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Let’s be honest about these attacks on immigrants

Following the widely reported sexual assaults in Cologne, Melanie Phillips has implored us to face up to the difficult facts and accept the unpalatable truth; to wit – a reluctance to accept the cultural factor fuelling sexual pathologies is to blame for allowing these outbreaks of sexual violence.

In her article (a non-paywalled version of which can be found here), she draws the conclusion that the influx of Muslim immigrants into Europe is creating a perilous situation for the local women, who are deemed inferior and despised by these Muslim men. As evidence of this, we are told it is Muslim immigrants driving increases in the incidence of rape in Sweden over the previous ten years; hardly surprising considering their culture is so misogynistic, or so Melanie would have it. Attempts to define this fundamentally as a male problem as opposed to a Muslim problem are misguided, and various Swedish studies are cited to support this.

These include a 2002 study by Anne Christine Hjelm for the University of Karlstad, and a 1996 report for the Brottsförebyggande rådet (BRÅ) or Swedish National Crime Council. On top of these we are told that:

Over the past ten years, Sweden has taken in proportionately more Muslim migrants than any other European country. It has developed at the same time an incidence of rape ten times that of other European states.

These firm and definitive conclusions do initially seem to be supported by adequate evidence, and thus Melanie’s argument has a superficial appeal. However, the most strident opinions require the strongest foundations, so it is worth delving a little deeper and examining these in a little more detail.

Starting with the correlation between the increase in Muslim immigration and the incidence of rape, it is true that since 2005 Sweden has seen a dramatic increase in the number of rapes.

However, what Melanie fails to mention is that in 2005 there was a change in the methodology of how rapes were classified and reported. This meant that if a man took advantage of a woman while she was passed out, asleep or intoxicated, this was now considered rape, rather than serious sexual assault as it was previously. It also meant that in circumstances such as gang-rape, where a woman was raped by a number of men, it would now be recorded as multiple instances of rape, rather than a single incident. Marital rape, if carried out numerous times over an extended period, would now be recorded as separate incidents. Since 2005 there have been further changes still, such as the 2008 ruling that digital penetration of the vagina of a woman either sleeping or intoxicated is comparable to intercourse, and is therefore rape.

The BRÅ sociologist Klara Selin had this to say on the increase in rape in Sweden:

“There might also be some increase in actual crime because of societal changes. Due to the internet, for example, it’s much easier these days to meet somebody, just the same evening if you want to. Also, alcohol consumption has increased quite a lot during this period.

“But the major explanation is partly that people go to the police more often, but also the fact that in 2005 there has been reform in the sex crime legislation, which made the legal definition of rape much wider than before.”

As well as this assessment, a 2010 Amnesty International report on rape in Nordic countries states that in 2006, whilst ‘classic’ rape by a stranger who suddenly attacks a woman had decreased, the incidence of rape by a superficial acquaintance had gone up, accounting for approximately 40% of all rapes. Gang-rapes had also seen a marked increase, accounting for 18% of all rapes. In 80% of these cases, the victim knew the perpetrators.

In addition to these, a separate BRÅ study, looking at approximately 90% of all consummated rapes from the years 1995 and 2000, documents the impact of similar legislative changes in 1998:

It does appear to be the case however that a legislative change introduced in 1998 has led to certain offences that would previously have been recorded as sexual coercion or attempted rape, subsequently being recorded as consummated crimes. It is likely that this change may explain some part of the substantial increase in the number of reported rapes over recent years.

It is not possible to exclude the possibility that the dramatic increase in reported rape offences may at least to some extent be the result of an increase in the propensity to report these crimes to the police. On the whole, however, no support was found for interpretations suggesting that this factor, even taken in combination with the effects of the legislative change referred to above, would be sufficient to explain any major part of the increase in the number of reported rapes. Thus it has not been established, but it does not appear unlikely, that the number of rapes committed has in fact increased.

Perhaps a safer strategy would be to look at how the conviction rates changed, as if the incidence of rape was being driven up by the increase in immigrants it would stand to reason there would be a higher rate of convictions. Looking at the data (found here) for 2005-2014, this isn’t the case; there are fluctuations, and some years are higher than others, but the linear and consistent year-on-year increase we would expect to find simply doesn’t exist. Rather, the average is around 190 per year, with variations either side of that.

Bearing these in mind, does Melanie’s conclusion that the tenfold increase in Muslim immigration has caused the tenfold increase in rapes seem fair? It begs the classic question, does correlation equal causation?

Moving onto the Swedish studies, we are presented with some startling statistics regarding immigrants’ predilection for rape; the 2002 study found that:

85 per cent of those sentenced to at least two years in prison for rape were foreign born or second-generation immigrants.

And the earlier 1996 report found that:

immigrants from north Africa were 23 times as likely to commit rape as Swedish men.

Shocking indeed. The first thing to say about both of these statistics is they are not entirely untrue. However, the second thing to say is that they are not particularly reliable, either.

Starting with the 85% statistic; Anne Christine Hjelm looked at 2391 cases brought to the Svea Hovrätt, or Swedish Court of Appeal. Of these 2391 cases, 91 were selected for qualitative analysis, and of these 91, 27 were used to generate the statistics used in the study. What should be noted here is that 27 people is an absolutely minuscule sample size, highly likely to lead to anomalous results and not sufficient enough to provide robust data that can support meaningful conclusions. In Sweden rape carries a mandatory sentence of 24 months; 2005 saw 185 convictions for rape and 31 for aggravated rape, in 2006 there were 197 and 30 respectively (data can be found here). Given this, it is highly probable the data is based upon less than 10% of the convicted rapists in prison. Therefore this headline 85% figure should be taken with a generous pinch of salt.

