Power Walk in the Park (Veiled)

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Nigel Farage feels “awkward” when people in London’s Tube speak every language other than English.

Nigel Farage informed the public recently that he feels “awkward” when he travels on the train and nobody speaks English. The leader of the europhobic, populist UKIP obviously thinks it’s a bad thing if tourists and locals use different languages to communicate. But let’s face it: London is Babel. Is this so bad?

Last Saturday we walked in the early evening through Hyde Park to a Bar Mitzvah party. Directly in front of us, two women in black abayas headed off across the lush green grass. It was a strange sight. Not so much to see religious Muslim women in traditional black whole-body robes. In London they have become quite a common feature since the Gulf Arabs started coming here in the Seventies. It was only funny because the two women were moving so quickly despite their attire. After a moment we got it: The ladies were going on a power walk through the park at dusk.

They were by no means the only Muslims in religious garb in Hyde Park that evening. We saw a few men walking in leather jackets through the green oasis followed by their wives in theatrical fluttering cloths. Some even wore a niqab, the veil which only leaves the eyes visible. A few were sitting in groups on the lawn like black holes in the landscape.

Not only London Muslims used the mild May evening for an outing to the Park. We also met a group of young men in tank tops and short cropped hair clutching bottles. Their conversation was audible from far away, but not understandable. At least not to us. They spoke a Slav language we didn’t know – not Russian or Polish.

Shortly after the beer drinkers, our path was crossed by a middle-class family on their way home from a picnic. The mother, father and two kids were chatting happily to each other in a language, which I thought was Turkish. The others in my group had given up on the language guessing game by now. Short attention span, I presume.

I had to think of poor old Nigel, who probably would have felt sad again because no one we met in London’s beloved Hyde Park appeared to be speaking English. Farage must fear that the Brits will stop being masters of their own home. Indeed, immigrants have come in waves to London. For two reasons. Firstly, because super-rich sheikhs from the Gulf, Eastern European oligarchs and neo-capitalist Chinese billionaires happily use the services of the polite and efficient global tax evasion scheme London offers to buy property and they can also watch over their kids as they attend elite British schools. All this has pushed house prices up enormously and most English cannot afford to live here any longer – unless they belong to the Royal family and inherited a palace. Secondly, the UK has become a big destination for EU migrants ever since the EU allowed free movement of workers. Vertically, horizontally and historically, London is therefore a city of immigrants. That was the plan all along and it is hypocritical now to complain about it.

This week the "Sun" broke the story that most lamb meat sold in Britain's supermarkets is halal. Slaughtered according to Islamic religious rules because some producers find it tiring to slaughter in two different ways. Should consumers be told about it? Yes, why not. Is it more cruel to let animals bleed for a minute? Apparently the animals are being stunned before they are killed in any case - halal or not. The halal hysteria smells bad to me. Or as British comedian Russell Brand says in his video blog: "There is no nice way to kill an animal. If you don't want to eat dead animal, don't eat dead animal." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPuqgFzqFG0&feature=youtu.be)

But Farage is not the only one who fiercely fears the slow demise of the English in Britain. His UKIP Party has an excellent chance of winning the EU elections on May 22nd. Never mind that his proposed antidote to immigration problems is old-fashioned and ineffective: make immigration more difficult and leave the EU. All studies warn that Britain would lose a lot of money, thousands of jobs and access to the biggest market in the neighbourhood whose governance Britons today have a hand in directing. Immigrants, especially those coming from EU countries, pay more into the state coffers than they take out in benefits. But rational arguments, says UKIP expert Mathew Goodwin from Chatham House, “are totally lost on UKIP voters. A good part of the population is very dissatisfied with immigration policies.”

Does it change a city for the worse, if boozed-up people roar at each other in English or Slovak? Or if power-walking women speak Arabic? It’s a problem if the new language comes with undemocratic or sexist traditions. But Great Britain is not the only country with high immigration which has to tackle this problem. Many languages in a city are a sign of richness, diversity and growth – not of decay.

When we arrived at our Bar Mitzvah party, suddenly everyone spoke the traditional language of this country. The lingua franca at parties of British Jews clearly seems to be English. Only we sounded different because I speak German to my son. We did a treasure hunt in the park and it was getting dark, so we needed to speed up. In the sensory garden, we were supposed to smell herbs and name them: “That’s not rosemary, it’s lavender!” I shouted - in German. In my excitement, I forgot Nigel and his deplorable language phobia.

Does he believe what he preaches, I wonder? Is it really true that he feels “awkward” when people speak something other than English in the train? To my ears, it sounds like pure and utter populist nonsense. After all UKIP - as it turns out - has been employing East European immigrants to distribute their leaflets: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/05/07/ukip-eastern-european-leaflet-distribution-_n_5279567.html?utm_hp_ref=tw And Nigel Farage has a German wife. And she works for him. Paid for by the European Union.

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz