When Jan Moir wrote that inflammatory column about the death of Stephen Gately, there was a Twitter campaign and public outrage almost immediately, Likewise, Liz Jones’ rather tasteless piece retracing Joanna Yeates’s final steps prompted web-wide consternation.
Roy Greenslade has admitted he was somewhat amiss to write in his blog about media baron Richard Desmond and the Daily Star’s English Defence League coverage: “As a Jew, he may well have negative views of Muslims”.
It’s an outrageous, idiotic line, a slur against all moderate members of the Jewish community and particularly offensive to those engaged in interfaith efforts, of whom there are many. Some Jews may well have “negative views” about Muslims, likewise some Muslims may well have negative views about Jews.
But there is no causal link; some is not all.
Greenslade was lucky enough to have prompted the ire of just one newspaper with his careless stereotype, rather than the masses out there in the blogosphere.
And as he told the JC, it was a “stupid”, thoughtless comment. He didn’t intend to insult Jews, he said, and he was glad the switched-on Guardian moderators had swiftly removed it.
So why did what he wrote matter? We all say stupid things, all of us, all the time. A flip remark, one made in the heat of the moment, so why not let it lie? Why cause a fuss.
Here’s why. Let’s look at where Mr Greenslade made the comment – in a blogpost condemning the intolerance and bigotry of the EDL.
An informed reader might well have recognised the wider point – that Jewish people, given the history of the last century, should be at the frontline in the fight against fascism.
It’s an important and logical argument. But here’s the thing. As the famous quote goes: “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.”
History teaches us as Jews not only to stand up in the battle against bigotry, but also that bigots don’t always read newspaper articles in an informed way.
The generations of ordinary people who hated the Jews did so not least because of the ugly and cheap stereotypes peddled by respected writers and commentators.
They learnt intolerance from the politicians – in Tsarist Russia to Nazi Germany and beyond – who blamed public woes on Jewish conspiracies, from the caricaturists who saw in Jews an easy target, and from journalists who didn’t recognize, or didn’t care to recognise, the power of their words.
Words matter. As Greenslade knows (and blogs about regularly), especially online they have a life beyond themselves.
A throwaway headline in the Daily Star can become another tool in the EDL’s war-chest, regardless of what the story actually was.
A news article about a “Muslim’s” actions – when religion is of little relevance to the story – is fodder for the bigot’s cause.
And an unnecessary line about Jews having “negative views” about Muslims, from an informed and respected writer, is yet another piece of evidence for the antisemitic extremist as to why he hates Jews.
Words always matter.