Over the past few weeks British officials and politicians have repeatedly sent out mixed messages on minority issues, precisely because they spoke before they thought.
A few weeks ago The Metropolitan (London) Police excused a Muslim officer from diplomatic security duties outside the Israeli Embassy on the grounds that during the Lebanon War he felt unable to defend the Israeli Embassy. He has a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. According the ‘The Sun’ and quoted by the BBC, he had objected on the ‘moral’ grounds that he was opposed to Israel bombing Lebanon. Paul Stephenson the Deputy Commissioner backtracked and said the move followed a ‘risk assessment’ and was not about political correctness. But then he went on to say that ‘at the height of the Israeli/Lebanon conflict the officer made his superiors aware of his personal concerns which included his Lebanese family members.’
What I find offensive are the pathetic excuses middle Police management come up with, ‘strategic’ ‘risk assessment.’ What strategy, pray do tell, oth! er than wanting to bend over backwards to accommodate Muslim recruits into the Police and Secret Services to try to deal with the problems we all face? But then come clean. Risk Assessment? This is about kow-towing to a Muslim expressing anti-Israel sentiment. Let’s not pretend otherwise. It’s not a moral question but a political one. The Press association added that unidentified police sources claimed that the Muslim policeman feared reprisals against relatives if he was seen on TV defending Israeli property. The Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has ordered an urgent review. But this sort of thing only exacerbates intercommunity relations.
This created a minor stir in the same week that ex foreign minister Jack Straw, suggested that Muslim women covered from tip to toes might consider at least uncover their faces when coming to chat to a MP because he liked to see who he was speaking to. Tony Blair came out in support on the grounds that wearing a veil is socially divisive ( ‘though to be fair, in his case it was in the context of teaching English in an English school where I do think you need to see the teachers lips move).And coincidentally Home Secretary John Reid suggested to Muslim leaders that they really ought to be more pro active in rooting out the dangerous lunatics in their own communities. As you would expect the Muslim howling chorus was up in arms.
Actually I think both John Reid and Straw/Blair were both wrong. Not in their desire for dialogue but both in the style and form of their comments. In Reid’s case, the horse has bolted the stable. Fanatics have the Muslim communities in their grip because they terrorize their own let alone others. All fanatics bully moderates and more young people are attracted to aggressive unapologetic, absolutist extremism than they are to moderation, in anything. And I ask you, what frightened, insecure parent is going to shop his or own child? It was typical insensitive, ‘up in your face’ bravado. Having allowed a situation to develop you must respond creatively with new policies, infiltrate the enemy and if you’re looking for inside information and contacts don’t bloody well broadcast it. I cannot remember British politicians asking Catholic Irish parents to shop their kids at the height of IRA violence.
As for Jack Straw, as you'd expect Muslim apologists are all eagerly pointing to Ultra Orthodox dress as if it were the equivalent. We don’t have yashmaks…yet. But yes I believe a free society should allow people to dress the way they want. Goodness knows we allow enough nudity, I wonder if Jack Straw has ever asked a woman to cover up because he gets distracted by her? The exception must be passports and identification where if eyes might be good enough for American Immigration computers but not on your average High Street. Other than that, if someone wants to cover up even when talking to an MP, that is his or her business (tho’ I do wish they’d insist that men cover up too). And anyway I think we place too much emphasis on appearance and often pre-judge by looks so that actually listening might be better than looking sometimes. And there was a time when beards were banned in many professions in this country. I’m rat! her fond of mine.
The problem is not of allowing communities to preserve their cultural and religious integrity, but in allowing the country to be divided up into ‘stans’ and ‘patches’ where different groups have no contact with each other. And its not just racial groups, private and denominational education has a lot to answer for too. In Jack Straw’s constituency of Blackburn there are State primary schools in the same neighbourhood that are 100% Muslim and others that are 100% ‘ non Muslim’ that cannot help integration unless strenuous efforts are made to forge social, athletic and other links between them. Once again what I find disturbing is that we can’t even discuss these issues without being accused of being anti Muslim. It’s not the fact that most religious minorities don’t want to have any light shed on their problems. But it does appear that here is a minority that is insisting that everyone else tows! its line and the majority of the British press and chattering classes seem happy to go along with it.
Wherever there is racial or religious conflict you can deal with it in several ways. You can take the British model. Inertia allows anything and everytrhing. When the problems occur you pretend they don't but then you react viscerally. You can take the French attitude. Assert equality and allow for it but when it doesn't work hit back hard. Or you can negotiate, accommodate. Both sides, yes both sides, will give and take and find a resolution or one side can try shouting or battering the other into submission. I think most of us would agree whether it’s Northern Ireland, the Middle East or Blackburn, caring humans would rather see negotiation.
But here comes the crunch. This week I heard of a popular Lubavitch rabbi, new to his job in London, who went to visit the local Muslim centre and school. The Imam enthusiastically suggested his school get together with the nearest Jewish school to arrange for contacts that would help relations. It was the Jewish school, not drawing on particularly religious clientele, I might add, that demurred! We are guilty of double standards too. So let’s look to our own glass house a bit!
Visit Rabbi Jeremy Rosen on the web: www.JeremyRosen.com