Archive for July, 2013

“Jihad, Jihad, cover your hair!” two small boys called out to a friend’s student daughter as she cycled home in Leeds recently.

It does not take much imagination to realize that children this age did not think such nonsense up for themselves. They have heard it from their elders.

Yesterday, we are told, the Muslim Council of Britain, instructed imams to preach a sermon condemning the practice of grooming girls for sex. Predictably, it was not hard for the press to find Muslim men-in-the-street complaining that they were being victimized: it is not just Muslims who are guilty of this kind of thing. It was only too obvious to anyone watching TV news  that not a single woman could be seen among the congregations in any of the mosques shown. I have a close relative who has converted to Islam: I do not approve, but at least she spends her time campaigning for the right of Muslim women to attend prayers in mosques and being vilified by conservative old men for her pains. You would have thought there might be some connections to be made here.

Baroness Warsi laments that what she calls Islamophobia is a commonplace around middle class dinner tables. Ed Milliband, conceding, in what was billed an important speech, that Labour policy on immigration had been wrong, could only bring himself to mention the arrival of Poles as a problem.

Have Poles killed anyone on an Underground train in the name of a religious Cause? Have Poles demanded concessions in schools, from diets to what they might deem offensive literature? Have Poles called for the end of democracy, the veiling of women in public, the exclusion of girls from education? Have Poles been convicted in noticeable numbers for grooming vulnerable English girl children for sexual exploitation?

Have those who are always excusing Muslim behaviour ever bothered to read, for example, Ed Hussain’s account of his conversion to and eventual renunciation of fundamentalist beliefs? Have they ever spoken to someone like my Muslim academic friend who has witnessed at first hand the intimidating behaviour of fundamentalist students on English university campuses towards fellow Muslims who do not want to be drawn into the jihadi camp? Not to mention their aggression towards Jewish fellow students?

We hear that those who jeer at the coffins of soldiers returned from Afghanistan are a tiny minority and that the great majority of Muslims do not approve. Would not it be nice if they were to start saying that they do not approve and even exerting some pressure to restrain the extremist element? The day we heard that little girl had been shot on a bus in Pakistan for going to school I happened to ride on my bike through the London square where the Pakistan embassy is. How nice it would have been to see a single placard, never mind a thousand, denouncing this kind of atrocity committed in the name of religion? There was nothing.

The Poles do not behave like this. Is it any surprise that people should be “Islamophobic?”

Who is to say how far religion is to blame? It is always a useful recourse for the bigoted to be able to refer to a “higher authority.” Education and class play a role too. “Stone Age ignorance and religious savagery,” Edna O’Brian has one of her characters declare à propos of her father and a priest coming to condemn her behaviour and drag her home.

These people are hill-billies and, for the most part, have grown up in traditional cultures so different from our own that the two are quite incompatible. Read Sathnam Sanghera’s The Boy with the Top Knot, his account of growing up in a Punjabi Sikh village in Wolverhampton, for a wonderful picture of how insular and alien these immigrant communities can be: they have little contact with anybody English. Their shopkeepers are Punjabis, their solicitors, often their teachers and doctors too. Their so-called community spokesmen are exactly the same people who exploited and controlled them back home in the Punjab. The biggest scandal is when a Punjabi Sikh girl wants to marry, not an English boy, but a boy from a different Punjabi Sikh village. And as to the possibility of any one of “our” boys associating with English girls, let alone marrying out…

For men brought up in societies in which women are kept in one kind of purdah or another, it is easy to see how girls who go about unchaperoned,  wear clothes that show off their bodies and are free to dispose of themselves as they choose, are both exciting and slightly alarming. The usual response to your own feelings of guilt and desire is to dehumanize the girls by calling them whores and slags: they are gagging for it, they only get what they deserve… When custom and religion combine to reinforce the subservience of women, it should be no surprise that Muslim men should be so frequently involved in crimes of sexual abuse against vulnerable English girls.

