More Muslim arrogance in Britain
A Muslim store worker refused to serve a customer buying a children's book on Christianity because she said it was "unclean". Shopper Sally Friday felt publicly humiliated at a branch of Marks & Spencer when she tried to pay for First Bible Stories as a gift for her young grandson. When she put the book on the check-out counter, the young assistant refused to touch it, declared it was unclean and summoned another member of staff to serve instead.
Mrs Friday said she was so upset that she has now complained to the store's management. Last night politicians and religious leaders supported her in condemning the high street giant and reigniting the debate over religious beliefs in the workplace. Conservative MP Philip Davies said the refusal to serve Mrs Friday, 69, was "unacceptable" and "damaging" to community relations.
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, described the assistant's comments as "offensive" and called for Marks & Spencer to carry out a thorough investigation.
Mrs Friday said her trip to the sales in Reading, Berks, with her daughter had been ruined. "I went to the till and heard the girl say it was unclean and then she got someone else to serve me," said Mrs Friday. "At first I wasn't sure what was going on and then I realised she was wearing a headdress and I clicked that the title of the book had Bible in it. I felt very humiliated and immediately left the store."
The Politics of Pigmentation
It wouldn't be Martin Luther King Day without some kind of racial dialogue, but the tiff between Democratic Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is especially instructive and ironic. While their substantive argument is ultimately pointless, it does help illustrate the perils of identity politics.
Last Monday, in response to Senator Obama repeatedly invoking the late civil rights leader on the campaign trail, Senator Clinton told an interviewer, "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . It took a President to get it done." Later on, in a separate interview, Bill Clinton didn't help his wife when he described a chunk of Senator Obama's record as a "fairy tale."
The Obama campaign took umbrage at Mrs. Clinton's perceived slight of King and Mr. Clinton's patronizing remark. So did other black Democrats. Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, who is part of the Democratic leadership in Congress, announced he was rethinking his neutral stance in South Carolina's crucial primary. Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic operative who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign, also rebuked the Clintons.
Team Clinton next accused their rival of playing the race card and called on black supporters to defend the record of the former President and first lady. At a Clinton campaign rally over the weekend, Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, coyly (and gratuitously) alluded to Mr. Obama's past drug use, which the Senator already acknowledged in a best-selling memoir. "Bill and Hillary Clinton . . . have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood," said Mr. Johnson. "And I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book." Mr. Johnson later said he was talking about Mr. Obama's civic work.
Let's leave aside how this exchange undermines each candidates' claims that he or she would unite the country rather than divide it like the "polarizing" President Bush. On the merits, Mrs. Clinton obviously is correct. It did take a President's signature to bring the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to fruition. And the idea that saying so takes anything away from King's legacy is absurd.
Were she a true uniter, however, Mrs. Clinton might have added that the Civil Rights Act took bipartisanship as well, thanks to fierce opposition from Southern Democrats. Republicans of that era are often portrayed as opponents of civil rights. In fact, a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the 1964 bill. And when it finally passed, GOP Senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader who worked closely with the bill's sponsor, Democrat Hubert Humphrey, was honored for his efforts with a NAACP civil rights award.
Democrats never miss an opportunity to play the race card against Republicans and even black conservatives like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who dare to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. So it's tempting to enjoy the political entertainment value of a race-based dust up between Senators Clinton and Obama.
But there's also a cautionary tale here in how identity politics can come back to bite. The left's color-by-numbers approach to attracting votes has essentially painted the Democrats into a corner, making it very difficult for them to prevail in national elections without winning nearly every black vote. The result is the very antithesis of what King fought for -- an over-reliance on blunt racial appeals instead of issues and ideas.
Throughout the campaign, Mrs. Clinton has led Mr. Obama among black voters, thanks mostly to name ID and her husband's popularity. With his victory in Iowa and close second in New Hampshire, Mr. Obama has started to cut into Mrs. Clinton's black support. With her remarks, she's now given him an opportunity to make further inroads. And as the fallout shows, she'll have to be very careful about pushing back on this front if she wants to keep black supporters from abandoning her en masse, not only now but in November when they could decide to stay home.
