Paris massacre and free speech

I first arrived in New York at the time of Watergate, a few days after Nixon sacked the federal prosecutor Archibald Cox.

The city was awash with anti-Nixon posters, bumper stickers and newspaper headlines, and I was struck by both the vehemence and volume of the invective.

Some of the messages were meant to be humorous, and some of those did make me laugh.

Such as the bumper sticker ‘Impeach the Cox sacker’, which complemented my mirth with the vain pride of being able to get the naughty double entendre on my first day in an English-speaking country.

Some others made me wince, such as a large cartoon poster of Nixon being sodomised in a prison cell by a black inmate. ‘Justice at last’, said the caption, and I felt that sometimes freedom of expression went a bit too far.

Now, almost 42 years later, the Paris massacre brings back those memories and those thoughts.

For freedom of speech has to be balanced by freedom from speech. Your right to call me a fat bastard must exist in some kind of equilibrium with my right not to be called a fat bastard, even (especially?) if both parts of the designation may well be true.

One man’s freedom is another man’s licence and yet another man’s anarchy. My different reactions to the New York sticker and poster sprang from a knee-jerk choice of where the lines ought to be drawn.

Because I thought it funny and clever, the sticker was to me a worthy exercise of irrevocable freedom. Because I thought it unfunny and crude, the poster represented what I saw as revocable licence.

I was entitled to that view, just as someone else would have been entitled to its opposite. But a successful society can’t possibly accommodate every possible taste: it must decide where to draw the same line for all.

And a line must be drawn, for no freedom, be it creative or political, can exist without some discipline.

For example, free trade is wonderful but, when exercised without discipline, it can easily become gangsterism or at least double dealing. Every game must be played by the rules, and the injunction against, say, insider trading or price fixing is one of the essential rules of this particular game.

Even creative freedom can’t exist, or at least produce anything worthwhile, outside some disciplinary restraints, ideally self-imposed. Disciplined art produces Giotto’s saints and Vermeer’s women; undisciplined art produces unmade beds and animals pickled in formaldehyde. 

Yet even when imposed externally, reasonable restraints don’t demonstrably hurt the quality of the creative output – quite the opposite. For example, most of the world’s great literature was produced in conditions of some censorship, and next to none in the absence of such conditions.

Following the outrage perpetrated in Paris, it’s tempting to say that freedom of speech must not be restrained in any way, but one should resist that temptation. What is undeniable that this or any other freedom should be restricted by law, not by assault rifles.

Moreover, freedom of speech is already restrained everywhere, without raising objections from even the staunchest libertarians.

To use a popular example, everyone agrees that creating a stampede in a cinema by screaming ‘Fire!’ for fun ought to be punished. Similarly, it seems reasonable that, while newspapers shouldn’t be banned from criticising government officials, they mustn’t be allowed to call for their assassination.

The question is where the watershed lies between reasonable restraints and tyranny. In other words, what restraints are reasonable in each case?

With literature, the answer is easy. Proscriptive censorship, telling writers what they mustn’t write, has no noticeable deleterious effect on literary output. Conversely, prescriptive censorship, telling writers what they must write, kills literature stone dead.

Hence, for instance, the Russians produced one of the world’s greatest literatures under the tsars’ proscriptive censorship, and one of the puniest under the prescriptive censorship imposed by Col. Putin’s Bolshevik colleagues.

Since the monstrosity in Paris was provoked by cartoons lampooning Mohammed, it’s specifically religious freedom that has come into focus.

All religions are fair game for the most savage of attacks, say the libertarians, along with those who are so appalled by the massacres that they adopt the libertarian position ad hoc.

No religion must be insulted, say traditionalists, not only Islamic but also Christian. For example, many Russian Orthodox priests and laity have declared that the staff of Charlie Hebdo have only themselves to blame, and let it be a lesson to all blasphemers.

They have their own agenda, based on the gross mistake of lumping all religions together. I never tire of saying that there is no such thing as religion in general, and hence there can be no blasphemy in general.

There are only specific religions, each with its own relationship to God and man, each with its own philosophy, ethics and aesthetics. To say that they all merit equal treatment is only to say that they are all equally irrelevant.

I firmly believe that we must have some blasphemy laws, but they should only protect our founding religion, which is Christianity, or Judaeo-Christianity if you’d rather.

Unrestrained and savage mockery of it represents a sledgehammer taken to the cornerstone of our civilisation – knock it out, and the building collapses. This would spell, has practically already spelled, the end of the West in any other than the geographical sense of the word.

