Saturday, February 18, 2006

I Love Tesco

I Love Tesco

A cross-party group of MP’s published a report last week in which they claimed that we have 10 years to “save the high street.” They tell us that once the big supermarkets kill off the smaller stores they will raise their prices, and this means that supermarket expansion should not be allowed to continue unchecked. They have called for the government to appoint a “retail Tsar” (interesting choice of language, eh?) to keep the big boys in check and protect the little guys, and for a ban on further take-overs and mergers.

The report is a pile of economically ignorant, rationally vacuous, freedom hating, patronising piffle. For a start, it is not the presence of small convenience stores that keeps supermarket prices low. It is the combination of the low cost of bulk-buying, intelligent negotiation with suppliers, and, most importantly, the presence of equally big supermarket competitors that keeps prices so low. Tesco is not bothered by small corner shops and independent stores and thus doesn’t set its prices by them. It’s bothered by Asda, Sainsbury’s & Morrisons. And lets face it, supermarkets could significantly raise their prices and still be cheaper than many smaller stores.

To understand something of the hysterical nature of the report (hysterical both in terms of its tone and in terms of the fact that the stupidity is incredibly funny) we need only look at the warnings it gives. Quite often when someone wants to gain sympathy for their position on some issue they cry “what about the kids!” in a last ditch attempt to convince people that a vacuous argument has some saving merit. Well, this report does something similar, only going much further. Along with “what about the kids” the report screams that the unchecked expansion would also be bad for old people, poor people, people who don’t drive, women, and minority groups like Muslims. Fucking hell! Are they talking about the expansion of supermarkets or an explosion at a nuclear power station in the Middle East?

There are a number of points to make in response to the nonsense of this report:

1. Just What is a Monopoly?

I rarely meet a single person who actually knows what a monopoly is. Strangely the word is associated with a free market, and that is exactly what the MP’s report does. This flies in the face of the truth - monopolies are impossible in a free market. The clue as to why lies in the proper definition of “monopoly.” Monopolies are fundamentally coercive. A monopoly involves exclusive control of a given sector which is closed off from all competition and leads to the setting of prices independent of both the market and the law of supply and demand. Fundamentally a monopoly is about the impossibility of competition - rather than the absence of it. In a free market you can never get this type of monopoly. In fact, the only way to get this sort of a monopoly is through an act of parliament. Royal Mail is a monopoly in this sense - competition is forbidden by law (strangely few people complain about this). Government has granted Royal Mail special privileges which would not exist in a free market.

America once had the most free market that ever existed. During this time all attempts to corner a market, kill off competition, and then gain huge profits through high prices failed. The reason is simple: When a company kills off competition and then drives up prices this will attract new competitors and investors to that area. Its practically an economic law - high profitability attracts new competitors and investors. It always has and always will. Prices can never be sustained above the market level outside the law of supply and demand for very long. As Alan Greenspan puts it: “the ultimate regulator of competition in a free economy is the capital market. So long as capital is free to flow, it will tend to seek those areas which offer the maximum rate of return.” When prices go up, new competition backed by fresh investment is attracted, supply of the product goes up relative to demand and prices therefore fall.

We should note that high prices are not the only way to increase profits. Lowering costs - production, distribution and other overheads - is another way to do it, as is an increase in efficiency.

Economics 101 folks.

2. The Pressure on Small Stores

What are we to say about the “plight of the little store?” Tesco most certainly puts a strain on many smaller retailers.

**Cue soppy violin music**

Ian Proudfoot, joint managing director of independent grocers Proudfoot, accused Tesco of “predatory pricing.” Business at his family owned store in the town of Withernsea plunged after Tesco sent 6,000 local households a 40% voucher for its own store.

**Pass the handkerchiefs**

“It was the wrong thing to do, it was bully boy tactics. They weren't going to keep those magic prices for ever,” says Mr Proudfoot.

**Someone call the frickin‘ police**

“Tesco are raising the standards in this country, but they also have a blind spot for fair and square.”

