Tuesday, 21 June 2011

On a Dilemma

I had planned to start this post with a call for you to refrain from judging me, but I've changed my mind. I want you to judge me. I want to know what you think of what I did, of what I thought.

I shall start from the beginning. I was waiting for a train. A light drizzle, typical of the Great British summer, fell gently over the platform. The overhead wires crackled and fizzed, the raindrops collected in shallow puddles. I felt at ease. I like the rain.

The train pulled up and the doors opened. And elderly couple pushed past, rushing further up the train to get on another carriage. I assumed they just wanted to be at the front.

How wrong I was. As I settled into my seat and the train pulled away, I heard a man muttering further down the carriage. It was a whisper at first but the volume increased steadily. I soon realised that most of what he said wasn't in English. That's not a problem in itself; I am, as you may know, an avowed lover of language. It was Arabic. At least I think it was. A constant monologue that grew from a whisper into a chant, into a shout. It was interspersed with cries of "LIGHT OF THE DAY" and "Your blood is the same colour as mine!" A wee bit sinister for lunchtime on a Sunday. The rest was, quite literally, foreign to me. I thought I could hear the odd "Inc'Allah" which, from repeated listening to an MC Solaar song of the same name, I know to mean "God willing."

So that's why the elderly couple changed carriages. That's why everyone else was shifting in their seats, exchanging worried glances and, at intermediate stations, following the exodus into the adjoining carriages.

And so, I found myself in a dilemma. He who prides himself of being accepting of others found himself itching to get off the train. The crazed liberal inside me was screaming "Look at you! Where are your egalitarian ideals now? What happened to live and let live? What next? Starting sentences with 'I'm not a racist but...', or 'You can sleep with whoever you like but I'll have none of that under my roof!' You...you Daily Mail reader!" But there was another voice, a nagging doubt. A fear building up inside. A desperate call for self-preservation, in spite of my oft-touted liberalism.

What should I have done?

What I did, was stay on the carriage. I did so with my headphones in but my iPod off, a sense of impending doom writhing inside me.

I'm not sure what the above makes me. Was I stupid to stay on a train on which I felt unsafe? Or did ignorance rear its ugly head and prove that I'm not as accepting as I think I am?

I've been thinking about it a lot today. We live in a state of paranoia. You can see it on the tube sometimes, or on trains, at airports. It's exacerbated by what I think is a very British reaction to any public declaration of fervent religious belief; awkwardness.

I know full well that this man was not representative of all Muslims, all British Muslims or probably even all the Muslims on that particular train, who probably don't make a habit of praying loudly on public transport. II don't even know what he was saying - it could have been something really quite pleasant. Nor do I subscribe to the Cameronian belief that multiculturalism has failed. His lifestyle, upbringing and outlook are as alien to me as the beliefs of the man shouting on the train. But that's ok. I wouldn't, for one minute, wish for a homogenous society in which everybody thinks, feels and acts the same.

But I'm still not sure what I should have done, or whether what I did do and did feel, was right.