|Montreal, February 7, 2004 / No 137|
by Ralph Maddocks
Perhaps one of the most sphincter shriveling words found in the dictionaries of the politically correct of today's world is the word racist. According to most dictionaries, although the term could not be found in mid-20th century dictionaries, a racist is defined today as someone who believes that other races are not as good as their own and thus treats them unfairly. It is a word which comes in very useful if one is part of the politically correct cohort.
Many in the chattering classes see racism everywhere, but very often it seems to be a term applied only to those people whose skins are white, and very rarely does one find it applied to the utterances of those not so unfortunate. Racism has become such a cause for the left that some countries such as Canada have laws against hate speech rendering it unlawful to make public statements that willfully promote hatred against an identifiable group distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin. Concurrently though we have also the right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It used to be understood that free speech was anything that didn't physically hurt others. We didn't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, unless there really was a fire of course. Truth was important and we believed, as John Stuart Mills argued, that one should not suppress speech on the grounds that it is immoral, shocking, unorthodox, or heretical and especially not simply because it is false. Later came libel and slander, where words could affect one's ability to make a living or to move freely about the world. Yet again truth won out – if you called someone a thief and could prove it – you went free.
A recent student organized conference on Palestinian solidarity in Toronto originally required its participants to agree to a six-point "basis of unity" which would have excluded persons with dissenting views. The university cancelled the conference until the unity statements were made voluntary, but caved in subsequently and allowed the conference to proceed. The Al-Awda student organization held its Palestinian Solidarity Conference at the University of Toronto's St. George campus, an event attended by some 60 people. As one of its key principles, Al-Awda supported "the right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli apartheid and colonialism by the means of their choosing," as opposed to the original version which read "by any means of their choosing." Attendees still had to sign a form acknowledging that the conference was being planned "in a manner which is consistent" with the organizers' principles, including the provision on the "right to resist." Quite paradoxically, compared to this approval of violence, at the bottom of the registration form there appeared a contradictory declaration stating that "the conference organizers do not advocate the use of violence against civilian populations."
Reports of the meeting noted that throughout the conference, the speakers on the panel gave elusive and inconsistent messages on this issue. One conference organizer responding thus to a question from the media about whether the group endorsed terrorist attacks against Israel. "In a situation of oppression," he was reported to have said, "anyone has the right to resist oppression," adding that resistance is "necessary" in order to defeat oppression. He pointed out how "violence has been used to achieve positive goals," using the case study of Algeria to demonstrate how violent means were used to fight French colonialisation. In another example, found by many in the audience to be offensive, the panelist cited "Jewish resistance" to the Nazi occupation of Europe. His view that, "If they are using means that harm civilians, then we can pass judgment on those means without passing judgment on the right to resist." demonstrated the kind of doublespeak so often employed in these kinds of conferences.
In British Columbia, a small Muslim newspaper, The Miracle, with a circulation of under 3,000, has found itself in the midst of a big battle. The paper's editor, Nusrat Hussain, stands accused of publishing hate material in the form of reprinting an article by a US author – known for his anti-Semitic views – which accuses Jews of faking the Holocaust and starting the Second World War among a lengthy catalogue of alleged Jewish misdeeds. It is an article which the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) says is anti-Semitic and thinks the editor should face criminal charges for publishing it. The editor though is unapologetic and says, "If I have to defend myself I will defend myself." If this alleged hatred of Jews is, as claimed, truly criminal, will we not also have to outlaw the New Testament and the Koran as well as a major section of English literature including works by Dickens, Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot, etc.?
