These days I find myself highly irritated by what is becoming an often used terminology such as racism and political correctness, when in fact they invade logic and are used to give shelter to those seeking to clamp down on our right to free expression. It’s high time this paranoia, which is becoming inherent in some parts of our society leave these shores and inflict their so-called prejudices elsewhere.
It reminds me of an incident in 1988 when Quartet published a controversial book of social significance by Russell Lewis called Anti-Racism: A Mania Exposed which carried an introduction by Enoch Powell. This set out to ask the question of whether the anti-racist movement in Britain had become a latter-day witch-hunt. Abhorrence at the crimes of Nazism had been right and proper, Lewis agreed, but he felt it had also set the climate for the establishment and growth of a ‘race-relations industry’ in the country. His thesis was that legislation designed to foil racial prejudice had invariably had the opposite effect. Tolerance would never be born of legislation or activism, he maintained, but could only flow naturally from the depoliticization of education and the phasing out of those institutions that had a vested interest in racial strife.
Salman Rushdie, as one of the ‘ethnics’ Lewis referred to, took the book apart in his Observer review: In this allegedly ‘fascinating and well-researched’ volume, Mr Lewis offers a series of diagnoses and prescriptions which are, alas, variously risible, inept and predictable. His contention is that anti-racism is a form of witch-hunting, that anti-racist agencies largely create the problems they were set up to alleviate, and that, anyway, it’s all part of the higher craziness of loony-leftism . . . What black Britons must recognize, he concludes, is one thing: precisely because it is colour-blind the free market is their friend . . .
Not long ago a book as poor as this would have had trouble finding a respectable publisher; it’s a sign of the times that it has now found lodgings at Uncle Naim’s Cabin . . . and . . . here is aged Enoch still prophesying civil war: Enoch, to whom the country remains in debt for his great speech about the river of blood.
Salman Rushdie was perfectly entitled to express strong views about theories advanced by an author with whom he clearly disagreed. It was a step too far in his criticism to denigrate the book by claiming that no respectable publisher would have touched it in the past. ‘Uncle Naim’s Cabin’, as he called Quartet, had been responsible for publishing more left-wing books than one could begin to count. We had consistently been champions of the underdog, the dispossessed, the oppressed minorities, the unemployed, and had highlighted a wide diversity of views to create an environment in which debate could replace violence and conflict. We had often disregarded commercial considerations in our pursuit of this aim and had defied convention to our own disadvantage. The book Salman was reviewing carried a valid warning which in some respects seems to have come true. Debate is now muffled by political correctness, which, while well-meaning in concept, has worked against free speech and robbed us of certain civil liberties, for which we are all culturally the poorer. The greatness of Britain stems from its commitment to freedom of expression, and this is now under severe threat of being gagged by accusations of ‘racism’. The new obsession with racism in this context will eventually have the opposite effect to that intended. We are all equal under the legislation, and we should ensure that preserving these freedoms is our main objective and dispense with ‘political correctness’ as it is being interpreted today.
Have we learnt our lesson yet? The answer is ‘certainly not’. We keep harping on the same old theme, a theme that still defies comprehension.