Unherd and Unhistorical

What’s this—a post on Stuart’s old blog? I had stopped posting, either here or at the new one, but I’ve needed to distract myself today and I read something that rather annoyed me, so I thought I’d spend my morning writing a rebuttal. And as the new blog will shortly die for lack of support (I host that one directly, and can’t be bothered keeping it up), we’re back to this blog.

This article is question is from Tom Holland (no, not that Tom Holland, who could be annoyed by him?) here on Unherd and discusses the historical background to France’s problematic relationship with Islam.

My beef is that the article, though insightful and informative on the topic of the French state and its relationship with Enlightenment ideals, is inaccurate and misleading in its representation of Islam.

That there is a contemporary tension between certain forms of radical Islam and the “secularity” of the French state is hardly news, but in attempting to historicize it, Holland shows ignorance and incuriosity of Islam, relying instead on tired old tropes. Throughout the essay, Holland presents Islam as a single unchanging monolith that is bent upon theocracy, where the literal laws set down in the Qurʾan are the only acceptable laws, and where freedom of religion is an affront. In contemporary terms this is problematic, as historicization it is simply wrong. Indeed, what Holland does, really, is to historicize France, the Enlightenment, and secular/natural law (in their Western forms), whilst contrasting them with a monolithic, unchanging, unhistorical, and entirely fictional entity, “Islam.”

The first warning sign is, to be honest, one that shows a wider ignorance of religious matters—the misuse of the word “theodicy,” which Holland appears to believe means something to do with the relationship between religion and law, whereas it has precisely zero to do with law, being the study/justification of the existence of evil in a world created by an omnipotent and loving God.

But it is quickly followed by this:

The concept of human rights was an alien one to Islam. Muslims, traditionally, had not believed in natural law. There were only laws authored by God.

This is wildly inaccurate in its implication that the explicit laws as revealed in the Qurʾan are (and always have been), to all Muslims, the only acceptable laws (possibly supplemented by the sunnah, it’s unclear where Holland thinks the sunnah fits in here, and he does not even mention hadith). In fact, Islam has long discussed the existence of objective ethical rules derivable from nature without direct revelation, and deducible by reason from observation of the natural world.

For those Muslims who support this view (for, astonishingly, Islam is not an intellectual monolith) there are ethical principles deducible from nature. They are, ultimately, from God; but God has ordered nature such that the simple application of reason to observation would allow one to extrapolate them. This is roughly the Islamic equivalent of the scholastic concept of naturaliter Christian such as was derived from Rom 1:20 and 2:14–15, and from which the Western “secular” concept of natural law was in turn derived. In this view, the express revelation that is the Qurʾan is an explicit laying out of (and partial supplementation to, see below) principles and laws already available in nature, God’s first revelation. Indeed, the Arabic word for a “verse” of the Qurʾan is ayah, which does not refer literally to verse, but to a “sign”; the same term is used for those natural phenomena which are held to show the existence and laws of God. These Muslims, then, believe in natural law. They may have also believed that, as Muslims, they had an explicit law revealed to them via the Prophet, but to those who had not received explicit revelation, natural law existed and was sufficient.

Islam, then, has long discussed the principles that underlie the concept of natural law as a universal law that can be derived by reason and observation of nature. Christianity, too, has dallied with natural law with the official view of the Catholic church still being (I think) the Thomist position which is remarkably similar: that revelation confirms reason, and plenty of Protestant churches take a similar line.

Yet Holland reserves for Islam the claim that they had not, “traditionally,” believed in natural law. Why is this? I think he has misunderstood—on behalf of Islam—the concept of natural law.

Well, it seems to me that there are two ways we could classify natural law: as laws, the origin of which is unknown or irrelevant, that can be arrived at by secular reasoning alone, and laws that can be arrived at by secular reasoning that are themselves of secular origin—that were explicitly not authored by a deity. Both religions have strong traditions endorsing the former; both religions would reject the latter. Holland—as is clear from his contrasting of “natural law” to “laws authored by God” holds only Islam to the tighter definition of natural law, that it must be atheistic rather than secular. As we will see below, this is the stereotype he is immersed in: that Muslims are incapable of the separation religion and reason. Yet this is not really—as far as I understand it—what natural law entails and, indeed, in Christendom as in Islam, discussion of natural law began within religion, not in opposition to it.