Britain: Risk assessment watchdog set up to halt march of the nanny state
A new bureaucracy to curb other bureaucracies? Spare us! Like Tony Blair, Brown seems to have a reasonable grasp of the problems but he errs in trying to solve them by bureaucratic means rather than by getting the bureaucracies out of the way and letting the market work its magic
Unnecessary warnings that bags of peanuts "may contain nuts" and overly protective rules banning conker fights in schools will be targeted by a new watchdog intended to restore Britain's spirit of adventure. Gordon Brown is so concerned that the cotton-wool culture is denying people the freedom to enjoy themselves that he has asked the watchdog to report to him personally.
The move comes after a festive season in which actors in pantomimes were banned from throwing sweets to children in case someone got hit on the head and Christmas lights were banned in towns and villages for fear that they might pull down lampposts. A Rotary club in the Midlands was even made to put its Father Christmas in a body harness in case he fell off his sleigh.
Last summer hanging baskets were banned in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in case they fell on the head of a passer-by, and home-made cakes were banned from a fete for fear that they might cause food poisoning.
There will be disappointment that Mr Brown's response to such killjoy acts is not to halve the number of health and safety officials or revise the hundreds of regulations introduced under this Labour Government. The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council has been set up in response to recommendations from the Better Regulation Commission that it has replaced.
The body for common sense will be set up alongside a national campaign to emphasise the importance of self- reliance and a sense of adventure. It is intended to engage the public, and remind them that the Government is not responsible for every accident or piece of bad fortune that befalls its citizens. The team of seven will tackle policy areas where there are fears that the Government is in danger of overkill.
Defensive labelling - of which the nut allergy warning on bags of peanuts is an example - is in its sights. Somewhat unnecessarily, the council says that such warnings are "laughable" and breed resentment. Also in line for scrutiny is whether the Government's response to obesity is in proportion to the problem.
The first project to be taken on by the council will look at the frenzy of government initiatives to tackle the MRSA superbug, to see if they are doing any good. Healthcare experts cast doubt this week on whether the most recent plan - a deep-clean of all hospitals announced by Mr Brown last autumn - would do any good.
Rick Haythornthwaite, who heads the council, has made his name and fortune out of the risk involved in investing in private equity. He told The Times that the combination of "well-intentioned people" and a policymaking process that "collapses in the face of a confrontational parliamentary system, the media and short-term career pressures" was responsible for the present culture of risk aversion. "If you ask someone, `Do you want the world to be a safer place?', of course they will say yes. But there is always a trade-off. Self-reliance and a spirit of adventure are important national characteristics that could be lost. I want the public to understand that in the trade-off, some important things can be lost." The key to challenging the killjoys was listen to the general public, he said.
Here We Go Round The Mulberry BUSH
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of articles have been written on President George Bush's visit to the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And not a single one that I've seen has mentioned the ridiculously obvious point that goes so far in explaining everything. To paraphrase the nursery rhyme about circling endlessly, Bush is merely taking us around the mulberry bush once more. Namely, this is an exact replay of Bill Clinton's presidency. Eight years ago, in his last twelve months in office, Clinton, too, decided that the conflict must be resolved right away. Result: total, humiliating failure and a five-year-long bloody Palestinian war on Israel.
As if this were not enough, whether or not even more violence will follow, Bush, through no fault of his own, is in a far worse position to play this game than was his predecessor. Let's compare these two cycles and see what should have been learned already. Perhaps, though I doubt it, the next administration will figure things out better.
In 2000, a seven-year-long peace process was due for completion. The Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank had been turned over to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Yasir Arafat. The PA had been given billions of dollars and military equipment, becoming a virtual client of the United States. Despite these efforts, there was anarchy in the PA-ruled territory, constant incitement to violence against Israel on the official news media, no psychological or ideological preparation of the Palestinians by their leadership for peace, and a massive wasting of funds.
