Michael Buerk’s refreshing honesty

For decades, the British have been brainwashed by their government and media into revering two of their country’s biggest bureaucracies: the National Health Service (NHS) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Nigel Lawson

Retired Tory MP Nigel Lawson once said that the NHS is “the closest thing the English people have to a religion.” Google “our precious NHS” or “our beloved NHS” and you’ll get a gazillion hits. Grown people in responsible positions talk about the NHS as if it were a living creature…or a demigod. Last year, seven decades after its establishment, an MP wrote on Facebook: “Happy 70th Birthday to our precious NHS.” This June, when the prospect of a new US-UK trade deal raised fears of health-care privatization, Rachel Clarke, a famous doctor and writer, tweeted: “I can’t think of anything worse than our precious NHS in the clutches of American capital.”

Rachel Clarke

It’s one thing to appreciate your doctor or celebrate the advances of modern medicine. It’s another to talk in this borderline worshipful way about a government bureaucracy. This is especially the case when the bureaucracy in question is far from being all it’s cracked up to be. For all the glowing PR the NHS gets, a study last year showed that it “has among the lowest per capita numbers of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world….only Poland has fewer doctors and nurses than the UK, while only Canada, Denmark and Sweden have fewer hospital beds.” Its record on treating people with potentially fatal maladies is nothing less than horrific: such patients often have to endure perilously long waiting times for urgently needed tests, treatments, operations, and follow-ups.

Admittedly, although America may have the best world’s doctors and hospitals, its health-care bureaucracy also has its problems – but you don’t find anybody in the U.S. crowing about it in the way Brits have been trained to crow about the NHS.

Michael Buerk

All of which brings us to Michael Buerk, a longtime newsreader for that other supposedly beloved British institution, the BBC, who said recently that fat persons with obesity-related ailments should be refused the care they need and should instead be allowed to die in order to save money for the NHS. “Who is to say longevity is the ultimate goal in life?” Buerk asked, and encouraged his fellow Brits to see the early death of their untreated overweight countrymen as “a selfless sacrifice in the fight against demographic imbalance, overpopulation and climate change.”

Such views, of course, are not unusual. Indeed, the NHS itself, like socialized medical systems in other countries, routinely refuses certain treatments to patients who, for reasons of age or weight or whatever, are considered expendable. When politicians and bureaucrats publicly discuss such matters, of course, they lean heavily on euphemisms and circumlocutions. What sets Buerk apart from them is the refreshing frankness of his macabre, Hippocratic Oath-defying enthusiasm for what we are not allowed to call “death panels.”

It is interesting, by the way, that neither Buerk nor any of his old colleagues at the BBC have suggested that that frankly superfluous and outrageously expensive broadcasting service, whose “news” programs have long since consisted largely of left-wing propaganda, be defunded as a “selfless sacrifice” and the money spent on more important things.

A Hobsbawm hagiography

E.J. Hobsbawm

Back in 2016 we spent five full days on the British historian E. J. Hobsbawm, who had died four years earlier at the age of 95. As we noted then, Hobsbawm’s demise was followed by a tsunami of praise. In the Guardian he was described as “arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind”; the New Yorker called him “refreshingly serious—intellectually curious and politically engaged,” a man who “was in it to change the world.” The Independent told its readers that he was “one of the greatest British historians of the 20th century.”

The obituarists for these and other prominent media did not ignore the fact that Hobsbawm was a lifelong Communist – a passionate admirer and fierce defender of Stalin who even, in a 1994 TV interview, expressed support for Stalin’s murder of millions. What they did was find ways to minimize it, or excuse it, or even praise it. One necrologist spoke of Hobsbawm’s “Marxist ideals.” Another depicted him as a victim of anti-Communist prejudice. Can you imagine any of these publications referring seriously to “Nazi ideals” or “anti-Nazi prejudice”?

A.N. Wilson

The novelist A.N. Wilson was almost alone in explicitly condemning Hobsbawm for his politics, pointing out that “if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews….We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public.” But what happened to Hobsbawm after that interview? As we wrote in 2016: “His career soared. He was offered (but rejected) a knighthood. Later he accepted from Tony Blair the title Companion of Honour. Oxford gave him a prize worth half a million pounds. As Hobsbawm got older, the media increasingly described him as the country’s greatest living historian. All this despite the fact, as Wilson pointed out, that Hobsbawm never learned the lessons of the century he had lived through.” Nor was he even a good historian: his books, as Wilson bluntly put it, were Communist propaganda. He “quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40.” He was silent on the Katyn massacre, in which the Soviets murdered 20,000 Polish soldiers. And he “deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties” and “the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945.”

