Face the facts: Islamophobia

The Radio 4 programme on Islamophobia was very interesting for a number of reasons, which I’ll attempt to cover here. If you missed the programme you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer here.

Firstly, the opening story is very powerful in that it demonstrates perfectly the way that tabloid journalism so often works: huge front page headline that is not true, followed up by the correction (or admission that the newspaper essentially invented the story) buried on a different page.

Ladies and Gentleman: I give you the Daily Mail

As you are no doubt already aware I harbour strong feelings of disgust that the Daily Mail is read by around 2 million people. I find it hard to comprehend how that many people want to be fed a diet of hate, lies and just plain piss-poor information. Some would argue that there are worse tabloids out there – The Sun, The Daily Express etc – but today the Daily Mail has sunk beneath them all with its disgraceful reporting of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on social housing.

I first saw this report on BBC Breakfast and heard more about it on Radio 5 Live on my way to work. The overwhelming emphasis of the report is that the impression that a lot of people have that somehow immigrants jump to the top of the social housing queue because of special treatment is entirely false. It is a myth. I immediately thought, how are the Daily Mail going to spin this one?

On the BBC website they go with the headline:

BBC headline

The opening paragraph and general coverage of the story:

There is no evidence that new arrivals in the UK are able to jump council housing queues, an Equality and Human Rights Commission report says.Once they settle and are entitled to help, it adds, the same proportion live in social housing as UK-born residents…

“It is largely a problem of perception,” he [Housing minister John Healey] told Today.

“The report shows there is a belief, a wrong belief, that there is a bias in the system.”

Reuters go with: ‘No evidence migrants jumping housing queue‘. Opening with:

Migrants to Britain are not receiving preferential treatment over the allocation of social housing as many people believe, a report released on Tuesday said. Last month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to overhaul the system to “give more priority to local people,” addressing public fears that migrants were getting unfair treatment. But the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said research showed such concern was misplaced.

Build.co.uk go with: Migrants ‘Not Getting Housing Priority‘. Opening with:

The vast majority of people who live in social housing in Britain were born in the UK according to a research study published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission today.

ITN: Immigrant housing priority ‘a myth’; Guardian: Claims that immigrants prioritised for social housing ‘a myth’; The Independent: Study ‘ends myth’ of housing for immigrants; The Daily Telegraph: Immigrants do not get housing priority, study shows. Even the Daily Express headline is refreshingly accurate (even if they still shout it):  IMMIGRANTS ‘DON’T TOP HOUSING LIST’.

So, how does the Daily Mail tackle this story? Well, this is their headline:

Daily Mail is scum

Yes, that is right, they use the report to beat immigrants and still insist that they are taking too large a share of social housing. They open with:

Nearly 400,000 homes have gone to tenants who were born abroad, the Government’s equality watchdog has said.One in ten state-subsidised homes is occupied by an immigrant family, according to the first estimate of the impact of immigration on social housing.

More than half of the immigrants who live in council or housing association houses and flats are in London, the report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission found.

It added that four out of ten people born abroad who live in the capital are living in subsidised housing – a figure that suggests a million people in immigrant families have found homes in social housing in London.

And also feel the need to quote Civitas (think BNP in smarter suits):

But Robert Whelan, housing expert at the Civitas think tank, said: ‘In some areas most units of social housing are going to immigrants, which provides fertile soil for the BNP.’This report does not reflect the concerns of working class people and it is extremely unhelpful at a time when the BNP is hoovering up votes.

‘It does not recognise the claims of longstanding local residents whose families have contributed to communities for generations.’

I do not think any analysis is neccesary here, with this unbelievably skewed article The Daily Mail make it clear that they want to protect the myths that feed their own racist agenda. What do you expect from a newspaper that recently said: ‘The “British homes for British workers” plan, if it succeeds, will force councils to end the unfairness which sees immigrants with large families vault to the top of the council house list’. This has now been proven to be a myth, but you will not read that on the Daily Mail website, you’ll just read more lies piled up on the rest.

