of people getting together.
Theresa May: We're not talking about banning groups of people getting together who are simply talking about problems in society or what they perceive as issues that need to be addressed. We are talking...
John Humphrys: So, when do they step over the edge?
Theresa May: We are talking about the extremism of all sorts — Islamist extremism, but also other forms of extremism, like Neo-Naziism—that is seeking to promote hatred, that is seeking to divide our society, that is seeking to undermine the very values that make us a great country to live in, that make us this great pluralistic society.
John Humphrys: And how do you divide a society, then? Let's assume, for instance, that a group of people put together a meeting at which they expressed views about homosexuality that you or I might, perhaps, find repugnant. Would they be dividing society?
Theresa May: What we're talking about here is an extremism that is... that has an impact, that is divisive, that is trying to undermine our values...
John Humphrys: But that would be divisive, wouldn't it?
Theresa May: ...that is trying to undermine our values. But the reason that we're doing this is: first of all, because we do need, I think, to ensure that we are together as one society, we are one nation, we are working to ensure that...
John Humphrys: Speaking with one voice?
Theresa May: Well, there will different views within that nation, of course there will be different views.
John Humphrys: Indeed.
Theresa May: Nobody is suggesting that different views cannot be expressed. But one of the reasons for looking at this issue of extremism is the path down which it can lead people. And what we can see, often, is that this extremist preaching, this message of hatred, this message of intolerance, can actually lead down a path of radicalisation...
John Humphrys: And what I'm trying to get you to define is: At what point it strays into that area. At what point it doesn't become just a disagreement—with you, or me, or the bloke next door, the woman next door—it becomes something that should worry us to the extent that it should be banned. That's what I'm trying to get at. At what point does it qualify for being banned?
Theresa May: And, obviously, when we introduce the legislation which has these Banning Orders, one of the tasks in that legislation will be to ensure that we have the definitions properly, so that they can...
John Humphrys: You don't know that?
Theresa May: Well, we have a definition of extremism, which we have in our Extremism Strategy, which we've been promoting...
John Humphrys: But you seem to be saying, “We'll know it when we see it”, which is a bit unsatisfactory, isn't it?
Theresa May: No, I'm not saying: We'll know it when we see it. John, the whole process of introducing legislation in this country is that, actually, you start off with the principle of what we want to do, which is to ensure that we can promote British Values, the values that unite us as a society...
John Humphrys: It's a woolly phrase—promoting British Values—isn't it? You can't have legilsation to promote British Values, can you? A law that says: These are our values, and, if you don't agree with them, then, well... well, what? You go to gaol? [chuckles] How do you promote British Values in a legalistic sense?
Theresa May: Well, I think... I suspect that there are many people listening to this programme who feel that, actually, we haven't, as a society, in the past, been positive enough about the values that unite us as a society.
John Humphrys: But what does that mean? Forgive me for using the phrase again, but that's a bit woolly, isn't it? “Positive about [British Values].” I mean, I could run out into the street now—and you could—and say, “Look, these are the values we all stand for! Wonderful, wonderful!” Somebody else would come along and say, “Rubbish, I believe in something different!” Now, what I'm really puzzled by is how you get to define the line. At what point do you cross the line that's been drawn and it's unacceptable, legally unacceptable?
Theresa May: Well, if I may, one part of what we're doing is the legislation, which has the Banning Orders, the Disruption Orders, the ability to close premises. And that will have, very clearly...
John Humphrys: For doing what? For doing what?
Theresa May: ...very clearly within it, will have definitions of extremism. We've set out a definition of extremism at the moment, but we'll very clearly set out in the legislation how those Banning Orders will operate and what they will do.
John Humphrys: So, what is extremism? Because we have loads of laws that ban, for instance, hate speech—all sorts of laws. You obviously can't incite violence; that is a criminal offence; you go to gaol for it. What is it that we are trying to ban?
Theresa May: Well, we are trying to deal with those situations, with those in our society who are actively operating, or promoting an extremism, which is undermining... I know you say that promoting our values is something that you say is woolly, but, actually, what people are trying to do...
