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Blair joins the attack on Britain’s Muslims

Chris Marsden | 20.10.2006 19:51 | Social Struggles

Prime Minister Tony Blair has placed himself at the head of an ongoing and sinister campaign against Britain’s Muslim minority.
This week he used his monthly press conference to solidarise himself with former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s attack on the veil or niqab, telling reporters that it was “a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside of the community feel uncomfortable.”

He also backed the decision by Kirklees council to suspend the young teaching assistant Aishah Azmi for refusing to remove her veil in front of male staff.
Asked if it was possible for a woman wearing a veil to make a full contribution to British society, Blair called this a “very difficult question . . . no one wants to say that people don’t have the right to do it. That is to take it too far. But I think we need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly into our society.”
Amzi’s case and Straw’s comments were part of a broader debate which was “happening in a very haphazard way,” Blair claimed. This was going on in different forms in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. It was, he said, about the degree of integration by Muslims, and about “how Islam comes to terms with and is comfortable with the modern world.” The debate was already going on in “every village, town and city” in the UK, as people sought a balance between “preserving a distinctive identity and integration.”
Blair’s comments were first of all an affront to Ms. Amzi’s democratic rights. She had taken the council to an employment tribunal, under conditions where the prime minister had now declared his support for her employer and Communities Minister Phil Woolas had called for her to be “sacked.” Her lawyer said Blair’s statement had “specifically and directly” interfered with the employment tribunal and was a breach of the ministerial code, requiring them to uphold the administration of justice. He was considering taking an injunction against Blair to stop him saying more about the case.
But much more is at stake here. What Blair speaks of as a “debate”—that is somehow spontaneously preoccupying the people of Europe—is rather the deliberate cultivation of anti-Muslim prejudice by Europe’s ruling elites, with the support of the mass media and broad sections of the right-wing and nominally liberal chattering classes. Its aim is to transform Muslims into scapegoats to blame for and divert attention from mounting social problems, and to legitimise the government’s claim to be waging a battle for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its repressive measures imposed as part of the self-proclaimed “war on terror.”
There is no historical parallel in Britain for the extent of the official xenophobia, interference in cultural and social life, surveillance and repressive measures that are now directed against the 3 percent of the population that are Muslims. But parallels can be found—in the McCarthyite red scare of the 1950s in the United States and, more ominously, in the anti-Semitism cultivated by the Nazis in pre-war Germany.
In the past few weeks senior government figures have lined up to join in the chorus of attacks on the veil, which is worn by only a tiny fraction of Muslim women, as a major obstacle to good “community relations”—or in making more general warning of the danger of extremism in the Muslim community. They include not only Blair and Woolas (who is the government’s minister for race relations), but Chancellor Gordon Brown, Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman and Home Secretary John Reid, who called on Muslim parents to monitor their children and demanded that Muslim “bullies” be faced down. They have been supported by Trevor Phillips, Blair’s appointee as head of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Not to be outdone, Conservative leader David Cameron used his party conference speech to pledge that he would prevent the formation of “Muslim ghettos.” Shadow Home Secretary David Davis went on record backing Straw and warning that Muslims risked falling into “voluntary apartheid.”
It has become routine for Blair and other government figures to proclaim Islamic fundamentalism to be an existential threat to Western civilisation. But more recently this is being portrayed explicitly as a struggle between Christianity and Islam. The Pope led the field with his assertions that Christianity was the foundation of European civilisation and his recent speech inferring that whereas Christianity was promulgated by reason, Islam used violence.
The Church of England has now also declared that Britain should be seen as a Christian country, while the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, spoke of the Islamic threat to Britain’s “Judeo-Christian” way of life. This message has been taken up by others such as Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail, who wrote that “Christianity is being written out of the national script... This is why the argument over the place of the veil and the cross in public life is so significant. This is not about prejudice or discrimination. It is about cultural survival.”
The result of this poisonous climate has been a spate of attacks by right-wing elements who feel strengthened by this official endorsement of their anti-Muslim prejudices. Muslim organisations have said there is a surge in physical and verbal racist attacks, particularly on women having their head coverings or veils removed by force. Mosques and Islamic centres in Falkirk and Preston have been firebombed and attacked by stone-throwing gangs.
Things could have been far worse, were the ruling elite actually responding to public fears rather than seeking to whip them up. In fact, the vast majority of British workers are opposed to this anti-Muslim witch-hunting and scaremongering. A recent poll found that whereas a small majority of respondents agreed with Straw that veils were a “visible statement of separation,” nearly 80 percent said that Muslim women have a right to wear them. Amongst young people, only 31 percent agreed with Straw’s statement. And fully 74 percent of all those polled opposed any legal restrictions on the veil.
Nevertheless, the official sanction given to Islamophobia poses an ever worsening danger for Britain’s Muslims. It prompted Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian to pose the question of “what it must be like to be a Muslim in Britain. I guess there’s a sense of dread about switching on the radio or television, even about walking into a newsagents. What will they be saying about us today?” Both politicians and the media have “turned again and again on a single, small minority, first prodding them, then pounding them as if they represented the single biggest problem in national life.”
Freedland concludes, “I try to imagine how I would feel if this rainstorm of headlines substituted the word ‘Jew’ for ‘Muslim’: Jews creating apartheid, Jews whose strange customs and costume should be banned. I wouldn’t just feel frightened. I would be looking for my passport.”
Worse still from the standpoint of the democratic rights of all British citizens are the measures being taken directly by the government targeting Muslims. Following on from the threats and warnings to parents, Imams and Muslim groups that they must seek out and clamp down on extremists, the government has now set out to recruit all manner of institutions into a network of surveillance targeted on Muslims.
On October 16 the Guardian revealed a leaked document drawn up by the Department of Education proposing that lecturers and staff at universities and other centres of higher education be asked to spy on “Asian-looking” and Muslim students they suspect of involvement in Islamic extremism. They are to be told to inform on students to Special Branch. The document goes on to acknowledge that universities will be anxious about passing information for fear it amounts to “collaborating with the ‘secret police’” and that there will be “concerns about police targeting certain sections of the student population (e.g., Muslims)”.
The document calls for the monitoring of the leaflets and speakers of Islamic societies and speaks of suspicious computer use by “Asian” students. Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has also held a closed meeting with representatives of 20 councils in London. She told key local authorities to identify “hotspots” prone to Islamic extremism and asked local government officials to consider whether they were doing enough to tackle extremism in schools, colleges and universities.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of the University and College Union, warned that universities were “being sucked into a kind of Islamic McCarthyism which has major implications for academic freedom, civil liberties, and blurring of the boundaries between the illegal and the possibly undesirable.”
However, such McCarthyite practices will not be confined to Muslims and nor will any of the attacks on democratic freedoms now being implemented. Radical politics on student campuses is hardly confined to a handful of Islamic societies or to Muslim students. Once it becomes the norm to inform on those perceived to be a threat, it will be easy for this injunction to be extended more broadly in universities and elsewhere in public life.
It is imperative that working people and all those concerned with the preservation of democratic rights come forward to politically combat the attacks now being waged against Muslims in Britain and throughout Europe. It is a matter of principle that the persecution by the state and the media of religious and ethnic minorities does not go unopposed. And without such a counteroffensive, there can be no truly effective struggle against militarism and war and the ongoing encroachment on fundamental civil liberties.