Richard J. Evans

If we’re returning now to the subject of Hobsbawm, it’s because another famous historian, Richard J. Evans, FBA, FRSL, FRHistS, FLSW, has published an 800-page biography of him. Evans is best known for his three-volume history of the Third Reich – which has been described as definitive – and for his court testimony defending a writer’s characterization of David Irving as a Holocaust denier. In all his writings on Hitler’s regime, Evans has made it clear that he is not a fan. He sees Nazism for the evil that it is. He does not buy into the notion that, in writing about a Nazi, you can set aside his Nazi beliefs, or contextualize them or relativize them, depicting them as just a minor or incidental part of his personal makeup. You can’t conclude that, his Nazi convictions notwithstanding, the most important thing about him is that he was a devoted husband and father, a good friend and neighbor, a man who loved his pets and was, as the British say, clubbable. No, a Nazi is, first and last, a Nazi. Evans understands that.

David Pryce-Jones

Confronted with the case of Hobsbawm and Hobsbawm’s Communism, however, Evans is able to take a totally different approach. In a blistering review of Evans’s book for the June issue of the New Criterion, yet another historian, David Pryce-Jones (who, as it happens, is also an FRSL), laments that Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History makes Evans “look either a dupe or a fool of the higher sort, in any case earning him a reputation no historian would want to have.” Describing Hobsbawm as “the foremost Communist apologist in the Britain of his day,” Pryce-Jones observes that if Hobsbawm had been a Nazi, “Evans surely would have thrown his doctrine back into his face. Instead, he defends the indefensible with this hagiography.” Although Hobsbawm, after joining the Communist Party as a student at Cambridge, “never deviated from the Party line,” Evans “can still write this utter absurdity: ‘there was no sense in which [Hobsbawm] was an active or committed member of the Party.”

Josef Stalin

As for Hobsbawm the man, Pryce-Jones, who is now 93 and who actually knew Hobsbawm, provides a valuable corrective: “In my experience, Hobsbawm was nothing like the genial and popular figure depicted by Evans.” At one dinner they both attended, Hobsbawm sang the praises of Castro’s Cuba; another dinner guest, a former British ambassador to Cuba, demurred, providing chapter and verse on Cuban perfidy, but to no avail. “All American propaganda, according to Hobsbawm.” There was more: Hobsbawm and Pryce-Jones just happened to be neighbors in a certain Welsh village, where, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hobsbawm, like any half-mad local crank, “would stop to tell me at the top of his voice with expletives in front of surprised farmers how superior Communism was to the nationalism that replaced it.” Pryce-Jones concludes by underscoring a point that is somehow missed by people like Evans and the writers of Hobsbawm’s admiring obituaries: namely, that this was a man who, if the Soviets had conquered Britain and given him the power to do so, would have ordered them all sent to their deaths.

Those adorable Communists

In late June, when the Guardian sent a reporter to cover the annual convention of the Communist Party USA, the article that resulted was surprisingly sympathetic. No, let’s revise that a bit: the level of sympathy would have been surprising had the piece appeared in some other British newspaper – say, the Telegraph or the Times. But it would probably be naïve to be surprised by a friendly account of a CPUSA clambake in the Guardian.

Written by one Eric Lutz, the article said nothing particularly negative about the party or its ideology. On the contrary, Lutz seemed to strive to present the CPUSA as a longtime victim of unfair prejudice. The subhead, for example, noted that the party had been “derided and feared for 100 years.” The first sentence called the party “one of American politics[’] biggest historical bogeymen.” Lutz quoted, without comment, a line from a CPUSA official’s convention speech in which he assured America that “the [C]ommunist [P]arty isn’t out to hurt you….It will set you free.”

Moreover, Lutz seemed pleased to be able to state that the party was looking to “a brighter future…at a moment in American politics in which democratic socialism and progressive ideas are increasingly finding a home in the mainstream of the Democratic party.” And when he reported that convention delegates “sought to send the message that their party has been the most consistent champion of [progressive] ideas [and] has been on the right side of some of the most consequential ideological battles of the last hundred years,” there was no indication whatsoever that Lutz wasn’t totally convinced. Neither he nor his editors found it necessary to remind readers of the hundreds of millions of human lives snuffed out by murderous twentieth-century Communist regimes. In a time when the vast majority of mainstream news media in the U.S. and Britain seem incapable of reporting on Donald Trump or the Republican Party or Brexit voters without a condescending sneer, there was not a whiff of skepticism in Lutz’s report on the American Communists.

