It wasn’t the White Wolves or Combat 18 or the BNP, or any combination of organised fascist groups that planted the nail bombs, say the police. Indeed, if everything we are led to believe turns out to be true, the culprit was no more than some spotty Herbert with Milosevician delusions, carrying out his one-man crusade to cleanse dear old England of its niggers, pakis and poofs.
Panic Over. Everyone can relax. The neo-Nazis have returned to their back bedroom bunkers to plan their next bid to dominate the world, and to load a bit more toxin on to their Internet sites.
Within two days of someone being taken into custody, interest in the nail bombs had subsided to the point of indifference. It was just some sad loony acting on his own, so no need to go on about it.
But is that true? Maybe one dangerous little wanker has been taken out of circulation, but his fantasies are still at large, fantasies that The Sunday Times called “the poison that exists in the underbelly of British society”.
The problem is that this poison doesn’t just exist in the “underbelly”; as far as attitudes to homosexuality go, it is blatant, it is mainstream and it is the province not just of crazy Hitlerites, but of Archbishops and respected journalists and Lords and Ladies in Parliament.
Yes, indeed, straight reaction to the Soho atrocity was stunning in its hypocrisy. The crocodile tears flowed down Fleet Street in a torrent. “It is outrageous to seek out homosexuals in this way,” thundered The Daily Telegraph the day after the bomb had gone off. “Such stupefying evil must be met by only one response: cold, quiet but deeply angry resolution.”
We can only hope that The Daily Telegraph intends to apply the sentiments expressed in these noble words to its own editorial policy. The day before the bomb, a headline on the letters page of The Daily Telegraph said: “Don’t push homosexual laws on us”.
The letter, from a clergyman in Grand Cayman, demanded that those British colonies that still retain their “tradition” of criminalising and imprisoning gay people should be allowed to continue to do so. Never mind human rights, was the message, we simply don’t want that sort in our Christian society.
Then came The Times, as resolute as all the other papers in the face of the attack on the Admiral Duncan: “This murderous explosion appears to be the third strike in a malicious campaign aimed at persecuting Britain’s minority communities. The public should express their disgust for such acts by affirming a national spirit of vigilance in defence of tolerance.” The Times knows all about “malicious campaigns” — it has run enough of them against gay people.
And what about this, from The Sunday People: “There is nothing quite so foul, quite so disgusting, or quite so stomach-turning as blind prejudice. … Britain is shocked that among us are those with minds so warped and views so extreme they will plan and carry out cold-blooded murder because of the colour of your skin, the sexuality you practise or the religion you choose to follow.”
A few short years ago, The Sunday People was castigated by the Press Council for “gratuitously and without any possible justification” writing shockingly crude articles about gay priests, under the banner “poofs in the pulpit”.
So, what, all of a sudden, is this about “foul prejudice”? Has the editor of the Sunday People noticed any inconsistency here?
Then, ripest of all, came The Sun. “There is a huge tide of sympathy towards the minorities. An attack on THEM is an attack on each and every one of US. And as we saw in Soho, the victims wore certainly not all gay anyway.”
Is this the same paper that has, over the years, carried out one of the most sustained anti-homosexual propaganda campaigns? Regular readers of this column don’t need reminding of the countless occasions that The Sun has been cited for its fetid homophobia.
It was The Sun, in the 80s, that led the way in the use of hate-filled words like “poof’ and “poofter” in its headlines. And it has employed one extremist homophobe after another to write vitriolic attacks upon us. Garry Bushell, Richard Littlejohn, Norman Tebbit, Trevor Kavanagh —they’ve all been given space in the paper to spew out their hatred. What effect can such an extended and widely-read campaign have had on the minds of people who are already inclined to hate?
And, talking of hate, look here at Paul Johnson in The Daily Mail. “It is simply not true that we [the British] are intolerant of minorities, ethnic, racial, sexual or any other kind,” he says. We know that Johnson has a penchant for humbug — but surely this piece of sanctimony is too big for even him to swallow. Over the years, Paul Johnson has penned reams of virulently anti-homosexual rhetoric, and The Daily Mail and The Spectator have enthusiastically published it.
In The Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Roman Catholics in Britain, was quoted as saying how “horrified” he was at what happened in Soho. “The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t agree with many aspects of the way the gay community think and act,” he said, “but it does condemn utterly, and I condemn utterly, all violence against gays.”
Oh please! Pass me the sick bag. Is this the same Cardinal Hume who wrote to The Times on the day of the Lords debate on the age of consent, urging their Lordships to chuck the bill out because of the “exploitative” nature of gay relationships and because acceptance of equality would “send the wrong message” to society? And is it the same Catholic Church he represents that refers to gay people as “intrinsically disordered” and to our love as “an objective moral evil?” Does Basil Hume see traces of blood on his own hands?
The Cardinal’s unconvincing performance was matched, if not surpassed, by old fork-tongue himself, George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said: “Like racism, homophobia has no place in our society.”
In case you thought that was a: misprint, I’ll repeat it: “Like racism, homophobia has no place in our society.”
Where does George Carey get the sheer brass neck to utter such words after his performance at last year’s gay-bashing jamboree known as the Lambeth Conference? Was it the same George Carey who gave his vote to a resolution which set gay Christians back centuries? And was it he who gave his endorsement to the African bishops who called us “evil” and “satanic”? Either George Carey is an idiot, or he thinks we are.
