Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Unless you have managed to avoid the news entirely for the past week or so, you will know that the most pressing political issue in Britain is whether a tiny minority of a minority group – a population of a few hundred – should be able to wear veils. This in itself is an absurd arrangement of political priorities.
This story does not exist in isolation, but comes on the back of a series of news stories highlighting the special wickedness of Muslims. Even when they are the victims of mob-handed attack, Muslims are still the instigators, corrupters of the morals of the usually tolerant ‘white’, ‘English’, ‘British’ or ‘host’ (delete depending on your preferred brand of othering) population, prompting them into spasms of verbal abuse and sometimes even violence. This approach to understanding modern British society is given weight and legitimacy by the opinions of the great and good. Muslims, it seems, want to live in ghettos and are responsible for their alleged estrangement from the rest of society.
This analysis must be true. After all, I have heard it used before, to great effect. As I understand it there once was another minority group in Europe that was especially wicked, unEuropean, pre-modern, anti-democratic, a group who were uniquely responsible for they own discrimination and persecution and gathered together in alien ghettos that needed to be ‘broken up’. Yes, we have heard this all before.
But this most recent round of demonisation combines three great selling points of the tabloid press. First, a spot of reader-pleasing xenophobia, second a threat to children, and third, wrap it all up in an individualised human interest story. The first two, presumably, are why we do not know the names of the women who have been sworn at, spat at and attacked in the name of integration, tolerance and, well, women’s rights. The first, especially. It does little to engender a feeling of satisfying own group-superiority when the xenophobia in the story is not the listing of the failings of the other.
I am writing, of course of the popular and much commented upon story of Aishah Azmi, the twenty-four year old teaching assistant who has become the symbol of the evil in our midst. Over at Osama Saeed’s blog
I left a comment on this subject. Here is an edited version.
The most disgusting thing about the whole, manufactured Azmi affair is that this story is being understood in an entirely arse-backward fashion. This was the case of a young woman integrating into society. Azmi was working at a school of a different faith to her own, teaching English to bilingual children. She is, or rather was, the very model of an integrated – as I have said before, assimilation is an entirely different, and much more dangerous, word - young person.
With authorities leaping on the back of a wave of ignorance and xenophobic disgust of the other, she is suspended. A Labour - Labour! mark you, the party of working people, the party that ought oppose sackings, never mind those inspired by popular prejudice - minister announces that she ought to be sacked. Aishah Azmi, a twenty-four year old woman, integrated into British society, has been transformed by journalistic sleight-of-word into a villain, a symbol of segregation and apart-ness, a process of Wonderland-logic that would be fascinating if it were not so appalling.
So integration and cross-faith education are segregation, to be condemned by members of this government, even to the point when the words used verge on a breach of employment law - and remember this is Labour! – all the while this same government welcomes proposals for semi-privatised single-faith schools government policy? If a government minister wants to condemn anything, if such a person wanted to call for sackings in the name of integration, that person should be calling for the entire journalistic and editorial staffs of the mass market papers to be made redundant.
I am no fan of the veil, and do think that it objectively works to prevent the equality of the sexes. But I am no brute. I do not think that the course of action to be taken upon coming to this conclusion is to destroy the lives of women who have chosen to wear the veil. To do so seems to be the practice of some kind of pseudo-feminism, and the question is; what lies behind this 'liberal' front?
After trading blows with some at Harry's Place, I decided that there is a category of thought that we ought to call national feminism
. Five Chinese Crackers
has a good post exposing Melanie Phillips madness, while The F-Word
discusses how to approach the ‘problem’ posed by the veil.
This is a day when The Express is reporting on a ‘purge’ of medical staff wearing a veil and The Guardian is reporting that the Government plans to ask lecturers to spy on their ‘Asian looking’ students.
This is the week after a ‘Labour’ minister brashly supports the sacking of a person wearing the veil. This would be bad enough if it were the actions of a Tory, merely a breach of proper employment procedure. But this is a break with the tradition within the labour movement of resisting all sackings. Never mind those that ride a wave of public aggression against a threatened minority group.
This is the week after David Davis talked of ‘voluntary’ apartheid, a nifty linguistic trick that transfers responsibility from those who, morally, must bear it, the powerful, to those who cannot, the weak.
This is a time when integration is bandied about by people who have no sense of its meaning; integration is the bringing together of separate elements to create a whole unit. It is not the same as assimilation, but is a process in which the people and peoples who are the separate elements contribute to the character of a whole. Demands for assimilation, of course, who be met with less than full-blooded approval by those with a sense of history. Or a sense of shame.
