Friday, 30 October 2009

Pornography?

By Jason Todd - Guest Contributor

Pornography. Escapist fantasies? A bit of harmless fun? Sexually liberating? Plain old wrong? Whatever your view, because let’s not pretend you don’t have one, porn is here and it’s here in a big way.

Porn has moved off of the top shelf and is in our homes. You may think this sounds a little like something Mary Whitehouse would storm the BBC saying, but none-the-less, it would be hard to deny that it’s true. Pornography has crept onto mainstream television. Films like 9 songs have brought it back into the cinema and with magazines like Nuts and Loaded it is still firmly in the newsagents.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think in the main, pornography is ok. Well, at least in the sense that I don’t see anything inherently wrong with a consenting adult(s) watching another set of consenting adults having sex for the purpose of sexual gratification, or just for a laugh. In fact, one could argue that pornography has done some good. I think on the whole people today (certainly those of my generation - the ’20 something’s’) are more open and confident about their sexuality and sexual practice. They are more aware, and have better sex as a result. I’m not sure many people would argue that we should return to the sexually repressed age of doctors inducing orgasms for stressed women… although, judging by some porn titles, apparently some people do.

But here is my ponder, when did this happen? When did porn become ‘OK’ and do we really think that it is actually all ok? Gone are the days of having to travel to a seedy shop in Soho and leave with a paper bag. Now pornography is well and truly out in the open. People talk about porn, people buy it openly, hell your nan’s probably seen it.

I am opting to avoid any huge social commentary, because there are more able and eloquent people amongst us who can do a better job, but seriously, when did this happen? And whilst we’re at it, by having this ever more open view of pornography have we opened the door to something seedier, that by default we all now have to accept? Gone are the days of having to hide porn away, but gone too are the days of Shannon Tweed politely bobbing up and down on some mullet-wearing man in time to Santana-esque electric guitar, and in are the days of “gagging”, “puking” “abuse of drunks” and the now infamous ‘two girls one cup”. By opening the way for porn in its most general sense, did we also inadvertently invite these more extreme forms into the open? Did we legitimise them?

I stated by saying that I don’t have any real issue with pornography in the abstract sense, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that this means I then have to also accept it in its extreme forms. Sex should be fun, it should be pleasurable, and so too then by extension should pornography. So why then is it now nasty? Something happened in society to make pornography acceptable, but what on earth happened to make this new form ok? My original reason for writing this piece was a conversation I had with a friend. Although never explicitly stated it was clear than in our time we had both watched porn and by the sounds of it enjoyed it. What concerned us was not people watching porn in the abstract, but rather what it purported to tell or show us about socially acceptable norms of sexual behaviour. The subsequent risk then of course is the impact that extreme but recently legitimised forms of pornography could have on young, sexually naïve minds.

And there folks is the heart of my ponder, when did it become ‘ok’ and where do we draw the line of ‘ok-ness’? This musing is full of questions, perhaps then it is fitting to take you back to the title: pornography?

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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Shooting The Breeze

by Candice Carboo-Ofulue @Candaloo

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that we need to refresh the debate on black-on-black gun crime? Yes, the media are still salivating over stories of “shootings” and “gangsters”, but it seems that the Government has left the building. Meanwhile cases such as Nathan Harris; a teenager sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the shooting of 20 year old Craig Brown saturate the media. Except, what I didn’t see anywhere in all of the coverage of this heartbreaking story was anyone asking why. Why has a teenage boy taken this track in life? Why does a teenage boy know how to get his hands on a gun? Why do we have a lynch mob style “death by reputation” media inquest, instead of having real solutions put in place to prevent this happening again? Why has this issue slipped down the political agenda? Now, more than ever we need to tread those murky waters of “underachievement”, joblessness and poor housing.

Recently, the only noise around this issue is that being created by the tabloids spitting stories of “gangsters” and “villains” infesting our streets. Like the Medieval morality plays, these stories have no intention of raising debate; they are designed to instill fear, entrench stereotypes and ultimately sell papers. And of course, there is also the unmistakable sound of the police cracking down. Meanwhile, black boys slide deeper into the abyss of gangs, guns and violence.

