Happy New Year! 2015 was a great year for Pandaemonium. It received more than 500,000 visitors – the first time it’s broken the half-million mark. But it was such a frantic, hectic, non-stop year that many of the new projects that I had hoped to launch, including ebooks and podcasts, have still to get off the ground. Hopefully, that will happen sometime this year.
In 2015 I joined Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows supporters to help fund the work of writers, artists and musicians by making small monthly contributions. My heartfelt thanks to all those who have signed up (there is a Pandaemonium page with a list of patrons). If you wish to become a patron of Pandaemonium, I would greatly appreciate your support. You can read about it here , and sign up here.
My thanks to everyone who has read, commented and supported this blog. Here are some of the highlights of a year of Pandaemonium in 2015. And best wishes to all for 2016.
2015 was a calamitous year for free speech. The year began with the terrible killings at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. ‘The expressions of solidarity with those slain in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices are’, I wrote, ‘impressive. They are also too late. Had journalists and artists and political activists taken a more robust view on free speech over the past 20 years then we may never have come to this.’ I was critical also of double standards in attitudes to free speech, including the treatment of the French comedian Dieudonné. I spoke at a discussion at London’s Insititut Français on questions of Islam, identity, free speech and the differences between British and French social policy.
A month after the Charlie Hebdo killings, came an attack by a gunman on a free speech meeting in Copenhagen. I gave an interview to the Danish paper Information, in which I suggested that ‘the insistence that it is morally reprehensible to cause offense gives a certain moral legitimacy to terrorist acts’.
I delivered the TB Davie Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town on ‘Free Speech in an Age of Identity Politics’. I also gave a talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum entitled ‘I’m for free speech, but…’ I took part in a number of debates over free speech, including with Brian Carey, Anshuman Mondal and Brian Klug, and Anshuman Mondal again.
This was other theme that took up much space in Pandaemonium over the past year. I gave a lecture at the University of Michigan on ‘The Making of European Jihadis’, and wrote an essay for the Observer on the same themes. Also for the Observer, I looked at what it means to talk of the Islamic State as ‘evil’. In the New York Times I explained Islamic jihadism as a rage against modernity and as a consequence of the corruption of the anti-imperialist movement. In response to the Paris carnage, I wrote commentaries for Al Jazeera, the Observer and Foreign Affairs. I reflected on the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. I wrote, too, about the strangeness of the attitude of many of the left towards Islamism.
In the wake of the death of the Saudi King Abdullah, I told the story of how the Saudi Royal family had really gained power.
Back in 1989, at the beginning of the campaign against The Satanic Verses, I had interviewed Sher Azam the then president of the Bradford Council of Mosques. Last year I went back to see him as part of a documentary on the Rushdie affair being made by the Dutch TV company VPRO.
The migration crisis has overshadowed European politics this year. The crisis, I wrote, ‘is not simply one of refugees. It is also a crisis of Europe’s response’. I wrote of ‘The Price of Fortress Europe’, and of the stench of the EU’s rotten migration deal with Turkey. I also challenged the idea that Eastern Europe is more racist that the West. Hein de Hans challenged the conventional narrative about ‘people smugglers’.
Assimilationism and multiculturalism
I wrote several articles about multiculturalism and assimilationism and about the relationship between them. An essay for Foreign Affairs analysed ‘The Failure of Multiculturalism’. My Stephen Lissenburgh Memorial Lecture explored the same theme, as did a talk I gave on ‘Living in Diversity’ at a conference in Oslo on diversity, faith and extremism. I took part in a discussion at Canada House in London on whether social cohesion can be imposed. I explained what is wrong with mainstream politicians’ attitudes to multiculturalism, immigration and populism. In ‘Assimilationism vs multiculturalism’ I looked the similarities and differences between French and British social policy; the essay won the 3 Quarks Daily Politics and Social Science Prize for 2015.
I looked at what the general election results told us about the state of Britain, and asked what the Labour Party was for. I examined the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as an expression of the new politics of disenchantment, and was disdainful of David Cameron’s pitch for the centre ground.
