Shame on Cambridge!

Guy Burgess

What is it about Oxford and Cambridge? England’s two great universities have had their moments of glory, but they have also played an outsized part in the history of useful stoogery. In 1933, just a week after Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the members of the Oxford Union proclaimed, by a vote of 275 to 153, that they would “under no circumstances fight for…King and country.” During the next few years, five Cambridge students – Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross – were recruited as Soviet spies, and over the succeeding two decades or so they passed a remarkable amount of sensitive information to their KGB handlers.

Mahathir bin Mohamad

Both the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union routinely invite famous figures from around the world to address them. Sometimes the guests are showbiz figures; sometimes they’re controversial leaders. In January, the Oxford Union welcomed Mahathir bin Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia. As Douglas Murray pointed out at the website of the Spectator, Mohamad, age 93, “is an exceptionally happy and virulent anti-Semite.”

Abraham Foxman

Indeed, Mohamad has said that the word “antisemitic” is “an invented term to prevent criticizing Jews for doing wrong.” Back in 1970, he wrote: “The Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” In 2010, as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League noted at the time, Mohamad “accus[ed] the ‘Jewish lobby’ of preventing the U.S. from ending the war in Afghanistan.”

“I am glad to be labeled antisemitic,” Mohamad stated in 2012. “How can I be otherwise, when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies?”

Cambridge University

The Oxford Union event came and went without making major headlines. But on June 16, it was the Cambridge Union’s turn to host Mohamad. First Mohamad spoke for about twenty minutes. This was followed by an exchange with one of the student hosts, who deserves credit for challenging Mohamad. Right off the bat, he asked him about same-sex marriage, to which Mohamad, unsurprisingly, expressed opposition. Then the student queried Mohamed about his government’s past incarceration of people without trial.

Then came a question about Israel. Why did Mohamad ban Israeli athletes from an international swim meet in his country? Mohamad replied that Israel failed to show “respect” for other people. The Jewish state, he charged, had “stolen other people’s land, killed a lot of people, broken international laws, and done all kinds of things that have never been done by other countries.”

Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia

The interviewer did not let up. “Going beyond Israel,” he went on, “you’ve said some pretty hateful things about Jewish people in general.” He cited remarks Mohamad had made to the effect that the scale of the Holocaust had been “overstated” and that “Jewish people control the world by proxy.” Did Mohamad, the young man asked, still stand by those statements? Mohamad’s answer was, in effect, yes.

After a brief detour into the subject of Sudan, the interviewer returned to the subject of Jews. Was it fair, he asked, to blame all Jews for “the alleged crimes of the Israeli state”? Yes, said Mohamad, unless they explicitly distanced themselves from Israel’s actions. Confronted with his description of Jews as “hook-nosed,” Mohamed refused to apologize, explaining that it was natural to generalize about races and that only Jews seemed to resent this fact. On the positive side, Mohamad was willing to acknowledge that “not all Jews are bad” and even professed that he had “Jewish friends in Britain.” Lucky them!

Mohamad at Cambridge

Mohamad then took questions from the audience. Several topics were covered. Finally one of the audience members brought the conversation, once again, back to Jews, suggesting that Mohamad’s generalizations about Jews were unfair. Mohamad again defended his right to generalize. When the interviewer pushed him on this, Mohamad, at about forty-six minutes into the Cambridge Union’s YouTube of the event, came out with the statement that made the news. “I have some Jewish friends, very good friends,” he said. “They are not like the other Jews. That’s why they are my friends.”

And the reason this statement made the news is that the audience – or at least a sizable portion of it – laughed. Actually laughed. It did not sound like derisive laughter. It sounded like appreciative laughter.

Jeremy Corbyn

Now, imagine if the interviewee had been, say, Donald Trump, and he has said something similar about blacks: “I have some black friends. They’re not like other blacks. That’s why they’re my friends.” Would the Cambridge audience have laughed? Surely not. They would have booed, hissed, walked out en masse. But in response to Mohamad’s ugly comment about Jews, they laughed, and proceeded calmly to the next question.

Alas, it is not really all that surprising to encounter such behavior on the part of privileged young people in the Britain of 2019. This is a time and place, after all, where the head of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is, like Mahathir bin Mohamad, an outspoken anti-Semite, and where the Jew-hatred of Muslims is routinely granted a pass.

Traitor, Communist…and cad?

