Douglas Murray and Irishmen, Englishmen and Scotsmen

Did you hear the one about the Scotsman who wrote a blog inviting Irish jokes and created a minor international incident?

Douglas Murray is a journalist and political pundit who normally deals very ably with the joke that can be Britain's body politic. Now poor Douglas is in trouble with the Irish government and was labeled an "eejit" by an editorial in today's Irish Independent, all due to his repeating an absurd incident in which a local councilman in England had to pay an Irish person compensation for telling the following (very poor) joke:

"A man walked into a Dublin bar and saw a friend sitting with an empty glass. 'Paddy can I buy you another', he asked; to which Paddy replied, 'now what would I be wanting with another empty glass?' "

Douglas Murray, quite correctly, finds it ridiculous that the town council had to pay compensation to the "offended" Irish person.

However he betrays his Scottishness by not objecting on principle so much as to the amount of money paid (for Americans unfamiliar with the rivalries of the British Isles, Scotsmen are routinely lampooned for their meanness with money.)

He then went on to invite his commenters to leave Irish jokes on his Daily Telegraph blog, which became what was described as "an orgy of Irish-bashing jokes." This is where the trouble began.

Apparently unaware that he was in fact playing to his own national stereotype, he even later defended himself by describing the injustice in monetary terms, noting the "idiocy of a situation where somebody is able to make thousands of pounds by claiming they are offended by a pretty cruddy joke." Tens or hundreds would be fine, presumably.

But most embarrassing of all for Mr. Murray is that he is, in fact, director of the United Kingdom's Center for Social Cohesion. This institute was founded "to promote human rights, tolerance and greater cohesion among the U.K.'s ethnic and religious communities and within wider British society." Perhaps its alternative motto might soon be: "Promoting Peace between Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman and Paddy Scotsman."

Now he finds himself walking a tightrope over the ancient tensions between Britain and Ireland. Which reminds me of another bad joke: what's the difference between a tightrope and a Scotsman?

A tightrope occasionally gives.

But Mr. Murray is in the right of it, I think. He's defending the right to free speech, which includes the right to offend, and to tell bad jokes, like this:

"An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman walked into a bar. The bartender said:

'Is this some kind of a joke?'"