Cross

Dear Jesus Christ. How many times do we have to wade through these stupid, utterly pointless debates, caused by stupid people enforcing utterly pointless rules? A British Airways employee has lost her fight to wear cross.

We often hear arguments of the type “if it were a [insert religious adherent here], this would never have happened”. These arguments often grate, because they are usually applied incorrectly. In this case however, such an argument would be entirely valid, and I anticipate with dread the crowing of those who will label this ‘Political Correctness Gone Mad’. Even those of us who defend such concepts must admit that this judgement is totally ridiculous and totally counter-productive from every possible perspective. No-one benefits, except possibly those illiberals would would seek to impose a total ban on all religious belief.

Of course, a Sikh can wear his turban, and of course a Muslim can wear her hijab, two entirely reasonable and practical garbs which are nevertheless much more ostentatious than a crucifx. The aggrieved woman, Mrs Eweida, has been ruled against on the technicality that her religious symbol may be concealed, where head-gear cannot. How mean!

A comment on the BBC website captures the issue perfectly:

This is yet another example of how secularism is being misunderstood by those trying to enforce it.

To repeat: An employee who wears a religious symbol does not and cannot convert that whole institution to her religion. It is not a contradiction for religious people to work in a secular institution. In fact, allowing myriad expressions of differing personal faiths will actually reinforce that secularism.

The only real cause for controversy would be if British Airways itself invoked religious imagery on its own corporate identity… Oh, wait: It does! It’s logo is part of a Union flag, an amalgamation of not one but three Christian crosses.

 

Today in the media…

A full schedule for a lot of people today, it seems.

Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics is going to begin a media blitz today, with an article in the Guardian and some radio appearances, promoting his New Generation Network.

Edinburgh blogger Devil’s Kitchen is making an appearance on 18 Doughty Street today too.

Finally, the BBC Asian Network Report will be airing a documentary Sex, Lies, and Culture, co-produced by the BBC and myself for Fifty Nine:

Are young Asians taking unnecessary risks with their sexual health? Brook Advisory Services, the national sexual health charity, are calling for further investigation into worrying information about Asians visiting their Birmingham clinic. They found higher proportions of Asians were likely to have unprotected sex, and to request emergency contraception, pregnancy testing and referrals for an abortion. They were also less likely to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. The Birmingham clinic saw aImost 4, 500 Asians under 25 years old last year, fewer than other ethnic groups. In Sex, Lies and Culture Anita Rani investigates whether the strict attitudes of older Asians has created a generation which isn’t informed about safe sex.

There should be some media coverage of those issues on the BBC 6 o’clock News, and also in The Times.

More soon…

Turbans and Tam o'shanters

A few days ago, a fifteen-year old Sikh boy was assaulted by a gang in Pilrig Park, Edinburgh. During the attack, the gang took a knife, and cut off the boy’s hair. Sikhs, of course, believe that hair (“Kes” or “Kesh”) is a gift from God and a source of spiritual power and faith. So the crime was a violation not only of the body, but of the soul too. It was in effect an attack upon all Sikhs, an entire section of our Edinburgh community. I am ashamed it happened.

Tam O' Shanters and Turbans, standing firm against racism

This is a photo of a vigil held this afternoon, Sunday 19th November, at the site of the attack. Plenty of tam o’ shanters and turbans in attendance. You can also see Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz at the centre of the picture.

Update

Sikh teen lied about hair attack

Lothian and Borders Police confirmed the attack had not taken place and said the boy had expressed remorse. They said no further action would be taken.

The teenager is believed to have had personal problems and was also having cultural identity issues brought about by differences between his Sikh upbringing and Western society.

This is one of the overlooked aspects of multiculturalism. The different and conflicting identities that exist within an individual are as important as the different groups that exist within the country.

Kriss Donald murder 'racist'

The men who killed Kriss Donald have been sentenced to long prison terms. Kriss was murdered by a gang of Muslim men, in Pollokshields (my old, brief, haunt) in 2004.

In the past, the authorities have been criticised for branding a murder ‘racially motivated’ only when the violence is perpetrated by whites on racial minorities, but not vice-versa. This tendency, say the critics, is a symptom of the Politically Correct malaise that has swept through the country.

It is worth noting that the police had no qualms in making the ‘racially motivated’ categorization in the case of these three thugs.

the killers

The LIP Magazine Round-up

The latest issue of our magazine, The LIP, was published in August.

From the editorial:

The LIP bucks the trend of expecting young contributors to offer their work for free in order to get a ‘foot in the door’. At the LIP, we hold the door open…

I admit I’m not sure just how old Young Master Worstall actually is… but the theme of the issue was ‘Media’, and who better to discuss the blog-hype than the editor of 2005: Blogged?

