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The Danger of Demonizing Margaret Thatcher

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Is “Celebrating Margaret Thatcher's death: Utterly disgraceful, or totally justifiable?” asks The Week today.

The question comes amidst London street parties celebrating the former prime minister’s death. In response, there have been several critiques about these celebrations. For example, a Liberal Democrat MP, Stephen Williams, has been quoted saying that celebrating someone’s death is “entirely distasteful.”

In some ways, I agree. I find it to be eerie when people rejoice death. I’ll never forget getting text messages when Osama bin Laden was assassinated: “We did it! Bin Laden is dead!” And those awful, terrifying “U.S.A.!” chants and celebrations in front of the White House. People celebrated Hugo Chavez’s recent death, too. And though the politics of all three examples are vastly different, they are all people — and when we fail to humanize people (and instead claim them evil upon death), we fail to grasp the reality of how big a role society plays on those in power.

Glenn Greenwald wrote yesterday that the “demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's death is not just misguided but dangerous.” I completely agree. But I disagree on the premise of his piece, which suggests that it’s okay to completely trash Thatcher because she was a public figure, not a private individual. Ultimately, Greenwald and The Week are asking the wrong questions. Instead of arguing over whether it’s justifiable to critique Thatcher’s policies (which it certainly is), we should be asking how to most effectively issue this criticism.

Right now, what is most dangerous about some of the criticism of Thatcher is the attack on her person, instead of her policies. Yet, too often people (and especially the media) obscures the two. And although the personal and political may be impossible to separate, I believe an attempt to frame the criticism around her policies is more valuable. Now, I’m not trying to make Thatcher out to be innocent or completely clear her of her free will. But we have to realize her actions were brought about by a belief system. Although Thatcher may embody all the policies we hate, rejoicing her death, in some ways, makes it seem as though this system that sparked her policies is dead, too. And we must remember that, in the end, Thatcher was an agent of neo-liberal ideology — which is still very much alive.

For some, perhaps celebrating her death provides some cathartic relief to the damage her policies have caused. But I hope all those popping open bottles of champagne in Trafalgar Square this week will be there to protest austerity cuts, privatization, deregulation, etc. in the future.

Thus, instead of framing someone as a monster, let’s take the more courageous road and frame the ideology as monstrous. If we talk about Thatcher’s legacy in this way, we have a much better chance of really focusing on defeating the huge battle ahead of us.

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