John Humphrys: Well, it's valuable, of course, but it is woolly.
Theresa May: Well, thank you, it is...
John Humphrys: Clearly it's woolly, because it could mean anything, couldn't it? I mean, depending on who you are. If, for instance, you believe in gay marriage: fine, that is a value for you. If you don't believe in gay marriage, you're absolutely entitled not to believe in gay marriage, and presumably you would still be entitled to say: “ I don't believe in gay marriage; I think it damages society.”
Theresa May: Of course you would be. Yes, but that's not...
John Humphrys: So, that would offend your values.
Theresa May: But what we're talking about is the key values that underline our society and [which] are being undermined by the extremists: values like democracy, a belief in democracy, a belief in the rule of law, a belief in tolerance for other people, equality, and acceptance of other people's faiths and religions.
John Humphrys: Alright.
Theresa May: One of the great things about living in the United Kingdom is that we all have a right to live our lives as we choose to live our lives, but we also have a responsibility to respect other people's right to live their lives as they choose to live. And what we're...
John Humphrys: But, on a...
Theresa May: Sorry, John, I think this is important. What we are seeing is people undermining what I would call those fundamental values of democracy, and the rule of law, and of tolerance of other people, and doing that in a way which can lead people down the route of radicalisation, and then obviously can lead them into violence, and into taking action to try to undermine our society.
John Humphrys: Alright, but it's entirely possible—isn't it?—that if you don't ban those people, but instead, as it were, allow them to hide in plain sight of everybody, it will lead you to those who actually do want to break the law, who do want to kill people in pursuit of their aims. And it might be counterproductive what you're trying to do.
Theresa May: No, I think... I mean, what we're trying to do is... will be part of a wider strategy, which is about ensuring that we can, on the one hand, introduce this legislation which we're talking about today with these Banning Orders in it, but also there are other parts to this strategy. There will be a programme to help isolated communities, a programme to actively promote our British Values, looking at issue like entryism in bodies. I mean, I think many people were deeply concerned — when they saw the issue that arose, that was called “the trojan horse”, in the schools in Birmingham — at the attempt to change young minds that was taking place as a result of that. People were concerned about that, and we need to ask the question about how that happened and what we can do in order to ensure that it doesn't happen again. This is about ensuring that we have, and maintain, what keeps us together, and what makes this a great country to live in, in our pluralistic values.
Which has got to be one of the worst performances I've ever heard. Which is odd, because, for all my dislike of Mrs. May, I wouldn't for one moment call her inarticulate or stupid. So, something is going on here... all this bombastic talk about “British Values”, “democracy”, “rule of law”, blah, blah, blah... but as soon as John Humphrys gets specific , then it's all evasion, and no doubt what's going on inside her head is basically: “Get me out of here quick!”
And you would think things would have improved since then. After all, that was four months ago, or so. So, surely by now, after that deeply embarrassing performance by no less a person than the Home Secretary herself, on national Radio, the apparatchiks of the Tory Party will have got their heads together and made sure their spokespersons have some clear statements up their sleeves (?) Well, apparently not. Only two weeks ago, on , John Hayes (Minister of State for Security, no less) gave this, equally lamentable, performance.
John Hayes: Jonathan, I make no apology for advocating for being a champion of British Values. My goodness, if the things that we share become less important than things which divide us, how can we possibly build a society that works?
Jonathan Dimbleby: But if a British Value is liberty, which means free expression, there is, as it were, a dilemma if you're going to suppress that liberty and those whose views... I mean, Dominic Grieve, former Attorney General, says... [is] questioning whether one is entitled to stop people expressing views we find repellent.
John Hayes: Well, let me... could I offer a little philosophy? Would that be permissible?
Jonathan Dimbleby: Yes, so long as it's not too much, of course you can.
John Hayes: Well, let me offer you this. Truth is indivisible, but freedom is, of course, divisible. In civil society we all have our freedom curbed in all sorts of ways through the rule of law, and indeed there is a long-established acceptance in society that we regard the incitement to hatred as something which is not only unacceptable but which should be illegal. The incitement of violence, of course, is illegal. So, all kinds of views which lead to effects—and that's how you measure these things, what effects they lead to—are not only undesirable, they're outside the law.
