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Posts Tagged ‘respecting English ways’

First, full marks to Sajid Javid, the new Secretary of State for Culture, for telling Asian and other immigrants that they have a responsibility when living in England to learn the language and adapt as far as possible to English ways. Good for him for having the courage to say this: you live here, vote here, use the education and health systems and many other services and institutions which basically you have not paid for, fought for, struggled for. You can’t go on as if you had never left the Punjab. And good manners require it. When in Rome, they used to say…

Well, you are in Rome. You should try to be as English as possible, to fit in, rather than make demands for special treatment all the time, for special dispensations for your children, and going out of your way to look as different and as foreign as possible. There are of course immigrants from all over the place, but no one makes more noise and causes more trouble, out of all proportion to their numbers and importance, than the immigrants from Muslim countries. We are told repeatedly that the noisy ones are unrepresentative, are not the majority. Wouldn’t it be nice, then, if some imams or so-called Islamic scholars were to speak out against the atrocities committed by people claiming to be their co-religionists like Boko Haram or the murderers of nurses trying to eliminate polio in Pakistan or seizing hostages on oil wells in North Africa or advocating the stoning of women or their exclusion from education  or just the bombing of ordinary people in ordinary European cities? What a welcome development it would be if such grandiloquently named outfits as the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain were to recommend to those it claims to represent that they try to be as much like everybody else as possible rather than the reverse, try to fit in rather than being as contrary as possible, rather than going out of their way to look and behave as differently as possible. Oh, they whinge about Islamophobia and discrimination, but have you ever tried to walk, say, down Golbourne Road in London’s Portobello district after prayers when the pavement is packed with aggressive-looking men determined to make themselves look as separate and as unfriendly as possible?

You have to ask, why, if the English way (and other people’s too) of doing things is so distasteful to them, they still remain here. If the reason is that in spite of their distaste they find it rather more convenient to be here than in their countries of origin, then they should remember their manners. And wouldn’t it be nice if some of their more accommodating co-religionists were to remind them of this?

It would also be timely if they could be reminded that Islam is a religion, not a race. Being disturbed by things done in the name of Islam is not racism, any more than objecting to practices like human sacrifice is. Birds of a feather flock together, the old saying goes. And there is nothing surprising or reprehensible about that. Feeling comfortable, forming a group, with like-minded people is an entirely normal human instinct, without which there would not be society. It is entirely natural to go towards those with whom you have things in common and shrink away from those with whom you have nothing at all in common. The cohesion that is the glue that binds society comes only with long shared experience, or at least with sufficiently shared experience, customs, values. To flout that commonsensical observation by insisting on totally strange and alien customs and values at the very least invites disapproval, aversion and even overt hostility. There should not be any surprise about that.

There has been a lot of fuss recently about halal meat being sold without being explicitly labelled as such. I think it should be and I don’t particularly like the idea of having my food associated with Islamic prayers. However, I think it worth pointing out that until very modern times all animals were killed by having their throats cut. That was – and in many, including European, countries – still is the only method of slaughtering, for example, your sheep. From time immemorial the shepherd who wanted to eat one of his beasts has had to kill it with his own hand with a knife across the throat. I have seen it done many times. And when you consider that the man who kills the sheep with his own hand is the man who acted as midwife to the sheep when it was born and has handled it every day of its life, so there is no alienating journey in an unfamiliar vehicle to an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar smells, sights and noises, I cannot see that there is any particular cruelty in that and I cannot see that there is any great reason for horror and outrage either.

But aside from the question of strange customs and unfamiliar beliefs, it is clear that no society can absorb more than a certain number of outsiders without there being uncomfortable tensions. You could argue until the cows come home about precise percentages, but it is abundantly clear now that in the UK the balance has tilted to the out-of-kilter side. The more different, the more difficult. The problem is not going to go away. We have to find a way of dealing with it. It seems to me that the native people of these islands – pace Bonny Greer with her peculiar notions about what indigenous means – have leant over pretty far in their willingness to accommodate a lot of strangers; it is time some of the strangers did some leaning. They are touchy enough about having their sensibilities respected, it is high time they became wary of offending our sensibilities, because, pace Bonny Greer again, there is such a thing and a perfectly legitimate thing as “our.”

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