Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The media’s role in the death of Lucy Meadows

Richard Littlejohn

Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman formerly called Nathan Upton, is believed to havecommitted suicide earlier this month, following a media witch-hunt. In December, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn published an attack on her that aimed to hound her out of her job as a primary school teacher. He claimed that having a woman teacher they had formerly known as a man would have a ‘devastating effect’ on Meadows’s pupils; apparently, she was trying to ‘project his personal problems on to impressionable young children’, while Meadows’s school, which supported her, was seeking to ‘elevate its “commitment to diversity and equality” above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.’ Littlejohn concluded that if Meadows ‘cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job’. The ensuing media frenzy involved personal pictures of Meadows being published in the national press, and paparazzi camping outside her home, forcing her to leave for work early and return late to avoid them. She complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the Littlejohn piece, but ultimately found the harassment unbearable.

Continue reading at Left Foot Forward

Friday, 29 March 2013 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Libertarianism, Marko Attila Hoare, Political correctness, Transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Julie Burchill: What is behind her supporters’ talk of the ‘right to offend’ ?

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The Sunday before last, Britain’s leading liberal Sunday paper, The Observer, published an article by professional troll (‘columnist’) Julie Burchill, consisting of anti-transsexual hate-speech (‘a bunch of dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing'; ‘a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look'; ‘But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do.'; ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs'; ‘Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you.'; etc.)

A barrage of complaints ensued from readers, not all of them trans. Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the British government, tweeted that Burchill should be sacked. The Observer removed the article from its website, with the editor, John Mulholland, apologising for ‘the hurt and offence caused’. Burchill’s ‘censored’ article was then republished by Toby Young, a columnist for the conservative Daily Telegraph. The readers’ editor of The Observer then published a fuller statement, which again stressed the ‘offence’ caused by the article. A counter-barrage then ensued from right-wing and libertarian elements in the commentariat, who claimed that the removal of Burchill’s article from The Observer‘s website proved that Britain is a totalitarian state on the model of the Soviet Union, with its very own Thought Police to persecute the Politically Incorrect.

Vile, bigoted and hateful as Burchill’s article was, it was actually the least shocking element in this whole sorry story, which reveals the full extent of the moral degeneration of the British chattering classes. Much more shocking was the fact that one of our leading liberal newspapers would publish hate-speech directed against a vulnerable and widely persecuted minority. Not only did The Observer commission Burchill to write the piece in the full knowledge of what she was likely to say, it allegedly encouraged her to make the article more extreme and offensive than she might otherwise have done, in order to provoke a greater storm and increase its own viewing figures.

Perhaps still more shocking was the fact that many supposed liberals who should know better, seemed to be less concerned that The Observer had done this, than that the article was removed, since this was supposedly a grave violation of ‘freedom of speech'; moreover, of the ‘right to offend’. The real villain of the piece, some of them felt, was Featherstone, on the grounds that a government minister calling for a columnist to be sacked was a step towards Britain becoming North Korea.

This being so, it’s time to deal with a few of the straw men that the right-wing-libertarian commentariat-mafia has thrown up:

1) Burchill’s column was not ‘offensive'; it was hate speech. The principal problem was not that it ’caused offence’ to transsexual people (though this factor should not be dismissed as unimportant) but that an article of this kind, appearing where it did, served to legitimise and encourage persecution and harassment of transsexual people, thereby hurting much more than their feelings. For if our leading Sunday newspaper considers it acceptable to speak of trans people as ‘dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’ or ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’, readers may draw the conclusion that this is a minority which it is right to ridicule and despise. And that when, for example, members of this minority are harassed in the streets by transphobic thugs, it is legitimate for bystanders to stand back and do nothing or even cheer on the attackers.

2) Repackaging hate speech as something that is ‘offensive’ is deliberately to prettify and sanitise it. The word ‘offensive’ has positive connotations; it makes one think of young people in the 60s growing their hair long and listening to rock and roll; or lesbian kissing on prime-time television; or sex scenes graphic enough to upset Mary Whitehouse; or punk haircuts and the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen'; or anything that might once have affronted the conservative mainstream.

