A version of this article also appeared with CounterPunch.
They acted fast. Hot on the news of the terrorist attack in Manchester, elements of Britain’s political right set about attempting to capitalise on the situation. The goal? Further their nationalist, anti-Muslim, xenophobic agenda over the blood and misery of innocent people.
The Daily Mail “journalist” Katie Hopkins stands out. Having engaged in all manner of xenophobic and downright callous declarations in the past, Hopkins has called for a “final solution” for British Islam. It’s not known if she really intended to imitate a certain Austrian statesman known for also holding a dim view of foreigners (Hopkins is not renowned for her intellect) but all the same, the rhetoric is unsettling.
She’s not alone. The notorious Tommy Robinson was eager to weigh in. For those lucky enough to have not heard of this titan of political erudition, Robinson is the former leader of the bizarrely named “English Defence League” (EDL), itself a now increasingly moribund collection of thugs and football hooligans seeking their latest buzz via far right politics and hate.
True to form, Robinson was quick to point out that the Manchester attack was symptomatic of the alleged problem of Islam in Britain. Rather than being intertwined with foreign policy, societal breakdown and the mounting fragmentation of the Middle East, the recent bloodshed was purely down to the presence of an Islamic community fully intermeshed with terrorism. As mentioned, Robinson is a titan of political erudition. Let there be no further doubt.
Sarcasm aside, I won’t be surprising anyone by pointing out that British politics have lurched to the right. The careless, self-serving agenda of pundits like Robinson and Hopkins may thus not just be annoying but palpably dangerous. Indeed, the recent call for a snap election is largely predicated on machinations surrounding Brexit, itself a subject infected with nationalistic rhetoric. It’s no exaggerations that such sentiments have already turned into something far uglier, with racial hate crimes having proliferated across the nation in the wake of the EU referendum last year.
This led to some pretty grim scenarios. In addition to acts of verbal abuse and open harassment, the situation soon escalated, with violence against those deemed not suitably “British” taking place. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that last night’s attack could have similar consequences. Reports are already coming in of a suspected arson attack on a Manchester Mosque. Partisanship and irresponsibility on the part of the media could escalate matters. Provocative, indeed shameless, remarks from various “journalists” could thus be incredibly perilous.
An easy rebuttal would be to point out that Tommy Robinson is just a lunatic. There’d be some sizeable logic behind this position. His political fortunes have been on the wane in recent years, with his dramatic departure from the EDL ensuring he casts a sad figure on Britain’s political landscape. All the same, he does retain some influence and he’ll no doubt seek to use the recent tragedy to pursue something of a personal and political resurgence. Being a part of a supposed “lunatic fringe” also doesn’t exactly make him harmless. The experience of the EDL points to the fact.
This isn’t the entire picture. Katie Hopkins herself writes for the Daily Mail, itself one of the largest circulating newspaper in the entire UK. To say there isn’t a meeting of minds between the editorship of such a paper and Katie’s incessant xenophobia would be a profound mistake. Hopes that the DM will finally part ways with Hopkin’s after her truly moronic “final solution” quip seem ill founded. If anything, such an esteemed paper will simply view the situation in Manchester as a means to further their incessantly low quality brand of tabloid propaganda. The truth, or indeed the consequences of failing to convey the truth, won’t be a priority for them.
In fact Katie’s Hitlerite rhetoric is quite appropriate. In addition to being a tried and tested platform for “conservative” politics in modernity, the Daily Mail’s early years saw it falling over itself active support the far-right, being a distinguished fan of both General Francisco Franco and the Nazi Fuhrer himself. In the former case, the DM was only to happy to publish Franco’s first-English language interview, with the esteemed officer going into some detail on the reasons behind his betrayal of his own government and the escalation of a war that ultimately killed hundreds of thousands of his own people.
Titled “General Franco Talks” the DM awarded the budding fascist the accolade of “commander in chief of the southern anti-red army”. No doubt pleased with such a grandiose title, Franco made an “appeal for the great nations for sympathy in our struggle against destructive Bolshevism”, in the process making the truly original analysis that “communism triumphant spells the destruction of western civilisation and religion”.
It didn’t end there. The DM’s then owner, Harold Harmsworth, went on to not only fraternise with Adolf Hitler, but actually endorsed Britain’s own variant of Nazism, headed by none other than Sir Oswald Mosley and his infamous British Union of Fascists. Harmsworth was hardly shy about displaying his enthusiasm for such a group, penning a DM article titled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” and lauding Mosley for his “sound, common sense, Conservative doctrine”.
Times may have indeed changed for the Daily Mail. We are most certainly not living in the 1930s. All the same it’s important to know who we are dealing with here. The DM’s reputation for partisan conservatism has survived to this day. It is markedly unlikely that they will decide to swim against the stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric that is already pouring from the social media presence of individuals like Hopkins. If anything, they’ll attempt to bring such “insights” to a yet wider audience.
The fact that the man allegedly responsible for the Manchester atrocity, one Salman Abedi, was born in the UK won’t make much of a difference here. The details won’t matter. The wider truth won’t either. Unless checked with a suitable response from the left, there’s a very real risk this situation could take a yet greater turn for the worse.