Younge… and full of Payne

Gary Younge’s thesis in today’s Guardian is:

“The tolerant, secular, liberal society into which British Muslims are being asked to integrate is still a work in progress”

It does not start off well. Now, while I wouldn’t say there aren’t points made that are worthy of further discussion, I find that if the opening third of an article demonstrates muddled thinking, the thesis that follows will either be – at worst – wide off the mark, and – at best – forced and contrived for rhetorical purposes. I think that Younge’s is the latter.

Entitled, “Let’s have an open and honest discussion about white people”, it starts off rather confusingly. He says:

“On Wednesday September 20 Corporal Donald Payne became the first Briton to admit to a war crime. Payne, 35, is accused of repeatedly banging the head of Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old Iraqi hotel worker, against a wall and floor until Mousa died – an accusation he denies.” (my emphasis).

Journalists are supposed to make things clearer. (Yes I know, ha-bloody-ha.) If one of my students had handed in a news-writing exercise with this lead paragraph, I would have asked them: “What is the point of a lead paragraph which illustrates its claim that a person has admitted to a crime with an event the accused denies?”

It makes no sense, does it?

But Younge clearly thinks he’s onto something, because he extends this theme two paragraphs later. After giving us a run-down of Home Secretary John Reid’s run-in with a heckler last week, Younge declares:

“Reid and Payne are two sides of the same coin. The bully of Basra exercises his right to demean and degrade wherever he pleases – the longstanding hallmarks of British colonialism.” (Emphasis mine.)

Excuse me? “His right to demean and degrade? Isn’t this the chap you’ve just noted is pleading guilty to war-crimes? If Corporal Donald Payne has been brought before a court and is pleading guilty to war crimes, in what sense is there any concession to the view that his actions constituted “a right”?

If the “tolerant, secular, liberal society” which Younge puts on trial accepted the alleged behaviour of Corporal Payne, then Younge might have a point. He doesn’t. Instead he lays the foundations of his argument on a swamp. No matter how sound the structure he builds on top of it, it will still sink into the mud.

A liberal, secular society is not devoid of monsters and assorted fuckwits. Secualrism is not a biblical-style roadmap for a perfect society and does not claim to be. If he is found guilty, liberal secular society won’t make Corporal Payne Judge Dread. Quite the opposite.

Last I heard, he was facing charges of war crimes. Now where did I read that? Oh yeah…