All children WILL attend ‘cultural awareness’ course… or be branded racist!

I was gobsmacked to read a letter sent by a headteacher to the parents of children at her primary school. I understand that parents were subsequently notified that they should consider the letter retracted, almost certainly following local authority intervention and in the face of the backlash, but clearly one or more parents were outraged enough to go to the press and the damage was already done.

The news item is now available on the BBC news site.

The letter, dated 20/11/2013, read as follows:

Dear Parent/Carer
 
As part of the National Religious Education Curriculum together with the multicultural community in which we live, it is a statutory requirement for Primary School aged children to experience and learn about different cultures.
 
The workshop is at Staffordshire University and will give your child the opportunity to explore other religions. Children will be looking at religious artefacts similar to those that would be on display in a museum. They will not be partaking in any religious practices.
 
Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child’s education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career.
 
As such our expectations are that all children in years 4 and 6 attend school on Wednesday 27th November to take part in this trip.
 
All absences on this day will be investigated for their credibility and will only be sanctioned with a GP sick note.
 
If you would like to discuss this further please contact our RE Coordinator, Mrs Edmonds.

At first glance, I thought it fake, but it isn’t. It’s unbelievably bigoted, politicised, and small-minded. I almost wish my kids were at this school, because I’d actually relish the fight with the cretin responsible for this kind of political threat and they certainly would have been withdrawn from R.E. lessons with immediate effect.

Somehow, I managed to learn about other peoples’ religions as a child by mixing with them socially. I didn’t need to go into the details of how often and in which direction they genuflected, when they fasted, or what particular types of superstition their particular brand of religion promoted.

I certainly didn’t need to go on cultural awareness courses when I was at school in Keighley! I knew kids of various cultures/faiths in my social circles and we got along pretty well in our comprehensive, mixed school. Indeed, my first best friend was a Jehova’s Witness, and without the benefit of ‘cultural awareness’ lessons, I somehow managed to figure out by myself that his family didn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas like we did, or that he didn’t sit in our school assemblies. I didn’t need to go on a special course to discover that and, rather unsurprisingly it didn’t affect my life at all.

Until the Salman Rushdie affair, things rattled along fairly easily. It was when I saw members the Muslim community make blatant death threats towards a man for what he had written that I realised something was wrong and that not all faith groups were the same.

We have since discovered in reputable opinion polls that a sizeable chunk of the Muslim community support stances which are blatantly counter to western values of freedom of speech. Please check that link – you may be surprised/horrified.

On that basis alone, and the fact that we are bombarded daily with at least one item of negative item of news connected with this community, be it alleged offence in the face of free speech, sexism, homophobia, veiling of women and children, honour killings, terrorism, demonstrations, anti-western propaganda, misogyny, imposition of Halal foodstuffs and slaughter practices, child grooming rings, etc., means we are all only too culturally aware of Islam. And as much as people may protest about the way such news is reported, try as they might, they can’t dispute that the events happened or to which faith the protagonists happened to subscribe.

If we must be subjected to ‘cultural awareness’, I’d rather like to see some more emphasis on Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, and other faiths for a change: faiths which seem to fit perfectly comfortably into our society, because they accept our societal norms and don’t operate on the basis of trying to alter our societal norms to comply to their particular dogmas. But before we go there even, how about some cultural awareness lessons about our culture for everyone? As much as it’s been blatantly ignored and downtrodden, we have our own traditions, music, and other arts within England. I say England, because our friends in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are perfectly happy and at ease with celebrating their cultures. I know of people my age who have heard English folk music and mistaken it for Irish folk music, which is very revealing.

I am happy to tolerate anyone’s beliefs/cultural practices up to the point where they attempt to restrict other people’s freedoms, claim special treatment at everyone else’s inconvenience or at the cost of tax payers, or preach apartheid or hatred rather than integration. It’s as simple as that.

Unfortunately, there remains a sizeable minority which is the problem, and this problem is exacerbated by idiots like this teacher attempting to force people to respect a religion which needs to do a little more respecting of its host culture first.

When we have a week or even a day pass without news about events triggered by the naive belief that it is fine to just import incompatible or counter-Enlightenment cultural practices into this country without any attempt to integrate these people, I’ll be a little more predisposed to engage with this community.

