Prince Harry and his little friend

On Sunday, the News of the World (also known as the News of the Screws, a tabloid “scandal sheet” owned by Rupert Murdoch known for printing kiss-and-tell stories) put on its front page a story about Prince Harry, the second son of Prince Charles (and Diana) who is currently an army officer, who shot a private video of his Sandhurst comrades waiting for a plane to Cyprus, and calling a Pakistani fellow cadet “our little Paki friend, Ahmed”. They also accused him of somehow insulting the Queen by giving what sounds like a perfectly normal goodbye to his Grandpa, also known as Prince Phillip (by the way: the NOTW’s weekday sister paper, the Sun, is known for supporting a republic, and responded to the Queen’s coronation by telling her she had had her fun and should abdicate the next day). Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation has called him a thug who had been trying to portray himself as being like his caring and respected parents.

When I first heard of this news, I started writing a piece defending Prince Harry, because the event happened three years ago, when he was still a cadet, and someone has decided to betray a trust and leak this video to the press for his own personal reasons - having fallen out with someone or fallen on hard times. Then I actually saw the video, and it turns out that the offending phrase - “there’s our little Paki friend, Ahmed” - was used pretty much behind his back, or at least, in such a way that Ahmed could not hear. Whether we should still consider him what we would consider someone we had just seen say that - a racist jerk - is open to question, but it certainly discounts the argument that this was just banter between colleagues.

In my experience - and several of my best friends are of Pakistani origin, as much of a cliché as that sounds - a lot of youth of Pakistani origin don’t find the word Paki in and of itself offensive, and many of them actually use it amongst themselves. It does not have the same heat that the “N word” carries, probably because the history is different. Pakistan itself is only just over 60 years old, Paki is only short for Pakistani, the word “pak” means pure, and however oppressive the British empire was at times, Asians are not descended from people who were slaves to British masters. However, the fact remains that people do remember its use as a racist term, a way in which it is commonly used, and telling its use as banter and its use as a racial derogatory term is pretty easy: if it’s used in conjunction with other insults, or if it’s used to mean any Asian rather than an actual Pakistani, it is an insult, and if it is used by a non-Pakistani, especially a white person, most people won’t appreciate it. During the discussion of it on the talk shows last night and this morning, the presenters (Dotun Adebayo and Vanessa Feltz) insisted that people did not use the word - I suspect that this is a station policy - and even suggested that the media should not be using the word openly, particularly in headlines.

I think that his comment was clearly inappropriate, but not heinous; he used it as a student on another student, not as an officer on soldier, or even an officer, under his command. That would have brought bullying into it, which has been a serious problem in the Armed Forces. I have heard it said that this sort of behaviour should be expected from Prince Phillip’s grandson, and the history of the Royal family is not full of people like the present Queen and Lady Diana - there have been quite a few controversial figures in its history as well. However, it is disappointing to hear someone who has a possibility of being the figurehead for this country talking that way, but in general, one should not expect exemplary behaviour when looking over the shoulders of a group of male friends, let alone Army mates.

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