-World Socialist Web Site

Chris Marsden
- Homepage:


Hide the following 4 comments

Funny how UK indymedia doesn't hide 'world socialist' web site blog

20.10.2006 22:57

Is this patronage at the expense of the Muslims, exceptional?

Look at the posts. No Muslim is seen saying a fraction of the stuff about any issues. The minute indymedia operatives sense a Muslim named post, they hide it. How very significant!

There is no difference between GW Bush and Blair and those who are doing their dirty deed to suppress Muslim speech on indymedia and other so-called platforms of unbiased, free, thought!


It doesn't help

20.10.2006 23:22

when Mulsims threaten to kill authors [ask Slaman Rushdie]

or kill film makers [ask Theo van Gogh - no, sorry, you can't]

or arrange forced marriages

or 'honour' killings

and so on.

Drawing attention to this is not 'demonising', but pointing to reality.

Yes, these are a tiny minority of the Muslims in this country. The trouble is - how do you sort out the one from the other?


Muslims are the new Jews

21.10.2006 03:27

Imagine if people looked at the devastation caused by Israeli/Zionist Extremists, and spoke about "the Jews" as sceptic the Plant, the Bliar Regime, and many in the media talk about "the Mulsims", because of what tiny groups have done - or said.

Look more closely at what's happening here ...

Muslims are the new Jews
India Knight

Very little makes sense in this business about Jack Straw, Muslim women and veils. Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant from Dewsbury, Yorks, was last week suspended for refusing to take her veil off in class - she was allowed to wear it everywhere else at school, but, rightly to my mind, was told by her local education authority that her pupils, who are mostly learning English as a second language, needed to see her mouth when she taught. This seems entirely sensible.

The rest of the whole sorry 'debate' is anything but.

The white, male former foreign secretary said the veil was a “visible statement of separation and of difference”, and that he asks women who visit his surgery to remove it. And nuns? Does he demand to see their hair, too? It’s open season on Islam — Muslims are the new Jews. And the idea that Straw’s divisive statement should not only be tolerated but adopted on all sides, as it has been with a kind of bullying relish, troubles me.

Especially since July 7, it has become acceptable to say the most ignorant, degrading things about Islam. And then we all sit around wondering why young Muslim men appear to be getting angrier and more politicised, or why “westernised” young Muslim women whose mothers go bare-headed are suddenly, defiantly, opting for the full-on niqab-style veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes.

I am particularly irked by ancient old “feminists” wheeling out themselves and their 30-years-out-of-date opinions to reiterate the old chestnut that Islam, by its nature, oppresses women (unlike the Bible, eh,?) and that the veil compounds the blanket oppression.

In their view all Muslim women are crushed because they can’t wear visible lipstick or flash their thongs. Does it occur to these idiots that not necessarily everyone swoons with admiration at the fact that they have won the freedom to dress like 55-year-old slappers?

