The mosques I visited, in Whitechapel and Shepherd's Bush, were nothing like any church I'd attended. The scenes, to me, were extraordinary, and I was eager to capture them in my novel. There would be passionate orators haranguing a group of people sitting on the floor. One demagogue would replace another, of course, but the "preaching" went on continuously, as listeners of all races came and went. I doubt whether you'd see anything like this now, but there would be diatribes against the west, Jews and - their favourite subject - homosexuals.
Sometimes I would be invited to the homes of these young "fundamentalists". One of them had a similar background to my own: his mother was English, his father a Muslim, and he'd been brought up in a quiet suburb. Now he was married to a woman from Yemen who spoke no English. Bringing us tea, she came into the room backwards, and bent over too, out of respect for the men. The men would talk to me of "going to train" in various places, but they seemed so weedy and polite, I couldn't believe they'd want to kill anyone.
I found these sessions so intellectually stultifying and claustrophobic that at the end I'd rush into the nearest pub and drink rapidly, wanting to reassure myself I was still in England. It is not only in the mosques but also in so-called "faith" schools that such ideas are propagated. The Blair government, while attempting to rid us of radical clerics, has pledged to set up more of these schools, as though a "moderate" closed system is completely different to an "extreme" one. This might suit Blair and Bush. A benighted, ignorant enemy, incapable of independent thought, and terrified of criticism, is easily patronised.Meanwhile, the Graun's Jonathan Freedland suggests that the reason that second-generation British Muslims are embracing radicalism in large numbers has to do with the lack of a US-style sense of national identity; apparently, British culture is too self-deprecating and embarrassed of itself to hold much appeal or command much loyalty, and the vacuum is filled with radical Islamism and such; consequently, if Britain is to assimilate people from different cultures peacefully and cohesively, it needs a new sense of national pride.
Though wouldn't anything even remotely redolent of earnest national pride, let alone the sort of chest-beating God-Bless-America-Fuck-Yeah-We're-Number-One Stars-and-Stripes-on-your-Hummer triumphalism that exists in the US, be fundamentally un-British? I can't imagine the Britons of today festooning their Vauxhall Corsas and row houses with enormous Union Jacks and declaiming, in all earnestness, that their national destiny is ordained by God. This may have been otherwise at the height of the British Empire; after all, it was the British who coined the word "jingoism"; and as for God-given manifest destiny, Britain came up with Anglo-Israelitism, the ideology that the English are God's true chosen people. These days, however, that sort of thing comes across as a bit naff.
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