This kind of attitude, it has to be said, has been common in European peasant societies too. It is, after all, not so long since Greek and Italian peasant society felt honour-b0und to slaughter its daughters on the suspicion of any kind of relationship with an unapproved male. When girl tourists travelling alone first arrived on the shores of the Aegean and Adriatic and bared their breasts on the beaches, the only possible explanation in the minds of the natives for this bizarre, indeed unthinkable, behaviour was that they were in some sense whores, and they were set upon, hungrily. But I am not aware that Greeks or Italians ever attempted to turn their conquests into sex slaves.

When I travelled in Turkey and worked in Libya in the Sixties you did not hear talk of jihad and Crusaders and violence against the “decadent” West and you did not see crowds of women covered in black from head to toe. (Why, one has to ask, if the West is so awful, do so many of these people want to be here? And why do they resort so readily to the language of rights and civil liberties to promote their own interests when they have no intention of allowing their own people, women in particular, to enjoy such things?) There has always been a powerful undercurrent of intolerance and puritanism in Islam, reinforced no doubt by the fact that the only form of political organization experienced by any Muslim people is off-with-his-head despotism. Why should it have come to such prominence now? Someone has put a lot of effort and money into ensuring that it does, namely, the rich and despotic Arab regimes who saw nurturing religious conservatism as a buffer against the spread of more dangerous ideologies like revolutionary socialism.

The English Defence League and its brethren get stick for being fascist and hard Right. No doubt there are crackpots among them, but any conversation down the market, at the bus stop or in the pub will quickly reveal that the resentment they feed on, against immigrants, Muslim ones in particular, is very widespread. And is it surprising? For two or three generations ordinary English people have seen their streets and schools and familiar places overrun by foreigners whom they did not invite, whose arrival they were never consulted about and whose interests seem to be given preference over their own. Foreigners, moreover, who seem to make not the slightest effort to fit in, indeed go further than that: who seem to go out of their way to stick two fingers up at the culture and customs of the land they have settled in.

It is very hard to understand what goes on in the minds of these Muslim immigrants. Presumably they are here because in some way they think they are better off: richer, safer, better educated, better health care… – all of this of course without having had to endure the hardships, make the sacrifices, fight the wars and pay the taxes that our parents and grandparents had to in order to bring these things about.

Do they feel entitled to these goods? Do they think they have a right, without any obligation? That there are no quid pro quo’s? It is true that the law may give you a right that can be upheld in a court but that does not equal the right that derives from having lived and toiled and died on this patch for many generations.

There is a problem. There are practical problems. How can schools make a decent shot of educating children when they come from such diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds? Why should native children suffer because of this? It is hypocrisy to pretend that they do not. There are actual conflicts and incompatibilities, like the difference in attitudes to women, not to mention attitudes to things like political honesty, vote-rigging, using your vote freely rather than following the voting instructions of your “community spokesman.” These problems are not going to go away by being ignored or being by blamed on the Poles. We have to find away of living together.

We, the English, are entitled to ask that people who want to come and live in our country make an effort to adapt and assimilate as quickly as possible, to become as “English” as possible as soon as possible. Some do it very successfully, as any morning commute to the City of London or visit to the GP will show. If this does not happen, the social glue will unstick.  Society is well ghetto-ised as it is.

Baroness Warsi needs to wise up and acknowledge that Muslims have brought their own bad name upon themselves: that the silent majority, if it is indeed a majority, needs to speak up clearly and loudly and denounce the murder of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse and the bombing of trains in Madrid and the oppression of women that is done in the name of Islam, if they do not want to be tarred with the same brush as the extremists. That they need to find the courage to abandon their petty-bourgeois respectability – What will the neighbours say? Must not wash the community dirty linen in public – and resist the pressure of the belligerent militants. Would all the little girls in Somers Town be veiled in black if it were left only to their parents to decide?

And Ed Milliband and his ilk need to grow up and accept that all is not for the best in the best of all possible worlds: that the downtrodden and the poor can be nasty little shits just like anybody else:  that some people’s ways are just not acceptable and they need to be told so, not appeased and excused.

