Message to protesters: Basildon is not Bosnia

The invasion of Dale Farm by everyone from the UN to Amnesty to Fergal bloody Keane shows how desperate activists are for a Bosnia replay.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

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A terrible episode of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is looming. It promises to be so bad that a spokesman for the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has been helicoptered in to ‘oversee negotiations’. Amnesty International has set up a special ‘priority action’ page on its website, pleading with people to write letters of outrage to politicians. Head-tilting celebrities have turned up to raise awareness about what one journalist refers to as the ‘racist hysteria’ of the coming cleansing, including that grande dame of right-on causes, Vanessa Redgrave. Things are so dire that the BBC has sent in Fergal Keane, its softly spoken, Irish ponderer of all things evil, who doesn’t only wear his heart but also his lungs, liver and spleen on his sleeve, who cut his teeth reporting on the war in Bosnia and the calamity in Rwanda. ‘It’s a very apprehensive situation’, he intoned on last night’s news.

Oh god, what has happened? A new war in Africa? A rekindling of the old wars in Bosnia? No. Basildon Council in Essex in south-east England is planning to evict some Travellers from their plot of land in Dale Farm. That’s all. Yet watching the media coverage, perusing the millions of tweets of tear-stained concern, you could be forgiven for thinking that the so-called Battle of Dale Farm was a rerun of Bosnia 1992. That is because moral opportunists, cause-hunters, those desperate for some political momentum in their lives, have cynically transformed a small-scale spat between a council and some Gypsies into an epochal stand-off between the forces of racist hysteria and the massed ranks of decent UN cheerleaders. It speaks to the desperation of today’s wannabe moral crusaders that they are willing to infuse even the Dale Farm fallout with the kind of simple-minded moralistic lingo they usually reserve for foreign wars.

Of course, the threatened Dale Farm eviction, which was supposed to take place yesterday until the High Court in London imposed a temporary injunction against it, will be bad and distressing for the Traveller families involved. Eighty-six families could be forcibly removed, simply for building homes on land which they own yet which Basildon Council says is protected Green Belt territory. But is that any justification for using phrases such as ‘racist hysteria’ to describe Basildon Council’s actions and even conjuring up the Holocaust to describe the plight of the Travellers, with Vanessa Redgrave talking about ‘what happened during Hitler’s rule’ and demanding that ‘minorities shouldn’t be destroyed’? If there’s any hysteria here, it is among those who fantasise that we’re witnessing a rerun of Nazi evil and that it is down to conscience-exercising celebs and Amnesty letter-writers – the heroes of the hour – to stop it in its tracks.

All sorts of moral opportunists are descending on Dale Farm, in pursuit of the self-serving fantasy that they are on the side of Good in a massive, real-world battle between Good and Evil. So the UN, not content with poking its increasingly long hooter into the affairs of Third World states, has effectively made this corner of Basildon into one of its colonial-style protectorates too. Making good use of the moral smugness it has honed during decades of intervention into the Heart of Darkness, the UN has called for a ‘peaceful and appropriate solution’ in the Heart of Essex. It wants the British state to override the decision taken by Basildon Council and ‘suspend the planned eviction’. It is not yet known if the UN plans to send blue-helmeted troops to police the peace in Dale Farm, but already the UN flag is being flown at the Gypsy camp and the Twitterati are beside themselves with joy that the supranational cosmopolitans of the UN have put the podgy rulers of Basildon Council in their place. If liberal armchair-colonialists love it when the UN reprimands black-skinned war criminals, they love it even more when it tells off fat white Essex men.

Meanwhile, Amnesty has issued a statement condemning Basildon Council for failing to comply with international law, for the benefit of those idiots at the council who foolishly thought they were dealing with a mere local dispute. Basildon has refused to engage in ‘genuine consultation consistent with international human-rights standards’, said Amnesty, which I think is a fancy way of saying ‘it has refused to talk to us, the guardians of all that is right and proper’. Amnesty has created a priority webpage with a pre-written letter that it wants people to add their names to and then press ‘Send’, whereupon it will be delivered to Councillor Tony Ball, head of Basildon Borough Council, who has been allotted the role of Slobodan Milosevic in this sixth-form re-enactment of Bosnia. See how easy it is to stop Holocausts these days? Simply press a button on your laptop, from the comfort of your own bedroom if you like, in your pyjamas, and, hey presto, you too will have contributed to the good war to prevent Republika Basildon from ‘destroying a minority’.

It goes without saying that the reality of what went down in Dale Farm yesterday didn’t quite match the fantasies of these Holocaust-hunters. As one report put it, ‘The tension rose until the air crackled with anticipation. And then… And then… Not much, really. This was 2011, not 1211, and you can’t stage a decent battle these days without paying attention to health and safety.’ So the ‘blood-curdling’ cry of the allegedly evil man from the council was: ‘In the interests of health and safety is there anything that I can say or do that will persuade you to remove yourselves in an orderly manner?’ I don’t think the Nazis ever said that. Though that didn’t stop one of the professional protesters who have chained themselves to various things at Dale Farm from shouting ‘Fascist!’ at the Basildon bigwig.

It isn’t surprising that the reality of Dale Farm is a world away from the fantasies. It’s because the self-serving activism of everyone from UN officials to Amnesty representatives to war-reporters-turned-Basildon-investigators is motivated by these people’s own inner needs rather than anything like a desire to capture or explain the truth. From the UN’s slamming of Brits for failing to comply with international law to the gathering of political letter-writers and anti-fascist activists around this small dispute, the transformation of the Battle of Dale Farm into a ‘humanitarian crisis’, as one bishop described it, is not informed by the fact that it is a humanitarian crisis but rather by the fact that certain modern-day activists need humanitarian crises in order to feel alive, purposeful, possessed of historic, Nazi-battling momentum. They live off ‘humanitarian crises’, like moral parasites on a hippopotamus’s arse, and thus it is in their interests always to exaggerate the extent of such crises. After all, the bigger the crisis, the bigger the thrill they get from tweeting about it.

In this sense, the use of phrases such as ‘ethnic cleansing’, the evocation of racism and the Holocaust, is very revealing. It confirms that the use of such terminology very rarely bears any relation to what is happening on the ground, but rather is fuelled by campaigners’ own moralistic readings of real-world events and their desire to make everything seem as rotten and evil as possible. So if it was simplistic and over-the-top to refer to the bloody, complex war in Bosnia as ‘ethnic cleansing’, as many of these same campaigners did, then it’s doubly dumb to use that phrase in relation to Dale Farm. It is clear that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is in the eye of the beholder, in this case beholders who desperately need political spice in their lives. As with all such human-rights interventions into other people’s affairs, they are making a bad situation worse. The depiction of Basildon Council as racist and the Travellers as victims of ‘hysteria’ makes things more intractable still, by turning a small dispute into an historic spat. Demonised Basildon becomes understandably defensive (you would too if you were being hectored by Amnesty worthies) while the Dale Farm Gypsies become the moral playthings of activists in desperate search of a purposeful stand-off, making the likelihood of a settlement between the two sides even slimmer than it was. For that reason, I say: Hands off Basildon! Get the UN out now!

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


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