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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