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Meet the politicians March 2, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Law, Sheer bloody-mindedness, University.
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Last term, I went to a very interesting talk, hosted by the Durham Law Society, by a gentleman called Moazzam Begg.  You may or may not have heard the name, he hit the headlines a bit last month.  Moazzam Begg was a detainee for two years in Guantanamo Bay, and for quite a while before then in miscellaneous military hidey-holes across the world.  Since then he has toured all over the place, talking about his experiences and explaining why it was such a bad thing.  Which it was; and I have to say that he is a very good, and very compelling speaker, and I went away thinking, this is all happening in the world and there’s nothing I can do about it and yet, right now to do something about it is what I want most in the world.  And I had that little rush of Can You Hear The People Sing that always reminds me of when I was sixteen and really passionate about these things, and at once I resolved that the thing to do was to be more informed about these things.

Anyway, today I went to another talk, this time hosted by the Union Society, by another gentleman by the name of Maajid Nawaz, who had been an Islamist extremist and then gone to prison in Egypt, discovered what Islam was really about and resolved to do the best he could to make sure other people knew what it was really about as well – not one massive state of Muslims owing allegiance only to each other, not a political agenda: a religion.  And it may surprise you  – it surprised me, in an eyebrow-up well-there’s-a-bit-of-trivia-for-you kind of way – that most religious extremists aren’t stupid bigots.  They’re clever bigots, and they’re at universities.  The majority of British extremists, apparently, are recruited in British universities.  They’re probably in your university.  And by the looks of things if you’re in London they almost certainly are in your university.

Guys, this is something I absolutely knew before, but please let me tell it to you again: people have a political agenda.  When they come and talk to you, especially about something politically contentious, they definitely have an agenda.  And that could be good; it could be bad.  Some people are fantastic speakers but that’s no reason to believe what they’re saying.  They might back it up, with anecdotal evidence, with statistics, with whatever the hell you like, they could quote you half the Office of National Statistics but they still have an agenda.

I know; you know.

Here’s the thing.  People look like they’re being very frank with you but they’re only telling you half the story.  Necessarily; anything with time constraints makes that inevitable.  They aren’t telling you about things that cast them in a bad light, or controversies that they’ve been involved in.  Here’s what a quick Google search about Moazzam Begg threw up this afternoon after Maajid Nawaz mentioned him: compelling speakers do not necessarily an unassailable moral high ground make.  And I know, you know it’s not the full picture, you’ve been told it for years, every teacher since primary schools has told you to look outside the box, look for the omissions, don’t take everything at face value.  But please.  I’ve gone to debates for years.  I’ve read the news for years.  I am that person who questions things, who reads around, who looks for whatever’s between the lines.  Until this afternoon, I knew it all as well.

What are we missing?  What whole other issues aren’t we hearing about?  Do we grasp so desperately for something to hold up as right, the right thing to do, the right values to hold, that we don’t care so much if there might be holes in it further than skin-deep?  If someone tells us, if someone assaults us with logic and evidence and all those things we clearly need to make an informed decision, why do we suddenly assume that that’s what we have?  Is it laziness?

I also learned this afternoon – probably learned – that I’ve been condescending to people for years: if a white person is racist, that’s bad.  If a a brown person is racist, as it was so elegantly put, that’s part of his indigenous culture and we should respect that.  Why should we respect that?  Because if we don’t, that makes us look like the racists.  It still does.  Maybe in a few years it won’t.  I kind of hope so.  I kind of wish I was the sort of person who spoke out about these things, who told other people.  Turns out I’m not even the questioning kind.

There’s a higher class of people, kids; turns out I’m not it.  That deafening roar is my intellectual ego crashing to the ground.

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Comments»

1. annadegenhardt - March 3, 2010

yes, maybe, but learning to think is what University’s for. Political idealism and a generalised feeling of Wanting To Make A Difference is what mid-teenage years are for.

I don’t tend to question my responses to people, or I didn’t. Now I’m starting to, because for the first time in my life I’m being taught how to think. Even if only in relation to novels and critical writings, being told “actually, the case is far more subtle than that” and taught to look for nuances in arguments and to display those, rather than stating desperately what I’d read because I hoped it was right, means that now, in a wider sense, I’m better equipped (and getting better at it every week) to question the people I see, and think about what they say.

Doesn’t mean your intellectual ego should come crashing down; it just means that you’ve reached a point where you can now see where you have to go next.

That was a lot of unconnected gibberish…

2. thewariefiend - March 4, 2010

Maybe something’s come crashing down, but is it all there is? I would never say there is a ‘higher class’ of people; the people you’re describing seem to be the ones who are better connected to a topic you’re not. Part of crafting meaning out of life has always been for me defining that this and this matter. I think what I’m trying to say is that this is alteration in perspective. It happens and it doesn’t kill you. Especially not you. At your firest and most startling moments of voaclising what you think law is worth and meant for as a disipline you have described an aim that seems to me an act of striving towards being in this ‘higher class.’ That is a noble humanity worth remembering I think.

Self awareness I will argue is only ever in the end a good thing.


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