There have been plausible suggestions that the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think-tank influenced the foreign policy of the Cameron government. The following passages suggest, at the very least, a remarkable confluence of thinking between the HJS and David Cameron over the case in favour of military intervention in Libya in 2011.
‘We cannot afford to let Gaddafi win… The allied invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was, of course, prompted by our desire to strike against al-Qaeda’s terrorist training-camps. That such camps were present in Afghanistan was the product of conditions arising from the state’s collapse and unresolved civil war. We should be very concerned at what the consequences for Europe would be if a similar state collapse and civil war were to be perpetuated indefinitely in Libya – it would be an Afghanistan on our doorstep. An imploded Libya could be a source of terrorism and piracy, as well as of mass immigration into Europe of the kind that sends right-wing politicians apoplectic… And Gaddafi, be it remembered, was never simply a pedestrian dictator of the Mubarak sort, but the ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’, in Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase. Most of us remember his support for the IRA and extremist Palestinian factions, and the Lockerbie bombing… Cameron has already shown himself a leader with vision, and must not allow himself to be deflected by US and EU irresolution from the path that he has correctly laid out. This trial will prove the efficacy or otherwise of his military entente with France, so there is a lot riding on this crisis for the prime minister’s vision of British strategy… The urgency of the situation in Libya is one that calls for immediate, decisive leadership. David Cameron must rise to the challenge.’
Five days later, on 18 March 2011, Cameron made the following statement in the House of Commons:
‘In this country we know what Colonel Gaddafi is capable of. We should not forget his support for the biggest terrorist atrocity on British soil. We simply cannot have a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border. This would potentially threaten our security, push people across the Mediterranean and create a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies as well as for the people of Libya. That is why today we are backing our words with action.’
Given how badly the HJS went wrong since 2011, people sometimes ask me why I waited so long before breaking with the organisation. The answer is that the policy ideas that I and my colleagues were promoting seemed to be having a positive impact. Although the Western alliance did not plan properly for the aftermath of the intervention in Libya and the situation in that country remains critical, we only have to compare it with the ongoing nightmare and bloodbath in Syria to see how much worse things could have been if we had not stopped Gaddafi. A lot of people in Benghazi and elsewhere are alive today, who would be dead if we had not acted. David Cameron should feel proud that he stood up to the tyrant.
The Daily Mail’s leaking of Mehdi Hasan’s letter to Paul Dacre did not reveal Mehdi’s hypocrisy, merely an uncomfortable truth: these days, if you want to write for any outlet, you will probably have to disregard profound political differences with it while capitalising on the ground you share. That a left-wing journalist like Mehdi should admire some of the Mail’s values while loathing others is almost inevitable. For though the model of a simple binary political division between the Left and the Right may have appeared plausible during the 1980s, today it no longer does, and boundaries are increasingly blurred.
We live in small-minded, mean-spirited times. More than two years into the Syrian civil war, with 100,000 dead and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah openly supporting Assad’s murderous campaign, Britain’s parliament has narrowly voted to reject Cameron’s watered-down parliamentary motion for intervention. This motion would not have authorized military action; merely noted that a ‘strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons.’ Cameron would still have needed a second parliamentary vote before he could have authorised the use of force. Parliament’s rejection of even this feeble step sends a clear message to Assad that he can go on killing without fear of British reaction.
The strength of isolationist, Little Englander feeling in Britain has been demonstrated. Cameron was defeated by the same uncontrollable ‘swivel-eyed loons’ of the Tory backbenches and grassroots who tried to sabotage gay marriage and want to drag Britain out the EU. It was perhaps too much to expect a parliament that is so savagely assaulting the livelihoods of poorer and more vulnerable Britons to care much about foreigners, particularly Muslim foreigners.
Abortion is something so horrible it has to be described with euphemisms: ‘a woman’s right to control her own body’; ‘a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices’. But the most common is ‘a woman’s right to choose’. The sentence is left incomplete: it is short for ‘a woman’s right to choose between a pregnancy she fears may destroy her financially or professionally, possibly even physically, and the killing of the baby in her womb.’
In other words, many if not most women who have abortions feel they have no choice. Overworked women with low incomes, unsupportive families, unsympathetic employers, no partners and/or existing children to care for may simply be unable to cope with a baby; nursery care in the UK is prohibitively expensive – on average around £50 per child under two per day in London. Women may find their careers or education derailed by pregnancy. Not to mention the stigma attached to unplanned pregnancy, particularly for teenagers; this may literally be fatal for those whose relatives are of the ‘honour killing’ variety.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
Alan Mendoza and Douglas Murray, respectively Executive Director and Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), have been attempting systematically to falsify the history of the organisation they run. This has involved telling a number of lies; above all that the original founding members of the HJS had been merely ‘freelancers’ who had no central involvement in determining its form and policy, and that the HJS itself had not even existed before 2006. In Mendoza’s words, ‘HJS was registered as an official charity in April 2006. It later became a limited company as well. These are established facts. Prior to this, HJS existed as a website only.’
However, the documents tell a different story. Published below are the minutes of the meeting of the Organising Committee of the Henry Jackson Society of 29 November 2005, which took place a week after the organisation’s Westminster launch, which was reported by the Guardian on 22 November 2005. Mendoza himself wrote in the Guardian in July 2006 that the HJS was ‘Launched in 2005’.
Douglas Murray published a personal attack on me on the Spectator’s website on 10 May. Since the Spectator has not permitted me the right to reply, my letter was published at Left Foot Forward, and is now republished here. In addition, another reader of the Spectator wrote to complain about Murray’s attack on me; the Spectator did not publish his letter either, so the author has permitted me to publish it here.
Douglas Murray’s personal attack on me (Spectator, 10 May 2013) involves a string of falsehoods. He claims ‘It is no one’s fault if they have not heard of Hoare. His opinions are largely self-published.’ Yet the outfit of which Murray is currently Associate Director, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), published one of my reports on its website every month for most of the period that I worked for it (2005-2012); they were all erased a few months after Murray was appointed to the post. He accuses me of having ‘an unquenchable animus’ against him, and claims ‘This has been demonstrated in an endless stream of blogs and tweets.’ Yet I have mentioned Murray in only five of the 251 (at the time of writing) posts on my blog; one of these was only in passing and one was only in response to attacks on me by his HJS colleagues. He accuses me of ‘frequent abuse’; I have never abused him once, much less ‘frequently’.
Murray claims that my problem with him is ‘my [Murray’s] insistence on expressing my own opinions rather than his [Hoare’s].’ I have no problem with him expressing his own opinions; I simply frequently find the opinions he does express repellent, and exercise my right to say this. It’s called ‘freedom of speech’. He claims I object to his use of the term ‘white British’, and suggests ‘if he wants to continue his attempts to insinuate that I am racist because of this usage then he really ought to go the whole hog and accuse the authors, compilers and most participants in the 2011 census of being racists as well.’ But the problem is not his use of the term ‘white British’; it is his claim that ‘London has become a foreign country’ because ‘in 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority’. This suggests the problem lies in there being too many British citizens with black, brown or yellow skin, or with white skin but whose families originate outside the UK. I don’t believe the authors of the 2011 census were saying anything like that.
Finally, Murray claims I was never a leading member of the HJS but merely ‘a freelance contributor to the website’. Yet as Greater Europe Co-Director, then European Neighbourhood Section Director, I appeared on the HJS staff list on the website from 2005 until the start of 2012; a screenshot of this staff list from around March 2008 can be found on my blog. I have documents in my possession proving that I was centrally involved in the organisation long before Murray joined, and helped formulate its leadership strategy in conjunction with its current President Brendan Simms, its current Executive Director Alan Mendoza, and others whose names have vanished from the website.
Marko Attila Hoare
I refer to Douglas Murray’s May 10th blog entry, “A reply to certain critics”. Murray refers to Marko Attila Hoare thus:
‘It is no one’s fault if they have not heard of Hoare. His opinions are largely self-published.’
Hoare is, in fact, well known as a historian of the former Yugoslavia. His work has been published by the Oxford University Press.
I make this point because I go to the Spectator blogs for commentary such as that written by Alex Massie, which is knowledgeable, stylish, and thought provoking. Murray’s latest screed, on the other hand, is not only ill informed and unfunny but reads in part like an attempt to smear someone in the course of a private vendetta. Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are full of this kind of toxic rubbish; can’t what is supposed to be the voice of urbane British Toryism offer something of a higher standard?
You might also point out to Murray that those who write superciliously ‘of a publicly-funded body called Kingston University’ need to get their literary references right: the writer and critic was William Dean Howells, not ‘Dean Howells’. Alternatively, you could just refer him to Makepeace Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs.
In my last post, I pointed to the claim by Henry Jackson Society Associate Director Douglas Murray, that ‘London has become a foreign country’ because ‘in 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority’, and that by remaining silent about mass immigration, ‘white Britons’ are ‘abolishing themselves’ and undergoing the ‘loss of their country’. I also pointed to the claims by HJS Executive Director Alan Mendoza, linking ‘anti-Israel feelings’ in Europe to the fact that the ‘European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years’, that ‘Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks’ and that ‘their voices are heard well above the average Europeans’ [sic]. I argued that it was not appropriate for the small number of Labour MPs on the HJS’s Advisory Council to go on supporting the HJS, given such views on the part of its leadership.
