05/04/2006

Melanie Phillips - really rather odd

I first came across Melanie Phillips a while ago, whislt watching Question Time. (Not like that, you filthy buggers. I know I said I like programmes with bosoms in, but Jesus). Anyway, I didn't know who she was then, and was taken aback that she didn't take the opportunity to slag off the sexist homophobe Rocco Buttiglione, who looked as though he'd be appointed as EU Commissioner for Justice. She said something weaselly about how lots of people agree with him instead. I remember thinking she was a bit of a wrongun then, and everything I've seen since from her confirms it.

For a start, she has a book out called 'Londonistan', which reminds me of the crap old jokes about having too many of 'them' over here that Conservative shadow ministers used to get the sack for telling. But Phillips is talking about the religion and not the people, so that's alright then.

Her latest diary entry is titled 'Welcome, Dr Rice, to Londonistan*' and is about Condoleezza Rice's recent visit to some places that aren't London, so it's off to a good start.

The thing that strikes me most about Phillips's writing is how much she preaches to the choir. She's obviously not trying to convince anyone that what she's saying is right - she just expects us to think it is. That's fine for all those readers that have a Melanie-Phillips-O-Vision hat, but some of us don't know how big the colander and potato have to be so we can make one, or how much tin foil we'll need. It's not fair.

She opens by stating:
"It is a telling commentary in itself on the times in which we are living that a Conservative politician took the line that the protests were entirely justified because the Americans are so awful and they are doing such terrible things in Iraq and we were taken to war on a lie and..."
Indeed it is. They're times in which the protests are justified because the Americans are doing terrible things in Iraq (click the 'Former US Soldiers' link) and we were taken to war on a lie. But in Melanie Phillips' world it's beyond the pale that a Conservative politician can 'take that line'. This is partly because Phillips tends not to see people as individuals, but as part of one monolithic group or another. Conservative politicians must say this war is good and protest is bad, regardless of whatever facts might be pertinent, because that's what Conservative politicians believe.

Apparently, Melanie Phillips used to be a left-leaning columnist. It's easier to see how she moved to the right when you take her seeing people as groups into account. If she started from the position that left wing people have one set of beliefs and right wing people have another, and she was left wing, it would only take her examining one of her left wing beliefs and disagreeing with it to move wholesale to the right. It's like buying a really cheap suit in a sale. You can find one where the jacket fits but the trousers are miles too big, but you have to buy the whole suit or get nothing. Of course, she would have had to start from the position of not basing her beliefs on evidence and arbitrarily just choosing sides (which is weird), but it kind of makes sense. That's why she views it as 'taking a line' - as if you can just ignore certain facts if you want to so you can spin things in such a way that they agree with the line you've chosen to take.

Back in the diary entry, she lists some of the things she doesn't like about the protests. You have to have your special hat well tuned to follow this one.
"What is so striking about these protests [...] is not just that it is extraordinarily bone-headed to insult and alienate the ally on whom we continue to depend for our protection; it is not just the craven appeasement of intimidation"
Right, craven appeasement of intimidation is bad. Gotcha. But why is it "bone-headed to insult and alienate the ally on whom we continue to depend for our protection"? Is it because they might remove that protection if we do? Isn't the threat of removing protection for not toeing the line a form of intimidation in itself? Therefore, if we shy away from seeming discourteous to an 'ally' because they might remove protection if we do, aren't we also appeasing intimidation? Of course, you have to think that protesting against something you disagree with is appeasement of intimidation in the first place, but if you're Melanie Phillips, that's easy.

But all that's not what really narks off our Mel. "It is the lethal moral inversion of the argument" that comes from not protesting about Yusuf al-Qaradawi meeting with the Mayor of London, but protesting about Condoleezza visiting Bradford and Liverpool that gets her goat.

There are a few reasons why this is a bit of a lame argument to make, some of them go like this:

1. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is less well known than Condoleezza Rice.
2. The claims about Qaradawi's extremism are quite possibly bollocks. The claims about Condoleezza Rice being US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor are somewhat less controversial.
3. If Qaradawi called for the withdrawal of British and American troops from Iraq tomorrow, bog all would happen. If Condoleezza Rice or Jack Straw did, on the other hand, something just might.

I like the next bit, explaining why people are protesting against Rice's visit. And only partly because the writing is so excruciatingly cack:
"Why? Because the US is apparently waging war against the innocent in Iraq. Excuse me?? The US is currently in Iraq at the express request of the Iraqis themselves to defend the innocent against the war being waged against them."
Umm...no they're not. They're there because of the weapons of mass destruction Iraq didn't have.
"The US went to war in Iraq to start unpicking the axis of terror that so threatens the world. "
Umm...no they didn't. They went to war because of the weapons of mass destruction Iraq didn't have.

The rest of the entry is based on the lame strawman argument that people are protesting becasue they think US are engaged in a war against the innocent in Iraq. (Although in one sense, this is true. The Iraqis were innocent of having weapons of mass destruction - the charge that led us to war in the first place). Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of the protesters' position, but that's the point. The whole point of this piece to crowbar people into the neat groups Phillips wants them to be in - and you can see this towards the end:
"It is the big propaganda lie of the enemies of freedom and democracy, promulgated by those who have every interest in bringing about the defeat of the west – both radical Islamists and the extreme left, now in close and unholy alliance with each other in the Stop the War Coalition and elsewhere – and now fast becoming the accepted unwisdom of those who opposed the war for more respectable reasons."
I love the 'enemies of freedom and democracy' bit. It's so 1950's. Anyway, she presents an oversimplified strawman view of why one set of anti-Iraq (and Iran, it should be stressed) protesters oppose the war, and then implies that anyone else who is not in this set also oppose the war for this reason - without ever demonstrating once that anyone opposes the war purely for this reason in the first place. It would be like me writing something that says 'Melanie Phillips is pro war because she thinks Iraqi people are just evil - and it's now becoming the accepted unwisdom of all Daily Mail readers.' The first claim is bollocks to start with, and the second is even more so (well, maybe not - but I'm making a point here). This sort of thing is extremely shoddy, and wouldn't get past anyone who didn't agree with Phillips in the first place, but that doesn't matter, does it? Get in your box, you foul enemy of freedom and democracy you. That way our Mel can dismiss you without ever having to listen to what you actually have to say.

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