I wonder if we could take a queue from these guys. I wonder if we could make rainbow stickers and place them over an area of downtown whatever and say its a Muslim Free Zone and not get arrested. I wonder how long people of free nations with allegedly representative governments will tolerate the selective enforcement of important laws.
Labour failures helped create the current climate of fear in Tower Hamlets, says Graeme Archer.
Mean streets: anti-gay sentiments on display in Whitechapel, in the East End of London
>By Graeme Archer 8:10PM BST 27 May 2011
On my commute this week, I’ve been enjoying The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson’s Booker-winning study of Julian Treslove, a potential adherent of the Jewish faith (and certainly an adherent of Jewish women). Most of the reviews focused on the comedy. But I’ve been struck by something quite different: the random acts of threatened and real anti-Semitic violence that punctuate the narrative – and, almost worse, the resigned manner in which the characters greet them.
Reading Jacobson made me think, unexpectedly, of my own patch of London: the East End. Ah, the old East End. Pubs full of pensioners crooning wartime favourites on the karaoke machine, breaking off only to cry ecstatically when the peripatetic deliverer of jellied eels arrives. The No 8 Routemaster, trundling along the Roman Road, bulging with cheerful cockney sparras: cor blimey, guvnor!
Is that what you think? Sorry: it’s nothing like that. The classic East End of Bethnal Green, Bow and Whitechapel is now lumped into the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. And little that is good or remotely heart-warming is happening there.
A few weeks ago, I crossed the road outside Sainsbury’s in Whitechapel. Glued to the lamp-post was a rainbow poster, with a cross through it, decorated with the words “Gay Free Zone” and “Fear Allah”. I felt sick. And, yes, resigned. Unconsciously, I mimicked the behaviour of Jacobson’s Jewish Londoners: I tried not to think about the implication of what I had seen.
Such stickers soon appeared all over. Not to worry! We were reassured by civic leaders that it was wrong to link these manifestations of hatred with the increasing Islamisation of the borough. Didn’t we realise, warned our betters, that by reacting, we might be allowing ourselves to be duped? They could easily be the work of a far-Right group, trying to stir up division on streets that would otherwise hum with quiet multicultural harmony.
They could even, said a “community leader”, be the work of that bogeyman de nos jours, the English Defence League. So important was it not to draw the obvious inference (that untackled radical Islam makes the East End an increasingly hostile environment for gay people) that when a small counter-demonstration was proposed, its organisers were smeared as a front for – you guessed it – the EDL. Don’t look at the posters; move along, please.
In Tuesday’s paper, we read of the trial of five Muslim men, who admitted “grievous bodily harm with intent”: that is, they attacked and maimed Gary Smith, a religious education teacher from an East End school. They were recorded on the way, saying: “This is the dog we want to hit, to strike, to kill.” Mr Smith, in their opinion, had been insufficiently pro-Islam. But what’s the scarred face of one schoolteacher when set against the need to keep the peace?
There’s more, a lot more. A young Asian chemist has received death threats for refusing to wear a veil. You know, the veil that some people tell us is a sign of female empowerment. A Muslim councillor was given similar treatment, for dressing in too Western a fashion.
So I’ll tell you what I never want to hear again. I never want to listen to a politician, living somewhere far, far removed from Bethnal Green, uttering a sentence like: “On the one hand, the Islamic extremists… On the other, the equally offensive English Defence League”, as though the two have independent but morally equivalent aetiologies. I don’t expect philosophical grandeur from any government. But I do expect its representatives to understand the difference between cause and effect.
The cause of all this is not just Labour’s immigration policy, or the Human Rights Act, or the fawning of Ken Livingstone over Yusuf al-Qaradawi (a preacher who’d like to put me, and other homosexuals, to death). First, Labour enacted legislation that taught minority groups that their grievances had legal recourse (rather than suggesting that in a good society, we all need to be able to get on). This has spiralled into today’s culture of fear – you think I’m not scared to write all this down? And when – as in Tower Hamlets – minorities come into conflict, the response of the rulers is entirely predictable: the group with the most votes wins.
Last weekend, the papers convulsed over the case of a Christian GP, whose avowedly Christian approach to medical practice had been found to involve, er, discussing Christianity. I’d rather discuss antibiotics, but still: the overreaction is a displacement activity, isn’t it? We can safely worry about peaceable, well-meaning Christians, and demand a more and more un-Christian state, because that’s what all rational people want, isn’t it?
Not me, not any more. I’m not a believer. But to paraphrase G K Chesterton, when a Christian society stops believing in God, it’s not the case that it will start to believe in just anything. If you want to see what does fill the vacuum, get on the bus to the dear old East End.