Comment is white: far-right extremism’s subversion of the British media
By Nafeez Ahmed
Commissioned by Media Diversified; abridged version published here
When fascism returns to Europe, you won’t hear the march of jackboots, but the complacent chuckling of white media pundits after brown and black people call them out for cosying up to far-right extremists.
Which is basically what happened when Times columnists Melanie Phillips and Daniel Finkelstein were nominated for the 2018 UK Comments Awards — respectively shortlisted under the Society & Diversity and Brexit categories.
The problem is that both figures provide alarming insights into how a global network of neo-fascists have attempted quite deliberately, and with a degree of success, to gather mainstream legitimacy for their xenophobic discourses; and how a self-soothingly complacent white-dominated media has functioned as a subservient, willing collaborator in this process.
Both Phillips and Finkelstein have openly affiliated with dangerous, fringe far-right hate groups which have brazenly used the spectre of a migrant, Muslim invasion of the ‘free world’ to advance an apocalyptic vision that is racist at its core, and rooted in far-right anti-Semitism. At worst, these groups are part of a network whose members are often inspired by Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology.
Comment is colonised
That journalists who have flirted with such a dangerous, racist nexus were shortlisted to receive among the highest accolades in British opinion journalism came as a shock to me, and many other black and ethnic minority observers — including Samantha Asumadu, a former Comment Awards judge in 2016 who founded Media Diversified.
When Nesrine Malik and Gary Younge, nominees for the award, asked for their names to be withdrawn due to being shortlisted alongside Melanie Phillips, the organisers refused to remove their names from the shortlist. Malik and Younge were forced to then publicly declare their withdrawal from the awards in protest against Phillips’ bigotry.
In turn, The Comment Awards issued a statement essentially saying that Malik’s and Younge’s concerns were irrelevant — because the judging process is democratic and focuses on writing done that year, not someone’s “body of writing” or “personality” (namely, the documented evidence of a person’s track record of promoting racism and bigotry against BAME people).
The Awards, in other words, are operated from a position of white privilege which, by its inherent design, systematically excludes evidence of bigotry. Far from vindicating the organisers, the statement exposes the inherently flawed nature of the award.
Similarly, when I and Asumadu raised the issue on social media, we were met with scorn. The Comment Awards re-posted Asumadu’s tweet expressing concern that the shortlisting of Phillips and Finkelstein “is mainstreaming far-right ideology”, adding the following light-hearted hashtags: #factssacreetoo [sic] #everyoneentitledtoanopinion #shortlisttwitterfrenzy.
The founder of the Awards herself, Julia Hobsbawm, posted underneath, “Someone hates the shortlist each and every year #democracyisflawedbutilikeit”
But what, really, was so irreverent (and irrelevant) about two BAME journalists challenging the nomination of columnists to win a prestigious British award, despite them having been affiliated to racist organisations? And why should the concerns of two BAME journalists shortlisted for the awards be ignored and repressed?
Indeed, Hobsbawm proceeded to block Asumadu on Twitter. She is of course entitled to do so, but in the context of touting ‘free speech’, this was a hypocritical act of silencing.
This is white supremacism — a structure and a set of institutions, encompassing norms and values which marginalise BAME people, not by way of being brown-shirted fascists, but through being sticklers for the supposedly neutral bureaucratic ‘processes’ that protect white privilege.
Melanie Phillips’ jihad against the ‘Muslim Other’
These are the same processes that have allowed Melanie Phillips to develop a body of work systematically targeting and demonising migrants and Muslims in particular, not merely with impunity, but with applause from parts of the white commentariat that sees itself as representing the Western liberal order.
Her work throughout her career has focused on a simple idea — Western civilisation is under attack from an onslaught of foreigners (who happen to be increasingly Muslim) migrating to our shores who do not share ‘our’ Western values, and whose presence threatens the very survival of the West as we know it.
