There is no reason for me to get involved in the Gaza debate. I am neither an expert nor directly involved. I am a very worried observer trying to make sense of the images I see and the feelings they give rise to inside me. Since many people I know are the same, you might find my thoughts useful in some small way.
Two enemies, let us call them A and B, are at an impasse. A is stuck inside an armoured vehicle with his family. It has an assortment of weapons, including a mounted rocket launcher. B has taken refuge inside a school. He is pinned there. He has a pistol. There are roughly a hundred children in the school. B keeps shooting at the armoured vehicle. It is bulletproof, but only 99% effective, so there is a small but real danger to A’s family.
An examination of how they got there is possibly relevant, but not directly pertinent to the situation in which they find themselves. Maybe A terrorised B for decades, has stolen everything he had and occupied his house. Maybe B has always wanted to obliterate A because he hates his race deeply and A has only acted in self-defence. Maybe A has given B countless chances to stop shooting, but B doesn’t trust him enough. Maybe even B has gone into the school with the express purpose of using the children as a human shield.
A fires a rocket at the school blowing B up. He aims it carefully, so that only thirty children are killed and another thirty lose a limb.
In the inquest that follows, what questions would you ask? Would you investigate whether there were any other options, whether the reaction was proportionate, whether a smaller weapon could have been used, whether an external negotiator could have been brought in, whether the small danger posed justified the loss of thirty innocents? Would asking these questions indicate bias against or even a hatred of A or are they legitimate? Or would you just say: “A was in the right and that is all there is to it”?
It is not Israel’s actions that I am struggling to understand. I may not agree with their reaction, but I understand why they have chosen it. Nor can I say with any certainty what I would do in their position. It is their apparent lack of any remorse at the loss of innocent life, any compassion for the human misery it causes that I struggle with. It seems to have been totally replaced by a cruel and almost maniacal desire to say “we are in the right”.
If I saw even a single Israeli official on the news, genuinely sleepless and affected, saying: “This is an impossible situation. Believe me, we do not do any of this lightly. We have struggled with our conscience. The images of those dead kids will haunt me for the rest of my life.” maybe I would have more sympathy. But all I see are people who appear to believe that the rights and wrongs of how A and B found themselves at an impasse, somehow make the moral dilemma disappear. That the circumstances absolve Israel of responsibility for every rocket they fire from now on. That “they started it” is an impenetrably blame-proof defence for all that follows. I see an absence of humanity which can never contain any sort of peaceful solution.
I wish people on both sides, who understand that there is no such thing as “only thirty children”, all luck and courage in wresting the solution from the hands of those who are simply preoccupied with being right.
While today’s front pages are – entirely justifiably – the source of great anger and symptomatic of wider sexism, there is a danger of missing the full picture.
The more we zoom into a thigh the less we see of the wider context. The more energy is expended on Esther McVey’s skirt – whether through lust or outrage – the less energy is expended on Gove being sacked after wrecking the education of an entire generation of children. The closer we examine their bags, the less likely we are to notice the total absence of any working class, black, LGBT and disabled representatives in the cabinet.
It is true that yesterday’s reshuffle was treated predominantly as a superficial photo opportunity by a right-wing sexist media corps. Let that not soften our focus on the fact that yesterday’s reshuffle was organised predominantly as a superficial photo opportunity by a right-wing sexist party.
With a few months to go and this government’s legislative programme already closed, shoving a few women to the front was always a cynically cosmetic exercise. Its treatment by the media was not unforeseen consequence, but intended result.
I’ve had a tiny pebble in my shoe all day. It has annoyed me since ten o’clock this morning. And yet I only just took it out. The pebble has wounded my foot. Just like the thought that next time I visit the home where I grew up, Mum may not recognise me, wounds my heart. It shifts around, sometimes it hobbles me, sometimes I feel it less, but it is always there. It is the price I pay, every day, for choosing to be bold and pioneering, back when home was boring and parents indestructible.
I sit here alone in my flat now, holding the minuscule monolith in my palm, sobbing a bit. I love this pebble. I brought it from a beach in Mykonos all the way to South Bermondsey. You should have seen how breezily I marched through the “Nothing To Declare” aisle, knowing that in my shoe I carried a tiny piece of smuggled salted sunshine.
If it weren’t a thoroughly irrational thing to do, I’d put it right back in my shoe tomorrow morning.
I wrote the following precisely three years ago, on the Cameron/Coulson thing. It is worth repeating…
And here is the biggest pork-pie of them all:
- It is unfair to tarnish David Cameron for doing the thoroughly decent thing and giving a man a second chance.
The image of Cameron desperately pushed by Tory politicians and right-wing commentators is that of a trusting, wide-eyed, Bambi-like figure who asked for assurances from Andy Coulson and then, believing the apparently reformed chap at his word, gave the old bean a second chance. Turns out the chap was a scamp! Oh no!
I find this utterly unpalatable. We are talking about the Prime Minister, not Red Fucking Riding Hood. He is a savvy politician, the leader of the Tory party, and an ex PR man himself. It now emerges that he was warned about Coulson by senior Tory and LibDem colleagues. He dismissed concerns over Coulson’s involvement in the scandal as “a political stunt”. Boris Johnson went further, calling assertions regarding the extent of the hacking scandal “a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party”.
Add to this, that Mr Coulson was not on his second chance – he was on his third one. During the period of Coulson’s tenure as Cameron’s right-hand-man, he was heavily implicated in an industrial tribunal which involved horrific bullying and ended up costing his old employer £800k. The tribunal found in December 2008 that the claimant had fallen victim to “a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour… The original source of the hostility towards the claimant was Mr Coulson, the editor; although other senior managers either took their lead from Mr Coulson and continued with his motivation after Mr Coulson’s departure; or shared his views themselves. Mr Coulson did not attend the tribunal to explain why he wanted the claimant dismissed.”