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Guy Burgess in Moscow, 1956

The 1951 defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union made the CIA livid. It was, as Burgess biographer  Andrew Lownie puts it, “the third body-blow that American security had suffered as a result of the British, after the atom spies Alan Nunn May and Klaus Fuchs, and they were beginning to feel their whole atomic programme was being betrayed by foreigners.” The British people were also disgusted to know that these two men at the heart of British Intelligence had been traitors.

But the two traitors’ friends and former colleagues in the British elite had a somewhat more muted response. For example, diplomat and politician Harold Nicolson, who reflected in his diary that Burgess’s disappearance would mark the end of “the old easygoing confidence of the Foreign Office” and hence “the loss of one more element of civilization,” admitted that while he felt “so angry with Guy in some ways – feel that he has behaved so much like a cad,” in another sense he felt “deeply sorry for him.” Note the curious word choice here: not “traitor,” but “cad” – as if Burgess had pinched a chorus girl’s cheek rather than pinching government secrets.

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Donald Maclean

The reaction was much the same throughout the cozy club that was the British political, cultural, media, and academic elite. Burgess’s fellow Etonians and Oxbridgeans couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the idea that two of their own were Soviet spies. Actual spies. As we’ve seen, Burgess had drunkenly blabbed about his Soviet connections to BBC colleagues and heaven knows who else. But these people’s minds were wired in such a way that even what amounted to an explicit confession of treason somehow just didn’t compute. They could imagine a member of the working classes betraying their country, but not Guy Burgess.

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Kim Philby in Moscow, 1968

Even after Burgess and Maclean defected, this upper-crust naivete – this inability to work up a reasonable distrust for one of their own – remained intact. They still trusted another Cambridge spy, Anthony Blunt, even though a great deal of evidence pointed toward him. This British blind spot so outraged the CIA and U.S. Defense Department that these two agencies withdrew temporarily from cooperating with British Intelligence. It was, indeed, the CIA that soon realized that Kim Philby was probably also a Soviet agent, and demanded that MI6 get rid of him or risk destroying the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain. After standing by Philby for a brief while, MI6 did remove Philby from his position. But instead of investigating him for treason and putting him under arrest, it rewarded him with “a golden handshake of £ 4,000,” a pretty penny in those days. (Philby would eventually abscond to Moscow in 1963.)

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Journalist Henry Fairlie

Meanwhile the government, plainly more fearful of negative publicity than of Soviet infiltration, covered up key data about Burgess and Maclean, lied to the public about the extent of the two spies’ access to sensitive information, and made no effort whatsoever to rout out other spies. It was in response to this disgraceful display that Henry Fairlie, in an article for the Spectator, coined the term “The Establishment,” complaining that the first loyalty of the nation’s Oxbridge elite was not to King and Country but to itself. In a perfect demonstration of Fairlie’s argument, it was an American agency, the FBI, that finally fingered Philby as a Soviet agent – and it was top-level British politician (and future PM) Harold Macmillan who vehemently rejected this charge, saving Philby’s career – for a time, anyway.

The glamorous Nazi

Yesterday we began discussing the Mitford sisters, who during the last century were glamorous – and notorious – celebrities in their native Britain. We kicked off the family portrait with Unity (1914-48), who adored Adolf Hitler and ended up becoming his intimate friend.

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Diana Mitford

But Unity wasn’t the only Nazi in the Mitford clan. Her sister Diana (1910-2003) was described by various observers as “the peerless beauty of the family” and as “the nearest thing to Botticelli’s Venus that I have ever seen.” Her admirer Evelyn Waugh, who said that she “ran through the room like a peal of bells,” dedicated his novel Vile Bodies to her. At eighteen she married the heir to the Guinness brewery fortune; but then, in 1932, she met Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. It was love at first sight.

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Oswald Mosley

Their politics were a perfect match. At a 1935 rally in Hyde Park where everyone else was singing “God Save the King,” Diana gave a Heil Hitler salute. Together with Unity, she attended several of Nazis’ annual Nuremberg rallies; in 1936 Hitler (who called her and Unity his “angels”) sent a chauffeured Mercedes to transport her to the Berlin Olympics.