To a large extent, gun crime has traditionally been linked to the seedy world of drug dealers. However, the uncomfortable truth now is that gun crime is spreading its tentacles beyond drugs. Turning black youth culture into a delinquent sub-culture. What morals and values are we instilling in our youth? Our most recent attempts to engage, mostly driven by the media I should add, have sucked us into discussions of “callousness” and “gangsterism”. Unfortunately, this type of analysis uproots solutions from the social realm and drops them into some of kind of fantasy world made up of good guys and bad guys. Unfortunately life is not that simple. Call me cynical but is this not just a deliberate attempt to ignore our societal responsibilities? I wonder.

What is the basis for our unwillingness or inability to address the problems? Or is it that we’re just unable to understand? What is perhaps unsettling for some is that when we start to analyse the human behind the monster, we discover that his desires and aspirations are not that different from "our" own. Success, power, affluence – these are considered normal aspirations. So as the fog of fear begins to clear, what we see is a parallel sub-culture, with a unique set of skills and values. In this world violence and guns are normal methods of achieving respect and success. Here, the “gangster” is functional, entrepreneurial, likeable. Could this be an alternative society that accepts those rejected by the mainstream?

Oh, and before anyone starts on about rap music providing unsavoury role models again, please don’t. Instead, perhaps we should be looking closer to home before casting blame elsewhere. Let’s talk about why our young black boys are so poorly equipped emotionally to be able to deal with anger and frustration? Where are their vocational or intellectual skills to access society? How do we broaden their horizons?

Last week, as most of us were sucked into the frenzy around Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the news that the Metropolitan Police plans to deploy armed police units to patrol estates in Tottenham, Lambeth and Haringey slipped surreptitiously into the BBC evening news. This, they said, was to “proactively respond to the increase in gun crime" and is only a “temporary” measure. Hmmm, when did the definition of proactive include a semi-automatic weapon?

I’m no expert but this will probably result in more arrests, increased marginalisation and evidently more shootings. Come on people, let’s start talking before the Government commissions Brazilian style death squads to clean our streets.

There is a big blue elephant in the room, and he’s angry and holding a gun.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A Terrible Case of the X



by John Ellul - guest contributor

So, for better or for worse, Cheryl Cole’s debut solo performance came and went this weekend on The X-Factor and the world has continued spinning regardless. After encountering a backlash when it emerged that Cole planned to record the performance beforehand and mime over the track. She then appeared to swerve everyone, presumably in answer to her critics. Her seat was empty at the start. She stayed in the same costume throughout. Some of the vocals were shaky – surely it was live. Were we all had? Does it even matter?

The calls for authenticity on a TV show more artificial than ‘Cosmetic Surgery Live’ are a bit misguided, with some under the impression that Cole should ‘set an example’ by singing live. Perhaps having a stellar career for the last few years gives her the right to a night off – but would the same apply in other walks of life? “I’ve been a brilliant postman for 17 years now. Today though, I’m just going to pretend to post the letters while I play on the swings and you lot can sod off.”

The abiding issue isn’t about the quality of Cheryl Cole’s singing – but of the song. Cheryl didn’t have to write a great song, rather choose one from those offered to her. Ms Cole has the world at her feet and all her army of expert advisers had to do was pick a barnstormer with which to announce herself on the international solo stage. Seeing as “choosing the right song” is about the only tangible thing the mentor has to do for their chosen acts on The X-Factor, this should have been a breeze.

The limp, lifeless ‘Fight For This Love’ is boring, drab sub-R&B album filler at best. So is Cheryl the next Beyonce or the next Mel C? The song will likely get to number one this Sunday thanks to the exposure Simon Cowell can guarantee (in exchange for her firstborn, presumably) but on this evidence a tail-between-the-legs Girls Aloud reunion can’t be too far off. The Daily Mail got it half-right – the song is derivative, but not because it’s a Kelis rip-off.

