Sorry abut the recent dearth of posts from me. I’ve been very busy with work lately. I’ve got a few articles planned, though, and one is already waiting to be published.
However, that can wait, as I wish to talk the issue of accusations.
For some reason I kind of identify with people who are accused of doing things. I don’t really know why. I did get in almighty bother as a four-year old as it was alleged that I had told some people to “fuck off”. I protested my innocence to no avail. (Knowing me as an adult, it is possible that those words escaped my mouth). Or perhaps it’s because I watched the A-team a lot as a child; a programme which contains, to remind you, four men who were imprisoned “for a crime they didn’t commit”. Anyway, irregardless of my motivations I believe it to be important to respect the issue of proof.
We know what happens when people are accused of things. Things can get ugly. For centuries various scapegoats were accused of causing bad things. In recent memory we have the example of pediatricians being attacked as some people though they were paedophiles. Peoples lives can be ruined by accusations. That’s why proof is very important.
When I did tours in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial sites I was confronted with the issue of proof. Once or twice I had people in my groups who were doubting what I was saying. They thought that the information as shown by the memorial sites and their guides was a lie, that a lot less people died there, that the gas chambers didn’t exist, or were built by American and Soviet soldiers after the liberation of the camp. In both places I stressed how we know what we know about the gas chambers. In Dachau I spoke of prisoners who had helped to build the gas chambers, how other prisoners knew of the gas chambers.
Now, many prisoners believed that the gas chamber in Dachau was being used regularly to kill off prisoners (bear in mind that the gas chamber/crematorium facility was outside the main camp). This is a camp myth that is written in some survivor testimonies. We have three concrete testimonies from survivors of times when the gas chamber was used on people. We don’t know however which of them are true. However, we know that the head SS-doctor Sigmund Rascher wrote to Heinrich Himmler that the gas chamber was functioning (i.e. it had been used on people). The combination of the testimonies and this letter are the proof that the gas chamber was used.
It takes the wind out of the sails of Nazis when one can offer proof that one is speaking the truth. Otherwise they can get wound up in conspiracy theories. The fight therefore against fascism, against racism requires people to be active in knowing just who has said or done something fascist or racist, and offer proof for that act. We need to be credible, not people shouting out accusations without foundation.
Which brings me to John Terry. He was found “not guilty” of saying a racist comment to Anton Ferdinand. That he admitted to saying the words “fucking black cunt” was countered by his claim that he was repeating back to Ferdinand what he thought he was being accused of during the game. (That Ferdinand said that such a conversation didn’t take place and that he thought Terry to have said something racist only after the match. Someone here is not telling the truth). I don’t know whether Terry meant his comment in a racist way. A private conversation which isn’t recorded or heard by other people leaves us with difficulty in offering proof. Maybe Terry got away with it, I don’t know. Now, some fellow Liverpool fans and fans of other clubs think that Terry did get away with it. Many anti-racist campaigners also think so. Perhaps they are more distrusting of Terry than myself. Perhaps they are right.
It’s like with the allegations that Patrice Evra made about Luis Suarez. I’ve written about this before so I won’t repeat myself. I’ll just say that the FA hearing chose to believe Evra (thus following their usual procedure of finding a player “guilty”), something contested by Suarez, Liverpool FC and former player (and victim of racial abuse) John Barnes. Unlike with former Liverpool player Tommy Smith there was no proof about Evra’s allegations. There is no recording, no eye-witness account, no video proof.*
In a court of law Suarez, like Terry would not have been charged due to a lack of evidence. As I say, perhaps Terry had meant his comment in a racist way. Perhaps Suarez did as well. Until I see proof, however, I shall have to exercise caution in believing that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Even if I don’t like the player. Even if I am against racism.
Of course, not everything a court finds to be guilty or not guilty is right. I remember the Birmingham Six. I remember the many Nazis who were given lesser sentences (later pardoned). I don’t hold any judicial procedure to be flawless. With the Birmingham Six and the various Nazis, however, I know what the proof is, and can make my mind up accordingly.
I find that, as an anti-fascist campaigner I receive accusations from right-wingers and liberals that I am exaggerating things (say, when I speak of homophobia and anti-semitism in our societies). To be credible one needs facts. To demand proof is not to be “soft on racism”, or “soft on Holocaust education”. It’s a desire to offer a credible fight against racism and fascism. It’s a desire to protect innocent people from scurrilous allegations, accusations that the various groups of people constantly face.
* That the FA found him to be “guilty” does not constitute proof. They are not a court of law. They simply believed Evra’s word. The non-handshaking incident (whoever started it) also doesn’t constitute racist intent.