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As Syrian forces lay waste to Aleppo, how much longer can we tolerate the slaughter?

The West has flirted with the dangerous idea that we should somehow accomodate or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad. Yet nothing will change while he's in power.

The fragile ceasefire that has delivered a period of relative calm in some parts of Syria is being severely tested. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have ­subjected Aleppo to a ferocious assault over the past few weeks, killing scores of civilians in the process. Although the city was not included in the original truce agreement, events there are too important and symbolic for rebels elsewhere to ignore. (Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has said that Assad may extend the truce to Aleppo but this has yet to materialise.)

More than 250 people have been killed after ten days of heavy bombardment. The International Rescue Committee estimates that at its peak, over a 48-hour period, one Syrian was killed every 25 minutes. Health centres were targeted, including the most important medical facility in the rebel-held parts of Aleppo: al-Quds Hospital. It housed eight doctors and 28 nurses before a military jet hit it with a direct strike. Among the dead was Muhammad Waseem Maaz, one of the city’s last paediatricians.

Five members of the Syrian Civil Defence (popularly known as the White Helmets), a volunteer group in opposition areas that rescues people from buildings destroyed by the regime’s bombardment, were also killed in the latest wave of air strikes. The group suffers losses frequently but the recent attacks were the biggest it has endured so far. There is now a billboard campaign in rebel areas pleading with the few remaining doctors not to leave. “Oh, doctor!” it reads. “Don’t migrate, my child is in need of you.”

The targeting of medical personnel and facilities is so extreme that a report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, in association with the University of St Andrews, estimates that half of all Syrian hospitals have been badly damaged as a result of the conflict. The vast majority of these are in rebel-held areas.

It’s not only hospitals that have come under attack. Activists in Aleppo report that, for the first time since the uprising began in 2011, congregational Friday prayers were suspended in Aleppo on 29 April. The risk of any gathering – however small and for whatever purpose – coming under attack was just too great.

This is born of a deliberate policy that aims to obliterate every facet of civil infrastructure in rebel areas, so that life becomes too harsh for civilians. To understand how deeply that strategy has unravelled the ­fabric of Syrian life, consider that roughly 11 million people (half of the population) are now displaced. There are more than two million child refugees.

The Syrian conflict has been cruelly unsentimental, bulldozing a nation and eroding life in one of the earliest cradles of civilisation. Syrians do not understand how the outside world can passively observe these crimes and still remain inactive.

What they fail to realise is the indelible trauma of our 2003 misadventure in Iraq and the shadow it continues to cast over our political life. One of the consequences has been the extent to which it recalibrated – for the worse – the West’s appetite for staging humanitarian interventions. That skewing of the debate stems from the outcomes, rather than the intentions, of our past engagements.

We owe the Arab world and its people no special dues. We are within our rights to sit this one out and let the fire burn. After all, Iraq remains wildly unstable and incapable of governing itself in any meaningful way. Libya is imploding, albeit in slow motion. Few would now argue for the post-9/11 ideals of exporting democracy and actively spreading liberal values in the region.

Yet a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Europe over the past 18 months has shown just how hard it is to protect ourselves against the toxic fallout from the Levant. That is perhaps one of the ways in which the crisis challenges us – mostly directly, but there are subtle pressures, too, such as those related to mass migration and the current wave of refugees.

Terrorism and the refugee crisis are already having a profound impact on Europe’s institutions and social unity. They polarise the debate whenever our intelligence agencies speak with fatalistic resignation of “when”, rather than “if”, another terrorist attack will occur.

Whether we like it or not, the depressing conclusion is that the Syrian crisis is our crisis. The idea that we can somehow insulate ourselves from its repercussions is a fantasy.

Think of how the past few weeks of chaos in Aleppo will create even more refugees, pushing ever greater numbers towards Europe. Set aside humanitarian and moral arguments and look instead at the situation through the prism of our national security interests. The conclusion is obvious: instability in the Middle East and North Africa leads to instability here. This is how we must now think about the war in Syria.

Our security and interests are best served if Syria is a country in which its people can live. For the most part, Syrians have shown a remarkable willingness to endure the privations of war and have been forced into exile only by the relentless campaign of indiscriminate aerial bombing.

The West has flirted with the dangerous idea that we should somehow accommodate Assad or rehabilitate him in the expectation that this will end Syria’s civil war. Yet the president has proved that he is not a partner who can be trusted to act in good faith. Indeed, his actions drive international terrorism and destabilise Europe. All of this points to nothing changing while he remains in power. To secure ourselves, we will at some point have to hit Assad – and hit him hard.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and Deputy Director at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred

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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.