Looking up at the grey of the sky over Kent, England, I have been thinking lots about religious prejudice, cultural ignorance and questions related to Britain in today’s multi-faith society. Most importantly I have been thinking about how Muslims are represented in our society.
Earlier in the year Prime Minister Brown was universally heckled for calling a woman who asked a question about immigration, a bigot. Maybe the word he chose was wrong or maybe she was and he was right (To confess, I didn’t hear what she asked him, so I can’t comment). My thoughts are that he made a school boy political gaff by leaving his microphone on and it neither matters looking back whether she was or was not a bigot or indeed if the word he chose when he thought he was speaking in private (whilst his mic was on) was appropriate. We are where we are, as they say.
In any event, I think that the reaction of the media to his response was the most interesting thing. His words spoken in private were an opinion and I think should have kick started a wider debate on faith, society and even though it sounds a little passé the idea of celebrating difference or recognising common truths.
Over the past ten years or so, we have been bombarded with a duel and sometimes conflicting messages through the media and popular press.
Since 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London most people have had seared on their minds what an extremist Muslim looks like, a caricature of terrorism, if you like. This picture has been reinforced; I suppose, with the coinciding war in Afghanistan and echoed by programmes like Spooks on the BBC.
At the same time a general repression feels to have been drawn across most of out society when it comes to talking about, thinking about or discussing people of other cultures, races, or faiths; Islam in particular. I say repression because I have been guilty in the past of curtailing conversations which are talking about our society if there is any risk of ignorance or exploration being mistaken for racism or prejudice.
I suppose now I am asking, “How else do we learn?”
Maybe the expression of ignorant opinion if and when we do hear it, is at least opinion and the opening of, or the beginning of, a conversation where ideas and common truths can be explored.
I think that there needs to be a rebalance in messages sent out in the media and by government to better engage the portrayal of, and opportunities for, average Muslims to have conversations with the rest of society; and vice-versa.
To this end also, I think we can all do our bit, simply by talking more, relaxing a little bit more and not immediately assuming that thinking and talking about faith and Muslims in particular in British society is a preeminent position only to be held by racists and bigots.
I urge you all to go out to your community and maybe go further afield specifically with the intention of striking up conversation with Muslims (and people from other faiths) to learn a little about them exploring their day to day experience. Essentially get out their and be friendly, to make new friends.
Muslims are apparently not well represented on the BBC where I heard recently even the actors who play the Muslim family on the square are not Muslim, why not?
I watched a TV programme this morning where a good point was made which I would like to echo, why can’t we see a TV programme demonstrating the work Muslims are doing to curtail extremism?
I had a number of great conversations when I was in Egypt last week during Eid. I ate food with a group of friends and chatted about a number of concerns they had including drugs, health, environmental concerns, development in their country, justice and politics.
All talked about their life experience and the journey their lives were taking them on. Most talked about their hope for married life and a family. All talked about their work, concerns for their friends and financial hopes for the future. They were all average guys who happened to have a love for the Koran and their faith.
It was a pleasure meeting the taxi drivers, hotel staff and shop keepers and they made me think how all the world over, although our cultures and histories are so different, we are all just human beings with the same trials, troubles and dreams in this modern changing world.