I attended the press conference that began His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s trip to Edinburgh yesterday, and was able to ask him some questions. I will be writing up his answers in the next day or two and will post articles on these pages, and hopefully over at The LIP Magazine. Stay tuned.
The quality of the articles on race and identity at Minority Report is consistently very high, so I have added the site to my blogroll. David’s latest post is titled Overlapping Circles, and highlights the curious world of national sports. A country’s sporting heros are usually its most famous citizens, held aloft as model citizens who exemplify the national character. And yet in the sporting arena, nationality is a very transient quality indeed.
Sport takes nationality fairly loosely at the best of times. Or rather, in order to cast the net wide, rules are relaxed. At one time it seemed that to play for Ireland the requirement was only that one of your grandparents had sipped a pint of Guinness.
Another stark example of this is in the world of cricket, where many members of the English side have been of Southern African origin (with Kevin Pietersen the notable, recent example). A lament at the talent drain from the Zimbabwean national side forms the beginning of Let’s Talk Cricket from ZimPundit. White players are alienated, if not overtly excluded from the side, as their race becomes increasingly at odds with their nationality (as defined by their government). Those that remain, black and white, are abused and disrespected by the authorities:
… if you want an idea of how well a society is doing, take a look at their sports.
I’m not sure what the blog nettiquette is for quoting yourself, posting on someone else’s blog. I posted an opinion over at Pickled Politics that I had been meaning to make on this site. I shall repeat the thought here, but with a little more research this time.
The Hindu Forum of Britain are offended that a Royal Mail Stamp depicts a distinctly Hindu family fawning over the infant Jesus.
Commented Ishwer Tailor, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain, “Would the worldwide Christian community feel comfortable if the Government of India issued a Diwali stamp with a Christian priest offering worship to Baby Krishna?”
The quote from Ishwer Tailor betrays a wilful lack of understanding of his non-Hindu British neighbours. Despite preposterous Christian symbols on our flag, the British really don’t care about religion, and there would be little outrage to a Vicar/Krishna synthesis.
When seven men were arrested for their part in an alleged Ricin Terror Plot, the police raided Finsbury Park mosque, North London, in a search for evidence. There was an outcry from sections of the local Muslim community, who said that a Christian church would never have been desecrated in this way:
What can people have in a mosque? I think it was a provocative act. It was silly and illogical. When did you last hear of a church being raided when someone has been arrested? These people do not have principles. (Abu Hamza, via CNN)
My response was to laugh. We live in a country where our places of worship are rapidly being converted into pubs and art centres. Does anyone seriously believe that the police would think twice about raiding a chapel or arresting someone in a church! Christianity in this country does not have the same social cohesion as other religions. I cannot imagine criminals being stupid enough to stash anything incriminating under the local pews (although the thought of members of the Finsbury Park WI getting frisked with the same regularity as their neighbours down at the mosque, provokes a malevolent smile).
So it is with the slightly less sensitive issue of the art on stamps. The bizarre truth is that a refusal to pander to the Hindu religion is a sign of true integration with the ex-Christian majority, who refuse to pander to the whims of the increasingly outdated and irrelevant Church of England.
True equality at last! Welcome.
Back at Pickled Politics, a comment by Inders describes an incident in the 1980s where the police broke into a temple in order to deport a Sri Lankan man. I’ve also noticed that the visiting Scientologists are hardly being treated with reverence either…
A quote from rapper Tamer Nafar, again emphasising that the goal for Palestinians is mere equality, not a jihad against Jews or Christians:
“It’s not that I don’t love the flag. I do.” … Yet, Nafar doesn’t want the Palestinian flag to be altered with a symbol of exclusion, like the Israeli flag, which focuses on the Star of David. Nafar noted that “Muslims, Christians and Jews” made up Palestine before Zionist gangs pillaged the state, and emphasised that the injustice and racism which has enveloped the Israeli state cannot suffocate or hinder the Palestinian cause, which seeks justice, unity, and peace for all Palestinians. The audience of Muslim, Christians, and Jews erupted as the beat rolled on in the background.
Its also nice to know someone agrees with me about symbols on flags.
I’ve just been sent the November newsletter from the Social Market Foundation, which includes a very interesting essay by Conservative moderate John Bercow.
Aside from the cultural benefits of a multiracial society, there is a powerful economic case for immigration. Put simply, immigrants are incoming assets for at least three reasons. First, in a global economy, their labour is vital both to tackle severe skills shortages and to fill long term vacancies. Immigrants are not taking jobs that British workers could fill, but jobs which British workers are unable or unwilling to do. Second, the idea that immigration is an intolerable burden on the taxpayer and the welfare state is baloney. Immigrants give far more than they take. It is estimated that they make a net contribution to the economy of £2.5 billion, account for over 10% of the income tax take, and are disproportionately employed in the public services. Third, as our population shrinks and ages, immigration is vital to staving off a pensions crisis.
