THE BLOG

A Positive Interpretation of Intolerance on the Tube

11/12/2015 11:44 GMT | Updated 10/12/2016 10:12 GMT

A strange incident occurred on the London Underground on Wednesday Night. A Muslim man apparently made the inexcusable mistake of turning off his iPad. A 'smartly dressed' man grew suspicious and told the iPad-wielding would-be terrorist to get off the tube. Unhappy at what they were witnessing, several fellow commuters became angry and started to defend the Muslim man. The Muslim man decided to leave to avoid further hassle. I imagine he was frustrated - not only had a man tacitly accused him of being a terrorist, but assumedly he had also run out of lives on Candy Crush.

This story angered a lot of folks. It was cited as an example of Britain's purportedly rampant Islamophobia. I, on the other hand, was quite pleased. Here was a Muslim bloke minding his own business, when all of a sudden a man renders him suspicious because of his appearance. At this point, the story is certainly worrying. But what happened next? Several people defended the Muslim man and verbally attacked the ignorant bloke.

We could speciously interpret this story as representative of Britain's Islamophobia. Or, and this is my suggestion, we could interpret it as a story of people standing up against Islamophobia. This isn't to say we overlook the implicit intolerance. We should certainly acknowledge this intolerance, but also realise it was confronted on this occasion and has been confronted on many previous occasions. And we should celebrate that confrontation.

The media like to adopt a negative representation of events. They use every story - credible or not - to perpetuate hysteria. You can guarantee the articles published on this particular story will focus on the two primary individuals and will reserve only a sentence or two for the others involved. And the so-called opinion pieces that will inexorably follow are entirely predictable. Some will suggest the smartly dressed man was right to be suspicious. Others will go further and suggest intolerance is necessary in these dangerous times.

A different approach is available. Instead of indulging in the same hackneyed and immovable arguments regarding the negative aspects of this story, we should focus on the positives: decent folks standing up for a wrongly accused Muslim. Such stories demonstrate a real appetite to stand against Islamophobia. On that tube, there were no cheering brigades for this prejudiced bloke, just direct condemnation from decent people.

If you look closely, there are plenty of small acts of heroism in these sorts of stories. And these acts give us reasons to feel optimistic. The media often ignores such acts. They focus on the wrongdoers and suggest the actions of the wrongdoers are somehow emblematic of where we stand as a country. That simply isn't true. This story indeed illustrates one man's prejudice, but also shows plenty of folks are unwilling to allow such prejudice. Properly understood, this story is about working people, on their way home to see their families, who decided not to tolerate one man's intolerance. And that's kind of lovely. And I feel optimistic.