Search This Blog

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Religion, race and magic carpets

Now here's a fact. Racism and cracks about religion are one and the same. Didn't you know? If you criticise Islam, for instance, you're being racist. Right. Now we know. Perhaps we'd better be careful if we describe a prayer mat as a magic carpet, then. Oops! Shouldn't have said that. Smacked wrist.

Well, I wasn't the first. In fact I might not have made the connection had someone not made a fuss about it. It happened at Belmarsh top-security prison in London, when a prison officer referred to a Muslim's prayer mat as just that: a magic carpet. Oh, dear! Crime of the century. Hang him, flog him, behead him, stone him.

In a report from Anne Owers, the UK's Inspector of Prisons, we get this, as cited in The Times:

One inmate quoted in the report alleged: “I’ve had a racist joke made about my prayer mat – an officer called it a ‘magic carpet’ – even the other officers were not happy.”

Could someone please explain to me how that is racist? Does Steven Demetre Georgiou, a.k.a. the pop singer Cat Stevens (who likes to refer to himself as Yusuf Islam), not use a prayer mat? And he's British and white. Does the former Sunday Express journalist Yvonne Ridley not use a prayer mat? And she's British and white. Presumably, all Muslim converts use mag— er, prayer mats.

Before we leave the subject of whimiscal names for things – even things associated with religion – has anyone ever heard a Christian clergyperson complain about having his or her neck attire called a dog collar? No, didn't think so. They even use that term themselves.

Owers's report concerns fears that prison officers don't sufficiently understand the "complexities" of the prison's 198 Muslims. Er, what complexities, Ms Owers? They're there either because they've committed a crime society deems serious enough for a custodial sentence, part of it in Belmarsh, or because they are suspected of having committed one and are on remand awaiting trial. Why should any prisoner – Muslim, Christian or Jedi – have to have his "complexities" understood over and above those of all the other prisoners, just because he subscribes to a barmy doctrine?

Owers praises the work of two imams at the prison. Are they paid for by the taxpayer? Is their salary included in the £44,500 cost per year of keeping each prisoner (and, for that matter, is that of other religious busybodies who are allowed to visit inmates as an official duty)?

She's worried, though, that any perceived alienation of Muslims (by, presumably, having their prayer mats called magic carpets, or having their religious "complexities" not understood) will further radicalise them. "Any intervention [by prison officers] could also be interpreted by disaffected Muslims as an act of provocation," says the Times story quoted above.

The message seems to be that, if you're of a certain religious persuasion that is known to get uppity and have tantrums (often fatal ones), you should be treated with kid gloves. Should all prisoners not be treated equally (except in obvious cases of, say, illness)?

Whatever you think about the penal system in the UK – and many think it's appallingly bad while others think it's too lenient (which is altogether another argument) – it is simply a fact that we punish criminals by locking them up and depriving them of most of their liberties. Yet we allow them to congregate in chapels and other meeting places in the prison in the name of sky fairies, and believe they won't influence one another?
Hat tip Freethinker, with a terrific picture in this post.

FOOTNOTE: Is it any wonder that we risk radicalising Muslims when we see stories like this one from the The Times? Catch 'em young, eh?

No comments: