It’s absurd to call for “respect for belief” without first asking what that belief is. If the belief is religious, there is all the more reason to be cynical since the belief is less likely to be based on any objective evidence or inductive reasoning.
So, when we are asked to respect someone’s belief, we should not hesitate to ask “what is their belief?”.
According to a report in The Independent, a female Muslim police officer has refused to shake hands with male colleagues because it goes against her religious beliefs.
Despite Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain calling for greater understanding of cultural differences and Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission saying that the actual problem is “is cultural and religious ignorance and misunderstanding”, we should not be afraid to say that the police officer’s belief that male and females persons should avoid body contact of any sort, no matter how innocent and routine, (unless it is a matter of life and death) is a stupid belief and ought not to be repected.
Despite Establishment opposition – from Queen Victoria to Mary Whitehouse – the course of 20th Century Britain was to challenge, undermine and overturn this religious this cultural silliness and to fight for gender equality and non-discrimination. Had society ‘respected’ the beliefs of prudish parsons and moral-majority matrons, it would never have moved forward.
Now we’re being asked to move backwards again.
If people want to hold crazy beliefs that impose unreasonable restrictions on the behaviour of others they should retreat to a hermitage or share a commune with people who share their quirky ideas, not seek employment in the public services.
It is not unreasonable to ask people to leave their religious ideas at home if they seek to serve the public. It is not unreasonble that to gain a licence as a black cab driver, the applicant must show a willingness to take all fares, including (if not especially) blind people with guide-dogs.
It is not unreasonable to ask a Jehovah’s Witness who is opposed to the adminstration of blood transfusions to consider finding employment outside of the medical profession.
People must realise that while it is fine to hold beliefs that restrict their behaviour, it is not up to the rest of society to accomodate those self-imposed restrictions. If you want to limit your range of action and interaction, then you have to accept that their are consequences for yourself that you cannot transfer to other people. I am a vegetarian. I accept that this imposes limitations on what I can eat and where I can eat. I accept that 8 out of 10 items on the menu will not meet my requirements. As much as I love cooking (and I’m quite good at it), I cannot work as a chef or a caterer serving the general public because I cannot expect the public to change their diets to suit the limitations I have imposed on my own.
To me, ‘multiculturalism’ does not mean that different cultures and traditions are frozen in time, protected and preserved. It means that all are thrown into the arena and subject to the same scrutiny and re-evaluation. They sink or swim.
The idea of gender segregation and inequality was sexist, unprogressive and abhorent when the Christian establishment sought to foist it on society. It is no less objectionable today when the Muslim establishment seeks to persuade us to go along with it.
So, to the Muslim WPC who refuses to shake hands, I say: “act reasonably, or find another occupation. The vision of Britain’s future that you envision is at fundamental odds with my own. I will resist your beliefs – not because they are “foreign” or “different” but because they are wrong.”
UPDATE: Wow! This must be some kind of record. ‘Listed‘ on Islamophobia-Watch within 5 minutes of posting.
While there, I noticed reference to another story. It seems a cashier at WHSmith refused to serve a customer who had requested a packet of cigarettes – on religious grounds. Proprietor, Pork Pie Pitt, doesn’t say whether he approves or not.
But where will this end? A Hindu cashier Sainsbury’s refusing to cash up your frozen beef burgers? A Jewish waiter at Pizza Express refusing to bring you meat and cheese on the same plate? An Evangelical Christian salesman at The Gap refusing to let you try on garments with mixed fibres? Another Muslim shop assistant objecting to your balsamic vinegar in your trolley? A Buddhist at B&Q lecturing you on karma when you ask for some pesticide?
When you go into a shop, you expect to be able to purchase what they have on the shelves without getting into a theological debate. Simple as that.