Labels used to shut down debate
In the days leading up to the Euro 2012 soccer tournament in June, the focus of headlines was not so much on which team would win, but on what was deemed to be intense racism on the part of the fans from Poland and Ukraine, the hosts of the tournament. Both countries have a predominantly Christian and ethnically homogenous population. “Racism is not so much the elephant in the soccer room as an insidious, lurking menace,” James Lawton wrote for the Toronto Sun less than two weeks before the tournament started. “Eastern Europe down the years has been notorious for the “monkey” chants which greet the appearance of black players who regularly report incidents of racist abuse.”
What helped to spread the anxiety was “Stadiums of Hate,” a BBC documentary that aired in May that purported to expose the racism of Polish and Ukrainian soccer fans. In the documentary, British soccer veteran Sol Campbell recommended that fans avoid attending the matches: “Stay at home. Watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it because you could end up coming back in a coffin.” This has led to some efforts on the part of the two countries to rehabilitate their image. John Abraham Godson, a black member of Polish parliament, told Reuters that these accusations do not reflect his experiences and that “I feel more at home here than I do in the West” (by which he means Western Europe). The Reuters report, though, unjustly went on to accuse Poland’s postwar Roman Catholic clergy of anti-Semitism, as well as suggesting that half of all Poles today hold anti-Semitic views.
Partly owing to the continued refusal of the Polish government to give TV Trwam, a popular Catholic station critical of the current administration, a place on the new digital multiplex, two deputies to the European Parliament – Miroslaw Piotrowski and Zbigniew Ziobro – organized a public hearing into the government’s alleged discrimination towards some Polish journalists and TV stations. For this purpose, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the director of Radio Maryja, a radio station partnered with TV Trwam, was invited to testify. This sparked an outcry from Marina Yannakoudakis, a representative from Great Britain, who wrote to Piotrowski that she was disappointed he invited Rydzyk because he promoted xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Piotrowski replied that these accusations were false and invited Yannakoudakis to give an example of this, which she was unable to do.
Outside of Eastern Europe, Christians occasionally are accused of the same offences. Critics have targeted Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ as anti-Semitic for graphically retelling the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ. The CBC used experts to draw a link between the release of the movie and some anti-Semitic incidents in Toronto. “There is something out there that is inspiring Jews as a target” that was “in cinemas,” said Ed Morgan of the Canadian Jewish Congress, in an obvious allusion to the movie.
The pro-life movement has not been immune from similar criticisms. Ironically, when pro-lifers point out that black babies are more likely to be victims of abortion, and that Planned Parenthood itself espouses racism in targeting blacks and ethnic minorities, they themselves are accused of racism. A huge pro-life billboard in Manhattan, New York showing a picture of an African American girl and stating, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb,” was brought down shortly after being erected in 2011. African-American City Council Member Leticia James claimed that “it borders on racist.” Writing about similar billboards cropping up in other American cities, Courtland Milloy claimed in the Washington Post, that the purpose of the campaign was “to shame the black woman, single her out by race and cast her body as the personification of sin and death.” All the pro-lifer groups who bought the billboard space was trying to do was save unborn black babies.
Similarly, a student from the Princeton Theological Seminary was accused of racism for distributing “Black Genocide” flyers from Human Life Alliance and advertizing the movie, Maafa 21, to draw attention to how abortion targets African Americans more often than whites. Students from the seminary held a forum to express concern and the seminary itself announced that it “does not tolerate racial discrimination” in a statement. Perhaps they will eventually speak up for blacks being killed by abortion when abortionists set up their facilities in predominantly black neighbourhoods.
Former American Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum got in trouble with the mainstream media just for comparing the persecution of the unborn to the historical persecution of black people. In a January 2011 CNS interview, commenting on President Barack Obama’s pro-abortion stance, he said that he found it remarkable for a “black man to say no, we’re going to decide who are people and who are not people,” comparing the callous killing of the unborn to slaves, neither of whom were recognized as fully human. In response, a year later, The Root, a “black news site” owned by the same company as the Washington Post, declared that “What we find ‘almost remarkable’ is the way conservatives shamelessly attempt to racialize the abortion debate.”
The movement to accuse pro-lifers of bigotry is even entrenched in the highest levels of governance. In 2009, LifeSiteNews reported that the Obama administration’s terrorism handbook, the “Domestic Extremism Lexicon,” which was recalled hours after it was released to the public, included “anti-abortion extremism” on page two of the document. It was defined as “A movement of groups or individuals who are virulently anti-abortion and advocate violence against providers of abortion-related services, their employees, and their facilities. Some cite various racist and anti-Semitic beliefs to justify their criminal activities.”
What do the accusations about Eastern Europe, Poland, Christians, and pro-lifers have in common? Dismissing different points of view, especially holding “traditional” views, is the easy and cowardly way to avoid engaging in a serious debate about morals and ethics, culture and society. Dropping the “racist,” “anti-Semitic,” and “homophobic” labels are a way to inspire instant revulsion among impressionable members of the public against the principles of a dissenting group. It is not an argument, but a way to shut down discussion.
Pauline Kosalka is a reporter for The Interim.