In the basic claim that there are objective laws deducible by pure reason or by reason applied to the observation of nature, Islam engaged with (though not universally agreed with) the concept of natural law before Christendom did and has continued to do so. It would reject a formulation of natural law that was explicitly atheistic—but then so would Christianity. And it is worth noting that the most famous statement of the some of the principles of natural law is that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

It is, therefore, simply a gross inaccuracy to say “Muslims had not believed in natural law.” They might not have believed in atheistic natural law, but then neither does the US Declaration of Independence and—at least Holland seems to appreciate this—given how conveniently co-extensive our contemporaneous UN natural law is with the principles of the dominant religion in the culture of those who propounded them, we should really ask ourselves whether our contemporary natural law is so very free of religious underpinning.

Moving on, Holland states:

It was [the] lack [of laws], in the opinion of medieval Muslim jurists, that served to condemn Christianity as an inadequate and superceded revelation.

This much is true—but the operative word here is revelation. That God’s explicit laws are revealed in the Qurʾan to Muslims is not in question (to Muslims); but this does not mean that Muslims consider this explicit, revealed law to be binding upon all other people. Some have, yes, but to many other the purpose of the explicit revelation to Muslims is not so that they further impose it on others, but so that they be an exemplar to them—the Qurʾanic ayah 2:143 is often held up to support this view, rendered by Arberry as “Thus We appointed you a midmost [or: just] nation that you might be witnesses to the people, and that the Messenger might be a witness to you.” So under this view the failure of Christianity to prescribe laws was, indeed, a failure; but a failure of revelation, with the understanding that the specific purpose of revelation is to create an elect, exemplar community held to higher standards—an idea, of course, that already existed in the precursor of both religions. Not all Muslims adhere to this view. Some believe that the explicit law as set out in the Qurʾan should be mandated for all. I do not defend those Muslims, and I condemn those who commit atrocities in furtherance of this view. But I object, strongly, to the idea that this is Islam any more than the warped ideals of a white supremacist Christian fundamentalist in America who guns down a church of Black worshippers is Christianity.

Holland goes on to characterize the views of these “medieval Muslim jurists”:

Christians were forever changing their minds, devising new law codes, revising the ones they already had. How were such people possibly to be taken seriously?

This is ludicrous in its implication that Muslims had a sure, certain, unchanging, and inviolable concept of law. The medieval jurists to whom he has just referred were not—here we go again—a monolith, but would have adhered to one of a number of different schools (now generally grouped into a Big Four) who constantly disputed and revised (and dispute and revise) their interpretation of the sunnah and exegesis (or the impossibility thereof) of the Qurʾan. The hadith—reports concerning the sayings and the actions of the Prophet that form the evidential basis for sunnah—were extensively analysed and worked over. Indeed, as a historian, Holland should recognize that systematic analysis of sources was a historiographic invention of the Muslim world, with the most famous hadith collector, al-Bukhari, using chains of transmission to reduce his corpus of 600,000 to just 7,500 that he considered “safe.” The Ashʿari school of jurisprudence, in particular, sees intellectual enquiry as mandated by the Qurʾan, and that therefore interpretation of the Qurʾan (tafsir) and that of the hadith is a constant work in progress. Holland presents as monolithic and unchanging an intellectual tradition that was and can be discursive and developmental.

It is easy to see how Holland steps from the inaccurate belief that in Islam (that monolith, Islam) the only acceptable law is the explicit law of the Qur‘an to another widely-spead misconception that he appears to hold: that as a consequence of this, to Muslims theocracy is the only acceptable mode of governance and that freedom of religion is unacceptable.

