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No smoke without flamewar - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
No smoke without flamewar
You may recall a bit of a debate recently about whether Christians should be forced to let gay people stay in their bed-and-breakfasts, in which people invented various analogous situations (as people are wont to do) as aids to debate. Here's one we didn't need to invent, from The Times' News in Brief on Monday:
Smoker put out

A smoker was denied cigarettes at a store because the assistant, a Muslim, said it was against her religion to sell tobacco. The woman smoker, 31, had tried to buy cigarettes at W. H. Smith in Cambridge. The company said that the customer should have realised the assistant was Muslim and would not sell tobacco.
How did the Times know that the woman was a smoker? She might have just been buying cigarettes for a friend. ... No, wait. Should smokers be allowed to refuse to be served by a Muslim? ... No, that's not it either. Hang on, I've got it: How can you tell if the checkout assistant is a Muslim? There isn't a punchline, but there probably would be if you started making assumptions like that based on, ooh, I don't know, the c*l**r of someone's sk*n, or their h**dg**r.

I would say "it's not just me, is it?" but a friend recently said (in an entirely other context) "I too spend a lot of time in culture shock at what's supposed to be my own culture." I think that sums it up, really.

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naranek From: naranek Date: January 24th, 2007 05:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not so sure this is culture shock so much as WH Smith having a wierd corporate policy and then giving a kack-handed explanation of it. There's nothing to stop shopkeepers being wierd.

I must admit I find all this anti-discrimination legislation a bit disquieting; there's a clear case for it where the market is obviously failing - disabled access being the obvious example - but elsewhere it sounds much like legislation for legislation's sake.

Interesting question: if the customer had taken WH Smith's advice and not attempted to buy cigarettes, presuming the assistant to be Muslim, would the store have a case for racial discrimination? I think they probably would (corollary: should the police now investigate WH Smith for promoting racial discrimination against themselves?)

j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2007 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
if the customer had taken WH Smith's advice and not attempted to buy cigarettes, presuming the assistant to be Muslim, would the store have a case for racial discrimination?

Well, yes, that's kind of the point, isn't it: any attempt on the cigarette-buying customer's part to avoid an assistant they supposed to be a Muslim would probably be classed as racial discrimination, unless they just sort of hung around and waited to join the queue at the moment when the funny foreign-looking assistant was obviously busy, and so got away with just looking odd rather than looking like a racist.

I must admit I find all this anti-discrimination legislation a bit disquieting

It's the implications about what people think other people "should" do and where people think rights/responsibilities lie that frequently give me culture-shock; this is just today's example. Someone on my flist said recently that "should" was the most dangerous word in the English language; I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's certainly one of the most insidious.


WEIRD! Please! I before E, except in weird, which is weird. Sorry, pet hate.
From: vatine Date: January 24th, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
"When making an I sound, I before E, except after C"

I guess that means wierd should be pronounced like "wird" or "wyrd" and there's some POSSIBLE etomology supporting that.
pjc50 From: pjc50 Date: January 24th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's a related, more serious, issue in the Southern US of 'Christian' pharmacy staff refusing to sell the morning-after pill (and in some cases other sorts of contraception).

In both cases the issue is whether the store owner can sack the uncooperative staff.

And surely the culture shock issue arises because it's not just your own culture involved?
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
'Christian' pharmacy staff refusing to sell the morning-after pill

Indeed. I am, honestly, thankful that at least over here they don't refuse, they just refuse to sell it without asking you a series of patronising and intrusive questions first.

surely the culture shock issue arises because it's not just your own culture involved?

Well, I thought we'd 'ad them funny forrin folk over here for a long time, not to mention being able to sustain the co-existence of cultural differences between 'natives' (if you believe in such a thing); but Things Seem To Be Going Weird generally, across the board, when any differences of culture/lifestyle/opinion clash. I think the common thread in a lot of the things which bother me is the general confusion over who "should" take responsibility for what. The lines we draw between one person's freedom-to and another person's freedom-not-to. That sort of culture, not do-you-eat-meat sort of culture.

*waves hands* Oh, ignore me. I'd probably better delete the post since I'm obviously only making sense in my own head. :-(
lnr From: lnr Date: January 24th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Um, this case:


was in Cardiff. Which admittedly is nearly as weird as the southern US but not quite as far from home.

I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say, but don't delete the post, it's interesting if nothing else. Very odd.

I do know what you mean about it being odd that co-existing seems to have got different lately. I suspect the while Terror thing is somewhat involved, but don't really know what on earth one's supposed to do about it.
pjc50 From: pjc50 Date: January 24th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's more the tension between:

- People who are A want to be treated in way X
- People who are B want to be treated in way not-X
- "You should not discriminate" between A and B.

I don't have a problem with people being British and Muslim, but I'm starting to get concerned about the "Muslim community" self-discriminating. It's really not that different from the 300+ year old Catholic-Protestant distinction which is still very much an issue in some parts of the UK.
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
"You should not discriminate" between A and B.