My post appears to have sufficiently rattled the HJS leadership to prompt a series of online attacks on me by Mendoza and one of his HJS subordinates, Raheem Kassam. They made no attempt to explain or justify the disgusting statements in question, but are apparently sufficiently embarrassed by what I am publicising of their nature that they are seeking to discredit me as a witness. I was a senior staff member of the HJS – from the days when it still had some claim to being a bi-partisan, centrist political organisation – and this is something Mendoza is trying to deny. He now claims ‘At no time since HJS’s establishment of corporate form [sic] in April 2006 was Hoare a staff member’.
Unfortunately for Mendoza, although he has done his best to erase all online traces of what the HJS once was and of whom its original senior members were, the internet has not allowed him to get away with it. Here is a link to the HJS’s website from around March 2008, in which I appear two places from the top of the HJS’s staff list: HJSStaff9Mar08 (a screenshot appears at the end of this post). Indeed, his comments in the discussion at the thread beneath my article at Left Foot Forward are well worth reading for the comical nature of his attempts to deny this evidence.
Mendoza also claims that my involvement in the decision-making process in the HJS in my last years there was ‘precisely zero’, and that I rarely visited the London office. This is true: as I explained in my original post exposing him and his record, he ended the practice of holding meetings of the founding members, excluded them from any opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, and effectively abolished democracy within the organisation, turning it into his personal fiefdom and cash cow.
Finally, Mendoza claims that I am ‘frustrated’ because the HJS website had been the ‘sole outlet’ for my work – even though I am a published author with a rather more extensive record of online and paper publication than Mendoza himself. Though I do not pretend I was happy when Mendoza’s efforts to cut off his new HJS from its past involved a ‘reorganisation’ of the website that erased seven years’ worth of my articles – articles that he and the HJS had used to build its reputation, such as it is, as a ‘think tank’.
But all these personal attacks on me do not make the HJS and its current political views – on race and immigration, Islam, Europe, Israel and Palestine – any less ugly. The funniest part of Mendoza’s response to me was this bit: ‘Is HJS a pro-Israel organisation? Yes, HJS is certainly pro-Israel, just as it is pro-UK, pro-USA, pro-Canada, pro-India, pro-Australia, pro-Japan, pro-Taiwan, pro-Brazil, pro-Chile, pro-Uruguay, pro-Ghana, pro-South Africa, pro-Mongolia, pro-South Korea. We think you get the picture.’ Does a single person exist who would buy the line that the HJS’s view of Israel is the same as its view of Mongolia ?!
However, I have never accused the HJS of being ‘pro-Israel’, just as I have never accused Hamas of being ‘pro-Palestine’. The HJS treats the Palestinians as unworthy victims who deserve only colonial subjugation, and the Israelis as cannon-fodder for its own warmongering agenda. Anyone who really does want to destroy Israel would do well to donate money to the HJS, as it seeks to fight Iran and the Arabs to the death of the last Israeli.
Just as the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 was a final wake-up call to anyone who harboured any illusions in the ‘progressive’ character of the Communist movement, so Murray’s and Mendoza’s views on race, religion and immigration should serve as final proof of the complete degeneration and moral bankruptcy of the tiny neoconservative faction in British politics, for anyone who may once have harboured illusions in it.
PS Despite his spurious claim to have a ‘well-established track record of support for the Bosnian Muslim population’, Mendoza was removed a year ago from the International Expert Team of the Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada, which fights genocide denial over Bosnia, Srebrenica and the Holocaust. The IRGC’s director, Professor Emir Ramic, and its Governing Board were rather quicker than I was myself in correctly understanding him and taking appropriate action.
PPSS Contrary to what Raheem Kassam is claiming, I am not his ‘old acquaintance’; I have never met him, and only learned of his existence a few months ago. I have never submitted anything to The Commentator; as far as I know, it has republished just one of my articles – without asking my permission.
The right-wing pundit Douglas Murray recently wrote:
‘To study the results of the latest census is to stare at one unalterable conclusion: mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London’s 33 boroughs ‘white Britons’ are now in a minority…
We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country. “Get over it. It’s nothing new. You’re terrible. You’re nothing”.
For what it is worth, it seems to me that the vindictiveness with which the concerns of white British people, and the white working and middle class in particular, have been met by politicians and pundits alike is a phenomenon in need of serious and swift attention.’
