Progressives should rally to the side of Muslims facing a pre-pogrom barrage.
Guardian, October 9, 2006


At least with hard man John Reid it was man-to-man hand-to-hand fighting. The latest New Labour witch-hunter to come out kicking Muslims, Jack Straw, has resorted to picking on women, and a pretty ugly sight it is too.

While he might now wish he had drawn a veil over his disturbing preoccupation with his female constituents clothing, he has unmasked how frenetically the Dutch auction in anti-Muslim rhetoric in Britain is proceeding.

Tabloid frenzy feeds government ministers, who feed the tabloids, and the resulting toxicity fuels the kind of firebombing of isolated Muslims in places like Windsor, where last week the Medina Dairy was attacked.

Almost a pre-pogrom atmosphere is being created in Britain and too few progressives are standing up against it.

Imagine if a minister in the US dared to instruct the Amish how to live their lives, railed against their unwillingness to act, think, live, dress like the majority around them?

Can you imagine a demand to the Orthodox Jewish residents of Stamford Hill that they must end their "separateness", cut their locks, get out of their "ghettos". Or that Sikhs should abandon their turbans?

Inconceivable, of course, and yet that is exactly what is being demanded of Britain's two million Muslims by Straw.

Britain is often described as a secular country. It is not. It has an established church, the head of which is the head of state (come to think of it, all concerned have a prediliction for unusual headgear themselves).

We have been on the other hand more tolerant than most of the minorities in our midst. What on earth is tolerant or secular about demanding of religious people that they should amend their religious observance to suit those who don't share their beliefs? No politician has any right to enforce a dress code on those to whom he is beholden for his very role in life.

This breathtaking arrogance would never be tried by anyone about any other group than Muslims. This Islamophobia is the secularism of fools.

Less than 10,000 women throughout the country wear the niqab – the veil covering all but the eyes. Unless they are all concentrated in Mr Straw's constituency, it is a fair bet that such women represent a tiny proportion of even his Muslim constituents.

By singling them out in this way for ruthless attention by the Richard Littlejohns and the John Gaunts, the gutterscribes of the Daily Mail and the Sun, Straw has committed a grotesque and cowardly attack on an already fretful minority of a minority.

At the risk of enforcing a dress code myself, he should put a big sock in his foul mouth and stop whipping up trouble between the different groups in this already fragile polity.

Sunday saw people gathering to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the great battle of Cable Street.

On that day progressive people of all kinds rallied to protect the significant minority of immigrants in London's east end against the strutting jackboots of a domestic fascism, one of whose very arguments was against the very "separateness" of the Jews who lived there. Their very garb, unusual diets, habits of living in close proximity to each other was a standing affront to the beef-eating Englishness of the Moselyites.

"Leave the Jews alone" was the response of the best of the British left. Let them eat dress and live as they want. It is a call that should be echoed about today's whipping boys, the Muslims.