April 3, 2013 § 10 Comments
My big book – on the history of moral thought – will be published by Atlantic next spring. Before that comes a little book. Multiculturalism and its Discontents is an extended essay that pulls together much of my thinking and writing over the years on the subject. It will be published by Seagull this summer (Amazon says June, though it is more likely to be August). And here is the introduction.
On 22 July 2011 Anders Behring Breivik planted a car bomb outside government buildings in the Regjeringskvartalet area of Oslo. The explosion killed eight people and injured more than 200. Two hours later Breivik, dressed in an all-black paramilitary uniform, launched an attack on a summer camp organized by the youth division of the Norwegian Labour Party on the nearby island of Utoya. For an hour and a half, he walked around the campsite, firing indiscriminately with machine guns, unzipping tents and gunning down people cowering inside. Sixty-nine people were killed in the homicidal rampage. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 22, 2013 § 5 Comments
Those who have followed the excerpts I have been publishing from my ‘Book in progress’ on the history of moral thought will know that there were several gaps in the chapters. That was because I left till the end a series of chapters on the Indian and Chinese traditions. These are now almost complete, and I will publish, as before, monthly extracts from each remaining chapter. Some of the chapters have been renumbered as you can see from the complete set of extracts.
This extract is from chapter 5 which explores the ancient Indian traditions, primarily Hinduism and Buddhism.
September 7, 2012 § 12 Comments
I had assumed that my post on Judith Butler and the Adorno Prize would draw most fire from supporters of Israel incensed at my defence of Butler’s right to win the Prize. In fact it seems to have most annoyed supporters of Butler who have taken umbrage at my comments about her ‘impenetrable prose’. My criticism is not primarily about Butler’s style; it is principally about the substance of her arguments and, more broadly, of poststructuralist arguments. I am not opposed to ‘difficult’ writing. There are many philosophers with whom it repays to work through the difficulties, the obscurities and the obtuseness; Hegel, for instance, even Heidegger in parts. Butler, in my eyes at least, is not such a philosopher.
I have written little directly on Butler’s main theme, gender, but have written much, in the context of the debate about race, on poststructuralist / postmodernist conceptions of difference, identity, equality and agency, much of which is germane to the debate about Butler’s ideas too. That critique is scattered across my first three books – The Meaning of Race, Man, Beast and Zombie and Strange Fruit – so I thought I might over the next few weeks delve into the archives, as it were, and publish some extracts from those books. Some of the arguments are quite dated now – The Meaning of Race was published nearly two decades ago – but much of it, I think, remains relevant.
This first extract is from Chapter 8 of my book The Meaning of Race; the chapter opens with a discussion of Edward Said’s argument in Orientalism and moves on to discuss poststructuralist/postmodernist ideas of difference, equality, universalism and the human. (And before anyone misunderstands what I am saying, I am not suggesting that Said was a poststructuralist or postmodernist, simply that he drew upon certain poststructuralist themes.) This edited extract takes in the latter part of the discussion of Said’s work and the beginning of the discussion of Foucault’s notion of discourse and of poststructuralist ideas of the ‘Other’.
May 13, 2012 § 5 Comments
In the series of extracts from my almost-finished book on the history of moral thought, I have reached Chapter 17, which looks at the subjective turn in analytic philosophy, and the unravelling of morality in the twentieth century, from the intuitionism of GE Moore’s Principia Ethica to JL Mackie’s ‘error theory’ and moral nihilism. This extract begins with Moore and looks at how intuitionism gave way to emotivism.
GE Moore’s Principia Ethica, published in 1903, came to be both one of the most famous ethical work of the twentieth century and one of the most troublesome. It was a work whose arguments were extraordinarily flimsy and highly dubious and yet, as Mary Warnock observed in her study of twentieth century ethics, has come to be regarded ‘as the source from which the subsequent moral philosophy of the century has flowed, or at least as the most powerful influence upon this moral philosophy’. The publication of the Principia Ethica was, John Maynard Keynes wrote, ‘exciting, exhilarating, the beginning of renaissance, the opening of a new heaven on a new earth’. The influence and excitement and exhilaration of Moore’s book lay less in the lucidity of its moral argument than in its ability to locate a fundamental shift in the character of moral thought. If the eighteenth century had seen the triumph of the human in moral thought, and the nineteenth had wrestled with the moral implications of the death of God, the twentieth had to grapple with the consequences of the growing disaffection with human agency. One expression of this was, paradoxically perhaps, an increasingly subjective view of morality. In the Anglophone world that view found a grounding, in part at least, in the Principia Ethica. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 11, 2012 § 6 Comments
In the series of extracts I am publishing from my almost-written book on the history of moral thought, we have reached Chapter 16. Beginning in the eighteenth century with Enlightenment hope and ending in the twentieth with postmodern despair, this chapter explores how the changing character of movements for social and political liberation have influenced moral thought – and how changing moral conceptions have, in turn, influenced movements for liberation. This extract is from the beginning of the chapter, and tells the story of the Haitian Revolution and what that revolution reveals about the relationship between morality and politics in the modern world.
