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Sensitivity Lesson

eye on the news

Sensitivity Lesson

You better watch what you say in today’s Britain. January 19, 2007

Here is an interesting little slice of contemporary English life.

The police go to a pub in a small town in Devon, looking for a suspect. They see a man there who they think resembles the suspect, and approach him. He becomes abusive and they arrest him and take him down to the station. He is drunk.

After a couple of hours in a jail cell, he says he feels sick and demands a doctor. The police call the police surgeon. When he arrives (he is an Indian), the arrested man says, “I want an English doctor, not a fucking Paki.”

The police then charge the man with racially aggravated insulting behavior. He elects for a superior court trial, and the prosecution proceeds with the case as though it were a very serious one.

The judge decides that the court should not waste its time on so trivial a matter, especially when burglars and robbers frequently escape charges. The doctor, he says, is a man of some social standing; a single insult from a drunk could not, or should not, have harmed him unduly. He then gives a bit of advice to the accused: “Next time, call him a fat bastard and don’t say anything about his color.”

The judge soon had to explain publicly, in an almost groveling way, that he by no means underestimated the seriousness of racial insult, and that he was not making light of it.

Contained in this story, of course, are many elements of modern social and moral pathology. The judge, surely, was being ironic at the expense of those who thought that a single boorish remark by a man who, after all, had been wrongly identified by the police so threatened the social fabric that it deserved the attention of many highly educated people and a cost to the public of many thousands of dollars. But even mild criticism of the prevailing pieties is becoming intolerable in Britain.

In the very same week, the British Medical Journal published a debate on whether British Muslims should have their own, separate medical services—funded by the state, naturally. Now there’s irony for you.

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