In House of Lords Question Time this afternoon, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Coalition Minister of the LibDem variety, managed to insult 221 million Arabic speakers world-wide by saying their language was “unusual”.
He did so while answering a series of questions on university funding. The relevant exchange is as follows:
“Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, what steps will the Government take to ensure that the pattern of cuts imposed by different institutions in response to falling resources does not endanger strategically important subjects—for example, Arabic, other languages and even chemistry?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: That is a very complex question. I am conscious that discussions are under way in the British Academy on the teaching of unusual foreign languages, which is rather different from the future of chemistry and STEM subjects. We are conscious of the need to protect those specialist subjects, but, as I have emphasised, the interests of the top 10 universities in Britain and those providing very worthwhile foundation degrees are part of a highly diverse sector and we need to consider all those interests.”
Lord Wallace ironically was Treasurer of the All-Party Arab League Group until the General Election.
Nevertheless, he still seems to think that the language with the fourth highest number of native speakers in the world (exceeded only by Chinese, Spanish and English) is “unusual” – so unusual indeed that it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
But then that is not the sort of detail that an Emeritus Professor of International Relations at LSE would be expected to know, is it?
I wonder what William Hague thinks?