Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Posts By: Bill Durodie

Free speech means standing up for forms of expression we disagree with

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📥  Public Policy

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was right to assert – in the aftermath of the pointless terror attack in London yesterday – that we should now carry on ‘as normal’. There are always two elements to such incidents – the events themselves, which are tragic enough for all concerned, but then also how we, as a society, respond to these. It is the latter that defines whether we are terrorised or not. It is the latter that the perpetrators look to for their impact. And it is this satisfaction – that they are having an effect – which we must never afford them.

But May also referred three times to our valuing ‘freedom’ (as well as ‘liberty’), in her short talk outside Downing Street after the Government’s emergency committee meeting last night. And that is where her rhetoric of resilience is at its weakest. For in pointing to the importance of ‘freedom of speech’, which she is right to do – she, her government and others like them all around the world, have conceded far too much already in legislating against particular speakers and certain forms of expression – deemed hurtful, offensive or able to encourage terrorism.

Free speech is not comfortable or easy for anyone. It does not mean the freedom to say the obvious or the popular. Rather, it necessarily means standing up for forms of expression we disagree with – that are challenging or unpalatable and sometimes spiteful or simply inane. What this allows though is priceless. It trains us all in how to address and overcome such words – without which we would be disarmed and seeking those who claim to afford us protection. Free speech is not comfortable or easy – but it makes us all stronger and better.

And what we witnessed in the attack yesterday, as well as the recent incident at Orly Airport in Paris and the many other such occurrences in recent years, were the actions of the all-too-readily offended – the response of individuals who have not been trained in the spirit and discipline of freedom, who cannot contain their emotional anger and who, in a moment of self-righteous rage, lash out at a society they sense no attachment to or engagement with.

In that regards, they are a product of what we have made them – febrile individuals, whose ideas have rarely been challenged or put to the test for fear of offending their assumed beliefs. People brought up to believe that their feelings are paramount and indulged in their distorted sense of grievance and hurt. It is high time the government sought to live by its fine words because, in the long run, it is only by living freedom that we can rid ourselves of this social problem.


Are politicians "kicking the Brexit ball into the long grass"?


📥  EU Referendum

Today, across the UK, it is as if the vote to leave the European Union had never happened. Despite the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, asserting that 'Brexit means Brexit', all of her actions, as well as those of the people around her and even, increasingly, European players too, such as Angela Merkel and others, points to a desire to kick the Brexit ball into the long grass where it cannot be seen and they hope, may never be recovered.

May has indicated that the earliest she would invoke Article 50 and trigger negotiations for the withdrawal would be next year at the earliest. So what happened to the assertion of former Prime Minister, David Cameron, that he would enact the people's will with immediate effect? We should recall that this vote was the single biggest mandate in British electoral history and yet it remains unfulfilled.

Instead, various groups, including middle-class hippies dancing in dresses made of the European Union flag, members of the unelected second chamber in the British Parliament, as well as a law firm and even one of the candidates standing to become the new Leader of the Opposition either assert that the public were duped when they voted, or that they were too ignorant to vote, or that such a momentous decision ought not have been left to them in the first place. So much for democracy!

What does this all mean for the future? Well, if we are not very careful what it points to is how democracy is now upheld in principle but not in practice in one of the birth places of democracy. It reveals in sharp contrast the elite's disdain for the people that they govern and it can only lead, much further afield, to more significant social challenges as people will eventually have to assert themselves more forcefully for their voices to be heard. How much better it would be to hear them now, now that they have spoken, and to start taking them seriously as agents of their own destiny.

Brexit would come with many problems, but it would reveal unimagined new possibilities too. Concerns over migration certainly featured in the debate. These need to be confronted head-on rather than by-passed by regulatory procedures. Foremost among the rationales to leave though was a desire for greater control and more of a say in decision-making. And while many young people wished to remain in the European Union, far more chose not to vote at all.

What we confront in all countries the world over today is a fear of the future, combined with a hatred of the masses that is paralysing development and opportunity for all.


Comment on the Nice Attacks

📥  Public Policy, Society, Uncategorized

The massacre in Nice of almost 100 people, including many children and inflicting serious injuries on many others, as they enjoyed the Bastille Day celebrations by the beach on the south of France, seems almost too predictable. There is now a long and tragic roll call of similar incidents in the last few years alone. We all know that it is not possible for security agencies to assure the safety of all the people, in all places, at all times. It ought to act as a reminder to us all, as well as our leaders that there are no security solutions to what, at their heart, are social problems.

