I was visiting my native town, Prague, I love coming there, it is a nice town and I have plenty of good friends. Do I feel at home? Not sure. Do I feel at home in England? Not sure either.
Maybe once you get moving, you lose your roots, maybe I am like a Triffid from the Wyndham novel. Of course, people are not plants, we are all capable of locomotion, unlike plants, where the Trififids, plants capable of movement were a science fiction invention.
So after living in Czechoslovakia, then in Germany and then in the UK, I can imagine living elsewhere, too. I am interested in people, and make new friends easily. I hang on to old friends, too.
So when I come to Prague, I spend time having lunch, dinner and drinks with people I know from school, university, various jobs, and of course relatives.
Prague is a “Mittleuropa “place, and the rules of conversation are different. In England, talking about religion and money are taboo, but in a way, so is politics.
In Prague, people seem not to talk about anything else.
So last week, I was sitting in those lovely Prague coffee houses and wine bars, with friends I have known for years, and after talking about our families, and maybe books we are reading, the conversation always turned to the “ migrant crisis”. All those people looking for a new home.
I have intellectual, educated friends, and the conversations are usually fun. But lately, they surprise me. It goes from racist remarks to jokes like my friend , telling me she has to have another glass of wine and some pork before the Muslims will come and take it away from her. I told her “we should not ear pork anyway, we are Jewish” We laughed, we are both the Czech pork eating, Christmas celebrating, marrying non-Jews, Czech variant of Jewish.
But they seem to be all committing the sin of presenting opinions as facts. Their own opinions, or opinions they heard elsewhere.
The common denominator of things I heard last week was fear.
Fear of a “ foreign culture” flooding Europe, imposing unwanted changes, people who are not willing to set in, assimilate, accept our values. That they want to destroy our culture.
I hear my Roman Catholic friend talking about Islam and Koran being different, stricter, and more intolerant then Christianity and the Bible. My feelings have always been that any ideology, including any religion can be intolerant, fanatical, rigid.
People talk about the migrants being infiltrated with terrorists, and about them creating ghettos, not mixing with the rest of the population. At the same time, same people talk about their own unwillingness to live next to those foreigners.
I say “But I am a foreigner in England, they gave me political asylum in 1986, and the situation I was escaping from was not as dire as the situation those migrants are running away from.”
They all say that my case is different. Is it?
I am wondering why my medical school colleagues are less bigoted and xenophobic than my other friends. I think their practical job plays a part, neither of them are intellectuals, and they think I am much better read and generally educated so presumably know what I am talking about. Not true, of course, but the older I am, the more I doubt EVERYTHING. Maybe “Evidence based medicine” caused my medical colleagues question everything more.
Should the migrants assimilate? Well, that depends what you mean by assimilation. My Jewish family was completely assimilated and felt Czech. Did not help them in 1939.
I feel that the only hope is to look at cultural differences in the same way most of my very secular friends look at religious differences. It is no longer important. A bit like taste in colours or outfits. I do not like or wear pink. But I could not care less if another woman does. And maybe most of the pink loving women could not care less if I don’t. Life is more fun when we are not all gleichschalted.
And our culture? Well, maybe I don’t believe in “culture”. I do not believe in anything, so no surprise there. I think that there are more similarities than differences between people.
What extremists consider “unholy” is a lot of things. Extremists of ANY kind are the problem. Even the ones who want to keep their “empires” – British, European, and American- intact.
IT DOES NOT WORK.
In a discussion on Goodreads, one of my favourite Goodreads friends said “All empires, cultures and religions are eventually under attack from without and from within“.
Yes, and in my opinion, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe we should try not to build empires and consider our “culture” as so important. Maybe we should just, as I do, see the things we have in common.
Instead of trying to protect our culture, empire, religion, whatever, try to just live together, melt, take the bits we like and tolerate and learn to live with the bits we don’t like. Naïve? Maybe, maybe not.
I am thinking about this quote:
“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” Voltaire
“Women have cleaner minds, they change them more often”.
I think changing your mind is a sign that you are using your brain, think, and ask “where is the evidence?”
Where is the evidence that those migrants are coming to Europe to change our life? Isn’t it at least as likely that they want to come here to adopt out lifestyle?
My sarcastic American partner said “Europeans are so insecure about their values. We in America know that the refugees will come, sleep with our women, drink pour wine, live our lives.”
