Why is everyone so offended?
The football (soccer if you reading this in America or Australia) World Cup is upon us and excitement here in the U.K. is rising. Today England will play Japan and although I’m not a big football fan I’ll definitely be watching that particular game. The World Cup seems to bring out the best of us all – the players, the fans and everyone else regardless of age, gender, race, religion, political ideology etc. Everyone comes together in the spirit of the competition and perhaps even learns a little more about another culture.
I don’t know if it is the same in other countries, but English people love to fly the national flag, the St. George Cross, when the World Cup arrives. They don’t do it any other time and it could be argued that the English are the world’s least patriotic people. We don’t have a national costume like our Scottish, Welsh and Irish neighbours, we moan continually about the weather, our national dish is now, reportedly, curry and we have destroyed our own industries preferring to cheaper goods manufactured in places like China and India. But every four years we become frenzied in our love for our green and pleasant land and wave flags, paint our faces and inevitably cry like babies when we fail to win, limping out even before the semi-finals. Pretty poor for the nation that invented football.
The flag waving has become more noticeable over the last few years and it is not uncommon now to see giant flags attached to poles in gardens even when major sporting events are not being held. The call for an official St.George’s Day, a national holiday along the lines of St. Patrick’s Day, gets stronger and stronger each year and in general conversation people will say, “it is we, the English that are the minority now.” This seems to have come about by a series of stories in the media, some of them probably entirely fictional, some exaggerated and some perhaps true, of immigrants – usually Muslims – complaining that the English flag “offends” them. The amount of flags flying seems to be a direct response of this idea that people could be offended by it.
There have been stories of other subjects been “offensive” for Muslims to handle, for instance in 2005 a council in the West Midlands banned any depictions of pigs in their offices in case Muslims were offended. Local Councillor Mahbubur Rahman, a practising Muslim, backed the ban. He said: “It’s a tolerance of people’s beliefs.”(1). Many British schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons because it “offends” Muslim students who, presumably, think the systematic extermination of 6 million men, women and children so because they were Jewish is perfectly acceptable because an ancient book tells them that to hate Jews is a virtue. (2)
And of course in 2005 Muslims worldwide reacted angrily to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and went on a spree of violence leading to death and carnage on a massive scale. Critics of the cartoons said they were “blasphemous”.
But it’s not just Muslims getting themselves in a lather. Recently the Church of England, who receive tax-payers money whether the tax-payer likes it or not, complained that Christians in the U.K. were being sidelined. Unhappy with the fact that Christians do not enjoy preferential treatment and unquestionning obedience, the leaders of the Church moaned, “In a number of cases, Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are simply not being upheld.” If there was a God I’d thank Him! (3).
One has to tread very carefully in Britain these days less someone is offended by what you say. Causing offence is a serious matter these days and can land you in a lot of trouble. This month a Christian open-air preacher was arrested by police in Cumbria for saying that homosexuality was incompatible with the Bible. At the station, police took fingerprints, a palm print, a retina scan and a DNA swab. He was later interviewed and charged under the Public Order Act with using abusive or insulting language and is awaiting trial. (4). A very intriguing case because we have to examine if the right to religious belief is less important than the right to sexual beliefs/practices and vice-versa.
In the public sector all employees must undergo Diversity training. I did when I worked for the local government. This involves learning about other cultures, usually Islamic cultures because there was no mention of French, Chinese, Russian cultures, customs and religions (or the absence of religion) etc, homosexuality, transgendered people and cross-dressers. In the name of tolerance we were instructed that all other cultures/practices are great and lovely, nice and peaceful and it is “us”, those that are not of these cultures, that are wrong and racist and intolerant. Dare criticise or question or ask why, for example, we should respect a Muslim’s right to declare that the penalty for apostasy is death and you’ll run the risk of being fired. As the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins said, “there is being open minded, and being so open minded your brains fall out.”
The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 includes the very vague passage “a person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.”. In effect, it is now an offence to criticise religion. Rowan Atkinson, a high-profile comedian, has tried to challenge the government over this bizarre law arguing “to criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom.” (5)
Should we live in a society in which groups of people should have the right not to be offended by flags? Should we tread on eggshells dare we upset someone? And who gets this priviliaged right? Should we not criticise the frankly barmy practices of fortune telling and palm reading as cheap tricks to con vulnerable or ignorant people?. How about astrologers? Should they be protected from criticism just in case they burst into tears if we dare suggest the alignment of burning bits of matter in space have no impact whatsoever on the development of a child’s personality or whether they will fall in love next Tuesday? Should Satanists be allowed to practice their rituals on a Royal Navy ship because it’s their “right”? (6) Have we just become too damn soft for our own good?
Freedom of Speech relies on freedom! We cannot pick and choose when it applies. This is extremely important. If people or groups of people can demand special treatment we can easily end up in a difficult situation. Certainly interesting things can happen also when people tip-toe around the beliefs of others. Animal Rights groups have long campaigned against the Hal-El slaughter of animals in line with Islamic beliefs but it has been resisted because it is a religious practice. Whose rights should come first? British law says animals should not be mistreated but all the evidence suggest Hal-El slaughter is terribly painful for animals. Then there is the right of atheists who don’t want to be force-fed Hal-El meat when visiting their local restaurant or KFC takeaway. Finally the animals themselves have certain rights.
With so many people demanding on special treatment, can we ever have a cohesive community? It could be that British society breaks down, if it hasn’t already, into sub-groups and “communities” with massively inconsistent moral and political beliefs. Is this what British soldiers sacrificed their lives for during World War II?
Thank you for the post Russ!
