By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
LONDON, Jan. 12
January in London. Cold, wet, dark. Recession is setting in like mildew in the basement.
The tabloids are cranky and restless.
Thank goodness for Prince Harry.
Even on a day when the Sun splashed a story about a British woman about to give birth to a two-headed baby, Monday's tabloids were still feasting almost exclusively on the Bad Boy Prince.
"Sorry's Not Good Enough," howled the indignant Daily Mirror.
Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and third in line to the British throne, is in deep yogurt again, this time over referring to one fellow army officer as a "Paki" and another as a "raghead."
On Sunday, the News of the World ran a sensational story revealing that Harry had used those phrases in a video made three years ago, when he was 21.
The video is shot and narrated by Harry, who describes the scene in an airport lounge as he and his fellow military academy cadets prepare to fly to Cyprus for a training exercise.
As the camera pans over the sleeping men in camouflage uniforms, Harry zooms in on fellow cadet Ahmed Raza Khan, who is from Pakistan, and says, "Ah, our little Paki friend, Ahmed."
In another segment, Harry zooms in on another cadet wearing a camouflage covering over his head and says, "You look like a raghead."
An official spokesman at St. James's Palace immediately issued a statement trying to contain the damage and portray the episode as a benign indiscretion that occurred years ago.
"Prince Harry fully understands how offensive this term can be, and is extremely sorry for any offense his words might cause," the statement said, referring to "Paki." "However, on this occasion three years ago, Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon. There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend."
The statement added that Harry had "used the term 'raghead' to mean Taliban or Iraqi insurgent."
The Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying it did not tolerate racism in the ranks. But in the case of Harry's remark about Khan, "We are not aware of any complaint having been made by the individual."
Khan is now a captain in the Pakistani army and received an award from Queen Elizabeth II -- Harry's grandmother -- for being the best overseas officer cadet during his year at Britain's prestigious Sandhurst military academy.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown entered the fray Monday, saying that Harry had made a "mistake" but that his apology was genuine.
"The British people are good enough to give someone who has actually been a role model for young people and who has done well fighting for our country . . . the benefit of the doubt," Brown said, referring to Harry's much-publicized stint serving with British troops in Afghanistan last year.
The British media widely reported on Monday that Harry's likely punishment for the incident would be an "interview w ithout coffee" with his commanding officer, a euphemism for a reprimand.
Still, Harry's use of the terms -- particularly "Paki," which is a slur that many find deeply offensive -- reminded many here of a 2005 episode in which he wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party.
Photos of the rosy-cheeked prince wearing a swastika armband caused outrage, particularly among Jewish groups. Harry immediately apologized in almost identical language to the statement issued Sunday, saying he was sorry "if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone."
The latest flap involving Harry was the talk of the airwaves and Internet in Britain on Monday. Some expressed fury at him and said there was no excuse for using terms that are hurtful and offensive to South Asians and Arabs.
Among the most outraged was Khan's father, Muhammad Yaqoob Khan. Interviewed by the Daily Mail from his home in Pakistan, he said Harry's remark was "a disgraceful insult."
Khan's uncle, Iftakhar Raja, a Briton of Pakistani origin, told the BBC, "We expect better from our royal family, on whom we spend millions and millions of pounds for training and schooling."
Others were more forgiving, saying that while Harry's remark was a mistake, it was said in the context of a military setting where troops frequently use off-color nicknames for each other.
Harry and his older brother, Prince William, are generally popular in Britain. Harry, known as the wilder of the two, has seemed to work on his public image in recent years.
He publicly lamented the army's decision not to send him to a dangerous assignment in Iraq, and reveled in his 10-week deployment to Afghanistan. And he won praise for his poised and moving speech last year on the 10th anniversary of his mother's death in a Paris car crash.
Squeezed in among all the controversy over Harry's latest remarks was another bit of video, an account of which was posted on the Web site of the News of the World and published in the paper, in which Harry makes a joke at the expense of his royal grandmother.
Video shot by another cadet shows Harry pretending to be on the phone talking to the queen and referring to her dogs and her husband, Prince Philip.
"I've got to go, got to go," he says. "Send my love to the corgis and Grandpa. God save you."
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