You’re in league with religious fundamentalists! is an accusation thrown at radical/sex industry abolitionist feminists so frequently that the mud often sticks. It’s very rare to see an attempt at smearing any other group in this way, so it was interesting when, in the middle of last month, just such a thing occurred, with a BBC Radio 4 presenter accusing Greenpeace of being ‘in league’ with the Catholic Church. It’s fascinating to see the whole thing played out in one report and interview – like a time delay recording of a plant growing, you don’t ordinarily get to see exactly how something like this comes together.
What you see is exactly the same kind of name-calling, empty rhetoric, obfuscation, smearing, and plain ol’ making shit up that you see from sex industry advocates when they attack radical feminists and try to shut down critical thinking by saying you’re in league with religious fundamentalists!
The broadcast was on Wednesday 15th Oct, at approximately 07.30 (around 1h 30min into the programme), and it’s worth noting down (since it will only be available on iPlayer for another week or so), exactly what happened.
First of all the presenter talked about ‘the green blob’, not his words, but if you’re only half listening (which is very likely at 7.30 in the morning when one is getting ready to leave the house or already on the commute) that might be all you pick up, delivered in the authoritative tones of a BBC presenter.
Then comes a very cleverly worded statement: “first of all the charges against them [Greenpeace], not just from Owen Paterson [former environment minister and coiner of the term ‘green blob’, which echo’s former education secretary Michael Gove’s attack on the ‘blob’ of the educational establishment]. Let’s begin with stem-cells. Greenpeace joined a legal action in Europe, with the Catholic Church, which had the effect of hampering stem-cell research, according to some scientists, among them Professor Pete Coffey, Professor of cellular therapies at The Institute of Ophthalmology, at University College, London.”
Notice that we are actually told pretty much nothing about the legal challenge itself, or exactly how it hampers stem-cell research – that ‘according to some scientists’ bit is relevant, which scientists, beyond the one professor they interviewed?
Next is a recorded clip from said professor, who bashes Greenpeace, in a very generalised way, questioning why they should be interested in stem-cell research in the first place (implying it’s something only certain people can have a valid opinion about – gee that sounds very familiar!), and saying that they have had success in treating several diseases “using these types of approaches” – which approaches?! It’s still infuriatingly vague, and the listener still doesn’t know what the legal action was about beyond ‘stem-cells’.
Next up, a recorded clip from Dr. Patrick Moore, ex co-founder of Greenpeace (who now campaigns against Greenpeace), on the unrelated subject of ‘golden rice’, who says that Greenpeace has “lost its concern for humans” and was an “evil organisation”.
So, we get more Greenpeace bashing, but still know nothing more about the stem-cells, or very much about ‘golden rice’ either for that matter.
It’s only after this that we get to hear from Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist and policy director of Greenpeace, who was interviewed live.
(And if, as is very likely at 7.30 in the morning, the listener is just getting into the shower, or rushing out of the house, or getting out of their car, they might not hear any of his response, and, due to the previous clips, go away with the idea that Greenpeace is a bunch of bad guys.)
The presenter mentions again that Greenpeace and the Catholic Church were working together, before giving Dr. Parr the chance to explain. The first thing Dr. Parr says is that Greenpeace absolutely supports stem-cell research! Hang on, wasn’t the whole preamble setting them up as anti stem-cell research (just like the Catholic Church!)? It’s only now that we finally get some real details about the legal case, and learn that it was actually about stopping the extension of patent law to biological material, which is not quite what we had been led to believe! Dr. Parr then went on to point out that patents can actually be a barrier to scientific research! Amazing, Greenpeace aren’t actually anti-science at all!
What’s also very interesting here, is that the presenter then challenged Dr. Parr, asking how, by working with an organisation (the Catholic Church) that is anti stem-cell research, Greenpeace could actually help stem-cell research?
Dr. Parr repeated that there was evidence of patent laws hindering research, and that Greenpeace’s only interest was in curtailing the direction patent laws were moving in.
It’s almost as if it’s possible for two groups, with wildly opposing views, to have one small area of overlapping agreement, without either group suffering from any internal inconsistency!
On the subject of ‘golden rice’, Dr. Parr pointed out that it doesn’t actually exist yet, because the science hasn’t worked yet! He also pointed out that a vitamin A boost is no substitute for a proper balanced diet, and mentioned one ‘low tech’ initiative ‘The Home Gardening Initiative’ in Bangladesh and one bio-tech approach, ‘marker-assisted breeding’, which has already worked for maize and cassava, because he believes that, in some circumstances “bio-fortification” is appropriate.
The presenter kept pushing on ‘golden rice’ – wasn’t this supposed to be about stem-cell research? Why did the presenter give up on what was supposed to be the main subject of the piece? I know current affairs presenters are supposed to be adversarial, but this is just underhanded, he had so obviously lost the argument on stem-cell research, so he then focused on a different issue.
The presenter then changed track again, claiming the environmental movement is only about making the campaigners feel good about themselves, and brought up Pascal Husting’s short-haul commutes, which Dr. Parr said was unacceptable, and a mistake.
What the interview comes across as is constant mud-slinging, with the presenter never really acknowledging any of the valid points Dr Parr made, just switching to a new direction of attack.
In the end it is an entirely manufactured controversy, as the BBC producers must have known all along exactly what the legal action was about. Imagine (you don’t have to imagine) if every time radical feminists wanted to talk about the harms of the sex industry, we first had to explain to a manipulated audience that we don’t hate sex and we don’t hate prostitutes, if anyone is even still listening by the time we are allowed to speak (if we are allowed to speak at all).
Unsurprisingly, in the interview, the you’re in league with the Catholic Church which is against all stem-cell research! angle was not pursued, because they knew the allegation was spurious. For Greenpeace to actually be ‘in league’ with the Catholic Church, rather than having one small over-lap of agreement with them, for entirely different reasons, Greenpeace would have to be doing something for the Catholic Church; are Greenpeace campaigning against women’s reproductive rights? against the teaching of evolution? against the human rights of gay people? No, of course they aren’t, because they are not actually ‘in league’ with the Catholic Church, they have, coming from entirely different starting points, found one small area of agreement.
The same with radical feminists and our supposed involvement with ‘religious fundamentalists’, do radical feminists campaigning against women’s reproductive rights? against the teaching of evolution? against the human rights of gay people? No, of course we don’t! Because we are not actually ‘in league’ with religious fundamentalists; there is one small area of over-lap between radical feminist thought and ‘religious fundamentalism’, the idea that the sex industry is a bad thing; we don’t even think it’s a bad thing for the same reasons! But hey, why bother with real debate when you can shut down critical thinking with a well-orchestrated, oft-repeated, unsubstantiated smear?
It’s also interesting to note how you’re in league with religious fundamentalists! is only ever used against radical feminists. Religion is the back-bone of peace and anti-poverty movements, but nobody tries to discredit those movements in that way.
Coincidentally enough, I heard another example of such a movement on Radio 4 the next day, when, on thought for the day, Giles Fraser (at 7.45 if you’re interested) pointed out that the Occupy movement in Hong Kong was started by an Evangelical Christian, Benny Tai. Does this deligitimise the Occupy movement? I don’t think so, even though these are people who very likely do want to take away women’s reproductive rights. I can separate out the different strands of the movement, and the individuals who make up the movement. I can also practice expediency, and realise that co-operating with a certain group on one thing doesn’t mean you are signing up wholesale to the rest of their beliefs.
It’s a shame sex industry advocates can’t manage the same nuance of thought.