In 2001, Phillips claimed in the Sunday Times that support for terrorism and hatred of Britain was the norm among young British Muslims, requiring the entire community to be hounded by the police and security services:
“As for the host community, it must start taking seriously the widespread hatred of Britain among the Muslim young. That means not merely arresting all those who incite violence, whether in the mosques or in the schools, through publications or the internet. It also means that unless the Muslim community cleans up its act, the police and intelligence services have got to be consistently on its back. Anything else would be the most culpable negligence… Unless Muslims manage to accept what it means to be a minority culture, they will find that those leading the charge against their freedom to practise any Islamic values at all will be these so-called liberals, spitting hatred against all religion.”
Indeed, Phillips routinely generalises about “Muslims”, and their common negative religio-cultural characteristics as a whole.
“Muslims not only despise Western secular values as decadent, materialistic, corrupt and immoral. They do not accept the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal, the division which in Christian societies confines religion to the margins of everyday life,” wrote Phillips in The Spectatorin 2002, carrying the sensationalist title, ‘How the West was lost’:
“Instead, for Muslims, the whole of human life must represent a submission to God. This means that they feel a duty to Islamicise the values of the surrounding culture. Since most of the mass immigration now convulsing Europe is composed of Muslims, it is therefore hardly surprising that anti-immigrant feeling is largely anti-Muslim feeling. The sheer weight of numbers plus the refusal to assimilate to western values makes this an unprecedented crisis for western liberalism. The crisis is forcing it to confront the fundamental questions of what constitutes a country, national identity and the very nature of a liberal society.”
Thanks for explaining that to me Melanie; without such esteemed insights I’d never have known what level of inherent dangerousness my “Muslimness” really implies.
Of course, Phillips’ piece is not aimed at me. It’s aimed at demonising people like me to her target audience of what she calls the “majority”, and “host community”, ie code for fellow white compatriots.
In her 2007 book,Londonistan: Britain’s Terror State from Within, Phillips articulated the notion of a clash between “indigenous” (effective code for white) culture and “minority” (effective code for foreign non-white) sensibilities, exemplified with a fake news example relating to Muslims:
“In the multicultural classroom, every culture appears to be taught except Britain’s indigenous one. Concern not to offend minority sensibilities has reached the risible point where piggy banks have been banished from British banks in case Muslims might be offended.”
The story was false, and denied by the banks. Yet the general racialised stereotype about the hyper-sensitivity of “Muslims” did not cause Phillips any problems in continuing to get published. Parts of the white British media have in fact lovingly welcomed such commentary.
Phillips the Birther theorist
Phillips’ lunacy has extended so far as to embrace far-right birther conspiracy theories about then President Barack Obama. He “adopts the agenda of the Islamists” and is “firmly in the Islamists’ camp”, she claimed in a Spectator article (which is now apparently deleted, but which she never retracted). “We are entitled to ask precisely when he stopped being a Muslim, and why,” she continued. “Did Obama embrace Christianity as a tactical manoeuvre to get himself elected?”
Ultimately, this casual suspicion of a black man raised in a Muslim country is rooted in Phillips’ claimthat Islam, proper, is the problem — which means that even secular Muslims are at risk of being radicalised:
“But what they fail to grasp is that ‘authentic’ Islam is currently dominated by a deeply politicised interpretation which promotes holy war to conquer ‘infidels’ and insufficiently pious Muslims. And although many such Muslims abhor this and have nothing to do with violence or extremism, it is an interpretation backed up by Islamic theology and history and currently supported by the major religious authorities in the Islamic world… when exposed to this, even many hitherto secular Muslims become radicalised.”
Criticism of Islam (even if blatantly biased and incorrect) is one thing, but the clincher is in the last sentence, which extends the net of legitimate suspicion to all Muslims. You are entitled, Phillips implies, to feel suspicion toward us all. We are, after all, by way of our ‘authentic’ faith, dominated by a death culture which instructs us to kill.
Phillips’ open season on unmasking savage Arabs and Muslims
Occasionally, Phillips’ ire against barbaric Muslims and migrants was specifically targeted against ethnic group associated with them. For instance, writing about the murder of five members of a Jewish family in the West Bank by Palestinian militants, she wrote in another subsequently deleted Spectator article about the “savage” nature of “the Arabs”:
“And as anticipated, the moral depravity of the Arabs is finding a grotesque echo in the moral bankruptcy and worse of the British and American ‘liberal’ media… So to the New York Times, it’s not the Arab massacre of a Jewish family which has jeopardised ‘peace prospects’ — because the Israelis will quite rightly never trust any agreement with such savages — but instead Israeli policy on building more homes, on land to which it is legally and morally entitled, which is responsible instead for making peace elusive. Twisted, and sick.”