Emily Thornberry: That's exactly the point, though. We have rules; we have laws about incitement to hatred; we have laws about incitement to violence. So, I mean, it's very interesting listening to you, but I don't really get what it is that you're saying. What are you going to do that isn't already in the law that will help protect us? I mean, you can talk about the threat being severe and unprecedented in character—no one is going to disagree with that, no one is going to disagree that we ought to have a reasonable response—but what are you going to do? What are going to be adding to the law that we don't have at the moment? And how can you assure us that it's on the right side of the line?
John Hayes: Well, let me tell you exactly what we've already done. From this year, as I said, prisons, universities, colleges, schools, health professionals will be missioned...
Emily Thornberry: You've told us that. What's going to be in your Bill?
John Hayes: …will be missioned, by law, for the first time, to identify sources of radicalisation—so, where people are being radicalised: What are the sources?—to protect those people who are at risk of being radicalised, then to...
Jonathan Dimbleby: But, protect them by silencing those whose views are likely to make them sympathise with jihadists and terrorists. Can I ask you this in that context: Is there not a grave danger—indeed, as I think David Anderson the Security Advisor has said—that the impact of that will be to drive such people underground? They will suspect a conspiracy of the Establishment. If they're people who are already feeling alienated and uncertain about the nature of the society in which they live, [it might] drive them underground, drive them to the dark web etc.
Emily Thornberry: Yes.
John Hayes: Well, David Anderson didn't actually attack the Prevent Duty that I'm talking about that we've just introduced...
Jonathan Dimbleby: No, but he was talking about—which we're talking about— which is the...
John Hayes: The new Bill.
Jonathan Dimbleby: ...that part of which is the new Bill.
Emily Thornberry: Which you're not talking about, and we would like to know.
John Hayes: Well, we'll debate the new Bill when the new Bill's published. So, David Anderson won't comment in detail on the new Bill until he's seen its content, I'm sure. What David Anderson does say...
Emily Thornberry: Are you going to give any hint of what's going to be in the new Bill?
John Hayes: Let's be clear what David Anderson did say. David Anderson—contrary to all the expectations of those on the kind of bourgeois Left... [audience groans] Contrary to all those expectations...
Jonathan Dimbleby: In philosophy, what is the bourgeois Left as opposed to the other Left? [audience chuckles]
John Hayes: Well, the kind of people... the Corbynesque Left, [as] Jeremy might describe them—the Islington people, you know. You know the kind of thing I mean. [audience groans]
Jonathan Dimbleby: Is that the Seat where you sit? Are you the “Corbynesque Left” in Islington?
Emily Thornberry: I represent Islington South and Finsbury, and I have to say I do think that my friend is making a pig's ear of personal abuse here. [audience laughter and applause]
John Hayes: Well, no, no, no, no, no. Well, you would say that...
Yes, a pig's ear describes that fairly well. But it's not because he's incompetent; it's because the policy is incoherent and dangerous, so no one can defend it. And let me offer you a little philosophy, Mr. Hayes. You say that we can't have complete freedom of speech, because it's necessary that speech be circumscribed in various ways to protect us all. Of course. But then you imply that we should therefore not object to speech being further circumscribed. But that entirely begs the question, which is: What are the specific ways in which you intend to circumscribe it?
And let me note in passing: That's the key to how these politicians can say they believe in free speech, while at the same time clamping down on free speech: precisely by the trick we've just heard. If you define free speech as “that which remains after you've circumscribed it”, then you can go on circumscribing it as much as you like, and you're still left with free speech! Hey presto! This is sophistry; it's not philosophy.
