Careless Stereotyping

Ramadan LanternsI’ve been privileged to travel widely, and have had conversations with educated people in several countries where Islam is the norm. On one visit to the Levant, one of my acquaintances made statements starting “Christians should…”. I was taken aback. After all, what characteristic do all Christians have in common?

When you eliminate all the doctrines that are contested, balance for those who support right- and left-wing politics, allow for two millennia of schisms and state co-option and factor the micro-fragmentation of the protestant portion of Christendom, the only thing left in common is the syllable “Christ”. I realised the term was being used as shorthand for a stereotype, embracing everyone far away in the western world, summarising a set of sketchy facts mixed with biases and misunderstandings.

So when we in the west who are not adherents to Islam speak of “Muslims”, who are we talking about? We are doing the same thing my acquaintance in the Levant did; taking countless unfamiliar people who we consider “different” and tagging them with a word that doesn’t mean much to us but does allow the application of a stereotype.

More than that, it’s a bad stereotype. Just like calling everyone in the western world “Christian”, I have a problem with the attribution of any motive or collective responsibility to the 1.6 billion people who actually are Muslims, or of a unified strategy by the 49 countries where they are the majority, let alone to the others caught up in the stereotype’s dragnet (many of whom are in fact Christians, as well as other religions).

To say “Muslims should…” is to immediately use an impossible generalisation, to invoke a stereotype, to validate the rhetoric of discrimination and to indicate unfamiliarity with people who might fall into the classification (as well as to covertly engage in ignorant proselytism as some of the conversations I’ve followed this weekend illustrated).

How can discussion of a statement that starts something like “Muslims should…” by people who are not Muslims do anything other than harm? Given the number of people, of countries, who are tarred with that brush, certainly nothing actionable could arise from it. That’s why, when I hear people ascribing actions or motivations to “Muslims”, I now respond: “which Muslims, where, and how do you know?”

Rome’s Answer To Milton Keynes

High Roman Wall, originally uploaded by webmink.

We went walking yesterday around the remains of the Roman town Calleva Atrebatum in Silchester, Hampshire. This was an large, bustling town at the focal point of England’s road network in Roman times. It appears to have been the distribution hub for Roman Britain, just like the modern purpose-built town of Milton Keynes.

It declined when the Romans left, and was finally killed off in the 13th century by the Black Death. A great deal of the enormous town wall remains standing, enclosing otherwise almost empty farm land.

Air New Zealand Goes Hobbit

Their safety video is the first I’ve actually wanted to watch all the way to the end…


London Thrill Ride

Seems the fairground is now a London fixture. Walking back across Waterloo Bridge at the end of our last holiday break of the summer, we saw that the London Eye has been joined by a sort of “London Needle” that provides a high-level thrill-ride on flying swing-seats over London. We didn’t have time to try it out but it looks exciting!



These were the ones over the Dales – on the way into Wensleydale, in fact – rather than anything to do with computing.




We spent the last two days in Dentdale (in the Yorkshire Dales National Park) following my talk at OggCamp. Here’s a taste of what it was like:

Call For Participation

Have you ever attended an open source conference? In my article for ComputerWorldUK today, I briefly review four good choices that you can attend over the next few months.

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