Sunday 20 September 2009

I can't actually believe what just happened.

Something truly serendipitous and cool just happened. So there I am, as you do on a Sunday morning, smoking a breakfast cigarette and trying to plan an article about the English Defence League for a new comment website, The Samosa, that's launching at the beginning of next month. I'm conflicted: on the one hand, the League have shown themselves up at numerous recent 'anti-Islamic Extremism' protests as a bunch of shaven-headed brick-throwing Nazi thugs. On the other hand, a look through their forums turns up a surprising lack of frothing racist bile and quite a lot of well-reasoned, accurately-spelled debate on why, although they're sure that most British Muslims are hardworking people who just want to earn a living, they're very uncomfortable with the idea of Sharia Law.

And I don't know quite what to think about this. Because, whilst being more than happy to share this country with other people of immigrant descent, I don't trust religious extremists of any flavour as far as I can throw them*, and right now Britain does have a problem with religious extremists, in the sense that any citizen who believes that killing innocent people is pleasing to god isn't necessarily someone you want on your travel literature.

So there I am, sipping coffee and puzzling over all this, and meanwhile I'm trying to work out if I should go home, given that there's no food at my house, and ignoring the gnawing in my belly. I can't concentrate when I'm hungry, and my thinking gets more simplistic. Trouble is I can't really afford to eat proper lunch every day at the moment. And then the doorbell rang.

So I shambled out in one of my boyfriend's t-shirts with my hair all over the place and opened it, and much to my surprise there was his next door neighbor, wearing a sparkly blue headscarf and looking like the smiling British Asian version of a Disney fairy godmother, with her son, who seemed to be trying to hide inside his football shirt. Between them they were carrying three delicious-smelling dishes of food which they pushed into my hands, apparently entirely unphased by my heathen half-nakedness.

The lovely next-door neighbor introduced herself and explained that they were celebrating a festival called Eid, the end of Ramadan. Being ignorant, I'd heard of this but hadn't realised its significance, and certainly not that it involved giving tasty food to the hungry twenty-somethings next door. She told me that the Biryani would keep for two days and that the yellow rice dish was pudding and I stammered my thanks and she ambled off to the next house.

So I'm sitting here with my face full of the best poppadom I've ever eaten - baked with cumin seeds and some exciting green spice in them, om nom nom - and feeling tremendously, horrifically grateful and touched. I have NEVER been brought things by a neighbor in London, not for Christmas, not for Easter or Rosh Hashana, not in my old place on the night I spent on the doorstep crying and vomiting, locked out with severe food poisoning. In fact, I've never even had a neighbor come to my house at all except to ask us to please turn the noise down. With all the talk of Islamic extremism, it's easy to forget that Islam also involves, yknow, baking, and being seriously kind to complete strangers. I have never, not ever felt more welcome in London than I do this morning. So, that was my quotient of personal prejudice duly challenged for the day. Thanks, neighbor.

*Going by the case of one large blonde girl at an evangelical primary school I attended, who informed everyone that I was an evil witch who was going to hell because I'd said I didn't want to marry Jesus, this is about thirty centimetres followed by running away very fast.


  1. Nice -- I hope you enjoyed the food. But I'm not sure what you're trying to say? That not all religious people are nuts? And or the EDL raise some genuine concerns?

  2. simple acts of random kindness are truly wonderful and London can indeed be a faceless ghetto. Weighing up what makes a decent person, a reasonable argument and where you place your trust can be a whole lot trickier. Glad you enjoyed your food, my neighbours did this for me once too and it was the start of a lovely friendship...I was sad to move because community can be hard to find these days. CB

  3. Good people exist - no matter what religion they are part of. I am glad you felt good about it :)

  4. This makes me smile. Thanks for writing about it.

  5. Not sure also what some of this saying?

    That EDL aren't really that bad and got some reasonable things to say? Well, I've yet to beleive that.

