Why we should listen when the UN condemns the UK’s ‘extremist media’

British tabloid editors have never struck me as a particularly reflective and thoughtful breed of humanity, so I doubt they will be plunged into a mood of remorseful self-analysis by the very strongly-worded suggestion from the United Nations High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein that there is a connection between their skewed coverage of immigration and asylum and the horrors now taking place in the Mediterranean.

It is far more likely that they, their journalists and many of their readers will scoff at the impudence of some jumped-up Johnny Foreigner with an unpronouncable name who is probably a Muslim to boot having the temerity to criticize their courageous attempts to have a ‘debate’ about immigration and shrug off the politically correct shackles imposed on them by muesli-eating liberals from Hampstead.

That is what they’re like, and to our great shame, that is what they are making us like too.  Because it is really very difficult to argue with Mr Al-Hussein’s condemnation of the ‘  vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of migrants’ that is ‘not only sapping compassion for the thousands of people fleeing conflict, human rights violations and economic deprivation who are drowning in the Mediterranean’ and which has also ‘skewed the EU response to the crisis.’

These are very harsh words from an organization that is normally far more diplomatic and polite.  The immediate object of these complaints was Katie Hopkins’ ‘cockroach’ comments, which Mr Al-Hussein sees as a manifestation of a larger phenomenon:

‘Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers.’

Many of these stories, as the Commissioner pointed out, ‘ have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications. Elsewhere in Europe, as well as in other countries, there has been a similar process of demonization taking place, but usually led by extremist political parties or demagogues rather than extremist media.’

This is horribly and depressingly accurate.  One of the great fantasies of the British right is that they are ‘not allowed’ to have a ‘debate’ about immigration, but there has never been a time in my lifetime when the right has not talked about it, and it has always done so in  negative and often grossly offensive terms.

Even as a child when  I came back to the UK from the West Indies in 1967, I was shocked by the racism oozing from the front pages of the tabloids, whether it was aimed at Enoch Powell’s ‘picanninies’, Ugandan Asians, or the ‘black mugger’ of the 1970s or the ‘people with a different culture’ who Margaret Thatcher said were ‘swamping’ Britain in the 1980s.

The idea that all this miraculously stopped, and that the UK suddenly became a ‘post-racial’ society that was comfortable with immigration and with its new ‘rainbow’ multicultural identity was always something of an overstatement.   Of course progress has been made since the days when Tories could fight election campaigns under the slogan ‘vote Labour if you want a nigger for a neighbor’, but there has always been a solid section of the white British public that has bitterly resented having to share the UK with foreigners of any kind, and dark-skinned foreigners in particular.

Beginning roughly in the early 90s, anti-immigrant rhetoric shifted away from earlier narratives about ‘race’ and ‘culture’ and began to develop a seemingly racially-neutral narrative about ‘numbers.’   This ‘numbers’ discourse was focused primarily on asylum seekers.  Shamelessly, dishonestly, and relentlessly, without even the pretence of trying to understand the phenomenon of asylum or explain its causes and its complexities, the British media disseminated an image of asylum seekers as parasites and liars flooding into the country and ‘abusing’ our generosity because they regarded Britain as a ‘soft touch.’

Following the ‘war on terror’ the discourse shifted again, merging Islamophobic fantasies of terror cells and a Muslim cultural/religious takeover of British society with xenophobic outrage against Eastern European immigrants who refused to integrate while they ‘took our jobs and services’ and created Polish and Rumanian ghettoes etc.

Whatever they did, immigrants couldn’t win.  If they came here ‘legally’ they were part of the phenomenon of ‘mass immigration.’  If they worked hard, they were exploiting us by taking jobs for low wages, even if they were being exploited themselves or doing jobs that British citizens wouldn’t do.  If they sent their children to school they were undermining the education of our children.   If they lived in a house they were stealing a house from ‘our people.’

Whatever they did they always had an unfair advantage over us.  They were always taking, usurping, queue-jumping, and undermining.   As for those who came here ‘without permission’ or ended up becoming ‘failed asylum seekers’,  they were the worst of all; criminal parasites living the life of Riley all over the country at the expense of ‘our people’ or using the Human Rights Act to escape deportation for crimes they’d already been punished for.

Whoever they were, they were bad, and taking advantage of our goodness, and there were always too many of them, in a country that was ‘full’ and which needed to put ‘our people first.’   And anyone who said that this kind of talk was unfair, dangerous, and maybe xenophobic and racist hatemongering to boot, why they were just trying to stifle ‘debate’ and smother the public’s ‘concerns.’