Other hightlights include interviews with Times War correspondent Anthony LLoyd; columnist Giles Coren (“I won’t write anything for less than a thousand quid”); maverick publisher Pete Ayrton; Al Jazeera’s Head of International and Media relations, Satnam Matharu; and a fascinating insight into the BNP mentality, courtesy of a chat with their press officer, Dr Phil Edwards (not the same as the homononynous author of Actually Existing). You can read the full articles by buying a copy online. We would appreciate your support and feedback.

Although only excerpts are available for the latest issue, we have full archive of the previous six issues online. Throughout, we have asked what it means to live in a smaller, more globalised world, and what (if anything) multiculturalism actually means. For the Dalai Lama, it is as much a project of stressing similarities between peoples, as it is about celebrating diversity. Ziauddin Sardar takes a more militant approach, and sees multiculturalism as a force to “transform and subvert the power of western civilisation.” For Roger Scruton the concept is “a toxic product of postmodernism that dissolves the ties that bind society together”. Nigerian novelist Helen Oyeyemi, thinks multiculturalism is “a big old fallacy.” While Paul Boateng MP agrees that it is “a word that people interpret to suit their own ideological purpose,” he nevertheless still values “the reality of a multi-racial society – vibrant and exciting, [and] enriched by cultural diversity.”

So far, author Hanif Kureishi’s definition of multiculturalism is my favourite. He says “multiculturalism is the idea that one might be changed by other ideas”. It is a movement based on the dialogic exchange of ideas, even traditions, based on “the idea that purity is incestuous”.

WOMAD and visas

As per Clive’s recommendation, I’m off to WOMAD this weekend. Unfortunately, its started with a disappointment. I was supposed to be interviewing the Zimbabwean virtuoso Thomas Mapfumo, but I’ve just discovered that has had to cancel his performance… because he couldn’t get a visa!

Nothing positive can come of this decision. This is the flip-side of the immigration debate. No porus borders here. By keeping people out, we risk isolating ourselves from outside influence, and our culture is all the poorer for it.

Update

The visa problems were not an admin error. According to WOMAD and Mapfumo’s label, Real World Records, the British Embassy have said that they are “not satisfied that he intends to leave the UK” after the festival. This is strange, since the notoriously paranoid US Department of Homeland Security have issued Mapfumo with documents allowing him to leave, and re-enter the United States, where he is seeking political asylum.

Other WOMAD acts have had similar problems. Nine members of the Mozambique mariba outfit Djaaka were refused entry into the UK earlier this week. They were actually in transit through Gatwick airport, en route to a gig in Italy, but ended up being deported back to Mozambique. Mauritainian diva Dimi Mint Abba has asked her family and manager to support her act, afer her band were denied travel visas on the basis that they could not prove they earned a sufficent income in Mauritania.

Let us hope these artists pen a song or two about these experiences. It would be great if all this red tape inspired, rather than stifled creativity.

A Most Respectful Letter from an Englishman in Scotland, to a Scotsman in England; In Which the Subject of Their Shared Britishness is Discussed at Some Length.

This was my shortlisted entry into the Ben Pimlott Essay Prize. The winning entry, by Rowland Manthorpe, was published by The Guardian last week.

Read close, o my best beloved, and picture the scene. It is a cold and idle weekday in February. The dance-floor at L— Nightclub is barely a third full. The clientele are young, but in this light it is difficult to be sure that they are over eighteen. Many wear those jumpers with hoods you will have seen in photographs. Thin girls in white denim dresses have braids in their hair. Three youths in turbans lurk in the corner, by the dirty pillar that blocks the view from the bar.

Chunky hip-hop performer ‘Sway’ saunters on stage with the arrogance of a MOBO winner (for that is what he is). Behind him bounces his accompanist for this evening, DJ Turkish. They are both wearing Union Jack tea towels over their faces, like patriotic bank robbers. “These rappers couldn’t see me coming if they were vaginas with spectacles,” shouts Sway, before telling us a story about the mysterious Land of Harveynicks. The entertainment has begun.

We are in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital – yes, you know it well, my friend! – in the shadow of the famous castle, where legions of tourists flock each summer to watch the tartan fuelled military tattoo. It is a place where English residents of the city complain that, these days, it is being over-run by Australians. It is a place where a man with a Ghanaian name is reciting American-inspired slam poetry, to a beat hammered out by a Turk from North London. And what of this young audience? Believe me when I tell you, if you were to conquer the countries of their parents, then truly the sun would never set upon your Empire.

Let us be clear, so we make no mistake. Your task in 2009 will be to unite all these people: The tartan tattoo day-trippers, the snobbish English students, the sullen Sikhs… and Sway, who waves the Union Jack proudly, just as you asked. You must convince them that they are one people, and that they all belong to the same privileged club. You must describe the values and the traditions that they must learn to love.

Continue reading “A Most Respectful Letter from an Englishman in Scotland, to a Scotsman in England; In Which the Subject of Their Shared Britishness is Discussed at Some Length.”