Now that liberal values have conquered the mainstream, right-wing columnists would like to present themselves as mere iconoclasts challenging prudish liberal conformity. Whereas what they are really trying to do is to turn the clocks back to an era where it was acceptable to call black people ‘gollywogs’ and gay people ‘poofs’ and sexually emancipated women ‘tarts’. They would like to rehabilitate discourse that disempowers women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, gay people, transsexual people, and so on. If they succeed in making it acceptable once more to employ bigoted language against such categories of people in the mainstream press – the liberal press, no less – it will become acceptable once more to persecute them. Decades of legislation against discrimination and harassment in the workplace and public sphere will be undermined.

3) The ‘freedom of speech’ argument in defence of Burchill is a red herring. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has suggested that the state should take action to censor her or prevent her from writing or publishing wherever she is able. Protesters were, rather, urging that The Observer should not be hosting such articles. It should not need spelling out that in a democracy, in which people enjoy freedom of speech, they have the right to urge newspapers or other media outlets not to publish or host material that they consider inappropriate; and that the media outlets in question have the right not to publish or host material that they do not wish to publish or host. What the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ seem to be arguing is that an independent newspaper like The Observer has no business removing an article from its website, and that its readers have no business urging it to do so. They are, in other words, a bunch of hypocrites.

4) Britain is not a totalitarian state or a state in which government ministers have the power to have journalists or columnists sacked from newspapers. Since Featherstone had no power to threaten The Observer or bring about Burchill’s dismissal (Burchill is, incidentally, a freelance writer rather than a sackable Observer employee), her call for Burchill to be sacked cannot be interpreted as an attempt to control the media, but was simply her expression of her personal opinion, which she has the right to give, since we live in a democracy in which even elected politicians enjoy freedom of speech. Again, the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ are not as unequivocal in their defence of this right as they would like to pretend.

5) There is, probably, no group of people in the world who enjoy greater freedom of speech than British professional columnists of the Burchill variety, who are actually paid to write what they like and guaranteed vast audiences, irrespective of how little research and effort they put in (usually very little). The idea that members of this – in freedom-of-speech terms – ultra-privileged minority is in any way restricted in their freedom of speech is a joke. Their whining, on this score, is like the claims of persecution and exploitation made by members of the Republican mega-rich in the US at suggestions that they pay a higher rate of tax. Newspapers like columnists who ’cause offense’ because they create controversy, draw attention to the newspapers and sell more copies. Therefore, columnists boost their own market value by ‘causing offence’. Their talk of ‘freedom of speech’ in this case is simply a fig-leaf masking their defence of privilege and vested interests.

6) In mounting their assault on liberal values under the cover of defending ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘right to offend’, the right-wing and libertarian commentariat is not so much seeking to restore traditional conservative values – which are largely dead, and in which they themselves do not particularly believe – but to promote a valueless society, in which every opinion is as valid as any other. They want a society in which well-off people pay as little tax as possible and are free to pursue self-enrichment and self-gratification with the fewest possible restraints, unfettered by any responsibilities or obligations to the wider society. For them, ‘freedom of speech’ is not so much about people being allowed to say what they think, but more about the entertainment provided by ‘offensive’ columnists and their own right to be so entertained. Public discourse is just a game to them.

Readers of this blog will be disappointed if I don’t somehow bring this issue back to the former Yugoslavia. So I’ll note that among the pioneers of this model of cynical and offensive commentary as entertainment masking an assault on liberal values was the magazine Living Marxism, which during the Bosnian genocide supported the Serb perpetrators, whose atrocities, it claimed, were fabricated by the Western media. Living Marxism and other such publications and individuals helped to make genocide denial acceptable in the mainstream media, and helped to ensure that the West would not intervene to halt the Bosnian genocide. Living Marxism was forced to close in 2000 after it was bankrupted in a libel case brought by the British media company ITN, over its accusation that the latter had deliberately deceived viewers in its coverage of the Serb concentration-camp Trnopolje, which Living Marxism claimed was not a camp at all, but a ‘detention centre’.