It’s difficult to see Mr Proudfoot’s argument here, except, obviously, that he’s getting his arse kicked. Quite frankly giving out vouchers was a brilliant business idea to win custom to a new store. It has absolutely nothing to do with not playing “fair and square.” The purpose of business is to make money, and this is done by providing customers with a better deal than your competitors. Simple. But, many on the Left imply or assume that it’s intrinsically bad to take business from another shop. In fact, it’s difficult not to conclude that such arguments are merely cheap attempts to rationalise the romantic notion of “sticking up for the little guy” and “rooting for the underdog.” In my experience, however, most smaller retailers are nothing other than predatory little viruses that simply seek to capitalise on their location for custom rather than on their quality of service or value for money. These businesses exist because it’s more convenient to us to walk 2 minutes for a pint of milk at 45p than go a bit further for a pint of milk at 35p.

No retailer - big or small - has a natural right to exist and stay in business. Small retailers might lament that their livelihood is at stake, but this is a falsehood. Of course, they may indeed be put out of business, but this is far from being the end of their lives or even of their careers. Millions of people throughout the country seem to manage just fine without owning a convenience store. Small-business owners can find work elsewhere, and shouldn’t have much of a problem doing so with the wealth of experience that they have. They could very well apply for one of the thousands of jobs that Tesco creates: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Not that this washes with the great unwashed. Calls for government intervention simply get louder in proportion to the size of the profits. But by what right can we lobby government to save failing, less efficient businesses? And by what mechanism should government do so? Any government intervention would involve using money taken from the millions who pay taxes and do not run small businesses to prop up those who do run small businesses, simply to allow those businesses to charge people more money for products. Great idea, eh? Penalise success and assist the worst performers - the Socialist Ideal. Why should I have to pay more money for inferior products just to keep bad businesses in the black? Why should people have to continue buying from local shops even if they can get a better deal elsewhere and save money? Are people and bigger stores to be penalised simply to protect some old crusty shop owner? How come? Because he’s been there a gazillion years? No one has a right to be in business if people do not want to do business with him and if other businessmen can do better.

The fact of the matter is that the only businessmen who need fear competition are bad businessmen - the kind who are lazy and want to remain static rather than move with the demands of the market. Good businessmen have nothing to fear, because good businessmen know how to survive next to a giant like Tesco. Take the city of Edinburgh. Princes Street is your typical shopping street with the usual big retailers. But, in the streets off Princes Street and all along the Royal Mile there are countless examples of fantastically successful small businesses. There are shops selling homemade sweets, another selling handmade fudge, another selling 100’s of scotch whiskeys, a specialist cigar shop, an all-year-round Christmas shop, a shop selling New Age spirituality stuff, one selling hand painted ceramics. Other good examples of successful small businesses can be found on Shankill Road in Belfast. The Shankill Road has nearly 10 independent Butchers and fruit shops, despite the fact that they share the road with an Iceland and a Co-op, and despite there being no fewer than THREE Tesco stores nearby - one 5 minutes walk away, a second 5 minutes drive away, and a third a 10 minute bus journey away. How do they do it? One particular butcher gets my business. He sells me stuffed pork chops, lamb chops in a choice of coatings, huge chicken kievs, and all kinds of unusual sausages. In short - he sells me stuff Tesco doesn’t and thus wins my business. I buy most of my fruit either from a shop on the Shankill Road or from a small independent shop in the city centre - which is 30 seconds away from a Tesco. Why? Because their fruit is head and shoulders above the fruit you buy in Tesco and because they carry a bigger range of fruit - blueberries, raspberries, sweet seedless grapes - that no local Tesco carries.

3. The Strain on Suppliers

In all the anti-Tesco polemic opponents turn a blind eye to the fact that Tesco is committed to competitive prices, customer service and efficiency. If their prices were extortionate, their service piss poor, and their operations sloppy then their business would plummet. Tesco are only successful to the extent that they adequately supply their customers needs. Make no mistake about it, Tesco brings a multitude of benefits to people: they provide thousands of jobs, affordable high quality goods, and investment in local communities. This causes many critics to fall back on the “plight of the supplier” as their major line of attack. At best this provides a distorted half-picture, and at worst illustrates a noxious, stomach-churning sentimentality. Notably, Tesco is a signatory of the 2001 Supermarket Code of Practice, drawn up to regulate trading relationships between the major supermarkets and their suppliers, because it’s in the interests of any business to maintain strong and mutually advantageous relationships with suppliers. No business benefits when its suppliers struggle or go bust.

