22 November 2005


OK, I accept the last post was a bit crude in its conclusions (as several respondents have said) but it was supposed to be.

I don't think jihadism is entirely attributable to sexual frustration. But we do need to think through the crisis of Islam in terms of sexual politics: back to early Wilhelm Reich, of course, but also back to the socialist feminists of the 1970s who reinterpreted macho class politics through the prism of gender.

17 November 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 18 November 2005

I’m not a religious believer and haven’t been for a very long time — I think I must have come to the conclusion that god doesn’t exist when I was 12 or 13, and nothing has happened since to make me change my mind.

It’s not a big thing in my family. Neither of my parents was at all religious, and the only serious believers among my close relations were my grandmother (who was married to an avowed militant atheist) and one aunt. My school was more of a problem: a minor public school, it insisted on compulsory chapel and RE, and during my early teenage years I was in regular small-scale trouble for talking during chapel (for which the penalty was cleaning the first XV’s rugby boots) and for being rude to teachers in RE lessons.

What the hell: by the time I was 15, the school had relaxed about compulsory chapel and RE and much else besides — in the sixth form one liberal teacher even put on a showing of Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film If ..., in which Malcolm McDowell leads an armed uprising in an authoritarian C of E boarding school — and since then the only times I’ve suffered for my unbelief have been those occasions when I’ve had to sit through religious ceremonies at weddings, funerals and the like.

The worst was when a single-mother friend persuaded me to endure two hours of happy-clappy nonsense at a Muswell Hill church because she wanted to get her daughter into the local C of E primary and needed a plausible male to act the devout husband in front of the vicar. Never again.

But plenty of people have a really tough time making their way in life as unbelievers. The most famous case in recent years is that of Salman Rushdie, against whom the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a sentence of death for apostasy after the publication of The Satanic Verses, but Rushdie is not alone. Professing atheism is apostasy in Islam and is traditionally punishable by execution — and in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and several other countries the punishment is still on the statute book or whatever the equivalent is. Unbelievers (and for all we know they could number millions) live in constant fear of their lives. Many other countries in the Islamic world do not enforce the death penalty for apostasy but nevertheless have severe blasphemy laws, among them Pakistan, where the penalty for blasphemy is life imprisonment and blasphemy actions are common.

Of course, in western Europe, blasphemy laws (in defence of Christianty) have fallen into disuse, though they still exist in several countries, among them Britain. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people always have an easy time of it giving up religion. At least a dozen Brits I know have been disowned by their families for abandoning their faith — three of them were thrown out of their parental homes for it — and I know plenty of others who keep quiet about their faithlessness in front of their parents even though they have long since left home.


Now, I’m not quite sure what to make of this, but most of the people I know of my generation or older who have been dropped by their families for ditching their religion come from Christian backgrounds — and most of those of a younger generation are former Muslims.

This could just be coincidence. And it could be because few of my friends and colleagues of my own age or older are Muslims or ex-Muslims, whereas lots of my students and former students are. I certainly wouldn’t want to extrapolate too much from a handful of examples. But hunch tells me that it is probably the result of something bigger — that Islam in Britain is beginning to go through precisely the same process of decline in the face of disbelief that Christianity experienced in the course of the 20th century.

This view is, in the current climate, a bit heterodox. The cant of the day is that, for better or worse, Islam in Britain — as elsewhere in Europe — is on the march, and that the Muslim community is an increasingly important political actor. George Galloway and a large part of the far left see Muslims as allies in anti-imperialism. Since 7/7, the government has been desperately trying to find Muslims who can credibly persuade Muslim youth not to become jihadis. The Spectator rants about the threat to our existence posed by “Eurabia”.

But what if the rise of radical Islamism among Muslim youth in Europe is in fact a symptom of a crisis of belief? What if the young men who turn to jihadism do so for the most part because they can’t get laid — because the girls they think should be theirs are turning them down because they can’t stand the idea of life with a dickhead 20-something would-be patriarch and have given up the religion?

Sorry if it’s not PC, but I’m more and more convinced that this is the story. Muslims in Britain are losing their religion. A few loons are resisting, but in the long run we’ll all benefit.

16 November 2005


As advertised earlier, I've got a big project on at the moment: editing George Orwell's journalism in Tribune for a book coming out next year. Click here for the Orwell in Tribune blog where I'll be posting most of the next six months.

6 November 2005


Thanks to Slugger for drawing attention to this extraordianry interview with "Gorgeous" George on the BBC's Northern Ireland TV channel. Unless I've missed something, this is the first time Galloway has stated explicitly that he couldn't give a damn where the money came from to run his political campaigns.

