London Diary: Of Islamophobia, British universities’ diversity drive and graveyard revelry

For the first time, London mayor Sadiq Khan has publicly spoken about his personal experience of racism and Islamophobia —and how it has affected his and his family’s life

London Diary: Of Islamophobia, British universities’ diversity drive and graveyard revelry

Hasan Suroor

Racism and Islamophobia

For the first time, London mayor Sadiq Khan has publicly spoken about his personal experience of racism and Islamophobia —and how it has affected his and his family’s life. He finds it shocking that “the mayor of the greatest city in the world needs protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week because of the colour of his skin and the God he worships”.

Khan has said that when he was first elected the Mayor in 2016, he rejected police protection, but was persuaded on official advice to accept it as risks to him and those around him increased in the face of Islamophobic and racist threats.

“The game changer for me was when the police spoke to my chief of staff and my wife to try and persuade me to accept, and the point they made ... was (that) those who are with me may be at risk,” he told a Labour Party gathering after he was criticised for travelling in a police convoy.

In a newspaper interview, Khan said the abuse he received increased during the Brexit referendum. “The referendum campaign allowed things to come to the surface and normalised things that should not be normalised,” he told The Times Magazine warning that the coarsening of political debate was fuelling violence with people “going from name-calling, trolling and threats to terrorism”.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has also spoken about receiving abuse “because of my colour” telling the BBC that there were people who believed that “someone’s colour should define who they are — or their background, their faith, or something, that characteristic, rather than the content of their character”.

Two cheers for multicultural Britain.

Oxbridge to Ivy League

In the 1970s and 1980s, Britain witnessed what came to be known as “white flight” on a large scale as native whites fled areas with large immigrant populations. As a result, many cities and towns, especially in north of England, ended up as Asian ghettoes.

Fast forward, and apparently another “white flight” is taking place— this time from universities as they come under pressure to diversify their traditional intake of white private-educated students and open their doors to black and other ethnic minority candidates from state schools even if it requires tweaking admission standards. These include Oxbridge’s elite colleges historically monopolised by students from posh schools such as Eton and Harrow.

White rich kids are now said to be abandoning Oxford and Cambridge universities—their so-called “natural habitat”—and instead heading for America’s Ivy League institutions. The reason, they say, is that they don’t wish to become a casualty of British universities’ diversity drive. They fear they might face discrimination “not because of my personal attributes, but where I was educated” as one such student told a newspaper. She had “dreamt of ” going to Cambridge, but had now decided to move to America to “avoid the disappointment of missing out on an Oxbridge experience I had known so much about my whole life”.

The trend is reported to be spreading so fast that it has spawned a cottage industry of tutors, agents and consultancies to prepare “the children of Britain’s elite navigate the unfamiliar system and bag a place at sought-after US universities”, The Times reported.

Some of them, it claimed, charged more than £1 million for “bespoke coaching”. Critics say that such fears have no basis and attempts to fan them are aimed at undermining the diversity campaign even before it has got off the ground.

Graveyard revelry

What? A beer party at a cemetery with revellers squatting on graves and balancing their drinks on headstones? Is nothing sacred anymore?

A beer festival held in a graveyard in the English market town of Stockton has caused widespread outrage with the organisers being accused of showing disrespect to the dead. And the outrage is the greater because it was organised not by a cocky atheist but by the local church in collaboration with a brewery. There have been calls for the vicar responsible for it to be removed.

Organisers defended the event saying it was meant to raise funds for the church building which needed urgent repairs. The cemetery is part of the church. It was also a way of bringing the local community together after the long pandemic lockdown.

Historians say people are protesting too much arguing that “churchyard revelry” was once a staple of European life. In Russia, apparently, the faithful still gather in spring at the graves of their relatives to clean the site, and celebrate the departed.

Ghost landmarks

What’s common between these statements: PM speaking “from the steps of Downing Street”, news coming out from “Fleet Street”, and reporting “from Scotland Yard”?

They refer to non-existent places: there are no “steps” in Downing Street; Fleet Street no longer houses newspaper offices; and Scotland Yard is no longer the headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police.

And, lastly, Heathrow has been relegated from Europe’s busiest airport to 14th busiest after pandemic related problems.

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