THE BLOG

The Campaign to Ban the Veil Is Only the Latest Attack on the Muslim Community

18/09/2013 11:23 BST | Updated 17/11/2013 10:12 GMT

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding the Holocaust in Europe in the 1940s, which saw six million Jews slaughtered for the crime of being Jewish, is that it could only happen to the Jews and that something as monstrous and evil could never happen in Europe again.

Another misconception is that the Holocaust arrived out of thin air, rather than as the culmination of a prolonged campaign demonising its victims on the way to achieving their dehumanisation in the eyes of mainstream society, so that it became normalised and accepted. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, this anti-Jewish campaign - wherein the Jewish culture, religion, and history was deemed retrograde, its adherents a threat to society and as such isolated and placed outwith the parameters of the mainstream - was waged at all levels of German society. It was a campaign deemed progressive by a large section of the non-Nazi German intelligentsia at the time.

It then went on from there.

Today in Britain we see evidence of the early stages of just such a campaign of demonisation being waged and reaching mainstream acceptance against the Muslim community. In recent years we have witnessed mainstream politicians and liberal commentators lamenting the refusal or reluctance of Muslims to integrate, though it has never been fully explained what this means in concrete terms. Such calls have generally arisen in the wake of terrorist attacks, such as 7/7 and the horrific murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich earlier this year. Consciously or not, such calls and demands effectively place the blame for those terrorist outrages at the door of an entire religion and community, which ironically mirrors the perverse motivation of those who carry them out in laying the blame for Britain's foreign policy at the door of the British people as a whole.

The latest manifestation of this campaign centres on the veil, or niqab, worn by a minority of Muslim women in Britain but recently inflated to assume the status of a threat to society. It is a campaign which has drawn support from both right and left of the mainstream political spectrum and commentariat, justified on the basis of women's rights, security, and/or progress.

In truth it further essentialises an entire religion and community, painting both it and them as retrograde, an exercise in the dominant culture attacking an immigrant culture.

Other immigrant groups have been demonised in Britain in the past. The Irish suffered bigotry, held up as an alien presence in this pure Protestant land when they first began to arrive in numbers in the middle of the 19th century. There was a further ramping up of anti Irish sentiment in Britain during the Troubles in the 1970s and 80s. Similarly, African Caribbeans were on the receiving end of widespread racism when they came to these shores in numbers in the fifties and sixties. But the normalisation of anti Muslim sentiment, the way it has achieved acceptance at the level of government, mainstream media, and in the street with the acceptance of overtly racist anti-Muslim groups such as the EDL, takes it to a new and alarming level.

Liberalism incubates intolerance and cultural supremacy. It acts on the basis that progress is inextricably linked to the imposition of one set of cultural values and social mores, by force and coercion where necessary, in service to some abstract greater good. It divides people between those deemed civilised and therefore who belong, and those painted as the 'other' and therefore who don't. It is indeed the starting point of fascism.

This particular campaign has seen Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper plumbing new depths, even by its low standards, in a front page headline calling for the veil to be banned in all but name. The fact that one of the nation's most popular tabloids, however low, feels emboldened to produce such a front page should set alarm bells ringing.

It has also attracted the support of Indpendent columnist Yasmin Brown from the progressive end of the spectrum, on the basis that it hinders something which she describes as 'progressive Islam'.

The only rule with regard to the veil that should be upheld is that no woman should be forced to wear it and no women should be forced not to wear it. Coercion is a crime, whether it comes cloaked in the garb of progress or not.

As to its practicality and suitability in certain social settings - e.g. court, schools, hospitals, etc. - a blanket approach will merely strengthen division in society rather than promote and foment understanding. Here a case by case evaluation is the only way to strike a balance between social cohesion and individual choice and tolerance.

Personally speaking, I have never had a problem communicating with a woman wearing a veil, even though I don't find myself doing so on a daily basis. Of more concern to me are police officers whose faces are covered by visors and riot shields, now a common occurrence on demonstrations whether peaceful or not.

At a time when poverty and despair is sweeping the land, when the gulf between the haves and have nots has never been so stark, the moral panic whipped up over a tiny piece of cloth covering a woman's face is evidence that liberalism and intolerance are in truth two sides of the same coin.