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Home > Culture and Society

A Currant Affair

17 February 2006

If you can't change something, just change what you call it - any brain groaning with the bloat of negative thoughts will seize upon a new name like so much mental Resolve. Symbolic rechristenings are more than mere rebranding exercises, except of course when they're so much less than that, as in last year's failed attempt to convert the War on Terror into something more palatable. But when people or countries are faced with overwhelming issues of conflict, they tend to clutch at the flimsiest gestural twig. It's like applying a soothing damp cloth to a ragingly sick forehead, or putting a pink poncho on a pitbull. It's touching, and pathetic in its true sense; it's about reassurance, the subverting of pain into the safe places of the mundane. But then it's also about pride, which is often at least part of the reason that things got so fucked-up in the first place.

So this week you had to smirk and sigh at once when it emerged that, as the cartoon protests continue, the Iranian Ministry of Commerce is calling for the name of the Danish pastries that Iran consumes in great quantities to be changed. The BBC daily mini-quiz gave the option of 'crescent pastries', which seemed the sensible, neutral and modest choice, even if about as accurate as renaming beefburgers 'trapezoid patties'. Instead it transpires that the innocent confections are to bear the lofty name 'Roses of the Prophet Muhammed' (custard, cardamom and a generous portion of raspberry compote be upon him). It looks like a joke, except that neither the Beeb nor the Muslim community would be likely to quip about such a thing. So it seems that when you can't fight your fights with fists, you fight them with forks. In fact, it would be awfully nice if that's where fights stayed - on the dinner table. Peas, not war, etc.

Obviously this brings to mind the whole 'freedom fries' farrago in the US (also backed by official bodies) which was less of a defensive gesture of cultural disassociation and more of a fuck-you-you-French-fucks gesture of cultural boorishness. (It wasn't even that original - during World War I, even German measles were renamed 'liberty measles'.) It was a matter of a pumped-up America brooking no dissent and embarrassingly using dog-eared menus to flag up its sense of proud isolation, prior to tearing Iraq a new asshole. The pastries, however, are a sad little culinary indictment of the chasm between two worlds. The longer the cartoon mess continues, the harder it is to feel any sort of sympathy for the people who raised such hell about the publication. Pastrygate is such an empty and nonsensical gesture, it makes it that much easier to see the original angry reaction as more of the same aggressive pettiness. But then from here, the papers' antagonistic prodding and poking seems petty also. They're not *that* much better as ambassadors for the
unquantifiably important right to free speech than the violent, bellicose protestors are as ambassadors for the (arguably equally important) right to freedom of religion. (If that's even what that most furious minority of embassy-sacking individuals think this is about.) Although of course no one has ever questioned anyone's right to believe in anything - merely they've questioned, albeit crudely, the hugely dubious notion that some ultimate deference should be shown to figureheads in whom you don't believe. Regardless, the thing has now become some sprawling unnecessary tragedy with no winners, and if this is the cherry on it then we can only hope its preposterousness marks a turning point. The best we can probably hope for is just re-entrenchment from all concerned, a continuation of tension and antipathy; but enough is as good as a feast when things are this dire. In the meantime, we can't help but anticipate another violation of the oft-beheaded Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.

Iranians might feel that bit less hostile towards their breakfast treats, if not towards the country which just happened to be thebirthplace of a couple of satirists, should the name change go ahead. But they might have got the wrong end of the sticky bun here. If you're going to really apply some linguistic salve in these circumstances, maybe you'd do better to rename the offending articles as, well, something offensive. That would really help people get things off their chest. Next time Wales beat England (if at all), stroll into your local caff and request Puling Nationalistic Sheep-Fondling Rarebit. If it's Scotland that are getting your goat, go for a nice Smashed on Buckie and Skag Egg. Like the constant orchestra of momentarily furious car horns in New York City, these little outbursts of passion may serve to avert a pressure-cooker build-up of violence that must needs explode. Try these and feel the calm wash over you...


* Pornographic and Stoned Elm Disease

* Goosestepping Zyklon B Monorchid Shepherd Dogs

* Cheese-eating Surrender Letters

* Famous For Nothing But Paedophilia Chocolate

* World Capital of Child Prostitution Nuts

* Imperialist Pasty-Faced Muffins With Really Bad Teeth

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