Racism and the tabloids

The hypocrisy of Question Time outrage

If you thought tabloid outrage over Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time was hypocritical, you weren't alone. Anton Vowl at The Enemies of Reason blog has produced a very thorough picture essay on the subject, which we repost here in full.

NB: "Today" below refers to Friday 23 October, as that's when Anton made the original post.

Today's tabloids express mock outrage at the appearance of N*ck Gr*ff*n on the BBC Question Time programme. But they have short memories.

Here's today's Star:

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Hang on, though. Isn't that the same newspaper that did this?

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And this?

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The Express, meanwhile, is also clutching its pearl necklace, claiming that the party is going to get taxpayer-funded broadcasts at the next election. Not a big lead on Griffin, because there's apparently another twist in the Diana saga (and as ever the stock image of her wearing a seat belt, which would have saved her life in the crash, nutjob neenaw whoop-whoop conspiracy or no conspiracy).

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But it's got those because it's gained votes. I wonder why? I wonder which newspapers are read by BNP supporters? Maybe ones that say stuff like this

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Or this?

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Or even this?

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And not forgetting the all-time classic:

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Not some. Not five hundred. Not even a thousand. Not half. Not three-quarters. No. ALL. IN BIG RED LETTERS SO YOU'RE MADE CLEARLY AWARE THAT IT'S ALL.

Hey, and please let's not forget this:

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I almost didn't include this!

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Which is almost the same as this!

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But no. The Express doesn't like the BNP. They just happen to share entirely the same views on immigration, but Griffin is bad, because . . . well. I haven't quite worked out why he's bad. Maybe he doesn't hate Muslims enough for their tastes?

The Mail have also had a bash, but as ever they're more concerned with attacking their nemesis the BBC than they are about hand-wringing over Griffin:

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Having said which, I still think

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it's worth making the point

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that the Mail doesn't always steer so far away

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from using content

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which the BNP and "bigot" N*ck Gr*ff*n

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might completely agree with

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and it's not long

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before you might start thinking to yourself

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are they really protesting a bit too much? And what's the difference, really, between the BNP bigots and the supposedly mainstream newspaper which claims to distance itself from them so much?

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And you have to start thinking: do these newspapers which select certain types of images of ethnic minorities and use them again and again

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really have such different views or agendas from the likes of the BNP?

It's all very well people blaming Labour, or the BBC, or whoever, for the "rise" of the BNP. But if there has been a significant increase in BNP support -- and it hasn't translated into votes yet, despite a severe recession and growing unemployment -- perhaps that might have more to do with the legitimisation and absorption of their extreme views by newspapers creating scare story after scare story concerning race and immigration, often baseless stories created simply to scare? It's one thing going to a BNP meeting but it's quite another to hear exactly the same thing over the breakfast table from a publication which purports to report the facts.

But no. It's all the BBC's fault. Let's blame them.

 

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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The lute master and the siege of Aleppo

Luthier Ibrahim al-Sukkar's shop was bombed; when he moved, militants came for him. Over WhatsApp, he told me what's next.

Aleppo was once a city of music, but this year the 400,000 residents who inhabit its eastern suburbs can hear nothing but the roar of Russian warplanes, and ear-shattering blasts from the bombs they drop. To the north, west and south, the city is encircled by ground troops from the Syrian armed forces, Hezbollah and Iran. Most residents are afraid to flee, but soon, now that supply lines to the city have been cut off, many will begin to starve. We have reached the crescendo of Aleppo’s suffering in year five of the Syrian civil war.

One clear August morning in 2012, in the early weeks of the battle for the city, a man approached a street corner shop and found a hundred shattered lutes scattered across the floor. Ibrahim al-Sukkar, the engineer who had made the lutes (Arabs know the instrument as the oud), was overwhelmed. He wandered between the tables of his workshop and peered up at the sky, suddenly visible through holes in the roof. He wept on the floor, amid the dust and ash.

Some of the wooden shards that lay around him had been lutes commissioned by musicians in Europe and America. Others were to be used by students in Damascus and Amman. Each oud was built for a specific purpose. In every shard Ibrahim saw a piece of himself, a memory scattered and charred by government bombs. He packed his bags and headed for Idlib, a few hours to the west, where he set up shop a second time. A year later, his workshop was destroyed again, this time by Islamist militants.

It was at this point that Ibrahim came to a stark realisation – he was a target. If barrel bombs from government helicopters could not succeed in destroying him, the Islamists would. The cost of sourcing materials and getting goods to market had become unmanageable. The society that had inspired his desire to make musical instruments was now trying to lynch him for it.

The 11 string courses of an oud, when plucked, lend the air that passes through its bowl the sounds of Arabic modes known as maqamat. Each one evokes an emotion. Hijaz suggests loneliness and melancholy. Ajam elicits light-heartedness and cheer. An oud player’s competence is judged by his or her ability to improvise using these modes, modulating between them to manipulate the listener’s mood. The luthier, the architect of the oud system, must be equal parts artist and scientist.

This is how Ibrahim al-Sukkar views himself. He is a trained mechanical engineer, but before that he was a lover of classical Arabic music. As a young man in the Syrian countryside, he developed a talent for playing the oud but his mathematical mind demanded that he should study the mechanics behind the music. Long hours in the workshop taking instruments apart led him to spend 25 years putting them together. Ibrahim’s ouds are known for their solid construction and, thanks to his obsessive experimentation with acoustics, the unparalleled volume they produce.

Ibrahim and I recently spoke using WhatsApp messenger. Today, he is lying low in the village where he was born in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border. Every so often, when he can, he sends some of his equipment through to Turkey. It will wait there in storage until he, too, can make the crossing. I asked him if he still felt that his life was in danger. “All musicians and artists in Syria are in danger now, but it’s a sensitive topic,” he wrote, afraid to say more. “I expect to be in Turkey some time in February. God willing, we will speak then.”

Ibrahim’s crossing is now more perilous than ever. Residents of Idlib are watching the developing siege of Aleppo with a sense of foreboding. Government forces are primed to besiege Idlib next, now that the flow of traffic and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border has been intercepted. And yet, to Ibrahim, the reward – the next oud – is worth the risk.

I bought my first oud from a Tunisian student in London in autumn 2014. It is a humble, unobtrusive instrument, with a gentle, wheat-coloured soundboard covering a cavernous, almond-shaped bowl. Some ouds are decorated with rosettes, wooden discs carved with dazzling patterns of Islamic geometry. Others are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. My instrument, however, is far simpler in design, decorated only with a smattering of nicks and scratches inflicted by the nails of impatient players, and the creeping patina imprinted by the oils of their fingers on its neck.

My instructor once told me that this oud was “built to last for ever”. Only recently did I discover the sticker hidden inside the body which reads: “Made in 2006 by Engineer Ibrahim al-Sukkar, Aleppo.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle