When you choose your enemies, you should expect to be treated like one

Yesterday’s twitterstorm in a twittercup was the news that the EDL’s Tommy Robinson kicked up a fuss in Selfridges because a man he assumed was a Muslim refused to serve his friend. The shop assistant in question has been suspended and there was plenty of righteous anger flying about, partly because righteous anger is generally what Tommy Robinson provokes, but this time it was also aimed at the rather heavy handed response of Selfridges.

However, as Mic Wright has blogged, even the leader of the English Defence League ought to expect decent service in a shop that prides itself on making everyone welcome. I had no patience for the B&B owners who, on the grounds of faith, refused to give a double room to a gay couple. They offer a service, they should jolly well give it to everyone, whatever their personal feelings. And we can’t have one rule for homosexuals and a different one for the EDL (even though, ironically, both homosexuals and the EDL would probably like that). No question, the shop assistant in Selfridges should have just got on and done his job.

But it’s easy for me to write that. Given quite how revolting the EDL and Robinson himself are I don’t know how well I’d cope with them in the flesh, and I’m a middle class white male; how I’d react if I actually felt targeted by them is impossible for me to imagine. Yes, the staff member in this case acted unprofessionally – but his response was an understandable and human one. Give him a ticking off, sure. Send him for training on customer care in the face of racists, absolutely. But a compassionate employer needs to recognise that workers are not machines, they are subject to human emotions and impulses, which in this case could hardly be called irrational. Suspension, investigation and even talk of what the Daily Mirror subtly headlines the SACK are unnecessarily victimising a man who clearly already feels victimised.

Nor should Selfridges have so wholeheartedly taken the side of a customer being trying to intimidate said staff member by waving a phone in his face (clearly with every intention of getting the video on the internet at the earliest possible opportunity). An apology would have sufficed, but instead Robinson and his chum were rewarded with two £25 steaks and VIP treatment. If only from a selfish PR point of view, Selfridges might have shown a bit more restraint. Robinson would have had less opportunity to crow over that ‘Muslim’ he was served by and I don’t think Selfridges need have worried too much about pissing off the EDL demographic. (I witnessed their recent march across Tower Bridge: they are pitifully tiny group and their general demeanour didn’t suggest that many of them shop at Selfridges.)

I suppose what I’m saying is that, unlike a gay couple wanting to stay in a B&B for a weekend, Robinson has made a choice to stand as a public figurehead for outspoken and often violent Islamophobia. He has, in so many words, branded certain racial groups as an enemy: when you choose your enemies, you should expect to be treated like one (as should those who hang out with you). We are talking about a man whose family is under 24-hour police protection, after all.

In spite of all of which, he absolutely ought to be given fair and equal treatment whether in court or in Selfridges. But which of us could possibly blame a shop assistant for falling short of that ideal?