Thursday, 15 July 2010
The appearance this week of heartfelt tributes to Rauol Moat along the lines of him being a "thoroughly decent bloke" do not need much in the way of a sophisticated rebuttal. That the man was a rapist, a murderer and responsible for the possible blinding of PC David Rathband should speak for itself.
Yet, not only has a Facebook tribute sprung up (36,800 members and counting), full of bravado and illiterate ranting (a crime against literacy if nothing else), a large number of floral tributes have been placed near the home of Moat's family, containing messages of support such as "RIP you legend, I will always love and admire you." and "We hate the police...There's only one Raoul Moat."
A quick browse of the Facebook page in question and one soon stumbles upon gems like "the bitch in hospital caused all this by telling lies", which, perhaps predictably, blames his former girlfriend for "not keeping her legs together". Blame also does not escape the default villain in any case of the working class hero done wrong - those bloody foreigners: "he done wat he had 2 respect if i had everything taken from me and seing all these fucking immigrants take over fair play moaty u got your own bk".
One comes away from the site feeling a profound sense of superiority while regrettably and momentarily muttering under one's breath of eugenics and forced sterilisation.
And then the twist in the story. While the standoff was taking place a clearly inebriated Paul Gascoigne turned up offering his support for his "pal Moaty" by way of a "piece of chicken and some lager"; and asked to be let through the police cordon clutching a dressing gown and a fishing rod. Describing Moat as "a gentleman", Gazza said, "Obviously he´s killed someone and shot two, which isn´t nice really..."
Yeh, no shit.
On a more serious note, the case perhaps says much about the way mental health is viewed in Britain, captured in essence by Moat's previous pleas for help as well as tragicomically by the spectacle of another troubled individual turning up to have a drink, eat chicken and, presumably, do a spot of fishing with a wanted murderer during an armed siege. Not only was Moat asking repeatedly for psychiatric help from social workers months before his shooting spree, but Gazza, himself having been recently sectioned, continues to be treated by the media as a clown-like figure of fun, rather than someone quite obviously suffering mental problems. In a telephone conversation with social services, Moat said: "I would like to have, erm, a psychiatrist, psychologist, have a word with me regularly, on a regular basis to see if there's somewhere underlying like where I have problem that I haven't seen". Doing what government bodies do best, Newcastle City Council "commissioned a report" from a psychologist to examine whether it was safe for Moat to live with his two older children. The report "did not recommend any treatment, but examined Mr Moat's aggressive behaviour on the safety and wellbeing [sic] of the children".
Answers on a postcard as to what Moat would have actually needed to have done to receive treatment.
Much support for Moat is along the lines of it being all the fault of his girlfriend for "fucking around", representing the warped idea that a woman not remaining faithful can be justifiably roughed up and the man suspected of being involved with her shot dead. As Barbara Ellen in the Guardian put it, "Moat seemed to embody the almost-nuclear frustration of the failed male. Ego-driven, soured, festooned with the trappings of cliched machismo (steroids, guns)."
For those too lazy or pathetic to do anything meaningful with their lives a figure such as Moat that sticks it to authority seemingly gains kudos for "doing something". The fact that that something is morally repulsive to mainstream society perhaps adds to the attraction. While those such as Moat and Gazza (no, I'm not comparing the two) have real psychological issues, the support expressed for Moat by, I have to say, mostly other men, seems to point to what Alice Miles in the New Statesman describes as "men [who} are babies tipping their food off their plates because Mummy isn't giving them the red plastic spoon."
Judging by Moat's apparent posthumous popularity, perhaps he may be most aptly remembered as the Princess Diana of violent thugs. He wasn't just a wife-beating rapist. He was the people's wife-beating rapist.
Monday, 5 July 2010
Before me is a copy of Hitch 22, the memoir recently published by Christopher Hitchens. The book's prologue opens with a quote by Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, in which he says: "Read your own obituary notice; they say you live longer. Gives you second wind. New lease of life."
"Hitch", as his friends affectionately call him, begins the book with the story of finding himself referred to as "the late Christopher Hitchens" in a National Portrait Gallery exhibition entitled "Martin Amis and Friends". The event was by photographer and former girlfriend of Martin Amis Angela Gorgas, and documents the so-called literary "set" around Martin Amis in the late 1970s which included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwen and Christopher Hitchens.
The offending paragraph was written by Angela herself, and recalls the first time she met the young Amis:
"Martin was literary editor of the New Statesman, working with the late Christopher Hitchens and Julian Barnes, who was married to Pat Kavanagh, Martin's literary agent."
