Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Whenever I feel psychotically depressed about this country - which, as I contemplate another nine years of Labour rule, is more and more often - I find myself being thankful that I do not have as my head of state President Chirac. I have come to believe that he is the price France pays for having Ravel, Manet, Cheval Blanc, Paris, foie gras and all those gorgeous pouting actresses. At the time of writing, slimy Jacques has not resolved the latest problem facing his country, the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq. Their captors have demanded that France drop the law forbidding the wearing of religious symbols in schools: they want girls to be able to wear la voile to preserve their modesty. The law is just another example of Chirac's moral cowardice, and his attempt to deal with the fears many of his fellow countrymen have about Muslims by offending absolutely everyone. He claims that as the Fifth Republic has secularism enshrined in its principles, children should not advertise their faith. Here, it would cause an outrage if such a law were passed, and quite right too. I am amazed at the restraint of the French who, being mostly Christian, have to see their majority culture driven underground so that Chirac can have a go at the Muslims. The dwarf Sarkozy, a nasty little bugger, clearly, but also fearsomely effective, has Chirac in his sights. I hope for France's sake he pulls the trigger at the right moment.

Like President Chirac, but for different reasons, I view all religions with equal scepticism. However, more and more journalists, in their determination to be politically correct, suck up to certain creeds while being pretty offhand with others. As in France, Christianity gets consistently rough treatment, and Judaism is often alluded to in terms that would have warmed the heart of Julius Streicher. Yet perhaps because of what the Ayatollah wanted to do to Mr Salman Rushdie, or as part of our now virulent anti-Americanism, no Chiracstyle liberties are taken with Islam here. I approve of this respect for a great religion and culture, but wish it applied more widely. For example, every time a town with a big mosque and a large phalanx of mullahs is mentioned it is, inevitably, 'the holy city of. . . '. I am sure such places are holy. But why are our cathedral towns not given equal reverence? When the BBC reports a jam on the M2, could some reference not be made to 'the holy city of Canterbury'? To be so casual about our own shrines confirms the Muslim view that we are in such an advanced state of decadence that to blow us all up, as a prelude to converting England to Islam, would be a positive act of kindness.

No doubt such journalistic solecisms will be rooted out by Helen Boaden, who has just been appointed head of BBC news. Ms Boaden moves over (as press releases so silkily put it) from Radio Four, where she restored the credibility of that network by allowing people who did not write for or read the Guardian to broadcast for it. I hope she will be as radical in her treatment of television news. I find myself simply not believing much that I hear on some broadcasts, especially those on the BBC's News 24, because the people telling it to me are about 11 years old and have a poor grasp of their mother tongue. This last point is not new. …

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