2 November 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 4 November 2005 *

I know that, in the grand scheme of things, whether or not you’re allowed a Marlboro with your pint of Adnams in the Horse and Groom or a nice Chilean cabernet with your meal in the restaurant car on the 20.30 from Liverpool Street doesn’t really matter that much. But for some reason — not just that I frequently enjoy a fag with my beer and once a week polish off a half-bottle of red with my dinner on the way home — I get hot under the collar when I read about government plans to ban smoking in pubs and drinking on public transport.

OK, I know that the pub smoking ban is now not likely to be complete, so I’ll still be able to light up in the two pubs I use most frequently, as long as I don’t do so at the bar — neither the aforementioned Horse and Groom (Woodbridge Road, Ipswich) nor the Prince Arthur in Charles Square, Hoxton, do food as long as you don’t count pork scratchings or cheese sandwiches.

And OK, I realise that the idea of banning booze on public transport is just an idea and is a long way from the statute book: it made the headlines last weekend because it was contained in a policy paper by Louise Casey, aka “Tony Blair’s anti-social behaviour tsar”, and was discussed at a meeting at Chequers.

Oh, all right, and I also know that I could live with a pub smoking ban or a public transport booze ban. I cope perfectly well with smoking bans imposed by my various workplaces, by cinemas, theatres, shops and public transport and, increasingly, by non-smoking friends in their homes. If smoking is banned in pubs and restaurants, I’ll just go outside for a snout if I want one. And I’m not such a hopeless alcoholic that I couldn’t survive a train journey without a little tipple.

My problem is that I don’t see why it’s the state’s business to interfere with these minutiae of my everyday life. I accept that tobacco smoke is unpleasant to many non-smokers and that it is bad for the health. I agree that no one should be forced to endure a smoky atmosphere against their will.

But, as things stand, coercion doesn’t come into it. People can choose whether or not to visit a pub or restaurant in which smoking is allowed — and they can choose whether or not to work in one, just as they can choose whether or not to work in an abattoir or as a motorcycle courier. It might be really stupid to opt for drinking, eating or working in a place that’s smoky; it’s certainly stupid to smoke. But if I choose to be stupid, it’s a decision that I’ve made, and it’s not up to the state to force me to change my mind.

Drinking on public transport is different in one respect: the apparent motive for the proposed ban is to prevent passengers who are the worse for wear from making life unpleasant for those that are not. I don’t have a problem with this motive, in that I’m all in favour of everyone being able to travel without being harassed by drunks.

But think about it. There are already all sorts of laws proscribing the sort of behaviour the ban is aimed at curtailing: the problem is that there is no way of enforcing them. In the interest of efficiency, conductors have been removed from buses and guards from trains, and the cops are too busy doing more important things to get involved.

The simple truth is that banning booze on public transport won’t make a blind bit of difference. It won’t stop anyone getting on a bus or a train steaming drunk and spoiling for a fight. And, unless it is accompanied by the reintroduction of conductors and guards, it will be no more enforceable than existing laws. Anyone who really wants to get pissed on the train or bus will buy a few tinnies or a bottle before embarking on their journey, then tell anyone who challenges their drinking to get lost. The sole effect of a ban will be to deny a harmless pleasure to passengers who pose no threat to anyone.

I know that complaints about the “nanny state” are a staple of the rightwing press — and that many of the complainants against drinking and smoking bans take rather a different position when it comes to sex and drugs. But I’m consistent. If you want to get totally Flintoffed or completely Cameroned, as far as I’m concerned you can do it whenever you like as long as you don’t sing tuneless Norwich City songs or bore me to tears with the story of your life while I’m trying to read the Economist on my way home on a Friday night. And if you wish to engage in whatever nefarious sexual pratice takes your fancy in private with another consenting adult — or indeed other consenting adults or none — that’s fine by me too. It’s none of my business.

And if it’s none of my business, it’s none of the state’s business either. There is a private sphere in which the state should have no role beyond advice — that smoking is bad for your health, that drinking too much and too often turns you into an alcoholic, that keed spills or that vigorous buggery without a condom spreads Aids. If people take notice, fine. If they don’t, and keep on shagging shamelessly without any protection after a night on the tiles drinking, smoking furiously and snorting coke, what the state needs is not new legislation but a new advertising agency.

* This column was not used — for the simple reason that I'd got the week wrong to deliver it and it was out of date by the time I was supposed to file. What a klutz.