Far from it. Apparently to show that Communists have been in the vanguard of the advancement of black Americans, Lutz noted that the father of one convention speaker, Pepe Lozano, had “rallied Mexican and Puerto Rican voters to support Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor” in the 1980s. Lutz went on to quote, again without a hint of doubt or dispute, Lozano’s claim that the CPUSA had played a major role in “profound American struggles for democracy.” For anyone who knows anything about the subject, the very idea that American Communists ever sought to advance democracy is obscene on the face of it. Whole books – extremely well documented books, some of them based on Soviet archives – have vividly shown just how thoroughly controlled the Cold War-era CPUSA was by the Kremlin and just how determined the party was to crush liberty and destroy its enemies. For the Guardian to drop all these facts down the memory hole is disgraceful.

“Communism,” wrote Lutz, “has long been regarded with fear in the US, viewed as antithetical to American values and democracy.” The implication here, of course, is that Communism isn’t antithetical to American values and democracy. What to say about the fact that a sentence like this could appear, in the year 2019, in a major British daily? Is Lutz a fool or a liar? “[I]t can be striking,” he observed, “to hear Americans openly discuss their support for communism.” Not “appalling”; not “disgusting”; not “vomit-inducing” – no, “striking.” Imagine a writer for any major conservative newspaper reporting on a neo-Nazi rally in this way. Nazism is – as it should be – beyond the pale. Why does Communism – an equally evil totalitarian ideology, and one that caused even more deaths than Nazism did – still get this kid-glove treatment?

Churchill as anti-Semite?

John Broich

“Allied leaders were anti-Nazi, but not anti-racist. We’re now paying the price for their failure.” That was the headline on an April 29 Washington Post op-ed by John Broich, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. His beef with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt was that, yes, they led the Western Allies to victory in World War II, but while they both delivered memorable wartime speeches in which they eloquently adduced the enemy’s evil, they “rarely attacked the core tenet of Nazism: the belief in a master race.” By way of defending this assertion, Broich explained that in a recent class on World War II,

I had my students pore through the speeches and letters of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the years around the war’s start in 1939, searching for his basis for opposing the Nazis. They found Churchill wanted to stand up to the Nazis’ expansionism, fight their anti-democracy posture and resist what he called (but largely left undefined) their anti-Christianity. What he did not do, however, was call for the destruction of the essence of Nazism: race supremacy.

FDR, too, according to Broich, “either failed to comprehend the basic nature of German fascism or chose not to rally Americans to oppose Nazism as Nazism. In his prewar correspondence, he made no secret of his dislike of Hitler and his belligerent regime, but like Churchill, he never framed his opposition to Germany as a rejection of race hierarchy or race nationalism.” Broich then went a step further, citing America’s racial segregation laws and FDR’s placement of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II as evidence that when it came to racism set in system, Roosevelt’s America and Churchill’s Britain were scarcely better than Hitler’s Germany. Which, of course, is an obscene view to teach to college students or to preach to newspaper readers.

Let’s be clear: Jim Crow and Manzanar were deplorable. But even to hint at moral equivalence between the Western Allies and the Nazis is insipid.

Winston Churchill

After reading Broich’s article, we turned to Andrew Roberts’s recent bestseller Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book’s first reference to Hitler appears on page 95, in a passage about Churchill’s attitude toward Jews. Churchill, Roberts tells us, was a “philosemite” – an active admirer of the Jewish people. In 1904, he denounced a bill that would have restricted immigration by Russian Jews because, in his own words, it sought “to appeal…to racial prejudice against Jews.”

Churchill’s philosemitism was not just a public stance but a private conviction: Roberts lists several Jewish causes to which Churchill generously contributed (and this at a time when he and his wife, Clementine, were having trouble making ends meet). It was, Roberts writes, Churchill’s deep respect for Jews that enabled him, in the 1930s, “to spot very clearly and early on what kind of a man Adolf Hitler was.” In other words, Churchill, far from being unaware of or indifferent to Hitler’s antisemitism, recognized his evil earlier than others did precisely because it expressed itself as Jew-hatred.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Broich’s charge against Churchill, then, is a calumny. As for FDR, it’s absolutely true that he was the president who rounded up Japanese-Americans, turned away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and chose not to bomb the railroad line to Auschwitz. Yet while FDR was a Democrat and a so-called progressive, Broich made a point of linking his racist views and policies to the present-day American right, rather than to today’s left, whose obsession with group identity, fondness for segregation (e.g. gay-only and black-only dormitories), and mounting antisemitism (as reflected in the recent Nazi-style New York Times cartoon showing Donald Trump as a blind Jew and Benjamin Netanyahu as his guide dog) is very much in the “progressive” tradition.