Such words, one might expect, should place their author beyond the pale of respectable political opinion, in the sole company of UKIP and the rest of the fringe anti-immigration right.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
In an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled ‘We eurozoners must create a United States of Europe’, the Cambridge historian Brendan Simms calls for ‘the immediate creation of an Anglo-American style fiscal and military union of the eurozone’ as a means of resolving the eurozone crisis. This should, Simms argues, involve ‘the creation of a European parliament with legislative powers; a one-off federalising of all state debt through the issue of union bonds to be backed by the entire tax revenue of the common currency zone (with a debt ceiling for member states thereafter); the supervised dissolution of insolvent private-sector financial institutions; and a single European army, with a monopoly on external force projection.’ Such a union should be modelled on the successful examples of the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707 and the United States of America: ‘The British and the American unions made history. If we eurozoners do not act quickly and create a single state on Anglo-American lines, we will be history too – but not in the way we had hoped’ (‘we’, because the author is Irish, as well as German on his mother’s side).
In a follow-up piece in the Evening Standard, subtitled ‘Only Germany can be trusted to restructure the failed eurozone into a democratic single European state’, Simms argues:
‘Last week, one British journalist described Frau Merkel as a potential European Abraham Lincoln. What we require, however, is not somebody to defend the current union — which is broken beyond repair — but to create a new one. The better analogy is with the 19th-century Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who created the Second German Empire out of the ruins of the old and ineffective German Confederation. Today, the eurozone needs a democratic Bismarck, probably though not necessarily from Germany.’
This is a particularly interesting proposal, given that Brendan is the founder and titular president of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), of which he is also a trustee. He founded the HJS as a centrist, pro-European political force, but it has since lurched in a right-wing and Europhobic direction, and its leading figures actively despise the pro-European principles espoused by those such as their own nominal president.
The HJS’s Associate Director, Douglas Murray, appointed in April 2011, is on record as having stated that ‘the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don’t start again [sic]‘).
Prominent HJS supporter William Shawcross, who was appointed as a trustee of the organisation in October 2011 and resigned a year later to avoid a conflict of interest, is on record as claiming that ‘New Labour has forced Britain to become a mere piece of the bland but increasingly oppressive Bambiland of the E.U., promoting such PC global issues as gay rights (except in Muslim lands) and man-made climate change.’ Furthermore, ‘The Lib-Dems are in many ways even more dangerously authoritarian than Labour. Clegg is an extreme Europhile. They want the Euro and total control by Brussels, amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, disarmament, and attacks on wealth-creating businesses like Marks and Spencer.’
The HJS’s Executive Director Alan Mendoza – the real owner and controller of the HJS – attacked the EU at the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March of this year, accusing it of being hostile to Israel. As reported by the Washington Jewish Week‘s Suzanne Pollak, he blamed this on the EU’s supranational character and on its rising immigrant and Muslim population:
‘European countries should be electing economic experts, but instead they are “responding by moving toward extremism. Europe has lost its sense of greatness. They have lost faith in their abilities” to deal with their specific problems, he said. Immigration is also a reason for rising anti-Israel feelings. In 1998, 3.2 percent of Spain was foreign-born. In 2007, that percent had jumped to 13.4 percent, Mendoza said. In cities such as London, Paris and Copenhagen, 10 percent of residents are Muslim. “The European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2040,” he said.
For all the benefits that immigration has brought, it has been difficult for European countries to absorb immigrants into their society given their failure to integrate newcomers. Regardless of their political views, Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks, just as they will against India in the Kashmir dispute. Their voices are heard well above the average Europeans, who tend not to speak out Mendoza said, adding that the Muslim immigrants do this with full knowledge that they would not be allowed to speak out like that in many Middle Eastern countries.
Yet another reason Israel is demonized is that it is a nationalist state, but Europe turned against that concept following World War II. “They are supernational, and Israel is just national,” he said.’
Thus, in the view of the people at the head of the HJS, the EU is a ‘monstrosity’; an ‘oppressive Bambiland’ containing too many Muslims and immigrants, whose ‘supernational’ character leads it to despise ‘nationalist’ states such as Israel, and that ought to be ‘razed to the ground’.