The man behind the song, Andre Merritt, is responsible for several recent successes (Chris Brown – ‘Forever’; Rihanna – ‘Disturbia’) and his reference demo has been floating around the net since December. In the year since then it’s also been recorded by American singer (and 2002 American Idol contestant) Tamyra Gray. Looking closer into Cheryl’s tracklisting we also find the 2008 will.i.am hit ‘Heartbreaker’, on which she (apparently) sang the chorus, and a cover of Nikola Rachelle’s 2006 single ‘Don’t Talk About This Love’. That’s an awful lot of recycling.

Song-swapping is commonplace in contemporary R&B, a genre Cheryl Cole appears eager to shoehorn herself into. This scene consists of several songwriting collectives and individuals who’ll go anywhere once the cheque clears, ‘rent-a-pens’ with few scruples and even less quality control. Once the song is done, a vocal reference is recorded to demonstrate how to sing it and it’s emailed to whoever wants it. This process often runs into roadbumps. Usher initially hesitated over recording 2004 mega-hit ‘Yeah!’, and when he did eventually ask to buy the rights to the song, producer Lil’ Jon had sold it to rapper Petey Pablo. A hastily-made imitation was thrown together and proved a smash.

So how much of the music we listen to is really ‘real’? I’m pretty confident this musical ‘bed-hopping’ doesn’t take place in other genres. Was ‘Golden Skans’ originally offered to Kasabian before they passed it up? Did ‘America’ sit on a producer’s desk for a year while Razorlight, The Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers argued over it? We used to be able to kid ourselves that our pop stars were at least trying to keep up the charade. Now, not only is the Emperor wearing no clothes, he’s smiling and shaking his dangling bits in our face while he does it.

The British black pop music scene is experiencing exposure and success on a never before seen level. Chipmunk, Dizzee Rascal, Ironik, Tinchy Stryder and N-Dubz have all had recent triumphs and Cheryl Cole stands as the R&B figurehead, alongside Taio Cruz, and her X-Factor cohorts Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis. Reality shows have served her well and she needs to seize this opportunity creatively or risk solo failure.

Perhaps she is more aware than I give her credit for though. Booking Whitney “I Will Always Have a Problem” Houston to sing directly after you is a masterstroke that ensures few people will remember your own drawbacks. The Evening Standard wrote that Houston “looked flustered” when talking to host Dermot O’Leary. Since when did “flustered” become the accepted euphemism for “on crack”? “Sorry I haven’t been in for work for three months boss, I was flustered. In a flustered den, with my flustered pipe.”

Whether Cheryl’s approach to her album and her career are ‘admirable’, this is of course academic – both the album and subsequent singles are guaranteed sales and financial success thanks to blanket coverage. The naysayers have bemoaned sampling in hip-hop, and autotune in R&B – is a backlash against the invisible business of ‘song-swapping’ far off?

Hubby Ashley, who dutifully sat in the crowd on Sunday night, is to be applauded. Faced with the prospect of their partners embarking on international superstardom, more insecure husbands would feel emasculated. Not our Ash. Although maybe he just wants Cheryl to reach a second album so he and Rio’s imaginary hip-hop ensemble (the Merx Brothers?) can appear as guest rappers and finally “spit some hot lyrics”. And how much exactly would Cheryl pay her beloved Ashley to appear as a guest on her album? £55 grand? Is she taking the piss, Jonathan?

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet: An Ode to Twitter


by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

Any Twitterers out there will be more than familiar with the pained look of a sceptical non-Twitterer. First the eyes glaze over. Then at the very mention of the words “social networking site” you get the pity stare. By the time you’ve got to “no you don’t understand, it’s nothing like MyFace” well by then you’ve completely lost them.

The irony is, anyone not yet familiar with Twitter is the one deserving of a healthy dose of pity. Twitter is the latest social networking site, and it is nothing like Facebook, but I genuinely believe Twitter could well be our saving grace.

