A View from the Bottom Left-Hand Corner
Please note this article was originally posted on 19/01/05.
What on earth is a Cornishman, and an MP from a remote rural constituency representing the extreme west of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (i.e. the bottom left-hand corner), doing writing for Asian Voice? – you may be thinking.
Surely all he will do is confirm just how out of touch he is. Surely he will merely prove, through politically incorrect language and misconceived stereotypes, that he is and will always remain on the nursery slopes of the cultural and ethnic learning curve? And I suspect you will probably be right.
But I have a few brief portraits which illustrate why I welcomed the opportunity to write for Asian Voice.
The first, for this edition, follows my experience of setting up what I call a Parliamentary Debate in a Methodist Church in Penzance in my constituency a couple of months ago to explore issues around the so called “War on Terror” and the “Middle East Crisis”.
I was joined at the top table by a Rabbi from the local Jewish community and a representative from the Cornish Islamic Centre. Apart from a faulty sound system and perishing conditions the 150 or so people who attended congratulated the organisers and speakers for a ‘pleasant’, ‘informative’ and ‘constructive’ evening. Many of those who spoke from the floor had visited the Middle East. Our Islamic speaker, Dr Rafai, talked of his background in Lebanon and we came out of the meeting with many smiles, mutual understanding, recognition and respect and a shared determination to work for tolerance and peace.
Not a word of protest could be heard as we thawed the audience out with tea and coffee.
Then some of the Jews, Muslims, Christians, heathens and those with unspecified faith, took up the hospitality kindly offered by a friend at the ‘Taj Mahal’. All in all a pleasant and productive meeting and, if it was repeated across all towns and cities in the UK, would make a major contribution to good ethnic, cultural and racial relations as well as a force for good in a wider world.
But within a week I started receiving letters from some of the silent members of the audience who proved to share an evangelical Christian theology and who accused me and both speakers of a conspiracy to denigrate Jews and of hostility towards Israel. Armed with quotes from the Old Testament, I was instructed that there were apparently divine rights for particular people and that this was divined prior to a second coming!
They presented a contortion of the event which bore no relationship to the one I had organised and chaired.
Were we any further forward? Had we achieved anything from the meeting after all? I am not so sure. Depressingly I had to concede that the apparent unanimity of support for mutual respect and tolerance was not shared by all. However, it was shared by the majority and although there will be no pleasing those who hold literal interpretations, we have to remain optimistic.
I hope to write again to illustrate possibly relevant sketches of life from the “bottom left-hand corner” of the UK.
Andrew George MP 19th January 2005