Taking hatred and discrimination seriously?
We spent an amount of time as a Luton community preparing for what some dubbed "Punish a Muslim Day" today, 3rd April. In the event nothing happened, which was just the right result. Around lunchtime i tweeted:
Another day spent wasting our time? Not at all. We've invested a lot of time and resources over the years investing in making sure the extremes we've become familiar at dealing with in Luton do not divide and define our community. So a lot of people are making time available to ensure that nothing happens. And when nothing happens we delight in it!
Today's effort was because as I wrote last week 'A person or people unknown recently thought it cool to declare Tuesday 3rd April as "Punish a Muslim Day."' The letter was the sort of anonymous thing that 25 years ago was still produced using Letraset (dry rub transfer lettering for the young!), an old typewriter or by cutting out and sticking words from a newspaper in an attempt for its author to remain unknown. The production of the copies I've seen just looked plain tacky before you even read its words.
Its not clear how many original copies were sent and received. Certainly not many. But scanning to social media meant that by the time today started Muslim communities across at least Europe and the USA knew of it. By early today the hastag "Punish a Muslim Day" was trending. The Guardian report on the day 'UK communities take action against 'Punish a Muslim Day' letter' notes it was hard to know the proportion of hostile tweets as against warnings or condemnation:
The hashtag #PunishAMuslimDay began trending on Twitter in the UK early on Tuesday. The vast majority of the tweets condemned the idea. However, some from accounts using the logos of far-right organisations suggested the letter had been a “false flag” operation. There were also some instances of fake claims about the day being spread on social media, with one tweet suggesting that “10 Muslims have been killed today in the name of ‘Punish a Muslim Day’” being shared more than 100 times, and other tweets claiming “attacks have already begun”.
The Guardian article reports of #LoveAMuslimDay' events. Yet many chose to mark Tuesday 3rd April as #JustAnotherDay with life as normal. We chose the latter with a number tweeting with #JustAnotherDayInLuton.
The fact is though that for many it was not "Just Another Day". It was a day marked by fear meaning many stayed at home, by confusion at why some were so evil as to even think this stuff, and by anger at the fact they did. There was no indication the letter came from those who had the capacity to mount any real campaign of hate of their own. The damage lay in the widespread fear and upset. And just possibly in those who felt it gave them license for plain acts of discrimination.
So for a number of us in our Luton community it was not "Just Another Day." Police and local government have a duty to safeguard a community, and where there is a threat to take it seriously. They did. But so too did we as community, As Christian and Muslim leaders we worked together and with police and council, and did it well because we've done it so often now, because we respect and trust each other, and because we are friends. The occasional photo on twitter reflected just that. Walking up the road mid afternoon to visit Luton's Central Mosque my conversation with a councilor reflected on that, as had many other conversations during the day. So too our conversation with the police, and especially Bedfordshire Police chief constable, Jon Boucher when he dropped by late afternoon. For all their other challenges, and especially financing, the community engagement they have done over the years as we have dealt with EDL, Britain First and other challenges has born the fruit of best practice in community cohesion. We work closely but we also feel a freedom to challenge and we know we are heard. And the result of that is the highest level recruitment of Black and Minority Ethnic Groups into policing in the nation. Why, because trust in police has gone up. Its not perfect here yet, but its certainly positive.
That's the fruit of days like today. Even though the issue that has us working hard together is horrible, we face it together, and work together for the good of the whole community.
Its vital we take seriously hatred and discrimination, that we challenge it. That's what good neighbours do. In fact I dare to say, that's real integration.
An important note: we don't claim that's ours is the only way, or we are the best, or we are the only ones doing things like this, or we have cracked it. But we do believe in what we do, and hold out the lessons we have learned for others.