Opinion – which is now understood to be a right – has been weaponised. Even in the face of facts to the contrary, and in the face of our own nations’ inhumanity and barbarism, we can hang on to racism as opinion.
“In my opinion France is the only country in Europe right now with a set of balls. At least they are dealing with this problem.” This was the most horrific thing I heard someone say today. Over a glass of champagne in a plummy suburb of south Dublin a friend was sharing her opinion about the threat to Western civilisation from “these Islamic terrorists.” She wasn’t overly concerned with the fact that the French authorities were flexing their muscles by forcing Muslim woman at gunpoint to remove their clothes on beaches. Somehow that is an acceptable price to pay for the protection of our European Christian civilisation.
Opinion like this seems always to be built on some sort of knowledge. In the case of “these Islamic terrorists” – which pretty much refers to all Muslims – it is that their religion is essentially and irredeemably violent, that while “some of them” are peaceful they are all plotting our destruction, that they repress their women, and that they can’t resist the temptation to commit an honour killing. It doesn’t matter that this knowledge has no basis in fact – opinion is a right, and right is right. The fact that honour killings are dubbed “domestic violence” in predominantly Christian countries, and that they well out number honour killings in predominantly Muslim countries can be ignored. We can also ignore the statistics that our Western weapons are killing them at a ratio of almost ten thousand to one. Opinion trumps inconvenient facts.
Whether in the streets of the inner city, in the press or in parliament, dominant group members are often engaged in discourse about ‘them’: ethnic minority groups, immigrants or refugees, who have come to live in the country. Such discourses, as well as the social cognitions underlying them, are complex and full of contradictions. They may be inspired by general norms of tolerance and acceptance, but also, and sometimes at the same time, by feelings of distrust, resentment or frustration about those ‘others.’
Van Dijk, T.A., 1992. Discourse and the Denial of Racism. Discourse & Society, 3 (1), 87-118.
This isn’t a case of me wanting to throw my well-off friend under the bus. I know fine well that many – if not most – of my less-well-off friends and neighbours here in the inner city have much the same opinion. What I am really trying to point out here is that these are the opinions we are meant to share – all of us white folk, together. Our media, our politicians, our dominant culture are telling us the same thing: Fear and mistrust those brown people, but be smart about it – because we’re civilised – and hide it behind your opinion. Sadly, the truth is that this is neither Christian nor civilised.