"It's gone too far. I have worked in other places where you can't even ask for a black coffee," says one woman. "At times you are afraid to open your mouth in case somebody finds what you are saying is offensive," adds a man.
No, they are not at a university, nor even a television station or a church. They are officers in a prison system, the British prison system. Their comments above were made in a BBC documentary on race relations in jails and quoted in an analysis of perhaps the most astonishing PC item I have yet stumbled upon. Here is what happened, as reported by David Sapsted in London's Daily Telegraph:
Colin Rose is 53 years old, a former Coldstream guardsman, a father of three and a prison officer with 21 years' of impeccable service. On Nov. 15, 2001, he dropped some keys into a metal chute at the Blundeston Prison gatehouse. The keys made such a racket that someone nearby suggested they could puncture the tray at the bottom of the chute. To this, Rose replied with the following jocular but life-changing comment:
"There's a photo of Osama bin Laden there."
Well, other prison staff overheard this remark and were outraged at its insensitivity. It turns out that the governor of Blundeston Prison, Jerry Knight, had issued a staff notice on Sept. 25, 2001, regarding the atrocities of two weeks earlier. In it, Knight later explained, he asked staff "to have continued sensitivity … [and] to avoid inflaming the situation." Or, as the Daily Telegraph more bluntly put it, he wanted staff "to say nothing about the terrorist attacks because of the high number of Muslims in the prison."
A six-month official investigation followed, and Rose was dismissed in May 2002. He asked for a review of his case by an employment tribunal, at which he explained his now-infamous statement while throwing the keys down a chute:
I heard either one of the crowd of people waiting to go through the gates, or possibly a member of staff, comment that it sounded as if the keys were coming through the metal. When I heard this comment I said, "There's a photo of Osama bin Laden there." I meant that I was flicking the keys against an imaginary picture of Osama bin Laden at the back of the chute. There were a lot of comments about him around the prison.
Rose characterized his comment as "a light-hearted, throwaway remark born of the stress I was under and the speed with which I was having to work."
The good news is that the employment tribunal issued a scathing judgment against Rose's dismissal:
Conduct by the governor was reprehensible, totally unjustified, and in so far as he argues to the contrary, we do not accept his explanation. He seemed determined to justify a course of action which seemed wholly disproportionate. … This was a gross error of judgment, at the very least, on his part. Mr Knight started with the presumption that the applicant would be dismissed. We are most disturbed that a man in Mr Knight's position should approach the future of a long-term prison officer in such a manner.
Another hearing will determine the compensation for Rose, though his firing left him "a broken man," and he will not be returning to his old £24,000-a-year job.
The bad news is that Her Majesty's Prison Service fully supports Gov. Knight's decision to dismiss Rose. The spokesman said the service is "very disappointed" with the employment tribunal's verdict, for the decision to fire Rose "had already been found to be fair by an internal Prison Service appeal and the Civil Service Appeals Board, which is completely independent. The decision to dismiss Mr Rose was fully consistent with Prison Service policy ... to eradicate racism in prisons."
So, there you have it: The worthy goal of eradicating racism translates into severe punishment of a light-hearted expression of hostility against the mastermind of the world's most deadly terrorist attack in order to appease Muslim criminals.
At this rate, will there always be an England?