COMMENT

It could all, of course, have been otherwise.

The crowds outside the Los Angeles courtroom tensely awaiting the verdict might have been, not 'representatives of the Afro-American community' seeking justice for a whole enslaved race, but delegations from every women's organization the length and breadth of the United States.

Like the black supporters of O.J. Simpson, they too would have been looking for the vindication of a class - the class of women oppressed by the patriarchalism of the ages - their anger focussed on an icon of the oppressor, a possessive wife-beater with blood on his hands (or at least on his gloves).

When Jimmy Cochran (one of the most expensive examples of an enslaved minority America has yet produced) denied playing the race card and claimed that race was an inescapable issue in every aspect of life, he was telling only half the truth. The whole truth is far more sinister. The United States, claims Charles J. Sykes in his best selling book of 1992, is "A Nation of Victims", a society in which the lecture-room Marxism of the politically correct has distorted the very perception of justice, and placed a moratorium on blame.

Sykes's case is clear: to be acquitted in an American court of law you had better play the Victim card. There is, of course, a wide range of available options - abused child, battered wife, sexually harassed female, illegal Hispanic, or native American. But be warned before you begin: the game is not without risk. It is not a free-for-all, and is played according to a shifting schedule of rules. The one current rule (as Judge Lance Ito will tell you) is that Race trumps the pack.

Gratifyingly for some (and in strict accordance with the principles of the American Constitution) there is apparently no distinction in these matters between Church and State. Caught red-handed smoking crack cocaine, the Mayor of Washington, Marion Barry, claimed to be a victim of racism; caught defrauding the Episcopal Church of $2.2 million, its national Treasurer pleaded the 'hurt' she had felt at the treatment meted out to a professional woman in a male-dominated world; asked to accept responsibility for his own misjudgement in appointing a Treasurer who was both inefficient and criminal, the Presiding Bishop dwelt on his feelings of having been 'abused' by one in whom he had placed trust.

A 'Nation of Victims' is at one and the same time the Therapeutic Society. By an inexorable process, crime is redefined as 'sickness' and punishment is reinterpreted as 'therapy'. Feelings of guilt (the internal awareness of mis-doing) are reclassified as 'anxiety'; and for repentance is substituted a process of 'analysis' and self- understanding. In all of this the individual is submerged: first of all in the victim group to which he or she inevitably belongs, secondly by the army of well-meaning professionals from whose well- paid ministrations salvation is to be sought. The therapeutic society strangles the citizen and is the unwitting agent of mob rule. By a sort of Gresham's Law of victimization the false victim drives out the true and Nicole Brown Simpson's blood cries out from the ground for vengeance, but in vain.

That the trial of O.J. Simpson became the trial of the repulsive Furhman and the LAPD, bodes ill for America. Not because Furhman and his like deserve gentle treatment and public tolerance, but because the right to life of the individual citizen is the most sacred principle of law. In the case of murder that principle requires a culprit and a sentence. It requires that the fate of Nicole Simpson and Anthony Redman commands for the duration of the hearing the whole attention of the court.

In the wider court of history it might well be that that single moment of violence had a long gestation in the common life of an oppressed people. Behind it, the social analyst might well see the grim shadows of the slave ships, of police brutality, and of brave hopes eroded in grinding and needless poverty on the wrong side of the railway tracks. But those speculations are not the province of a court of law. If it belongs to the dignity of the citizen that an account is given of his or her passing, it is equally a part of that dignity that he or she is held in every sense to be individually responsible.

Victim solidarity is fickle and vindictive. The very 'community leaders' who rejoiced at Simpson's acquittal had been the most vociferous in denouncing his 'desertion' of the black community and adoption of a 'white' lifestyle and a white wife. America's most famous black man may yet live to rue his taste for leggy blondes. Victim solidarity makes equal and opposite heroes and so exacerbates social division. While one 'community' celebrated the deliverance of Lorraine Bobbitt, another granted her curtailed husband celebrity status. The feminist triumphalists may yet come to doubt, in her case or in Mike Tyson's, whether theirs was a victory at all.

Meanwhile the real victim is justice herself, whom American society seems intent on blinding in both eyes.

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