Out of those decades of bile, words like ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘migrant’ became pejorative terms of abuse onto which tabloids hung their prejudices and fanned the prejudices of their readers, and politicians pandered to them and fed them further.

The result, as Mr Al-Hussein pointed out, is that we now have a country where a columnist in a major newspaper can use the kind of language used by Nazis and Rwandan genocidaires to describe people drowning in the Mediterranean.  It’s a country where sick men and women who need medical treatment are now dying because they are afraid to seek it in case they are deported, a country whose rancid bitterness and fury towards immigrants is now transforming ideas and concepts that were once associated with fascism and Nazism into jokey blokey everyday discourse.

Katie Hopkins used that language because in her dim, grasping, attention-seeking way, she recognized that she lived in a country where such talk has now become acceptable and can even appear to be a kind of ‘common sense.’

The British media bears a huge responsibility for this outcome.   As the High Commissioner pointed out, the demonisation of migrants and asylum seekers also takes place in other European countries ‘ but usually led by extremist political parties or demagogues rather than extremist media.’

He is absolutely right.  An extremist media is what we have got, and it is helping to create an extremist society drugged by fear, loathing and resentment that is in danger of losing its own humanity even as it denies the humanity of the men and women who want to come here.

 

The resistible rise of Katie Hopkins

Ok, I know I shouldn’t write about Katie Hopkins.  I am aware that she is a self-seeking toxic sociopath who feeds on toxicity and says hateful things in order to get people to talk about her.   Her motives for doing this are so painfully transparent they hardly bear scrutiny: she wants to become rich and famous and have a lot of people looking at her and reacting to her.

That’s  a common dream nowadays, and indeed the only dream that some people have.   Admittedly she has chosen a route that would shame anyone with even the most elementary standards of morality and decency.  Her motives for doing this are best left for a psychiatrist to analyse, but the significance of Katie Hopkins goes way beyond the ultimately pathetic figure of Hopkins herself.

Because when a columnist can publish an article in a major newspaper, using the language of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide to describe the men, women and children who are drowning in the Mediterranean, then we have to take a wider look at the forces that have made this possible.

Yesterday Laurens Jolles,  the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) in Italy, attributed the failure of European governments to respond to the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean on the ‘irresponsible rhetoric’ of a European-wide political dialogue on immigration, which had left Europe’s polticians fearful of losing elections.   ‘The level of this dialogue compared to 20 years ago is just incredible,’ Jolles declared. ‘It wouldn’t have been possible in the past, the racist rhetoric, the rhetoric of intolerance. In the 60s, 70s and the 80s, we would never have accepted this.’

Hopkins is not a politician but her ‘thoughts’ on the migration crisis are the most extreme manifestation of this transformation in any mainstream British publication.  Just to recap: She described the migrants crossing the Mediterranean as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘feral humans’, who recommended that Europe should fire on them with gunboats, declared ‘Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.’

This kind of talk is not original.  Northern League politicians in Italy routinely use such language.  Back in 2013 Italian senator Roberto Kayelongi compared Italy’s first black minister Cecile Kyengi to an orangutan.  Here in the UK such language was until recently more generally restricted to the darker corners of the Internet or far-right pamphlets. Back in 1997 Nick Hudson, the editor of the Dover Herald published a series of articles on the arrival of Roma asylum seekers in the UK which he claimed had left Dover ‘ with the backdraft of a nation’s human sewage with no cash to wash it down the drain.’

The Dover Herald was a minor provincial newspaper.  The Sun is not, and the fact that Hopkins can now publish the same kind of racist vitriol in its pages is an indication of what is now considered acceptable after eighteen years of incessant vilification of migrants and asylum seekers.

The racism-that-does-not-speak-its-name has clearly opened the door to the point when it is increasingly willing to openly declare itself.  In the last few years a pseudo-debate, generated mostly from the right,  about free speech and the supposed intellectual manacles of ‘political correctness’ has begun to legitimize cruelty, prejudice and hatespeech against many different groups of people, to the point when the ‘right to be offend’ has become a licence to hurt and wound and express contempt for anyone.

That what freedom and democracy are all about, innit?  Or so these 21st century Voltaires would have us believe.  Because after all, words are just words right?  And unlike sticks and stones, they have no consequences.  So just as we should giggle when Jeremy Clarkson has a go at the ‘slopes’, so we ought to chuckle and shake our heads when ‘Katie’ describes Palestinians as ‘rodents’ or insinuates that Asian men are all paedophiles.

Like, come on, get over yourself and grow a thick skin, you stuffy fun-hating liberals.