What that 85% figure actually means is that of the 27 people looked at, 23 – or 85% – were foreign born or the children of immigrants. This can be broken down further still:

Those originating in the Middle East and North Africa stand out, accounting for at least 23% of the rape cases also Africa, excluding North Africa, which accounts for at least 15% of the rape cases. Together the Middle East and Africa account for at least 38% of the rape cases.

If South and Central America (7%) and Asia (7%) are added to the equation, non-European immigrants account for at least 52% of the rape cases. When 22% of rapists are unknown, or confidential, non-Nordic, foreign background, the actual proportion of non-European rapists or rapists or originating in Africa or the Middle East, is probably considerably higher. Only 15% of those convicted perpetrators were of Swedish background.

Looking at the actual numbers:

– 6 are from the Middle East or North Africa (23%)
– 4 are from the rest of Africa (15%)
– 2 are from South and Central America (7%)
– 2 are from Asia (7%)
– 6 (22%) are of unknown foreign background (it should be noted, in a study whose raison d’être is to determine the impact of background on criminality, having this level of ambiguity when the sample group has been chosen so selectively is disappointingly poor practice)
– 4 are from Sweden (15%)
– the remaining 3 (11%) we must assume by default are from Europe, North America or Australasia

(Allowing for some small error margins due to rounding)

So what sort of solid conclusions can be drawn from this data?

The truth is, not really any. Can we draw the kinds of conclusions Melanie has reached – that Sweden’s rape problem lies predominantly with Muslim men of Middle Eastern or North African origin? Not unless we are to also conclude that this problem is actually more of a ‘Western’ society issue – after all, 27% of the rapists in Sweden are from Europe, North America or Australasia, versus just 22% from the Middle East and North Africa. This amply demonstrates the inherent problem with having such a small sample size, and the pitfalls involved in trying to discern anything meaningful from it.

Any conclusions drawn simply aren’t that reliable.

And of course, that’s not even to address the implicit assumption that by ‘Middle Eastern’, we naturally mean Arab and Muslim – when actually, based on the limited information given, it would be equally as valid to assume they were Jewish, or indeed Christian.

Moving onto the 1996 report, we are told that immigrants from North Africa are 23 times more likely to commit rape than Swedish men. This is based on the fact that from 1985-1989 – per thousand people – there are 0.2 Swedes registered for rape, and 4.6 for people from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia; or another way of expressing this is to say 0.02% of the Swedish population are rapists, compared to 0.46% of those specified North African countries.

Unlike the Karlstad University study, these figures have not been based upon a selectively sampled group, but rather on the entire populations. This means that from a methodological point of view, its approach is far more rigorous, and as a result its conclusions will be more robust. There have been adjustments made for age, focusing on those 15-45, to ensure that Swedes are not over-represented by the fact that they are much more likely to be children or older. Indeed, unlike the Karlstad University study, which displayed poor practice, the BRÅ report employs pretty much best practice within the scope of the information made available.

However, that’s not to say there are not inherent flaws.

Firstly, and undoubtedly most importantly, the report deals with the number of people registered for particular crimes – not the number of people convicted of those crimes. The number of people registered actually relates to those suspected of a crime by the police, the rationale for this being that – due to the idiosyncracies within Swedish law – those suspected of crimes are recorded in a more specific fashion than those convicted of crimes; for instance a convicted theft is simply recorded as theft, whereas a suspected theft will be recorded as vehicular etc.

Conflating the suspicion of committing a crime with actually being prosecuted for it throws into doubt one of the cornerstones of justice – the presumption of innocence. Saying that immigrants are much more likely to be suspected of committing a crime is not the same as saying they are much more likely to commit crime.

Secondly, there is still a slight problem with the sample size. The report encompasses the entire population of both Swedes and immigrants. For the Swedes this is a total of 2,920,700 people, and for the immigrants from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia this is 3,023 people. In others words, there are approximately a thousand times more Swedes than North Africans – which therefore means that when creating a per-thousand figure for these statistics, each individual North African is disproportionately more significant than an individual Swede.

Once again, we can illustrate this by looking at the actual numbers: 0.46% of 3,023 means that there were 14 (suspected) rapists of North African origin. 0.02% of 2,920,700 means there were 584 (suspected) rapists that were indigenous Swedes. To demonstrate how each individual North African becomes disproportionately significant we could round the number of Swedes up to the nearest hundred. Taking 600 suspected rapists amongst a population of 2,920,700 gives a per-thousand figure of 0.205 – almost identical to the original figure of 0.2. However, add the same additional 16 people to the North Africans and it changes things massively: 30 suspected rapists amongst a population of 3,023 gives a per-thousand figure of 9.9 – more than double the original figure, and now suggesting North Africans are 48 times more likely to commit rape than a Swede.

Because the indigenous Swedes are a thousand times more populous, each individual North African becomes a thousand times more significant. Even if we were to add just one additional rapist to the North African statistics, it has a marked impact; now the number of suspected rapists per-thousand figure would be 5, suggesting North Africans are 25 times more likely to commit rape than Swedes. If we consider the impact of an additional Swedish rapist, the result is so infinitesimally small it would not even show up.

Does this completely invalidate the suggestion that there may be a cultural factor involved in sexual violence? Well no; looking at a different minority group, that of immigrants from Taiwan, China and Japan, we can see that there are 2,032 of them, with a non-existent per-thousand figure for rape. Other countries with nobody suspected of rape include Austria, the Soviet Union (recall these figures are from 1985-1989), India, Korea and Thailand. The size of each of these immigrant populations is, respectively; 2,091, 1,233, 2,923, 4,281 and 1,887. If the problem could simply be dismissed as anomalies due to sample size, and assume that every nationality is equally likely to commit rape, then we should see this phenomenon of over-representation replicated for every group or nation.