Upon reading a phrase that will one day become unarguably true; and for the rather obvious reason that a memoir may be a lot of things, of which coming too late cannot possibly be one, Hitchens decided to set down in words something resembling an autobiographical account of his life, his loves, and his politics. Most importantly of all perhaps, his arguments. The fact that last week Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, without wishing to overstate or dramatise Hitchens's predicament, nor to downplay the brilliant read that is Hitch 22, lends the memoir a value that may not have been quite so readily felt, coming as it does from such a prolific author who's constitution in the face of a stupendous consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has always appeared so robust.
Of those Abrahamic believers stuffing the forums of news sites with messages last week upon hearing the news, reaction veered between an ill-concealed glee at what was to them obviously the work of a vengeful and blasphemed God, and patronising and pointless declarations that they would be "praying for him" - "a more practical solution", as a writer for the Catholic Herald stupidly put it (which prompts one to ask about the "practical" effects of prayer on, say, the growing back of an amputated or severed limb!)
No doubt the pious flock contained those sincerely wishing Christopher well, but would it be going too far to suspect at least a smither of those for whom the opportunity to pray for their atheist tormentor was nothing less than an opportunity to say: "look, this is what happens when you mess around with these things", all the while preparing the tape recorder and Rosary Beads for the inevitable death-bead conversion?
It is not only the religious with whom Hitchens has clashed lately. The left, or more accurately, the "anti-war" left, has been at odds with Hitchens over his support for intervention ever since Kosovo, culminating in recent years in vicious polemics exchanged between Hitchens and figures such as Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal.
As Hitchens himself put it, "those who, upon discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals".
The essence of what has separated Hitchens from the mainstream left is a soft relativism that has enveloped many former comrades since the fall of socialism in 1989, whereby as long as a movement is opposed to the United States its more unsavoury characteristics can be ignored. This hangover from the era of orthodox communism assumes the enemy that trumps all others is global capitalism. It follows then that the United States, global capitalist hegemon, is adversary par excellence. Any movement in opposition to the US must therefore be progress of a sort. It was this mindset in the 20th century that led communists to side with National Socialists when during the Hitler-Stalin pact they argued that it was British imperialism rather than German fascism that was the real enemy. According to Hitchens, the small crack which would go on to become a gaping chasm between himself and the left, first came to the fore on Valentines Day 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini suborned the murder of a foreign citizen for money for the writing of a work of fiction. Rather than confronting the theocratic menace and threat to free expression, much of the left instead capitulated and declared the problem not theocracy, but blasphemy and hurt feelings.
"Germaine Greer, always reliably terrible about such matters, again came to the fore, noisily defending the rights of bookburners. "The Rushdie affair," wrote the Marxist critic John Berger within a few days of the fatwa, "has already cost several human lives and threatens to cost many, many more." And "the Rushdie affair," wrote Professor Michael Dummett of All Souls, "has done untold damage. It has intensified the alienation of Muslims here...Racist hostility towards them has been inflamed."
Here we saw the introduction...of a willful, crass confusion between religious faith, which is voluntary, and ethnicity, which is not."
After 9/11, but prior to the removal of the Taliban, Hitchens fell out with many on the left en masse over what he saw as double standards over the crimes of America and its enemies, and a moral relativism that refused to allow American foreign policy to pass judgement on even the most psychopathic and hideous regimes because of past American behaviour.
"If there is now an international intervention, whether intelligent and humane, or brutal and stupid, against the Taliban, some people will take to the streets, or at least mount some "Candle in the Wind" or "Strawberry Fields" peace vigils. They did not take to the streets, or even go moist and musical, when the Administration supported the Taliban. But that was, surely, just as much an intervention? An intervention, moreover, that could not even pretend to be humane or democratic? I had the same concern about those who did not object when the United States safeguarded Milosevic, but did protest when it finally turned against him. Am I supposed not to notice that these two groups of "anti-interventionists" are in fact the same people?"
The most important message of all from Hitchens is perhaps the most basic one: to think for yourself. The same reason that many admire Hitchens is the same reason many detest him - attacking the cosy consensus over figures such as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Princess Diana is not likely to win one as many plaudits as clinging to the shore and sticking to the script like a Daily Telegraph editorial. But what many saw as the decline of Chrisopher Hitchens, or, as George Galloway put it "the first metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug", when he endorsed the fight against Islamo-fascism (No. It doesn't need quotation marks), was for many others the making of him - the continuation of engaged dissent in the tradition of figures as diverse as George Orwell, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky.
Hitchens's latest battle is one he cannot lose. It is a fight that will almost certainly be his biggest challenge to date; and we would all be worse off without the raffish demeanor, whiskey and cigarette in hand, belligerently arguing a point when others have long ago given up the ghost.
While many on the left have stayed predictably quiet at the news, it is their side of the house who would miss him the most.
Get well soon Hitch!