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Tired of Islam thrust in our faces

By Peter Wilby



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The trouble with being a Muslim is you're not allowed an off day. You can't, if you're a cab driver, say, "Sorry, guv, not going that way, the missus expects me home for prayers."


Muslims have become victims of a variant of Alsatian dog syndrome. The original condition arises when an Alsatian - or, more frequently now, a Rottweiler or pit bull terrier - savages a child. Before long, newspapers report more cases of dogs attacking children all over the country. These are not the result of a jihad declared by a canine version of Osama Bin Laden. It's just that journalists and their informants are suddenly on the alert for savage dog stories.

So it is now with savage Muslims. A Muslim can scarcely sneeze without making front-page headlines and this has been spasmodically true since 9/11, and particularly since 7/7. This month, newspapers have reported a Muslim policeman being excused from guard duty at the Israeli embassy; a Muslim cab driver refusing to carry a blind person with a guide dog; Muslim youths vandalising premises due to be occupied by wounded British soldiers from Afghanistan; Muslim women brazenly wearing veils in front of Jack Straw; and a Muslim terror suspect fleeing the country disguised under a burqa. There have also been reports of riots in Windsor. In so far as there were riots at all, they were anti-Muslim, but it was somehow Muslims' fault for living "on the Queen's doorstep".

The trouble with being a Muslim is you're not allowed an off day. You can't say to your boss that, all things considered, you'd rather be excused this particular assignment and, anyway, you've got a cold and don't want to stand outside an embassy in the rain. You can't, if you're a cab driver, say "Sorry, guv, not going that way, the missus is expecting me home for prayers" - and what's the point of being a cab driver if you can't be gratuitously rude to passengers and capriciously refuse to carry them? You can't even be a bit miserable without Martin Amis accusing you of harbouring a death wish.

No, if you're a Muslim, you have to be agreeable to everybody all the time. You shouldn't cover any part of your head and certainly not your face, probably not even if you've got terrible acne.

Fishnets and veils

At first, my sympathies were with Straw when he asked Muslim women to lift their veils during constituency surgeries. Like me, he's quite deaf and I'd guess that, also like me, he finds it easier to follow what people say if he can see their lips. My opinions started to change when I read the press commentators. Not because of their arguments against Straw, but because of their arguments in his favour.

Straw, explained Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph, was "asking for . . . an acknowledgement of his culture". The veil, ruled Charles Moore in the same paper, is "a hostile statement about the society in which the wearer lives". The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh drew a parallel with a black balaclava, which "scares the pants off bank clerks". Joan Smith, in the Independent on Sunday, thought the veil "shows acceptance of an inferior place in society". The Observer's Henry Porter bought his coffee from Sri Lankans and his vegetables from Greek Cypriots, ate in a Lebanese restaurant and had his hair cut by a Turk, so why, after this exemplary participation in a "diverse and easygoing ethnic mix", should he have to put up with people going around in "alien and unsettling" veils?

I'm not sure a piece of cloth will bear all this weight. No doubt Smith is right and women usually wear veils because men command them to do so. Well, some women are commanded, by husbands or bosses, to wear microskirts and thongs. If, as Smith demands, women here eschew the veil in solidarity with Afghans who face death if they don't cover up, should they also eschew fishnet stockings and so on in solidarity with trafficked prostitutes?

Clothes and hairstyles can be pretty versatile symbols. As Simon Jenkins wrote in the Sunday Times, the veil can also serve as a symbol of sisterly solidarity with oppressed co-religionists. It depends on which oppression you're talking about.

After all these savage Muslim stories, Julia Hartley-Brewer, in the Sunday Express, declared herself "just tired of having Islam thrust in our faces day in, day out". I'd guess Muslims are tired of it, too.

The actions of any single Muslim are taken by the press as representative of Muslims as a whole and the words of a variety of unelected self-appointed Muslim spokesmen - whose phone numbers journalists and TV producers happen to have - are assumed to be those of "community leaders".

Look at those headlines about Muslims and try substituting Christians. Christian cab driver refuses to carry Muslim. (Don't tell me it's never happened.) Christian youths vandalise house occupied by wounded Somali refugees. Wilby finds Christian nuns' habits alien and unsettling. (According to my late mother, I did as a child.) Christian prime minister supports bombing of Lebanon. Christians! Arncha sick of 'em?




New Statesman, October 16, 2006



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