|"We Have Ways of Shutting You Up!"||James Thurgood on characteristically one-sided democracy|
Reading the Jewish Chronicle (JC) is always instructive. Obtaining my copy in my local newsagents is slightly embarrassing: people of 'the faith' are numerous in my neighbourhood and when I step up to the counter to pay there are often one or two of them queuing for the same purpose. As they observe what I am buying, and then examine my person, I can just imagine them muttering to themselves: "He doesn't look like one of us!" One gentleman with a rather rabbinical appearance once made so bold as to ask, with doubt in his eyes: "Are you Jewish?" I replied negatively, of course. It then occurred to me to add, mischievously: "I just believe in keeping an eye on them."
I could see the man's face crease into a frown, so thinking "In for a penny, in for a pound," I went on to say: "You know, this is where you get a lot of the real news - the sort you don't read in the ordinary press."
I recalled that remark last month when wondering how the fraternity in question were going to react to the rise of Jeorg Haider in Austria. Actually, I myself have some reservations about Haider. Anyone who looks so like Tony Blair has to be treated with a certain amount of circumspection. Also, Haider has been making a number of apologies lately - for instance for daring once to say something complimentary about Hitler's employment policies. Well, what's wrong with that? Whatever may be said against Der Führer in other respects, the fact is that he did put 6 million jobless Germans back to work in very quick time. I believe anyway that politicians are almost always wrong to apologise, and Herr Haider did not go up in my estimation on that account.
But of course, it is always the perception of what a politician is, rather than the reality, that determines attitudes towards him. Haider is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as some kind of neo-nazi monster. Hence my curiosity.
The way Haider's success was greeted in the Jewish Chronicle was of great interest to me - but more because of what it told me about the writers in that paper and their attitudes than what was said about Haider himself.
The JC was in a not-unaccustomed dilemma. The paper, of course, stands for the loftiest principles of 'democracy'. But has not Haider risen to his present powerful position in Austrian politics by the democratic vote of the people? You see the problem!
The JC leader (4th February) spoke first about the very rapid manner in which the other member states of the European Union reached agreement as to what their response was to be to the prospect of the Haider party having places in the Austrian Government. "They served notice," it said, "that any role for Mr. Haider's party would prompt them drastically to downgrade ties with Austria. This would, among other things, involve shelving bilateral exchanges with the Austrians, curtailing political contacts with Austrian envoys in EU states, and refusing to back Austrian candidates for posts in international organisations."
To which the ordinary rational person would no doubt react by saying: "So what?" It is doubtful that great numbers of Austrians will be applying at their chemist's shops for additional sleeping tablets on those accounts. But we should read a little further.
Generally approving this Europe-wide reaction, the JC also admitted its snags, acknowledging that it might make Mr. Haider yet more popular at home. Yet, the leader continued:-
Sting in the tail
You have to be something of a JC-watcher - which I might extend by saying a watcher of the entire liberal, New World Order-oriented press - to see the not immediately clear message here. It lies in the last two lines, and the operative word is 'business'. This, I suspect, means much more than just business in the diplomatic sphere - cross-border contacts, appointments to international offices, etc. It looks very much as if it could mean actual trade and commerce. Is the Jewish Chronicle leader giving the first hints of a planned economic boycott?
To get a clue as to the answer to that question, we might turn to an article on Page 31 of the same issue by John Diamond, who was much more explicit.
Mr. Diamond, of course, believes too in the democratic freedoms - well, almost but not quite. There is, you see, democracy and democracy; it all depends for whom. He is, he begins by saying, "...a fully paid-up member of the freedom-of-speech brigade." He continues: "I spent my formative political years telling anyone who would listen that it was Voltaire who cracked the one about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it."
But, he goes on...
By now, Mr. Diamond is clearly anticipating some people disagreeing with his drift. He has prepared for that; he has an answer:-
Now Mr. Diamond is really in full flow, and the reader can almost predict what's coming next. He does not disappoint:-
Why isn't it? - the reader will naturally begin to ask. But that reader obviously is not aware that people like Mr. Diamond make the rules in these matters - or at least that is their presumption. Homosexuals, even paedophiles, may use the net. So may the spokesmen for the IRA and other terrorist groups; you will not find the John Diamonds objecting to this. All sorts of organisations, in addition to this, may publish tracts claiming that such-and-such control the world: Catholics, freemasons, Jehovah's Witnesses and little green men from Mars. No problem! That's the freedom that Voltaire talked about, and Mr. Diamond stoutly defends it. As he said, he's a fully paid-up member of the freedom-of-speech brigade.
But when it comes to saying critical things about Mr. Diamond's own people, that's different. You see the point?
'Dealing' with those Austrians
All this is building up to the most important thing that Mr. Diamond wants to say. He has obviously been wrestling in his mind with the question of how to say it, because he is aware of its contradictions. He believes in democracy, as we have seen; but on the other hand some democracy, for some people, just can't be allowed. So what are we to do about Austria and Haider? Mr. Diamond has the answer:-
Here, spelled out in as frank terms as we could wish for, is Mr. Diamond's idea of how 'democracy' should work. It will be noted that nowhere does he suggest that the arguments of people he thinks are wrong should be countered in open and honest debate and proved, by superior argument, to be fallacious. That, to most of us, is what democracy has meant across the ages. But to Mr. Diamond? Oh no! In the eyes of him and his ilk, it means something entirely different.
To him and his ilk, democracy means the right to suppress the views of people you don't like by threats and intimidation - mainly economic intimidation. Boycott their industries for a start! In Austria a big industry is tourism. Very well, let's not visit their ski-slopes. Where does this lead us? Shall we refuse to buy recordings made by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra? Shall we refuse even to listen to Mozart, Haydn, Schubert or Strauss? After all, Mr. Diamond has suggested that we should not treat the Austrians - out of whose ranks have come these immortal geniuses - like "civilised people."
And extending the issue beyond Austria, it is clear that Mr. Diamond believes that Internet suppliers who hire facilities to those of whose politics he disapproves should simply be closed down - not by an act of law (that would be too blatant) - but by ruining them by boycott. Booksellers and publishers? Same treatment! Make sure hardly anyone buys their books and they'll fold up. Business is business!
This then seems to be the ideal of democracy believed in by Mr. Diamond - and many like him. Perhaps it's all part of the "bedrock tenets with which the world community hopes to build the 21st century." We cannot say we haven't been told!