People

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My Favourite Books

John Steinbeck – The grapes of wrath
Vikram Chandra – Love and longing in Bombay
George Orwell – 1984
James Ellroy – The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, White Jazz (The LA Noir Quartet) & American Tabloid
Graham Swift – Last Orders
Joseph Hellor – Catch 22
Ernest Hemingway – For whom the bell tolls, A farewell to arms
Kent Haruf – Plainsong
Kate Atkinson – Behind the scenes at the museum
E. M. Forster – A Room with a view
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho
Ian McEwan – Atonement
J. D. Salinger – The catcher in the rye
Thomas Hardy – The Woodlanders, Jude the obscure
Louis de Bernieres – Captin Corelli’s Mandolin
Sue Townsend – every Adrian Mole book, ever

You couldn't make it up…

In his first column of the year Richard Littlejohn got stuck into the first ‘you couldn’t make it up’ story of 2009:

The supermarket chain Somerfield, which has taken to electronically tagging meat to deter shoplifters during the credit crunch. Be honest, how many times have you been approached by a shady-looking man in a pub asking if you want to buy a packet of pork chops, no questions asked?

Now, the Mail website has notoriously biased moderation, where normally any dissenting comments you make never appear on the website, whereas comments praising the Mail seem to get through just fine. Littlejohn’s columns seem to be more heavily moderated than any other section of the website, which no doubt explains the numerous fawning comments and barely a hint of criticism.

However, normally servile Mail readers objected to this little story, and ‘being honest’, flooded Littlejohn’s inbox with stories about the times they have been offered meat in pubs – so much so that Littlejohn was forced to answer his readers in his next column under the heading ‘Two pints of lager and a packet of pork chops’.

Maybe I should get out more. After it was revealed that Somerfield had started electronically tagging meat to deter shoplifters, I wondered if anyone had ever been approached in a pub by a bloke offering to sell them a packet of pork chops.All I did was display my ignorance. By all accounts, some pubs shift more meat than Dewhurst.

I’ve heard from readers, coppers and store detectives that more meat goes missing from supermarkets than almost anything else.

‘All I did was display my ignorance’. That is a really significant confession; one that begs the question: in what other aspects of your articles are you simply displaying your ignorance? The implication is that he was writing a column making assumptions based purely on his own view of the world (or reality). A Google search would have told Littlejohn in seconds that Somerfield’s actions were trying to counter a very real problem. That Littlejohn was unable to perform such a simple search should – for any reasonable reader – call into question the professionalism of Littlejohn as a journalist1. Subsequently readers should feel inclined to no longer assume that the rest of his column displays any more determination to uncover the reality or truthfulness of the points he makes.

It is important to question the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ of any news or opinion that you consume, and none more so than the articles you will find in any edition of the Daily Mail. For the Mail is pre-empting any questioning of its articles and opinions by using the very Unspeak phrase (or variations of it): ‘Here in the real world’. This phrase is used to discredit an opinion or fact that the Mail or any of its writers do not agree with by using anecdotal evidence, or entirely irrelevant observations. So if the government claim that immigration statistics show a net loss, or small net gain, the Mail would put forward this information before knocking it down with something like:

But here in the real world, immigrants are flooding demand for local housing, putting a huge strain on public services and placing more pressure on the benefits system.

So the Mail use ‘here in the real world’ as an introduction to anecdotal evidence that they know will have the support of the majority of their readers. Indeed, the inversion of ‘reality’, so that it becomes the anecdotal worldview the Mail wishes to create, makes it very hard for readers to question there being any alternate reality which they could inhabit.

No-one would like to admit not living in the real world, so, if we disagree with such anecdotal evidence then we immediately become not just outsiders, but we are no longer considered of this earth. We become ghostly, alien; or to put it another way: we actually become mythical beings. So the phrase is used instantly to discredit idealism above all other things. For example, you could put forward the argument that we are all human beings, and therefore share the same basic needs: food, shelter, love etc, and that as these needs are basically the same why can we not exist peacefully?

Now, anyone could pick holes in the argument being put forward – you could put forward that cultural differences override our basic needs and that as these are ingrained in wider societies it is these societies that will always come into conflict with other societies, it is not normally a matter of individuals conflicting with other individuals. However, to argue in this way takes serious thought and effort, and would then lead to counter-arguments (such as: society is created by humans, so it can be changed by humans, we do not need to repeat the same cycles of conflict and so on) – it is far better to instead have an easy phrase to discredit any intellectual approach to any topic. And this catchphrase is ‘here in the real world’.

So, the above idealistic argument could be destroyed in seconds with something like:

Here in the real world Muslims want to destroy the West, Asian communities don’t make any attempt to fit into British culture, Israel will always fight Palestine and on and on and on

Here in the real world is normally followed by lazy stereotypes and assumptions, or information selected that may not discredit the argument directly, but reflects reality in the mind of the reader. Subsequently, as such information is clearly grounded or self-evident in ‘reality’, the other assumptions must be equally self-evident and grounded in ‘reality’ (no matter how absurd they might seem to someone viewing the arguments or anecdotes from outside of the Mail reality). Furthermore, by implication, any arguments or evidence put forward before the phrase ‘here in the real world’ must not exist in the real world and can be dismissed as myths or lies.

