Friday Ephemera

Unveiled, New Definitions of Violence and Civilisation

Misogynist violence is unacceptable, but...

So wrote the Guardian’s Priyamvada Gopal in August this year, shortly before telling us that the Taliban’s misogynist violence and kidnapping of children are actually not that bad compared to the evils of the West and its “bankrupt version of modernity.” A modernity that has “little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators.”

She is, of course, at it again.

Hurling a fire extinguisher into a crowd is clearly wrong, but…

This time, our esteemed postcolonial studies lecturer is conjuring equivalence between, on the one hand, arson, vandalism and attempted manslaughter, and, on the other, cuts to public spending. Cuts that will reduce overall spending to the levels of 2001/2 (ah, the dark ages) and in many cases merely slow the rate of increase in public subsidy.

It is the coalition’s policies that are going to generate bloody mayhem… Focusing on damage to buildings usefully distracts attention from the much more far-reaching and systematic violence now being visited upon our education system and society more widely.

Violence. A word Ms Gopal uses no fewer than nine times. Fiscal responsibility, albeit belated, is violence, see? Reducing the national debt is violence. Extending credit for tuition fees is violence. Attempting to contain the growth of the state –  enlarged by 17% under New Labour – that’s violence too. Audacious, isn’t it? Ms Gopal, who “teaches in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge,” has casually redefined violence to include practically anything to which she takes political exception. A move that slyly elevates thuggery to retaliation. Now one might well have legitimate objections to particular outcomes of the proposed austerity measures, but to frame those measures as violence – and by implication as analogous to rioting and deserving of payment in kind – is not a manoeuvre that resounds with good faith. But then Ms Gopal has form in matters of distortion, hyperbole and wilful fantasy. Regarding the protestors, Ms Gopal enlightens us,

Most adhered to the prescribed rituals of peaceful and legitimate protest. But, as we should expect in times of great injustice, some departed from the script. They lit bonfires, smashed windows, occupied the roof of an unlovely building and ill-advisedly hurled the odd inanimate object.

It is indeed “ill-advised” to throw a fire extinguisher from a rooftop into a crowd, targeting police officers standing below. It’s remarkable that no-one was killed. But hey, for the cause. And readers may note that the claim of a supposedly non-violent “script” is not entirely consonant with the sight of rioters and arsonists wearing official NUS clothing and being cheered on by the crowd. It’s also somewhat at odds with NUS president Aaron Porter calling for a “demo-lition” on a route past Conservative HQ, or promising “we will use every weapon in our armoury” and telling students they needed to be “inside the rooms where the deals will be made.” Radical that she is, Ms Gopal is attuned to such sentiments and what they imply. “Non-violence,” she tells us, “has been perverted… into a subterfuge for rulers… Genteel rallies do not put sufficient pressure on the political class.” How she squares such enthusiasm with her professed disapproval of deadly projectiles is, alas, a mystery. Still, physical intimidation and property destruction are very exciting and Ms Gopal is hardly alone in finding mob violence both excusable and titillating:

As some lecturers at Goldsmiths College in London have pointed out, the “real violence in this situation relates to the destructive impact of the cuts.”

A reference to, among others, anthropology lecturer David Graeber, who has “written widely on the relation (real and potential) of anthropology and anarchism,” and on “magic as a tool of politics,” and who announced he was “very proud” of the rioting students, adding:

They are going to represent us as thugs but really they are the thugs and we are representing civilisation.

“Representing civilisation.”


Update: Peter Risdon ponders umbrage, violence and pretentious depravity.

Conservatives and liberals have lived through more than a decade of increasingly authoritarian, interfering, financially rapacious socialism without resorting to violence. Those on the other side have a basic duty to suck it up and campaign for what they believe in. Just like we did for the past thirteen years. The narcissism that believes that one’s own opinions, but not those of others, warrant violence is a form of political depravity. It only ever leads to one place:  the very might-is-right world we have evolved away from, so painfully.

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