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The WSJ visits London: There Ngoes the neighbourhood

August 31, 2018

1024px-parliament_square_1980Parliament Square in happier times.

Wall Street Journal contributor Andy Ngo has caused quite a stir on social media with his bleak depiction of a recent visit to ‘Islamic England’. But is the criticism entirely fair? At first sight Ngo’s article seems merely hackneyed and cliché-ridden, but scratch the surface and there are layers of logical fallacy so deep that Jules Verne would have struggled to get to the bottom of them.

Legal disclaimer: The original text has been reproduced solely for the purpose of parody and ridicule, as will swiftly become apparent.

Other tourists may remember London for its spectacular sights and history, but I remember it for Islam. When I was visiting the U.K. as a teenager in 2006, I got lost in an East London market. There I saw a group of women wearing head-to-toe black cloaks. I froze, confused and intimidated by the faceless figures. It was my first encounter with the niqab, which covers everything but a woman’s eyes.

OK, dude. Stop right there. Are you seriously confused and intimidated by the sight of women going shopping? Because that’s what you’re describing. You’ve just forfeited the right to ever call anybody a snowflake ever again. Right, carry on.

This summer, I found myself heading back to the U.K. as it was plunging into a debate over Islamic dress. Boris Johnson, the country’s former foreign secretary and London’s ex-mayor, wrote a column opposing attempts to ban face-covering veils. Nonetheless, he added, “it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” The responses could hardly have been more heated.

Ah good, a quote from that nice fair-minded Boris Johnson to set the scene. For a minute there I was worried you might try to load the dice by citing a self-promoting serial liar who has spent several careers dressing up racism with bombast and hyperbole, and who once previewed a visit by Tony Blair to Africa thus: ‘The pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.’ Panic over, we can continue on our way.

I wanted to cut past the polemics (you can’t wash out the stain of Boris that easily, my friend, as wiser heads will testify) and experience London’s Muslim communities for myself. My first visit was to Tower Hamlets, an East London borough that is about 38% Muslim, among the highest in the U.K. As I walked down Whitechapel Road, the adhan, or call to prayer, echoed through the neighborhood. Muslims walked in one direction for jumu’ah, Friday prayer, while non-Muslims went the opposite way. Each group kept its distance and avoided eye contact with the other. Mate, you’re in London. Nobody ever makes eye contact, not even with close family members during a life-threatening emergency. A sign was posted on a pole: “Alcohol restricted zone.” So the first concrete evidence of the deadening impact of Islam on British cultural life is a council notice prohibiting public drinking. What a happy place Whitechapel Road must have been in the good old days, before the Muslims snatched away people’s right to wander around plastered in the daytime.

Women and girls were dressed in hijabs, niqabs and abayas (robes). Some of the males wore skullcaps and thawbs, Arabic tunics, with their trousers tailored just above the ankles as per Muhammad’s example. The scene could have been lifted out of Riyadh, a testament to the Arabization of Britain’s South Asian Muslims. Since trousers themselves are an Eastern invention, I can only presume our writer stayed faithful to his origins by sporting breeches and a codpiece. At the barbershop, women waited outside under the hot sun while their sons and husbands were groomed. Ah, yes, the sinister Muslim practice of standing outdoors in the sunshine. What barbarities will they impose on us next?

Inside the East London Mosque, visitors were expected to dress “modestly.” Headscarves were provided at reception for any woman who showed up without one. Wait a minute, are these Muslims handing out free clothes so people of other faiths can visit their place of worship the same ones who refuse point-blank to have any contact with outsiders? I’m struggling to keep up. A kind man (a kind ‘man’, you note. Not a kind Muslim. He must be there on work experience) on staff showed me around the men’s quarters. He gave me a bag filled with booklets about Islam. It’s easy to see why Ngo feels intimidated by these people. In one, Muslims are encouraged to “re-establish the Shari’ah,” or Islamic law. Those who ignore this mandate are “of little worth to any society.” So Muslim religious leaders hand out books telling people to submit to God’s law. Radical stuff. Imagine the fuss if the WSJ ever finds out what Christians get up to in those big stone buildings.

That night, I visited the Houses of Parliament. Rifle-carrying police officers greeted me when I stepped out of the Tube. The extra security was mobilized in response to last year’s car and stabbing attack in Westminster by Khalid Masood, who killed five people. Yes, Londoners must pine for the simpler days when all they had to worry about was being blown up by an IRA car bomb. Outside the station, there are roadblocks along Westminster Bridge and a new security fence in front of the palace yard. I asked an officer about Masood’s attack. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he replied. “I was there that day.” What sort of a society have we become when we’re too cowed even to share our private traumas with nosey strangers?