As the phrase is often used in the Mail to discredit government initiatives it goes further than simply implying that such initiatives are false or not achievable in reality (i.e. they will never be more than a theory, a proposal) it actually implies that the government is actively seeking to subvert reality, or impose their own world view on the reader (hence why the Mail refers to the government existing in a ‘bubble’).

As the government is this force existing outside of ‘the real world’ in a ‘bubble’ then the Daily Mail on the other hand becomes a beacon of light and truth, existing in ‘the real world’ outside of the ‘bubble’ of unreality. The Mail therefore, is not a media outlet trying to enforce its own world view onto its readers; it is actually simply trying to subvert the government’s false world view from being inflicted upon the populace. The Mail becomes a force for good and becomes essentially anti-establishment; it is a reflection of reality in the face of lies and spin.

However, this is of course not true. As intelligent readers we can see through the deceit and we will not be tricked by the false logic involved here. The Mail has its own world view and is enforcing it on its readers everyday. The Mail tries to avoid this accusation by claiming to be reflecting the ‘real world’, but actually dissecting the majority of Mail articles shows this to be untrue; they are simply reinforcing presumptive stereotypes and positing this as ‘reality’ to avoid anybody questioning the veracity of such observational evidence.

The reason for the above examination of the ‘real world’ argument is that Littlejohn employs this argument frequently. His columns are normally little more than one or two anecdotes extrapolated to represent the whole of society. His arguments almost solely consist of being sent an anecdote by a reader; for example: about how they were asked for ID in a supermarket. Littlejohn repeats this anecdote (tough being a writer for the Mail isn’t it?) and uses it to demonstrate how the UK is in fact turning into a police state. Such an argument is ludicrous, but Littlejohn always makes sure he grounds his arguments in the ‘real world’ of his readers, hence why he states he received a letter or email from someone (someone in the ‘real world’) – when for all we know he could have just made it up.

Anecdotes are popular with Mail readers – and any of the comments section on the Mail website will confirm this. They can often testify: ‘Hey I was asked for ID in a supermarket – the world has gone mad!!!!’. Whether or not they have been asked for ID does not actually support the argument that Littlejohn is making, as there is no context provided for why they have been asked for ID, and indeed being asked for ID for buying alcohol is not indicative of a police state. However, Littlejohn relies on the ignorance and implicit agreement of his readers to carry his argument, he does not need to construct rigorous arguments as he is already preaching to the converted.

However, Mail readers do correct Littlejohn, as we can see above with the supermarket chain tagging meat. However, the Mail readers only correct Littlejohn when the correction is minor, when the correction does not actually affect their own (or Littlejohn’s worldview). Furthermore, the correction can only be made when the reader has direct access to reality. In the above instance they happened to be aware of this problem: they may work in a supermarket and know that meat is frequently stolen; or they may have been offered meat in a pub. As they have personal experience of the reality in this case they can identify that the world view of Littlejohn is false in this instance. However, there are far more significant falsities in the world view of Littlejohn that his readers do not have the personal knowledge to indentify: such as Littlejohn’s ludicrous treatment of climate change. Furthermore, to identify Littlejohn’s position on global warming as being false, they would then have to alter their own world view (and this is difficult for readers who often want to be fed opinions).

If the reader was actively seeking the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ in any given article then they would need to research any aspect of the article that they did not have a significant amount of knowledge in. As Littlejohn’s articles rely so heavily on lay stereotypes and crude generalisations they are able to flick quickly between different fields of perceived knowledge, making it unlikely that any reader would research the veracity of his statements. This is exactly what he wants; he doesn’t want his readers actually informed, just given his own world view in order for them to parrot it. An intelligent reader would take his admission that he was ignorant of the meat situation as the first domino that knocks the rest down; but there is very little expectation that most Mail readers would fall into this bracket (assumption made on the basis that they have purchased the Mail in the first place).

