The media should engage with "conspiracy theorists"

Dismissing Japanese politician's concerns over the September 11 attacks gives credence to believers'

Since 2008, the Japanese Diet member Yukihisa Fujita has been voicing concerns over the US account of the events of 11 September 2001. His much-documented conversion to the "truth movement" via dubious internet videos such as Loose Change is a cause for concern, and it is tempting to dismiss him as an irrational fantasist.

Yet, beneath his recourse to contestable evidence, and his affiliation with sacred cows such as David Ray Griffin (with whom he co-authored Questioning 9/11 in Japan's Parliament), is a critical faculty absent from too much of the political class. Fujita may have deflated his own arguments with "facts" culled from the net, including doubts over whether the Pentagon was struck by a plane at all, but the knee-jerk reactions of the media have been equally counterproductive.

Yesterday's Washington Post insisted:

Mr Fujita's ideas about the attack on the World Trade Center, which he shared with us in a recent interview, are too bizarre, half-baked and intellectually bogus to merit serious discussion.

But why? Surely one of the functions of the media is to inform through reasoned debate. Such refusals to engage with "bogus" ideas only serve to fuel the believers' conviction. If they are wrong, why not prove it with evidence, instead of trying to force consensus with nothing but bullying language?

The Post accuses Fujita of being "fact-averse", and casts those who question the official account as members of the "lunatic fringe". But crucially, it identifies the MP's views as rooted in the rising tide of anti-US sentiment in Japan. If so, dispelling the myth of US complicity in 9/11 should help ease relations between the two countries.

Agree with him or not, Fujita is an articulate and intelligent politician. His criticisms of Japan's failure to carry out a full investigation of US claims for war in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks are sound. And his insistence that there is a distinction between acts of war and crime is a creditable contribution to the debate on war in the Middle East.

That such an influential figure -- the director general of the Democratic Party's international department, no less -- could succumb to the lure of "truther" polemics shows how inflated the issue has become.

The tarring catch-all that is the term "conspiracy theory" is inadequate as a tool for meaningful debate. Less strong-arming from the media, please, as well as the Loose Change set.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

 

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.