Muslims are set to be the focus of political polarisation for years to come: every time under a new title, from terrorism, to integration, to faith schools, to the veil. This politically lucrative subject is favoured by politicians from the BNP to Blairites. Latest to join is the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Bar the warm words, his speech last week could have been delivered by a Howard or a Duncan Smith, betraying the same rigid notion of national identity, contempt for cultural pluralism and hostility to immigration.
After his acquittal on the charge of inciting racial hatred, Nick Griffin was asked whether he was a racist. He replied that he was no longer one, that he is now a “religionist”. But should we believe that Griffin has really abandoned the racism that frames his ideology and that of the party he leads? Of course not. All Griffin has done is stretch from one category of racism to another – without breaking with the former: from a discourse founded on racial hatred to one based on religio-racial hatred. In the speech for which he and his assistant, Mark Collett, were taken to court, the two shifted effortlessly from referring to Islam as “this wicked, vicious faith” that “has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago”, to speaking of Asian “muggers”, “rapists”, “bastards”, “cockroaches” and “ethnics” who need to be “shown the door”.
I am no fan of the niqab. I feel it turns the wearer into a blank space, an anonymous mass, a non-identity. But it is none of my business, or Jack Straw’s business, what others choose to do or not to do with themselves. Some people choose to fill their faces with so many tattoos and piercings that even looking at them becomes painful, some to make themselves up like clowns, others to disfigure their facial features with endless surgery that even their mothers must have trouble recognising them at times.
Watching the news or reading the papers, you’d think that Muslims were Britain ‘s No 1 problem. Everyone, it seems, is frantically racing to offer magic cures for this chronic disease. Islam and Muslims are only ever invoked as objects of fear and horror: terrorism, forced marriage, honour killing and fanaticism. Over the past few days, hostility to Muslims has dominated the media: from the saga of the Muslim policeman excused guard duty outside the Israeli embassy to the violent attacks on a Muslim-owned dairy in Windsor and Jack Straw’s complaints about Muslim women who cover their faces. An ominous climate is being created.
The Pope’s response to the anger his statements sparked in the Muslim world was more offensive than the statements themselves. He apologised not for what he said, but for Muslims’ failure to grasp the intended meaning.
Last week I wrote about Anglo-American foreign policy and the part it continues to play in the generation of climates conducive to the rise of extremism and terrorism. But let’s be clear on this: to explain the phenomena that inhabit our lives, no matter how ugly, terrifying, and nauseating they are, is not to justify or legitimize them. Nothing, moral or political, could justify the indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent for Bush and Blair’s sins.
Though the majority of Britain’s Muslims are not “extremists”, they are “separatists”, was the damning verdict of Channel 4’s Dispatches survey. They and their offspring refuse to subscribe to the “values” of “liberal Britain” and are thus liable to being dismissed as separatists and potential extremists.
Tony Blair’s speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles was revealing. His definition of the “arc of extremism” applies to himself perfectly. He “has an ideology, a world-view, deep conviction and the determination of the fanatic”. His discourse is full of a secularised missionary absolutism, founded on a Manichean world-view of “We” and “They”.
Calls to reform Islam have been reverberating in every corner of the political and academic establishment in Europe and across the Atlantic.
The caricatures of Prophet Muhammad first published in the Danish Jyllands-Posten then reprinted in a string of European newspapers have exposed the gulf separating the West from the Muslim world.