The bigots who oppose political correctness loudest are often its principle cause. Yet those who promote politically-correct identity politics can cause of the very hatred they earnestly seek to avoid.
Once again, there is much editorial hand-wringing about how to approach the religious motivations of the Woolwich attackers. Perhaps such editorial sensitivities are overblown. There is hardly a person in the UK who does not know that the Woolwich attackers represent mainstream Islam in much the same way as Anders Brevik represents the Church of Norway. Everybody loves to hate political correctness. But sometimes you see such sheer hatred online that you see why it has become necessary.
I was reading a Bloomberg report carried by The Irish Times this morning. It described in detail the four days of rioting that occurred in Sweden this week. Many commenters expressed frustration because the fact that the rioters were - apparently - mostly Muslim was not reported. One commenter stated:
"So I missed it. Were Muslims mentioned at all? These people need to be deported; and the ones that refuse must be killed. It is 'Them or us,' and we were not the ones to pose the question."
The irony was clearly lost on this guy. It is precisely because of hateful, murderous nutjobs like him that writers and editors become reluctant to mention the religion or ethnicity of those accused of crimes - even where it may be a relevant fact.
Yet, even as social media has facilitated the spread of such hatred, it has also done the opposite. In the wake of the Woolwich attack, social media has empowered ordinary British Muslims to make their abhorrence of the attack widely known.
Mehdi Hasan makes the point well in The Daily Telegraph: "British Muslims no longer have to wait for the much-maligned Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), or self-appointed 'community leaders', to take a public stand, nor do they need to compete with clowns like Anjem Choudary for media attention; they have been empowered by Twitter and Facebook, where in great numbers they have expressed disgust at the invoking of Islam to support such an appalling crime."
Too often, when it comes to what we see posted online, the words of Yeats ring true: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Too often, the online field is left to extremists from the BNP - or those who hail the Woolwich attackers as "heroes." Seeing stories provoke such vitriol makes editors queasy about how they report things - sometimes leading to the sort of political correctness that glosses over salient facts.
On the other hand, political correctness - and the identity politics at its heart - can actually foment hatred. Not least because it promotes ideas of separateness and victimhood for certain ethnic and religious groups. Only when such ideas become deeply entrenched, can you have a London-born and British-bred person justify an attack because of what Britain is supposedly doing in "our lands" - places he has never even visited.
We Irish of a certain age probably have some notion how ordinary Muslims feel when a murderous attack is carried out in their name. In the early 90s, I recall the horror and shame we would feel when the IRA carried out yet another atrocity in the name of Ireland - and under our flag. Fewer than 2 pc of southern Irish people voted Sinn Féin at the time, and the IRA was widely despised across the south. Yet many Irish in the UK felt under a sort of suspicion. It meant a lot when British people told us, "We know you are against the IRA too." They knew because we made sure they knew: we always made our opposition vociferously clear.
The vast, silent majority of ordinary Britons - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - have the power to drown out the bigots and foster an atmosphere of mutual understanding online. They could even rally around their shared British identity, and move beyond the balkanisation of identity politics. They should get typing.
The best should become full of passionate intensity.
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