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?