Richard Ingrams' Week: Who to support in a conflict between Muslims and gays?

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The Independent Online

Catholics are traditionally described in the press as "devout". I can't remember ever reading anything about a devout Protestant. Nor can I explain why this should be so.

Ruth Kelly, formerly the Secretary of State for Education and currently described as Communities Secretary, is one of the devout. Not only that, she is a member of the ultra-conservative Catholic organisation Opus Dei, a fact that landed her in trouble with the God-botherers of this world, some of whom have tried to scare us with fanciful stories of Kelly lashing herself with iron spikes.

For some time Kelly has been at the receiving end of protests from various Christian organisations, all of them concerned about the EU's new Sexual Orientation Regulations which are due to come into force in April.

Some churchmen are worried that they could face legal action for forbidding gay groups to hire church premises. Catholics complain that their adoption agencies could be forced by law to place children with gay couples. Given the militant attitude of many gays and their hatred of the Christian religion, such fears are not unjustified.

All this puts the devout Ms Kelly on the spot, especially since Opus Dei would almost certainly support the protesters.

And the situation is now complicated by the fact that the Christians have been joined by Jews and Muslims, many of whose views on homosexuality are even more old-fashioned than those of the RCs.

The wishes of Christians can generally be ignored by the state, but Muslims, especially nowadays, are different. Whom do we support in a conflict between Muslims and gays? The devout Ms Kelly may have to pray for divine guidance on the point.

Few mourn the fading of the classics

Reports that the teaching of classics is dying out in schools will get a lot of old buffers writing to the papers to say that it never did them any harm.

But they are fighting a losing battle when the purpose of education nowadays is seen primarily in materialist terms, ie to help this country to keep up with its European competitors. Latin and Greek play no obvious part in such a system. Everything must be geared to some economic end. As the former Education Secretary Charles Clarke put it: "Education for education's sake is a bit dodgy."

As someone who learned Latin from the age of eight I suppose I ought to be on the side of the old buffers. But I find it hard to rally round. The supporters of Latin do not like to stress just how difficult it is, how many hours it takes up. If you throw in Greek as well there won't be much time for anything else. Such was my own experience. I left school with enough Latin and Greek to enable me to scrape into Oxford but I was pathetically ignorant about all other subjects. In more than 10 years of education, I never had a single science lesson of any kind and to this day my knowledge of history is sketchy.

If I look at a page of Latin now I can't begin to understand it. Greek is even more baffling. So what exactly were the benefits of all those hours of intensive study?

Supporters say it exercises the mind and helps you to understand other languages more easily - even that it is a good training for any would-be writer.

Reluctant to admit that it was all a waste of time, I would like to be able to agree with these people. But if I'm to be honest I can't.

* The great Yorkshire curmudgeon Geoffrey Boycott has said that in the light of subsequent events the England cricket team did not deserve the MBEs they were given after their famous Ashes victory of 2005. Boycott, who himself was appointed an OBE in 1981, went on to say that he was going to hang the medal on his cat because the honours system had been so devalued.

Freddie Flintoff's men may hang their heads in shame but they will also hang on to their MBEs. Not so the former world featherweight boxing champion "Prince" Naseem Hamed who has been stripped of his medal after serving part of a 15-month sentence for dangerous driving.

It is possible that I will be about the only press commentator to speak up for Hamed, the reason being that dangerous or drunken driving is now regarded by the media as the most heinous of all offences, second only to child abuse. Hence this very rare example of someone having an honour revoked.

All the same, Hamed's treatment is unfair. He was given his award for becoming a world boxing champion and nothing that he has done since ought to alter that achievement.

What makes it doubly unfair is that there are quite a lot of people around who have been given far greater honours than the MBE and who have done time in prison but who still hang on to their award. Lord Archer is an obvious example.

theoldie@theoldie.co.uk

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