The clampdown on disrespect continues. Sir Iqbal Sacranie is under police investigation. The putative crime, a public order offence, disorderly conduct: behaviour likely to cause alarm, harrassment or distress contrary to the Public Order Act 1986. So, has Sir Iqbal been staggering aggressively around a shopping centre waving his fist at passers-by? Has he been picketing a building yelling threats at workers? Has he been hanging around on a street corner with his legal director and PR man, holding open bottles of cheap cider and throwing traffic cones at one another?
No. Sir Iqbal is a genial, if quite intense, man. He's been doing the sort of thing he got knighted for.
The alleged offense took place in the course of a serious discussion of his religious beliefs on Radio 4. He reportedly said that homosexual behaviour is not acceptable on moral or health grounds, and that civil partnerships therefore were not acceptable either. Some people were offended by this "homophobia" and complained to the police.
I don't care for what Sir Iqbal thinks about gays. But he does think it. I do care that he should be allowed to say what he thinks. And it does worry me that offending people by your mere opinion expressed publicly in a public forum can now be a police matter. ... This adumbrates a world in which officially approved opinions may be expressed freely, but those that are not officially approved will be deemed offensive, and suppressed therefore. Whatever it is, it is not freedom of expression.
To appreciate the context it's important to understand that Sir Iqbal Sacranie is Chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain; a man who once said "Death is perhaps too easy" a fate for the author of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, and who boycotted the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. Sir Iqbal was pretty near the top of the class of uncriticizables. That he should be the subject of a police investigation simply for asserting the undesirability of homosexuality shows that in the pantheon of political correctness some gods must bow down to others. It is similar to the scissors-paper-stone game in that one object trumps another, but unlike the oriental game the inequalities are not circular: Muslim beats Jew, Gay beats Muslim but Jew does not beat Gay. In modern, liberal Europe, the relationship between politically correct objects is strictly transitive: Gay > Muslim > Jew > any class of "nonvictim" human beings. The mystery is: how did it get this way?
The process through which certain ideas are assigned a higher value than others is one of the unexplained phenomena of Western liberalism. Unexplained because there is no obvious process through which the values are ordered. It's not as if a referendum were periodically held to settle the rankings. They simply are. So when gasps of horror are heard because Samuel Alito will not declare Roe vs Wade "settled law" in the sense that it "can't be reexamined" and not simply in the sense that it has "been on the books for a long time; it has been challenged on a number of occasions... and the Supreme Court has re-affirmed the decision...and I think that when a decision is challenged and it is reaffirmed, that strengthens its value as stare decisis" -- the question becomes not simply whether Roe vs Wade belongs in this unimpeachable category but how it got there.
Part of the answer, I think, is 'unconsciously'. The presumed hierarchy of values against which Sir Iqbal Sacranie has transgressed was probably created entirely informally. Gerard Vanderleun gives us a glimpse into the process of this meme creation in his roundup of New York Times editorials.
Editorial: Fairness in the Alito Hearings : "The biggest concern in Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s confirmation proceedings is not whether they will be fair to him, but whether they will be fair to the American people."
Editorial: Lost Time, Lost Lives in the Mine : "The pro-company bias of the Bush administration is itself a factor in the deadly mine disaster in Sago, W.Va., deserving full investigation."
Editorial: A New Friend With Good Advice : "If German Chancellor Angela Merkel feels strongly about the disgrace of Guantánamo, she also feels strongly about the importance of trans-Atlantic relations."
Editorial: President Bush at Recess : "President Bush has used the recess appointment power to rescue egregiously bad selections that would never pass muster on grounds of experience and competence."
Editorial: Recklessness in Indonesia : "The environmental damage caused by Freeport-McMoRan, an American company that operates a giant open-pit copper and gold mine in Papua, has been breathtaking."
Editorial: Honing the Proper Punishment : "The Securities and Exchange Commission took an important step in the fight against corporate malfeasance by issuing guidelines on when and why it would impose fines."
Editorial: Judging Samuel Alito : "The Senate has a duty to delve into the many areas in which Judge Samuel Alito Jr.'s record suggests he is an extremist."
Editorial: Marines Without Armor : "American marines have every right to expect the Pentagon to provide them with the most effective armor available to maximize their chances of staying alive and in one piece."
Editorial: Newt as Diogenes in a Dark Capitol : "It was a measure of the failure of Congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle that Newt Gingrich, the disgraced former speaker, lectured House Republicans on the siren lure of lobbyists."
Editorial: An Anemic Jobs Recovery : "The bigger picture on job creation is not so pretty."
Editorial: New Jersey's Medical School Mess : "The scope of the wrongdoing at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is staggering."
Editorial: Working Together for the Average Joe : "The gadget contest doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. The sooner the geeks figure that out, the better off we'll all be."
Opinio Juris comes near to discussing the question in the post The Politics of Unacknowledged Legislators. "Percy Bysshe Shelly said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. If that’s true (and even if it's not), then we need to consider why ..." Opinio Juris goes to cite the Nobel Prize awards as an instance of 'unacknowledged legislation'. It is well known, he says that the Prize is often awarded to "to send a signal. This year’s choice of Mohammed El Baradei and the IAEA can be viewed as sending two signals (a) it is part of the periodic reminders at Hiroshima/Nagasaki decennials of the importance of decreasing the threat of nuclear war and (b) it may be viewed as a rebuff to the current U.S. administration." But Opinio Juris never explains how the Nobel awards committee came to be one of the "unacknowledged legislators of the world" nor how they decide on any given year what signal to send. It's a mysterious process for all of its apparent simplicity, and not a little sinister.