Multicultural London and Irrational Fears

A new report from the BBC has got me thinking about London’s relationship with Muslims.

Apparently, one in four of Britain’s young people think the nation would be better off with fewer Muslims.

It’s been four months since the decapitation of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich and eight years since 7/7. There’s little doubt that London has its reasons to be fearful of extremists and the devastation they can cause, but are these reasons to be fearful of Muslims in general?

Of course, the answer is no. But how does this play out in practice?

I think it’s fair to say that London, while part of Great Britain, seems to live by its own rules in a lot of ways. The city is a cosmopolitan hub of different cultures and religions living alongside each other – and, generally speaking, doing so in harmony. For me, it’s one of the best things about our city.

But what would be the results if London’s youth, or indeed the general populous, were asked the same question?

I’d be surprised if the scores weren’t similar. Yes, there would be a spread. Perhaps there would be many more people with close Muslim friends who would be able to see through the obvious pitfalls of condemning the many due to the actions of the few.

But I’m convinced there would also be a great number who would express the same irrational yet honest feelings of fear upon seeing a woman in a veil or a bearded man dressed in a long shirt and carrying a backpack.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend several months in Muslim countries across Central Asia and the Middle East, and it helped dispel a lot of the myths perpetuated in Western media, but we must acknowledge the impact that media imagery can have.

I hadn’t been back in London for more than a couple of days before these stereotypes were put to the test.

There I was, taking up my normal spot on the tube by the window (valuable ventilation on long journeys) when on stepped said stereotype – a bearded Asian man, wearing a shalwar kameez, backpack in hand and, to top it all off, reading a copy of the Qur’an.

What was my response? Well, despite all logic to the contrary, I genuinely felt ill at ease and considered moving carriages. Then I thought about what I was thinking and shook my head at the downright stupidity of it. But still the fear remained.

What a bizarre and illogical conclusion, I thought, but real nevertheless and if I, with all my reasons for rubbishing such thoughts, was thinking this, then what hope did the rest of Londoners have?

So, where does this leave us and what can we do to move on from this undeniable – and yes, irrational – prejudice so ingrained in Western minds?

Well, I haven’t quite figured it out, but I think that as Londoners, we are in a privileged position of having a lot of the world’s nations and religions on our doorstep, so the least we can do would be to at least think through our responses, assess them and, where we find prejudices, seek to erase them.

Image by Tim . Simpson courtesy of Flickr

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