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Peter Rhodes on easy ways into uni, trial by social media - and how European are you?

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes

Denounced

IN a plea for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the fight against Brexit, the Left-wing columnist Will Hutton declares: "Britain is European to its marrow." Courgette, surely?

ANYWAY, whatever foodstuff you choose to invoke, does anybody seriously believe that Britain is European? Try this little test at the nearest pub, club or bus stop. Simply ask people who is the president of America. Then ask them who is the head of state of Germany, Sweden or Belgium. Who is their favourite Romanian film director? Can they name a single poet from Luxembourg? We Brits are a nation with global horizons. We feel more at home in Australia than Austria, we tune to American soaps for entertainment, we are still smitten by the heat, dust, cuisine and memories of India. If we really were European to our marrow, we wouldn't be British.

WELCOME to the blood-chilling world of social media where, having said good things about Islam, you get denounced for Islamophobia. That is the nightmare faced by Johnny Ball. The 81-year-old TV mathematician and father of Zoe was accused of Islamophobia after presenting his stage show in Bristol on July 8. I'm inclined to believe Ball's version of events. He says he is a great admirer of Islam and made the point on stage that "its origins were violent but it became the most wondrous religion because it gave us back all the maths that had been lost to history." If that's what he said, it is not offensive, it's historical fact. What's more, his admiration of Islam is shared by most mathematicians. As the Mathematical Association of America puts it: "As mathematicians, we are all children of Islam."

SO how did Ball come to be accused of attacking Islam if he actually praised it? I suspect one or two people in the audience heard him utter the words "Islam" and "violent" in the same sentence, decided this must be Islamophobic and reached for the smartphone. On social media there are few retractions or apologies. And once you are branded - as the innocent victims of the "Nick" paedophile-abuse fantasy can testify - it is notoriously difficult to restore your reputation. This week there were 350 Google references to the Johnny Ball incident. Mud sticks, even when there is no mud.

IF Islamophobia is a terrible offence, then so is falsely accusing someone of Islamophobia. It should be treated as seriously as accusing someone of being a paedophile or making a bogus allegation of rape. The internet has become a place for demolishing reputations and wrecking careers without proper evidence. Enough is enough.

HAS it ever been easier to get into uni? Latest figures show that a quarter of applicants are offered places regardless of their A-level results. You can see where this is leading. "When does my course start?" "When can you get here?"

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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