The fact there is not suggests that there could be a higher risk factor involved with people from certain countries. To dismiss concerns outright is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, given that there are some concerns regarding anomalous or disproportionate over-representation we should temper our conclusions and refrain from making them too definitive or absolute.

And here we reach the crux of the matter. The state of the debate as it is today. Echoes of that all-too-familiar refrain “we’re not allowed to talk about immigration!” whilst simultaneously ignoring the fact that it is far more likely that conversations about rape will be sidelined and ignored. It’s probably fair to say that Melanie Phillips could be considered one of the more ‘hawkish’ commentators when it comes to immigration, particularly if it involves Muslims. Though the article purports to express concern for the European women at risk, the nominal premise is swiftly superseded by concerns about the influx of Muslims into Europe, and herein lies the most fundamental problem with it.

After such shocking events, the conversation we need to be having is “what can we do to make women safer?” According to Melanie, the conversation should instead be “what can we do about these immigrants?”

Undoubtedly there are some fair points raised – the scandal of self-censorship applied by misguided authorities, in this instance and previously in Rotherham and such. But regarding this lack of honesty the question that demands answering is not “why have you tried to protect these perpetrators?” but rather “why haven’t you tried to protect these victims?” For ultimately, any discussion that does not put the needs of the victims past, present and (sadly) future first, runs the risk of political point-scoring that is as cheap as it is cynical.

Is Melanie as hawkish on rape as she is on immigration? Does she argue as vehemently in support of women who have been raped as she does against those immigrants suspected of it? Given her excoriation of Muslims for their disproportionate representation in the rape statistics, if we extrapolate this approach, would it not be logical that the demographic responsible for almost all rapes – men – are an equal if not greater target for her ire?

It seems not. Apparently Professor Valerie Hudson’s hypothesis that having a male-dominated sex-ratio is likely to increase the crime rate (of all crime, not simply crimes of a sexual nature) “makes little sense” to Melanie, despite all available evidence showing that men commit crimes at a far higher rate than women. To the third party observer, this hypothesis seems far more sensible and is supported by reams of reliable data in comparison to Melanie’s analysis that it is a ‘Muslim problem’.

Beyond this article, has Melanie expressed a burning desire to ensure the safety of women and introduce measures to try and reduce the incidence of rape?

In her 2002 article “Lies, damn lies, and rape statistics” Melanie suggests that only violent rape is ‘real’ rape, and that it is women’s licentious and wanton behaviour (such as smoking, drinking, carrying condoms and initiating casual sex) that has led to the trivialisation of rape. In her later 2003 article “The rape of justice” she suggests that the “steep rise in the claims of ‘date rape'” are caused by “the dramatic changes in sexual mores” and that women should take more responsibility for what happens to them. According to Melanie, the reason the courts disagree with her is because:

This contravenes the cardinal tenet of extreme feminism – the assumption that men are intrinsically rapists, wife-beaters, child abusers and generally violent individuals, that women are their prey and that society additionally loads the dice against the female sex.

And finally, from the 2010 article “Instead of giving anonymity to men charged with rape we should name their accusers” Melanie bemoans the fact that women are granted anonymity in rape cases. Apparently, whilst the “harsh cross-examination to which they were subjected, which laid bare their sexual history” was previously beyond the pale, “circumstances now are very different. Women’s sexual behaviour has changed beyond recognition. We are in a far less prissy age. Sexual modesty has gone out of the window.” Furthermore:

What has happened over recent years is that, because of the feminist hysteria over rape, the bar above which men have to prove their innocence has been raised, while the bar against women making false allegations has been lowered.

Rape has been redefined from a crime in which someone is forced to have sex against their will to cover a wide variety of non-violent sexual encounters.

So it appears that rather than being a strong advocate for introducing more protection for women, as you might suppose, in fact Melanie would rather see women shoulder more culpability; they initiate casual sex, they drink, they smoke, their sexual mores have changed. Seemingly this kind of lurid behaviour practically invites rape, or – as Melanie would have it – ‘so-called rape’. For according to Melanie the only ‘real’ rape is violent rape, and seemingly the rest can be ascribed to the ‘ultra-feminist agenda’.

Naturally these concerns are put aside when it comes to relating the increase in rapes in Sweden to the increase in immigration; in that case, they all count. But in a stroke of irony, the very things Melanie bemoans are being used to castigate men – changes in the definition of rape, abuse of statistics and the presumption that they are intrinsically predisposed to committing rape – are all things she herself is guilty of when applied to Muslim immigrants.

What is fit for the goose is not so fit for the gander apparently.

This is the mainstream position in a microcosm: we are ‘not allowed’ to talk about immigration (despite it being one of the foremost topics that is regularly discussed in print, on the radio and on television), but discussing rape and trying to make it easier for women to come forward is pandering to the hysterical feminist agenda.

What this indicates is that the agenda belongs to Melanie. The narrative she creates is one based upon the premise that “Muslim immigration is bad and should be stopped”, rather than “rape is bad and should be stopped” – an assertion that can be easily made using the same statistics she refers to. We are told that North Africans are 23 times more likely to commit rape than Swedes, a figure based upon the proportion of people from a country, suspected of committing rape, as a per-thousand figure. We have seen that what this actually means is that 14 people from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia were suspected of committing rapes, versus 584 from Sweden. This means that based on the figures for people suspected of committing a crime, rape in Sweden is 42 times more likely to be committed by a Swede. Exact figures for the number of rapes committed between 1985-1989 are not given, but this can be extrapolated from the data and estimated to be 847 in total. That means that Melanie’s area of primary concern – the threat of a rape epidemic by North African immigrants – is based upon just 1.64% of the total number of rapes. By contrast Swedes made up 69% of the total number of rapes.

