So, your neighbour is a Muslim?
Ever thought of getting to know them a little better?
Regular readers here will know that for some time I have been very concerned at how “The War Against Terror”, and the attendant changes in anti terror legislation introduced during the Blair/Brown era, affected the way we viewed ourselves, our civil liberties, and the way in which we approached others within our communities. I have to report that in South Shields, at least, the more general fears and stereotypical views about the followers of Islam have not been realised, although there have been a very few isolated incidents reported in the local press.
I have often criticised in this blog, the apparent failure of government to adhere to its own principles that terrorism would not alter the way of British life, government itself has managed to achieve that by regulating, legislating, monitoring, spying, and gradually eroding many of our centuries old civil liberties that we often take for granted. Following on from the major outrages of 9/11 and 7/7 government has managed to introduce an illogical sense of fear about Muslims in our communities and allowed sections of the press and media to highlight the most extreme extreme examples of expression from teachings and preachings to public demonstrations, yet in the majority of British communities, and most certainly here in South Shields, there is very little evidence at all to support these fears.
We have lived side by side with Muslims in our locality for over two hundred years here, with descendants of Yemenis and more recently Bangladeshis, educated in our schools, working in our community, and generally being normal “Geordies” enriching our lives with an infusion of diversity and culture. I stated in a previous post that I will be writing a little more about our Muslim neighbours during June and July to try and bridge that gap of understanding which still exists, and I am meeting some people who are keen on reaching out into the wider community to help us gain that understanding about their cultural and religious beliefs.
We all need to appreciate, accept and respect each other’s beliefs and be able to come together in those areas where we all share a common path, it strengthens us as human beings, engages us, and challenges us to move forward with greater social integration. We have been blessed in South Tyneside with many years of social, cultural, and religious harmony, but the history of recent more international events risks alienating a section of our community which has done little to deserve suspicion on any level.
The video above is taken from an American website which has broadly the same aims, My Fellow American is also reaching out to bridge that divide, caused by ignorance, and build stronger local communities with greater social cohesion. Just because your neighbour may have a different coloured skin, or may occasionally dress differently, or wear a beard, or eat different meals to you is no reason to view him with a wary eye. We didn’t necessarily do this with those speaking in an Irish brogue in the 1970s did we?
As we approach Ramadam I will be introducing some members of the Muslim community here in South Shields who will talk about their experiences and share them with us, I hope you will find their stories fascinating, interesting, entertaining, and engaging.
I hope that it may encourage you to reach out and get to know your neighbour a little better.
It’s part of what being a Sanddancer is all about.