In the place where I grew up – a particular square in one of the nicer Northern housing estates – there was a young Muslim doctor who lived with his wife and children.
I never found out why this gentleman had come to live among us, but he must have known when he made the decision that he and his family might suffer some racial abuse. They duly did suffer it, and I still feel ashamed when I remember how people spoke to them (and about them) in those years.
The older daughter was very smart: the family were probably the only middle-class people we knew at the time, though that didn’t mean anything very much, and the whole community expressed a terrible degree of contempt towards them – all the more terrible for seeming so natural.
Our Pakistani doctor did something that has now gone quite out fashion – he rose above it.
I imagine that he, as an educated man, felt quite sorry for many of the people around him. In any event, he forgave them. He and his wife worked very hard and they alone taught us a crucial lesson in liberalism – that sometimes we must tolerate other people’s intolerance.
Our neighbour, the doctor, treated everyone’s ailments and sought not only to face reality but slowly to change it. His tolerance was much greater than ours and, in some part, he taught a congenitally racist little community how to behave. That is a British story not often told, but none the less true.
This all came back to me when I read of the Muslim medical students who won’t have anything to do with patients with alcohol problems or sexually transmitted diseases.
It should be stated immediately that this is not a large group and it mercifully does not apply to all Muslim trainee doctors. But the British Medical Association has confirmed there are students who are refusing to attend lectures on these matters and that the refusal is being made on religious grounds.
Has the world gone mad? It was only last week that Sainsbury’s said it would permit Muslim employees who worked at its checkouts to refuse to scan alcohol if doing so offended their religious beliefs.
Other Muslim students are refusing to examine female bodies and still more, working in high street pharmacies, refuse to supply the Pill.
A friend of mine recently went to a wine warehouse in London. He didn’t have a car, so he asked the local minicab firm to come and pick him up, but it declined on account of the fact that the driver on duty refused to have alcohol in the car or to touch it.
Let me ask a simple question. Why do people who wish to train to be doctors choose to do so in a culture they find so objectionable as to make their jobs impossible?
It’s like someone yearning to be a carpenter, only to admit later that he actually has a horrible aversion to wood. Do these enlightened young doctors also hate the ethanol they put into their cars? Do they detest anti-freeze to the same degree that they abhor the sight of women’s naked bodies?
Britain might have many problems, but it is nevertheless a society with a broad understanding of people’s vulnerabilities and conditions, whether that means alcohol-related illnesses or thrush.
Are we to de-liberalise in order not to offend the Muslim trainees? Are we to make ourselves more like many of the Muslim countries those young doctors’ families fled from in order to have a life in Britain?
It’s impossible to comprehend this. I’m against those war-mongering fools who imagine that Islamo-fascism pervades every corner of the Muslim consciousness. I’m against those who allow Muslim extremism to colour their entire view of that ancient – and medically innovative! – culture. They would never allow the murderous antics of some abortion-hating Christian fundamentalists to colour their entire view of Christianity, would they?
But I’m afraid the actions of this small group of Muslim medics are playing right into the hands of those who want to see Islam as a fundamentally life-hating, reality-hating theocracy.
There are millions of believers who know it is not, but the lesson of the militant trainees is that they not only hate the country in which they seek to thrive but that they hate people who aren’t them.
The good doctor in my youth showed us the desperate limits of our own intolerance, and there is no way he would have encouraged us to stay like that.
Sainsbury’s and company may think they are being politically correct, but they are simply being stupid and encouraging discrimination where it need not exist. I perfectly understand if people don’t want to have anything to do with alcohol, but the remedy is simple: don’t work in Sainsbury’s.
I’m afraid to say I would take those workers off the shop floor immediately and the junior doctors I would send down without a moment’s hesitation.
I would say exactly the same if a bunch of Catholic pharmacists refused to let people buy condoms, or if a pack of Christian medical students refused to treat women who agreed with abortion. I’d sack them tomorrow morning and feel fine about it long before lunchtime.
I dislike the way that those who shout the loudest or create the most fuss always get the bigger share of people’s sympathy – it’s almost a definition of childishness.
How often in life do we fool ourselves into thinking it is fine for the more irrational person in a relationship to hold the reins, just because they grab them, just because they say so, just because we’re too troubled by the possible consequences of our firmly saying no.
Extremists are just that: they rely on the fact that people in the centre will be too soft to come out and disarm them or scorn their sense of entitlement.
Well, I’m scorning it. Despite all their efforts to become educated and make a contribution to human wellbeing, junior doctors who refuse to treat female patients or people with cirrhosis are too ignorant to do the job, unless they wish to do it in an environment where such ignorance is held to indicate some kind of religious nobility. Off you go, then. Be my guest. Your plane awaits.
There’s a limit to what people should do to please fanatics.