So, what is going on here? David Cameron may insist that he's moving us all “dark on this one., but he seems quite happy for us to remain in the
What is going on, clearly enough, is a direct attack on freedom of speech. And I wrote to my Member of Parliament about this a little while ago. (And just in passing, I'll say Rosie Cooper is a pretty good MP; she really seems to care what her constituents think.) I have no problem with her reply to me, which was understanding and seemingly concerned as well. But in her second reply to me she enclosed a letter from The Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon―or, more fully, Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon―writing, as he says, in his capacity as Minister for Countering Extremism. The letter is obviously a photocopy with the blanks filled in in pen, “Dear Rosie” at the top, and “Yours sincerely” at the bottom; but I'm left as a BLANK. Does that say something, I wonder? Whatever, one paragraph reads:
“I would like to reassure that the counter-extremism strategy is not intended to restrict anyone's freedom of speech. Indeed, this is one of the core values underpinning British society that we are seeking to protect.”
Well, you can imagine my relief when I read that! So, it's not “intended” to restrict anyone's freedom of speech (so he says). But even if it's not “intended” (which I doubt), if you leave the wording as vague as it is, you're going to end up getting that anyway, whatever your intentions. And there are going to be plenty of BLANKS out there who are going to be pretty cheesed off as we lose freedom after freedom, when Lord This, or Lord That, says to us: “Yes, but we never intended that to happen!” Then, Lord Tariq adds, by way of further attempt at reassuring me:
“The measures set out in the Queen's Speech are aimed at those who promote hatred and stir up divisions within a community... I can assure that the new power will be subject to safeguards to ensure it is only used where it is needed to stop extremism and protect the public.”
Well, thank heavens it will only be used to stop “extremism”, which, of course, is the very word I was asking for a satisfactory definition of! And “stir up divisions within a community”? I can think of lots of things that would do that, that fall fairly and squarely within the law, and rightly so. And “safeguards”! The letter ends:
“I trust that this letter reassures you and your constituent.”
It certainly does not; it's an insult. So, thank you very much Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon, this particular BLANK is not impressed.
So, let me return to Emily Thornberry's point, that we already have a mass of laws. We already have a whole arsenal of legislation qualifying our right to freedom of speech: threat, harassment; breach of the peace; gross offence; high treason; obscenity; indecency; corruption of public morals; interfering with court process; defamation; etc. More to the point: incitement to racial hatred; threatening violence against people or property for “political, religious or ideological causes”; incitement to terrorism; disseminating terrorist literature; glorifying terrorism...
So, why do we need more legislation? What is it about this Islamist radicalisation process that the government says it's so keen to stop, that can't be dealt with by the mass of legislation we already have? Put another way: What's the extra that they want to do, that they won't say in a clear way?
Well, I think a clue to a big part of it is this:
David Cameron: As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose worldview can be used as a justification for it. We know this worldview: the peddling of lies, that 9/11 was somehow a Jewish plot, or that the 7/7 London attacks were staged.”
(From David Cameron's speech to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, 25 September 2014.)
David Cameron: ...and we must now all come together and stand up for our values with confidence and with pride. And as we do so, we should together challenge the ludicrous conspiracy theories of the extremists. The world is not conspiring against Islam; the security services aren’t behind terrorist attacks...
( From David Cameron's speech at Ninestiles School in Birmingham, 20 July 2015)
David Cameron: We need to understand why it is proving so attractive. Now, some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship. This argument, what I would call the grievance justification, must be challenged. So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them that 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War.
(From David Cameron's speech at Ninestiles School in Birmingham, 20 July 2015)
Now, we've spent quite a lot of time on this programme looking at the whole idea of “conspiracy theory” and its various shades of meaning, so I won't rehearse all that here. But what comes over to me from these kinds of statements (which are clearly very carefully crafted to make them as slippery as possible and difficult to comment upon) is that one of the main extras the government wants to do is to shut people up who even question the actions of the Deep State. Which, by the way, is why there's so much talk about “narratives”. This is an important point. In one breath they will talk about the “poisonous ideology” of ISIS; in another breath they'll talk of the “poisonous narratives”. (And let me just say in passing: I hate the ideology of ISIS; I think ISIS is barbaric. And I know Mr. Cameron has said it's not enough to say you don't support ISIS, but I'm not going to fall for that cheap trick. And I don't respect what Mr. Cameron says anyway, so I'll say it again: I hate ISIS.) So what are narratives? Well, they're stories, and stories have chapters, episodes and paragraphs...