Muhammed Najati Sidqi

Compounding the duplicity and offensiveness of Broich’s op-ed was his attempt to draw a moral contrast between, on the one hand, Churchill and FDR and, on the other hand, one Muhammad Najati Sidqi, “a Palestinian leftist activist” whom Broich praised for recognizing Hitler early on as a racial supremacist. In fact Sidqi wasn’t just a “leftist” – he was, though Broich omits to mention this fact, an out-and-out Communist – a devotee of a totalitarian ideology every bit as evil as Nazism. Sidqi studied in Moscow at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (Ho Chi Minh’s and Deng Xiaoping’s alma mater), was a regular contributor to the Communist newspaper Mundo Obrero, and is today memorialized by the Najati Sidqi Competition, a literary prize awarded by the Palestinian Minister of Culture.

This is the man whom Broich held up as morally superior to Winston Churchill and FDR.

Interestingly, it was not until the end of his op-ed that Broich mentioned, parenthetically, our other wartime enemy, the Japanese Empire whose subjects, like Hitler’s, were guided largely by a conviction of their own racial superiority. Given that the orthodox view in today’s humanities departments is that all whites are racists and that non-whites can’t be racists, Broich deserves a thumbs-up for even daring to mention Japanese racism, however fleetingly. But what a low bar to have to clear!

Owen Jones: the self-delusion endures

Owen Jones

He still looks like a high-school kid – in fact, he’s 34 – but he’s been called “by far and away the most influential left of centre commentator” in all of Britain. To read him is to be baffled by the thought that anyone, anywhere, could possibly be influenced by him. The son and grandson of card-carrying Communists, he’s the ultimate knee-jerk ideologue, who, in his columns for the Guardian, his zillions of tweets, and his endless TV appearances, never comes out with anything remotely surprising, nuanced, perceptive, or thought-provoking. As we noted when we first wrote about Owen Jones on August 2, 2016, he has actually written the following sentences: “Modern capitalism is a sham.” “Democratic socialism is our only hope.” These two statements are at the core of his belief system. He is a fan of Cuban Communism and for a long time was a staunch defender of chavismo in Venezuela.

There’s more, to be sure. Jones is gay, and never tires of railing against right-wing homophobia; at the same time, however, he’s a big booster of Islam, and consequently a sworn enemy of right-wing “Islamophobia.” But what about the fact that sharia law calls for gays to be executed, and that several Muslim countries do indeed punish homosexuality with death, while others prescribe long prison terms and/or various forms of torture? Well, when confronted with those facts, he had this to say: “I’m done with people only mentioning LGBT rights when Islam is involved.”

The big walk-off.

This self-contradiction came to a head in June 2016 when a jihadist killed dozens of people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Discussing the massacre on Sky News, Jones attributed the murders to the perpetrator’s homophobia, but refused to discuss the Islamic roots of that homophobia, claiming that to do so would be to diminish the atrocity’s horror. Jones further insisted that neither the host of the Sky News program, Mark Longhurst, nor his fellow panelist, Telegraph journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, were, as Hartley-Brewer later wrote, “entitled to venture any opinion on any issues arising out of this crime because we were straight and therefore could not presume to care as much about the deaths of 50 gay people as Owen.” In short, to quote our own summing-up of the exchange, “Jones was trying to use his gay identity to shut down any effort to link this mass murder to Islam.” Pressed on his refusal to face the simple fact that Islam has a problem with homosexuality, Jones walked off the show, later asserting that he’d done so because Longhurst had “repeatedly refused to accept that this was an attack on LGBT people” – which, as Hartley-Brewer put it, was “a blatant flat-out lie.”

Katie Hopkins

Jones’s walk-out drew many other media comments. In the Spectator, Rod Liddle, wrote that “the reliably idiotic left-wing columnist Owen Jones had a temper tantrum,” storming off the TV set because neither Longhurst nor Hartley-Brewer “would accept that the tragedy [in Orlando] was all about Owen.” In the Mail, Katie Hopkins drew a clear line in the sand: “Until Islam is tolerant of gay rights, we cannot tolerate Islam….LGBT rights or Islam….It is a binary thing.” Fellow gay writer Douglas Murray tweeted: “I’m sorry for Owen Jones. I would also feel guilty if I’d spent my life covering for the ideology that just killed 50 LGBT people.”