Holland characterizes modern Islamic states, when secular, as “apeing” the secular order of the West, implying that Islam did not or could not develop its own secular orders (and, somewhat derogatorily, it seems to me from that verb that Holland thinks that they are incapable of doing secularism “properly” when they do do it). Once again, this is a grotesque failure of historical understanding of Islam (not to mention somewhat derogatory). It is almost as if Holland views the historical Caliphate[s] as being constituted according to the twisted—and widely condemned, within Islam as well as without—views of ISIS, instead of having conducted any kind of historical investigation into the development of Islamic polity.

In fact, from relatively early on in the Caliphate, a contrast between secular rule and religious was pretty manifest. Though the community was nominally led by the caliph, the inheritor of the mantle of Muhammad, fairly early on there began to emerge the ʿulamaʾ, the scholars, who arrogated to themselves the right to pronounce upon matters of religious law, so much so that the caliph Al-Maʿmun (r. 813–833) introduced a show-down with them, pronouncing himself, as the inheritor of the Prophet’s mantle, the sole authority on the interpretation of religion, and introducing an Inquisition to impose a particular article of belief upon the population. That article of belief—that the Qurʾan is created—is now considered heretical, and the Inquisition was terminated by his successor. The famed scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who refused to submit and was tortured and imprisoned, is lauded as a hero. Indeed, as an educated and devout man lauded for undergoing extreme penalties rather than compromise his faith to the dictates of a secular lord who believes himself entitled to dictate on religious matters, Ibn Hanbal bears striking comparison with Sir Thomas More. However, Ibn Hanbal survived and the attempted reforms he opposed collapsed: it was al-Maʿmun’s immediate successor, al-Muʿtasim, who abandoned the Inquisition and the heretical statement of belief, and in doing so conceded limits to the earthly monarch’s capacity to dictate on matters of religion.

As a consequence, from al-Maʿmum on, the caliph was an increasing secular role. Interpretation of religious laws fell to the scholars who—as we have seen—were far from monolithic, falling into a number of different schools, which varied in their reasoning (or lack thereof) and exegesis (or ditto). The position of the later caliphs—exaggerated still further as central control became increasingly impossible and the Caliphate split into multiple polities in practical if not official terms—is not so very different from the experience of the pre-Reformation European monarch, secular lord of their domain, but with little ability to rule in religious matters. Indeed, the pre-Reformation European system was more monolithic than the effective republics of Islam in that there was, in the person of the Pope, a single, unquestionable voice of religion which could not be challenged nor ignored. For many in Sunni Islam at least, such a single, unquestionable voice of religious authority has not existed since the “Rightly-Guided” caliphs.

All of this is not to say that there are or were not Muslims who adhere to the idea of a theocracy. Shiʿa Islam—with its concept of the Imam—is entirely committed to the idea of the political leader as religious leader (indeed, al-Maʿmum was suspected of Shiʿism). However in Shiʿa Islam that leadership is solely inherited in a line of biological descent from the Prophet and as, at present, that line is unknown (“occluded”), mankind must make alternative arrangements. Ironically, there are those who argue that the alternative arrangements most supported by the Qurʾan are … well, representative democracy. (Though, of course, real power lies elsewhere, and it is a mere fig leaf, in the Shiʿa nation of Iran there is a Parliament so representative that it has by law delegates to represent the (unfortunate) ethno-religious minorities of Jews, Zoroastrians, Assyrians, and Armenians.) But the point is that, if historicization is what we’re doing here, then opinions within the Muslim world have widely varied on whether the political leader is entitled to theocratic status (or vice versa), but the historical reality on the ground very far from a monolith of theocracy until the West came along to provide secular democracy to “ape.”

When Holland states that contemporary Muslim radicals “level the same charge” as those monolithic medieval Muslim jutists against the West of “taking earthly legislators as their lords rather than God,” he is creating a false historical thread of support for universalist theocracy in both principle and practise which is simply not held out. Of course, theocracy has always had its advocates—in Christianity as much as Islam—but the strong implication of Holland’s argumentation is that it is natural to and historically evident in Islam. The radicals who do propound it think this too, of course. But it hardly behoves us to follow the argumentation of religious extremists, and the evidence is quite the contrary: that the Islamic world was uncoupling state from religion long before contemporary Islamic countries “aped” our “secularism.”

