Have you ever finished reading an article that so completely encapsulated your own views on a topic, and did so in such an entertaining and lucid way, that you immediately felt the compulsion to stand bolt upright and applaud? There’s something to be said for someone else expressing your views in a manner so succinct and persuasive and funny and articulate that you feel a vague sense of shame in your inability to espouse your own opinions better than someone else can. Charlie Brooker managed this when he talked about shit TV shows (although he manages it considerably less when talking about shit politics.)
This is precisely the feeling I get from reading The Blog of The Re-Enlightenment. This is a blog covering a wide range of subjects, most of which would fall under the banner of what we could probably call ‘secular politics’ – free speech, religious intrusion on society, Islamic terrorism, Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, secularism and politics (unsurprisingly.)
The author (who goes by the name of Re-Enlightment) stopped writing this blog in December 2013 but the material is as relevant now as it was at the time – which is a shame on two levels.
His writing feels as though you’re sitting in a pub with him having one of those conversations you occasionally stumble into that ends up being so engrossing that you forget you’ve needed a piss for the last two hours and have to gallop to the toilet before you start dribbling down your leg.
The language effortlessly skips back and forth between academic and matey with a generous portion of humour on the side. Take this for example, on the previously unsecular nature of the UK Scout Association’s hierarchy:
“Think of local scouting groups as al-Qaeda cells: semi-autonomous franchises functioning with a large degree of independence, more or less free from a heavy hierarchical command chain but still retaining a loose affiliation to the head organisation’s fundamental ideological tenets. In the same way an al-Qaeda cell probably wouldn’t turn away a would-be jihadi simply because of minor ideological differences provided he or she (ok, probably he) was willing to murder, maim and blow stuff up, I don’t imagine many scout groups would have said no to someone who didn’t believe in God but who was passionate about the 50-metre butterfly or baking flapjacks.”
Or what about this perfect simile in his article on the Catholic Church’s rather unfortunate enthusiasm for systematic child rape:
“As this decrepit and criminal racket of an institution stumbles from one scandal to the next like a brutal and corrupt Roman emperor sustaining knife plunge after knife plunge, the victim narrative creeps in yet again as commentators repeatedly tell us how “this comes at a difficult time for the Church”.”
See what I mean? All of his stuff is good, but here are a handful of his articles that stand out to me as being particularly spiffing:
The above article on Tommy Robinson was almost singlehandedly responsible for my ‘coming out of the closet’ as a supporter of Robinson. I’d exhausted all of the Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens videos I could find on the topic of Islamic extremism, and in a moment of boredom, decided to give Robinson a chance. Having been only dimly aware of his existence, I had previously ignored his material and given it a wide berth as I simply assumed he was a knuckle-dragging BNP type. I reluctantly allowed myself to watch a number of videos featuring Robinson and was immediately confronted with the fact that I couldn’t substantively disagree with virtually any argument he made. Sure, he didn’t speak with the poetic wit of Hitchens or the razor-sharp precision of Harris but guess what: nor do I. Any verbal dexterity or meticulousness in my writing are the result of having the time to determine how best to express myself, of considered deliberation on the wording and of occasional revisiting and editing. In real life I sound a bit like how Danny Dyer might if he’d spent a fortnight reading a thesaurus. I’m a working class bloke from a market town near London with something of an Islamism problem. In other words; I’m a bit like Tommy Robinson. And I realised that for me to dismiss him based on his appearance or oratory shortcomings would make me a bit of a hypocrite. And a prick.
I watched more and more of Robinson’s output and found a few areas of disagreement and a few stupid statements (probably things that Tommy himself would admit in hindsight to being daft) but on the whole found myself agreeing with the vast majority of his views and being bowled over by his bravery and commitment. This was not the result I was expecting going in. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something though. If so many people had called him a racist, or a bigot, or a fascist, I assumed there must be something to it. The turning point was reading the Re-Enlightenment blog and finding someone who could articulate a defence of Robinson in terms that echoed my own views of him and confirmed my suspicions that he had been unfairly smeared. It was almost like getting permission to speak truthfully about my general agreement with Tommy and my admiration for his courage. Apparently many other readers of the article experienced a similar thing and had their views of Robinson positively altered.
