Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In my defence...

It is said that our choices define us, and reveal our characteristics and personality. We all make different decisions and this variety is what makes life interesting. If everyone was the same we would all get bored of each other pretty quickly…or would we? In a society dictated by trends of ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ everyone is encouraged to look the same, eat the same, be the same. And if you’re not the same yet, you soon will be.

Different is not cool, and it’s not accepted. In some cases, it’s not even understood. We don’t like different. We treat it with suspicion, as we might treat a strange fungus festering at the back of the fridge. It will be subjected to much prodding and poking and attempts at removal, and eventually left alone once it has been ascertained that there is no threat or danger of invasion. As long as it sits quietly in the corner, we will treat it as some dysfunctional anomaly and ignore it.

Being different means standing out from the crowd. In most cases though, people who are different don’t want to stand out; they just want to be themselves. But to be unique is to risk social exclusion. Society does not understand why you would want to make your own choices when you could just follow the crowd and never have to think for yourself again. Life could be so easy!

As soon as you make a choice, you have to be prepared to defend it. From the car you drive, to the food you eat, right down to your decision to wear blue and orange stripy socks today, you will be questioned. And if your answers aren’t satisfactory then you will be put in the stocks of social status and humiliated until you conform. But conform to what? No matter what you do, you will never please everyone. If you have a Blackberry like half of the population, then the other half will tell you to get an iPhone. And if you have neither you’ll probably be sent to the doctors’ to check that you’re human.

Everything I’ve said so far has obviously been something of a generalisation but the fact still stands: we have to defend ourselves constantly in order to survive day-to-day life. We live in a tough, cynical society where the concept of accepting things at face value is inconceivable. I have never felt the need to justify my choices as some people do, and have always interpreted their self-absorbed wittering as a sign of insecurity. But increasingly I find myself engaging in this attack-and-defend tussle almost as a form of conversation and it is exhausting. It is sad really, that we feel the need to confront others just to make ourselves feel a little more confident about our own choices. So from now on, I refuse to defend my decisions – not because they can’t be defended but because they shouldn’t need to be.

British Muslim? It's an oxymoron

Earlier in February, British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that multiculturalism in the west had failed, particularly with regards to attempts to integrate Islam into the western way of life. I'm a Muslim who has lived in England all her life and I agree with Mr Cameron.

Islam is a strict religion by anyone's standards and has a set of rules which must be followed. England is a Christian country, at least by name, and whilst the religion of the state does not necessarily dictate what citizens can and can't do, culture almost certainly does. Certain traditions have become so ingrained in western society that they are followed religiously and any attempt to overturn them would have catastrophic effects, probably on a revolutionary scale.

Islamic rules and western traditions mix as well as oil and water. As much as you shake them up, they will always separate out and it is na├»ve to think, believe or try to prove otherwise. I'm being stubborn and closed-minded you say? Then let's take the example of drinking. Muslims don't drink (the good ones anyway). So no, I won't be coming to the pub after work, drinking a glass of wine to relax, popping open some bubbly to celebrate the business's latest success or doing shots at a nightclub to drown my sorrows in a chemically-induced state of calm. To most people who live in the west, this sounds like a nightmare. I'm not saying that anyone who's not a Muslim is an alcoholic, but you don't realise how much alcohol has become integral to existence in the west unless it’s forbidden to you.

But the question here is not why integration is not working. It’s why we want it to work. England is a Christian country and yet it is bending over backwards to accommodate its growing Muslim population. Huge, supposedly secular companies like Deloitte have developed Muslim support networks to give Muslims in the company a sense of community. They claim that it increases diversity and encourages acceptance of different faiths, not to mention that it is also economically beneficial for them. Heathrow airport has a prayer room and facilities for ablution. Funny, I don't see a temple anywhere...or a church for that matter. This is not a ridiculous proposal – I recently visited an airport in Canada which had a ‘multi-faith chapel’. It was a prayer facility for people of all faiths but was predominantly for Christians, in accordance with the country’s religion.

I don't want to sound ungrateful for what are clearly attempts to help Muslims fit in, but I can't help but wonder why. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state and I cannot see it bending any of its rules to accommodate another faith, no matter how dominant it is in the population. You might want to bear in mind that corporal punishment is still legal in Saudi before you suggest that Riyadh open a chain of bars to make the expats feel at home. Even Dubai, which is perhaps the most liberal Islamic state to ever exist, has an Islamic prayer room at the airport but no facilities for anyone of another faith.

Perhaps this is the government's attempt to absolve itself of any responsibility when things go wrong. If and when, God forbid, 9/11 occurs on English soil, the government will be able to say, 'We tried. It is you Muslims who failed. We wash our hands of you'. And to their credit, they have tried. But it’s the typical case of give a finger and they take a hand. Britain relaxed its rules, allowing ridiculous levels of immigration and then took this one step further by trying to fit these immigrants into society. If they hadn't tried, people wouldn't have taken advantage.

The government has now realised its mistake, but it’s too late. They find themselves in a catch-22 situation - there's no way forward and certainly no way back. When the tyrannical dictator Idi Amin came to power in Uganda in 1971, he realised that his country was being run by Asian outsiders rather than the natives. So he ordered the expulsion of 80,000 Asians, which in hindsight probably wasn’t his wisest decision. The economy crumbled and the country is now far behind where it would have been had Idi Amin let things be.

Alcohol is just a minor example of why Muslims cannot fully integrate into Western society. If they wish to live in a non-Islamic state then they will have to compromise and come to terms with a non-Islamic way of life. They don’t have to adopt it, but nor do they have the right to impose their way of life on others. It is not impossible to be a good Muslim and live in England. It is difficult, yes, but at the end of the day it’s a choice. You can’t have the cake and eat it, even if it is halal.