on 16 June 2011
A brilliant book by one of the UK's foremost investigative journalists exploring the pernicious impact of disability hate crime: on disabled people, their families and society at large. The author travels to the scenes of some of the most serious and notorious hate crimes committed against disabled people, and talks to bereaved families and friends who are struggling to come to terms with the brutal, and often sadistic murder of a loved one. Police Officers involved in some of the cases describe them as the worst they've encountered. The fact that many of these crimes were committed in areas of high density housing where neighbours were apparently able to tune out the horrific violence going on next door is particularly troubling, and brought to mind Hannah Arendt's 'banality of evil' theory which contests that the great evils in history were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but rather by ordinary people. Has the hostility towards and baiting of disabled people has become so 'normalised' (as Edward S Herman has argued) that "ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as 'the way things are done'"?. Disturbingly, whilst nothing new, the scapegoating of disabled people for society's ills has intensified and become more brazen in recent years, especially on internet. Cries of "burdens to society", "drain on taxpayers" and "scroungers" eerily echo Nazi slogans used to condone the systematic murder of disabled adults and children during the Holocaust. Many of those persecuted, tortured and executed during the witch-hunt era we learn, were disabled or vulnerable, and to this day in some cultures disabled children continue to be labelled as witches. Thanks to this landmark book, disability hate crime is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
on 17 December 2011
Books like this are to non-fiction literature what films like 'Night and Fog', 'The Sorrow and the Pity' and 'The Titicut follies' are to the documentary form. No matter how far you have plumbed the depths of righteous misanthropy and nauseating despair at the behaviours of our odious species, it's almost impossible that this book won't register something at least analogous to an ontological shock, because things, no matter how bleak your outlook, are always worst than we labour so hard in our minds and in our popular culture to believe and project.
The book aptly illustrates just how far we haven't come and how, as Shaw once said, 'we learn from history that we learn nothing from history.' The first part of the book takes us on a kind of guided-tour of the penumbra of the human psyche, whilst also delineating the phenomenon of the scapegoating of the disabled and the deformed throughout history, reminding us that physical beauty and health are often inversely proportional to moral and spiritual character, and that physical health, beauty and strength are often the indicies of a sinister interior, a kind of spiritual and moral sewage system, where narcissism and popularity deposits its excrement.
The message that emanates from this foul history of human iniquity, is that Liebniz was wrong when he said 'we live in the best of all possible worlds', that such linguistic lunacies are little more than myopic and solipsistic gibberish, that mocks, nay, even denies the immense suffering of a large portion of humanity and the equally immense capacity for barbarism of an even larger portion of humanity. Concurrent with a reading of these pages was a feeling of sickness at nature's prepossession in favour of the morally degenerate. Only a barbarian could be insensible of the nightmare of existence.
Philosophers from the ancient Graeco-Roman period are revealed to be a bunch of odious bigots, apologists for man's favouritism towards the healthy and the beautiful, even though the vast majority of them are a bunch of spiritless, characterless non-entities, here to annoy and bore the more spiritually and imaginatively remarkable of us with their conversational narcissism and inane chatter, their execrable movies and music, their obsession with sex and trivialities and, you know, just their general Lilliputianism, hypocrisy and moral crumminess. This chapter in the book aptly illustrates that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and many others were actually a bunch of smegheads, not deserving of our adulation, but getting it anyway. They come across as the spiritual ancestors of Adolf Hitler and Frankie Boyle!
Most interesting is the part on eugenics, its ancient roots, its development in England, and its efflorescence in places like America and Germany. What Quarmby doesn't mention is its recrudescence in more contemporary times, what with the prevalent belief that de facto psychiatric slaves and scapegoats, like myself, have inferior genes and the abominable practice of genetic counselling, whereby 'schizos' are encouraged to abstain from reproducing. It all bears testament to how our congenital bias in favour of beauty and health insinuates itself into our culture, and the tragic implications it has for so many.
Quarmby also gives a succinct history of institutionalisation, the systematic use of violence and coercion at de jure hospitals and caring homes but de facto total institutions where the outcasts of society are segregated because society finds them to be a nuisance.
From here on Quarmby focuses on more contemporary happenings, looking at the torture, degradation and murder of disabled people recently, such as Fiona Pilkington, Steve Hoskin and Kevin Davies, conceptualising it all as part of the ritual scapegoating of disabled people. How the earth ever adjusted itself to the kind of moral vermin and scum who committed these crimes is quite beyond me. My frontal lobes sizzle and crackle with moral outrage at the horrors contained in these faith-destroying pages.
