Question: When can the municipal pool prohibit a man from men-only swims? Answer: When the session has been flagged "Muslim-only." Or so one explained to David Toube and his son, who appeared at the Clissold Leisure Centre (in the London borough of Hackney) during the Sunday morning men's modesty session.
Mr. Toube blogged his experience, writing:
"I arrived at the pool to discover that they were holding what staff described to me as 'Muslim men only swimming,'" he wrote.
"I asked whether my son and I could go as we were both male. I was told that the session was for Muslims only and that we could not be admitted. I asked what would happen if I turned up and insisted I was Muslim.
"The manager suggested that they might ask the Muslims swimming if they minded my son and I swimming with them. If they didn't object, we might be allowed in."
Mr. Toube then spoke with another Leisure Centre employee, who offered an "identical story." What's worse:
Mr. Toube joked: "I asked him whether Clissold Leisure Centre would institute Whites Only swimming for racists. His answer was that they would if there was sufficient demand."
How "equality" like this stands to set things right is anyone's guess. Mr. Toube, for his part, was appalled.
He added: "I spoke to a number of Muslim friends, and none of them had heard of a religious prohibition on swimming with non-Muslims.
"One friend was so disgusted with Hackney [Council] for trying to segregate Muslims and non Muslims that he suggested that he take his little daughter swimming with us, just to prove the point."
The Comments portion of the news item offers additional opinions. There are those, for example, resigned to write "Sounds about right nowadays," in addition to those who press for legal remedies for this backward sort of discrimination.
Most useful, however, are comments like these: "As a Muslim myself, I think it's disgusting!"; or, "Is this another case of the PC brigade rushing to the aid of Muslims – without ever asking Muslims how they feel about it?? […] I have many Muslim friends and none of them has any attitude resembling the kind of sensitivities that they are accused of. The PC brigade are doing them more harm than good. Fact."
While some are no doubt glad for these accommodations – for which the Leisure Centre has in turn apologized and then weakly denied – it has become clear that ostensibly secular institutions, in the public and private sectors, are inclined to establish policies of religious exception with little, if any, arm-twisting on the part of the target group.
But a spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission cautions: "Segregating services may amount to unlawful discrimination and could create a sense of unfairness, inadvertently increasing community tension."
And Britain's race equality chief Trevor Phillips once warned that the United Kingdom was in danger of "sleepwalking [its] way to segregation," with no small push from municipal and state authorities.
Both may be correct, which requires Hackney Council to deep-six the men's modesty session – and restore the discipline of equality to the Clissold Leisure Centre.