Prince Charles vs Monica Ali

I SAW a preview of the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane in Soho on Monday. I’ll write about the film when it’s released in November, for now you’ll have to take it from me that it is a subtle account of a Bengali woman, Nazneen, trying to cope with an arranged marriage to a fat pompous clerk in London.
The actors are so good you forget they’re actors. The director, Sarah Gavron, shows on her first feature that she can handle the loneliness of immigrants and Muslim fears of a backlash after 9/11 with intelligence and irony. As Nazneen thinks about having an affair, Brief Encounter plays on the television screen in her deck-access flat in the East End. And I left Soho thinking that objecting to Brick Lane was indeed as absurd as objecting to Brief Encounter.
How little I understood my own country. I picked up the papers yesterday to find that the spineless Prince Charles had cancelled the Royal Film Performance of this sensitive, and in the end rather traditionalist story, for fear that the gala performance would attract protests.
Policemen who leave children to drown in ponds show greater courage than the man who would be king. Even if there were ground to protest against this film, it should be defended to the hilt, but as it happens there are none.
True, a group of self-appointed ‘community leaders’ stopped the crew filming in Brick Lane and threatened to burn Ali’s novel last summer. They claimed the film would show a Bengalis infested with lice. It doesn’t. That it would insult them. It doesn’t do that either. Their bluff was called during one demonstration, when a young Asian man stepped forward to ask if the protestors had actually read the book. The furious reaction suggested they hadn’t.
As so often, the intelligentsia behaved worst of all. Presented with the sight of old men demanding the censorship of the ideas of a young woman, the former feminist Germaine Greer came out on the side of the book burners. She explained that Monica Ali was deeply suspect because she wrote in English and thus inflicted her sinful British sensibility on the hapless Bengalis of the East End.
Salman Rushdie, who has been at the sharp end of lethal attempts to silence novelists, accurately accused her of a kind of racism. ‘To suit Greer, the British-Bangladeshi Ali is denied her heritage and belittled for her Britishness,’ he wrote. ‘While her British-Bangladeshi critics are denied that same Britishness, which most of them would certainly insist was theirs by right.’
After all this time, do you still need to know what is wrong with Germaine Greer and Charles Windsor? The short answer is that if we don’t take them on London will be balkanised into mono-cultural ghettos too frightened to tell stories to each other for fear of offending opportunist reactionaries and their royal backers.

SPEAKING of Prince Charles, he is now a hero to American greens. Hollywood is talking about him making an Al Gore-style documentary on the importance of working in tune with nature, and the American press has toured the organic gardens of Highgrove.
A crew for the CBS asked if the British were thinking more kindly of him. Not really, I replied, and tried to explain that the green movement in Britain was dominated by the upper class. As well as Prince Charles, we had Baron Melchett, who ran Greenpeace, the Rt. Hon Jonathan Porritt, the former head of Friends of the Earth, Zac Goldsmith, son of the ruthless financier Sir James, and George Monbiot, son of Sir Raymond Monbiot, a vice chairman of the Tory Party and a biscuit baron who made the family fortune by selling Jaffa Cakes.
Worthy those these gentlemen were, some of us suspected that they dreamed of returning to a feudal England where the lord was in his castle and the rest of us knew our place.

AS GOOGLE BUYS a stake into Facebook and the Wall Street Journal predicts that Mark Zuckerberg, 23, its founder will soon be worth billions, Web 2.0 faces a problem. Like just about everyone, I love messing about on Facebook. User-generated creates the illusion that ‘we’ own site. We don’t, of course, it’s a controlled corporate space, and already there have been protests against a BNP supporters group. As Facebook gets bigger, there be more complaints about racists and girls’ being groomed for sex.
Rightly so but the paradox is that as the demands for policing grow, the less free Facebook will feel and the more likely many of us will be to pack it in and get a life.

GP SURGERIES should open “at times and in locations that suit the patient, not the practice” cries Health Secretary, Alan Johnson to the Labour conference. Ah, right, that’ll be the same Labour government which signed a contract with GPs which shot their average pay up above £100,000 and allowed them to close Saturday surgeries to boot. As GPs are freelancers, how does Labour propose to undo the effects of its profligacy and make them work more hours for less money.

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