Sunday, September 16, 2007

Spitting for Allah...

So this afternoon I'm sat on the sofa in the front room engaging in my very own sacred sabbath ritual - watching low-quality television and eating cheese on toast - when a big old people carrier pulls up in the parking space outside my house. Out of the front gets a boy of about twelve or thirteen and he walks over to the edge of the pavement, less than a metre from where I'm sat, and spits on the edge of the pavement. Now bear in mind the curtains are open, the TV is flickering, he can clearly see me, I have a really close-up view on the action, I'm a bit disgusted by it.

There are a lot of kids who hang about in my street and I'm pretty used to shoeing them off climbing on my fence, playing knock-down ginger (ringing doorbells and running away), hassling cats and fighting with each other. So I fling open the front door and shout "Oi! Don't spit in the street! That's disgusting!", to which he replies "I'm fasting, I'm not allowed to swallow anything".

"I don't care, carry a bag with you and spit in that if you must, don't spit in the street"

Then his Dad gets out of the car and shouts at me, "It's not your street, he didn't spit in your garden"

"It's everybody's street, no-one wants to walk in his spit"

"Exactly it's everybody's street, he can do what he likes"

At this point I thought about asking for his address so I could go and defecate in the end of his driveway, but I thought better of it and was about to try to explain something about communal responsibility when a total stranger to the whole situation came across the street to join in, announcing "Yeah exactly, it's everybody's street, spit where you like mate."

By this stage Mum and, ten to eleven year-old, sister, both dressed in full headscarves and floor-length robes, heads bowed, had climbed out of the back of the car. Everybody headed off in their separate directions and I went back indoors feeling a bit like I'd become the new Mary Whitehouse of the anti-gobbing-in-the-street movement.

And the thing is, it's still bugging me. For a number of reasons:

1) Normally the kids I see being a nuisance in the street know they're doing something wrong. Usually when I stick my head out the door they apologise and skulk off, or at very least look guilty and run away. This kid actually believed he was being "righteous" spitting in the street. He had his Dad backing him up, encouraging him to behave that way.

2) Is it really fair to insist that your young teenage children fast, just when they're really growing? Is that a healthy thing for a boy around puberty to do? While we're on the subject is it fair to insist that your daughter and wife sit in the back seat, dress like ghosts and don't speak in public?

3) Is it safe to drive a car when you haven't eaten anything, nor even drunk so much as a sip of water since sunrise? Which affects your concentration more - two pints of lager or ten hours without any food or liquid? It's against the law to drive after two pints of lager.

This brings me back to an old point really. Religious tolerance is often lumped in with tolerance for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, women, gay people and disabled people. It's not the same. Human beings, all of us, have rights, human rights. One of those rights is not the right to gob on the pavement because your imaginary friend told you to.


Havva said...

Hey Cruella,

I just came over here from Feministing and read your post. I know a couple of things about Ramadan and fasting because I grew up in Iran.

1- That the little brat was full of shit. It is ok to swallow your own spit during fasting.
2- You don’t know that these people “make” their children fast, a lot of kids enthusiastically *want* to fast simply because they see their grownups doing it. I doubt it really affects their growth. It’s not like they don’t eat for a whole month, they may very well be getting the same amount of nutrients as they do throughout the year.

3- It’s really a stretch to say that it impairs your ability to drive. I know because I have fasted, but also because I don’t know of any correlation that exists, between the number of car accidents and the time of Ramadan. I haven’t done a study like that, but it wasn’t something like people knew it was more likely to get in a car crash during Ramadan. By your logic, driving should be illegal who weren’t able to get enough sleep, people getting off long flights, or people getting off work very late, or people who work the night shift.

Cruella said...

Oh interesting - so many points to address...

1) Maybe not in your interpretation of Islam, but clearly both the kid and his dad think it is. And as long as you make your decision on whether to swallow spit or not based on religious doctrine (rather than reason), you'll presumably be making your decision on whether or not to murder heathens you meet on the same basis. We need to prioritise reason over religious doctrine.

2) When I say "force" a child to do something I think there are a number of ways of doing that. I don't necessarily mean shouting in their face. Making it clear to a child that they will be treated forever as a child until they do something is a very clever way of forcing them to do something. Likewise children may be made aware that they will be excluded from family events or even the family as a whole if they do not adhere to some notion or other. Forcing doesn't have to be physical, it can be through psycological manipulation too.

