Friday, October 06, 2006

Duty, and other forgotten pleasures...

With all the fuss this week over the policeman who refused to protect the Israeli Embassy during the war in the Lebanon I thought I'd break my radio silence and contribute my two cents. The first thing that sprang to mind was that the police appear to have learnt nothing from the Jean Charles de Menenzes fiasco. The story changed at least twice and possibly three times and it's still unclear what the final version actually is.

The second is that, if the first story were true, and a serving police officer disobeyed an order on the grounds that he personally disapproved of the persons he was ordered to protect, and moreover was indulged in this, then the story is disgraceful. Policemen should no more have discretion in whom they protect than doctors should have discretion over whom they treat. Any hedging on this point is impossible. If the officer had such strong objections to his job, he should have resigned, at least from the Diplomatic Protection Unit, and possibly from the force altogether.

The third and final reflection is that, even if the story doesn't turn out to be quite as cut and dried as that, it still reflects an underlying problem. Where is the dividing line between being discriminatory against ethnic minority employees and treating them as special cases? If we accept that cultural/religious differences should be accepted to some extent - ie: through rules on dress-code or holiday observance - at what point can we say 'we accept some of your cultural difference, but that is going too far'? Is it OK for a lawyer or a banker to wear full hijab in a client meeting? For someone to proselytise female circumcision as a social worker? When do you say, as an employer, that there's such a thing as too much tolerance of difference?

No real answers, just observations...

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