Racism, Bigotry or a sense of self-defence?

February 16, 2008

We live in our homes as we wish to. We place our furniture as we deem will be more confortable for us to go about our home. We get up in the morning and go to bed in the evening at the times our physical needs often require us. We believe or do not believe in a God or in many gods. We eat what we have been taught to eat and use our discernment for those meals that may not be advisable to eat. And how we must educate our children.

If we ever go to our neighbour’s home we find that they are acting as we do, although they may have strong differences in their perception of what comfortability is, what their God or gods should be, at what time they must get up or to bed, what their meals should be and how they educate their children.

So far I cannot see any problem. I let my neighbour live and he lets me live. No problem.

Then, why this upsurge of racism (I don’t believe it is racism), bigotry, or is it a sense of self-defence, with regards to the new-arrivals?

When we read in or listen to the communication media that an individual of our nationality commits a crime, slays a person or does something which is contrary to our way of thinking, to our sense of ethics, we are confident that the law will take care of him/her, and forget about the case just to find a new one on next day’s newsreels. Which we of course forget again as soon as we leave the paper aside or turn off the radio/tv.

But this does not happen with foreigners, with immigrants. If these immigrants dared to behave as those who were born in the same circumstances as we were do, then we do not forget. We do not pardon, we use our sense of self-defence to demand that they be expelled from our country, from our home. And our attitude also varies depending on where these immigrants come from, if they have our sympathy or not.

Of late we have been hearing, we have been warned against the Islamic terrorism, and we have immediately categorised not the term terrorism – which we may have been suffering in our own countries for a long time b y the hand of our co-nationals – no, we categorise the term “Islamic”. Is this religious bigotry or is it self-defence against a religion which is not the one we are used  to living with? Are some interested parties trying that we consider the term “Islamic” as the fundamental part of the whole expression?

Why do we not consider the term terrorism as the essential question here?

I have many Muslim friends with whom I have no problems whatsoever. They are religious people, I am not religious, they respect me I respect them and love them as they do me. I have many Basque friends on the same friendship terms I have with my Muslim ones.

Spain has suffered for a long time now the plague of the “Basque” terrorism, as one time  the British suffered the IRA terrorism. We have not asked the expulsion of the Basques from the Spanish territory and I am sure the British did not ask for expulsion of all the Irish people from the UK. Why then this different feeling towards Muslims?

Centuries ago the Jews were expelled from some European countries, among them Spain, for reasons which were not sufficiently clarified by historians, but that researches attribute to hatred, to religious bigotry, because the Jews were a part of our communities with special abilities in the economic sector. I wonder whether what we witness today regarding the Muslims is not a similar situation. I must draw your attention here to the fact that when the Arab domination in Spain, the three religions : Islam, Judaism, Christianity; had no problems of coexistence., as we see there are no problems of coexistence with the Jewish community in Iran and elsewhere in the world, except in those countries where the presence of Israel is more felt. I must say, notwithstanding, that a growing anti-Jew feeling here is being noticed after the problems in Palestine.

In my opinion the main cause of the resentment of our populations regarding aliens is not something that can be called racism or bigotry. It is a feeling of self-defence which our authorities have not been brave enough to ease up by applying the Law with all its consequences. Those of any religion or race who live in our countries must respect the Law as we do and must get the punishment the Law metes out in all cases it contemplates.

It will, I have no doubt, comfort us and make us forget those offenders as soon as they are tried and imprisoned as they deserve under the Law.

If we see that the Law defends us, then why still sustain a feeling of self-defence?

I may be wrong, though.

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11 Responses to “Racism, Bigotry or a sense of self-defence?”

  1. anticant said

    I think one of the main reasons why many “post-Christian” Europeans find Muslims indigestible as immigrants is that Islam is 700 years younger than Christianity, and most Europeans are ignorant of their own religious history. Six or seven hundred years ago, most Christians believed fervently, and often literally, in their version of faith, just as Muslims do today. There were bloody religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, and persecutions of heretics which we now consider to have been barbaric.

    To do Muslims justice, they are – whether ‘extremists’ or ‘moderates’ – much more serious about their faith than most Christians are today. In an interesting article about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech on sharia law, the sociologist Frank Furedi says, quite rightly, that “Islam appears to motivate and inspire people in ways that most ordinary Anglicans find difficult to comprehend.”