As a person who has lived in the lower socio-economic strata of society, I've seen the moral lowlands alright, where gangs of predacious thugs roam and prey on easy victims. The cornerstone of a civilised society is that people are protected from the machinations and attacks of others, but the government are too busy practising violence and coercion themselves, usurping individuals' rights, kowtowing to the multitude and prostrating themselves at the altar of political expediency, pilfering people's private property and concentrating its energies on the war on drugs, with tragic consequences. Think of the amount of a person's rightful property, such as marijuana plants, that were being stolen by the agents of upstart authority while these things go on in the streets, think of all the misplaced police energy because of the people who run our country.
Here's an idea, stop focusing on protecting people from themselves, which is their business, and start focusing more on protecting people from others. Some people may find this unrealistic, considering how far gone we are in the lunacy of the war on drugs and the control of deviant and illicit but innocuous behaviours and habits, but I argue on principle. I know that this problem is mutifactorial in origin, but I think it plays a huge role nevertheless.
The indictment of society and its entrenched prejudices contained in this book regarding this problem is obviously important. It seems that the herd often gives its tacit approval to this discrimination, operating in collusion with the moral negligence of the services delegated to protect people against the depravity of the species. As a result of this, as Quarmby elucidates, people tend to internalise society's hostility, cultivating paranoia and distrust in the individual. Human society and existential concerns are the true aetiology of paranoia, as the book aptly illustrates, yet what usually happens next is that the person's brain is inculpated, and society stigmatises the individual (or as in these cases further stigmatises) as a 'paranoid freak', or with some other obscenity forged in the verbal smithy of the wicked, all as part of the ritual self-exculpation and avoidance of anything so cumbersome as expiation regarding the crimes perpetrated by society and authority against minorities and powerless individuals.
Also taken into account is the role the immoral government and the media play in mobilising rapacious herd energies towards people on incapacity benefits, in paving the way for their sacrifice. The herd-animals need their fill of human flesh, they need their sacrificial offerings to appease their collective narcissistic and symbolic cannibalistic urges, and truth, language and justice suffer as a consequence, and the sacrifice is always a disfranchised group or individual, sacrificed for social, economic, political, bodily ills and just the plain wickedness of some of our species.
on 2 July 2011
This book is shocking, in parts horrific, but always readable.
Not only does Katharine Quarmby show empathy with the survivors and victims of disability hate crime, but she is also able to step back and deliver an insightful and clear-headed analysis of what needs to be done.
She has written an honest book, and has refused to duck the difficult and sensitive questions that float around this most troubling of issues.
Her tireless research provides the necessary historical context, and highlights the parallels between today's hateful, vicious and brutal crimes and the atrocities and outrages of the past.
Crucially, Scapegoat is also beautifully-written. It is not just a book for disabled activists, academics and professionals; it is also for anyone interested in seeking an insight into one of the most urgent problems facing our society.
I should point out that I was working with Katharine when she began investigating disability hate crime, and that she and I have subsequently supported each other with our respective projects, so I like to think I am well placed to know how much work, commitment and journalistic talent has gone into this book.
It is indeed a groundbreaking piece of work, and I suspect one that will be essential reading for years to come. I would be surprised if it was not soon on the reading-list of every disability studies course in the country.
I also know how much of herself Katharine has invested in her research, and how committed she is to supporting the survivors of these crimes and to finding a solution.
I can only agree with Tom Shakespeare: this may be the most important book you will read all year.
on 13 December 2013
As a sociological examination of Broken Britain's vexatious attitudes towards disability, Katharine Quarmby has written a very serious investigation into heinous crimes against the most vulnerable in society, as well as documenting the institutional failings of those whose job it is to safeguard them.
Quarmby has admirably left no stone unturned in excavating the social origins of disability hate crimes, dedicating chapters to events and attitudes from classical times to medieval witch hunts that murdered disabled people on grounds of suspected Satanism. There is also accounts on distorted academic movements like eugenics giving rise to disabled people becoming the formative victims of the Nazi Holocaust, while progressive nations like America legislated a so-called `Ugly Law' that prohibited disabled people the right to be seen in public places because they were deemed undesirable citizens (a policy that was upheld in some states until the mid-1970s). The book comes right up to date by exploring the worrying attitudes of British Asian communities with regards to disability, and rightfully criticises the current Tory-Lib Dem coalition party's attempts to fuel public disdain towards disabled communities by labelling them a societal burden that has created huge welfare deficits.
It would have been very easy for Quarmby to have made this book a simple case study of harrowing crimes against disabled people, of which there are many. She, however, uses such crimes as a means of investigating wider social ills, regularly contextualising her arguments by balancing empirical evidence with her own astute analysis of how such problems materialise in the first place.
While one wishes more prudence had been taken with proofreading and structural aspects of the book, Quarmby has written something that has a great deal on its mind and strives to get people to think about where we are in Britain right now. When all her key polemics are distilled, Quarmby is fundamentally asking for better integration and understanding from all sides, including those within the disabled community that fight for the rights of those with physical impairments without championing the needs of those with learning disabilities, the latter often being the very ones that get targeted in extreme hate crime cases.