Can England tolerate Muslims?
Let me be clear at the outset. I am not sharing this out of spite or hatred for anyone. I have been blessed (and continue to do so) to work and socialise with folks from all sorts of weird and wonderful backgrounds. In fact, I would like to think that on my travels I have matured enough to embrace different cultures and faiths. After all, isn’t that what makes our country a great place to live in?
So, after much deliberation and reflection, I wanted to share a very personal experience I had recently. My intention here is to highlight that racism, Islamophobia, extremism, intolerance, ignorance and whatever else you want to call it has reached frightening levels. Gone are the days when people would murmur their hatred privately. In some far away place, restricted to a group of unfortunate souls who just haven’t had the opportunity to integrate or meet other cultures. No no, It’s on our doorstep, from folks that we live alongside with, folks that are middle-class, folks that are hardworking just like us, folks that are educated and live fairly prosperous lives. Worst of all, its dangerous and totally unnecessary.
I am glad I had this encounter, for it reveals so much. I respect the man who had the courage to speak to me, I really do. Maybe its because we are both good neighbours that he had this conversation with me. Or, maybe he feels its perfectly ‘okay’ to hold such views. Either way, I’ll let you decide.
I have been living in a fairly affluent part of my home town for over a year. Its a lovely area; lively gardens, warm neighbours, a friendly atmosphere. The sort of place where hardworking people want to settle down. The other day, a neighbour of ours who we get on with (and still do after this episode) called me over. He mentioned that he had heard that we were trying set up a prayer facility in the area. What that basically means is that a group of Muslims from the area want to get together in a public place five times a day and pray for ten minutes. Thats it.
I replied that yes, we would like to have something like that. It would be great wouldn’t it? He responded by saying that he would never let it happen and that he had campaigned in another area (I mean, why would you campaign against something in another area? You’ll have to ask him) for something similar and he was proud that it wasn’t successful. Naturally, I wanted to know why – why would you be so staunchly against something that is a clear need in the area? Give me a logical reason as to why its a problem. I mean, we have a church, a pub, a working mens clubs not to mention lots of other places in our area that cater for the need of our local community. This is simply an extension of the diversity and the dictates of the natural law of demand in our community. So, enlighten me as to why this place of prayer is a problem? Maybe then we could begin to have a meaningful dialogue.
I wanted to be fair and give him time to articulate his response. After much probing, he could not give me a single valid reason. So I pressed him again and again. Eventually, this is what he could muster: “Well, its because of what your ‘country folk’ are doing and did in Tunisia and I don’t want it here.” I mean, what? Are you serious? Is this guy for real? At this point I could have just walked off thinking how ridiculous this is. But I persevered, partly because I wanted to respect him as a neighbour but, more importantly, I wanted to challenge him and see the error in his view (Remember, at no point was I rude or aggressive – you don’t achieve much with this sort of attitude).
Naturally, I told him him that what happened there or anywhere else has nothing to do with me. I took the liberty of reminding him of the facts of terrorism (you know, obvious official stuff like according to Europol reports, from 2007-2009 Islamic terror constitutes a tiny fraction of the terrorist attacks in European countries. During that period, more then 99 percent of terrorist attacks in Europe were by non-Muslims or that in the US, there have been 207 mass shootings in 2015. All but one was committed by a Muslim – though it has nothing to do with his faith.) and a few other facts besides. I told him his comments deeply offended me and that I expected better from someone as educated as he is. He then realised the fallacy of his statement and made a meek apology.
There was much more he said but for the sake of brevity I am going to trim this one down. I’ll mention one more to show how ridiculously racist his views were and sadly, how as a society we are letting such extreme views proliferate. There isn’t much difference between this sort of vile extremism, the extremism certain media outlets and politicians would like me and you to believe in and in the Nazi propaganda we know of.
Anyway, my neighbour then moved on to our local primary school. I asked what was wrong with it. His response, and I kid you not: “It’s full of Asians, 99.9% of the children there are Asian. I would never send my children there!” (I don’t know how true the figures are factually but lets accept it for arguments sake). Its as though he hadn’t learned from the utter nonsense in our previous exchanges. Again, I pressed him; so whats wrong with that? I mean, I am sure its a reflection of the demographics, catchment area and other factors. But more importantly, whats the point? Is there some sort of correlation between Asian children attending a school and another variable? Because I would certainly like to know. Again, same old nonsense. Pure racism and no rational, logical or factual reasons for his views. Welcome to middle Britain folks.
At this point, we were talking for well over an hour and my wife was patiently waiting at home. I told him that his views are clearly racist and have no place in a tolerant, liberal society like Britain. Granted, he apologised but maintained his views that Asians (and all other non ‘English’ people – whatever that means) are a problem. We closed by respectfully shaking hands and me letting him know that despite his racism, I will continually to treat him like any other neighbour. I will continue to fulfil his rights as a neighbour.
So there you are folks. It’s acceptable and mainstream. These are views held by some people in middle Britain. The challenge for us in Britain is to challenge this form of extremism and call it out for what it is. We need to educate people. We need to show people out there that our concerns are the same as theirs. We are all united against injustice, inequality, hatred and extremism. There are people and vested interests who want to divide our social fabric (and seek to extract huge profits while they are at it). Remember, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
As for Muslims, it’s time to put your petty differences to one side. Leave the theologians and scholars to discuss issues of religious differences. Do not let your denominational differences hinder the need to work together for the common welfare of society.
I leave you with words of a Scholar who God Almighty had blessed with piercing foresight: “You must earn your place in this country. You should leave an imprint on the host community of your usefulness. You must demonstrate your existence here is more beneficial than that of the native people. You must impart on them the lessons of humanity. You should demonstrate how noble and principled you are, and that there cannot be found more upright humans elsewhere besides you. You need to establish your worth, that you are a blessing and mercy for this country. However, if you decide to live in an enclosed environment content with your Prayers and Fasting, apathetic to the people and society you live in, never introducing them to the high Islamic values, and your own personal qualities, then beware lest any religious or sectarian flares up. In such a situation you will not find safety.”
Such are the challenges facing our communities. What is it then that we can do collectively to integrate the diversity that this country has to offer?
As for the wider community, what is that we can do to tackle racism and Islamophobia? Is this a Muslim centric issue? Or do we all need to take responsibility to challenge such attitudes that are increasingly becoming acceptable in our society?
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