The Independent has a leader today about how Islamophobia has become socially acceptable in the UK triggered by Baroness Warsi's speech to that effect last night. Around about this time last year I pondered the mainstream media's perpetuation of the myth that 'Islamist' meant 'terrorist'.
Tony Blair has finally suggested to the Iraq war Chilcot inquiry that he "deeply and profoundly" regrets the deaths arising out of that conflict. No one but Mr Blair knows whether those regrets are sincere. Sincere or not they will be little comfort to the families of the more than 100 people killed by suicide bombers in Iraq just this week . However, it seems that the lasting legacy of Nu Labour, even above and beyond the economic upheaval caused by the meltdown of the out of control finance sector, is the fear, tension, mistrust, outright hatred and racism born out of the former prime minister's ill conceived military adventures.
That we can't doubt that those feelings have a serious impact on the lives of ordinary people was brought home to me again yesterday morning. I was in a well known retail outlet which shall remain nameless and had been helped very professionally and efficiently by a member of staff, before going to another part of the store. A few minutes later on my way out of the shop I noticed the lady I had dealt with looking rather shell-shocked. I offered a light hearted "Cheer up, it can't be that bad!" on my way past.
She was a little startled but recovered to smile but then dazedly tell me that actually she was feeling a bit upset because she had just opened a letter from the company's human resources (don't you just hate that phrase) department accusing her of being an illegal worker. She then told me that she grew up in India but is a UK citizen, is married to a UK citizen and has worked at the store for several years; but that some of her co-workers didn't think she should be working there because of her accent which, they suggested, meant she couldn't speak english properly. Her english was excellent. My accent is not exactly local either but I haven't, yet, being accused of being an illegal worker, though I have, in the past, been accused of being a terrorist (the Irish accent was the conclusive proof my accuser needed). This UK citizen even went on to defend her colleagues, saying they were perfectly entitled to hold those views. She's right that in a free country people are entitled to their unpalatable racist beliefs. They are not entitled to make bogus, unsubtantiated allegations purely because they don't like the colour of someone's skin or the cadence of their accent. And she is entitled to some protection from such behaviour from an employer rather than a repetition of such allegations with a demand that she provide evidence to refute them.
I'm no believer in golden ages of the past when everything was rosy and the UK has by and large been very good to me. The vast majority of the people here, of all creeds, colours and nationalities, are honest, decent folks anyone should be proud and content to be connected with. But the kind of casual 'you're Irish, you must be a terrorist', 'you're a miner you must be a trotskyite', 'you're black you must be a criminal' discriminatory attitudes, that to a greater or lessor degree pervade all societies, seem to have gained a new order of magnitude in relation to the mistrust and hatred directed against people who are (or might be) Muslim. Such tensions mitigate against repairing what current Prime Minister David Cameron describes as our fractured society. Given the economic cuts being implemented by Mr Cameron's government are likely to lead to further social tensions we would all do well to examine our own personal prejudices in that regard (but I have to admit that the incident in the retail store yesterday pretty much reinforced my long held antipathy towards human resources departments everywhere!).