Twitter is a way of being privy to conversations that you would otherwise never be a part of. It’s a way of getting access to the most extraordinary amount of information that you would otherwise never be able to find. Twitter is what happens when millions of people come together to create something bigger than themselves.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a feed aggregator. Igoogle is probably the most well known example. Aggregrators allow you to create a personalised homepage so that you only have to go to one place to see all of your favourite websites. “Revolutionary technology” not so long ago. “Technology that would change our way of looking at the web”. Except of course, that it wouldn’t because we would all still be looking at the same old stuff. Whereas Twitter, well Twitter went where feed aggregators couldn’t. It opened the doors to the expansiveness of the internet. Twitter aggregates everyone’s thoughts, links, stories, snippet’s of information, breaking news all onto your homepage.

Anyone who is on Facebook and complains about the amount of narcissism on the site has fundamentally misunderstood Facebook, and themselves. In fact if you ever want to win the “Narcissist of the Week” cup, just devote one of your FB statuses to bitching about the fact that people just talk about themselves in their own status updates. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

Anyone who says that Facebook is becoming progressively more like Twitter has fundamentally misunderstood Twitter.

Maybe Twitter is just another craze. Just another website, just another procrastination, just another indulgence, just another distraction. Or maybe it’s something much more. Maybe Twitter will be the first step towards us, (that’s you, me, your grandmother’s neighbour… your grandmother), reclaiming our moral identities. Coming together as one society and redefining all of those boundaries that we’ve allowed to become so blurred over the last decade.

This week alone there have been two high profile examples of how Twitter has united us. Actually, allow me to rephrase, there have been two examples of how Twitter has enabled us to unite. The first was how the Twitteratti and The Guardian took on Carter-Ruck and safeguarded our right to open reporting of parliamentary proceedings. The second was of course Moir-gate.

After the Jan Moir debacle, she came out and accused those of us who complained about it as being part of a “heavily orchestrated attack”. You’ve got to feel a little for the vile little woman. To be so out of touch with reality that you can believe that the 22,000 people who sent complaints into the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over weekend only did so because Stephen Fry and Derren Brown coerced them into it? Well to believe that you have to be really, really stupid. What Moir failed to see was that it was an outpouring from a society that has suddenly refound its voice. A society that has become so fractured to be able to come together and say no. To say that we are unwilling to accept homophobic slurs in our national press. That’s one moral boundary rebuilt. Twitter facilitated that dialogue.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ascribing Twitter.com with any inherent moral good. We’re the ones capable of defining what is right and what is wrong. Twitter just allows us to take those definitions out of our living rooms and put them squarely into the big bad world.

Why not give it a go? I reckon you’ll feel a bit lost and possibly even a bit bored during the first week. Then after that, when you start getting used to how it works, you’ll begin to see what the 18 million of us see.

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Saturday, 17 October 2009

Little Nicky: A question of free speech or home entertainment?


by Peter Manning - guest contributor

As I am sure you know Nick Griffin is on Question Time next week. There has been a lot of fuss among the liberal left about the fact that the BBC is providing a platform for a far-right group to promote its agenda on a popular show that always does well in the ratings. The BNP website has, in fact, already installed a countdown clock, as if welcoming in some kind of apocalyptic final showdown; Straw and Griffin, poised to go head to head (I assume with Dimbleby acting as some kind of burlesque referee). I don’t think Griffin knows Straw has impaired eyesight; I don’t think Straw knows he is facing a parody of Stephen King’s ‘IT’ (principally manifest as a clown, but sometimes also taking the form of people’s deepest fears). If we accept that the limit of free speech within a democratic society is realised exactly at the propagation of wholly undemocratic ideas then we should quite reasonably conclude that a publicly funded body should not allow this farce. But a farce is what it will almost certainly be, and, I think, it may be a useful one.

I personally can’t take Nick Griffin seriously; he does actually remind me of an angry clown. For the record, I am completely aware that Griffin’s rhetoric is not only offensive, but also inflammatory and potentially dangerous. The recent spats of racially motivated violence and vandalism against Muslims and Jews are enough to remind us how serious a general threat the ideas of the far right in modern Britain can be.