Machiavelli did write that “there is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rights of religion held in contempt”, but rest assured he was talking specifically about Christianity, not Islam or Buddhism or any other creed.

Freedom of speech is essential, but it’s not a suicide pact. Society has the right to protect itself, and surely defending its founding faith from abuse is essential to such protection, especially when both the faith and society are under threat.

Islam, to name an obvious example, shouldn’t be entitled to protection under our law. Tact, good manners and taste should be the only factors restraining the vigour of criticism or satire directed at Islam and its icons.

That’s why I find it abhorrent that the British government has no guts to say that while the wearing of a cross publicly is fine, wearing, say, a burka is not. Instead it issues a wishy-washy ban on religious symbols in general.

In terms of Charlie Hebdo, I may find their cartoons of Mohammed unfunny and tasteless, but I’m prepared to defend their right to publish them – to the death if need be, and I’m shocked that for the magazine’s staff this turned out to be not just a figure of speech.

Conversely, I’d be prepared to limit their right to insult Christians and Jews the same way. I’m afraid that in this matter, as in most others, égalité is the enemy of liberté.

The state shouldn’t put self-expression into a straitjacket, but neither should it issue a licence for the lunatics to run the asylum. This proposition seems fairly straightforward, except that no proposition is straightforward in the muddle of our terribly confused society. 





















France draws fire – who’s next?

Here, some 100 miles south of Paris, things are peacefully quiet. In Paris itself there is no peace and there is no quiet. Yet another lot of innocent blood has been spilled by Muslim terrorism; yet another well of typographic paint has been uncapped.

I can’t really add much to the profusion of indignation so eloquently expressed by so many since the rampage of atrocities in Paris.

All I can offer is a few comments on the commentators, of whom some are right, some righteous, some self-righteous, some utterly predictable and some predictably hypocritical.

In that last category one ought to mention the front-page headline in the Communist newspaper L’Humanité: “What they murdered is liberty.”

It isn’t, comrades. The Kouachi brothers merely pinpricked liberty, but it will recover – such as it can ever be in today’s West dedicated to the values of care, share and be aware.

The real murder of liberty would have occurred only if the cause championed by the paper since 1917 had triumphed. For throughout the existence of the Soviet Union this Stalinist rag toed the Soviet line with canine fidelity.

This is understandable, considering that it was wholly funded by the KGB, and its circulation defied the usual understanding of this publishing term.

Using Soviet blood-stained money, L’Humanité would print lorry-loads of copies that few would read and fewer would buy.

Most of the unused circulation would then be circulated to Russia, there to be pulped. The resulting paper would then be shipped back to Paris for L’Humanité to print more copies. Then, in an early foretaste of responsible recycling, the process would be repeated. 

The rag’s founders and pundits, most of whom were Soviet agents, not just sympathisers, were desperate to bring to France the Soviet version of liberty, complete with enslaved population, nonexistent free press, concentration camps, torture and mass shootings.

In compliance with Stalin’s directives, L’Humanité hailed the Nazi-Soviet pact and openly agitated against France’s resistance to the Nazi attack, thereby contributing to its success – only to change its tack on 22 June, when the Nazis attacked the rag’s real owners.

To watch this paper shed crocodile tears over the blow suffered by freedom of the press is like reading laments about homosexual marriage in PinkNews.

Not to be outdone, Libération also bemoans this attack on freedom of expression, screaming “We are all Charlie” from its front page. Of course Libération preaches its devotion to the abused liberal virtue only because it has to function in a country where its raison d’être hasn’t yet triumphed.

Rather than being Stalinist, like L’Humanité, Libération is Trotskyist which, in the context of freedom of the press, is a distinction without a difference.

Both papers, along with their marginally more temperate colleagues at Le Monde and indeed Charlie Hebdo, are largely responsible for fostering the climate of anomic ‘liberalism’ in which Muslim terrorism grows in the soil fertilised by millions of Muslim immigrants.

Assorted lefties, in France and elsewhere, are only too happy to import vast and vastly alien populations, to be used as battering rams of the new order. Then they feign distress when the imports act in character.

Charlie Hebdo itself belongs to the extreme left of French journalism. As such it doesn’t discriminate: it attacks with equal venom Christians, Muslims and especially Jews, for which diatribes the paper has been charged with anti-Semitic propaganda in the past.

The Muslims, of course, tend to take the law in their own hands, which they did a few years ago when attacking Charlie Hebdo’s offices with petrol bombs. Since then the paper has been under police protection, and the assigned police officer was killed in yesterday’s assault.

After the first attack Stéphane Charbonnier, the paper’s editor, refused to surrender to terrorist threats. “It’s better to die standing up than to live kneeling,” he said at the time.

The statement is undeniably noble, but its provenance isn’t. Originally uttered by the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, the saying gained wide currency in Europe’s leftwing circles after it was used during the Spanish Civil War by the communist chieftain Dolores Ibárruri, nicknamed La Pasionaria.

La Pasionaria acquired her nom de révolution for biting through a priest’s jugular vein, and there have to be better ways of quenching one’s thirst. This monster’s words clearly resonated through Charbonnier’s mind.

His cause wasn’t heroic, but his death was, and even those who detested his politics are mourning his death at the hands of Islamic murderers.

Then of course one reads, and hears in the broadcast media, a constant flow of predictable assurances that the atrocity had nothing to do with Islam.

Yet since the murderers were manifestly not Lutheran and, while shooting up Charlie Hebdo’s editorial meeting, they screamed “Allahu akbar!” and “We’ve avenged Prophet Mohammed!” rather than singing Stille Nacht, one is tempted to think that the Muslim faith had a teeny something to do with it.

Not so, according to the British Muslim scholar pontificating on this morning’s Sky News that the religious link is tenuous to the point of being nonexistent.

There is, he acknowledged, one sentence in Hadith, the collection of Mohammed’s sayings, to the effect that anyone offending the Prophet must be killed. But the current thinking is that whenever Hadith contradicts humanitarian values the latter must take precedence.

Obviously this point hasn’t been communicated with sufficient clarity to ISIS, Hamas, al-Qaeda or to the murderous Paris-born Muslims who took such exception to a few cartoons in Charlie Hebdo.

The scholar further explained that real Muslims don’t behave in such a barbaric fashion. They dedicate their lives to living peacefully, the way Mohammed lived.

The poor chap doesn’t have much sense of humour. That faculty alone would have prevented him from making such patently ludicrous remarks in the full knowledge that this is exactly what they are.

For the role model of his religion set rather unpeaceful examples to follow.

Thus his first act after moving from Mecca to Medina was to murder hundreds of Jews with his own hand. This is how the earliest Muslim biographer of Mohammed describes this 627 AD event:

“When [the Jewish Qurayza tribe] surrendered, the Prophet confined them in Medina… Then he sent for them and struck off their heads… as they were brought out to him in batches… There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900… This went on until the Prophet made an end of them.”

Note that his victims had surrendered – just as the victims of the Kouachi brothers meekly went to their death. Hence the brothers were doing exactly what the Sky News expert suggested all faithful Muslims ought to do: imitate Mohammed.

The French police will probably catch the fleeing murderers, but it’ll take some doing. For, after shooting another surrendering policeman, the brothers fled in the direction of Saint-Denis, the Muslim ghetto in the north of Paris, which has become a virtual no-go area even for the police.

It’s there and in other such neighbourhoods beyond the Périphérique ring road that thousands of cars are burned every year by rioters screaming “Nique la France!” (F*** France!).

One gets the impression that the programme of multi-culti assimilation hasn’t been an unequivocal success in France. Murderers on the run find a natural home in Saint-Denis, where they are surrounded by thousands of admiring fans.

We aren’t short of such support in Britain, as witnessed by the London preacher of hate Anjem Choudary who blamed the French government for “allowing” the offensive cartoons to be published, “thereby placing the sanctity of citizens at risk.”

What the French government, along with the British and other Western European governments, shouldn’t have allowed is the burgeoning of vast communities of those who are institutionally and religiously conditioned to hate everything the West stands for.

And they should be blamed not for upholding freedom of the press but for refusing to acknowledge that there is a war on – and we are losing.

Human life: sanctimony trumps sanctity

Few things are as polarising as debates over the taking of human life.

By now the Augustinian concept of just war has caught on, and soldiers killing for their country aren’t widely regarded as murderers.

When the state says that the war it is fighting is just, youngsters aren’t supposed to struggle with moral choice. They are expected to go and kill or be killed.

When they exercise their own moral choice, the state punishes those whose moral choice it finds wrong. The issue is more or less clear-cut.

Not so with other forms of homicide, such as the death penalty and abortion. One observes that those in favour of the former are almost always opposed to the latter and vice versa, with both sides invoking the argument that human life is sacred.

Since even intelligent atheists acknowledge that Western morality derives from Judaeo-Christianity, it’s worth mentioning that religious views on such matters are unequivocal. The death penalty doesn’t contradict our religion; abortion does.

The religious argument must be made. Yet the same case can be argued rationally, without taking God’s name in vain.

Executing a murderer doesn’t so much deny as assert the value of human life. By having the courage to kill the killer, the state expresses society’s abhorrence of murder.

Human life, the state says thereby, is sacred. Whoever takes it wantonly thus strikes out against not just his victim but against every moral foundation of society.

A murder sends out destructive waves into society, and their amplitude can never be attenuated if the crime is left unpunished, or punished inadequately.

No punishment other than death is in this case adequate specifically because human life is sacred.

Its value can’t be measured against any length of imprisonment. Society can no longer protect the victim, but imposing the death penalty is the only way for it itself not to be victimised.

Therefore the death penalty was never regarded as cruel and unusual punishment anywhere in the West until the last few decades.

At that point the Judaeo-Christian underpinnings of our society were destroyed  and society was cast adrift – into oblivion.

Since, as Margaret Thatcher once explained, society no longer exists, it can no longer be threatened, and suddenly the death penalty becomes unacceptable. We are atomised individuals now, each with his own view of right and wrong.

This inevitably creates morally troubled waters in which any tyrannical, which is to say modern, state can then fish by turning itself into the unifying moral authority.

Rather than referring to an appropriate scriptural verse, as the erstwhile moral authorities used to do, the state can impose its own laws that seem moral but are in fact self-serving.

The state’s principal objective is not to enforce immutable moral laws but to self-perpetuate by putting forth regulations aimed at destroying the laws that have for ages been considered immutable. Any surrogate will do, provided the state can throw the might of its formidable propaganda machine behind it.

Hence Western states one by one abolished the death penalty, and hence also they’ve allowed abortion on demand. This somehow is no longer seen as the arbitrary taking of a human life.

Forgetting for a second any moral or, God forbid, religious considerations, the logic of it has always defeated me, as if to serve a reminder that modernity, allegedly devoted to the triumph of reason, ends up stamping reason into the muck.

The only way not to regard abortion as killing is not to regard a foetus as human. But, having written this sentence, the state refuses to put a full stop at the end of it.

It acknowledges that a foetus is indeed human, which is why it’s wrong to kill it when it’s close to climbing out of the womb. Until that moment, however, it’s just a part of the mother’s body, like an appendix.

The logical chaos begins when the state attempts to pin down the beginning of life to a specific point during pregnancy. Generally speaking, most states agree that a foetus is already human during the second and third trimester.

One has to infer that, when the clock strikes midnight on the ninety-third day of pregnancy, a miracle occurs. A magic wand is waved and an appendix becomes a person.

Since those who operate our states tend not to believe in miracles, they must have a more rational explanation for this transformation, though so far they have modestly refrained from offering it for public consumption.

One can understand their reticence, for no logical explanation exists. If a foetus is human at 93 days, it has to be just as human at 92, 62 or 22.

Logically speaking, only one indisputable moment can be accepted as the beginning of a human life, that of conception. Therefore abortion constitutes a killing at any time during pregnancy, be it at 150 days or 15.

Being a reasonable sort, I’m willing to accept – strictly for the sake of argument – that the issue is in doubt.

But surely any doubt must be treated as a certainty: it’s the sacred human life we are talking about here. If it’s even remotely possible that life already exists, then it must be assumed to exist for sure.

Yet we can no longer be rational about such things. The state has trained us to be sanctimonious instead, because it can use our sanctimony against us.

All similar considerations apply to euthanasia. Since sentiment has been replaced by sentimentality, we are supposed to jump up and salute at the state’s supposedly humane permission to kill those whose lives are so full of suffering that they are no longer worth living.

Again logic interferes. Exactly who decides that a life is no longer worth living? Who establishes the point at which suffering becomes intolerable?

It could be the sufferer himself, which is usually the case. But people in pain will often do or say anything to get relief, which incidentally is used as an argument against torture.

The poor chap may feel that death is his only salvation, but we’ve all heard of many miraculous recoveries. If he indeed recovers, don’t you think the patient will be glad he didn’t opt for euthanasia, or that the option didn’t exist in the first place?

Sometimes the death-defining moment is established by doctors, who thanks to their training are more likely to decide correctly that the suffering is irreversible.

Yet more likely doesn’t mean guaranteed, and we have all heard of doctors making horrendous mistakes in writing patients off prematurely.