One cannot deny a noticeable amount theocratic thinking evident in some parts of the Islamic contemporary world, but the point is that—especially in an essay concerned with historicization—it is simply wrong to suggest that it has always been so. Holland would do well to research the emergence (for emergence it is, not continuation) of Pan-Islamism (and the role of the British state therein).

Finally, I want to look at this idea that Islam is affronted by, or at least uncomprehending of, French freedom of religion. Holland, again, is good on historicization of the Western half of the situation, situating French freedom of religion as deriving from the post-Revolutionary state’s treatment of the Jewish population. But he then states:

Today, in France, Muslims are expected to subscribe to a very similar orthodoxy. Islam as it was classically understood — a framework for regulating every aspect of human existence – could have no place in a country proud of its secularism: its laïcité.

This is a complete failure of historicization from the Islamic perspective. States ruled by Islamic leaders allowed some freedom of religion centuries before it was dreamt up in the West and long before the fig-leaves that are the non-Muslim Iranian MPs. The Crusaders who slaughtered their way to the gates of Jerusalem (with the occasional massacre of Jews on their way) to claim it for “Christendom” arrived at a city where Jews could still freely practice their faith as long as they paid the jizyah tax (and the same had previously applied to Christians).

Indeed, Holland references the jizyah—the tax paid by Christian and Jews within Islamic polities—but seems to entirely fail to appreciate that its simple existence indicates a religious plurality in Muslim polities that he paints as entirely inimical to Islam. Of course there was not equality, but there was toleration of diversity, with the minority religions expected to adhere to the laws and norms of the state. Not perfect freedom of religion, but back in Europe, Jews were, as noted, being slaughtered and expelled from whole countries, and the continent was building up to an extended paroxysm of violence over whether a piece of bread was actually a piece of bread or just looked like one. 

Far from being incomprehending of the situation in France where (purportedly) Muslims are free to practice their religion as long they assimilate to secular French society with its implicit Judeo-Christian values and law code (however much it may protest them to be otherwise), historically-aware Muslims might see it in a parallel to the caliphates (the actual caliphates, not the fantasy Caliphate of ISIS), where freedom of religion is granted to a limited extent with a clear state religion providing the framework for the secular laws, or even to Cordoba in its so-called “Golden Age”, where Jewish figures such as Moses ibn Ezra could make significant contributions to the culture.

To say that French freedom of religion very much places one religion more equal than the others, or that French laws purportedly ensuring public secularity can often look like anti-Muslim discrimination is not to justify the atrocities that have taken place for, ultimately, violent theocracy-fantasizing nutjobs are violent theocracy-fantasizing nutjobs whatever religion they profess and however they justify to themselves their violence. But, conversely, to suggest that Islam is fundamentally inimical to and uncomprehending of a secular state which trades freedom of belief for public conformity is to completely ignore the actual history of Muslim-run countries, where, over the course of history, this has been more often the norm than in Europe. I do not argue that French anti-Muslim policies inevitably give rise to atrocities such as these; but it is equally incorrect to suggest that Islam has an inbuilt anti-secularism that performs the same function from the direction.

The immense disservice that Holland has performed in this essay is to historicize and explain French secularism, while inaccurately (and, I’m afraid to say, rather crassly) reducing “Islam” to a single, monolithic theocracy-oriented stereotype, presuming that the fantasies of today’s violent extremists are representative of, and contiguous with, the dominant thread of Islam, with a strong implication that such outrages as have been recently in the news are, though extreme, a product of a universal and unchanging view of the relationship between state and religion in Islam. This is wrong, unhistorical, and—to put it mildly—unhelpful.


Would Brendan Cox really know more about extremists than Nigel Farage?

