Frederic Raphael on antisemitism; why trans women athletes hardly ever win; legal language and immigration
In their article “Confronting a noxious new age of Jew-hate” in last month’s issue, Irene Lancaster and Rowan Williams are full of noble sentiments. But what? Drill-sergeants include in their repertoire of exercises what is known as “doubling on the spot”. This involves imitating the vigorous activity of running without actually getting anywhere. What then can be done about the human tendency to diabolise people who can be deemed both sub-human and the source of whatever is wrong with society and life? Certainly not enough to make sure that, as the cant always has it, “nothing like this can ever happen again”.
Pious education and solemn memorials render the topic dull for most, salacious for not a few. TV’s habit of wheeling out bearded rabbis, happy to play “community” leaders, ignores the largely secular, assimilated manners and achievements of British Jews. The passing off of brief gestural decency as evidence of British virtue is another regular number. Who mentions the reluctance with which the pre-war Kindertransport was suffered to cross the Channel? The implication was that only prepubertal Jews were innocent. TV recently celebrated, with patriotic pride, that 300 survivors, from the million and a half children done to death by the Germans, were allowed, in 1945, to come and to recuperate by Lake Windermere. The sorry comedy of handwashing, preceding self-applause, was typical of all the victorious allies.
There is something to be said for not putting on full canonicals when dealing with human malice and delusion. Put charmlessly, antisemitism has a key place in the wilting belief in a benevolent or omnipotent Christian deity. Carl Gustav Jung thought that the Trinity should have been a Quadrilateral, with the devil integral to it. Christianity has made do with casting the Jew as Satan’s understudy. As Lord Williams does not care to mention, in 1935 the Synod of the Church of England voted, with the Archbishop of York the sole dissentient, against allowing any German Jews to take refuge in Great Britain. The same policy was continued, in secular form, by the sainted Clement Attlee’s government in 1945. That working-class icon Ernie Bevin remarked that he wasn’t going to ’ave the Jews pushing to the front of the queue.
Israel was, to no small extent, a rubbish dump for Europe’s unwanted yids. Once they reached the unpromised land, they were recycled as brutal oppressors of the fabricated “nation” of Palestine. Oh, wait a minute . . . you mustn’t say “Yids”. No? Legislation which enforces repression of the vernacular is a neo-Puritanism with dubious benefits for civilised culture. Its side-effect is to exempt absurd ideas from derision on the grounds that we are all entitled to our opinions. We would do better to honour the long English tradition of linguistic rough and tumble. The modern Greeks invented a formal language called katharevousa, a laundered fabrication without Turkish or low-class elements. Its lack of roots in the vernacular rendered it fruitless.
Antisemitism, in organised, ecclesiastic form, did not take off before Christ’s failure to return at the Millennium. Something, it seems, had kept Him. Guess who? A massacre of 6,000 Jews took place in Granada (known previously as “Granada of the Jews”) in 1066.
What Freud called the Narcissism of Small Differences is never more evident than in Christian un-apologetics. The attempt, by Palestinians, to detach Jesus from his Jewish shadow, by making Galileeans a separate “race”, is only the latest effort to make Jews the world’s untouchables. Oh but surely . . . Yes, yes, of course: the Palestinians have been ill-used. So have all manner of people, including the Congolese; millions were murdered by the Belgians before 1914, when Belgium became “gallant little Belgium”. Anti-Zionism is the antisemitism which dares not speak its name.
Do any English history lessons mention what happened to the aboriginal Tasmanians after the arrival of Captain Cook and others? The Palestinians have been used in all sorts of ways, which does not diminish their suffering, but (there always is one) they have served not least as a means of finding something new and inexcusable to allay any sense of shame at what the cant calls the Holocaust. At the top end of the scale, that capital H has been deplored, with professorial fatuousness by Christopher Ricks, on the grounds that not all the Jews were burned. Ricks’s little pagod, Mr Eliot, wanted to deprive the Jew of his capital letter, a literate form of decapitation. But that was on one of Tom’s bad days. Uncouth to mention it? Good reason for doing so.
The Christian Walrus and the Marxist Carpenter strut their lamentations throughout the process of despising and killing Jews. Tearful complacency is integral to the comedy which declares itself in recurring need to blame the victims. The roundabout, Christian and post-Christian, Islamic and crackpot, never stops turning, Jew grease in its axis, and never gets anywhere but where it was before: typical of what a 13th-century Pope called, “the World’s Game”, a blood-sport always in sorry season.
Frederic Raphael, London SW7
Helen Joyce’s article last month, “Speaking up for female eunuchs”, was a fact-filled, highly-informative piece. My only criticism would be in the area I know most about, namely sport. The comment regarding “mediocre” male athletes potentially beating women perhaps detracts from the incredible performances of elite, female athletes: no “mediocre” male is honestly going to beat them.
Briefly, women who compete at the Olympics (for example) in any event are truly exceptional athletes and will easily beat most men in their chosen events. Whilst I am fully aware of the typical performance differences between males and females in sport, for a man to “transition” and have a chance of winning women’s events, I would argue that prior to transition he will need to be producing performances equal to, or better than, the current women’s world record in any event. In short, his performances might be nothing special for an elite male competitor, but he is certainly not “Mr Average”. How many men off-the-street can sprint 100 meters in 10.49 seconds or 400 meters in 47.6 seconds for example? There is a danger, I would argue, of the general public misunderstanding just how good elite women are at sport—and how hard they train—when putting the common argument forward that “mediocre” men will beat them easily; especially when the usual examples (e.g., McKinnon; Telfer; Hubbard) are given.
