Last weekend I had a nice afternoon at my old college where alumna Zarith Idris, now the Queen of Johor in Malaysia, came to speak about inter-faith toleration and understanding. The title of her talk was "We are Like You - Muslims in Malaysia". There were lots of pleasant people saying soothing things about how much we all have in common and there was a jolly good slap-up tea to follow.
Queen Zarith told us how much her family has in common with every Western family - chatting on their mobile phones, or glued to their laptops while sitting on the sofa in the evening. She spoke of how popular football is among Muslims in Malaysia, with many of them supporting Manchester United or other British teams. She described how horrified she and other Malaysians had been about the Japanese Tsunami, and how as a mother she was moved to compassion for the suffering of any other mother. All well and good.
But then, she alluded to the way she had been brought up, and muslim children in Malaysia are still brought up, to learn and recite the Koran in Arabic, even though they don't understand what it means. And she laughed mildly and gently in a well-bred way. I didn't laugh. At that point I parted company with her. I felt that she had revealed something that formed an insuperable barrier. Children should never be taught to recite things they don't understand. Such rote-learning is brain-washing and should not be called education at all.
If you call that my narrow, bigoted Western point of view, then I am proud of my narrow, bigoted Western point of view,and determined to keep it. I really do not welcome the "cultural enrichment" of having such practices imposed in the UK. In fact I would not call it cultural enrichment at all.
Sorry, Queen Zarith, we are really not just like you, and I hope we don't become so.