Oct 2003 Journal

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Butchers, beauties and bigots (editorial)

With parliament in recess, August usually lives up to its journalistic nickname 'the silly season'. The year 2003, however, was different. This August saw the start of the Hutton Inquiry, the end of the infinitely deplorable lives of Diana Mosley and Idi Amin, and the emergence of Mel Gibson as a purveyor of a hoary tale of deicide on screen.

Although these four events were completely disconnected it is not entirely fanciful to view them as links in a chain beneath the surface of things. Lord Hutton probes the correctness, or otherwise, of Downing Street's claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. The elimination of WMDs was, together with regime change, the Coalition's war aim in Iraq. Regime change has, of course, been the subject of heated debate at the UN - with critics of the war accusing Bush and Blair of violation of national sovereignty. Yet in 1979 Idi Amin was forcibly removed from power in Uganda by Tanzanian soldiers with UN approval. Amin had much else in common with Saddam: adherence to Islam, aggression against neighbouring countries, and support for the Palestinian murder of Israeli civilians. Most notoriously, both dictators notched up an extermination rate among their own subjects approaching the half-million mark.

In one respect, however, Amin was unique even compared to such contemporary heirs of Genghis Khan as Pol Pot, Saddam, Assad, Bokassa and Mobutu: he not only killed, but also ate his victims. He was literally a cannibal, and unsurprisingly had huge admiration for the (metaphorical) arch-cannibal of the twentieth century - Adolf Hitler.

Someone who shared his admiration was Diana Mosley, Amin's opposite in every other way - from looks to social and ethnic origin. Diana Mitford was catapulted from the drone-like existence of the 1920s 'bright young things' to a walk-on part on the world stage through her marriage to the vulpine British Fascist leader Oswald Mosely in Goebbels's house - with Hitler as a wedding guest.

Having once enjoyed privileged access to the Fuehrer, Lady Diana would subsequently parry questions on what she remembered best about him with the mind-boggling answer 'the laughs.' (Did this retort, one wonders, owe anything to WH Auden's Epitaph for a Tyrant: 'Perfection of a kind was what he was after/And was greatly interested in armies and fleets/When he laughed respectable senators burst with laughter/And when he cried, little children died in the streets'?)

Obituaries of the socialite-turned-National Socialist have tended to stress the glamour of the Mitford gels at the expense of the fact that in the Thirties many 'blue-bloods' - for instance Lords Nuffield, Rothermere, Hamilton, Bedford - flirted with Fascism. Though it would be simplistic to label all arch-appeasers antisemites, many, of course, were. In evidence one need only recall Hore-Belisha's uncomfortable tenure at the War Office, or look at such diverse texts as the Tory grandee Chips Channon's diaries and the Anglo-Catholic TS Eliot's Judeophobic poems.

Judeophobia lingers on in the Christian world even after Vatican II formally absolved the Jews of guilt for the death of Christ. A Catholic splinter group headed by Cardinal Lefebvre maintained - alongside the Latin Mass - the charge of deicide against the Jews. They take their stand on the archaic declaration of the Church Council at Nicea in AD 325 that the Jews are 'abhorrent to the will of God.' These ultra-Catholics (who include Mel Gibson's father) profess to believe that the reforming Pope John XXIII usurped the Holy See after threatening to drop a nuclear bomb on the Vatican, that the Holocaust did not take place, and that the Second Vatican Council was a Judeo-Masonic plot.

Now, Mel Gibson himself is completing a film about Christ's passion which revives the millennia-old charge of Jewish deicide - and we can only hope that preliminary American reports of the movie's import are unduly alarmist.

Here in the UK, a degree of alarm would also not come amiss. Sharon's acceptance of the road map has not shifted public opinion in Israel's favour, as shown by Richard Ingram's malign refusal to print letters from 'Zionists.'

Another journalist with a strong anti-Israel bias, AN Wilson, has added insult to injury by drooling over Lady Mosley's espousal of 'beauty and laughter' in his posthumous tribute to her. Gibson, Ingram and Wilson are part of the exorbitant price we pay for media freedom.

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