Monday, February 11, 2008

Archbishop, you've committed treason

My text for today is "Hold fast that which is good": 1 Thessalonians 5:21. These are words I heard so regularly in prayers at my Anglican girls' school that I have been unable to forget them. I draw them to the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to have forgotten them. At least, he seems to be losing his grip on what is good in this country and, indeed, to be throwing it away with both hands in his curious suggestion that aspects of sharia should be recognised in English law.

In an interview on Radio 4 last Thursday, Rowan Williams said that the introduction of parts of Islamic law here would help to maintain social cohesion and seems unavoidable. Sharia courts exist already, he pointed out. We should "face up to the fact" that some British citizens do not relate to the British legal system, he said, and that Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

What he went on to say was more astonishing. He explained to the interviewer, in his gentle, wordy way, that a lot of what is written on this confusing subject suggests "the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody". He went on: "That principle is an important pillar of our social identity as a western liberal democracy." How true.

However, he continued: "It's a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties, which shape and dictate how they behave in society, and the law needs to take some account of that."

Stuff like this is bad for the blood pressure, but I listened on. "An approach to law which simply said there is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said . . . I think that's a bit of a danger."

What danger? And to whom? The danger, surely, is rather the archbishop and those who think like him, who seem unwilling to hold fast that which is good. What is good and best and essential about our society ? it isn't merely a matter of "social identity" ? is the principle of equality before the law. That principle and its practice have made this country the outstandingly just and tolerant state it is; it is one of the last remaining forces for unity as well.

What is also good and essential to this country is the law itself. It has evolved over centuries from medieval barbarities into something, for all its faults, that is civilised. Our law expresses and maintains the best virtues of our society. Anybody who does not accept it does not belong here.

When other legal systems or other customs clash with ours, we prefer ours, to put it mildly. At least we should; what has troubled me for years is the way that exceptions and excuses tend to be made, in the name of multiculturalism, for practices of which we do not approve. Victoria Climbi‚'s terrible bruises were ignored because of assumptions about the cultural norms of African discipline. Last week it emerged that someone in government has sold the moral pass on polygamy: husbands with multiple wives in this country are now to get benefit payments for each wife.

In the midst of all this moral confusion and relativism, is the premier prelate in the land holding fast that which is good? Far from it. He is recommending multiculti legal cherry-picking, in which individuals would be free to choose the jurisdiction they preferred for certain matters. He even admits that his proposal introduces, "uncomfortably", the idea of a market in the law, "a competition for loyalty".

One encouraging sign is the almost universal fury that our foolish archbishop has aroused: he has miraculously united the irreconcilable in opposition to himself, from Christian extremists to mainstream Muslims, from Anglican vicars to godless Hampstead liberals, from Gordon Brown to backwoods Tories.

The archbishop and his few supporters insist that the media have misrepresented him and not many people have actually read the learned speech that he gave to a learned audience after his inflammatory radio interview. They are wrong. I haven't seen any serious misrepresentation in the media, and reading his speech several times doesn't exonerate him. Nor does it increase respect for his judgment, his command of English or his powers of ratiocination; he is woolly of face and woolly of mind.

In any case, you do not need to follow anybody's argument to understand that legally recognising aspects of sharia is either unnecessary or undesirable. If the aspects in question accord with English law (the Anglican archbishop is speaking of England, presumably), there is no need to offer any extra provision or recognition for religious courts. They are of no interest to the law. If they don't accord with English law, they are unacceptable and should be repudiated, or even prosecuted.

All this has nothing particularly to do with it being Islamic law at issue. The same would apply to any other religious law: Hindu, Mormon or wiccan. However, there is a lot to be said against sharia and the desire of a reported 40% of British Muslims to live under it. That explains, in part, the present outrage. Sharia is rightly feared here: it is disputed, sometimes primitive, grievously in need of reform and wholly unacceptable in Britain.

