There are too many unnecessary divisions in our country, and some are unnecessarily based around religion and made worse by prejudice, lack of education and fear stirred up by deliberate misinformation and smears.
In Across the Divide there is a scene where Aidan’s opposition to school cadets leads him to be called a terrorist sympathiser, and this further expands and leads to a racist incident.
I was very sad to read this report by the Muslim Council of Great Britain:
There were lots of points made, and I recommend reading the whole report, but I want to focus on a misunderstanding with a child which caused the Muslim Council of Great Britain great concern. They cited the example of a two-year-old child in East London who has a diagnosed learning disability, sang an Islamic song and said "Allahu Akbar" spontaneously – he was subsequently referred to social services for "concerning behaviour”.
“Allahu Akbar” means “God is the greatest”. I know that this has been hijacked by hateful murderers online, but we should not let them stir up fear and prejudice. Terrorists want us to hate - they thrive on mutual distrust. We should all be able to recognise and respect this Arabic sentence as one which is uttered by so many fellow British citizens in the context of their ancient religion. Why is a little religious child simply expressing their faith a reason to contact the authorities?
I am a shy Christian. When my children were little we always lit a candle at home and prayed together every night. We thanked God for happy things we had experienced and blessed people and sang hymns and religious songs. One of my memories is walking along my city’s high street, trying not to sink into the ground in embarrassment when my toddler daughter in the backpack started singing enthusiastically and very tunefully in a loud voice ‘Yes, Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, the bible tells me so.’
Nobody reported us to social services. Yet she was singing a song praising her god, just like that other two-year-old.
Our nationality, our religious beliefs or lack of them, our values and the way we understand the world, our age, our gender, our sexuality, whether we are disabled or not, our ethnicity, our history, our class, and so many other things, are all part of who we are, as citizens, as readers and as writers. If people reject us simply because of those things which make us who we are, because of what they perceive us to be, we can try to reach across the divide, we can communicate and explain, but it is also their responsibility to acknowledge, examine and confront their own prejudices, to try to find out more about us, and it’s the responsibility of us all to talk to and listen to each other’s truly diverse stories.
ACROSS THE DIVIDE by Anne Booth is out now in paperback (£6.99, Catnip Publishing)Follow Anne Booth @Bridgeanne and Catnip @catnipbooks for more information