Here is a good test case going on before our eyes. The broadcaster Alastair Stewart has left his job of decades after sending a quotation of Shakespeare to a member of the public. The quotation (because it refers to an ape and the recipient happens to be black) is being interpreted as a sign of racism. A sign so grave that a long and illustrious career is over.
So here is a test. Does ITV actually think that Alastair Stewart is a secret racist, really hates black people and has spent his life hating black people? Does it think that he has managed to hide this throughout the course of a long and illustrious career, in which I imagine that he worked with people of every imaginable race and background? Does it think that his deep, terrible racism has only come to the surface once? And does it believe that on the one occasion when Alastair Stewart finally satisfied his racist urges he did so through the medium of Measure for Measure? The likelihood – as Jeeves would say, would appear to be a remote one.
Mr Stewart – who, I suppose I should mention, I do not know, and don’t believe I have ever met – has used the same quotation before, in dismissing other social media combatants. But at moments like this the facts seem of little significance.
Yet perhaps this time we could make it different. Perhaps this time we can ask ITV and the jihadis of social media whether they honestly believe the set of events outlined above. Do they honestly think that the above suggestions are true? Or is it possible that a man used a quotation he had used before without any racist intention at all?
Some people will say that it is only the career of Alastair Stewart that lies in the balance. I disagree. At moments like this what lies in the balance is whether we have any interest in truth or not. Whether we have any belief in justice or not. And – in a way – whether we have any recognition of the fallibility of man. Or not. Let’s see.