Phillips’ piece was deleted, but she remained entirely unrepentant about this racist language. Her belief that she was justified was celebrated by the Gates of Vienna blog, which has inspired convicted Norwegian terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik. The blog was also described by a group of British MPs as an ‘anti-Muslim paramilitary manual’ due to content providing training for race wars in Europe. Incidentally, Phillips herself was cited directly in Breivik’s manifesto (merely an unfortunate coincidence of course).
This year, Phillips’s dog-whistling emerged once again. She appeared on BBC Daily Politics denying the very existence of Islamophobia, which she described as a way for Muslims to shut down “legitimate criticism of the Muslim community” — not the religion of Islam, in other words, but simply Muslims.
Phillips’ bizarre fondness for an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory concocted by Nazis
It is not well-known, though unsurprising in this context, that Phillips has not only promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, but aligned herself with a far-right group with direct links to neo-Nazis.
As Jason Wilson points out in the Guardian, the theory is “blatantly antisemitic, drawing on the idea of Jews as a fifth column bringing down western civilisation from within, a racist trope that has a longer history than Marxism. Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the theory was fabricated to order, for a special purpose: the institution and perpetuation of culture war.”
The theory was created by far-right ideologue William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation in the 1990s, but originated from the Nazis who first used the term ‘cultural Bolshevism’. It basically claims that a cohort of German Jewish Marxist academics behind the Frankfurt School successfully orchestrated a cultural conspiracy to undermine the US through an ‘identity politics’ driven cultural war on US values, mobilised through the Trojan Horse of minority rights (gay rights, women’s rights, BAME rights, religious rights, cultural rights, and beyond) as a way of establishing Communism by stealth.
There are sound reasons for holding misgivings about the direction of identity politics, but ‘cultural Marxism’ is not one of them.
The theory of ‘cultural Marxism’ has become a staple of the far-right, used by the likes of Steve Bannon, Breitbart and Breivik; and even the extreme (but increasingly popular) wing of the Conservative Party.
But perhaps most alarming is Phillips’ alignment with the so-called ‘International Free Press Society’ (IFPS), an anti-Muslim campaign group based in Denmark, closely tied to the Belgian Vlaams Belang (VB), a neo-Nazi political party founded by Flemish ultra-nationalists who collaborated with Nazis during the Second World War. IFPS events have been run with logistical support from the VB party. In 2009, Phillips received an award from the IFPS for her journalism, which she gratefully received in person, giving a speech at the award ceremony.
The IFPS’ board of directors is a veritable who’s who of racist, far-right bigotry, including neo-Nazi sympathisers and anti-Muslim bigots from around the world. The group’s chairman, Lars Hedegaard, regularly makes inflammatory remarks about Muslims, such as saying that they “rape their own children. It is heard of all the time. Girls in Muslim families are raped by their uncles, their cousins or their fathers.” He also said:
“Whenever it is prudent for a Muslim to hide his true intentions by lying or making a false oath in his own or in Islam’s service, then it is ok to do it.”
After Hedegaard was charged for racism and hate speech for such pronouncements (he was eventually acquitted), Phillips mounted a spirited defence of him in the Mail.
Phillips’ inflammatory speech upon receipt of her precious award given to her by Hedegaard’s IFPSis worth studying in detail. There might be “many” good Muslims, she said, but the problem is that Muslims are largely complicit in an overt jihad and stealth cultural jihad to Islamise the west — also effectively complicit in the conspiracy are all minorities, exploiting multiculturalism to subvert the values of the “majority”.
To help lift your blinders, try reading this speech by replacing her references to “Muslims” with “Jews”, or “Blacks” — or your ‘racial’ category of choice.