I wrote of the immorality of the EU’s policy towards Greece, and of the politics of the Fifa corruption scandal. Sophia Dingli asked why there has been no outrage about the Saudi Arabia’s Western-backed war in Yemen.In the wake of the Parliamentary vote to extend Britain’s bombing campaign against IS into Syria, I wrote of the lessons provided by the Kurdish struggle.
This has been the year of identity politics. I touched on the issue in talks in Cape Town on ‘Free Speech in an age of Identity Politics’, in Brussels on ‘The many roots of Christian Europe, the many sources of the Islamic world’, and in Stockholm on ‘The Struggle for Cultural Heritage’. I also gave a number of interviews about diversity and identity to Swedish media. In ‘Disaffection in a Fragmented World’ I looked at how the politics of identity expresses itself in different ways across the globe.
I wrote of the ethical debate about mitochodrial transfer techniques, and asked ‘What is wrong with playing God?’. Philip Ball wrote about what it means to think historically, and why many scientists who attempt to write histories of their subjects fall short. Geoff Watts argued that irrational panic about radiation can cause more harm than radiation itself. I took part in a debate at the Cambridge Science Festival on ‘The science of morality’, and in a discussion at the Royal Institution on ‘What does science tell us about race and racism?’. I reviewed books by Julian Baggini and John Gray on science, freedom and free will.
History & philosophy
I published a number of extracts from my book The Quest for a Moral Compass, including a commentary on neuroscientist Joshua Green’s ideas, a look at the rise of China and the idea of a clash of civilizations, and thoughts on Marx and morality.
I took part in a discussion of Larry Siedentop’s arguments about Christianity and the idea of the individual.
Art & culture
I went to see Diego Rivera’s extraordinary Detroit Industry murals, and explored what the campaign to save the Detroit Institute of Art, where the murals are housed, tells us about the worth of art. I was impressed by The Sultan’s World, a groundbreaking exhibition exploring the artistic relationship between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire during the Renaissance, but less so by The Adventures of the Black Square, the Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition on twentieth century abstract geometric art. On the occasion of an exhibition at New York’s MoMA that reunited all 60 panels of Jacob Lawrence’s ‘Great Migration’ series, I published a series of six posts about the significance of Lawrence which included the entire series of paintings (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Leigh Phillips wrote about the politics of Star Trek. At the launch of the British branch of Libraries without Frontiers, I talked of the importance of books and of stories. I reviewed Multitudes, John Hollingworth’s play about multicultural Britain.
I paid tribute to BB King, Ornette Coleman and Rico Rodriguez, discovered Iranian blues and jazz, and set down a soundtrack to the black struggle in America. I worked out my favourite books of the year.
From South Africa came five posts – Apartheid, then and now, A Table and its winter cloth, Creatures great and small, The colour of flight and In the fynbos and beyond. Other photography posts were of the cello, as beautiful to the eye as to the ear, an elegy to the crane, and the dramatic lines of Oslo Opera House, and photos that capture the spirit of an artist.
I gave a number of major talks last year, including the TB Davie Memorial Lecture at Cape Town Univeristy on ‘Free Speech in an agae of Identity Politics’, the Stephen Lissenburgh Memorial Lecture in London on ‘What’s Wrong with Multiculturalism’, an Oslo Freedom Forum talk entitled ‘I Believe in Free Speech, But…’, a lecture at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels on ‘The many roots of Christian Europe, the many sources of the Islamic world’, and the keynote address at the conference of the Riksantikvarieämbetet (Swedish National Heritage Board) on ‘The Struggle for Cultural Heritage’.
I was immensely pleased to have a number of other writers again contribute to Pandaemonium, including Leigh Phillips on Star Trek, Philip Ball on science and history, Hein de Hans on people smuggling, Sophia Dingli on the response to the Yemen conflict and Tiffany Antone on trigger warnings and artistic freedom.
And these are the ten most-read posts of last year. Yes, there are actually 13 of them – that is because three of the posts in the top ten actually come from previous years (‘Why Hate speech should not be banned’, ‘Why both sides are wrong in the race debate’ and ‘What’s the problem with multiculturalism?’), so I have added the next three 2015 posts too.
Finally, my thanks to all the readers of, and visitors to, Pandaemonium, and most especially to those who have become Patrons. I hope you continue to read, to visit, and to support Pandaemonium in 2016. And Happy New Year to all.