Friday, March 16, 2007

Xenophobia (please explain?)

I do like the UK. I really like London. I'm glad I don't live in London, but I love its buzz, the tube, its architecture, museums, galleries, and its diversity. Just in small doses because I surprise myself by preferring rural things.

In any event, one of the lovely things I had noticed about UK - in general (and not just London in particular) - is that it is reasonably diverse. When we touched down at Heathrow I was gobsmacked. It might have been the jet lag but I felt as if I could stand in the middle of that ariport turning around and around, just to watch it all. There were so many people of apparently different ethnic groups, cultural groups, religious groups, disparate social classes - it was wonderful. Of course, security would have moved me on so I diligently queued, answered Her Majesty's customs' questions, grabbed my bags and then went wandering through tunnels covered in those HSBC 'what's your perspective?' ads to catch a bus to my ultimate destination and new home in the UK (which I like to think of as the Mother Country - but then I grew up on a diet of Shakespeare, John Donne and Chaucer, and I can sing William Blake's Jerusalem with frightening gusto).

But in diversity, there is ugliness. Which leads to some wonderful examples of unique and innovative legal reasoning, balanced with wise judgment (I can hear you cheering):-

In the case of R v Rogers (On Appeal from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)), the House of Lords held that using the words "bloody foreigners" and "get back to your own country" could transform the offence of using abusive words and behaviour with intent to cause fear or provoke violence, into the racially aggravated form of that offence.

What the charming Mr Rogers did was yell the above words of abuse at three Spanish women who were blocking his path, before "aggressively pursuing" them into a kebab shop where they took refuge from him. Counsel for Mr Rogers argued that, had Mr Rogers called the three women perjorative words identifying that they were Spanish or otherwise from the Iberian peninsula, then that would have made what he did a racially aggravated offence. But his use of "bloody foreigners" and "get back to your own country" was motivated by xenophobia, not racialism, and therefore could not be an offence.

Clever, huh?

Luckily, the House of Lords is brimming with clever men and one woman (who by the by wrote the main decision) and they said that "the definition of racial group extends beyond a group defined by colour, race or ethnic origin. It encompasses both nationality (including citizenship) and national origins." Baroness Hale (or as I like to think of her, Law Lord Brenda) also said that the aggravated version of the offence is intended to deal with the mischiefs of "racism and xenophobia. Their essence is the denial of equal respect and dignity to people who are seen as "other". This is more deeply hurtful, damaging and disrespectful to the victims than the simple versions of these offences. It is also more damaging to the community as a whole, by denying acceptance to members of certain groups not for their own sake but for the sake of something they can do nothing about."

I think her judgment is wonderful. And I have nothing to add to it, except for slow nodding of my head in awe at her simple, yet sage, words.

And I've heard those words plenty of times, directed at me. Although now I guess I am a bloody foreigner.


honglien123 said...

Living in the US makes me a self centered American in many ways. I think here, there's an underlying assumption that we're the center of the world and universe and our issues of race relations is completely unique to America. Thanks so much for sharing this. Very interesting stuff and Law Lord Brenda is my new idol.

laziicat said...

youre back!! yippeee...i have missed your eloquent words....

hope you are enjoying the UK...

OTT said...

Hong Lien,

I think most countries have a race relations issues - I guess it depends on the level of diversity within the country. The US, I expect, is more like Australia (although on a grander scale) in that everyone except for the indigenous Americans can be considered immgirants. The UK is quite interesting, and it has large race issues due to its own influx of immigrants from its many colonised country. It is most intriguing, anyway.

Three cheers for Law Lord Brenda!

Thanks, laziicat. You are good for the ego :-)

Short answer to whether I am enjoying UK is: Yes. The long answer will play itself out in this blog, I suppose :-)

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