I am all too aware of Islam and what its effects are in practice. I know that there are plenty of good Muslims too, because they are often in agreement with me and I with them over these kinds of issues and in these kind of discussions. There are indeed plenty of Muslims who are embarrassed and angry with parts of their own community and its indigenous apologists. The irony here is that many Muslims will not appreciate the efforts of this woman to force her political agenda on others with threats. Many Muslims are at pains to explain that they don’t need special treatment, that they don’t need Halal everything, that they don’t need protection of the ‘veil’, that they support free speech, that they are just fine with Christmas being called Christmas, and that, even if they are against it, that they understand western military action in Muslim countries is NOT a crusade against Islam (they remember our role defending Bosnian Muslims against Serbian Christians for a start) – although according to the polls linked to above, a large minority don’t think like that.

I don’t consider moderate Muslims to be the enemy. I don’t even consider the hard-line Islamists an immediate threat per se, and at least they have the clarity of thought and honesty to openly state their intentions to destroy democracy and supplant it with theocracy, as per their interpretation of the Quran.

It is often stated that not all Muslims are extremists. Well of course they aren’t, but you would be deliberately self-delusional to fail to spot the common factor in terrorism in the last decade. It is not Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Hindus which make the headlines every day.

No, I reserve true contempt for the multi-culti, ignorant, yoghurt-weaving apologist cretins like the woman responsible for this threatening letter, and those who can’t distinguish between criticism/dislike of something and hatred – who carelessly toss out the slur ‘racist’ (thereby Orwellianly devaluing its true meaning) and, adopting an angry, shouty, self-satisfied, smug stance, labelling anyone to the right of Marx a fascist.

They are the ones who cause resentment, misunderstandings, and who drive more impressionable people into the arms of the extreme right. They also, more cynically, achieve their objective by attempting to supplant ordinary decent people’s capacity for rational thought with received, politically correct opinion. Even a party like UKIP, whilst politically on the right, is actually really sincerely considered by otherwise intelligent people as racist! The fact that it has a membership, supporters, and even high level people of various ethnicities seems to put paid to any such claims, and its clear lack of any policies based around race, but apparently not, if received opinion is anything to go by. You can disagree with their politics, of course, but accusations of racism are false and frankly, pathetic. Of course, it serves the other parties to attempt to shame any UKIP supporters by branding them as such.

Anyway, what am I proposing here? That we should be dismissive of other cultures and traditions? No. Merely that we stop supporting the wrong people in the communities. Muslims are not demanding Halal food, cancellation of Christmas, or that the veil be worn at all times and in all places. If the PC likes of this headmistress made the effort to talk to the moderate Muslims, she would know this.

Children don’t need to attend cultural awareness courses. If we allow them to integrate, they get to know about each others cultures/belief systems quite naturally. Encouraging people not to integrate causes ghettoisation of communities and leads to tensions. So, to save people all the heartache and effort of organising special cultural awareness courses, I’ve written my own.

It’s OK to call out behaviour in other cultures you wouldn’t tolerate in your own. Use your brain. If something doesn’t seem right judged by modern western values, there’s a good chance that it isn’t right.

And branding children as racist for failing to endorse your own particular brand of cultural Marxism where the children aren’t even the decision-makers is right up there with things that aren’t right.

 

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Politically Incorrect Cultural Awareness

The world comprises and comprised historically many cultures and religions. Cultures are often, but not always, influenced by religious practices or local traditions. A culture comprises societal norms, behaviours, manners, traditions, the arts, and cuisine. When cultural practices come face to face, misunderstandings may arise and cause potential conflict.

In the best interests of people, and to prevent enmity, it is beholden on a person from a different culture moving to a new culture to adapt to their host’s culture. Such attempts to integrate with the host culture are likely to result in a more speedy welcome and minimise any problems. An unwillingness to integrate, dismissal of a host culture, or non-compliance with its norms is likely to be met with resentment, mutual dislike, segregation, and intolerance. In most cultures historically, such deliberate segregation and unwillingness to integrate met with outright hostility and violence.

It goes without saying that this effort to integrate into one’s host culture should be made in all instances, and just as much in the case of westerners moving to other cultures. The choice is simple. If we don’t feel as though we are capable of integrating into a host culture, we should not go there. We do not have the right to expect a host culture to adapt to our demands, let alone for its people to attend awareness courses so that they can learn to accept our peculiarities.

While religion and culture are not the same thing, the religious influence on a culture is not to be underestimated. There are, and have been historically, a wide range of belief systems around the world. No one religion has any objective proof for its beliefs. They are based in faith, which, by definition, is believing something without any supporting evidence. Some faiths have spread through military conquest. That is certainly the case with Christianity and Islam.

Faiths often have many denominations within themselves, including conservative/orthodox denominations, which have a literal understanding of their scriptures and seek to comply to the letter of these or translations of them. Faiths also often have reforming denominations, which see these scriptures in an allegorical or historic context and are happy to separate religion from the affairs of state, using the former as guiding principles.

These scriptures in themselves are usually contradictory, so that each denomination can find sections of its scripture to justify its beliefs and can influence, in conjunction with its originating cultural practices, its behavioural practices.

It is quite common for converts or those new to a faith to be attracted to the conservative/orthodox/literal aspect of that faith. This is often because they are seeking meaning to their life and an uncompromising set of rules is something that helps them through well-defined, easy-to-follow rules. Indigenous converts may be attracted to these uncompromising rules in the face of a seemingly decadent society in which they feel they have failed. This is also because they read the scriptures without the benefit of centuries’ worth of study and soul-searching on the part of adherents to that faith, many of whom spent their whole lives wrestling with their religious texts, seeking to establish which parts were relevant to their contemporary situation and culture.

Certain cultural practices, such as those around the arts and cuisine, are fully compatible with modern, secular, post-Enlightenment democracy, and the western world’s move away from a society dominated by conservative Christian dogma to one of reforming, humanist beliefs, which have had an influence on the prevailing church’s role in most western liberal democracies. In this way, people have become more tolerant of others and western society has rejected practices which were formerly justified by conservative Christian dogma, such as slavery, sexism, maltreatment of children, and more recently, homophobia.

As a religion dominated by reformers and in the context of nations which in practice divide matters of state from those of religion, either explicitly, like France and the USA, or implicitly, like the UK, Christianity has been able, even in the face of opposition of large numbers of its adherents, to adapt and ‘catch up’ with public opinion. In recent years, we have seen this in the case of the ordination of women priests. True, the church may still struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, but even if some of its members oppose it, they don’t engage in violent street protests in opposition – they understand the segregation of matters of state from matters of belief.

Many proponents of ‘multiculturalism’ fail to grasp this, and in condemning other people’s lack of cultural awareness, ironically exhibit their own cultural and historical ignorance by naively assuming that people around the world share their same values. Such people appear to be blissfully unaware of their own histories and the political struggles over religion within their own culture, long-since settled by this de facto separation of church from state. They also seem oblivious to the clear, unequivocal pronouncement of those they support to wipe out western democracy and impose strict, religious laws.

Other cultural practices run counter to the prevailing host culture, and, in the case of the UK, range from minor differences in manners (e.g. saying please and thank you) to activities which are frowned upon or may be counter to local laws (e.g. spitting, littering, urinating and defecating in the street) to those which are illegal under our laws but perfectly legitimate under the laws of other cultures (e.g. underage sex, forced marriage, genital mutilation).

Historically, Britain’s empire stretched around the world and came into contact with a wide variety of cultural practices. At the time, guided by more traditionally conservative Christian values, the British empire sought to exploit its colonies in ways which would now be considered inhumane, through ruthless exploitation of local resources and people, cruelty, slavery (with the wilful collusion of locals in many cases, such as in the case of the African slave trade) and even mass slaughter. It justified its actions at the time by claiming that it was bringing Christianity and its cultural values to the conquered countries and thought to improve these countries through its cultural and religious imperialism, in the same way ancient Rome spread its culture and practices throughout its conquered territories under the Pax Romana.

Indeed, it can be argued that in both the case of ancient Rome and the British empire, there were some benefits brought to the local people in terms of technological and political advances, but judging the actions of our forefathers by today’s morals means that we can reflect on the wickedness of the worst excesses of empire and many of us feel rightfully ashamed of these events.

