I once had the amazing privilege of being invited into a Muslim household. The differences between my culture and theirs were overwhelming – I felt like an alien in a world vastly different from my own; Prayer mats in the corner, texts from the Koran on the wall, I learnt to eat curry with my hands rather than with cutlery, I was kept separate from the women of the house and never had the chance to properly thank them for the meal I ate, their culture was one with arranged marriages – including between cousins.
It was so different from how I would choose to live that it felt wrong. But are these differences ‘wrong’ or just different?
There were things I could appreciate; the incredible food, how I was treated like an honoured guest, the sense of family from having so many relatives living in neighbouring streets, the way many Muslim women’s dress seems more appropriate, helpful, colourful and graceful than the almost indecent, flesh hanging out attire of some western women.
The roles were reversed in my experience with the EU referendum. One person on hearing how I voted couldn’t help but respond with a sharp intake of breath and wide eyed shock, followed by a hushed list of people who must not find out. For a brief moment I had a taste of what it must be like to be a convicted paedophile. I felt condemned. I was condemned for having an opinion, yet was not given permission to explain why I had that opinion.
A quick flick through Facebook at posts and comments about the referendum reveals how easy it is to assume that anyone with an opposite opinion to one’s own must be mad, bad or stupid. Some of my Christian friends seem to be amongst the worst at this.
People with a different culture or opinion from ourselves give us an opportunity to appreciate the differences before we criticise, to listen for understanding and ask ‘Why do you think that?’ before we condemn, to create an atmosphere where people can be free to express their opinions and disagree without having to self-censor.
So how are you doing at this?
What is your immediate response when I tell you I was delighted at the referendum result because I believe it will reduce bureaucracy, bring greater freedom to govern ourselves, keep those in power more in touch with the people they govern, create more stable race relations, waste less money, make us safer, and in the long term be better for our economy?
If I were to tell you how disappointed I am that a great policy intellect like Michael Gove isn’t in Theresa May’s Cabinet, what is your gut response?
Written by Dean Fryer-Saxby