Gob-smackingly, Nigel Farage said the following on LBC this morning about Brendan Cox, a man whose wife was assassinated by white supremacist terrorist not six months ago:

Yes, well of course he would know more about extremists than me, Mr Cox. He backs organisations like Hope Not Hate who masquerade as being lovely and peaceful but actually pursue violent and very undemocratic means. And I’m sorry Mr Cox, but it is time people started to take responsibility for what’s happened.

And so, once again, it is time to rehearse the litany of extremists that Nigel hangs with. Nigel, when he can be bothered to turn up, is co-president of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament. Included in this group, which is small enough that we must presume that he knows these people personally, are:

  • the Swedish Democrats, who were founded as a white supremacist party;
  • the Polish KORWiN party, founded by and named after Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who thinks that the distinction between consensual sex and rape is “very subtle,” that Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated,” that the public “should not see the disabled on television,” and who has described immigrants as “human garbage”; and
  • Beatrix von Storch who once suggested that trespassing refugees (including women and children) be gunned down.

Prior to the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, Nigel was co-president of its predecessor, the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, alongside Francesco Speroni of Italy’s Northern League, a man who once said about Anders Brevik—the white supremacist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011—that his “ideas are in defence of western civilization.”

Yes, indeed, Nigel. It is time to start to take responsibility for things that have happened. You hang out with, work with, and support white supremacist extremists who actively advocate violence and murder. You are a pestilent fascist, who the British press (or the relatively sane sections thereof) have long failed the British people by presenting as an amusing and blokish “man of the people.”

Take some responsibility yourself, Nigel. Shut the fuck up, fuck off over the pond, and go back to crawling up the arse of that other extremist fraud. He’s supported by the KKK, you know. You should find yourself totally at home.


Nigel Farage enjoying a cosy moment on a sofa alongside a man who thinks that Anders Breivik had ideas in defence of western civilization.


The Daily Mail and the fascist social project

“Fascism” and “fascist” are interesting words. They derive from a specific movement, yet have developed a wider usage beyond simply that of pejorative use: that is, there is something that is fascism that is not simply adherence to the Italian movement that originated the name. Contrast this with “Nazi” which seems more fossilized: the term refers either to the actual proponents of National Socialism, or is generally used as a pejorative for the racist far-right. When we do encounter a contemporary individual who espouses the Nazi ideology we tend, as is happening now with Thomas Mair, to label them “neo-Nazis.”

But fascism has developed a meaning beyond its origin reference, and that meaning is very important in today’s world, because there are real fascists on the rise. Because of this, I think we need to stop using “fascist” as a simple pejorative for people on the right who we consider beyond the pale, and start using it precisely and clearly. And in that vein, I want to say: the Daily Mail is a fascist newspaper.

Wikipedia starts its entry defining fascism as “a form of authoritarian nationalism.” I want to suggest that this is not exactly correct: that though authoritarianism is a natural and willing bedpartner of fascism, it is not an intrinsic part of it. I propose that fascism, it its modern sense, should be seen a social project: it is a means, not an ends. It is an obvious tool of those who desire to lead in an authoritarian manner, but it is used by other individuals and organizations to achieve other ends.

To me, fascism consists of three major components: the demonization of a marginalized section of society as responsible for societal ills, the inculcation of fear and hatred in the populace directed at that group, and the promotion of unreason in public discourse.

The fascist seeks a pliant populace—though not necessarily, as I have indicated, to rule over. In order to do so, they require to divert attention from the institutions and individuals who a reasoned mind would consider the source of social ills. Kicking down—demonization—is the strategy they promote. Instead of looking upwards to those in power for the origins of their problems, the populace are encouraged to look downwards to an already marginalized group; a simple bait-and-switch manoeuvre. But this is, of course, not a particularly reasonable position to hold, by definition the marginalized group are highly unlikely to have the power to adversely affect people’s lives. So the populace must be encouraged to put aside their reason, and the strategy the fascist chooses for this is fear: fearful people’s amygdalas get in the way of their reason. There is then a twin-pronged approach: the demonized group are made into something to fear, which encourages unreason; that unreason then allows the fascist to increase their claims about that group, thus encouraging more fear. If I were a proper sociologist, I would probably now draw a triangle of double-headed arrows, with the words “fear,” “unreason,” and “demonization” at each apex, and believe that in doing so I had proven my point beyond question. Being a poor sociologist, I leave you diagramless, and will happily acknowledge that this is merely a suggested definition.

