Thursday, 26 February 2009

Lord Ahmed- Why Labour’s search for ‘forced’ minority representation is shown to be flawed by the peer.

This week Lord Ahmed was imprisoned for dangerous driving. Though his imprisonment may have been caused by his pushing buttons on his mobile-phone; he has in the past committed far graver offences against Parliament. Recently, he, inadvertently or not, attempted to create a possible mass public order offence, by stating that the presence of a Dutch MP would be met by something akin to muslim riots. Benjamin D’Israeli once set a bench-mark for decency in politics when he said: ‘I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many of the prejudices of the few’. Lord Ahmed has a lot to learn on that front, for he was doing quite the opposite. Perhaps, he felt that his own position was unsafe unless he was out slaying the myriad phantoms of discontent in his head. Through his visceral and ill-reflective manner of debate, he encouraged feelings of disenchantment amongst a few of the muslim community, rather than sought to reduce their fears and search for national and community solidarity. Instead of encouraging muslim vigilance and toleration when Geert Wilders MP was invited he was far too quickly and thoughtlessly up in arms ‘crying havoc'. He thus lost an opportunity to show those of us that are non-muslims and are sceptical about peaceful co-existence with Islamic communities that they are wrong, and that their fears are unfounded. His response was thus lacking in sound judgment and deliberation, questioning as to how much the Government had pondered a possible ‘band-wagon approach’ problem on appointment. His approach was particularly questionable as he himself had allowed a book-launch by a supposed anti-semite, Israel Shamir, in the Lord’s. This picking and choosing of speakers palatability belies a want of understanding of the importance of freedom of speech and intimates an agenda. It also indicates that this is perhaps not a man necessarily to be trusted with his self-appointed representation of British muslims.

There is also a graver and more worrying political issue here. Lord Ahmed became the Lord’s first Muslim Life Peer in 1998, a part of Blair’s search for minority representation in politics. This is a product of recent postive discrimination drives in political appointments, demonstrating the flaws in this unfair approach. Unfair, as it not only pushes out other candidates on the basis of background, but also deleterious as the better candidate is often marginalised. This positive discrimination approach can thus weaken the institution of appointment, as persons are chosen on representation as opposed to calibre. This problem is acute in other areas of appointment, including employment, which suffers from the malaise of interference by so called anti-discrimination laws. It may not be as clear a problem in political appointment to the Lords, which has much more to do with the current shambolic system of appointment to the upper chamber based on party whim. Positive discrimination encourages and re-inforces differences through unfair selection (a non-muslim, non-ethnic minority is thus not picked)that different racial and religious communities need their own representative factions in politics. This undermines the spirit of a singular national identity. Thus forced categorised representation enforces an existing divide that at present feasibly separates communities. We should, of course, be endeavouring to do the opposite. Simply put a policy that seeks a fair representation of ethnic and other minorities can also be harmful to community cohesion. Further, there is at present, perhaps, too much a drive for fair representation, that may leave such appointment processes open to abuse. Not all of our politics are such that we feel only comfortable if there are those from our own superficial ethnic sub-divisions in charge. Some of us, would rather choose someone more able from another back-ground, race or gender in positions of influence if it is in the best-interests of our country. In this spirit, the better of us may even prefer to elect those whom we do not like and those that also dislike us. A similar unfairness exists in the promotion of women over men, though unlike racial, ethic or relgious promotion it does not necessarily come with the same cost of community cohesion.

APG Pandya.

(The Birkenhead Society. The Birkenhead Society does not accept legal responsibility for the factual content or accuracy of its blog or website).

Friday, 13 February 2009

'Golliwog'- All those that are offended please apologise

Over the last two weeks the story of Carol Thatcher's comment has been drizzled over the press like some overdone and excessively ascerbic vinegrette that often, inadvertently, floods one's caesar salad due to the chef's recklessness. Though foul tasting it might seem to some of us, at least to others, in taste, it may be rather quite different. The point being that offence is very much a matter of personal sensitivity and emotional sensibility, as opposed to something that one can have a fixed judgment on, say like rape. Further proscribing those that express themsleves in the way they wish to is an attack on liberty, as the freedom of choice of expression is very much a part of a human's personal autonomy, and thus dignity. To excoriate people for the intolerance of others, would create a nation in which relations between people were based on of mistrust of one another, if not fear. A nation that censures those who wish to express themsleves using a golliwog against political correctness, rather than an attack on race, is a mark of an intolerant nation.

Personally, I laughed. I told my uncle (who, like myself, has a rather dark complexion) that she was specifically referring to him. As a chair of a free-speech society my intuition was, of course, surprisingly rather different. But who would honestly not be embarresed by being offended by such a comment- it would be child like, surely? We Brits, we take it on the chin. Reading the papers day after day, I was looking for a list of apologies for those who were willing to own up to their childish reaction of 'I am offended'. But none was forthcoming.

The immaturity was put forward by those I expected. Some of the coloured lot of our society for starters (who seem to be suffering from some bout of self-induceable post-colonial race complex) and some left-leaning, quasi-liberal apologists. The rants of the former went along the following lines: That their forefathers had been slaves or governed by force or some other irrelevant and illogical gibberish, thus 'How could she?' 'Are you a slave?'I thought- then grinned, realising that, of course, another more subtle slavery was at work. This was the limit of a human mind that could only digest what it was not senstive to. What I would term 'obtuse perception'. It should become a psychiatric's diagnosis. 'I cannot accept this idea, or thought or speech as it makes me uncomfortable'- a fortiori, I am a child. Please treat me as one; censor all that affects me. And if that is the truth' well- who cares?' I'd rather not know than be offended. Of course, I am making a leap here, that between a statement or a piece of speech and an opinion. But are they so disparate? Does one not follow from the other? And if so, is to censor one not to censor the other? Since when has the nation of ideas and enlightenment become the nation of visceral censorship? We are, dangerously, heading that way. The decision of the Home Secretary to ban Geert Wilder, yesterday, is another example of this. We ban to stop people from being offended. We thus treat them like children, and the state then moves into that dangerous corridor when it can control ideas and opinion by approval or disapprobation. We need to treat both of these instances with more care and think deeply about the implications of this approach. Once we move into the realm of offence and violence, we move away from discussion and Parliamentary democracy and into the breakdown of the rule of law. In this only might is right, by virtue of offence, and those that are liberal and mature in their outlook with more reflective views get pushed on the way-side. With the loss of ideas becomes the loss of thought that can be valuable to our nation as a whole. For this reason we should preserve our hard fought freedom of speech with absolute rigidity-it is the catalyst that makes Parliamentary democracy (Government by choice and election) function. I would thus urge for those who are offended to grow up and apologise, as there is something more at stake here than their selfish, visceral sensitivities.

(Copyright Birkenhead Society).