From that ever active laboratory of the politically correct, Mr. Blair's Cool Britannia, we have seen recently several examples of the complexities which adherence to this philosophy brings. The most recent occurrence was in a trial in which the Bank of England is being sued by the liquidator of BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) a bank which it may be recalled collapsed in 1991 owing more than £6 billion to some 30,000 depositors in 69 countries. The action being brought now on behalf of 6,500 UK-based depositors, after several prior investigations and actions against the B of E by various groups failed, is a suit for about £1 billion for "knowingly or recklessly" failing in its supervisory role. The connection to racism has to do with the mention, in a memo written in 1978 by a senior B of E official, of the word "wogs" to describe overseas bankers. Counsel for the liquidator bringing the case submitted a draft memorandum from the B of E to banking supervisors and banks around the world which carried an annotated remark criticising the jargon used in the memo as "Bankese which might puzzle the odd wog." For younger readers the word wog (wily, or sometimes westernised, oriental gentleman) came into use during the latter part of the 19th century, being applied to clerks in the Indian sub-continent. In Australia a "wog" is slang for a bug (as in bacteria) or a pain in the stomach but it is obvious from the memo quoted that the term was not being used in its Australian sense.
The B of E has argued that it did not properly regulate BCCI because the latter was incorporated in Luxembourg. The odour of racism has hung over the closure of the Pakistan-funded BCCI ever since the Bank of England shut it down in 1991. Tens of thousands members of the Anglo-Asian community were BCCI depositors and there were questions at the time as to whether the B of E should have acted to close down a bank in such a way. Finally, when the magnitude of the corruption at BCCI did emerge, the B of E came under criticism again, this time for not closing it down earlier! Many people believe that the B of E's delay in taking action against a bank used by so many Anglo-Asians was precisely because they did not wish to be accused of being racist. Yet another example of the perils implicit in trying to be politically correct.
Until the first Race Relations Act was passed in the UK, English law did not include motive as part of an offence. Now we read of a teacher being charged with "religiously aggravated assault." The case, which is still unresolved at this time, turns upon the alleged actions of a teacher who, irritated by a pupil's slowness in removing a black head scarf tugged at it herself and in so doing scratched the pupil's chin. The teacher was not objecting to the pupil's wearing of the "hijab" but to the fact that it was not the grey uniform one. The religious element has to do with a comment the teacher, who denies it, allegedly made, namely, "Doesn't your religion teach you any respect? Would you look at your father like that? The amount you respect Allah is the amount I respect my shoe. Islam is a big joke."
Some might object to the idea that all religions should be respected by all. The implication being that unbelievers should never be able to criticise that in which they do not believe. Indeed some among us may even regard any or indeed all religions as being total nonsense. It becomes clear then that, by following this line of reasoning, any criticism of any religion – even if it is criticism of irrational conduct displayed by a particular religion's adherents – may be suppressed by the state as being "religiously aggravating." The coffin of free expression has just had another nail driven into it. The above case does pose an interesting dilemma for the PC ruling class though, because the accused teacher is black. Perhaps the "legal reasons" being given for delaying the trial have to do with finding a solution to this predicament.
One of the organisations a person would come into contact with if sentenced for some offence in the UK would be the Probation Service, populated by members of the powerful National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO). One of its activities has seen NAPO campaigning for prisoners to have the right to vote. As in this country, they appear to hold the view that convicted thieves and murderers have a legitimate role in deciding how their country is governed. For centuries, the view has been that part of the punishment of a convicted person was the temporary deprivation of civil rights, and I have never understood why Canada had to lead the way in abolishing the concept. Not content with that, NAPO has other kinds of ideological axes to grind. Claiming that it was "sexist," the union covered the naked breasts of statues decorating the platform at their 1990 Annual Conference at the Brighton Dome. Their 1993 Annual Conference was to have been held at Bridlington in Yorkshire but was moved because the resort was considered by them to be "racist and heterosexual!"
The Merseyside Probation Service even offered financial compensation and a formal apology to a convicted criminal for his "hurt feelings" after the offender complained that their probation report suggesting a long prison sentence had caused him to experience a "high anxiety level" as he waited to be sentenced. In an unprecedented example of irony, at its 1995 Annual Conference NAPO expelled members of the Probation Service Christian Fellowship because, when asked by the Lesbian and Gay Group where they stood on homosexuality, they said that they accepted the teachings of the bible. The union justified their religious discrimination by claiming that such beliefs are homophobic. However, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Hindus, who similarly condemn homosexual practice, were not expelled, presumably because to do so could have been condemned as racist. Judging from this we can conclude that NAPO is ready to protect the religious freedom of all except Christians. The incomparable irony in all this is that the Probation Service was founded by Christians.
The union is not the only exponent of the climate of political correctness permeating the entirety of the Probation Service. An account of anti-racism transcending natural justice involved a young black female probation officer reporting a well-respected, experienced and senior probation officer for "treating her in a racist manner." At the disciplinary hearing, the then Chief Probation Officer of the district denied the defendant's representative the right to cross examine the complainant saying he was not prepared to allow her to suffer such an ordeal. In this act the Chief Probation Officer was supported by the chairman and other members of the local Probation Committee. As a final blow, the defendant's representative was refused any help with his protest by his own legal department.
Many of us would believe that the most significant symbol of a liberal society would be its toleration of offensive views, even though a balance needs to be struck between the defence of free speech and the protection of a minority which may be vulnerable. This involves though a precarious kind of high-wire balancing act and the growing hysteria regarding prejudice and discrimination is so thunderous that this frail balance has now been upset perhaps permanently. Voltaire's saying: "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it," is no longer being observed as we see examples of offensiveness increasingly criminalized. What we are seeing created is a culture of victimhood whose members apparently cannot do wrong so that anyone accusing them of it is immediately assumed to be guilty of prejudice.
One of the best publicised rows of recent times was the furor over the words of a former MP, BBC personality and writer, Robert Kilroy-Silk, who on 4 January re-ran in the Sunday Express a piece entitled, "We owe Arabs nothing," which he had published first in April 2003. In it he referred to Arabs (the earlier article had said "Arab states") as "suicide bombers, limb amputators [and] women oppressors." In a display of no little ignorance he also asked what contribution Arab countries have made to "the welfare of the rest of the world?" A remark which caused many commentators to answer him immediately with statements along the lines of: "Man's first written word, maths, science and medicine." In another display of lack of knowledge he also said that one such Arab state, Iran, is a "vile, terrorist-supporting regime." Someone should have told him that just possibly they may be all those things, but they are most definitely not an Arab state.
Immediately the article drew the ire of the Commission for Racial Equality which sent the article to the police claiming it to be a case of incitement to racial hatred. His employer, that monument to freedom of speech, the BBC, showing itself to be both mean and censorious, collapsed under the pressure to stop its presenters from saying anything offensive about a religion, or its adherents, and suspended him. As with so many other British institutions, the BBC is terrified of being accused of Islamophobia, of being even remotely associated with the merest criticism of Islam and its followers. In today's multicultural, pluralist, free speech loving Britain, ridiculing religion is frowned upon. Worse, causing offence or undermining the self-esteem of a community is a major sin. So whatever you might think of the man's views, we see again the notion that religious beliefs, or anything else, should be above criticism for fear of upsetting people.
The story has not ended yet as presumably the police continue their inquiries. However, although his remarks wrongly generalised about all Arabs and betrayed ignorance of Arab culture, the nucleus was a series of truths about the murderous and repressive trends in many Arab states. The CRE seems to assume that most listeners and readers are uneducated and uninformed and likely to be unable to distinguish between opinion and fact. As the Chairman of the CRE said, "[I]ts main effect will be to give comfort to the weak-minded, given the extreme and violent terms in which Kilroy-Silk has expressed himself, there is a danger that this might incite some individuals to act against someone who they think is an Arab." Interestingly, Mr. Ibrahim Nawar, the head of Arab Media Watch, said he agreed with much of what Mr. Kilroy-Silk had said, that he was right about the oppressive policies in the Arab world, and that his treatment was very worrying because it meant censorship was taking place in the liberal west. How ironic it is when an Arab gentleman feels obliged to defend western tolerance while the BBC was busy destroying it.
The racial composition of the UK Commission for Racial Equality may be of interest to readers. The organisation's employees are approximately 60% black, 20% Asian and 20% white. This compares to the racial composition of the general UK population, which is 3% black, 5% Asian and 92% white. In addition, the CRE has commissioners for Scotland and Wales but not for England. Thus, approximately 83% of the total population are denied the representation of their interests which is granted to the remaining 17%. Could this be the new mathematics of equality?
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