24 October 2006

We Say We Want Integration ...

but what are we doing to actually encourage it?

The Learning and Skills Council is increasing its budget but cutting back on a programme that helps integration of newcomers to the UK: ESOL courses (English as a Second or Other Language).

The CNV trade union in the Netherlands is proposing that Eid (the holiday to mark the end of Ramadan) should become a bank holiday. I don't hear any UK trade union floating the idea, and it would be the kind of gesture that would indicate a multicultural Europe, rather than this idea of constitutionalising it as Christian.

The BBC's Zubaida Malik tried out wearing the full veil (the niqab) and writes about in the Guardian.
On the street it takes just seconds for me to discover that there are different categories of stare. Elderly people stop dead in their tracks and glare; women tend to wait until you have passed and then turn round when they think you can't see; men just look out of the corners of their eyes. And young children - well, they just stare, point and laugh.

After a few hours I get used to the gawping and the sniggering, am unsurprised when passengers on a bus prefer to stand up rather than sit next to me. What does surprise me is what happens when I get off the bus. I've arranged to meet a friend at the National Portrait Gallery. In the 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the gallery, two things happen. A man in his 30s, who I think might be Dutch, stops in front of me and asks: "Can I see your face?"

"Why do you want to see my face?"

"Because I want to see if you are pretty. Are you pretty?"

Before I can reply, he walks away and shouts: "You fucking tease!"

Then I hear the loud and impatient beeping of a horn. A middle-aged man is leering at me from behind the wheel of a white van. "Watch where you're going, you stupid Paki!" he screams. This time I'm a bit faster.

"How do you know I'm Pakistani?" I shout. He responds by driving so close that when he yells, "Terrorist!" I can feel his breath on my veil.

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