Now, suppliers do compete with each other for business, and some may feel the strain. But unhappy suppliers still have choices. They can sell their business and go in a different direction. Or they can change their business partners. No supplier of goods is being forced to do business with Tesco. They can do business with any number of other shops and supermarkets who are in direct competition with Tesco. Alternatively they can sell direct to customers. Clive Sage, a Dorset sheep farmer, stopped supplying supermarkets six years ago after prices fell too low for his liking. He now sells direct to consumers and appears to be doing fine.

4. Consumer Choice

Some folks attempt to justify government interference on the grounds that consumer choice is reduced when Tesco puts smaller retailers out of business. Aside from the absurd notion that government exists to increase our culinary choices, this argument is bunkum - in its purest form - and I conducted my very own experiment into the matter. My own area has a large number of small shops and medium-sized stores (all of whom do incredibly well despite there being a Tesco 10-15 minutes walk away). By and large these stores sell all the same stuff that you get in Tesco: Heinz baked beans, Uncle Ben’s Bolognese sauce, lettuce, Kingsmill bread, Coca Cola, Mars bars, Denny sausages, Coleraine cheese, Toilet roll, Goodfellas pizza, to name just a few. There are only two substantial differences: (1) these stores do not hold as many product types as Tesco, and, (2) the smaller stores can charge as much as 40% extra for the same product. I pay 55p for a tin of Coke in my local shop, and only 39p for the same frickin’ thing in Tesco (who occasionally sells me 12 tins for the price of 6). So, my choice is this: where do I go to do my shopping? Do I go to Tesco where I have a far bigger range of cheaper goods all under the same roof, or do I dart around several other smaller shops paying more for the same stuff? Perhaps Tesco does restrict choice after all, since it’s difficult to see why anyone would choose the latter. But, they can if they wish.

Some people choose to avoid stores like Tesco, charging them with selling characterless food in an equally characterless environment. Whilst I should repeat that the food is largely the same stuff, I will add that this argument is a matter of taste, and thus merely subjective. It hardly provides a solid basis on which to lobby government for intervention. People who do not like the environment of Tesco stores can take their snobbish attitude elsewhere. Tesco is a supermarket, designed to make shopping as easy as possible, and personally I’d much rather shop in such an environment than in some grotty, dusty little store with black bananas hanging in the window.

Tesco’s success is not down to how much it has reduced our choice, but rather is a testimony to the fact that people have chosen: they have chosen to shop at Tesco, and can choose other shops and retailers if Tesco begins to screw up in the way Mark’s & Spencer did after it became the first retailer to break the £1bn profit barrier. Most customers have a good choice of retailers, and a retailer can only grow profits by growing their sales, and can only grow their sales by making their stores more attractive for customers. Businesses know very well that their customers came from somewhere, and could go back.

I will only continue shopping at Tesco if it continues to meet my needs. And since this is the case the retail sector already has the only justifiable and necessary regulator: the customer. When giants like Tesco have won so many customers through productive efficiency, low costs, and offering better products at lower prices then rather than being castigated for it they deserve the highest praise.

Stephen Graham (B.Th Hons)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Animal Wrongs

Animal Wrongs

People who don’t eat meat make me almost as nervous as a Palestinians wearing backpacks. I just don’t trust the buggers. Why on earth would any human being give up eating meat? OK, some people don’t like how it tastes, and I don’t mind such types. But what about that lot who don’t eat meat out of “principle.” “Meat is murder,” “no food with a face,” amongst their most popular war cries. Out of all the vegetarians or vegans I have met I must say that the vast majority of them are quirky at best, but typically downright barmy - obviously a symptom of meat withdrawal. Now, imagine what happens when these types slide further down the whack-job slope. Well, you don’t have to imagine it. Enter the Animal Liberation Front - ALF - interestingly the same name of a space alien in an old film of the same name.

