Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How Melanie Phillips Became a Culture Warrior

FrontPage Mag readers almost certainly are familiar with British journalist Melanie Phillips from her book Londonistan, which chronicled England’s multicultural slide into submission to Islam, or from her more recent book The World Turned Upside Down, about the West’s slide into a secular mass derangement. But few readers may know about Phillips’ own journey from the political left to social conservatism. She takes us on that journey in the short autobiography she just released on her own publishing imprint, EMBooks, an ebook called Guardian Angel: My Story, My Britain.

This quick and compelling memoir of her personal and professional life “is the story of my culture war: the account of my battles with the hate-mongering left.” It spans her youth and her decades as a journalist, editor, prominent columnist, and author, reflecting the disturbing changes in British culture and society that she witnessed along the way. Those changes left two Britains in their wake: one “adhering to decency, rationality, and duty to others,” and the left, “characterized by hatred, rampant selfishness, and a terrifying repudiation of reason.”

In 1977 she joined the staff of the progressive Guardian, one of Britain’s most influential newspapers. The attitude there, as among progressives in general, Phillips acknowledges, was that “we were the embodiment of virtue itself… We were the left; therefore everyone who was not the left was the right. The right was evil; everyone not on the left was therefore evil… and everything not on the left was politically extreme.” The significance of this was that the left had hijacked the middle ground and substituted its own extreme values as the center of political and moral gravity.

Phillips herself was not driven by ideology, which meant that she found herself increasingly in confrontations with the Guardian’s left, “who had replaced truth with ideology, and whose weapon of choice against all dissent was vilification and demonization.”

It also opened her eyes about the left’s anti-Semitism; Phillips didn’t consider herself a Jewish writer, but the Guardian unofficially did, and this set her apart “from those who were going along with the great secular onslaught on the Judeo-Christian roots of the West.” Questioning the paper’s double standard in its coverage of the Middle East – giving Palestinian terrorists a pass while waging a seeming vendetta against Israel – she was shocked to realize that her cohorts were blinded by the prejudice of political correctness, which conferred victim status on certain “Third World” groups while holding “oppressive” developed countries like Israel to impossible standards.

By challenging their twisted thinking, Phillips had aligned herself with the oppressor. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to crush the terrorist presence there, the Guardian’s chief leader-writer cornered Phillips and referred to it as “your war.” “At that moment,” she writes, realizing that she represented the Jewish “other” to him and to others at the paper, “the iron entered my soul.” It was a turning point of no return. The scales fell from her eyes and she understood that she was “wrong to have assumed that the liberal left was on the side of the angels. I now realized that, on the contrary, there was a gaping moral hole at its heart.”

When she wrote a column in 1987 placing the responsibility for the crisis in British schools to the breakdown of teaching, her Guardian colleagues were dismayed that she did not blame Margaret Thatcher’s “heartless” spending cuts, and in their eyes, “[l]iterally overnight, I became ‘right-wing.’” And indeed, “[i]ssue by issue, my writing during the 1980s and 1990s reflected the fact that Britain was undergoing a cultural revolution. And, as society changed, so too did my own attitudes change.” She saw her “former comrades on the left… embracing lies over truth, injustice over justice, rule by the strong over the weak – and even destroying the very basis of what it was to be a human being.”

Her biggest break with the left, however – “the most visceral, the most ferocious, the cultural Rubicon” – was over the breakdown of the family. “The fragmentation of the family was leading to the fragmentation of moral values – but any attempt to tell people how they should behave was damned as ‘theoretical imperialism,’ while tell them that lifestyle choice was the only acceptable doctrine was not.” Her defense of the traditional family unit marked her as a “right-wing extremist,” even an “Old Testament fundamentalist.” Gradually she saw that what the left hated about her was that “they understood that the banner behind which I was actually marching was the Biblical moral law which put chains on people’s appetites.”

In 1993 she left the Guardian and joined the Observer, and in 1996 she published All Must Have Prizes, about the ideological dogmas that were unraveling British education. “Most teachers, I wrote, were unaware that they were the unwitting troops of a cultural revolution, being now taught to teach according to doctrines whose core aim was to subvert the fundamental tenets of Western society.” This brought howls of condemnation from the left, naturally, but “[o]n and on I marched, straight into the guns. What else could I do?”

In March 1996 she won the Orwell Prize for political writing, and in 1998 left the Observer for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times. “Was I now a conservative?” she asked herself. Though she resisted the label and was no devotee of the free-market and hyper-individualism, she was being invited to speak at conservative venues, and

Much that such people said resonated with me. They seemed to be refreshingly rooted in the real world rather than frolicking in the neverlands of theory and wishful thinking; they looked soberly at facts and evidence and had an open mind; in disagreement they were courteous and did not resort to abuse.

She went on to write for the Guardian’s nemesis, the Daily Mail, and she increasingly addressed the threat to the West of Islamic extremism. When 9/11 came, “the twin tracks of my isolation on social and cultural issues and my isolation on Israel were finally joined.” For understanding that Israel and Britain faced the same Islamic enemy, she was now labeled “Melanie the warmongering Zionist Jew.” She subsequently published Londonistan, a book that highlighted “the unbridgeable chasm between myself and the left,” which felt like a “very bad divorce.”

Phillips still rejects a political label; she remains focused instead on preserving the values of Western civilization. “And that requires moral, political, and religious leadership of the highest order – and buckets of courage” – which she certainly has.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 7/15/13)