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Sunday, December 19, 2004

In Manchester

I'm in Manchester at the moment, staying with my daughter and last night we went for a curry. She lives near "The curry mile" - a glitzy street with the highest concentration of Indian restuarants in Britain. I love the street with its neon lights, bright saris and jewellery shops open at all hours. I'm reminded of Mombasa (Kenya) where I grew up and Leicester (UK) where I lived a number of years.

To my daughter's embarrassment I stopped to take a photo of the restaurant we were going to. And to my suprise I was flanked by two policeman as I took my camera out. In Mombasa my parents didn't let me take photos of people without their permission, especially Muslims who, my mother never stopped telling me, "believe that you are capturing their soul". Does that really happen, I would ask. And she always replied - if you believe it, it does.

Early socialisation overcame me and I guiltily assured the policemen I was only taking a picture of the restaurant - and not of any person. It took me a couple of minutes to realise that these two guys were worried about my security. They were concerned I was about to be robbed and were guarding me while I took a photo!

Then as we ate our dinner watching the world pass by the smoked glass walls of the restuarant I counted a police car or van drive by at the rate of one every thirty seconds. I got a flash of being in Belfast during "The Troubles" - only here the names are different depending on which side of political correctness you stand on. The Muslim problem, the Asian problem, racism, crime. I'm curious to know how many Asians in this area are Muslims. How many are Mirpuri (Pakistani) and Bangladeshi Muslims and how many are Patels (Hindu Gujaratis) and Sikhs? I can imagine that people are often ignorantly lumped into one "Asian" or "Muslim" bundle.

I also get thinking of Holland where resentment has obviously been accumulating under the politically correct surface. How many Muslims in this area of Manchester find it unacceptable to intimidate young, white women (like my daughter) on the street during Id with insults like "white whore bitch"? Probably most. I wonder if, how and where people from different communities are addressing and talking about these issues.

I wonder if there is a way out of this mess of tribalism, political correctness and ignorance that that seems to be leading our carriage towards the cliff edge. I'm hoping that if enough people believe it, there is.


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