Ah! Ha! This is the point. It should be okay to discriminate between A and B without discriminating against A or B. It's okay -- at least, it bloody well should be in any sane society -- to say "X is not Y" without implying or being supposed to be implying that X is better/worse than Y. That's not to say that all discrimination-between is value-free, but it can be, and I think that's being lost sight of. Of which. Yes.

pjc50 From: pjc50 Date: January 25th, 2007 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that's extremely hard; once there exist two or more categories A or B, it is possible (and quite likely) that some people will prefer B to A and some people will prefer A to B. If you are B when most people prefer A, you're likely to feel discriminated against.

Describing someone as "discriminating" used to be a complement in the last century.

On self-discrimination, http://randomreality.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2006/11/24/2522258.html
j4 From: j4 Date: January 25th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Describing someone as "discriminating" used to be a complement in the last century.

I'd still regard it as a compliment. I wonder if a new word will come into use for being (intransitively) discriminating? For being able to choose sensibly between options, for being able to assess whether one thing is better (for purpose) than another, for having taken the time to form an opinion on things which affect you? Or have we just lost the entire concept, the sense that it might be a good idea to know a hawk from a handsaw?

Also, "feeling discriminated against" isn't the same as being discriminated against. I'm not convinced that it's possible to legislate effectively against the possibility that someone will feel that they are being discriminated against.

extremely hard

Difficult, or ruthless?

I'm not saying that the distinction between "discriminating between" and "discriminating against" makes it easy to draw the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in every case. But I do think it's useful to remember that observing differences need not be a quality judgement.

I believe that some things are better for given purposes than others, that some things are morally better than others, that some people are better at certain things than others, and that it is sometimes possible to make not-entirely-useless predictions about how people will look/think/behave based on their demographic. It's very hard to express specifics along those lines without being seen to be "discriminating against" something.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 24th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alan Coren is thinking along the same lines in today's Times, I think.
From: minnesattva Date: January 24th, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
at least over here they don't refuse, they just refuse to sell it without asking you a series of patronising and intrusive questions first.

Really? That wasn't how it went for me: the pharmacist explained how it worked and asked me only a couple of things that I didn't find discomfiting. (Excellently, the pharmacy also gave it to me free of charge, which I'm sure will never happen in the US.)
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Free of charge??

I had to pay 20 quid for it, and got questions about exactly how/when the condom had broken, and patronising explanations of How A Baby Can Get Made When A Slapper And A Bloke Have A Special Cuddle. :-/
From: minnesattva Date: January 24th, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gah, how awful! Mine was nothing like that; I only mentioned a condom breaking when it wasn't even the answer she wanted to the question that was asked (it was "why are you here?" or something and the answer she was looking for ended up being "the people at the sexual-health clinic told me I could go there*." Like I said she explained how it worked and asked if I'd had it in the last month, when my last period had been, and I think that was it.

And it's not usually free from pharmacies, I know, but it was at that one. Perhaps because it's in an area with lots of students and other not-well-off people?

*If it sounds odd that such a place would be referring me elsewhere, I should say that it was only because they were busy and I'd have to wait a long time for something simple, rather than because they didn't do that sort of thing themselves.
bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: January 25th, 2007 12:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds familiar. My favourite question (asked at the Oxford family planning clinic) was "have you put yourself at risk before?" The temptation to answer "well, I almost walked in front of a bus while a bit preoccupied recently" or similar was very strong.

They asked questions about my relationship and how stable it was, too.
j4 From: j4 Date: January 25th, 2007 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like your answer. :-) I'm not even sure I know what they really meant, though... is having sex putting yourself at risk? Or just using a condom which isn't made of unbreakable stuff? (Titanium condoms! ... No.)

I didn't go to the Family Planning Clinic because I was sure they would ask me all the "Did you know you can get pregnant and get diseases from Doing It with a man" questions, whereas I thought Boots would just sell me stuff (after asking the usual "Have you taken this before?" questions) because they were more about making money than making people feel stupid. HOW WRONG.
chickenfeet2003 From: chickenfeet2003 Date: January 24th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wonder whether, if I worked for WH Smith, they would allow me not to sell tobacco on the grounds that my conscience didn't allow me to aid people in the pursuit of lung cancer? Or is it only neolithic goat herder superstitions that are protected?
simont From: simont Date: January 24th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Better still: if your conscience wasn't quite that extreme but did require you at least try to discourage smoking, you could ask three times the price for a packet of twenty, and pocket the difference :-)
chickenfeet2003 From: chickenfeet2003 Date: January 24th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Make that man Chancellor of the Exchequer!
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I want to work for you. Are you hiring?
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: January 24th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Possible logical consequences of this:

1) You attempt to buy forbidden fruit, one particular shopkeeper refuses, you ask the shopkeeper if another shopkeeper will serve you said forbidden fruit, if the original shopkeeper acquiesces then even though they have not served you the item in question they have certainly aided and abetted in delivery of the item, which is surely still a little bit bad even if not as bad;

2) The shop has an item on sale, but it's pot luck whether the shopkeeper you select will sell it to you or not and if you hit one that will not then you should make your other purchases, if any, from that shopkeeper and use another shopkeeper (if any are available!) for the forbidden fruit in question.