Culture wars: dog-whistle for race wars
In this vein, Phillips’ writings are not substantively distinct from the marked and deliberate linguistic shift of some of the worst racist organisations, such as the BNP, to now focus on ‘non-racial’ categories of threat, namely culture, ideology and values. Yet the same racialised dynamics are at play.
One of the reasons such dynamics can be so effectively concealed and perpetuated, is due precisely to the West’s history of dealing with the category of ‘race’. Modern anti-racism and equalities legislation still descends from a narrow conception of race originating during the colonial era, and the abuse of evolutionary biology to ‘objectively’ identify a biologically-defined racial hierarchy within the human species. To address and safeguard against that sordid history, Western legislation implicitly presumes the existence of discrete “races” between which there should be equality and avoidance of discrimination.
In reality, of course, the real racism goes deeper; and arises in the very act of asserting the existence of different ‘races’ with their own characteristics. The multiplicity of ‘races’ among humans, the identification of discrete ‘racial identities’, is an ideological invention, a social construct. The new racism does not dispense with this construct, but merely replaces the fiction of discrete biologically defined ‘races’ with new culturally defined social groupings and identities. The defining factors can include nation, religion, belief, culture and ethnicity. But the essential dynamic is the same.
In fact, a defining feature of the new racism is that it masquerades as ‘anti-racism’, by adopting the language of culture. But the effect is exactly the same — to manufacture, to project large groups of black, brown, accented, differently-clothed people as ‘Others’ functioning as homogenous entities with fixed general characteristics.
Racism has adapted, and evolved, and has thereby managed to slither its way into polite acceptability. Just make sure you use the right code words, and you will have senior white columnists jumping to your defence.
Finkelstein and the fascist friends that time forgot
Which is what happened three years ago, when I wrote a feature for Middle East Eye titled ‘White Supremacists at the heart of Whitehall’.
The piece examined how a range of mainstream commentators, institutions, government officials and journalists in the UK had developed bizarre ideological affinities with a wing of the US far-right calling itself the ‘counter-jihad’ movement.
In passing, my piece mentioned how the web of white supremacist ideology had swept up another of this year’s Comment Award nominees: the figure of Lord Daniel Finkelstein — long-time columnist and a former editor at The Times; a former Director of the right wing think-tank, Policy Exchange; a widely respected Tory peer; and an informal advisor and confidant to Prime Minister David Cameron.
How so? At the time, Lord Finkelstein sat on the Board of Governors of the Gatestone Institute, a notorious far-right think tank based in Washington DC. Gatestone is not just any far right think-tank. It festers at the very heart of a dark web of ‘alt right’ influencers which helped propel Donald Trump to power, functioning as an intellectual mouthpiece for the rancid ideology that inspires bigots across the Atlantic — from anti-Muslim ‘scholar’ Robert Spencer, to street thug and convicted fraudster Tommy Robinson, all the way to Breivik.
On Twitter, Finkelstein’s colleague at The Times, fellow columnist Oliver Kamm, jumped to his defence by levelling various ad hominem insults at me. Kamm demonstrated no concern for the fact that Finkelstein was attached to such a grotesquely racist outfit. The exchange prompted me to ask Finkelstein a number of questions about his relationship with Gatestone via Twitter. His replies, especially when viewed retrospectively in the context of his recent claims, were revealing.
The exchange with Finkelstein prompted me to write a broader article for Media Diversified the following month, focusing on his avid support for Gatestone.
Finkelstein’s excellent adventure
Finkelstein had not only admitted proudly to being on Gatestone’s Board of Governors, he had also insisted that being on the board meant that he knew exactly what Gatestone publishes, but that this didn’t mean he always agreed with it — sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. But, he emphasised, he believed that ultimately Gatestone was “an excellent platform” and that its authors were doing an important public service in opposing extremism:
Here is the unbroken text of Finkelstein’s comment to me in March 2015:
“I naturally don’t (and didn’t) say that I didn’t know who it was or what it publishes or who it hosts. Of course I do. Being on the Board doesn’t mean I agree with every article or speaker, nor does it imply that I don’t. I don’t accept your characterisation of Gatestone… I think Gatestone acts as an excellent platform for some very good speeches. I think your idea that it [is] Gatestone that is fascist rather than the extremism it opposes is eccentric.”
