Trending on Change.org, and now joined by Avaaz, is a petition urging the Home office to deny a visa to Julien Blanc, euphemistically described as a ‘dating coach’. He travels the world charging extortionate sums of money running boot camps on "How To Destroy Her Bitch Shield" and train men into tricking women into having sex with them. Even the use of the term ‘boot camp’ with all its associations of military rigour feels offensive. He tweets pictures of himself with his hand around women’s throats using the hashtag #ChokingGirlsAroundThe World which says it all. The mildest statement on his website, Pimp, describes women as meat by referring to them as ‘game’ and encourages punters to sign up to his courses ‘With live infield demostration (sic) of what good game actually looks like …right on your computer.’ It is nothing short of revolting.
At the time of writing, the Change petition has collected over 150k signatures and the Avaaz petition over 125K. I will not be signing these petitions, however. I have much sympathy with the anger driving this campaign, but is this strategy the correct one? The dangers of clicktivism lie not in its minimum energy - maximum change approach to changing the world, but in our sometimes hasty response to events when faced with a barrage of emails. I have done it myself only to reconsider my original decision when the issue is debated further in the public realm. Caroline Charles who initiated the Change petition, using a pseudonym, writes in her (his?) letter to the Home Office, “We petition you to deny Julien Blanc a UK Visa when his tour reaches the UK in February 2015. He and his association - Real Social Dynamics - promote sexist, racist and criminal approaches to women.” The Avaaz petition describes Blanc as ‘an evangelist of rape culture and he's headed to the UK. His seminars glorify choking and coercing women into sex. Australia has already revoked his visa, and it is time the UK does the same. Call on the Home Office to deny this sexist snake oil salesman a UK visa!’
Should we be dealing with the likes of Blanc by using immigration laws that are racist? They have been constructed to exclude the ‘other’, the bogeyman who will steal our jobs, our benefits, bring dodgy political and religious beliefs with him and destroy ‘our way of life’. If we have opposed these laws because they are draconian and unjust, we should not legitimise them by using them selectively as and when it suits us.
Banning undesirables from entering the country or demanding a ban has a long history: surprisingly, attracting support from progressive forces and, not so surprisingly, from reactionary forces. Most people have been excluded on grounds of ‘having engaged in unacceptable behaviour’, either for ‘glorifying terrorist violence’ or ‘for fostering racial hatred which might lead to inter-community violence’. Infamous names included people like Robert Mugabe, Omar Bakri, Geert Wilders (although he won on appeal) and Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
When Mike Tyson, the boxer and convicted serial rapist, was due to travel to the UK in 2000, some feminists mounted a legal challenge against the government’s decision to grant him a visa. The challenge failed but black feminists had opposed that strategy, arguing that a more effective way to draw attention to the issue of violence against women was to mount pickets outside his boxing matches. We have to beware the unintended consequences of our actions. We need to make sure that we do not use arguments that undermine other campaigns or are based on questionable values.
For ten years, Narendra Modi, current Prime Minister of India, who was held responsible for the worst massacre of Muslims in recent times, was banned from entering the UK. When the ban was lifted and Modi was invited by Labour MP, Barry Gardiner, to visit the UK in light of India’s growing business importance to Britain and the strong possibility of a Modi win, an Early Day Motion (EDM) to re-institute the ban was tabled in November 2013. The EDM was supported by such progressive Labour MPs as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, both of whom are otherwise vocal critics of UK’s immigration system. Groups like South Asia Solidarity Group, supported by Southall Black Sisters (SBS), were critical of the call to deny Modi a visa and organised a demonstration instead outside Gardiner’s office to draw attention to his record. SBS was in favour of allowing Modi into the country and arresting him under international law for crimes against humanity, in the way that Pinochet’s arrest in 1998 made headlines and brought his record of brutal dictatorship to public scrutiny once again. In the end, Modi cried off saying his schedule would not allow him time to visit the UK.
If we are not to use visas to deal with undesirables, what other means are available to us? Although there is no specific legislation covering incitement to sexual violence, it may be possible to charge Julien Blanc with offences committed under the Public Order Act 1986 which ‘make it an offence for a person to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress’ or the Serious Crime Act 2007 in which someone commits ‘an offence if they engage in an activity that encourages or assists the commission of an offence.’ Although there have been very few prosecutions under these laws and civil liberty campaigners are cautious about too many restrictions on free speech, it would be a better way to draw attention to the serious side-effects of Blanc’s boot camps. Even if legal action were to fail, it would send out a strong and more informed message about the limits of tolerable behaviour.
We know this world of predatory men exists because we see the effects of this everywhere in the sexism and sexual violence that women face on a daily basis. We could also use our consumer power to deny such men mainstream platforms – like the success of the campaign against Dapper Laughs, who also dishes out advice on how to ‘pull the birds’, which led to ITV cancelling his second series. Even ‘respectable’ magazines like GQ and relatively ‘mainstream’ figures like Rod Liddle are at it. Writing as an agony uncle in the January 2014 issue, Liddle considers a reader’s complaint that his girlfriend’s left breast exploded and coated the carpet in ‘what appeared to be semi-digested cheese-flavoured Doritos’. He asks if it his responsibility to pay for the repair as it was he who had paid for the initial enlargement especially as he was thinking of dumping her anyway. Liddle responds with presumably a fabricated case in which a woman successfully sues her boyfriend when the bum he had bought her deflated and left her trapped on the toilet and advises, ‘I would get her another botch job at Baps-U-Like, bin her and leave the country.’ Is this what passes for humour? Do men find this funny?
We must use every tool in our box to drive men like Julien Blanc into dark sweaty corners that don’t see the light of day: online and onstreet campaigns that make a vociferous case against them; innovative ways of using the law; and consumer power.
But let's not try to correct this wrong with another wrong - using unjust immigration rules to support a just case.