Last Christmas a group of local Muslim ladies sang the carol 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' to the white English staff at their local community centre. The ladies used the community centre through the year and wanted to thank the team for their help. The ladies on the staff were very impressed.
As the Muslim ladies left the Centre they had photographs taken of themselves next to the well decorated Christmas Tree.
Having worked in that very diverse community for a number of years, I knew, that Christmas was always celebrated - in the schools - the churches and the community centres. I even played Santa Claus in the Sure-Start centre. Despite my bad acting children from all the different cultures came in and enjoyed the Santa experience - including many Muslim families and their children.
I am not an expert on diversity or community cohesion or on religion - especially Islam - but over the years I saw children and families growing up and saw how local people got along together. I saw how very often people from different ethnic and cultural groups lived their lives in a separate, but not unfriendly way in that particular place.
Over the years some British newspapers have tried to depict Muslim folks as wanting Christmas banned - most recently the Sun carried a story about a Woolworths shop in Germany which they said had 'banned Xmas' because of Muslims- lots of references to 'shocked locals' - but when you read the article we find out that they stopped trying to sell Christmas stuff because no one was buying it in that particular place.
The issues surrounding religious and ethnic differences in this country are seldom far from the headlines. This is especially so around Islam - not too surprising I suppose considering some violent men are using the excuse of this particular religion for their violence.
The Government has recently floated the idea of an 'oath of allegiance' to be sworn by Council officials and immigrants - the idea being to concentrate everyones minds on 'British values' - whatever they are? Sounds a nice idea - but who is to choose which values to be sworn to?
Louise Casey has produced a thoughtful report on social cohesion and highlighted the vast complexity of the issues around how different cultures live together - but few people will read that report.
Many more people will get their news from mainstream media - from newspapers like the Mail, the Sun and the Express. each newspaper in their way seeking to exploit differences and suspicions of other cultures - especially Muslims.
The Express especially seems keen to search the entire world for negative stories about what bad things Muslims are doing - obviously made easier by terrorism associated with an otherwise peaceful religion of Islam.
I remember a time when terrorism was associated with Ireland and the Irish were often discriminated against - these things change and are not ever lasting though our collective memory is short.
Different cultures bring their own prejudices and faults - low income white English people are suffering their own problems and all these things can be exploited by those seeking power or trying to sell newspapers.
Whilst I think we have to leave the EU because of the result of the referendum vote - I don't think it will solve many, if any, of the problems associated with immigration that the leave camp promised it would. I don't believe Trump will deliver much for those that voted for him because he fed on their fear and resentments about other groups and this self-obsessed man does not appear to be some one to trust anyway.
But - in amongst all the debate and manufactured resentment - in amongst the real problems and the ones made up - I thought I would mention this one small episode.
A small group of Muslim ladies making a gesture in singing a Christmas carol in an obscure community centre will not make headlines but I think it is a small sign that not everything is as bad as the haters and exploiters would have you believe.
Social cohesion is often spoken about and seems to be the obsession of government local and national. I am not sure they actually know what it looks like - but maybe it will be made up of small gestures in obscure places like these ladies singing a Christmas carol: gestures that don't make the headlines.Suggest a correction