I’m not racist, but I am prejudiced. When I see a swarthy skinhead, I tend to have negative thoughts and am on my guard. Why? Because precisely such an individual once tried to stab me in the head with a stanley knife on Battersea Bridge. He was drunk, he missed (although he did try another 7 times).
When I see a woman dressed in a certain way, I might think teacher, trust fund or tart, all based on the way women similarly dressed have reacted to me in the past – and a tarty teacher with a trust fund can be a joy to spend time with!
My point being that I am not a blank slate. None of us are. We associate one thing with another, mostly subconsciously, and it takes a conscious intellectual effort to override those high speed mental reactions.
However, our conscious only manages our subconscious. The facts are simply that our brains are honed by millions of years of natural selection (those without it didn’t survive to breed) to be fantastic pattern recognition machines. Hence why people have superstitions and religious beliefs.
These are then backed up by something called confirmation bias – you identify a pattern, and then you start to see it everywhere, thus confirming the pattern. But when you see people whispering, it isn’t always about you (it’s about me, but let’s not get into that).
These days, one pattern seen is that of young Muslim men committing acts of violence. As most of us in the UK see more young men than Muslim men (and because the young thugs claim an Islamic reasoning behind their actions), our subconscious will naturally associate the Islamic aspect of the puzzle with the violence, even though, statistically, it is their youth that is a better indication of their violent proclivities (don’t believe me? Head out to any one of our beloved Queen’s hospital Accident and Emergency departments, late of a Saturday evening and ask these mixed citizens the cause of their ailments).
To make the association between Islam and violence is not racist. The subconscious will very naturally fall to that conclusion based on both the testimony of the perpetrators and that when we think of violent places or medieval traditions in the media, Islam is current.
However, to not override that association with logic, well, that is both prejudiced and stupid; Islam is not the cause, it is a symptom. People in need of a tribe (and we all need to feel we belong to something; I’m a member of a swingers club) will fall to whatever supports them. Religious and superstitious beliefs are particularly supportive, and young men are naturally indignant.
So, these two could easily have become Goths, but instead chose a tribe with well publicised grievances against the society they live in, and with branches that preach hatred and encourage violent acts against perceived aggressors.
And herein lies the problem. Islam, in itself, is not violent. But Islam has a very strong voice in the UK that is critical of the West’s activities in parts of the world which are also Islamic. If young men are being taught that the West is the aggressor, it is unsurprising that some of these young men will respond in kind (“Islam” and “the West” are the current zeitgeist, previous ones have fomented Cendero Luminoso, ETA, Bader Meinhoff, IRA, UVF and many others)
What this means is that Muslims cannot abdicate total responsibility for these actions. Wherever there are young men, there will be anger. When there is anger and a focus for that anger, inevitably there will be occasional boilings over of this anger. While there are Muslims in this country who continue to point the finger of anger at other citizens of their own home, they will find that that message will be listened to by impressionable young men, some of whom will act upon them.
While there is a “them and us”, the “them” will continue to be attacked, be it non Muslims in the name of Allah or Muslims in the name of defence against terrorism. So, while I would call on all of us to recognise and accept the Muslims in this country as “us”, and problems associated with this as “our” problems along with teen pregnancy and unethical bankers – separate issues rather than emerging new scandal – I would also call on any in the Muslim community in this country who condemn the West from the perspective of “other” to stop and say “we”. “We” are part of this British society, and if this British society is the West, then “we”, all of us, Muslims and non, ARE the West.
When this happens, violence against the West becomes self harm, and young, indignant men have a path mapped out by other Emo types, namely, taking it out on themselves.
Putting one’s finger on the root cause of the problem is very easy, but it’s uncomfortable because it is not where we are currently pointing it. To get there, first, rotate the accusatory finger perpendicularly upwards; then put it below and between your gluteus maximus; and finally, sit. And, before you protest that you now have a dirty finger,
we all do.