Read my blog at Huffington Post

I also blog at Huffington Post's new UK site; please click here to read my posts there.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Beware Belgian diamond thieves...

If you Google the words belgian man stole, the main thing that comes up is a story about a man stealing $28 million worth of diamonds from the Antwerp bank at which he was a trusted customer. Presumably, the next time that Jack Straw is on Newsnight, he will warn viewers that there is a "specific problem" in some areas and will call on the Belgian community to be "more open" about diamond theft? Doubtless he will be keen to tell us that:
Belgians, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit diamond robberies, and overwhelmingly the diamond thieves' wings of prisons are full of non-Belgian diamond thieves.
But there is a specific problem which involves Belgian heritage men...who target vulnerable banks. We need to get the Belgian community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Belgian heritage men thinking it is OK to target banks in this way.
If he did say such a thing, would we not think that he has possibly gone bonkers? How many millions of British men are there of Pakistani ancestry? It is comfortably in the millions. It is plain daft to imagine that these individuals are living in regimented communities in which they take instruction from people called "elders". Who are these elders? What qualifies someone to be one of them? Would I, as a white guy who drinks beer and lives in New Barnet, be expected to take advice about drinking from such elders as the Mayor of Barnet? Or, given that I am Jewish and am often at meetings with communal leader types, am I an elder myself? Were Jewish people to riot on Brent Street, am I a community leader who would appeal for calm? I think that this belief that minority communities are led by "elders" is patronising drivel. For the BBC to cite Anne Cryer as saying that: "she tried to intercede with the community by asking a councillor to speak to Muslim elders, but they said it was not their affair" is ridiculous - what, just because a councillor is a Muslim, s/he is expected to be in touch with "Muslim elders" who can control the behaviour of some unrelated people? If there was a football riot involving young men from Anglican families, should I then contact a councillor who happens to be from a C of E family and ask him to get the local vicar to put a stop to it? This is simply nonsense.

The issue in this case in Derby is people who are relatively less vulnerable committing crimes of which the victims are relatively more vulnerable - it is as sad and simple as that, which is why some  people have now gone to prison. That has nothing to do with the perpetrators' ethnicity or religious faith - not that I have seen any evidence that the men concerned are religious anyway. Again, if you get trouble after the pubs chuck out on a Saturday night and most of those fighting are white men with parents who married in church - does anyone associate their behaviour with their Christian family history? Does anyone expect various elderly local worthies, such as councillors, vicars and supposed community leaders, to somehow stop this behaviour from being repeated? Many if not most people in this country aren't members of all these organised groups and committees that dominate so-called "community life" - they are just getting on with their lives as individuals, in their own families and among their friends and work colleagues. Actually, that's another thing - I do wish that politicians and others would stop saying "families" when they mean "people".

And this is nothing to do with Mr Straw's right to say what he says - subject to the law of the land, he has the same right to say it as he would have to say that Strictly Come Dancing is the main cause of numeracy problems in primary schools. If he said that, nobody would debate whether or not it was an acceptable thing to say, or whether he was allowed to say it, they'd just think that he was an idiot. Was it John Diamond years ago who wrote that whereas, previously, we'd become a nation that tries to avoid gratuitously offending people, because one of our social norms is that it's a good thing to avoid being rude and hurting people's feelings, the debate about "political correctness" had changed that? In normal conversation, if someone tells you that you've upset them, it's normal to apologise, sort it out, resolve differences and move on. But, in public discourse, it's become normal to say: "Ah well, you're only offended because what I've said is not politically correct", so dodging the fact that someone has said something that is either stupid or rude. Worse still is when people say: "I know that you agree with me really, but you won't say so because you don't want to be politically incorrect" - no, if I say that I disagree with you, it means that I disagree with you. It doesn't mean that you are wrong, but it does mean that I disagree with you.

I think that there are some people who actually imagine that there are others in Britain who are actively trying to be politically correct. Those people know nothing about what political correctness actually is (or was). I first heard about it in relation to American universities, around the time that David Mamet's relevant play Oleanna was first a hit, in the early 1990s. What one was hearing was that some students were not prepared to study, for example, John Milton because he was a "Dead White European Male" - it was in that context that "politcal correctness" first entered the language as an expression. Then it filtered over here as a term of abuse - a columnist would accuse someone of "simply trying to be politically correct"; but no-one ever here actually ever said that they were trying to be politically correct. Spitting Image had those women celebrating things that are "so refreshingly politically incorrect!", as if to make the point that this is nonsense - Hitler and Stalin were "refeshingly politically incorrect". How marvellous, these columnists and Spitting Image women seemed to be saying, that we no longer need to pretend to be polite to people we don't like; we can be rude to them, and then, when this is queried, we can say that we are merely "standing up to the tyranny of political correctness", so dignifying rudeness with the status of rebellion against a supposedly stifling liberal orthodoxy.

I remember, in 1993, one academic saying to me how awful it was that people were discussing the racism inherent in Philip Larkin's then recently published letters. She thought that it was awful that political correctness had prompted such a discussion. But nobody was saying that Philip Larkin's racism was a reason not to read his poetry; people were merely pointing out, as a matter of historical and biographical interest, that he had apparently written letters in which he had evinced a strong, generalised dislike of black people. I remember a stroppy discussion in one office that I worked in about whether or not Roald Dahl was an anti-Semite. Of course he was - everyone knows that he was. It is a matter of public record. It doesn't alter the fact that he was also a great author of children's books. It is a factor in discussions about Dahl's legacy and it is reasonable to discuss these things. It doesn't mean that Dahl is being condemned or anathematised; it just means that we are all being honest about the past.

Jack Straw probably knows already that, as the historian Anthony Julius puts it, in the England of the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
It was alleged by anti-Semites that Jews played a leading, and not just a conspicuous, part in the prostitution rackets - trafficking in young women, operating brothels, and other kinds of commercial sexual vice. "No Jew", claimed the English anti-Semite Joseph Banister (1862-1953), "is more of a hero among his fellow tribesmen than the one who can boast of having accomplished the ruin of some friendless, unprotected Christian girl." This sexualization of the ritual murder charge imagined Gentile families, rather than Gentile males, as victims, and supposed their social death (sexual abuse, exclusion, ignominy)  rather than their physical death (torture, murder, unconsecrated burial). This 'white slavery' libel was frequently paired with the blood libel, to the acute distress of Jewish communal advocates, who feared that the element of truth in the former libel would make more plausible the utterly fantastic latter libel. ("Trials of the Diaspora, A History of Anti-Semitism in England", OUP, 2010)
The quote from Joseph Banister comes from his book England Under The Jews, published in London in 1907. Looking back from the perspective of 2010, it is impossible to imagine a mainstream British publisher choosing to issue such a nonsensical book today. I wonder what people will think of Mr Straw's comments from the perspective of 2110?


  1. In 17 court cases since 1997 where men were prosecuted for grooming young girls, 53 of the 56 people found guilty were Asian, 50 of them Muslim, while just three were white, according to The Times.

    And you don't think there's a problem!


    Would you please be able to cut and paste the full paragraph from that Times story into this blog, so that we can all judge the context in which your statistics were presented by that newspaper?