In his capacity of Member of Parliament he receives much correspondence from his constituents. One such letter recently crossed his desk. It concerns the recent proposal by the Archbishop of Canterbury to take account of the desire of the Muslim community in the UK to live under Sharia law. Well, let me simply quote what Mr John E. (Johnnie) Johnson has to say.
I am a programmer by background. I write cross platform applications. As I listened to the good Dr Williams, it suddenly became clear how similar my own issues in cross-platform programming are to the problems the UK faces in accomodating cross-cultural sensitivities. This may not be immediately obvious, but read on.
I am most sincerely devoted to anti-racism, multiculturalism, the rights of minorities, inclusiveness, support for the disadvantaged, measures to combat global warming, psychotherapy for all, and religious tolerance, and so I applauded Dr Williams recent remarks, which have occasioned so much unjust and ungenerous criticism. I am also committed to writing cross platform applications.
The problem is typically that file structures and display conventions differ between Mac, Windows and Unix. So even if one has a compiler or interpreter for all systems, he cannot be sure that his program will work as expected without more ado. Consequently I have learned that on startup, the first thing to do is ascertain the OS. Then, depending on the choice of OS, one sets a flag and invokes the appropriate configuration file and different responses based on the different OS the flag indicates.
There is a lesson here. We must of course be sensitive to the concerns of our Muslim and Rastafarian and Scientelogical fellow citizens. Not to mention the Hindus, Baptists, Catholics, Manicheans, Zoroastrians and Methodists. Oh, and the Farsi and the Druids, the members of the Dutch Reformed Church, Presybyterians, the various Brethren both Straight and Ordinary, and the Wee Frees. If I have left anyone out, no insult is intended. Did I mention the Christian Scientists? But how are we to be certain of being correctly sensitive?
We see a lady walk down the street in a short skirt. If she is a member of the Church of England, this is perfectly lawful. If she is of the Islamic persuasion, it will be strictly forbidden. We go into a bar. We see assorted people drinking alcohol, often men and women not close family members together, which is lawful for Methodists, but not for Muslims. The existence of butchers selling pork in certain neighborhoods will be similarly problematic. I know, Sir, that you are deeply sensitive to the plight of Scientologists. The problem is acute for them too.
It seems that bearing in mind the lessons of cross-platform programming, we can solve this problem. We simply have to empower the police to ascertain in advance of all actions, what religion the person they are interested in belongs to. But the police, like everyone else, need our support and help. So probably it is not enough to give the police simply the power to ask. Probably we should make it easy for them. Probably we should set a flag.
My proposal is that everyone in the UK should wear a large visible symbol of his or her religion. I propose that these be about 4 inches square, and consist of bright letters on a dark background. The colors should be chosen to reflect cultural sensitivities. A bright green M on white, for example, could be the Muslim sign. A black J on yellow, perhaps the Jewish. A purple C on white the Christian. A green R on yellow will do for the Rastafarians. A scarlet A will do for atheists, perhaps on a blue background. I have yet to sound out the Scientologists on their preferred colour.
Then when the police have to deal with someone, they will know at once how to handle them, just as my programs know whether they are dealing with Windows 98, XP, Vista, or with Linux, Unix, MacOS.
A burglar caught in the act wearing the green M will immediately be taken before a Sharia court, and be subject to proper Islamic penalties. The wearer of a a purple C will be cautioned, taken before a magistrate and given access to counsel, after which he will face the proper Christian punishment of enquiry into his disturbed childhood and commiseration over his adult unhappiness.
I see, having written the above, that we also need to guard against the dangers of jurisdiction shopping. We will make it obligatory that everyone must have a real religion, one they were born into. We cannot simply have people pick the religion of their choice because it is easier for them, or because they are female and want to drive cars, drink, flirt with men, and wear short skirts. In fact, we need to make it a crime to pretend to belong to a religion different from one's real religion. Fortunately Sharia has given us the solution to this. Public beheading will be the punishment for apostasy from the religion of one's birth.
Obviously it will be necessary to adopt a similar approach to neighborhoods. There will be areas of the UK in which it will be illegal to sell pork or alcohol. There will be others in which it will be illegal to sell beef. In still others, the smoking of ganga will be illegal, in others perfectly open. We will deal with these issues by adopting a similar flagging approach. All communities in the UK will have the right, not just the right, the obligation, to declare their religious status. At the entrance to an atheist neighborhood, for instance, there will be large cautionary signs warming the visitor that he or she is now entering a district in which Atheist laws apply. It is likely therefore that alcohol and pork and beef will be on sale, though it will still be illegal for Muslims and Hindus to buy some of these products let alone eat them. Rastafarians will be free to smoke ganja there, but not Methodists.
All this is commonsensical and ordinary enough. But there is one point which somewhat disturbs me, and that is how we accomodate the costs of some of the Sharia penalties. We have socialized medecine in the UK. When a hand is publicly severed for thievery, we will then inevitably have to call an ambulance and take the amputee to an emergency room. This will be very expensive on the scale I am thinking of. It is a very serious problem how we fund this. Does the Islamic community fund it? Does the general population do without drugs or ingrown toenail removals in order to fund it? This is just about the only problematic aspect of my proposal and needs to be settled in advance of enactment.
All in all I hope you will agree that this proposal is in line with the overall committment of the UK to increasing multiculturalism, and that you will consider incorporating its ideas into your pending Private Members Bill.
Protagoras therefore is mailing his constituents, to tell them he has received this very interesting letter, and to ask them what they want. If this is where multiculturalism is leading, are they sure they want to go there? Is their enthusiasm for minority rights and cultural and religious sensitivity as high as he thinks it is? Protagoras, exquisitely sensitive to shifts in the direction of cultural and political winds, is aware of a slight spring breeze from a different quarter, bringing with it the scent of different flowers, and is starting to see his Private Members Bill in a new light. He welcomes your thoughts.