Monday, October 16, 2006

New Labour does the BNP out of a job

New Labour and the Tories are now in a sordid bidding war to see who can demonise the Muslim community the most over the question of women and veils. They are even outflanking the extreme right British National Party, which worships Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Yesterday the BNP praised government ministers. Under the headline ‘Ministers caught telling the truth,’ the BNP said: "New Labour ministers are scrambling over one another to become number one hate figure amongst the Muslim community, leaving BNP spokesmen trailing, by a series of statements which show that some of our rulers are capable of speaking the truth and acknowledging common sense after all."

The BNP was cock-a-hoop over the intervention by race relations minister Phil Woolas yesterday when he called for the sacking of a Kirklees teaching assistant who refused to take off the veil in class. Woolas deliberately raised the temperature with his inflammatory comments. Even some government supporters have had enough. The New Labour peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed, in response said that there was "a constant theme of demonisation of the Muslim community" and that politicians and journalists were jumping on a bandwagon because "it is fashionable these days to have a go at the Muslims". Today it is reported in The Guardian that university lecturers are being asked to spy on Muslim students and report signs of "extremism" to the authorities. Meanwhile, Opus Dei minister Ruth Kelly is hosting a meeting with councils and police chiefs to discuss "Muslim extremism".

The issues over the veil are many and complex and it is right that communities and even politicians should debate them in a harmonious and open way. Some find it hard to accept that any women would want to wear a veil because they view it as a sign of oppression of women by men. Clearly, some Muslim women disagree and are not wearing the veil under instruction but out of choice. Ultimately it is for Muslim women themselves to decide what to wear. But New Labour ministers have an agenda that has seized on the veil as a means to rather different political ends. They assert that the spurious "community cohesion" they seek is endangered by what some Muslim women wear. In this they are supported by the Tories, with shadow home secretary David Davis claiming that Britain is encouraging a form of "involuntary apartheid" through the separate development of communities.

We should reject all this dangerous nonsense. Firstly, "community cohesion" is specifically aimed at inner-city areas only. Nice, middle-class people who live in the leafy suburbs are not required to display any concern for their community whatsoever or even get on with their next-door neighbours. Secondly, where there is tension between inner-city communities, its source lies in the policies of successive governments in supporting the deindustrialisation, deskilled low-wage economy that is Britain. Many of Britain’s cities are characterised by poor communities – both white and Asian – whose prospects of decent, well-paid jobs are low and where educational under-achievement is widespread. This is not a basis for cohesion but for division, despair and even isolation. A few deeply alienated Muslim youth have turned to terrorism and these social conditions are probably behind some women’s decision to adopt the veil.

What the Blairites want is a Britain where difference and diversity is frowned upon, where people who express their identity through dress, culture, music, religion, politics or even separateness are made to feel isolated. In their crude attacks on identity and difference, New Labour is simply adding to the nasty, intolerant authoritarian state they have built, hoping, no doubt, that their Islamaphobia will bring them a few racist votes along the way.

Paul Feldman, communications editor


Anonymous said...

I think the issue of the veil is a further issue in itself, and I’m not sure that I myself would just say that it is ultimately completely down to the woman whether she wears the veil or not. Surely it is a little more complex and this issue doesn’t really seem to be based on the idea of whether she decides to wear it or not. That is another debatable subject in itself.

However, the real point here is that it seems obvious that the reasons as to why such politicians make these comments and remarks is not due to their compassion or their genuine interest in the liberation of women. And that's the other big issue, and that's the problem. It's quite a clever thing for them to say and quite convincing....if only we could trust their motives.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I wouldn't trust Straw and the others one jot. However one can, or should be able to, take a secular and anti-veil position without being condemned as racist or Islamophobic, although as we know the BNP and other right-wing groups certainly are jumping on this particular band-wagon. What I find so frustrating about this issue is that whatever one says can be interpreted as inflammatory. One can support a woman's choice to wear the niqab on the basis that it is totally about free choice, sometimes it is not - and how free are many of our so called free choices anyway? Whatever the case it has now become almost impossible to have any kind of a free and mature debate on this and many other issues. Polarisation is the name of the game.