    The problem is literalism, and until Islam evolves to the point where its doctrines are viewed by its adherents in a more metaphorical light, there is bound to be friction between opposing concepts of life which are obviously incompatible.

    So I agree with you, Jose, that the nub of the hostility towards Muslim immigrants is more one of self-defence against an ideology that challenges our more evolved European way of life than of racism or bigotry. The peaceful resolution of these frictions is one of the most urgent tasks of the 21st century.

  2. Jose said

    I agree with you 100%, Anticant.

  3. seachanges said

    I’m going to have to take my time to read this Jose,and unfortunately this week everything is a bit rushed with work taking over (I’ve been too successful writing projects and bids and so I now have to put in the work….) I will come back to this.

  4. earthpal said

    It’s a great post Jose with a brilliant summary by Anticant. I do agree that Islam badly needs to go through its own reformation as did Christianity although there are some Christian off-shoots that have returned to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures (Jehovah’s Witnesses, born-agains etc.) but it’s just as well that most Christians are selective of which parts of the scriptures they choose to interpret literally and which parts they conveniently write off as symbolic or else they’d be stoning gays and naughty children to death and raping child virgins. And I don’t doubt that if it weren’t for the law, there would be some fundamentalist Christians who even now wouldn’t be averse to such punishments.

    People tend to be wary of any race and culture that is alien to their own; in my part of the world young Polish people are appearing by the minute and many Brits are concerned about this – concerned for their own jobs and for decreasing school/hospital places, housing, overcrowding etc.. And I’ve noticed that these concerns often take the form of hostility. Furthermore, there’s nothing easier than taking part in witch-hunts against immigrants/asylum seekers when there’s been an increase in crime or unemployment. The immigrant of whatever race or culture is always the scapegoat for our social ills because we don’t like to look too closely at our own failings.

    But yes, Muslims are demonised more than any other group. I wonder, are they demonised in part due to their perceived links to terrorism or do people use the terror threat to justify their already-existent animosity towards them? Either way, people need to realise that not only is this demonisation counterproductive in that Islamo-bashing, fuelled by the media, has the effect of either making them retreat or become more militant, more indignant, more defensive, but it has also had tragic consequences. Violent attacks on Muslims have increased significantly and I dare say it’s in line with growing anti-Muslim feelings in Britain.

    Yes, Muslims need to bring their faith into the 21st century. Equally, the West needs to stop being so suspicious and untrusting of anything that doesn’t accept all Western values as the absolute truth.

  5. Jose said

    I know how busy you are, Seachanges.

    Earthpal I cannot agree more with you, your comment is clear and to the point.

  6. earthpal said

    Thanks Jose.

    Just to clear up an error in my comment . . .

    “a brilliant summary by Anticant” should read “a brilliant response by Anticant”.

    I should stop rushing to post.

  7. anticant said

    Maybe Islam will evolve into a less self-justifying, aggressive faith in a couple of hundred years’ time, but Jose and I, at least, haven’t got that long to wait!

    The question is, what is to be done now to avoid destructive clashes between people of different faiths and lifestyles? You say, earthpal, that Muslims “need” to bring their faith into the 21st century, and the West “needs” to stop being so suspicious and untrusting. Yes, they do – but no-one can MAKE them change their beliefs and behaviours, and everybody has to do this for themselves. All others can do is to offer incentives – ‘bait’, if you like. How should those of us who wish for peace and human solidarity more than the ‘triumph’ of any one creed or lifestyle play what few influential cards we have?

