The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home

Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   
August 23, 2007

Ramadan, Multicultural Sensitivities and the NHS: Theodore Dalrymple argues that Muslim extremists could not wish for better allies than the managers of NHS Lothian

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple analyses the extraordinary statement put out by NHS Lothian in response to a story in the Daily Express.

The Daily Express recently ran a story claiming that officials at the Lothian and Glasgow health boards had issued instructions that staff should not eat their lunch in offices during the month of Ramadan for fear of offending their Muslim colleagues. The story also claimed that instructions had been issued that vending machines selling food should be removed and that the lunch trolley "be wheeled out of bounds" during the same period.

It turned out that this report was not true, assuming that the statement put out by the Lothian health board in rebuttal is to be believed. However, the statement itself is not entirely reassuring either. It starts:

There is no question… that staff in NHS Lothian have been ordered not to eat at their desks for fear of offending Muslim colleagues.
I deduce from the context that this is supposed to mean that it is false that that staff in Lothian have been ordered not to eat etc. etc.., even though, on first reading, it might appear to mean the precise opposite.

The next sentence is equally ambiguous:

Nor is there any question that NHS Lothian will be moving vending machines.
Does that mean that it will be or that it won't be? Why not write "NHS Lothian will not move any vending machines during Ramadan"?

Now the style is not entirely the man or, as in this case is more than likely, the committee; but I do not think it entirely a coincidence that such convoluted prose should emerge from the word processors of NHS bureaucrats. Unnecessary convolution is quite often a sign of a bad conscience, that is to say of people who may be legally innocent but are morally guilty, and know themselves to be such. My impression is confirmed by the next sentence:
However NHS Lothian has a duty to be sensitive to the needs of people of all faiths and no faith.
These are such weasel words that they should enter any future textbook on pusillanimity and betrayal.

The statement then tells us that the Daily Express's exaggerated story derived from an e-mail from a private public affairs consultancy to NHS Lothian which:
gave helpful background information to organisations across Scotland about Ramadan,.. [and which also] contained a couple of suggestions for maintaining productivity.
First, that working lunches could be
difficult for Muslim colleagues
if fasting, and second that the route of food trolleys should be altered
to be sensitive to colleagues who adhere to the Muslim faith.
This immortal document was forwarded
to a small number of senior managers… for background information only,
neither as a directive nor as an official document of NHS Lothian.

If anything, this is all worse than the original story. A jellyfish has a stronger spine than the managers of NHS Lothian. Why was the document passed on at all, wasting other managers' time, unless it was intended to be acted upon?

Let us examine the implication of the two suggestions from this supposedly "helpful" document. There are two possible reasons why Muslim staff should not be expected to attend lunchtime meetings during Ramadan where other participants eat: the first is that they are too physically weak to do so, and the second is that they find the sight of others eating during Ramadan religiously offensive. In neither case should their sensibilities be considered. (Of course, here I disregard entirely the universal law, almost the only one known to management science, that the productivity of any organisation equals 1 divided by the number of lunchtime meetings).

If they are too weak to attend such meetings, they should not be at work at all, and should take the month of Ramadan as their annual leave; if they are religiously offended, they are clearly in the wrong jobs and possibly in the wrong country. In neither case would NHS Lothian have any duty to them. And, of course, the same goes for the allegedly offensive lunch trolleys: if people are too weak to bear their passage, they should not be at work, and if the trolleys are offensive in their sight, that is just too bad.

In fact, I have had quite a number of Muslim colleagues in my time, and none has ever put forward either of the suggestions put forward by the "private public affairs consultancy". In other words, it is evident that the consultancy is in the business of political entrepreneurship: the malversation of public funds for the purposes both of private nest-feathering and the furtherance of hidden political, or politico-religious, ends.

They have found their perfect partners in the bureaucracies of multiculturalism that now exist in almost all public institutions, that consist largely of untalented but ambitious and power-seeking bureaucrats, the existence of whose positions depends entirely upon a never-ending supply of supposed grievances, and their resolution by the
duty to be sensitive to the needs of people of all faiths,
as interpreted by themselves.

One should not, of course, overlook the element in the situation of sheer unadulterated fear and funk. I think it highly unlikely that NHS Lothian has ever considered sending information to its managers concerning the need for gentiles not to eat pork or pork products in front of Jews, or beef in front of Hindus (or any meat at all if they should happen to be complete vegetarians).

