As It Happened …

A letter to the Travellers’ Solidarity Network.

By George Monbiot, published on www.monbiot.com, 10th January 2013.

Dear Travellers’ Solidarity Network,

You have made some grave allegations about me on the grounds of a radical misinterpretation of an article I wrote. It is hard to understand how you could have misread it so badly, but I’m prepared to believe it’s an honest mistake.

You accuse me, among other faults, of “racism”; of “imply[ing] that all Travellers are stupid and bestial”; of believing that it’s impossible to be “open-minded about Travellers”; of constructing “a generalisation of Travellers”; of “serv[ing] to criminalise an entire group of people”; of “encourag[ing] the perception that all Travellers are thieves”; of “delegitimis[ing] reports by Travellers of police violence; of turning the victim into the accused”; of seeking revenge and of acting maliciously.

These are extremely serious charges, and I would have hoped that, for the sake of your own credibility if nothing else, you would have ensured that they were well-supported before making them. I challenge you to show where I have said or implied any of these things. Your account of the story I wrote is pure fiction.

My views of the situation concerning travellers are contained in the following articles, and they have not changed since I wrote them:

http://www.monbiot.com/1995/05/15/britains-cultural-cleansing/

http://www.monbiot.com/1999/11/04/criminally-different/

http://www.monbiot.com/2003/11/04/acceptable-hatred/

I have long argued against the kind of racism, generalisation and persecution of which you are accusing me. However, I do not accept that this defence must extend to pretending that all travellers are at all times virtuous. Nor do I believe it trumps the duty to tell a story truthfully and well.

What I described was exactly what happened. I made no generalisations, no implications, no comments on travellers at all – except one: “Travellers … were often – and for good reason – wary of telling people much about their lives.” My article sought to make no points, draw no lessons, extract no morals. It was an account of a remarkable coincidence – nothing more, nothing less. What you read into it simply was not there.

I see the man I met as part of life’s rich tapestry, and have no malice or feelings of revenge towards him. After I lost my coat, I bought a new one of the same kind; it wasn’t expensive. Every community contains a wide range of characters, and it seems to me that travellers are no different in this respect from anyone else. I made no claim to the contrary.

When I first read your response, it struck me as so crazy that it was not worth answering. But it has been picked up by other people and circulated online, and has become the basis of a new tranche of hatemail. You have made some very serious false accusations and attacked someone who has a long history of support for your cause on an entirely groundless basis. I am writing to ask you to put the record straight. At the very least I’d ask you to publish this letter on your website.

Yours Sincerely,

George Monbiot

Sadly the Travellers’ Solidarity Network would not publish my letter. Instead it took the opportunity to launch another attack.

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