Praising The Tolerance Of The British

This year started with one of those high profile events which dominate the news for a couple of days but which will probably not be much remembered by the end of 2004.

Robert Kilroy Silk’s television hour on Monday morning was one of those confessional programmes that I have personally found extremely tawdry and distasteful so I am not sorry at its demise. I expect to see it re-appear soon on another channel because the British public’s enthusiasm for these personal revelation programmes shows few signs of abating. The ex-Labour MP’s article in a Sunday newspaper, which led to his standing down as the presenter of the morning programme, read like a rant against all Arabs but the average newspaper reader in this country is well used to accepting that sort of belligerent all-encompassing diatribe with a pinch of salt.

We know that racism exists in this country but it is best broken down by humour as well as enthusiasm for education and integration into our British society. Terrorism has caused much pain to every corner of the world and sadly it is growing. It causes deep anger and resentment because so many innocent people are killed and injured without helping progress to be made on the political front. It is important that commentators and politicians maintain a proper sense of discipline in their language so that we do not encourage the zealots in our society to develop their hatred and pursue any unconscienceable acts.

Equally free speech is a cornerstone of a democratic and open society and I do not want to see the Commission for Racial Equality, the Church of England, the Muslim Council or any other organisation setting itself up as a self-appointed censor of individual thoughts and words. I do not agree with Mr Kilroy-Silk but nor should he be silenced. He has every right to have his say and those of us who disagree with him should express their different view.

In surveys on racism and asylum seekers people never seem to be asked how they feel for instance about having (say) an Australian or German family move next to them. As a great lover of sport I find nothing creates greater national enthusiasm than the aspect of winning and losing at sport. But it is on most occasions superficial and a time-honoured ritual that eases political tension rather than fuels it. Does anyone in this country imagine that people in the Australian media would have had to resign after their wonderfully over-the-top tirades against the English during our rugby team’s World Cup conquest last autumn? Similarly I suspect no one would feel uneasy about having Aussie neighbours despite such comments (unless they feared the dreaded barbecue fumes belching over the garden fence every weekend!).

It is respectful to have regard to other people’s sensitivities when we discuss controversial matters but there must be perspective on all sides. Our goal must always be to maintain a nation of harmony and a sense of community. This wonderful nation of ours has proved to have the greatest and longest lasting capacity of any country in the world to welcome and integrate religion and culture. Now this tradition of tolerance is again under pressure and we must all show greater levels of acceptance so that we can remain a spiritual beacon for decency in this divided world.