UK paperback

Enemies of civilisation

Who is ‘Melanie Phillips’?

I have belatedly discovered a site, I presume satirical, that purports to be the blog of a certain “Melanie Phillips”, apparently an invented personage who writes for the Daily Mail. Bravely for that newspaper, “her” writing enacts a shattering reductio ad absurdum of certain prejudices. Take this entry comparing Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, to Churchill, after Howard made a speech attacking the Australian “left”:

Howard is the only western leader who has grasped that the greatest danger to the west lies in the way it has been attacked and undermined from within, a process that is continuing and which threatens to hand liberal democracy over to its Islamic enemies who are laying siege to it from without. He is the only one who puts these two things together, and is using his office as a bully pulpit from which to fight for the values of western civilisation in the culture war. Can you imagine President Bush, or Tony Blair or David Cameron, denouncing the universities as breeding grounds for left-wing enemies of civilisation? Of course not. Howard is Australia’s Churchill, and is the true leader of the west at this perilous time.

Maybe the satire is slightly too broad-brush to be really convincing as the considered thoughts of a journalist who, according to the biography on the site, is supposed to have won the George Orwell Prize in 1996. But it does bring out one irony of such arguments. Those who sell themselves as the stoutest defenders of “liberal democracy” are also the happiest to adopt a Stalinist vocabulary of denunciation. The idea that academics of some stripe are the true “enemies of civilisation” has of course been a favoured theme of totalitarian dictators since at least the early Soviet “purges”, through Mao, Pol Pot (who creatively extended the paranoia to anyone who wore spectacles), and so on. Recently, too, an attack on “liberal professors” was made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thus implying that those who really talk like “Melanie Phillips” have more in common with theocratic Iran, though it be one of our “Islamic enemies”, than they do with educated members of their own society. Which raises an alternative possibility. Maybe “Melanie Phillips” is not, as I first assumed, a satire, but the creation of a brilliant Islamist psyops initiative.

  1. 1  Adam  October 5, 2006, 8:52 pm 

    Apparently “Melanie Phillips” was once a darling of the left. If, at some point, you decide that the right-wing is a more suitable perch for yourself, I might just have to kill myself.

    You’ve got a responsibility, now.

  2. 2  charlie  October 6, 2006, 1:04 am 

    Yes, she’s written a wonderfull if no-thrills fantasy called London-is-Stansted, set in Middle East Anglia, its all about sugarbeet harvesting (we apparently reap what we sow), short-haulism and the resulting circulation problems, although she describes the tedium with genuine feeling in both legs.

  3. 3  Steven  October 6, 2006, 12:12 pm 

    Adam, that is a very heavy responsibility. I fear that one day I may well be hymning the joys of fox-hunting and complaining that what the young people listen to for music is just noise.

    Charlie: sounds delightful. ;)

  4. 4  The Sharpener » Blog Archive »  October 6, 2006, 2:45 pm 

    […] Enemies of civilisation Among whom, Melanie Phillips […]

  5. 5  Sohail  October 6, 2006, 2:57 pm 

    Melanie Phillips is of course an outspoken (Jewish) darling of the British media establishment. She has a column in the Daily Mail, is a regular panel member on BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze, and is frequently invited to share her views on BBC Question Time, Newsnight and elsewhere. What useful contribution does she have to make to contemporary British society? Well, of course, she reminds us that British Muslims are a fifth column who we should feel no remorse need in brutally suppressing and that Israel is a totally benign entity whose only wish is to live in peace with those surrounding raghead states.

    Regarding the reactionary John Howard, her views are not surprising at all. I expect she would be out of a job in the current Islamophobic climate in Australia. It seems that nobody needs to be reminded of such other there. It’s just those stupid liberals in Britain that don’t get it.

    The irony of the fact that German society during the Weimar Republic took a similar view about Jews is totally lost on her.


