I’m fairly disinterested in Prince Harry. He strikes me as an unexceptional young man who grew up in an unpleasantly rarefied atmosphere, but who is finally finding meaning and purpose in his life through military service. He keeps forcing attention on himself, though, by having foot (or costume) in mouth disease. A few years ago, he was lambasted for appearing as a Nazi at a costume party, an act of unwisdom understandable only if one appreciates that British young people have no limits whatsoever, and that he wasn’t doing anything his peers weren’t doing as well.
Now he’s in hot water for being caught on videotape for jocularly referring to a fellow Pakistani officer as “our little Paki friend, Ahmed.” He also called the Taliban — that would be the guys who are routinely murdering British troops — “rag heads,” a term both American and British troops commonly apply to a deadly enemy that does indeed wrap its head in fluffy, disorganized bits of cloth.
That Harry’s remarks were gauche and impolitic is certain. Indeed, trying to put myself in the shoes of that Pakistani officer, I know that I would have thought it tasteless and wrong if he were to refer to a Jewish officer as “our friend Shylock.” In other words, I’m not condoning Harry’s way of speaking although, again, I think it’s typical of his milieu, both as a member of the British upper classes and as an officer in the British military.
What really bugs me about this entire episode is the front page hysteria its created. Harry risks being demoted, and Muslims around the world are (yes, you knew this was coming) outraged. Journalists are outraged too, since it’s manifest to them that this collegiate humor must be evidence, not just that Harry’s a bit of a clod, but that he’s a deep seated racist pig, killing Taliban soldiers, not because they’re trying to kill Brits, but because he’s target-shooting Muslims, etc., etc. There is a distinct lack of proportion with regard to the attacks against Harry.
The level of anger and hysteria about everything nowadays — absolutely everything — just puts me off, especially because it leaves no room to paint with the real brush of outrage. If calling your enemy by a pejorative, or using a very low level slur in a sarcastic way to refer to someone who is obviously a comrade in arms, is exactly as horrific as using children as human shields, you’ve rendered your moral compass useless. To use an analogy only those of us over 40 understand, if you play your records at 78 rpm, they all sound like indistinguishable gibberish. We live in such a hysterical era.
As Wendy Kaminer wrote years ago (I think it was in her book called I’m dysfunctional, you’re dysfunctional), in a therapeutic age we feel obligated to give everybody’s ow-ies equal sympathy, whether the injury is a hang nail, hurt feelings, or an escape from the Cambodian Killing Fields. I feel as if I’m perpetually surrounded by nervous Victorian maidens fainting on couches at real or imagined insults. It’s exhausting.
What also bugs me about this whole episode is that, while it’s garnering front page headlines, the press is downplaying a dramatic escalation in attacks against Jews all over the world. (So, I guess they’re not really hysterical about everything.)
Sure, the attacks and threats are getting reported in dry news stories (otherwise I wouldn’t know about them), but they’re not above the fold, and they’re not the subject of indignant op-eds, editorials, or human interest stories. They’re just same old, same old. “Move along, folks. Nothing new to see here.” In that, the press’s response is dramatically different from the anguished, breast-beating stories it routinely wrote after 9/11 (and still writes periodically today) in which it describes in agonizing detail the horror of being a Muslim in America and having people look at you funny.
It’s a topsy turvy world, to be sure, when an unimportant Prince (what is he, 102nd in line to the throne?) is the subject of anguished squeals about racism because of a few mildly impolitic words, while the press manages to breeze casually through news reports about horrific antisemitic comments (“You need a big oven, that’s what you need!” “Hamas, Hamas! Jews to the gas!” “Jews must die.”) without turning a hair. It is also a sign, I fear, of a dying culture, one that’s incapable of separating wheat from chaff when it comes to distinguishing between true moral issues and mere offensive irrelevancies.