We are barbarians. They hate us. Right?

Union flagMartin Bright wrote in the News Statesman last month about the Government’s engagement with Muslims in its response to extremism. What caught my eye was a response online from ‘Iftikhar’ which states that:

“Drugs, crime, incivility, bing drinking, teenage pregnancies, anti-social behaviour and institutional reacism [sic] are common part of life in modern Britain. Muslims do not want their children to become integrated into such barbarity.

Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models. The need to be well versed in English language to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. They also need to be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry.

A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/She does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brits.”

This echoes views revealed in a January report by the Policy Exchange showing that younger Muslims feel a profound unease with the culture of the West.  It is also something found in John Sniderman’s research that I blogged about yesterday : We found that views typically held by otherwise tolerant Dutch people – that Muslims treated women badly and were too authoritarian with their children – were counterbalanced by Muslim attitudes towards the Dutch,” says Sniderman. “Muslims believed the Dutch were disrespectful towards women and failed to discipline their children properly. So this wasn’t about prejudices held by religious fanatics on both sides; it was a genuine conflict of values between two communities. It was the focus on these differences, through the pursuit of multiculturalism, that tipped the balance towards prejudice in some cases.”

There appear to be three types of moral conflict in play:

1) The real: “Drugs, crime, incivility, bing drinking, teenage pregnancies, anti-social behaviour and institutional racism” may all be real issues for the UK to tackle. It may be that we need new ideas, new values to address them. As a humanist I feel quiet comfortable to draw on religious ethical traditions  – just as humanism emerged in a Christian context there is nothing to say it cannot evolve within a multi-faith context.  So we might look to the Islamic (but also Confucian) emphasis on responsibilities to balance our current emphasis on individual rights. (And maybe those of us with one mere language do need to go back to school or get left behind globally). Humanism’s strength is that has no dogma, no fixed creed and so can adapt in this way.

2) The imagined. We can’t escape the fact that the UK is one of the worst places to be a child in the developed world, for example, but it may be that in some areas we are being judged unfairly by some people. Is there good comparative data to assess Western states with for example Muslim states today? Or with Islamic states of the past? I don’t think there is so it’s hard to make assesments even about specific issues like drug use let alone attempt to weigh up societies in their entirety. Of course in this void of data it is easy to weigh one another up unfairly with mere rhetoric.

3) The fundamental: These are the issues about which there may be no disagreement about their existence, only whether they are good or bad. As such there is no negotiation and imposition must follow. Homosexuality is one of the most contentious examples (although some very religious states will flatly deny that it exists at all) but there are others.

How do we deal with this? Is it really irreconcilable? A clash of civilisations? Maybe a scuff. Two principles seem important to follow to to put this in perspective. The first is to be clear about what is actually irreconcilable by addressing types one and two which may reveal the clash to be much smaller than first thought.

The second principal is to remind ourselves that amongst any group there is a diversity of opinion. Not all Muslims think homosexuality is harram, just as not all British people love the tea and the Royal Family. This again shrinks the problem area to a less terrifying size.

It does not remove it altogether but if we are to impose a set of values (like equality) on people who do not hold them (which surely any state must do) – be it religious homophobes, working class racists or selfish rich people – we can do so knowing they are actually not so numerous and that there are also gay believers,  working class anti-facists and rich philanthropists that are to be encouraged and championed.

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