London: More than just a cosmopolitan city
My earliest first-hand experience of true freedom of expression dates back a few decades, to when I heard a British citizen delivering a speech attacking Queen Elizabeth 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 audience members who had lent him their ears. In the following years, I advanced my knowledge about how freedom of expression operates in the UK, which has become home to many Arab critics and extremists.
A cosmopolitan city is often defined as one that accommodates people who come from many diverse cultural backgrounds and whose citizens are known to be broad-minded. However, London 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 extremists — a category of people that I used to think only emerged in totalitarian nations that constrain citizens’ freedom.
The UK’s success in accommodating all of these nationalities is probably due to its strict application of the rule of law. However, strong law enforcement has no impact on Londoners’ manners, which have certainly changed over the years to adapt to the 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 many experiences of the city.
London is a second home for roughly 300,000 Arabs and it receives another 1.5 million Arab visitors in the summer. The great number of people who speak Arabic, the halal food offered in many outlets, which even carry Arabic language signs, and the availability of shisha somehow gives London the appearance of an “Arab city” situated in Europe. Once, when I was a patient at a hospital in London, I was surprised to hear the Muslim call to prayer coming from a hospital staff member’s mobile phone, and I eventually found a prayer mat in the hospital’s waiting room.
In recent years, London has sadly been confronted by many terrorist attacks, which were committed by newcomers to the city. This made me wonder why this innovative, entrepreneurial city has been targeted so often. 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 a home, assimilates them as part of a harmonized community and, in many cases, offers them financial aid to enable them to live decently.
The UK’s readiness to engage many ethnic immigrants in its political structure should logically conclude with the dissolution of all kinds of extremists, but this is not the case. Did these extremists manage to conceal their ugly side when processing their documents to enter the country, or did their fanaticism develop after they had moved in? The UK’s political environment has enabled Sadiq Khan, the son of working-class British Pakistani immigrants, to become Mayor of London, and there are 15 Muslim members of 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 some 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 lose 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, for its repressive policy toward extremists and highly value a nation like the UK that applies the 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, which is rapidly spreading across every part of the world with the aim of unleashing its hatred on to innocent civilians.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir