ISIS Hated Beauty, History, Freedom, Music and Art


Two BBC documentaries which are available to watch right now show just how much Islamic State hated beauty, history, freedom, music and art.

In the The Road to Palmyra, architectural historian Dan Cruickshank and photographer Don McCullin journey to Palmyra to observe the destruction IS wrought after they invaded the ancient Syrian city in 2015.  Cruickshank is visibly overcome at times as he discovers just how much precious human history IS tried to obliterate.

Manchester: Bomb Our Story interviews the young victims of the 2016 bombing of Manchester Arena, all of whom are deeply traumatised by the wicked events of that night. They were supposed to enjoy an evening of innocence, dancing, laughter and fun. But a crazed, murderous terrorist had other plans.

I highly recommend you watch these two deeply moving and insightful films.

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Night Will Fall

Night Will Fall is a powerful documentary about the footage captured by Allied forces of newly liberated concentration camps, in the closing days of WW2, that was later made into a film titled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945).

The scenes the soldiers were confronted with were so shocking that they feared no one would believe that they were real. Indeed the first accounts that Soviet soldiers had given of Auschwitz and Majdanek in eastern Europe were initially written off by Britain and America as atrocity propaganda. They soon realised how wrong they were. In fact, the Soviet footage of Auschwitz contains some of the most infamous images of the monstrous extermination camps. An elderly Russian soldier interviewed in Night Will Fall is overcome with emotion as he remembers the terrible things he saw… Read the rest On Netflix Now

British Ideologues Should Not Be Meddling With Schools In Africa

I was dismayed to read in The Spectator that British activists are trying to shut down Bridge schools in African countries .

Aidan Hartley writes that:

“… several British charities, in cahoots with some British unions, are making a concerted effort to close down hundreds of schools in Africa. They are doing this because they dislike private education, seeming not to care that this will destroy the life chances of thousands of desperate children, forcing them, at best, into state schools where the teachers are often absent, drunk or incapable.

The campaign involves not only an alphabet soup of left-leaning charities from Action Aid to Amnesty International but also Unison and the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Their attacks are directed at Bridge International Academies, a private company backed by, among others, Bill Gates and the British government.” Read More…

Your Physical Appearance Does Not Determine How Far You Will Advance In Life

Today, I made a terrible mistake. I accused a writer in The Telegraph of being “crude and spiteful” when he was doing nothing of the sort. He had written a piece about short men in the workplace and how men who are below average height advance to the top of the career chain, despite the conventional wisdom that taller men do better. He used the billionaire CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, as an example of this.

I completely misread his argument and jumped immediately to the conclusion that he was attacking Zuckerberg for his height, and confronted him about it on Twitter. On a second reading of the article, I realised how wrong I was. I deleted the tweet and sent the writer an apology. At the time of writing this blog, he hasn’t responded to me, but I wouldn’t blame him for being pissed off. It is very annoying, as a writer, when people misread your work and baselessly attack you for it. I speak from bitter experience. Read More…

Free Speech Is The Only Way To Shift Consciousness

Last week, the writer Sam Harris posted an incredible conversation recorded between himself and Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who now tries to counter extreme political beliefs with what he describes as “listening” and “compassion”.  Picciolini has a lot of insight into what drives ideological fanaticism and he knows that much of it fuelled by emotional undercurrents of insecurity, self-loathing and basic ignorance.

He and Harris make the point that rather than shaming or silencing people with extreme opinions that we disapprove of, we should engage with them instead. That is how the battle for hearts and minds are won. This is very similar to what Megan Phelps, a former member of the religious cult the Westboro Baptist Church said in her now famous TED talk, which I have written about before:

Her decision to leave the WBC was not a Damascene conversion. It was part of a long process of engaging with people who opposed her on social media. Often they did so with anger or bemused disdain, but, occasionally, she would encounter individuals who would argue with her civilly. It was these discussions that began to slowly chip away at her harsh worldview, eventually causing it to collapse.

Harris also makes the important point that people will never build up “intellectual antibodies” to manipulative and hateful ideas if they are not exposed to them. Sunlight and air is the best disinfectant for odious speech.

Listen to to the full conversation here.

Steven Pinker: Literature Improves Our Ability To Empathise

Is literature a type of empathy technology? In the video below, the Harvard academic Steven Pinker observes that the rise of the novel correlates with some of the most significant humanitarian drives throughout history. Pinker makes the excellent point that fiction requires the reader to use his/her imagination to project themselves into the life of another person whose experience may be far removed from their own.

One example he names is the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which served as a powerful intellectual impetus for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Other notable examples are the collected works of Charles Dickens and their depiction of poverty in 19th century England.  And though The Diary of Anne Frank  isn’t a novel, it is still one of the major humanitarian works of literature of the 20th century.

This is yet another argument against the strange notion that the arts and humanities are “useless“.


Disagreement May Be Uncomfortable But It Exists For Good Reason

Everything is political nowadays. I cannot remember a time of more intense political debate. People still share funny cat videos and pictures of their food, but as any content creator will tell you, there is huge interest in politics and current affairs right now. There is a lot of stuff going on in the news: Trump, Brexit, the EU, #MeToo, North Korea. The list goes on. But also people are more exposed to political debate through social media where everyone is mostly able to freely express their opinions, which they do a lot.  This has costs and benefits. It is good to see more people engaging in public discourse, but politics means disagreement and people do not always disagree well. Arguing over politics has caused rifts in families and friendships. In extreme cases it can lead to social discord, polarisation and even violence. There have been people, such as Thomas Mair, Salman Abedi, Darren Osborne, and the London Bridge attackers, to name a few notable examples, who stopped engaging with others and started attacking them instead. This has led many people to lose faith in free speech and open platforms that allow anyone to publish their views, no matter how abhorrent. At such times, it is important to not only argue for free speech, but also for disagreement itself. Read More…