When we consider the behaviour of our forefathers in the contexts of their time, we are engaging in temporal relativism – i.e. conceding that our forefathers had different values, which may seem inhumane today, but in the context of their time, may have been perfectly normal. It would not occur to us to send a small child up a chimney or down a mine now, but was perfectly normal practice in Victorian society.

Some recognise that we can’t ever atone for the evils of our former empire, but on balance, we understand that the days of empire are passed, and that former colonies have become successful independent countries and have retained the positive aspects of empire (parliamentary democracy, railways, roads, telecoms, and education systems).

Britain has benefited historically from immigration and particularly as we have seen the aspirations of the indigenous population rise and an unwillingness on the part of sections of the indigenous population to undertake jobs which they consider beneath them. We have had waves of immigration from former colonies and in nearly all cases, these have met a need for skills and have offered the immigrant relatively well paid-work in a stable society. For many immigrants, coming to the UK was a literal lifeline.

Others remain ashamed of our past, to the extent that their view of western policy today is still coloured by it. For some, it is not enough to recognise transgressions of their forefathers, but these transgressions still mean that they must roundly condemn western culture in general, and in particular the actions of western governments. For such people, this is the default stance to be taken, and all efforts to promote other cultural views must be made, even when such cultures exhibit behaviours which are entirely contradictory to our cultural norms. Many suggest that cultural Marxism has been a powerful force in ordinary politics since the 1960s and has sought a deliberate undermining of western culture and a move towards world government.

That may be stretching a point too far, but it is more or less the norm for even well-educated people, often suffering with their own hand-wringing class guilt complexes, to hold opinions which have been advanced by extremist elements of immigrant cultures. The recent furore over the veil demonstrates this particularly well. The people who promote/defend the veil are conservative elements of the Muslim population and those on the political left, who do so to demonstrate their cultural sensitivity. At the same time, those who oppose it are liberals (in the true sense) and moderate Muslims. Moderate Muslims are left exacerbated by the conservative elements of their community.

Someone who wishes to gain cultural insight into how Muslim opinion has been hijacked by conservative elements could do worse than listen to the likes of Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist, now Liberal Democrat candidate, who has argued in favour of banning the veil in public places (i.e. places where a motorcycle helmet or balaclava would be inappropriate). He understands how anti-western narratives feed extremism, especially when such narratives originate in the West. He has to explain to audiences in Pakistan that the West is not embroiled in a crusade against Islam, because that is what they have been led to believe. That is what he had been led to believe, as a young, disaffected Muslim youth in Luton. That is what the extremist and conservative preachers tell the easily-influenced youths, and that is why, when apologists in our society see images of rampaging hordes of ill-informed protesters shouting ‘death to the West’, the self-loathers believe their grievances to be real rather than imagined, and their own prejudices about their own culture are reinforced.

Secular states are in the minority in the Islamic world. The people of many non-secular Islamic countries do not understand the separation of church and state in the West, of the freedom of press and its independence from government, or of the freedom of speech and the right to be critical and make fun of religion without legal consequences. They don’t understand it, because they don’t have those same luxuries, and so when hardline Islamist nutters travel to Pakistan and stir up hatred over things such as cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, their fellow nutters whip up hatred in anti-western sermons and riots against Danish embassies (along with any other western embassies) ensue. The rioters can’t even begin to understand the disconnect between an embassy and a newspaper – they have been brainwashed into believing that the West is bent on a crusade against Islam.

To those promoting multiculturalism, such as the use of Sharia law in matters of family and domestic disputes, I would ask the following question…
“What does Sharia law give you that the laws of our land don’t?”

If their answer is

“To resolve family disputes in the context of our community and according to our laws.”

Our answer should be

“But we are your community and we share the same law.”

To summarise, culture does not merely encompass arts and cuisine, but is far more extensive. Multiculturalism seeks to promote the coexistence of these cultures, irrespective of the flaws of each, rather than to facilitate integration of immigrants into our society.

Nobody is obliged to like another culture or its practices, but, where these cultural practices do not impinge upon or contradict our cultural and societal norms, they should be tolerated.

