Tuesday 27 February 2024

Hair-splitting is just a diversionary tactic


Maybe there’s a scholar of English nuance somewhere who can explain the enormous difference between claiming that Sadiq Khan and, in consequence, London are under the control of Islamists (© Lee Anderson) and claiming that the whole of the UK is under the control of Islamists and Keir Starmer is in hock to them (© Suella Braverman). The first is apparently so serious as to justify removing the whip, whilst the second can be ignored. Number 10 have been struggling for days to explain what exactly it was about Anderson’s statement which led to his suspension (and today’s ‘clarification’ has added little to the sum total of human knowledge), suggesting that Sunak really doesn’t understand what was wrong with both wild claims, and has merely responded to bad press.

Some, such as the Trade and Industry Secretary, have decided to try and avoid the question by getting into a semantic argument about what is or is not Islamophobia. If it weren’t for the fact that this is a blatant attempt by the hair-splitting tendency to divert attention away from the substance, she might even have half a point. ‘Phobia’ isn’t the best suffix to use, given its suggestion of fear, and ‘anti-Islamic’ might indeed be more accurate use of language. It is possible to hate something without fearing it, and to fear something without hating it, but arguing about that nuance doesn’t actually deal with the essence of the comments, which seem to display a mixture of both hate and fear.

Essentially, what both Braverman and Anderson are complaining about is that people have been ‘allowed’ to demonstrate against Israeli actions in Gaza rather than having their protests banned and the ringleaders rounded up and jailed. And whilst the subject matter in this case might be the appalling violence being deployed in Gaza, both of them are using what they assume (maybe correctly, although I’m not entirely convinced that they are really in tune with even that group) to be an unpopular cause amongst their target voters as a hook to express their dislike of any dissent from their own view of the world. And it’s not at all unreasonable to wonder whether Sunak’s half-hearted disciplinary action against one of them (make an unapologetic apology with your fingers crossed behind your back and we’ll let you back in, seems to be the message) and his reluctance to even consider action against the second is a result of him basically agreeing with them and not really understanding what the fuss is about.

If any of them understood what the traditional ‘British values’ which they all claim to espouse mean, they would also understand that the right to protest is one of those values. What their words and actions demonstrate most clearly – and not just in relation to Gaza – is that they are actually clueless about those values. It increasingly appears as though the only ‘right’ that they think anyone other than themselves and the financial interests they represent should have is the right to do as we are told. And that isn’t really a ‘right’ at all.

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