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Silence is not an option

Posted on October 30, 2023

To borrow from the cliché, nuance is the first casualty of ethnic cleansing. A few days back, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, unequivocally condemned the Hamas attacks in Israel of 7 October. He went on to suggest that, as abhorrent as this violence may have been, it ‘did not happen in a vacuum.’ A measured, if somewhat uncomfortable assessment, befitting someone in such high office.

He subsequently found himself subject to accusations from the Israeli UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, of acting as an apologist for ‘the murder of innocents.’ It’s a bit of a leap from Guterres pointing out that decades of oppression might eventually prompt some resistance, however repellent, to a charge of condoning indiscriminate slaughter, but, like I say, we’re not in times that tolerate subtleties of tone.

Israel’s response to incursion into their territory has been predictably savage. As has been their reaction – and that of governments, including the UK –  to anyone who has the temerity to call out the indiscriminate and disproportionate nature of their actions. Because, you see, if like Guterres, you should happen to think that the actions of Hamas are deeply rooted in long experience of displacement, discrimination and repression, you’re one of two things. Either you’re in favour of violent jihad or you’re an anti-Semite.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of the UK over the past few weeks, peacefully and decorously making their protest about a ‘war’ in which one side has some substandard rockets and the other has charge of one of the globe’s most terrifying arsenals. In among these huge crowds, right-leaning media outlets desperately seek out any injudicious, angry outbreak in a lame attempt to mis-characterise the nature of the protest. The Home Secretary, because her desk is clear of any other pressing commitments, urges the constabulary to listen out for the terrorists in our midst. It’s fair to say they’ve not yet been able to fill the paddy-wagons with regiments of holy warriors.

Similarly, the charge of antisemitism against those who criticise the actions of the Israeli government is as tiresome as it is inaccurate. But fear of such accusations has muted many. The careless choices of those who chose to weaponize the issue in order to discredit their opponents, has now resulted in a stupefied and limp paralysis from those who might speak out against injustice. It’s a choice that Kier Starmer, faced with discontent in his ranks, may live to regret. It further cements his reputation for saying nothing remotely meaningful on this, or any other, issue: he should look carefully at how support for illegal wars stamped its indelible mark on a former Labour leader.

And meanwhile, in an almost conjoined universe, that most discredited and dishonest of British Prime Ministers, Boris Johnson, has acquired another hefty sinecure, this time with GB News.  He’s going to give ‘this remarkable channel’ his ‘unvarnished views on everything’. Lest we forget, like so many of the man-babies now charged with arranging public life (and death), he too has a sloppy tendency to paint the world in primary colours. For ‘unvarnished truth’ read ‘rush to judgement and a cheery willingness to be encumbered by evidence or concern for potential consequences.’

This sideshow matters. If the stars align, Starmer will become Prime Minister within the next fifteen months. His party will inherit crumbling, underfunded public services, dilapidated infrastructure and a flailing economy. An unprincipled media will be cheering every failure. And biding their time, having written off this election as part of the bumpy game of power politics, the ultra-right forces of the GB/Fox-type empires will have built their new platform. Don’t expect tone; forget nuance. Think Johnson; think Truss; think every pallid has-been from the world of stage and screen bemoaning the world they have lost. And then imagine them posing as the alternative to a failing, unpopular government.

As I write, Suella Braverman has labelled the pro-Palestinian protests ‘hate marches.’ For those of us who don’t wish to be bystanders as our governments condone war crimes, there’s only one response. The concept of manufactured consent has a firm place in modern intellectual life, principally, although not exclusively, through the work of Jewish philosopher, Noam Chomsky. When figures from Netanyahu to Braverman, cheered on by Britain’s right-wing media, ask us to believe that there is no alternative to supporting slaughter and condemning protest, they are, indeed, attempting to manufacture such consent. And yet, however tough it may be, we must raise our voices to say we do not consent. However they try to flatten out the complexities of the story, we will not concur with their false conclusion .

They do not do this in our name and we will tell them so.

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Jon Berry

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