Tesla Grills

I’ve just read an interesting response by Elon Musk of Tesla to the most recent attempt at negative publicity over the Tesla Model S electric car.

I’ve noted with interest the media’s tendency to try to undermine the emergence of electric cars. Nothing surprising there – the media generally concentrate on negative stories. In recent days, I’ve seen them turn their attention to three reported Tesla fires (all of which involved collisions and none of which resulted in serious injury).

What’s going on here? Whilst I don’t ‘do’ conspiracy theories, it’s interesting that the matter of three fires, none of which caused serious injury or death, should attract such widespread media attention against a backdrop of 250,000 petrol car fires in the same period in the USA alone, which led to 1200 serious injuries and over 400 deaths (see linked article above for sources).

Sure, there’s the natural ‘rite of passage’ love of a powerful engine sound and the machismo which fuels the success of the petrol-head attitude on display on Top Gear. I’m sure the fact that Top Gear’s live events are sponsored by Shell would have little bearing on their attitude towards electric cars. OK, I’m being facetious.

Actually, putting aside any such idea of conspiracy and oil company influence, in the case of Top Gear, we may just be dealing with three middle-aged blokes who like the sound, smell, and look of vehicles which are still fundamentally based on early 20th century technology. Their gleeful bashing of electric cars (hideously expensive hydrogen fuel cell Honda Clarity aside) is just a bit of an act. I enjoy Top Gear just as much as most people as a form of entertainment, and I can even put up with their mocking of electric cars, as strange as it is.

But it goes beyond that. There is almost widespread public ridicule about electric cars and any supposed flaws around electric cars appear to be met with glee. Why is this? If the oil companies are controlling the narrative, how are they doing it? I can see how they might feasibly be stuffing large wads of cash into the pockets of politicians and decision-makers, but in terms of controlling the public narrative, which seems very cynical about electric cars… I don’t get it.

I’ve read enough discussions around the Web to know that I’m not imagining this prevalent public cynicism towards electric cars. The majority of comments I read spread myths about electric cars, which have been repeated uncritically and on the basis of misinformation.

Even when they do concede that the days of the internal combustion engine may be numbered, they still seem to suggest that the next logical step would be hydrogen fuel cells – a ludicrous suggestion, although one which oil companies have a vested interest in promoting, because any realistic commercial production of hydrogen requires their involvement in producing the hydrogen (through fossil fuels) and allows them to maintain their grip on the motorist through their network of filling stations. Then there’s the matter of transporting the hydrogen to the pump, the costs and environmental impact of having to do this, the engineering tolerances and physical space required to safely transport hydrogen in the average car versus the not so complicated task of creating a network of fuelling points for battery cars through, erm… the national grid – and being able to refuel one’s car overnight at home – or even during the day, free of charge, through solar PV for example.

No, it strikes me that whatever happens in the short to medium term, the long-term future of vehicles is that they will certainly be powered by batteries, not hydrogen.

By all means, we can ignore that future for now and continue to mock, but we need only consider the current cost of oil, its increasing scarcity, and its usefulness and importance in other industrial processes, to see where things are headed. After all, regardless of where you stand on environmental issues, it takes a strange mind-set to believe that burning an increasingly scarce but useful resource is a sensible thing to do; that’s before we get to into the geopolitical aspects of our requirement for the black stuff.

At the same time, batteries, which are used in all manner of goods, are certain to become more efficient, smaller in form, and longer-lasting, due to both their ubiquitous nature and competition between manufacturers.

Existing electric cars suit 90% of people’s requirements today in terms of daily mileage. The only issue for most people is the current cost of them. I suspect we’ll start to see large uptake of them very soon as the first wave of family cars start to hit the second-hand market.

Elon Musk (and other pioneers like him) are on a mission which goes beyond their own vehicles. Musk doesn’t just want his brand to be a success – he wants electric cars to be a success, and has stated so on several occasions. He won’t be dissuaded from this goal by negative media campaigns, but it would certainly be refreshing if electric cars weren’t held up to a level of scrutiny which goes well beyond that applied to conventional ICE cars.