In the original story in the Daily Express, the senior consultant of the "private public affairs consultancy" - which was presumably paid for its inestimable services - was reported to have said as follows:
In the current climate, people need to understand where communities are coming from and what people are feeling. After the Glasgow attack this is very important. This is about educating people and making them more aware and more confident when dealing with issues surrounding the Muslim community.
What this horrible psychobabble really means is that, if you don't accede to our suggestions, which of course are only just beginning, you must blame yourselves if Glasgow Airport, or anywhere else, is blown up by Muslims offended by the eating of sandwiches and the passing of lunch trolleys during Ramadan.

The statement put out by NHS Lothian in rebuttal of the apparently inaccurate story by the Daily Express is a good example of the mixture of the pusillanimity, incompetence and unscrupulous self-seeking of a great deal of our public service. Muslim extremists couldn't wish for better allies.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor.

Comments Notice
This comments facility is the property of the Social Affairs Unit.
We reserve the right to edit, amend or remove comments for legal reasons, policy reasons or any other reasons we judge fit.

By posting comments here you accept and acknowledge the Social Affairs Unit's absolute and unfettered right to edit your comments as set out above.

"What this horrible psychobabble really means is that, if you don't accede to our suggestions, which of course are only just beginning, you must blame yourselves if Glasgow Airport, or anywhere else, is blown up by Muslims offended by the eating of sandwiches and the passing of lunch trolleys during Ramadan."

- Or it means the author has way too much time on their hands... preferring to conjure up conspiracy, like the Daily Express, and imagining to be the end of western civilisation as we know it, instead of doing something useful with their time.

But hey, if you guys want to wasting time on Daily Express "stories", go right ahead!

Posted by: Sunny at August 24, 2007 03:36 AM

No conspiracy conjured up here, just a mutual interest exposed. When public policies are determined by private consultancies, they have an obvious interest in concocting work for themselves. Despite their language and social pieties being nonsense, it often becomes standard practice. This portends of the end of western civilization as far as I can tell. Pass below a certain point of commonsense and it becomes irretrievable. It is far from a waste of time for Dalrymple or the Daily Express to point that out.

Posted by: Peter at August 26, 2007 04:36 PM

Methinks “Sunny” doth take offence too much. Does he really take the following from NHS Lothian at face value?

These suggestions - not orders - have been greatly exaggerated in the media and given a force they do not have.

When a “suggestion” comes down from senior levels, then pity the poor Jobsworth who ignores the “suggestion” – after all, it’s more than his job’s worth! This is the way that bureaucracies work. And it isn’t Mr Sensitive Senior-Management who has to put his back out wheeling the trolleys round a diversion. Perhaps, though, there should be a year-round ban on working lunches, not only in official bodies, but also in the City. I have heard that is important, when dealing with merchant bankers, that your business is discussed in the morning, because in the afternoon they generally do not have enough blood in their alcohol stream.

This “suggestion” method is even more so the classic technique of Communist and similar dictatorships. Simply say “the people won’t stand for this” and it’s a signal to the “Proletariat” to take it out on the enemy of the day. Of course, Beloved Marshal X or Glorious President Y never actually told them to do it.

Back to Dear Old Blighty, and I wonder from where comes this impulse to take offence on behalf of others? There are, it seems, people for whom this is their very raison d’être. What strange perversity of the moral training of our nation has engendered this? It has one predictable effect – that of inducing in whatever minority the mentality of the street thug who will “kick yer ’ead in if yer don’t respect me”.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at August 29, 2007 07:45 PM

Sunny- in what way is the author "conjuring conspiracy"? He is, after all, quoting the Trust's own document.

I wonder if the Trust actually consulted any, you know, actual Muslims about this. As a Muslim colleague of mine once observed, fears over what certain groups might find "offensive" often seem to develop without anyone actually bothering to ask any representatives of the ethnic or religious group concerned. He was referring to the rash of winter stories along the lines of "Christmas possibly offensive to Muslims", but I suspect he would have made exactly the same comments about this. Some of his co-religionists might not agree, perhaps, but any "grievance" here is obviously absurd- if indeed it exists at all.

Posted by: NM at August 30, 2007 02:10 PM


I have much admired your writings on managerialism in the NHS. But to dissect a probably harmless NHS rebuttal, as though you were Francis Derrida, is ridiculous. It is perfectly plain what they mean, and you bloody well know it. If you have any doubt, write to them, rather than publishing rubbish about how you can mis- represent them.

Posted by: douglas clark at September 9, 2007 11:02 AM
Post a comment

Anti-spambot Turing code

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The Social Affairs Unit's weblog Privacy Statement