If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 31 August 2009

Worth a read

I have long been a fan of Clive James. First as a songwiter: in collaboration with Pete Atkin, he wrote the lyrics to some wonderful and memorable songs in the early 70s (now reissued on CD and nestling happily on my iPod). Then he wrote a lot of poetry, much of it political commentary, and very funny and accomplished it was too. For a while he was the television critic of The Observer, and his column was the one thing that I absolutely had to read every week. Most people will be familiar with his autobiographical volumes such as Unreliable Memoirs, which I warn you against should you ever try to read them in public. He has such a wicked sense of timing a punch-line that I have been reduced to breathless tears and risked cardiac arrest. He is literate, educated and, to use an unfashionable word, wise.

He is what you could call broadly of the intellectual liberal-left, which makes his latest essay (on the West's, and in particular feminism's, response to Islam and Islamic culture) quite remarkable. It would be impossible to summarise here, but I urge you to read it. It's long, and the subject-matter is hardly the easiest, but it's well worth the effort. From the latest editon of the magazine Standpoint.

(Here's one of Clive with Pete Atkin, just for old times' sake.)


  1. You're not wrong - it is an interesting read, by a man whose writings I have always had respect for. Not always his opinions, to be fair, and I also remember laughing along at his Spitting Image puppet!

    It's a more intellectual and reasoned approach to a subject that is normally only tackled in the sensationalist press, under anti-immigration headlines. As usual, he presents it with an almost painful honesty and openness - I believe him when he says he didn't want to write the article.

    I could offer a cynical explanation, which is that Western feminists have already got most of what they wanted and are too busy worrying about glass ceilings and whether to be offended by patronising males to care about womankind in general. Like so many other "-isms", the first generation are the real social revolutionaries, to most everyone else that follows, it's another tool to get what you want out of life.

    Not to say that there aren't still passionate campaigners for women's rights, many of whom are mentioned in the article, but look at what the flower of up-and-coming British womanhood did with their liberation. Repackaged it as "Girl Power" and handed it to the Spice Girls for mass-market exploitation. I imagine Emily Pankhurst is spinning in her grave, quite frankly.

    Still, if a long-standing liberal is willing to stand up and be counted, maybe there is some hope after all. It is not enough for Islam to claim it is not open to scrutiny or question: that is a specious argument. There can be respect without apologism or blind acceptance.

    In the case of women's rights, even if it is a man who has to highlight that point.

  2. The problem with this issue is now its polarisation. If you make any criticism of Islam, you are Islamophobic, and a hate-filled Daily-Mail-reading racist. There's no middle way any more, no way to say that you respect everyone's right to believe what they wish, but that certain practices and attitudes are not consistent with the way we want to live in this country. It takes an article like this (and especialy its almost apologetic tone) to demonstrate how far the Islamists and the Left have stifled any reasonable discussion. Good for CJ in writing something on the topic which is reasoned, logical and heartfelt.


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