The point here is, we see this everywhere at the moment, and it is not necessarily accompanied by authoritarianism. Nigel Farage is, of course, a fascist: and that the media have spent the last fifteen years treating him as a harmless amusement rather than calling him out on this is a great part of his success. Yet he, clearly, is too lazy to be interested in actual power. He wanted one thing, which he got, and then ran from the consequences, at least until another fascist took him up and stroked his ego.

But the point I want to make here is that, without doubt, the Daily Mail is a fascist newspaper. That is, it is not just an organ of fascists, it is in itself fascist. It trades in demonization, fear, and unreason: not just in its social reporting. It is something of a joke how obsessed it is with cancer and identifying Things That Cause It. Experts, not just in the political sphere, are treated with disdain and hatred—except, of course, when they produce research than may be misrepresented to enhance their fear agenda. Immigrants, single mothers, immigrants, and more immigrants are repeatedly blamed for all social ills. But Paul Dacre, fascist though he may be, does not seek personal authoritarian power and one sees no evidence that he would embrace such a leader; though he is an enthusiastic proponent of the social project that such leaders adore. The ends Paul Dacre, and his boss Viscount Rothermere, seek with their fascism are more mundane: to sell newspapers and make money. They might well decry a truly authoritarian leader, but they are part—no, major players—in the social project that is modern fascism, and which will enable those individuals who do seek absolute power.

I was first going to write this post in response to the Enemies of the People headline; but I was massively over-worked learning a language which, no doubt, would have the Mail foaming at the mouth with fury. But the course is coming to an end soon, and I was reminded of my desire to say something about the Mail by a piece published yesterday. Following the conclusion of the trial of a far-right obsessive, collector of Nazi memorabilia, reader of extremist books, white supremecist who shouted “Britain First” as he murdered an MP, and who gave his name in the trail as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” and who (by the by) was a Daily Mail reader, the paper in question chose to report the trial like this (no link, I will not give them the benefit of even a few advertising-enhancing clicks):


By placing the blame for a white supremacist ultra-nationalist terrorist murder, against all reason, at the door of the very group that that vile individual hated, and in passing suggesting that other members of the populace should fear that group, the Daily Mail have, in one headline, perfectly encapsulated their fascist project.

A lengthy and complex judgement …

Well today there was a glimmer of good news from the clusterfuck that is British politics at the moment: the High Court has found for the claimants in the Article 50 action, meaning that (pending Supreme Court appeal), Parliament’s approval is required to invoke Article 50. Cue, of course, all those who foamed at the mouth about “the sovereignty of Parliament” now foaming at the mouth because, um, Parliament has been held to be sovereign. This action was never about stopping Brexit—though I live in hope that will happen, and this is certainly an aid along the way—but about ensuring Parliamentary oversight of it.

No need to rehearse all of that here: but there is a piece of fallout from today that I think is worth noting: the statement made to the House of Commons by David Lidington, the Leader of the House, concerning the result. It is, he said, “a lengthy and complex judgement.”

I urge you to go and read this lengthy and complex judgement. It runs to 32 pages and 111 numbered paragraphs (probably about 150 in total). I read it in about ten minutes. Most of it is setting out the background and context: the findings themselves are a mere ten pages. Far from being complex, the judgement is remarkably pellucid (© Robert Jay, 2012): constitutional precedent and laws indicate that the royal prerogative (the government’s authority to take executive action) cannot overrule primary legislation regarding domestic law; that the European Communities Act 1972 is primary legislation that, by incorporating EU law within UK law, has granted UK citizens a range of rights under law; that invoking Article 50 would start an “irrevocable” process that would result in withdrawal from the EU and consequent loss of those rights (a point agreed on by the government prior to the judgement); that the government’s claim that it would replicate those rights in UK law was not germane and, anyway, there are some rights (such as appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and the right to elect MEPs) that UK domestic law could not replicate; and that the government therefore lacks the authority to invoke Article 50.

