Wednesday 2nd May
Englishmen have always feared the East. Even as they robbed and plundered, they feared and lacked comprehension. They especially hated the Religions of the East (and by the way they almost all came from there). The very ideas of Judaism and Islam were anathema to the upright Christian God-Fearing Englishman of the Nineteenth, and for much of the Twentieth Century. Hinduism they sort of tolerated, not seeing it as a threat, and Confucianism was simply some Chinese nonsense. And History was on their side. We were taught at school about the wonderful ancient Romans and Greeks, and of course Rome adopted Christianity and abandoned their plethora of exotic Gods. The fall of Rome (now solidly Christian) was seen as a disaster, especially by the waves from the East; the Vandals and the Goths (both now incidentally almost terms of abuse). Then came the Wilderness Centuries until Christianity was established all over Europe. Then the threat came from the East again. The crusades were the moral cause for a couple of hundred years. The fear of the dark-skinned Moors ingrained in our souls.
And it is still there, it has never gone away. I am re-reading the Forsyte saga, and book eight is essentially about an Englishman who adopts Islam; Galsworthy describes the feelings of anger and betrayal this stirred up in 1930. For many, these views are basically the same today. Even though the vast majority of us only pay lip-service to Christianity, there is a deep fear of our country being taken over by another Religious belief. But talk to any educated Muslim and you soon realise that their God is very similar to our own. Their values are almost exactly the same as our ‘Christian’ values.
Personally I have rejected all Religious belief, while still retaining the ‘Christian’ values – as I suspect that many people have. For centuries Jews were abused and barely tolerated; this is slowly changing though there is still suspicion in many minds. But Islam is the new (actually very old) threat, stoked by anti-immigrant rhetoric from the papers and the Home Office alike. I refuse to unfriend people on Facebook, even when they post the most disgraceful anti-Muslim nonsense. I prefer to take them to task, even if this enrages them, at least they are forced to hear a different view. Tolerance and Understanding must win out in the end. Though I fear it may take many more years to dispel this completely irrational fear of the East.