Wednesday, February 15, 2006

John Stuart Mill is back in fashion

If I had a fiver for every time something in the media has offended me, well, I would be what Dickens described as a man of considerable means. This is not to deny or ridicule the sense of insult & hurt felt by many Muslims over the Danish cartoons. [It seems that the original images appeared in what has been described as the Danish Daily Mail, so no wonder the paper's editor was eager to publish.]
However, it does seem perverse that such a furious response around the world on the issue is rarely, if ever, replicated when it comes to Abu Ghraib (more images of which have come to light in the last 24 hours) or the continued policy of military & economic isolation which Israel persues against the Palestinian population on the West Bank.
Andrew Anthony struck just the right note in last Sunday's Observer (,,1707716,00.html ). It simply isn't acceptable to expect a secular society to make special provision for religious communities at the expense of those of us who believe in a clear separation of religion & State.
Peter Tatchell, whose tactics I don't normally endorse, was spot on recently when exposing the hypocrisy of Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain. Sacranie had used the forum of a Today interview on BBC Radio 4 to express his condemnation of gay marriage, same-sex civil partnerships & homosexuality in general. Tatchell reasonably noted that if Sacranie felt he had the right to criticise others on the grounds of their sexuality, it was permissible for anyone to criticise Islam for its neanderthal views on social issues. To wheel out a well-worn cliche, you can't have it both ways.

I don't smoke. I 've never seen the point of it. Its supposed attractions have always left me cold. Even when the area behind the bike sheds at school was frequented by rookie smokers, convinced that the habit was the epitome of cool, I was aware of the health angle. My father was a heavy smoker, but managed to kick the habit in his mid 40s, cursing the damage that tobacco does to the body.
Yesterday's vote in the Commons on smoking in public places has been met with the expected squaks of dissent from those who believe it's the nanny state on the warpath again. Nor should those Labour MPs be taken seriously when they defend the "right" of working men's clubs in their constituencies to maintain smoking sections. [Some of these clubs used to be openly racist & sexist in their admission policy, so much for the vaunted egalitarian ethos.]
One of the most offensively patronising comments came from Health minister John Reid last year. Smoking, he opined, was one of the few pleasures --yes, he said pleasures-- open to those at the bottom of the heap; the single mother stuck in a high rise while the kids were playing up. Once upon a time Labour MPs would have railed against destructive vices brought on by poverty. The notion that such vices should be indulged & tolerated would have led to calls for deselection.
Another factor to consider is that most working men's clubs are used at least once a week by children. Citing a fictitious "right" to smoke in these circumstances is a breath-taking, pardon the pun, example of negligence & irresponsibility.
Such attitudes were unearthed by Today's Guardian (,,1709906,00.html ) in a rather sad & run-down Manchester social club. A depressing slice of inner-city defeatism was captured in the remark from one denizen, "You live, you die. You might as well have a ciggy while you're at it."
Hearing it as a snatch of dialogue from the execrable "Shameless" or reading it in an NME Mark E. Smith piece, it's easy, maybe too easy, to dismiss. When you realise that this is a comment from someone with chronic health problems & stunted horizons, it makes you loathe even further John Reid's throwaway defence of the indefensible.

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