In Britain, discriminatory attitudes – to racism, to women, to homosexuality – have changed quickly and profoundly. But are religious beliefs now hampering progress?
There is certainly no shortage of one thing in the world, and that's a lack of goodwill to all men. And women. And children. If it isn't Russia introducing laws against homosexuality, then it's Saudi Arabia resisting the idea that women should drive cars. If it isn't Burma, spoilt for choice, decade after decade, as to which ethnicity to cleanse, then it's a bunch of African countries extolling female genital mutilation.
And outrageous as these horrors are, even the countries that we in the UK see as our natural allies, and consider as sharing our values, are hardly perfect. The US clings to capital punishment, thwarted only by a lack of the chemicals necessary to kill. Australia stands against gay marriage. Israel continues to favour the needs of settlers over established populations. Europe continues to harbour virulent antisemitism.
Britain is hardly without problems either. Hardly a day goes by without some giant, discriminatory insult provoking heated indignation. If it isn't a forgotten X Factor winner blithely sharing his homophobia, then it is a little-known university rule-making body being blasted for promoting gender segregation. If it isn't some obscure politician demanding that all Europeans should be sent back to Europe, then it's some woeful cliche of a lawyer bemoaning the horrors of sexually predatory children.
Our own transgressions against human rights may seem minor compared to those being perpetrated abroad, and our condemnations of them satisfyingly uncompromising. But it is surely helpful to remind ourselves that our own anti-discriminatory consensus is an extremely recent development. Living adults remember when their sexuality was illegal, when women had the right to complete an undergraduate course, but not to receive a degree. While people continue to count racism against them as part of their daily experience, their parents can remember when this wasn't even against the law. People who expected to die without being brought to account for their sexual crimes against children, as Jimmy Savile did, are belatedly seeing the inside of a court of law.
Written By: Deborah Orr
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