Jeremy Clarkson mumbled the rhyme in the footage, which was not broadcast by the BBC. Photo: Getty
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The N-word: Jeremy Clarkson has finally urinated on the live rail of racism

Jeremy Clarkson said the word "nigger" in a manner that was meant to be mischievously offensive - and I, for one, am fed up with being expected to serve up elegant, dignified and dispassionate responses each time one of his jibes against a racial group emerges into the airwaves.

I was going to leave this Jeremy Clarkson thing alone. Really, I was. I had a load of laundry to do, and I hadn’t eaten yet. But then I read an article by Marina Hyde in the Guardian whose headline claimed that “revulsion over Jeremy Clarkson has become a badge of honour for the left”. And so, appropriately goaded into a response, like a sleepy bear who has had its belly prodded once too many times with a spitefully sharp stick, here I am.

I am not some paid-up member of an anti-Clarkson fan club. I am busy and Jeremy Clarkson wastes my time, because every now and then he makes a bigoted comment and I am asked to respond to it. I don’t sit in, waiting for him to slip up. He is a brilliant broadcaster whose show would still be a success if he never said another racist thing again. And I would honestly rather that he didn’t. I, for one, am fed up with being expected to serve up elegant, dignified and dispassionate responses each time one of his finely-calibrated jibes – aimed at racial or social groups regarded as too powerless, too humourless, or too distant to reply – emerges into the airwaves.

I am not sure if Marina Hyde’s article was aimed at the participants in some perverse liberal turf war, but I am not part of it. I am a writer of colour trying to make his career as best he can, and all I see is a man who is making millions of pounds who is consistently indulged because he is running one of the world’s most successful shows. Not even a fine. Not even a suspension. Just an “official warning”, or a “final warning”, whatever that is.

Jeremy Clarkson said the word "nigger" – let’s look at that word for a moment, uncensored, in all its ugliness – in a manner that was meant to be mischievously offensive. That’s why he mumbled it. I don’t know why he’s suddenly so mealy-mouthed now, why the cat has got his tongue. Some of his remarks over the years have been less offensive than others, but most of them have been in the same vague ballpark. Mexicans, Gypsies, slopes. The only reason that he’s twitching now, perhaps, is that because he’s finally urinated on the live rail of racism, the “N-Word”, that he’s been flirting with for ages. And the sad truth is that he’s probably spent more time trying to track down whoever leaked that video than he has in reflecting upon just why so many people are genuinely horrified.

My revulsion at Jeremy Clarkson’s racism is not a fashion statement. Neither is my revulsion at some of the defences of him that I have seen this week, which have put me in a state of fury that was almost overwhelming, to the extent that I was afraid to begin writing this article for the uncontrollable rage that might emerge. Because people may scorn UKIP as political outsiders, but their sentiments are already among us. Their sentiments are mainstream, since for years Jeremy Clarkson has been clothing them in a clown suit.

A few months ago I was asked to go on the radio to debate whether UKIP’s use of the phrase “Bongo Bongo Land” was racist. I refused. I refused because I would have found it demeaning. Bongo Bongo Land is so flagrantly racist, I told them, that I didn’t see where the debate was. Here’s what’s going to happen, I said. You’re going to put me on some show with a smooth-talking UKIP spokesperson who’s going to be all innocent and mild-mannered, and I’m going to get angry and possibly lose it, and then the audience will have their Angry Black Man and then people will be asking why we have chips on our shoulders and why we are so mad about everything. So I said no.

And I said no because Bongo Bongo Land is the kind of thing that the racists probably smirked when they were carving up Africa at that conference in Berlin in the 1880s. Hell, for all I know, they may have been mumbling eeny-meeny-miny-mo when they were deciding which territories they wanted for themselves. I don’t know. All I know is that Clarkson has reminded me this week why I hate his casual racism. Because its frequency and popularity are reminders of the very real prejudice that is still acceptable within Britain today. Clarkson’s casual racism is the kind of thing that landlords think when they are deciding not to let properties to black people in the supposed multiracial utopia that is London. It is the kind of thing that led to the racist van campaign. The kind of thing that brings your kids home from school in floods of tears, that makes employers think twice before calling you to interview. It is insidious and it is widespread and we have recently learned from the BBC that Clarkson is not even going to be fined or suspended for it. And I find no comfort, let alone a badge of honour, in any of that.

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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.