The only rational solution to the problem is the same as in abortion. Because we can’t know for sure one way or the other, we must err on the side of the sanctity of human life. Only he who gives life can take it, and neither doctors nor patients themselves fall into that category.

Yet, just as with abortion, sanctimony rules. And, just as with abortion, the goalposts are pushed all the way towards the corner flags.

At first abortion was seen as allowable only when the mother’s life was in danger. Then, as diagnostic techniques became more sophisticated, when the foetus couldn’t be expected to grow up at least as modestly intelligent as Ed Miliband. And then – whenever the woman felt like it.

Euthanasia, and its close relation assisted suicide, was first deemed appropriate only when a clearly terminal patient suffered intolerable and unrelievable pain. Eventually it got to be considered not just allowable but desirable for anyone who no longer felt like living.

When modern sanctimony comes in, reason walks out. Witness the latest bout of madness, in Belgium.

Some 30 years ago a 22-year-old man went on a rampage of rape and murder, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Last week the villain complained he could no longer stand prison life and demanded that doctors kill him.

And – are you ready for this? – Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Commission agreed. The man was to be put to death next Sunday.

Only yesterday’s last-minute intercession by psychiatrists put this egregious act on hold for the time being. Yet again I feel baffled.

Belgium, along with most formerly civilised countries, has banned capital punishment. In spite of that a criminal was to be judicially killed in a grotesque fusion of euthanasia, assisted suicide and the death penalty.

Modernity has abandoned God in the name of reason, and God’s morality in the name of the secular kind. But an odd thing happened: it turns out that without God there is no reason and no morality.

We ignore the evidence showing that God’s laws aren’t just more righteous but also infinitely more rational than man’s laws. One only hopes it won’t take an apocalyptic calamity to drive this point home.

Muslim countries? Even Belgium is better than any of them

At the beginning of the film In Bruges, a gangster speaks with his tongue slightly in cheek: “What have the Belgians ever given us? Nothing but child abuse and chocolates. And they only use the chocolates to get at the kids.”

This wasn’t supposed to be serious analysis, yet the analytical methodology behind it can boast divine endorsement: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

Applying this proven way of thought to Belgium, one has to admit that she isn’t among the most accomplished of European nations. Still, from van Eyck, Memling and Rubens to Franck, Magritte and Maeterlinck, Belgium has more to offer than just chocolates and their possible illicit uses.

Flemish urban architecture doesn’t have much to apologise for either, with Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp generally believed to be among Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Admittedly Brussels is justly believed to be among Europe’s ugliest cities, but that makes it an ideal capital of the European Union. I mean, would you rather have Paris or Rome befouled by thousands of denationalised bureaucrats on fat expense accounts?

All in all, Belgium wouldn’t be my first choice of a place to live, but then it wouldn’t be the last one either. Not with so many Muslim countries around.

Applying the same methodology to assessing Islamic civilisation, one has to acknowledge that the fruits it has borne have mostly been either poisonous or nonexistent.

In its earlier days of violent expansion, some scholars bearing quills travelled the world in the wake of riders brandishing swords. Just as the riders bridged Asia and Europe with their conquests, so did the scholars act as conduits of knowledge flowing back and forth.

Thus the Arabs brought to Europe algebra and Aristotle, the former from India the latter from Greece. But, unlike the Indians and the Greeks, they made few indigenous contributions to the world.

These days the Muslims criticise the West for its decadence, and much of their criticism is justified. What isn’t justified is their right to offer such criticism.

One should suggest they use the critical methodology that came from the same source as the analytical methodology I mentioned earlier: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Much is being made these days of the violent advances made by Muslim fanatics in the Middle East, along with the seemingly peaceful demographic advances made by so-called moderate Muslims in Europe.

The target of these two prongs is clearly and with laudable honesty enunciated by Muslim leaders: the creation of an Islamic caliphate destined to rule or at least to dominate the whole world.

My imagination isn’t vivid enough to see the resulting world order in my mind’s eye. But, judging by the Muslims’ record in the countries they already possess, this prospect isn’t much to look forward to with eager anticipation.

The world’s scientists number only one per cent of Muslims in their ranks, with Israel alone having more scientists than all Islamic countries combined.

This is hardly surprising for Arab countries’ collective investment in scientific research is but one-seventh of the world’s average.

Only 300 foreign books are translated in Arab lands every year – one fifth of the number translated in Greece.

Twenty per cent of the world’s population live in Muslim countries, yet their combined GDP is smaller than that of France, although this may change if François Hollande sticks around for a while.