Another repetitive homophobe is Peter Hitchens, who is at least honest enough to admit that he is a homophobe and to define himself as “pretty Right-wing”. In The Express, where his unpleasant column sits uneasily with the new liberal regime introduced by Rosie Boycott, he wrote: “I am worried that there will now be attempts to suppress certain attitudes and opinions, on the grounds that they may ‘lead to’ incidents like these bombings. That would be wrong… If we really want to stamp on the idea that you can blow up people you do not like, then attacks on `homophobia’ are not the answer.”
Oh, aren’t they? Silly old me — I was under the impression that homophobia was the bomber’s motivation that Friday evening. And, anyway, it is not illogical to imagine that those who hate homosexuals might one day want to hurt the objects of their hatred. Peter Hitchens might not feel the need to make bombs, but who is to say that one of his crazed readers might not find, in his words, the rationale he needs to walk into a crowded pub with a lethal weapon and leave it there to kill and maim innocent people?
Then Tony Blair — ace political opportunist that he is — climbed on to the rickety isn’t-Britain-tolerant bandwagon. “These bombs are hideous acts,” he wrote in The Sunday Times. “But the only good that can come of them is if they spur all of us, whatever our age, creed, race, sex or sexuality, to work harder to build one nation… In Britain there is no place for bigotry, no home for the politics of hatred.”
Has Mr Blair heard the bigotry and hatred against gay people emanating from the House of Lords? He describes the neo-Nazi hate groups as “evil bigots who are in the minority in this country” but, as Philip Hensher said in The Independent, “there is an undeniable continuity of thought between the disapproval and hatred voiced in the debates on the age of consent in the House of Lords and that which spoke on Old Compton Street on Friday night. Both assumed the unelected right to inform us that our lives are worth less than theirs; that they have the duty to protect society from our malign influence.”
Lord Tebbit has been a long-time representative of this establishment homo-hatred. In The Mail on Sunday he wrote about the age of consent debate like this: “Last week hereditary Tory peers (supported by some brave Labour peers and many Tory lifers, too) again voted down Mr Blair’s Bill to encourage buggery and increase the spread of AIDS by legalising the seduction of young boys of 16 by predatory men seeking perverted sex. The public does not want this Bill…”
If Tony Blair is serious about his desire to “build a society where there is opportunity for all, where the barriers of prejudice are dismantled”, then can I just remind him that he has a few promises to keep to gay people in this country. If he wants justice for all, be must take a major role in creating it.
Simon Fanshawe in The Guardian told of telephone calls received at Stonewall on the morning after the bomb. Some were sympathetic, but a greater number weren’t: “I’ve got a box of nails here, shall I send it to you?” said one. “They should have bombed every pub in the street,” said another. “Gas the queers… fuck off nancies” and on and on. In the end, thought Fanshawe, this is about who defines Britishness. Is it the cruel, backward-looking eccentrics in the House of Lords or is it the diverse communities that now make up the population?
“Is Britain a country unable to do more than fix its stare in the rear-view mirror and reverse into its white, straight, imperial past?” wrote Fanshawe. “Or is it a country that can turn a great tradition of liberal tolerance into a new identity that draws its essential strength from its diversity?”
This is the big question that will decide the safety of all our futures. But those who could make a difference — a big difference — remain resolutely silent.
The Queen puts out a message of sympathy on the evening of the bombing, offering condolences to the victims and their families. Does she mention that she stands shoulder to shoulder with her gay citizens in their time of trial? Does she buggery.
Even in the Queen’s Speech at the beginning of this session of Parliament she couldn’t bring herself to mouth the “g” word, even though it rendered what she, said meaningless. “My Government will enact legislation to lower the age of consent,” she said. But she just couldn’t bring herself to say it, and anyone from abroad, unfamiliar with British politics, reading that speech would have had no idea what she was talking about.
And then her son, the heir to the throne, arrived on the scene, anxious to improve his new, post-Diana caring image. Was there any indication from him about exactly who had been attacked, and who he was sympathising with? What — the Prince of Wales talk in public about that kind of filthy depraved thing? The very idea!
If these supposedly great and good folk are serious about their commitment to an inclusive, tolerant and unbigoted society, then why do they keep up the charade that homosexuals are still unmentionable in polite society? When will the Queen give one of her waves to her gay and lesbian subjects? When will she open her first gay centre, or pay her first visit to a gay event? If she wanted to show us that she really is concerned about the ethos of her country, she could attend the next Stonewall show at the Albert Hall. For the cost of one evening, she could change this country in a fundamental way. Will she do it? Will she hell. And until the day she does, I don’t want to hear any more empty blathering about breaking down barriers.
And as for the press, the same applies. If they want to change the way Britons regard minorities, they are going to have to change themselves. The Daily Mail will have to cease its constant agitation against refugees and its crude campaigns against gays. The Sun will have to stop its filthy hate-mongering once and for all. The Daily Telegraph will have to restrain its religious extremism. No-one is talking about censorship here. I don’t want laws telling people what they can and can’t say. I want journalists to exercise their own restraint, simply because it’s the decent thing to do.