Saturday, October 21, 2006

THE POLITICS OF FEAR

Of course it hasn't been reported much, but anti-Muslim attacks have shot up in the last few weeks, ever since Jack Straw suggested that women who wear a veil while attending one of his surgeries should take it off.

A student in Wolverhampton was surrounded by five people who shouted abuse at her and told her to take off her veil. "Jack Straw has made it illegal so you have to take it off," they told her.

Meanwhile, in Dundee there are allegations that the police are hounding Muslims in their attempts to root out terrorism.

And in Glasgow, a 53 year old imam was punched and kicked as he entered his mosque.

The Daily Express has, in typical paranoid fashion, been whipping up hysteria around the case of the teaching assistant who is trying to retain her job. It told us that Aishah Azmi's legal case is costing money to the taxpayer (I believe Muslim women who wear veils also pay tax, though this appears to elude the Express), and today its headline screams out:



Since the veil is banned in many Arab countries including Turkey and Tunisia, the Express asks, "why must we put up with it here?" Put up with what, exactly? Are the 99% of Express readers who apparently wish to see the veil banned in Britain really incapable of allowing law-abiding citizens wear whatever they wish? Will the ban on veils also apply to weddings? Or, as Dig rather cleverly asked on his blog, will it also apply to surgeons? I assume that the Daily Express's Saturday competition, advertised above as an opportunity to "win a cottage in Provence for a year", will only be open to people who can speak fluent French, otherwise how will they be able to integrate and communicate with the native community?

This is the great myth of multiculturalism - that everybody of every creed and religion can live together in harmony in an open and liberal society. What is at stake here is not communication - it is a seething resentment which exists in Britain at the moment, whose volume is rapidly rising. Under successive governments, the gap between rich and poor has not stopped growing since 1979. In real terms, the poor are getting poorer every day. People need someone to blame for this, and the fetishistic fascination / hatred of the Muslim Other is the perfect candidate.

The government is keen to stoke this inflammatory situation to deflect the claims that its own foreign policy is the reason that Britain is under threat of further terrorism. It has alienated many Muslims by invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and by betraying the people of Lebanon by giving uncritical support to Israel in the summer. In doing so, it sowed the seeds of the London bombings last year. It responded, in the most cynical way imaginable, by implying that extremism was inherent in the Muslim community, and that Muslim leaders must root it out. It has exaggerated the terrorist threat so as to scare people.

This is the politics of fear writ large, and its most pernicious effect is turning good people into bad. Everybody, even people who never really gave the veil a second glance, is looking at veiled women in a different way. Some will be looking distrustfully, while others (and I have caught myself doing this) will simply look away in case their look is perceived as being malicious or threatening. This second point of view is pure paranoia on my part, of course, but the fact remains: my ability to communicate with a women wearing a veil has been weakened, and this is because an anti-veil narrative is pervading the country, rather than because the woman's face is partially covered.

I don't know how this will end, but I have a really bad feeling about it. There really are parallels with the treatment of Jews in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are no pogroms, of course, but there is oppression and prejudice and racism in abundance. If Muslims become (as the Jews were, and the Palestinians have been for sixty years) a people without a home - well, what then?

The Stop the War Coalition has written an open letter about the attack on Muslims by the media and by politicians:

There has been a recent increase in racist hysteria directed against Muslims. We deplore Jack Straw’s remarks concerning the veil worn in public by some Muslim women. His intervention, the bullying attacks of John Reid and other Ministers, and stories in some sections of the media, are designed to isolate and demonise British Muslims. The result has been violence against, and intimidation of, Muslim people.

We express our solidarity with all people in Britain of the Muslim faith, affirm their right to dress as they please and live their lives in peace and security.

The current attacks on Muslims are rooted in the disastrous 'war on terror', of which this government has been such a prominent supporter. This war has made Britain more vulnerable, not less, to terrorist attack.

If the government is concerned about improving the cohesion of our communities, let it first abandon its support for the foreign policy of the US administration, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To add your name to the letter, email office@stopwar.org.uk

Meanwhile, here's more evidence of how the coalition forces are out of their depth in occupied Iraq.

4 Comments:

Blogger Beat Blog said...

Interesting points, however I do not agree.

First: The veil is a sign of a fanatic religious person. Some Muslims even disagree, that women must wear a scarf. But a veil goes too far in my eyes.

Here in Switzerland I actually never saw a woman wearing a veil, of course there are lots of people with scarfs. It is interesting. Turkey, an Islamic country, does not allow their teachers to wear a scarf. So why should someone from Turkey do it here?

The biggest problem is, that Muslims have sometimes double standards. If we say all Muslims are terrorists this is considered racist. When a newspaper in Denmark prints some cartoons, ALL Denmark should be boycotted and punished. Now that’s strange.
We got freedom of speech here. That means that we also can do comedy. No matter who, we can make jokes. If you know South Park or Family Guy you know how they bash Jesus. I am a Christian and I can laugh my ass off. Now why can’t we make fun of Muhammad? No one is forced to see these pictures. If Family Guy is offensive for a Christian he doesn’t watch it. Not drawing pictures of Muhammad applies only to Muslims, also there ARE some pictures from in from the past.
Do you know what they are broadcasting on their channels? Jews are pigs and other disgusting stuff. But that’s not considered comedy.

I say that if you’re in a country you need to adopt some of their rules. One of the most important things is to learn the local language. We have Turks here; they live in the country for 10 years and do not speak German at all.
When I go to Saudi-Arabia I can’t drink booze in public. I accept that. My wife can’t walk around alone. That’s a rule we need to accept. So I think Muslims need to accept some rules too.

The final question is: Why do so many countries have problems with the Muslims? Is it a big conspiracy? Or do the news of Israel, Beslan, Kasmir, Thailand and the Philippines wake up some people?

Greets
Beat

10:18 AM  
Blogger paddington said...

To answer your last question first, countries have problems with Muslims in the 21st century for the same reason countries had problems with the Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: capital requires, as part of its super-structure, a scapegoat : a fetished group, if you like, onto which society can throw all its resentments.

You say that some Muslims have double-standards. Of course : some Christians do, and plenty of atheists. The fact that you are not asking Sikhs to take off their turbans or Christians to take off their crosses, suggests that perhaps you might be guilty of the same. If you believe that Muslims are more touchy about having their faith insulted, why do you think that is? Because Islam is a priori a touchier religion? Because Arabs are a priori a touchy bunch of people? In Britain, where a debate about the veil has turned into an extremely ugly and racist witchhunt, I think Muslims have been remarkably restrained.

Your statement that the veil is a sign of religious extremism betrays, I'm afraid, your ingrained prejudice against Islam. Why is a veil any more a sign of extremism than a turban or a cross? And do you really believe that saying "all Muslims are terrorists" is anything other than racist?

Finally, all this guff about "well, Turkey doesn't let them wear the veil, so why should we?" - firstly, you are implying that if a person is not allowed to be free in one part of the world, they must necessarily carry their un-freedom with them wherever they go. And secondly, this is the first time I have ever seen Turkey being quoted as a reference for democratic policy.

Greetings to you too Beat Blog, but please do try and say something a little more intelligent next time.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Beat Blog said...

There is a big difference between a veil and a scarf. Many muslims do not agree with the veil.

A little cross is something else. Often you don't even see it.

However the veil is a sign of isolation. I would say the scarf is a fair compromise.

Its interesting. We also got several muslims in Zurich, I never saw anyone with a veil here. Of course there are scarfs.

I can't change your left-wing views. It just seems people are fed up with such things. Sorry, but when I see Azmi talk I really ask myself. Why does she live in the UK? If she want to have her fanatic-religous belives she can have them in Saudi-Arabia. Lets rather have more secular and moderate muslims here.

6:33 AM  
Anonymous neutron copernicus said...

so, project what you feel is spiritually correct upon someone who has a different concept of spirituality. well, i guess that means your concept must be correct and others should bend to your omniscience. "lets have more secular . . . . ." yes, lets have more people you feel belong in our soceity. be patient- in another ten years we can build furnaces for whoever you feel belongs in them. neutron copernicus

2:25 AM  

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