Category Archives: racism

9/11 – Five years on

Like everyone else I guess, I’ve spent a lot of the past week or so trying to take some sort of stock of the last five years, so I looked up something which I posted in a largely British and American web community on the 12th September 2001. I remember it as being incisive and insightful, but re-reading it now, I find that it was over-punctuated and over-blown. However, it did contain some interesting analysis.

It is useful to have even 5:5 hindsight, so here are the main points, annotated, re-punctuated and mildly paraphrased:


The cry goes out “how can these evil people kill innocent victims?” but Muslims everywhere are being threatened and attacked in response, and those angry responses show us how come innocent people get killed. I am not a Muslim …but I do remember events like Tripoli, and the innocent people killed there. As a direct result, NYC and DC have been attacked, and MORE innocent people are killed. … the dead of yesterday were not the first, and neither will they be the last. (Statement, not threat).

Hardly prescience, but even so I’m astonished and shocked by the estimate of 72,265 dead as a direct result of 9/11, which has been reported in The Independent.

The next section discussed some unsympathetic reactions from Brits who were referring to our long history of Northern Irish terrorism, and it is curious how irrelevant these comparisons now seem. The most interesting part of it reads:


… The other thing that Ireland and the shift from Imperialism since 1945, has done to us is made us aware that we are not inevitably and inviolably correct just because we are British…

That is a lesson that the current American regime, and I suspect a majority of the American people, have yet to learn about themselves. Ach, there are only so many apocalyptic visions I can manage in one evening, particularly when I’m comparing those of five years ago with those I have now; please feel free to insert your own here.

The next section is worryingly prescient:


There is a difference between saying … “the US has been arrogant, and responsible for … atrocities…” and saying “the US deserved to to be attacked in retaliation for those atrocities”. Some people are hearing the former, when often what is being said is the latter…

It feels like fewer and fewer people are hearing words clearly, which is increasingly worrying considering the laws designed to monitor and control us which have been introduced since 2001.

One thing which concerns me in particular these days is the danger involved in using the word “understand” in the context of young radicalised Muslims being sickened by the war in Iraq. “Understand” means “comprehend”, but it is often assumed to mean “endorse”. I absolutely can understand the reasons why young Muslim men become radicalised – the mechanisms are fairly straightforward and could probably be replicated in a lab if one could still conduct unethical psychological experiments on students for $25 a day. They are broadly the same mechanisms which produced the inrush of foreigners to fight in the Spanish Civil War. I do not endorse the terrorists’ actions, but I do think it is vital we learn to comprehend them. The only way to deal with terrorism in the long-term is to make it irrelevant, and you cannot do that if you refuse to understand it.

The next section commented on double standards and perspectives but could not find any conclusions:


… The old joke about learning languages says: I am a freedom fighter, you are a member of the resistance, he is a terrorist. Let us be clear: the US has given … unofficial support to groups who have been considered terrorists…

The final section was the most important at the time, but the least coherent. It paraphrases down to:


[What the terrorists have done is taken the initiative, so that the only thing the American psyche is capable of is reacting to events; it is the terrorists’ game and the Americans are now playing by their rules.]

The best response would be to do something outside the world view of their attackers. Usually one only gets outside a world view by being outside the times: this is … ‘the historical perspective’ and it is easy to be wise after the event. But we are IN these events…. and … the only thing that will work is something the terrorists do not expect, but I do not believe that the US is capable of doing that.

So… five years on, my opinions have not really changed other than finding that Northern Irish terrorism has become irrelevant.

I am trying to assess whether or not the events of the last five years have been better or worse than I expected. There is a rule of thumb, though I forget who it is credited to, which says that we tend to over-estimate the short-term effects of a technology, and under-estimate the long-term effects. I think I fell into that trap. The final line of the piece I wrote five years ago presupposes a tactical nuclear response by the US, which was clearly an exaggerated prediction. But in the long-term our prospects are worse than even I thought, and the long-term has just begun.

I find the estimate of 72,265 casualties shocking in both senses; I’d have guessed the figure at 10,000 or so. It is clear that the West’s young Muslims are becoming radicalised even faster than they can blow themselves up, and I am disgusted by the exploitative cynicism of a leadership and a priesthood which can manipulate young men into committing suicide in that way, while the leaders and the priests carry on regardless. That is something which I find hard to understand.

What leaves me sick with fear is that we are still only a dozen yards or so down this particular Cresta Run, but there really is no way to slow down or stop. All this, and global warming too.

Aborting girls – India’s missing million

More than 10m female births in India may have been lost to abortion and sex selection in the past 20 years, according to medical research.
BBC News, 9th January 2006

Abortion, feminism and post-imperialism – let’s not waste time with easy subjects, eh?

For the record, I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe that abortion below a certain time limit is neither murder nor infanticide, that it is the killing of a potential human being. (Read Carl Sagan’s astonishingly good essay in Billions and Billions for the most lucid discussion on when that time limit should be, and why it should be set at that point). I believe that every human being has the right to have been wanted by its mother – that every child should be a wanted child.

I respect the rights of others to hold different opinions, but to be honest, that debate is circular, unilluminating and stale.

