Friday, 14 May 2010

Roy Newman and the slow-burn bonfire of liberties

Via Daniel Hannan, I discovered an article by Mark Steyn for Canada's Macleans magazine, which is well worth reading.

Steyn comes across as a bit of a Canadian Melanie Phillips, but she's not always wrong, and in this article, Steyn isn't either. He highlights a story that escaped my notice, as well as Hannan's:
The official “defining moment” of the campaign was Gordon Brown’s unguarded post-photo-op dismissal of Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman.” ... The other “deļ¬ning moment” got less coverage. Another “pensioner,” 74-year-old Roy Newman, got sick of the various party hacks knocking on his door and put a sign up in his front window: “GET THE LOT OUT.” Ninety minutes later, two police officers arrived at his home to arrest him for “racism.”

Racism? Why, yes. His sign was a piece of white card with red and blue lettering. Red-white-and-blue, geddit? The colours of the Union Jack. If using the same colour scheme as the national flag isn’t coded racism, I don’t know what is. Mr. Newman was prevailed upon to alter some of the letters to yellow, thereby diminishing the racist subtext.
It's the sort of story we see in The Daily Mail, and get accustomed to dismissing. Indeed, Google reveals that the Mail did pick up on this one, but the story first appeared in The Telegraph:
Mr Newman, a former Samaritan who is chairman of a local history society said: "Three years ago vandals put a brick through my window and when I called the police all they offered me was a crime reference number.

"Put up a poster and a police car and two uniformed officers arrive as quick as a flash. It's unbelievable."

Steyn lists a range of similar incidents. They form a pattern, and it's not pretty.
The other day, upholding the sacking of a black Christian for declining to provide “sex therapy lessons” to gay couples, Lord Justice Laws ruled that “law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds is irrational, divisive, capricious, arbitrary.” Actually it’s the law of Lord Justice Laws that is increasingly “irrational, divisive, capricious, arbitrary.” Or as George Orwell, in Animal Farm, formulated it: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. In the land of Laws, a gay is more equal than a Christian. A Muslim is more equal than anybody. A black man is more equal than a white man, unless the white man is gay and the black man a Christian. An eco-zealot is more equal than an Anglican. Not long before Lord Justice Laws’ decision on the “irrationality” of legal protection for Christianity, Tim Nicholson, a “Head of Sustainability” fired for questioning his property management group’s environmental policies, sued for wrongful dismissal under “Employment Equality (Religion And Beliefs) Regulations.” He wound up with the best part of one hundred thousand pounds after Mr. Justice Burton ruled that Mr. Nicholson’s faith in anthropogenic global warming was a “philosophical belief” on a par with religion. So the Employment Equality (Religion And Beliefs) Law protects belief in apocalyptic “climate change” but not in Jesus.
Now, you can't help but feel that Steyn himself is a Christian, but whatever that makes him wrong about, his analysis of the card rankings in victimhood poker seems fairly accurate.
As for Muslims, in December Tohseef Shah sprayed the words “KILL GORDON BROWN,” “OSAMA IS ON HIS WAY” and “ISLAM WILL DOMINATE THE WORLD” on the war memorial at Burton-upon-Trent. But the Crown Prosecution Service decided his words were not “religiously motivated.” Phew! Thank goodness for that, eh? So a week or so back he walked out of court a free man, except for £500 in compensation to the municipal council for cleaning off his non-religiously motivated “ISLAM WILL DOMINATE THE WORLD” graffito.
Steyn considers a question from Christopher McCrudden, professor of human rights law at Oxford: “What are the appropriate limits to freedom of expression in societies that wish to be democratic, multicultural, and committed to the human rights of all?”

He observes that the question "is very adroitly formulated":
in today’s advanced Western society, there are no absolute rights—for all individual freedoms must be “balanced” against the state’s commitment to “multiculturalism” or “equality” or whatever other modish conceit tickles its fancy.
Steyn's own view of rights is the same as mine:
Real “rights” are restraints upon the state—“negative” rights, as constitutionalists have it; they delineate the limits of the sovereign’s power. But in the modern era “rights” are baubles in the state’s gift, and the sovereign confers them at the expense of individual liberty. Truly, this is an Orwellian assault on the very foundations of freedom.
Perhaps I was unfair to liken Steyn to Phillips. By the end of the article, he's sounding positively libertarian:
The statists justify this on the grounds of what Lord Justice Laws calls “public tranquility”—a phrase that rings very hollow in contemporary Britain. In his last years of office, Tony Blair used to fret about “social disintegration.” You can see what he means in the Hogarthian depravity of not just decayed urban centres but leafy villages and prosperous suburbs. His response, of course, was the effete smack of socially progressive authoritarianism: ever more government micro-regulation of public discourse, until we reach the surreal point where the gay outreach officer arrests the Christian for causing distress to the gay outreach officer. In truth, the Big Blairite Brother, like Nanny Lynch in Canada, incentivizes identity-group grievance, frivolous victimhood, and social atomization. Meanwhile, aggressive, confident identities can drive a coach-and-horses through the PC flower beds: the remorseless feasting of Islamic polygamy on the Eurowelfare gravy train is only one example of how feeble “rational” secular statism proves in the face of a minority that has its number.
He concludes:
The more you haul nobodies off to the cells for putting up a poster or quoting the Bible, the more a timid conformist populace will keep its head down, mind its own business, and avoid broader social engagement—or at any rate non-alcohol-fuelled engagement. Big Government is dismantling civic identity, and the slow-burn bonfire of liberties in Europe and North America will eventually consume us all.
Let us hope that things change under Cameron and Clegg. It will be a long, hard climb out of the hole that New Labour has dug.

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