According to this Guardian article and the this one in the Independent the Labour MP turned talk show host, Robert Kilroy-Silk, is under fire for having written an anti-Arab article. I have read the Sunday Express article concerned on a forum but have not been able to find it in linkable form.
Predictably the Commission for Racial Equality is making noises about lawyers and prosecutions and public order. I will be amazed if they actually do anything. The point of the CRE’s threats is not to carry them out, but to have a chilling effect on the next person who wants to write in a similar vein.
(The issue of whether Mr Kilroy-Silk should write as a freelance while working for the BBC is a separate one which I shall ignore here.)
Here is something the CRE and other race relations bodies ought to remember but will not: freedom of speech and relatively good race relations go together. In fact it is broader than that. Freedom and relatively good race relations go together. Pogroms happen under tyrannies. I call it the “pressure-cooker effect.” The conclusion that free speech promotes racial harmony is not obvious at first sight. Words lead to deeds, one might think, and so, obviously, harsh words will lead to harsh deeds. Nonetheless you may make some headway among sceptics if you ask them whether in their own lives they think it better to bottle up resentments or to voice them before they become explosive.
Do a little mental scan now of those countries where freedom of speech has reigned longest and is most secure – aren’t they also the countries that people of all races are desperate to get into? Partly that is because free countries are rich (riches being consequence of freedom) but it is also because they are the places where race conflict means a riot not a massacre.
Now do a similar mental scan of those physical areas and institutions within the free countries where race is an ugly issue. You will find the PC crowd have been active for decades in these areas. Yet things never seem to get better. The Commission for Racial Equality never seems to report success any more than the Race Relations Board did before it. I find it hard to believe that all of this failure is just a cynical ploy to keep their jobs. Most people mean well, even race relations advisers. It’s just that, unfortunately, some attempts at cure do more harm than good.
I am not saying, “restrictions on freedom cause racism”. Race hatred is older than political freedom. What I am saying is “restrictions on freedom disable the safety valve”.
When people have had no practice, and cannot get any practice, in saying legitimately harsh things about a non-western culture – yet feel them anyway, and with reason – then it is no surprise that when speech finally bursts out it is all a mish-mash of good points mixed in with prejudice.
Which is more or less what I think of Kilroy-Silk’s actual views. Seeing as he has his own TV show, he himself cannot be said to have been prevented from getting practice in being critical about Arab society in a nuanced manner. (Nor was there anything stopping him from doing the minimal research necessary to know that the Iranians are not Arabs). However the general level of the dialogue is low. There is a disconnect between the actual danger and evil of Islamo-fascism and the nicey-nicey way the media talk about it and I see his angry hammering as a product of that. He sees plain savagery and sees it called militancy and he thinks, by God, I am going to say what I think.
I support his right to free speech without qualification. But is his article one to be proud of?
Yes and no. Here is a typical paragraph:
What do they think we feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors?
Part of me says, Yep. Damn straight. Arabs did dance in the streets. Most terrorists are Arabs. Scarcely any other part of the world has punishments more barbaric than those in Arab lands, Saudi Arabia in particular, and no other part of the world is more misogynistic.
However I do not like the way that the word ‘them’ shifts its meaning. Sometimes it means the actual 9-11 attackers, sometimes the large numbers of Arabs who clelebrated the murders, sometimes the whole culture as manifested by its most spectacular and violent expressions.
I call it lazy, bigoted and emotive reporting when I see lines like “…the America that shoots schoolchildren at Columbine and executes them in the electric chair.” I made that example up, but I bet you can find real parallels. (You could try a Google for “George Bush’s America” or “John Ashcroft’s America.”) In places Kilroy Silk’s article shows exactly this tendency. The last line, oddly not quoted in either the Guardian or the Independent, really was offensive: “…That says it all about which country deserves the epithet loathsome.”
All in all I didn’t admire the article. But every morning there is a new crop of articles written from the other side that display every one of Kilroy-Silk’s faults and then some and they don’t have Trevor Phillips calling the cops. Nor should they. They, too, are the steam from the safety valve.
That was meant to be the end of the post, but I can not resist saying how struck I was by a quote (in the Independent article linked to above) from Professor Haleh Afshar, a Middle Eastern expert at York University:
“[Professor Afshar] said the article displayed a dangerous “ethnocentricity”. She added: “He does not have a history that goes beyond September 11. The world begins on September 11 for him but I would like to tell him that the world actually began 3000 years before Christ.”