ALF has been the cause of a massive security crackdown at Oxford University. Work has restarted on an £18 million biomedical research laboratory - with builders [“Nazis” in ALF’s view] having to wear masks to hide their identities and avoid harassment - after it was closed 18 months ago due to intimidation and threats to contractors and shareholders. ALF has now declared that anyone associated with Oxford - students, staff or third parties - is now a legitimate target of attack, whether or not they are involved in animal research: “This is just the beginning of our campaign of devastation against anyone linked in any way to Oxford University.” There’s no interest in trying to persuade people with calm considered argument. There tactics are those of intimidation and terror. They’re terrorists.

Amongst the actions of this group founded on “moral principle” are the burning of a college boathouse in an arson attack last July, a smear campaign falsely accusing executives of GlaxoSmithKline, Britain’s largest pharmaceutical company, of being convicted rapists. On the last Saturday of every month, 400 or more animal rights protesters gather to hurl abuse at science students, sound foghorns (causing a library to close) and wave banners with such slogans as: “Animal Testing Causes Cancer,” [huh?] and “Small Children Die Because of Animal Testing,” [?] Oh dear. What I want to know is why these people aren’t either in prison or straight-jackets. They’ve hardly done their cause any favours either as a recent poll shows that because of ALF’s actions 85% of Oxford students now support animal testing. Moreover, an organisation called Pro-Test was set up a week or so ago and has garnered a lot of public support, and will hold its first rally on 25th February. I guess this is what happens when you tar an entire group of people as inherently evil. Why ALF would alienate itself from the entire student body in this way is quite inexplicable and totally irrational, but hardly surprising.

Being irrational is the hall mark of such groups. The fact of the matter is that animal testing is just good common sense. Animal testing lead to a whole host of medical advances: penicillin, small pox vaccinations, pacemakers, heart valves, and is proving to be of immense importance to the fight against cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Despite this work organisations like ALF prefer to propagate the idea that vivisectionists are evil sadists who love nothing better than to torture a rabbit, who get their kicks and giggles from tormenting innocent gerbils. If human life mattered a damn to them then they would, like any rational person, endorse the rightness of using animals in this type of medical research. But, as their terrorism shows, these are not organisations who care much for human life. They lament “animal cruelty” and yet are engaged in some of the worst kinds of cruelty to the most advanced animals on the planet. They claim their actions are intended to bring amount the end of animal suffering, but causing suffering to the highest form of life on earth doesn’t so much as prick their conscience. They have however engaged in a carefully crafted propaganda campaign. They support such anti-human policies and engage in anti-human actions on the one hand, while on the other they feign compassionate motives, thus attempting to gain the higher moral ground. They have portrayed themselves as “liberators” and likened their cause to the fight for race and sex equality and to the abolition of human slavery. So, they’re really just the nice guys exposing human error and abuses.

Take PETA for example. They have been engaged in a campaign against Covance, who conduct medical research on animals as an aid to research into diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. PETA claims that Covance is involved in gratuitous and unnecessary torture of monkeys, and they have released a 5-minute video to support this claim. PETA’s position is typical polemic, playing on emotion while presenting certain incidents of questionable behaviour as typical when they are in fact isolated and took PETA almost a year of research to find. Rather than portray the scientists involved in medical research on animals as mistaken, they are portrayed as evil - as men and women who KNOW that they are engaged in unnecessary and gratuitous “torture” of monkeys. I suppose it’s much easier to portray these research companies as gangs of sadists rather than engage in the tricky issues of science and ethics. The truth is that no sane and rational person will deliberately inflict unnecessary pain on any animal. Animals are used for a scientific purpose. Nobel Laureate Joseph Murray M.D. says: “Animal experimentation has been essential to the development of all cardiac surgery, transplantation surgery, joint replacements, and all vaccinations.” Former American Medical Association president Daniel Johnson, M.D. adds, “Animal research - followed by human clinical study - is absolutely necessary to find the causes and cures for so many deadly threats, from AIDS to cancer.” It is a massive error of intellect to wilfully avoid the conclusion that without animal testing millions of humans would suffer and die unnecessarily. This is what groups like ALF and PETA would like to see. They want ALL animal research to be banned, regardless of how beneficial it is.