In the same publication, SMF Director Ann Rossiter talks about improving public services, and how to pay for them:
… polls show that people are willing to pay more for services they value. However … when it comes to election time, the public tend to vote with their pockets.
One of these days, a politician needs to stand up and call the public a bunch of selfish bastards…
Two articles against Christianity: George Monbiot kicks off a debate by asking whether better off without God, since the stronger the faith, the stronger the function. Meanwhile, Johann Hari launches a timely Global War for the soul of Catholicism, after seeing how the church hinders the sex-education of vulnerable children. I’ve been thinking about these for a couple of weeks ago, until yesterday when I read a couple of letters in The Independent asserting that the problem with all religion is an inherent lack of tolerance.
last night I remembered Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s homily, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man.
Joseph has a point, but I’m with the relativists. While losing God and your moral anchor might mean a descent into egomania and decadence, this is by no means certain, and (more importantly) it is also not true for most people worldwide! Conversely, the dogma that the soon-to-be Pope advocates must entail a dictatorship, in order for it to work. And the worst kind of dictatorship too – one that is unchanging, static, and thus cannot be reasoned with. Continue reading “On which front do we fight?”
Runaways follows a group of Afghani refugees as they make their way to the border with Tajakistan. Although the subjects are subsisting in a manner that would not have looked odd a thousand years ago, the film is very much of the 21st century. Before the advent of digital technology, a lone film-maker could not have ’embedded’ themselves so unobtrusively into a group of people. A little girl helps her toddler brother over the mud. A young man pushes his veiled mother onto a donkey, then pushes the donkey like a pram out over the plains. These silent vignettes portray the simplicity of the group’s goal – to keep moving, and survive.
Laura Waddington’s Border manages to capture a similar state of mind. Out in the fields around Red Cross Sangatte camp in northern France, we watch the desperate refugees as they try and smuggle themselves through the channel tunnel to England. When they are caught and sent back to the camp, they return to try again the next evening, as if they are clocking-in and clocking-off at a factory.
The clandestine attempts to abscond are captured by a digital camera on its most extreme ‘night setting’. This mimicks a very slow shutter speed on a film camera, and the result is a grainy, sepia image which constantly strobes at only a couple of frames per second. The people we see are mostly in the shadows, which fits with the conception of the refugees as an under-class, a set of ghosts that move among us unseen, submerged. However, after half-an-hour of this, the lack of clarity in the picture becomes slightly tiresome, and I found myself wishing in vain for some daylight shots, or even some proper, infra-red night footage. Accompanied by the sombre narration (the authors of which clearly believing it was far more profound than it actually was), the final ten minutes seemed more like a conceptual art project than a film with substance.
Better the short simplicity of Arrival, a short description of one man’s entry to the UK at Gatwick Airport. Albino Ochero-Okello narrates his own story, and the directors let his words paint the picture of a man so scared that he leaves behind everything in the world that matters. The images serve as a backdrop, and the contrasting sequences of train journeys in England and East Africa enhance the sense of travel and distance. I just wish the same strobe effect we had seen in the previous film had been abandoned. These are documentaries, not music videos.
The visual style of this triumvirate contrasted sharply with the clean presentation of the fourth and final film, which was also the shortest. Unconstrained by the need to be wandering over marsh-land, scrambling through ditches in the dark, or leaning out of a train window, Bon Voyage instead concentrates on a single shift at work, of a single immigrant worker. Each image has been carefully story-boarded, and the extra effort to set-up tracking shots pays off. The result is a perfectly framed montage. Clearly, asking the central character to tell their own story is the way forward with these kinds of films – A woman who cleans toilets at Montparnasse Station wistfully recalls her time in Africa, and wishes she was in a place with status, comfort, and money. As with the other films, she reminds us that many emigrations are not made voluntarily, and that most people who find themselves seeking asylum never expected their fate to be thus.
Prison officers have been banned from wearing St George flag tie-pins. Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, suggested that the symbol could be misconstrued by Muslim or Arab prisoners… because the St George cross was a symbol of the crusaders. (via Popinjays and drunken blogging).
Another classic case of people not thinking things through before they try to help. Their statements are problematic in so many ways.
The first mistake is to equate an individual with the institution. A prison officer wearing a St George tie-pin (for cancer research, by the way) is not the same as the institution endorsing the crusades. Likewise, a teacher who wears a hijab does not convert the whole school to Islam.