    That the majority of Brit Muslims are good, reasonable people? Yeah, know that too, and surely so should you Penny?

  6. You don't bake a biryani. Sparkles.

  7. Don't you bake poppadoms? *is confused*
    Christ, this is probably why I can only make soup and sandwiches.

  8. That EDL aren't really that bad and got some reasonable things to say? Well, I've yet to beleive that.

    -This wasn't my point. They're racist thugs, at least the ones who turn up to demos are. But I do think that some of their reasoning isn't too evil.

    That the majority of Brit Muslims are good, reasonable people? Yeah, know that too, and surely so should you Penny?

    -Um, I did know that, thanks. I was making a point about how atheists like me can sometimes forget how nice religions can be when they're not taken to extremes. Also, I just thought the serendipity of the neighbor turning up was lovely! (I do actually know her name, but am not going to publicise it here).

  9. You don't bake poppadoms either.

  10. I'm slightly surprised that you didn't know about Eid though ? Thought you were from Laandan

    Eid Mubarak. I work with loads of Muslims, and really enjoy it. Like the rest of us some of them have nutty ideas. They also have really good ones too. The multiculturalness of London is unique & I think it's fantastic.

    Enjoyed your blog

  11. Eid Mubarak, kudiye!

    Delighted to hear of this - THAT is what religion is supposed to be about.

  12. i want samosas now...
    When i was at primary school about 50% of my classmates were muslim (or had muslim parents, thanks richard dawkins) and at Eid the muslim mums would bring in homemade pakora and those amazeing tooth rotting coconut sweets for a party. Just thought i'd share a nugget of my personal childhood nostalgia with you all, a nugget that reminds me to support that much maligned notion of multi culturalism - in the real sense of the term it should not mean tollerent division but a real, celebrated and fluid sense of intergration with the cultures that surrounds us.
    Obviously we have a right, and as a femminist athiest i believe I am right, to be extremly suspicious of organised 'Religion' and its doctrine as a tool of control and repression against its followers, not to mention the rest of us. However i try to remember, usually when a gut reaction of fear of those who may seek to harm me pushes my personal bigot button, that the problems of 'extreme religion' are infact divorced from a spiritual belief system; they are the product of a still brutal class and caste system globally; religion is just a front. Generally people would prefer to share the best of themselves; its fear that stymies this and sadly often turns to anger and violence. Does this make any real sense? I too find it hard to order my thoughts on this, and sadly lack Ms. Laurie's eloquence - i'll be quiet now.

  13. Can't afford lunch, but can afford breakfast cigarettes, eh?

    And I also don't see what you're trying to say here. Surely the receiving of food doesn't make you any more comfortable with religious extremism or Sharia law?

    You say your prejudice was challenged, but it isn't clear what part of the foregoing article you now dismiss as prejudice? Could you clarify?

  14. Check the theological issue with Sister Yvonne Ridley, the PressTV media superstar, please!

    If one perishes in the course of a Martydom Operation [in Gaza or on a London bus, say] one gets a "Big Reward From Allah" and EVERY theologian will back up this opinion.

    Check out UNDERCOVER MOSQUE on YouTube, too.

    Nice food has f*ck all to do with anything!

  15. Sainsbury's Beef and Tomato Noodles, 400 calories for £0.26 p, that's 20 packs for the price of a pack of fags.

    You can afford to eat lunch every day, this isn't Zimbabwe.

  16. Within any group, you will find extremes. The EDL is an extreme extension of the discomfort people have with others not like them. (Humans are tribal, after all.) The fact that one or two of them can put together a decent argument is neither here nor there: that man who shot the guard in The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC was a member of Mensa. Once upon a time, I knew a chap in the National Front who was extremely intelligent.

