Thursday, 20 September 2007

Neighbourhoods don't have a religion

And along similar lines...

Just as children shouldn't be defined by religious labels, nor should neighbourhoods.

In Small Heath, Birmingham, a group calling itself 'Clean Medina' is organising what it calls 'a jihad on litter'. According to their website:

Clean Medina says that Muslim neighbourhoods in the city are far too messy and they want to change that. So they’ve launched a “struggle’ against rubbish and waste, and whilst they’re at it they want to reclaim Jihad as a positive force.

There's a podcast in which campaigners 'explain why they’re so fed up with the dirty streets that give Muslim neighbourhoods a bad reputation'.

Sunny believes this is 'one jihad we can all support'. And who could possibly object to a drive to clean up dirty streets, or a move to reclaim religious language from the extremists?

What makes me really uncomfortable, though, is the repeated reference to 'Muslim' neighbourhoods - the identification of a geographical area with a particular religion. It's something we've grown used to - and lamented - in Northern Ireland, with its 'Protestant estates' and 'Catholic enclaves', but thankfully avoided elsewhere in the UK (well, apart for a few estates in Glasgow and Liverpool).

It's qualitatively different from describing a neighbourhood as 'Asian' or 'white' (problematic though that may be in other ways). All you're doing there is making a statement of fact: the majority in this area belong to a particular ethnic group. With religion, you're going further and identifying a place with a set of ideas - giving it a religious character. Once you do that, the tendency is to accept that those ideas should be allowed to influence the life of the neighbourhood and govern how it's run. People in the area who don't espouse those ideas -including those from a 'Muslim' background who wish to define themselves differently - can soon begin to feel marginalised and threatened.

To paraphrase Richard Dawkins: There is no such thing as a 'Muslim' neighbourhood, or a 'Christian' neighbourhood (or there shouldn't be). There are only neighbourhoods, lived in by people each with their own private beliefs, none of which should be allowed to dominate the public ('secular' in the true sense of the word) space that they all share.

(via Pickled Politics)

1 comment:

Sunny said...

A good point, and I agree. Although I think what they really mean is a 'Muslim majority neighbourhood'.

And TBH, it happens with everyone including white people. We constantly read articles in the right-wing press about people complaining that immigrants were moving into their neighbourhood. "The area's changed a lot in the last few years" isn't anything other than a coded phrase to say its gone from a white neighbourhood to a mixed-race one.

I think religion is only part of this territorial tension.