She lent over the garden wall, screaming at passers by that Zionists  and the royal family were ruining her life. Her mother was in her dressing gown trying to calm her down as she ranted and raved. Knowing the family slightly, I stopped and tried to have a rational discussion with the daughter. I realised I was probably wasting my time when she told me the house was bugged and that she was being watched by hidden cameras.  I gave up and went on my way. Later that day she went on a rampage, smashing windows in the street, and her mother got her ‘sectioned’, i.e. compulsorily transferred to a mental hospital. Five or six neighbours stood around in the evening surveying the damage and wondering aloud about ‘radicalisation’ by the internet , and side-effects of medication, as we told tales of mentally ill relatives.

This was the week when it seemed as though radicalised young men of middle eastern origin were wreaking havoc across Europe. London, it could be your turn next. I remembered the old adage “To every problem there is one clear solution, and it’s wrong…” Before the backlash against innocent Moslems starts, I want to recall a school where I was a supply, or substitute, teacher for a couple of weeks. The kids were awful: one member of staff descibed the school to me as “a place where adults come to be abused by children.” The accepted disciplinary system was to write a brief note in the lesson about the disruptive pupil you wished to be given a stern talking to. But, and this is the interesting bit, before you could write   anything negative about the pupil you had to write down 6 good things about him or her first.

That stopped me in my tracks. The first joker I had to deal with had climbed on top of the cupboard and wouldn’t come down. I couldn’t think of one positive thing to say about him.  At mid morning break I asked for help, and it was suggested I could have mentioned (a) he was present in class, (b) he arrived on time for the lesson, (c) he was wearing at least part of his school uniform, (d)…. you get the idea.

No way am I comparing Moslems to naughty school children. My point is that before any knee jerk reflexes or populist political responses kick in, let your mind seek out positive aspects of a group you might be tempted to demonise or stereotype.

Here’s a list of 6 positive things about Islam, off the top of my head. If you make your own list and send it to me I can publish it too.

1/ Mosques, especially in the Middle East, are among the most beautiful buildings made by man,

2/ Moslem ethics encourage people to be kind and loving towards others,

3/ One of the things Moslems have to do is to regularly donate to charities which support the poor,

4/ The sound of a muezzin summoning the faithful to prayer is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard, especially when it is heard through desert air,

5/ Arabic caligraphy, as found on mosque walls, is one of mankind’s most beautiful art forms,

6/ Modern chemistry and mathematics (think al-chemy and al-gebra) are based on the work of Moslem thinkers long ago, preserved by them when Christian Europe went through a thousand year period of anti-intellectualism, the Dark Ages,

7/Islam is one of the three great monotheistic religions to come out of the arid wastes of the middle east; hence it can be considered a fraternal religion of Christianity with which it has much in common.

What do you think?

Postscript: thanks to Duncan who wrote in to add to my list: invention of the “zero” in maths, and the warmth and friendliness he encountered on a trip to Morocco.


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