Though the study does not expressly state it, it would not be an entirely unreasonable assumption to make that men were responsible for 100% of the rapes, yet viewing the situation through the lens of it being a gender problem as opposed to an ethnic one “makes little sense” to Melanie. It seems she has a disproportionate problem with the disproportionate over-representation of different demographics. Either that, or her conclusions were predetermined from the outset, as part of an ideological world view that vilifies Muslims whilst vindicating men.

Anybody concerned with the welfare of women would focus on areas that are going to have the biggest impact, and focusing on the 14 rapes North Africans were suspected of committing is making a mountain out of a molehill. Undoubtedly, the higher risk factor posed by certain nationalities should be considered, but only as part of a broader debate as to how women can be made safer in general – and regardless of recent events in Cologne, the stark truth is that stopping immigration will not prevent women being raped. It may not even reduce it that much.

Ultimately, an honest and accurate conversation needs to happen, in a forum in which difficult discussions can take place without being derailed by hyperbolic polemics intent on hijacking the agenda so that immigration can be discussed, again. Such misuse and misrepresentation of scaremongering statistics creates an overly emotive atmosphere in which rational debate simply can’t take place, and so legislators are forced into making decisions based on what will best placate the masses, rather than what is best for the masses. ‘Hawkish’ anti-immigration commentators such as Melanie Phillips create this atmosphere, and foment these divisions, deliberately engineering an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality to promote their own agenda.

And if we truly want to seek justice for victims, and prevent new victims being created – we should ignore that agenda and promote a different one instead – one that puts the women first and concentrates primarily on how to make them safer.

UKIP being racist

Once again, UKIP have fond themselves embroiled in a racism debate, with Nigel Farage this time leading the line as he defended Kerry Smith using the word Chinky, the crux of his argument being:

Nigel Farage: “If you and your mates were going out for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?”

Nick Ferrari: “I honestly would not use the word “Chinky”. Would you?”

Nigel Farage: “No, but a lot of people would.”

Let us firstly make one thing clear: He’s absolutely right.

A lot of people do use the word. All the time.

In fact, there have been several occasions when people have used the word in front of me without thinking twice about it, so oblivious are they to its meaning and effect. In truth, this could simply be considered part of a wider issue in which there appear to be hierarchies of racism, where racism towards black people is officially frowned upon (“Nigger” being unacceptable to the point that it must be truncated to “N-word”), overt racism towards Asians being recognised as ‘a bad thing’ (though “Paki-shop” is still extremely common amongst some people, and the institutional racism towards Muslims that appears to keep certain sections of the media afloat is apparently ok because it doesn’t use bad words). At the bottom of the pile come the Orientals – “Chink”, “Jap”, “Nip”, “Gook” are all officially recognised as racial slurs, and yet somehow they’re seen as ‘not as bad’ as those other ones.

As a typical example of this, there was an incident a few years ago when prime-time Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman read out a listener’s email in which the inclement weather was described as “A bit Pearl Harbour” . . . as in, “there’s a nasty Nip in the air.” Whilst there was a muted outcry, the fact that it could have even taken place is indicative of the lack of awareness regarding these words. A similar incident involving the “N-word” would be unthinkable; witness the furore over Jeremy Clarkson’s half-uttered mutterings as testament to that. Having listened to the recordings, I’m not entirely sure I can make out whether he says the word or not, but even someone as monumentally stupid as he would not make the mistake of brazenly saying it in all its ‘glory’.

The question that should be asked is why this is? Even within the politically correct spheres of society, this hierarchy remains. The currently accepted terminology ‘BME” stands for ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’. Black is given prominence over other ethnic minorities, though without any apparent reason. As per the 2011 Census, the number of people living in Britain that we would tend to lump wholesale into the group ‘Asian’ (or more accurately, South Asians from the Indian Subcontinent, including those of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent) amount to 5.2% of the total population. Black, African, Caribbean or Black British people account for 3.3%. So whilst the obvious initial argument might be that whilst black people are still a minority, they are less of a minority than others – the figures do not bear this out.

Why then is racism towards black people seen by society as wholly unacceptable, but racism towards other minorities has yet to reach that tipping point? Undoubtedly black people were the whipping boys for several decades, and moreover historically they suffered the subjugation and suffering of slavery – so is it some latent sense of guilt? Has British society, magnanimous in its victory, decided to “leave it, they’ve had enough” and turned their attention elsewhere? Perhaps we are simply pioneering ‘Equal Opportunity Racism’?

That large swathes of society and the media seem to have shifted their focus and turned their eyes onto the supposed existential threat posed by Muslims might superficially seem to support this argument. Undoubtedly the Muslims (and therefore all too often by extension anybody with vaguely brown skin whose background originates somewhere east of Greece) are the whipping boys of the day, perhaps with the Eastern Europeans as unwitting sidekicks. Maybe in due course the Orientals will have their day in the ‘limelight’ and it will be the Chinese that are vilified, which seems a more likely proposition if the mainland Chinese continue to emigrate in numbers and the Chinese economy becomes the dominant global force.