  6. 6  Ministry of Truth  October 6, 2006, 4:18 pm 

    […] Unpeak has the answer – via Jarndyce at The Sharpener… […]

  7. 7  Steven  October 7, 2006, 11:39 am 

    I must defend Australia against the implication that everyone there shares Howard’s views. I met a lot of very charming liberals in Sydney earlier this year.

  8. 8  Sohail  October 7, 2006, 12:07 pm 

    I’m sure there are charming people in Australia ;) But there’s no doubting – surely – that the political climate is not very pretty.

    I happen to have family in Sydney and from what I gather the Cronulla riots were far from charming.

  9. 9  thabet  October 8, 2006, 7:10 am 

    There’s a reason she’s known as Mad Mel.

    And it’s not because she’s a Mel Gibson fan.

  10. 10  Backword Dave  October 8, 2006, 12:34 pm 

    Steven, you’ve missed Mel’s understanding of Chuchill: try the final paragraph here.

  11. 11  Seattle Man  October 8, 2006, 3:29 pm 

    You are confusing “unspeak” with political values with which you disagree.

    Just because you don’t agree with someone hardly means that they use language inaccurately. Such a view — which I am sure you will attempt to disclaim — is condecending (and worse) because yoy don’t even allow room for different opinions but characterize them as some form of dishonest conversation.

    Your “unspeak” was cute at first but now you are simply using it to denigrate anything with which you disagree. Boring!

  12. 12  Sohail  October 8, 2006, 4:13 pm 

    Seattle Man

    Yes, there’s perhaps some truth in what you say to the extent that there is – strictly speaking – no such thing as “Unspeak”. Unspeak is simply a “way” or “form” of speaking that the accuser doesn’t happen to speak. So for instance Bush is an “unspeaker” because he doesn’t speak your language. That’s pretty much it an a nutshell.

    Of course, Orwell’s project was different. He focussed on the linguistic obfuscations of totalitarian society – basically on how power constructs and distorts language for political ends. I don’t think he would have approved of the idea of “Unspeak”. It’s far too broad, and in a paradoxical sense self-contradictory. However, this is not to take anything away from some of the sharp insightful analysis on this site.


  13. 13  Steven  October 8, 2006, 4:22 pm 

    The point of this post, not very obscure, was merely to point out the following:

    Those who sell themselves as the stoutest defenders of “liberal democracy” are also the happiest to adopt a Stalinist vocabulary of denunciation.

    With regard to #11 and #12, I refer interested parties once again to the Introduction, which is why it is there.

  14. 14  Sohail  October 8, 2006, 7:47 pm 

    I’ve just had a quick look at the intro, and I can see why Salkie might dismiss your approach to analysis as a kind of pop-linguistics.

    In critical applied linguistics – that’s the hard serious stuff BTW ;) – the social phenomenon you refer to as Unspeak is of course much broader and goes well beyond simply the level of words, phrases or sentences. Taking its lead from Foucault’s “Archaelogy of Knowledge” it’s what often referred to as a “discursive formation”. Edward Said obviously took this much further and developed his theory of orientalism.

    Anyway, if you’re at all interested I suggest you check out the leading authority on this, namely Alastair Pennycook (who also happens to be a friend of mine) – his book “Critical Applied Linguistics” is a great introduction to the field.


  15. 15  Steven  October 8, 2006, 11:39 pm 

    I’ve read quite a bit of discourse analysis. I didn’t find its apparatus necessary to my project. Doubtless discourse analysts will disagree.

    I also believe that some writers who preceded Foucault or did not exactly follow him have value, but this is of course a matter of taste.

  16. 16  Fork  October 9, 2006, 5:07 pm 

    Seattle Man,

    “Such a view — which I am sure you will attempt to disclaim — is condecending (and worse)… Your “unspeak” was cute at first but now you are simply using it to denigrate anything with which you disagree. Boring!”

    Your use of the word “cute” has compelled me to enter the fray. Not only does it underline the paucity of your criticism of Steven’s work, it marks you out as a hypocrite (and worse!)

    The word cute derives originally from a shortened form of acute meaning “keenly perceptive or discerning, shrewd.” Some might say, in broad terms (and without being inflammatory), “Clever”.

