Thursday, 21 January 2010

Send for the Grammar Police

Serious concerns were raised today about standards of literacy in the British police, after a document submitted to a Parliamentary Committee by the National Association of Muslim Police was revealed by the Daily Telegraph.

The document, which set out NAMP's opposition to the government's Counter-extremism "Prevent" strategy, was found to be littered with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and stylistic peculiarities. One of the Heresiarch's correspondents likened it to pidgin English. "You'd never guess it was written by coppers", he added.

Oh, I don't know.

Politically, it was almost as controversial. NAMP complained that the concept of "Islamist terrorism" unfairly singled out Muslims. It also denounced the British government for not allowing its foreign policy to be decided by Islamic representatives such as NAMP or the Muslim Council of Britain. Instead, it complained, "established pressure groups" - thought to be a reference to the notoriously influential Jewish lobby - and pseudo-Muslim groups such as the Quilliam Foundation monopolised the government's attention.

As a result of this and other failures in government policy, NAMP declared, "hatred towards Muslims has grown to a level that defies all logic and is an affront to British values." For evidence, NAMP pointed to an episode of Panorama one of its members had watched.

The political content of the document - which dates from November - led the Telegraph to suggest that its revelations would prove embarrassing to the government. Gordon Brown, it noted, has previously "said the association was crucial to bridge the historic divide between Muslims and the police." The well-known blog Harry's Place, for its part, has unearthed close links between NAMP and an Iranian-backed group calling itself the Islamic Human Rights Commission. The IHRC, the article noted, generally displayed little interest in the human rights of Iranians - unless it be in the human right of Basiji militiamen to beat pro-democracy protesters to within an inch of their lives on the streets of Tehran.

Telegraph blogger Nile Gardiner thought that NAMP - a body whose professed aims include "raising Islamic awareness - was "clearly in a state of denial regarding the motivation and inspiration behind the vast majority of terrorists in the UK."

It certainly seems to be in denial about the rules of English.

Whoever wrote the submission is clearly unaware of how compound nouns work, for one thing. It refers to "stereo types", "under lying concerns", "anti terror actions" "so called Islamist terrorism" and "non trust worthy" Muslims, among many similar constructions. Nor does he (or just possibly, though I doubt it, she) have much familiarity with the proper use of the apostrophe. Thus we find: "strategic term's" (pl); "there may need to be caution of the danger's of this being too politicised"; and "anecdotal evidence show's".

The difference between "effect" and "affect" causes the author some problems, too, as in "It is debatable whether we are reaching the really hard to reach individuals who may be effected by this thought process." There's a depressing tendency to use a comma where "and" or a semicolon is called for, as well as an occasional (but inconsistent) preference for American spellings. There are oddities like "stigitimatising" - used twice, which suggests it cannot simply be a slip. And there are many grammatically defective sentences such as this: "The net result may have caused some serious damage to Community Cohesion."

But the document's grammatical problems go beyond a few easily-correctible solecisms - of interest, perhaps, mainly to those of us who are pedantically-inclined - and strike at the root of its comprehensibility. What, for example, are we to make of this?


It appears that the whole of the Muslim Communities some 2 million plus is being stigitimsed and mapped from start to end, There has never been in any case in history to such effective mapping apart from the Martian era in America pre the second world war.


Or this?

Arguable the programme has been restricted in effectiveness although this cannot be truly gauged due to a lack of an effective transparent review of the strategy.


Or indeed this?

Whilst the projects such as Chanel from Prevent appear to be showing success in terms of referrals and recent take on of some right wing extremism. There is question again about the targeting of the real needy. It is debatable whether we are reaching the really hard to reach individuals who may be effected by this thought process.


It would be invidious to single out any more examples of syntactical confusion. To do so would risk lengthening this post beyond bearable limits. Instead, I will note that, stylistically, the document tends towards the rhetorical, even the baroque. Here's one of a number of purple passages:

Never before has a community been mapped in a manner and nor will it be, it is frustrating to see this in a country that is a real pillar and example of freedom of expression and choice. Our British system is a model for the world to follow, yet we have embarked on a journey that has put this very core of British values under real threat. This has been echoed from all areas of the globe, the UN in New York to Liberty based in the UK.

The hatred towards Muslims has grown to a level that defies all logic and is an affront to British values. The climate is such that Muslim are subject to daily abuse in a manner that would be ridiculed by Britain, were this to occur any where else. An example of this was the recent BBC programme titled "hate at your door step". This programme gave us an insight at level of abuse faced by many Muslims in Britain on a daily basis.


As might be imagined, this sustained assault on the English language by a supposedly representative body of police officers has the potential to cause NAMP severe embarrassment. And that is to say nothing of the document's claims of institutional Islamophobia or its scepticism about the notion of Islamist extremism. Happily, today NAMP has issued a press release (pdf) to clarify these matters.

Claiming that they wrote "in confidence" to the committee, NAMP stresses that they were "deeply disappointed that this has been made public". Apparently they weren't aware that such submissions are published as a matter of course on the Parliamentary website. It's striking, though, that an organisation of police officers should think that it has the right to slag off government policy - and in the most outspoken terms - and do so in private. Ah well.

They now claim, "in clarification" that

"We fully support the Government CONTEST strategy and have been working tirelessly withthe Police service and with the communities to ensure that the strategy serves its purpose."

Right.

So sentences like:

The strategies of PREVENT were historically focused on so called Islamist extremism.

This has subjected the biggest Black and Minority Ethnic community and second biggest faith group in an unprecedented manner ,stigitimatising them in the process. It has also arguably isolated them and visibly made them the focus of all our anti Terror actions for a substantial period. The net result may have caused some serious damage to Community Cohesion.


Amount to fully supporting government policy. I can't think what opposition would look like.

The new statement also says that "the Police Service needs to gather and coordinate intelligence on far right organisations more affectively."

There goes the spelling again. Or perhaps they really want to say that the police ought to use emotion rather than logic or evidence when it comes to countering the far right.

Finally, we are extremely pleased to say that since the submission of our memorandum to the Home Affairs select committee, progress has been made on many of the areas highlighted in the memorandum and we continue to support the work of the Police Service and the Home Office on Contest Strategy.


I think this means that, since they wrote to the Committee, the government has started being nice again to NAMP's allies at the MCB. How reassuring.

NAMP is only one of many groupings of police officers. There's also a Christian Police Association, a Gay Police Association, even an Association of Pagan Police. There doesn't, sadly, seem to be an Association of Grammatical Police Officers. It would be considerably more helpful than NAMP.