Tuesday, 9 February 2010

That's not a knife...

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Just a quick one on the remarks by Sir Mota Singh QC, the retired judge who yesterday stated that Sikhs should be allowed to carry their Kirpans – ceremonial daggers – in public places. Naturally, the story has led to lost of chatter in the blogosphere, including this post by Sunny Hundal at Pickled Politics, who warns that some secularlists can come across as anti-religious when responding to issues such as this. Hundal suggests issues such as this should be dealt with through "local decisions based on local conditions", rather than through court decisions which lead to blanket bans or the daggers being allowed across the board.

Since it's become quite a big story, I thought I'd put my view and invite comments on the matter. I'm an atheist and a secularist and I would never, as Hundal suggests some atheists would, want to prevent someone expressing their faith unless there was a good reason. The issue of Sikh Kirpans seems to me to be one where surely we could reach some kind of compromise. The Sikh religion says that adherents must carry a kind of knife. But British law doesn't allow people to walk around with knives. So how about we meet halfway, and Sikhs be allowed to carry a version of the Kirpan that couldn't realistically be used as an offensive weapon. We could call it the "Mick Dundee test" – if all you'd think when you saw it was "That's not a knife...", rather than "Oh no, better start running..." then there's no problem.

So that's my view. Seems like a decent compromise to me. In the BBC article about Mota Singh's comments, there is mention of a case where a Sikh boy was banned from wearing his Kirpan at the Compton School in Barnet. In that instance, the school offered to compromise by offering "the option of wearing a smaller knife, welded into a metal sheath" – that'd certainly pass my Mick Dundee test – but the boy's parents declined and removed him from the school. That seems like a shame to me, as the only way we're ever going to avoid problems with issues like this is through compromise. We can't realistically let school kids carry anything with which they could stab each other.

And before you ask, no I'm not trying to ban compasses from maths lessons. With that, I'll open this to the floor.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the US, where police shoot suspects based on mistaking toy guns and other items for real guns, I think an imitation knife is still asking for trouble. My $.02.

(Maybe it would work better in the UK)

George Jelliss said...

Surely its the size and sharpness and danger of the knife that matters. I've only seen pictures of the Sihk knives, and some of them look lethal, but perhaps others are more symbolic. A tailor I used to know always said it was every Englishman's right to carry a pen knife, though it's long since we ceased using quill pens.

John Haigh said...

For me there are 2 points here.
1) Laws should apply equally to all, irrespective of race or religion. So if it's ok for Sikhs to carry a knife it HAS to be legal for anyone to do so.
2) A knife that cannot be used as such, even only as a threat, seems like an acceptable compromise. Fusing it to the sheath and keeping it hidden at all times would appear to acheive this.

Katherine Purvis said...

If kids are permitted to bring 'ersatz' knives to school someone must then check knives on a daily basis, to make sure that they were deemed 'harmless'.
Personally I do not think would be a wise use of limited resources in schools. I wouldn't want my kids attending a school where kids are permitted to carry fake weapons, of any kind, since that goes against our family's values and belief system.

Paul Sims said...

John -

Exactly. And to combine your points 1 & 2, if would-be gangsters want to exercise their equal right to carry harmless ceremonial knives, as approved under the Mick Dundee compromise, that would be preferable to the knives on the streets today...

kerr said...

I have mixed feelings about this one. As a Scot who has worn a sgian dubh with the kilt on many occasions, I take advantage of the national costume defence in the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

So in that sense I have mo problem in allowing traditional symbolic knives to be allowed regardless of whether they are religious or secular in nature. If the religious dress item got a free pass where a similar secular item did not, then I would have a problem.

In general though, I think we should have grounds for suspecting that the knife would be used in a malicious fashion before banning it. Symbolic reason is good enough for me. If we had kids getting into trouble by using the knife to harm or threaten other kids then we would have precedent to ban them. But is that the case?

AT said...

2nd amendment. Let them eat knives.

Michael Kingsford Gray said...

Christians have been allowed to wear ceremonial execution machines for some time now...

Tom Rees said...

I believe strongly in the armed forces and the symbolic role of guns as a reminder of the need to defend our values. Therefore, I should be allowed to carry a mock-up of an assault rifle into school, the workplace etc.

What's the problem? It could never hurt anyone...

PS I don't actually believe that, OK! But the problem with allowing religious symbols is that we don't allow non-religious to carry symbols of their beliefs into school or work environments. Perhaps we should, but until we do it's rather unfair to allow the religious to do that.

James Marwood said...

It is legal to carry a non-locking folding knife, with a blade of less than 3". That could be a fairly simple compromise.

Or we could grow up and stop panicking over what is probably the most common tool we use.

Ian said...

Assuming that they'd be willing to find a "compromise" if they wanted to catch a flight, why can't it (whatever it is) apply in other public places?

King Mob said...

Silly brits, afraid of knives. Maybe your insane laws should be questioned a bit?

Shatterface said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shatterface said...

What's wrong with a spork?

My attitude to the law is that it should apply to all equally (nothing too controversial about that) but also that laws should only be passed if they are *absolutely necessary*, rather than simply desirable. A law that can be set aside to allow for one group's superstitions is obviously not necessary by definition.

Either enforce a universal ban or scrap the ban entirely. That also goes for laws which allow exemptions from motorcycle helmets or bans on peyote. I don't see why I shouldn't ride around a desert stoned and helmet free.

Or maybe I've just seen Easy Rider too many times.