3) It's a genuine one-off case on the part of the shopkeeper.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: January 25th, 2007 12:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Way back in the day when I worked in a supermarket, every single applicant was asked if they minded handling meat, pork, and alcohol - and they asked with particular care when hiring Hindus and Moslems. I have no doubt whatsoever that all who answered 'yes' or equivocated were rejected.

This is probably illegal today.

In the case of Tesco, that line of questioning has been dropped for sound commercial reasons - if you want low-cost teenage labour that works passably well, washes regularly, can read labels and count the boxes off a lorry, then you absolutely have to employ the descendants of the Raj - because the natives are not only illiterate but untrainable. So Tesco have learned to adapt, and stand above all too many employers who did not; these others to refuse to adapt to a multiracial society, and if it sounds reasonable to discriminate on the grounds of willingness to work at any task, it should be remembered that the implementation at shop-floor level will inevitably involve prejudice and malice, rather than sound business principles and colour-blind commercial judgement.

k425 From: k425 Date: January 25th, 2007 10:42 am (UTC) (Link)
This is probably illegal today.

Possibly not. The important thing being to make sure that if someone has a problem working with meat/alcohol/whatever you don't put them stacking the booze shelves/behind the meat/deli counter.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: January 25th, 2007 11:12 am (UTC) (Link)
It's certainly illegal to ask about pork and alcohol as a racial or religious screening question, without regard to whether the job requires a willingness to handle the materials in question.

Likewise, it is illegal to compel someone to work a specific counter against their beliefs: that's constructive dismissal and a race-relations issue.

What is more invidious is how far the employer is required to consider adapting the role - at interview, and at work - to accommodate specific religious preferences and proscriptions. Taken to extremes, pork butchers could be compelled to interview and hire candidates who cannot work in the shop at all, under the threat of a discrimination case; taken too leniently, a cynical and racist employer can exclude all Moslems and Jews from managerial positions by insisting that the training programme includes a spell on every counter in the shop. Or just not employ them at all.

There are people eager to push the boundaries at both extremes: legal chancers parading their religious beliefs as a threat to sue all comers unless they are paid to sit with their arms folded all day in a shop entirely cleared of material deemed offensive to the Faithful; and covert racists, unscrupulous employers with a hire-and-fire agenda, and loopy journalists, all trying to deregulate to such a degree that any evil act is legally permissible.

As a result, the middle ground is being eroded by legalistic and prescriptive regulatory 'solutions' that impose so much red tape and legal risk that there is no profitable trade.

A further question is, of course, whether a shop that can find no K'fir staff willing to handle pork, alcohol and tobacco in its catchment area has a worthwhile local demand for the stuff anyway.
k425 From: k425 Date: January 25th, 2007 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't mention pork. My brother is vegan - while he'd have no trouble working in many areas of a supermarket, he would object to handling meat. Similarly, I can see (recovering) alcoholics not wanting to work in the booze shelves. It's not always about religion.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: January 25th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Indeed. But vegans and recovering alcoholics are not so well defended by the law as religious and racial minorities. Yiou could, in theory, look at disability legislation for a recovering alcoholic; but objections arising from secular beliefs and issues of conscience are met with the retort "Well, if you don't want to work here, don't."

It is reasonable to discriminate on the basis of peoples' choices and preferences. It is, however, illegal to discriminate on racial and religious grounds - and legally precarious to make HR decisions, for even the soundest of business reasons, that have the effect of racial or religious discrimination.

bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: January 25th, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wait, what? Muslims don't approve of tobacco? Is this a particular sect of Islam? I've met far more Muslim smokers than Muslim non-smokers. I have one particularly fond memory of the Ramadan sunset siren going off during a holiday in Morocco and dozens of people lighting up with huge sighs of relief.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: January 25th, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

The report in the Cambridge Evening News says:
When contacted by the News, the store's assistant manager, who refused to give her name, said: "It is true that Muslims can't sell cigarettes - I used to be Jehovah's Witness and I wouldn't on religious grounds either." She said the customer should have realised the shop assistant was a Muslim, and would not sell her tobacco, because she was "sitting there in her full robes" ...

Asim Mumtaz, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Cambridge, said: "I don't think there is any basis for refusing to sell cigarettes. Islam, like most religions, is against anything that injures health or the body, but there is no ban on cigarettes or on smoking. The holy Koran is quite specific about intoxicants, alcohol and other drugs which cause a person to lose control are forbidden, but cigarettes are not forbidden so I am surprised by this."
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