July 08, 2007

Be fair to Engage? Ok, I will

I've had a comment telling me that if I was fair to Engage I would have searched harder or more often on google cache to find the amazing disappearing Littlejohn post on Engage. Maybe they're right. It appears that David Hirsh attempted an explanation and apology before disappearing the piece altogether. The cache for the time being is here. You'll have to scroll down a bit because, unusually, the lengthier UPDATE was on the home page. The update bit is this:
UPDATE Some people are angry with this piece I wrote yesterday. There are, I think, two separate issues.

(1) Was I wrong to mention that the Littlejohn programme was coming up and link to his interview and his article? I think that this was entirely appropriate – a link doesn’t signify support or agreement – and I think that people who are interested in contemporary antisemitism might well want to keep up with what Littlejohn is saying. I’ll watch it and I assume other people would like to watch it too.

(2) Did what I said lead people to think that I am advocating some kind of alliance with Richard Littlejohn against antisemitism?

I think that the way I wrote this piece might have done that, and I apologise for having given that impression.

I don’t read the Daily Mail or the Sun (perhaps I should, so I know what is going on). In my head Littlejohn was a blast from the past – a time-warp back to a different political universe – a Thatcherite universe from which we have, thankfully, moved on. I wrote a slightly flippant nostalgia piece – and I can see that doing that was a mistake.

I was wrong to think of Littlejohn as a bad dream, a clown from the far distant past – he is also a hard-right voice from the present – hard right, xenophobic, homophobic and racist. Certainly what he is quoted as saying about Rwanda is racist:
"Does anyone really give a monkey's about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them."
I used the wrong tense, what I said is true now, as it was then:
"how we hated these nasty little apologies for everything Thatcherite - tinged as they were around the edges with an anti-immigrant xenophobia and a baying hatred of the "politically correct"
I think the central point I made in this piece – which was to point out the horrible irony - that some people on the right, and even the far right, are clearer in their opposition to antisemitism than some on the ‘anti-imperialist’ left – is quite right and I make it again. I didn’t mean to give the impression – and I didn’t say – that Littlejohn is more of an antiracist than they are. But when we’re choosing between the hard left and the hard right, it shouldn’t be like choosing between the plague and cholera.

I didn't say Littlejohn was suddenly a great antiracist, I didn't say he was an ally against antisemitism, I didn't say that we should all join in a popular front against antisemitism with him, I didn't say that he was my best mate, I didn't say that he was right to hate gay people - what I said was, perhaps you might be interested to watch his television programme on Monday.

Littlejohn is a caricature tabloid/Daily Mail racist, homophobic sleaze. If he uses his TV programme to try to reverse antisemitism into hostility to Muslims - something he comes close do doing, but doesn't do in his Daily Mail piece - then this is nasty and to be opposed in the strongest possible terms. He can’t resist a little mention of Bernard Manning, he can’t resist a little dig at people who take Islamophobia seriously. It would hardly come as a surprise if Littlejohn, like Melanie Phillips, opposes antisemitism without understanding it as form of racism, which is to be opposed always and everywhere.

What defines Engage has always been its consistent antiracism - its refusal to accept antisemitism which sometimes flows from a justified anger with Israel - and its refusal to accept Islamophobia - and sometimes people fighting antisemitism have been tempted to "blame the Muslims not the Jews". Engage tries to negotiate a consistently antiracist path through this territory.

Did I put a foot off this path by linking to Littlejohn? Maybe. I don't think so. If I was writing this piece now, I’d write it differently. Perhaps we should carry on the discussion here after the programme goes out on Monday. DH

Here is the original piece, as I wrote it yesterday:
I have already posted what follows here.

But there is still a bit of an issue with this. The comments page is still as illusive as it was yesterday but I have got a piece of one by David Hirsh responding to a commentor called Diasporist. He said this:
But diasporist, my point was, how come this right wing sleaze is now suddenly more of an anti-racist than you are? At least than Livingstone is, than the SWP is, than Alexei Sayle is, than UCU is than UNISON is, than T&G? How come?

What has happened to antiracist politics when even Richard Littlejohn is to the left of all those that I mention? I never said he was good, I said he was a clearer opponent of anti-Jewish racism than a whole layer of "antiracists".
Now if you look back up at the update to the bit in bold. Ok, let's have it again:
I didn’t mean to give the impression – and I didn’t say – that Littlejohn is more of an antiracist than they are
And the disappeared comment again:
how come this right wing sleaze is now suddenly more of an anti-racist than you are? At least than Livingstone is, than the SWP is, than Alexei Sayle is, than UCU is than UNISON is, than T&G? How come?
He did say what he subsequently said he neither meant nor said. Now I'm sure he didn't mean it. But he definitely said it and he said it in such a way as to appear to want people to think that he meant it. So, to my commenting contributor, I hope I have been fairer this time around than I was when I thought that David Hirsh was simply pulling the Littlejohn post because Littlejohn was an embarrassment. He seems to have pulled the post and the comments because, in his attempt to explain away yet another dubious associate for Engage he claimed he did not say what he definitely did say. Fair? Yes, fair!


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