Re-Enlightenment was also the first person I noticed online expressing a suspicion of Maryam Namazie. Many who share a concern about Islam seemed content with the noises she made on the subject and instinctively decided that she was one of the good guys. I’m probably one of them if I’m honest. Nowadays, most outspoken critics of Islam are scrutinized under a microscope for any evidence of secretive far-right sympathies. This is understandable. Nobody wants to endorse a critic of one illiberal totalitarian ideology when that person subscribes to an illiberal totalitarian ideology of their own. Maryam managed to pass this test. But she did so because everyone was looking in the wrong direction – right instead of left. Namazie is a communist. Re-Enlightenment has been pointing out this double standard for well over a year and his vindication eventually came in the form of Sam Harris’s podcast with Namazie (as well as in her subsequent stupefying behaviour towards Harris) in which she exposed herself as a point scoring, slanderous, delusional character with a dangerous tolerance for fascism as long as it takes the form of Islamist migrants.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of Re-enlightenment’s writing is that of honesty. He readily admits when he’s confused about an issue and is genuinely not sure what position to take on it. I wish more people would do the same rather than just pretend to be experts and prattle on with unwarranted authority about stuff they know nothing about.
“I might be wrong on some of this or even all of this. But I’m just thinking, and being honest. That’s all I can do. Will you do the same? Promise?”
But he also genuinely cares about these issues and is clearly exasperated by them to a sometimes overwhelming degree:
“The last two weeks have been horrible. Something has changed. I don’t feel right. My heart is beating quicker when I think about these things, when I talk about these things, when I write about these things. People speaking is just noise. I have been sitting in traffic with tears in my eyes. I have had probably irreparable disagreements with some I considered friends and allies, on the subject of the veil and wider issues of the religious threat we face and what the response to that should be.”
I also care. I’m absolutely sick to the back teeth of the utter insanity of religious fascism and its defence by people that should fucking well know better. This stifling, suffocating, exhausting, maddening culture of appeasement and capitulation and relativism and smears and moral blindness and knee-jerk offence often makes me frustrated to the point of hopeless depression.
A world in which we all agreed on every topic under the sun would be a world in which a coma might seem like an enticing holiday destination. But surely we should all be able to agree on this: the doctrine of Islam and the behaviour it inspires in some significant number of its adherents, represents an urgent existential threat to secularism, democracy, and our way of life in general. This, I would have thought, is a complete no-brainer. And to see otherwise intelligent, liberal people repeatedly defending this ideology or desperately diverting scrutiny of it, has to be a contender for the most shameful, cowardly avoidance of a gravely serious problem I’ve ever witnessed first-hand in my 38 years on this planet.
Re-enlightenment has spent a serious amount of time on his blog calling this reprehensible bullshit out with refreshing clarity and straightforwardness:
“We are drunk on freedom in the West. We take our rights for granted because we’ve not had to fight for them. We don’t even know we have them so it’s unsurprising we don’t notice them being taken from us. We need girls like Malala to show us – by literally showing us their fresh bullet wounds – how incredibly precious and precarious these freedoms really are.”
So there you go. This might read as nauseatingly sycophantic but I don’t particularly give a shit. I’m just being truthful. If someone’s hard work has inspired you in some way, I would hope you would take the opportunity to tell them, and to let them know that you’re grateful. He’s not a celebrity or a politician. He’s not a public speaker or a bestselling author. He’s not the head of a think-tank. He’s just a bloke who writes things I like and agree with. I’ve very generously provided links to some of my favourite articles of his already. Your homework is to go away and find your own. Have fun.