Not Saussure

October 21, 2006

Labour Politics and the Veil

Filed under: Islam, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 2:01 pm

Via Pickled Politics, with a very good commentary by Sunny, I discover that, God help us, there’s an article by Peter Oborne in The Daily Mail I pretty much agree with. Now I know how Calupurnia felt.

Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.

Nevertheless, Oborne makes some very sound points:

Labour has made the extraordinary decision to place the politics of religious identity at the centre of public discourse, in the same sort of way that Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party does in Austria and Pim Fortuyn’s List Party did in the Netherlands

Criticisms of this tactic in the Press – which was so derogatory about Michael Howard’s timid excursion into similar terrain 18 months ago – have been few and far between.

On the contrary, Jack Straw’s comments have liberated the media to follow suit. It seems every day now brings forth news of an outrage allegedly perpetrated somewhere by a Muslim. […]

cumulatively this litany of condemnation has turned into an anti-Islamic crusade. I am a practising member of the Church of England and if we had come under the same wave of condemnation for our practices and traditions I would by now be affronted beyond belief. [I’m a pretty lapsed Catholic and I know just what he means — it’s one of the reasons this fuss upsets me so much]

If I were Jewish, with the experience of the 20th century to look back on, and came under the same weight of hostility I would be terrified.

There is a whiff of the lynch mob about the wave of attacks over the past fortnight, and it is no surprise to learn that the new national mood sparked by Jack Straw and sanctioned by Tony Blair has indeed led to a number of assaults on British mosques, including one firebombing.

There have also been reports of a sharp rise of physical assaults on Muslims.

It is nothing short of appalling that the Blair government has been ready to countenance this change in public culture,

He continues,

My guess is that Labour strategists have now calculated that the Muslim coalition of voters, which was so stalwartly behind the party in 1997 and 2001, is now lost for ever as a result of the Iraq War.

Rather than try to win them back, Labour has cut its losses, and decided instead to stir up racial tension as a means of appealing directly to the white working-class vote. Labour activists tell me Jack Straw’s remarks have proved ‘incredibly resonant’ on the doorstep.

This callous strategy has one extra attraction: it confuses the Tories. In the 1997 and 2001 elections, William Hague and Michael Howard rather hesitantly raised the abuse of the asylum system only to be denounced by Labour for running ‘racist’ campaigns.

As a consequence of this experience, the Conservatives plumped for David Cameron and swore a self-denying ordinance on the subject of immigration.

With awesome cynicism, Labour has now moved directly into the ground vacated by the Conservatives, only with far greater assurance. It is now engaging with issues that Michael Howard would never have dared even to mention.

and concludes

Now Tony Blair has allowed a campaign that is bound to undermine moderate Muslims and encourage extremism, whether from white supremacist parties like the BNP or within Islam itself.

It is quite the nastiest and most irresponsible politics I have seen from a mainstream political party in my life, and we will all pay a horrible price for such cynical opportunism.

As several of the comments to Sunny’s post point out, of course, Oborne’s article hasn’t stopped his colleagues on the Mail from carrying on with their hate-fest elsewhere in the paper. I was going to say something about the Two Minute Hate in 1984, but it seems to go on for a lot longer than two minutes; it’s gone on for considerably longer than a week, come to that.

Just a thought, but I wonder whether part of it isn’t to distract attention from the fact that the Government’s going to be unable — despite John Reid’s tough talk — to do anything much about these hoards of ravening Bulgarians and Romanians who’re coming to eat our children, short of withdrawing from the EU? Sort of sling the pack a juicy Muslim or two to chew on so as to distract them? The BBC reported last month that

Details of the controls for the two new EU countries will be revealed to Parliament by the end of October.

and, whatever they are, they’re not going to satisfy the tabloid pack because there’s nothing that can legally be done to stop citizens of any EU country going to any other EU country.. The only question is whether he works legally or illegally when he gets there. If Labour’s intention is to distract, I think it’ll backfire. It’s not all difficult to switch targets even in the middle of Hate Week, after all.

The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! […] The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.

UPDATE: I see from Chicken Yoghurt that even Richard Littlejohn is starting to worry about ZaNu Labour going too far to the right. This is getting out of hand.

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