The mentality of these groups is anti-human and insane. Lest the reader think I’m misrepresenting them, I’ll allow them to tell you in their own words. Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA, reckons than animal research is “immoral even if it’s essential,” [how something can be essential AND immoral is illustrative of a mind that hasn’t quite grasped the notion of morality]. She continues: “Even painless research is fascism, supremacism.” When asked PETA’s position in the event of animal testing producing a cure for AIDS she replied: “we'd be against it [on moral grounds].” Opposing any cure for AIDS that involves research with animals is tantamount, since there is no other known way to defeat this disease, to letting human beings die so that laboratory mice might live. ‘I wonder why that would be?’ I hear you ask. Well, I‘ll allow Ingrid to enlighten your blood-soaked mind: “[human beings are] the biggest blight on the face of the earth.” Ooh! I guess you wouldn’t be terribly concerned then if a whole bunch of us just died off then? Freeman Wicklund of Compassionate Action certainly implies that he would: “We need a drastic decrease in human population if we ever hope to create a just and equitable world for animals.” So, Mr Wicklund it seems would be quite happy to see massive human death so we could give animals a better deal. In other words: humans should die that lop-eared rabbits might live. Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals, believes that: “If the death of one rat cured all diseases, it wouldn't make any difference to me.” Seriously? If killing one rat could bring an end to a whole host of human disease you’d be against it? I wonder would you change your mind if the death of one rat saved lots of non-human animals? I suspect that you would, since you are happy for humans to die that animals might live. More from PETA and its associates: “I do not believe that a human being has a right to life” [yet strangely animals do], “I would rather have medical experiments done on our children than on animals” [and so with one single stroke of obnoxious ethical though children sink beneath animals on the scale of value]. PETA cofounder Alex Pacheco reckons: “Arson, property destruction, burglary, and theft are acceptable crimes when used for the animals’ cause.” So do all terrorists, I guess. And, Michael Fox, vice president of The Humane [?] Society, believes that: “The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.” Which means that you either blub your eyes out for weeks when someone steps on an ant or you’re not terribly bothered when your child gets hit by a car. Either way you’re a lunatic. God help your children. Ironically an ant probably has more concern and respect for its offspring than you seem to have for yours.

Do not these sentiments, coupled with the behaviour of animal liberation “activists” tell us that they would rather sacrifice the lives of thousands of human beings for the sake of animals? In their view it’s clear that animals come first. They don’t always make it so explicit, but that is the clear implication of their actions and remarks. The human death and suffering that would result if we were to agree that animals have “rights” would be extensive, not that such a consideration bothers the Bunny Lovers. It’s not that those who engage in terrorism are just taking an otherwise benevolent cause a bit too far either. The anti-human behaviour is an integral part of animal rights philosophy - however mild its adherents may be. We shouldn’t be surprised that we witness arson, violent beatings, smear campaigns, intimidation and harassment from animal “activists” because in their philosophy humans are not valued too highly. And even those who don’t engage in this type of explicit violence do support the end of animal research, and thus would gladly see humans die and suffer longer from a whole range of diseases that could otherwise be combated. Both parties seek a goal that will lead to millions of unnecessary human deaths in the future; they disagree only on how to achieve it.

The entire animal rights movement is riddled with fatal flaws, not least of which is the incoherence of the very notion of “animal rights.” Talking of animal rights sounds prima facie sensible. However, applying the concept of “rights” to animals is to make a basic category mistake. Rights are those things which define the limits of government power over its citizens, and thus can only apply to human subjects who make up human societies. The fortunate thing for the animal rights movement is that most people nowadays haven’t got a baldy notion what rights actually are. For instance, when we talk of a “right to private property” we see this twisted into another concept - the right to be given property. This means that government - or, more accurately, taxpayers - is burdened with the obligation to provide it: free housing for the unemployed or land for gypsies, for instance. This conception reduces rights to a set of demands that a government must comply with. Instead, the right to property is properly explained by the idea that if you legally acquire property then no one can rightfully take it from you without your consent. You have your property “by right.” Government cannot rightfully interfere.

