Thinking Anglicans

Tribal Fellowship

Whenever we see righteous indignation, especially in the media, alarm bells should go off in our heads, and we should reach for at least one pinch of salt with more on standby.

This week Prince Harry has been brought to book by some of the press. While in military service in Afghanistan, he called one comrade a Paki, and said another looked like a raghead, (an American epithet for anyone wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional Middle Eastern headdress and protection from sun and sand). I’ll set aside the fact that some of these newspapers are quite capable of name-calling themselves, when the occasion demands.

Name-calling has less to do with the person or group that is being called names, and more about the name-callers. When I went to school in the 1970’s, branding people Paki’s was wrong, but routine, and you had to be quite resolute to avoid being caught up in it. The Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi kids in my school were no better or worse than the rest of us. Being a minority, they probably conducted themselves better than we did.

What drove the name-calling was not whether these minorities deserved it, it was about scruffy working-class Birmingham kids seeing a group they felt they could finally feel superior to. There was a bonding to be had here which was very alluring. If you joined in, then you were part of a group, you belonged. This is why it didn’t necessarily have to be South Asians, it could have been any easily identifiable group, the key was the name-callers belonging together as a group.

Princes don’t belong, by definition, they are always out-of-step with the rest of us. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t want to, it is a basic human need. We should not be surprised if they occasionally do things which are gawky, or ill-judged. We should certainly be more compassionate than some of our newspapers. Whatever Prince Harry takes from this episode the hard lesson is that, even among his fellow soldiers, someone in that fellowship was going to betray him, to send him the message loud and clear, that he did not belong.

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Simon SarmientoMalcolm+Savi HensmanFord Elmstoby forward Recent comment authors
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toby forward
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Prince Harry has always said he wants to be treated as any other soldier would. I suspect that any other young officer who did this would have been dishonorably discharged immediately, as an example to others, and as a proof that this was not the way the army expected its officers to behave. And quite right, too.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

Interesting thoughts, Andrew.

As for the specifics of the case, it seems to me that soldiers–even royal ones–deal in hard language all the time. It’s a way of blowing off steam. The practice of using derogatory terms for one’s comrades is so common as to not require notice in most circumstances.

And, I must say, as derogatory terms go, “Paki” is pretty mild.

kieran crichton
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kieran crichton

Just about everything about the reportage of Prince Harry gets on my nerves. The poor guy can’t seem to do anything right. Andrew, I think you’ve hit on an interesting point when referring to your experience at school — at last these kids in Birmingham had found someone they could feel superior to. Consider this. Prince Harry is a younger son; he is not in direct line for the throne. He was not born to be king. He will always rank below his brother, and in time, below his sister-in-law and any nieces and nephews (once they reach majority). The… Read more »

David Exham
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David Exham

If the Army did what Toby suggests, there wouldn’t be any officers at all! Young men in situations of stress have always used pretty strong language among themselves. They then go out and risk their lives for each other. If, like me, you haven’t experienced that, don’t judge.

This is the same Harry whose behaviour at the recent Children of Courage event was exemplary and uplifting.

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

Since the men he referred to were in his outfit, is there the slightest possibility that this was not insult, but rather, the use of otherwise pejorative names within a tightly-knit group, and by mutual consent?

I’m thinking of gay friends of mine who, among themselves, tease each other with language {Oh, you old faggot, you!} that would be insulting from an outsider?

Or us he just a clueless, although royal, oaf?

bobinswpa
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bobinswpa

All people have some prejudice. There’s always some group we’re not going to like (be it gays, evangelicals, whites, blacks, Muslims, Hindus or people who live on the other side of the town). No matter how hard we work at it, we still have some part that holds another group in disdain. Prince Harry is a person just like the rest of us. Unlike us, the prince will always be under the scrutiny of the media. Aren’t there more important things for the press to be concerned with?

Pluralist
Guest

Why is this of interest? I find the reporting of a three year old video tedious on the national news, and then – scoop – we hear that dad calls a friend Sooty. Hang on a minute, what did you say? Oh, Sooty tells me he agrees with me, and so do Sweep and Sue.

Andrew
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Andrew

Harry did nothing much. The newspapers need to make a profit. I cannot imagine any soldier being discharged for this, as Toby suggests. He was joking around, and comes across as a remarkably normal young guy, or bloke as the English call them, a great outcome for someone brought up in the royal family. Let us hope his brother is just as normal, for it will allow the monarchy to go on without too much sniping from the republicans.

BillyD
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“I suspect that any other young officer who did this would have been dishonorably discharged immediately, as an example to others, and as a proof that this was not the way the army expected its officers to behave.”

No, probably not, actually.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

“Aren’t there more important things for the press to be concerned with?”

