My latest podcast, Notes on Belief, in which I argue that beliefs matter and are open to reasonable scrutiny.
The phrase, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was famously offered by Carl Sagan as a response to beliefs formed despite a lack of tangible certification. Christopher Hitchens, likewise, stated that, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
These quotes typify my approach to unsubstantiated claims and superstitious beliefs. I released a podcast on June 15, Notes on Belief, which was well-received by the majority of those who heard it (and listened to the argument carefully). As I was so grateful to receive such positive feedback, I have decided – in case you missed them – to point out a selection of other Aidan Project podcasts in which irrational religious beliefs are rightly challenged. I am quite sure that more such episodes will follow, as there are no shortage of theocratic outrages deserving criticism, in the past, in the present and, inevitably, in the future.
It is imperative that society tackles the issues surrounding belief honestly. No free pass for religion, ever. My mission is to speak candidly and to challenge abhorrent ideas.
Liberalism does not mean rolling over for fear of causing offence. Liberalism means standing up for decency and veracity in pursuit of a just world, not apologising for the obscenities of others. I want to do something during my fleeting existence that, even in the most minute way, pushes society towards a brighter future. It is a rather modest, microscopic, contribution amongst such a vast array of discourse, but it is my own.
The River Orwell is a small river which runs through East Anglia. The Atlantic Ocean is a foreboding sea which separates Albion from America. Across the latter, a surprise election result led to the inauguration on 20 January 2017 of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Eric Blair was born far from either of these waters in Motihari, India in 1903, but his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, released in 1949, has once again dashed to the top of the literary bestsellers. The novel has been widely cited for uncanny comparisons with the new order across the Atlantic. Blair, who took the pen name ‘George Orwell’, was not right about everything, but he was right about all too much.
The question as to why Blair chose his famous nom de plume has never been settled to complete satisfaction. It has been speculated that the choice of forename was inspired by the patron Saint of England, St. George, but perhaps too much is made of this. Orwell, although often regarded as a quintessential Englishman, was a man of many contradictions, including those of national identity. Too many contradictions, indeed, to be certain of this link. Moreover, Orwell, though he distrusted intellectuals, was one himself, and would have known that St. George was no Englishman.
Much less spurious is the surname. To understand this, we need not venture out of Suffolk. Orwell’s connections to East Anglia were an important part of his private life, and it is all but certain that his famous surname flowed from the River Orwell. To explore the alias further, considering how combative Orwell was in his attacks on totalitarianism, one could regard ‘George Orwell’ less as a pseudonym, more of a nom de guerre.
When Orwell’s father retired from colonial service in India in 1921, Richard and Ida Mabel Blair settled in Southwold, Suffolk. Their son followed in Richard’s footsteps to serve the Empire abroad, having passed a training course in the town. But Orwell returned to Suffolk five years later; disillusioned, despairing Imperialism, and seeking a new direction.
Through his many challenges, not least the poor health that ultimately led to his death in 1950, he would often return to Southwold. With fish and chips, sea air and no fear of Big Brother, Orwell could take a gentle stroll along the pier, or a quick dip into the sea, and consider his next move. A Clergyman’s Daughter, published in 1935, was kindled by his time in Southwold, which is substituted for the invented Suffolk proxy of Knype Hill.
Orwell cared little for the novel and rather disowned Knype Hill, but never did he disown Southwold. Likewise, Southwold embraced Orwell. A tribute to a man so passionate about defending what he believed in (he even took a fascist bullet to the throat in Spain) takes pride of place on Southwold’s pier wall. And quite right, too. For Orwell, perhaps all English coastal towns were equal, but some English coastal towns were more equal than others.
“Americans on both sides should find a way to address the lethal ideology of Islamism. This standoff is a distraction.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
9 February 2017
I have provided this companion piece to put to writing one of the most surreal examples of the Regressive Left‘s insatiable desire for self-strangulation and to address what I will simply call ‘bad ideas’. Enter the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an organisation which incomprehensibly included Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a list of dangerous extremists in October 2016.
The SPLC describes itself as ‘combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination through education and litigation’. There is no question that the SPLC has been responsible for a number of admirable successes in tackling intolerance, but it has now gone completely off course. Indeed, by adding Nawaz and Ali to a list of persons it alleges exploit terrorist attacks to demonize the Islamic faith, the left has struck a new low in inexplicable moral confusion.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a heroic icon of would-be Islamic Enlightenment. Fleeing an arranged marriage and the confines of a strict Islamic upbringing, Ali found asylum in the Netherlands, where she embraced liberal, democratic values. Ali, who admits in her book that in her indoctrinated youth she supported the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, is now a brave campaigner for Islamic reform. A dangerous job, which she tackles with immense courage and intelligence.
Maajid Nawaz now operates a counter-radicalization group called Quilliam. Nawaz, a former Islamist himself, speaks with insight about Islam, and makes clear the distinctions between Muslims, Islamists and Jihadists. A distinction all too often confused by the real Islamaphobes, who address all groups as one. Unfortunately, to his enemies on the left, Nawaz is – in true regressive fashion – labelled as Islamophobic, while his opponents on the right infer that he is a secret Islamist on a mission of infiltration. What a sorry state of affairs.
The SPLC would certainly go on my list of regressive liberal organisations which have completely lost the plot. The poverty of progress could not be more pronounced than with this embarrassing own goal by the SPLC. What chance, I ask, does the left have in winning the moral and progressive argument when its own best assets of informed reason are themselves attacked as extremists? It is not only the right which have moved to post-truth, the left is at it as well.
The wider debate continues, and whilst the left argues with itself about Islam, immigration, healthcare, the economy – and anything else worth debating – there is only one winner, and it is not the left. To be sure, the left has always been at war with itself, but I simply do not believe it needs to be this way. We just need some honesty. Real honesty. Perhaps even uncomfortable honesty. We urgently need to have difficult conversations that do not confuse the true essence of liberal democracy. Bad ideas must be challenged by good ones. And there are some really bad ideas out there.
Perhaps, even with the left totally confused and impotent, Trump would still have won, and Brexit would still have happened. However, at least with a sensible, honest left, there would be a united opposition to Trump’s bigotry. As it happens, large sections of the left are willing to defend bigotry and misogyny, as long, of course, if it is done in the name of good-old-fashioned religion. But there is no such tolerance for the President. Would Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” utterance be okay if it was merely the sincere expression of a deeply held belief based on his closely observed religious faith? Is this not ever so slightly patronising and hypocritical to condemn Trump but let the zealots off from their nonsense because of their supernatural beliefs? Let us be clear: neither Trump nor the devout should get a pass for bad ideas. It is quite proper to expect more from society. There is nothing more regressive than letting bad ideas slide for fear of causing offence. You should never have to apologise for bad ideas.
We must be able to say honestly, in the 21st century, that desiring to throw homosexuals off buildings for the “crime” of their sexuality is wrong, regardless of religious belief. I am not an Islamaphobe for saying that. If you are willing to defend the right of any religion to hold such pernicious views then you are part of the problem. If you want honest debate and want to help challenge the nonsense of the Regressive Left, please do share my message. Please also support Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz.