Archive for January, 2007

Dispatches From the Rabbit Hole

January 31, 2007

I have fallen down a rabbit hole. I am still bewildered by the strange new world I have been confronted with. It is a parallel world that has existed all along I just didn’t see it until its inhabitants reached out and slapped me awake. I squint as that world’s sunbeams force their way into dark dusty corners. I open my eyes fully and I am afraid of what I see.

When I saw Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on BBC News 24 last Sunday I remember thinking, ‘Now, at last someone will talk some sense.’ I was to be disappointed. She was part of a panel along with three of the finest minds the media could conjure up. They were discussing the issues of the week. Did they talk about war, famine, pestilence? Of course they didn’t. They were discussing an issue that even I could not escape from – the recent debacle in the Big Brother house. Was it unfair of me to expect reasoned debate from this panel? Was it unreasonable of me to expect critical analysis and objectivity from reputable journalists on the BBC? Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was, after all, one of the few journalists to call for public restraint after 9/11.

That panel of journalists became a lynch mob as sure as any in the deep South of the States throughout the first few decades of the last century. (a slight exaggeration I admit but I wouldn’t be the first to resort to hyperbole in this unfortunate little episode.) In a strange parody of the episode in the Big Brother House Ms. Alibhai-Brown appointed herself the ringleader

She launched a scathing attack on Ms. Goody and the working class. They, apparently, are responsible for everything that is wrong with this country and, quite possibly, the entire universe. Two out of three of the other panelists clung on to every word she said. The subtext of the debate was that the other panelists had not been through what Ms. Alibhai-Brown had (racism, discrimination etc) and thus had no right to contradict her. She had the monopoly on suffering. The fourth panelist tried valiantly to assert his views but was shouted down. Ms. Alibhai-Brown compared Britain unfavourably with India and Africa. She claimed that she had just returned from India (a sophisticated metropolis, no doubt) where, according to her, ‘Everyone is courteous, even the beggars.’ Can anyone see a fatal flaw in this statement? A society so perfect wouldn’t have beggars. I doubt she is qualified to make the claim that no one in India is discourteous.

Ms. Alibhai-Brown then went on to make the most breath-takingly foolish and ignorant statement I have ever heard: ‘The poor never behave badly in India or Africa.’ Again, how can she be so sure? It appears to have escaped Ms. Alibhai-Brown’s notice that Africa and the subcontinent of India are separate geographical locations. The former is a continent comprised of heterogeneous countries which, as far as I am aware, are not populated by clones. A positive stereotype is still a stereotype. Ms. Alibhai-Brown frequently uses her background to lend authority to her assertions. She is Ugandan-Indian. I wonder what she thinks of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who escaped justice and was living in luxury when he died. Would she say that he was incapable of behaving badly simply because he was spawned by the continent of Africa? What of Robert Mugabe and his supporters? Are they beyond reproach? I’m sure many of that once benign dictator’s followers would use the fact that they are impoverished as an excuse for their own behaviour. And why do we sit without protest while in rural India the Dalits (or ‘Broken People’ – a name they apply to themselves. Other Indians call them ‘Untouchables’.) are mistreated and maligned? Why did no one protest when the low-caste rebel Phoolan Devi who took up arms against her oppressors, was shot in the street in 2005 in what some believe was an extra-judicial killing?

Ms. Alibhai-Brown and the other woman on the panel (women beware women) claimed that Ms. Goody’s attack on Ms. Shetty was motivated by envy of her appearance, of her cultured manner, of her superior education. Ms. Shetty undoubtedly conforms to Western ideals of beauty (Bollywood likes them like that, I believe). The fragrant Edwina Curry appeared on Question Time and insisted that ‘They are slags. Those three girls (Jade, Danielle and Jo) are slags.’ Ms. Curry should be given the award for Best British hypocrite for, if memory serves me correctly, she had an affair with former prime minister, John Major when he was in office and later betrayed him. I know all about slags, Ms. Curry, I’m one of the few unfortunates who have read your diary.

Alas, the story does not end here. There are quite a few candidates for Edwina’s award. One competitor for this award has to be Ken Livingston (AKA: Red Ken – now that’s a misnomer, if ever I heard one. My cat harbours more communist sympathies than him.), the Mayor of London came out in support of Ms. Shetty immediately. This is coming from a man who likened a Jewish journalist to a Nazi Concentration Camp guard. Yet another candidate for this award is Meera Syal (And to think I once admired her.) She was one of the first to jump onto the Big Brother Race Row bandwagon. Syal once appeared on *Room 101. One of her choices was an entire nation – Austria. ‘Have you been there?’ asked the presenter.

‘No,’ Ms. Syal replied unashamedly. ‘I’d be afraid they’d ask me to take a shower.’

I don’t think so, Ms Syal. But they might ask you to join the SS. And this is where endorsing the concept of collective guilt gets us. For it to have any validity, it must be applied to all groups and, if is not, the concept has no validity. Circular but simple.

Not simple enough for some, it would seem.

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This Too Shall Pass

January 22, 2007

‘There’s your hopes and your dreams you embrace
Then there’s what’s staring you in the face
Sorrowful times are here but they won’t last
This too shall pass’

Bruce Hornsby

In response to this

Dear Ms. Alibhai-Brown,

I read your column with interest. I also listened to what you had to say on the BBC’s News Twenty Four and frankly I found it rather amusing. I really don’t think a country that treats a sixth of its population as subhuman (the lowest caste – the ‘untouchables’) has the right to lecture any other country on bigotry. This kind of discrimination occupies no column inches in our newspapers. No one takes to the streets and burns effigies of upper caste Indians on their behalf. But then they’re not spoilt Bollywood actresses.

I am from a working class background so I’m probably not as intelligent and sophisticated as you are but there are a couple of things I just don’t ‘get’:

1. Why do you consider racism wrong while endorsing other forms of bigotry such as class-based prejudice and misogyny? (You accused Jade Goody of being motivated by envy in her treatment of Ms. Shetty because the former is ‘ugly’ and the latter is ‘beautiful’ – because that is all woman is, right? Her packaging? The irony is that Ms. Shetty probably comes closer to Western ideals of beauty than Jade Goody who has West Indian features.) It seems like an illogical position to hold.

2. How is a programme watched by a minority of the population any more representative of the UK than the way in which some Indians treat their lower caste citizens? (They are exploited, mistreated, raped, tortured, immolated but that’s clearly something that doesn’t interest you. The next time you’re at the BBC take a trip over to Radio Four’s studios and listen to the episode of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ that was broadcast on the Saturday before Christmas – it includes a particularly harrowing account of caste-based violence in rural India. That didn’t make it into our newspapers – probably because it didn’t involve any celebrities.)

Make no mistake, bigotry is wrong. All kinds of bigotry. Exhibiting a different kind of bigotry to Ms. Goody does not make you superior to her, it makes you the same as her. If you disapprove of someone’s behaviour it’s best to avoid emulating them.

And finally, could you please justify this:
http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/archives/109/23825.pdf

yours sincerely,


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