Selective Tolerance is Never an Option

Tonight, for the first time, I am not writing a blog about the Holocaust. The contemporary relevance of the lessons of the Holocaust - the dangers of prejudice, racism and intolerance - are certainly an integral part of this post and its message. But that is where I wish for the comparison to end. I am, instead, writing as a British citizen who is becoming increasingly shocked and concerned at the behaviour of some of my fellow citizens.

The world is not what I would call a happy place right now. Of course, the world is, and probably has, never been at total peace. It appears that humankind simply cannot live with differing versions of itself in a harmonious fashion, whether the differences be in culture, religion, gender, sexuality or other factors. In the last year, we have seen tensions develop between Russia and 'the West'; renewed, continued fighting between Israel and Palestine; yet more mass shootings in the United States; and horrendous terrorist attacks in countries as diverse as France, Tunisia, Denmark, Nigeria and Iraq.
When looking at this last issue, the fact is that most of those who have carried out these attacks call themselves 'Muslims' or members of the Islamic faith and community. Subsequently, we have seen a global rise in anti-Muslim, as well as anti-extremism, feelings, as recently demonstrated, for example, by US presidential candidate Donald Trump's assertion that all Muslims should be banned from America.

I could talk about the global picture, but honestly, I don't feel properly qualified to do so. I am qualified, however, to speak of the experiences my friends and I have recently encountered in London. Lest we forget, London's population is hugely multicultural, a melting pot of languages, cultures, foods and beliefs from all over the world. I myself went to a secondary school where around four-fifths of the students did not identify as 'white British'. And I was incredibly proud of it.

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk on behalf of the Holocaust Educational Trust regarding the history of the Holocaust and how young people are being educated on the subject. At the end, one member of the audience came up to me. She was almost in tears thinking about "those poor children" who had been murdered, and how important it is to keep educating people about the Holocaust. What she said next, however, was extremely disconcerting: "I have so many friends who are afraid to wear their kippah anywhere, yet these Muslims walk around in their hijabs with no problems! They are trying to take over the world!"
Needless to say, I was left speechless. Unsure of exactly how to react to her ensuing rant about Muslims and foreigners trying to take advantage of the British system and its benefits, I politely reminded her of the British-born citizens that also take our system for granted, then promptly turned on my heel and walked away.

That was shocking enough for me, so how must it feel to a person who identifies as a Muslim? In the last 24 hours, I have heard of three incidents which have left a deep impression on me, and moved me to anger and frustration. The first was a Muslim man who was forced off an Underground train for using his iPad 'suspiciously'; when another passenger tried to look at the screen, he switched it off. Never mind the fact that he might have been viewing confidential or personal information, and that this other man sounds like he was being fairly nosey. I wonder if I would have been urged off a train if I had acted in the same way?
Secondly, a friend of mine recently posted a status on Facebook saying that she had sat opposite a man on the train for half an hour, who was covering the cover of the book he was reading with a newspaper. Was he reading his wife's copy of '50 Shades of Grey', she wondered? No. As the man got off the train, she saw that the book was written entirely in Arabic.
In response to this status, another friend of mine - herself a Muslim - replied that whilst on the bus recently, she quickly turned off the alarm on her phone to remind her when she needs to pray throughout the day, because she was 'scared' of how others might react.
This wonderful friend of mine is an active citizen within her local community. Amongst other things, she promotes Holocaust education and tolerance. And, every time I see her, she is beautifully dressed in a colourful hijab and a black abaya. Although originally from Somalia, she has lived in London most of her life.
I spoke to my friend, who will remain anonymous, about the situation in which she currently finds herself. "I don't Tweet or talk about my feelings of fear because I feel like I'm letting them win," she told me. "By 'them' I mean every hateful person who makes me feel 'watched' and uncomfortable every time I board public transport. I turn up the volume on my headphones and block them out. I am very proud of my faith, but things are getting darker and I'm scared. It's not just me - my mother used to wear a long jilbāb that covered her whole body, but now, out of fear, she just wears short headscarves whenever she gets the bus."

To me, this should not be the attitude of a young Londoner in the 21st century. For a city that is allegedly so tolerant and proud of its multiculturalism, it appears that some residents are beginning to feel very uncomfortable in their own area.
Let me stop for a moment to point out to any critics of this post that I fully acknowledge the other types of intolerance and prejudice that are ongoing, in this country and others. Anti-Semitism is on the rise; the LGBT community still faces discrimination; the mentally and physically disabled are still parodied and mocked inappropriately. The list goes on. If I was blind to the other forms of prejudice that are prevalent in some parts of society, by some people, there would be absolutely no use in my study of the Holocaust and educating people about it. Whatever 'lessons' we can derive from that period of history clearly have not been learned, and perhaps never fully will be. In the wake of these recent events, however, I feel I must comment on Islamophobia in particular.

It is inevitable that I will mainly be preaching to the choir with this post, because many people who read my blog are of a similar mindset. The main point of this post, however, is to point out the following:

Members of ISIS/Islamic State/ISIL/Daesh are not proper Muslims. Terrorists who kill themselves, and others, in the name of their god, are not proper Muslims. Those who condemn others' right to life and insist on preaching hatred and violence are not proper Muslims. They are a tiny majority that in no way represent Islam. Not every Muslim is radicalised or indoctrinated against other cultures and beliefs - far, far from it.
The real Muslim community go about practising their religion peacefully, as do Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious groups. They appreciate the sanctity of life, that it is a God-given gift and it is not their right to take another life. They carry out their everyday tasks in the same way as non-Muslims do, and face similar, or the same, concerns and problems as everybody else.
No one should be generalising Muslims to fit a negative stereotype just because of what a select group of fanatics do, supposedly in the name of the same religion. A girl on a train wearing a hijab is not a terrorist. A man conducting his morning prayers in a London mosque is not a terrorist. Young groups of Muslims studying the Qur'an are not terrorists. People cannot consider themselves tolerant or in support of equality when they will judge a person by the garments they wear, the books they read or the religion in which they believe. No one has to agree with every belief considered by any religion, not just Islam, but whether or not you agree on certain points, no one has the right to make a particular group feel ostracised or uncomfortable because they live differently to others.

As with the lady who condemned the murder of Jews but reeled off anti-Muslim stereotypes in almost the same breath, 'selective' tolerance does not exist. You are either tolerant of other people and cultures, or you are not. There is no middle zone or grey area. You cannot call yourself tolerant if you 'love everyone equally' but are currently bemoaning the influx of Syria's refugees. You cannot call yourself tolerant if you 'want equality for everyone' but are against gay relationships. And you cannot call yourself tolerant if you 'embrace London's diversity' but feel panicked at the sight of a headscarf.

And I simply cannot believe I have had to write this post in the 21st century.