Roy Hattersley

Roy Hattersley in the Guardian.

At one level, the attack on multiculturalism is no more than a refined, middle-class version of “Paki-bashing”. Yet people who ought to know better have joined in the chorus of intolerance. To demand that Muslims abandon their way of life – what they eat, how they dress, which way they choose their husbands and wives – is to make a frontal assault upon their faith. Islam is a total religion. People who go to church on Christmas Eve and think that makes them Christians may not realise that devout Muslims believe that the Qur’an should inform their whole lives.

Well, I don’t go to church on Christmas eve and I don’t aspire either to be or to think of myself as a Christian – so I do indeed realise that ‘devout’ (there it is again) Muslims believe that the Qur’an should inform their whole lives. But so what? That’s the problem, not an explanation that causes the problem to disappear. By the same token, ‘devout’ Southern Baptists believe that (their selective reading of) the Bible should govern their whole lives, too, and that therefore God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve and all the rest of the nonsense. That doesn’t make it okay – that doesn’t make it not a problem that they want to impose their religious views on other people. Nor does it with other holy books. Or any other books. ‘Devout’ Nazis could believe that The Passing of the Great Race should inform their whole lives, too, but I doubt Hattersley would urge us to respect that. So surely the mere fact that a group believes that a book should inform their whole lives is not automatically a reason to agree with them.

And then, Hattersley’s gloss on ‘their way of life’ is a tad inadequate. ‘what they eat, how they dress, which way they choose their husbands and wives’ – that leaves out a few items – such as ‘honour’ killing, female subordination, ‘which way they choose’ their underage daughters’ husbands. Even that ‘what they eat’ is evasive and euphemistic, because the issue there is a form of animal slaughter that is considered cruel to the animals. It is simply not self-evident that ‘devoutness’ should trump concern with animal suffering, and the issue should not be concealed by the choice of words.

Britain has to decide if the freedom that we so value is consistent with attempts to suppress the religious practices of the country’s fastest-growing faith. The fact that most of us do not share their beliefs (and some of us have no beliefs at all) is irrelevant. Only primitive people want to destroy everything they do not like or understand. The civilised, and sensible, approach is to welcome diversity as a stimulus to renewed vitality.

Oy veh. Here we go again. (Seriously. This kind of thing is so stale. Is that really the best they can do?) Which ‘religious practices’ does he mean? Does he in fact even really mean ‘religious practices’ or does he mean social customs. And as for beliefs and sharing or not sharing them – that’s just silly. The issue is not beliefs, it is indeed practices. What is done to people. And then destroying everything they do not like or understand – again, that’s just an empty, beside the point bit of abuse. And ‘welcome diversity’ – another evasive formula, as I said a few days ago about Canon Chris Chivers’ ‘It is to be hoped the proposed commission will identify ways grudging tolerance can now be transcended by genuine acceptance, understanding and respect, which turns neighbours into friends because it accords difference the dignity it always deserves.’ Not all difference does deserve respect, and neither should all diversity be welcomed. Some norms are desirable and necessary. One assumes that in other contexts, MPs are pretty well aware of that. It may be ‘different’ or ‘diverse’ to demand the death of a novelist or playwright for writing something that ‘offends’ our ‘beliefs’ – but that doesn’t make it worthy of respect or welcoming. So blanket endorsements of diversity and difference are worthless, and confusion-producing.

But it is the assault on Islam – its culture as well as its theology – that has alienated some Muslim youths to the point at which they will not condemn anyone who champions their religion…Assaults on their habits as well as their faith will alienate them still further.

Maybe so. But what can be done about it? What is the alternative? Huh? Just to give up and endorse all the ‘habits’ of ‘Muslim youths’ without further examination? What if those ‘habits’ include pushing women around and telling them what to do and what to wear, and calling them whores if they don’t obey? Does Hattersley expect everyone to smile placatingly and keep silent about situations like that?

But the laid-back British still failed to recognise the passion with which British Muslims support their culture and their religion. At the beginning of the row over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, I told worshippers at the Birmingham central mosque that they should be as calm about their faith as most Christians are about theirs. A man called Saed Moghul told me: “You may not care about your religion, but that is no reason why we should not care about ours.” His logic was irrefutable.

His what? His what was irrefutable? His logic was what?

Anyway – that was no ‘row’ – that was a very literal, serious, intended death threat. For writing a novel. Gore Vidal wrote a novel about Jesus – should passionate Christians (and there are some) be approved if they (caring about their religion as they do) put out a fatwa of their own?

The sensible alternative to that take-it-or-leave-it nonsense is acceptance that most Muslims will live Islamic lives and still accept the laws and conventions that hold Britain together…They were taught at school that free men and women are entitled to live as they choose as long as their habits do not imperil the tranquillity of the nation.

As long as their ‘habits’ do not imperil the tranquillity of the nation. Well what if their habits do imperil the flourishing of the girls and women among them? What if the phrase ‘free women’ has a slightly ironic ring in light of some of those ‘habits’? Or to put it another way, once the fine-sounding empty phrases are set aside, what exactly does Hattersley mean? Which differences and conventions and habits and practices are we talking about, exactly?

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