We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.
— Thomas Babington Macaulay, Moore’s Life of Byron,
Edinburgh Review, Vol. 53 (June 1831) 544-572
Last Christmas Eve, it was reported that a Scottish man, one Scott Harrison, was sentenced to one year in jail for throwing acid on the face of a lady he found manning a stall for the Israeli cosmetic firm, Kedem, about a year ago. His lawyers are in the process of appealing against the conviction.
Throwing acid on people’s faces doesn’t happen very often in the UK. When such a horrific act of violence does make it to our papers, TV and social media, it is often located in Bangladesh, with all the implied confirmation of our prejudices about the cultures of the Third World; it happens all the time over there, but we are different here.
You’d think, with such a deeply-entrenched outlook, the British media would be shocked to its core that something it reports to be rampant in Bangladesh has occurred here. Yet, there is scant reference to both the attack on 18-year-old Iona Georgianna, and the recent sentencing of Scott Harrison. In fact, the only “Scott Harrison” Google reveals is almost entirely the namesake disgraced pugilist.
You’d think, with all these stories about the surge in Islamophobia linked to the recent events in Paris, that the British media is concerned about racially-motivated violence in all its manifestations. And, it would be tempting to dismiss complaints by British Jews that anti-Semitic violence is simply whining for attention. But, when an incident of verbal abuse gets more coverage than that of an assault with a corrosive substance, the eyebrows on discerning heads go up.
We live in an age where Europe’s long tradition of anti-Semitism has found fertile ground among a generation that tried to make sense of the world as it is now. A generation that sought to identify who the bad guys and the good guys are in all of that has happened over the last century. A generation that, as British writer Francis Wheen points out in Strange Days Indeed, no longer trusted the “official narrative.” Many of them have gone on to become the lecturers at our institutions of higher learning, legislators, political leaders and the executives of our media, effectively taking charge of opinion, thinking and even morality. They know what is wrong with the world today, and if you do not repeat after them, you are part of what is wrong with the world today too.
Maybe this process of anti-Semitism finding regeneration in the fertile ground is an unintentional consequence of this paradigm shift in Western societies, like the weeds that grow on a compost heap. However, the fact still remains that we recognised years ago that anti-Semitism is evil. The logical conclusion of that recognition is that we should remain vigilant for any latter-day manifestations of anti-Semitism, and confront them with the same fervour with which we would all the other social evils, like racism in general, sexism etc.
Yet, this is not the case. British Jews have become the proxies on which members of the public can vent their outrage over all the bad things in the world they think Israel is responsible for. Since this is projected as part of fighting the good fight, then such attacks are perfectly justified.
British media plays a major role in propping up this very narrow-minded perspective. Facebook is full of pictures of dead babies from the conflict in Syria, from an earthquake in Pakistan and even a still from a move in the Final Destination franchise. They are all captioned as images out of Gaza. I lost many British friends on Facebook, and in the real world, for pointing out with evidence the original sources of these images. In Middlesbrough, there are people who won’t speak to me now for calling them out on this disinformation. Britain is determined to hold on to the idea that Israel is an evil colonial settler system that is slaughtering the poor defenceless Palestinians, even when the only evidence to support this idea had to be doctored.
The mainstream could easily turn this around by being balanced in its reporting. They could stop pretending that there are no Israelis being stabbed on the street, and that there is no worldwide massive social media encouraging and glorifying the stabbings.They could stop pretending that attacks on Jews on the streets of Britain are few and far in between, or that they necessarily indicate a huge problem with anti-Semitism. But, the people running the media also hold the delusion that they are fighting the good fight against all that is wrong with the world.
More of the political leadership should be showing more leadership. You do not have to be an ardent racist to think there is something wrong with the picture of the local MP, White British, if you please, vehemently branding the IDF war criminals and condoning the knife-attacks, while Muslim activists nod smugly behind him. Yet, this is how politics now plays out in Britain. This is what passes for morality.