  8. seachanges said

    Having been in Holland this weekend the debate there is very much one about ‘tolerance’. The views in the Netherlands appear to be shifting away from ‘tolerance as long as it does not affect my own life’ to an impatience with being asked to tolerate different ways of life that are beginning to intrude on the Dutch way of life and its own cultural heritage.
    People often become defensive when they feel that their own ‘spaces’ are being intruded upon. Tolerance is a two way system: when I lived in Iran I adapted my clothing and style of life to the mores of that country and when I felt I could no longer accept impositions such as a chardor etc because they were linearly opposed to my own sense of well being as a female, I left. I did not expect that the country would change its dress code for my sake. Similarly, I would not want my children or grandchildren to be taught by a female covered from head to toes, ie a burka and a slit for eyes. I would expect that teachers in my cultural backyard adapt to what I feel is my right to ask for: female teachers whose eyes and face can be seen. I don’t think that this is intolerance. I am happy for my neighbour to practice their faith and live his or her lifestyle in the way they feel is appropriate. However, they will similarly need to respect mine. I think that is were defensiveness comes in. That can only be resolved if we all learn to tolerate and also realise what the limits to such tolerance are: in the same way that I would never expect moslems to change their way of life for my sake in say Iran, neither would I expect to have to change my ldress code and liberal expectations when living in The Netherlands or in England, for their sake.

    So, yes this is a real dilemma because how do you change aggressive and belligerent religious attitudes? We’ve had plenty of examples of such intolerance in the West (Catholics vs protestants and vice versa) fought over in bloody wars. I think I’m trying to say I totally agree that there is a huge and almost unsurmountable problem and I don’t know how we can ever resolve this.

  9. anticant said

    Yes, meaningful tolerance has to be a two-way street. The issue we are facing is: “What can we [at present, but possibly not for ever, the majority] do when it is not?

    If self-styled ‘liberals’ tolerate intolerance, they will eventually go under. There has to be a point at which they must say “enough is enough”. Your mention of the Dutch experience is interesting. As someone who benefited from, and was greatly heartened by, Dutch toleration of homosexuals in the 1960s, when we in England were struggling to decriminalise it, I have always watched the Netherlands with interest. It has taken a great deal of provocation to shift the Dutch from their traditionally tolerant [and maybe too complacent] attitudes; the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh were turning points.

    Britain has traditionally welcomed immigrants, especially refugees from oppression in their own countries. Most of these groups, although they have sometimes settled in locations to which they have brought their own cultural flavour, have willingly melded in with the indigenous population around them and have not been confrontational. This, however, is sadly not the case with many Muslims, especially ex-Pakistani ones. To say there aren’t any ‘no go’ areas in the UK is nonsense. I grew up 20 miles from Bradford, before there was a Muslim presence in that city. Today, there are around a quarter of a million Muslims living there, and it is obvious from what one reads – not least on blogs such as Comment is Free – that the white population feel their quality of life has been adversely affected because of the separatism practised by many of their Muslim neighbours. The same is true of many other northern and midlands towns.

    It is no use liberals and others committed to a pluralistic, open culture turning a blind eye to this. I have no wish to be antagonistic to Muslims or any other group – I personally know some very personally pleasant ones – but the implications for our social and cultural future have to be faced up to, which the mealy-mouthed mantras of ‘multiculturalism’ don’t do.

    It is not a matter of defensiveness; it is a matter of being realistic. Earthpal says “I am happy for my neighbour to practice their faith and live his or her lifestyle in the way they feel is appropriate.” So am I – but only if they are prepared to recognise that others have an equal right to do the same. It is no use wringing ones hands over “a huge and almost unsurmountable problem” and saying we don’t know how it can ever be resolved. That is an ostrich position. It had better be resolved, and soon, if we don’t want social disorder and bloodshed in the streets in a few years’ time. No-one who is peaceable and civilized relishes confrontation, but sometimes confrontation is unavoidable in which case the sooner it happens in a peaceful but resolute manner the better.

    I am old enough to remember being a small boy in the 1930s, when very few people wanted another European war but slowly and reluctantly its inevitability had to be faced. That is the classic dilemma of the classic liberal!

  10. seachanges said

    I think you are saying what I was trying to say….
    it’s about the realism of being liberal and the two way recognition of tolerance.

  11. anticant said

    The tolerance of realistic liberals ends when they encounter intolerance. How can they countenance a religious or political stance whose openly expressed objective is to ‘sweep the board’ and suppress all dissenting opinions? Those who do so aren’t genuine liberals, or democrats. But there is a totalitarian-minded left wing which panders to power and truckles to tyrants. It was so in the 1930s – 1950s as regards Stalinism, and it is so today as regards Islam.

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