This year, it appears that Christmas hasn’t been banned because it offends Muslims – or at least I haven’t as yet come across that old familiar story or any of its many variants.
Still, the festive season wouldn’t be complete without some anti-Muslim story in the right-wing press. The Mail has run a report, which was then taken up by the Sunday Telegraph, that Muslim checkout staff at Marks & Spencer who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork have been told they can politely request that customers pay at another till.
You might wonder how prevalent this practice is at M&S – the Mail provides just one example of it happening. Other retailers – Asda, Morrisons and Tesco – appear to have adopted the more obvious solution that staff who object to handling certain products are not asked to work at checkouts.
This is one of those “Islamic takeover” stories which is recycled every few years. Back in 2007 the Mail reported that “at least one” branch of Sainsbury’s was allowing a dispensation for Muslim employees who didn’t want to sell alcohol. Inayat Bunglawala, who was at that time a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, stated:
“By selling alcohol you are not committing a sin. You are just doing the job you are paid for. Muslim employees have a duty to their employer and in supermarkets most people would accept that in selling alcohol you are merely passing it through a checkout. That is hardly going to count against you on the day of judgement.”
This probably reflects the mainstream view among Muslim shopworkers. However, the fact that retail outlets are prepared to adapt to the requirements of those among their Muslim staff who take a more restrictive view of their religious obligations is to be commended, and shows how the UK is evolving into a successful multicultural society.
Of course, that isn’t the message that the Mail and Telegraph want to send to their readers. The purpose of these stories is to reinforce the narrative that “our” culture is being eroded by the Muslim presence in the UK. And, as the furious online comments provoked by the reports demonstrate, they have certainly achieved that objective.
Update: See also Ian Leslie, “The furore over M&S’s Muslim staff policy shows that Islamophobia is a problem”, New Statesman, 23 December 2013
And Ellen E. Jones, “Marks & Spencer: Muslim workers refusing to serve alcohol to customers isn’t much of an issue at all”, Independent, 23 December 2013
Also “Don’t want to sell pork? Fine by us, Marks and Spencer tell its Jewish staff”, Jewish Chronicle, 22 December 2013
Not that this prevents the media from presenting M&S ‘s accommodation of its employees’ religious beliefs as a specifically Muslim “problem”.
Update 2: For an example of crazed right-wing overreaction to this story, see Graeme Archer, “By introducing segregation into its stores, M&S has yielded to Muslim extremists”, Telegraph blog, 23 December 2013
This is the same Graeme Archer who thinks London’s East End has been taken over by “radical Islam”.