Political Promise

Strong Democracies Tolerate what they Disapprove of

In Aaron Frazer on August 11, 2010 at 9:33 am

By Aaron Frazer

A strange and dangerous spectre is haunting Europe. It is the tyranny of idiocy. The dominance of the moronic. The rule of the prejudiced and cretinous.  In the three countries incumbent governments have spearheaded high profile campaigns to ban the Burqa. Nicholas Sarkozy claims ‘It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement’ whilst his interior minister claims ‘We are an old country anchored in a certain idea of how to live together. A full veil which completely hides the face is an attack on those values, which for us are so fundamental’.

Across the border in Belgium, Daniel Bacquelaine, the liberal MP who proposed to ban the burqa, forcefully asserted that ‘wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society’. Meanwhile Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, whose seats in the second chamber has gone from 24 to 150, will doubtlessly find in a Burqa ban a genuinely feasible measure amongst an array of  otherwise viciously draconian fantasies. In the UK, where its estimated that under 5000 people wear the Burqa, 67% want an outright ban in public places.

Hundreds of years of separating powers, constructing institutional checks and balances and main-streaming civic freedoms has left three governments, and the majority in Britain, determined to bring clothing into the realm of government regulation.

Amazingly this illiberal policy claims at its centrepiece a supposedly enlightened paternalism. Muslim women, at the mercy of pernicious Wahhabi doctrines will, by this line of thinking, be forced to become free. In reality the justifications for such objectives derive, disproportionately, from a hardening of attitudes in the UK towards Muslims

The exploring Islam Foundation research, commissioned by YouGov, found that only 19% of British people thought Islam has had a positive effect on UK society. However 77% of British people in this poll admit knowing little or nothing about Islam which may explain why when asked who (if any) individual best represents Islam 31% said “don’t know”, 33% said Prophet Muhammad, 13% Bin Laden and 3% said Cat Stevens.

The media has predictably played a massive part in this with 98% polled claiming TV news and newspapers are there main source of information on Islam. A Cardiff University team in 2008 looked at nearly 1,000 newspaper articles from the past eight years. Two-thirds of the articles focused on terrorism or cultural differences and they found the highest proportion of nouns used were about things like extremism, suicide bombers, militancy and radicalism .Such words also accounted for over 35% of the adjectives used about British Muslims, the most common being  fanatic and fundamentalist.  A typical example of the frankly astonishing level of bigotry and misinformation was Sue Caroll’s column last week in The Mirror who claimed that “this summer amid bright floral sun dresses, the sight of these flapping bat-like creatures scurrying down our streets has never looked more sinister or depressing”.

Let me be as clear as possible. The burqa debate has become so needlessly skewed, so unforgivably misinformed, that little can be achieved without reiterating the obvious. It is true that women in the west ‘enjoy’ a plethora of rights which their Muslim counterparts do not. However, despite a narrative which triumphantly declares western women’s emancipation, many are discriminated against in a variety of ways. Perhaps in obsessing over Muslim women’s subjugation, we should as a starting point re-evaluate the multiple issues and cultural norms which actively discriminate against women here today.

The other conclusion to be drawn from the Burqa saga is that animosity towards Muslims is getting ferocious and Muslims, like every other previous ethnic group which has been pilloried, demeaned and vilified, will find comfort in insular community networks. This is to their and our detriment when further resistance and division becomes entrenched.

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  1. Great title, Aaron.

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