Bunny Lovers use the fog surrounding rights language to create their own notion of rights. In their case they argue that because animals feel pain their interests must be considered and protected, and that since this is something to which animals have a “moral entitlement” then we are legally obliged to enforce it. Leaving aside the dubious idea that feeling pain is the basis of rights, it should be noted that even if it were the case that animals have such a moral entitlement to be considered and protected this would not require us to legally enforce it. The simple reason is that it is not the job of government to legislate morality. It is the job of government to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens, and animals are not citizens. If people think it is immoral to treat animals a certain way then they are free not to behave towards animals in that way. Different people have differing moral outlooks. Those who don’t like prostitution are free not to become a prostitute or visit one. Those who believe we have a moral obligation to restore forests are free not to become lumberjacks. But no one has any business whatsoever dictating to other people on the basis of their own moral preferences as long as those preferences are irrelevant to the fundamental rights of individual human beings.

To ban the use of animals in medical research is to introduce a law dictating to citizens on a point of behaviour that doesn’t adversely affect any single citizen. Governments should not be in the business of passing laws that go further than protecting the fundamental rights of its citizens, and in this case it would be lunacy to introduce a law that has no benefit whatsoever to any single citizen. Despite all the plop about “animals rights” the blunt kick-you-in-the-balls fact is that an animal no more has rights than a tree, a blade of grass or a house brick does.

To ban animal testing would be disastrous for human life and society, as shown above. Moreover, the same arguments against medical testing could also be applied to the closing down of abattoirs, the end of farming, the banning of fishing, shooting, zoos or pest control. In California the Animal Liberation Front engaged in an arson attack against a meat processor and a vandalism attack against a farm bureau. Of course, this vision has members of ALF drooling like a carnivore over a bloodied chunk of sirloin. But for the rest of us - the rational section of society - we should be very wary of the vegetablisation of human life and society. If we bow to the Bunny Lovers on animal testing we will have swallowed a terribly dangerous pill. We will have accepted the roots of a philosophy whose tentacles reach much further than animal testing, a philosophy that is ultimately anti-human. Bunny Lovers know all too well that Joe Bloggs is more vulnerable on the issue of animal testing than, say, meat eating. Because so few people are involved it is much easier to misrepresent and get a sympathy vote portraying animals in labs as victims of mindless torture and vivisectionists nothing other than monsters getting their kicks by pushing pins into the eyes of hamsters. By emphasising “torture” they promote their opposition to the life-saving work of medical research companies and further their agenda of subjugating humans to animals.

Anyone who values human life must oppose the Bunny Fascists. We need to shout it loudly: human life is more important and of much greater value than the life of any other animal.

Stephen Graham B.Th (Hons)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Turbans in a Twist

Turbans in a Twist

There isn’t much to be said about the Muhammad cartoons that hasn’t already been said, yet I cannot not comment on this. It’s been amazing to watch how such a “great” world religion has got its turban in a twist over a few cartoons published in a Danish newspaper some months ago and recently republished in several other European newspapers. From London to Paris to Copenhagan to Gaza pictures have been beamed into our homes of what can only be described as a childish tantrum writ large. Flags have been burnt, Danish goods boycotted, protests, shouts, threats of violence, buildings burnt, and knickers wet in the excited frenzy of it all. Over cartoons.

I’m not entirely sure what the issue is. There seem to be two complaints. Firstly, it seems that Muslims just don’t like the idea of Muhammad being pictured at all. In this case they might have been offended if an artist had simply drawn an imaginative portrait of some kind. Secondly, there is a complaint that some of the cartoons have caricatured Islam as a violent religion. In the first instance Muslims are offended because Muhammad has, in their view, been mistreated or misrepresented, and somehow to insult or offend Muhammad is to insult or offend Muslims. In the second instance it is the religion of Islam in its entirely that has been offended, and this too is taken to offend Muslims.