Direct Democracy and Helvetophilia

I’m writing this blog entry in respect to a Twitter exchange I’ve had. In the context of an exchange on Direct Democracy and Switzerland, it would appear that my correspondent has trawled the news for some ‘dirt’ on Switzerland and come up with a story on apartheid in Switzerland. The same news story was found by a friend of mine some time ago and we had an exchange on the subject on Facebook.
 
 
The following text is based on my comment in reply to his post, although I’ve fleshed it out in the context of this standalone piece for my blog.
 
Well, there are a couple of things to point out. Firstly, if this were an article in the Daily Mail, it would have scorn poured upon it by many on the Left. It’s a gross misrepresentation of a story. Nothing to do with Direct Democracy, other than the fact that locals could actually overturn the decision.
 
This is an issue local to the town of Bremgarten, which has recently opened a new asylum centre – not a national policy. Switzerland is a confederation, where power is only assumed by a higher political level where necessary. The tendency is very much to push power as far as possible to the cantonal and communal level. Interestingly, according to http://www.blick.ch/news/politik/badi-verbot-fuer-asylsuchende-id2396083.html, the director of social affairs, Susanne Hochuli, who is a Green party member, has stated
 
“The tight regulations don’t worry me at all. If asylum-seekers come to Switzerland, we’re not obliged to roll out the red carpet for them.”
 
Racist!
 
It is supposedly a compromise agreement suggested by the Federal Office for Migration (BFM) to get the public on side over the new centre. Nevertheless, the article goes on to point out that the agreement is not legal, so this is in fact, legally speaking, a non-starter. In fact, I’m sure that many will also be pleased to hear that David Roth, president of the Young Socialists, has offered to hand out free entry tickets to the swimming pool to asylum seekers and to go swimming with them. So, despite the Independent’s attempt to make this sound like a big story, it’s a rather typically inflammatory bit of an attempt to make a story more significant than it is.
 
On the wider, anti-Direct Democracy point, by all means call Switzerland a failure if you consider that the following factors make it so:
  • A population of more than 25% foreigners
  • An unemployment rate of less than 3%
  • A history of non-intervention in foreign wars
  • A history of the public voting for what would be considered both left and right-wing policies in the past (see the voting records). Do you oppose these, for instance?:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21647937 (referendum which has passed)
    http://binews.org/2013/08/switzerland-initiative-claims-enough-signatures-to-trigger-a-referendum-on-big (initiative which will trigger an upcoming referendum)
  • Strict environmental policies
  • Excellent public transport
  • A record of tolerance for those fleeing persecution
  • An enlightened approach to drugs, prostitution, and care of the dying
  • A country used as a base for countless international organisations
  • The country in which the Red Cross was founded
  • A country which consistently ranks as one of the best places to live and has one of the highest standards of living in the world
  • A country, which, despite Hitler’s plans for Operation Tannenbaum, resisted invasion through its strong military deterrent and ‘Redoubt’.
  • All this, despite it being outside the EU and a country with no natural resources and unfavourable terrain.
Most importantly, it’s a country in which no voter is disenfranchised and every vote counts… at all times. If that’s failure, can I have some failure too, please?
 
If we had Direct Democracy in this country and the anti-war crowd are right about levels of public opposition, there would have been no war in Iraq. Similarly, if so many are against student fees, they wouldn’t have happened.
 
Direct Democracy means, however, that you don’t always get your way. There’s no difference from representative democracy there though. What it does mean is that the public knows absolutely that they are ultimately responsible for their own destiny.
 
When the Swiss stop asylum seekers from entering the country, there may be reason to cry foul, although running at nearly twice the rate of other nations in Europe (a fact which speaks volumes in itself, both as a desirable destination for asylums seekers and as a mark of Swiss tolerance), and in a population of 8 million people, there may always be local factors of which we’re unaware. Bear in mind that any decision by a politician could be overturned by the public too, so, if you can convince enough people of your opinion through reasoned dialogue and public discussion, your side can win the day and overturn the decisions of politicians.
 
I think that on balance, if you look at the Swiss track record, you’d be surprised at how ‘progressive’ they’ve been in the past. They even considered abolishing the military in three referendums. For a nation in which the military plays a massive role in everyone’s life, that’s quite a big deal!
 