...and into a story, you can slot pretty much anything you want.
That's why they bang on about “narratives”, because then they can come after pretty much anyone they want ; and they can say: “Well, there's some part of the story that you're telling, that seems to slot somehow into the broader story that someone else is telling, and they're violent people, so you're implicated.” That is a terrifying policy; that could end up criminalising anyone they so desire.
And I put some of these things that David Cameron has said to Paul Craig Roberts when he was on our show last time, and it's worth hearing again what he had to say.
Julian Charles: Would this be a good time now to ask you for your reaction to David Cameron? You say you haven't actually hear what he said the other day; may I let you know what he said?
Paul Craig Roberts: Sure.
Julian Charles: Well, he was giving this speech in Birmingham (UK) about “extremism” and “non-violent extremism”, and this kind of idea that, you know, there are various modes of thought that encourage—somehow or other—extremism and terrorism. And, rather like he did at the UN last year, he also pointed the finger at people who question things like 9/11 and 7/7. And one of the things he said, for example, was—let me quote this—he said: “The security service aren't behind terrorist attacks”. And, of course, there he was negating the idea of some people [who] might say: “The security services are indeed behind terrorist attacks”, you see. So, he was therefore still echoing this kind of thought. And Glenn Greenwald tweeted at the time he was saying this—I'm going to quote him, actually—he says: “David Cameron is right at this moment delivering one of the creepiest and most authoritarian speeches you will ever hear.” And, I have to say, when I saw the video of what David Cameron was saying, I really did think it was extremely creepy. Because, I am obviously somebody—as indeed you are Dr. Roberts— who questions 9/11, and I am therefore being called a non-violent extremist. I'm not exactly sure what that's supposed to mean, but it's quite frightening language. And, of course, what I immediately think of is the way that term “conspiracy theorist” was weaponised—as James Tracy says—back in the 1960s, with respect to doubting the official version of the JFK assassination, and it has functioned very effectively ever since as a kind of thought-stopper. Here, it seems to be ratcheted-up, so that it's not just that you might be accused of being crazy for being a “conspiracy theorist”, but now you are bad—now you are evil—for thinking that the government might have done something wrong behind the scenes. That's how I react to it, and I think it could be a shutting-down of people's thoughts and a shutting-down of people's free speech, although amazingly David Cameron in the same speech says he actually believes in freedom of speech. So, could I have your reaction to our “belovéd” Prime Minister, David Cameron?
Paul Craig Roberts: [chuckles] Well, it's the same thing as [is] said here. I mean, it began here with the former head of the Homeland Security who's now the Chancellor of the University of California. She was the first one who said that the focus of Homeland Security had moved from Muslim terrorist to domestic extremist. And, in the ranks of domestic extremist were: war protesters; environmental activists; animal rights activists; and, in general, doubters of the government's national security positions. So, this is just Washington having its puppet—David Cameron is nothing but a puppet—bring the same development into England, and it will go on into the EU, into Germany and everywhere else.
Now, it's a known fact that security forces do commit terrorist operations. We know, for example, of Operation Gladio.
Julian Charles: Absolutely.
Paul Craig Roberts: This was an operation of Italian and other Western intelligence services, together with the CIA, to blow up with bombs European women and children in order to blame local communist parties, to undermine their electoral support. The President of Italy announced this, the Parliament made extensive investigations [and] the Intelligence Services confessed. We also know of the Northwoods project. The Northwoods project was brought to President Kennedy by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It called for US military to shoot down American airliners; to shoot down American citizens on the streets of Washington and Miami; to strafe refugee boats coming from Cuba, and to blame Castro so that we could invade and have regime change in Cuba. All of this is public now; it was released by the second John Kennedy investigation; it was released by Congress; you can go online and pull it up; there are the documents with the seal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marked Top Secret, signed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It's all public; this is not a “conspiracy theory”; it's just known facts. So, they do commit it. And, for Cameron to stand up and say they don't, I mean, why should he lie through his teeth, before the world? I mean, everybody knows they do these things. I learned in my Russian Studies—years ago I learned—that the Czarist Secret Police set off bombs so that they could arrest labour agitators.
