Monday, December 19, 2005

It's tough being a Christian in 21st Century Britain

I recently saw the movie Narnia and it got me thinking..... If the story were retold in a modern context, the children wouldn't have had to enter a wardrobe to discover a world where Christmas is banned, they could merely visit their local school:

Just this month, a Derbyshire schoolgirl, Sam Morris was sent home after she refused to remove her crucifix necklace. The school's Deputy Head Howard Jones argued it was just a piece of Jewellery and not a required article of faith. I'm glad to see Howard Jones is such an expert on religion, but would he have taken the same view if it was another faith? Earlier this year, a school was taken to court and lost, because it wouldn't let one of its pupils wear a jilbab. And this was despite the fact that the majority of the muslim pupils (themselves a majority at the school), and the majority of British muslims don't view the jilbab as a required article of clothing.

In the end it was left to the local Sikh Minister Sardarni Sahiba Gurumeet Kaur Khalsa to stand up for Sam Morris: "It is the height of wrongful discrimination to disallow Christian students to wear a crucifix, while yet allowing Sikh students to wear a kara (a religious steel bracelet)."

And it's not only Sikhs who find themselves defending Christianity. I may be Jewish, but despite the fact that I don't observe Christmas, I love the atmosphere of the season, and so would I imagine do many Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. In fact the only people who don't seem to like Christmas are the white self-hating liberals who occupy many of our local councils.

So why do I and other non-Christians stand up for a faith I don't even practice? Because there is a creeping hostility towards Christianity that masks a hostility to religion in general by a minority of people in leadership who want to privatise religion, push it to the boundaries, and ban it from the public arena, in much the same way as France. For many of us who came here to escape religious persecution in the first place, it isn't the kind of Britain we want to live in.

If Tony Blair cares about his legacy, why did he give up our rebate?

After all the talk of reforming the EU farm subsidies, Tony Blair has again proved his supreme skill: the ability to talk tough, without actually achieving anything.

By caving in to France and reducing our EU rebate to the tune of £1 billion a year (in return for a vague reassurance from the French to review the CAP), all he has done is vindicated an EU policy the UK ambassador to Poland has described as "the most stupid, immoral state-subsidised policy in human history, give or take communism".

And why did Blair surrender our rebate? Because faced with opposition from EU members to his proposals, he preferred to be a "good European" and reach a last minute compromise, rather than put his own countries interests first and walk away without an agreement.

As Blair's days in Downing Street draw to a close, he is frantically trying to achieve some kind of legacy. That being the case, EU reform would have been a suitable place to start. Here we have a common agricultual policy (CAP) that eats 40% of the EU budget. Eighty per cent of CAP subsidies go to the largest 20 per cent of farms, many of them in France. By contrast, 70 per cent of farms receive less than £900 a year. And little if any of this subsidy goes to help the poorer countries of Central or Eastern Europe. And then there's Africa: Blair had a golden opportunity to argue that agricultural reform also means opening European markets to African farmers.

Had Blair stuck to his guns, there would have been a stalemate, but who's fault would that have been except Brussels?

The whole sorry episode exposes just how weak a Prime Minister Tony Blair is, that he considers it more important to give in to the interests of an unelected transnational institution, than to stand up for fair trade, and the interests of his own countrymen.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Freedom of speech means having the right to offend people

If you want to contrast the gay marriage debate taking place in the US with that taking place in the UK, the recent incident regarding Lynette Burrows sums it all up. Whilst Americans are openly debating the merits of gay marriage with strong opinions on both sides, in the UK, debating the same issue can make you the subject of a police investigation.

And what exactly was it that got the police so interested in Lynette Burrows?

During a radio phone in programme, the family rights campaigner said she did not believe that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt. She added that placing boys with two homosexuals for adoption was as obvious a risk as placing a girl with two heterosexual men who offered themselves as parents. "It is a risk," she said. "You would not give a small girl to two men."

A member of the public complained to the police and an officer contacted Mrs Burrows the following day to say a "homophobic incident" had been reported against her.

Scotland Yard confirmed that Fulham police had investigated a complaint over the radio programme. A spokesman said it was policy for community safety units to investigate homophobic, racist and domestic incidents because these were "priority crimes".

It is standard practice for all parties to be spoken to, even if the incident is not strictly seen as a crime. "It is all about reassuring the community," said the spokesman. "We can confirm that a member of the public brought to our attention an incident which he believed to be homophobic. The police spokesman added that: "All parties have been spoken to by the police. No allegation of crime has been made. A report has been taken but is now closed."

And that's the point. The police themselves admit no crime took place but never the less, they regard their remit as going beyond what is "illegal" and extending to what they regard as "homephobic" and "racist" regardless of what the law says. In fact the only crime that took place was wasting police time. The complaint should have never been investigated in the first place.

Living in a free society means being willing to let people offend you once in a while. We should be able to openly discuss matters of public interest without fear or intimidation. The reason the religious hatred bill was defeated was that despite the Government's reassurance that prosecutions would be extremely rare, its opponents argued that fear of prosecution would be more successful in silencing debate than prosecution itself. For every writer, publisher and broadcaster willing to take the risk and discuss their beliefs, there would have been hundreds of others preferring to play safe and unwilling to risk the stigma of being "investigated".

The test of a free society is whether you are willing to stand up for the right of your opponents to express their views. And whilst Civil Libertarians make a big fuss of the Government's "threat to our ancient liberties" in their fight against terror, few of them seem particularly concerned about the watershed we have just passed.