May 2002 Journal

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Turning black into white (editorial)

The once hugely popular Black-and-White Minstrel Show belongs to a genre of entertainment now deemed politically incorrect, and consequently dead as the dodo. Instead, we have the Ali G phenomenon, where a white actor doesn’t black up, but dresses and talks like a Brixton rapper.

Since politics, as hardboiled commentators sometimes allege, is a branch of show business, it shouldn’t surprise us if some African politicians are Ali G in reverse. One such is Robert Mugabe, who might fittingly be described as a nastier version of Ian Smith in black-face. Mugabe, once a leader – and now a parasitic beneficiary – of the struggle against white racism, uses black racist demagoguery to keep himself in power.

It is worth remembering that the leader of so-called ‘war veterans’ spearheading Mugabe’s reign of terror in the country was one Changerai Hunzi, who gloried in the nickname ‘Hitler’ (an instance of black-white confusion that should keep psychiatrists busy for years!). Another is Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, who, by backing Mugabe, is wantonly squandering the moral capital stored up by his predecessor Nelson Mandela. Mbeki’s delegate on the international commission sent to observe the elections in Zimbabwe actually went so far as to deny that there had been widespread voter intimidation and disenfranchisement – and put all glaring breaches of due electoral process down to ‘administrative oversight’.

It is small wonder that the playwright Athol Fugard who, a generation ago, aroused the world’s dormant liberal conscience to the inequities of apartheid, feels himself to be a voice crying in the wilderness of present-day South Africa. (Let us also remember that the UN Conference on Racism, which sought to delegitimise Israel as ‘inherently racist’ – and thus contributed to stirring up the lethal second intifada – took place in Durban, South Africa.)

Meanwhile, another attempt to turn black into white, which has nothing to do with skin pigmentation, is gathering impetus in Rome. The Vatican has long been trying to transform Pius XII – a pontiff so controversial that a recent book on him was entitled Hitler’s Pope – into a saint. Now, running alongside these contentious canonisation proceedings, the Spanish Bishops’ conference has initiated moves to confer sainthood on Queen Isabella of Castille. She and her husband Ferdinand, the King of Aragon – los reyos Catolicos – famously sponsored Columbus’s discovery of America, but in the same year they also expelled the Jews from the whole of Spain, crushed the Moors of Granada, and began a programme of ethnic cleansing.

The late medieval Church, whose devoted daughter Isabella was, not only fought long drawn-out Crusades against Islam, but also purveyed virulent Judeophobia. This found expression in repeated accusations of well-poisoning, desecration of the host and ritual murder against hapless Jewish communities throughout Europe. The ancient Catholic blood libel has recently been regurgitated by a newspaper in Saudi Arabia, a country hermetically sealed off from the outside world. Another Judeophobic canard of modern vintage – the existence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy headed by the ‘Elders of Zion’ – has been rehashed by an Islamicist magazine printed and distributed in the UK.

A rising generation of militant Anglo-Muslim journalists are at the same time busily engaged in drawing up lists of Jews prominent in British public life and the media. Challenged about this ‘racist targeting’, they disclaimed any nefarious intent. Their lists, they resourcefully adlibbed, were only intended to throw down a challenge to readers to ‘Go thou and do likewise!’ (i.e. take over TV channels, newspapers and the like).

With two million Muslims in this country, the constituency to which these hate-filled messages are addressed outnumbers Anglo-Jewry by six to one. Having seen what outrages a ‘provoked’ Muslim minority is capable of on the other side of the Channel, let us nonetheless try to put a potentially hopeful construction on all this menacing incitement. Maybe when Muslim TV viewers and newspaper readers familiarise themselves with British public life, and discover that prominent Jews like Gerald Kaufman MP and Rabbi Goldberg inveigh against the Israeli government, while Harold Pinter denounces the Jewish state as such, they will be encouraged to practise pluralism, and not let the mullahs do their thinking for them. So some good may yet come out of evil, and black turn into white!

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