Blatantly Islamophobic $#*! My Dad Says

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Image taken from americanprogress.org

“Do ya ever see any of those Muslims in London?”

We are sitting on my parents’ back deck. We have settled in for a warm and pleasant evening of beer, nibbles, and mildly racist banter by the pungent flicker of the citronella candle.

I know my father too well to think he is joking, but I am still blindsided by the brick bluntness of his solid granite wall of insularity that you would be hard pushed to surmount. He says “Muslims” like Jaques Cousteau would if he were talking about some rare multicellular organism found only in the deepest and most uninhabitable depths. I imagine the nature programs in my Dad’s head run as follows: “And here we have the rare and vicious Muslimus Britannicus Arabius Londinius, commonly referred to as the English Brown Muslim; not to be confused with its American cousin even though both depend on a parasitic relationship with other mammals in their environment.”

“Um…” I begin. How does one answer a question such as this? Have I ever seen any Muslims in the great and sprawling metropolitan capital of England and seat of governance of Great Britain? Do you ever see any Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Scientologists, Hardcore Zionists, Liberation Theologists, Dawkinsists, Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Seal the movie fan clubbists, card-carrying Communists, frustrated Agnostics, Gnostic Christians, Coptic Christians, Eastern Orthodox mystics, Papal Cannibals, austere Protestant, tee totalling Northern Calvinists? Why not? Why not, damn it? Why can’t they all walk around with neon signs atop their heads and big brands burned into their foreheads from when they were all branded like sheep into their respective pens?

“Well…” I begin. “I’ve worked with Muslims. I’ve worked for Muslims and I’ve taught Muslims. In fact, one of my best students is called Hamza.” Thought my parents would like that last one in particular given all the trouble-making, freedom-hating, headline-hogging Hamzas that always seem to make it into the news here in the UK.

Plus, it’s just like saying, “I don’t roll like that, man. I’ve got plenty of Muslim friends.”

My Mom sees my liberal positioning and raises me a casual-racism, “well, I guess if he’s studying he can’t be making bombs at night.”

What?

Really?

Really?

My face must look a bit like I’ve been handbagged by the old one-two from Ma and Pa American Londoner because my mother – not widely known for her awareness of the jarring abnormality of her worldview shrugs as if to say, “What’s your problem, mister? I’m just proclaiming the gospel of Regressive Thinkers of America and saying out loud what every other American is afraid to say.”

And it is possible (just possible) that my father’s question and my mother’s ponderous observation are entirely innocent. It is possible that I’ve been spoiled by the tolerant melting pot that is London. It is entirely possible that you can live atop a mountain with nothing but Fox to watch, pretzels and chips to eat, and racist neighbo(u)rs with which to “exchange views” to quite innocently hate Muslims. In the same way you might hate really evil aliens. Or zombies (though what with zombie chic I don’t see how you could) that are hungry for brains.

I should disclaim at this point that my father is a generous man, my mother a kind and nurturing woman. These thoughts seem to happily settle themselves and thrive like fungus in amongst the sweetest and sunniest of dispositions. My Dad is as innocent and sometimes as unintentionally funny as Archie Bunker (British Translation = Alf Garnet).

Archie Bunker

As harmless as a friendly racist with a vote. Image taken from Wikipedia

And let’s face it. Before 9/11, my parents probably didn’t know what a Muslim was beyond some vague notions of a hate figure in Iran. In fact, they probably couldn’t rightly tell you what a Muslim is now (I have called my father out for insisting he’d seen “them” running around town “in their turbans”). No more than I could have told you what a Communist was when I was seven and taught to hate them. No more than children can stand up and swear allegiance to a piece of cloth (oh alright) symbol before they know what “allegiance” means.

It’s a simple thing to hate something you know little about and that doesn’t enter your sphere of existence from day to day. Pennsylvania has often been ranked number one for hate groups even with a low population of racial minorities. Draw what you may from that.

I’m not sure I can call my parents, as one kind reader wrote to me this week, “friendly racists… who mean no harm,” as they do seem to mean harm to all those who “hate freedom”, whatever that means. I’ve not met such an individual after nearly a decade in London. But what does scare me is that they are not harmless. They’ve got great big weapons: one vote a piece and plenty who think like them.

Beware America. Beware.

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10 responses

  1. Wow. That’s one hell of a read. A brilliant read but a scary one!

  2. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    Separately, there might be a teaching lesson to offer to one of them. But when groups form, even if it is just a couple, narrow-minded beliefs infect the other. And people who think alike then cling together and the door shuts on anything that contradicts their world view. I don’t know that there’s hope for people like your parents, who I’m sure are decent folks. But theirs are poisonous thoughts to have and to share. Diversity is a frightening thing to a lot of people.

    1. Yeah. Funny enough my mother tends to be more amenable to discussion. Dad’s a solid wall of dogma. The more he is challenged the more closed and convinced of his own rightness he is. Scary. You’re right though. Decent folks who mean well. One of the reasons why I included the disclaimer. I do find that when challenged, people do tend to at least open themselves to different ways of thinking, instead of continuing to post facile right wing memes on Facebook.

  3. Being a “shade of brown” in that same town of friendly racists, I used to be wary of meeting my friends’ parents for that same reason. Even as a child, I would field all kinds of questions about being “Arab” (I am not),” Puerto Rican” (I am not), strange worship practices and eating habits…and I learned to tolerate the comments and questions. They weren’t coming from violence or hate- just a different experience and ignorance. I reminded myself I’m as odd to them as their questions were to me.

    I know it’s hard to influence the views of the older generations, but my real fear was that the misinformation and fear would be passed along to the next generation. I am reminded, from reading this, that we grow from our parents. Not into them.

  4. Aw. Thanks for reading then, Anjali. What a surreal experience your young life sounds like. It is slightly strange looking back though and thinking about just what an insular place in the back of beyond we were growing up in.

    It is good though to think that we can somehow learn how not to think from our parents. It’s as Philip Larkin says. “Your Mum and Dad they…”

  5. Very interesting article!
    I must say that I truly enjoy reading your blog and I like your style of writing, very refreshing!
    Kudos 🙂

    1. Many thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated!

  6. We moved to Turkey (before coming to the UK) and experienced a lot of questions that are along the lines of this article. As Anjali said, the longer we lived their and shared our experiences and new home with people back in the US, we found it to come from ignorance. The more you share, the more people know!

    1. Too true. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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