Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a scare story about Muslims trying to ruin everything. This year the evil foreign invaders are committing the terrible atrocity of slightly lengthening the time we spend queueing at Marks and Spencer in order to buy items.
My time at queues is always being lengthened – by a teenager who can’t sell me alcohol and so who has to wait for a supervisor to nod and say “Yeah, he looks like he’s about eighty five”; by me not being able to open up the plastic bags properly; by the panicking of the pack and scan till when the thing I’ve just put on the scales is one gram heavier than it was expecting. If someone wants me to go to another till to buy pork products or booze, I really don’t care.
Maybe I’m alone. Maybe the real problem in this world is that people on barely above minimum wage should be allowed some form of so-called human rights in the workplace, and aren’t just there as my slave at my beck and call to do everything I want, no matter how much it offends them.
That could be it. It could be the case that people are really, genuinely terrified and upset at the prospect of people who don’t want to sell certain things selling certain things. Or it might just, slightly, be the case that it’s the usual suspects, the “creeping sharia” klaxon-blowers, telling us that everything is awful because people who work in a shop might want to be treated slightly differently from other people who work in a shop.
Does it matter? Does it really, actually matter?
I am no big fan of religion. I don’t have a religion myself. I don’t like religion, on the whole. But I will be damned if I am going to tell other people that they should behave exactly as I want if it goes against their religion. If someone of any faith was made to feel uncomfortable by me, as a customer, for genuine reasons of faith then that is something we need to work out. There’s a simple solution which needn’t take too much time and which means I can still buy the alcohol to poison myself and the pig to fur up my arteries. If I really want it. (And I like drinking and eating pigs, so yes.)
If I can buy my pig products and alcohol with the minimum of fuss, and if I manage not to annoy someone else while I’m doing it, then great. My right to buy things doesn’t trump the right of other people to work in a comfortable environment – and I remind you, for very little money, not that that matters very much, but it’s worth remembering.
We can reduce this argument to absurdity, if we must. What if vegetarians refused to sell meat? Er, OK. I wouldn’t have a problem with that either. Why should they? What if vegans didn’t want to sell things? What if someone didn’t want to sell me a porn mag? That’s fine too. There are ways of making people fit in with their faiths in a big store that should mean they’re working in the place where they’re least likely to encounter such problems. Sometimes it’s not always possible, but that’s all right: I as a customer can wait a minute or two more.
Waiting for a minute or two more is not the end of the world.
But then, this isn’t really about waiting a minute or two more. It’s about selling a narrative in which the “human rights brigade” allow Muslims to have unfair and special treatment, and where people aren’t allowed to buy the things they want, because of Muslims. Just be honest about it. If you don’t like Muslims, say so. Don’t dance around the issue and pretend it’s all about your god-given right to buy a packet of pork scratchings. Just be open and up front.
In the meantime, while you’re waiting at a till this afternoon, or tomorrow, for the queue to die down, remember one thing: it could be worse. You could be on the other side of that till, taking the casual abuse, tutting and anger all day, for money that barely covers your bills. And then you could be told that you should be grateful for a job and should just stop your complaining.