That perhaps there exist large sections of our democratic society, veiled or otherwise, who have every right to their modesty, just as their detractors have every right to wear push-up bras?

But I’ll get to that in a minute. I should start by saying that my mother was born in Pakistan of a Hindu mother and a Muslim father. She was convent-educated and went on to marry two Catholics (not at the same time). I therefore — unlike some “offended” Wasp commentators — know what I’m talking about, a) because of my endless “aunties”, and b) through spending much of my childhood in India and Pakistan. Given the mish-mash of my ancestry, religious bigotry brings me out in hives. And what we are witnessing is religious bigotry of the most shameful kind. The words used in the context of the veil debate — “strange”, “spooky”, “weird”, “offensive”, “creepy”, “wrong”, “evil-looking”, “sinister” — are not words a civilised society should use about other human beings.

People are made uncomfortable by all sorts of things: I find shaven-headed, tattooed men unpleasant, especially if they’re drunk. I’m not mad keen on hooded gangs of youths at three in the morning. Facial piercings hurt my eyes.

My former husband and I once went to look at a house we were thinking of buying in a Jewish Orthodox bit of London. As it happened we were the only non-Orthodox people on that bit of pavement that morning. I noticed a group of Hassidim were walking around us in a peculiar way. “They’re avoiding our shadows,” the estate agent said, “because we’re unclean.” I didn’t think much of that, either.

But we all need to coexist peaceably. The fact that I find the man in Camden market with bolts through his face, or the Orthodox woman dressed in a drab sack and wearing a bad wig, as “weird” — weirder, actually — than a woman dressed in black with only her eyes showing is neither here nor there.

I don’t expect they think much of me, either. But I would have to be deranged, or consumed with hatred, to attribute random demerits to them on the basis of their physical appearance. A lot of people are made uncomfortable by disability, for instance — but because they live in a civilised society they don’t say it.

Imagine if Straw had said, “There are an awful lot of autistic people in my constituency. I tell them to look me right in the eye, otherwise I can’t help them.” Would there not be an outcry? I’m sorry to equate Islam with disability, but I am doing so because an observant person’s religion is as integral a part of them as their genetic make-up.

Oppressed women are everywhere: there’s probably one living in your street. She may be a Muslim wearing a veil, or a white woman whose husband beats her. She may be covered from head to toe, dressed like a librarian, or fond of micro-skirts. She may be your mother or your sister. She may be you — regardless of how you dress, what you believe or where you come from. And that is the point. Unhappy, abused people come in all colours, shapes and sizes. It is absurd to suddenly, appoint ourselves moral arbiters, and decree, very loudly, that a piece of fabric is an indicator of an unhappy, down-trodden life.

Happy people come in all formats too. The concept of the men hanging out together while the women “work” in the kitchen may seem peculiar to a non-Muslim — though not that peculiar, given that a less formalised version of the same thing happens whenever you have friends round — but I’ve been to many memorable, jolly parties where gangs of Muslim women ate, gossiped and laughed together without seeming overwhelmingly oppressed, or indeed, oppressed at all.

My experience of Muslim life is not that it is the patriarchal nightmare of legend, but that women are powerful, vocal and iron-fisted beneath their velvet gloves. This is a subjective viewpoint: I am not claiming that every Muslim woman in the world is gloriously carefree. They aren’t (who is?), and I am particularly offended by Straw’s comments because the women Straw described are by and large first-generation immigrants — ie, poor working-class women trying to get on with their lives.

I wonder why none of the army of instant experts has pointed out that, by and large, middle and upper middle-class Muslim women do not veil themselves unless they have the misfortune to live in a country that insists on it.

So Straw and his acolytes — the self-appointed sisterhood among them — are picking on the women who are most voiceless and least able to defend themselves. They should be ashamed.,,24390-2404281.html

India Knight

Playing silly buggers

21.10.2006 08:24

Funny how all this muslim bating suddenly springs up when the head of the British Army declares Iraq to be a disaster, that British troops are poorly suported by the government and that they should get out of Iraq ASAP.

Anyone experiencing the last week's spin will be under no illusion that a "debate" is what is being tabled. We've had a senior minister saying that niqab shouldn't be worn in Britain (um, whatever happened to human rights, like self-expression etc); we've had a governemnt minister breaking with convention (and potentially the law) by proclaiming a teaching assistant is in the wrong for refusing to remove her niqab for men, and the we have the Daily Star who would have published a full page assault on Islam in the most inflamatory way (depicting topless models in hijab & niqab, and associating Islam with terrorism) if it weren't for National Union of Journalists members refusing to run the piece.

That really sound like a debate or just some cynical demagogary to bury bad news?

The sick thing is every political scientist knows that this kind of shit clearly translates into racially motivated crime.

Someone should charge the people responsible for Inciting Racial Hatred. Not that I agree with criminalising free speech, but it'd be karma for the arseholes who brought the legislation in and then spent the last week flauting it.

Apart from that as a devout transvestite, I think John Reid should be made to wear a basque (and knickers please!!!) at all times, otherwise I can't "relate to him" from my own socialisation.

General Distraction

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