Douglas Murray

What happened on that Sky News show, of course, was that Jones was confronted with the irreconcilability of his pro-Islam and pro-gay stances. A more mature and honest commentator would have felt compelled to acknowledge this conflict and to do some serious rethinking. Instead, Jones sought to distract the TV audience from his predicament by throwing a fit and lying about his interlocutors. You might have thought that this pathetic display would have put a dent in his growing fame. On the contrary: it only enhanced his celebrity. Too many British newspaper readers and TV viewers, apparently, prefer his self-referential, ideologically reliable, and often hysterical commentaries to the views of more sophisticated, intelligent, reflective, well-informed people.

Margaret Thatcher

Anyone who expected that Jones, after his Sky News crisis, would actually work out his self-contradictions on Islam and homosexuality has been sorely disappointed. Incredibly, nearly three years after the Orlando massacre, he’s still toeing the same exact line. “Muslims and LGBTQ people should stand together, not fight each other,” read the headline on his Guardian column for April 11. In the piece, he took on a current controversy in Britain, where primary schools have announced plans to introduce “LGBTQ-inclusive education” and Muslim families have protested, in many cases successfully pressuring the schools to withdraw their plans. Jones harked back to “Section 28,” the long-dead law introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 to prevent the “promotion of homosexuality in schools.” Section 28 was repealed in 2003, and the prejudices that gave rise to it have almost entirely disappeared from English society – except, of course, in the rapidly growing Muslim community, where the reigning views of gay people are far more chilling than those held three decades ago by even the most bigoted member of Thatcher’s government.

British Muslims protest “inclusive education.”

But Jones is still unwilling to go there. Anent the ongoing Muslim campaign against “LGBTQ-inclusive education,” he writes: “The dangerous conclusion to draw from this saga is that Muslims and LGBTQ people are on a collision course.” But Islamic doctrines being what they are, how can he deny that these two groups are in fundamental conflict? As has been the case for years, Jones, being unable to honestly address this question, instead dodges it entirely and makes this move: “That is certainly the battle cry of ever more emboldened Islamophobes, who never talk of LGBTQ rights except when it becomes convenient artillery in their bigoted war on Muslims.” Note the wily wording here: Jones doesn’t exactly deny that being gay is a capital crime under sharia law; he just shifts ground, shoving Islamic homophobia out of the way and changing the topic to right-wing “Islamophobia.” There should, he insists, “be bonds of solidarity between two oppressed groups who are liable to have had abuse yelled at them on the streets by the same people.” But how often are Muslims in Britain actually victims of public abuse – and how often are Muslims the abusers? Is a gay person in Britain more likely to be harassed or beaten up by a Muslim or by a right-winger of British extraction? Jones doesn’t dare to ask these questions, the honest answers to which would upset his base, threaten his Guardian gig, and slow his meteoric rise to the top of the commentariat pack.

From palace to prison

It’s fun to be a British royal in Cuba.

Vanity Fair apparently found the whole thing delightful: “With make-your-own mojitos and stylish sunglasses, the future King of England proved that diplomacy can be fun.” The occasion in question was a four-day Cuba trip in late March by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. As VF put it, they “decided to mix work and play,” seeing the island’s “nicest sites and activities” (translation: their hosts took them on what used to be called a “Potemkin tour”), “embrac[ing] Cuba’s love for vintage cars” (as if the superfluity of junky 1950 vehicles were a product of taste and not of necessity), “spoke to artists about their response to a tornado that hit Havana in January” (these were, of course, government-approved artists, not dissident ones who are languishing in jails as political prisoners), and “met with activists who work on issues connected to domestic violence” (again, they certainly didn’t meet with pro-democracy activists).

Charles, meet Che.

Town and Country was so excited by the royal drop-in that it ran a glossy spread featuring “the best photos” of it – for example, an image of the heir to the British throne posing in front of that famous mural of Che Guevara in Havana. Interesting, isn’t it, how these high-class magazines devoted to capitalist comfort are so charmed by one of the world’s few remaining Communist dictatorships? Town and Country, by the way, was one of several publications that included a photo of a bench with a statue of John Lennon seated on it. Nobody bothered to comment, however, on the appropriateness of the Lennon figure: for the fact is that the end result of the political views articulated in Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” is always a terror state like the Castro’s.

Imagine there’s no Windsors.

Then there were the British newspapers. The Express focused on a supposedly whimsical part of the tour, when Charles and Camilla were shown how to use a large press to crush sugar cane to make mojitos. In a classic photo op, the Prince of Wales tried his hand at the press, quipping, apparently to the delight of the press contingent on hand, that he was certainly “cheap labour” – riotous humor for somebody visiting a country that is, in essence, an island prison. The august Times was presumably amused too, running a headline about the wonderful success that had been achieved by the royals’ “mojito diplomacy.”

Making mojitos.

