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The other day, as I sat in a train carriage taking me from Birmingham to London, I decided to tilt my head against the window and try to get some sleep. It had been a long, difficult, boring day and the opiate lure of sleep seemed to offer a warm bath for my aching senses.

I didn’t get any though, for no sooner had I shut my eyes than a burly Somali woman crashed down on the seat across the gangway and began to graze like a cow.

Fidgeting around in a small grey trolley bag she removed box after box, flipping off the lids each time with an echoing pop. She prepared what must have been the apperitif – a cold soup, green in colour, similar in appearance to a badly made guacamole.

I remember thinking “Now she is not going to drink that out of the tub….She can’t do.”

Well, she did, and with a noise more distressing than the whoosh of an approaching bullet. An English (or any rate European) woman ( long legs, short dress) stationed in front of the Somali began to wince in time to every slurp. At one point (to my pleasure) she consulted me with a wry, sympathetic smile.

This went on through five courses. After each one, the woman wiped her mouth gracelessly on her flowing black cloak (by the end it looked like the bed-sheets of a mental patient).

When the train docked at Milton Keynes, the Somali woman picked up her bag and departed the carriage, leaving the boxes, wrappers, and copius stains for the poor train crew to deal with.

The train peeled away towards the smoke, and as I took the postponed chance to rest my head, I thought lazily about the differences in moral priotities between a Muslim woman and her equivalent in the West. No doubt for that Somali woman, bedecked in her Hijab and modest cloak, the lady in front who winced at her behaviour was a barbarian. No doubt her short skirt, social independence and unmutilated labia marked her out as someone awaiting civilisation. My thoughts of the Somali – of course – were of the same kind.

And that’s a good (if slightly ludicrous) analogy for the Muslim-Kaffir quarrel itself. As Christopher Hitchens wrote, it is not a ‘clash of civilisations’, but a clash about what constitutes civilisation that most separates East from West.

Or of course, I could be reading too much into a woman with no table manners.

D, LDN.

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