A Welsh politician is standing up for the right of Welsh people not to be publicly humiliated in the media for the language they speak. Jonathan Edwards, a Member of the Westminster Parliament for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in North Wales, complained to the police on behalf of his constituents following a review of a book in a right wing newspaper earlier this month. Mr Edwards wrote to the police, the (UK) Home Secretary and the Press Complaint Commission to complain about the comments made by an English newspaper journalist about the Welsh people, as part of a review of a book called `Bred of Heaven’ by Jasper Rees.
Journalist Roger Lewis, who claims to be Welsh himself, said in his review that the Welsh language is an “appalling and moribund monkey language” and that:
“…it isn’t a quaint custom revived or the relic of cultural niceties — it is foisted on people for political reasons.
“I detest the way Wales has been turned into a foreign country, with a Welsh language radio station, television channel, and dual-language road signs.”
In response to the review the author of the book, which is about his attempt to retrace his Welsh ancestry, said:
“This is an extraordinarily ignorant insult to those whose first language is Welsh.
“I always worry that it’s a boring old cliché to say yet again that anti-Welsh sentiment is the last tolerated form of racism. And then an article such as this is published in a London newspaper.”
In reaction to the complaints made by Mr Edwards, who has asked the police to determine if the author has broken any laws, a number of media personalities have criticised the Plaid Cymru politician for what they see as a `bit of fun’. English television celebrity Carol Vorderman, compared the comments made by Roger Lewis to the way the critics would respond to her for wearing a dress that was too small, adding:
“My advice? Shrug your shoulders and have a glass of something fizzy to celebrate that life is never dull.”
In spite of the naive and inane comments that have been made by British media types, who include some unionist party politicians in support of the article written by Roger Lewis, there is a clear message that Mr Edwards wants the press and the wider public to take note of – that the Welsh cannot and should not be publically humiliated for being Welsh and speaking the language of their country. As one Daily Mail reader commented in response to the book review in the newspaper’s online site:
“I’d love to see what would happen if you substituted the words Welsh and Wales for the words Urdu and Pakistan. But of course you wouldn’t dare would you.”
Mr Edwards wrote in his letter to Home Secretary Theresa May:
“The article is a disgraceful slur on the people of Wales. It is deeply inflammatory as the representations I have received indicate. The article equates Welsh nationality with mental illness. It indicates that the only way to achieve social and economic progress is to move to England. That Wales has been turned into a `foreign country’ as a result of Welsh language equality legislation.
“It describes our national tongue as a `moribund monkey language’. This is an abhorrent comment considering that Welsh is one of the oldest living European languages, and comes only a week after the National Eisteddfod was held in Wrexham, one of Europe’s largest cultural festivals. The article throughout resembles the sort of language often associated with fascists in a different context.
“I’m sure you will agree with me that considering the events of recent weeks it is important that the UK Government and prosecuting authorities do everything in their power to clamp down on those irresponsible elements determined to undermine social cohesion. Following the comments of the Prime Minister during the recall of Parliament last week I would expect this matter to be treated with the utmost importance.
“It is often said that hatred of the Welsh is the only remaining form of acceptable racism. Articles like this further that perception. I would be grateful if you could advise me what action can be taken to remove this sickness from society.”
In spite of his position and the strength of his argument, it is unlikely that Mr Edwards will get very far in his complaints to any of the institutions he
wrote to. The article is unlikely to have broken current race hate laws and a defamation case cannot be brought against the book critic, because no one apart from the author of the book has been named. Mr Edwards is likely to get short thrift from the (UK) Home Secretary, Theresa May, who is a unionist politician in one of the most right wing governments since Thatcher’s era and the Press Complaints Commission might as well not be there for the use it has ever done for anyone in the Celtic countries who has been aggrieved by racist comments of this nature in the press. So once again it seems, in the case of another Celtic nation, democracy has failed.
The Cymru Branch Secretary of the League, Adam Philips, said that he regretted how the sincere comments made by Mr Edwards had been twisted around in the press “to make the original complainant look unhinged and humorless”. Mr Philips added:
“… the fact that Roger Lewis makes a point of referring to his homeland as a `Foreign Country’ shows that he is now firmly in the pocket of the British establishment and on the payroll of the colonizers. Who wins in this? The Brit state.
“If it was a comment about an ethnic minority the story would be different; we are Wales and we are supposed to take it on the chin. “I say forget the press. Find contact details for the author and Mr Lewis and tell them directly what you think of them!”
It is indeed saddening that directly discriminatory comments about the Celtic people’s come out in the press every now and again, but what is even more frustrating is that there seems to be little that can be done about it, at the current time, through the democratic process. By making a stand against this issue Mr Edwards is highlighting the injustices and inequalities that are apparent in the `special’ relationship that exists between England and its neighbouring Celtic nations.
`Bred of Heaven’ Book Review:
This article prepared for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:
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