This was particularly extraordinary given that principally Finkelstein was saying he believed in the importance of Gatestone giving a platform for the following noble purpose: promoting discredited racist tropes about Muslims, to justify calls to restrict their activities and reduce their numbers (including numbers of ethnic minorities originating from Muslim countries) across Europe.
Gatestone was founded in 2012 by financier and philanthropist Nina Rosenwald, its president — but the organisation had previous incarnations under different names since 2008. Former Bush administration hawk John Bolton was Chairman of Gatestone until resigning to take up the role of Trump’s National Security Advisor.
Since the organisation’s inception, it has specialised in doing one basic thing, across pretty much every single article: promoting the idea that predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities are conspiring to wage an Islamic civilisational jihad against the West, inspired by Islam’s core teachings, through a combination of immigration, high-birth rates, political entryism, and multiculturalism — all as a cover for the creeping establishment of brutal Shariah Law. You will note the parallels with the writings of Phillips.
Like Phillips, Gatestone authors invariably argue that this should be countered by cracking down on Muslim populations in the West, and BAME populations associated with them, by banning immigration, especially Muslim immigration; eliminating Muslim rights; scrutinising and monitoring Muslims in the West; defeating and restricting the practice of ‘Islam’; and escalating military-police action abroad in Muslim nations.
Archives of the Gatestone Institute’s website reveal that Finkelstein first joined Gatestone’s Board of Governors in December 2014.
This was shortly after he spoke at a Gatestone event in October 2014. In a now deleted Jewish Chroniclearticle (archived here via Press Reader but inexplicably disappeared from the Chroniclewebsite), Finkelstein explained:
“I was in New York addressing the Gatestone Institute and my audience, a sympathetic (to my way of thinking) right minded bunch were quizzical.”
At this point, Gatestone’s modus operandi was unmistakeable — it did nothing else except publish the worst kind of fake news inspired by racist bigotry, carefully concealed under the guise of opposition to Islamist extremism.
Finkelstein’s high tolerance for dog whistling
Before and during Finkelstein’s tenure there, Gatestone authors repeatedly claimed, ad nauseum, that Europe was replete with Muslim ‘no-go zones’ that were “off-limits to non-Muslims” functioning as “microstates governed by Islamic Sharia law”. The claim has not only been refuted, but retracted by the chief originator of the trope, Daniel Pipes. It was even ridiculed by David Cameron.
I mentioned this to Finkelstein in 2015, but it didn’t faze him.
Gatestone authors repeatedly endorsed Dutch Freedom Party politician Geert Wilders’ political programme demanding a wholesale ban on the Qur’an, a shutdown of all mosques, and the end of all Muslim immigration to Europe.
I had put to Finkelstein Gatestone’s support of Wilders’ racist call for “fewer, fewer” ethnic Moroccans in the Netherlands (Wilders later attempted to sanitise this endorsement by claiming he wanted only “criminal” Moroccans to be forced out, and other ethnic Moroccans to be “voluntarily repatriated”. Not racist at all, then). Wilders’ views supporting the mass deportation of millions of Muslims from Europe are well-known.
Wilders calls for mass deportation of Muslims
Dutch rightwing MP Geert Wilders has said in an interview on Danish public service television that millions of European…
Finkelstein was utterly nonplussed, insisting that Wilders deserved a platform to air such views, and refusing to condemn them. Let’s be clear: in 2015, when asked repeatedly about Gatestone’s support of Wilders’ call for depopulating Europe of Muslims or ethnic Moroccans, he described it as a view worthy of being heard.
Ultimately, he was so nonplussed by these racist memes that he was proud to speak at a Gatestone event in January 2016.
Working with Nazis and white supremacists
While Gatestone’s fascist sensibilities are directed overwhelmingly at Muslims and BAME groups associated with them, under Finkelstein’s watch the organisation had no qualms about partnering with anti-Semitic organisations harbouring pro-Nazi sensibilities.