Too many of the readily disaffected in society today are effectively indulged in their dangerous fantasies by authorities reluctant to challenge their views - for fear of being accused of racism or imperialism - and unsure as to where they wish to lead their societies or what values they should hold. From nursery onwards children are now taught that their feelings are sacrosanct, in schools teachers report not wishing to broach difficult subjects in history for fear of causing offence, and by the time they reach university students demand, and are provided with safe spaces and trigger warnings to protect them from having their, by then unquestionable opinions challenged.

The rise of sheer barbarism that we now witness on a regular basis ought also remind us however that the small groups and individuals who perpetrate such acts in the name of those who they never consulted are not held to account by any moral code or community. That, in the long run, is their ultimate weakness - that they stand for nothing and have no-one behind them - so long as we can clearly articulate our own purposes and engage our people in these.

There is no fixed EU to remain in

📥  EU Referendum, Society, Uncategorized

The election of two Five Star Movement candidates in Italy to the Mayoralties of Rome and Turin should act as a wake-up call to those still campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU.

Right across Europe and beyond – including in the US with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – mainstream political parties are being challenged by movements described variously as populist or anti-establishment.

These are loathed, sneered at, tolerated or occasionally, grudgingly accepted, by the old guard according to their particular outlooks, hues and figureheads.

On the old Right of the political spectrum in Europe they encompass Nigel Farage’s UKIP that came third in terms of votes cast at the 2015 British General Election, Marine Le Pen’s recalibrated Front National in France, Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and Norbert Hofer’s Freedom Party that so nearly took the Presidency in Austria a month ago.

On the old Left, the most notable include Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece, whose Leader, Alexis Tsipras fought a futile stand-off with the EU over debt repayments – a conflict settled, in the end, by just three individuals, none of which were Greek, behind closed doors in Brussels.

In Italy, in part due to the once seemingly endless saga surrounding Sylvio Berlusconi and his eventual replacement by an unelected EU bureaucrat in 2011, there are several parties fighting for the accolade of being anti-elite, which include the Lega Nord that adopts a regionalist perspective and comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which campaigns against corruption in politics.

While emanating from differing directions, what unites these various groups and individuals who – as in the American case need not even have previously been aligned to any side or indeed may have swapped sides – is their identification of a problem with the mainstream elites and their appeal to those who sense themselves as having been by-passed or overlooked by parties that used to represent them.

None can claim to being fully formed and indeed there are quite evident problems with the maturity of some of the main players and their organisations, though this should not blind us to their ability to galvanise significant numbers of people such that we ought to expect them to change and develop into more mature movements in due course.

The lazy approach is to sneer at them and especially their current leaders with a view to dismissing the entire enterprise. That would be a grave error for, as we see now in Italy, they are all placed to achieve significant breakthroughs, if not now, at some point in the not too distant future.

And what this means for the Remain campaigners in the current debate in the UK over membership of the EU is that their very name and aim – to Remain – is erroneous. No matter what the outcome from the referendum on 23 June, there will be no remaining in an unchanged Union.

The lie perpetrated by the Leave side to this debate is that there is a significant Brussels machine hell-bent on usurping our national sovereignty. In fact, it is popular sovereignty that is under threat as the real decision-makers in the EU are figures that are well-known to us all, including David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande.

But that European Union – the one primarily driven by its Council – is only as strong as the sum of its parts. And if all of its parts are under attack domestically, through the rise of the alternative movements we see elected in parts of Italy today, then it will be a very different EU irrespective of the outcome.

It is to this most pressing need that all ought to be turning their attentions to in the immediate future – the need to reconnect politics with the people. And it is that that only the Leave side represent – in whatever corrupted form they present it in.


£4,300 to quit the EU? Bring me my cheque book

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📥  EU Referendum

Those who would have us remain in the EU simply don’t get it. They project all manner of reasons for why we should do so. Economic reasons, security and migration reasons, global connection and trade reasons. Heck, they even point to the bleeding obvious – that the Brexit camp is led by a bunch of fruitcakes like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

Every right-thinking person on the planet, it would seem, argues for the UK to stay in the European Union. All of the party leaders want us to remain, as does the government, many leading businesses, the International Monetary Fund, even Barack Obama (though using a US president to promote the EU highlights the profile problem of European leaders).

Quite frankly, I’m expecting the Archbishop of Canterbury to come out any minute now to pronounce on the Christian case for staying in. After all, Tracey ‘f******’ Emin has.


