Issue 215
Winter 2020/2021


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Dec 3, 2020

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ArtWork Newspaper Issue 215
Winter 2020/2021 (6.82MB)

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Time to listen to Voltaire once more?

Mary Gladstone worries that the 'virtue signals' she sees being hoisted all around are becoming a threat to free speech

I HAVE SYMPATHY for Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival. The Scottish Government told him his online programme for 2020, announced in early August, lacked diversity.

As 90 per cent of his artists were white, he had failed to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, his female performers were outnumbered 2 to 1 and the disabled community was overlooked.

Given complications surrounding the Covid 19 pandemic with the official EIF programme being called off in April, it's easy to see why Linehan and his team may have failed to 'reflect diversity' in their online programme of 500 artists and crew.

With this kind of criticism from the Government, which funds EIF with over £4.5 million, we might not wonder why so many of us are so wary of opening our mouths for fear of saying something 'wrong'.

However, some public figures don't care. Boris Johnson was lambasted for likening burka-wearing women to letter-boxes, while the media historian David Starkey was punished by broadcasting companies and publishers for referring to the 'damn blacks'.

Admittedly, Starkey's words are inflammatory but I've heard more violent ones describing Tories, toffs and pro-Union advocates. Loathsome though Trump is, his outrageous comments serve as an antidote to the global trend of political correctness and virtue-signalling.

Don't get me wrong. When it comes to BLM, I am all for toppling the statue of Edward Colston, the 17th century Bristol slave-trader. It's this insistence on correctness and inclusion that allows little subtlety in our lives. People often whinge about the shortage of home-grown drama in Scotland when most of us know that in this country for two or three centuries the theatre was banned. I wonder how long it will be before Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'The Taming of the Shrew' are outlawed for anti-Semitism and sexism?

We're entitled to our opinions even if unpopular. For the first time in my life, when visiting Glasgow during the campaign for an independent Scotland, I got a glimpse of what it might be like to live under mob rule. For anyone expressing an interest in voting no, it was discomfiting.

Voltaire's words, "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it" calls into question how free we are to say what we think.

J. K. Rowling has the courage to speak up about her fears of the break-up of the UK, in spite of the opposition and online trolls she receives. Is Rowling's stance all that dissimilar to that of teacher Samuel Paty, termed 'a quiet hero' last month by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. When he tried 'to instil democratic values in his pupils', he was killed.

I admire the late left-wing English journalist, Christopher Hitchens, who worked in America for three decades. His targets were Princess Diana, Mother Theresa and Christian and Islamic extremism.

Hitchens was the first to support Salman Rushdie, when Iran's Ayatollah pronounced a fatwa on him. Disapproved of by his Trotskyist friends when siding with Bush over the Iraq invasion because Saddam Hussein had committed genocide against the Kurds, Hitchens refused to criticise Bush's actions, admitting that what happened in the country afterwards was disastrously mismanaged.

As for women in the arts, it's true that they are under-represented, but in some fields, like the novel, they have been prominent for a long time. Whether it's science, play-writing, exploration or politics, some women make it: Aphra Benn, 17th century dramatist, Marie Curie, scientist, Freya Stark, explorer, Margaret Thatcher, politician.

Could positive discrimination be the way forward towards equality or is that not just another application of diversity?

Last August, the first blue plaque to honour a woman of Indian origin was erected in London. She was Noor Inayat Khan, shot in 1944 at Dachau concentration camp. Chosen by Britain to work as a spy, she was parachuted into France after training with the F.A.N.Y.s (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) in the Special Operations Executive

When I was a child, my mother told me about this special woman as, during WW2, she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, affiliated to the F.A.N.Y.s. I have admired Noor Inayat Khan for a long time but her gender and ethnicity are irrelevant to me.

All this virtue-signalling doesn't stop with the performing arts. We are now urged to practise (bio) diversity in the garden. If it's not Monty Don, it's Beechgrove, lecturing us on easing up on mowing the lawn to encourage insects, building a pond for wild life, leaving hidey-holes for wasps, hanging bird feeders and digging for… ..environmental victory, I suppose.

Exactly 400 years ago, the virtuous of England (some called them Puritans) legged it over the Atlantic on a ship called the Mayflower. Maybe today, Elon Musk could offer our 21st century equivalents, discount voyages to Mars.



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