I read an alarming report in my Sunday newspaper yesterday about a bunch of, so called, ‘religious people’ in east London who have been attempting to push their values onto other folk – sometimes violently. Loud and unpleasant, they are nevertheless a minority in their community who find them objectionable and embarrassing. These ‘religious people’ call themselves Muslims although quite where they think attacking people who might have had a drink in the street and yelling abuse at innocent women comes into Islam, is a puzzler. Luckily they are a tiny minority, unfortunately their attempts to shape the lives of everyone around them are disproportionate to their numbers. People in east London also have to put up with homophobic slogans daubed on buildings by these people as well as having advertising hoardings featuring women defaced. It’s intolerant, unpleasant and engenders a climate of fear that is distinctly unhealthy.
The reason these ‘religious people’ are doing this, they say, is because they want the areas where they live to be governed by Sharia Law. They want no pubs in ‘their’ areas, no women in short skirts, no homosexuals and no advertising. I would say, ‘well I’m not religious so I just don’t get it’ but 99% of religious Muslims don’t get it either so let’s just put religion to one side because actually it’s irrelevant to this case. What these people really want is a monoculture. They don’t like anything or anyone who is not like them and, more importantly, they want to have power over those they perceive to be ‘their own’. Walking the streets and terrorising innocent men and woman makes them feel important as well as putting fear into the hearts of both their ‘enemies’ (women, people who like a drink, homosexuals) it also sends a signal to Muslims that they are the people to impress if you don’t want any trouble.
They’re not the first and they won’t be the last people to want a monoculture. Bloody hell how unoriginal can you get! The imposition of a monoculture was what the Holy Inquisition of the Catholic Church was all about and don’t even get me started on Adolf Hitler. Closer to home I can remember how vile some groups of white people were when Asian families first arrived in the East End from Pakistan and Bangladesh. There were all sorts of cruel jokes about their ‘ignorance’ about western ways (some kids I went to school with used to honestly believe that they ate dog food!) and people would actively oppose them if they tried to move into specific areas. These people wanted a monoculture and I didn’t understand them either.
In recent years the concept of multiculturalism has taken a bashing here in the UK. People, usually on the right wing of political debate here have said that it isn’t working and cannot work. Those with fundamental religious beliefs, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever, have asserted that the mixing of nationalities and religions is wrong, in some way ‘diluting’ their culture/s. They won’t actually say that what they really want are ghettoes, but that surely is what is has to boil down to in the end. If you want to be ‘exclusive’ then there is a price that has to be paid and that price usually involves being cut off in some way from other people. Religious fundamentalists, white rights nuts and exclusivists of all stripes want this but I think that the rest of us have a duty to resist it.
Multiculturalism, in my eyes, does not involve the throwing off of one’s native culture in any way. Respect is the key, respect for the views and beliefs of others and the expectation of respect from them for one’s own values. This does not involve the imposition of views that one is opposed to from either inside or outside one’s own ethnic or religious group. So the ‘religious people’ in east London should not be daubing homophobic slogans on buildings or hassling women to change their mode of dress any more than white rights nuts should be allowed to wander about shouting racist abuse at Black and Asian people. Basically multiculturalism should get its act together to take on the monoculturalists wherever they are and whoever they are. In order to be fully rounded human beings we need access to competing perspectives and ideas. How else can we really decide what we think if we don’t know what our choices are?