The following year, Gatestone partnered with Rebel Mediato produce a video series featuring racist bigots like Pipes and Wilders. Rebel Mediais a far-right Canadian website with what reporter Eli Clifton describes as “a history of bigotry and anti-Semitism that once published a ‘satirical video’ titled ‘Ten Things I Hate About Jews.’”
Rebel Mediahas not only released materials defending Holocaust denial, its staffers have disturbing connections to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. The website has, for instance, hired former Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka, who was belatedly fired after being outed for ties with Hungarian Nazi collaborators.
By 2017, Gatestone’s fake news bigotry was on a roll. The organisation claimed falsely that since 2001, London had seen 500 churches close, and 423 new mosques open, citing this as evidence of the Islamisation of the capital (in fact, between 2005 and 2012, 700 churches had opened).
The same year, Gatestone published a series of viral articles widely shared by the German closet neo-Nazi AfD, claiming that the German government had seized empty houses to give them to “hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.” The story was a complete fabrication.
Later that year, Gatestone published an article claiming that “the native population… the white population — of Europe faces extinction” due to the astronomical “birthrate” of “migrants” and “Muslims” across the continent. Meanwhile, the article claimed, the white population was “very efficiently wiping itself out of existence” through abortions. The article closed with the following profound conclusion that:
“… the ‘white death’ of Europe is a mathematical reality; and that this plague is not only self-inflicted, but that it began with the legalization of ‘birth control’ and abortion even before the massive influx of Muslim migrants.”
Douglas Murray, a senior distinguished fellow at Gatestone, has written similar things for the Spectator, lamenting the supposed disappearance of “white Britons” from London due to the Muslim “birth rate.” Once again, when I put this to Finkelstein back in 2015, he did not condemn this sort of language, instead saying that while he didn’t always agree with Murray, he always found him “stimulating”.
As of April 2017, one of Finkelstein’s colleagues on Gatestone’s Board of Governors was Rebekah Mercer, Trump mega-donor and daughter of billionaire then hedge-fund owner Robert Mercer. The Mercers have funded and supported Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, himself bearing a track record of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi collaboration. The Mercer family foundation had also donated $100,000 to Gatestone in 2015.
The Mercers are, of course, the same people outed primarily by Caroline Cadwalladr that year for having sponsored the work of firms like Cambridge Analytica to help win the Trump election and Brexit referendum.
Mercer’s addition to the Gatestone board in April 2017 was picked up by LobeLog, after which the organisation rapidly removed all details of the board from the website. Finkelstein has denied being aware of Mercer’s addition to Gatestone’ board.
Finkelstein’s convenient and incoherent amnesia
Fast forward to the summer of 2018, and Finkelstein’s four year affiliation with Gatestone was blasted into public consciousness when journalist Abigail Wilkinson confronted him about it on Twitter.
Finkelstein’s response to Wilkinson’s outrage was an extremely revealing exercise in dissimulation. Over the course of some weeks with responses to Wilkinson and others, he issued contradictory and incoherent explanations, the most egregious of which he made to her husband, Financial Times journalist Khadim Shubber.
Finkelstein’s novel claim (inconsistent with his statements to me in 2015) was that he had been added to Gatestone’s Board of Governors without his knowledge; had no idea what the organisation did or published, and no role in running it at all; was therefore completely oblivious to the rancid racist hate that it published throughout the duration of his tenure there; and then belatedly at some point decided to have his name removed when he realised that he didn’t agree with the things it said.
So Finkelstein now claims he never “had any role” and his only mistake was laziness: “once I do know, just left it.”
When, then, did Finkelstein make that decision to resign? At first, he said vaguely that he had already resigned from the board several “months before” being confronted by Wilkinson, without specifying precisely when.
He later said that although he didn’t know when, he “believed” he decided to resign in February 2018, and added that he simply hadn’t been “paying attention” to Gatestone’s activities.
Yet according to the parliamentary register of interests, Finkelstein was so studious in not paying any attention to Gatestone that he conducted a “speaking engagement” at Gatestone in the very month that he supposedly resigned.
The now deleted events page at Gatestone confirms that Finkelstein had in fact hosted Gatestone at the House of Lords on 21st February.
And finally: How do you resign from a board which you were never really on (except by way of having your name added to a website), after all names on the website had already been removed over a year ago? If Finkelstein’s name had already been removed from the website in 2017 (when the whole Board of Governors had been deleted), how was he still affiliated with the group in February 2018?
Let’s recap, for clarity.
In spring 2015, Finkelstein told me in no uncertain terms that he had joined the board willingly (note that he was hosted in New York by Gatestone in October 2014 and confessed that he thought his audience there was “right-minded”). He also said somewhat proudly that he knew what Gatestone published and hosted, and believed it was an “excellent platform”. He didn’t flinch when I gave him specific examples of Gatestone’s bigoted vitriol. Instead, he attacked me by calling me “eccentric” and a “distorting bore” for challenging him.
In summer 2018, Finkelstein had an entirely different story: he had no idea what Gatestone did, was added to the board in error without his permission, did nothing about his name being on the board from 2014 until 2018 while headline after headline about its appalling racist drivel emerged year on year (nevertheless gave a speech at the organisation in 2016, and finally hosted an event for Gatestone in the House of Lords in February 2018), whereupon he suddenly experienced enlightenment about the organisation’s awful nature and decided that the only right and moral course of action was to resign from the board of the group he had just hosted (despite his name already being removed from the website a year prior).
Or perhaps Finkelstein actually resigned when it became clear that it wasn’t just smaller left wing media outlets criticising Gatestone; by early 2018 the organisation’s reputation was in tatters, thanks to coverage from publications with massive global audiences, like the New York Times. These stories on Gatestone pinpointed pretty much the very same brand of dog-whistling I’d pointed out to Finkelstein over three years earlier.
A brown Muslim journalist writing for a BAME platform didn’t really cut it for Finkelstein. Big publications and mass attention from other privileged white people may well have nudged him over the edge.
White supremacism as a structure that colonises minds
Are Finkelstein and Phillips ‘racist’? The question is besides the point. Taking issue with their being shortlisted for a prestigious British journalism award is not aboutthem, but about the racist harm that they have done; the legitimisation of that harm through their recognition by an award process such as this; and the condescending silencing of concerns about this harm from BAME writers.
The cursory dismissive response of The Comment Awards to the concerns raised about the shortlisting of Phillips and Finkelstein illustrates the functioning of white supremacism as a structure. The organisers, nice wonderful people that I’m sure they are, insulated in their white bubble, have proven themselves incapable of grasping the gravity of this outcome, and thus disinterested in the validity of the concerns, consequently failing entirely to engage with them.
Instead, they merely reiterate the relentlessness of the outcome in hindsight, and aver any responsibility for it, by blaming ‘neutral’ ‘democratic’ processes that the award has utilised since inception. The goal of The Comment Awards’ statement appears to be singular: nothing to see here, move along; don’t ruin the party — the self-assuaging of white guilt.
The 2018 Comment Awards manifest and legitimise a baseline inequality in power where privileged white opinion formers have utter impunity to promote lazy, derogatory and harmful generalisations about religious and ethnic minorities. And no one blinks an eyelid, except a few upstart brown and black journalists who really should know better (and their place).
The subtext is clear. The ideology that animates Phillips and which beguiled Finkelstein is to be tolerated, if not celebrated. Preferably with a toast, accompanied by canapés: Bigotry, especially when targeted against certain racialised constructs, is perfectly legitimate — if not brave and laudable — in the wonderful world of the white commentariat.
White supremacism does not require everyone to be a brown-shirted fascist to thrive; it thrives in the smug complacency of white privilege.
Yes, comment is free. At least when you’re white, anyway.
Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is the founding editor of INSURGE intelligence. Nafeez is a 17-year investigative journalist, formerly of The Guardian where he reported on the geopolitics of social, economic and environmental crises. Nafeez reports on ‘global system change’ for VICE’s Motherboard, and on regional geopolitics for Middle East Eye. He has bylines in The Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, New York Observer, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, among other places. He has twice won the Project Censored Award for his investigative reporting; twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s top 1,000 list of most influential Londoners; and won the Naples Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by the President of the Republic. Nafeez is also a widely-published and cited interdisciplinary academic applying complex systems analysis to ecological and political violence. He is a Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.