If anything, it is somewhat surprising that they have not been targeted for more abuse already, given that many of the arguments regarding illegal immigration can be legitimately applied to a – not insignificant – proportion of the Chinese in the UK. Equally, the accusations applied to other communities – that they are insular and do not integrate – are no less applicable to the Chinese communities. Perhaps the Chinese diaspora have yet to cause the same kinds of negative backlash as other minority communities because they simply have a lower profile; the 2011 Census identifies only 0.7% of the population as Chinese. Perhaps the overall perception of the Chinese is that they are industrious, unobtrusive, and less threatening? Perhaps they are simply lighter skinned and so seem less different?

It is true that Chinese people have not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous racism to the same degree as black people have in the past, nor to the extent that Asian people currently suffer. It does not manifest itself in the institutional harassment that black people are still widely victim to. It does not manifest itself in the negative headlines and dog-whistle politics we see Muslims subjected to on an almost daily basis. Perhaps then the reason why racism towards Chinese people and Orientals in general is not afforded the same gravitas as racism towards blacks is simply because it has not reached the same levels of severity? Every action creating an equal and opposite reaction and all that? That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course, but the racism towards Chinese is more casual; it’s the kind of racism that can be slipped into conversation and promote a laugh, rather than an awkward silence. It’s the kind of racism that, by-and-large, Chinese people let slide, because it’s too much of a pain in the arse to keep making a big deal out of it. Perhaps some Chinese people are not bothered by it at all, and maybe this is due to the stoical nature of the Chinese character? Perhaps, beneath that inscrutable exterior, it is the inherent racism within Chinese society that as the Chinese people are (clearly) so very superior, why would they be bothered by such trifling things?

For whatever reason, in terms of volume, in terms of vitriol, racism towards Chinese people has not reached the giddy heights of racism towards black people, and so perhaps that is why it is seen as ‘not as bad’. Maybe, their day has simply yet to come.

Yet the notion that black people were somehow historically singled out for special attention is slightly erroneous; it would be to ignore the dubious yet glorified history of the British Empire. They were not the only race to be enslaved, nor the only culture to be subjugated, though the sheer volume of the African slave trade dwarfs all others. Even if the justification why racism towards black people is considered worse than other is “well, we really were awfully bad to those chaps” then it doesn’t really speak of a lesson well-learned, does it?

Hong Kong, the British colony where my father was born, was taken by force in retribution for the Chinese restricting the British opium trade, itself an act of economic warfare designed to balance out the trade deficit that existed at the time. If not Equal Opportunity Racists, the British were certainly Equal Opportunity Imperialists.

Perhaps then the shift in attitudes came about as a result of the race riots seen in the early 80s? Perhaps when (by-and-large) black people decided they’d had enough and took to the streets to defend themselves against injustice and oppression, this caused a shift in the nation’s consciousness? Perhaps it takes extreme acts of violence to implement that level of change? Large scale action causes a reaction.

Perhaps the ‘scary black man’ trope just resonates with a lot of people, and they’re too scared to offend in case something physical happens to them as a result?

For whatever reason, the hierarchy exists. People are fully aware that the “N-word” is off-limits (except behind closed doors, with like-minded people), “Paki” is widely recognised as offensive, but is still used with alarming frequency. “Chinky” is – apparently – up for debate. So much so, that even an Ofcom ruling on the use of the word in the Vicar of Dibley took the view that “the term was used with a commercial rather than personal connotation” as “the context in which the term “Chinky” was used robbed it of any potential racist connotation.

Which brings us to what is usually the first argument used in support of this – what must inevitably be called the ‘Partridge Defence‘ – which states: “it’s not offensive, it’s a type of food!”

Where do you begin . . . ? I’m surprised I actually have to lower myself to the level of debating this, but I suppose when trying to educate you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

“Chinky” might be used to describe a type of food, but that is Chinese food, cooked by Chinese people. To try and employ this argument is equivalent to arguing that “going down the Paki-shop” is not offensive, because “how can you insult a shop?” or trying to claim that saying “that Nigger music” would not be offensive because it referred to a musical genre. If you are calling that type of food “Chinky”, then by extension you are calling the people and culture the same thing, these are not discrete concepts. The word “Chinky” is being used in place of the word Chinese as a direct replacement, and so fundamentally there is no distinction drawn between them – it would be no different than if it were used to describe a person as a “Chinky” instead of as Chinese.

And here then is the real sticking point for those trying to make this argument. Whilst Farage may have shifted the debate slightly, to where some people might believe the waters are a little muddier (they’re still pretty crystal clear to a lot of people), we must return to the source of this scandal.

The commotion commenced when tapes emerged of Kerry Smith referring to “that Chinky bird” – not in reference to going out for a type of food, but unequivocally in reference to a person, a Chinese person. Kerry Smith called a Chinese woman a “Chinky”. The initial excuse was that he was dosed up on medication and forgot to moderate his language as a result; obviously this resulted in the widespread piss-taking it deserved, as ordinary (ie non-racist) people do not suddenly drop a veneer of respectability and become racist homophobes merely because they’re on their meds.  To compound the issue, an LBC interview with Mr Smith confirmed he was unapologetic and utterly failed to see how what he’d said was offensive, painting it as that beloved banner of the ignorant, the ubiquitous “telling it how it is.”

So even if you want to try and make the argument that “it’s ok when you’re talking about a type of food” (I wouldn’t recommend it, you make yourself look incredibly stupid), Kerry Smith wasn’t talking about food – he was talking about a person.

The next argument trotted out is usually an appeal to the masses, or argumentum ad populum – which is essentially “but a lot of people say this, so that makes it ok!”

