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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Politics and Classification

It is reported this morning that 'angry worshipers' at Finsbury Park Mosque have been 'demanding' that journalists should classify the man who drove a truck into some of their number on the previous evening should be classified as a "terrorist". The Metropolitan Police have already indicated that they will attempt to use the terrorist legislation to charge and prosecute him; and the Prime Minister, goaded into precipitate comment in view of her ineptitude over the recent fire, has made remarks indicating that she would prefer to be able to use such a classification. Presumably the officials who have adopted this language think that by suggesting that the Muslim 'community' is under threat of 'terrorism' they are in the same position as the multi-national group of individuals who were struck down in Borough Market.

It may be politically helpful for establishment politicians to us such language, but that does not make it true. It does not help the forensic process that is under way; and it does little for social cohesion.

It is more likely, in my mind, that the occurrence of this incident [almost] on the anniversary of Jo Cox's murder by a lone nutter points to the more likely circumstances of the recent attack. It is equally inexcusable with all the other episodes that are glibly described as 'hate crimes'. That classification, too, seems to me to be profoundly unhelpful: 'hate' is a powerful word, but it does not describe the range of emotions and social pressures that cause some people to commit outrageous acts.

This set of circumstances causes one to look at classifications that have been used in past eras. Between the two world wars, "the unemployed" had a very powerful meaning: it covered the tens of millions of people in the then-advanced countries who were reduced to destitution by the great depression. The memory of that episode was evoked to justify the action by central banks and governments in 2007-8, which avoided a repetition of the 'thirties horror but which did dislocate the entire economic system in a way which is now haunting British politics and society. The USA and most of continental Europe have recovered much better from the trauma that followed the financial crash than has the UK: the worst is yet to come for the UK. If the government intensifies Osborne's austerity, even by a small amount, it could cause the tipping-point at which social acceptance of the effect of the cuts [to the police, to the NHS, to schools, to welfare and social care] cease to be tolerated.

An increasing proportion of the population have no significant assets, insecure and irregular earnings, and - as the last resort - low levels of benefit if they pass stringent tests as to their 'need'. These people are paupers - the 'poor' - such as have existed throughout history. There have been many attempts to abolish poverty. The whole endeavour of the post-1945 Welfare State was to eradicate poverty and ignorance and unattended illness: and it has slowly been dismantled over the past forty years. Society is coming very closely to an existential crisis: and divisions within society - including that between Muslims and those whom the militants among them call 'crusaders' - could horribly exacerbate a very bad  period of future history.               

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