Author: Jamie Palmer

Fundamentalists vs The New York Times

Last week, Bari Weiss, a staff editor and columnist for the opinion pages of the New York Times, became the latest person to find herself at the centre of a social media feeding frenzy for sending a carelessly worded tweet. Even that summary doesn’t do justice to the inanity of the controversy, since “carelessly worded” concedes more to her critics than their bad faith deserves. On February 12, upon learning that US figure skater Mirai Nagasu had successfully performed a triple axel at the Winter Olympics, Weiss shared an NBC video of Nagasu’s spectacular achievement along with the comment, “Immigrants: They get the job done.” Her tweet was a reference to a line from the Hamilton musical – later turned into a song for The Hamilton Mixtape – celebrating the contribution immigrants have made to America (sample lyric: “Who these fugees? What did they do for me?/But contribute new dreams/Taxes and tools, swagger and food to eat…”). It ought to have been obvious to all but the most stubbornly obtuse that Weiss was using Nagasu’s …

Nobody’s Victim: An Interview with Samantha Geimer

On the 9th of January, I noticed the French journalist Anne-Elizabeth Moutet report on Facebook that the open letter she had co-signed protesting the excesses of the #MeToo movement had received endorsement from an unexpected source. Samantha Geimer was the girl raped by Roman Polanski when she was 13 years old, and her experience is frequently cited by #MeToo activists and supporters as evidence of Hollywood’s moral turpitude and hypocrisy. Browsing Geimer’s Twitter timeline, I discovered that she is also one of a minority of voices expressing scepticism about the resurrection of child abuse allegations made by the Farrow family against Woody Allen. Intrigued, I read Geimer’s memoir The Girl: Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. Her book is thoughtful, frank, refreshingly matter-of-fact, and offers a counter-narrative that sits uneasily with the use activists and journalists have routinely made of her story. I got in touch with Geimer through a mutual friend, and she kindly agreed to an interview with me to discuss her book, the Polanski case, #MeToo, Woody Allen, and the ongoing …

Liberalism in Peril

One of the more perplexing idiosyncrasies of American political discussion is the tendency to conflate liberal and radical leftists. This confusion has – bizarrely – succeeded in turning ‘liberal’ into a term of partisan abuse, even though a commitment to personal liberty was one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Besides which, in terms of what they think and – more importantly – how they think­­, the difference between liberals and radicals is large. A reminder of just how large was provided last week by the reaction to an OpEd column, in which liberal journalist Bari Weiss offered stern criticism of the four leaders of the Women’s March, an ad hoc movement created to foment feminist defiance under the Trump administration. The January march itself, Weiss stressed, had been a necessary and inspiring demonstration of public dissent. Nevertheless, its leaders’ well-documented history of alliances with a litany of racist and criminal figures makes them poor advocates of liberal resistance. By using opposition to the illiberalism of Trump as a platform …

Paranoid Paleoconservatives

On Saturday 19 November 2016, less than two weeks after Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, the National Policy Institute held its annual conference in Washington DC. Ordinarily an obscure talking shop noticed by no-one, this year the mood among the 200 or so attendees was buoyant and the event had attracted a handful of curious journalists and angry protesters. Trump’s populist campaign had energized a political fringe tendency now known as the alt-right (or ‘alternative right’), and the NPI’s director Richard Spencer had enjoyed some exposure as one of movement’s more articulate spokesmen. But the alt-right was still, on the whole, an unknown quantity. Media interest during the election had been fitful as attention focused on Trump’s pugnacious and apparently chaotic campaign. If the movement was understood at all, it was generally thought to be an epiphenomenon; a strange byproduct of the Trump candidacy and a racist internet subculture, notorious for the harassment campaigns it directed against anti-Trump conservatives and Jewish journalists on social media. As for alt-right ideology, if such a thing existed it …

Islam’s Liberal Counter-Insurgency

A review of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, by Sara Khan. Saqi Books (September 2016) 256 pages In his 2004 book The War for Muslim Minds, the French political analyst Gilles Kepel offered a stark review of the ongoing struggle to reconcile Islam with modernity. At the time of writing, the democratic project in Iraq was collapsing into escalating disorder and sectarian terror. More ominously, America’s inability to police the mayhem, the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and the failure to uncover the promised WMD stockpiles were not only damaging American credibility, but also the credibility of Western democratic ideals themselves. In the book’s final chapter, however, Kepel turned his gaze towards Europe and found grounds for optimism. Here, he argued, democratic participation offered Muslim reformers with unprecedented opportunities. Unencumbered by the violence, corruption, and authoritarianism strangling open discussion and progress across the Muslim-majority world, a new generation of activists might succeed in defining and fashioning a secular and progressive Islam, liberated from the retrogressive doctrines that were pulling …

Stand Up For Heresy

A review of The New Philistines: How Identity Politics Disfigure the Arts by Sohrab Ahmari. Biteback Publishing, (October 16, 2016) 128 pages. Postmodernism might have had a liberating effect on the arts. Skepticism about the objectivity of truth provided artists with limitless imaginative possibilities, while a critical analysis that privileged subjective interpretation over authorial intent opened the doors to a bracing new iconoclasm. Postmodernism, in other words, seemed to herald a democratization of form, meaning, and value. It would rescue the arts from the dusty irrelevance of the traditionalist canon, and the pointy-headed elitists who presumed to decide what was of worthy of greatness and study and what was not. Hitherto neglected artists and their works were disinterred and reappraised (some of which turned out to be good and some of which did not), while sacred cows were gleefully slaughtered and gutted (some of which deserved it and some of which did not). And some exciting and vibrant new art got produced in the process — hip, ironic, self-referential, irreverent, and smart. But then postmodernism began …

Flag-Shaming in Response to Terrorism

‘Prayer shaming’ in the wake of an American mass-shooting is a relatively new phenomenon, as far as I can tell. I first saw it discussed in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, and it takes the form of social media users, think-piece writers, and politicians mostly — but not exclusively — on the Left who say things like: “We don’t need your thoughts and prayers. What we need is political action.” The idea is not just to point out that prayers are useless while political action is consequential. “Political action” in this context is a synonym for swingeing gun control legislation. And the thinly veiled accusation is that thoughts and prayers are being offered by reactionary gun nuts and craven politicians as an alternative to action. Simply put, prayer shaming consists of the demand: “Spare us your pious hypocrisies and surrender your weapons.” Last night, a variation on this behavior proliferated across social media in the wake of the latest Islamist terror atrocity on European soil. “Your hashtags and customized tricolor avatars are worthless virtue-signaling,” it …