UK 2

February 17 2007

My post on the UK was bleak, but true. On the positive side (if this is a positive, and taking nothing away from those negative points), London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. New York doesn’t come close. Bradford isn’t cosmopolitan at all. London’s relatively- or very-recently arrived non-EU immigrants interact with the whole in a more interesting, positive, way than the sad (subjectively sad) congeries of immigrants who even now gather in some mainland European towns near the main railway station (which London doesn’t have), unloved, unconnected, unemployed and over-subsidised. Though things have improved in Germany. The scale of London allows dynamic absorption.

The UK’s experience as a colonial power may help it. Whatever mistakes we made along the way, we learned the rudiments of sensitivity. It isn’t chance that no British newspapers published the vulgar cartoons of Muhammad last year. We didn’t because, to put it bluntly, we have “been there and done that” and learned in a way provincial Denmark just has not.

So an innocent offensiveness flourishes there more than it does here. What about France? Universality and secularism do not give the French the space for the kinds of muddling-through, moralising and talk of diversity that we indulge in as a way of dealing with social change (see veil controversy, passim). And when they are racist, they are just racist. The cards are on the table.

The US is often offensive even when it’s not fighting. Its offensiveness comes from an inability, or refusal, to understand old-world particularities.

The British imperial record should damn us in Iraq, but may help us there as well. Or is that one of the myths we have about ourselves? US soldiers dress up (in a more dangerous zone) like death squads. We like to think we make eye contact.

The early-imperial British mercantilist spirit has been domesticated. Islamic finance? We’ll do that, and be the world capital. Europe? We’ve handled it rather coolly. We’re there and not there. But it’s fans of a British football club, Millwall, who make chimpanzee sounds when black players come onto the field, and Dutch football fans, supporters of Ajax’s rivals, who hiss to imitate the sound in gas chambers. Behaviour which is not even thinkable in the US.

Apropos the Danish cartoons, I’ve pointed out to some educated Arab Sunni Muslims that there are precedents in Islam for portraying the Prophet benignly. Here is a website:

5 Responses to “UK 2”

  1. […] Sunni Arabs. As well as adding this post, I have modified the earlier ones, to which you can link here and […]

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Danes and others complained about curtailment of freedom of expression during the cartoons controversy. It didn’t seem to occur to them that the censor which should have operated is called manners.

  3. […] this later post for a more positive […]

  4. davidderrick Says:

    This post seems very dated after only five years. In other ways, the points it makes are simply obvious. Blair had put me in a jaundiced mood. And we are getting to the point where explicit public racism of the Millwall variety is becoming unthinkable in the UK too.

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