Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Letter about antisemitism in The Independent

I have a letter in today's Independent about the ongoing debate about an Independent article by Christina Patterson that might (or might not) have been antisemitic (Christina Patterson's own latest contribution to this debate is here). Incidentally, this is not a debate about free speech: I'm not disputing Ms Patterson's right to write what she wrote, I'm disagreeing with what she wrote - there's a difference. I cannot help reflecting upon the fact that when, during the General Election campaign, I wrote something that gave people a mistaken impression of my views on gay adoption, I didn't winge about how hurtful it was to be misinterpreted, or complain that I had been "smeared as a homophobe" - I simply clarified my words to better express my meaning, removing any appearance that I was a homophobe (since I'm not), and the problem went away. Is that perhaps food for thought for Christina Patterson? My letter reads:
I do not understand David Pollard's argument that it has clearly not been "a vintage year for the Wiesenthal anti-Semitic slur awards, if an obscure Lithuanian Holocaust denier and a moan from Christina Patterson ... have both made it into the Top 10 Slurs of the year" (letter, 27 December).

The Holocaust denier in question is an adviser to the Lithuanian Interior Ministry and wrote his offending words in Veidas, one of his country's most popular weeklies. By what measure is he "obscure"? Christina Patterson, meanwhile, wrote her "moan" not in some fringe publication, but in a newspaper so very mainstream as The Independent itself, which is precisely why it merits consideration for a Top 10 placing.

An anti-Semite is someone who has a generalised dislike of Jews. Ms Patterson denies being such a person; in which case, why did she write an article that gave the impression that she dislikes Judaism, Islam and the people who practice them?

As for her assertion ("How I was smeared as an anti-Semite", 23 December), by way of Hannah Arendt, that one can only hate individual "persons", and not "any people or collective" – if wishing made it so. Events in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur surely prove that human beings are eminently capable of hating (and killing) each other not only as individuals, but also in the mass.

Ms Patterson wrote an article giving the (possibly mistaken) impression that she dislikes Jews and Muslims, and then blamed those who were offended for having taken offence. She reminds me of a saloon bar bore who drones on about immigration and then is surprised to be accused of racism.

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