Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Good-minded people are being cowed into submission by shouting race-baiting hooligans

Last week I had the only nasty encounter with British teenagers in the
two years I have been living in Newcastle.

My sister-in-law and I were standing on a train platform to catch a train to city center when some loud teens walked up and called us “little rats” and asked if we were carrying “bombs” under our clothes.

These boys were boisterous and having fun at our expense. My sister-in-law, who doesn’t speak English and is in Newcastle on a brief visit, was terrified. I pretended not to speak English, hoping they would go away. When they became louder and bolder I asked a woman nearby to call the police.

The boys immediately stopped and attempted to explain they were simply joking. I found nothing to laugh about. I recognize that wearing the hijab draws unwanted attention. But I wonder why I should feel threatened wearing one in a country that prides itself on tolerance
and democracy.

The unprovoked verbal attack has marred an otherwise wonderful stay in the United Kingdom. I enjoy a productive and rewarding collaboration with my teachers and fellow students whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. I have been shown nothing but courtesy and respect.

Perhaps the incident on the train platform was an aberration. It’s hard to say. But it gives me pause to consider where British teens learn that intolerance is acceptable on any level.

The media, of course, fuel much of the attitudes young people have today toward minorities. To read the UK tabloids and billboards paid for by the British National Party, UK citizens must come to the conclusion they are under siege from the unwashed masses of Eastern Europe and Asia.

There is immense pressure today on mosques to teach tolerance in school curriculum, as there should be. Many Islamic faith-based schools are under scrutiny to eliminate discussion of jihad and other references to Christianity and Judaism in the name of tolerance. This is all well and good, but British public schools must be a part of the solution as well.

Certainly the boys so interested in what was under my hijab got their ideas from home. Ignorance breeds ignorance. Yet teaching tolerance appears to be an elective in the British school system. Many school districts refuse to teach cultural studies on the grounds that it’s religious instruction. Parents and teachers have difficulty distinguishing the two.

The British Council reported last year reported that 3 percent of the British population is Muslim. That’s about 1.5 million Muslims in the United Kingdom. Further, 23 percent of the UK’s population declared no religious affiliation in 2001. And an estimated 75 percent of the UK’s
youths between the ages of 18 and 24 have no religious affiliation.

The British Council and a number of privately-funded UK organizations have teaching assistance material and curriculum for local schools on various cultures and religions, but it’s unclear how many educators take advantage of providing classroom instruction. If indeed three-quarters of the country’s youth have no religious affiliation, how are they educated about other religions if not in school?

Bradford, England, has a significant Muslim population and the nearby Rhodesway School has gone to great lengths to provide multicultural programs. School administrators have discussed how to better celebrate religious holidays of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus.

Unfortunately this is an initiative taken by Rhodesway and doesn’t necessarily reflect the rest of the UK’s school systems.

Part of the problem lies in fear. School administrators who see a need to develop multicultural programs and provide classroom lessons in tolerance are often the target of fringe groups and the tabloids. They face accusations of pandering to Islam or indoctrinating UK youths in the teachings of the Holy Qur’an.

By refusing to recognize some of the UK’s young people are blithely spouting racist, Islamophobic and truly hateful comments to strangers is no better than an imam encouraging jihad without proper context.

Ignoring the growing pervasiveness of public condemnation of religious minorities is in many ways another version of the “bystander effect.” The more people witnessing an emergency the less likely they are to help. There’s been a trend in the UK and the United States where people have become paralyzed or unwilling to stand up to abusive race-baiters and anti-reformers.

Here’s an example: In Saudi Arabia there is an element of society that doesn’t want reform and sees literature and the arts as a threat. Standard operating procedure of these groups is to lay siege to a book fair or stage play. They shout verbal abuse, toss chairs around and
intimidate attendees and organizers into submission.

Americans have witnessed this in recent weeks at their own community town hall meetings held by Congressional representatives. The men and women elected to represent their community are verbally abused and shouted down. In some cases the abusers incite violence because they
oppose their representative’s position on issues. Legitimate attendees are denied their right to speak.

The breakdown of public discourse on sensitive issues is redefining the bystander effect. Good-minded people who see a need to teach tolerance and engage in civil discussion are cowed into submission by the shouters. It’s easier to stand by and witness the public demonization of minorities rather than confront and condemn people who use intimidation as a weapon in debate.

The hooligans on the train platform last week are another version of today’s shouters and chair-throwers. Their behavior is endorsed by fringe media pundits passing themselves off as immigration experts.

They are validated by the BNP, which disguises their members’ racism in the cloak of immigration reform. These boys have been denied an education in the classroom on tolerance. Eventually the bystander effect will reach a level that will be difficult to turn back.


Chiara said...

An excellent and thought provoking post. I agree that the best response for most bystanders in such a situation is to call the police, and to stay present to bear witness while trying not to give the hooligans an audience.

I participated in developing a curriculum on multicultural acceptance sponsored by the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for Grade 7 students (age 12). Our conclusion was that by that age they were well-indocrinated by attitudes at home, and there should be curricular development in earlier grades, which has since happened.

Another finding was that penultimate group was the most biased against the newest immigration culture.

The BNP sounds much like the French "Front National" of LePen--always reading to help immigrants to go back where they belong, stop taking "our jobs", stop breeding visible minority children for "our schools", "our summer camps", etc. Oh, and we are not even sure we want them on "our national soccer team". Fortunately the FN remains a minority though a vocal and noxious one.

