Another lesson in diplomacy

A black-and-white image of three members of the Ku Klux Klan, two women and one man, in white sheets and masks, standing by a burning cross.As Muslims face the consequences of Britain’s one-time “top diplomat” insulting an ethnic minority (and, by extension, the women of a number of the countries where Britain could do with having friendly relations) and provoking a ‘debate’ on Muslim women’s dress which served to distract from the cliff-edge Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexiteer wingnuts are dragging us towards, I came across a tweet this morning from Christine Hamilton, media ‘butterfly’ and wife of UKIP Welsh assembly member Neil “cash in brown envelopes” Hamilton, comparing the niqaab to the white hoods and sheets worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Hamilton is “ambassador” for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign and Balls to Cancer (though she has removed references both from her profile to avoid embarrassment to them) and has posted pictures of her trekking through the Andes in Peru in aid of the former. “If the #burka is acceptable then presumably this is too?” the tweet asked, accompanied by a picture of some Klansmen in full pointy-hat and white sheet regalia (not the image accompanying this entry). For their part, the MD campaign has been tweeting the same statement all day to those who complained: “Christine Hamilton’s tweet was made in a personal capacity and does not reflect the views of Muscular Dystrophy UK. We believe in a diverse and equal society, and are firmly against any form of discrimination.” (Update: MDUK have now severed ties with Hamilton.)

In case anyone needed an answer: no, because when the KKK were still strong and had the support of the powers that were, they used to ride into areas where Black people lived in order to terrorise them and they would kill Black people who were accused of a crime or who “stepped out of line” by getting into an argument with a White person or demanded such things as the right to vote. In some areas, in fact, they were powerful enough not to have to wear sheets; members of the KKK were police officers, judges and politicians. In her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou recalled how a local policeman had told her grandmother that her son (Maya’s uncle) Willie should “lie low” because “a crazy n***er messed with a white lady today” and that some of “the boys” would be down to teach the Black people in the town a lesson. The family buried Willie under a pile of potatoes, and in the event he made so much noise that they would have found him anyway, but they called off the ‘demonstration’.

A front cover from Melanie Phillips's book Londonistan, with the sub-heading "How Britain is creating a terror state within". The picture shows three women, all wearing niqaabs, one of them pushing a child in a buggy with the clear plastic rain shield pulled down, and the one on the left is giving a V-sign to the person who is taking the picture.If Muslim women who wear niqaab ever did anything like this, the comparison would be justified. As they do nothing more threatening to anyone than buy groceries and take their children to the park, it’s grotesque. (In the US, laws aimed at the KKK have been used by police in some states to try to prevent women wearing niqaab in public, but it has always been put down by the courts on First Amendment grounds.) And yes, there has been the occasional story about the family of a terrorist getting a nice town house in Notting Hill on housing benefit and the Mum usually wears niqaab, but that’s not the majority of them, and there’s that picture of three women in niqaab and one of them appeared to be giving society a big V-sign (it’s been on the front of the Daily Express at least once and was the cover image for one edition of Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan), but actually, she was giving the V-sign to some journalists and/or paparazzi. These women have taken far more abuse from the public, in large part because of malicious press reporting, than they have caused anyone.

An ambassador is obviously meant to be an asset to a charity in upholding their reputation. I do not honestly see why anyone would want Christine Hamilton as an ambassador (even if they have several) given that her own reputation is not exactly spotless. Besides his corrupt history (he was the MP toppled from a Tory safe seat by Martin Bell back in 1997), her husband Neil Hamilton now sits for UKIP, a party noted for its flirtation with xenophobia and Islamophobia. A disability charity is there to serve those with the disability in question, and muscular dystrophies affect people of every ethnicity, both sexes and every religion. I used to know a Muslim man who had a severe form of MD, was a power-chair user, and was dependent on others for his every need; he experienced all the usual problems of being a wheelchair user such as taxis driving off at the sight of him, and wondered whether it was because of his disability or his Islamic appearance. Only this past week there was a report of a Muslim lady who wears niqaab and walks with a walking stick being attacked by three white youths in an east London street who urinated on her. Being disabled, especially if visibly so, makes anyone from a visible minority additionally vulnerable to abuse or harassment targeted at their race as well as at their condition and this increases if they need personal care; they may also need dietary needs met when in their own home or in hospital. Every disability charity needs to be race-aware and aware to the religious issues facing the people they serve, and should not be associated with people whose behaviour might inflame prejudice towards them.

Of course, a charity needs the money and they should not refuse money raised independently of them by people with controversial opinions, but the status of ‘ambassador’ should be special and reserved for people with major fundraising potential and an unblemished reputation. If Christine Hamilton ever had one, she doesn’t now, and she should have the status removed.

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