Aimé Césaire, the Martinique-born poet and statesman, once wrote of Haiti that it was here that the colonial knot was first tied. It was also in Haiti, Césaire added, that the knot of colonialism began to unravel when ‘black men stood up in order to affirm, for the first time, their determination to create a new world, a free world.’ In 1791, almost exactly three hundred years after Christopher Columbus had landed there, a mass insurrection broke out among Haiti’s slaves, upon whose labour France had transformed Saint-Domingue, as it called its colony, into the richest island in the world. It was an insurrection that became a revolution, a revolution that today is almost forgotten, and yet which was to shape history almost as deeply as the two eighteenth century revolutions with which we are far more familiar – those of 1776 and 1789.
April 2, 2012 § 18 Comments
‘I have definitely become a free speech fundamentalist,’ says Flemming Rose. Perhaps that should not be surprising. It was, after all, Rose who, as culture editor of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, helped launch the Danish cartoon controversy in 2005. He had picked up on a story about the difficulties that children’s author Kåre Bluitgen had faced in finding an illustrator for a book he was writing on Islam. Every illustrator that Bluitgen had contacted had been worried that he would end up like Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker ritually murdered on the streets of Amsterdam by a Muslim incensed by his anti-Islamic films. Rose wanted, he said, to see ‘how deep this self-censorship lies in the Danish public’. So he set a challenge to Danish cartoonists: draw a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed and we will publish a selection in Jyllands-Posten.
Rose approached 42 cartoonists, 12 of whom accepted the challenge. Their caricatures, including Kurt Westergaard’s infamous image of the prophet wearing a turban in the form of a bomb, were published in Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005. ‘The modern secular society,’ Rose wrote in a commentary, ‘is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule.’
To Rose’s critics, the very act of publishing the cartoons, and of provoking Muslims into a response, was irresponsible, even racist, particularly against the background of Denmark’s growing hostility to immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, and even more so given Jyllands-Posten’s role in feeding such hostility. In the eyes of his critics, Rose has always been a ‘free speech fundamentalist’, and not in a good way. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
Earlier this week I published an extract from my book From Fatwa to Jihad, that told the story of how the Asian Youth Movements were created in Britain in the 1970s. This second extract explains how the British state and religious conservatives joined forces to marginalise secular radicals in the name of multiculturalism. This is the story of how Bradford came to be painted green. The same story could be told about towns all over Britain.
In the summer of 1981 Bradford’s Asian communities were flush with rumours of an impending attack by neo-fascists. A group of young Asians, including Tariq Mehmood, made and stashed away petrol bombs to be used in the event of any such attacks. They were all members of the United Black Youth League, a group that had broken away from the Asian Youth Movement which they felt was not sufficiently radical. Police discovered the petrol bombs on some waste ground and twelve members of the UBYL were arrested and charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion and endanger lives. The trial of the ‘Bradford 12’ the following year created a national sensation. The defendants put up an audacious defence. They openly admitted making the petrol bombs – but argued that they were acting legitimately to protect their communities. Astonishingly, the jury agreed and acquitted all twelve.
The sheer bravado of the Bradford 12 and their bold, confident self-assertion won them respect and support from communities across the country that similarly felt under siege from racists. It also unnerved both local politicians and Muslim religious leaders. ‘Our children were growing up hating our culture’, observed Sher Azam of the Bradford Council for Mosques. ‘They were being drawn to Western values and Western lifestyles. We knew such values and ways of doing things could only harm them. Without Islam they no foundations, no home. They were angry, withdrawn, we could not reach them.’ « Read the rest of this entry »