Thursday, 28 July 2011
Mass murderers heart Melanie Phillips
While it’s difficult to find a silver lining to the mass murder of 76 human beings in Norway, it was hard to suppress a smirk at the news that killer Anders Behring Breivik had quoted Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips in his rambling manifesto.
Her initial response to this unnerving fact was to stress that Breivik had only quoted her twice in 1,500 pages - which is, let's face it, still not a great hit-rate.
But let’s be clear, there’s a world of difference between Breivik and Phillips. While her views might be repugnant, I think we can safely say that Melanie Phillips does not condone the mass slaughter of innocent civilians, even if they are card-carrying Labour Party members (now mass detention, that’s another story. No no, I jest.)
In fairness to Phillips, Breivik did also quote such luminaries as Winston Churchill, Edmund Burke, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, and George Orwell, and an author has no control over who reads their material. Was it J.D. Salinger's fault that the Catcher in the Rye "inspired" a psychotic Mark Chapman to kill John Lennon? Clearly not.
But the episode does serve to underline the danger of Phillips's intemperate words, her intolerance and hyperbole. She believes her tirades exist on some rarefied intellectual plane, and Keith Kahn-Harris may well be right when he says she is "polite company with a ready (if sometimes acidic) wit and a very sharp mind", but if you write incendiary words, there's always a chance they'll come back to bite you on the ass.
Phillips, a former Guardian staffer, seems to get much of the left foaming at the mouth, but the main emotion she evokes in me is sadness. I still remember reading this interview and thinking she sounded like the angriest, loneliest woman in the world.