An article appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week by Andy Ngo entitled “A Visit to Islamic England“. It caused a storm on Twitter because it was massively Islamophobic.
One of my grandmother’s biggest complaints about immigrants, aside from their big noses and swarthy skin, was their smell.
All British Muslims engage with jihad every single day.
I was debating with someone who clearly has a low opinion of Islam (“a pile of stinking shit”, I think he called it) on Facebook in response to one of my blog posts. Like all good debates on social media it involved references to Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is the last word on everything. When I pointed out that he had deliberately omitted a qualifying clause to make his point he accused me of taqiya.
Most ordinary Muslims don’t care that much about the fine details of the faith
I didn’t have a clue what he meant. I don’t know Arabic or Islam well enough yet to have even guessed. None of my Muslim friends or my Muslim wife have ever mentioned the word to me.
I had to go back to Wikipedia to find out that, literally, it means “prudence or fear”. The best way to explain it is with some examples: if a Muslim were adrift at sea, with nothing to drink but beer, he would not commit a sin by drinking it; or if he was lost and starving in the jungle and the only food was a suckling pig, he would be permitted to kill it and eat it, rather than starve to death.
Muslims are allowed to lie about their faith sometimes
The example that most closely resembles the way in which my Facebook foe was using the word is that Muslims are permitted to lie, even about their faith, if telling the truth might harm them.
This mainly applied back in the middle-ages when tribes and warlords were fighting constant battles for territory and power across the huge swathes of Middle East. Many had a habit of capturing towns and cities and systematically killing all those of a certain faith. In that situation you would be an idiot to tell the truth about your religious views.
None of these situations applies to a debate on Facebook with a person who is, with the greatest respect, my intellectual inferior. There was no need for me to lie to win that particular argument.
All Muslims in the West are undercover sleeper agents
When I was Googling taqiya, I came across some dark corners of the internet, but the most amusing are the right-wing conspiracy theories which suggest that Muslims in the West are being encouraged to use taqiya in order to infiltrate society so that they are well placed to attack when the order is given.
So there I was, a Muslim, pointing out that he, an Islamophobe, had deliberately misrepresented evidence but it was him who accused me of religiously-sanctioned lying. How can a Muslim ever hope to change the minds of people like?
Knowing the Qu’ran and knowing Islam are two very different things.
It is accepted by all Muslims that a degree of interpretation is needed. Some things are quite clearly written but others are more specific to their time and place, or not written at all. There is no mention, for example, of whether women should be allowed to drive for (hopefully) obvious reasons. Therefore, the teachings of Islam must be adapted and interpreted with respect to current knowledge.
My message to any Islamophobes reading is this: don’t read the Qu’ran to learn about Islam. Speak to a Muslim, or go to a mosque, because there is so much more to it than what is written.
We had a great time at Manchester Carnival today. The streets were bustling, the music was loud and the costumes were bright. People of all backgrounds were out enjoying the warm, if not sunny weather. Skin was on show and booties were being shaken (is it obvious that I am white). The smell of jerk chicken, curried goat and weed wafted through the air.
As a doctor I am in an extremely privileged position: I get to see people at their most vulnerable. And sometimes my patients see my vulnerabilities too.
I worked for a while at a practice in the area of Manchester that has the highest number recent immigrants of all nationalities. The people may be ethnically diverse, but they are universally poor. The area is one of the most deprived in the country and is home to a large Muslim population. It was rare for me to see a white British patient when I was there, but those I did see were almost all struggling with one sort of addiction or another. It was clear that Muslim patients were struggling too, but at least you could see that they were trying to make a better life for themselves. Children wearing grammar school blazers would come in to translate for their Urdu-speaking parents.
I remember clearly one time when a woman wearing a burka came in to see me because it was rare, even for an area with such a large proportion of Muslims. I immediately began to feel uncomfortable but it wasn’t through fear or embarrassment.
When I see a patient for the first time my eyes start searching for diagnostic clues as soon as they step foot in the door. Even before that I can tell a lot: if it takes a while before I hear a knock, I know that their mobility is poor; if they need me to shout “come in” twice, they might have some hearing difficulty.
My eyes search my patients’ faces and bodies for anything that might help me piece together the diagnostic jigsaw: a clenched fist can indicate pain; a twitch of the mouth can convey unspoken doubt. I watch how they move, how they breath and how they react to my smile. You would be amazed just how much a doctor can learn about you before you even speak. Most of the time they will have formulated a fairly accurate diagnosis within the first 30-seconds of meeting you.
The burka took away all of my usual visual clues. I felt lost and out of control. Was she pleased or worried to see me? Was she in pain? Was she depressed? All I had were her eyes. They were piercing (maybe because they were the only things I could see) but I could not read them.
I took a breath to steady myself and asked her what I could do for her. She told me that she had been having problems with a rash on her face. It might have been obvious that I started thinking about how I was going to go about asking to see it. However, without a pause she unclipped one side of the veil. It was like she had switched on a light and my puzzle fell into place. I could see that she looked sad, and I could also see that she had acne.
It was bad. Large spots on her on her jaw, chin and cheeks – and in places it had left scars. She told me that acne was one of the main reasons that she had started to wear the veil in the first place. Whenever she went out without it people would stare – judging her for something she could do nothing about. At least when she wore the veil she felt some control over what other people saw. It gave her the confidence to go out and interact with others that she otherwise didn’t have.
Before you have an opinion of the burka you need to understand that there are many different reasons why a woman might choose to wear one. And as one of very few white men to have seen beneath it, I can assure you that the only thing under there is a woman, just like any other.
Normally I steer well clear of the Daily Mail out of fear that I might shave my head and start looking at brown people suspiciously if I let any of its reflected light hit my eyes. But today it caught my eye as I was queuing up to pay for my morning coffee because the header was concerned with the latest Boris Johnson controversy, a subject that I have recently written about myself, and the main story was about an increase in GP waiting times.
I am sad to admit that I agree with the sentiment that Boris Johnson is not racist. I genuinely don’t think that he is. I think he deliberately said some offensive things, which are not in themselves racist, in order to gain publicity. Yes, he could have said kind words about burkas but would he have been main news for a week if he had?
However, the second part of the front page was back on form for the old Mail. “Is there any point in ringing your GP anymore?”. What is the agenda behind this? Reading the article it seems that 75% of people can get to see their GP within 7 days, which doesn’t seem that bad especially when you consider:
- Most patients that I see could have waited 2 weeks to see me without making a scrap of difference to their outcomes. In fact if more people waited, most of the problems they had would have cleared up by themselves.
- The demand for GP services has risen enormously in recent years. People are living longer and have more health problems and they are less reluctant to come in about mental health problems.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with GP services. They work well and are very cost-effective. The article tells us that GPs have been “ordered” to offer appointment between 8am and 8pm as if we are all lazy for only working until 6:30pm. The reality is that if you want an 8am to 8pm service you need two GPs to cover it, unless you want every one who sees us at the end of the day to sue us for inevitable medical errors we will make because of fatigue. Yes, more money would help us stay open for longer and offer more appointments but it would do nothing about demand.
If we are serious about solving the problems in the NHS we need to spend the money in other places. We need to spend money on prevention which, as we all know, is many times more cost-effective and has fewer side-effects than a cure.
Teach children that being fat, smoking and drinking are bad. Make activity and healthy food cheaper and give them the confidence to do the things that their parents and grandparents currently do not. Make sure people have fulfilling jobs, good quality housing and strong support networks to prevent mental ill-health and teach people the skills they need to cope when life doesn’t go to plan. Tackling the problems in the health of our nation needs big ideas, not just sticking-plasters.