Freedom vs. privacy – speech delivered at the Freedom Festival, Bournemouth, 2015

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one,” wrote Benjamin Franklin.

In common with most pronouncements by Enlightenment thinkers, this is a pithy, epigrammatic phrase. There’s only one problem. It’s not true.

Moreover, it’s rather the opposite of truth, and was so even at the time it was uttered. These days, when an unobtrusively toted suitcase can wipe out a major city, it takes a poor observer indeed not to see that sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice a little freedom for a lot of security.

Overall freedom, or rather liberty, which in this context is a more accurate term, may be broken down into its various fragments, and every one of them will at some point clash with security.

Take, for example, the freedom of religious worship, which in America is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and is taken for granted throughout the Western world.

Back in the 1960s there were 60 mosques in Britain. Now there are 1,600, which fact is often mentioned by some as a confirmation of religious freedom.

Yet most of the same people admit that many of these houses of worship are hotbeds of anti-Western, and specifically anti-British, propaganda and brainwashing.

Young people imbibe the words of hate-spewing imams and go to Iraq to fight for Isis, sometimes having first gone to a London university.

Some of them gleefully blow themselves up together with dozens of passengers on public transport, with both the terrorists and their victims being British subjects.

Yet in spite of this obvious security threat, not a single mainstream politician has to my knowledge proposed to close down, say, a thousand mosques. Such a step, we are told, would be incompatible with religious freedom.

However, it could be plausibly argued that not taking this step is incompatible with security.

Religious or any other liberty isn’t a suicide pact. What if one such brainwashed youngster detonates a nuclear suitcase bomb in, say, Kensington, killing 100,000 people in the process?

Suffice it to say for now that a conflict between liberty and security can’t easily be swept under the carpet.

Security is also often incompatible with freedom from discrimination. For no police force in the world can function effectively if it has to keep an eye on every citizen indiscriminately, eschewing any bias based on experience.

For police officers and security personnel to do their job well they have to have the licence to discriminate against groups that are statistically more likely to pose a threat to security.

It’s no use trying to pretend at airports that an 80-year-old granny, who sounds like a nice cup of tea would sound if it could talk, is as much of a security risk as a muscular Muslim chap, even one who has attended the University of Westminster.

By the same token, our police for all intents and purposes have been stripped of stop-and-search powers, since these are bound to be discriminatory against groups most likely to commit crimes.

Yet our police have been told, perhaps not in so many words, that if they stop and search a young Rasta in Brixton, they must also stop a search, say, an aging tweedy gentleman in Chelsea. And if they can’t do that – and no police force can possibly have the personnel to be indiscriminate – then they can’t stop anyone.    

Historically even Anglophone countries used to realise that some liberty must sometimes be sacrificed for some security.

Hence over a 1,000 refugees from Germany and Austria were interred on the Isle of Man for the duration of the Second World War. Among them were many Jews who on balance would have been unlikely Nazi spies.

Americans went even further by interning in 1942 110,000 people of Japanese origin, 62 per cent of whom were US citizens.

It has to be said that both Britain and the USA were in those days a lot freer than they are now. And yet they didn’t shy away from the occasional conflict between liberty and security.

It’s in this context that privacy must be viewed.

The right to privacy is an essential concept of the Anglophone world. In fact, neither Russian nor French, my other two languages, even has a word for it.

Yet Britain boasts a CCTV camera for every 12 of Her Majesty’s subjects, making surveillance one of the few areas in which we lead the world. Communist China, for example, has fewer cameras even in absolute terms, never mind per capita.

Numerous scandals have been brought to light, involving various government agencies intercepting people’s e-mails, listening in to their phone conversations or reading their letters before they themselves do.

If this isn’t a violation of privacy, I don’t know what is. Yet I’m sure that even the loudest critics of such practices wouldn’t object too vociferously if reading a man’s e-mail illegally would stop him from taking the aforementioned suitcase to the centre of London.

However, there is a problem with this line of thought. It’s the nature of modern government.

All modern governments are power-hungry, and all are hell-bent on expanding their power ad infinitum.

And they routinely hold up security concerns as justification for acting on their powerlust.

It goes without saying that certain civil liberties have to be curtailed or even suppressed at wartime. Yet observing modern politicians in action, one notices that some of the wartime measures don’t disappear once the war ends.

First the state beats ploughshares into swords and then, once they have vanquished, the weapons can be recast into the strongest chains binding the individual hand and foot.

One can see how dramatically state power has increased in Britain after both world wars, and it is still growing. Neither does America circa 2015 boast all the same liberties taken for granted before the First World War.

A suspicion has to be strong that, given greater powers of curtailing our liberties and invading our privacy, the state is likely to use such leeway not for increasing our security but for its own self-aggrandisement.

Hence we have a problem. How do we protect our nation without enslaving it? How do we keep our privacy private without making life easy for those who want to kill us?

Where, in other words, do we draw the line? Where do we find a workable balance between security and liberty, with all its sub-divisions?

It’s reasonably clear that a dogmatic, all-or-nothing approach, whichever side of the argument is allowed to take it, will tip the balance unduly one way or the other.

This is one instance of principles having to be weighed against practicalities, making sure that neither end deviates too far from the fulcrum.

For there are no hard and fast rules, nor can there be. Prevailing in each case must be common sense and sound judgement.

Do we need one surveillance camera for every 12 Brits? Do we need to gather so much video information that we’ll only ever be able to process a small portion of it?

Perhaps we do. It’s more likely, however, that our security would be much better served if surveillance, be it video, audio or any other, were concentrated in places where security threats are more likely to come from – such as every one of the 1,600 mosques.

Now can we rely on our government to have enough common sense to come up with sound judgement? I’m afraid we can’t. This faculty was expunged from Westminster a long time ago, and there’s no immediate prospect of it ever coming back.

That’s why we must all exercise vigilance, making sure the government doesn’t overstep the limit beyond which a legitimate concern for our security ends and tyranny starts.

