Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What Muslims want

  • Young people below the age of 24, on average, hold more radical views with their parents and often dress in a distinctive fashion to identify with a particular group and rebel against what they believe to be the prevailing norms of the society in which they live
  • Some members of the urban middle-class want their children to be brought up isolated from bad influences in society, and try to encourage their interest in improving activities
  • You can always find some idiot to come out with an extreme, impractical and minority opinion. This idiot will often be utterly inarticulate and whilst looking at them you will acquire this slow realisation that you're looking through their eyes and out the back of their head

I have the greatest respect for Jon Snow (except, perhaps for his taste in ties) and I doubt many other TV programs would have been able to cover Muslims in Britain with so much sensitivity, nuance and balance.

But I feel that his dispatches program last night exaggerated the differences between the Muslim community and the remaining 50 + million of the British public. For example, Jon Snow repeatedly referred to our 'liberal' society, British 'values' and Muslim disapproval of it. Flash to a young Muslim taxi driver in one of our northern cities who explained how he had become a devout Muslim, apparently as a response to his experiences driving a taxi. He mourned the lack of respect he felt non-Muslim young men had for young women, expressed disapproval of what he felt was immoral behaviour and explained his desire for a guiding purpose to his life. A young Muslim woman donned a veil, complaining that non-Muslim British women dressed as sex objects and she wanted to be respected by men. Other complaints included feeling democracy wasn't working because the government didn't take any notice of Muslim opinion.

I wonder how many non-Muslim twenty-somethings in Britain today feel existential anguish and are seeking purpose to their life (100 %), how many non-Muslims feel their vote doesn't count and the government doesn't listen to them (lots), how many non-Muslim women want to be respected for their personality and not just as lumps of meat (most of them) and what proportion of them see gauntly thin 14-year olds lying in pools of their own vomit with their legs akimbo under their mini-skirt (read: enlarged belt) and feel this is commendable and represents British 'values' (not very many).

Jon Snow didn't make the distinction between cultural trends such as the much Grauniadised 'raunch culture', universal human experience such as the seeking of a purpose to ones life, personal morality issues common to non-liberal interpretations of most religions (e.g. whether homosexuality is right) and genuine political and legislative differences to be resolved such as over the limits to freedom of speech. He lumped all these things together into 'liberal society' and 'British values'. This was a deficiency of the program because confusing these issues together prevents clear identification of issues that actually relate to Muslims specifically and how many are just 'issues in Britain today'. Even if there were no Muslims in Britain, there would still be a few million people in Britain who believe homosexuality is unnatural (and I'm entirely happy to argue biology with them since evidence suggests otherwise).

Further, it obscures what 'British' values are and why we might want to defend them against Islamic extremism or Communism or any other 'ism' we might view as a threat. The Daily Mail reading public might have walked away from 'What Muslims Want' thinking Sharia Law was a good idea because if contemporary 'British values' are that adultery is entirely acceptable then stoning adulterers might be an improvement. I would like to think British is interchangeable with 'Western' and 'Western values' include representative democracy (I'll avoid a rant about how First-Past-The-Post means that your vote counts provided you're a floating voter in Surrey) , human rights, equality before the law, etc. We don't get all excited about the US Bill of Rights because of its position on the 18-30 holiday.

A 'liberal society' is one in which people are given responsibility to decide their own personal, religious and spiritual values provided they cause no direct harm to others. A certain amount of tolerance is expected with the understanding that the freedom of others to do things you don't like also permits you the freedom to do things others don't like. This is opposed to a society in which the government determines and imposes what it believes to be acceptable personal and religious conduct. A 'liberal society' is not incompatible with personal conservatism. Just because you can choose to behave badly without the Ministry of Vice and Virtue paying you a visit doesn't mean that you should necessarily seize the opportunity.

I just wish this had been clearer - Jon Snow is a talented journalist and if he'd spent less time talking to Muslim girls about how 'you have to smoke and drink in order to fit in in Britain' (WTF!!) and more time talking about politics then it might have been clearer that much of the substantive issues in Dispatches were a Islam-specific response to issues dear to British people generally, and that together we can work to make Britain a better place.


  • At 12:18 pm , Blogger Tristan said...

    YouGov'a polling blog has a good post on this sort of thing, refering to the poll commisioned for the program.


  • At 1:27 pm , Blogger Matt M said...

    Just wanted to say: excellent post. I've been thinking along similar lines myself for a while - and this is probably one of the best written comments on what a liberal society should be that I've read.

    This comment is free article might interest you.

  • At 5:25 pm , Anonymous Osama Saeed said...

    Great analysis, I've linked to this from my blog.

  • At 9:32 am , Blogger Julaybib said...

    Good post, agree with what you said about liberal society. Jon Snow should read John Stuart Mill for a definition of liberalism, not Joan Collins.



  • At 1:00 pm , Blogger Rachel said...

    Great post. Will link.

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