Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Humour, hate and something that’s just not funny

Tony Blair is, I’m sure; a well intentioned man of principal who wants to get things done that will make the world a better place. In other words he is the most dangerous Prime Ministers Britain has had since Thatcher. Graham Green once described innocence as a leper roaming the world without a bell. Blair goes one step further than this; he’s a leper who wants to shake hands with everyone.

Imagine the dismay when Tony, (he insists his colleagues call him Tony – likeable chap that he is), after helping George W liberate Iraq and remove the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in less time that it takes to call a press conference, it turns out that most of the Arab world see him as part of an invading army of the west, intent on destroying Islam. Good grief, some of them got so upset about it, they even bombed London.

Now Tony has nothing against the Muslim world. He’s a tolerant man, married to a prominent Catholic woman (Tony of course is not allowed to be Catholic and Prime Minister at the same time although I suspect he may “discover” his faith at the end of his present term of office) and he supports religious freedom. To Tony, it is unacceptable that people should be hated simply because of the religion they follow. Hate, he has explained to us, is a Bad Thing. Hate gets people so upset that they blow up buses and trains and kill all the people on them. Any self-respecting Government would therefore feel the need to make promoting religious hatred a crime. Then we call all live together in peace and harmony.

This of course is to misunderstand the legal process to an extent that is almost wilfully naïve. You can’t write a law that says “Thou shalt not hate the next chap just because of the God he prays to”, you have to get a bit more specific than that. And those nice law makers that Tony put on the job have been much more specific, and the more specific they have been come, the more ludicrous the legislation they propose becomes.

Anyone who reads my blog will know that I think humour is a great political weapon. It seems that Tony’s lawyers agree with me. Unfortunately to them that means that humour is now one of the Bad Things that need to be banned. Their propose legislation would make it illegal to satirise religion – any religion of any kind. To satirise something is to promote disrespect of that thing which is pretty damn close (at least in the clubs that these lawyers are members of) to promoting hatred.

So if my religion holds that women are biologically subversive and need to be locked out of sight lest men be corrupted by them and lose their immortal souls in a fit of lust, I am not supposed to snigger or say “you can not be serious” in a McEnroe type voice. I’m supposed to stay calm and say “Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”

Even if the person I’m speaking to believes that God has been pretty clear that everyone is NOT entitled to their opinion and everyone except the chosen will burn in torment for all eternity, I’m still not supposed to suggest that this is a self-serving view of God and that any omnipotent being who chooses that path should have his beard burnt off rather be worshipped. No, I’m supposed to nod and say, “You might have a point”.

Rowan Atkinson, known around the world as Mr. Bean and known in England as the Black Adder, is so incensed by the stupidity of a law that say that just because it’s religious you can’t make fun of it, that he has taken the time to explain to the lawyer chaps, clause by clause, why their legislation is insane. Sadly, they looked at him and said, “Well you may have a point, Rowan, but Tony’s rather keen on all this so the show must go on.” Rowan has promised to write a comedy sketch in breach of the new laws if they are passed, just to provoke a prosecution and give some of the funniest men in England a chance to explain why Tony needs his ass kicked.

By the way, in writing the Atkinson story up, the Sunday Times quoted a joke that would be frowned upon by the proposed laws, so let me share it with you.

“How do you know that Jesus was a Jew?”

“Because he was still living at home at 30 and his mother thought he was God”.

So now on to the distinctly unfunny story that caught my eye this week. A while ago I read a book called “Market Forces” by Richard Morgan. It’s a hard hitting book set in a near future Britain where consultants for privatised war firms win business by fighting to the death in a kind of choreographed road rage. It was a depressingly plausible read that I found difficult to dismiss from my mind. The characters in the book have a toast, “To Small Wars” as these are the ones that bring the biggest bonus payments. This week, I discovered that truth continues to challenge fiction. The Americans have privatised the policing of Iraq and have brought in a few thousand hired guns at $1,000 a day.

The activities of the 50 plus firms that currently operate in Iraq are coordinated by “Aegis Defence Services” who also employ 75 teams of their own. Aegis is British firm, run by Lt Col Tim Spicer,a former Scots Guards officer, which describes itself as risk-management and private security company or PSC. Aegis is a small outfit by PSC standards and yet the Iraq contract alone was worth $293 million. If you want to get a flavour for the enterprise, visit their website:

Spicer is a controversial figure in Britain. He won the OBE in Northern Ireland, was accused of illegally exporting arms (and then was cleared when he demonstrated that he was under orders from the UK government at the time. He led troops who were convicted of murdering an unarmed Irish teenager. Take a look at this open letter to Comptroller General of the US Government Accountability Office if you are interested in the details: or take a look at these two articles and

There are 50 PSCs operating in Iraq. Competition is tough so Special Forces types are in big demand to demonstrate the value of the company they belong to. This has in turn placed recruitment pressures on the public sector – the US Army now offers $150,000 cash bonus to re-enlisting Special Forces troops. So it seems Richard Morgan was not being fanciful after all. I’m sure there are few ex-Sandhurst chaps in the City toasting small wars as you read this. Still, at least they won’t be doing a Bad Thing like poking fun at a religion.

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