Brendan O’Neill

Jenni Murray isn’t a bigot - she’s a victim of bigotry

Jenni Murray isn't a bigot - she's a victim of bigotry
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It’s a curiosity of the 21st century that there is no one quite as bigoted as the person who screams ‘bigot!’ all the time. More often than not, those who casually brand as bigots anyone who has the temerity to hold a different point of view to theirs are the ones behaving with bigotry. Consider the stink over Jenni Murray’s comments on trans women. Murray is being demonised as a bigot, as a daft, obtuse ‘transphobe’, for saying trans women aren’t real women. But it’s her accusers who are the bigots; it’s their petitioning for Murray to be sacked and silenced that is the true bigotry. Murray is a victim of bigotry, not a practitioner of it.

In the Sunday Times Magazine, Murray, best known for fronting Woman’s Hour on Radio 4, wrote a measured, sensible piece about the trans debate. She expressed her frustration at the idea that men can become women; that individuals who have for years enjoyed ‘the privileged position… accorded to a man’ can click their fingers and declare ‘I am a woman’ — and a ‘real woman’ at that. Murray says they’re not real women; they’re trans women. She also says there’s too much heat and poison in the trans debate, where dissent from the now orthodox idea that men can become women is shunned as a crime.

As if to prove her point, the outrage merchants were out in force the minute her article was published. There was the inevitable Twitterstorm. A petition was created, demanding Jenni Murray resign from her role hosting 'Women’s [sic] Hour’. She is ‘not fit’ to present that show, it says. Trans Media Watch demanded the BBC ban Murray from presenting segments on trans issues. Trans TV presenter India Willoughby branded Murray a ‘bigot’ with ‘nasty’ and ‘bitchy’ views and said the Beeb should sack this ‘dinosaur’. The BBC didn't sack her, but it did discipline her. In a snivelling response to the self-righteous storm it issued Murray with an impartiality warning: bureaucrat-speak for reprimanding her for holding an unpopular opinion.

The most striking thing about this latest outburst of online fury is how mild and tempered Murray was in comparison with her detractors. Her piece expressed no animus towards trans women; it was a calm and deliberate expression of opinion on trans issues. The response, in contrast, has been incensed, all barbs and insults and claims that Murray is ‘unfit’ for media life. Alongside Willoughby’s mocking of Murray as ‘bitchy’ and ‘nasty’ and her calling into question Murray’s damehood — apparently she’s a dame only in the ‘joke pantomime sense’ — there have been reams of abuse on Twitter. Murray is ‘disgusting’, ‘old’, a ‘ridiculous old boot’.

Observing the two sides in this spat, the bigotry accusation against Murray starts to fall apart. She’s a bigot for expressing a point of view, whereas those labelling her a vile, ageing bitch of a dinosaur are warriors against bigotry? She’s a bigot for questioning if men can become women, yet those raging against her with ageist insults and intolerant demands for her head on a P45 form aren’t bigots? Come on. The mask has slipped. The Murray controversy exposes beautifully the bigoted impulse that too often lies behind accusations of bigotry today.

People forget what bigotry is. Bigotry isn’t the questioning of people’s identities. It isn’t being old-fashioned or rude. Bigotry is intolerance of certain opinion and beliefs. In the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, to be a bigot is to show ‘intolerance towards those who hold different opinions to oneself’. Now, tell me: who deserves that title more? Murray for stating an opinion, or her haters who demanded she be demonised and punished for holding that opinion? It’s the latter. Their fanatical insistence that some things should not be said in public, and that anyone foolish enough to say them should be sacked from their job, is the breathing definition of bigotry. They are the bigots.

We see this all the time, this enacting of bigotry under the guise of tackling bigotry. Leave voters are bigots, say certain angry Remainers who display the most eye-watering bigotry towards ‘low-information’ Leavers and their allegedly bovine opinions. People who criticise Islam are bigots, say some radical Islamists who are actually just intolerant of anti-Islam ‘blasphemy’. The bigotry of anti-bigotry is best summed up in the image of the Stepford Student — those campus censors who fume against people with unpopular views, and try to shut them down, on the basis that they’re ‘bigots’. Imagine how little self-awareness they must have to behave like bigots, through expressing intolerance towards those who think differently, while posing as implacable foes of bigotry.

It would be a mistake to treat the Murray thing as just another Twitterstorm. These angry, censorious flare-ups have a cumulative impact. They add up, becoming an ever-louder warning to us all not to say or even think certain things if we want to keep our jobs and reputations. They foster a climate of bigotry, with all its spite and self-censorship, in the phoney name of tackling bigotry. It’s time to call out the true bigots.