As my text for today, I take the words “inappropriate”, “disproportionate”, “challenging” and “extraordinary”. I intend to examine them in their current context, starting with the last.
Increasingly, the word “extraordinary” is splattered about the papers like a Rorschach test. “What an extraordinary performance she gives . . . it’s really extraordinarily moving . . . that extraordinary moment when she’s carried aloft in that most extraordinary of arias . . . It’s simply extraordinary.”
Except it isn’t. Not any more. Overuse has rendered it the most mundane, least expressive adjective in the language and it has come to mean its exact opposite, ordinary.
Similarly, the word “challenging” has sprung from political correctness and has come to suggest not resistance or defiance but something insoluble. It is applied liberally and equally to disability, the NHS, resolving the problems in the Middle East, and opening a West End show in a hot summer.
Which brings me to the inappropriate use of the word inappropriate. Explained in the dictionary as “unsuitable or not relevant to the topic”, it has come to define any bad or unethical behaviour, mostly relating to insults and sexual mores. I’m ashamed to report that I used it myself once when asked by the press why a relationship had broken up. I blamed his “inappropriate behaviour”. The word was so much in the zeitgeist, it seemed more on-trend than saying, “Actually, he was just weird.”
I’m not averse to language moving on. I understand why a “frightfully decent chap” became “a nice guy”; every generation needs their own vernacular. In my day, “nice” itself was deemed lazy and unimaginative — and indeed, originally meant “stupid”. It has long since been replaced by “cool”, “wicked” and, I’m told, “sick”. What’s sauce for the goose is coulis for the cognoscenti. Hearing myself on radio, I’m always depressed by the number of times I say, “you know.” But my real tooth-grinding kicks in when words evolve in dangerous directions.
“Disproportionate” is such a word. And these days, it seems to be used almost exclusively to describe any action — defensive or responsive — by the state of Israel.
Can someone point me in the direction of a proportionate war? The civil war in Syria has killed 170,000 people. Is that “proportionate”? Where are the protests outside the Syrian embassy? Why aren’t Twitter and Facebook feeds exploding with horror? And this is without any outside provocation. Thirty-two sophisticated tunnels were built to bring terrorism into the heart of Israel and 3,000 rockets have been fired. It is the world’s response to Israel’s retaliation that is out of proportion.
The airways are awash with vitriol. On LBC, James O’Brien, one of those bullies whom radio bosses employ in the name of plain speaking, initiated a debate under the heading: “Why should any more Palestinian children be killed?” It’s a rhetorical question — why should any child be killed? No compassionate human being wants anyone killed in the name of someone else’s argument. Still, anyone who didn’t answer got short shrift from Mr O’Brien, who sardonically repeated his mantra: “Two hundred and sixty Palestinians dead and only one old Jewish woman in Israel!”
“Carnage on the beach because they have their Iron Dome.” For this read: “Not enough Jews dead!”
But Israelis survive because their government prioritised their safety, whilst Hamas has spent its millions building tunnels under Israeli borders, instead of protecting the lives of their citizens.
Meanwhile Israel is a pariah state, according to John Prescott; Greg Dyke accuses us of crying anti-Semitism, and Jon Snow tells us “the rockets from Gaza are mere fireworks”. The reportage is obsessive, hysterical and 24 hours a day, but seldom pauses to consider the truth of who really fired and from where. I recently met a 15-year-old Israeli girl who had 15 seconds to get a class of primary school kids to a shelter 100 yards away. Who is interested in her story?
Alexei Sayle has publicly labelled the Jewish state: “The Jimmy Savile of nation states.” Forgive my confusion, but is he calling Israel a perverted, necrophiliac, child-abusing . . . country? It’s a strange analogy from a grown-up. Furthermore, using children to perpetrate terrorism is surely a form of abuse? The media have so far failed to investigate the report that 160 child labourers died in the construction of those tunnels.
Recently the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn refused to host the Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers reject their £1,400 of Israeli embassy sponsorship. With no hint of irony the theatre offered to make up the shortfall. Blood money? The theatre also asked to view every film in the schedule in advance. What were they looking for? This is a cultural, apolitical festival, which has been bringing all faiths together to dialogue, debate and celebrate the art of filmmaking for 26 years. They have since rescinded their ban under concerted pressure from what will undoubtedly be called “the Jewish Lobby”.
It brings a wry smile to my lips to remember that during 20 years of supporting the beleaguered Burmese as they were repressed and terrorised, we could never get a single item on a front page unless The Lady herself was being flung into Insein jail. Anti-Semitism sells. The Hamas leaders and their PRs in their five-star Qatar hotels must be laughing into their non-alcoholic beverages.
Nor does the UN bring any resolutions against these perpetrators of war crimes — the real ethnic cleansers who constantly contravene and disrespect human rights. How can they, when so much of their time is taken up with creating fresh resolutions against Israel? To date, there have been 56.
The United Nations operates on the same lines as the Eurovision Song Contest: bigoted blocs of interested parties. One has Ban Ki Moon as compère, the other has Graham Norton. The people who make the decisions are partisan. Reforming either would be, to say the least . . . challenging.
Meanwhile, all those Israeli tourists who had planned a fortnight’s vacation in Bradford will have to think again. Thanks to George Galloway it might be considered an unsuitable challenge. And inappropriate.