Forty-eight hours later, I woke up to the news that a car had rammed a Westminster security barrier. Police arrested Salih Khater, a 29-year-old Sudanese refugee who had been given asylum and British citizenship. Three people were injured in the attack. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, expressed support for banning vehicles from parts of Parliament Square. It’s a devastating picture of a country being hollowed out by multiculturalism: a few more of these attacks and we’ll have to seriously think about banning vehicles from the whole of Parliament Square.

Next I visited Leyton, another district in East London where some Muslim social norms prevail. An Arab cafe near the Tube station was filled with men; no women were inside. I’m always sickened to hear of these backward cultures that won’t let women use their leisure facilities; in fact, I was fulminating against it just the other night down at the golf club. An Islamic bookstore sold hijab-wearing dolls for children. The dolls had blank, featureless faces, since human depictions are prohibited in conservative Islam. But perhaps one day they’ll cast off the shackles of conservative Islam and embrace more enlightened images of womanhood such as Barbie.

I stopped outside the Masjid al-Tawhid, a South Asian Salafi mosque and madrassa (school), just before afternoon prayer time. A group of girls in robes and veils walked around back, toward the dumpsters, where the women’s entrance is located. I later saw the Islamic Shari’a Council of Leyton. This community has religious, educational, business and legal institutions to maintain a separate identity. And the worst thing is that when they’re not educating children, providing legal services, giving pastoral support and running commercial enterprises they just lie around waiting for the benefit cheque to arrive.

All this gave me pause. But I was unprepared for what I would see next in Luton, a small town 30 miles north of London and the birthplace of the English Defense League, which has held unruly anti-Muslim demonstrations. That’s an understatement on a par with saying General Pinochet had a bit of a cavalier attitude to airplane safety. At the Central Mosque, I met a friendly group of Punjabi-speaking young men. “You’ve come to see Luton?” one struggled to ask me in English. I don’t know: it seems pretty grammatically sound to me, and I can be extremely pedantic about these things. The young men asked me to follow them through the town center. Polite young men offering tours of the locality! Next you’ll be telling me they brought out the comfy chair. Perhaps they should have staged an unruly demonstration to make their esteemed visitor feel more welcome.

Within minutes, we walked by three other mosques, which were vibrant and filled with young men coming and going. We passed a church, which was closed and decrepit, with a window that had been vandalized with eggs. The true state of Luton’s 117 churches (rather than its 26 mosques) has already been elucidated by more knowledgeable commentators than me. Let’s pause instead to marvel at the trained observer who can’t work out why the mosques should be livelier than the churches on a Friday afternoon. We squeezed by hundreds of residents busy preparing for the Eid al-Adha holiday. Sorry, make that on a Friday afternoon IN THE MIDDLE OF A MUSLIM HOLIDAY. Girls in hijabs gathered around tables to paint henna designs on their hands. All the businesses had a religious flair: The eateries were halal, the fitness center was sex-segregated, and the boutiques displayed “modest” outfits on mannequins. Come back to the UK in December, buddy, the omnipresent religious iconography will blow your socks off. Pakistani flags flew high and proud. I never saw a Union Jack.

The men finally led me to a discreet building that housed a small Islamic center. They spoke privately to its imam. I was led upstairs to see him. The imam asked me if I was prepared to convert. Apparently there had been some miscommunication with the young men. I told the imam I wasn’t ready for that, but I would appreciate any literature I could take home. He led me to a bookshelf and said I could have whatever I wanted. I grabbed the first booklet that was in English. It was by Zakir Naik, a fundamentalist preacher from India. Our intrepid hero goes to an Islamic study centre. He meets an imam. The imam offers him some books. The books turn out to be about Islam. As plot twists go, this is right up there with the finale of Twin Peaks. “The Qur’an says that Hijab has been prescribed for the women,” the booklet explained in one section, “so that they are recognised as modest women and this will also prevent them from being molested.” After digesting that incendiary text, we can only hope Mr Ngo sought comfort in the words of Deuteronomy: ‘If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city.’

Other tourists might remember London for Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Big Ben. I’ll remember it for its failed multiculturalism. Or perhaps this is what successful multiculturalism looks like. Let’s examine the clues: Friendly young men giving free tours of the neighbourhood. Street festivals. Girls painting their nails. Schools. Community centres. Successful local businesses. Fitness centres. Bans on public drinking. And not an unruly demonstration in sight. Who would want to live in a place like this?

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