It’s really tempting to invoke Godwin’s Law here, but there are an infinite number of examples of issues that were not just widely supported at the time, but enshrined in law no less. Slavery was deemed perfectly acceptable, women were not allowed to vote, people were put in prison for being poor, girls could marry when they were just 12, homosexuality was illegal.

Just because a lot of people say or do something, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’m pretty sure this is something most of us get taught as a kid, and yet for UKIP and its supporters, it seems they still haven’t quite got the hang of this yet. Hence whenever somebody within UKIP says or does something embarrassing, expect squeals of “but just look at all the other parties! They do it too!”

Doing the right thing is not simply conforming with those around you. For the supposed ‘anti-politics’, ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘not like the rest’ party they claim to be, you would think UKIP would know this better than anyone. It seems deep down they talk the talk but are unable to walk the walk.

Of course, this argument has also been employed in relation to popular culture as well: “it’s no different to what was said on the telly” – shows like Only Fools and Horses, or Till Death Do Us Part. Whilst I suppose we should make some allowances for UKIP’s inherently anachronistic nature, it does seem to have passed them by that society has moved on in the last 30 odd years. Perhaps they haven’t progressed past the denial stage yet. Just because something used to be acceptable, it doesn’t mean it still is. Ask a host of 70s Radio DJs and TV presenters about that one. Society moves on, it’s called ‘progress’, it means moving forward. As much as UKIP and its supporters seem to hark after ‘the good old days’ – they’ve been and gone and are left in the past.

The final, and probably most facile argument of all, goes a little something like this:

I don’t get offended when somebody calls me a Brit, Australians don’t get offended if I call them Aussies, Chink and Paki are just abbreviations like Brit and Aussie, and they’re no more offensive 

And if you’ve ever said that, then you’re a cunt.

I can call you that without being offensive, because I’ve just decided based on entirely arbitrary criteria determined by me, that the word cunt isn’t offensive.

And in truth, actually, it isn’t. The word cunt is just a word, it’s simply a combination of letters. Combinations of letters cannot be offensive in any objective sense, because without meaning, significance and context they simply become random abstract things. What makes the word cunt offensive is the associations and history that we’ve attached to it.

Chaucer certainly made liberal use of it in the Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare used it as a play-on-words in Hamlet; it is only in recent times where society has attached such significance that it has risen to become the overlord of obscenities.

So, are “Chink” and “Paki” any more offensive than “Brit” or “Aussie”? In an abstract sense, no, because no word is offensive. But that is to hypothesise that these words can be divorced from their history, the context. Nobody in this country has ever had a brown paper bag containing dog-shit set alight and shoved through a letterbox as a complement to “BRIT GO HOME!!” daubed across their walls. Aussies (in the sense of white, non-indigenous Australians) have not spent their entire lives as second-class citizens perpetually being discriminated against, with Aussie as the abusive term used to denigrate and discriminate against them.

Because what people do not seem to realise is that to understand what racism is, they must firstly put aside egocentric notions of whether they intended to be offensive or not. Racism is in the ear of the beholder, and it is not a series of isolated incidents and abstract words; it is a system of oppression and abuse that takes place over a lifetime. Even if you do not consider somebody to be racially inferior, then I’m afraid that is entirely irrelevant when it comes to using racist terminology. Even if you are not using it in a way intended to be racist or offensive, it’s still irrelevant.

This is not about you. Because you are not the person that is subject to racism.

The person on the receiving end has heard that word before, thousands of times, and the majority of those it has been used as a term of abuse. All too often it has been accompanied with fists and feet; the association is unbreakable, it cannot be undone.

So when a Chinese person hears the word “Chinky” or an Asian hears “Paki” – these are words positively pregnant with significance. They are laden with baggage. They act as reminders of that lifetime of being alienated, ostracised and abused, simply because of their race. It is the racism they have dealt with their entire life bound up in a microcosm. Those few abstract letters represent every beating they have taken, every window that was smashed, every humiliating encounter with a random stranger abusing them on the street.

For me personally, just hearing or reading the word is enough to provoke the fight-or-flight response, so deep are those associations ingrained.

For a British person hearing the word Brit or an Australian being called Aussie – nothing. Because they have no history, significance or context. They simply are abbreviations.

To explain further, and to remind white people that they do not have a monopoly on racism, there is a Chinese term of abuse – gwei lo. Right now (before I tell you what it means or you Google it) it is probably utterly meaningless to you. Even when you find out the meaning (it is normally translated as ‘foreign devil’ and – ironically – is applied to all foreigners regardless of skin colour, because to the Chinese, well, you’re all the same) it probably seems quaint and innocuous. If someone were to call you gwei lo, it’s extremely unlikely that you’d actually take genuine offence and more than likely on finding out what you were being called you’d laugh.

However, imagine you’d grown up as a foreigner in (the Cantonese speaking part of) China. Imagine you’d spent a lifetime of people moving chairs on the train when you sat down. Imagine you’d spent a lifetime of being denied opportunities because of your race. Imagine you’d lived as a second-class citizen, and the soundtrack to that was gwei logwei logwei lo on constant repeat. The word would become a weight around your neck. It would be the tangible reminder of your inferiority. It would be your racial slur. The Chinese you knew might say “oh, but we don’t mean anything by it” and brush it off casually as being used in a friendly, positive manner, but underneath that light-heartedness would be the heavy undercurrent of racism and discrimination.

