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Another First For England   (Protagoras, October 14, 2007)

Readers will be familiar with Protagoras' tireless efforts to promote cultural sensitivity and religious equality in England.

You can read about his work on Equal Killing Rights for all religions here He is happy to say that these efforts are being increasingly recognized, and the prospects are bright for his proposals to be accepted. There is some resistance to making laws to that effect, since some of his supporters believe that the right of men to kill women of their family more or less on whim is divinely ordained. They feel therefore that it would be blasphemy to attempt to enshrine such a right with a mere man-made law, and would prefer introduction by decree.

All his supporters however fully agree that the prospect of reintroducing public executions into the UK after a gap of several hundred years will be a great step forward. They are fully behind his efforts to thus raise cultural life in the UK to the levels found in Saudi Arabia and other such advanced societies. And they eagerly await the first burning at the stake, anticipated in the New Year, in some Northern town square.

We will keep you posted on this interesting matter.

Recently however Protagoras has been extending his work in this area. He has been struck by the lamentable plight of the BreatheArians in his constituency. You may know that the BreatheArians have an interesting and unusual approach to life. Their view is that food is both evil and unnecessary. Our task on this earth is to approach the higher plane at which we will be sustained only by breathing air.

It is most unfortunate that the cultural practices and the imperatives of the BreathArians do not receive the same respect in the UK that those of other religions do. This is despite the fact that the BreatheArians are a placid and socially well adjusted group, and it is hard to see that their beliefs, though unusual, are any less legitimate or plausible than those of other religions.

Protagoras was struck by this recently when reading an article in the Times about the Sainsbury supermarket chain. He was delighted to find an ally in this great company in his quest to ensure respect for religion in the UK, but distressed to find no mention of BreatheArianism and its distinctive needs. He read as follows:

MUSLIM supermarket checkout staff who refuse to sell alcohol are being allowed to opt out of handling customers bottles and cans of drink. Islamic workers at Sainsburys who object to alcohol on religious grounds are told to raise their hands when encountering any drink at their till so that a colleague can temporarily take their place or scan items for them.

Other staff have refused to work stacking shelves with wine, beer and spirits and have been found alternative roles in the company.

Sainsburys said this weekend it was keen to accommodate the religious beliefs of all staff....Mustapha, a Muslim checkout worker at the company's store in Swiss Cottage, northwest London, interrupts his work to ensure that he does not have to sell or handle alcohol.

Each time a bottle or can of alcohol comes along the conveyor belt in front of him, Mustapha either swaps places discreetly with a neighbouring attendant or raises his hand so that another member of staff can come over and pass the offending items in front of the scanner before he resumes work....Mustapha told one customer: 'I can't sell the alcohol because of my religion. It is Ramadan at the moment'.

No sooner had he read this interesting piece than Protagoras received a visit in his constituency surgery from a devout BreatheArian, and immediately after that, from a devout Hindu. The BreatheArian explained to him that he was being discriminated against by Sainsburys because of his refusal to sell food. It was against his religion of course, to encourage people down the path to damnation by eating, or by procuring food to eat, when they should be devoting their culinary efforts to moving to a higher plane. The Hindu explained that she was mortally offended by the requirement to sell beef, because as Protagoras would no doubt be aware, cows were sacred to her, and to kill or injure one is a sort of blasphemy against the Lord Krishna, so affectingy portrayed in numerous scriptures and sacred writings, surrounded by milkmaids and fat, lovely, milky beasts.

He has accordingly taken the matter up with Sainsburys on their behalf, and is happy to report a breakthrough.

Management had no idea of discriminating against anyone in the expression of their beliefs. From November, any Sainsburys check out staff will be able to refuse to sell anything which conflicts in any way with their personal views. Atheists will have the right to refuse to sell religious images. BreatheArians will summon colleagues to check out food of any sort. Or drink for that matter. Hindus will not sell beef, Jews will not sell pork or shellfish, or indeed any non-Kosher foods. They will be particularly relieved to discover that the repugnant practice of buying milk and meat from the same shopping trolley is something they no longer are required to collude in. As is evidently already the case, Muslims will not be required to sell any alcohol or pork, and they will also be able to refuse to sell non-Hallal meats. Christians will receive a special dispensation: those of them who still believe that it is obligatory to fast in Lent will actually be able to remove inappropriate items from customers' trolleys in that season, and replace them with more suitable purchases.

Protagoras however feels this may not go quite far enough, and in alliance with a well known national newspaper, he is pressing for more. There are those who feel that obesity is a leading national problem. Is it really right to force them to sell fatty and sugary foods? Should convinced ecologists be obliged to purvey kindling and other horrible instruments of global warming, such as cans of aerosols? Of course not! For Sainsburys to really become what they are aiming at, leaders in the sphere of respect for different cultures and traditions and sensitivities, they must run a company in which no-one is ever forced to have anything to do with any good or service associated with a lifestyle they do not fully approve of.

In fact, we should go further still: all checkout personnel should be encouraged to scrutinize their customers' purchases to ensure that they are in accordance with the new national agenda of light, culturally sensitive, non-warming eating and buying.

We must all recognize in England, that in a truly multicultural society, there are no purely personal preferences. Anyone may take a legitimate interest in whether anything we do is in accordance with the dictates of their religion. We should welcome this, as it introduces a new dimension of moral seriousness and social caring into our hitherto alientated country.

Now, Protagoras is aware that a Saturday afternoon checkout counter could quickly descend into chaos under these rules, as the Muslims, Christians, Vegetarians, Jews, Hindus, BreatheArians, Ecologists and Biodynamicists struggle to find someone who may, according to the dictates of their conscience, sell the basket of foods the customer is attempting to buy, and as clerks argue about whether a given item is appropriate, and as conflicting ideas struggle over what if anything one or another clerk thinks should replace it. There is some danger that the innovative checkout system could deteriorate into an argumentative waste of time, and even impair interfaith relations.

Realizing that the first supermarket chain to innovate in this way will find itself at a competitive disadvantage, Protagoras, to widespread applause, proposes to introduce an addendum to his Equal Killing Rights Bill. It will be known as the Sainsbury Amendment, and will make this innovative Sainsbury rule binding on all retailers. Being as always highly sensitive to the needs of different cultures, he is, in the pursuit of this Bill, considering whether it will not be less offensive to some of his constituents if this package is introduced not by the usual Parliamentary process, but by a sort of government decree. Perhaps it could even be a Fatwa, of an unusual and innovative sort, one ratified by an assembly of representatives of all faiths?

He will keep you posted. Multiculturalism is hard. We must all work at it. It is however the future.

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