Today, social media has been abuzz about a column by Kevin Myers, about whom I last wrote on this blog in 2009 in response to a column full of stock false Islamophobic assertions by him in the Irish Independent (free registration required), in the Irish edition of today’s Sunday Times about the gender pay gap at the BBC, generally defending the higher pay given to men as being deserved because men “work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant”, while also pointing out that two of the highest-paid women are Jewish, one of them being Vanessa Feltz (right). In response to social media outrage, the Times have pulled the article from their website, although I presume that print copies containing the column are still on sale at newsstands across Ireland, and sacked him. It’s good that people have noticed he’s a bigot and protested, but depressing that warnings have been ignored for years because the minorities he attacked in the past were not their favourites.
To be fair, this is not his first flirtation with anti-Semitism; a few years ago he published a column (deleted today) in the Irish Independent in which he proclaimed himself a “Holocaust denier” and expressed solidarity with Richard Williamson, a schismatic Catholic bishop, before making a series of minor quibbles about the exact numbers murdered and whether it was all one big programme or not. Really, it still justifies that title even if there was, say, fewer than six million but much more than five million murdered (which a lot of scholars believe to be the case), and even if they weren’t all gassed to death (which is true; they were still murdered, or at least the Nazis caused their death by putting them in camps and then exposing them to disease or starvation). He also complains that you can be put in prison for saying these things in Europe; however, you can’t in Ireland or the UK, which were never occupied by Nazi Germany and never elected an explicitly fascist government.
My friend Candi O’Reilly tweeted earlier today that Myers had once taunted her that she was not a “real journalist”. A former copy-editor on the Irish Independent tell us that Myers, who was known as “My Arse”, isn’t a journalist himself and never has been:
He is an overpaid star columnist on the Irish edition of The Sunday Times who writes a weekly rant that is based solely on his own warped view of the world. There is no striving for balance or fact-based evidence with Myers: just an outpouring of bile and sermonising that is intended to offend, shock or outrage readers. He makes the likes of Katie Hopkins and Kelvin Mackenzie seem like reasonable human beings.
The paper also indulged him far more than it did its other writers, refusing to change so much as a word or a stray punctuation mark (and there were a lot of them) and anything that “caused alarm” had to be “referred to the Comment Editor, the Editor and ultimately My Arse himself”. It seems the Sunday Times has taken the same line with him, publishing his article on the nod because it was his. It might seem inconceivable that the Times would deliberately publish an anti-Semitic article — the paper has always been a haven for Thatcherites, Neocons and pro-war Blairites and there are plenty of Jews in all three categories, and it was Melanie Phillips’s outlet of choice for several years after she left the Guardian — but perhaps they reasoned that his bigotry sells so well that the odd bit of anti-Semitism, away from where they thought it would be noticed (London), wouldn’t harm their position. My experience is that they are more sympathetic to Jewish interests than those of other minorities; in their coverage of the case of Abdullah Faisal, jailed for inciting murder in 2003 in talks given throughout the 90s and early 2000s, I noted that they reported that he had used jokes about Jews in some of his talks but did not mention that his talks advocated (“in theory”) the murder of certain categories of Muslims that he regarded as unbelievers.
I have not closely monitored Myers’ output (his articles don’t appear in London papers) but did examine a few of his columns in 2005, which included snipes at Turks, the “gipsy problem” (conflating Gypsies and Irish Travellers, and using the spelling ‘gipsy’ which they use as a slur, which they cannot do with the word ‘gypsy’) as well as intellectuals and modern artists; he also wrote the piece about the Fort Hood massacre linked in the intro to his article, in the Irish Indie in 2009, which alleged that jihad could be used as a pretext to break any law, including the Shari’ah, a quite baseless idea; he also simplistically linked the mere presence of Muslims in a country with terrorism (an easy route to “send them all home”), and claimed that authorities are scared to pursue terrorists by the threat of being branded Islamophobic. These are standard tropes of Islamophobes and nobody seemed to notice or care, much less clamour for him to be sacked, despite the fact that they, like today’s piece, appeared in a newspaper with a sister paper in London. (The Irish Times also noted that the Irish Indie had published in 2008 an article by him titled “Africa has given the world nothing but Aids”, and that his defence was that he originally wrote “almost nothing”.) Brian Walker of Slugger O’Toole has noted that Myers is admired by some for “iconoclasm about hoary Irish republican myths” such as the events after the 1916 uprising, but suggests that “he seems to have carried perversity to the level of self-willed dementia and is destroying himself”.
By coincidence, I saw an article on Salon earlier from one Phil Torres, proclaiming his break with “new atheism” which he claims has become a misogynist and intellectually sloppy movement in bed with the Alt-Right. However, by his own admission, the movement has been beset by “gaffes” ever since the early 2000s, with Christopher Hitchens embracing a pro-war, neo-con stance after 9/11, Sam Harris proclaiming that “we [the west] are at war with Islam” (he also produced a series of other Islamophobic outbursts, such as a scene of Muslims praying in the street with the headline, “Is this the end of Europe?”), and Richard Dawkins displaying his bigotry to Muslims on too many occasions to count. I have generally found aggressive atheists to be prone to sloppy, fallacy-laden reasoning because they are convinced they won the argument a long time ago and are now dealing with a few obstinate stragglers. But as with Myers, it seems people are only just waking up to the fact that the core personalities in this movement are bigots when they stray beyond targeting Islam and the Muslim community.
On the subject of Vanessa Feltz, I was a long-time listener to the morning talk show which she has hosted since 2005; before her, Jon Gaunt hosted it for several years and had a reputation as a bully-boy who liked to brag about his “Jagwaah” and his many Sony awards (the latter any time anyone criticised his style). Her Jewishness has rarely been the source of my dislike of her, except for such occasions as where she hosted some Israeli guests for reasons I cannot remember but did not challenge them when they said the Palestinians hate them and not the other way round (there’s a reason for that) and on another, asked a guest “is there such a thing as Palestine?”. She’s just irritating and manipulative; she likes to twist people’s words and trap them, and has an exaggerated ‘sincere’ pseudo-empathetic way of speaking (especially with guests) when dealing with emotive subjects. But none of that is because she’s Jewish. I could think of many better presenters for that show than either Feltz or Gaunt, including many of those who have sat in while they’ve been sick (e.g. Eddie Nestor, Julia George, Geoff Schumann if they’re desperate), but the BBC seem more interested in a ratings-boosting, sensationalist presenter than a sober one who will report responsibly.
But for a Muslim, the conclusion from this episode is that a hoary old stereotype about Jews and money can get someone sacked while claims that Muslims can justify any atrocity by means of a “personal contract with Allah” and that if you’ve not got Muslims, you won’t have terrorism aren’t even noticed. It’s good that he’s been fired, although I do not doubt that he will find another outlet, but his stream of garbage could have been stopped a long time ago if his outrageous claims about Muslims (and other minorities) had been examined, and his services dispensed with. Islamophobia, as the former Tory party chair Sayeeda Warsi once said, passes the dinner-table test.
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