Huffington Post columnist Rory Fitzgerald has come out in favor of Douglas Murray, the Scotsman who encouraged his readers to tell their worst Irish jokes in his column in The Daily Telegraph in London. A hundred or so took Murray up on it, and his column was filled with the worst kind of Irish stereotypical jokes.
"Mr. Murray is in the right of it, I think. He's defending the right to free speech, which includes the right to offen," Fitzgerald writes.
I could not disagree more.
Murray is, in fact, director of the United Kingdom's Center for Social Cohesion. This institute was founded "to promote human rights, tolerance and greater cohesion among the U.K.'s ethnic and religious communities and within wider British society."
It is incredible that a man in that position would allow his column to be used for the worst kind of anti-Irish humor-- and that the Huffington Post columnist would agree with it. In this case, it is not the joke but the status of the person who is encouraging it to be told that is the issue.
Murray used the spurious reason that his column was motivated by a settlement involving a fine against a minor British politician for telling such a joke in public after an Irishman who heard it complained.
He has every right to an opinion, but to then encourage the bigots to tell their own jokes in his own column is a bridge too far.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has already complained about the absurdity of an alleged civil-rights worker openly encouraging such bigotry.
And bigotry is what it is. If you lived in Britain as I did during the 1970s, the vicious strain of anti-Irish sentiment was no laughing matter.
Everywhere from tabloid media to television comedians to construction workers among whom I worked were "Paddy" jokes depicting us as thick, dumb and lazy.
I knew fellow construction workers who adopted fake British accents, who grew extremely self-conscious about their identity as a result. It was an interesting insight into what other ethnic groups in far worse situations must face. "No Dogs, Blacks or Irish " were well-documented signs used by some landlords at the time.
It was no joke.
The anti-Irish sentiment faded after the end of The Troubles and the Celtic Tiger, but now appears to be making a comeback, perhaps because Ireland is in recession again. Murray is doing his bit to fan the flames. The fact that he is allegedly someone interested in better race relations makes it doubly troubling.
If Murray had called for Black or Muslim jokes, the outrage would have been heard all across the Atlantic. But somehow, Irish jokes are okay.
They are not, especially coming from the British. Rory Fitzgerald and the Huffington Post, that alleged paragon of truth and equality for all, should be able to see that too.