I have no talent for faith, and I am suspicious of ANY religious and political faith. I prefer thinking, and then thinking again, and then posing myself a question: “What if I am wrong?”. I just do not like generalisations, and collective guilt. So hearing those generalisations about “The Migrants” “The Muslims” makes me feel sorry for the groups of them EVEN if it was a minority that gets put into the same basket with the fanatics.
It reminds me too closely of those other generalisations that I COULD be affected by- “The Jews”, The Eastern Europeans”.
I think most people share more in common than their divisions by differences.
I was a female Jewish doctor in a 20% Muslim town. None of those Muslim male patient ever found that a problem, and I never found a problem with them. They were a group of British. And yes, they prayed, kept Ramadan, went to Mecca and the women wore scarves. Who cares as long as they don’t try to force me to do the same!?
Yes, I know it is not simple. Intolerant, racist, bigoted people are everywhere. Some followers of Islam are intolerant, fanatical, terrorist criminals. Human rights record of many Arabic and Muslim countries is abysmal.
But in my opinions, all generalisations are wrong. Even if half of Muslims in the world were fanatics, and that is a ridiculous exaggeration, by saying they all are, you are harming the other half.
When I was leaving Prague, the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris happened.
But Moronic statements of Donald Trump reminding me of Nazi anti-Jewish arrangements about the need for a register of all Muslims in the USA, and even more idiotic statements by a Czech anti-Islam activist Konvicka about the need for concentration camps for Muslims brings me out in cold sweat as much as hearing about the terrorists.
Because I think that hatred brings hatred.
“They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind“ can go both ways.
My friend on Goodreads wrote:” the right wing powers given rise due to the fears will cause internal havoc in politics. All around continental Europe, nationalists’ and separatists’ movements have been gaining strength for over a decade, even before the current migration. “
Well, that is in my opinion of course equally problematic as the incoming extremists.
I feel that thinking people should maybe try to persuade both sides by example that assimilation should come from both sides. Live together, mix, take what we like, leave what we don’t and obey criminal and other important laws, or change them together if they don’t suit the majority. That is part of democracy.
When I came to the UK, people used to drive me nuts by:
“Where is that lovely accent coming from?”
I am a lazy woman, so instead of writing about it, here is a paragraph from my book:
“The Woman with (no) Strings Attached”:
“I love the British; I have always been an Anglophile. Their eccentricity, their sense of humour, my 90 year old patients living alone in Victorian terrace houses with steep stairs that look like ladders, who ‘mustn’t grumble’ and who are independent and remarkably stoical. The politeness and tolerance. Yes, they do think foreigners are strange, but they accept it and let them be strange in the UK, not forcing them to assimilate.
But sometimes living here can be annoying. I occasionally regret I did not immigrate to the USA or Canada, where I would be by now considered a local no matter what accent I have.
In England, whenever I start talking to strangers, they invariably ask after three minutes, “Where is this lovely accent coming from?” with that typical English sing song intonation. I hate that. I feel that instead of talking about more interesting things I need to spend the next ten minutes telling them my story.
I moaned about it to Tom, and he told me that after ten years of living in the US, everybody would treat me like a local. Tom would deny it, but he is rather patriotic, and always defends the USA against ‘European prejudices’. There is no need to tell me, I agree with him that the way the Europeans often look at Americans is patronising and a bit arrogant. So he is preaching to the converted.
But like so many times before when I had a problem, Tom came up with a solution that changed the way my initial conversations with strangers go. His idea really is quite funny. ”Why don’t you say – You have a lovely accent, too? Everybody has an accent.” So that is what I say now.
“Where is this lovely accent coming from?”
“You have a lovely accent, too.”
This silly exchange gets to the point faster. People do not start telling me their father was from Lancashire and their mother comes from Scotland. As always, Tom’s sarcastic wit served me well.”
End of book excerpt.
Am I naïve? Maybe. But in my opinion, so are people who think they can preserve the status quo by trying keeping their culture, religion, empire by seeing other culture and religion as threatening and unwanted.
I cannot change what other people do. I can only change what I do and say. And maybe, try to persuade other thinking people to change their opinions, see their prejudices. Thinking people do that. Change opinions, use their brain.
Maybe we should do what smart people have always done. If something does not work, let’s try something different.
And then maybe we will feel at home everywhere.
Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)
Remember that song? I know it was a different meaning, but it suddenly seem attractive than all those borders.
OF COURSE this is my opinion, NOT a fact.