[DEBATE] : War, Islam and veils
peter at aidc.org.za
Wed Oct 11 09:16:08 BST 2006
Jack Straw's veil comments are ammunition for racists
Montage of newspaper cuttings
by Charlie Kimber
The last week has seen a new wave of attacks on Muslims, including
Jack Straw’s speech on veiled women. What’s behind the latest
round of Islamophobia?
Is it possible to get the question of racism and Islamophobia more
wrong than Oldham Labour MP Phil Woolas did last weekend? Muslim
women who cover their faces with veils, he told readers of the Sunday
Mirror, can be “frightening and intimidating”. He added that
Muslim veils could increase racial tensions in Britain.
“Most British-born Muslims who wear it do so as an assertion of
their identity and religion. This can create fear and resentment
among non-Muslims and lead to discrimination. Muslims then become
even more determined to assert their identity, and so it becomes a
vicious circle where the only beneficiaries are racists like the
BNP,” he wrote.
So there you have it. Muslims are not victims of racism, Islamophobia
and fascist violence - they have brought it on themselves.
And this incendiary rubbish is written by the man who is minister for
local government and community cohesion - with special responsibility
for race and faith!
The immediate cause of the wave of Islamophobia is the competition
between politicians of all the major parties to be seen as “tough on
Muslim extremism” and “tough on terror”.
Having created the conditions for terrorism through the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, Tony Blair and his acolytes have set out to denounce
their political opponents as “soft” if they do not agree to ever
more brutal terror laws.
It is not our wars that fuel terror attacks, says Blair, it is the
evil Muslims in our midst - and those who do not join in the hunt for
them are equally guilty. On the back of such lies comes the
succession of terror laws and the elimination of liberties held for
hundreds of years.
More generally, war has been declared on “extremist Muslims”, a
concept which grows ever wider. Last August Blair told the Los
Angeles World Affairs Council that the conflict in the Middle East,
as well as others involving Muslim “extremists”, revolve around
“modernisation within Islam” and whether the Western system of
values can “beat theirs”.
In February of this year Muslims were castigated for complaining
because they had been insulted by the racist cartoons in Denmark. And
then in September Pope Benedict XVI launched the latest phase of his
attack on Islam.
Now politicians are scrabbling to be seen as the most vicious
towards “terror suspects” and the most contemptuous of
“politically correct” defences of Muslims. And their words are
taken up by some as the trigger for racist violence.
At Labour’s conference home secretary John Reid trumpeted his
determination not to be “bullied” by Muslim critics.
A few days later Falkirk’s Islamic centre was set on fire, causing
£10,000 damage. Bricks and concrete blocks were thrown at cars parked
in a mosque in Preston and a Muslim teenager was subsequently stabbed
by the attackers.
Then at the Tory conference, David Cameron used his speech to claim
he would “smash Muslim ghettos”, as Tory newspapers put it. That
night Muslims faced petrol bomb attacks in Windsor.
The next day the press worked itself into lather about police officer
Alexander Omar Basha who had been excused from duty outside the
Israeli embassy (which he was not actually assigned to).
And Jack Straw launched his attack on the veil. The next day a Muslim
woman’s veil was snatched from her by a man who shouted racist abuse
at a bus stop in Liverpool. The 49 year old woman from Toxteth had
her veil snatched by a tall white man in his 60s.
Have no doubt - this is a serious and accelerating situation in which
Muslims are defined as potential or actual enemies.
This hysteria has opened the door to coded calls for harsher action.
Simon Jenkins wrote in last weekend’s Sunday Times that “it is
reasonable to ask why they [Muslim women who wear the veil] want to
live in Britain”.
He added, “Those who claim such hospitality owe some duty of respect
to their hosts, or at the very least cannot complain if the hosts
Until recently Labour ministers would generally defend
multiculturalism. Not any more. Last August, Ruth Kelly, the
communities secretary, called for a “new and honest debate” on the
merits of multiculturalism.
In fact this “debate” means prescribing a notion of “British
identity”, identified by the political establishment and implemented
with increasing ruthlessness. It defines an “in” and an “out”
group - with consequences for those deemed unwilling to adapt to the
Look carefully at what Straw said. He described meeting a man and his
wife who are constituents. She was friendly, polite, respectful, and
gave off “signals which indicate common bonds - the entirely English
accent, the couple’s education (wholly in the UK)”.
But he could not reconcile such elements with “the fact of the
veil,” which made him feel “uncomfortable,” he wrote.
He decided that in future he would ask his female constituents to
remove the veil when they came to his surgery because wearing it
made “better, positive relations between the two communities more
difficult”. A veiled woman could not, for Straw, be “one of us”.
New Labour’s creed of imperialist war and neo-liberalism is in
trouble. So, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq turn increasingly
disastrous, the government seeks to target “enemies” at home. It
is crucial we stand together against racist attacks and in solidarity
Dr Peter Dwyer
129 Rochester Road,
Cape Town, 7705.
TEL: 021 447 5770
FAX: 021 447 5884
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