3) I'm not advocating a new law unless the scale of the problem seems dramatic enough to warrant it. But I'm not comfortable getting in a car with a driver who's extremely tired. Any packet of strong painkillers will advise consumers not to drive or operate heavy machinery. I think drivers should take it upon themselves to ensure they are in a reasonable state to drive.

Stan said...

I know that there's an over-riding concern for human life in Islam that means that airline pilots will take some sweet tea to keep their blood sugar up rather than plough into a hill.

Aren't people travelling exempt from the fast anyway - as long as they make up the days later ?

I always thought the fast was an adults-only thing.

Personally I think you're right to expect British standards of behaviour in Britain - they would darn tooting expect you to toe the line in Tehran.

Susan said...

I couldn't agree with you more about expecting people to conform to certain standards when they emigrate. Call me ethnocentric, if you will, but I would never move to a Muslim country (I could put a full stop there, but I won't) and expect them to tolerate my swanning about in shorts and slinky tops, munching on a ham sandwich washed down with beer.

Cruella said...

Hmmm - woah there guys! I'm actually not saying that those who emigrate to Britain should adopt "British values". I mean I don't even know what British values are - poor customer service and disgusting food.

I also don't think that we should force a "British" lifestyle on those who emigrate here. We are all just fortunate to have been born here, we can't claim the credit for Britain being a country where there's enough food, usually, to go round and a half decent national health service.

Also remember that large numbers of people who come here fleeing corrupt and dangerous regimes will be victims of torture and rape.

I'm not looking to force people to learn English or take up cricket. I do however think that human rights are what matter and actually I'd also be in favour of cutting off trade relations with Saudi Arabia and Jamaica until they grant equal rights to women and legalise homosexual sex.

I believe in human rights globally, I am not precious about England. I'm not even in favour of a ban on public spitting, I'm just opposed to feeling like I'm not allowed to complain about it.

Zenobia said...

Phew! I'm glad to see your comment, I was wondering where this discussion was going and possibly whether to say anything.

I don't really see the problem with spitting on the pavement, though. It's a bit manky, but it's not like anyone has to clean it up.

Also, I can't agree with your point about not eating for ten hours being the same in terms of loss of concentration as being a bit drunk. I do it quite a lot, if I'm at work and don't have cash for some lunch or anything to eat with me, and I'm perfectly fine. Ten hours isn't really a long time to go without food.

As for your general point, I can't help thinking you're oversimplifying religion a little. The supernatural (the "imaginary friend") is only a very tiny part of religion - I'd say most religious people, deep down, probably don't believe in it, or have to lie to themselves furiously about it if they want to. 99% of religion is cultural, which of course is why the right to follow a religion is defended in the same way as all other human rights. That does get a little problematic when you start tolerating stuff on the grounds of culture or religion that you wouldn't tolerate from anyone else. And really, it's racist to just dismiss it as "oh, it's their culture", it's treating people like they're not sentient enough to be accountable for their actions, mostly on the grounds of race.

Getting back to the imaginary friend business, the only people I've ever seen literally treat their god like an imaginary friend are evangelists. One friend told me when she couldn't sleep at night she would ask God to tell her jokes - which is actually pretty blasphemous. In most cases though I'd say God is more of an abstract concept than anything else, or else he's what you feel when you're in Church. I'm no authority on this of course, since I grew up largely atheist - but even I feel slightly awed when I walk into a church, so I think there's more to it than just belief in the supernatural.

Susan said...

Just to clear things up a bit - what I meant was, that I don't think it's out of line to expect that any immigrant to any country should expect to do a few things differently once they're living in the country of their choosing, for the sake of fitting in. Such as, oh, maybe learning to speak the language well enough to call a clinic to make an appointment or buy some groceries. Such as not screaming for ten minutes at a man about how much he has insulted your wife by daring to say "hello" to her. By not arranging marriages for your 13 and 15 year-old daughters to men in their fifties. Or one of my faves - by realizing that a doctor in your newly chosen country might not want to cut out your 12 year-old daughter's clitoris.