The Internet has enhanced these new ‘freedoms’ that we now enjoy.  Idiot trolls can now sit at their spittle-flecked keyboards and threaten a woman with rape because she campaigns for a picture of Jane Austen on a pound note.  Only words.  In the last week Sue Perkins of the Great British Bakeoff has left twitter after receiving a series of death threats because it was rumoured that she was going to take Clarkson’s job.  One tweet looked forward to seeing her burned alive.

Aww Sue, wussamatter, can’t take a joke?  And now Jack Monroe, single mother and low-budget chef, who is gay, has also left twitter complaining of ‘suffocating hatred and vitriol’ from trolls like this:

Your sick form of Lesbianism and militant queerism is destroying this country. Get out and give us Britain back! #VoteUKIP.”

Hey come on Jack.  It’s only words.

This is the world of Internet trolldom that Katie Hopkins came from, and which provided her with the springboard that began with attacks on vulnerable celebrities, fat people and food bank users, and which she is now using as a platform for racist hatemongering and genocial fantasising.  The dank and poisonous swamp that is the Sun is of course a natural habitat for a troll-journalist, but Hopkins’ transition from Queen of the Trolls to newspaper columnist and radio presenter is not just due to Rupert Murdoch’s perennial ability to drag British cultural life into the dirt.

Too many media outlets who should have known better gave her the publicity she craved in order to generate a few more hits on their website or increase their ratings. The Huffington Post bears particular responsibility for this.  Over the last few years it has assidiously reported every tweet that ‘Katie’ ever made with a post-modern smirk, accompanied by ‘whoops I did it again’ headlines like ‘You’ll never guess what Katie’s said now’ or ‘ Katie’s latest controversial tweet.’

The fact that the Huffpost and so many others pandered to Hopkins’ agenda and provided an outlet for her prejudices, didn’t mean that the Huffpost agreed or disagreed with them.  It was just wanted to titillate its readers.  No doubt the Guardian will soon follow up with a Decca Aitkenhead profile describing her as a contrarian controversialist and perhaps some kind of national treasure.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that Hopkins now describes herself as a ‘journalist’ as well as ‘businesswoman.’   Or that there is now a twitter meme called ‘Je Suis Katie’, which says things like this:

No matter what, I always stand up for what I believe in. I will always fight the good fight & stand strong’

And

I no longer give a damn what people think of me, If you aren’t offended by anything you are UNSTOPPABLE!

In the kingdom of Trolldom, a woman who stands up for what she ‘believes in’ by describing migrants as ‘feral humans’ and Palestinians as ‘rodents’ is a natural queen, and it is not surprising to hear her subjects paying homage to her.   But she should never have left those toxic realms.   And the fact that she is now able to pour forth a constant stream of dim hatred from a major newspaper and an LBC radio show is a depressing reminder that a significant section of the British media – and the public as well – has no more of a moral compass than Hopkins herself.

 

It’s raining threats, hallelujah

One of the great things about living in a democratic society is that we don’t have propaganda.  That is something that authoritarian regimes like Russia and Iran do.  They have stations like RT and Press tv which do nothing but mindlessly and uncritically promote the agenda of their respective regimes.

Here in the free world we have news, and real journalists, who speak truth to power, who interrogate their governments and never cease to call their more dubious assertions into question.   You know, like Fox News, which as improbable as it may seem, has just been voted the most trustworthy news outlet in America.  Or the BBC, or CNN or Channel 4 News.

I was reminded how delusional these assumptions are when I watched yesterday’s coverage by Channel 4 News of foreign secretary Philip Hammond’s speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on intelligence and security.  Hammond’s speech was essentially an uncritical glorification of the security services and an argument in favour of expanding their powers in the face of a proliferation of state and non-state threats ‘to our safety and security’.

These threats include North Korea, Iran,  Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the ‘illegal proliferation of military technology, ‘lone wolf’ terrorists, organised crime, challenges in cyberspace, you name it, it threatens us. So thank God we have the security services to ‘keep us safe’ – an expression Hammond used so many times one can imagine his audience repeating it drowsily like a mantra before they go to sleep at night.

On one level Hammond’s dire world of threats is nothing new.  We have, in one form or another, been hearing about the ‘complex threats’ to western security ever since the end of the Cold War, when new phenomena like ‘megaterrorism’ and ‘dirty bombs’ were presented as disturbingly unpredictable and unwanted consequences following the disappearance of the more wholesome and comprehensible Cold War threats of mutual assured destruction.

And now an old threat is back in a new form, because: ‘The rapid pace with which Russia is seeking to modernise her military forces and weapons, combined with the increasingly aggressive stance of the Russian military, including Russian aircraft around the sovereign airspace of NATO members states, are all significant causes for concern.’

Not only is this a cause for concern, but ‘ Russia’s aggressive behaviour [is] a stark reminder that it has the potential to pose the greatest single threat to our security.’  And all this aggression, even though ‘We worked in a spirit of openness, generosity and partnership, to help Russia take its rightful place, as we saw it, as a major power contributing to global stability and order. We now have to accept that those efforts have been rebuffed.’

There are so much of this ‘good West versus bad world’ narrative that could be called into question.  How many of the threats that Hammond mentioned were due in part to the actions and policies of the West itself, for example in Iraq, Syria, and Libya?  Haven’t Western states also been modernising their military forces in recent years?  Isn’t it true that US military spending is now more than three times higher than China, its nearest competitor?  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?   Is it a good thing that Saudi Arabia is now the fourth highest military spender in the world, thanks to the weapons it brought mostly from Europe and the US, whereas Iran is not even in the top fifteen?

We know it makes some companies and corporations richer to chuck weapons around like this, but does this global diffusion of weaponry really help to ‘keep us safe?’   Did the West  really act towards Russia with a spirit of ‘openness, generosity and partnership’ after the Cold War?   Do Western states bear some responsibility for the ‘destabilising of Ukraine’ that Hammond refers to?

Is it true, as the foreign secretary suggested, that ‘The exposure of the alleged identity of one of the most murderous ISIL terrorists over the last few weeks has seen some seeking to excuse the terrorists and point the finger of blame at the agencies themselves’ and that those who have done this are acting as ‘apologists’ for the terrorists?  Is criticism now synonymous with apologism?

None of these questions were asked or even considered in Channel 4’s report, which focused almost entirely on a single question: whether we are spending enough on our armed forces.   It referred to ‘angry MPs’ who want us to spend more and interviewed  Liam Fox – neocon militarist on the extreme right of the Tory party – who naturally thought that we need to spend more.

This was followed by British military commander Sir Richard Dannatt, and Professor Michael Clarke from RUSI, both of whom expressed their anxiety about the level of defence spending.  The only dissenting voice was Sergei Markov, from the Russian Institute of Political Studies,  who dismissed Hammond’s suggestions and argued that the West had generated many of the threats it was now concerned about.

But this was a Russian speaking, and so Snow dismissed these arguments somewhat condescendingly as mere ‘beliefs’ – a categorisation that was not extended to his previous interviewees, even though their arguments were no less ‘beliefs’ than Markov’s.

Channel 4 News is one of the better news channels, but at no stage in this report did it even inch outside the official narrative and subject any aspect of the British government’s claims to serious scrutiny.  Instead it stuck so rigidly to the government’s talking points that it might as well been the official voice of the foreign office.    But that’s the thing: it isn’t.   Unlike RT or Press TV,   Channel 4 is an independent network without state funding.  It has the opportunity and to really think outside the box and ask ministers some serious questions about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Yesterday, faced with a series of dubious assertions by a government minister on matters of security, war and peace, it merely nodded obediently and decided not to ask any, and that may not be propaganda, but it certainly isn’t serious journalism.

My name is Emerson, Steve Emerson

Many of the inhabitants of Birmingham were surprised to learn from Fox News yesterday that their city has become an ‘entirely Muslim’ city which non-Muslims ‘simply don’t go in.’ But no one familiar with Steven Emerson, the pundit who expounded these views, will be surprised at all.   In the United States Emerson is one of the most prominent members of that highly-dubious breed known as the ‘terrorism expert,’   whose expertise consists of an ability to offer up interpretations of terrorism that certain governments and media want to hear.

Emerson’s particular forte has always been ‘Islamic terrorism.’   Like many American terrorism experts, he has close ties to Israeli intelligence and Israeli security thinktanks, but even more than most he has always shown a remarkable ability to make fact-free and often nonsensical statements and assumptions that invariably conflate Israel’s enemies with those of the US.

Emerson has been in this game for a long time.  In 1994 he made a documentary called Jihad in America, which claimed that the US was riddled with jihadist sleeper cells. In the immediate aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah building in Oklahoma City he famously told a CBS interviewer that the bombing was carried out ‘with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible.  That is a Middle Eastern trait.’

Emerson played a key role in the US government’s 11-year persecution of Palestinian academic Sami al-Arian in Florida, that began in 2003 when al-Arian was arrested on charges of assisting suicide bombings in Israel, and ended last July when all charges against him were dismissed.    After the 2013 Boston marathon bombings,  Emerson claimed that a Saudi national was responsible, though it subsequently turned out to be Chechens.