I’m yet to hear an argument levelled against Direct Democracy which couldn’t either be levelled at representative democracy or which criticises Direct Democracy on the basis that it isn’t a ‘perfect’ solution, as though our current system were!
 
A commonly cited drawback is that the electorate doesn’t have the requisite skills to make important political decisions. Well, for starters, that seems to imply that a) our current politicians always act in the interests of the country at large rather than in their own political interests and b) that our politicians always make good decisions. It doesn’t need me to point out the flaws in these assumptions.
 
In any case, the Swiss system addresses this concern by operating as a semi-Direct Democracy. Essentially, there is still a political system as we recognise it. The key noticeable difference is that it works as a perpetual coalition, comprising a government representing all parties elected to parliament, along the lines of a so called ‘magic formula’, and therefore acts at core in the interests of the country rather than in the ideological whims and interests of whichever single party or small coalition happens to be in power.
 
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the current UK system is a system based on adversarial rather than collaborative politics; the physical layout of the parliament is set out in such a manner. The key aim of a political party in the UK is to gain full executive power and to retain it as long as possible. During its period in power, it must make decisions which are aimed to keep its own electorate on side and gain additional support from other sections of the electorate. This means that a government does not always operate in the best interests of the country, but in the best interests of its re-election.
 
I can’t possibly say that our current representative democracy has ever worked properly in my eyes, and I’m yet to meet someone who is fully content with it. There has never been a government in power with whom I’ve fully agreed. At least I’d know my voice would count on every issue under Direct Democracy – and not just once every five years. Yet I still regularly encounter others who arrogantly assume that the public is incapable of making sensible decisions. The successful example of Switzerland puts paid to such claims. The very fact that the Swiss electorate has power seems to lead to a more serious and realistic appraisal of decision-making, and this starts at the communal (level), at the cantonal level, and finally the national level. Villages are responsible for their own budgets and the populations understand when they need to raise taxes and to what end.
 
Despite my gut feeling that, as people feel further disenfranchised by our existing representative democracy, we will inevitably move to becoming a Direct Democracy in the UK, I’ve given up believing that this country will reform its antiquated and undemocratic system in the near to medium-term future. There are still too many vested interests in maintaining the status quo. It looks like one possible alternative long-term plan may be at risk though too.
 
Note, however, that any Swiss decision to back out of the treaty on freedom of movement with the EU will only see them back to the position they were in a few years ago (when I worked there), and it will be a decision made by and in the best interests of the Swiss people, because ultimately, political systems should be geared up to represent the interests of the population of a country at large – not the interests of domestic or foreign political parties, ideologues or small interest groups – at the expense of the majority of the domestic population. And as an independent state outside the EU, Switzerland still retains that simple luxury.

Don’t Ban the Burka – Shun It

I’ve just read an open letter which calls for a ban on wearing the Burka. It’s written not by a member of the EDL, or a white supremacist, as you may well be thinking (it is, after all, how we’ve been conditioned to think), but by Dr T Hargey, Director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford.

I’m not overly convinced about banning the veil (either the Burka or the Niqab), but it is time its apologists started to understand that it should be treated by civil society in the same way we would view a Nazi uniform or a KKK outfit, and, frankly, that is precisely how I see it.

It’s an abhorrent infringement on women’s rights, is not required by Islam anyway, and even if it were, Islam tells its followers to follow the customs and practices of their host nations. More importantly, Turkey, a secular but Muslim country, has banned wearing of headscarves of any kind in public buildings for decades, only just relaxing this recently, following the election to power of a more overtly Muslim party.

If wearing the veil were a fundamental requirement of Islam, rather than a requirement of fundamentalist Islam, it would be worn by all Muslim women around the world; it isn’t, because it isn’t.

Many deluded multi-culti apologists insist on continuing to actively or passively support practices such as forcing women to conceal themselves and FGM; some are even so keen to wear their cultural diversity credentials with pride that they are stupid enough to sign a petition in support of the latter! The irony here is that such people are actually the racists, because the clear implication is that “those poor little brown people are a little backward, so we mustn’t hold them to the same standards we expect of ourselves.” That’s not cultural diversity – it’s racism. Human rights transcend boundaries, cultures, and religions, and any practices which get in the way of such basic human rights should be decried for what they are.

