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.