But an unbending, doctrinaire libertarian position is I believe a recipe for disaster.

 

Shall I compare thee to Oswald Mosley or Enoch Powell, Nigel?

Two months before the general election an open season on Nigel Farage is in full swing, with Tories especially firing at will from the lip.

To be fair, Farage presents an inviting target, what with his tendency to say things that may be correct, but not politically correct.

Such as, for example, his statement that he’d throw out the Race Relations Act, which essentially dictates hiring policies to employers.

Never mind making sensible arguments or building a serious case. You say something like that and you are a racist, a fascist and the sort of vermin who has no place in otherwise pristine British politics.

Hugo Rifkind, Malcolm’s boy, compares Farage unfavourably to Jeremy Clarkson. Michael ‘the Maggie slayer’ Heseltine says he is as bad as Enoch Powell and no better than Oswald Mosley.

Both men set their store early. Rifkind, whose journalistic career is among the most baffling mysteries in God’s creation, states with misplaced pride: “I approve of political correctness.”

Farage, he says, “stands proudly against the whole concept of a multicultural, inclusive society.” Why, he’s even worse than Jeremy Clarkson.

And didn’t his English teacher at school describe him as ‘a fascist’ 40 years ago? Well, there you are then. Farage was 10 years old 40 years ago, but he already bore the mark of Cain, as damning as it is perpetually indelible.

Not only that, adds Heseltine, but he’s as bad as Enoch Powell, who “was a more intelligent politician than Farage, but had the same irresponsible instinct…”

Alas, sighs the Maggie slayer, “there are extremists, as there always have been: look at Oswald Mosley in the 1930s.”

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mr Farage, and hence don’t know whether he is a racist in the mode of the chap who led the British Union of Fascists. I rather doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

I have, however, met myself, and I know for a fact that I’m no racist. Yet I’d scrap the Race Relations Act in a second if I could.

Thus I’m convinced that objections to the Act don’t in themselves testify to racial prejudice any more than opposition to progressive income tax bespeaks class prejudice or objections to the welfare state betoken hatred of poor people.

Personally, I wouldn’t shake the hand of a businessman who refuses to employ a qualified candidate just because of his race.

A man like that is a troglodyte who doesn’t belong in the company of decent people. But a man who thinks that the state is within its rights to force such an objectionable individual to hire someone doesn’t belong in the company of intelligent people.

Heseltine is proud that racial minorities today “are confident, aware of their rights, equal before the law and sensitive to the first sign of someone wishing to abuse that.”

What this means in practice is that any minority chap can sue if he is fired or not hired for any reason, often one that has nothing to do with race.

Hence many employers free of racial prejudice hesitate to hire, say, a black because they know he’d be devilishly difficult to sack should he prove to be inadequate for the job.

Similarly, a black, Asian or Muslim candidate can sue if he doesn’t get the job, for which his credentials qualify him — and, thanks to spivs like Heseltine he may well win the case.

But credentials don’t do the work; the person does. The employer may decide that the candidate doesn’t belong — for whatever reason. His freedom to make such decisions is, I believe, essential to a society that calls itself free.

When I myself was in a position to hire and fire, I would have employed a Shetland pony if it could do a better job for the same money or the same job for less money. But I would have been damned if I had let the government order me to employ — or keep — anyone who didn’t meet those requirements.

One case springs to mind. I once hired a young devout Muslim (let’s call him Tarik) as a part-time designer. He was competent, inexpensive and hard-working.

Every lunchtime he’d spread a prayer rug in the conference room, kneel, turn towards Mecca and pray. I observed those performances with a bit of ethnographic curiosity.

On balance, I preferred Tarik’s show of piety to the chosen lunchtime activities of some of my impeccably British employees who consumed, on average, four pints of strong lager each and were often well-nigh useless in the afternoon.

One day a client came to the office to thank everyone who worked on her account. I took her around, introducing her to art directors, designers and copywriters. The client, a nice woman who paid her bills promptly, would shake hands and say the usual things.

However, when she reached Tarik, her proffered hand was left hanging. “I won’t shake hands with a woman,” he declared with obvious hostility.

The client was stunned, but controlled herself. I didn’t. When she left, I told Tarik to get out and never again to show his face in the office (those of you who have ever worked in the service industry will understand my ire).

So he did, terrifying my partners who could see a summons to the industrial tribunal before their eyes. Mercifully none came: Tarik must have been unaware of what Heseltine calls his ‘rights’, or else felt that his part-time status didn’t put him in a strong position.

My problem with him wasn’t his race or religion. It was his incompatibility with the business culture of a British company. That, I felt, gave me the moral right to act as I did.

Telling company owners whom they must hire or may not fire is the same as telling individuals whom they must invite to dinner and may not disinvite. When the state assumes this power, it’s guaranteed to abuse it.

The potential damage of such abuse to society is infinitely greater than any caused by the few morons who won’t hire, say, a black simply because of his race.

Enoch Powell may have been more intelligent than Nigel Farage, and he definitely was more intelligent than Messrs Rifkind and Heseltine put together, times ten.

He realised, correctly, that the social, cultural and political fabric of British society would be torn to tatters by the advent of ideologically driven multi-culti nonsense. One suspects Nigel Farage knows it too.

That’s why he should be criticised not for making his statement but for the haste with which he withdrew it when all hell broke loose.

 

 

 

Allahu (and Jesus) akbar!

The Reverend Giles Goddard, vicar at St John’s in Waterloo, came into some unfair criticism for holding an ‘inclusive mosque’ service at his church, at the end of which he invited the congregation to praise “the god that we love, Allah”.

All those reactionary sticklers for the letter of canon law are up in arms, which only goes to show how far the spirit of reconciliation is away from their hearts. Some even felt that such a hybrid service pushed ecumenism too far.

However, you and I know the damage that religious particularism can cause. After all, as my friend and co-believer Richard Dawkins has explained so poignantly, religion is responsible for all evil in the world.

