Between a Rock and a Hard Place - or Tarred With Two Equally Nasty Brushes

On Friday a demonstration planned by a group called Stop the Islamisation Of Europe (SIEO) in Harrow, north-west London, was called off at the last minute, at the request of the police, in order to prevent a breach of the peace. The group wanted to protest against plans to build a new, larger mosque next to an older building that is no longer big enough to serve the needs of the local Muslim population.

In the event around twenty or so of the demonstrators turned up, and were met by more than a thousand counter-protesters organised by United Against Fascism (UAF). The counter-demonstration was well organised and supported, and several well known figures including the local MP (one Tony McNulty) and the London Assembly member for Brent and Harrow gave talks at an earlier rally. There were a few minor clashes between police and members of the UAF when the small contingent of SIEO chaps turned up and were chased away by Muslim youths, many of whom were inexplicably wearing balaclavas or scarves to cover their faces and wielding sticks, bottles or stones in that time-honoured tradition of peaceful counter-demonstration.

There has been almost universal condemnation for the SIEO, and the Culture Secretary, John Denham, compared their aims and methods to those of the Blackshirts' anti-Jewish marches in the 30's and National Front rallies in the 70's. Condemnation of armed and masked young men has so far not been forthcoming.

I have a lot of sympathy with the UAF and support much of their stated position, though I emphatically do not share their leftist political ideals. In this instance I have no sympathy at all with the SIEO's demonstration - I see no reason why the Muslims of Harrow should not have a mosque large enough for their needs (apart, of course, from my idealistic desire to see all places of worship rendered obsolete). The BBC's report showed footage of the inside of the current mosque - a poky little building with a low, corrugated iron ceiling. Were the SIOE marching against 'Islamism' or 'Islamic extremism' however I would be right behind them.

The problem I have is that I feel stuck in the middle and unable to express an opinion that I feel I have arrived at through common-sense, reason, and a genuine concern for the future of my country, without being labelled either a fascist or a leftist.

It is a real, genuine problem that so many Muslims in our cities live in isolated communities and want nothing to do with non-Muslims. It is a real problem that in many mosques up and down the land, Imams imported from Arab countries or Pakistan rail about the primacy of Islam and tell their flock - many of whom are young men, unsure about their positions in society and undecided about the direction their lives should take - that Western values will corrupt their faith and that they should reject them. It is a real problem that some sections of these communities hate their own country so much that they would gladly kill our citizens in the name of their faith. It is a real problem that so many young girls are sent for brief 'holidays' to visit their 'uncles' in north Africa or Pakistan, only to return without their external genitalia. It is a real problem that so many young men and women are sent to their parents countries to get married (not to mention the number of women who are married against their will) rather than marry here. It is a real problem that so many people who come to live in this country despise the values that it stands for - that our grandparents fought and died for - and want the country to change to suit them. And I could go on... Now tell me honestly - because I am perfectly prepared to review my position if I am mistaken - does saying any of this make me a fascist? An Islamophobe? A racist?

It is a real problem that minor far-right parties like the British Nationalist Party (BNP) are gaining ground in some areas of the country, by exploiting and misdirecting the fears of sections of the indigenous population, but this is only possible because politicians in all major parties feel unable, or are unwilling, to speak out against the growth and increasing insularity of Muslim communities, for fear of incurring the wrath of a minority who are not only willing to use violence, but who are positively itching for the chance.
I despise the BNP and all that they stand for, but does this make me a lefty?

So this post is for all those people who, like me, feel trapped between a rock and a hard place. Who would naively like to see people of all faiths and backgrounds just coming together and getting along with one another. Who would like to see second and third generation immigrants genuinely feeling that Britain is their home, without expecting it to change for them. I know I'm dreaming, and I know I'm being hopelessly naive, but hey, a man can dream, can't he?

Check the following links for background info:

BBC's online article
SIOE homepage
UAF homepage

Just to clarify, I do not and would not buy either the Daily Mail or the Daily Express. In fact, I would rather walk around in soiled underwear than use either of these publications to wipe my arse if I'd run out of toilet paper. Just thought I'd clear that up.

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quedula said...

Yes. Good piece. I am posting it on my fb profile. I think you have exactly reflected the views of a vast majority of us.

There is one point you didn't mention. This is a small island. How much longer can we go on cramming in extra bodies anyway ? And when these extra bodies have no intention of allowing themselves to be assimilated with english culture the situation becomes impossible.

Several governments have failed us in this respect by not instituting proper border controls. And it shouldn't be so difficult. We are an island for goodness sake.

Margaret said...

You wrote that many Muslims want "nothing to do with non-Muslims", but it's not as simple as that. In the sort of communities you write about, efforts to encourage integration between different ethnic communities have been defeated as much by the resistance of White British people as by the suspicions (often justified) of Muslim people that they're regarded with hostility. "White Flight" accounts for a lot of this separation. One housing scheme, designed to encourage cohesion, failed within a short time because of such a reaction from the white tenants. The same sort of thing's happened in Brixton, where a "voluntary apartheid" has developed. For many Muslims, ties of kinship are more important than those of many White British people, so they naturally tend to stick together, just as working class British people did in the pre-war and post-war years.