The other panellists on Question Time have a decision to make early on next Thursday. On the one hand, they can collectively condemn Griffin from the off, quashing his attacks wherever possible, bully style, at best letting proceedings deteriorate into a shouting match, and, at worst, potentially risking an exhibition in martyrdom. On the other, an alternative (albeit risky) approach may very well be to let Griffin enjoy the platform, abuse it even. By keeping disagreement and correction firm but mild – parental, soothingly patronising even – the panel can allow Griffin to be the only farce on show. Thinking back a year or so ago, Joe Biden’s strategy in the Vice-Presidential debate showed that this can work. Biden respectfully allowed Palin to expose her own cognitive deficiencies. I am obviously not trying to compare the politics of Sarah Palin and Nick Griffin; one is an extremist power-hungry maniac, and the other is… Er…

The point is that Griffin’s ideas should not be taken seriously, even if they are by some groups that are presently feeling disenfranchised from the public sphere. Surely we should be addressing the roots of that marginalisation, rather than assuming swathes of the population are either innately racist, or too stupid to spot someone making a public fool of them self? This is not ‘Weimar Britain’, despite the BNP’s preference for the population transfer of all non-indigenous persons (that is, essentially, all of us – can the last person in Britain please turn the light out?). The fact that the BNP website seriously suggests that ‘overpopulation’ – a direct result of immigration – is ‘the cause of the destruction of our environment’ shows that Griffin can quite capably show the fallacies of the BNP attack without any help, and quite on his own terms.

The great thing about the UK is that we (generally) have an understanding of public citizenship according to secular and non-ethnic/racial/gendered criteria. That is something that – dare I say it – we can be proud of, and something that has taken many hundreds of years to establish. Yes, we live in a culture that en masse consumes Simon Cowell as entertaining, and yes, sometimes the public is not critical enough of blindingly obvious blights to our society (the Royal Family). But there is a tendency on the liberal left to err toward a rhetoric of condemnation which, in situations like the forthcoming BNP Question Time appearance, further inhibit the collective critical conscience, rather than stimulating it. In some situations this can be helpful, crucial even (on climate change perhaps). But the public needs to be able to make its own judgement on Nick Griffin, in many ways just to illustrate clearly what political apathy can lead to. In making that judgement, I am convinced that the public will see Griffin next Thursday for what he is: an angry (and dangerous) clown.

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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

No Ball Games

by Joshua Surtees

Recently, while walking through a council estate in Wood Green where I live, I noticed a small boy repeatedly throwing a basketball against a sign that clearly read 'No Ball Games'. Now, I don't know whether kids are subversive at age 10 or just naughty, but this was a deliciously brazen act. He was bouncing the ball, I believe it's called dribbling, and then using the sign as his 'hoop'. If only I'd had a camera to hand (oh but wait, it's illegal to photograph minors...as my brother recently found out when trying to take a photograph of his own son at a cafe). I particularly liked how the basketball kid looked around occasionally, just to check if anyone was looking. It was genius, and added a needed touch of comedy to an otherwise bleak scene of garages, concrete and prohibitive signs.

A couple of days later while reading the Tottenham and Wood Green Journal, I happened across an article featuring a Banksy story. Banksy has come to Tottenham and given us a beautiful new piece of art. What is interesting about this story, as with all Banksy street art, is the debate about what should be done with the piece. The owner of the building (which houses a Polish grocery shop and, I believe, a kebab shop) clearly has the right to remove the painting (as has been done many times in London before people cottoned on to the fact that Banksy is one of our greatest current artists). Apparently the owner is still debating what to do about it. Haringey council meanwhile, not wanting to appear culturally ignorant, have erected a Perspex shield around the piece to protect it and "to draw visitors to the area". Hahaha...if you have ever been to this junction in the heart of Tottenham you will know why NO visitors will EVER be drawn here by ANYTHING....it's grim). Perspex, you will recall, also covers a Banksy piece on Essex Road. While the reflective plastic does tend to deface and emasculate these pieces somewhat, at least councils are now protecting them, and drawing attention to them rather than chemically removing them.