Panic is spreading to the shires as rural police react to the threat of terrorism

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📥  Society

This article first appeared in The Times Red Box

Twelve years ago exactly, in an article for the New Humanist magazine, just two-and-a-half years into the ‘War on Terror’, I warned of a ‘bizarre badge of honour that could readily become a self-fulfilling prophecy’. Today, as a Police Federation chairman warns of fears that police officers in rural areas would be ‘sitting ducks’ in the event of a terrorist gun attack in the UK, my analysis has come home to roost in spades.

Back then I noted that ‘no serious local authority can afford not to have revised its emergency procedures’ in the light of the presumed threat posed by Al Qaeda. I added with a rhetorical flourish that ‘it almost seems that if your town, city or region is not assessed as potentially being on Osama bin Laden’s hit-list, it cannot be worth visiting’.

Now, it would seem, it is not just large urban areas that can sense themselves as potentially being under attack, but remote rural localities too. More so even, as we are advised that the police in such circumstances are ‘unarmed and vulnerable’.



Brussels Attacks

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📥  Public Policy, Society

The incidents at Brussels airport and on the Metro network there this morning ought to serve as a reminder that complete security is unachievable. Having made air-side at airports more challenging to reach, it was only a matter of time for terror attacks to focus on the passenger-side. Those who now talk of the need for better intelligence and even more security seem not to understand this displacement problem.

There can be no security solutions to social problems. But the Belgian PM, Charles Michel, has, like our own PM, David Cameron, sought to legislate his way out of problems in recent times. New laws allowing police raids and opposing hate speech match attempts here that focus more on preventing the assumed inevitable than understanding  its social origins and seeking to alter these through political leadership.

Belgium is different to the UK of course, but not that much so. It is divided between a French-speaking South and a Flemish-speaking North. Brussels in particular is also home to two significant international institutions – the EU and NATO – while having unemployment rates in excess of 30% in some districts. Accordingly, its identity is confused and contested, as are its organs of state, and this has led to a vacuum where its values and vision ought to be.

But young people there are the same as the world over. They want to feel that they belong to, and believe in, something. If the mainstream fails to offer this they will look elsewhere. What we see is not so much radicalisation as disengagement. Worse, those who ought to offer a lead, such as teachers, talk of avoiding engaging youth on subjects such as the Holocaust, for fear of causing offence or angering those in their charge.

This mainstream evacuation means that run-down districts, such as Molenbeek, with which several recent incidents – from Charlie Hebdo to the Paris attacks, as well as those on a Thalys train and now these – appear connected, suffer not so much from resentment and presumed grievances, as a lack of ambition and leadership by those in authority. The country from which more people go to join ISIS in Syria as a percentage of the population is now Belgium.

Going forwards, it will only be by addressing the social confusions of the mainstream that a solution will emerge.

Professor Bill Durodié is Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies and Chair of International Relations at the University. His work focuses on risk, resilience, radicalisation and the politics of fear.

Listen to his inaugural lecture, now available as a podcast, on the politics of risk and resilience. 

For any students or staff in Brussels or Belgium, please note this link

What now following the Paris Attacks?

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📥  Public Policy

Professor Bill Durodié is Chair of International Relations at the University and Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

Professor Durodié comments on events in Paris.

Professor Durodié comments on events in Paris.

The shooting and killing of innocent people in Paris yesterday evening is both a terrible tragedy and a heinous crime. It is too early to speculate about the perpetrators but, if there are any parallels with other incidents across the Western world of late, it would be that they lack clear motives beyond a highly distorted sense of persecution. Accordingly, what we can say at this time is that any commentator talking of supposedly understandable grievances is acting as an apologist to terror.

Inequality and exclusion are not new phenomena in our societies. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that these are any worse today than in the past. Rather the opposite in fact. It is high time for many pundits and well-meaning liberals to stop indulging disoriented youths in their deadly fantasies. We know of schools in France where educators avoid teaching about the Holocaust for fear of it being rejected and they’re even being laughed at. In this country some publications advise cultural sensitivity and even avoidance when broaching challenging subjects such as the Crusades.

The consequence and real challenge is that we now have in our midst a generation of young people who have effectively been protected from any intellectual challenge and even been accommodated to in their un-interrogated beliefs and presumed sensitivities. One action that will have to emerge from these incidents among the cacophony of noise demanding ever more security will be a search closer to home for the social drivers of moral capitulation and cowardice in our own midst and an attempt to confront those who are searching for something to belong to and to believe in but simply cannot find it here.

Magna Carta 800 years on

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📥  Society

Professor Bill Durodié, Chair of International Relations and Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies delivered this speech at the Bath Civic Celebration on Sunday 25 October 2015.


