I don’t think Russell Brand has read much Orwell. Not just because he recently described Owen Jones as our generation’s incarnation of the left-wing iconoclast, but because yesterday he engaged in the kind of apologia for foreign fascism which the great man built his reputation on condemning.
You see, Brand believes that our society is responsible for the troubling trend of young British Muslims gallivanting around middle-eastern deserts murdering innocent people. “You can understand the attraction” says the comedian in his latest YouTube offering. Asking what would drive young men to such acts of barbarism, he offers the following account “You’d have to take away my material comfort, my sense of security, my sense of connection to the country, my sense of togetherness – all of those things would have to be stripped away from me.” Of course, in a world where British Muslims were indeed robbed of all these things one might understand the rage that would lead them to desperate measures. But given that they do not live in such conditions, here in the UK, what Brand says is absurd. And worse than that, it is dangerous.
Britain is not a ‘racist’ country. We are one of the most tolerant places for religious and ethnic minorities in the world. Muslim children are safer here than almost anywhere else – including (in fact particularly) those countries which have an Islamic majority that happens to belong to another sect. There are Muslim members of the House of Lords and of Parliament – both main parties have serving MPs who practice Islam. We fund Muslim state schools via the tax system and we give Mosques and Muslim charities tax relief. On the whole, this country is kind and welcoming when it comes Islam and its adherents.
That’s not to say there are not examples of racism and prejudice against Muslims. Of course there are. There are also small, fringe groups like ‘Britain First’ who organise in order to intimidate. But that does not make Britain ‘Islamophobic’ any more than the small numbers of British Muslims who actively support extremism render their whole community fascist. It is a lie to call this country racist but, worse, it also panders to a mindset of grievance and false-victimhood that really does help tempt British boys and girls to take up arms in distant lands.
The more we pander to these myths, the more that prominent people peddle them as an alternative to engaging with the murderous philosophy and everyday criminal bravado that drives young people to terror, the less chance we have of beating this nebulous and dark force. Brand is giving children an excuse to kill. And worse, perhaps, he is participating in a narrative that sends young British Muslims to die needlessly on the side of evil. That is an unforgivable thing to do, even if Brand speaks from a position of ignorance rather than outright malice.
Brand has undergone a transformation to the worse over the last few years. Once upon a time he was an occasionally amusing, essentially harmless clown who played on a mixture of delinquency, eloquence and curious innocence to great effect. Somewhere along the way – perhaps as a consequence of his brief affair with Hollywood and even briefer marriage to pop princess Katy Perry – he morphed into a poorly informed Noam Chomsky impersonator. Where once he penned charming, off-beat prose about West Ham, now he hectors us with recycled and fundamentally misguided advice on foreign affairs and class war. It is sad to watch. But it must also be condemned. Because Russell Brand carries, in our society, an unfortunate but undeniable political weight; nearly 150,000 people have watched his video – in which he also describes David Cameron as a more dangerous threat to Britain than Islamic State (IS).
It is not ‘our fault’ that young Muslims are joining IS. They are driven by an intellectual poison and by the sinister glamour of violence. For Brand to endorse the notion that we are responsible for their actions is a callous kind of victim blaming – that great taboo of the modern liberal left – and it feeds the toxic well from which these young men drink. It is time, for once in his life, for Russell Brand to be quiet. Please.
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