It is, however, an interesting dilemma. If the owner is a Neanderthal and has never heard of Banksy he could have it removed. Which brings us to an interesting debate about ownership; who really does ‘own’ this piece? Can the artist claim ownership or is he technically a vandal? Does the building owner have the right to remove, alter, cover or indeed sell it as his own personal property? Does this piece of art belong to the community at large and everybody who walks past it and beholds it? I do not have the answers to these questions but I do feel that areas like Tottenham deserve this kind of adornment. This is now (hopefully) a permanent artwork on display and touching local people’s everyday lives. It is exactly the kind of subversion of the restrictions society places upon individuals that De Certeau would be proud of. In areas with bleak prospects and living environments, the inspiration, aesthetic uplift and humour that such work can bring is invaluable.

I also feel strongly that senior figures within the artistic community should do more to encourage high quality street art. In cities like Lisbon or Paris I have seen vibrant examples of street art which appear to be understood and celebrated by the local residents and artist communities. London, meanwhile, until fairly recently had a blanket policy of removing any so-called ‘graffiti’ from its streets. Artists such as Banksy have made great strides in altering perceptions and, indeed, differentiating between ‘tagging’ artists, whose mission is to simply proliferate their monolithic symbols as widely as they can, and ‘real’ street artists.

To end, I refer back to the aforementioned ball-throwing kid and share with you some of the thoughts that his wanton act instigated in my mind: Was he referencing Banksy in his act of juvenile delinquency? Was he sending out a big 'fuck you' to Haringey council, to the government, to the state, to the authorities who create these stupid signs? Will he be the next Michael Jordan and grow up to tell the stories of how he used to have to use a sign for a hoop? Will he grow up to be a nihilist, an anarchist, an agitator, a political activist, an anti-capitalist demonstrator, a football hooligan? Was it simply that he could not speak English, or was perhaps illiterate, and therefore couldn't understand the sign or the significance of his act? Or was he just a naughty kid chucking a ball against a sign? Whatever the facts behind this extraordinary sight are, it was a beautiful, beautiful thing to observe. Thank you small boy, whoever you are.

And you can read/see more about Banksy and other street art from around the world at this rather pleasant website

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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Lament of a Woolly Liberal

By Euclides Montes @Gatulino

I’m worried. That in itself isn’t new, worrying is the favourite pastime of us woolly liberals. In fact, worrying is precisely the reason that I haven’t eaten anything Nestlé in years, or why I have never had a cup of coffee from Starbucks in my life.


But this is different. Overt racism, currently in vogue in its Islamophobic manifestation, is suddenly thriving in the United Kingdom [and The West at large] and it really worries me. Worse than that, I would argue that liberals are giving these formerly extremist views an almost free passage into middle ground politics. When fear mongering about Muslims ‘conquering Europe’s cities, street by street’ is not only accepted but praised and commentators are confident to make statements like ‘The Serbs figured [it] out... if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull’em’, I worry that we have a serious problem on our hands. A problem compounded by a self-imposed liberal myopia that refuses to accept the prevalence of racism in our society.

No matter where you stand on the issue, it would be hard to deny that racists and racism are apparent through all levels of society right now. They are in the papers that we read, they are representing some of us in office, they are gaining a legitimate foothold in the national discourse. Heck, they are so confident that they’re taking to streets, in numbers.