Add to this the rich contribution that Muslims make to Europe’s crime rate, and one would think our governments would do all they can to limit, or better still reverse, the spread of Islamism.

One would hope they’d see the existential menace provided by the implantation of an alien and historically hostile civilisation into an admittedly decadent but still residually western Europe.

Such hopes would be forlorn. Waving the false flag of liberalism in the air, while keeping the dagger of destruction for political gain up their sleeves, European governments seem to be competing with one another as to which one can cede the most ground to Islam the fastest.

As is increasingly becoming the norm, governments and societies no longer see eye to eye on most issues, and this one especially.

People care less and less about which party is going to be in office after the next election – witness the growing apathy of the electorate across Europe and the unprecedented uncertainty of outcome in most precincts.

But they care more and more about their national identity, which they increasingly see as under threat from alien implants. In response European governments, emphatically including ours, foster the tyrannical spread of liberal cant increasingly backed up by the force of the law.

When people express even the mildest of resentments against their own countries being yanked out from underneath their feet, they are declared to be neolithic racists and troglodyte xenophobes. When their resentment goes one notch above mildest, they are routinely charged with ‘hate crimes’.

This newfangled legal category may include not only physical attacks on Muslims but even some publicly expressed dismay over, say, the number of mosques in Britain having grown from 60 to 1,600 in the last 50 years.

European governments and people are clearly at cross-purposes, and so far the governments have had the upper hand. Yet there are indications that this situation is being reversed.

Even our sham democracies can’t afford to ignore the swell of public opinion for ever, and the opinion is indeed swelling. It’s slowly becoming possible to voice a concern about uncontrolled immigration in general and Muslim immigration in particular without being equated to Hitler.

But slowly is the operative word, while the burgeoning of Islam in Europe is anything but slow. Feeling impotent to do anything about it by appealing to their representatives, people are beginning to act in the only way still open to them: taking to the streets.

If in the past such actions were the preserve of various extremist groups, today’s political mainstream is beginning to swing that way too.

Witness the tens of thousands who took part in yesterday’s protests against the creeping Islamisation of Germany. Most of the participants in the rallies indeed came from rather radical groups, but only because the action had been poorly organised.

A poll conducted by Germany’s impeccably liberal Stern magazine shows that one in eight Germans would join an anti-Islam march if it were organised close to home. How long before one in eight becomes one in three?

The British tend to trail behind the continentals in the ardour of political activism. But this side of The Guardian pages and HMG press releases, one hardly hears anything other than anger about the continuing Islamisation of our country.

The people of Europe clearly don’t want their countries to become branches of an Islamic caliphate, and they are prepared to confront their governments over this issue.

I can’t say I blame them. Who’d want to live in an Islamic or even quasi-Islamic country? To paraphrase W.C. Fields, all in all I’d rather be in Belgium.




White Russians support brown politics

Paul Valéry must have had Russians in mind when he wrote that “The only thing one can learn from history is a propensity for chauvinism.”

Well, fine, not all Russians – one shouldn’t generalise. But chauvinism is certainly the only lesson learned by many Russian descendants of White émigrés, most of them living in France.

One has to reach this melancholy conclusion on the basis of their open letter Solidarity with Russia in the Hour of the Ukrainian Tragedy.

Written by Count and Countess Shakhovskoy, the missive includes among its 100-odd signatories members of some of Russia’s oldest families.

A Bobrinsky, a Tolstoy, a Bariatinsky, a Sheremetiev, a Pushkin et al all signed this proof that they must have played truant when history was taught. Especially that part of history that went beyond chauvinism.

Their ancestors were the lucky ones. They managed to get away when Putin’s ancestors raped Russia.

The unlucky ones were culled en masse, for no crime other than belonging to an undesirable class. Actually, culled is perhaps a wrong word, suggesting as it does a quick death visited without much imagination.

Yet many murders were quite imaginative, as documented in Sergei Melgunov’s book The Red Terror, published in the west while Lenin was still alive.

Melgunov cites thousands of instances of such niceties as skinning people alive, rolling them around in nail-studded barrels, driving nails into people’s skulls, quartering, burning alive, flailing, crucifying, stuffing people alive into locomotive furnaces, pouring molten pitch or liquefied lead down their throats.

White Russians who ended up in Paris kept their lives, but they all lost something else. Those who had large families, lost some of their members. Those who had estates, lost them. Those who had money, lost it. Those who had libraries and musical instruments, lost them. Those who had jobs at universities, lost them.

