Why This Fear of Islam?
An astute Egyptian friend recently forwarded an article that appeared in last Sunday’s Independent newspaper titled “Drunk and Disorderly: Woman in UK Are the Worst Binge Drinkers in the World”.
Appended to the e-mail was this comment from my friend pointing out the inherent irony. “Instead of recommending that UK women learn a thing or two from their compatriot Muslim sisters to save millions of pounds for the National Health Service, the jokers in Number Ten Downing Street instead make a big issue about a dress code that has zero effect on the well-being of the country.”
He’s surely got a point. According to the article “one in three 17-30-year-olds is now classed as a heavy drinker, bingeing on four or more drinks in one session at least once a fortnight”, which translates to liver damage, premature death, cancer, heart problems, an escalation in anti-social behavior, lost working hours and puts those women at risk of sexual assault.
This trend affects one in out of every three young women and yet British politicians, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, seem more concerned about the handful of British women who have chosen to don the full veil, which poses no danger to either themselves or to the public at large.
It’s fashionable nowadays for Britain’s politicians to complain about immigrants who refuse to assimilate. The more right wing among them infer that the presence of a large Muslim community threatens “our way of life” without going into details as to what that way of life actually entails.
Not surprising when Britain has become such an eclectic multiethnic melting pot. There no longer is a stereotypical British way of life other than in the pages of an Agatha Christie or a P.G. Wodehouse novel.
It’s interesting, too, that those who feel intimidated or threatened in the presence of a woman wearing the veil don’t appear to be concerned by the sight of a nun’s habit, Hassidic garb or side locks, Sikh turbans or the shaved heads and orange robes of Hare Krishna devotees.
Moreover the current ministerial focus on Muslim assimilation is having the opposite effect. Moderate Muslim leaders resented being told by John Reid, the home secretary, to monitor their children for signs of hate. And reports state that since Jack Straw’s comments on the veil, more and more young women are adopting the niqab in protest — a predictable reaction.
Indeed, the British government appears to be going out of its way to foment an enemy within in keeping with Blair’s struggle against what he calls an evil ideology. It’s no wonder that British Muslims are beginning to feel demonized and marginalized when their own government calls for mosques, faith schools, community centers and Islamic bookshops to be monitored.
If British Muslims tend to live in close proximity to one another it isn’t the only community to do so. London’s Stamford Hill was and is more reminiscent of Mea Sharim in Israel than a British city suburb. Brick Lane resembles a corner of Bangladesh while Soho is predominantly Chinese. These ghettoized areas aren’t new. They’ve existed for more than half-a-century in some cases and nobody seemed to mind.
The governmental message is further having an effect on the attitudes of ordinary people. Reports of Muslim women wearing the hijab being insulted in the streets or suffering the indignity of having their head scarves pulled from their heads are rife. In short, Muslims have become fair game for racists and bigots.
I know many Muslims who lived in Britain for decades without problems and who never faced discrimination or open enmity. Let’s face it. It may be a cliché but everything did change post- Sept. 11. It didn’t need to.
If those 19 criminals had been labeled just that instead of “Muslim terrorists”, law-abiding Muslims in Britain and Europe wouldn’t have been stigmatized. After all, the IRA killers were never described as “Catholic terrorists” out to turn Northern Ireland into a papal state.
It seems to me that Muslims were deliberately targeted by the US that needed a new enemy following the collapse of the Soviet Union so that its mighty military-industrial complex could continue functioning. It needed a new “ism” to combat after the demise of communism and so the war on another intangible, terrorism, was born.
Moreover, the demonizing of what the US referred to as extremist Islam and what George W. Bush now calls “Islamic fascism” has facilitated public approval for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Rule One. When going to war, the enemy must be painted as some kind of inferior or terrifying being.
For Europe, the US has opened a dangerous Pandora’s Box with its assaults upon Muslims and Muslim countries. In Britain and France, Muslim youth, who are rightly angered, feel isolated from the rest of society and are becoming radicalized.
In turn, Europe’s right-wing parties are gaining strength while Germany is witnessing a frightening resurgence of the neo-Nazi movement. Some European Muslims are asking, “are we becoming Europe’s new Jews?”
They’re not because there are major differences. Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet and Muslims make up almost one quarter of the world’s population. Europe’s Muslims are — or should be — backed by Muslim states unlike the Jews scattered throughout the Diaspora.
It is this sheer strength of numbers combined with a sense of religious brotherhood shared by all Muslims that concerns British politicians. Their comments concerning the veil are simply a manifestation of those underlying fears. Whether Muslim women in Britain reject the niqab is not the issue. The differences will still remain. Few will show up in the statistics on binge drinking or unwed mothers for instance.
My Egyptian friend is spot on when he suggests British women could learn a thing or two from their compatriot Muslim sisters. Instead of attempting to drag Muslims down to the lowest common denominator Britain’s leaders should encourage their citizenry to respect the morals and ethics espoused by Muslims that are so sadly lacking in society at large.
Until contemporary times those same morals and ethics were the mainstay of British life. I still remember how my grandmother would make sure the bottle of sherry was out of sight when the vicar made an impromptu visit and would wear a head scarf or a hat when attending church on Sundays.
The traditional British way of life that Muslims are being blamed for eroding disappeared in the 1960s. In fact, Muslims in Britain today could even be perceived as the torch carriers for the values inherent in the Britain that once was. Now that’s a thought.