Among Living Marxism‘s supporters at that time was a certain Toby Young – today, the republisher of Burchill’s anti-transsexual rant. After being forced to close, Living Marxism re-emerged as ‘Spiked Online’, a website whose hallmark is to denigrate every liberal value as a reflection of racism or elitism (e.g. opposition to the far-right English Defence League is merely an expression of liberal-elitist hatred of the working-class; opposition to Japanese whale-hunting is an expression of Western anti-yellow racism; and so on). Spiked Online has also republished Burchill’s article, retitled as ‘Hey trannies, cut it out – Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough ?’ Burchill herself supported the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO at the time of the 1999 Kosovo War (‘gorgeous, integrated, independent Yugoslavia’), in an article sprinkled with racist comments about Germans and Croats (‘scratch a Croat, find a Kraut’). She threw in a defence of Fidel Castro’s Cuba against ‘Uncle Sam’ for good measure.

From support for murderous regimes and genocide denial to anti-transsexual hate-speech; the progression is a natural one. I really don’t give a damn about the ‘right to offend’ of this pampered, privileged, malicious clique of paid loudmouths. Just as, thanks to people like them, ‘anti-imperialism’ became the defence of fascists and ethnic-cleansers, so they are turning ‘freedom of speech’ into the legitimisation of bigotry, hate-speech and abuse.

Stuff freedom of speech. As far as I’m concerned, the Politically Correct Thought Police can arrest a few of them and toss them in a gulag for a few years; it will give them something real to write and complain about for a change.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 Posted by | Britain, Conservatism, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Marko Attila Hoare, Political correctness, The Left, Transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sanela Diana Jenkins, misogyny and anti-Balkan racism

Sanela Diana Jenkins is a highly successful businesswoman and philanthropist, and the founder of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her interviewer for The Observer, Carole Cadwalladr, has this to say about her: ‘She was born Sanela Catic to a humble Bosnian family, but there’s no doubt that Diana Jenkins is a classic romantic heroine: beautiful and bright, resourceful and determined, who rises above her background through sheer grit and force of will, and whose final apotheosis is achieved by a good marriage.’

Diana’s husband Roger Jenkins, one of the richest bankers in Britain, says ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I can do anything now. I surrender to her better judgment on people and business.’ He maintained this opinion of her even after their separation was announced, saying that if they divorced, ‘Will she take half my money? Of course. And quite rightly so. I will happily give it to her.’ In Cadwalladr’s words, ‘although he was well off by most people’s standards, when she met him he wasn’t the insanely rich mega-banker that he’s become.’ According to The Daily Mail, ‘he credited his wife with charming the Qatari royal family into parting with £7.3billion last December. The Middle East investment deal rescued his employer Barclays at the height of the credit crunch.’ Residing in California, she mixes with the highest rank of the global elite, including celebrity friends such as George Clooney, Cindy Crawford and Elton John.

Jenkins is, in short, a self-made woman and success story by anyone’s standards. However, in the eyes of the London circles to which her husband belonged, there were three things wrong with her: 1) she was good-looking; 2) she was blonde; and 3) she was from Bosnia. The Daily Telegraph paraphrased her has saying that ‘society snobs drove me out of London’. In her own words: ‘They treated me like I was an Eastern European mail-order bride. I realised that, unfortunately, with social girls, if you have a big diamond ring they will talk to you, so I wore a diamond ring. Well, actually, when we could afford it, my lovely husband bought me a diamond ring. It hurt him to see how snobbily I was treated.’

A woman who is both young and beautiful and highly successful is likely to provoke a misogynistic reaction in many quarters, including among women (you only need to read the comments of Daily Mail readers or watch the Jeremy Kyle Show to see that men have no monopoly on misogyny). But for a certain type of English person the resentment will be much greater if the woman in question comes from a ‘lowly’ background, and being Bosnian will place her some way below the working classes and below most other white foreigners, without even the guilt over racism than might at least make the resentful ones a little embarrassed if she were black or brown.

I can confirm from personal experience that anti-Balkan racism is, indeed, a relatively acceptable form of prejudice in Britain. I recall one colleague at an institution where I once worked asking me to suggest a guest speaker for a seminar programme, and sneering when I suggested a Croatian name. One young man’s first comment, when I told him at a party that I was working on the history of the Balkans, was that I must clearly have a high tolerance for blood. A Serbian friend of mine recalled to me that when she worked as a waitress, a customer asked her where she came from, and when she said ‘Serbia’, he replied ‘I’ll get my gun out, then.’ A Bosnian friend of mine used to tell people at parties she was from Belgium, to avoid the dampening of the conversation that would frequently result from telling the truth.

