Monday, 16 June 2008

Bravery in Modern Britain

Reading a November 2007 edition of the Spectator today (the staff kitchen is worse than any dentist's waiting room for up-to-date reading material), I learned that Melanie Phillips, writer and blogger for the Spectator, is "one of Britain's best and bravest columnists".

Now, for a magazine which is constantly spitting feathers over the decline of traditional virtues, it's a bit rich of the 'tater to downgrade bravery to such a extent. Has she fought any dragons recently? Carried wounded comrades across no man's land? Led a rebellion against the Galactic Empire armed with just a stick and some sound effects? No. She writes stuff.

Of course, the act of writing can be very brave indeed under the right circumstances. There's still a high percentage of the world's surface upon which writing critically about the government can have very nasty results. Translating the Bible into the local language has often required a great deal of courage and fortitude (other good books-for-boys words). But when a columnist in a country with a free press is described as 'brave', it usually means that they're a bile-spouting hate-monger.

There's a persistent idea that people who say things which could cause offence are bravely standing up to political correctness and other imaginary monsters under their beds. It seems to be assumed that the silent majority are afraid to say what they really think, that the truth is being stifled for fear of... well, that bit's rarely specified. Now for my part, I try to avoid insulting people because it's not something I want to do. The fact that so many British people don't blame immigrants for all of their problems isn't because they're scared, but because that's not how they view the situation.

Having said that, if you do believe in a all-powerful Muslim conspiracy poised to destroy Western society, you might consider yourself brave for speaking out against them. This is the same kind of bravery shown by James I in his fight against witches or the noble Christian soldiers who fought to rid medieval cities of dangerous Jews. To people outside of the delusion, you're just picking on a much smaller group, who don't have the same capacity to fight back. And there's really nothing brave about bullying.

Of course, I'm not singling Melanie Phillips out for special criticism. There are plenty of people doing that already. But here's her blog, for the sake of completeness: