Woolas: “appease the far right!”

A junior minister, David Woolas, has offered his two-pennyworth on the niqab controversy in today’s Sunday Mirror, not online, by suggesting that it could play into the hands of the far right:

“It can be hard to tell whether women wear the veil as an expression of their faith or because they are compelled to do so,” Mr Woolas said.

“Most British-born Muslims who wear it, do so as an assertion of their identity and religion. This can create fear and resentment among non-Muslims and lead to discrimination.

“Muslims then become even more determined to assert their identity, and so it becomes a vicious circle where the only beneficiaries are racists like the BNP,” he said.

(By the way: the Guardian had fairly positive coverage of the issue yesterday, allowing a niqab-wearer named Rahmanara Chowdhury to give her account of “life behind the niqab”; she was also interviewed in the Observer last September. The Independent also had a vox-pop with two niqabi converts allowed to give their point of view; see end of this article which goes PPV after a week.)

So, because some non-Muslims remain ignorant about why many Muslim women in Britain wear the niqab, our women should stop wearing it because of their ignorance despite the fact that women have been dressing this way here for years, decades even? In my observation, there have been numerous incidents where such women have been able to explain this in the media, and if women fear that they are oppressed then they should perhaps ask them, if and when they meet them. I remember there was a student at my sixth-form college who wore it, and it caused no tension whatsoever. When people asked her about it, she answered them. (She eventually took it off, for reasons unconnected with anything happening at college.)

In this country people put up with things far worse than the sight of some women with covered faces. If we’re talking about personal appearance, men going topless in the summer and letting their trousers drop so far as to show their butt crack and women showing most of their legs, their midriffs, their thongs and more than a bit of cleavage are common sources of offence. Nobody is talking about banning such things, not least because such a ban would become unenforceable pretty quickly, leading to such things as roadside inspections with rulers which would become the butt of ridicule and hostility. But the issue of interaction is also relevant here, because they tend to be louder than the ladies in niqab and you often don’t want them interacting with you anyway.

And we cannot shed liberties to appease the far right or to drain their appeal to ignorant poor whites. By doing this, we simply become just as bad as them. The only way of reducing their appeal is to expose their half-baked cod-socialism, the flat-out lies they tell and their record of incompetence when they do get elected. People like the British National Party are simply incapable of appealing to educated voters because it is simply not a party of decent people, but of liars and criminals.

As might be expected, the Worker-Communists have weighed in on this as well, with Houzan Mahmoud of their front group “Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq”, contributing this article to Comment is Free. She wheels out the standard tropes of the WCPI, alleging that, contrary to what the wearers themselves say, the veil is never just a matter of personal choice but it is a political statement on behalf of “political Islam”. I’d like to know what survey she’s done of what proportion of niqab-wearers in the UK support what has come to be known as political Islam, and how many wear it by personal choice.

The fact that, in some countries, there are particularly vicious armed gangs who demand that women wear the hijab - and usually not the niqab - doesn’t detract from this in the least, and in countries where girls grow up seeing women wearing niqab, they often regard veiling as a sign of grown-upness rather than of oppression. It depends how oppressed their own mothers and the women they know are, of course. Almost nowhere are girls forced to wear the veil - at least not across the face - from as early as four or five, and when given a headcover at that age, what’s the big deal? Perhaps you should ask them whether they find that humiliating or oppressive rather than projecting your own opinions onto other women.

Houzan makes the point about “how women’s oppression and terror against women is top priority for every Islamic regime, whatever its stripe”, but in the Muslim world where secularists hold sway, the rights of religious women are trampled underfoot, as in the case of Turkey, where they were forced to give up their studies after the military-orchestrated removal of the Refah government, and Tunisia where such women report harrassment by the authorities. The latter country in particular is a dictatorship and a police state, one of a number of countries described earlier this year as “enemies of the Internet”. She does not acknowledge this; she only acknowledges where the religious oppress women; clearly, the rights of women who do not share her political views, and the atheism they dictate, mean nothing to her.

The fact that it is always women who bear the brunt of secularist as well as religious oppression, and that the likes of Houzan Mahmoud are content with this, suggests that the secularists actually hate religious women far more than the men; imagine the frustration of offering “liberation” to women of a completely foreign culture and finding that they usually want something else! As with the pseudo-feminists in France, freedom and equality is only for the women who behave as they like, not the women they hate; they are content to see the latter kicked into the gutter.

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