In Depth

Instant Opinion: Caroline Flack and the online mob

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 21 February

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Richard Seymour in The Guardian

on how online, everyone can join a mob

Caroline Flack’s death shows how social media has democratised cruelty

“Flack was about to be prosecuted over allegations of assaulting her partner, despite him withdrawing his complaint. Most of us know next to nothing about what really happened. However, the press that had happily built her up as a star also delighted in taking her down, cackling about Caroline “Whack”. On the back of these headlines, armies of online vigilantes were equally happy to harass someone about whom they knew little, often acting as judge, jury and executioner while dispensing with the presumption of innocence. What is really happening here is that a form of punitive moralism towards celebrities, long associated with the tabloid press and the police – whose alliance was exposed by the phone-hacking scandal – has now been democratised.”

2. Jonathan Stevenson in The New York Times 

on what the Trump loyalist's appointment means for US spys

Will Richard Grenell Destroy the Intelligence Community?

“By now, we’re used to this president naming unqualified loyalists to high positions. But this is not just another disparagement of the separation of powers. Within the executive branch itself, it is a calculated insult to the integrity and professionalism of the U.S. intelligence community, one that threatens to further impair the function of sound intelligence collection and analysis — that is, to inform U.S. policy — and to politicize the relationship between the White House and intelligence agencies.”

3. Iain Martin in The Times

on the recklessness of Boris Johnson’s chief advisor

Dominic Cummings has become his own worst enemy

“Johnson’s impatience and annoyance is at the root of the problem. All prime ministers discover, after a few months in the job, that it’s harder than it looks. They pull the levers, expect instant results but soon realise that often nothing happens. Wise PMs react by making the No 10 operation work with a combination of charm, guile and command built through trust. That is not the Cummings agenda. His contempt for convention and established institutions, including the Tory party, is total. His goal is the destruction of the machine.”

4. Quassim Cassam in the New Statesman

on what drives extremism

Why extremism is a question of psychology, not politics

“A key extremist preoccupation is victimisation – the perception of themselves as victims of persecution. While extremism can be a reaction to genuine persecution, many extremists are obsessed with fantasies of persecution. For example, so-called “incels”, men who describe themselves as “involuntarily celibate”, believe that they are oppressed by women who refuse to have sex with them. This is a classic extremist persecution fantasy.”

5. Asad Dandia on Al Jazzera 

on the atheist paradox

Can atheists make their case without devolving into bigotry?

“While each of them would certainly disagree with one another on substantive, even fundamental issues, the one thing they share is a deep commitment to the advancement of knowledge and the human condition. The point of all this is to say that the wellspring of human knowledge is vast, contradictory, and ongoing - and one can draw wisdom from all of it. ”The word of wisdom is the lost property of the believer,“ the Prophet Muhammad is attributed to have said. ‘Wherever he finds it, he is most deserving of it.’”

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