I wasn’t going to write about the Stop the War/International Brigades fiasco again. In fact I had hoped that it was all beginning to quieten down and I could return to normal and write about something else. For the time being at least, normality is no longer possible, and so I feel I have no choice but to try and surf the toxic wave that my response to Hilary Benn’s speech has created, if only to avoid being swamped by the garbage.
Now some of you might think that it is every blogger’s dream to see their site traffic ballooning day after day; to open a newspaper or go onto a webpage and find your words being quoted in a nice little screenshot, even if the articles in question don’t even mention your name; or to know that those same words are floating back and forth in twitter arguments.
Well in this case you would be wrong, because there is really nothing very enjoyable at all about seeing your own words being appropriated in the service of a vicious political lie. Today, for example I found an article by James Bloodworth on the Poltics.co.uk website on why Jeremy Corbyn should leave the ‘repugnant’ Stop the War, which contained a screenshot of my International Brigades reference as proof that STW ‘praised’ Daesh.
I wrote to Politics.co.uk’s editor Adam Bienkov and pointed out that I had issued clarifications and a rebuttal, and he took the screenshot out. But no sooner was that over than I discovered that Caroline Lucas had resigned from Stop the War because of ‘positions’ that the organization had taken.
I’m a great admirer of Caroline Lucas, so I was almost relieved to discover that these ‘positions’ did not include my own article, and referred to events that had preceded it. But I still found my ‘ International Brigades’ screenshot on a piece on the Huffington Post website referring to these ‘positions’. So I wrote to HuffPost’s political editor Owen Bennett and pointed out that I had written a rebuttal and an apology, and now the piece refers to the latter.
Even then it was still not over. By the end of the day I found my International Brigades piece yet again, in an article in the Guardian about Lucas’s resignation, so I am beginning to conclude that firefighting is an impossible exercise, and that journalists like Bloodworth are either too lazy or too dishonest to actually check the ‘truth’ they are repeating, and that too many media outlets only too willing to uncritically recycle what they say..
If these journalists had any integrity, they could easily have looked into why someone would have done something so outlandish as to ‘praise Daesh’ and read my original piece. They would have realized from the context that I did no such thing. They might have quibbled at my wording; they might have argued or disagreed with me; or they might think that I was being unclear, as some people who have written to me have already suggested.
But there is no way that any intelligent, honest or thinking person could seriously believe that I ‘praised Daesh’. If they still had doubts, then any reading of my rebuttals or apology, or a look at some of the other pieces I had written would surely have dispelled them.
Instead an extract from a paragraph taken out of context has become a kind of self-contained ‘truth’ which has nothing to do with truth at all, to the point when my own words have become a kind of alien language to me. And the more this ‘truth’ spreads through the Internet, the more it has acquired the status of an uncontested fact; that Stop the War has praised Daesh..
I’m not sure if this Kafkaesque or Orwellian, but it is certainly kind of nightmarish, like chasing after a train that is always just in front of you; or waking up to find that you’ve turned into Katie Hopkins; or finding yourself at the bottom of a dank hole with James Bloodworth and Dan Hodges nibbling pieces of flesh off your feet and handing them onto the Guardian and the Telegraph for a little snack before the big dinner of wrecking Stop the War, Jeremy Corbyn, and the single most promising leftist revival in decades.
Among the most depressing aspects of this new portal that I’ve stepped through are the gleefully contemptuous tweets, which seem to take a weird delight in insisting that I really meant what I did not mean, no matter how many times I insist that I didn’t mean it. And the increasingly shrill and overheated messages I’ve received, such as the one ranting about throat-cutting Muslims in a way that seems to suggest I am somehow in favour of cutting throats, and another suggesting that I would have once supported gassing Jews, or something.
I am not posting these rants, neither of which seems to show the slightest understanding of what I actually said. One of them refers to my rebuttal and then paraphrases it to prove that even though I denied that I ‘praised Daesh’, I didn’t mean it. I have the feeling that even if I wrote out ‘I did not praise Daesh’ a thousand times, like lines, or hired a plane to float these words on a giant placard in a nationwide tour, there would still be those who would say ‘ You praised Daesh.’.
There is nothing I can do to change their minds and convince them that I really, really, don’t love Daesh, and neither does Stop the War. Too many people, it seems, don’t want to believe this, and believe what they have already chosen to believe, and the words I wrote have acquired a malignant life of their own that is entirely independent of my intentions and which I can neither clarify or reclaim .
So in this context, I am really grateful for the positive and supportive messages I have received on this blog and elsewhere, and also for the thoughtful discussions I have sometimes been able to have, even with people who disagree with what I said.
They remind me of a world where dialogue, debate and discussion are still possible, where ‘truth’ is not confined within a screenshot, where conversations can continue, and ideas can be criticized and revisited.
And they also remind me why I started writing this blog, and why I will continue to do so.