Richard correctly refused to single out any particular creed, sensing unerringly that they are all the same at base. Thereby he made a valuable contribution to the ecumenical movement, to whose ideas I subscribe wholeheartedly.

As a committed ecumenist at heart, I applaud the Rev. Goddard’s noble effort as thunderously as I rebuke his critics. They clearly haven’t read my friend Richard, or else haven’t heeded his wise words.

Besides, these nay-sayers clearly didn’t attend the service in question and hence base their criticism on biased newspaper reports.

Well, I was fortunate enough to be present at that historic event – and prescient enough to record the Rev. Goddard’s homily for posterity. Here’s the transcript, and I hope you keep your mind open, but not so wide that your brain falls out:

“In the name of the fatwa, the gun and the holey corpses, hey man.

“Brothers and sisters! Well, for propriety’s sake let’s keep it just to the brothers this once, shall we?

“It’s customary to recite the Lord’s prayer after the sermon, but what have such customs given us over history? Nothing but trouble.

“Hence this new, ecumenical prayer shall be recited at the beginning of my sermon. So repeat after me:

“Our Fatwa which art in Hajj, hollowed-out be thy rounds, thy kingdom come in England as it is in Iraq. Give us this day our daily brawl, and forgive us our trespasses as we don’t forgive them which trespass against us. And lead us not into contemplation but deliver us to evil. For Allah’s is the kingdom, the power and the gory. For ever and ever, hey man.

“Today, brothers in Allah, I want to concentrate on the words of Jesus Christ, a prophet of Allah second only to Mohammed.

“Specifically, I want to draw your attention to the one verse that puts the meaning of Christianity in a nutshell: Matthew 10:34.

“Ibn Matthew describes the speech Prophet Jesus delivered in the Muslim city of Jerusalem, temporarily occupied then, as it is now, by, well, you know whom.

“Jesus said: ‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.’

Having made that open-ended promise, Jesus was about to explain what he meant. However, he was crucified before he could do so.

But, as we know, he didn’t die. He came back five centuries later as Mohammed and provided all the necessary clarification:

“‘Slay them [unbelievers] wherever ye find them…’ (2:91) ‘We shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve.’ (3:151) ‘Take them [unbelievers] and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.’ (4:91) ‘The unbelievers are an open enemy to you.’ (4:101) ‘…If they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them…’ (4:89)

“Yes, brothers in Allah, there are 107 verses like these in the Koran, the book Mohammed, formerly Jesus, actually dictated personally – unlike some other so-called holy books I could mention.

“Now I ask you: which religion is brandishing the sword on the Internet even as we speak, killing infidels wherever it finds them? Which religion casts terror in the hearts of those who disbelieve? Which religion practises what Mohammed/Jesus preached?

“Islam, I hear you say, and you are right. Therefore verily I say unto you, Muslims are the real Christians, and now Christians must become the real Muslims to be as worthy of Mohammed/Jesus and other prophets.

“It’s time we cast aside our differences and joined forces in our common fight against disbelievers, idolaters, capitalists and those who occupy the holy Muslim city of Jerusalem.

“It’s time we morphed the cross into the crescent, thereby bending all its four ends clockwise.

“It’s time we Christians recognised Mohammed as our prophet too, as Jesus incarnate, Allah’s messenger on earth.

“Blessed are the peace breakers for theirs is… well, anything they fancy.

“In the name of the fatwa, the gun and the holey corpses, hey man.

“Here endeth the holey mess.”

By the time the Rev Goddard finished his homily, many bearded men in the congregation were weeping openly, and so was I, even though I was clean-shaven.

Allah has found another prophet in the Rev Goddard who has finally found a common burial ground between Christianity and Islam.

If we can’t beat them, we must join them – and together we’ll be able to beat anybody. Hey man!

 

 

 

 

Lord Curzon, teaching Muslims (and us) a lesson

The Islamic State has just blown up a 10th century Chaldean Catholic church in Iraq and bulldozed a nearby graveyard.

Of course, multi-culti rectitude demands that we, well, if not exactly applaud such cultural self-expression, then at least acknowledge its validity.

Yes, we disagree with such vandalism and would never condone it in our own backyard. But we realise that other cultures are different, and who’s to say we are right and they are wrong?

That way we comply with diktats of progressive modernity, thinking we’ve displayed proper respect for other cultures, without, one hopes, laying ourselves open to their more extreme manifestations.

Moreover, we think ours is the first generation, or perhaps the second, that learned the value of diversity and an open mind.

In fact, ours is the first generation, or perhaps the second, that doesn’t even begin to understand the meaning of true cultural tolerance. This can only arise from a deep-seated feeling for our own heritage, and a profound understanding of it.

For Christendom was an asset-stripping civilisation like no other. Those for whom Western culture was practically a part of their biological make-up knew that Christianity had produced a civilisation towering head and shoulders above all others.

But they also knew that our own culture could become even better by borrowing the best of what different civilisations had to offer. And even if we didn’t borrow other people’s creations, by showing genuine respect for them we would assert the formative animus of our own civilisation: love.

I’m not talking about pre-historic times here. Here’s what Lord Curzon, at that time the Viceroy of India, had to say on the subject in 1900, when my grandfather was already a grown man:

“If there be any one who says to me that there is no duty devolving upon a Christian government to preserve the monuments of a pagan art or the sanctuaries of an alien faith, I cannot pause to argue with such a man.

“Art and beauty, and the reverence that is owing to all that has evoked human genius or has inspired human faith, are independent of creeds, and, in so far as they touch the sphere of religion, are embraced by the common religion of mankind.

“Viewed from this standpoint, the rock temple of the Brahmans stands on precisely the same footing as the Buddhist Vihara, and the Mohammedan Musjid as the Christian Cathedral. There is no principle of artistic discrimination between the mausoleum of the despot and the sepulchre of the saint.

“What is beautiful, what is historic, what tears the mask of the face of the past and helps us to read its riddles and to look it in the eyes – these, and not the dogmas of a combative theology, are the principle criteria to which we must look.”

I have to admit that my own philosophy, and tastes derived thereof, is rather less ecumenical than that. A Buddhist temple or a mosque, no matter how beautiful, will neither affect me aesthetically nor engage me emotionally nearly as much as, say, Chartres Cathedral does.

Nor do I believe that “art and beauty… are independent of creeds”. On the contrary, I am convinced that, the greater and truer a creed, the more beautiful the art it inspires.

However, while disagreeing with some of the statement, I doff my hat to the man who made it. For the nobility of spirit, sagacity and sheer goodness shine through every word – and these matter more to me than Lord Curzon’s cultural preferences.

He practised what he preached, and Lord Curzon is still venerated in India, which must disappoint those who don’t have a good word to say about the Raj.

Here, for example, are a few words of appreciation from Jawaharlal Nehru, the man second only to Ghandi in his contribution to India’s independence: “After every other Viceroy has been forgotten, Curzon will be remembered because he restored all that was beautiful in India.”

Now, which of our contemporary politicians, preaching multi-culti values in order to garner the multi-culti vote, would be capable of speaking with the same subtlety and erudition, with the same genuine respect for other cultures?

Dave? Ed? Nick? Anyone? The very thought sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? They could learn a lesson or two from Lord Curzon, if they had any use for such knowledge, which they don’t.

The Muslims especially could also partake of his wisdom and kindness, except that their own macabre obtuseness won’t let them because their religion doesn’t encourage ecumenical respect.

Historically, even those few Muslims who made an important contribution to world culture, men like Avicenna in the 11th century or Averroës in the 12th, were in their own religion despised as heretics. It’s Isis that’s the paragon of Islamic piety.

I think Lord Curzon underestimated the decisive role the founding religion plays in a civilisation. I also think he knew it – but felt he had to speak that way. He was a politician after all.

 

 

 

Attempt on the life of President ‘Oh bummer!’

Only what’s left of Obama’s political life is under attack, I hasten to reassure his fans, though one can detect a distinct longing in some quarters to jeopardise his physical existence as well.

Given that the Republicans control both Houses of Congress, Obama is a lame duck. Still, as he still possesses presidential powers, there’s no shortage of volunteers to cook the bird in orange sauce.

It has become abundantly clear even to slow learners that this beneficiary of affirmative action run riot really doesn’t belong in the White House. He never has.

Besides a photogenic appearance and a knack for demagoguery honed in his previous career as ‘community organiser’, Obama brings nothing to the job – other than an opportunity for Americans to repent their sin of black slavery.

After two elections and six years of Obama in the White House, that aspiration has lost much of its urgency. Coming to the fore instead is naked primal fear.

People around the world have suddenly realised that, with Obama-led America no longer wishing to lead the world, a nuclear catastrophe is looming large.

For the White House is no place for nincompoop community organisers with their ideology of care, share, be aware. As America has appointed herself the Leader of the Free World, the freedom of this world and even its continued existence depend on how well America plays this role.

Having said that, I don’t believe that the world needs a global policeman or indeed leader, and nor do I think America is ideally suited for that role.

Every serious country should pull its own weight on defence, policing itself. Only then military and political alliances like Nato can be a marriage of equals rather than a sort of global vassalage with America playing the part of feudal lord.

However, we must deal with situations as they are, rather than as we’d like them to be. If America is to lose her function as global protector, she ought to be eased out of it gradually, with other countries developing a valid ability to keep the world safe.

No vacuum of power must be allowed to appear, for it’s only likely to be filled by evildoers who won’t think twice before acquiring and using nuclear weapons.

Ever since such weapons became available and their potential was demonstrated with such explosive power in Japan, mankind has done all it could to prevent their use.

The problem with a nuclear exchange between any two countries is that its consequences would be unpredictable. It’s conceivable that a shootout with tactical nukes could stay local, with the two countries involved just fighting it out and then going home to lick their wounds.

But such a conflict could also escalate to a point where the whole survival of our species could be endangered. In between those two extremes there are a whole range of scenarios, ranging from disastrous to cataclysmic, that are too awful to contemplate.

The sheer unpredictability of any nuclear exchange has led to all sorts of non-proliferation treaties that have so far managed to keep nuclear weapons out of real loonies’ reach – just.

US power has been central to this relative success, and it is this power that Obama is trying to neuter. His playing footsies with Putin over the Ukraine and Syria, craven vacillation over North Korea and irresponsible withdrawal from the Middle East have all been factors of danger to the world.

Yet none of them has been as fraught with explosive potential as his proposed nuclear treaty with Iran, whereby the US will lift all sanctions in return for the Ayatollahs’ nebulous promise not to make a nuclear bomb just yet, at least not openly.

This isn’t so much the accurate text of the agreement as its essence, but the essence is accurate enough.

Hence the price of Iran doing America’s bidding in fighting Isis (which has appeared as a direct result of America’s bungling) is a nuclear-armed Shiite loony bin whose declared purpose is to destroy Sunni lands and Israel.

No wonder the potential targets of what passes for Obama’s foreign policy are running scared. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu has delivered a rousing speech to US Congress, where he was invited without Obama’s prior knowledge.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are feverishly looking for ways of beefing up their security and possibly acquiring nuclear weapons themselves. And Israel, which already has such weapons, has made it clear she’ll use them when it becomes inevitable that Iran will go nuclear.

All such measures, present and future, are tantamount to a declaration of war on Obama’s presidency. And now Congress has launched its own offensive.

In circumvention of accepted practice, and quite possibly US law, 47 of the 54 Republican senators, including three presidential candidates, have published an open letter telling Iran that Obama’s deal isn’t worth the proverbial paper it’s written on.

Republican-controlled Congress, they explained, will never ratify the treaty, and the next president will revoke it “at the stroke of a pen”. So don’t get your hopes up high, was the overall message.

