Opinion: We should not be offended by keeping our noses out of other people’s business

Last weekend’s media was dominated by the earth shattering news that Prince Harry called a fellow soldier in the Pakistani army a “Paki”. The press have hounded him, people have accused him of racism, and the soldier’s father has spoken of his offence too.

As if this “race row” wasn’t enough to shock you to your very core, we learn that Prince Charles has been calling an Asian friend of his, Kuldip (Anglicised to Kolin in some reports) Dhillon, “Sooty” as a nickname for years without anyone taking offence at it.

As a society, we British are offended way too easily, by offences committed by people we don’t know to people we don’t know, yet we feel obliged to feel some moral outrage whenever a celebrity does something we perceive to be wrong, however small that wrong may be.

When we focus on what happened with Harry, we see:
> He refers to a Ahmed as his “little Paki friend”;
> Harry and Ahmed consider each other mutual friends;
> Ahmed took no offence at being called “Paki” by the members of his squad, with whom he was also friends with;
> At the very end of the video obtained by the News of the World, we see Harry himself being mocked for having ginger pubes.

So, to sum up: a group of young men use words. None of them are offended.

Light-heartedly ragging your comrades is a part of army life, and builds up camaraderie, and team spirit, exactly the same as in sports. The tall ones get called lanky, the small ones shortarse. The spotty ones get called Clearasil, and those who wear glasses get called four-eyes.

Yes, sometimes nicknames can be used on an ethnic/racial basis, hence Pakistanis being called Paki, black soldiers being called Chalky, the Welsh being called Taffy, and so on. This can seem a bit off to an outsider, not part of the group, but none of the group are upset or hurt by their friends’ choice of nicknames, so we should remember to keep our noses (and voiced opinions) out of their business.

Exactly the same thing happens with Prince Charles’ friend “Sooty”. Quoting directly from the BBC, Kuldip Dhillon said the nickname was “term of affection with no offence meant or felt”. Fantastic. Except now Clarence House have to fend of barrages of accusations of racism with bored denials.

Last week, nobody in the entire world was offended by Harry calling Ahmed a Paki. Nobody. Literally zero people. But now, many are, and most of them seem to be writing columns for tabloids. The story broke, the News of the World posted the video, and here we are. Offended.

We have to, as a society, sit back and remember that if the so-called victim isn’t offended, then we shouldn’t be either. Let victims be offended by themselves, it’s OK. If someone does something truly terrible, then we can all jump in and moralise. Otherwise, let’s just sit back and reduce our stress levels, and save our outrage for times which truly require it.

* Andreas Christodoulou is a Liberal Democrat member and activist from Northampton, studying at the University of Bath.

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  • Martin Land 16th Jan '09 - 7:27pm

    Shock, Horror! Son and Grandson of Duke of Edinburgh are Racists!

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '09 - 10:08pm

    I agree with Andreas. We should not assume racism unless we can see a clear intention to offend, and I can’t here.

    There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with “Paki”, it’s just an abbreviation of “Pakistani”. It took on racist overtones because when large scale immigration from the Indian subcontinent first occurred here it was a word picked up and used by those who were aggressive and violent towards the immigrants to describe them. Some of the offence came from its usage for anyone with a brown skin as if to the racists they were all the same so why bother distinguishing Pakistanis from Indians and Sri Lankans. But most of it came from the fact that if it was a word you heard mainly shouted at you by people who were menacing you, of course you’d hate it and think bad of anyone using it, because it would remind you of those people who menaced you.

    In other parts of the world where the word didn’t have this history, it is used as an abbreviation for Pakistani and accepted as such with no offensive intent. I remember having an argument with someone, I think it was an Australian, who simply couldn’t understand the point that it oughtn’t to be used here, because in his country the word was used all the time, for example, as the normal term for the Pakistani cricket team.

    If Harry was intending to cause distress to his colleague because he knew the word’s history here and that the fellow would be offended by it, that would be a bad thing. We don’t have proof of that. If he simply wasn’t aware that it was word that some find offensive for the reasons I’ve outlined, he did no wrong, a quiet word at the time if someone senior heard it might have been a good idea, but it’s silly to makea fuss about it now. If he knew it was offensive, but it was in an atmosphere where all the soldiers were using offensive terms for each other, well, because of who he is Harry ought to have been more on guard than his colleagues, but we know the man’s a twit anyway. I don’t see it as evidence of deep racism.