What I am finding challenging is the fact that my mildly feminist pro-choice stance leads, it seems, to an estimated million female foetuses being aborted in India over the last 20 years.

That really challenges my feminist sensibilities. How can my logic be right if it selects against the eventual birth of women in that way?

I’ve debated this with a couple of people, one of whom has pointed out that the decision is not necessarily a sexist one, it may be an economic one. In India’s society girls are more expensive than boys. But ultimately that raises my feminist concerns as well.

It’s a circle I find hard to square: on an individual basis I believe considered, controlled, safe and legal abortion to be every woman’s right, but then I look at the demographic in India (and presumably in China too) and find my thinking to be profoundly challenged.

I desperately want it to be wrong that so many women are missing from India’s population. I want an easy answer, that puts me in a nice warm spot on the moral high ground. Hell, it might even be nice to pontificate smugly about baby-killing.

Instead I sit with one of my inner-feminists saying “every woman should have the right to choose” in one ear, and another inner-feminist wailing “but 1,000,000 missing women can’t be right” in the other ear. They do it in a caring way, with sisterly solidarity, vegan ice-cream and synchronised menstrual cycles, of course. Every now and again I give them a copy of Diva to go away and read by themselves, and I get some peace for a while.

But, flippancy aside, it is a challenge I find deeply troubling.

Secret hates

I’m feeling mentally a little punch drunk right now.

I’ve just taken a couple of Implicit Association Tests.

These are tests which purport to pick up on your unconscious prejudices and report them back to you. Unfortunately they are very US-centric. But apart from that particular bias, (which – surely – the academics concerned must be aware of), they are fascinating.

The tests are exhausting to complete – images and words are flashed up on the screen at high speed and you have to categorise them, sorting the words into “good” and “bad” and sorting the images into “gay” and straight”. A predilection for hardcore BDSM would seriously skew your results. “Humiliation” and “pain” are both presumed to be “bad”. I’m not too keen on either, but I did find it an interesting choice of words for a test about attitudes to sexual preferences.

Apparently I have a slight subconscious preference for homosexuality. Well, there’s a thing.

I then did a test to determine my reactions to Asian Americans. This was where it got really confusing, because the comparison was between Asian American faces and White American Faces and between American Images and Foreign Images. I grew up in sight of the Severn suspension Bridge and have never seen the Golden Gate other than in movies. And I am sorry. Tower Bridge and Stonehenge are not Foreign. It was like trying to sort images of cards where the clubs and spades were red and the hearts and diamonds were black.

Apparently I am more likely to think of Whites as Americans and Asians as Not Americans. Which is hardly a surprise really, given that Americans on film and TV are predominantly white, or not Asian, at least.

But the image > click > image > click > image > click > image > click > image > click > has worn me out.

Interesting tests though.

Sprechen-Sie Gymraeg?

‘A bloke goes into a pub with his girlfriend, right? This pub is in Wales so the locals all switch to speaking Welsh as soon as they hear these two speak in English. As Per. Well, he’d been in the army in Germany so he speaks German, and she has Austrian cousins so she speaks German too, so the two of them start talking to each other in German. One of the locals comes over and stands near them listening and then goes back to his friends and says in Welsh “It’s no good – I can’t understand what they are saying”. She shouts over “Well now you know what it feels like!” In Welsh.’

Not me, I’m afraid, because I don’t speak either German or Welsh, but the way the Welsh use their language as a tool of their xenophobia is legendary.

I’m all in favour of maintaining minority languages. I think it is great that there is a resurgence in Welsh, it’s fabulous that there are Welsh-speaking schools and that there is Welsh radio and Welsh TV. There are more people speaking Welsh now than there have been in umpty-ump years. It is wonderful that Welsh is becoming a living breathing language once again.

Rheolau'r Ffordd FawrWhat pisses me off is the pointed way all the road signs are bi-lingual. Let’s face it: there aren’t any Welsh monoglots. Everyone who speaks Welsh also speaks English, with the possible exception of the Patagonian Welsh. We all know that the bi-lingualism of the Welsh roadsigns is cosmetic – it is there to make a political point.

The problem is that bi-lingual roadsigns are dangerous. I would prefer roadsigns to be in Welsh than to have them in both languages. When roadsigns are in a language you don’t understand you don’t slow yourself down by trying to understand them. You make a rapid best-guess based on the pictures, what the road is doing at the time and what you know of the language, and you use the “foreign language” parts of the brain to do all of this in the time you’ve got available, and then you work bloody hard to read the road. It’s quick. You need your wits about you, but it’s quick.

When roadsigns are in two languages you have to read both sets of signage to work out which one you understand. It’s confusing. It slows down the rate you absorb the information. It is downright dangerous.

So I’m torn between my Cymriphobia, a sense of political fairness, a strong belief that multi-lingualism (any multi-lingualism) is good for peoples’ brains, an acceptance of the justice of minority rights, a disinterested delight that minority languages are resurgent in the UK, and enraged fury at the self-indulgent cultural posturing which requires a completely pointless bi-lingualism in the place where it is most dangerous to distract the reader.

So. Either Welsh or English. Not both.