Obama’s Democratic admirers scream treason to the Constitution, and, though I’m no expert on American constitutional law, they may have a point.

What’s more, there are enough experts on American constitutional law among the signatories to know that the Democrats may have a point. But, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.

This letter has the makings of an American constitutional crisis and an effective paralysis of the US as a global power. This means that a match is being taken to the wick sticking out of the powder keg.

The world is on the brink of a major war – largely thanks to ‘Oh, Bummer’, who lists the Nobel Peace Prize among his attainments. Can the prize be revoked in parallel with the Iran treaty, one wonders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Medals for murder and other Russian jokes

Col. Putin either has too much sense of humour or none at all. In between those two extremes his behaviour would be inexplicable.

His latest joke, witting or unwitting, came the other day, when he awarded the medal ‘For Services to Motherland’ to Alexei Lugovoi and Ramzan Kadyrov.

The accolade is richly merited in both cases, for both men have indeed provided the eponymous services. Moreover, said services were strikingly similar.

Lugovoi served his country by slipping some polonium into Alexander Litvinenko’s tea, and one can only wonder why this act of heroism has had to wait until now to be officially recognised.

Kadyrov’s services to Russia are too numerous to mention, but the timing of the award, just a few days after the murder of Boris Nemtsov, suggests that Kadyrov was decorated for distinguishing himself in the same manner as Lugovoi.

Mr Kadyrov is Putin’s gauleiter in Chechnya, and his methods of government do evoke the Nazi gauleiters of yesteryear, with an added gangsterism twist.

Those disagreeing with his methods are abducted and killed, while their houses and, for good measure, those of their families are razed.

Kadyrov’s reward for doing Putin’s work in Chechnya is a free hand to do his own work in Moscow, where the Chechen mob dominates the crime scene.

As an occasional quid pro quo, Kadyrov lends Putin his murderers, of whom he seems to have an inexhaustible supply.

These may be offered wholesale or retail. An example of the former is Kadyrov’s last year’s announcement that “74,000 Chechens are awaiting the go-ahead to restore order in the Ukraine.”

In other words, Chechens are perfectly suited to the role of spontaneously rebelling ‘Ukrainian separatists’. This implication was too much even for Putin: the Chechen cat is staying in the bag for the time being.

Kadyrov’s retail offers are more attractive, and it was one of his men who in 2006 murdered Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was Putin’s sworn enemy.

Zaur Dadayev, the chief suspect in the murder of Nemtsov, is also Kadyrov’s partner in crime. In fact last Sunday the Chechen warlord praised Dadayev as a “genuine Russian patriot”, confusing me no end.

I thought Chechen hitmen were pious Muslims, waving the green banner of Islam in the face of an infidel, Christian Russia. Now it turns out that, while remaining Islamic fundamentalists, they are also devoted to the country that deported the whole Chechen nation at the end of the Second World War and has since fought two murderous wars against Chechnya.

The seeming paradox is just that, seeming. Since Putin’s spokesman has explained that “without Putin there is no Russia”, Putin is fully synonymous with Russia.

Hence ‘a genuine Russian patriot’ is a chap ready to do anything at Putin’s behest, Islam or no Islam. One such service would be, to use the colonel’s language, “whacking’em in the shithouse” or, as the case may be, on a bridge.

Acknowledging the services provided by Messrs Lugovoi and Kadyrov at this moment does suggest that Putin is endowed with a highly developed, if slightly macabre, sense of humour.

This commendable quality, however, escapes the KGB colonel when the joke is on him.

For example, back in December, 2010, the Moscow banker Matvei Urin was going to work. It has to be remembered that Moscow bankers correctly believe that any normal commute, by tube, taxi or even limousine, could be detrimental to their health, what with Kadyrov’s ‘patriots’ on the prowl.

Hence Mr Urin was travelling in an armoured Mercedes accompanied by a VW van full of bodyguards. Moscow traffic being what it is, a speeding BMW overtook the convoy and had the temerity to cut up the Merc.

So it’s only fair that in response the van ran the BMW off the road, and the bodyguards demanded that the culprit come out. When he refused, they smashed the car’s windows with baseball bats, dragged the hapless driver out and beat him up – as one does.

(As an aside, Russian sports shops sold 500,000 baseball bats that year, but only three baseballs and one baseball glove.)

So far so normal. Alas, that just retribution was in that case misplaced. For the driver turned out to be a foreigner, the Dutchman Jorrit Jost Vaasen, working for a Moscow construction concern.

Foreigners do enjoy a special status in Moscow, and they are only ever beaten up, tortured or killed when absolutely necessary, or when they are really asking for it.

However, Mr Vaasen wasn’t any old foreigner. He happened to be the fiancé of Putin’s daughter Maria.

Now Col. Putin isn’t known as a stickler for the principle of equality before the law and he took the affront personally.

The very next day all involved, including Urin, were arrested. Then the licences of Mr Urin’s nine banks were revoked, which effectively put them out of business.

Three months later the banker was sentenced to three years in prison, and everybody else – unfairly including Urin’s driver who was an innocent party – to terms varying from two to four years.

Justice was done. However, a few months later it was redone: Urin’s sentence was bumped up to 4.5 years.

In March, 2013, Urin was already seeing light at the end of his term, but he was rejoicing too soon. While in prison he was sentenced to another 7.5 years, and there is every indication that he’ll only get out of jail when Putin gets out of the Kremlin, which won’t be soon.

Meanwhile Maria Putin married the Dutch victim of Urin’s tragic mistake and, rumour has it, has blessed her daddy with a grandson, thereby assuring dynastic succession.

Just to think that, had he been a good boy, Mr Urin could have been invited to the wedding.

If you think our politics is bad, just look at culture

What a world we live in. One in which Dave is taken for a conservative, Ed is taken seriously and our cultural gurus aren’t taken for what they are: aesthetically illiterate idiots.

Or Morans, if you’d rather. As in Caitlin Moran, the arbiter of taste at The Times.