Recall that when Donald and Melania Trump visited Britain last summer, Prince Charles and his older son, Prince William, both refused to meet him, obliging the Queen to greet the President and First Lady alone. When Charles referred to the Holocaust in a speech and lamented the fact that hatreds of the kind that motivated the Nazis are still alive and well, many observers got the distinct impression that he was alluding to Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” Prince Harry, Charles’s second son, has also publicly badmouthed the American President. Curious how key members of the House of Windsor are so eager to be on jolly good terms with Caribbean tyrants but don’t mind insulting the elected leader of their country’s strongest ally and protector.

Catching up with Russell Brand, comedian turned socialist sage

How time flies! It was over two years ago that we wrote about Russell Brand, whom we were about to describe as a “British comedian” before we realized that it’s been a long time since we actually heard him say anything funny.

Russell Brand

No, Brand has long since transcended mere comedy. As we noted on June 8, 2015, he’s been more comfortable the last few years “posturing as a crusading champion of the downtrodden and a heroic enemy of The System.” His 2014 stand-up show was entitled Messiah Complex, for which this world-class egomaniac should at least get credit for truth in advertising. The show was a tribute to some of his heroes, among them Che Guevara. And the book he published the same year was called Revolution, in which he expanded upon his enthusiasm not only for the “morally unimpeachable” Che but also for Fidel Castro.

Sharing pearls of wisdom from his latest masterpiece at Carlton House Terrace, London, October 14, 2017

Lately Brand has been busy plugging a new book about his history of addiction. The book’s publisher describes it as a collection of lessons learned from “fourteen years of recovery” from addiction to “heroin, alcohol, sex, fame, food and eBay.” The author himself calls it a “manual for self-realization,” adding, with an uncharacteristic touch of what sounds like – can it be? – humility, that his “qualification” to offer up these life lessons “is not that I am better than you but I am worse.”

The Sermon on the Mount?

But don’t worry: that quote notwithstanding, Brand appears to be as much of a crusading know-it-all as ever, no less convinced than before that – despite his admitted inability, over a period of years, to stay on track and keep his own house in order – he takes a back seat to no one when it comes to diagnosing the planet’s ills. In other words, while he’s escaped dependency on booze and drugs, he’s still hooked on himself. And the media, perversely, can’t kick the habit of reporting on his every pearl of wisdom. On October 25, for example, the BBC’s website carried a story headlined “Russell Brand: Society is collapsing.” (It’s not every day you see a headline like that on any website’s “Entertainment” section.)

“People,” Brand told BBC scribe Steven McIntosh, “are starting to recognise that the reason they feel like they’re mentally ill is that they’re living in a system that’s not designed to suit the human spirit.” They’re frustrated over having to “work 12 hours a day,” over having to “live in an environment that is designed for human beings from one perspective but not from a holistic perspective,” over the fact that they’re “[b]reathing dirty air, eating dirty food, thinking dirty thoughts.”

The people Brand is apparently talking about are those who live in the Western world today; and the system in question is therefore democratic capitalism. Given Brand’s heavily documented enthusiasm for Castro, Che, and other Communists, we can only suppose that he is unfavorably comparing life in the West today with life under various Communist countries, past and present. Donald Trump’s recent speech to the South Korean parliament drew a striking contrast between the freedom, prosperity, and respect for the individual that characterize life below the DMZ with the deprivation, fear, and despair of life under the tyranny of the Kim family regime. Brand’s comments to the BBC are apparently a through-the-looking-glass version of Trump’s speech. Yes, the British funnyman appears to be saying, South Korea may look okay enough “from one perspective,” but life in places like Cuba and North Korea is better holistically. Got that?

Two Brand heroes: Corbyn and Chávez

Brand told McIntosh that he had no intention of going into politics, but that determination didn’t keep Brand from penning a Huffington Post paean last May to Labour Party chieftain Jeremy Corbyn. Now, Corbyn is a guy whom even many Labour stalwarts consider to be way over the line. Corbyn, an enemy of NATO and fan of Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, is a Communist in all but name; but for Brand, he’s a man who combines “principles” with “common sense and compassion,” who has kept his “integrity perfectly preserved,” and who is, all in all, a “caring socialist leader” who has kept it together despite being the target of a “hegemonic narrative singularity.” No, we don’t know what that means either.

Another jihad enthusiast from Salford University

Salford University

When we saw the headline and subheads of a July 1 article in the Daily Mail about an unsettling development at Salford University, the first thing we did was look up Salford University, because we weren’t even sure which country it was in. It turns out to be in England – specifically, in Manchester. In fact, Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who took 22 lives at that Ariana Grande concert, was a student there.