Later, some analysts would explain away the failure by saying it was a mistake to force Arafat to the negotiating table for a decision. At the time, though, all one heard was how Arafat needed progress or he would lose control of his people and that the window of opportunity was closing. The U.S., Israeli, and European governments also wanted diplomatic progress for interests of their own. The result was not only the Camp David summit but also, and in some ways even more important, the Clinton plan that followed. The Palestinian leadership rejected both and instead opted for war.
Bush's new policy may be a big change for him but, after all, he is merely making the same analysis and offering the same terms as his predecessor. It was an understanding of what went wrong with Clinton's thinking and his generous bid--in part taught them by Clinton itself--that explains the Bush administration's lower level of effort for most of its time in office.
What does Arafat's situation and behavior tell us about those of his successors today? In all but a single respect--and that one only apparently--things are worse today. The one potential salvation was that Arafat had the power to make a deal if he wanted to do so. Of course, he did not. The Palestinian leader was restrained by his own character, ideology, and fear of his own people (who he had trained toward extremism for decades).
The apparent improvement regarding PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is that he is more willing to make peace. Yet this is more than counterbalanced by his extraordinary weakness. Not only has Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip--which everyone knows--but also Abbas does not have control over Fatah itself. If anything, Palestinian attitudes, where it counts in terms of public politics and not merely personal opinions, is even more extreme. One can almost hear experts saying in a few years: "Of course it was a mistake to force Abbas into a position where he had to say 'no' instead of always saying 'maybe.'' And that's why he fell from power to be replaced by Hamas (or even more anarchy)."
But aren't the Palestinians desperate for a solution, given all their suffering? Don't they pant after a state; won't the refugees rejoice at returning from Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to the new state of Palestine? The answer, as it was in Clinton's time, is "no." The ideology of extremist nationalism and Islamism, belief that total victory is possible, miscomprehension of Israel, and suspicion of the West are all still in place. Even if there was a Palestinian leader able to transcend all those pressures he would still restrained by knowing that to make a deal might not only be personally fatal but--far more certain--would destroy his reputation and career. Nobody will act like Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in making peace with Israel because look what happened to him (reviled, boycotted by the Arab world, and assassinated).
Nor do Palestinian leaders feel a need to run such risks. A far easier, successful policy is to take billions of Western aid dollars while doing nothing and blaming everything on Israeli intransigence and U.S. mistakes. After all, who acts as if they desperately needed a diplomatic solution right away and would pay anything to get it? Not the Palestinians or the Arab states but, of course, the West and the United States. The bargaining tool of choice is: offer everything up front and ask for little or nothing in exchange.
Why is there such a shocking gap between reality and policy? In part, there is ample ignorance and foolishness but there are also solid reasons (though partly illusory ones) for the prevailing strategy. For U.S. policymakers, goals include trying to build an anti-Iran/Islamist alliance, gain domestic support, make European allies happy, and soothe Arabs and Muslims in the hope this will reduce Islamism and anti-Americanism.
Some policymakers are suitably cynical. Others are true believers who really think that solving the conflict will make all the other regional problems go away and are simply unaware why this issue is different from all other, at least non-Middle East, issues. The ultimate rationale is: we must try; it can't hurt to try.
Of course nothing will happen. But the real question is whether anything is learned? Some will get wise, as happened in 2000; others won't. They will find easy excuses: Bush was incompetent, if only the seating had been arranged differently or the plan worded differently, or the United States had tried five percent harder. The great rock group Bill Haley & His Comets did a new version of the nursery rhyme in 1953, optimistically entitled, "Stop Beatin' Round the Mulberry Bush" What is most important, though, is that history always has the last laugh. In the end, the intellectual supposes; the policymaker proposes, but reality has its way.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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