None of this has prevented the former sociology graduate from doing very well for himself, because ‘experts’ like him will always be in demand in certain circles regardless of their insight, analytical ability, or the accuracy of their information.   Emerson is the director of a tax-exempt ‘non-profit research group’ called the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), whose finances have come under scrutiny for channeling funds into another for-profit company that he himself controls.  In 2010 the Nashville newspaper the Tennessean described Emerson as ‘ a leading member of a multi-million-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.’

This is exactly what Emerson was doing yesterday, and that was what Fox News interviewed him for.  Emerson has since issued an apology to the ‘beautiful city of Birmingham’  for his ‘mistake’ and declared that ‘ I do not intend to justify or mitigate my mistake by stating that I had relied on other sources because I should have been much more careful.’

But his ‘mistake’ was only one component of an interview that was steeped in Islamophobic fantasies and deliberate lies.    The interview took place only the day after Rupert Murdoch tweeted that all Muslims must be held responsible for the ‘growing jihadist cancer’ in their midst, and Emerson and his interviewer were both singing loudly from the same hymn sheet.

The interview was part of a post-Paris report on the  ‘terrorist sleeper cells’ and the ‘hundreds of no-go zones’ across Europe that according to the stunningly witless interviewer were ‘off-limits to non-Muslims.’

If you’re going to make nonsensical assertions like this you need to have a certain kind of expert that you can rely on, and that’s why you call Steve Emerson. Yesterday he  rose to the occasion. Emerson described these ‘zones’ as ‘amorphous.  They’re not contiguous necessarily. But they are safe havens’,  where governments ‘don’t exercise any sovereignty’, where the police don’t enter, where Shar’ia law holds sway, and ‘Muslim density is very intense.’

Not as intense as the density emanating from Emerson or his interviewer’s face, whose stupefied expression of gormless horror is worth the price of admission, as Emerson tells her that these ‘zones’ are ‘like a separate country almost, within a country.’

How does Emerson know this?  Well he doesn’t ‘know’ it exactly, but he doesn’t need to, because his ‘no go zones’ concept comes straight out of the ‘counterjihad’ Eurabian playbook, as written by Bat Y’eor, Melanie Phillips, Robert Spencer et al.    Emerson’s interviewer laps this up and even makes a ‘point’ of her own, observing ‘ You know what it sounds like to me Steve?  It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country.’

Yeah, it really does, doesn’t it?  Well it does to our ‘terrorism expert’ anyway, who agrees wholeheartedly and adds ‘ It’s almost like what they’re asking Israel to do, which is to set up a separate state within their own state.’

Huh?   Oh never mind.  Because the great problem, according to Emerson, is that European governments are not ‘dealing with it’ and are in active denial about these zones, even though the  ‘French official website’ says that they do exist and ‘actually has a map of them.’

I’d like to see that map, wouldn’t you?  But I doubt if I could find it, and in Britain it’s even worse, says Steve, because ‘it’s not just no go areas, there are actually cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims simply just don’t go in, and parts of London there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim religious attire.’

Crikey, bet you didn’t know that, did you readers?   Well now you do, thanks to Steve Emerson, terrorism expert.   By this time the presenter looks so shocked that you wish someone would give her medication as she breathlessly asks if there is any way to ‘get these zones back’ and worries that they are ‘metastising into a simple takeover’.

Steve, not surprisingly, isn’t optimistic, because every counterjihadist worth his salt knows that European governments are just too hidebound by political correctness to recognize the threat.   So the sage concludes that ‘ Europe is finished, because if you extrapolate the number of Muslims, and I’m not saying that all Muslims are terrorists, far from it, but the leaders of the Muslim organizations in Europe deliberately don’t want to integrate, and so they establish these zones which refuse to integrate and use them as leverage against the host country, as political and military leverage, so will these countries take it back?  I don’t see it happening at this point.’

So it looks like we’re doomed, doomed I tell you, because Muslim ‘leaders’ have deliberately turned Birmingham into an all-Muslim city whose inhabitants refuse to integrate, and they are using it as ‘political and military leverage.’ Steve still has one last nonsensical touch to add to this already remarkable achievement.  Asked about ‘these female terrorists’ like Hayat Boumedienne, he tells the interviewer ‘ there are many of them, well not many, well I can’t give you a specific number’.

Our expert may not be certain whether there are many or not many, but he does know that these female terrorists can be found in Britain, ‘where women wear burkhas to hide their identities.’

Phew.  If there was any intellectual activity going on in that interview I sure didn’t see it, but thought and intelligence are clearly not the priority here in an interview whose essential purpose to inject a massive dose of bigotry and propaganda into the minds of its credulous audience.

That was why Steve Emerson was there.   And regardless of his little faux pas about Birmingham, the ‘terrorism expert’ didn’t disappoint.