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Accusations of racism have lost all meaning

23 April 2022

9:00 AM

23 April 2022

9:00 AM

The War on the West: How toPrevail in the Age of Unreason Douglas Murray

Harper Collins, pp.360, 20

The War on the West is Douglas Murray’s latest blast against loony left wokery, chiefly in the areas of race and ‘social justice’. ‘This is not like earlier wars,’ he writes. ‘It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the western tradition and against everything good that the western tradition has produced.’

The meticulous, measured way that Murray presents his arguments and evidence suggests a man who knows he’s in for a lot of flak. For instance, he has the audacity to suggest that the death of George Floyd, however brutal and inept the policing, doesn’t actually bear any signs of racism. But he admits that some of the subjects of his examination can’t be swayed by reason, for they have a foolproof defence:

This logical trap is the same one favoured by witch-dunkers in the Middle Ages: if the woman drowns, she is innocent; if she floats, she is a witch and can be burned. In [Robin] DiAngelo’s logic, the person who denies they are racist is racist and so is the person who says they are racist. Meaning that the best thing to do in any given situation is for a person to save time and confess to being a racist.

‘Person’ in this context of course means a white person. But the comparison is just. The apparent ubiquity of racism is a modern equivalent of witchcraft; it explains all evils and failings, and it’s an effortless and damaging charge to cast on anyone you dislike or disagree with, or who disagrees with you.

‘War’ may not be the right word for what Murray describes. Civil war might be a more apt term, since the attacks come mostly from within. De Tocqueville identified the French Revolution as the moment when politics transformed into something like religion (or, if you prefer, the quest for heaven turned political), when it was no longer a question of changing a few details or a particular system but changing everything, the world. Faith envelops all fact. This utopian fervour tends to be accompanied by a sense of infallibility and a lack of compromise, and it’s a strand that runs from Robespierre, through the Bolsheviks, to Islamic State and the Antifa nutters in Portland.

Murray points out that the West’s competitors – China and the rich Arab states – still often get a better press in the West than the West does. Putin may be pariah-of-the-month because of his invasion of Ukraine, but the irony is that he’s done nothing new. He’s always been an unadulterated KGB thug, but previously he kept his tanks and missiles a decent distance from the lawns of German burghers. Most of the outrage that occurred in the western media about Chechnya was not about Putin’s near genocide, but because the LGBT contingent came in for a kicking. China’s near totalitarian system and bloody recent history are often overlooked or dismissed, Murray demonstrates, by celebrities and politicians who would cross the road to avoid someone whose great-great-grand-father might have had a plantation.

Some of the material cited by Murray is perhaps a storm in a teacup – as in the case of the Tate’s restaurant mural by Rex Whistler. You see you can’t win: if you don’t keep slavery in mind, you’re wrong, and if you do depict slavery (supposedly as Whistler did), you’re also wrong. Some is ridiculously funny: an American campus went on the alert because a member of the Ku Klux Klan had been spotted roaming. He turned out to be a Dominican monk.

The problem with the racism and invisible racism that’s alleged is that some will believe it – and it all adds up. It’s often forgotten (or indeed not known) that the Brixton riots of 1981 didn’t happen as a result of police brutality but because a police officer was trying to help a black youth who had been stabbed, an act which was misinterpreted by a mob as discrimination.

You only have to look at Northern Ireland to see what happens when one side feels another has an advantage. Everyone is bending over backwards to collect perceived inequality. In the US, sensitivity around race and ‘identity’ has reached bizarre levels. I taught a creative writing course in Tampa some years ago, and one student was worried about a story which described someone as being served by ‘an Italian waiter’. Wasn’t that discriminatory?

The level of absurdity is now beyond the most inventive satire. You’d hope at least maths would be safe, but no: that’s racist too. The worst offenders tend to be in the academic world, where they have benefited from what Antonio Gramsci called the ‘war of position’. The left largely lost the argument in the economic sphere after Margaret Thatcher; hardly anyone wants central planning or five-year plans back, but the left retreated into the schools and universities, where they’ve done some serious damage.

In a delicious marriage of Nazi Germany and Stalinism, the British Library put the poet Ted Hughes on the naughty list of ‘wealth obtained from enslaved people or through colonial violence’ because an ancestor, who lived in Shakespeare’s time, and from whom Hughes wasn’t directly descended, was discovered to have been involved in the London Virginia Company. An apology was forthcoming. But you can see how it would be tempting for a bureaucrat to rise above being a mere shelf-stuffer of books to become a heroic anti-racist ninja for justice.

It’s odd, then, that in the UK, where everything is purportedly so racist and even the tap water must be white supremacist, people of colour are still willing to risk their lives to get in, and airports aren’t jammed with Jamaicans and Africans fleeing for sanctuary elsewhere. But it’s unlikely that Murray’s witty book will be read by those who really need to read it.

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