Cancel culture isn’t coming for Dahl’s racism

'If the case of Roald Dahl shows anything, it’s how little “cancel culture” cares about antisemitism.'

December 11, 2020 13:14

Roald Dahl’s family seem to be worried that “cancel culture” is coming for the beloved children’s author. Quietly, they published a short statement on his official website, apologising for the “lasting and understandable hurt” caused by his “prejudiced remarks” against Jews. There has been speculation that they were trying to mitigate the risk that the public would boycott his books.

They shouldn’t have bothered. If the case of Roald Dahl shows anything, it’s how little “cancel culture” cares about antisemitism. It seems to be the one type of offence which is safe from the internet mob.

Excommunication is an ancient practice. But since the rise of #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movement, it has taken a particular modern form. An individual says or does something perceived as “offensive” to a marginalised group. Activists then ruthlessly subject them to an internet “pile-on”, calling out their bad behaviour, pushing them beyond the pale of respectability and boycotting their works.

Famous targets have included JK Rowling (deemed to be hostile to transgender people). Pepsi (allegedly trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement), comedian Louis CK (alleged sexual misconduct), Winston Churchill (racism and colonialism) and scores of others. But you don’t have to be famous or offend consistently. Numerous “civilians” have been also publicly shamed, lost their jobs and essentially had their lives destroyed because of the perception that they have engaged in racist or sexist behaviour — sometimes just once, for a split second or in the distant past. You don’t even have to be the “offender” yourself. The British Library recently included Ted Hughes in a list of figures connected to slavery and colonialism, because a distant relative 300 years ago was “deeply involved” with the London Virginia Company.

This “zero tolerance” policy has emphatically not been applied to Roald Dahl. Unlike many of those who have been cancelled, his racism was a deeply held, long-term conviction — not a split-second mistake. And while JK Rowling (for example) disputes the allegations against her, there is no way to misunderstand what Dahl meant when he said that “even a stinker like Hitler didn’t pick on [the Jews] for no reason”, and that “there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity.”

Yet where are the calls to cancel this national treasure? Almost nowhere.

It’s true that stories about his antisemitism surface periodically and that the Royal Mint wouldn’t issue commemorative coins for him, because he was “associated with antisemitism.” But his family’s statement was not a reaction to any pressure or public stirring against him. It seems to be an insurance policy, hidden deep on the website in case the day should come when he is held to account for these remarks. That day is not yet here.

Given the rise in “cancel culture”, one might have thought that the family’s apology would trigger the woke mob to look more deeply into Dahl’s racism. It hasn’t happened. His antisemitism has prompted some journalistic brow-beating, but no rage from the “anti-racists”.

This is not a call for Dahl to be “cancelled”. This is a toxic phenomenon which destroys free speech and destroys lives on the whim of a mob. And I’ve loved sharing Dahl’s books with my children.

His case simply illustrates the extent to which “cancel culture” is about politics and virtue-signalling, not justice or truth. The only “sins” that get you cancelled are those that the far left deems unacceptable. And antisemitism — the oldest hatred — is not currently on that list.

So Congresswoman Ilhan Omar can tweet about US lawmakers only supporting Israel because of ‘lobby money’ and Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan can refer to Jews as termites, and their careers are still intact. Does anyone seriously imagine that they could make these comments against any other minority, without being cancelled?

Paradoxically, it’s Jews complaining about antisemitism who are most likely to be hounded online and offline — as we saw during the antisemitism crisis in the Labour party.

Practically the only exception seems to be rapper Wiley, who was suspended from Twitter in July after a series of blatantly antisemitic posts. But that only happened after Jewish activists coordinated a 48-hour walkout from Twitter, to protest the platform’s slow action. The Jews had to marshal the forces of cancel culture themselves.

So Roald Dahl’s family can rest easy. Chances are, they’ll never have to invoke their apology for his racism. Because when it comes to cancel culture, antisemitism doesn’t count.

December 11, 2020 13:14

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