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VIEW: The Prince and the P***

PUBLISHED 30 Jan 2009 Muslim World Today(California)

‘Our little friend Paki’:

A four-letter word in this innocent sounding dialogue between Harry and his handheld camera hit an already frayed, overtly sensitive nerve of the Pak-British community in general and some Pakistanis in particular. Had we watched Prince Harry’s infamous video in Pakistan, without the accompanying howl of anger, would we still have noticed anything amiss? Maybe. May be not. The fuss over this sound byte was the first intimation for many Pakistanis that Paki was a racial slur, not a nickname used when convenient, not a prefix to be tacked to all things Pakistani and definitely not a term of endearment for their compatriots. And this revelation came as a surprise to folks who pleaded guilty to using the term often, both in earnest and in jest, with foreigners and without. Its usage is more common that one would think.

The same argument does not exempt foreigners apparently, which is why the case against Harry went to (media) trial, and the verdict was racist. Since Brits have coined the meaning – if not the term – Harry, must be aware of its meaning if not the implication for fellow cadet Ahmed and therefore, was not let off the hook this easy. A lynch mob (tabloids, Pak - British community, Ahmed’s entire family and an uncle) rearing to take down the politically incorrect Royal made sure of it. 3 years after making their short film debut in a very personal video diary, Ahmed and Harry were dragged back in the limelight. Neither could have foreseen that a private banter would end up on a public forum and footage never intended for commercial production would become the most talked about 3 minutes of Royal filmmaking circa 2006.

Harry’s swift apology did not deter an unforgiving media from exploiting and advertising the Royal quest for redemption to the accompaniment of disapproving looks and relentless critique. The Pakistani family’s response did not help. While Ahmed seemed to have no problem with Harry 3 years ago and probably has none today, the father’s reaction was excessive, when instead of graciously accepting the Harry’s apology, he asked for another; one that was to be bigger, better and more public. The family called him cowardly for hiding behind an official spokesperson while an Uncle crawled out of the woodworks with a desire to see ‘sorrow in Harry’s eyes’. A news report now claims that Harry has straightened things out with his ‘little’ friend on the phone.

The racism charge appears to be more of a gimmick to feed the insatiable appetite of media inspired witch-hunts of twentieth century than an actual pursuit for justice. For the footage that set out to capture the escapades of a certain officer cadet and his merry men was, perhaps not a production masterpiece or a shining example of humor in uniform, but that was the extent of its crime. The statute of limitation on racism may not have expired but given that Harry’s slip was probably more asinine than Freudian, before he risked his life for his people, his verdict should be Time Served.

A decorated soldier like Ahmed battling insurgency in his homeland has taken worse hits than this since. He will survive this setback. Second Lieutenant Harry, who carved a similar path of glory by going incognito to the heart of battle in neighboring Afghanistan, has been in worse jams. He will get through this one, but for future reference, he needs to weigh his words carefully (both on and off camera) because media trials have a way of making you eat them later and alleged slurs leave a bitter after taste.

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