Zoe Williams wrote a good piece about Katie Hopkins on Sunday (which no doubt Brendan O’Neill would call a bad piece, because what she says is so literal and unparadoxical). Hopkins’s piece was two days before that, then came the capsized ship on Sunday, then Williams’s piece.
The controversialist Katie Hopkins, writing in the Sun 48 hours before the latest mass drowning, suggested using gun boats on migrants; her idea proved unnecessary, of course. Why waste the money when you can let people die by doing nothing, for free? But Hopkins’ phrasing was interesting: “These migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb.” The following morning, as an LBC shock jock, she rolled back her position slightly, suggesting the best way to solve the refugee crisis was not to shoot them once they were in the water, but to “burn all the boats in North Africa”.
A rather niche debate is underway about whether “Katie Hopkins” is a construct of its owner – like Mrs Merton, an entertainment turn spun out for money – or whether Katie Hopkins is a real person with an antisocial personality disorder. With more urgent questions and so many people dead, this distinction shouldn’t detain us. The fault is with those who broadcast her: this is serious stuff.
Exactly; she could be a program for all I care; the point is not Hopkins, it’s this kind of propaganda. It’s UKIP and the Front National, it’s Pegida and Golden Dawn.
This characterisation of people as less than human, as vermin, as a “virus” (as she did elsewhere in the article) irresistibly recalls the darkest events in history. It is eerily reminiscent of the Rwandan media of 1994, when the radio went from statements such as “You have to kill the Tutsis, they’re cockroaches” to, shortly afterwards, instructions on how to do so, and what knives to use.
It is no joke when people start talking like this. We are not “giving her what she wants” when we make manifest our disgust. It is not a free speech issue. I’m not saying gag her: I’m saying fight her. Articulate the fellowship, the human empathy, that makes these deaths important. Stop talking about how many children were among the dead, as though only children matter. Start talking about everybody’s life as cherishable, irrespective of anything they might produce.
She goes on to anticipate frivolous shits like Brendan O’Neill (and some soul-brothers of his I know personally), and the feelings of shame and inadequacy attendant on expressing solidarity and compassion.
Compassion is such a rich part of the human experience and yet such a shaming thing to express, because you will always fall short of what your own words demand from you. You will never do enough. It makes you wonder how the concept of human rights was ever born. How did anybody ever overcome the knowledge of their own failings for long enough to establish universal principles that they knew they would probably never do enough to propagate?
Because, fresh from the memory of “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”, people knew what the world looked like when nobody stood up to defend “the innate dignity of all the members of the human family”. People knew that insufficient was better than nothing. People knew that you don’t respect the dead by staying silent about what killed them.
The Brendan O’Neills of the world are wrong; ignore them; fight back.