Tracey Ingle, Head of Cultural Services at Durham City Council, has demanded that restaurateur Eddie Fung rename his new restaurant because she objects to the name – Fat Buddha.
There is only one possible answer to such ignorant interference, but we will save that till the end.
Ms Ingle’s letter said:
“To use the name of a major religion’s deity in your restaurant brand runs contrary to this city’s reputation as a place of equality and respect for others’ views and religious beliefs.
“The generic descriptive adjective of “fat” is not in itself a derogatory term when applied generally. The name implies an Eastern offer as it is associated with a religion that grew from Asian countries. It does not, however, offer vegetarian cuisine solely nor does it refer to Buddhist belief systems. The name is provocative.”
When challenged, the council said:
“We don’t want to offend anyone because of the different faiths that come to the city. The council operates a strict non-discriminatory equal-opportunities and diversity policy across the board.”
Tracey Ingle appears to embody in one person a sizable chunk of the rot which pervades this country – political correctness, unthinking officialdom, prejudice founded on ignorance, the contempt of public servants towards business, and the barely-literate use of weasel words which fail to give a logical backing to her whining.
Let us start at the top. Tracey Ingle is “Head of Cultural Services”. “Culture” (generally pronounced “cowcher” in local authority circles) has come to mean football, drinking and gambling. “Cultural Services” has a Leninist ring to it, bureaucrats providing entertainment to keep the populace quiet, coming somewhere between Benefits and Drains on the agenda.
You don’t get to be Head of such a department by talent alone. You need staying power. Anyone of ability will have been head-hunted by private enterprise by this stage in Ms Ingle’s career. Department heads tend to be the detritus left on the shore when the tide goes out, the scum left at the bottom of the barrel.
Now, I may be quite wrong on all these counts – our Trace may well be able to distinguish accurately between Titian and Chippendale by ear, and her rise to the top job in Durham’s cowcher department may be entirely due to her ability to perform well by local authority standards. It is the standards which are the problem.
The clue lies in that quotation from the council – “the council operates a strict non-discriminatory equal-opportunities and diversity policy across the board”. What this garbage means is that they will employ anyone regardless of ability (“non-discriminatory equal-opportunities”) as long as they speak and behave like everyone else at the council (“diversity”). I bet Tracey fits in here like a crow at a Jesuit’s midnight feast, protesting if the word “black” is used for anything, shuddering at the mention of “disability”, falling over herself to make sure that no-one is offended by any words which have the capacity to offend.
Her problem (well, the one we are looking at here) is an inability to distinguish between words which have the capacity to offend and the offensive use of words. Political correctness occupies the middle ground between politeness and stupidity. It would be easy to come up with a hundred offensive sentences using the words “Fat” and “Buddha” or their cognates and derivatives. I dare say it is possible to find someone who really is offended by the conjunction of those two words without more. But he (or, of course, she) is very unlikely to be an overweight follower of the Buddhist faith.
One reason for this is that “fat” denotes contentment and prosperity for most Buddhists. Another is that it is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism that one does not take offence at anything.
That is not, of course, a licence to be rude to Buddhists. But “fat” and “Buddha” go together like “thick” and “council officer” – there are many slim Buddhists but the general perception of Buddha is otherwise.
Let us look at Tracey Ingle’s letter. The context is that a successful Chinese Buddhist businessman is about to create 60 jobs – that is real income-generating jobs, not just pen-pushing – with a restaurant which combines the name of his – not Ingle’s – deity with a word expressive of both hearty eating and good luck (rubbing the stomach of a fat Buddha statue has been a superstitious practice since 850 AD or so).
In wades a thick pen-pusher who knows nothing of Buddha but who has it ingrained in her that any references to religion, and any words capable of adverse personal description, might be offensive to someone and that it is her job to protect them
“To use the name of a major religion’s deity in your restaurant brand runs contrary to this city’s reputation as a place of equality and respect for others’ views and religious beliefs”.
Only major religions, eh, Trace? Does that mean you don’t care about smaller ones? If Durham’s reputation for equality and respect hangs on the name of a Chinese restaurant, then you can’t be very sure of it, Trace – and, in any event, its reputation now, thanks to you, is as a place for dim, unfocused, small-minded bureaucracy.
“The generic descriptive adjective of “fat” is not in itself a derogatory term when applied generally.”
Well, I am glad we are agreed on something. But what is the fuss about then? If “fat” is not a derogatory term generally, are you saying that it is so when applied in particular? Is it OK to say “fat” in the abstract, but not to couple it with a noun, perhaps? It works differently with “black”, have you noticed? You can still say “the black man” (though perhaps not in Durham) but “the black” is not acceptable anywhere. Dangerous stuff this semantics, especially in the hands of unskilled users.
“The name implies an Eastern offer as it is associated with a religion that grew from Asian countries.”
Thanks for the lesson in comparative religion, Trace. It is good that you told Mr Fung which end of the globe his religion came from. Not quite sure what an “Eastern offer” is. Perhaps it is the same as “Eastern promise” – Turkish Delight, or something from the Karma Sutra maybe. Or perhaps an “Eastern offer” is an opening move by the gambler Omar Sharif – he comes from the East somewhere, doesn’t he Trace?
This is what happens when the ignorant start claiming the right to “protect” what they see as a minority. Here Tracey Ingle manages to lump the whole of the East and all Asia into one ethnic group and to suggest that it is Durham’s duty to impose respect for all its members. I would say that Buddhists are quite capable of inspiring respect for themselves without the help of some jumped-up little cow from the council. At least they would manage to treat themselves as distinct from all the other religions emanating from the East.
“It does not, however, offer vegetarian cuisine solely nor does it refer to Buddhist belief systems. The name is provocative.”
I don’t think that Tracey Ingle knows any more about sentence structure than she does about Buddhism. The subject of the sentence is the restaurant’s name, and it is quite right, if confused grammatically, to say that the name “Fat Buddha” does not “offer vegetarian cuisine solely”. No reason why it should really. If Tracey Ingle had done any research at all, she would have discovered that vegetarianism is not compulsory amongst all Buddhists – many Buddhists are vegetarians, some strictly so, but it does not define Buddhism as her sentence implies that it does.
“The name is provocative”. What is it going to provoke, Trace? A race riot? A religious disturbance? A Buddhist version of a fatwah? It is not going to provoke the Buddhists, partly because they are all for Buddha’s big tum anyway, but mainly because Buddhists don’t do provocation on principle. So who is going to be provoked? Or is this just a word pulled out at random by an under-educated, over-promoted zealot?
There is another angle to this which I have not seen explored in any of the voluminous comment on Tracey Ingle’s stand for political correctness. What gives her the right to dictate the name of a business anyway? It is not a planning matter (and nor is Ms Ingle a planning officer). It is not suggested that the name is obscene, merely that it conflicts with Durham’s mealy-mouthed commitment to “strict non-discriminatory equal-opportunities and diversity” whatever that means.
I don’t suppose Buddhists do robust replies, so I will do it on Mr Fung’s behalf. Bugger off, Tracey Ingle.