In that same year, after spending four years sneaking around with Mosley behind her husband’s back, Diana divorced Guinness and married her Fascist amour. The wedding took place at the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels, with Hitler himself in attendance. During the years leading up to the war, Diana explored with Nazi officials the possibility of starting a Germany-based radio station that would broadcast into Britain, mixing popular music with English-language propaganda.

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Diana and Unity at the 1937 Nuremberg rally

Four years later, back in the U.K., Mosley was thrown in prison. Under interrogation by British authorities, Diana admitted that “she would like to see the German system of government in England because of all it had achieved in Germany.” Unbeknownst to Diana, her sister Nancy had testified against her, calling her even more of a dangerous fanatic than Mosley himself. Diana soon joined her husband behind bars, although her cousin Winston Churchill saw to it that their accommodations were comfortable, if not downright luxurious. (The prison priest called their quarters at Holloway Prison “the Garden of Eden.”) Their release in 1943 caused widespread public outrage.

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Diana and Oswald Mosley

After the war, Diana and Oswald relocated to a mansion on the outskirts of Paris. Dubbed “La Temple de la Gloire,” it was located near the home of their close friends and political soulmates the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Unrepentant in her Nazism, Diana edited a Fascist magazine; following Mosley’s death in 1970, she continued to support and socialize with the British Union of Fascists. Even as she denied that she and her husband had ever been anti-Semites, she clung to the idea that it wouldn’t have been terribly unreasonable to resettle the European Jews in “somewhere like Uganda – very empty and lovely climate.”

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Diana with her son Max Mosley, who ended up becoming president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile

Though some upper-crust Brits spurned her society, she didn’t mind: “Being hated,” she wrote to her sister Deborah in 2001, “means absolutely nothing to me, as you know.” Yet in her last days she pooh-poohed the image of herself and Mosley as postwar outcasts: “The story about us being pariahs and all that, it’s all nonsense really,” she said in 2002. “I’ve never had rudeness or disagreeableness ever….If you met the Communists at dinner, you wouldn’t have a row.” Her Nazi views certainly didn’t keep editors at The Times of London, Evening Standard, and Spectator from assigning her book reviews.

When historian Andrew Roberts interviewed her not long before her death, she still talked like an old Nazi. “Hitler was attractive,” she told Roberts, “though not handsome, with great inner dynamism and charm….I don’t suppose I’ve met anyone quite so charming.” Asked about the Holocaust, she said: “I’m sure he was to blame for the extermination of the Jews….He was to blame for everything, and I say that as someone who approved of him.” What, inquired Roberts, would she do if Hitler were to walk into the room, right then and there? “I should have to be pleased,” Diana answered, “and ask him how it had been in Hell, or Heaven, or wherever he’d been.”

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Lady Diana Mosley in her later years

When she died, the obituarists mentioned her Nazism but – in a surprising number of instances – chose to emphasize her charm. The headline of Sarah Lyall’s obit in the New York Times read: “Lady Diana Mosley, Fascist Who Dazzled, Is Dead at 93.” Diana, wrote Lyall, had “presided over a beautifully decorated house, Temple de la Gloire, where she gardened, wrote, read, gave interviews, kept up on London literary gossip and entertained an endless stream of glittery visitors who were, inevitably, thoroughly enchanted by her quick wit, sparkling appearance, and sly sense of humor…she was always impeccably dressed, always a gracious hostess, and always intellectually vigorous.” Some Nazi! The novelist and critic A.N. Wilson, a friend of Diana’s, called her the “most beautiful, most intelligent, and most beguiling of the celebrated Mitford sisters.” And Hitler? All too many of Diana’s necrologists reduced him to little more than a footnote in her glamorous life.

Daddy’s girl

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Julie Burchill

Julie Burchill (57), one of the most famous journalists in Britain, describes herself as a militant leftist. During her long roller coaster of a career as a strident, attention-getting columnist, she’s bounced from the Sunday Times to the Mail on Sunday to The Guardian to The Times and back to The Guardian before then settling in at The Independent. (These days she appears frequently in the pages of the conservative weekly The Spectator.) Her departures from many of these papers were acrimonious in the extreme; she’s publicly slammed her employers and once or twice has publicly admitted that the work she did for them was lazy, tossed-off crap.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Not only does she constantly outrage centrists and right-wingers; she also routinely incenses her fellow men and women of the left – standing up, for example, for Margaret Thatcher, for the Falklands War, for the invasion of Iraq, for Israel, and for Brexit. She has more than her share of prejudices and has been frank about them, insulting such groups as Irish people and transsexuals in sensational fashion. She’s converted to Christianity and then left it and pondered a conversion to Judaism; she’s claimed to have become a lesbian and then quit that after six months; she had one son apiece with each of her first two husbands (she’s now on spouse #3), and eventually abandoned not only the husbands but also the sons, the second of whom, tragically, committed suicide last year.

