Monday, 19 July 2010

Multi-culturalism up close ?

The other day we were invited to a family barbecue party. The couple hosting it are a 'mixed marriage' - he's Jamaican and she's Bengali. Both cultures big on extended family and hospitality - hence a large party with lots of kids playing on a water slide in the garden - and mountains of great food brought by the guests. And also two cultures superficially on an apparent  collision course: The Jamaicans  loud and extrovert - the women colourful in skimpy summer finery. The Begalis decidedly quieter -  separating into distinct pockets of men and women - with the latter dressed in varying degrees of modest Islamic dress. But in fact  just  enjoying a bit of rare sunshine, tucking into the food and watching the kids enjoying themselves managed to  cut across any divisions and everyone just got on with having a good time.

This is what multi-culturalism looks like in practice and it's such a typical everyday scene in most parts of London that I wouldn't ordinarily even bother to mention it. But then this weekend I see that some   of the Sunday tabloids were cheering on the French ban on the hijab - and claiming that there is a consensus to follow suit in this country (presumably following a quick straw-poll taken from the regulars at the 'Racist's Arms' somewhere in Middle-England-shire). 

Personally I feel pretty strongly that religion - in all its forms -  is mad, bad and often both.  But I'd challenge anybody who advocates any sort of state  ban on its expression - whether a racist bigot fretting over the erosion of 'English-ness' or a crusading secularist liberal - to come and spend a sunny weekend in North London and enjoy a dose of simple live-and-let-live. No apologies  if that sounds soppy and naive; the consequences of living any other way just don't bear thinking about ...

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