Journalist Rod Liddle wrote a racist and Islamophobic piece in the Sunday Times. Politicians from all side expressed the standard outrage and demands for apology. In this piece I argue, that if activists and public figures are genuine in their outrage we must address the root causes of such racist behavior and utterances, not just the offensive words.
On Sunday the 21st of October, the Sunday Times published an article from it’s controversial columnist Rod Liddle, in particular the paragraph, in reference to the extremist Anjem Choudary:
“Me too. Actually, I don’t really mind if they don’t leave the country, so long as they leave the country, so long as they blow themselves up – somewhere decent distance from where the rest of us live. Tower Hamlets, for example”.
There was the usual round of condemnation and demand from apologies. However none of the responses I have seen have delved deeper into the root narrative that gives the likes of Rod Liddle the confidence to publish such racist words to incite hatred nor his fellow travellers in the far right that are organising marches and demos throughout the UK.
The Racist Framing of the ‘Other’: Turning Human Subjects into Subhuman Objects.
Rod Liddle in his paragraph does what all racists have done throughout the ages, he turns the vibrant, diverse communities of Tower Hamlets, into an impersonal other,..”somewhere decent distance from where the rest of us live. Tower Hamlets, for example.” Thus through one semantic sleight of hand justifying inciting violence, against a subhuman entity, in this case Tower Hamlets.
This semantic sleight of hand, under the masquerading under the guise of respectable journalism and academia was explored in the seminal works of the Palestinian activist and academic Edward Said in his seminal works, ‘Covering Islam’ and ‘Orientalism’. In such writings Edward Said highlighted, the exaggeration of difference, the presumption of Western superiority, and the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving those not perceived to be ‘Western’ (in the context of Tower Hamlets visible minorities). As such, these writings become the source of the inaccurate cultural representations that form the foundations of people’s and decision makers perceptions of, in the case of Tower Hamlets visible minorities, in particular the Muslim community.
21st Century McCarthyism: If it’s Muslim and if it Moves, Then it’s Guilty.
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.
A witch-hunt or witch purge is a search for people labelled “witches” or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic.
The likes of writers like Rod Liddle have enabled an atmosphere of season of witch hunting, against visible minorities, akin to the Salem witch trials of 1692/93 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In such an atmosphere, the Muslim minority community is made to feel guilty for being Muslims, having to constantly explain their actions to a skeptical wider community. A presumption of guilty until proven innocent.
I myself in the past weeks have been subjected to trial by media McCarthyism, when I was briefed against to journalists, for having violent extremist/anti-semitic motives for putting forward a proposal in the Council Chamber, to rename the bus stop in front of Altab Ali Park, to Altab Ali Park, in order to mark the 40th anniversary of his racist murder. The Jewish Chronicle to it’s credit did not publish the story, identifying it as a smear, but it has left me wondering what others less confident than me from the Muslim community are subjected to and made to suffer in silence.
Tackling Racism: Think Globally but acting Locally
The above episode has lead me with others to have discussion as to what can we do in the local public institutions we have influence over to challenge the racist narrative of the likes of Rod Liddle and the decision makers he is influencing. In particular we need to have a thorough audit of council policies. For example, why is it in our council policies, languages such as Bengali or Arabic are classed as Community Languages while French and German are classed as Modern Foreign Languages? Why in our council policies for example in terms of sports development, providing public subsidies to a rich Hockey Club, such as Wapping is called sustainable, but providing slots to local representative Hockey Club, Tower Hamlets Hockey Club (majority of players come from BAME community) is classed as unsustainable? Or making the PREVENT agenda work, without demonising entire communities, as outlined by Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester.
Looking forward to the debate, challenges and ongoing struggle.
“There is no final victory, and there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle. To be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.”