I have published case law. This is a concise and clear judgement: try wading your way through the various company law test cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s. To claim that the judgement is “lengthy and complex” is, quite simply, not true. What depresses me is how unnecessary Lidington’s lie was, and what it shows about the “post-truth” state of our politics, where a government minister can blithely misinform the House simply for the convenience of not being asked awkward questions (such as: “this is a pretty unambiguous finding, isn’t it?”) and not an eyebrow is raised.


At the risk of falling foul of Godwin’s Law …

I’ve been quiet of late, because I’m in Jordan. Ordinarily trips to foreign parts bring a spike in my blogging as I regale you with my hilarious anecdotes and pithy observations. But, firstly, the hilarious anecdotes usually start with large-scale consumption of a substance somewhat frowned upon here; secondly, my pithy observations are being saved up (believe me); and, thirdly, I’m ridiculously busy trying to learn Arabic, which it turns out is something of a tricky language.

But things in Britain go on without me, it would seem, and pretty horrifically so (not least because as every week passes, things get roughly 5% more expensive for me here). I don’t have time for a long rant, or the mental energy to be excoriatingly insightful, so all I intend to do is provide you with a short list some of the anti-Jewish legislation passed by the National Socialist government in Germany in 1933.

February 27, 1933: The Reichstag Fire Decree curtails civil rights in the face of “communist violence.”

  • 2014: R v Incedal and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar becomes first trial to be held entirely in secret, the gagging order is upheld in 2016.
  • 2016: Theresa May announces British troops will not be subject to the European Court of Human Rights.

March 31, 1933: Decree of the Berlin city commissioner for health suspends Jewish doctors from the city’s charity services.

April 7, 1933: Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service removes Jews and Communists from government service.

  • 2015: Home Secretary Theresa May launches drive against “entryists” in public service.
  • 2016: UK government bans foreign-born LSE staff from advising on Brexit.

April 25, 1933: Law against Overcrowding in Schools and Universities limits the number of Jewish students in public schools.

  • 2016: Schools must collect data on the nationality and citizenship status of their pupils. Amber Rudd introduces restrictions on overseas university students.

Look, obviously these comparisons are not exact. I am not claiming that the approach of the Conservative government is anything like on the scale or malignancy of the pre-war Nazi-controlled Weimar Republic. But what I am saying is that both of these represent, in an environment of economic strife, a systematic and institutional process of marking out a group of the population as “other,” making them lesser human beings to be monitored and restricted, and identifying them as responsible in large for the economic problems and potentially actively repugnant to the ideals of the state.

As well as scale, there are differences in kind. I can think of two in particular:

  1. In the Weimar Republic, the economic conditions were utterly disastrous for the whole populace (this is not to demean the experience of the half million plus forced to use food banks in 2015), but were also imposed from outside by the punitive stringency of the Treaty of Versailles. In contemporary Britain, the economic straits are a consequence of policies of precisely the same government (or, at least, the same party) that now seeks to blame them on their selected “others.”
  2. Most obviously, Hitler was a maniac, whereas Theresa May is an intelligent and, one presumes, fairly rational human being. The data exist showing that migrants bring a net economic benefit to the UK; that even in the jobs most affected by immigration—low-paid semi-skilled or unskilled service jobs—the effect of migration on wages equates to about 2p per hour; and that migration has virtually no effect on employment levels (and where it does, it is migration from outside the EU that has the effect). No-one would suggest that the Nazis should have known better, because knowledge was irrelevant to their programme. Theresa May does know better—she can hardly be unaware of these data—but knowledge does not appear to be relevant to her programme either. This, above everything else, is deeply worrying.

I get back from Jordan in late December. I have been, whilst here, thinking hard about whether to stay in the UK and fight the good fight; or to leave for other shores and let the country descend into institutionalized xenophobia without me. The latter option is winning out at present … I can just see nothing, nothing good that can come of our present direction, nor any practical way to change it.