For example, Littlejohn’s assertions that the cold weather experienced in the UK makes the claims made by ‘eco-loonies’ entirely false, is laughable and extremely ignorant of the reality of global warming (climate change is another form of Unspeak to be avoided). Littlejohn does not understand the difference between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’ which is why he treats a cold spell as evidence that the earth’s climate is not actually getting hotter. This is a subtle example of ‘here in the real world’ mentality: the eco-loonies tell us the world is getting hotter, but here in the real world its freezing cold and snowing! This then leads Littlejohn to not imply that the eco-loonies are involved in putting forward a false reality (he is not in the habit of being subtle), but actually accuse them of being part of a wider ‘conspiracy’ – no doubt linked to the ‘war on motorists’ or the ‘war on the middle-class’.

I left a short comment on his article suggesting that ‘Someone needs to Explain to Richard the difference between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’’ and the comment currently has a negative rating of 117. It seems Mail readers will only accept small intrusions into their own reality, as global warming requires an intellectual awareness of complex issues (or simply trusting the IPCC) it is outside of their reality. In this case the reality being posited by Littlejohn is a localised one: it is cold outside, ergo global warming is not happening.

The position of global warming as some kind of government conspiracy to tax us more or change our ‘right’ to buy ‘proper’ or ‘traditional’ lightbulbs is an example of how far some people are removed from a consensus understanding of the world. Disinformation spread by pseudo-science front organisations paid for by the oil industry has been taken to heart by some journalists and instead of the mainstream media focusing on the actual conspiracy to deny global warming (including the successful change of ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’) the debate has been inverted so that people now discuss global warming as the conspiracy.

Littlejohn is not alone in assuming the position that global warming is some kind of conspiracy, and his labeling of those concerned for the environment as ‘eco-loonies’ implies that he has never engaged in any discourse with environmental issues or campaigners, and has no intention of starting. Labeling a group ‘loonies’ serves to shut down debate, to shout down any engagement, and it is a tactic Littlejohn uses when confronted with any intellectual superior2 or anyone who has the nerve to actually research a given topic and dares to question him on it.

Littlejohn is not concerned with facts, and nor in the vast majority of cases is his audience. Littlejohn is aware that his audience already agrees with his opinions and only want them confirmed in his columns, as the reader is given exactly what they want, they are then in the position for labeling Littlejohn a ‘genius’ and worship him as the voice that dares to speak for them. The only argument worth considering here is whether the audience is passive or active. Are they passive, did they read a Littlejohn column, become convinced of its accuracy and have read it ever since (i.e. essentially brainwashed); or, are they active: they have their own opinions and seek out the Daily Mail and Littlejohn to merely reinforce their own worldview. It could be argued that some readers are a mixture of passive and active consumer, and that if they were challenged by different content or tone from the Mail they may adjust their views (but the way that Littlejohn and the Mail dismiss any opposition to their world view with such hatred I doubt whether this is really possible).

Either way, Littlejohn’s articles in 2009 have continued in the same way, an unchallenged worldview receiving glowing comments from readers, interspersed with the occasional correction of some small point – a point that can be easily corrected without any need to change or challenge Littlejohn’s or, subsequently, their worldview. Such as his admission that Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge doesn’t carry the Great Western Railway’, even though he stated it did in the column before. But these are such minor corrections, none of his readers seems able to spot his deliberate distortions that are far more damaging.

As Johann Hari points out:

Littlejohn’s Britain doesn’t exist. Literally. He spends much of the year writing from a gated mansion in Florida, and admitted in a recent column that, when he is in Britain, he rarely leaves the house. He is describing a country he sees only through the pages of the right-wing press and his self-reinforcing mailbag.

The Mail reader is much the same, they spend so much time wallowing in the hatred and depressive obsessions of the right-wing press that they become increasingly removed from reality – only able to spot minor (almost pedantic) mistakes in Littlejohn’s columns when then whole is is an concoction of lies and distortions.

You couldn’t make it up? Littlejohn does in every column.


1 Though perhaps treating Littlejohn as a journalist is a little unfair, he does not practice journalism. Journalism implies something rather more considered than simply flicking through the Daily Mail picking out a few already dubious stories and selecting tiny bits of information to then use as proof that the country has gone to ‘hell in a handcart’.

2 For example: a teabag.

So, the emergency budget is going to deeply cut the public sector and the Daily Mail are churning out the propaganda supporting this:

Great jobs apartheid: Public sector staff spend nine fewer years at work over lifetime than private employees AND earn 30% more

It’s only fair that public sector bears the brunt of cuts, insists David Cameron ahead of ‘toughest Budget for years’

‘Road to ruin’ lies ahead if spending cuts and tax rises are not carried out, warns Osborne

VAT hike in Budget would cost families more than £400-a-year, Public sector braced for pension levy which has created £1trillion black hole

The picture being painted is clear: the reason the country is in debt and the economy is shafted is because the public sector is too large and the private sector too small. If we cut the public sector into pieces and destroy as much as possible the lovely private sector will step in and all will be right with the world. We’re all being sold the economic shock doctrine with the assertion that a painful wound now will heal our bodies faster in the long run.

