Joan Smith: Who cares if Eminem is an artist? He's an insult to women

Suppose a white rap star fantasised about killing black women
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The Independent Online

The numbers are incredible: in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, just south of El Paso, Texas, more than 340 women and girls have been murdered over a period of 12 years. This year 30 women, most of them poor working mothers, have been strangled, stabbed or beaten to death - a third were also raped or subjected to some form of sexual assault - yet the authorities insist that the crimes are not the work of a serial killer or killers.

After a period in which the Mexican government attracted international opprobrium for its failure to protect women, Chihuahua state prosecutors now claim some success, saying they have charged suspects in 80 per cent of the murders committed in Ciudad Juarez this year. They also say that most of the killings fit a pattern of "domestic or interfamily violence", throwing a harsh light on everyday life in this City of Murdered Women.

According to Amnesty International, which sent a delegation to Chihuahua earlier this year, what is happening in northern Mexico is a symptom of "an epidemic of violence against women around the world". This isn't to suggest that men are not victims as well, as the convictions of two people for the racist murder of a young man in Liverpool demonstrate. But there are special features to the problem of violence against women, one of which has been highlighted by a murder trial in this country. Jagdip Najran, a 26-year-old law student, was savagely killed in May last year by Christopher Duncan, 21, who idolised the American rap star Eminem.

Ms Najran met Duncan at a karaoke evening a couple of weeks before her death and told friends she was excited about going to a pub to watch him perform. Duncan drank heavily while singing and dancing to Eminem songs, then took Ms Najran to his flat in Bethnal Green, east London, where he fractured her skull with a baseball bat and shut her in a suitcase. This ghastly sequence of events recalls the video of Eminem's song "Stan", in which the rapper fantasises about dumping his girlfriend's body in the boot of a car after killing her.

At the time he made the video, Eminem was the hottest property in rap; his fans were so entranced by the white working-class boy who had turned his troubled background into art that they made excuses for the fact that his music seethed with hatred and contempt for women. Can you imagine the outcry if a white rap star fantasised about killing black men or any other racial group? But Eminem's imagination confined itself to glorifying violence against women (and gay men, predictably). So his admirers fell over each other in their rush to defend him.

I'm not suggesting that a normal young man is likely to watch Eminem and turn into a vicious killer, although what happens when someone's inhibitions are loosened by alcohol and drugs - Duncan said he was high on ecstasy and LSD when he attacked Ms Najran - is another matter. I am saying that artists who glorify violence towards women contribute to a climate of ambivalence in which slapping a girlfriend, knocking a wife about, even a bit of sexual violence - she was drunk, m'lud, and asked for it - are regarded with a staggering degree of indulgence.

Don't ban these people. Challenge them. On Tuesday evening, I am joining Patrick Stewart and Jo Brand in an event in London organised by Amnesty, with the slogan "imagine a world... without violence against women". The death toll in Ciudad Juarez shows that the price of this casual, ubiquitous, culturally affirmed misogyny is something we can no longer afford.

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