So, what does it mean? It means that the entire Western agenda is based on lies, and therefore is vulnerable, and therefore people must not be able to expose the lies. And, of they do expose the lies, then the whole agenda comes down, if anybody believes them. And so: “We've got to shut it up!” And, that's what it means; that's what Cameron is doing; that's what the head of the Homeland Security here is doing. It's to protect a system based on nothing but lies and false-flag attacks. All of these wars are based on 9/11.
Julian Charles: And yet they seem to cloak this behind the dreadful phrase “British Values”, that keeps on coming up. So, if anybody questions the government, then they are going against “British Values”. And, it's really instructive—I shall link to this in the show notes—there was an interview of Theresa May, the Home Secretary, here—this was back in May—and John Humphrys of BBC Radio 4 was interviewing her. And he was asking her, you know: “What does extremism mean? What is a non-violent extremist?” And she didn't answer; she just went on and on back to this, “It's against British Values”. And he was saying, “Where's the line?”, you know, “What is a British Value?" And then, "Where do you actually cross the line of going against a Value?” And she just couldn't answer.
Paul Craig Roberts: You see, what is a British Value? Well, Tony Blair made it clear. It's lying to the British people; it's lying to the world; participating in America's attack on totally innocent people; killing upwards to a million of them; displacing another four million; and leaving countless numbers maimed, orphaned. This is what a British Value is. And so: “We can't have anybody point that out!”
Julian Charles: A lot of people have said, you know, when you listen to David Cameron making that kind of speech, that sounds like a really extremist speech in itself. It is incredibly Orwellian and topsy-turvey.
Paul Craig Roberts: You know what, he sounds like that guy in the movie V for Vendetta—the British dictator. That's who Cameron reminds me of; he reminds me of the British dictator in the movie V for Vendetta.
So, at its heart, I don't think this is really essentially about counter-extremism; I think it's about shutting down criticism of the State, and in particular the Warfare State. It's not essentially about counter-terrorism, because the straightforward causal links between non-violent ideas and acts of violence are not at all clear; and there's a very definite worry that legislation of this sort, by targeting people who are completely innocent, will more likely lead to violence than discourage it. Listen to what David Anderson QC writes, the officially-appointed Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation in the UK:
“If the wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”
So, how can this be essentially about counter-extremism? I don't think, at heart, it is. And Vince Cable agrees.
Vince Cable: I think, John, at last you're getting to the point. I mean, it's nothing to do with counter-terrorism at all. Shortly before the election I went to one of our ancient universities, where the students had decided to ban an extremist speaker who was speaking contrary to “British Values”. The man was Nigel Farage. [audience laughter] They deemed him an extremist with anti-British views. And the problem is, you know, an extremist is in the eye of the beholder; “British Values” are in the eye of the beholder. And once you open this door of saying to government, you know, “We are going to exclude people because we don't like their views, and have extreme...”, all kinds of intolerance is going to creep in. And this goes absolutely contrary to, you know, long British tradition of, you know, letting people have their say, whether or not you agree with them. And it's utterly counterproductive. [audience applause]
Jonathan Dimbleby: Minister, we must move on...
So, what's my purpose in doing this today? Is it to get another show out in the hope of gaining a bigger audience? Well, if that was my main motivation, there are loads of other things I could have done: another well-known guest; an avant-garde subject; a wacky subject―because those always pull in an audience. But, to be quite honest, TMR exists for things that matter. And I think this matters, because we are watching our freedoms being flushed down the toilet as we speak―not just in the UK―and we must do everything we can to stop it (without violence, of course). Wherever we are, we must do what we can.
If you're in the UK there is something you can do, and I'm appealing to you today to do it. You can write to your MP and express your concern. Now I know it's not fashionable in alt-media circles to say such things. We're supposed to be totally cynical about political structures and say, “Well, there's no point in playing their game”, and all that kind of thing. But, the fact is, we do still have a modicum of democracy left. I've written to my MP, and she's written back to me twice; she's clearly taken on board what I've said, and she says she's going to scrutinise this proposed legislation when it soon comes before her. And because I've written to her, my concerns will form part of her understanding of the issues involved when she comes to assess that Bill of Parliament. The system is far from perfect, but there are MPs who actually do their job and try to represent the views of their constituents at Westminster. But if we don't write to them and tell them what we think, they won't know we're concerned. And if they don't think we're concerned, they're less likely to be. So please write.
There's an easy way to do it. Visit Defend Free Speech, a campaign being run jointly by the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society―(an unlikely combination I know, but all the more notable for it)―and now BigBrotherWatch has joined. You'll find that at DefendFreeSpeech.org.uk. There you'll be able to do their quick Extremism Quiz to see if you might qualify for an EDO because of what you think. (It's quite fun, but a bit creepy.) Also there's a facility to identify your MP, and a form ready there on the website to send a letter directly to your MP. And they may well respond to you. I just wrote an email in the first place, and Rosie got back to me twice by post. So, if you're in the UK, please write. And if you're somewhere else in the world, please go and like their Facebook page. Any kind of encouragement helps; it only takes a click. And please let other people know about this campaign. I am amazed at how few people know about this proposed legislation. Even bright, otherwise well-informed people seem to be completely in the dark about it, which is (I'm sure) how the government wants it, otherwise it would be announced from the rooftops by the mainstream media. This is too important to drop. There's a fair amount of opposition to it among politicians and academics etc., so we need to harness that opposition, and encourage our MPs to do what's right. And it's harder to do what's right if you don't think your constituents care and you don't think they're with you in what you're doing.
So, how shall I end? In a sense I've said most of what I wanted to say. I've expressed my concern and I've plugged the Campaign, which are the two things I really felt compelled to do. And yes, my main concern is the chilling effect. If the government is successful, I don't for a moment think the authorities are likely to have the time and energy to waste on thousands of people. (Not in the short term anyway.) What's much more likely is the chilling effect; people will shut up. They'll not want to be seen as an “extremist”. We'll end up policing ourselves, and each other; and I think that's really what they really want.
But I haven't quite shared everything; there is one more thing. If you've listened this long, you could think: “Well, that's enough” and turn off now, and quite frankly you wouldn't have missed the main point of the podcast. But if you have a little bit more stamina, then do stay awhile, because there's something else.
Back in 1955, the journalist Milton Mayer published a famous book called They Thought They Were Free : The Germans, 1933-45, published by Chicago University Press, which was a study of the lives of ten ordinary Germans who lived through the years of the Third Reich. And one of those chapters really gets to me. And I'm going to read it in full, and you'll see what I mean. And don't misunderstand me, I'm not for one moment saying that there's a direct parallel with what's going on now, and what went on back in those dark years. But there are clearly echoes. As I read it, keep in mind all those who might laughingly say, with a roll of the eyes: “Don't worry too much about all this; it won't go that far. This is Britain. This is the 21st Century.”
An excerpt from
They Thought They Were Free
The Germans, 1933-45
But Then It Was Too Late
"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.
"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
"You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time."
"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’"
"Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.
"Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late."
"Yes," I said.
"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’
"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
"But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
"You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.
"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
"What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know."
I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.
"I can tell you," my colleague went on, "of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom."
"And the judge?"
"Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know."
I said nothing.
"Once the war began," my colleague continued, "resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.
"Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it."
The excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.
The excerpt is used by TMR in full with express permission of University of Chicago Press.
Well, there's not much that I need add after that. I wanted to include it because I think it's an important text, and it does stand as a warning to us all, wherever we are and whenever we are: that our freedoms can slip away from us bit by bit if we are inattentive. As that man said, all that's necessary is that we do nothing. So I'm going to end by saying again: Please do write. If you're in the UK, please do write to your MP; support this campaign. And whatever else it is that you do this Autumn, please, do not let David Cameron turn you into an extremist.
You have been listening to me, Julian Charles of TheMindRenewed.com, and I very much look forward to speaking to you again in the near future.
Fair use: All transcriptions of third-party materials are used in the spirit of Fair Use and solely for the purposes of criticism and commentary.