All 2 entries tagged Boar
October 07, 2009
Writing about web page http://theboar.org/comment/2009/oct/5/illusion-freedom/
This is my article as published in the Boar of week 1 term 1 2009.
Two weeks ago Rowan Laxton, the head of the South Asia desk at the FCO, was found guilty of racially aggravated harassment. He was in a London gym watching a television report about the death of a farmer killed by Israeli bombs during the Gaza conflict when he exclaimed: “Fucking Israelis, fucking Jews.” It is also alleged that he said “If I had my way, the fucking international community should be sent in and if the Israelis got in the way, they’d be blown off the fucking earth.”
What he did was inappropriate and this is aggravated by the fact he is a diplomat. One would hope that Her Majesty’s representatives be able to express themselves in a more diplomatic manner. He should resign.
What Mr Laxton said is of absolutely no use to the debate about what Israel did in Gaza and it was not meant to be. As the judge said “it was an emotional reaction”.
He was convicted under the Criminal and Disorder Act 1998, one of the many Acts passed by New Labour relating to criminal justice. Here is how the Home Office summarises the law: “A crime will count as “racially aggravated” if it can be shown that it was motivated either wholly or partly by racism. A crime will also count as “racially aggravated” if it can be shown that – even though the motivation for the attack was not racist – racist hostility was demonstrated during the course of the offence or immediately before or after it.” A “racial group” is, for the purposes of the new offences, “a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins”. The Act does not cover religion but it “makes it clear that even where there is a religious element to a crime, so long as some part of the motivation is racial, the offence will count as a racially aggravated offence.” So shouting “fucking French” at me (I am French) even if your motivation is not “racist” (saying that French is a race would cause an outcry in France) counts as racially aggravated.
If your racially aggravated action happens to be considered harassment or “putting people in fear of violence” within the meaning of the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 (a New Labour law which has very often been used against peaceful protesters) then you would be, like Mr Laxton, guilty of “racially aggravated harassment”. In any event should the reasons why someone does something be relevant in convicting him?
I mentioned above that religious hatred was not covered by the Act. This is now the case thanks to Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. That act goes even further than the previous laws by its references to “threatening” words, behaviour, written material and public performance of a play.
In any event these laws will not defeat racism: the law cannot control what people think. They could even be counter productive.
These new laws reflect a very worrying development, the creation of a right not to be offended. This of course goes against free speech, which after all means not the right to express views you agree with but also views you wholeheartedly disagree with. It is essential that in a democratic society one should be able to offend.
It’s interesting to note the contrast between what happened with Mr Laxton and what happened in Sweden recently. A tabloid newspaper published an article claiming that Israeli soldiers had harvested the organs of some Palestinians whom they had shot. Within hours, Israel’s deputy foreign minister had denounced the article for racism and demanded that it be condemned by the Swedish government. However the Swedish foreign minster wrote on his blog that Israel wanted the Swedish government to distance itself from the article or take steps to prevent a replication, but that was not how the country worked. “Freedom of expression and press freedom are very strong in our constitution by tradition. And that strong protection has served our democracy and our country well”, he wrote. This robust defence of freedom of expression was endorsed by the prime minister.
It seems Britain is no longer the land of liberty it used to be.
January 22, 2009
This is a slightly different version of my comment published in The Boar of T2 wk3 08/09
George Orwell said the following about fascism:
“The word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else... almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’”.
The same is happening today with racism. The definition of the term is becoming increasingly wide.
In a private video three years ago Prince Harry referred to one of his Sandhurst colleagues as “our little paki friend...Ahmed”. He did not seem offended nor did he file a complaint. The video has now been made public and the use by Prince Harry of the “P-word” has caused a lot of negative reactions. Everyone from politicians to Muslim leaders condemned Prince Harry for what he said. It was racist and offensive they said.
Prince Harry used the term in an affectionate way. Paki is simply an abbreviation for Pakistani. It's true it has been used as a racist term. But this should not mean that every use of the term is racist. Racist individuals should not have the monopoly of using this word. Indeed, according to an article by the BBC, some young Pakistanis use it themselves. What is important is the context and the intention of the person using the word. “Filthy paki” is completely different from “my little paki friend”.
Those who label Prince Harry's action as “racist” contribute to the weakening of this word. This may eventually lead to taking all the power away from this word and making it a synonym of bully.
The use of a word may be offensive to some but this does not mean someone should be socially banned from using it. As Orwell said:
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Her Majesty and by extension the Royal family are a unifying figure in Britain (or at least they are supposed to be). They should not do anything which could be (mis)interpreted as being divisive. This is the reason why Prince Harry should have apologised and it is right that he did so. We should however bear in mind that this was a private video.
“Anybody who uses derogatory terms such as the 'P' word and other words are obviously from a different age. He is trying to portray this image of being caring like his mother, who was a great woman, or his father who's a person who's widely respected across the world. He's a thug.”
He later apologised for calling Prince Harry a thug. His emotions had got the better of him, according to the Times.
What is interesting to note is that his comments have drawn very little criticism. Is what Prince Harry has done so much worse than calling someone a thug? Or is it just political correctness?