An interesting debate is occurring in Britain over the trial of an Islamic extremist, who is being tried on a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. Many average British people are outraged that many British Muslims are quite publicly refusing to condemn such an action. And then in turn, anyone who is so outraged is apparently a racist.
This editorial has set off a tirade of letters to the editor, including this one:
Sir: I am surprised that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown should be surprised at the new prejudice and discrimination in British society ("Why is racial abuse now considered acceptable?", 28 January). What really ought to surprise her is that it has taken so long for the backlash to 7/7, and other atrocities, to materialise.
How can the ordinary British citizen be expected to distinguish between the law-abiding Muslim and the extremist? In these circumstances it is easiest, and safest, to assume the worst and to take refuge in whatever form of defence comes readily to hand – even foul language.
As an asylum-seeker myself, albeit of many decades ago from Nazi Germany, I can only draw Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's attention to the distinction between assimilation and conformity. Nobody is asking Muslims to assimilate, but it behoves immigrants, of whatever religion, to conform to the norms of the society in which they have chosen to live.
When we read (as we have just done) of Muslims seeking to behead another human being, or to commit other appalling atrocities, then it is reasonable for ordinary folk to ask – what are these people doing here anyway and why do they choose to behave in ways which appall us?
My generation of immigrants conformed. We retain and value features of our origins, but we do not demand privileges or special treatment and we contribute to the life of the nation as best as we can. Ten thousand of us fought for Britain in the Second World War – a small expression of gratitude to the country which gave us refuge.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown needs to ask herself to what extent the racial intolerance which she condemns is of her, and others', own making? What has she, and others like her, done to bridge the ever-widening gap between what seems to us an alien culture and a way of life which in these islands has endured for centuries and which, in many ways, still makes this country one of the most civilised in the world?