How is it possible for such an extremely anti-European outfit to retain, as its titular president, a visionary supporter of deep European integration; of a ‘United States of Europe’, no less ? After all, James Rogers, who along with Simms was the other leading creator of the HJS, was repudiated by the organisation because he published a letter in The Times calling for Britain’s signature of the EU constitution treaty, and signing it with his HJS affiliation. Part of the answer is that Simm’s articles, unlike those of other HJS staff members, simply do not appear on the HJS website. This is the case not only for articles arguing a position which for the HJS is anathema – such as greater European integration – but also for those with which it agrees, such as the need for intervention in Syria. Despite being an incomparably more serious intellectual figure than the other HJS staff members, as well as the organisation’s principal founder, his name does not even appear on its list of authors. Conversely, Simm’s articles do not mention his HJS affiliation.
The ‘Project for Democratic Union‘, which Simms established to promote his ideas about Europe, has a name that recalls the HJS’s ‘Project for Democratic Geopolitics’, but is otherwise entirely separate from – and unendorsed by – the HJS. The two organisations did jointly host a talk by Simms on the project of a ‘United States of Europe’, at which he apparently argued that ‘the Democratic Union should then work closely with the other great democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States… while British support for such a project is highly desirable, her involvement in the new state would be incompatible with national sovereignty, and in any case unnecessary. What is now required is not a European Britain but a British Europe.’ Arguing for deeper eurozone – as opposed to EU – integration may be a way of reconciling the HJS’s Europhobia with Simms’s Europhilia. Yet an alliance of convenience between hard-line British Eurosceptics on the one hand, and non-British Euro-federalist supporters of deeper integration for a geographically narrower Europe without Britain on the other, may not ultimately prove fruitful.
Brendan, in fact, supports a much deeper model of European integration than the HJS ever previously did, even at the time of its pro-European inception, when it favoured a broader, looser EU expanded to include Turkey and former-Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia. His new vision is not one that I share. The successes of the Anglo-Scottish and American unions were built upon radical measures that cannot feasibly be translated to the eurozone context: in the case of the first, the abolition of Scotland’s separate statehood and parliament; in the case of the second, the actual military conquest and crushing of the South by the North in a brutal civil war. As for the precedent of Bismarck and the German Second Reich – it should not need pointing out that their legacy has not been entirely positive. ‘Democratic Bismarck’ is an oxymoron, of course.
I feel relieved that Britain has avoided joining the euro, with the concomitant erosion of national sovereignty and democracy that this would have involved; a loss that Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and other South European states in particular are feeling. Yet the establishment of a United States of Europe incorporating only the eurozone and excluding the rest of the EU would consign Britain and other non-eurozone members to the geopolitical backwater of a second-tier Europe. Britain has traditionally sought to prevent the domination of Europe by any foreign power, and it is unclear why abandoning this policy now should be in our interest. While there may be Brits who love European unity so much that they are willing to sacrifice the national sovereignty of the Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Greeks and others in order to save it, I cannot help but feel that the double standard will not pass unnoticed among these nations, and that they will be rightly reluctant to make a sacrifice that Britain, equally rightly, does not want to make itself. Finally, if Mendoza’s reasoning is correct, then the United States of Europe, as a ‘supernational’ state, will presumably be extremely anti-Israel, and may even criticise a West Bank settlement or two.
Nevertheless, Brendan is right that eurozoners, and leaders and citizens of the EU generally, have to think as Europeans, not as narrow nationalists, and take radical measures to rescue European unity. Absorption in a federal European super-state would not be in the national interest of Britain (or of any EU member), yet it is the anti-European separatists who pose a greater threat to Britain’s national interest, as they threaten to consign us to the status of an isolated, inward-looking geopolitical irrelevance – a UN Security Council permanent member aping Switzerland.
What a pity that the HJS, a think-tank established in part to promote a powerful Britain at the heart of a vibrant, expanding European Union, has been hijacked by those working for the opposite goal.
Update: Since this post was published, HJS Associate Director Douglas Murray has published, in The Wall Street Journal, what can only be interpreted as an outright rebuke of Simms: ‘For as Brussels and its foxes throughout Europe kept crashing the continent into walls, they also kept pretending that their way of ordering things—an undemocratic, increasingly expensive United States of Europe—was the only reasonable option.’ The article, which carries Murray’s HJS affiliation, lauds the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which favours Britain’s secession from the EU.
Another article written at about the same time by a senior HJS staff member – Raheem Kassam, at the time HJS Director of Communications, subsequently removed from the post, though he remains an HJS Associate Fellow – has called for a Tory-UKIP electoral alliance, arguing ‘it seems the Tory-UKIP rollercoaster is determined, like most rollercoasters, to have us a) wondering how and why the hell we got on this ride and b) despite some vomit-inducing moments, hoping it will never stop.’ Kassam, as editor of The Commentator, which is published from the HJS office, is on record as stating ‘I also loathe the European Union’.
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.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II