TAG | PC
Adapted from a post at Ricochet:
Theotory blogger (and martyred Archbishop!) Cranmer’s response to the decision (discussed here earlier) by retailer M&S to accomodate members of staff who, for religious reasons, do not want to handle pork, alcohol is too good not to share here.
Here, by the way, is what M&S has to say for itself:
“We recognise that some of our employees practise religions that restrict the food or drink they can handle, or that mean they cannot work at certain times. M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”
Over to Cranmer:
An environment free from discrimination? Have they considered that their customers don’t wish to be discriminated against and made to feel morally deficient or ‘unclean’? How is inconveniencing customers by forcing them to queue at non-Muslim checkouts consistent with “high levels of customer service”?
The main problem with this is that it plays to a certain Muslim stereotype: it affirms an utterly myopic interpretation of sharia law and so perpetuates prejudice against all Muslims. The Qur’an exhorts Muslims not to eat pork products or drink alcohol: it does not say they may not handle glass bottles or pass a plastic packet of bacon over a scanner.
But, no matter. Some M&S equality aficionado has determined the orthodox tenets of each religion, and is prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate them: they have confirmed – in true anti-discrimination style – that Jewish employees are also permitted to decline to serve customers alcohol and pork, notwithstanding that no Jewish employee has ever refused to do this in the store’s 129-year history.
But why stop at alcohol and pork?
Are they also permitted to decline to scan a packet of prawns? May they refuse to sell garments made of wool and cotton? Or meat mixed with dairy? Is a Muslim employee permitted to decline to sell you a bikini or a lipstick? And what about M&S finance? Is a Muslim employee who objects to charging interest on debt going to be permitted to administer an interest-free credit card?
And why restrict this to the point of sale? Don’t these products require handling throughout the logistical chain? Are Muslim (and Jewish) employees going to be exempt from placing orders for certain products? Are they going to be exempt from handling certain boxes in the warehouse?
Are Christians going to be permitted to decline to handle halal meat, since it has been “offered to idols” (1Cor 8)? Or has the M&S equality aficionado decreed that this is not a fundamental requirement of the faith? If so, on what theological basis?
As far as His Grace is aware, M&S don’t sell condoms. But if they did, would a Roman Catholic employee be permitted to decline to serve the customer, thereby compounding their embarrassment?
This is not “reasonable accommodation”: it is not the same as permitting holy days off or the wearing of certain religious symbols over a uniform. It is manifestly unreasonable when customers are inconvenienced by i) having to queue at a non-sharia checkout, or ii) waiting for a member of staff to arrive who is prepared to serve you.
Oh yes, it seems that the Church of England thinks the whole thing is fine. #sigh, as they say over in Twitterland.
Deciding quite where and how a nation should draw the line between its citizens’ right to practice their religions and its own right to protect itself from spiraling down into balkanization has never been an easy thing to determine and in an age of multiculturalism it is becoming more difficult still.
Over then to the UK: writing in the Daily Telegraph, Matthew d’Ancona laments guidance given by Universities UK on the arrangements to be put in place when external speakers are visiting a campus and, specifically, this:
“[a wish to] accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to [gender] segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system. Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”
[T]his is a test case about much more than fringe events on provincial campuses. It is about the very basis of a pluralist society and what philosophers call “value incommensurability” – the clash between principles, and the dilemmas that such conflicts pose. As a ferocious opponent of theocratic creep, Hitchens argued that secular society was becoming far too emollient and unwilling to defend Enlightenment values against attack. Diplomatic immunity, equality before the law, the right of the novelist to free expression: all are now weighed against the risk of upsetting the theological apple cart.
The segregation row has forced us to confront the friction between religious sensitivities and core aspects of our common citizenship. The heart of the matter is the word “freedom” and its abuse. The original guidance claimed that forbidding segregation by gender on campus might infringe “the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker”. This is babble, but it is dangerous babble. It implies that upsetting the religious sensibilities of an individual or congregation – and it is possible to take offence at anything – is a form of censorship.