Is keeping this man on staff consistent with a Cameron who has constantly declared himself to be vehemently opposed to bullying? Or is it more consistent with the Flashman who is frequently accused of behaving like a bully in the House of Commons? The bully who dismisses experienced female politicians with “calm down dear”? It is precisely this duality, this inconsistency between the government’s rhetoric and its actions that is at the core of the Coulson appointment.
It has become increasingly clear to many over the last year that this government was elected on a platform of lies; student fees, VAT, reorganisation of the Health Service, EMAs – they are but a smattering of examples; U-turns, broken promises, misleading of the House of Commons and stretching the truth to its limits.
At the centre of this campaign, Andy Coulson – described by George Osborne as “an incredibly talented, dedicated and patriotic servant of this country”; described by David Cameron as “a hugely experienced journalist [who] will make a formidable contribution as a senior member of my team in building the most effective strategy and operation to win the next general election.”
He did make a formidable contribution. And Cameron did win – ish – the general election. Why deny this, just because the true nature of his contribution is now revealed?
Coulson was not hired despite his questionable pedigree. He was hired because of it.
The leaders of Greece’s Golden Dawn, who are charged with running a criminal organisation, said to prosecutors today:
We are not Nazis. We are proud Greek Nationalists.
Today the Editor’s Newspaper (Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών) published the following material.
Here is the party’s leader Nikos Mihaloliakos not being a Nazi.
Here is Golden Dawn MP, Christos Pappas, not being a Nazi.
Here is Christos Pappas again, in front of the German cemetery, where allegedly he held an all-night vigil every year with other Golden Dawn members on the 20th of April, Hitler’s birthday, not being a Nazi.
Here is leader Mihaloliakos and Pappas, not being Nazis together.
Here is a selection of the material from today’s paper, including Golden Dawn MPs definitely not being Nazis at Golden Dawn meetings, definitely not wearing Nazi insignia, definitely not displaying pictures of Hitler or SS flags and definitely not saluting Mussolini’s mausoleum in Rome.
Golden Dawn have issued a statement saying these were youthful mistakes. Here is Pappas inside Mussolini’s mausoleum again in 2009, at the age of 47, being youthfully mistaken.
Here is Golden Dawn MP and, recently, Athens Mayoral candidate Ilias Kasidiaris, after a winter solstice all-nighter during which new Golden Dawn members were sworn in, not being a Nazi. This was in December 2012, while he was already an MP.
I was not going to comment on the whole Alibhai-Brown/Fabricant/Delingpole thing. Truly, I wasn’t. I have kept my gob shut for days and my fingers away from the keyboard. But there is something about Delingpole’s defence of Fabricant – about any logical fallacy, dressed up to be so reasonable looking – that sends me into a sort of intellectual anaphylactic shock.
The bulk of the argument, in his imaginatively and tastefully titled piece “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to punch Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the throat”, is essentially that this is not about all women, but about a particular woman. This woman, he argues, is herself responsible for the anger she causes and, therefore, violent fantasies are just dandy. His point is severely undercut by language laced with sexism both in his piece, his Channel 4 News appearance and many of the comments in support. Language which seems to contain a drummer-like repetition of “screeching”, “screaming”, “hysterical”, “harridan”, “harpy” and related sentiments.
The other part of Delingpole’s argument is semantic and insidious:
It’s immediately obvious when you read the tweet that Fabricant is outlining a hypothetical scenario. Hypothetical scenarios, by definition, may never happen. And in this case… Fabricant has ruled out it ever happening. So it seems bizarre, to say the least, that Fabricant should be censured or forced to apologise for something he hasn’t done and will never do, but merely for something he thought and then rejected… Far from being censured, Fabricant ought surely to be praised for illustrating in his tweet the wise restraint which forms the basis of civilisation.
This superficially attractive approach is more problematic, because it tries to dress up one thing as another and possibly, if no further thought is given, succeeds. What if I tweeted: “I could never appear on a discussion prog with [a specific woman] I would either end up with a brain haemorrhage or by raping her on the way out”? What if I tweeted “I could never appear on a discussion prog with [a specific person of Jewish ethnicity] I would either end up with a brain haemorrhage or by putting them in a gas chamber”? Going by Delingpole’s logic these scenarios are just as hypothetical, just as innocent. I ought, indeed, to be praised for “the wise restraint which forms the basis of civilisation”.
Which is, of course, utter bollocks.
When people like Fabricant, Delingpole, Liddle – and countless threatened little men – get into trouble for crap like this, they run to the temple of Context and yell “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” at the altar of Free Speech. But free speech does not only enshrine your right to say every cockamamie thing that pops up like a weed in the fallow field of your imagination. It also includes everyone else’s right to tell you they find it objectionable and why. What Delingpole is really asking for is not freedom of speech, but freedom from criticism. And freedom from context.
Because context does not only go as wide as you want it; one can always find a convenient rung along the ladder from the specific to the abstract, to justify just about anything. Context in this case includes a man in California shooting half a dozen girls because they wouldn’t fuck him. It includes a schoolgirl in Pakistan being shot in the face because she had the temerity to want an education. It includes two teenagers being gangraped and hung from a mango tree in India. Whether you like it or not, this is the context within which your grotty little fantasy about violently shutting up women fits. In this context, for a man in a position of power to express – and by extension perpetuate and embolden – misogynist fantasies is plainly vile.