    Within the religious communities you get individuals like the lass you threw about a foot, and the ones who kill. Going from one to the other isn't an especially difficult feat, as the radical Muslim youths amply demonstrate. They are a minority, but you do have to wonder how much support they enjoy within their communities. I often wonder how much support those who murder abortion-providing doctors get within the American evangelical community. How much support does the EDL enjoy among people? Don't forget the one true maxim of extremists: they can only operate (meet, recruit, plan, etc) where they enjoy even a small level of support. Where hostility to them exists, they can't meet.

    Extremists will always be with us. The Internet is a double-edged sword in this case: it shines a light on them, and it also helps recruit from the disaffected. But never mistake the (often well constructed) diversionary argument from the actual purpose of the group. Actions, in other words, speak so much louder than the, perhaps reasonable-sounding, words.

    Re the smoking: whatever. You makes yer choices. Just don't expect much sympathy when the choice between lunch and a cig has to be made!

    Carolyn Ann

  17. Good news. According to my neighbour's shiny, happy, international smily people world calendar, there is another Eid in November. This Eid is the one at the end of Ramadan, and it moves around in the year. I have not yet learnt much about the other Eid.

    Cous-cous is quite cheap, if bland. You can add lemon juice and maybe other stuff.

    When Paul Newman died last year, his daughter Lissy said on TV that he would have liked people who were feeling sad about his death to make soup for their neighbours. I thought that was lovely, although did not yet get round to it.

  18. PS When "The Sun" was ranting about the Archbishop and Sharia law, I was bemused. Not because they were twisting his words, but because I had thought "The Sun" would be keen on hanging and flogging!!!!!

  19. Ah, the lovely brownshirt "Binky" has made their way here. I can even smell the Zyklon.

  20. Nice of him/her to make the effort; it is obviously important that we educate ourselves via deeply insane YouTube conspiracy videos made by 30 year old men who live with their parents and are bitter about their body odour. I'll get on to it quick smart; thank you binky for putting me right onto that. Maybe i'll even cash in on my reward from Mr. Allah? What does he want me to do again?

    On a different and irrelevant note, did anyone see the exceptionally affecting cover of the daily mail today? Odd sentence to find yourself reading I know, but it was an amazing picture of the victims of the brutality in Calais, holding up a sign effectively begging the immigration authorities for their lives. Sadly pre existing prejudice on my part prevented me from opening the thing or reading the inside comment, let alone actually bring myself to buy it, but it was a pretty interesting move from a newspaper that seems to exist purely for the fun of scapegoating and demonising refugees and asylum seekers.

    Re. eating on a tight budget; lovely cheap root veg is just around the seasonal corner. I recommend Jerusalem artichokes ; they are dead cheap in these parts and taste amazeing.

  21. Now, now, Rachel, we all know the "Daily Mail" is not just about scapegoating asylum seekers. It also likes scapegoating people with mental health problems.

    I just found out that the other Eid (this year, on 27 Nov according to friend's calendar, though this is measured from sunset on previous day or summat) is to celebrate the end of the haj. The haj is the pilgrimage to Mecca.

    I suppose the question that has to be asked of the EDL is why they think Sharia law is about to be imposed on them. And if they have links with moderate Muslim groups which aren't keen on stoning people to death either. Are they going to do anything about the new law in Indonesia that says people can be stoned for adultery?

  22. "Are they going to do anything about the new law in Indonesia that says people can be stoned for adultery?"

    I think the clue is in the "E" of "EDL".

    We face an uphill battle to prevent the nasty aspects of Islam taking hold here, let alone in Indonesia.

  23. lipstick census looks a mighty tad menacing ... but i feel quite resigned to the given up hope lefties will ever understand comment threads are not theirs even though they're fine with anonymour gifts
    Hermsprong Retweeted Red Kahina

    'sme Shadowbanned Kahina on Laurie Penny's pretense of objections to Milo

    Hermsprong added,
    Red Kahina @RedKahina
    @fivek Whom do you think Nazi PR @PennyRed should be chums with and mutually promote? Do you want her endorsement?

    hugo s turner
    Hugo Turner

    1:48 PM - 23 Jul 2016

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