This reminds me a bit of the book “The Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel P. Huntington. For me as an American it was interesting to hear about London being called Londonistan and to discover that, as you mentioned, the main food might actually now be curry. I’ve read somewhere that this is the after effects of “empire” but as to what that actually means I have no idea. I’m also curious about the laws and reasons why your immigration policy is so liberal.
For me, I always support the mixing of peoples and believe that over time there eventually has to be a balance but am not so naive that there will be some major hurdles to overcome. The world is changing very rapidly and there are too many variables to classify it simply as “good” or “bad” or even neutral. I just think of it as “it is as it is” and we’ll see what happens.
What I can do is comment on the government trying to regulate how people get along with each other and which I believe is always more of a burden than of a positive force. It is true that government must ensure that people do not actively discriminate but for actually trying to make everyone “like” each other is a bit misguided.
When I was at Ohio State University we had things called “Sensitivity Classes” and “Diversity Studies.” Personally, I hated these because it seemed every time I turned around I had to be “sensitive” to some group or another. I often made the joke that I went to Japan so I could get away from “diversity.” LOL
I found however, that as I met more “different” types of people I was able to more easily understand their point of view. For example, there would be “Asian Awareness” day which, upon hearing it I would instinctively want to run the other way. Yet, now that I have spent a lot of time in Asia (and now consider myself part Asian at heart) I would be very interested and have a bit of fun challenging them because between Asians in Asia I don’t think sensitivity courses exist (could you imagine “Chinese Awareness day in Japan? or the reverse??) and would want to call it for what it actually is (Make white people sensitive to Asians day). I understand what they are trying to do but would instead rather support more study abroad programs than courses trying to make me “sensitive.”
It is interesting to read that there are more “flag waivers” over there and that it might be due to a sense of threat and becoming a minority in your own country. In America, we’re pretty proud of the flag but in the past couple decades it has divided into two main groups. Some wave the flag because they are fiercely proud of the USA in all cases. This is their country and for them, if you do not wave the flag you shouldn’t be here. Then there is another thought which came about I think during the Vietnam era and these folks are not proud of what the USA has done in a couple of cases internationally. After the Vietnam war the flag desecrators died down a bit but then resurfaced during the Iraq invasion.
It would seem that in terms of foreign policy the two groups would differ on waiving the flag, but the one unifying force (as you mentioned) is sports. If the USA is competing against another nation then the “non-flag waivers” might come around and bring out the flag only to quickly put it away during the national news.
We had a recent issue concerning the flag when a few students were sent home for wearing flag t-shirts during Cinco de Mayo. This cause a hell of a stir in the conservative media and people went berserk. For me, I cannot understand why we have trouble supporting both flags as Mexico is a valuable partner and supporting one does not automatically diminish the other.
But Mexico/USA is a different issue and will most likely resolve itself quickly as the cultures are really not so completely different as in what you are experiencing in Europe. The Western/European culture and the Middle Eastern/Islamic culture are worlds apart and would seem like a full on collision rather than just a side swipe like Mexico/USA in terms of cultures mixing.
All I can really say, or want to say about the matter, is good luck and I hope things work out for the best. I also hope that the USA crushes all of you in soccer. 🙂
We have the same problem here in Denmark but it is important to note that not all the complaining is done by those with a foreign culture or sensitive nerves. Sometimes issues are put forward on behalf of others who have said nothing themselves but may some time in the future become insulted. A few months ago a born and bread Dane even filed a lawsuit claiming the image of Jesus Christ on the first page of the Danish passport is insulting to non-Christians (read Muslims). The image is a rendition of a Viking-age stone carving that carries the oldest known reference to Danes and Denmark as a country. It is a national heritage and is commonly known as the ‘birth certificate’ of Denmark.
Some guy, a lawyer, filed a lawsuit claiming that it was offensive… The case is still pending.
And you know the reason why sensitivity training only pertains to Muslim culture: because they are the only ones threatening violence if everyone does not follow their customs and abide by their taboos.
The public was also generally put aghast during the parliamentary debates concerning the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.
At the moment most people here are waiting for the British to remove the possibility of what is called libel-tourism. Some Saudi lawyer Yamani claiming to represent Muhammad’s 93.943 (sic) descendants has filed a lawsuit in Britain demanding an apology for the Mo-toons. 90% of libel suits are won by the claimant and awarded some £100.000-200.000. Costs for lawyers and their legal advise easily, however, run into the millions and that causes a serious drain on most companies – including Danish newspapers. The alternative, curbing freedom of speech according to provisions in Sharia law, is obviously not acceptable. Because we are member of EU there is no escaping such lawsuits in Britain.
There is an effort now to reform libel laws in Britain. Please sign here: http://libelreform.org/sign
No problems. The term “clash of civilisations” is often mentioned and over the past 10 tens the cause of multiculturalism has suffered somewhat. The best of multiculturalism enriches British society, strengthens it and makes culture, art and sport more vibrant and interesting. The worst of it (e.g. the introduction of Shariah courts and forced marriages) paints a depressing picture not only of other cultures but of our willingness to accept such things or turn a blind eye in the name of tolerance and of humankind overall.
Time will tell if we can live together in a cohesive manner. The flag-waving is a reaction to past events and is a lot more constructive than turning to the far-right. Reassuringly, the British National Party did worse than expected at the polls and proved that the British people might moan about foreigners but won’t go as far as to vote fascists in, understanding that we sacrificed a lot in the past to keep them out of Europe and won’t let them in now through the ballot paper.
Good luck for the World Cup…I’m sure the USA won’t get far lol!
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