Julie Burchill’s book Welcome to Woke Trials was cancelled by the Hachette imprint of Little, Brown just a couple of months before release date. The reason cited for that action was a tweeted spat Burchill had had with the Muslim hack Ash Sarkar.
It started when Sarkar took exception to a post by another journalist, Rod Liddle, who wrote: “The only thing stopping me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids. We’re talking secondary level here, by the way – and even then I don’t think I’d have dabbled much below year ten, as it is now called.”
That statement was either a joke or it wasn’t. If Liddle was simply upholding his reputation as an ideologically folksy wag, then no response was called for, other than a smile or absence thereof.
If he meant it in all seriousness, then he ought to have been commended on his self-knowledge and moral sense. Liddle knew that shagging 14-year-old pupils (Year 10 in English schools) was wrong, and he made a conscious and courageous decision not to expose himself to that temptation.
Sarkar decided that the statement was jocular, which it probably was. Naturally, such levity couldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.
After all, our woke opinion formers have stricter standards of the allowable humour than even Jesus Christ had. He told people they could mock anybody, including him, provided they left the Holy Spirit alone.
Since signalling carnal virtue occupies the same slot in the woke moral code as the Holy Spirit does for Christians, Sarkar had to emit such a signal at a siren pitch: “It’s astonishing that both he and his editor thought guffawing about hypothetically being a paedophile made for a good article.”
Liddle is capable of handling himself in such jousts, but Burchill decided to jump in. “Can you please remind me of the age of the Prophet Mohammed’s first wife?” she wrote. “Thank you in anticipation.”
Actually, Aisha was Mohammed’s third wife, but it’s true he married her before her tenth birthday, perhaps even when she was six or seven. Some Islamic scholars claim the marriage wasn’t consummated until Aisha reached puberty, others argue the act occurred when Aisha was nine.
Yet neither Burchill nor Sarkar is an Islamic scholar – they were simply brawling. And, when it comes to fisticuffs, the objective is to hurt the opponent, not to settle the original bone of contention. Burchill landed the more telling blow by indirectly pointing out the conflict between two irreconcilable pieties: wokeness and Islam.
Say what you will about Islam, but politically correct it isn’t. That’s why it’s so satisfying watching the likes of Sarkar, whether or not they are Muslims, tie themselves in knots. On the one hand, Islam is anti-Western, ethnic-minority and generally third world. That means it has to be extolled.
On the other hand, its doctrine calls for mistreating women, stoning adulterers and homosexuals, and killing infidels. That means it has to be rebuked. Yet it can’t be rebuked because doing so would brand the rebuker as an Islamophobe, right-wing fanatic, Leaver and a Tory voter.
This conflict is more interesting than Mohammed’s taste in women, but Burchill always prefers to aim below the belt. She went on to accuse Sarkar of worshipping a paedophile, to which I would have replied: “Yes, but that’s not all I worship him for”. But the woke don’t do humour, while the Muslim woke may kill you for it.
Anyway, once that tiff became public, the publisher dropped Burchill’s book like a bad habit. Though the book itself must have passed muster, Burchill personally no longer did because her comments were “not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint”, having “crossed a line with regard to race and religion”.
Banning (or for that matter burning) books because their authors err against religion and race has a rich history in Europe, and parallels with the less savoury regimes of the past really draw themselves. This is so obvious that it really doesn’t merit reiterating.
However, if I were a publisher, I too would steer clear of Burchill’s work, but not because of her views on race, religion or wokeness. My problem with Burchill isn’t that she isn’t politically correct, but that she is a committed, ideological vulgarian. That’s probably why she sprang to Liddle’s defence: they share this charming trait.
Burchill is a talented writer, one with a recognisable idiosyncratic voice. I can only wish that so many things she intones in that voice weren’t so objectionable.
For Burchill (and Liddle, come to think of it) has elevated chav vulgarity to an aesthetic and philosophical virtue. She doubtless feels that mocking everything refined establishes her bona fides as a maverick champion of the common man, whose side she takes in the class war. Burchill is vulgar not because she can’t help it, but because she is proud of her vulgarity.
And she is proud of being proud, as shown by the Welcome to Woke Trials synopsis she either wrote herself or at least endorsed: “It will also be a characteristically irreverent and entertaining analysis of the key elements of a continuing and disturbing phenomenon – all told with the common touch and rampant vulgarity that has made Burchill a household name.”
Rampant vulgarity isn’t to be hidden any longer. If a writer wants to become a household name, he must wear it on his sleeve, lovingly watching it getting caked in grime.
Julie Burchill has joined the rearguard action against the onslaught of the rolling juggernaut of wokish modernity. Yet one of the sharpest blades sticking out of its wheel spokes is indeed rampant vulgarity.
If all we have to resist it is more rampant vulgarity, then it’s not immediately clear why we should bother. We might as well stand still and let those blades cut us down at the knee.