I heard a similar argument made during the gay marriage debate: that same-sex weddings would somehow infringe “religious freedoms”, even though they were to be held exclusively in civil settings. In the segregation row, the hurt feelings of a believer or group of believers are weighed against the entire principle of gender equality – as if core principles are upheld only on the probationary basis that they do not upset the faithful. This amazing proposition reverses the polarities of the 20th century and replaces the totalitarian state with the totalitarian individual – the person who claims that absolutely anything that offends him is an assault on his “religious freedom” and has to be stopped. And let us be frank: because, collectively, we have grown fearful of religious extremism, we, too, often nod respectfully when we should be fighting back.
And right on cue, there’s this, also from the Daily Telegraph:
At M&S [a British retailer], Muslim staff who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork have been told they can politely request that customers choose another till at which to pay.
At one of its stores in central London last week, customers waiting with goods that included pork or alcohol were told by a Muslim checkout worker to wait until another till became available. The assistant was extremely apologetic at having to ask customers to wait.
One customer, who declined to be named, said: “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available.
“I was taken aback. I was a bit surprised. I’ve never come across that before.
Well, get used to it. Best guess is that there will be more of this nonsense to come.
Writing in the same newspaper, Damian Thompson hits back:
I’m sorry, but if you cannot “handle” bacon and champagne and dozens of other products – even though your co-religionists have been doing so for decades – then don’t work in a secular supermarket. And I’d say the same to a Christian from a teetotal sect who refused to process the sale of alcohol.
When Islam and political correctness join forces, as they do so often, questioning their demands is portrayed as racist. Actually, if you really want to damage relations between communities, then ordering harassed shoppers to change queues (which are long enough already in M&S, God knows) is a good way to go about it.
Another chain, Sainsbury’s, has said that it has no plans to follow M&S’s lemming lead.
Good for Sainsbury’s. Accommodating employees’ religious beliefs and customers’ requirements can be tricky; but there are times when common sense tells you that a particular demand is over the top and counterproductive. Give in to it, and not only will unfounded accusations of racism fly around, but genuine racists will jump in to sour relations between shoppers and (typically) young female Muslim checkout staff, some of whom may already be under pressure from the religious police in their own community.
Note that in our report the Muslim lady says apologetically that she “could not” serve the customer buying champagne. Is that because it offends her conscience – or because she’s been told that, as a Muslim, she is no longer allowed to do this part of her job?
That last point is important. By doing what it has done, M&S has lent a helping hand to the fundamentalist enforcers.
I won’t be shopping there next time I’m in Blighty.
The Jewish Chronicle reports:
Marks & Spencer has confirmed that Jewish employees do not have to serve pork products at tills to its customers, if it goes against their religious beliefs. The chain confirmed that, in the same way a Muslim member of staff could refuse to handle pork and alcohol, a Jewish employee could decline to sell pork sausages, bacon rashers and sea-food.
A M&S spokesperson said: “We recognise that some if our employees practise religions that restrict food or drink they can handle, or mean they cannot work at certain times.
“M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”
As I said, balkanization.
And what about,, say, secular vegetarians compelled to sell the remnants of slaughtered livestock? Do their feelings count for nothing? Or does M&S only respect deeply-held religious belief.
Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator:
Firoozeh Bazrafkan is frightened of nothing. Five foot tall, 31 years old, and so thin you think a puff of wind could blow her away, she still has the courage to be a truly radical artist and challenge those who might hurt her. She fights for women’s rights and intellectual freedom, and her background means her fight has to be directed against radical Islam. As a Danish citizen, she saw journalists go into hiding and mobs attack her country’s embassies just because Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad that were so tame you could hardly call them ‘satirical’. Bazrafkan is also the daughter of an Iranian family, and the Islamic Republic’s subjugation of women revolts her.
When I met her, she was enduring a crash course in politically correct Europe’s many hypocrisies. White Danes reported her to the police for writing that Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters, and adding for good measure that the ‘Koran is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined’.
You could say that her remarks were offensive. You could say that the inattentive reader might just take them to mean that all Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters. But if every remark that someone might find offensive or misinterpret were banned, the human race would fall silent.
Liberal principles once held that the Danish state should only punish Bazrafkan if her words provoked violence. As it was, the court asked for no proof of actual incitement. (There was none to be had.) Instead, it acted as if criticism of religion — a system of beliefs which individuals should be free to choose and others should be free to criticise — was identical to racial prejudice, which all thinking people condemn because no one can choose his or her ethnicity.
