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Subway goes halal. Closet racists come out to play.

The Daily Mail are once again suggesting that Muslims are taking over the UK. The cheeky blighters are now encroaching on the sacred British diet of fast food, writes the paper, worming their way in one halal-serving takeaway at a time. And equally predictably, the dimmer wits amongst us have turned to social media to decry the creeping Islamisation of the country with as much fury, vitriol and profanity as possible.

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s the headline:

Subway removes ham and bacon from nearly 200 stores stores and offers halal products only

The article, written in the innocuously-presented ‘I’m not racist but…’ patter that The Daily Mail has perfected over the years, makes heavy play of the intricacies of halal slaughter. Presumably that is to give the article an authoritative veneer and to give readers of a delicate disposition a sense of legitimacy for feeling affronted by the idea of a takeaway shop becoming halal. ‘Those poor animals!’ the readers exclaim, shaking their heads and supping their teas. ‘Imagine slaughtering them without putting a bolt through their heads first, it beggars belief.’

A story like this always spreads like wildfire. The twitterers get a-tweeting and before we know it we are being inundated by a torrent of commentary on the rights and wrongs of halal provision and of Islam more generally. Closet racists, normally hemmed in by politeness and social convention, suddenly sense an opportunity to break free. ‘See!’ they yell. ‘We told you they couldn’t be trusted not to mess with our bacon!’. For a brief window of time, the article gives people a license to hate. And hate they do.

One of the many things that infuriates me about these kinds of articles is that they ruin your day even if you don’t read them. Even if you wouldn’t use the Daily Mail to clean up after a dog with a bad case of the runs, you’re still exposed to the loaded remarks and hateful rantings of people who seem determined not to use the faculties that God or nature gave them. I’m not going to repost these comments here, of course. No need to give them any more of an airing than they’ve had. Suffice to say that some of the comments would suck the air out of your lungs and make your hair curl. If you want to get a feel for it, check out twitter’s search results for #Subway.

Quite a few of these people have come into my orbit today. Probably this seems like a reflection on the company I keep, what with the nature of social media being social and all that. But let me explain. I have the dubious honour of coming from a place very close to another place which is pretty well known for its long-running issues with racism. Langley Mill (Derby) shot to fame in the 2001 Channel 4 documentary Sleepers, in which an Asian undercover reporter posed as a shopkeeper and documented the abuse she received.  Things hadn’t got much better ten years later, when a man was jailed for racially abusing a Turkish shopkeeper, and they still weren’t good this year, when another bloke pleaded guilty to sending ‘racially aggravated’ tweets.

It’s a pretty awful place, and I can say that because I used to live nearby. I can’t express it better than Gordon Burn did in The Observer though, so I’ll just quote him instead:

What a grim place Langley Mill is, just the godforsaken railway station with its urine-soaked stairs and a frayed straggle of shops gloated over by Angelo’s Vegas-style chippery (‘cheapest chips in the area’). The Railway Tavern is a square lavatorial pile… A mug-shot of Hitler with the slogan ‘En Memoriam’ has been fly-posted on the building opposite, at the derelict corner of Elmor Street and Station Road, and is probably not unconnected to the low-placed ‘I love Pakistan’ sticker in the window of Khan’s Convenience Store just a few yards away.

Not everyone from my old neck of the woods is racist of course, not by a long chalk, but it’s dawning on me that a fair few are. I wonder if I didn’t notice it before, or if they’re becoming more vocal with age. Either way, today my otherwise fine-and-dandy day has been darkened by the racist and anti-immigrant comments of people on the peripheries of my extended social network, and not for the first time. To read the comments is bad enough, but to see the likes and endorsements really makes me want to check out of society for a while. Realising that hermit-living probably isn’t practical though (I am a creature of conviction, but not of willpower), I’ve instead developed a strategy that I’ve dubbed ‘not letting it pass’.

I like to think that the ‘not letting it pass’ strategy does what it says on the tin. Sometimes it involves calling people out on what they’ve said, asking them how they can make such sweeping judgements and say such hateful things about other people. Sometimes I’ll reaffirm how great it is to have a rich mix of people around and about, and how there is so much to celebrate in our communities. If I can, I’ll try to report offensive content and have it removed. I wouldn’t let that kind of thing pass unreported on the street, so I’m also not going to let it go unchecked online. I’m sure lots of other people do this too, but it’s still surprising how often hate speech online goes unchallenged. It’s almost as if we think normal rules don’t apply – they should.

And then if I’m still not feeling better, I’ll look for other people who aren’t letting it pass either. Like these people below. Keep the faith folks – eventually the media frenzy will fade and you never know, maybe one day if we keep at it we really can stamp out hatred.

https://twitter.com/ssomerfield/status/461986345658105857

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