Who misrepresented Phillips’s position on immigration?

In my e-mail exchange with Melanie Phillips that was posted at VFR last July, a key issue was my criticism of her for failing to call for an end to Muslim immigration into Britain. As she did several times in that exchange, she accused me of misrepresenting and misunderstanding her views. She wrote:

I do NOT say mass immigration should continue: on the contrary, I say in terms it should be stopped. I’m afraid you clearly have not understood what I have written.

I replied:

I’m excited to hear that you have said this. I’ve never seen you say this in your columns. Do you have any quotes of yours you could send in which you argue that mass Muslim immigration should be stopped?

She then sent me this passage from the last chapter of her book, which has been published a month or two earlier, and I posted it:

Next, a properly motivated nation would set about the remoralisation and re-culturation of Britain by restating the primacy of British culture and citizenship. To do this, it would recognise that British nationhood has been eviscerated by the combination of three things: mass immigration, multiculturalism and the onslaught mounted by secular nihilists against the country’s Judeo-Christian values. It would institute a pause to immigration while Britain assimilates the people it has already got. The principal reason behind the cultural segregation of Britain’s Muslims is their practice of marrying their young people to cousins from the Indian subcontinent. That has got to stop because it is simply a threat to social cohesion. The usual charges of racism would be faced down by reaffirming two things simultaneously: that Britain values its immigrants who make a great contribution to the country; and that in order to integrate them properly into British society, their numbers must be controlled.

In the ensuing discussion, I and others pointed out that while we were glad she had said this, we had never seen her state such a view at her website or in her newspaper columns. Also, while she had told me in her e-mail that she wanted mass immigration “stopped,” the passage from her book only advocated a “pause,” a much less definitive position, leaving open the recommencement of mass immigration, including Muslim immigration.

But now I realize that in the published version of Londonistan, the bolded sentence in the above paragraph has been changed. The published version of that sentence reads:

It would institute tough controls on immigration while Britain assimilates the people it has already got. [p. 188.]

So, in her e-mail she said I had misunderstood her views on immigration and she said her view (which she was annoyed that I did not know about) was that immigration “should be stopped.” To back that up she sent me a passage from her book in which she called, not for immigration to be stopped, but for immigration to be “paused.” But now it turns out that in the published book she doesn’t even call for a pause, but only for “tough controls,” a phrase that could mean just about anything. Furthermore, when we remember that the sole reason Londonistan and its mortal threat to Britain exists is the immigration that allowed millions of Muslims to enter Britain, and when we remember that Phillips in her introduction calls mass immigration a “lethal” development, for her to offer in her list of policy recommendations nothing more about immigration than a passing mention of “tough controls,” controls that she does not specify or define, is hardly a sufficient treatment of the issue.

In the July exchange, Phillips got angry with me and cut off the discussion because I was supposedly misrepresenting her views. I regret she feels this way because I admire her a lot, especially since reading her book. But with respect for Melanie I say to her that if there has been confusion about what her views are it has been created by her.

The same goes for the question of her overall political philosophy. Anyone picking up Londonistan who was not familiar with Phillips’s columns would not know that the author is a self-described liberal. In the book she does not sound like a liberal, but like a traditionalist conservative, continually appealing not to the modern liberal values of tolerance and pluralism, nor to the neoconservative values of universal human sameness and democracy, but to the traditional conservative values of British nationhood, the British majority culture, and even the established Christian religion of England. Phillips’s outlook seem to be evolving in a decidely rightward direction, which is great. But the fact remains that she has not been consistent in her statements on certain issues and that this—not any misunderstanding or excessively critical attitude on my part—has been the reason for the confusion about where she really stands.

- end of initial entry -

From: Stephen F.
Re: Why do they think you “misunderstand”?

There’s been a consistent pattern to your debates with right-leaning critics of Islam whom you take to task for not carrying their arguments to the logical conclusion of Western disengagement from the Muslim world. Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Melanie Phillips all responded to you in the following way (with great variations according to personality):

1) a “clarification” acknowledging a particular concrete point you made;
2) an annoyed and bewildered insistence that you were misunderstanding or distorting their claims;
3) cutting off the discussion.

The annoyance/bewilderment expressed seems to be genuine, but irrational. Why do you think the response always takes this pattern? I think people are emotionally attached to certain liberal premises which in the liberal worldview are requirements for being a good person. Additionally, they self-censor to avoid any violation of the nondiscrimination code, which could destroy their careers. At any rate, it seems to be a consistent response which we probably could give a name to: the Lawrence Auster Denial Disorder.

LA replies:

Thanks. I think you’re onto something. To be fair to Pipes, he did not cut me off, but he was dismissive and superficial in his treatment of me rather than annoyed or hostile. As for Spencer, though I have assured him on numerous occasions of my respect for his work, he persists in an irrational animus against me that is frightening.

Gintas J. writes:

If Melanie Phillips is in fact evolving rightward to conservatism, we could expect her to be confusing at times, but she’d make some serious renouncements of liberal tenets along the way. On the other hand if she’s just shifting about on the liberal spectrum (moving toward right-liberalism), she’d sound confusing, but she’d stay confusing. She’d make some conservative noises along with a core commitment to liberalism (can we say Pope Backtrack I?). Here’s to a Philips evolution out of liberalism, not just a dead-end shift within the liberal spectrum.

LA replies:

Read Londonistan. If you don’t want to read the whole book, at least go to a bookstore and read the introduction. What you will find there is more than conservative noises. It’s hard to think of how someone who speaks of mass Muslim immigration as a “lethal” development (p. xviii) can be considered a liberal or even a conventional conservative. However, it is possible that she shifted into a traditionalist conservative vocabulary without realizing she was doing so, and without realizing that a primary devotion to liberal pluralism (her position in her columns) is inconsistent with a primary devotion to the historical British nation and its majority culture (her position in Londonistan).

At this point, I am unsure as to Melanie’s true positions, and I suspect that she is, too.

Phillips is interviewed by her former paper, the Guardian, about Londonistan. Lively and revealing.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 10, 2006 09:56 AM | Send

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