My earliest first-hand experience of true freedom of expression dates back a few decades, when I heard a British citizen delivering a speech attacking Queen Elisabeth II personally at London’s Hyde Park Corner. I was keen to leave the crowd quickly, worried that the London police would arrest the speaker along with the audiences who had lent him their ears! In the following years, I advanced my knowledge about how freedom of expression operates in the United Kingdom, which has become home to many Arab critics and extremists.
A cosmopolitan city is often defined as a city that accommodates people who come from diversified cultural backgrounds and whose citizens are known to be broad-minded! However, London certainly is much more than a cosmopolitan city that hosts many ethnic and religious sects who tend to be hardliners and a few of whom are certainly extremists – a category of people that I used to think only emerged in totalitarian nations that constrain citizens’ freedom.
The United Kingdom’s success in accommodating all of these nationalities is probably due to its strict application of rule of law. However, strong law enforcement has no impact on Londoners’ manners, which have certainly changed over the years to adapt to the new habits that naturally come with the integration of new immigrants. During a recent visit to the city, I was astonished to see a native English customer jump a queue to proceed with his transaction, claiming that he was in hurry – a behavior that I had never encountered before in my long experience with the city.
London is a second home for roughly 300,000 Arabs and it receives another one and half million Arab visitors in the summer. The great number of people who speak Arabic, the halal food offered in many food outlets that even carry Arabic language signs and the availability of shisha somehow give London the appearance of an ‘Arab city’ situated in Europe. During an unpleasant occasion when I was visiting a hospital in London, I was surprised to hear the Muslim call to prayer coming from a hospital personnel’s mobile phone and I eventually found a prayer mat in the hospital’s waiting room.
In recent years, London, sadly, has confronted many terrorist attacks that were committed by the newcomers to the city, which made me wonder why terrorism flourishes in this innovative, entrepreneurial city. Aside from the fact that I condemn terrorism, I don’t know why terrorists attempt to carry out their devilish acts in the city that offers them home, assimilates them as part of a harmonized community and in many cases offers them financial aid to enable them to live decently.
The United Kingdom’s readiness to engage many ethnic immigrants in its political structure should logically conclude in the dissolution of all kinds of extremists – which is not the case! Did these extremists manage to conceal their ugly side when processing their documents to enter to the country, or did their fanaticism develop after they had moved in? The United Kingdom’s political environment has enabled Sadiq Khan, the descendant of a working-class British Pakistani family, to become Mayor of London and there are 15 Muslim members in the British parliament.
Meanwhile, I am unaware of any British-Arabs who have become significantly involved in their new nation’s politics! Do we Arabs prefer to spend our time socializing rather than truly engaging in politics? Why do Arabs tend to break the law and engage in violent activities in a nation that offers us a clear structure to pursue any goal peacefully? If it were my call, I would prompt the British government to work on restoring the manners of Londoners by firmly applying the rule of law, regardless of citizens’ backgrounds. Seeing London gradually loose its original exemplary behavior and good manners is a shame.
I am completely unclear about the best method to apply to reduce terrorism! I often criticize my country, Egypt’s, repressive policy towards extremists and highly value a nation like the United Kingdom that applies rule of law strictly. However, terrorist activities have taken place in both nations equally. Our Universe is certainly in need of a clear and common strategy for fighting terrorism that is rapidly spreading across every part of the world, with the aim of unleashing its hatred onto innocent civilians.