Archive for July 19th, 2005

Porcine Pizzazz

Lends a whole new meaning to the term ‘gatecrashing parties’.

Hoary Patter and the Half-Baked PR

Apparently The Pope (whom I used to like at college, because he smoked dope) is opposed to Harry Potter.

Personally, I have nothing against Harry Potter. I can’t remember reading any books so vivid and immediately gripping when I was a young ‘un. When I taught English classes to remedial students some years back, I found that reading Harry Potter with them caught their attention and imagination in a way that no other children’s book could. Reading the book was educational in itself, but such was the kids’ enthusiasm for it that it could be used as a reward for good behaviour and application to more mundane areas of study. As an adult reader, I have more pressing things to read in the remaining years of my life, but I am sure that I would enjoy the latest brick just as much as most people.

So, why is the Pope so down on Harry Potter? Isn’t learning to read is pretty important for Christians? Well, I think the first thing to do would be to put one’s reading skills to use. In his present capacity as Pope, Ratzinger has said nothing about Harry Potter. In fact, the only communication he appears to have made on the matter was in a rather short letter two years ago.

Now, I am not religious, but I think that the following judgement contained in the letter:

‘It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly’

is not completely censorious. I have not read the book being reviewed, but what I think Ratzinger’s comment implies is that the portrayals of good and evil in Harry Potter should not be a basis for teaching morality to children. Hardly surprising, given that there are other books out there that Christians deem rather more useful for this purpose.

(One also wonders how many letters of this type Ratzinger wrote in his previous capacity. I would hazard a guess at 50 a week. There may be a steady supply of such letters in circulation, on a whole range of topics from riding a scooter without a helmet through Brazilian waxings to Hello! magazine.)

One is discouraged these days from trying to establish causes behind events, but I think it is safe to say that the principal cause of the heightened interest in the Pope’s thoughts on Harry Potter is not Ratzinger’s rip-roaring start to his papacy, but the release of a new Harry Potter book.

A sure-fire way of boosting sales of your product is to have it become the centre of a public debate. Condemnation from religious authorities, as lampooned in the Father Ted ‘Passion of St Tibulus’ episiode, is one way of doing this (Although this may not have been Salman Rushdie’s intention for The Satanic Verses). At the height of summer, when people are feeling at their most leisurely and decadent, there is nothing like a good old Papa Don’t Preach scandal to pump up sales among your target market. Not only are you enlightening your children when you buy the book, you can also feel that you are striking a blow against religious authoritarianism. In fact, you can go as far identify with Harry Potter in your purchase of the book, sticking it to the big white meanie who wants to spoil your fun.

Notes on the ‘Ideology of Evil’

Tony Blair has attributed the London bombings to an ‘evil ideology’. Why has he done this?

The most benign interpretation of his analysis would be that he recognises the bombers’ deeds for what they were – wicked and indiscriminate acts of brutality – and has concluded that the only way that a young British man could commit such deeds would be under the influence of a system of thought which shows an absolute disregard for the sanctity of human life and which as a result could only be described as evil.

Yet Blair has years of experience managing what is described as the peace process in Northern Ireland. Surely he would understand as well as anyone that the causes of what is conventionally known as terrorism are found in social and political conditions.

The London bombings were particularly brutal in their execution, and the profiles released of the bombers – by all accounts well educated, highly regarded young men from relatively comfortable backgrounds – have confounded the expectations of many. The surprising thing is that so many were surprised. Everybody knew that the perpetrators of 9/11 and 3/11 did not match popular represenations of terrorists: enraged and sadistic social misfits or Satanic beard-strokers.

Although they were bombers and terrorists, the fact they seemed otherwise well-adjusted posed a problem for the British government. Could the primary motivation of these young men have been political, rather than religious? By saying that the young men were in thrall to an ‘evil ideology’, Blair’s remarks removed, or at least postponed, the need for a political explanation. The last thing he needs is greater acceptance that the bombings may have been a direct consequence of British foreign policy. Metaphysical theories provoke public debate, and media outlets may be forced to cover such questions as ‘Does evil exist?’ or, ‘What is ideology?’ ‘Were the suicide bombers evil?’ Text your answer to…. etc.

When I think of Blair’s ‘evil ideology’, the image is a floating cloud, moving silently and pausing at random over unsuspecting young men in mosques, and as they breath in its vapours, they are possessed, like the sleepers in the Manchurian Candidate, with an urge to fulfil the deadly goals of this ‘ideology’. The metaphors regularly used by media to describe extremist motivations, not only in the case of these men, but in relation to Al-Qaeda and even Irish Republicans are similarly biological: they are ‘infected’ with a ‘virus’; they need to be ‘quarantined’.

Another side to the ‘evil’ ideology is that by implication one can have a ‘good’ ideology, and that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ ideologies somehow exist independently of one another, like inert gases in the atmosphere. Pure Disneyland.

As the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy once said, this is all a means to attract and distract. Blair has appropriated George Bush’s Manichaean rhetoric of good versus evil as a means of buying some time while he develops a more durable strategy in addressing the problem of homegrown British terror. What would be unthinkable for him, or for any politician in his position, would be if his de facto status of protector of the nation from terrorism were rendered null and void due to a widespread conviction that his government’s policy had increased the likelihood of terror attacks on British soil.

Blair’s government is thus left in a bind: it must demonstrate that the bombings were not linked to British foreign policy, but it must simultaneously continue to justify the righteousness of the same foreign policy.

The Chatham House report released today made things more difficult in this regard.

John Reid, British Defence Secretary, sent in to bat on the Today Programme against the report, illustrated the difficulties Blair’s government faces. He says:

“The idea that somehow by running away from the school bully, then the bully will not come after you is a thesis that is known to be completely untrue by every kid in the playground…”

‘Running away from the school bully’ presumably means withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. So the bully can be situated in both countries. Yet it would not be unreasonable to presume that the actions of this supposed ‘school bully’ are exemplified by the London bombings the week before last.

So the school bully is situated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he carries out his bullying in London. At the same time, we are told there is no link between the bombings and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, there is no reason to take John Reid’s observation so seriously. In fact, it is nonsense. I would doubt that even John Reid takes it seriously. Especially when he qualifies his remarks with:

”and it is also refuted by every piece of historical evidence that we have.”

and in so doing receives the Most Sincerely Folks Monday Ludicrous Analogy Award.

More tomorrow, maybe.


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