PS – Friends ask, “Aren’t you afraid to write about Muslims and Islam?” British Muslims should be ashamed that they have allowed their fellows to create such a climate of fear in a country that has presumably given them so much that they prefer to remain rather than move to the Muslim homelands from which they came. An occasional  show of gratitude would not come amiss.

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Social mobility is in the news  again. As usual, the best universities are getting stick for not admitting enough students from “disadvantaged backgrounds.” There is disadvantaged and disadvantaged, as we know, but in general this is taken to mean children from poorer, uneducated or non-English families who have been educated in state schools.

That these factors can influence a child’s academic achievement is beyond question, but it is no fault of the universities when children fail to score good enough grades or acquire the kind of general culture that would enable them to profit from a university education. The fault lies quite clearly with the schools and with my generation of well-meaning hippy-Marxist-let-it-all-hang-loose teachers who abolished grammar and structure, who dismissed knowledge and discipline as boring and bourgeois control mechanisms designed to inhibit the flowering of creativity which would shatter for ever the chains that capitalism sought to impose, who strove to make the curriculum relevant to working class children who had a perfectly good and vigorous culture of their own, who lumped together the quick and the slow, the interested and the completely indifferent, in lessons like maths… How long would Arsène Wenger have stayed in his job if he had introduced joint training sessions for the van Persies and the halt and lame?

The results of this approach to teaching in schools are plain to see: mis-spelling and mis-speaking a commonplace, even among those who pass for educated and speak in our names on the radio and TV. In the place of history we act out the evening meal in a Saxon peasant’s hut as imagined by our thirteen-year-old brains. It was already rather shocking in the 70’s when I last taught in this country. It is a lot worse now.

I was a Rough Guide author for several years. All the editors were university graduates, yet they invariably introduced all sorts of errors into the manuscripts I submitted, including misused words, inconsistencies like spelling a place name two or three different ways on the same page. And this was a book about France. You would think that an apparently educated person would be aware whether or not he had a reasonable knowledge of French and, if he did not, would  take care to check, especially when the only trouble it entailed was looking at a map. But no: the degree of ignorance is such that people are no longer aware of their own ignorance and seem to regard precision and accuracy with total indifference.

In the June 16th Observer Brian Sewell berates the BBC and other TV outfits for their dumbed-down, populist approach in documentaries about serious subjects like art and history. The subject is “presented” by some more or less attractive personality, as if any serious discussion, explanation or investigation amounted to a sort of arrogant display of toff-ish elitism and disdain for the hoi polloi.

A dear friend, now dead, had an interview with the head of a girls’ comprehensive in south London. He was looking for a suitable school for his daughter. He had been an accomplished athlete himself and wanted to find a school that took sport seriously. “Oh, yes,” said the head. “We think sport is very important for girls, but we don’t believe in team games and competitive sport.”

All shall have prizes. No failures, only deferred success.

This is the sort of woolly-minded nonsense that has now pushed us well down the league table for educational achievement in the world. And who has benefited from it? Not working class children. Not children from “disadvantaged” backgrounds. Many more of them got into the top universities when grammar schools still flourished. And while grammar schools may not be the perfect answer to our education problems, they were certainly in many ways more effective than what has replaced them.

No skills can be acquired without rigour, discipline, sacrifice. If you are going to learn to play the guitar well, you have got to stay in playing scales when your friends are out partying. The same is true of carpentry, speaking French, playing tennis. If you do not master the basics – and learn to live with the bruised knees and bruised ego that goes with it – you ain’t going to make it.

The friends I have had who left school early have nearly all regretted not having a proper education and striven to make up for it in the rest of their lives. The popularity of books like Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Gwynne’s Grammar suggests that many people feel very anxious about their shaky grasp of their language. And that they want to know things, not be fudged off with the second-rate, the easier option. Long live Comrade Gove!

On October 24th 2012 Graeme Atherton wrote in The Guardian: “Access league tables based on the progress HEI’s are making over time across a range of under-represented groups could be a powerful way of using information to influence institutional behaviour.” Quite so! Is he a graduate of a Russell Group university? Now there is a worrying thought.

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