Springtime for Demagogues. Cologne, Rotherham and Identity Politics

Published here at Quillette Magazine.

I. Rochdale, Rotherham and Cologne

Western culture is successful because it recognises individuals and treats them equally under the law. People brave seas in rickety boats because they want a piece of that.

After the Rochdale and Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) scandals there was some push back, always from people on the Left, against the idea that there was a ‘conspiracy of silence’ rather than mere inefficiency. The abnormally slow dissemination of information following the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, and other events which have subsequently come to light, have helped confirm the reality of this. People are refusing to treat certain criminal events like they would others.

Such a ‘conspiracy of silence’ not only betrays the principle of equal treatment, it is ultimately counter-productive. This problem shares the same root with some of the notions of ‘diversity’ with which I have increasing difficulty accepting. Simply put, discrimination is discrimination and regardless of the quality of your motivations it poisons what it touches.

In the case of the sexual assaults, I’m not sure ‘conspiracy’ is the right word. It is a cover up, but not a conspiracy. It is much worse than a few people colluding, it is endemic. It appears that people, be they press, social services, police, decide individually that avoidance is the way to go and enough people do so for it to appear en masse. It is institutional without requiring any standing orders from an institution.

The motivation for this behaviour appears to be able to be split into three types:

The fear of fueling racism

As the then Rotherham MP, Dennis McShane put it:

I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that

…as a true Guardian reader, and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn’t want to raise that too hard.

From Professor Alexis Jay’s report into Rotherham CSE:

Several councilors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be ‘giving oxygen’ to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion.

This is the fear that presenting the facts to the hairy-arsed proles, who pay their wages and might also have daughters to protect, could create problems. It is then a ‘noble lie’, one told to prevent us idiot yokels from becoming a mob. People are stepping out from their job descriptions and moonlighting as censors.

The problem isn’t that that is completely unwarranted, it might be, it might not be. The problem is that shielding us from the truth is utterly counter-productive.

Avoiding accusations of racism

From a report on Rotherham by former Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey:

Interviews with staff and Members of RMBC [Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council] highlighted a pervading culture of …silencing debate. The issue of race is contentious, with staff and Members lacking the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist.

It may very well be true that acting in accordance with normal procedure and with colour-blindness invites accusations of racism. But again, this is counter-productive.

Cognitive dissonance

In this case I am referring to the reaction to evidence which causes difficulty in maintaining  a previously held or desirable narrative. This usually manifests in stupidity.

Forbes journalist Frances Coppola provided a perfect example. She writes cogently and intelligently about economics yet her initial response to the news from Cologne went thus:


Fortunately this sort of insanity bout tends to be over fairly quickly and is perhaps of limited concern when examining long-term problems.

However, do we really think that the suppression of information and the failure to pursue prosecutions — due to the ethnicity of the perpetrators — does more or less damage to race relations? Does it do more or less damage to community cohesion than applying normal procedure?

The truth was outed. In the case of the UK grooming scandals, it was a much worse truth than it might have been had proper action been taken early. The way that truth and consequent action had to be crow-barred from institutions made it look as if they were not only working against the people they’re designed to be working for but also that there was always more troubling information to come. The attempts at silence rendered it a much greater story than ever would have been the case had arrests been more quickly made and the unalloyed truth been more forthcoming.

The strongest way in which this behaviour is counter-productive comes from the consistent unwillingness to be clear about who was responsible.

Maajid Nawaz describes something which he calls the Voldemort Effect.

The Voldemort effect in this context entails not naming Islamism, nor distinguishing it from the multifaceted religion. By highlighting the need to “tackle the Islamic State’s ideology” but refusing to name it, President Obama only increased the public’s fear and made it easier for Muslimphobes, who will naturally assume the ideology Obama refers to is “Islam,” to blame all Muslims.¹

Something similar occurs with the attempts to hide information about the perpetrators in these cases. By refusing to be clear about the identity of a gang of rapists because they are Muslims/Pakistanis/Refugees, or whatever group whose wider reputation you wish to protect, you are helping people towards the conclusion that the wider group of Muslims/Pakistanis/Refugees are to be associated with rape. People know and sense what is being hidden and thus what is being hidden is afforded importance.

These groups with fragile reputations are not homogeneous and we shouldn’t act to make them appear so. They are a collection of individuals. In the case of Rochdale the abandoned prosecutions were reopened when a Muslim man of Pakistani origin, Nazir Afzal, ordered them so. And the hero in this harrowing Rotherham tale is also a Pakistani man.  Even if a cultural aspect is considered to be a contingent element in the nature of the crime, not all members of that group share that cultural aspect. And yet they are forcibly associated with it by the noble attempts to spare their blushes. Does this not make it more difficult for them to assist in addressing it? We should be able to discuss cultural proclivities and attitudes openly if we are to mitigate harm.

This is springtime for demagogues. Not only can they scapegoat whole peoples but they can point to a corrupted ‘establishment’ as protecting them. It is giving credence to a fusion of victimhood, grievance, and supremacy and this is the lifeblood of the populist Right. It is both toxic and a highly effective way in which to “rock the multicultural community boat”.

Highlighting the three motivations does nothing to prevent the phenomena. The root problem needs to be addressed. It is to be found in the the language of ‘diversity’ and ‘identity politics’. It is a problem within the Left and it comes from the tendency to see people as, and by, their demographic groupings.

Attempts to help an entire group, either by giving an individual member of that group a job because of that membership, or by covering up their crimes because of that membership, come from the same fallacious thinking. The public lauding of the former is bound to aid the institutionalising of the latter.

II. Protected Groups and Cover-Ups

Perhaps I should have called this essay “How praising the Canadian Prime Minister For Having a 50/50 Gender Spread in His Cabinet Leads to Covering Up Child Gang-Rape.” If I had done so I would probably have lost you at the start and perhaps this is now the moment that I do. But I hold that they are both part of the same problem. And it is a problem.

With this thinking a rapist becomes not just a rapist but a member of a protected ‘community’ and thus exposing him as a rapist becomes a danger to the reputation of that community as a whole. Treating him as an individual is not just right and fair and how immigrants coming to Western countries should expect to be treated, it leaves the work of lumping them into the group to the demagogues and racists. But identity politics prevents that from happening and does the bigot’s work for them. Anti-discrimination efforts should not be perpetuating discrimination. Unfortunately however, they often are.

The only diversity that should count is diversity of opinion. Sometimes, the justification for selection via demographic groupings helps the process of ‘othering’ by conflating opinion with identity.

The charity Creative Access offers internships, with the hope of leading to permanent positions, to non-whites only. In their ‘About Us‘ they say:

[E]thnic minority representation across the creative industries has fallen in recent years to just 5.4% of the total workforce. At senior levels the numbers are far lower. The absence of diversity in the creative sector is not only bad for our society but is also bad for business, which thrives on having a diversity of ideas and opinions.

This implies that different race means different ideas and opinions. It implies a validity to an essentialist view of ethnicities.

Following the financial crises of 2008 the idea was oft expressed that increasing the number of women on boards and specifically at banks might decrease risk due to the inherent nature of women. This again suggested an essentialist difference between demographic groupings.

Perhaps it happens to be true, perhaps it doesn’t. But what is good for the goose… if this attitude is considered acceptable it means it’s entirely valid for a business owner to say ‘I want more risk takers therefore we shall promote no women’. If we can attribute different views to different races, and say that’s fine, then we can say ‘I want white views for the white market and will employ only white people’. I’m really not sure how this is expected to work just one way.

When people talk of requiring diversity in Parliament they also seem to expect it to work one way. It is said that ethnic minorities, women, and others need to have their demographic grouping represented in Parliament. This week the following complaint was made by the MP for Brent Central, Dawn Butler:

The Tories are making a conscious effort to put women or African-Caribbean and Asian people into safe seats so they get represented [but] they don’t represent those people in parliament…

An MP is not meant to represent the people they share skin tone or/and genital composition with. They are meant to represent constituents. If a black, working-class, woman is not represented adequately in parliament by a white, middle class, man simply because he is those things, it also implies that a white, middle class, man, cannot be represented by a woman, a BME, a working class person or anything that represents something he is not.

I vote for principles and ideas. That’s because I’m not a racist. And if I were, I still would vote that way because I’d accept that even within races there are exceptions to my bigoted generalisations. How many sexists of the sort who considered women weaker and worse at making tough decisions voted for Thatcher? Most of them, I’d expect.

People do not conform to the assumptions of their views, opinions, and priorities that the anti-racists racistly insist on making. Nazir Afzal is a Muslim man and yet it was his elevation to the rank of Chief Crown Prosecutor of North West England that finally meant that those Muslim men of Rochdale got to have their collars felt by the law and the white, female, children, whom he couldn’t possibly ‘represent’, got a respite from their systematic, organised, rape.

In the search for cosmic justice based on end-result demographic statistics, people who claim to be anti-discrimination are justifying why discrimination should exist. Like the urge to avoid drawing attention to mass-rapes, it’s noble only in intention.

The reason I don’t have much optimism for my argument is that those under the spell of identity politics are not seeking to end the fallacious thinking that causes racism, sexism or any other such thing. They merely seek to adopt it themselves to affect power dynamics. Upon dividing people into groups they then seek to achieve equality of outcome across them without realising that if there is a problem of discrimination in society, the principle of grouping people in such ways tends to be the cause.

The single grains of nonsense extrapolate outwards into gigantic boulders of bullshit. Some of the discrimination is applauded as anti-discrimination and some is condemned as discrimination. And all of it is regressive and helps to perpetuate discrimination.

There is an anti-enlightenment strand in both the far Left and far Right. Both embrace a world view which sees people in terms of identity groups and collective forces and it is why they both share a totalitarian impulse.

Treat people as individuals and equals or don’t. But people come here to be treated as representatives of themselves and have their efforts judged accordingly. If you decide they are better off treated as representatives of a group, try not to be too surprised when your political enemies start doing so too.

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