Jon Stewart’s attack on the US should be a warning to the UK

Jon Stewart Screengrab, Comedy Central

Jon Stewart refused to do his job on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show last night.

Instead the American comedian delivered a speech reminiscent of the infamous “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” scene from 1976 Oscar winner Network. And all because of what was happening in Carolina.

Before the broadcast Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old Yank, had been arrested on suspicion of the murder of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. His Facebook page suggested that the attack was racially motivated, with Roof pictured wearing a black jacket bearing the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and the former state of Rhodesia, run by the white minority before it became Zimbabwe.

Normally The Daily Show is a news satire that begins with a comic monologue before continuing on to comic features. Stewart, who is due to retire and move on to filmmaking, touched on a number of issues in his five minute address, which has since trended worldwide on Twitter.

It’s no secret the US has struggled for decades with gun laws, with mostly leftwing politicians calling for a ban on guns, whilst mostly rightwing politicians defend their constitutional right to bear arms – a freedom originally intended to aid national defence in Revolutionary times.

Despite the late airing of the show social media was alight last night as hundreds of thousands of people shared and expressed support for the contents of the speech. But like Stewart many will be sceptical that anything will change in the wake of the murders, with a visibly exasperated president Barack Obama stating: “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Speaking about the shootings in the above clip, Stewart lambasted the “gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist”, and labelled the event a “terrorist attack”:

“If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism it would fit [into our narrative]. We invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives, and now fly unmanned death machines over, like, five or six different countries. [But] nine people. Shot in a church. What about that?”

The comedian then criticised American media outlets for their rhetoric surrounding the shootings, and accused them of downplaying the issue:

“I heard someone on the news say, ‘a tragedy has visited this church’. This wasn’t a tornado. This was racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.”

Yet despite Obama’s point about “other advanced countries”, the allegedly racist attacks also hold up an uncomfortable mirror to an increasingly nationalistic Britain. Last election Ukip surged in popularity, becoming the third largest party in terms of votes. Though the issues may seem disparate, they are anything but – nationalism left unchecked, leads to racial division.

As former leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg pointed out several times in his election campaign, nationalist rhetoric draws heavily on a culture of fear and blame. This continues to be prevalent in British politics, which is wrangling with questions over immigration and the integration of ethnic minorities, in the wake of both Europe’s immigration crisis and the increasing number of people travelling to Syria to join Islamic State.

There is also seemingly an increase racial and religious hate crimes in Britain, which has seen a 5 percent increase throughout the last year, according to the Home Office, with incidents happening on our transport systems as well as on the streets.

If the Left doesn’t continue to challenge xenophobia and Islamophobia surrounding political discourse in Britain, we risk inviting an equivalent of the Charleston murders on ourselves. The columnist Katie Hopkins has nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter despite accusations of hate speech. Mosques have already been attacked and defaced. The question is: how far away is the UK the US?

Header Image – Screengrab from The Daily Show.

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