Equally, imagine a parallel universe in which white people had been enslaved by black, imagine a world in which white people were discriminated against, white people were denied justice, white people were second class citizens. Imagine then the power the word “Honky” might have. In our society, call a white person a “Honky” and they’re liable to laugh at you it is so inconsequential and powerless, but in this topsy-turvy world where white people were subjugated, get called a “Honky” and you might feel the sting that barbed words can bring.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps you might be the kind of character that is not fazed by these things. Perhaps it might be like water off a duck’s back, just as some black people do not rise to “Nigger”, some Asians do not rise to “Paki” and some Chinese do not rise to “Chink” – some people just have thicker skin I guess. That being the case, do we hold them up as shining examples and encourage everyone to be more like them, so that everyone can go around using these words guilt-free, without the imposition of being called racists? Or should we take the view that the right thing to do is moderate our language so as not to cause offence?

Seemingly there are quite a lot of people that believe the former.

According to them, the fault lies not with those people either too ignorant to know the meaning of these words, or too stubborn to accept that they are offensive. Instead, it is the stupid Pakis, the silly Chinks, always looking to find offence when there is none. Why can’t they understand that these words are being used in an entirely innocent, nay positive way?

The mind boggles, it truly does.

So let us conclude by addressing the final argument, though it is not an argument as such. This is the appeal to free speech, the notion that just because some people are offended, that should not infringe on another person’s rights to say whatever they hell they damn well like.

And the answer here is, it doesn’t. Anybody can say whatever they feel like. Saying something racist is not against the law in and of itself. As part of another crime, it can be a factor, such as racially motivated harassment, racially motivated assault, inciting racial hatred etc. But being racist is not against the law, regardless of what these people think.

Indeed, if you use these words, accept they are offensive and racist and use them anyway, because it is your right to express yourself as you see fit, then kudos to you. I can respect somebody who is openly racist and proud. I might disagree with them entirely, but at least they have the courage to stick to their convictions and take ownership and responsibility for what they say.

What you can’t do, is say something racist, and then expect to be protected from being called a racist.

It’s called being an adult. If you say or do something, then be prepared to accept the consequences. If you say racist things then people will call you racist, stop crying about it.

It almost seems in the minds of these people that being called a racist is somehow actually worse than being racially abused. For all of their pontificating about minorities looking to be offended and playing the victim, they do a very strong line in hypocrisy. Seriously, you’re using racial slurs and yet you want to get precious because somebody called you a racist?

And to those people, there’s really only one response: Grow up

Will UKIP make me Richer, or will UKIP make me Poorer?

Forgive him father, for he knows not what he does

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley portrays a chillingly dystopian vision of a future in which control of the masses is exercised, not in some totalitarian fashion as per George Orwell’s 1984 or Yevgeny Zamayatin’s We, but in the insidious application of psychoactive drugs. People are kept in a Somatose state and conditioned to view unhappiness and malcontent moods as a form of social deviancy that must be eradicated, not through brutality and coercion, but rather through ostracising those unwilling to conform to apathetic acceptance.

In both his recent article and appearance on The Moral Maze, Giles Fraser seems to identify our descent into this dystopian hell, citing the “fascism of the smiley face” associated with the ‘happiness industry’. He rails against the medicalisation of human emotions that are understandable and rational responses to life events, highlighting the need to embrace unhappiness as part of the human condition, without which life would be colourless and dull. Our rush to treat every drop in mood as a medical condition denies us the right to feel sad, or give voice to the pain inside when coping with the cruel circumstances life brings. In the picture he paints, those feeling sad and unhappy are outcasts until willing to succumb to the chemical control mechanism promoted by Big Pharma.

Taken at face value, there is a lot of validity in what he says, and though there has been much reaction to the piece, little of the vitriol is directed at this basic principle. Any sensible person would agree that prescribing strong psychoactive medicine to somebody not in need is a hugely irresponsible and dangerous thing to do, and whilst I have little evidence to support arguments either for or against the notion that we are over-medicating people that are not in need, in principle the possibility (maybe even the likelihood) that it is happening is one that nobody can deny.

However, this is not the issue at stake. The article and radio appearance, however well-intentioned, appeared to illustrate an underlying misconception of what depression truly is, despite several protestations of innocence. The reoccurring theme has been that society demands that we are happy and that everyone is continually bombarded with unrealistic expectations of a picture-perfect life, which if we are not fortunate enough to possess we must replicate through rampant pill-popping. The right to unhappiness is being driven underground by an aspirational culture that believes everyone should be happy, smiling and compliant; just as celebrities on magazine covers have their bodies airbrushed to perfection, our minds are to be touched up and artificially fixed. Just as women are told they should break free from patriarchal and oppressive representations of flawless skin and fatless figures, in his mind Giles believes that people who are sad should throw off the shackles of societal expectation and celebrate the full spectrum of human feeling. Van Gogh, Beethoven and Keats embraced their emotions to bring us insight into what it is to be human. Without the opportunity to feel sad, we cannot appreciate what it means to be happy. Without darkness, there can be no light.

Whilst Giles and his defenders are keen to point out that there is no one sentence in which he equates unhappiness with depression, perhaps for some the more salient point is that he singularly fails to draw a distinction between them also. At no point is there a disclaimer to say sadness and depression are discrete entities, and in both the article and Moral Maze discussion he gives no indication of recognising any difference between them. For those accusing the offended masses of falsely ascribing errant interpretations and reading between the lines, the obvious suggestion is to turn Giles’s challenge on its head and ask them to show where he distinguishes between unhappiness as a natural reaction to life events and depression which can be entirely unrelated to circumstance.

