Rotherham inquiry: the PC gone mad defence is itself a form of racism | Jonathan Freedland

Political correctness is blamed for Rotherham, but that betrays a contempt for those of Pakistani heritage

Political correctness used to be a joke. I have in front of me the Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook, an American bestseller of the early 1990s. It explains that to call ones dog or cat a pet is woefully unsound. One should speak instead of an animal companion. Indeed, since humans are themselves animals, it urges the truly fastidious to refer to their beloved Felix or Rover as a nonhuman animal companion. Those who wear glasses should be termed optically challenged, the bald hair-disadvantaged. That steak on your plate is, in fact, a voiceless victim of speciesism.

Whatever its origins, not many are laughing now. This week political correctness was blamed for a vicious and persistent series of crimes: the organised rape and sexual exploitation of 1,400 children, most of them girls, in Rotherham. The Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said to be the intellectual guru to Ukips Douglas Carswell argued that these children were victims of anti-racism. In this he echoed much of the press commentary, seizing on a finding of the Jay inquiry that those who should have protected Rotherhams young from predators of Pakistani heritage were instead cowed by fear of being branded racist.

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War is not always the answer

Perhaps it was my choice of holiday reading. The book that dominated my summer break was Howard Jacobson's exceptional and unsettling new novel, simply titled "J". The word "Jew" does not appear, yet that very absence is the book's haunting theme. He depicts a world in which a people once present appear to have been erased, though exactly "what happened, if it happened" - in the novel's repeated phrase -is left vague, especially to those living a couple of generations later.

It is dark and disturbing and unlike anything Jacobson has written before. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it would not be a shock if it brought the second victory in four years for Britain's greatest Jewish writer.

But it left me unnerved. Not least because the mood I'd left behind was already anxious. Anti-Jewish sentiment has surged in Europe, while in Britain the Community Security Trust reports that July was the second worst month for antisemitic incidents in 30 years.

For many, the apparently minor flap over the Tricycle Theatre's hosting of the UK Jewish Film Festival felt like an ominous tipping point. The Tricycle's insistence that the festival was only welcome if it cut all financial ties with the Israeli Embassy - a decision now, thankfully, reversed - seemed a realisation of long-held Jewish fears. Did this mean that Jewish participation in the cultural life of the country - and, remember, this was a festival of Jewish, not Israeli, cinema - would now be conditional on our first issuing a public disavowal of Israel?

I understand these anxieties and share some of them: I found the implication of the initial Tricycle move chilling. But we need to be careful not to lose our bearings.

For one thing, strained though these times are, we are not the main victims here. That unwanted distinction belongs to the dead and wounded, some of them Israeli, the overwhelming majority Palestinian, with vast numbers of the latter civilians. Anxious though we are, and vigilant as we must be, about antisemitism, we should not delude ourselves that we are the main story. We are not.

Indeed, when we obsess over, say, excessive or biased media coverage of the Gaza conflict, it can look like displacement activity - as if we are trying to avoid what matters most, and what is most uncomfortable. Namely, that Israel is in a strategically calamitous situation.

For the third time in five years it has attempted to solve the problem of its hostile Gaza neighbour through overwhelming force, pounding the Strip day after day. Each time it fails. The rockets resume. Judged purely in terms of effectiveness, this policy is an undeniable failure.

That's even before you consider the morality of taking action that, as a matter of certainty, you know will kill hundreds of civilians, including children, guilty of nothing. Blame Hamas if you like for firing from populated areas, but when Israel pulls the trigger it shares in the moral responsibility. And for those who prefer self-interest to morality, just assess the damage these now-regular poundings of Gaza are having on Israel's standing around the world. In that regard, the Tricycle was a warning of the pariah status that is looming.

All this arises from a fundamental misconception: the belief that Israel's conflict with the Palestinians is capable of a military solution. It is not. The only answer is political, which means negotiation and compromise - even with the bloodiest adversaries.

The painful truth is that Israel is on the wrong track - and doesn't seem to have a clue how to get off.

This Islamic State nightmare is not a holy war but an unholy mess | Jonathan Freedland

It isnt religious zeal, its the collapse of state power that makes the clash in Iraq feel like a return to the dark ages

US begins air strikes against Isis targets in Iraq, Pentagon says

In a voice pleading and in despair, the woman who had fled for her life asked: What century are we in? She was an Iraqi Christian, reached by the BBC World Service even as she sought to escape the self-declared Islamic State, or IS (formerly Isis). They will sell us, she said. They will rape us. Her words echoed this weeks tearful warning to the Iraqi parliament from a Kurdish MP who described the fate befalling her fellow Yazidis. Mr Speaker, our women are being taken as slaves and sold in the slave market.

The year is 2014 and yet 40,000 followers of a 1,000-year-old faith are huddling on a mountainside said to be the final resting place of Noahs Ark, fearing their women are to be dragged to a slave market. As the woman asked, what century are we in?

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Making sense of the magical journey from boy to man

In a world saturated by violence and sensation, true escape comes in Richard Linklaters affecting film Boyhood

The cinema has always been a place of escape. In the early days the sanctuary it offered was obvious: a chance to slip free of the humdrum tedium of everyday life and savour instead grand spectacle and epic struggle; to gawp at battles of good and evil on which the very fate of the world seemed to hang. But sometimes films offer escape in the opposite direction: a flight from the mayhem and violence shaking our world and a chance instead to be immersed in the quieter business of ordinary life.

That chance came for me this week via the much discussed and critically garlanded Boyhood, which follows a child as he grows from six to 18. The films unique conceit is that the boy in question is played by the same actor throughout, the film shot in chunks every year for the past 12. We see him, and those playing his sister and his parents, age before our eyes.

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