Tuesday, May 17, 2005


"Her oeuvre is very slender: a single paperback volume of 100 pages, entitled Down the Road, Worlds Away. It was published in 1987 by the Virago Press, a feminist publishing house founded in the 1970s that is now owned by TimeWarnerBooks, and it appeared in a series called Virago Upstarts-that is to say, parvenu termagants. You are never too young to resent.

"Virago Upstarts is a new series of books for girls and young women. . This new series will show the funny, difficult, and exciting real lives and times of teenage girls in the 1980s." No prizes for guessing the reality of the real lives, of course: and Rahila Khan gives us "twelve haunting stories about Asian girls and white boys . about the tangle of violence and tenderness . in all their lives," written "with hard-eyed realism and poignant simplicity."

As for Rahila herself, she was born in Coventry in 1950, lived successively in Birmingham, Derby, Oxford, London, and Peterborough, married in 1971, and now lived in Brighton with her two daughters. She began writing only in 1986 (presumably when her daughters demanded less of her time), and in the same year six of her stories were broadcast by the BBC. Virago accepted her book, an acceptance that, in the words of Professor Dympna Callaghan, Professor of English at Syracuse University and author of a Marxist analysis of the exclusion of women from the Renaissance stage, "seemed to fulfill one of Virago's laudable objectives, that of publishing the work of a diverse group of contemporary feminist authors."

A literary agent contacted Rahila Khan by post and asked to represent her. Until then, Miss Khan had refused to meet in person anyone with whom she dealt, or even to send a photograph of herself: but she agreed to meet the agent who wanted to represent her. The agent was surprised to discover that Miss Khan was actually the Reverend Toby Forward, a Church of England vicar. (He has recently been installed as canon residentiary and preceptor of Liverpool Cathedral, and his latest publication-he is now an established children's writer under his own name-is entitled Shakespeare's Globe: An Interactive Pop-Up Theatre.)

Needless to say, the revelation of Rahila Khan's true identity caused both hilarity and anger. The publisher, Virago, felt that it had been made a fool of and was the victim of a distasteful hoax, pulped the book soon after its publication and turned it into an expensive bibliographical rarity (my own copy is in excellent condition but for the yellowing pages that emit an acrid, throat-catching smell which so many British books, printed on the cheapest and nastiest of paper, nowadays emit after a few months of existence). Virago asked Reverend Forward to return the advance he had been paid and to pay for the cost of the printing. He did not accede to the request.

Virago felt it necessary to stand by its purely literary judgment, namely that the stories were written "with hard-eyed realism and poignant simplicity"-it had to do so, or it would justly have been accused of applying double standards to work by Asian women and white men, which would have revealed a frankly racist condescension. But Virago decided that politics in this instance was the better part of literature, and was more important, indeed, than whether the book had anything worthwhile or important to say. It therefore refused to sell any more copies of the offending work. This, as we shall see, was ironic, because the author was drawing attention, not before time, to the truly oppressed condition of certain women, a condition in which one might have supposed that feminists would be interested".

More -- much more -- here


When Christians try to evangelize someone, offer an opinion on public policy, or engage in an act of persuasion, the cultural left tries to silence them by invoking the doctrine of relativism. What we think of as true is really only a personal or a cultural construction, so the argument goes. This is true of religion, and it is certainly true for morality, which varies according to different people's choices and values. To impose one ideology on everyone is an act of power and a violation of people's rights and freedom. We must instead practice tolerance by accepting people's different beliefs and values.

These now-commonplace notions are exploded in a new book, The Truth About Tolerance by Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti (InterVarsity Press, 2005, paperback). In a scholarly but lucid analysis that traces the virtue of tolerance all the way back to the Bible, the authors show that tolerance requires disagreement. Otherwise, there is nothing to tolerate. And toleration depends on objective truth.

While exposing the intolerance that passes for the virtue today, the authors make an illuminating point: "Relativism is bankrupt as a moral philosophy, and no one is actually a real relativist, including the contemporary secular liberal. Secularists today make a whole host of moral judgments, and they do so unhesitatingly," they write. "The relativism of the secular liberalism . . . is only relativist when it is resisting traditional Judeo-Christian morality."

Actually, say Mr. Stetson and Mr. Conti, secularists engage in selective relativism. They invoke relativism when arguing against Christians and other cultural conservatives. But they treat their own beliefs and moral principles as objective, absolute, and universal truths.

More here

No comments: