Trevor Phillips was confidently telling Sunday Times readers this weekend that Muslims will be rioting in the streets as a direct result of politicians saying beastly things about veils.
The thing is though, Phillips seems to have been predicting race riots about pretty much everything, from Polish plumbers to the 7/7 attacks, for the past five years. It’s become his catchphrase, causing me to do that most rare of things, agree with Ken Livingstone.
I’m not convinced that this is a responsible sort of thing for the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality – or anyone for that matter – to say. When riots do happen, they happen for lots of different reasons and the biggest factors tend to be local. Talking them up merely increases racial tensions and, if anything, actually increases the chances of them happening.
40 years ago some bloke started making confident predictions about racial unrest. Instead of ‘streets of fire’ he talked of ‘rivers of blood’ (actually a misquote IIRC). He was accused of stoking up tensions and completely ruined his political career. Trevor Phillips on the other hand is about to get a promotion.
It doesn’t seem to be the colour of Phillips’ skin that makes him immune from the sort of public roasting that Enoch Powell endured, as this sort of rhetoric is becoming increasingly common from politicians of all racial backgrounds. But we do appear to have crossed an invisible line that we wouldn’t have dreamt of crossing 20 years ago. Perhaps that will ultimately prove to be a good thing in the long run, but it is producing a lot of confused nonsense at the moment. For example, it is deeply ironic that Phillips in condemning politicians here, seems to be committing the very act that he claims to disapprove so much of.
A few weeks ago, I was inclined to defend Jack Straw and his position on veils. I did think the stuff about asking women to remove their veils before talking to him was a bit off, but he was careful in his language. The fact remains that has triggered a lot of nonsense. In the long term, debates such as this can be healthy, but the onus is on everyone to use measured language. Even the CRE/CEHR Chief.