Monday, October 23, 2006

Trots and the Veil

The Socialist Worker argues that Jack Straw's remarks on the veil "demonises Islam" and is part of an "attempt to whip-up full-blooded racism". It relates the case of Hina'naz Ahmed, a student at Wolverhampton Universty, who was assaulted by a gang of youths who tried to remove her veil and repeatedly shouted "Jack Straw" at her (ignorantly claiming that Straw had made the veil "illegal"). Obviously, this is a deplorable incident, and it is more than likely that racists will indeed try to exploit this issue. But not every criticism of what (some) Muslims do is an example of "Islamophobia" and it is not reasonable to automatically class as racists those who find the veil discomforting. Straw was not, to repeat the elementary point, questioning the right of Muslim women to wear the veil, he was trying to persuade them not to (at least in his surgery), and pointing to the obvious fact it signifies a desire to separate oneself from others. (Surely to God the Trotskyist SWP doesn't actually favour veil-wearing?) Trevor Phillips was making a more restrained argument over the week-end, saying that we need to get all this into perspective, and that Muslims feel threatened. I am sure he is right about this, but, as he also said, these are things that need to be discussed. For those of us who dislike the veil persuasion should be our only weapon and a sense of proportion is essential. But surely it is possible to combine a dislike of the veil with a detestation of the thugs who attacked the Wolverhampton student. If I was a Trot at this point I might say something about the "dialectic"...


Blogger skipper said...

I watched Despatches last night on Channel 4 and felt the arguments that the veil row has morphed into something like a witchunt against the British Muslims had some basis in fact.

6:36 pm  
Blogger politaholic said...

I didn't see Despatches, Skipper. As I say, we all need a sense of proportion: this is hardly the most pressing political issue in the world; not all Muslim women wear the veil; those that do have the right to do so. But I still think it is not unreasonable to argue, in a restrained way, that those who wear the veil signal a segregationist intent and to express regret that they choose to do so. And in fairness to Jack Straw it is not fair to accuse him (as the SW does) of intending to stir-up a withchunt. I suppose one could argue that his remarks had that effect even if this was not his intention, and that he should have foreseen that they would. But, then, does that mean we must be silent about these things? I am not sure the hyper-sensitivity of some Muslims towards all criticism should be encouraged (the sort of "you-have drawn-these-insulting-cartoons- therefore-you-should-be-beheaded" school of thought). I don't know if you saw the debate chaired by Jon Snow (also a Despatches programme, I think) the evening before. A young Islamist was arguing (ranting, really) that his beliefs - his beliefs, mark you - required legal protection against being "insulted". Generalise this principle and no one can say anything. Cannot we navigate what is, I agree, a difficult course: opposing racism and the demonising of whole communities, simultaneously defending our own liberal-humanist values? Why can't we do both?

7:48 am  

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