Disturbing The Peace

2 02 2008

In a surprising turn of events I have actually been convinced to change my point of view on an issue. Yes, it really is possible. Even more astounding is the source of this conversion. Regular readers will know of my disdain for the Daily Mail and even those who don’t live in the UK will by now have a fairly good picture of just how extremely right wing it is. Yet this piece was highly convincing.

Once you’ve read the article take a moment to skim the comments at the bottom. You’ll see there the sort of bigotry that typifies Daily Mail readers and explains why I tend not to consider it a particularly good source. In fact it’s extreme views such as “having eastern style mosques is an insult to British values” that instinctively made me want to support the mosque in this case. The point regarding bells is well made, I don’t see a distinction and still believe that either both calls to prayer are acceptable or neither are.

Allowing Muslims freedom to worship will not turn this country, or any other country, into an Islamic state. Personally I’m a big believer in allowing full freedom to all faiths so long as they don’t affect those of us who choose to remain agnostic (or those who choose atheism). Thus I’d oppose calls to prayer (except on special occasions), but not wearing religious symbols to school. One is a nuisance that infringes upon the freedoms of others, the other is a harmless religious observation that affects nobody else’s freedoms. Common sense must prevail when balancing rights to ensure freedom for all.

Talk about the “indigenous” people of this country is somewhat rich, considering that these comments never come from pagan celts, who are the only “indigenous” people of this country. Instead they come from people whose family history in this country is not even as old as the faith they’re attacking. So far, then, you can see why I would support the mosque in this sort of campaign, pushed into it, as I am, by the abhorrently racist remarks that are allowed to pass for acceptable political commentary these days.

That people are able to spout such nonsense in a comments section on the website of a national newspaper with impunity is a concern, and yet, although we have laws against hate speech that some of those comments are flirting dangerously close to, we live in a free society. In such a society people are allowed to express their views, no matter how disgusting they may be to those of us who have brains. Yet there is a duty not to abuse our freedoms, and this is the argument that convinced me:

Some people argue that since it is illegal to build a church in some more extreme Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, we should not allow the construction of mosques here. This is nonsense.

In a free society, people should be allowed to worship as they please, so long as they do not interfere with the freedom of others. Thank God we are unlike Saudi Arabia in this respect.

Yet the Oxford Mosque, even before it is finished, is in danger of abusing the freedom it enjoys. If the call to prayer serves no obvious practical purpose, then it could be reasonably interpreted as a form of assertion, a way reminding the non-Muslim inhabitants of Oxford that there is a mosque in their midst.

It’s pretty hard to argue with that logic. Although I do believe those who come to this country should be entitled to bring their heritage with them, I also think they have to adapt to the community they are joining. As much as we, as a society, must evolve to embrace new cultures, those bringing them to our community must meet us halfway.

I’ve long felt we could learn a thing or two in this regard from the Americans. They have a hugely multi-cultural nation and yet there is still a unified sense of being “American” that ties all those cultures together. Just contrast some of the terms we use, where the English might call someone “Afro-Carribean” the Americans would call the same individual “African-American”. Those bringing their culture to America realise that they are joining a larger whole, a culture that existed before their arrival.

Which reasonable Christian would expect church bells to ring out in a Muslim city? Throughout the Muslim world, mosques can broadcast the call to prayer exactly as they deem fit. But surely not amid the dreaming spires Oxford that still proclaim a Christian heritage. Oxford is the home of many Muslims, but it is not a Muslim city.

Just as Christians moving to Islamic countries have to adapt to the calls to prayer, realising that they are in a country which has a long Muslim heritage to which they are the intruders, Muslims in the UK must realise that they are in a country which has a long Christian heritage, and must compromise accordingly. Yet I think it’s important, at this point, to remind everyone that any claim England had to being a Christian country was destroyed by changes to the Sunday trading laws.

Of course one could also raise the case of Pakistan, where both Christianity and Islam are practised side by side, where the church bells ring out and nobody complains. Yet that’s the point, here some people are complaining, and however bigoted some of the complaints may be, they’re entitled to hold them.

When those leading the campaign talk about things like “naked Islamic imperialism”, “no-go” areas, and “ghettos” it does nothing to help the debate. Neither does calling clergy who support the mosque “traitors” or the rather beautiful call to prayer “wailing” or “menacing” (it is neither). I personally find Church bells intimidating, the very idea of a bell makes me think of death (“for whom the bell tolls” and whatnot).

Slightly better is the assertion that it’s “un-English” but then I think the very English tradition of Church bells is just as offensive and ought to be outlawed too. No, the only argument that holds any weight, and ultimately the one that must settle the point, is that any use of freedoms to “impose” onto others is wrong. Whether it’s an “Islamic dictatorship” (a phrase which is pure scaremongering) or imposition of the ethos of Christianity through church bells, it’s noise to some of us who follow neither faith.

Comparing it to someone asking you to buy coffee is somewhat demeaning but I think the point is valid. Both church bells and the Islamic call to prayer are, in this regard, no different. Imposition of your faith onto those who don’t share it is contrary to the principles of freedom and personal choice. Anyone claiming the prayer call is different to church bells is wrong. Both infringe our privacy and both ought to be considered noise pollution. The prayer call is no more unpleasant or disturbing than Church bells.

Just as some have said that this “is a move to torment and torture non-Muslims” I believe Church bells torment and torture those of us who would like some peace and quiet on a Sunday. Talk of “making Islam the religion of public space” misses the point somewhat; there should not even be a religion of the public space as that belongs to us all, whether of religious persuasion or not. Neither this “aggressive minority” or the equally vociferous majority should be allowed to seize the middle ground.

True multiculturalism requires that any such “neutral territory” remain secular.


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8 05 2008
Mackness Family Mauled By Media « Textual Relations

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