Neither of these positions make much sense, not that I expect much sense from a bunch of mostly illiterate emotional irrationalists from the Gaza strip. Take the first “offence.” Just how does picturing Muhammad offend anyone? Further, how does saying bad things about Muhammad offend anyone? Take one controversial example. Suppose I proclaim, in a proud and happy voice, that Muhammad was a child abuser, making my case on the fact that he married a 9 year old girl and almost certainly had sex with her well before she had reached sexual maturity. To many Muslims this would be offensive. But why? Either what I say is true, or it’s false. If it’s true then it simply needs to be accepted, dealt with, and incorporated into the body of Islamic faith and understanding. If it is false then why should Muslims get offended at my ignorance? Wouldn’t it be a better idea to correct false images of their prophet rather than ban any discussion whatsoever? Banning discussion simply gives the impression that one is terrified of it, and that would imply intellectual dishonesty and a rather shaky faith, despite their pretence to certainty of faith and knowledge. If they know the truth then there does not appear to be much ground for offence. And does Muhammad require Muslims to defend his honour? Is he a bit thin-skinned?

The second “offence” is even more obscure. Ironically, Muslims protestors have responded to the caricature of Islam as a religion of violence with banners reading: “Behead those who insult Islam,” “Annihilate the infidels,” “Butcher those who mock Mohammed,” and my personal favourite: “Europe will pay - Bin Laden is on his way!” Not only has violence been threatened, it has actually occurred: two people were killed when a Muslim mob turned on the US airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan. And this despite the fact that neither the US government, nor any of its media was involved in the publishing of the cartoons. Protesters in Iran petrol bombed the Danish embassy. Austrian and Norwegian embassies have also been targeted. This is the kind of thing that has gripped many parts of Asia and the Middle East. Fuckwittery amuses me at the best of times but I’m always even more delighted when there’s irony thrown into the mix. “How dare the Infidel caticature Islam as a violent hateful religion! OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” If they’re not crippled by the time they stop shooting themselves in the foot perhaps they should quickly skulk back to the minaret to devise a more rational strategy. Perhaps they should ask why they are “offended” when their religion is attacked in this way. As with the first supposed offence they must ask “is this criticism true or false?” If it is true - Islam really IS a religion of violence - then how can one get offended when someone says so? If it is false - Islam really is NOT a religion of violence - then why get offended at someone’s ignorance? Why not proclaim and, more importantly, LIVE the truth - that Islam is peaceful, thus correcting those who think otherwise.

Instead of correcting “ignorance” these Muslims are content to wallow in it. Attacking US buildings in the Middle East over cartoons published by European newspapers? Confusing Norwegians for Danes? Boycotting Danish goods despite the fact that Danish companies are entirely independent of the newspapers that published the cartoons? Demanding an apology from the Danish government despite the fact that the newspaper media is independent of government? If there was a Ph.D in stupidity they’d pass with distinction. If there was a college of fuckwittery they’d be the faculty.

What this whole episode illustrates is a major difference in outlook. It isn’t the battle of free speech versus “tolerant censorship” that many on both sides have made it out to be, and this is why I haven’t written in defence of freedom of speech or expression. Freedom of speech or expression is not under threat. The battle here is much more fundamental. It is between those whose minds are infected with a collectivist/authoritarian approach to social affairs and those who lean to some degree towards an individualist/free approach. The collectivists throwing their childish tantrums over most of the world seem unable to even understand the basics of a non-collectivist government. Why else would they respond to what a NEWSPAPER publishes by asking the GOVERNMENT for an apology? Why else would they boycott the goods of companies who are completely independent of the newspaper in question? Why else attack government buildings of any country remotely geographically close to Denmark? Many of these protestors think it’s a big Western conspiracy against Islam, and since they see the US as the head of the West they attack a US airbase. In their minds the government could have and should have prevented the publication of cartoons deemed to be offensive by Muslims. In their minds there is no distinction between a cheese manufacturer and a newspaper if the word “Danish” appears on both. No concept of private property. No concept of freedom of speech. No notion of difference of opinion. No idea of the limits of government authority. In short: no concept of individualism.

And when I look at these pictures, listen to the protests, watch the violence, observe the irrational, emotional, childish playground tantrums and flag burning I can only thank God that I’m not one of them.

Stephen Graham (B.Th Hons)