margaret thatcher is dead,
and as can be expected, there is a lot of reaction to that news. there
is the normal expected reaction of the present british prime minister,
praising her achievements and her qualities. there are the tributes
from other leaders around the world. there are the expressions of grief
but there are also the
opposite: those who say they won't mourn her, those who are prepared to
review the severely negative impacts of her legacy, and those who are
actually celebrating her death.
about the latter, there has
been much righteous indignation, both from the left & the
right. it's considered in bad taste, nasty, disrespectful. even
criticism of her policies and her beliefs has been sidelined with a "we
shouldn't speak ill of the dead". even by those who fully understand
the effects of those policies and the
widespread suffering it has caused. even by those who sympathise with
the poor & dispossessed.
the celebrations and
reactions of glee reminded of similar reactions in iraq at the fall of
saddam hussein & in libya with the capture & death of
muammar gaddafi. those pictures went around the world and we didn't see
too much criticism about such celebrations being disrespectful or
nasty. the overwhelming opinion appeared to be that people were right
to celebrate the removal of a tyrant, and that it's ok to be happy about
the death of someone who had caused so much harm.
was a similar, pretty global, reaction to the death of osama bin
laden. a lot of the reaction was of a celebratory nature.
yet a similar reaction by
people who directly experienced the tyranny of ms thatcher's policies is
getting a completely different reaction.
i can say that i was never supportive of celebrations of death - for example, see here and here.
i felt pretty much the same when saddam hussein was hanged &
no, i don't think actually celebrating margaret thatcher's death is a
good idea. it's possible that some of those who are against the
celebration of ms thatcher's death were also against the celebration of
the deaths of these others i have named. but the majority of people who
have been complaining today are showing an appalling double standard -
cheering the death of some but not accepting that others would cheer the
death of a british leader for similar reasons.
but this notion of not
speaking ill of the dead, i have a different view about that. i think
there is a public good over-ride to that rule, and particularly when
someone has had such an overarching influence on a global scale. i
think people should have to live with the consequences of their legacy,
that the pain they left behind should be remembered at the time of their
death. i don't think it's right that their history should be described
in glowing terms in the first few days after their death, thereby
making it difficult to correct later on. especially in a world where
every record is more or less permanent.
this sentiment was best expressed by the widely-shared glenn greenwald piece in the guardian:
This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's
death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill
of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it
is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure,
particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power.
"Respecting the grief" of Thatcher's family members is appropriate if
one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the
protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse
about the person's life and political acts. I made this argument at
length last year when Christopher Hitchens died and a speak-no-ill rule
about him was instantly imposed (a rule he, more than anyone, viciously
violated), and I won't repeat that argument today; those interested can
read my reasoning here.
strongly recommend reading the piece with his "reasoning", where he
talks about the events after ronald reagan's death and makes the
How they are remembered is not strictly a matter of the sensitivities of
their loved ones, but has substantial impact on the culture which
discusses their lives. To allow significant political figures to be
heralded with purely one-sided requiems — enforced by misguided (even if
well-intentioned) notions of private etiquette that bar discussions of
their bad acts — is not a matter of politeness; it’s deceitful and
propagandistic. To exploit the sentiments of sympathy produced by death
to enshrine a political figure as Great and Noble is to sanction, or at
best minimize, their sins. Misapplying private death etiquette to public
figures creates false history and glorifies the ignoble.
than this, it's disrespectful of all the people who have suffered and
continue to suffer because of the political decisions of the deceased.
to sideline that suffering is to hide it at the time when there is the
greatest opportunity to highlight the consequences of the deceased's
actions. while we are ready to consider the pain of the family of the
deceased, why should we not equally be willing to openly acknowledge the
pain of thousands, sometimes millions of others, those who were
innocent and hurt through no fault of their own, but only because they
had the misfortune to be born in place and time when the deceased had
power over them?
the only final point i want
to make here is one that is being made across many feminist blogs around
the world in regards to ms thatcher, and one that is continuously made
regarding any number of women: disagreeing with her politics is ok,
attacking her for being a woman is really not ok. there is no need to
call her a witch, or any other gendered insult. to do so harms all
women, not just this one woman. after all, there is plenty to criticise
about her policies, beliefs and actions.
regardless of that, i do not
rejoice at her death. i don't wish hell for her or for any other
person. i do wish that she is remembered accurately, which includes all
the negative aspects as well. RIP margaret thatcher.