I am utterly and totally fed up of the casual racist comments I see every day in my Facebook news feed about muslims. What is it with everyone? What has happened to our common sense and our compassion?
What happened in Paris on Friday was awful. And yet what do we do? We turn on muslims. Has anybody stopped to think that, for the average Syrian, every night is Friday night in Paris? Has everybody forgotten the picture of the toddler washed up on that beach in Greece? Aylan Kurdi was a muslim.
The attack on Paris could have been so much, much worse. The suicide bomber outside the Stade de France was stopped from entering by a security guard, even though he had a valid ticket. The guard’s name was Zouheir. Eighty thousand people were in that stadium. The man who saved them was a muslim.
So many seemingly nice people seem to take comfort from sharing these ridiculous memes calling for women to stop wearing the burqa, and branding refugees, ‘sponging migrants’. How will banning the burqa stop terrorism? The men who carried out the atrocities in Paris didn’t wear burqas. The IRA killed 3,700 people during The Troubles. I don’t recall any of them wearing a burqa. In all the 30 years of attacks on the British mainland and in Ireland nobody blamed the Catholic Church. We didn’t think of the members of the IRA as primarily Catholic. We thought of them as terrorists. The killers in Paris are not muslims. They are terrorists.
And how can we, for the love of God, call people who are fleeing Syria sponging migrants? Spongers do not choose to live in plastic shacks on waste ground in Calais, or wade through mud in Croatia for a slice of bread and a bottle of water. Spongers are MPs who have fiddled their expenses. Spongers are big companies like Starbucks which benefit from our trade and avoid paying tax.
We look back on World War Two with pride when we think of how our country took in Jewish refugees and children on the Kinder Transport. What pride do we have now in the way we treat Syrian refugees? They may be muslims, but we are all human. Don’t let the terrorists split us up.
I love the fact that there is only one story that has made it to the front page of nearly every British newspaper today; the news that Nadiya Hussain has been crowned winner of the Great British Bake Off.
Every single newspaper except the Times and the Daily Mail put Nadiya on their front pages. The uppercrust Daily Telegraph featured a recipe on how to make millefeuille. The Daily Mail has one for three-layer banana cake. The Daily Star, which often features naked buns, has one for perfect cupcakes.
An estimated 15 million people tuned in to the final programme last night. And you can’t move on Twitter for tearful tweets about her success. Even judge Mary Berry walked off camera rather than let her stiff upper lip quiver in public.
Nadiya’s win was on News at Ten and she was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme (which is more weighty than a 10-tier wedding cake), plus numerous other radio phone-ins. I suspect her show-stopping lemon drizzle cake has got more column inches than David Cameron’s key note speech to the Conservative party conference.
It must seem odd to people outside Britain that we go so mad over a baking competition. But I think it is rather wonderful. Muslims get plenty of appalling press these days. Many of the above newspapers are happy to slag off the ‘swarms’ of Syrian refugees wearily arriving in Europe, and even question a woman’s right to wear the hijab.
There were mutterings at the beginning of the contest that Nadiya’s being on the programme smacked of tokenism and political correctness. They soon stilled. It seems there’s nothing like a gravity defying cheescake to silence racism.
She’s been hailed as an inspiration to British muslims. Dr Omer El-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said she “demonstrated the inclusivity of British Muslims in society.”
Nadiya said in one interview at the beginning of the series, “Originally, I was a bit nervous that people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake. But I hope that week by week people have realised that I can bake – and just because I’m not a stereotypical British person, it doesn’t mean that I am not into bunting, cake and tea.”
She began the competition with no confidence and got last place in the technical challenge on week one. But my god, she is a trier. She was cheerful, nervous, funny and determined. Maybe it’s odd that iced buns should cause such a fuss, or that she should cry over madeira cake. Or that half of the country should be yelling at the telly, when she made a bad decision to junk her vol au vents and make some new ones with the clock against her.
But she kept going, and we stayed with her. And when she was awarded her trophy (a cake stand, natch), she said, ‘I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say “maybe”. I’m never gonna say “I don’t think I can”. I can and I will.’
Cake, eh? Who knew?
A year or so ago, after Fusilier Lee Rigby was butchered on a London street, the English Defence League (or bunch of fascist bastards as they are more commonly known) marched on a mosque in York. The muslims met them with tea and biscuits, and they began to chat, and then they had a game of football, and the riot police went home.
I thought of that last night after the news of the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. I thought of all the millions of muslims who are, in effect, our brothers and sisters in this world, who are bracing themselves to pay the price for the atrocities that extremists commit in their name.
Ordinary muslims all over the world are suffering terribly at the hands of extremists at the moment; 200,000 are thought to have died in the civil war in Syria. Thousands more have had to leave their homes. Isis is marching across the Middle East. Young men and women in the west, seduced by the sham ideology of ‘freedom fighting’, are leaving their homes to join the chaos. Some are ending up as suicide bombers, and western governments fear some will come home as terrorists. Maybe that is where yesterday’s killers came from.
We, as the general public, can do nothing, really, to stop these random acts of murder. But we can do everything to show our solidarity as human beings. At the end of some Christian church services, the people in the congregation shake hands with each other. Let’s start going out of our way to shake hands, in reality and metaphorically, with people who don’t share our faith. Let us show that we can stand together. Bugger extremists with guns, let’s show the power of people with pens.
Cup of tea, anyone?
Top picture by Ann Czernik, at http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/may/27/york-mosque-protest-tea-biscuits .
Second picture via creative commons, courtesy of http://dpdpksmedan.org/category/download/page/9/