I’m not quite sure every bleating quasi-liberal, from ministers to newspaper editors, has realised it yet, so I better take the time to point it out again – normalising racism and making hate acceptable has actual real-life consequences, not just for the discourse, but also for society itself.
I realised this recently when I said on Marian Finucane’s radio show that society as a whole was pretty much agreed on what constituted hate speech, and social protection minister Leo Varadkar disagreed with me.
I never got the chance to explain it then, but what I meant by that was that society has set the boundaries through its laws against incitement to hatred, as well as in Article 1 of the UN Convention of Human Rights:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
As for what Minister Varadkar meant, you’ll have to ask him – but he did mention “shutting down the debate”, which in this instance is what people say when what they really mean is “I want to be able to present my ideas unopposed, and have everyone agree with them.”
(For now I’m not even going to bother with the car-crash that is the Irish Times’ latest fuck-up in the rush to embrace the far right, and its pathetic explanation – let us just say it is indicative of the genre.)
Over the last 15 or so years I have seen the normalisation of racism and hate speech in the media lead to the rapid rise of the far right in Scandinavia, in the UK and in America, to the extent that they have recent government experience in many countries, and they have also moved the goalposts for the more “liberal” parties.
Ireland is behind the curve in that regard – or perhaps ahead of it, given that right-wing populism has been the order of the day since the foundation of the state – but it is more than capable of accommodating an upsurge similar to the one that happened in Scandinavia.
Despite its reputation for social democracy and equality, some in the Nordic region have always had a penchant for white supremacy, and it’s something that raises its Aryan head from time to time.
It is when it moves out of the shadows and into the mainstream that violence becomes acceptable, and in many cases inevitable.
Take the early nineties in Sweden when “New Democracy”, a hotch-potch of neo-Nazis, racists, Islamophobes and a man famed for churning out Eurovision stars, came into being.
Their rise, and the utilisation of their rhetoric, coincided with the advent of “The Laser Man”, a racist who targeted non-Aryan looking people and shot eleven people, killing one and paralysing my friend’s father.
As the century turned and Sweden gradually forgot the horror of the Laser Man, once again it was time to “hear them out”, and racists were again provided with a platform.
The rise in the polls of the Sweden Democrats coincided with the appearance of another racist murderer, this time in the form of Peter Mangs, who was eventually convicted of two murders and four attempted murders.
This is to say nothing of the wave of arson attacks against buildings that were ear-marked as housing for refugees in 2015, at a time when the anti-foreigner rhetoric being “heard out” from the far-right was at a peak.
What happens is that when we allow the racists airtime and column inches, when we “hear them out” and let them tell us about their “legitimate concerns”, we are allowing them to set the boundaries.
Regardless of whether we are editors, journalists or media consumers, we allow them to discuss things in terms of race, ethnicity and religion, and in those terms only – that African men are rapists, or that Muslims are potential terrorists who want to destroy “our values”, and the birth rate of feckless immigrants will mean that Europeans will soon be a minority in their own continent.
Once we go head first down that rabbit hole, there is no backing out, because these people are immune to facts – they just jump to the next trope, the next meme, the next fact-free accusation let loose on the airwaves.
Here’s one from personal experience – Sweden’s “55 no-go zones”.
This far-right racist trope arises from an op-ed piece written for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, in which it was claimed that there were 55 lawless areas into which police essentially could not go.
Frankly, that claim is bollocks, as illustrated in this short (Swedish-language) video I made as a rebuttal – and if Svenska Dagbladet’s writer had bothered his arse to go to any of these areas, he would have seen the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong – there has been a spate of shootings, some fatal and many of them in the five suburbs where I live and circulate, and a young man was shot dead at the top of my street last year – but pretty much every one of them has to do with crime, rather than ethnicity.
Despite all this, the researchers at the Economist rank Stockholm as the fourth-safest city in the world – and the safest in Europe.
When I mentioned this to an Irish debater, and the fact that I had visited many of the areas listed among the 55 “no-go” areas without problem, he sent me a link … to a double murder carried out by a failed asylum seeker at IKEA in Västerås.
Now I’m not sure if his point was that IKEA is a now no-gone zone, but it illustrates the tactics perfectly – make an accusation, and when it is disproved, abandon it and make another, until you have a discussion based only on race, ethnicity or religion.
This is how racism is normalised.
This is what Clare Byrne Live and the Late Late Show are promoting and encouraging when they invite Ian O’Doherty or that vile Hopkins woman on and give them a platform to spew their bile.
Put simply, editors and producers are gatekeepers, and it is their editorial responsibility to ensure that anyone given a platform uses it responsibly – not to spew lies and hate and then change the subject when called out.
The neo-Nazi “alt-right” grew out of the dark reaches of the Internet, but it only became a political force when it was given a platform by the mainstream media to spread its ideas, its jargon and ultimately its hatred.
It should have been left in those dark corners of the Internet, along with the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, the Grassy Knoll brigade and the chemtrails enthusiasts.
Because as soon as you start to give these ideas and this rhetoric legitimacy, be that on the public service airwaves or in the paper of record, you are letting the genie of racism out of the bottle and giving him a seat at the table.
And experience shows that it is never those who do the letting-out that pay the price.