The more that this is pointed out, the more entrenched his position becomes. His timeline is littered with links to pieces about the danger of anti-depressants or in praise and defence of what he has said. However, just as those taking umbrage are accused of missing the point, it appears he and his acolytes are spectacularly guilty of the same. Nobody has denied the inherent dangers associated with these drugs. Indeed all drugs, no matter how innocuous, come with warnings of all manner of side-effects and contra-indications. Powerful psychoactive drugs capable of altering the brain’s biochemistry are something that no-one would take lightly, indeed for many the act of taking them is one of desperation. But at the risk of penning the title for Lance Armstrong’s new book – It’s Not About The Drugs.

Undoubtedly this is where Giles’s focus lies, and in truth he raises important points that are worthy of discussion – but not at the detriment of the other discussion taking place, which he seems determined to dismiss out of hand. The idea that we are too quick to rush into the arms of pharmaceutical solutions and the idea that there are myriad misconceptions about depression are not antagonistic, they are not mutually exclusive, and we do ourselves a disservice to treat them as such.

Many feel that Giles inadvertently revealed a common lack of comprehension regarding depression and that this warrants more than pithy justifications, but as yet these are far from forthcoming. His retort “Twitter at its worst is the hermeneutics of the mob. Interpretation becomes copying via RT. Mimesis and bullying. All very Girardian” has a mildly petulant tone, and brings to mind Jeremiah 9:23 “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.”

An unwillingness to engage with those he has offended, coupled with a determination to lay the blame at their feet for (as he sees it) falsely interpreting him, has hints of that deadly sin, Pride. To characterise those he purports to be defending as bullies engaging in a mob mentality verges on hypocrisy, having previously portrayed anti-depressants as a way of denying the disaffected a voice which he himself is now unwilling to hear.

There is however, some good that can come from this, a light at the end of the tunnel. The ongoing outcry is detracting from the message that Giles intended to convey, and causing growing concern amongst those who feel marginalised and misrepresented. There are no gains to be had from perpetuating the impasse, which interferes with both sides’ story. The solution is relatively simple – the discussion can be re-purposed to include each aspect, in which we are free to explore the dangers of drugs being too easily distributed as well as examining how and why society has come to view depression as something it’s not.

One explanation could be the advent of the 3rd incarnation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III), published in 1980, that influenced the WHO’s ICD-10 classification of mental disorders, in which the differences between reactive and endogenous depression were set aside. Rather than taking a holistic view that included psychosocial aspects of depression, it was now to be defined purely by symptoms, and there was a widespread shift from classifying conditions as depression rather than anxiety. Now in the UK when depression is diagnosed, the severity is assessed by means of the Patient Health Questionnaire, a self-administered tick-box exercise that formed part of the PRIME-MD diagnostic tool developed in the 90s. Following on from the ICD-10 reclassificarion came the rise in prescribing anti-depressants (though this may well be a case of correlation rather than causation, as this was around the same time SSRIs became widely available), which is analysed in detail by many in the medical profession, conveniently collated and summarised in this paper by AnneMarie Cunningham. This paper neatly illustrates the possibility of taking a nuanced view of the situation that incorporates both sides of the discussion, and it highlights the potentially dangerous impact of restricting how we see depression as simply symptoms to be treated. For ultimately, is it not better to attempt to address the root cause, rather than – as Giles rightly says – reverse engineer a solution?

For here, maybe, lies the crux of the matter. For some people the drugs do work. For some they don’t. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and pills certainly do not represent some form of cure-all panacea. Equally, for some that may be in the depths of depression, talking therapies might be overwhelmingly intimidating when even the most simple conversational interactions are out of their reach. However, Giles does not seem to recognise or offer any solution beyond accepting these feelings and make-do-and-mend. He is not proposing that for those suffering from depression there are alternatives, he is suggesting that these are simply natural emotions and that suffering is, and always will be, a part of the human condition. An attempt to tackle this is to deny what we are, it is reflective of the narrow and superficial expectations society imposes upon us to be ‘compulsorily happy’.

It is these proclamations that have caused such response and reaction. The widespread inference has been that those seeking help are capitulating to society’s demands and that instead they should be celebrating the gift of life in all its diverse glory. There is no recognition that for people suffering from depression, life is the sort of gift they’d rather return, but are expected to accept it with the grace and gratitude befitting something wonderful. Many religions view those opting for suicide as sinners who will be condemned to hell – but they do not realise that to reach that point, those suffering are already there.

There is an easy solution to this awkward situation – repentance. Whether the original intention was to convey this message or not, nevertheless this has been many peoples’ reading of it, so rather than blame them for their lack of understanding, accept responsibility for an inability to clearly communicate the real message. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry if people interpreted it that way, for that was not my intention. For some people depression is a debilitating disease that consumes their entire essence, leaving them unable to function on even a basic level, which can be completely unrelated to what is happening in their lives. In these instances, nobody should be made to suffer such enduring agony, and it is only right that we explore every avenue when trying to address these problems. I accept that for each person there is an individual solution, but the point I was trying to make is that we increasingly run the risk of seeing drugs as the be-all-and-end-all. I would have thought more carefully about what I was saying if I thought that people felt I was belittling their condition or trying to diminish their experience and for that I can only apologise. Sometimes serendipity can present us with opportunities to grow and learn; for me this episode has highlighted how easy it is to misconstrue and misrepresent what people say and feel, and I am hopeful that we can move the discussion forward to include all points of view”

It really would be that easy Giles. A brief statement acknowledging why people are upset and accepting some culpability for causing such widespread offence. Admission of error is not a humiliation, it is humility. This is an imploration to – even if you do not believe you are at fault – turn the other cheek. For whilst you are absolutely right to make the point that drugs cannot, and never will be, the sole answer – it is crucially important to recognise that for many, the notion that people even remotely understand what they’re going through is often the first step on the road to redemption.