What matters most about Magna Carta is not the document itself but the ideas it generated – it is not so much the letter of the law but the spirit that matters. As Winston Churchill once noted Magna Carta became; ‘the foundation of principles and systems of government of which neither King John nor his nobles dreamed’.

It may serve to remind some of us here, in various positions of authority today, that it is not simply what we do in the present that really matters as its legacy. And for ideas and actions to stand the test of time they need to capture – not just the spirit of the times – but the aspirations of the future. That’s a tall order for us all to follow but – history is still young – and there is still plenty of time and history ahead of us.

Much of Magna Carta of course is specific to its time – its 63 clauses can come across, in parts, as impenetrable, obscure and even just trivial. But buried among the list of grievances presented by the 25 Barons to King John were not just clauses about fish weirs or standard measures for ale. Clause 39 remains extant to this day to the effect that;

‘No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his peers/equals, or by the law of the land’.


Plain Stupid - The politics of narcissistic nihilism for mainstream malcontents

📥  Society

Originally published on Spiked

That 13 supposed climate change protesters from direct action group Plane Stupid managed to breach security at London’s Heathrow Airport in the early hours yesterday, chaining themselves together and not being cleared from the runway until 10:00am, over seven hours later will, no doubt, be cause for considerable embarrassment in some circles.

True, the economic cost may not have been severe due to there being flight restrictions in operation relating to take-offs prior to 6:00am there, and the number of flights cancelled – 22 out of some 1,300 – would not have caused much more disruption than may be expected normally. But the implications in relation to more serious cases seems evident to many.

What, runs this dominant commentary, if the individuals concerned had not been the cheerfully smiling, predominantly well-to-do types, opposed to the planned expansion at Heathrow recently backed by the Airport Commission? What if they had been jihadists, affiliated to Al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State? What if they had been armed?

No doubt such questions ought to be asked in certain circles. But, at the same time, we should not lose sight of the fact that almost all supposedly secure facilities have had their security compromised in one way or another since 9/11 – despite the vast sums expended to ensure that this is not the case. If anything, such events suggest terrorism is not the main problem.

Even more significant to national pride and purpose – the Houses of Parliament in Westminster have been invaded on at least three occasions over recent years. Two members of campaign group Fathers 4 Justice threw flour bombs during Prime Minister’s Questions there in 2004. Later that year five supporters of the Countryside Alliance invaded the chamber.

Five years later over 50 Greenpeace activists climbed onto the roof of Westminster Hall, many of whom spending the night there prior to being removed later. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle have suffered similar incursions – from self-styled activists, as well as burglars and attention-seekers. That Heathrow was compromised is part of a norm, not an aberration.

What’s more, this particular type of incident – often perpetrated by self-absorbed types in pursuit of their usually limited political agendas – are not even the most significant in relation to airports and aviation security. In the intervening period there have also been countless incursions worldwide to cargo areas by more organised criminals in pursuit of bullion and other goods.

If anything, this seems to confirm the analysis of American political scientist John Mueller from 2006 in his book ‘Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them’. Stepping up security for passengers has done little to ensure integrity air-side. Terrorists know this, so there must be fewer of them than we imagine.

There is one aspect though – missed by most commentators – that we ought to pay some attention to. Those middle-class types, smiling for the photographers on the tarmac, are born of the same cultural malaise as many want-to-be terrorists and fantasy Islamists. They start from an unshakeable moral certitude regarding their project and require little public support or engagement.

They have also – by-and-large – been indulged by the various authorities who, in the past, more confident of what it was they wanted for society, would not have given any of them the time of day or handled them with the kid-gloves they use today. That is because those self-same agencies are no longer even sure of what it is that they believe in themselves now.

That someone could – irrespective of their purported beliefs – assume that interrupting the plans of thousands who have their reasons for doing what they do – whether it be attending a loved-one’s funeral in a foreign land or simply having a break – and not even trouble themselves to engage those people in a debate regarding their actions is a form of pretentious nihilism.

It is born of an age when we no longer demand of people that they support their actions through reason, or build community support for their opinions – but rather accept that if someone feels passionately about something then that alone may condone their actions. Having a grievance or being offended, according to many, can explain – if not justify – their rage.

Most alienated white Britons cannot readily join the ranks of those throwing a tantrum and heading off to Syria. They will have to find other forms of expression for their self-distancing disconnection from society. It may well be that terrorism is simply the more violent end of a spectrum connecting extremists to the far more prevalent and potentially problematic, mainstream narcissists.