A demand for a sense of history would, funnily enough, exclude those defenders of ‘reason’ and ‘Enlightenment’ around whom dangerous middle-class and ‘intellectual’ anti-Muslim sentiment is coalescing. These wannabe Volatires use words such as Enlightenment as fetishes, as magic utterances, to cast them in the glow of ‘Civilisation’. But while they act the buffoon, invoking the legitimacy of historical eras of which they have only the passing acquaintance, they are dangerous. Dangerous, because it is through this polity of the middle-class, with their access to the levers of power and persuasion, that laws are passed, cultural moods are changed and street violence is given its head.
This is an autumn of firebombed dairies, attacks on veiled women in the street and the stabbings of young men with the ‘wrong’ colour skin. These events cannot be neatly divorced from the pronouncements of those with tremendous cultural power, or from the actions of those who launch wars abroad and stoke fear and suspicion at home.
So, at this time, it is nice to hear a line that disembowels the bloated, slothful thinking of the pseudo-scholars and phony-humanitarians* who seem to dominate the Anglophone world of letters:"Veiled Muslim women are caricatured as oppressed victims who need rescuing from their controlling men, while at the same time accused of being threatening creatures who really should stop intimidating the (overly tolerant) majority."
Salam Yaqoob, via TTSD
*I have tackled the worthless imagination of Martin Amis before [One
]. I plan to address the error of Salman Rushdie next.
The news sources are full of the story that a ‘Muslim’ officer was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy during the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon
I have two questions.
First, who leaked this story to the press, and what effect did they hope to produce?
Second, why are news sources concentrating on the fact that the officer was a Muslim?
It seems to me that the important feature of this officer’s identity was not that he was a Muslim, as did not ask to be excused from guarding the Israeli embassy prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and once the Israeli bombing of Lebanon ceased he returned to full duties. He was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon because his wife is Lebanese.
This is perfectly sensible. Indeed, one would expect that the officers responsible for assigning duties within the diplomatic protection group would have a full, in depth file on each of their officers. It astounds me that a police officer was asked to guard the embassy of a nation that is bombing and invading the nation to which his wife belongs. This has nothing to do with the officer being Muslim, but rather that his personal, familial connection to the conflict ought to have resulted in the officer being ruled out of guarding the embassy, just as an officer would be ruled out of investigating a crime in which he had an unusually personal stake. He should not have had to ask to be excused. The officer should have been given other duties for operational reasons.
The only way that, in this story, his Muslim identity trumps his Lebanese familial connection is that, as a Muslim guarding the Israeli embassy during the time concerned is that he and his family may have been especially at risk from attack by violent Islamist groups. If this is the case, then being excused from this particular duty on welfare grounds is perfectly reasonable.
Of course, this all brings us back round to my first question. And we may now reframe it. The questions of who and why can be combined into a single question. Who is determined to paint Muslims as disloyal, unBritish, and subject to preferential treatment? Well, that sounds like the standard Melanie Phillips line, in other words, the line of the rabid anti-Muslim racist, unreflexively redeploying the standard anti-Semitic arguments but replacing the subject of their hateful stories with the modern bogey religio-ethnic group.
Someone within the police, presumably occupying a senior position, is an anti-Muslim racist. This person is presumably riding on a significant amount of support from police officers who are either stupid dupes or fellow anti-Muslim racists. Is it really that unreasonable for Muslims to withdraw from co-operating with the police?
Or even withdraw from co-operating with the British state on a much wider basis. When John Reid delivered his ‘grass up your kids’ speech in East London he was heckled by Abu Izzadine. This heckling was seized on by news sources and John Reid himself to demonstrate the inherent violence and unreasonableness of Muslim opponents to current British government policy. And this painting has worked. Abu Izzadine’s interjection prompted a rash of letters to newspapers. Taking The Mirror as an example, the October 4th edition included the phrase ‘an evil cancer spreading in this country’ and calls for deportations. This kind of rhetoric has been seen before.
But the point is that this story is almost certainly not what it seems, unless it seems to you that this story was a carefully stage managed event. As George Galloway points out
, Abu Izzadine is a well know violent Islamic extremist. The security services will have known all about this man. How did this man get within a few feet of the Home Secretary and take a place among in a small, controlled audience? The only reasonable explanation, excepting such fantastic levels of incompetence that we should all withdraw from co-operating with the police and certainly should oppose any increase in police powers, is that Abu Izzadine was allowed into the meeting in the knowledge that he was very likely to aggressively heckle John Reid.
In other words, someone was keen to paint Muslims opposed to current government policies as aggressive and unreasonable. In other words, someone is stage managing speeches by government speakers in such a way that the result aids the anti-Muslim racists.
That this kind of propaganda also helps John Reid to cement his political ambitions is, I am sure, entirely co-incidental.