The Mail story was about another Muslim student at Salford – one Zamzam (yes, Zamzam) Ibrahim, the president of Salford’s Student Union. Zamzam, a recent recipient of a Bsc degree in Business and Financial Management, was elected to her Student Union office in March. She has also been elected to a leadership position in the National Union of Students (NUS). During her campaign for the latter office, she claimed that there had been a 41% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime in the UK since the Brexit vote and opposed the “PREVENT” strategy, a UK government policy that is intended to keep terrorist events from taking place and that Zamzam calls “racist.”

Zamzam Ibrahim

But that’s nothing. The Mail discovered that during the last few years, Zamzam has shared a good many strong opinions on social media. Specifically, she has expressed a desire to “oppress white people,” has said that she considers “friendship between men and women…un-Islamic,” and has wished that everyone would read the Koran, because it would lead to “an Islamic takeover!”

After the Mail‘s discoveries were picked up by other news media, another British newspaper, the Independent, gave Zamzam space to defend herself. She argued as follows. First, she’d made the comments quoted by the Mail back in 2012, when she was only 16; they were, in other words, the “adolescent comments of a young girl” who was “struggling with my view of the world and my place in it” and “grappling with the deep injustices I could see around me and trying to figure out how I could make the world a better place.”

Second, the Mail had “twisted” her comments “to make them seem far more sinister than they ever were intended to be.” Third, she has since grown up, and the comments cited by the Mail “do not reflect my views today.”

One reader who commented on Zamzam’s article noted a couple of important details in her piece. First, an apparently deliberate error: in 2012, she was 18, not 16. Second, some of her offensive messages don’t date back to 2012 – they’re only a few months old.

Another reader noted that Zamzam, although given plenty of space by the Independent, hadn’t explicitly rejected any of the assertions she’d made in her social-media messages. Instead, she’d made use of the opportunity to slam the image of Islams served up by the “right-wing media” and to play the victim – not just any victim, mind you, but one belonging to an intersectional bonanza of officially recognized identity groups: a woman, a black, and a Muslim.

Zamzam with unidentified friend

“The question to Zamzam,” stated the reader, “is whether she has changed her beliefs in this period or she continues to hang onto them. Has she for example changed her views on whether males and females can mix in public and private places?….Does she for example still feel that Muslims are the oppressed and not the oppressors of Jews, Christians, yazidis, Armenians, converts to other religions, disabled and LGBT communities and many others living in their midst?”

Indeed, those are the questions. It seems clear even from Zamzam’s Independent article that she still views Muslims as an oppressed group. What, one wonders, did she post on social media after a student from her university committed that massacre at the Ariana Grande concert? We’ve tried to find out, but without success, because Zamzam – who, in every picture and video we can find of her, is wearing a hijab – appears to have deleted her social-media accounts.

Punker turned ISIS recruiter. Cool!

Useful stooges come in a wide range of varieties, but the kind that starts out as a British punk rocker – a female one, no less – and ends up as an ISIS recruiter is a special breed.

Sally Jones

Her name – her birth name, anyway – is Sally Jones. She’s from Chatham, Kent, and used to be a guitarist in an all-girl band called Krunch. But then she went to Syria with her son, Joe “JoJo” Dixon, to marry an ISIS fighter (and computer hacker) named Junaid Hussain. The heart, after all, wants what it wants.

After marrying Hussain, Sally came to be known, to her new comrades anyway, as Umm Hussain al-Britani. We’ve seen her also identified as Sakinah Hussein. And while he was still alive, the two of them were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Terror.” She was a big recruiter in Raqqa, and was involved in a couple of plots to kill Americans.

Too bad Brad and Angelina have split up – it sounds like a great idea for a movie project.

Sally in 2004

But then, in 2015, Sally’s hubby was taken out by a U.S. drone. Did that bring Sally down? No way. After cursing America (“the greatest enemy of Allah”) for killing her man, Sally, according to a September 2016 report in the New York Post, was named head of the female wing of something called the Anwar al-Awlaki battalion. Known by the monicker “The White Widow” (great title for a sequel, no?), she led “a secret army of female jihadis hellbent on launching a bloody wave of suicide attacks in the West – with their kids in tow.” Sally, noted the Post, “pledged to destroy” her native land “with the help of her deadly new brigade of femme fatales.” Part of Sally’s value to ISIS, apparently, was that her reputation as a former punk rocker helped them bring Western females into the ISIS fold.

No, forget it, this is starting to sound too improbable for a movie. At this point in a pitch meeting, surely the Warners execs would already have tossed us out.

Sally, back when she was torturing people with music

Anyway, the idea was that Sally and her brigade of female jihadis – who, like Sally, were “mainly war widows” – planned to “use the fact they are female to slip under the radar before launching their bloody attacks.” The Post noted that the women might “even bring their children on their merciless missions in an attempt to foil the security services.”

In addition to leading that gang of war widows, Sally also kept busy providing her fellow terrorists with training “in combat and strategies” for suicide missions that were to be carried out in the West.

Thus did Jones become “the world’s most wanted woman.”

A recent picture

But that was last September. In July of this year, the Post had a new story about Sally. It would appear that she’s been through some kind of crisis. Or change of heart. Or something. In any case, she’s been doing a lot of crying. She “desperately wants to return home to the UK,” reported the Post, but can’t because leaders of the terror group won’t let her go.” One of Sally’s colleagues, a woman identified as Aisha, told Sky News that Sally “was crying and wants to get back to Britain.”

It wasn’t clear, however, whether Sally wanted to take her son back to the UK with her. Now 12 years old, “JoJo” is now 12, described by the Post as “a child fighter who is believed to carry out executions.” A few years ago, we would have doubted his ability to adapt to an ordinary school in the UK, but nowadays we suspect he’d find a whole bunch of classmates eager to hear about, learn from, and be inspired by his experiences.

Red Ken’s anti-Semitic fantasies

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingston reached the pinnacle of his career in the years 2000-2008, when he served as mayor of London. Before that he served for many years as a member of Parliament and, later, as head of the Greater London Council. Now 71 years old, he’s one of the veteran figures in the Labour Party – he’s been an active member for 47 years – and has enjoyed wide respect and affection within its ranks, despite his tendency to defend radical Islam and insult Jews and Israel (a country he considers anathema). Thanks to his far-left views, he has long been known by the nickname “Red Ken.”

Naz Shah

But Red Ken is no longer every Labourite’s favorite socialist crank. In an interview with the BBC in April of last year, Livingstone stood up for Labour MP Naz Shah, who’d been suspended from the party for having written or reposted anti-Semitic material in Facebook. For example, she’d compared Israel to Nazi Germany and reposted a meme calling for Israel to be moved to the U.S. In her defense, Livingstone said: “Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel.” In other words, Hitler “was supporting Zionism.” Only later, according to Livingstone, did the Führer go “mad” and decide to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

Seen from one perspective, the former mayor’s remarks were nothing new: as Richard Ferrer put it in the New Statesman, Red Ken has “made gratuitously antagonising Jews into an art form.” While serving as mayor, for example, Livingstone played host to Islamic religious scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for whom rabid Jew-hatred is an inextricable part of his theology.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Qaradawi, by the way, is also big on hating homosexuals, and when British gay-rights advocates protested Livingstone’s extremely gracious – in fact, downright friendly – treatment of Qaradawi, Livingstone shot back by calling them dirty Islamophobes. Yet even though Jews and gays tend to form an important part of the Labour Party base, especially in London, Livingstone somehow got away with all of this.

He didn’t get away with his comments in defense of Naz Shah, however. Shortly after airing his curious rewrite of modern German history, Livingstone was fired from LBC (formerly the London Broadcasting Company), for which he had co-hosted a TV program for eight years. Not until this April did the Labour Party take up his case. After three days of deliberations, the party’s National Constitutional Committee declared his words about Jews “grossly detrimental,” but decided to suspend him from the party instead of expelling him outright. In the meantime, speaking to reporters, Livingstone made things even worse for himself, claiming that the Nazis had sold guns to Zionists before the war and that this amounted to a “real collaboration” between the two. When asked to apologize, he refused.

Livingstone in his Che/Corbyn t-shirt

After his suspension, Livingstone was photographed wearing a t-shirt bearing an imagine that combined features of Che Guevara and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who, like Red Ken, is a radical socialist. It was unclear whether Livingstone, a fan of Che’s and a longtime ally of Corbyn, was trying to make a statement about Corbyn, who had criticized him for his remarks about Jews, or whether the shirt was just part of his ordinary casual wardrobe. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May, a member of the Conservative Party, said that Labour’s failure to dump Livingstone entirely amounted to a “betrayal” of Britain’s Jews. One hundred and seven of Labour’s own MPs, along with 47 Labourites in the House of Lords, agreed, signing on to a statement by the Jewish Labour Movement that criticized the committee’s decision to suspend rather than expel. And the Independent called his suspension “the mildest of rebukes for a 71-year-old who has no intention of running for office and describes himself as a ‘house husband.’”

These developments came at a bad time for Labour. Local elections will be held on May 4, and Labour’s prospects were already looking poor.