    The readiness to jump up and down and seek offence where none was intended doesn’t help good race relations. It does cause people to be reluctant to mix and relax in the company of others from different ethnicities if they are made to feel they must always be on their guard for fear of unwittingly causing offence. This jumping up and down and seeking offence when none was intended is a particularly bad thing when done by some people on behalf of others who never asked them to be offended on their behalf.

  • It’s somewhat galling to see LibDems leaping to defend the Windsors – due deference and all that I s’pose? Forelock tugging, more likely!

    Everyone happily says that the soldiers concerned “were not offended”! How do we know – who’s going to complain in the armed forces with the endemic bullying and fascistic atmosphere. Who’s going to complain if a royal is doing the insulting? You’d better not complain or you’re likely to receive even worse treatment!
    Instead of running around making excuses for these parasites on the body politic, we should be questioning the whole hereditary principle anyway. Find them all a nice estate on the Caymans and let’s move to a modern constitution….

    {Paddy for first Prez!}

  • Like it or not we have a history as a colonial power. We can argue about exactly how we exercised our authority over the native peoples of the countries over which we had dominion, but there can be little argument that they were regarded by the agents of the colonial power as inferior beings. That is why the term ‘paki’ is offensive, as is ‘sooty’ and any other supposedly ‘affectionate’ nickname applied by members of the ruling class (or their surrogates) to ethnic minority groups from our former colonies. That is also why ‘taffy’, ‘jock’ or ‘mick’ are not comparable, any more than would be an equivalent nickname applied to myself or Andreas (presumably) who have Greek ethnic origins.

  • Yeah, I can’t think of any reason to be concerned about the royals conduct.

    Well if we, as taxpayers, gave them millions of pounds every year, send them globetrotting to represent our country and give them privleged estates and ceremonial positions in our governmental structures. I mean, if that was the case perhaps we might not expect them to idly use racial ephitets.

    Good job none of thats so then and theres no public interest whatsoever!

  • Much as I think the royal family is a pointless institution and that Harry himself is generally a classic public- school muppet I really think this current row is idiotic.

    First off in an army unit your are all equals save for your rank- if the guy has been offended it didn’t matter if it was a prince or a pauper- he could have complained i any number of ways. He didn’t and the video doesn’t give any hint he was offended- so we can assume he doesn’t care. If he doesn’t care why the hell should anyone else?

    Words are only constructs of letters- their meanings and the emotions those meanings cause is fairly arbitrary- there is not real reason why duck means a quacking thing but change one letter and it is not a word to use in polite society.

    What gives words their power is the intent of their user and, to a lesser extent the reaction of the subject, and they can be seriously damaging. However, in this case the intent is clear as is the reaction.

    Considering the continued and serious real racism of the BNP, the far right wings to the old-guard Tories, and many normal men and women can we please stop focusing of how people talk to their mates and instead talk about how they talk to their enemies.

  • Chris Stanbra 17th Jan '09 - 12:37pm

    On balance I agree with Andreas. It seems to me that this story has been whipped up in order to sell newspapers. Who cares if Harry’s a bit weak and joins in with all the army banter, even the stuff he knows he should keep out of, he’ll never be king anyway. More interestingly (and I haven’t followed the story in detail so forgive me if this has been covered)who filmed it, why was it filmed, did Harry know he was being filmed and why did the cameraman (I’m assuming it wasn’t a woman) wait till now to sell to the NOTW?

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '09 - 9:50pm

    Felix Holt

    “It’s somewhat galling to see LibDems leaping to defend the Windsors – due deference and all that I s’pose? Forelock tugging, more likely!”

    I could be very rude to you here, Felix, because I actually would have made the same point about anyone in the same situation.

    I have explained why “Paki” is not intrinsically offensive, but is felt by many to whom it is used as extremely offensive. If I had further evidence which suggested that Harry Windsor’s usage was intended to be with the same menace that a racist thug might use it with, I’d be very ready to condemn him. If it was just through ignorance or private banter, well I’d still say he ought to have known better, but I wouldn’t say it means he’s a racist.

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