While one hates to use the "Nazi card" Brits should be reminded of the BNP's history.

Daniel Pitt said...

Dear Ms. Jawhar,

Having read your informative and chillingly accurate log about indoctrination by the fascist BNP and media channels, I would like to congratulate you on the article which reached out to me, a white atheist. Even right-wing rags like the Daily Mail are getting in on the act by claiming that immigrants are swamping our country, forcing their religions and cultures onto us and being treated more favourably than indigenous people. How can that be when under five million (or just under eight percent) of people living in Britain are non-white and non-British born? Were it not for cultural diversity I wouldn't have met the wonderful people to call friend proudly today; that is why I am doing everything in my power to stop the racist, sexist homophobic Nazi vermin we call the British National Party from achieving their goal of a separitist, oppressive Britain. Ignorance intolerance and hatred are neither welcome in democracy or society.

What would you say is the best way to tackle prejudices like racism and homophobia? I would like to hear suggestions and opinions from intellectuals like you instead of do-nothing politicians and narrow-minded bigots. You have opened my heart and mind to a world so potently cruel that it is unbearable to even consider. People in this country act like Nazi Germany is some relic of the past, like it's something that could never happen to the great old United Kingdom. And what do we find here? Racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism - these things still exist, and nobody seems to care all that much. We're in a recession, and what's the first thing that happens? Immigrants are stealing our jobs! Politicians have more pressing matters than working on equal rights laws! Taxpayer money shouldn't be spent on people with mental illnesses - just lock them up instead! Stop all foreign aid, our problems are much worse! Blame everyone else for our government's failings, and don't extend olive branches to anyone in case we need them for firewood!

Sometimes, just sometimes, the selfish, craven, ignorant, apathetic, idiot masses of this odd little island country make me want to vomit. I'd love to leave this place forever and move to a more enlightened land, but you know what? Very, very few such places exist. There will always be stupid, hateful people, we just need to make sure they never get the power to ruin other people's lives. That is why the input of people in minorities who are discriminated against must take a stand - your input is of considerable value to the future of equality and social justice.

Giuseppe De Santis said...

Dear Mrs Jahwar,

my name is Giuseppe De Santis ,member of the British National Party and first Italian to become an officer of that party.I'm, writing to you in relation to your article in which you complained about hostility toward minorities in the UK: I found your article really unacceptable especially when written by somebody who comes from a country, Saudi Arabia, where the most basic human rights are violated.It's a bit rich to accuse Britons to be intolerant when in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries anyone who is suspected to be a Christian and/or carry Christian symbols risk to be arrested and jailed.Also I would be curious to know how many Christian churches have been allowed in your home country.I bet the answer is none.Now I don't expect any Muslim country to allow me to eat pork, drink alcohol and celebrate Christmas and other Christian celebrations if I decide to move and settle there.Therefore I don't accept a Muslim to come in the UK and dictate me how to live my life and force me to eat halal meat at school, to abstain from eating during Ramadam and ban me to celebrate Christmas in order to avoid upsetting religious minorities.We want to keep Britain Christian and British in the same way you want to keep Saudi Arabia Muslim and Arabic.Thanks for your time.
Your sincerely.

Peter Stanbridge said...

Hello Giuseppe, I feel that the issues are more complex than you say. I empathize with the frustration at countries like Saudi Arabia being extremely intolerant but to think that to present an only alternative is to adopt a Saudi Arabian approach is a mistake. I see one problem today isn't the young youths confronting Mrs Jahwar as happened here but the over micro-control the current labour government and their left wing socialist cronies in local bodies and public organizations that seem to fuel the actions of many young people. Personally my experience is that most Muslims I know are very happy to have Christmas, to put up decorations and celebrate with us and they feel it patronizing of many of our politicians and business owners who take down Christmas trees in case it offends Muslims. I would personally rather see tolerance as described by Mrs Jahwar who probably agrees with you about the tolerance problem in Saudi Arabia (but it would be good to hear her commitment there) but my suggestion is that we can cope with diversity and enjoy different cultures here quite successfully without the type of feat Mrs Jahwar had to face or the types of fears non-fundamentalists can have in many Muslim countries.

If we as a country would become less worried about offending Muslims and just enjoy living as British without compromise I think we'd find that most of the time most Muslims would be happy just to get on and be part British with Muslim faith and part whatever nationality they are (as I would expect you to enjoy still being Italian). Those who wish to impose their own legal systems here and so on - well, I think we'd agree that they shouldn't be here.

umm Latifa said...

I do bet none of the Muslims in GB tries to enforce their lifestyle on non-Muslims there... Don't they simply want their rights to be respected, as the state law dictates? What's sad, everywhere we will find intolerant, cruel people of little minds without emotional intelligence. Sad, but true.
Sorry Sabria for the encounter, but how many good and wonderful people you'he met! I bet far more then these 2 ;). Wishing you a pleasant stay there and Ramadan Karim!

Susie of Arabia said...

So sorry to read about your unpleasant encounter with that group of intolerant idiots. The more I travel the world, the more I realize that there are intolerant idiots everywhere - there's no escaping them.

afzal said...

i would like if some intellectual write up from Mrs. Sarbia. addressing human rights in saudi arabia

How your ppl treat expat, and u cant even call police.

from my point of view we are facing adverse rasicm here as compared to other countries.