he western world has started to change quite dramatically. As US President Donald Trump signed an executive order paving the way for ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants from seven Muslim countries, the United States, which is supposed to be the leader of the western world, has made its attitude to Muslims very clear. It has not even hesitated to bar from entry holders of its own Green Card who happened to be abroad and are now returning to Donald Trump’s USA. Pakistan is not included in the list of seven countries singled out for ‘extreme vetting’ but that by itself should be small cause for satisfaction. That does not mean that Pakistanis of whatever immigrant status other than actual US citizens, will not be subject to detailed and intricate questioning to determine their religious and political affiliations. One wrong word and they could find themselves on a plane back to wherever they came from. All this will be challenged before the US courts but till such time that a decision comes from them, Trumpism and all that it stands for is going to be the order of the day.
In the UK and in Europe, things have not gone quite that far yet, although in Britain we have taken the first steps down the same shameful road by taking a decision to exit the European Union which only makes sense in the deepest caverns of xenophobic darkness. And once the first steps have been taken, who knows where this journey will end. The British Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, has decided that Article 50 declaring the UK’s intention to leave the EU, cannot be triggered without an act of Parliament and while this was seen as something of a victory by the many millions against Brexit, it in fact does not mean a lot. The government, intent on giving the Parliament as little a say on this issue, the most important this county has faced in generations, is determined to limit parliamentary discussion to the shortest possible period by any means it can. So much so for love of democracy and liberal values; when push comes to shove, they can all be thrown overboard pretty quickly without any tears being shed.
As in the US, so here in the UK, those with a conscience can only protest to show their impotent anger. Like the demonstrations that took place across the US in the immediate aftermath of the Trump inauguration, so here in Britain those who did all they could to avoid the disaster of Brexit will now be holding what they hope will be the biggest protest march ever seen in London. The event is planned for 25th March, by which time the bill for leaving the EU will probably have been passed, reducing the event to a show of sound and fury signifying nothing. If in April, France goes the same way as the US and the UK, the fall of Western Europe to the forces of darkness, racism and xenophobia would be almost complete. And the brunt of it will have to be borne by the few beleaguered Muslims who have made it their homes in these climes and secondly, by the wider Muslim world beyond.
All this does not sound very optimistic, so let us relax with a story that should bring an element of a smile, however vague.
It is the story of a women in Gloucestershire called Joan who, many decades ago, used to watch a homeless man, called Ken, going through the rubbish bins from her second hand bookshop nearby, trying to get whatever scraps of food he possibly could. Feeling sorry for the homeless man, she used to make sandwiches and wrap them up in foil leaving them in the bin for the man to find. So moved was she by his plight that she began to read up on homeless people in an attempt to meet this homeless man. She made his acquaintance and although he refused to accept any money from her, he finally one day agreed to join her and her husband for a meal.
Ken kept drifting in and out of Joan and her husband’s life for next few years, but Joan’s husband, quite understandably, did not like his wife’s relationship with Ken and there finally came a point when he had a serious disagreement with her on the subject and she was forced to leave the house and live in a caravan outside – where Ken would come to visit her regularly. But there was never any physical dimension to their relationship. Perhaps Joan’s husband also ultimately realised this and the three found a way of getting along.
Ken, who was beginning to develop mental health problems as well, was then removed to an old people’s home and when Joan’s husband died, she too moved to the same home, the penultimate resting place for most old people in the western world.
Now, with both well in their 80s, they decided to get married as they found time running out on them. Their relationship has remained entirely celibate and will in all probability remain so even after their marriage. Marriages take place for more reasons than one.
Homelessness continues to be a grave problem in the UK. There are over 4000 people sleeping rough, out in the streets and in the niches of shops and restaurants, in the UK every day. How they ever survive, with temperatures falling as low as eight degrees below zero at night sometimes, I shall never know. The number of such people has gone up by 16 per cent since last year and it is difficult to believe that the fifth largest economy in the world has not got the resources to deal with the problem. The question is, does it have the compassion? In the answer to that question lies the root cause for the dramatic changes we are witnessing in this part of the world. •