If you endorse wearing of the veil, you have to be pretty damned sure of, understand, and agree with the following:

  1. Only women wear the veil (with the exception of fleeing criminals and probably a minority of Muslim cross-dressers). Ask yourself why. What does this imply?
  2. The woman wants to wear it and is under no compulsion to wear it. This is far from easy to ascertain. Former Labour MP of the constituency of my childhood, Anne Cryer, has publicly spoken of her vast case experience of particularly Pakistani women visiting her in secret with tales of domestic oppression and abuse – and the authorities’ unwillingness to intervene.

Assuming these conditions are met, you still have to ask the question as to why a woman chooses to do something that many Muslims fought against decades and probably centuries ago; a garment which immigrant mothers and grandmothers cast off with glee, and against which many still fight to this day in other, less liberal societies.

True, there are a number of indigenous British women who convert to Islam and adopt the veil to show their adherence to the faith. Far be it from me to see this as an ostentatious display of their rejection of the values their ancestors fought for, and the product of a life which has probably been spent ‘trying to find themselves’ (because being born in a relatively privileged society in a privileged period in history just isn’t enough) – but that is exactly how I do see it, I’m afraid.

Others don the veil as a blatant political ‘two fingers’ up to the establishment; a rejection of western, capitalist values. People used to wear Che Guevara t-shirts; now some of them wear the veil instead.

Either way, there is no reason for an indigenous, British woman who converts to Islam to adopt a Wahhabi item of clothing from a foreign culture. You don’t have to wear an unrelated tribal costume to show how Muslimy and exotic you are. It’s akin to me adopting native American beliefs and walking around in a feather head dress. I only do that on special evenings.

The one thing a ban would of course ensure is that we would be certain that no women could be compelled to wear one. That is a core part of the justification for its ban in France and Belgium.

I am pleased to see, however, that an increasing number of reforming/secular Muslims are speaking out about this issue and against the veil. This is a great development, and is to be welcomed and encouraged, not only because it is nearly impossible for any indigenous person to criticise foreign cultural practices without being instantly and unthinkingly labelled racist by those who have been raised and conditioned seemingly without critical faculties of their own, but also because it takes a great deal of bravery on the part of Muslims to speak out against or attempt to reform any illiberal cultural practices which have become inextricably and occasionally cynically linked to their religion – even when there is no link.

Most Christians and Jews wilfully ignore or contextualise unsavoury parts of their holy books. Both religions have undergone reformation and now most mainstream Christians and Jews explain away the violence, sexism, and pretty much all kinds of other unpleasantness in the Bible by putting such accounts into an historic context – they were dogmas of the desert, and modern believers pick and choose the bits they like to adapt to a modern context. Sure, the God Hates Fags brigade, as loathsome as they are, do exist, but they are very much in the minority, due to the Reformation, and there are few (ok, no) incidents of terrorist atrocities carried out in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, people who come to religion later or those who convert seem to tend to be more strident, and often more extreme, in their actions. They’ve made a conscious decision, rather than having been raised in the faith, and so they are all the more willing to wear their faith proudly and publicly, and this would explain the tendency for indigenous European female converts to wear the veil – at a time when their ‘sisters’ in Saudi Arabia are trying to discard it or fight for the right to drive a car (See also Alaa Wardi’s excellent video).

As an aside, and a concession, but one which merely reinforces my point, it would only be fair for me to make the same observation on converts becoming more strident about myself, since, having abandoned my Christian faith sometime shortly after 9/11, I became more vocally anti-theistic. So, as Pontius Pilate might have heard several times, whilst going about his daily business, mea culpa!

Most of our laws are in place for preventative reasons. The reason we have speed limits imposed is to prevent as far as possible any potential speed-related accidents. Perhaps, then, there is justification for a full ban of the veil, to prevent as far as possible any potential oppression of its wearers.

I’d still prefer though that rather than an outright ban, we shunned it for what it is – an ancient, desert tribal symbol of a backward cultural practice in which women are forced to cover themselves because their men aren’t capable of resisting their sexual urges, and made its wearing as unwelcome in our streets as an SS uniform would be.