And Islam seems to be taking the brunt of this xenophobic wave that’s washed up on our shores. For instance, the English Defence League (EDL) is slowly but surely becoming more confident in its actions, and its arguments are more honed to deliver a message through which Muslims are invariably cast as the proverbial boogie men. And what’s even more surprising is that whilst hundreds of EDL protesters marched through the streets, throwing Nazi salutes and racist chants, most of my friends [well educated folk and mostly woolly liberals like me] are unaware of the EDL's existence, let alone their actions. You could argue that the EDL by themselves aren't actually the main problem, the main problem is that the EDL are just the tip of the iceberg you see. Wherever they go, the ugly face of racism appears. They’ll be marching through the streets of Manchester later this week and the signs of yet another wave of racial attacks have begun propping up everywhere. Just last Friday, over 25 Muslim graves were desecrated in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester, an item of news that didn’t even get a couple of lines in any national newspaper. It worries me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we’re experiencing the dark days of fascism all over again but no matter how many times we joke about the way they look, how many times we dismiss their views as marginal, how many photoshopped pictures of their leaders sporting toothbrush moustaches we release on the blogOsphere, no matter how inconsequential we feel it is that some of them gained public office, dismissing it as nothing more than a ‘fluke’ or a ‘wake up call for the mainstream parties’. No matter any of these things, the racists are moving further and further towards the centre and they’ll openly be on our televisions soon. And soon we’ll have to hand over a large wad of taxpayers money to these elected members in public office for their campaigns. No, I’m not suggesting we’re experiencing the worst of fascist racism but it worries me how easy it has been for them.

And what worries me even more is how much of the responsibility for this sad state of affairs – where a person of Nick Griffith’s calibre is one of our faces in Europe and a legitimate political option in the United Kingdom – lies in the heart of the mainstream left. Many would argue that racism has always been there and that closet Mosleyians are just feeling more confident in expressing their views, making this fresh wave of overt racism a bi-product of complex social circumstances. But none of these arguments gets us off the hook. We cannot dismiss the intellectual bankruptcy in leftist flanks that has allowed this situation to arise.

Whereas previously the Griffiths, Caldwells and Manchester rioters of this world would’ve been met by a strong, committed left; confident in its own values, arguments and merits. Whereas before we could have seen off the challenge of a racist party in electoral contest, now, we have to sit and stare. Now, the only heated arguments we feel confident to hold are with other lefties about the tactical merits of ‘going green’. We’ve lost our intellectual backbone, if you ask me. Where are our EP Thompsons and our Battles of Lewisham? Even that vanguard of left-of-centre journalism The Guardian can sometimes get muddled up in the dark waters of centrist appeasing. You can go and blame Tony Blair for that. I blame all of us.

When faced with these great political challenges of the 21st Century, we’ve resorted to navel gazing. When faced with one of the greatest racist uprisings in our country in the last 50 years, we have resorted to the intellectual equivalent of ringing doorbells and running away. We are far too ready to shout ‘racist’ but not that willing to stand our ground and defend our point. This cerebral anaemia is not only unacceptable but it’s also untenable in modern society.

We need to be ready and willing to challenge racism wherever we may find it, whatever shape it takes. Dismissing someone’s fears over foreign appropriation of jobs or the country being ‘overrun’ by over-breeding, benefit-claiming asylum seekers as simply racist without instead providing a reasoned and sensible challenge to these views, is not only unhelpful but worse, it helps recruit supporters for those who are trying to stir up feelings of victimisation for the "indigenous population". Regardless of whether they are backed up by fact or reality, the concerns of the British working class people who are now turning their backs on the Labour party and are instead joining ranks with the likes of the EDL are genuine concerns that cannot, and should not be dismissed with a cry of racism. Our reluctance to face these issues head on has paved the way for a malignant racist minority in our society to successfully foster a culture of misinformation, rife with stereotypes and prejudice. It’s our duty to challenge them rather than dismiss them. Crying ‘racist’ only plays into the hands of the wolf.

This brings me back to my original point. Muslims are the main target of that part of our society where prejudice and xenophobia breed and prosper. And although I truly believe that the open hostility towards this important part of our society is purely symptomatic of a deeper, more dangerous and, suddenly, more confident and vocal racist streak embedded in the very fabric of western culture, I worry about the immediate consequences this may have, especially if the Left doesn’t come out of the wilderness with a revived sense of purpose and, more importantly, a stronger intellectual backbone. Until then, I worry about what might happen. But I guess I’d say that because I’m a woolly liberal, right?

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