The white ‘liberal’ judges therefore ruled that the Iranian-born artist was a ‘racist’ and gave her a criminal record for condemning honour killings and clerical misogyny…
And the story gets worse. Read the whole thing.
Cranmer picks up on a curious exchange in Britain’s House of Lords between a UKIP peer (Lord Pearson) and a Conservative minister (Baroness Warsi). The whole thing is well worth a read, but this section, in particular, caught my attention. The discussion between the two has gone on for a while and Lord Pearson is, as Cranmer noted, getting a little vexed:
An exasperated Lord Pearson intervened:
‘With respect, that does not answer the question. The question I put to the noble Baroness was about the persecution of Christians . . . Is it or is it not mostly the work of the jihadists? That was the question I put to her.”
And so she [replied]:
“It was mostly the work of extremists who do not follow any faith, as far as I am concerned.”
So, those who burn down churches, blow people up or cut their heads off while quoting the Qur’an, declaiming “Allahu Akbar” and invoking the name of Mohammed are not Muslims at all: they are really followers of no faith: they are secularists or humanist atheists; buddies of Professor Dawkins. This is the socio-religio-political depth of understanding of the UK’s first ever Minister for Faith and Communities. She says it is her job “to ensure that freedom of religion and belief remains at the top of the Government’s agenda both at home and internationally”. But while doing that, there can be no scrutiny of the virulent salafi-wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam, for, to her, that is not Islam at all. And even to mention the possibility that it might be invites allegations of bigotry. These ‘extremists’ are simply not true Muslims and are completely ignorant of the real Islam.
And yet.. and yet..
At a Muslim Peace Conference in Norway (yes, a peace conference in Europe), when asked if the Muslims in attendance agreed that adulterous women ought to be stoned, the speaker praises Allah that all the men’s hands were raised. His Grace says “men’s hands”, for there appears to be no gender diversity at this gathering. Unless, of course, the women were in the basement. When asked if they believed in the strict separation of men and women, all hands again were raised (except the bloke on the front line, whom the speaker ignores). This video is not of a group of ‘extremists’, but ordinary believers in a run-of-the-mill expression of moderate Islam….
These ordinary, everyday moderate Muslims want sharia law in their country; not secular democracy and human rights. The moderate and enlightened speaker mocks the media portrayal of their beliefs as ‘extreme’. One wonders, if they had been asked, whether all hands would have been raised to affirm the death penalty for apostasy. Surely, if stoning women for adultery is considered just, then hanging for apostasy or blasphemy is a fortiori the will of Allah. And it is a very small step indeed from that belief to burning down the odd church and beheading the occasional kafir.
But these are not Muslims. They do not follow any faith.
As far as Baroness Warsi is concerned.
Here’s a story from the Daily Mail of (alleged) intolerance in a small English town:
It sounds like a horror story straight from medieval times. Two witches descend on an ancient market town – only to be targeted by terrified Christians calling for them to be burned at the stake. But for father-of-one Albion and his partner Raven, 39, this is no historical event – it is a modern nightmare. The Pagan couple opened their shop The Whispering Witch in the quaint town of Alcester, Warwickshire, around 15 months ago and claim to have been subjected to a hate campaign ever since.
‘People shout ‘burn the witches’ as they go past and we’ve had others urinating up the window,’ said Albion, 51.
‘I found a pile of wood stacked in front of the door one morning.
‘We’ve also had letters quoting extracts from the Bible telling us not to ‘promote the work of darkness’ in ‘their town’. ‘I can only assume this is the work of Christians. The handwriting looks as though it’s from an adult. It’s like living in the 16th century.’
Well, not quite. But even so, those responsible should be ashamed of themselves.
That said, this took me aback:
What we are suffering is racism from people with a 16th century mentality.
It goes without saying that Albion and his partner Raven should be allowed to go about their business without interference, but I was intrigued by the fact that Albion has decided to pin the blame on “racism”.
If you wonder why that term runs the danger of being drained of all meaning, this story is not a bad place to begin.
Mind you, a local Baptist clergyman isn’t above a bit of (a different type of) PC cliché himself:
Reverend Alistair Aird, from Alcester Baptist Church, condemned those behind the attacks but added: ‘My impression is that people in the town don’t feel that this is the kind of thing they want in Alcester. The murmurings are what I have picked up whilst walking around town from mothers, who have talked to me in the street.’
Ah, of course. “From mothers”.