Despite the protestations of its former MP Jack Straw, last night’s Panorama programme about racial divisions in Blackburn made uncomfortable viewing. Here was a town, it appeared, that appeared to be lurching towards an apartheid system where the white population live on one side of town and the Asian population live on the other. The usual unelected “community leaders” have stepped forward to insist that all is well, that everyone lives happily together and the programme represented an illusion of disharmony by middle class journalists who had never seen social housing in their lives. I can only comment on what I saw and what I saw didn’t look terribly good.
I am not interested in a person’s colour or their religion. My view has always been that as long as religion does not impinge upon my way of life and doesn’t restrict my own freedom to choose, people can believe whatever they like. Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Jedi: believe whatever you want. But when is one person’s freedom affected by someone else’s?
It is blindingly obvious that there are areas in our country that are divided by religion and culture. I don’t think that can be honestly disputed. Mostly, we carry on with our lives, essentially ignoring people who live very different lives from us. Maybe some think that’s acceptable: live and let live. Let people live in their own areas, just like in South Africa.
I would far rather we lived in a far more integrated country based more closely on shared values in certain key areas. For example, I cannot support, under any circumstances, schooling based entirely on religion. Dividing children at an early age and essentially proselytising them to believe in only one religion cannot be right. We do not force children to be monetarists or Keynesians at an early age, we do not allow them to marry, have sex, drive and drink until a certain age. And why? Because they are too young, too immature. Then how do we allow religious brainwashing? If we are serious about a more united country, all schools should be secular, force-feeding no religion but educating children about all religions and indeed no religion.
And let’s deal with other issues such as Halal and Kosher meat. You either kill animals for food humanely or you don’t. The law of the land, the one set by parliament and not religious scholars (sure an oxymoron). declares how, for instance, we kill animals. If religious folk do not wish to eat animals killed in the method which the country decrees appropriate, they are free to not eat it or become vegetarians.
In other words, we live by exactly the same laws with no special privileges for any religious folk, without exception. By the same token, the state ensures that people can believe in any religion they like but it cannot impinge upon on the lives we live. And all of us, with religion or without, must accept those laws.
This is not to say that “if you don’t like it here, go and live somewhere else”. Quite simply, this is Britain, we live by the rule of law and we all live by the same laws. Neither is this a dig at any particular religion, like islam. In truth, I regard all religions as worshipping an imaginary celestial dictator and anyway all of us are atheists regarding most Gods who have ever been invented. Some of us go one God further. That said, I do not wish to stop anyone believing if that’s what they choose to do. They just believe in their God under the same laws that everyone else does.
Blackburn didn’t look like the kind of place I’d like to live. It looked divided, edgy and there appeared to be a simmering undercurrent of unpleasantness. Multiculturalism is a failed model and we need to dump it. Multi-ethnic, multi-religious yes, but we live within one country and not operating different societies within it.