Thursday, October 05, 2006

On duty, morality and 'political correctness'

The Met have insisted that PC Alexander Omar Basha was not excused from guarding the Israeli embassy during the height of the conflict in Lebanon for reasons of 'political correctness' but on the grounds of safety.

Whether the Met's version of events is true I'm not qualified to judge; I dare say the Sun over-hyped the story. Rather, what I am concerned about is the notion, which is implicit in both the BBC and the Guardian piece, that had officer Basha requested an exemption for reasons that had nothing to do with safety - this could be considered either a properly 'moral' or a 'politically correct' stance to take.

It reminded me of the case of those in the Strathclyde fire-brigade who were disciplined for refusing to hand out fire prevention leaflets at a gay pride march on 'religious grounds'.

While a number of commentators were probably right to claim their 'religious objections' were thinly-veiled prejudice, I thought that this rather missed the point. As much as it may grate for those of us who are secular, it is possible to have genuine moral objections against homosexual practices if one bases one's morality on religion.

But there is no moral or religious basis to argue that because one disapproves of homosexuality, those who practice it should not therefore be afforded the same fire-safety advice as everyone else - and personally I think it was disgraceful that the firemans' union reps were prepared to put the opposite case.

Same with this, only more so, for reasons that should be obvious. Regardless of whether this actually happened or not, the very idea that one can have a personal 'moral objection' against providing protection to Israeli diplomats under any circumstances is utterly offensive.

Different yet the same, both of these cases reveal a modern malaise; moral conflict is seen as arising when one's personal preferences (prejudices, I would argue) collide with one's professional duties - and the idea that personal morality might lie within carrying out one's vocation appears out of kilter with the spirit of the age. No-one asks what the 'the done thing' is anymore. All that remains is one's own thing and a measurement of the extent to which one is able to bend social institutions to accommodate this.

Update: Sarita Malik takes the opposite view:
"My own thoughts are that PC Basha's stand should be applauded, although the precise reasons for his decision (moral? welfare?) may determine the level to which it should be supported. But he has exercised his right to choose, and making choices in the workplace is an act of integrity. PC Basha has also been honest about what he finds unacceptable within a professional capacity; he has admitted his personal/political bias."
The first thing to note is that Sarita Malik does not doubt, contra the Met, that officer Basha made the request he did as a "stand." (People always stand these days, don't you find?) Let's consider what his 'stand' might have meant in practical terms.

One assumes that Israeli diplomats, like other bureaucrats that represent their nations, receive protection from our police services against those who might wish to harm them or kill them.

This is surely right and proper?

For to do anything less would be the very antithesis of diplomacy.

Understanding this would lead some to conclude that Britain should not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

If that is someone's view, I would defend their right to hold it and to express it.

What is indefensible, though, is the idea that a public servant should be 'applauded' for expressing their disapproval in the form of refusing to do their duty to protect.

If they are unable, for reasons of conscience, to execute their professional duties - the only decent thing is to resign.

And if their conscience tells them that indifference to the possibility of an attack on the Israeli embassy is a moral sentiment that should supercede one's duty to protect, the only decent thing is to be ashamed.

Because I do not believe this sort of rationalisation would be used for the embassy of any other country on the face of the planet.

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