While I recognise that there are problems with extremism, attitudes towards women, and language, the problem with Islam in the UK has been exaggerated by those with a political agenda, on the left and right - and even some muddlers in the middle.

As for the population control issue - that's has been exaggerated too. The latest population increase is due to an increase in the birth rate; only a small proportion of the increase is due to Muslim families.

Is it any wonder that some Muslim youths react the way they do to the discrimination they experience? Racist attitudes are prevalent everywhere, not just in the big towns. On the other hand, I hear Muslim and Sikh parents complain that their children aren't very interested in the mosque or the temple; they'd rather socialise with their school and college friends, from all backgrounds. But we never hear about them.

"Proper border controls" have become tighter and tighter, due to the pressure of Torygraph campaigning. Genuine refugees, including many from Iraq and Afghanistan (no surprise there, considering what's happening in their countries) are being treated abysmally, including children, due to arbitrary decision-making and poor training. What sort of an example are we setting? I met a young Kurd who fled Iraq to avoid conscription into a murderous cult's militia. His family paid all the money they had to people traffickers to get him out of the country, via Jordan. If he'd stayed, he'd have either been killed, or been forced to kill. Since he arrived in the UK, he'd been moved from one centre to another, while they tried to work out what to do with him. He'd learned English, and wanted to train as a dentist. Until his status was decided, he had to live on just over £30 a week, and wasn't allowed to work. I don't know what happened to him (I must ask), but I do know that, considering the way that some people had behaved towards him, he was remarkably good-natured and considerate.

The Refugee Council provides information to counter some of the misinformation we read, but the bias prevails.

I've been on demonstrations in the past, most recently the 2002 anti-war demonstration, but I wouldn't join any demonstration over this issue; there's too much confusion, and too much potential for destructive aggravation.

quedula said...

I am sure you are right about "white flight" Margaret, but I come at this from a different direction. I regard "White Flight" not as a cause of division but as a symptom of past uncontrolled immigration. A symptom of the failure of middle class politicians safely ensconced in the Home Counties to put the interests of the indigent, working class population above political expediency.

Who are they/we, to wag a disapproving finger at others, living under different circumstances; who have been living in the same area all their lives, as probably parents and grandparents before them and, suddenly (comparatively) finding their neighbours are people who do not speak english and do not share interests or social activities, prefer to up-sticks to more familiar surroundings?

Are not there perfectly legitimate grounds for vehement protest in this situation? We are not talking about refugees in fear of their lives, but about economic immigrants who apparently have no interest in embracing our mores and culture but are merely intent on enjoying a standard of living that their own religious culture has denied them in their native lands. Yet they bring their culture & religion with them!

Over the centuries our ancestors have strived & suffered too. They learnt from their mistakes and adapted. They had no short-cuts. Those that emigrated did it out of dire necessity to virgin lands where no one provided a free lunch. Because of that history we are where we are, enjoying a reasonable degree of prosperity in a largely secular modern society. Why should we have to welcome a religion and culture still rooted in the past that has manifestly failed to provide the same?

Dave said...

Thank you both for your comments, and thank you Margaret for writing such a detailed reply - you have clearly researched your position to a greater depth than have I.
I accept entirely that integration efforts are hampered by racism - no-one can deny that despite all the progress and shifting zeitgeist since large-scale immigration began in the 50's, perhaps most white people in the UK harbour some racist tendencies, however implicit (I am married to an immigrant, and come from a rural area, so I know all about racism away from the cities!). I do not have the details of the failed housing scheme to which you refer, but in all cases I have come acrosss, these schemes take place in Council owned social housing, in areas that are already blighted by umemployment, crime, and poverty. However responsible the people in these areas are for their situations (and many of them are at least partly responsible), the last thing they need is to form part of a social experiment.
With regards to extremism, my position is slightly skewed in that I regard the practice of any faith as, at best, a waste of time and effort, and, at worst, positively corrosive. Bearing this in mind, I will state that of all the groups of immigrants who have chosen to come to the UK, it is Muslims who find it the hardest to integrate.
I can agree entirely that the way we have treated refugees, and far more shamefully, people we employed as translators, has for the most part been disgraceful, but it is not these people that are spreading anti-western, anti-British bile from the pulpits of mosques.
You mention that not enough is said about the majority of Muslims (and Sikhs - though we most certainly do not face any threat to our national security from them) who integrate fully and enjoy spending time with their college and school friends of all backgrounds. I attended a University where many of the students were exactly these sorts of people - second or third generation immigrants, proud to be British, equally proud to be Muslim - but almost to a man these people are middle class, with professional parents. These people form our best hope of bridging the divide between our cultures, and it is to them that we must turn for hope of a united future.
As for demonstrations, it is very sad that any point we try to make, from either side of the centre ground, will be distorted by minorites on the far left or right. I would not even march against sharia law (and believe me, I despise the creeping influence of these barbaric practices with a good deal of passion) for fear of being associated with skinheads.
Thank you again for your comment.