Above all, they all lost their country, and many swore to regain it by ousting the blood-soaked degenerates who took over in 1917. Yet there was always a growing group, infiltrated or otherwise corrupted by the Bolsheviks, which began to claim that the Soviet Union was the same old Russia, albeit painted red.

For all their professed internationalism, they’d say, the Bolsheviks expressed the national Russian idea. Hence they must be supported.

They didn’t know much about what was going on in Russia, and what they did know they blanked out. Many went so far as to beg forgiveness and implore the Soviets to take them back.

The Soviets would oblige, typically welcoming the repatriates with executions and concentration camps.

But even many of those who knew better than to go back still took out Soviet passports as a symbolic gesture. They’d go to the Soviet embassy, drink to Stalin’s health and gorge themselves on free caviar few of them could afford at home.

Step by step, in their minds Soviet Russia ceased to exist as a real and quite awful country, now painted such a dark hue of red that it looked almost brown.

She was replaced by a legend, a sort of secular verbal icon depicting a pristine mother cradling baby émigrés in her arms. With each passing decade, chauvinism indeed became the only lesson they learned from history – and the only one they passed on to their descendants.

Not long ago, a young Frenchman whose Russian father was born in Paris explained to me that the very earth of Russia is sacred. “What makes it any more sacred than the earth of, say, England or France?” I asked – in French, for the youngster doesn’t know a single Russian word except ‘vodka’, wrongly stressed on the last syllable.

He looked at me as if I had questioned the heliocentric nature of our universe. For both him and even his father (who does speak some Russian, reasonably well for a Frenchman) the saintliness of Russia is axiomatic.

To them every Russian regime, be it Grand Prince Vladimir’s, Stalin’s, Gorbachev’s or Putin’s is part of the same blessed continuum, which they idealise in defiance of any widely documented facts.

Russia to them can do no wrong – even if it’s ruled, as it is now, by the spiritual and institutional heirs to the same chaps who flailed and quartered their ancestors, those who didn’t manage to get away to Paris.

This explains why, rather than being appalled by Putin’s frankly kleptofascist regime, they lash out against those who dare criticise it – and especially those who try, however meekly, to resist its aggression against the Ukraine. 

Hence the letter, written by Their Highnesses from the height of their fire-eating jingoism. One paragraph will suffice to get across the essence of this message ad urbi et orbi:

“In the face of increasing tensions, both in Donbass and in international relations, one conclusion is inescapable: the aggressive hostility currently unfolding against Russia is devoid of any rationality. The politics of double standards goes beyond the scale. Russia is being accused of all crimes and found a priori guilty without any evidence, while other countries are offered amazing latitude, specifically in the area of observing human rights.”

One would be tempted to say that every word in the paragraph, as in the whole letter, betokens either ignorance or stupidity. But that’s not the case, at least not the primary case: the letter is animated by unadulterated chauvinism. Those cursed with it are indeed bound to sound ignorant and stupid, but this is a side effect only.

Facts can never make inroads on Russian chauvinism, especially its strongest, vicarious variety afflicting those Russians who have wisely refrained from living in the mythical land of their morbid imagination. The rest of us, however, should be reminded of the facts.

Such as, I am not aware of any country serially violating civil rights that is given ‘amazing latitude’ in the West. Neither apparently are the authors who fail to cite any such place.

One can guess that they refer to Israel’s attempts to protect her citizens against terrorist attacks, but this is only conjecture based on this group’s long history of, putting it mildly, ambivalent feelings towards the Jews.

In that case all I can suggest to the authors is that they read The Guardian or, closer to home, Le Monde. They’ll find plenty of evidence that Israel is never short of Western detractors. No ‘double standard beyond the scale’ is there to be seen.

What they mean by ‘irrational hostility towards Russia’ is neither irrational nor hostile. It’s simply the West’s attempt to use sanctions to mitigate Russia’s rabid aggressiveness towards her neighbours, this time towards the Ukraine.

Russia happens to be the only European country currently attempting a conquest of another European country. This is indeed a crime of which Russia is accused, but she is ‘found guilty’ neither ‘a priori’ nor ‘without evidence’.

Do the authors think that it’s Martians who have occupied parts of the Ukraine? If so, they should by all means continue to hold that view, at least until they have received some competent psychiatric treatment.

The rest of us know that the culprit is Russia or, to be more specific, her ruling regime or, to be even more specific, Putin. This knowledge is strictly a posteriori, with enough evidence to convince the jury and convict the culprit.