Actually, one should take pity on Miss Moran, for she is heart-broken. As she put it in an article a few days ago, “I miss Amy Winehouse, man.” (Note the diction, so in keeping with the stylistic heritage of this venerable paper.)

One wonders why she has to suffer. A visit to any karaoke pub in a sleazy part of town would cure Miss Moran of that nostalgic longing.

There she could find an ample supply of dishevelled, tattooed, booze-sodden, drug-addled sluts belting out unmusical pagan chants to the accompaniment of the three chords that are the sum total of pop ‘music’.

Such a slumming trip wouldn’t be on the cards though. Miss Moran probably wouldn’t go to a place (or neighbourhood) like that, and I doubt she really misses Amy.

Her statement wasn’t cultural but ideological. It was a prelude to her rant, saying that “21st-century British Culture is not British culture. It is, rather, a tiny monoculture of straight, white, public-school men, masquerading as the culture of a multicultural, multi-class, multi-sexual, half-female country.”

One wonders if either Miss Moran or her editors or, most important, her readers realise that this is meaningless drivel even on her own puny terms.

At the bottom of the anthropological universe where the likes of Winehouse reside, the kind of genus Miss Moran holds up as being typical doesn’t exist at all.

Even in what these days has to be coyly described as high culture, the attributes that so vex Miss Moran are seldom found all together, though they often appear severally.

Half of today’s novelists are women, and even less ‘progressive’ times yielded many figures breaking the imaginary stereotype Miss Moran has in her febrile mind.

I won’t bother you with a long list of great British female novelists and musicians, or homosexual writers, artists, our most respected art critics and thespians (a little clue: just look at most great Shakespearian actors of the last half-century or so) – you are perfectly capable of compiling such lists yourself.

True, most of those objects of Miss Moran’s disdain are white, but she must learn to be patient. After all, Britain was practically all-white for 1,500 years, and this unfortunate situation can’t be changed overnight. We are on the right track though, and there are already enough black Hamlets and Lears to pour balm on Miss Moran’s multi-culti wounds.

Yet again, what matters here isn’t the text but the subtext; not the denotation but the connotation. Which is an all-abiding urge to reduce this ancient, civilised Western country to a primitive tribe gyrating to shamanistic shrieks and losing every semblance of aesthetic judgement.

A piece of avuncular advice though, if I may, Caitlin. Don’t write things like “egalitarianism is, like love, only really useful when it’s an adverb, not a noun.”

People may think you are not only stupid and subversive, but also illiterate. Neither word can ever be an adverb, dear. Were you too busy turning on in your youth to study basic grammar?

Such are our taste gurus, the fishers of virginal souls. Their catch is spectacular and at times they even manage to reel in souls that are far from virginal, such as, alas, mine.

The other day I read the reviews for the new film The Duke of Burgundy and decided I had to give it a go. After all, every critic in every broadsheet gave it at least four stars and usually all five. “Stylish”, “sensual”, “genuine substance” – such words were persuasive enough to make me part with my hard-earned.

I ought to have known better.

The film depicts an S&M, B&D affair between two women, one older than the other. The leitmotif is the same play-acting scene repeated ad infinitum: the younger pervert plays a servant who does something wrong and has to be punished by the older degenerate.

The punishment takes the shape of oral urination mercifully administered behind a closed door and hence communicated through sound effects only.

The overall message, as far as one can discern it, is that such is, or at least can be, true love. Omnia vincit amor, and love can even conquer the taste of piss in one’s mouth.

The form matches the content. Every frame is pseudo-artistic, pretentious, diffused-focus, somnolently paced emetic rubbish, and it’s not even original rubbish. When I managed to force my eyelids open, I could discern direct references to at least half a dozen cult films, including the stocking-donning scene from The Graduate.

This is what art is supposed to be like for someone who knows nothing about art. It’s like cre-itive, man, as Miss Moran would put it. Djamean?

Against this outpouring of chichi, tasteless, pseud visual demagoguery, one almost misses the fact that the film doesn’t offer a single reference to the eponymous Duke of Burgundy. Perhaps this is meant to be part of the supposed mystique.

But it’s not the utterly giftless and aesthetically challenged director Peter Strickland who interests me here, but our cultural commentators, the chaps and chapesses who shape the tastes of our gullible public.

Have they all formed some kind of Masonic cabal to destroy our culture? I doubt they have, at least not literally. But one struggles to think what they’d do differently if they had indeed met in a smoke-filled room to draft a secret programme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thanks to Nick Clegg and Romanian pickpockets

Nick in particular deserves my gratitude. Every time I’m stuck for a topic, especially when in a jaundiced mood, all I have to do is Google his name.

That never fails: Nick can be confidently predicted to say something utterly risible every day. This reliance on Nick started more than three years ago, when I began to appear in this space.

Then Nick expressed his pride in being multi-culti not only in his beliefs but also in his person. And he was especially proud of having a Russian ancestor in his ethnic mix.

Being reasonably familiar with Russian history, I wrote that there wasn’t really much to be proud about. For the ancestor in question, Baroness Moura Budberg, was a woman of easy virtue whose speciality was setting ‘honey traps’ for Lenin’s secret police.

This time around Nick has set out to prove every known truism about the morality of socialism, the perverse doctrine Nick embraces as passionately as his ancestor embraced the likes of H.G. Wells, Maxim Gorky and Bruce Lockhart.

The truism of interest to me now applies to the socialists’ belief that every individual misdemeanour is actually collective. It’s all society’s fault, goes the mantra of defence barristers at a myriad criminal trials.

In that spirit Nick has declared that those caught in possession of illegal substances, including such hard drugs as heroin and crack, shouldn’t even be blamed for it, much less prosecuted.

They are all ‘victims’. Of drug barons, street pushers, police – of society at large.

It’s society’s invisible hand that grabs a junkie by the scruff of the neck, hands him a syringe filled with some disgusting stuff and forces him to shoot up.