So what possessed this troublesome priest to stir up this predictable fury with his divisive and unnecessary suggestions? Why did he choose to speak not just in a quiet academic meeting but also in the public glare of The World at One? And cui bono? It has most certainly not been good for ordinary British Muslims, as they well understand. It has, however, given comfort to Muslim extremists, who will see this as the thin end of their Islamist wedge.

Williams's behaviour looks like vainglorious attention-seeking, but it is also something much worse. To seek to undermine our legal system and the values on which it rests, in a spirit of unnecessary appeasement to an alien set of values, is a kind of treason. It is a betrayal of all those who struggled and died here, over the centuries, for freedom and equality under the rule of law and of their courage in the face of injustice and unreason. Theirs is the good that we should hold fast and so of all people should the Archbishop of Canterbury. Otherwise, what is he for?


Talking CCTV cameras in Britain

Talking CCTV cameras have been installed at two Norwich parks with the aim of slashing anti-social behaviour. Eight cameras at Waterloo Park and one at Eaton Park have been connected to their own loudspeaker system and, through Norwich City Council's 33-screen, 500,000 pound CCTV control room, the voice of a camera operator will boom out across each park to tell off those causing a nuisance, committing low level crime and anti-social behaviour.

Norwich City Councillor Bert Bremner, responsible for community safety and cohesion, said: "It is a really positive thing for the city. "Waterloo Park has had its problems with attacks, graffiti and arson, especially at night-time, and we want to leave these places open for people to enjoy all the time. "These will be ways of embarrassing people and reminding them. Someone being told off for dropping litter will respond in a reasonable way, and I believe most people will say sorry and do something about it. There will be some that won't and, if the matter is serious, the police will follow it up."

The council, which used a 35,000 pound grant to pay for the installation of the high-tech talking system, is one of 20 areas to receive funding for the project ran in partnership with the government's Respect Unit. Six full-time operators man the cameras 24 hours a day and there is a direct communication link between the police and the CCTV control room. The talking cameras have been in operation for three months already and have been used by police on two occasions, including the theft of a woman's handbag.

"We want CCTV because it means people will use their parks and aren't frightened to be there," added Mr Bremner. "People are asking for it. We have surveyed the whole city and the response is incredibly positive. "We are not in a police state, we are in a democracy and people understand we are doing it for their safety. This will help make these places safe."

Although critics have likened the new talking system to the nightmare vision of the future George Orwell wrote about in his novel 1984, many people believe the advantages are worth it. The council's operations manager Gwyn Jenson said: "We have had some teething troubles, but that is because the system we are using is innovative and hasn't been used anywhere else in the country. "We are looking at the usage of the system and if it is a success, we'll look at expanding it further. But we think it is going to be successful and, if so, we will be looking to add the system to our other cameras across the city."

The council ran a poster competition with the city's schools to mark the launch and 12-year-old Hollie Rayfield-Brown from Colman Junior School came up with the winning design which will be placed at cameras in each park. Hollie was also given the chance to sit in Big Brother's chair and issue a telling off to a staged littering incident in Waterloo Park from the CCTV control room. Hollie said: "The poster took me about three lessons and I chose litter because if everyone dropped litter the world would be really messy. "I would wonder where the voice was coming from, but I think it's good because it makes people think twice about what they're doing."


The Color of Charity

Just when we thought we'd heard everything from the diversity police, here they come trying to prescribe even the color of charity. The California Assembly last week passed a bill sponsored by state Representative Joe Coto to require foundations with assets of more than $250 million to disclose the race, gender and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff, and even grantees. Look for this to arrive in a legislature near you.

A Berkeley-based advocacy group called the Greenlining Institute hatched this idea because, allegedly, racial minorities aren't well enough represented in California policy debates. John Gamboa, Greenlining's executive director, blames foundations for failing to donate enough money to "minority-led" think tanks and community groups and businesses, and he hopes this legislation will "shame" them into giving more. What counts as a minority-led organization? According to Greenlining, the board and staff should both be more than 50% minority.

