Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Reading the Guardian’s press review of multiculturalism
, I was struck by the utter lack of self-awareness displayed by most of the columnists quoted in the review.
For example, the editorial in the Herald reads:
“In Britain ... there is almost a sense of embarrassment about our Britishness… It may all sound rather American but perhaps the time has come to abandon our usual British reserve about our own cherished values… it is time to accentuate our shared Britishness.”
So, let me get this straight. We accentuate our Britishness by abandoning one of our traditional national characteristics?
While the George Kerevan in the Scotsman writes:
“According to Mr Howarth - the hitherto faceless shadow defence spokesperson - those Muslims who object to the 'British way of life' should pack up and leave ... Even if we ignore Mr Howarth's synthetic political spleen, it is still a fair question to ask why anyone would want to stay here if they hate it so much that they want to set off random bombs on the London underground.”
Hang on just on second. Those who set of the bombs in London are, by definition (as the people who set off the bombs are now dead), not the same people as other Muslims who may object to our liberal values. Indeed, what we should point out is that it is not just radical Muslims who object to our liberal values, but mainstream politicians such as Mr Howarth. The response to Mr Howarth should be “why don’t you go and live in America?” given that, when faced with people who do not share his values, that appears to be the most complex and considered type of argument that he can muster.
All these calls to abandon traditional aspects of British tolerance are, necessarily, expressions of disdain for British society. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is not perfect – far from it – and we should be allowed to criticise it, even condemn it if we think it so bad. But it is an offence against reason to demand that those who condemn Britain and British values, previously tolerated by British society, should be criminalized, as the very nature of this argument demands that this criminalisation must be selective, allowing Howarth and Davis and other conservatives* to voice their displeasure with the values of Britain. Not only that, in calling for legal action to be taken they are implicitly calling for violent acts to be taken in the demolition of the British values of tolerance, though these violent acts will be undertaken by the police and security services.
Tony Blair, when he says that “the rules of the game are changing”, is an enemy of British values, by this simple-headed calculus. And indeed, he is an enemy of what I would hope would be the British values that are worth preserving. Why are the rules changing? Are we facing an existential threat? The answer to this question is, categorically, no. The rules are changing because he wants them to change, and we allow him to change them. I have been arguing for some time that while terrorists may kill a few people, the greater danger to our liberal, humane society is our own political class. There will not be Sharia law in Britain any time in the next few centuries, despite the rantings of some on the right/reactionary ‘left’. But the re/action of our own political class to the opportunities found in the fear created by terrorism may very well lead us down a nasty authoritarian path, from which there may be no turning back.
So I will ask again – these new terrorist laws that will make it an offence to indirectly incite violence, will they prohibit all indirect incitement equally? If it is to be on offence to say that a suicide bomber was a martyr, will it also be an offence to call for internment camps, for detention without trial, for torture, for war? These are far more direct incitements, and they are found everyday springing from the mouths and the media that align themselves with Tony Blair and ‘British values’. If those are British values, I spit on them.
*And also challenging ‘British values’ are those battling racism, those fighting for gay rights, equality for women, a more just distribution of wealth and so on.