No personal responsibility is involved: the addict isn’t a free agent. He’s an automaton whose buttons are pushed by external forces, which implicitly all have the conservative establishment at their root.

It never occurs to Nick that this pronouncement is offensive not only to drug users but to man in general. It reduces mankind to the status of the animal world, which is of course the underlying philosophy of every atheist, particularly a socialist one.

Actually Nick has also mentioned that he’s not so sure about his lifelong atheism any longer. “I’m beginning to warm up to God,” he said. On the evidence of his offensive effluvia, I’m not sure God is warming up to Nick.

And speaking of causing offence, this is where Romanian pickpockets come in.

You know how sometimes one hurts other people’s feelings by saying something unthinkingly, just because it sounds good? Well, this occasionally happens to me, if not as often as in my youth.

Last weekend I played tennis with a very nice chap who told me his little son was also named Alex. No, he said in response to my facetious question, he didn’t name the boy after me.

It’s just that his wife is from Romania, and they decided to choose an English name that wouldn’t sound foreign to Romanians.

“Did you consider Pickpocket?” I asked in one of those encephalophonic moments that one always regrets later.

The pained expression on my partner’s face made me curse myself inwardly and apologise profusely, only making things worse (“I don’t mean they are all like that, and I’m sure your wife would never…”)

Mutual embarrassment ensued, and mine lasted for a couple of days. This morning, however, thanks to Romanian pickpockets it has diminished if not disappeared.

For I read in the paper that a Romanian immigrant has just been sent down for stealing 22 mobile phones (those we know about). Apparently he embarked on this career three days after arrival to these shores, and who says it takes immigrants long to learn how to function in their new land?

Far be it from me to suggest that a propensity to dip into other people’s pockets is an indigenous characteristic of any particular group, but Romanians must have a particular knack for it.

Otherwise it would be hard to explain their disproportionate representation in our prison population, which many of them joined specifically because of this offence.

Exactly the same is happening in France, where Romanians based in camps outside Paris are every morning transported to the city by coach to ply their trade during business hours.

I wonder what Nick’s take on this is. He no doubt feels it’s all society’s fault, specifically the fault of the government that doesn’t welcome new arrivals with enough cash to make them desist from crime.

We must fight not the criminals but the causes of crime, he repeats the socialist shibboleth.

For once I agree. Where we diverge is in our understanding of such causes. His is informed by Marx; mine, by Genesis 2:4-3:24.

You know, the verses about Original Sin and the subsequent explanations of how only individual effort will overcome it – assisted by the deity to which Nick is self-admittedly warming up.

 

  

 

 

Who says Labour can’t come up with ground-breaking ideas?

Certainly not me. Not any longer, at any rate, and I regret having in the past described the Labour party as a collection of openly subversive nincompoops.

For the ex-minister David Lammy, MP, hasn’t just proposed a change in law. What he has come up with is nothing less than ditching a fundamental principle of legality.

In Britain equality before the law has been regarded as inviolable since God was young, but that doesn’t matter to Mr Lammy. He is out to blaze new trails, and the fire will consume all those outdated notions.

The wealthier the victim of theft, goes Mr Lammy’s proposal, the lighter should the criminal’s punishment be.

Forget about the thou shalt not steal nonsense. Forget about even the monetary value of the theft. What matters is its impact on the victim.

Focusing specifically on shoplifting, Mr Lammy argues that a theft of £200 would hurt the likes of Fortnum & Mason a lot less than a corner shop. This is where I start applauding, for this statement displays commendable factual accuracy, a virtue not always associated with socialists.

It has to be said that modern politicians, especially those of the leftish persuasion, don’t feel shoplifting is much of a crime anyway. Under the latest Labour government, for example, it was ruled that a theft of under £200 wouldn’t even be prosecuted – just pay an £80-pound on-the-spot fine, Mr Thief, and go on with your merry ways.

Mr Lammy’s proposal goes even further. He has made the step hundreds of generations of jurists have been reluctant even to consider: the victim’s wealth is to become a factor in sentencing (and no doubt prosecuting).

I think this idea is wonderful not only on its intrinsic merit, but also because of its unlimited potential for expansion. Mr Lammy doubtless realises that, but he is too modest to boast about the full implications of his proposal.

Congratulating him again, this time not on his daring but on his reticence, I’m willing to put forth a few possibilities. Each one comes out of Mr Lammy’s proposal the way Eve came out of Adam’s rib (if you happen to credit that bit of virulent anti-Labour propaganda).

1) The older the murder victim, the lighter should be the murderer’s punishment.

No one can deny the actuarial near-certainty that a 70-year-old’s life expectancy is considerably shorter than a 20-year-old’s. Hence being killed represents a smaller loss for the former – and must lead to a lighter punishment for the killer.

2) The older the rape victim, ditto.

As we all know, a sex crime – and you can interpret the concept as broadly as you like, to include, for example, patting a woman’s rump on a bus – traumatises the victim for life.

Since an 82-year-old granny has less of her life left than a nubile nymphet, her trauma wouldn’t last as long – hence a much lighter sentence for the chap who ‘likes’em well old’.

3) The bigger the target house, and the more auspicious its location, the less culpable the burglar.

Knocking off a Knightsbridge mansion stuffed to the gunwales with objets d’art should be punished lightly, if at all. After all, the owner’s wealth wouldn’t diminish all that much should a £100,000 painting get lifted (or slashed, to express the burglar’s well-justified resentment against poncy culture).

Conversely, nicking some underwear off a clothes line in the garden of a Peckham semi must be punished with all severity. After all, the cost of replacements may take a significant bite out of the victim’s social benefits.

 4) Cheating on income tax should be punished more severely than cheating on welfare (actually it already is).

Since, as we know, the whole is greater than one of its parts, then the social budget is by definition smaller than the whole Exchequer revenue. Hence the rich bastards who hide their income offshore – even if they do it legally – should have the book thrown at them, while welfare cheats must be politely asked to desist.

5) Knocking out a pedestrian’s teeth should be punishable in inverse proportion to the number of teeth he (or she) has left.