Ebenezer

Following my post regarding names and over-achieving name-alikeys, a correspondent of mine writes:

I wanted to call my son Ebenezer. I wanted him to have a unique name, and I don’t know any other kids called that. When he grew up, he could shorten it to ‘Ben’ if he wanted, or if he fancied something a bit more street, he could call himself ‘Ezey’, like if he was a DJ or something. It would be a good stage name. It would look good on a book jacket. Everyone he met would remember him. He would be talked about. People would say “Do you know Ebenezer?”

But my wife wasn’t having any of that. She said that kids at school might bully him. So instead we named him John, after my Dad. My son John, who must now compete for attention with the billions of other Johns out there.

Earlier this year, sitting on a bus winding through the hills of Sri Lanka, I met a British couple who were expecting a baby. He was a Scotsman, while she was of Sinhalese Sri Lankan parentage. They were discussing what name to give the baby. Part of the discussion was to find a combination of first and middle names which acknowledged their disparate heritage. Would the child take on the father’s monosyllabic Scottish surname, it’s mother’s polysyllabic Sri Lankan second name, or a hyphenated tongue-twister which combined the two? I wondered to what extent the origin of the name would affect the child’s relationship to the world around them. In those weeks before a decision was made, the baby had as much chance of being named Christopher or Angus, as being named Dilip, or Hasantha. Born into the twenty-first century UK, he would not, I hope, suffer any prejudice, had his parents chosen the latter moniker. However, it would serve as a constant reminder of his heritage in a far-off continent. What effect would this have on his approach to life, his politics, his “identity”? I imagine it would be quite significant, and positive. EbenezerJohn’s father clearly agrees… as did Johnny Cash when he wrote “A Boy Named Sue”.

Or; Would Cassisus Clay have won as many fights as Muhammed Ali?

The Goddess, the Spokesmen and Censorship

[photopress:mfhusain_motherindia.jpg,full,alignleft]It is well worth highlighting another case of an artist causing offence to minority communities. Asia House has seen fit to close an exhibition by MF Hussain, after Hindu Groups protested against the depiction of Indian Goddesses in the nude. Many in the Indian community have found this offensive.

What is worrying is that the exhibition has had to close because of “threats” from offended Hindus. This is an unfortunate development, as it once again has the effect of portraying those from the Asian community as being intolerant and unintegrated. I await with resignation the familiar cries of “multiculturalism doesn’t work”.

As I have said before, if multiculturalism is simply about two groups living side-by-side without integration, then clearly it is not going to work. But if it is about two groups changing each other due to their co-habitation, then a more interesting process is at work.

In this case, the refusal of a vocal minority to uphold ideals of free speech, critically undermines the wider multicultural argument. Thankfully, the Pickled Politics blog is refusing to put up with this kind of sabotage, and a counter-protest and petition against the threats are being planned. In a related post at Comment Is Free, Sunny Hundal explains that the problem stems from various groups competing for victim status:

[The campaign against MF Hussain’s work] was backed by the supposed representative of British Hindus, the Hindu Forum of Britain, whose spokesperson, Ramesh Kallidai, has trotted out the familiar line that Hindus are being maligned in favour of Muslims and other religious groups … This competition for victimhood status has almost become de rigueur.

It is interesting to read how Hundal and others separate the issues of freedom of expression, from the issue of taking offence at an affront to Indian culture. If young progressives come to replace the religious conservatives as the de facto spokespeople for the Asian communities, then the multicultural debate could become much more productive. At present it seems to have entered a religious cul-de-sac which can never be resolved.

Finally, it is worth emphasising that these protests are hilariously counter-productive. As with the Mohammed cartoons, the furore has only served to advertise the exhibition to the likes of me. Now it comes to pass that the first image I have ever seen of Mother India is a nude!

I don’t know the intentions of the artist. However, it is worth pointing out that this is a classic case of how morality and sensibilities change with geography. In Europe, depicting a goddess nude is not just inoffensive, but almost essential. Instead of complaining of “hurt sentiments”, perhaps those who complain should rejoice that icons from Indian culture have achieve parity with the beacons of Western European art, such as the Venus De Milo, and Rodin’s ‘Kiss’. If I, an ignorant Occidental, am to learn about Mother India, Durga and Draupadi, what better way to begin the dialogue by presenting an image of Them in the classical style? Where did I read that early missionaries to India presented Jesus with blue skin, so He more closely resembled the existing deities?

UPDATE: Ah yes, I remember now. It was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Who’d have thought?

English as the international language

This soundbite, from a delightful Russian drinking Veuve Clicquot in the ‘Tokyo Room’ at the Edinburgh night club with International Pretensions, Le Monde:

“English will become the universal, international language. What we will lose in terms of cultural diversity, we will make up for in mutual understanding.”

And yes, he did say it in English.