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Jake Wallis Simons

Azeem Rafiq and the hypocrisy of victimhood

I spoke to the cricketer and I still have questions

Azeem Rafiq and the hypocrisy of victimhood
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On the face of it, it seemed the most startling irony. Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire spin bowler who has been giving tearful evidence to a select committee about racism at the club, was found to have made racist remarks himself. Well, anti-Semitic remarks. Which is just as serious, right?

In the eyes of many, it was a case of pot and kettle. Here was a man making a very public display of his victimhood, who seemingly felt it was OK to mete out the same treatment to others. #Hypocrite, they cried. #Humbug.

But not in the eyes of the media and liberal commentariat. With almost no exceptions, reports focussed on the apology that Mr Rafiq gave and the fact that his anti-Semitism was only 'historic'. From one newspaper to the next, before the facts were even known, the tone was notably generous and forgiving. Why? 

When I discussed the matter on a television debate last night, I was taken aback when a fellow panellist made excuses for the cricketer — he was 19 years old at the time, these were surely ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks, that sort of thing — when the very same commentator, on the very same programme a couple of weeks previously, had refused to afford that same generosity to those who had allegedly abused Mr Rafiq.

In truth, we simply don’t know what happened. I spoke to the cricketer on the phone after I came off air. He was distraught and apologised profusely to both me and my community. He had made the anti-Semitic comments about a non-Jewish player, Atif Sheikh, he said, whom he had been criticising for not paying a dinner bill ('Hahaha he is a Jew… Only Jews do that sort of shit'). He had never played against a Jewish cricketer, he pointed out, and hadn’t meant to harm anyone in real life. Though he didn’t mean this to sound like an excuse. He didn’t want to downplay the incident or the hurt it has caused.

Who knows whether all this was genuine? Mr Rafiq told me that he couldn’t recall any other instances of anti-Semitism, though in a particularly candid moment, he confided that you don’t remember something that doesn’t affect you. He has admitted, rather guardedly, that he has made other 'mistakes'. But the bowler seemed contrite enough, and it would be churlish if I didn’t take him at his word. Motivation and context are everything. They alone mean the difference between a ham-fisted comment that can be brushed off and an expression of genuine hatred.

What will stay with me from the bizarre events of yesterday, however, is the confirmation that when it comes to racism, there is a hierarchy. Don’t get me wrong, I stand firmly against cancel culture, witch-hunts and the sinister religion of offence. I’d rather let things slide than let them rankle. But it does get up my nose that when it comes to the oldest hatred, the liberal instinct is to grope for excuses.