It is testimony to the pervasiveness of anti-Balkan racism, in the UK and the wider English-speaking world, that when the American left-wing celebrity Michael Moore gave vent to this prejudice in his international bestseller Stupid White Men, it passed virtually without comment. Moore wrote:

‘This godforsaken corner of the world has been the source of much of our collective misery for the last century. Its residents’ inability to get along – with Serbs fighting Croats fighting Muslims fighting Albanians fighting Kosovars fighting Serbs – can be traced to the following single event: in 1914 a Serb anarchist by the name of Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand. This incident kicked off World War I. Which led to World War II. Over fifty million people died from both wars. I don’t know what it is about these people. I mean, I don’t go around killing Texans. I don’t go burning down whole villages in Florida. I’ve learned to live with it. Why can’t they?’

‘Then Tito died, and all hell broke loose. Croats started killing Serbs. Serbs killed Muslims in Bosnia. Serbs killed Albanians in Kosovo. Then the United States bombed Kosovo, to show them that killing was wrong. In the past few years there has been peace, then war, then peace again, and now war again. It never stops. These people are addicts.’

Moore’s advice to the former Yugoslavia was to ‘Admit that you are powerless over your addiction to violence, and that your lives have become unmanageable.’ Had he described African Americans as having an ‘addiction to violence’, it is difficult to imagine him getting away with it, but for the Balkan peoples, such language is apparently acceptable.

Nor is Moore unique in his prejudice. The New York Times concluded an editorial in 2005 with the opinion that ‘In the Balkans, the default mode is violence.’ Julie Burchill wrote in The Guardian – yes, The Guardian ! – back in 1999, ‘Croatia’s not a country; it’s a bloody division of the German armed forces – scratch a Croat, find a Kraut.’ Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com described the Kosovo Albanians as ‘medieval barbarians’ – of course, Malic is from the Balkans himself, but he was published by an American website.

Many serious scholars have commented intelligently on the pervasiveness of anti-Balkan prejudice, including Maria Todorova and Tom Gallagher. Here, I would just like to add my own brief personal observations.

Anti-Balkan prejudice now means something specific for the former Yugoslav lands. Bulgarians and Romanians may be subject to anti-East-European prejudice in the UK similar to that experienced by Slovaks or Poles. Turks may be subject to anti-Muslim prejudice. I have no personal experience of how these groups fare in the US. But the prejudice directed against former-Yugoslavs is of a kind that transcends the borders of Western nations. It is related to the wars of the 1990s and to the stereotype of violence, primitivism and tribalism that that conflict rejuvenated; former Yugoslavs would not have experienced the same degree of prejudice before the 1990s. It is a prejudice for which journalists bear their share of the blame for repeating and publicising cliches, as do Balkan nationalists themselves for manufacturing negative myths about each other’s peoples – hence, the stereotypes of the Serbs as violent and nationalistic, of the Croats as pro-Nazi and of the Albanians as criminals.

However, the Bosnians in some ways come off the worst, and this is related to the perception of them as weak and pathetic; as being a people without a proper country or functioning state. Their suffering during the war of the 1990s, followed by their defeat in the war (albeit one snatched from the jaws of victory by US diplomacy), followed by the long, continuing and humiliating international supervision of their country, has cemented the stereotype of them as perpetual victims unworthy of respect; in some sense, equivalent to actual homeless people. I suspect that if Jenkins had come from Russia or Ukraine, she might still have been sneered at as a ‘mail-order bride’, but she would not have been despised as a refugee from a virtual country as well.

To end on a positive note: these stereotypes are widespread but they are not universally held. There are plenty of circles in multiethnic London that would not be snobbish about someone on account of their nationality; where someone with a background like Jenkins’s would be the norm rather than the exception. The snobs who drove Jenkins out of London may be representative of part of the London financial elite, but in cultural terms they represent a primitive, ethnically homogenous anachronism in our cosmopolitan city. They are worthy of the same sort of contempt as the average participants on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Primitivism and vulgarity span the class divide.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Britain, London, Marko Attila Hoare, Misogyny, Racism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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