The nasty party begins to re-emerge

In 2002 Teresa May, the chairwoman of the Tory party appointed by Iain Duncan Smith, told the party’s conference that people called her party the “nasty party” and that their base was too narrow as were their sympathies on occasion. Norman Tebbit noted that this “nasty party” won three general elections but that it was never really a nasty party but a party which “took some very hard decisions”. However, besides its reputation (particularly towards the end) of a party which closed hospitals and taxed the poor, it also became widely associated with the bigoted remarks of a few of its MPs. Among them was David Evans, MP until 1997 for Welwyn and Hatfield, who gave a speech to sixth-formers in his constituency in which he referred to “some black bastard” who raped a schoolgirl, said he believed the Birmingham Six were guilty (they spent fifteen years in jail for an IRA bombing but were cleared on appeal) and said of his female Labour opponent, who was a school inspector and a magistrate, “she’s a single girl, lives with her boyfriend, three bastard children, lives in Cambridge” (i.e. out of the constituency).

Some people have a fascination with bastards. I remember the letters which appeared in the Croydon Advertiser attacking single mothers with bastard children who live on benefits. However, in this day and age, there are rather a lot of people who were born out of wedlock to parents who just lived together, and that MP probably offended a huge percentage of his audience. He lost handily to the woman he insulted.

I don’t know why he thought he could get away with those outrageous remarks. Perhaps he believed he would lose anyway (some cabinet ministers actually lost their seats in 1997, and one of them had said she expected to lose her seat), or really did think that his seat was safe and that he could say what he liked. However, in the past week we’ve seen two provincial Tory MPs make inflammatory remarks about Muslims. One element to this might surprise readers: only one of the controversies involves women.

Bilal Khan is a teenage boy who attacked and raped a woman in Stoke-on-Trent (report here; the Daily Mail is the best I could find, I’m afraid). He attacked the woman in a park in front of two boys, aged 10 and 11, who shouted to him to stop. He then stole the woman’s handbag, took a call on her mobile phone from her boyfriend and bragged to him about what he had done, and subsequently sold the phone and the woman’s iPod. He got three years because of his age (an adult would have got eight or nine) and because of the “remorse” he had shown.

Personally, I think that is a miserably short sentence for a violent rape. Readers might recall that the so-called M25 Rapist, Antoni Imiela, called the mother of one of his victims on her stolen mobile phone and bragged that he had just raped her daughter. If this guy is already that twisted at 13 (and remember, we are not talking about someone getting involved in a gang robbery because he couldn’t resist peer pressure, or about an assault committed in anger, or about a sexual encounter where there is a dispute over consent, but about an unambiguous, violent rape), then he really needs sorting out and I’m not sure a three-year sentence, of which he is unlikely to serve all or even most, is the way to do it.

What led to him becoming a rapist is not clear. However, David Davies, Tory MP for Monmouth, suggested that attitudes to women in his Asian background might have had something to do with it:

The MP said the sentence was inadequate, adding: “I think there is a wider question here - what is it about this young man’s upbringing, what about his community or his parental upbringing that led him to think that women are second-class people whose rights can be trampled over like this?”

The Monmouth MP added: “There are some sensitive issues here, but there do seem to be some people in some communities who don’t respect women’s rights at all, and who, if I may say, without necessarily saying that this is the case on this occasion, who have imported into this country barbaric and medieval views about women, and that is something that needs to be addressed.”

More here at the South Wales Argus.

Clearly, Davies has not done much homework with regard to Muslim attitudes to rape, specifically. It’s true that there are some negative attitudes to women in Asian communities (not just among Muslims), but they affect women in their family relations. It does not mean that Muslims, or Asians, think it is acceptable to attack a woman in a park and rape her. It is more likely that he is getting these kinds of ideas from certain elements in hip-hop and “gangsta” culture which has permeated the Asian community in some places. Any Asian family would be deeply ashamed of a son who had done that sort of thing.

The Argus editorial stated:

He may well not like the attitudes towards women within certain communities and he is free to say so. Many may echo those views.

But to air those views in connection with the crime of rape is the kind of distortion we would expect from the BNP, not a responsible mainstream politician.

He needs to apologise for his verbal clumsiness.

It’s more than just “verbal clumsiness”; it’s profound ignorance and bigotry. Michael Howard had an MP de-selected before the 2005 general election for suggesting that a Tory government could slash public spending by a considerable margin; surely David Cameron should do the same here, unless he wants the party to be characterised by bigoted loose cannons.

Then we get back to the more normal media Islamophobia: attacks on women and their mode of dress. Tory MP for Kettering, Richard Hollobone, made his own broadside against immigration before focussing on the specific matter of the so-called burqa. Again, nobody to my knowledge wears the burqa, but that doesn’t stop it being used as if it meant any face-covering veil. From Hansard, the record of the British Parliament (via Engage):

Mr. Hollobone: The problem is the scale of the immigration-the number of people heading our way-and it is going to overwhelm our indigenous culture in ways that are frankly unacceptable.

At the crude end of the debate, the problem is reflected in talk about the burqa. I must say that I have huge sympathy with those who want action taken against people who want to cover themselves up in public. How ridiculous would the House of Commons be if we were all to wear burqas? How would Mr. Speaker be able to identify which Member to call next?

Mr. Frank Field: The voters might prefer it. [Laughter.]

Mr. Hollobone: The voters might well prefer it, but it is the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes. In my view, it is offensive to want to cut yourself off from face-to-face contact with, or recognition by, other members of the human race. We should certainly look at ways to tackle that issue.

The fact is that, when Asian Muslims started coming to this country, most women from those backgrounds did not wear niqaab, burqa or any other form of the face veil. Most of those who wear it are younger women who started as a result of listening to some Islamic lecture or other, or reading about its religious merits in a book or on a website, or were influenced by female friends who wore it. It is still only a minority of the Muslim community who wear it anyway — there are a fair number of Muslim women who flatly refuse to wear it — and women have been wearing niqaab for years in this country without any major incident related to it. Most of the hostility which exists is manufactured by the press, and I accept that many people don’t like it, but we have to put up with an awful lot we just don’t like.

Having done a bit of Googling on the Muslim community in Kettering, it seems that the main (or only) mosque is run by Deobandis and that the New Muslims group has a “salafi” leaning, so you may find a few niqabs around, but even most Deobandi women don’t actually wear niqab. But anyway, so what? Hollobone talks as if there is this great swarm of women in niqaab taking over the country, when what we really have is mostly peaceful people trying to get on with their lives the way they see fit, not harming anyone, and being vilified for it in the popular press.

I’m sure Hollobone can talk about a group of his constituents like this because he knows they will not vote for him. After all, why vote Tory when you get small-minded individuals like David Davies and Richard Hollowhead?

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