Am I alone in thinking that we live in a pretty fucked-up world? I mean, the public sector (including the welfare state) – by and large – exists because it provides an end product to society. It treats the majority of us when we are sick, it educates our children and the private sector’s workforce for free, it puts out fires, polices our streets, locks up criminals, manages our local parks, towns, car parks, fixes our roads and so on. It does something, something measurable and something that largely benefits every member of our society.

Yet here we are being told that it does too much, that it is too expensive and that the private sector could do things better. Privatisation was the work of Margeret Thatcher – using the shock of the Falklands war to crush the unions and sell off state run functions – regardless of whether they were profitable or not. Our Telecoms, energy supplies, water supplies, railways  and much more were sold off to private corporations because they could do things better. Yet have they?

It seems to me that we

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About

I’ve been meaning to write about the title of my blog for some time because it appears a few people just don’t understand it. The premise is simple: I took the title from the Kaiser Chief song ‘Angry Mob’ that included the lyrics:

We are the angry mob
We read the papers everyday day
We like who like
We hate who we hate
But we’re also easily swayed

Therefore the Angry Mob does not refer to me, the writer of this blog, nor does it mean that I am more than one person. Some people seem to think that Angry Mob was chosen because it refers to a group of people writing about the tabloids. No, it refers to the tabloid readers, the mob who read the tabloids solely to have their buttons pushed, to be fed who to like and who to hate.

I chose the title of the blog after working with an organisation that had the Daily Mail delivered everyday. I had never paid much attention to tabloid journalism before then, I thought it was all irrelevant, beyond a joke and that no-one could really take it seriously. However, seeing the same people crowd around each new copy of the Daily Mail at the start of the day really opens your eyes to the reality of what tabloid newspapers do.

Barely a day would start without the same people getting instantly angry about one minority group after another: ‘bloody immigrants’, ‘bloody gypsies’, ‘bloody gays’, ‘bloody fat cats’, ‘bloody young people’, ‘have you seen how much they get’… and so on.

Two things struck me:

  1. you don’t have to be an abhorrent person to repeat abhorrent views
  2. you can have a strong view of a group of people or issue about which you know nothing

I therefore began reading the Daily Mail with increasing disgust at the lies, hatred and just pure negativity that dripped from each story. Britain was broken, we need to return to a mythical vision of the 1950s seemed to the be the overarching ideology around which the newspaper was based. Attacks on women, gays, ethnic minorities, the disabled, the poor and the young were regularly wheeled out as evidence that things in Britain were really bad and getting worse.

Yet I just didn’t recognise the world being painted. It bore no relation to where I had lived, or where I currently live. It didn’t bear any relation to the world in which my colleagues lived, which in some senses shone light on the issue: if they don’t know any immigrants, how can they counter what they read in the paper? But that is perhaps missing the point: it seemed to me that they took a perverse pleasure in being angry. They enjoyed picking up the Daily Mail because they wanted to put the world to rights amongst friends at the start of the working day. They didn’t want to stop and think about whether they were rightfully angry, they just assumed that was the case.

In a strange way the Daily Mail provided them with some kind of comforting familiarity. No matter what was happening in their personal life – positive or negative – they could rest assured the good old Daily Mail would give them the chance to rant about something. And this happened every day, I would sit quietly at my desk and listen to the morning rant against whichever target the Daily Mail had picked that day.

I once made the mistake of trying to interject during one of these rants, only to immediately regret the futility of such action. I remember it so clearly, it was during the Mail scare stories on ‘increasing’ knife crime and the reader commented: ‘It’s awful, and it’s always them* doing the stabbing and committing the crime’ (*meaning ethnic minorities). At this point I quietly pointed out that you can’t possibly say that all crime and knife crime is carried out by ethnic minorities, as we know recent cases for example have involved white offenders. ‘Oh I know they said.’ Followed by a reflective pause: ‘But it is though isn’t it?’.

At which point I sat stunned at the act of self-deception and the power of having no experience of a certain issue and allowing yourself to fully swallow the Daily Mail perception / deception. Instead of replying or arguing further, I created Angry Mob. A blog title not about me, but about the Angry Mob buying tabloid newspapers to give them an excuse to vent hatred towards other people.

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