This certainly takes the spoils system of racial preferences to a whole new level. Heretofore the government has tried to enforce a pigmentation principle in government jobs and contracts, and in private employment through the threat of lawsuits. But this is about telling private citizens how to give their own money away.

Mr. Gamboa says these philanthropies have tax-exempt status, so the public has a right to this information. "Minorities are paying a little more in taxes but are not receiving their fair share of benefits," he says. This seems an odd claim, since so much private charity is targeted explicitly at minorities. But it makes sense once you understand that what he means is that not enough of this cash is channelled through certain minority-run activist groups, such as, well, his own. It's no accident that such ethnic lobbies as the Black Business Association and the Centro Legal de la Raza also love this idea.

There's also the little problem of accountability and donor intent. Private citizens typically establish foundations with specific charitable goals in mind -- such as wetlands conservation, or medical research, or even promoting free market ideas. If donors are suddenly supposed to allocate grants by the color or sexual lifestyle of the grantee, that donor intent will be distorted at the very least. Presumably we want money for cancer research to support the most promising research ideas, not to be based on whether the labs have a rainbow coalition of Ph.Ds. The goal is to cure cancer.

Paul Brest is a former NAACP attorney and president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, California's largest foundation. And in a letter to the state Assembly on Mr. Coto's proposal, he put it this way: "[Our] fundamental operating principle is to direct our resources to organizations that have the promise of making the greatest difference in achieving [our philanthropic] goals. Thus, we do not focus on the racial composition of our grantees, but rather on how to achieve measurable impact in improving the lives of the communities that our grant recipients serve."

Lest you think this idea is too wacky to go anywhere, it is also expected to pass the California Senate and could soon land on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk. The Greenlining staff is already lobbying House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel for Congressional hearings. Foundations and charities that don't want to start apportioning their donations by skin color, or between gays and heterosexuals, had better start describing this idea as the political shakedown it is.


Muslim mania

Islamophobia? It seems as if we are suffering more from Muslim-mania - an unhealthy obsession with all things Islamic, and a paranoid fixation with looking at the world from behind a veil. News that a leading awards panel has rejected a version of The Three Little Pigs for fear that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues" with the Muslim community, has been slammed as "multiculturalism gone mad". But similarly unhinged attitudes are now common in government reports.

Why does the Ministry of Defence think there is a shortfall in army recruitment? Apparently because of "prevalent views on current operations among ethnic minority communities". One might imagine that the Muslim youth of Bradford and Tower Hamlets packed the ranks before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What does the Home Office's official assessment see as the big problem it faces extending detention without charge to 42 days? Apparently, because Muslim community leaders expressed concerns about the impact on relations with the police. Presumably our Muslim-manic Home Office believes that burying habeas corpus would be OK if they were unconcerned.

Jacqui Smith has even officially renamed Islamic terrorism as "anti-Islamic activity". Never mind walking Hackney's mean streets, the Home Secretary appears most scared of treading on Muslim toes. All this can only reinforce divisions by treating Muslims as a race apart.

There are big Muslim communities in our cities - about 15 per where I live in northeast London - but the 2001 census put Muslims at just over 3 per cent of the population in England. How has 3 per cent of the public become a focus of public debate? This imbalance must have far less to do with "them" than with the rest of us. It reveals less about Islam than about the anxieties of mainstream British culture.

The clear and distinct identity of the Muslim community, embodied in the veil, makes it a visible symbol of the divisions and insecurities in Britain. But the obvious target is rarely the right one. Muslim-mania has become a sort of political veil behind which we can avoid facing up to some awkward home truths about our society.

Time to cure the body politic of this degenerative condition, stop obsessing about offensive images or playing word-games with terrorism, and start an honest discussion about the bigger questions facing society as a whole. What beliefs, if any, can we unite around today? What are we prepared to stand and fight for now? These questions remain unasked while our leaders tilt at the alternative straw men of Islamophobia and Islamofascism. The Three Little Pigs at least has a lesson about hiding behind straw to keep the wolf from the door.



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.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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