Second, cultural symbols have different meanings depending on the person who chooses to wear them. One woman’s proof of mysoginy, is another’s statement of modesty. One man’s blood-stained crusade memorabilia, is another man’s gentle nod to Freddie Flintoff. In this sense, the St George Cross represents the corinthian values of friendship and fair play. If someone claims to be wearing the cross for those reasons, they should be granted the benefit of the doubt.
Take these thoughts a stage further, and they become more controversial. While we should allow badges to take on a personal meaning for the individual who displays them, symbols which represent a country or a community must have a shared meaning, and that meaning should be something that the entire population can subscribe to.
To emphasise the point, I must draw attention to a common flaw of logic, which ascribes attributes of the majority of citizens, to the country itself. Its an easy shorthand, but when we discuss national identity, it is unhelpful and wrong.
… would you consider a Kenyan pleased that his country was black, or a Jordanian proud of his Arab nation, to be loathsome?
My response was to agree: If we want to condemn Anne Winterton’s attitude, then perhaps we do indeed have to condemn a Kenyan’s pride in “black” or a Jordanian’s pride in “Arab”. They are welcome to take pride in their own ethnicity, but should they be ascribing that ethnicity to their whole country? Describing a whole country as “white” or “black” is an arrogant anthropomorphism on the part of the majority group. Calling a country “white” or “black”, I said, is certainly not referring to a country’s soil, trees, or borders… so it seems to be inherently racist to those individuals with the minority complexion.
Labelling a country Christian falls into similar discriminatory problems. According to the 2001 UK census, 72% of people claim to be Christian. This means that there are vast swathes of the population who are not Christian. Since church attendance in the UK is only 7%, and since parents respond to the census on behalf of their children, I would suggest that the proportion is much higher than the 28% yeilded of the census.
The numbers are not really the point, however. Even if there was only one non-Christian in an entire country, it would still be discriminatory and offensive to ascribe a religion to that country. A state is a different thing to its citizens. It is certainly not the sum of its parts. Calling the UK a Christian country is preposterous and wrong. It is therefore ridiculous that our national flags should be Christian crosses. These symbols co-opt millions of people into an ideology which they categorically reject.
So it is with other countries: Abolish the Scottish Saltire and redesign the Union-Jack; pull the asymetrical crosses off the Scandanavian flags; yes, pull the crescent moon off flags from Mauritania to Malaysia; and yes, pull the Star of David from the flag of Israel. I have no quarrel with Christian states, Islamic States and the Jewish State, save to say that they are figments of the imagination, which are an insult to demography and democracy. Let the individuals practice religion freely, and let them display the symbols that their conscience dictate. But let the state and its badges be secular and inclusive.
Back in the UK, a man is formally scolded for wearing a national symbol, in support of a cancer charity. But the suggestion that we change the national symbols themselves is met with a silent dismissal. Paradoxically, the one place where the St George cross should not be – up our flag poles – has become the only place where it is still acceptable.
A telling point halfway down:
Recently, a popular stress on cultural identity, has worked to apply fresh paint on racial boundaries.
This reminds me of an article I read recently. A argument against inter-racial relationships, by a mixed-race American who married a white woman, is surely worth a read. Dell Gines post (found via Clive Davis and Booker Rising) asserts that since the pool of eligible black males has decreased in the USA due to social problems within those communities, if a white woman dates/marries one such eligible black man, she is reducing that pool even further. Black women are of course free to date white guys, but in both cases, the end result is the decrease of the black community. The erosion of the black community is a negative effect of all this.
My response is to reiterate that cultures are not fixed. They change and evolve over the generations. Black culture is certainly to be respected, but can and should it be preserved? (The same, of course, may be asked of white culture). The answer to all these questions is “probably not!” Even if the insidious eugenics proposed by Gines were employed, and a black racial purity was preserved in the USA, the black culture itself would change anyway. So why not accept this, and let black and white cultures merge with each other? As the author Hanif Kureishi suggests, multiculturalism is the idea that “purity is incestuous”. That cultures change into something else is not necessarily a cause for concern.
Integration won’t work, when community leaders are always stressing the differences. So says Sunny, the editor at Pickled Politics. Finding common ground, and treating each other with much more than just “toleration” is the whole point of multiculturalism. It is not simply a case of living side-by-side without interaction.
I would have thought that an artwork which emphasised the similarity between the three Abrahamic faiths would be welcomed by Britain’s top art gallery… but apparently this not so. John Latham’s God Is Great has been banned by some reactionaries at Tate Britain because it features slightly damaged Holy Books. It was anticipated that someone might complain, so I suppose it is a pre-emptive reaction against the reactionaries! If pressure groups can affect change without actually saying anything, then clearly they do have the influence that Pickled Politics ascribes to them.