Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Monday, October 11, 2004

Has the world gone mad…?

Last week I found myself in a rural idyll which was pure Royston Vasey meets the Daily Mail. It was very instructive.

As I may have said before, I stumbled into a remote pub in Buckinghamshire just past nightfall, quite pleased that I wasn’t going to spend the night in a field, but quite concerned about how I was actually going home. But the conversation was quite instructive.
It was one of those anecdotal political arguments; so easy to rubbish, so hard to make go away. It went like this.
”…and now kids can’t play conkers without safety goggles. It’s in case they hurt themselves. They’ve banned it.”

Yes, we all saw that story. Actually, one overzealous headmaster doesn’t really constitute a “they”. And how exactly he’d “ban” it from the rest of us isn’t precisely described. To most of us, that story was just an example of what happens when you err much to far on the side of caution. To the kind of person who believes that we’re going to hell in a handcart, this is music to their ears, and of course typical of what’s going on in every playground up and down politically-correct Britain.

What else was interesting was the emergence of a familiar old story.
“…and there was this coloured chap who worked for social services, who got sacked for ordering a ‘black coffee’. Apparently he should have ordered ‘coffee without milk.’” Sitting on the bar, rather guiltily, was the handy-sized culprit, with today’s dose of scare stories.

We never actually find out who this chap is, and what council he actually worked for. Or when this happened. Like the European Bendy Banana thing, it has all the makings of an urban myth that’s spiralled out of control. People are just so keen to believe that we’ve been taken over by some loony-left faction, determined to make Britain entirely inoffensive at the cost of destroying everyone in it, that to quote another paranoid conspiracy theorist, they want to believe. An interesting twist on this old tale is that the social worker is now black (or ‘coloured’- this proves the teller is not racist, but…). You see, by making it a black man, it says that the person has nothing against black chaps, they just have a problem with this political correctness gone mad. And it’s about as convincing as the National Front putting on suits and claiming they’re a political party.

If ever I need reassurance of my frequently challenged political views, it’s this; whereas the Times and Telegraph prove how badly things are going wrong with terrifying stories of what happened to individuals, the Guardian and Independent contain actual real numbers. Maybe it’s my privileged liberal elite upbringing, but I believe you can actually get a better handle on broad social trends by using reliable numbers rather than anecdotes.

Anyway, it’s very easy to laugh at the far-right, and that would barely deserve a blog post. But there is an educational point in all this too. I was really genuinely alarmed by talking to an Indian friend earlier on in the week at the sheer vitriol he was heaping on Muslims. True, September 11th and the murder of Ken Bigley are not going to go down as great moments in Islamic History. But it’s a little harsh to assume they’re all like this. It’s up there with assuming that the major Hindu festivals consist of burning trains full of muslims, or that Christians get closer to God by burning women at the stake or storming the Arab lands and slaughtering or enslaving the men women and children who stand in their way (you may wish to ignore this example).

That’s the first terrifying bit. Maybe my uniracial, universally-tolerant utopia’s got a bit of a way to go just yet. Secondly, I was telling this whole story to my mother soon afterwards. “I think it’s a bit harsh to tar all muslims with the same brush” I said.

“Oh, you can’t say that” she said, “that’s racist”.I think she was joking anyway.


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