Especially considering the fact that he made this comment three years ago?

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“And quite right, too.” No, actually. Quite knee jerk and politically correct. As has been pointed out, these are soldiers, who in your average day probably witness things you cannot imagine. I can, but only because I am exposed to Forensic Pathology and have seen the pictures of what comes back in those coffins that are so solemnly marched off the plane with high honours. How many times would you be able to bear seeing what’s left of one of YOUR friends after one of those home made explosives goes off under his truck? This is not racism, sorry, but… Read more »

peterpi
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peterpi

I have no idea of the context in which Prince Harry said this. If it was three years ago, I’d like to think that someone set him aside and told him to watch his tongue. I don’t know the history of “Paki” in the UK. But, from my perspective, in the US, “raghead” is always used in a pejorative sense, always by non-Muslims, and always with a sense that the people who are using it are superior and the people it is being used against are contemptible and worse. In that sense, I agree with the author. To me, though,… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

“I suspect that any other young officer who did this would have been dishonorably discharged immediately, as an example to others, and as a proof that this was not the way the army expected its officers to behave. And quite right, too.” – Toby Forward – Obviously Mr. Forward, you have never been a member of the armed cervices, whose officers and men, living under very different conditions from most of us, are prone to use such ‘terms of endearment’ as Prince Harry is reported (all too fervently by the press) to have employed here. The armed services have a… Read more »

toby forward
Guest

Well, Billy D, we’re both speculating, but I can’t imagine any conditions under which any other officer who was found to have done this would be able to remain in the British army. At present the army is fighting on two fronts, Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have significant strategic relationships with Pakistan. The use of the term ‘paki’ by a serving officer does a great deal to harm the reputation the army needs for being able to deal without racial prejudice in these areas. The whole nexus of Muslim/Christian relations is fundamental to the army’s being able to… Read more »

andrew holden
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andrew holden

Toby – the British Army is well able to distinguish between the malicious and derogatory use of language and a foolish choice of words. Most E&D complaints are handled informally. Did the person mean to give offence? Did the remark offend the person addressed? Did the remark offend any third party who witnessed it? What action will satisfy any victim? In most instances unless the original remark was clearly malicious, was intended to cause offence and clearly did so a complaint would be handled by an apology and treated largely as a matter of education not of discipline. In my… Read more »

Tim
Guest

Did the soldier(s) being called a “Paki” and a “raghead” take offence? Then why should the nation pay any attention? The only thing worse than a slow news day is the masses being so gullible as to be interested in it. Move along; nothing to hear here!

orfanum
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orfanum

I am so glad that I have joined a church that recognises God’s love of ‘scruffy working class Birmingham kids” as much as that loving forgiveness is offered to such a royal personage. I have seen the video, and there’s not a lot of what one might call ‘combat stress’ to the situation in which these comments were made. Once again I am sorry to perceive a subtle but telling social bias in the dialogue on this site, where name-calling is fine as long as those named and shamed belong to a lower social order, whereas a lot of what… Read more »

toby forward
Guest

I get the feeling that I’m inflicting physical punishment on an expired member of the equine family, but I’ll give this one more go. People are saying, ‘you have never been a member of the armed services, whose officers and men, living under very different conditions from most of us, are prone to use such ‘terms of endearment’ as Prince Harry is reported (all too fervently by the press) to have employed here. The armed services have a culture of mateship not common to civilian life generally – excepting perhaps among sporting teams – which allows them to use terms… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“My point is, that this is what is known as ‘institutionalised racism’.” I think the point being made in response to this is that it is a simplistic understanding of what is actually happening, and is informed more by what is called “political correctness”, which I would define as being “sensitive” about the things that a certain group in society tells us we are supposed to be “senstive” about while turning a blind eye to other issues that are just as deserving of “sensitivity” but which count for nothing since those who define what we are supposed to be “sensitive”… Read more »

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

While those engaging in racist, sexist or homophobic language in tight-knit institutions do not always intend to be offensive, the effects can be harmful. There is an interesting account in the Mirror of what it is like to be on the receiving end of racism in the army on http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2009/01/12/racism-is-never-a-joke-i-am-utterly-disgusted-by-harry-115875-21034773/. This is a longstanding problem (see e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/jan/13/military-racism); certainly, when I was young, the armed forces had an appalling reputation among ethnic minority people, and the situation is far from resolved. Use of the ‘P-word’, like wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party, may seem like harmless fun to… Read more »

Malcolm+
Guest

Notwithstanding his grandmama’s unique status vis-a-vis ONE province of the Communion, what exactly does this story have to do with Anglicanism?

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Readers may find this article by Riazat Butt of interest:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/13/islam-gaza-israel