Indirectly this will also exculpate those who assault a rich bastard sporting provocative pinstripes. His dental work would tend to be better than that of the kind of chap who is likely to punch the pinstriped toff unprovoked.

Summing up Mr Lammy’s proposal and my slight embellishments on it, one has to say that they vastly extend the social ramifications of the law.

They are nothing but a continuation of class war by other means, and isn’t this what legality is, or should be, all about? Of course it is.

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating Mr Lammy on thinking up this advance in jurisprudence. And I do welcome any new ideas on how his breakthrough can be further expanded.

 

The snowplough mystery: an amateur attempt at investigation

Do you know where Moscow’s CCTV cameras are? Neither do I. And, when it comes to surveillance cameras around the Kremlin, neither do the Muscovites, including those who live in the area.

However, they know there are lots of such cameras, keeping a watchful eye on one of the world’s most tightly guarded areas.

It’s not just the cameras either. The area around the Kremlin is crawling with trained FSB killers, there to make sure that nothing disturbs the daily toil of the Kremlin’s residents.

Hence a professional hitman would be unlikely to choose Red Square and vicinity as an arena for plying his trade.

Unlike a murderous fanatic who doesn’t fear, and may even welcome, death, a professional who is paid a lot of money wants to live to spend it. Obviously in his occupation he has to accept some risks, but a suicide mission isn’t for him.

If he takes a job, he has to be reasonably sure that, mission accomplished, he’ll walk away unscathed.

That means not being shot or arrested on the spot, and also not being caught on camera. Ideally there shouldn’t be many potential eyewitnesses either.

At 11.30 at night this last condition would have been the only one met by the southern approach to Red Square. Unlike the northern approach, it’s seldom overcrowded even in daytime, and but a handful of pedestrians grace it by their presence at night.

The other two conditions, however, would stack the odds against any assassin to the point of being suicidally prohibitive. And yet Nemtsov’s murderer bucked the odds: having fired his unsilenced pistol six times, he wasn’t caught on camera, and none of the security personnel present even gave chase when he fled.

How did he get away with the murder? And why did he choose such an unlikely ground?

After all, Nemtsov was out and about all day and, from the assassin’s standpoint, just about any other place in Moscow would have been more secure than the 100 yards separating the northern end of the Trans-Moskva Bridge from the southern end of Red Square.

Yet in an ideal world, with no cameras or cops present, this choice of murder site sends a powerful message, especially if the victim’s body is left on the pavement for three hours, as Nemtsov’s body was.

Hence the murderer had to be sure the site was indeed ideal, and he had nothing to fear from either the cameras or the heavily armed FSB chaps who at that time of night would have outnumbered pedestrians two to one.

His calculations were proved to be spectacularly accurate. He got away without even leaving an identifiable photographic memento behind.  

This brings us to the mysterious snowplough, never mentioned in the initial police reports and only uncovered when the CCTV footage had to be made available to the public.

But before we talk about the snowplough, let’s talk about the car, from which the assassin allegedly fired and in which he got away.

That he got away in it is beyond doubt, but the footage clearly shows he didn’t fire from it. He was on foot, conveniently shielded from the camera’s prying eye by the snowplough whose speed was adjusted to the assassin’s walking pace.

Conceivably the murderer even arrived in the snowplough, getting out only to pull the trigger and then to jump into the getaway car.

Now the car was moving in parallel with the snowplough and at exactly the same crawling speed. Hence the larger vehicle obscured it too, until the moment the assassin’s job had been done.

Casting aside not just improbable but impossible coincidences, the whole operation shows every sign of being timed, orchestrated and executed with uncanny professional precision.

This means, among other things, that – unlike you, me and most Muscovites – the organisers and perpetrators of the crime knew exactly which camera covered the site, at what angle of vision, and how it could be blocked.

Such foreknowledge raises quite a few questions:

What happened to the snowplough afterwards? Has anyone interrogated the driver? How come a car crawling along at the snail’s pace of the snowplough and in parallel with it didn’t attract the attention of the security personnel? How come they didn’t pursue the getaway car?

That this was a professional hit is beyond doubt. The assassin used a short-barrelled 9mm Makarov pistol, designed as an improvement on the German wartime Walther PP.

While accurate by the standards of its weapon category, the Makarov wouldn’t be the first choice of weapon for a professional hit. Its rather heavy calibre and short barrel would make it inaccurate in any other than extremely well-trained hands.

The assassin’s hands satisfied that requirement. He managed to connect with four out of six shots – without hitting Nemtsov’s young girlfriend with whom he was walking hand in hand.

Even at close range this is extremely good going, especially under pressure. The assassin had to be absolutely confident he wouldn’t miss, in which case the 9mm rounds would have plenty of killing power.

One would think that the case is full of paradoxes. On the one hand, the assassin and his accomplices were consummate professionals able to plan the hit meticulously and execute it dispassionately and efficiently.

On the other hand, they chose a killing site that offered maximum PR value but practically no chance of escaping. Every hallmark of a suicidal mission was present, and yet the assassin(s) took it on.

There is only one way out of this paradox:

The assassin(s) knew exactly where the relevant camera was; they knew how to render it useless; they knew how to get hold of a snowplough; they knew the FSB security would be temporarily as unsighted as the camera; they knew neither they nor the snowplough driver would be pursued; they knew that, even if the snowplough driver is interrogated, he’ll be able to claim complete innocence credibly and in any case won’t identify the murderer.

Such knowledge couldn’t have been acquired without the direct involvement of the security services, or at least their acquiescence.

And security services wouldn’t have taken it upon themselves to take part in the murder of one of Russia’s best-known politicians without either a direct order or at least a transparent hint from the Kremlin.

Thus if anyone harbours any doubts that Putin is a serial murderer, this case ought to dispel them. The murder of Boris Nemtsov isn’t the first on Putin’s score sheet and, one fears, it’s far – very far – from being the last.