How the 2006 niqab affair popularised the BNP

Gary Younge in today’s Guardian traces the upsurge in anti-Muslim bigotry to Jack Straw’s attack on the niqab in 2006:

Three years ago this month Jack Straw argued his case for urging Muslim women who attend his MP’s surgery to remove their niqab. He said that he wanted to start a debate. In this, at least, he was successful.

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy said “the veil is an invitation to rape”; the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson said women who wear “nose bags on their faces … have no place on British streets”; the then shadow home secretary David Davis argued that Muslims were encouraging voluntary apartheid.

And 16-year-old Daniel Coine insisted he felt threatened: “I’d go further than Jack Straw and say they should all take off their veils. You need to see people face to face. It’s weird not knowing who it is you’re passing in the street, specially late at night when someone might jump you.”

And so Muslim women passed, in the public imagination, from being actually among the group most likely to be racially attacked to ostensibly being a primary cause of social strife – roaming the land in search of white teenagers to physically harass.

However, Jack Straw is hard of hearing, so perhaps he would have some right to ask a woman to remove her niqab if that got in the way of his understanding her, a reason no other man would have. The Express — or Daily Spew as it’s known in these parts — had no time for any such subtleties, and ran numerous front pages attacking Muslim women who wear niqab. While I don’t dispute that Jack Straw shouldn’t have been telling the world what goes on in his MP’s surgery meetings, the blame for the rise of the BNP lies squarely with the press, and the Spew in particular, for promoting bigotry in order to sell copies.

Then again, what about the poisonous effect of all the tabloids on British political culture? Has anyone tried discussing any political matter with a Sun reader, for example? They will simply repeat what they read in that rag and not question it at all.

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  • Tim

    I seem to recall thinking the government was actually capitalising on anti-Muslim bigotry at the time, given that Jack Straw’s comments coincided with news of hospital closures, which in ordinary circumstances would have promoted heated fury. Prior to that we had already had the frenzy concerning cartoons published in Denmark, although even that could be seen to have been semi-manufactured given the timespan between the actual incident and the mass of media coverage (3 months). .-= Tim ´s last blog ..Extinguishing the fires of fitna =-.

  • Thersites

    “Has anyone tried discussing any political matter with a Sun reader, for example? They will simply repeat what they read in that rag and not question it at all.” Not in my experience. The Sun readers I’ve come across usually are completely unaware of its political views.

    “However, Jack Straw is hard of hearing, so perhaps he would have some right to ask a woman to remove her niqab if that got in the way of his understanding her, a reason no other man would have. ” Actually, Straw was at least as much concerned about being sure the woman had uncerstood him as to understand her, and he certainly is not the only man who is deaf or hard-of-hearing.

  • Thersites: I actually have tried discussing current issues with a certain Sun reader. You can’t really get a word in edgeways.

    As for hard of hearing men, the rule is that a woman who wears niqab can remove it if there is a need, such as when testifying, doing business or talking with someone who otherwise could not understand them for reasons like deafness. And let’s face it, if a woman needs to make it clear that she understands, she can do that by words (yeah, right, OK etc) rather than just by facial expressions.

  • Thersites

    There’s a big jump from “a certain Sun reader” to readers of The Sun collectively. My own experience is no more statistically significant than yours, but it is different.

  • Salam,

    I can’t imagine anyone having a worthwhile conversation with a “sun-reader”. Interesting blog.