    I, however, am quite confident in pre-supposing that you employed in its more popular, and indeed more recent, form to mean affected, precious, decorative. Such a transparent attempt to belittle and deprecate Steven’s work on the laughable basis that he has “confused” unspeak and political values with which he disagrees is not just feeble. It’s irritating.

    I am well aware that Steven can and will fight his own corner (doubtless it must be extremely _boring_ (or cute?) to be invited to deliver the keynote speech at the Sydney Writers’ Festival) but it must be said that the independent reader of your sly little jibe at the entire body of Steven’s work on this subject might come to a different conclusion about exactly who on this page is indulging in “condescension”.

  17. 17  Steven  October 9, 2006, 5:58 pm 

    Backword Dave: well spotted. I suppose a comedy character need not be consistent.

    thabet: is it because she is distantly related to Rasputin?

  18. 18  DF  October 9, 2006, 10:20 pm 

    “Melanie Phillips is of course an outspoken (Jewish) darling of the British media establishment. “

    What exactly is the word “Jewish” doing here, Sohail?

  19. 19  Sohail  October 10, 2006, 5:57 am 

    That is how she positions herself.

  20. 20  DF  October 10, 2006, 1:18 pm 

    That is how she “positions” herself?

    Perhaps, from now on, whenever someone mentions a writer or public figure, you can tell us, in parentheses, what racial group they are from, so we can all know how they “position” themselves.

  21. 21  Sohail  October 10, 2006, 4:47 pm 


    Well, I confess I had absolutely no idea that the “Jews” were a racial group. So thank you for that gem. Now, if you care to look at Melanie Phillips’ work (I mean even superificially) you cannot fail but notice that she has made an entire career around the “parenthetical” Muslim. Granted this, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to identify her in terms that she often employs for comparative purposes. So I think it is perhaps well that you save your “racial sensitivity” lectures for another post. Failing that, however, there is of course a post on “Islamic Terrorism” on this blog that of course you’re perfectly free to take up with Steve.


  22. 22  DF  October 10, 2006, 6:09 pm 

    “Well, I confess I had absolutely no idea that the “Jews” were a racial group. So thank you for that gem.”

    It’s hardly a gem, but you’re very welcome. Were you really unaware that the Jewish people see themselves as just that, a people, sharing a common genetic inheritance as well as a religious tradition?

  23. 23  Larry Teabag  October 10, 2006, 6:23 pm 

    I used to enjoy Melanie Phillips – she is basically a great character – but I think that recently laziness has set in. Now she just relies on trotting out the same old catchphrases about Weimar and the Nazis, over and over.

    It’s exactly the same mistake that Little Britain and Ali G made. Time for her to develop her Borat, I think.

  24. 24  sw  October 10, 2006, 7:06 pm 

    Sohail, you seem to delight in unspeak’s ability “to expose the machinations of power that are inscribed in everyday language usage” (your words, of course), but adopt a faux naive stance to your (contextually unnecessary) allusion to Melanie Phillips’ religion: “Well, I’m just doing it ’cause she does it, if you bother to look.”

    Though I think that DF is not sufficiently accurate in his most recent response to you, and that the issue of “race” is far more complicated in general and in this specific matter, he is entirely right to bring the cross-hairs of unspeak right onto that target; he didn’t squeeze the trigger quite as wildly as I might have, and for that we should all be grateful. What exactly is that little nod to her religion _doing_ there? You seem to suggest it is some sort of tit-for-tat, and so I would argue that your response is “faux naive”; it’s doing a lot more than that, or can do a lot more than that. There are a lot of _possible_ “machinations of power that are inscribed” into that little bracket. If you ask me what I think it’s doing, I’m not going to answer, for reasons that should be made entirely clear on the “Clever” thread. If they are not clear, then my apologies.

