What Not To Talk About At A Dinner Party: Politics, Sex, and Islam

I humped back from work yesterday with a massive frame under my arm, stopping by London Bridge to meet Zoe – who would then proceeded to give me another two frames. Two, very heavy, frames.

She’d gone to see DV8 – a piece of physical theatre, crossed with verbatim dialogue, focusing on Islam in the UK – at the National on Monday. It was a show I was meant to see with Laura, but never got around to. The performance also had a post talk afterwards, which was apparently very raucaus. From what I gather from Zoe, the spur behind the show was that people find it difficult to talk about Islam without sounding like racists, and the director wanted to a create an honest, open debate. While I applaud that idea, I sort of launched into my old number of how is politically ineffective these days (after all, who was the audience for this?), but I’m not going to talk about that – I want to touch on Islam’s place in our culture, because I think it already gets talked and thought about a lot – just rarely in positive terms. I should say from the top that I’m not a Muslim, or at all religious, myself – but I acknowledge the power faith still holds in this country, so it’s certainly bears thinking about.

To be associated with Islam immediately invites suspicion, and while we may laugh at our American cousins and their obsession with Obama’s religion, we are not much better – we’re just a bit more subtle about it. For example, I find the tone and implications in this classic Gilligan Livingstone article very telling. He’s not stupid enough to lambast Livingstone directly for his comments, he just floats this out there as a “hey look…this is the religion this guy supports…and he wants to give ’em money as well!”, casually mentioning the mosque’s former links to terrorism, and awaits the fury in the comments below. Job done.

Because, for many, Islam is a smear, and an easy smear at that. Even in those who should know better it causes a twinge – I once saw a well educated, liberal father tweak slightly when his daughter explained that she was dating a Muslim guy. He had no problem with it, because he’s sane, and you can’t blame someone for their reaction – just their reaction to that reaction – but there still was that instinctive response. It’s there because Islam’s default cultural imprint has been severely skewed by a bunch of unrepresentative nutbags, to the extent that even the middle ground on the issue is heavily weighted towards the bad. Which means that, to defend it is to really stick your neck out. I’ve said before how fascinating I found it that the (unelected) Chairwoman of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, while defending faith from “militant secularism” was happy to point out how Christianity had benefited her and the UK as a whole…but somehow could not find it in herself to discuss what positives Islam brings to her life, despite identifying as a Muslim. She did, admittedly, give the pope a Koran, but you might as well be giving a steak to a middle class vegan. They’ll accept it, graciously…and then toss it to the dog the second you’re out the door.

So while stuff like DV8 is interesting work, and laudibly encourages discussion, what really needs to be done, as unpaleteable as it is for some, is exactly what Ken says…people need to be educated, not left to absorb misinformation from scared or aggressive parties. Islam also needs positive, popular role models who are willing to wrestle back their religion’s name from being such a dirty word. As much as I personally dislike Warsi, I respect her, and as a powerful, successful, fiercly intelligent woman she could be a great representative for her faith. Or at least a far better one than the backward, violent thugs that have hijacked it in the popular conscience.

Anyway, hoiking three frames on a 35 minute walk across London soon pushed these high minded thoughts out of my head and I settled back on the warm cotton bed of domesticity. “Where to put these lovely pictures?”. Here’s one. Naked torso in the kitchen. A talking point over omelettes. Mid 20s blah blah blah.

Sure it's a little high, but it leaves space for a shelf...

And yes, it is straight, just the iPhone lens causes a distortion on verticals and…oh never mind. But it’s straight.

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