This is the reason, I would suggest, that trans-activists can point to the fact that there have been (as far as we know) no transgender athletes who have won a Gold medal at the Olympics. It is not that there is no “male advantage” following transition as trans-activists like to claim; it is that the males who have transitioned to date and decided to compete are actually not that good. They would need to be reasonably talented male athletes to begin with, with a decent history (several years) of training and competition. Hubbard in weightlifting is one of the competitors who perhaps supports this observation, although there are several exceptional female lifters who are capable of beating Hubbard easily in global competitions. An analysis of the performances at the recent weightlifting World Championships illustrates this.
Invariably, media outlets focus on the cycling performances of age-group cyclist Rachel McKinnon/Veronica Ivy. You even used McKinnon to illustrate this article. If you consider performance times, you will see that McKinnon is nowhere near the standard required for Olympic selection in female track racing at (open age) world level. McKinnon is not, in performance terms, an elite cyclist. With due respect to the cyclists themselves, master’s track cycling is a niche sport attracting hardly any competitors. There were just eight competitors in McKinnon’s event last year. The year before, two age groups were combined to ensure that competitors had someone to race against. The overall standard is often poor.
The other transgender athlete who typically makes the headlines currently is CeCe Telfer. Telfer’s best in the 400 meters hurdles is a little over 57 seconds. The women’s world record is 52.16 seconds. The men’s 400 meters hurdles world record is 46.78 seconds—Telfer is over 10 seconds off this despite now competing over lower hurdles. This is not actually that good.
The facts are that a “mediocre man” who transitions is not going to win anything at the Olympics: such people are not even going to meet the qualifying standard for selection. A reasonably good (yet perhaps “mediocre” on the world stage) male athlete, with several years of training and competition “in the bank”, capable of women’s world records prior to transition would appear to have a good chance.
I apologise in advance if, in the context of Joyce’s excellent overview, this seems like nitpicking. To date, it appears that when it comes to sporting prowess, transgender (male to female) athletes have typically “cherrypicked”, poorly contested, relatively modest standard, age-group events to compete in; for reasons known only to themselves. They cannot be criticised unduly for this, of course, since the rules allow it. My criticism on such matters is aimed squarely at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the national and international sport governing bodies who have written their rules based on the IOC guidelines, and what appears to be remarkably little good science.
Dr Tony Lycholat, Normandy
Making her case for illegal immigrants (Letters, February issue), Sheona York bases her defence in the overtly emotive language so often used by pro-immigration lawyers and campaigners, with much speculation, some contradiction and deliberately employed euphemism (“unlawful” in fact sounds no better or worse than “illegal”, and ultimately amounts to the same thing, and anyway migrants should not be confused with immigrants).
If, as suggested, the burden of proof should not be on immigrants, then on whom should it be? Why should it, moreover how could it, fall on others? Until any immigrant is established as legal they are, by definition, illegal. Awaiting a decision on settlement may very well be unsettling, but it need not necessarily be “precarious”. To claim it is suggests a deliberately created, wide-reaching, cruel atmosphere of uncertainty which, despite the government’s understandable, justified attempts to curb illegal immigration (something repeatedly demanded by many voters), remains a policy subject to much speculative heresay and anectode, all largely unproven.
The author bemoans the “lamentable” IT failures, “poor” record-keeping and Home Office “incompetence” in respect to immigrants, but the general public, frustrated and enraged by a perceived lack of control over immigration, themselves point to these very same inexcusable Home Office failures as a reason for so many illegal immigrants disappearing off the radar in the first place.
To claim that “possibly half” of illegal immigrants are family members of British citizens is pure speculation and, as a defence, should be wholly irrelevant to anyone who campaigns on their behalf. After all, is it not the liberal view that all immigrants to the UK, whether legal or with a familial connection in Britain or not, should be prioritised and treated the same? In circumstances where there is a family connection, it seems unlikely that no attempt would, or could, be made by that family to successfully raise any appropriate regularisation fee, and it seems highly unlikely that a decision given against settlement would be made due to nothing more than a “tiny” mistake in an application.
If, as stated, “hostile environment” measures do not work in deterring or removing immigrants then why are some leaving after being “ground down by years of Home Office refusals and delayed appeals”? If such measures constitute a hostile environment, and immigrants are leaving because of them, then clearly they are working.
The opinion of many British voters, borne out by the recent European and general election results showing people opting for less liberal politics and policies, would indeed likely propose criminalising landlords and employers for providing services to illegal immigrants, so to say “no one” would propose it is naive at best, and at worst wilfully perverse. The same public would also probably understand, likely expect, bank accounts and driving licences to be restricted, certainly until any legitimate citizenship had been established. A recent increase of random terrorism targeting European countries, and an already overstetched UK infrastructure, have understandably led to a more wary public.
The suggestion that anyone would want to criminalise immigrants, legal or not, for shopping in any store (with the far-fetched connection to a lack of access to a car being cited), or that the store itself should be criminalised for selling food to immigrants is as deeply offensive as it is utterly ridiculous. The majority of the British public wants a robust but fair, humane immigration system. They do not want or expect immigrants, whether legal or not, to be starved of food. To suggest otherwise shows a deep ignorance of humanity in general, the British people in particular and insultingly disregards the latter’s remarkable capacity for tolerance.
The “broad-brush decision-making” approach favoured by Sheona York (was such an approach not a contributing factor in the Windrush scandal?) sounds very much like the ill-conceived, impetuous open-door policies adopted by both Tony Blair’s Labour government and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Such arbitrary, illogical and irresponsible approaches to immigration have, ironically, only created more social unease, through both increased resentment and decreased empathy. The result, despite the best intentions of those implementing and calling for such measures, is a counter-productive, hostile environment for the majority of would-be settlers.
Stefan Badham, Portsmouth
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