A social media backlash calling to boycott Tesco, after their Christmas advert featured Muslims with the tag #EveryonesWelcome, is worrying. It was met with an outraged response from a portion of the British public, furiously tweeting: ‘I am boycotting your store for the simple fact of your disrespectful ads against the Christian faith’, and ‘Dear @Tesco your ad is a disgrace… never shopping with you again’. This is an indication of the lack of cultural and religious integration and understanding in the UK.
Such a reaction is not promising in hopes of integration, and fuels cultural polarisation, and the harmful concept of ‘Othering’. A fear pervades some of our public, a fear of the ‘Other’. This may be because the diversity of cultures and religions are not understood, because they are often not well taught, or barely taught at all.
Quilliam’s Aya Faissal wrote about how, as a Muslim who grew up in Egypt and went to a Catholic school, she ‘grew up and it was okay for me to share with my friends their holiday celebrations, and it was the same for them with me’. Here, however, we have a growing society that hates, fears and doesn’t understand.
Little emphasis was placed at school in understanding the fundamental similarities of the Abrahamic religions – the prophets, scriptures, and philosophies they share. Although they are by no means the same or interchangeable, spreading a deeper historical and cultural understanding of different religions may help to alleviate fear and hatred. It is not appropriate to excuse hateful words with the limited religious education of the public, but ignorance often prevails. Any hopes of successful integration of cultures must be founded through interest, appreciation, and understanding of religious differences.
However, those who do attempt to educate are often undermined by fear and hatred. My mother, a primary school teacher in a provincial private school, set up a series of projects that aimed to educate her pupils on the world religions. They would study each religion – the histories, origins, scriptures, belief systems, influential figures, and methods of worship. When it came to Islam, photographs of her pupils went viral, with the claim that local children were being radicalised. The obvious issue arising here is the association of Islam with fear and violence, rather than as a familiar belief system, which is not, as the aforementioned tweet might suggest, ‘disrespectful to Christians’.
Another confusing reaction to Tesco’s festive advert came from fellow students, who disagreed with the appearance of Muslims for different reasons. They were worried that it represented the homogenisation of culture, where minorities of different faith groups are seen to be expected to conform to a certain culture. This, I think, can be equally problematic. It contributes to the notion of ‘Othering’, forgetting that
all across the world, people are sharing religious festivities. It is not just in the West and at Tesco that the world religions do (and should) interact and share their celebrations. In Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt.. (it seems banal to list every country) many Muslims celebrate Christmas, not because they are forced to by an imposing culture, but because they share histories, languages, and sometimes family.
An issue that pervades our society is the distinct separation between cultures and/or religions. Whilst there are many causes for this, a willingness to understand is crucial. The notion of ‘Othering’ fuels fears and hatred. In an unpredictable international climate, it helps to find humanity, and establish a new culture where indeed, “Everyone’s Welcome.”
by Ella Kiley, an undergraduate at St. Andrew’s University & Volunteer at Quilliam.