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Identity Theft and Veiled Racism

by Danny Evans


Has anyone else noticed how ‘We need to have a reasoned debate about…’ is the new ‘I’m not racist but…’?  Ever since Jack Straw made his ‘reasonable’ comments about the veil worn by some Muslim women you haven’t been able to move for reasonable people with something to say about Islam.  Some proactively rational freedom fighters have even attacked women wearing veils in the street! 

If you’re a reasonable liberal, and let’s face it, we’re all reasonable people, then it’s reasonable to say that the veil oppresses women.  If only these poor unenlightened souls could see that the way to liberation is to refuse to be told what to wear by their religion, and listen to Jack Straw and Martin ‘fucking’ Amis instead! 

But what if women’s lib isn’t your bag?  What if downtrodden women are the only Muslim stereotype you find appealing?  Are you excluded from the jamboree of reason the rest of us are enjoying?  Hell no!  The Tories are expanding the parameters of the debate with a new line: veils represent a kind of ‘voluntary apartheid.’  Ooh, that sounds good doesn’t it?  Of course, it’s a contradiction in terms but it means you get to bash Muslims at the same time as shitting on the struggle of a previous era’s ‘terrorist’; Apartheid South Africa was never so much a white supremacist – fascist abomination as a kind of Trinny and Susannah protectorate where only the frumpy were issued with internal passports.  And of course, people who look different to ‘us’ are a threat to ‘our’ sodding identity aren’t they?  Thank god for old Etonians with solar powered think tanks to save ‘our’ unique cultural heritage!     

But what if you’re not a reasonable person?  What if every time you try to think a little bit of your brain dribbles out of your ear?  Don’t worry, you won’t be excluded from the debate either – there’s a politically correct establishment in this country, and there’s no way they’re going to prevent people from paki-bashing on the grounds of ability!  That’s discrimination!  Your contribution to the reasoned debate is there in big letters on the cover of the Express and the Mail every day; if you concentrate really hard, or just look at the pictures, you’ll be able to discern that the veil is intimately linked to TERRORISM!  Because terrorists find it very easy to hide bombs under a bhurka, while everyone knows that it’s nigh on impossible to hide one in, say, a bag.  The other week two men were arrested in Lancashire , the police having uncovered a cache of chemicals used to make explosives.  Police described it as the largest haul ever uncovered in this country.  Reckon they were Muslims?  Seems likely, except that we’d have probably heard a bit more about it if that was the case.  In fact they were two white fellas, one of whom stood for the BNP in local elections.  Perhaps the press aren’t worried because, when it comes to threats to our way of life, at least the Nazis dressed well.

So that’s three angles of the reasoned debate covered: women’s oppression, fear of the ‘other’ and terrorism.  Cor, don’t you feel better for getting these issues out in the open?  It is of course, a terrible thing to be forced to wear something you don’t want to for religious reasons.  I should know, I was an altar boy.  Maybe if my right to dress like a little homosexual angel to celebrate some bizarre superstitious rituals with a paedophile and a poor-box had been questioned by Norman Tebbit I’d still be doing it simply to show that I wasn’t going to be bullied into dressing how some authoritarian Stalinists told me to. 

As it was, the many different influences I was exposed to growing up made it a pretty easy decision to bin off Catholicism.  The same could not be said of my nan who, to this day, has religious beliefs that go beyond her conscience and into what might be fashionably called her ‘identity.’  The many different reasons why people identify themselves as religious are no-one else’s business, but my nan’s bitter recollection of seeing ‘Catholics need not apply’ notices on shop-fronts undoubtedly forced an insularity and defensiveness on her beliefs that needn’t be there otherwise.  As religious sectarianism faded in Liverpool this became less and less the case, a fact testified to by the fact that none of my nan’s 387 grandchildren could give a toss about transubstantiation.  The point is that people don’t tend to respond to stereotypes, stigmas and negative press with the kind of confidence required to shake off traditions that have lasted thousands of years. 

Has Jack Straw ever heard of Belfast , one wonders?  Of course he has; unlike some of the most enthusiastic ‘debaters’, he is not thick.  He knows his comments were unhelpful to Muslim women, but he wasn’t directing his comments at them, they were purely for the benefit of the ‘I’m not racist but’ floating voters.  Like half of New Labour’s ex Communist Party brigade, he knows the potential career boost that a bit of well-timed ‘brave’ prejudice can give.  If he cared about women’s rights, he’d be banging on about equal pay.  It sounds a bit crazy in the context of all this reason that’s flying about, but maybe women would feel better about standing up to their husbands in the religious field if our secular society hadn’t already placed them in an economic hierarchy? 



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