burchillbk3Many critics have suggested that Burchill’s chatty, heavily self-referential columns – which are often so packed with English slang and English pop-cultural references as to leave an American reader baffled – generate more heat than light and amount to a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. She’s admitted that she moved “from enfant terrible to grande dame without ever being a proper grown-up.” She’s obviously a pretty irresponsible human being, and she’s definitely an attention-seeking egomaniac; and, as she explained in her column for September 5, she was also, once upon a time, a useful idiot.

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Josef Stalin

When she was 12, she wrote, she was a “daddy’s girl, eager to elicit some emotion from my loving but reserved father.” The only thing that really worked, it turned out, was idolizing Stalin as much as he did. A “gentle giant…who literally wouldn’t have hurt a fly,” Burchill’s old man, a distillery worker, was indeed a useful idiot who spent “much of his leisure time acting as the chief cheerleader of a man who was responsible for the deaths of about 20 million people.” To avoid being “bought by the bourgeoisie,” he turned down every promotion offered him, and at the end of his life counted it a victory “that he had not made any advancement up the class ladder.”

But Julie Burchill didn’t just pretend to be a Stalinist when she was in her father’s company. No, she took it with her when she went to London to become a journalist. More tomorrow.

Owen Jones: covering for Islam

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Owen Jones

As we noted yesterday, gay Guardian commentator Owen Jones lost his temper and walked off of a TV program on the night of the Orlando nightclub massacre. His purported reason? The other two people on-screen had refused to call the killings homophobic. This was not, in fact, the case. What bothered him, apparently, was that if he hadn’t thrown a fit, he would have been forced to listen to a discussion of a topic he has been trying to avoid for years – namely, the fact that Islam, which he has defended fiercely against all comers, does in fact preach the murder of gay people such as himself.

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Rod Liddle

The Telegraph‘s Julia Hartley-Brewer, who was on the TV show with Jones, accused him of making the massacre all about himself. Rod Liddle, writing in the Spectator, agreed: “the reliably idiotic left-wing columnist Owen Jones had a temper tantrum while reviewing the papers on Sky News — and stormed off the set, apparently because neither the presenter nor the other reviewer, Julia Hartley-Brewer, would accept that the tragedy was all about Owen.”

Liddle went on:

This was an attack upon an LGBT community, Jones insisted — needlessly, as it happens, because everybody had accepted that it was an attack upon an LGBT community….But none of it was enough for Owen. The only thing that mattered was that it was an attack upon gay people, and so it was a kind of singularity, an atrocity which Owen, being gay, could have to himself. The fact that a loathing of homosexuality is but one of the many problematic facets of Islam — along with misogyny, a contempt for those who are not Muslim, a hatred of Jewish people — was something which Jones could not accept. Presumably because this contradicted his resolutely fixed mindset that Muslims are oppressed people and are therefore as one in the struggle for liberation along with gay and transgendered people.

Indeed. In the Daily Mail, Katie Hopkins agreed with Liddle. While admitting that there was no love lost between her and Jones, she tried to be generous and sympathetic: “Owen is caught on a human fault line partly of his own making – he writes for the Guardian and is a cheerleader for Labour who prioritise Islam over the LGBT cause far closer to his own hurting heart.” She then read Jones the riot act:

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Katie Hopkins

Someone has to call this thing. Until Islam is tolerant of gay rights, we cannot tolerate Islam. In any sense. You have to choose.

LGBT rights or Islam. Black or white. Yes or no. Stop or go. It is a binary thing. You need to decide.

Douglas Murray, a somewhat older and infinitely wiser gay British writer, who recognizes Islam for what it is, summed up his view in a single tweet:

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.

If Jones was feeling guilty the night of the Orlando massacre, it didn’t last for long. The day after, he recorded a video (see below) utterly ignoring the issue of Islam – except for a brief mention of London’s new Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, whom he praised, absurdly, as a staunch defender of gay rights. The useful stoogery, in short, goes on.