Archive for Make Bradford British

Make Bradford human

Posted in Advertising & Television, Other, Philosophy, Racism, Religion with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2012 by innothingwetrust

A response to Channel 4’s provocative documentary, ‘Make Bradford British’ (Thursday 1st March, 21.00 – 22.00, C4)

What does it mean to be British? Speaking English? The ability to queue? Knowing the words to our national anthem? Or does such a sense of ‘belonging’ simply mean caring about the country in which you live? My grandmother once said that ‘Britishness’ was about ‘law and order’. If this is simply the case then Britons are far more widespread than our own fair Isles and in fact include inhabitants of any civilised, developed country. The answer, of course, is a mixture of the above and a lot, lot more. But why is it so important?

We humans seem to be obsessed with making sure that everything fits into some definition. It’s as if we just can’t sleep at night knowing that there is something or someone avoiding categorisation, that any item dwelling outside these parameters will instantly cause total chaos. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person watching Channel 4’s documentary ‘Make Bradford British’ with mixed feelings.

The setup of the program is that 8 Bradfordians of differing races, religions, ages and backgrounds are brought together under the same premise: they have all failed the government’s ludicrous ‘Citizenship Test’ (I took a version of the test and got 11/24, which would qualify as a ‘fail’). The inhabitants of Britain’s most segregated city are forced to live together in a house (at least this week) and discuss/ discover what it means to be ‘British’ today. My knee-jerk reaction, and what is still my overriding feeling regarding the topic, was ‘bloody hell, who cares what it means to be British?’. Now obviously, a lot of people would respond to this question claiming that they care, thank you very much, and that it is an important issue! Well, you’re going to have to convince this sceptic.

The focus of the first part of the program fell on Rashid, an incredibly devout Muslim who must not only pray 5 times a day, but must go all the way over to his Mosque to do it. All 5 times. Every day. I felt that Rashid came over actually as a really nice guy. At no point was he confrontational or even defensive in the face of the annoyance and total disbelief of his peers in the house, and he retained good humour and an endearing personality throughout. However, as nice as he seems, he appears also to be as thick as two cleveland steamers. This is exemplified in his assertion that praying at the Mosque as opposed to just at home will assure you of “25 to 28 times more reward from God”. Like the statistics have somehow been published from the 2006 Census of Paradise. His response to Sabbiyah – a female Muslim housemate who can’t believe that he will not let her pray with him because she is a woman – is that she should ‘ask her scholars’ and that they will tell her that it is not right. People ingrained in a belief to this extent, I fear, will never actually think for themelves. If your response to a problem is to consult only the thoughts of others then you will never have any of your own. A waste of a human mind. This isn’t a religion thing, it’s just being stupid.

However, the documentary – and Rashid’s housemates – try to imply that his constant back and forth between the house and the Mosque is somehow a barrier to his integration into society. No it’s not. It is no more a barrier to social integration than a workaholic’s long hours at the office or a soldier’s 2 year tour of duty. The real barrier is that people define Rashid immediately by his harmless – if questionable – religious activity, and that this definition does not constitute ‘Britishness’. It is absolutely the case that the surface judgements of others who see only his ethnicity, faith, clothes or beard block his integration, not his faith itself. If, to be British, one has to be a certain religion, then count me right out. Not just because I am an atheist, but because I would not want to be a part of such a country.

It is also the case that for whatever reason, people of all ethnicities can’t seem to see the wood for the trees when assessing their neighbours. If we’re not willing to mingle because we can’t fathom how people of differing skin tones could ever find any sort of common ground, then the question of what ‘British’ means pales in comparison to what is clearly a far greater problem of simple racism – from all sides, not just the ‘natives”. People must not just be ‘willing’ to interact: there must be no question over interaction in the first place.

Then there is Jens, a 71 year old white man living in an exclusively white area of Bradford. Some might excuse his shocking language by using that ridiculous and never justifiable adage, ‘he’s from that generation’. However, his casual references to ‘Paki-bashing’ and calling fellow housemate and Mr.T lookalike Desmond a ‘black bastard’ could easily have come from a member of the younger generation who might also try and explain away such comments as ‘banter’ in a similar fashion to Jens. The meaning of these phrases is lost on such people – at no point does Jens question why such a phrase as ‘Paki-bashing’ even exists and the obviously abhorrent connotations of that idea, he simply argues that the useage was innocent. Even if this were true, of all the innocent phrases out there to drop into conversation… I don’t buy it Jens.

All of these characters claim to be British through and through and display the tired old signs of pointless patriotism which people love to wear on their sleeves and red-tops love to pin to their front pages as a badge of honour. Patriotism is, ultimately, a pledge of allegiance to a plot of land – a plot which has been settled upon by certain people who have developed a certain set of laws, values and idiosyncrasies. However, since abstract ideas such as ‘values’ do not exist tangibly, they can be taken with you wherever you go. If patriotism was defined simply as an affinity with these ideas, it would be merely a philosophical issue and not also a socio-political one. The one constant with patriotism is a locality – a plot of land. The question is not ‘what does it mean to be British?’, but ‘why is it so important for everyone residing in Britain to share some common characteristic?’.

This isn’t necessarily the rhetoric that it appears to be (and mostly is). I actually think that it is key for people to share certain characteristics, but that these have absolutely nothing to do with what nationality a person considers themself to be, what religion they follow, whether they or their parents were born inside some imaginary line or whether they know a country’s history. The things all humans should share are adherance to the law, an open, logical mind, tolerance of others (or, even better, the sheer absence of the idea of tolerance in the first place – you should ‘tolerate’ without it even being a thought), to believe and do what you want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else and – most importantly – just don’t be a criminally useless neanderthal thug. You might have to read between the lines with that last one. Those should be the ground rules for any society. Anything on top of that (drinking tea, fish & chips, street parties, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, QI, the Monarchy, architecture) is optional.

In constantly asking what constitutes ‘Britishness’, we are ramming people into labelled boxes and dividing them. What people fail to step back and see is that all of these boxes – Asian, African, Tall, Female, Muslim, Bald, Jew, Pensioner, British, Youth, Male, Polish, Chinese, Fat – all reside in one larger box labelled ‘Doesn’t Really Matter’. So perhaps I am as guilty of pigeon-holing as anyone else – I just think the fewer ‘holes’, the better. Maybe if people got up out of their confines and mingled together in the communal trough – much like Bradford’s ridiculous segregated communities should – they would discover that it is far more productive to forget all the differences and misunderstandings and realise the one thing that we have in common  – we are all human. Once we have all gotten over ourselves and established that fact, maybe then we can begin to indulge in a national identity.

But that’s just too simple I guess.

Episode 2 of ‘Make Bradford British’ will be shown on Thursday 8th March, 21.00 – 22.00, C4.

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