But the authors don’t sit in judgement of Russia. For these vicarious chauvinists Russia is God, and God is only to be worshipped, not judged.

Perhaps they ought to read Paul Valéry’s essays – in the original language, which they know a whole lot better than Russian.












HarperCollins succeeds where Hamas fails

Actually I put Hamas in the title mainly for alliterative purposes. For it’s not just Hamas in particular but Islamic states in general that dearly wish to wipe Israel off the map.

Numerous wars and innumerable acts of terrorism have so far failed to achieve that worthy goal, with the Jewish state holding fast in the face of desperate odds.

But one of the world’s biggest publishing firms has obligingly given the Muslims a taste of things to come or rather, one hopes, only to keep daydreaming about.

HarperCollins has published an English-language atlas for the Middle East, where geography plays second fiddle to politics.

According to the atlas Jordan smoothly segues into Gaza, with nothing in between. It’s as if the numerous wars and innumerable acts of terrorism have succeeded and Israel no longer exists.

Yet I have it on good authority that she is still there: the Jewish state of eight million souls is recognised by the UN, along with every civilised country on earth and quite a few uncivilised ones as well.

A spokesman for HarperCollins explained that including Israel would have been ‘unacceptable’ to the intended readers in the Gulf. The omission, he added, reflected ‘local preferences’.

Now my impression has always been that the purpose of cartography is to reflect not local preferences but geographical facts.

For example, I’m fairly certain that the local preference of Königsberg denizens would be for their city, under its original name, to belong to Prussia, which is to say Germany, as it did when Kant lived there.

Yet every atlas in His creation correctly identifies the place as the Russian city of Kaliningrad, which it became in 1946 following the arrival of Soviet tanks, with NKVD execution squads bringing up the rear.

Similarly the inhabitants of Tibet would, if queried, doubtless state their local preference for regional autonomy, which they possessed until China’s invasion in 1951. Yet their quaint ideas haven’t affected any reputable maps.

The customer is always right and all that, so it would be churlish to expect a commercial concern to flout commercial considerations.

The only truth that matters to modern businesses is the kind that emerges during an AGM, and one can understand that. What other truth can there possibly be?

Still, what if an Egyptian or Yemeni reader gets the impression that he could travel from Jordan to Gaza without encountering any offensive Jewish presence in between?

He’d run into an Israeli checkpoint and become an unhappy customer. Commercially speaking, if many more Arabs were similarly misled, those HarperCollins AGMs would become less upbeat than expected.

Had the publishers been more subtle in their thinking, they could have had their baklava and eaten it too. Rather than making Jordan and Gaza contiguous, they could have shown another administrative entity lying in between, but without identifying it by the ‘unacceptable’ name of Israel.

Instead they could have labelled it – and this is off the top of my head – ‘Territory temporarily and unlawfully occupied by the fascist-Zionist vanguard of the Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy aiming to dominate the world’.

Yes, I know this hardly rolls off the tongue, but what the label would lose in brevity it would gain in political rectitude. And the Muslims’ delicate sensibilities would be assuaged.

In any case, given Israel’s diminutive size, the name would have to be printed so small that no one would be able to read it without a magnifying glass. But at least those Egyptians and Yemenis would know that there is something between Jordan and Gaza.

That way HarperCollins could have the best of both worlds, political and geographical. Instead they chose to sacrifice geography, which has caused public outcry all over the world.

As a result, it dawned upon the venerable publishers that, instead of choosing the lesser of two evils, they chose both.

An immediate salvage operation followed, and all talk of ‘local preferences’ ceased. Instead a company spokesman put the omission down to a printing error and said that “HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for the offence caused.”

Now I’ve heard of incompetent copy editors and subs, but this is too ridiculous for words. A bit of house cleaning is definitely in order, or would be if the spokesman had been telling the truth.

As it is, sacking a few lowly employees would be grossly unfair. Moreover, they could go to the industrial tribunal and win their case against the dismissal by citing the previous statements on ‘local preferences’ issued by HarperCollins.

Money may not smell, but some ways of making it certainly do. The only way of communicating this point to HarperCollins is for all decent people to start boycotting its products.

This is precisely what I am going to do, and I hope you’ll follow suit. This is the only way to make them realise the error of their ways. Surely you don’t think that an appeal to professional ethics would have the same effect?


P.S. I’ve been travelling for the last few days and have failed to wish you all a Happy New Year, an oversight that I’m hereby correcting.