  25. 25  DF  October 10, 2006, 8:05 pm 


    Of course you’re right, race is a problematic concept, about as problematic as they come. But I don’t think we can entirely avoid it here. You refer to Jewishness as Melanie Phillips’ religion. I have no idea whether she goes to synagogue, is an atheist, or what her religious views are. But if her mother was Jewish, then in Jewish tradition, she is also Jewish, regardless of her beliefs (and regardless of her mother’s beliefs). This is why the the issue of “race” has a particular significance here. You may prefer some other term, and I don’t blame you (I suggested common genetic inheritance), but religion doesn’t quite cover it.

    But if you are not happy with the description of the Jewish people as, inter alia, a race, let me make this point. Whether or not the Jews are, in any sense, a race, they have very often been seen as such by racists.

    And this is why, particularly in the light of the anti-semitic obsession about Jewish control of the media, I thought that this sentence was unfortunately expressed:

    “Melanie Phillips is of course an outspoken (Jewish) darling of the British media establishment. ”

    Like you I am unimpressed by Sohail’s tit-for-tat argument. But let me make it plain. I don’t believe Sohail has a racist bone in his body. Indeed his writings on this site make clear his passionate belief in equal treatment for people of all backgrounds.

    I think that sentence was not well-considered. If I can’t persuade you of that Sohail, I nevertheless respect your good faith.

  26. 26  sw  October 10, 2006, 8:28 pm 


    I pointed out that it is complicated, and accept paragraphs 2 onwards. Paragraph 1? Yes, okay. The concern about the use of the bracketed “(Jewish)” is not necessarily dependent upon whether one wants to talk about Judaism as a race or as a religion; in general, when trying to avoid this debate, and given only one term, I think that “religion” is more appropriate than “race” to describe “those of Jewish heritage”, and would do so with “Catholics” or “Protestants” or “Muslims”, regardless of whether or not they regularly attend church, synagogue, mosque or the Global Alliance of Concerned Atheists’ Wednesday Night Pot-Lucks. I agree with you, though, that it is a problem, and would not want to debate it further, because I have nothing further to add; if you want to respond, though, I will read your response and learn from it. (I am not being sarcastic, here).

    I, too, have no doubts that Sohail is completely pure of any racism, which is why I am glad that you offered an even-handed, tempered response to Sohail; there is much to be concerned about in that sentence, which you quote again above, and on a web-site like this, we want to look very carefully as the baggage smuggled in, however innocently or naively.

    I’m out of this thread – and this topic – for good, so please do address any responses to “Steven” or “God” or “Harold Pinter” (who turns 76 today, I believe).

  27. 27  Sohail  October 10, 2006, 8:32 pm 

    Hello SW

    It’s not a “tit-for-tat” thing – far from it. It’s actually very simple. If you want to understand what MP is all about, a very important (indeed core) ingredient in her work is her Jewish identity of which she is very proud and rightly so. If this eludes you then you’re missing a massive chunk of the MP package. Read her stuff and work it out for yourself. Don’t take what I say for granted.

    One of her favourite themes for instance is how her being a British Jew implies all sorts of national loyalities to the UK in ways that British Muslims can never aspire to because of their putative hatred of the West. Her latest book – Londonistan – is basically about British Muslims as a fifth column; it’s constructed around her identity as a loyal British Jew. As I said, check it out for yourself.

    Given this, revealing the fact MP is Jewish is in effect exposing a very important component in the power dynamics. Her work is all tied up with Zionism, Israel and the recent US/UK adventures in the Middle East. As it happens she’s very eloquent speaker and not surprisingly has a very important role to play in taking on the anti-war dissenters as well as recalcitrant British Muslims.


    PS: I agree with you. Jewishness is not simply about religion.

  28. 28  Merseymike  October 29, 2006, 1:23 am 

    Mad Mel is Jewish. But, the point is not her religion, but her absolutely uncritical attitude towards Israel and Zionism.

    She is also a convert to right wing politics though still occasionally tries to refer to herself as a liberal. In fact, she has almost completely altered her political stance since her days as a Guardian journalist.

    Plenty of people move from left to right, but I think it amusing that she cannot recognise that she has become a caricature.

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts