MITCH BENN: Careless talk costs lives

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 March 2019

Mitch Benn says there should be awkward questions for those who peddle polite racism. Photo: AP

Mitch Benn says there should be awkward questions for those who peddle polite racism. Photo: AP

MITCH BENN says there should be awkward questions for the people who've been making a living peddling so-called 'polite racism'.

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I found myself being interviewed on Turkish television last week, on the subject of Brexit in general and Mr Tragical Misery Tour himself, Nigel Farage.

I was asked if I thought Nigel Farage was a racist; I replied that with the likes of Farage it’s always hard to tell if one is dealing with an actual xenophobe or just a morally vacuous demagogue, but that I thought there were a couple of occasions on which Farage has let his guard down and given himself away as a genuine racist.

They didn’t ask me to elaborate but for the record, these are the occasions I was thinking of...

Firstly: that time in May 2014 when James O’Brien asked him to explain just what was the difference between having half-German children (as Farage himself does) and having Romanian neighbours, to which Farage raised a conspiratorial eyebrow and said “You know what the difference is...”

Secondly, the instance later that same year, when bad traffic on the M4 made Farage late for a UKIP event in Port Talbot and he blamed the congestion on the fact that “the population is going through the roof, chiefly because of open-door immigration”.

As a travelling comedian I’ll wager I spend more time sitting in motorway tailbacks than anyone without an HGV licence; the thoughts which go through my head on these occasions vary according to my lateness and my overall mood.

When centred, I think the only thing that a decent person should think while stationary on the motorway, which is “Oh dear, I hope nobody’s been injured”. If I’m on edge and the clock is ticking, I look at the cars around me and think: “It’s all right for you; you’re just going to be late getting home... I’m trying to get to work.”

But one thought I’ve never had under such circumstances is “bloody immigrants”. In fact, I can only think of one kind of person whose first thought, upon finding themselves stuck on the motorway, would be “bloody immigrants”. It starts with an R and it rhymes with racist.

It’s perhaps because Farage spent the early part of this week inaugurating his forlorn mud-stricken Bus March (still not sure how that works) that nobody, as far as I know, approached him for his take on the atrocity which befell the city of Christchurch.

I refuse to read the gun-toting nobody’s ‘manifesto’ but I’ve seen enough quotations from it to know that he cited American right-wing commentator Candace Owens and Donald Trump himself as inspirations. The US president, asked for comment, gave a cursory condemnation of the attack, before dismissing the idea that white supremacist terrorism is a big deal and then immediately referring to immigration as an “invasion” (the exact term the Christchurch killer had used).

When it comes to white racist terrorism, Trump has perfected the art of praising with faint damns.

I wondered if anyone would ask Farage for his thoughts on Christchurch; we know that the killer read Owens’ opinion that “Europe will fall and become a Muslim continent”; we can assume he heard Trump say “Islam hates us” and call for a ban on Muslims entering the USA; while there’s no reason to suspect he ever saw Farage standing proudly in front of his swarm-of-dark-skinned-immigrants “BREAKING POINT” poster, the poster itself forms part of the toxic background radiation of Muslimphobia (I prefer that term to ‘Islamophobia’ which makes it sound like a theological objection rather than the dehumanisation of whole peoples) pervading our political discourse.

As I’ve said before, one reason the Labour Party has difficulty acknowledging its anti-Semitism problem is the mistaken belief that anti-Semitism is a quintessentially right-wing thing, possibly because of its association with the Nazis (who were right wing; all those idiots on the internet insisting that the name ‘National Socialism’ means that 
the Nazis were in fact lefties will get a hell of a shock when they find out about the ‘Democratic Republic Of North Korea’).

The Nazis didn’t invent anti-Semitism; they just applied it, on an industrial scale. Up to the mid-20th century, the notion that ‘the Jews are up to something and somebody ought to do something about them’ was a fairly mainstream opinion, expressed widely and openly in even the most polite circles.

Then the Nazis showed everyone exactly what ‘doing something about the Jews’ looked like, and suddenly there wasn’t so much ‘polite’ anti-Semitism around any more.

Nobody is suggesting that all, or even any, of the widely-read and well-paid fomenters of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment sought to encourage anything like what happened in Christchurch. But if you’ve been making a living for years saying ‘somebody ought to do something about the Muslims’, you shouldn’t get away without, at the very least, having to answer some awkward questions when an idiot with an assault rifle and a GoPro takes it upon himself to ‘do something about the Muslims’.

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