with being a Muslim is you're not allowed an off day. You can't, if
you're a cab driver, say, "Sorry, guv, not going that way, the
missus expects me home for prayers."
become victims of a variant of Alsatian dog syndrome. The original
condition arises when an Alsatian - or, more frequently now, a Rottweiler or pit bull terrier - savages a child. Before long,
newspapers report more cases of dogs attacking children all over the
country. These are not the result of a jihad declared by a canine
version of Osama Bin Laden. It's just that journalists and their
informants are suddenly on the alert for savage dog stories.
So it is now with savage Muslims. A Muslim can scarcely sneeze
without making front-page headlines and this has been spasmodically
true since 9/11, and particularly since 7/7. This month, newspapers
have reported a Muslim policeman being excused from guard duty at
the Israeli embassy; a Muslim cab driver refusing to carry a blind
person with a guide dog; Muslim youths vandalising premises due to
be occupied by wounded British soldiers from Afghanistan; Muslim
women brazenly wearing veils in front of Jack Straw; and a Muslim
terror suspect fleeing the country disguised under a burqa. There
have also been reports of riots in Windsor. In so far as there were
riots at all, they were anti-Muslim, but it was somehow Muslims'
fault for living "on the Queen's doorstep".
The trouble with being a Muslim is you're not allowed an off day.
You can't say to your boss that, all things considered, you'd rather
be excused this particular assignment and, anyway, you've got a cold
and don't want to stand outside an embassy in the rain. You can't,
if you're a cab driver, say "Sorry, guv, not going that way, the
missus is expecting me home for prayers" - and what's the point of
being a cab driver if you can't be gratuitously rude to passengers
and capriciously refuse to carry them? You can't even be a bit
miserable without Martin Amis accusing you of harbouring a death
No, if you're a Muslim, you have to be agreeable to everybody all
the time. You shouldn't cover any part of your head and certainly
not your face, probably not even if you've got terrible acne.
Fishnets and veils
At first, my
sympathies were with Straw when he asked Muslim women to lift their
veils during constituency surgeries. Like me, he's quite deaf and
I'd guess that, also like me, he finds it easier to follow what
people say if he can see their lips. My opinions started to change
when I read the press commentators. Not because of their arguments
against Straw, but because of their arguments in his favour.
Straw, explained Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph, was
"asking for . . . an acknowledgement of his culture". The veil,
ruled Charles Moore in the same paper, is "a hostile statement about
the society in which the wearer lives". The Sun's Trevor
Kavanagh drew a parallel with a black balaclava, which "scares the
pants off bank clerks". Joan Smith, in the Independent on Sunday,
thought the veil "shows acceptance of an inferior place in society".
The Observer's Henry Porter bought his coffee from Sri
Lankans and his vegetables from Greek Cypriots, ate in a Lebanese
restaurant and had his hair cut by a Turk, so why, after this
exemplary participation in a "diverse and easygoing ethnic mix",
should he have to put up with people going around in "alien and
I'm not sure a piece of cloth will bear all this weight. No doubt
Smith is right and women usually wear veils because men command them
to do so. Well, some women are commanded, by husbands or bosses, to
wear microskirts and thongs. If, as Smith demands, women here eschew
the veil in solidarity with Afghans who face death if they don't
cover up, should they also eschew fishnet stockings and so on in
solidarity with trafficked prostitutes?
Clothes and hairstyles can be pretty versatile symbols. As Simon
Jenkins wrote in the Sunday Times, the veil can also serve as
a symbol of sisterly solidarity with oppressed co-religionists. It
depends on which oppression you're talking about.
After all these savage Muslim stories, Julia Hartley-Brewer, in the
Sunday Express, declared herself "just tired of having Islam
thrust in our faces day in, day out". I'd guess Muslims are tired of
The actions of any single Muslim are taken by the press as
representative of Muslims as a whole and the words of a variety of
unelected self-appointed Muslim spokesmen - whose phone numbers
journalists and TV producers happen to have - are assumed to be
those of "community leaders".
Look at those headlines about Muslims and try substituting
Christians. Christian cab driver refuses to carry Muslim. (Don't
tell me it's never happened.) Christian youths vandalise house
occupied by wounded Somali refugees. Wilby finds Christian nuns'
habits alien and unsettling. (According to my late mother, I did as
a child.) Christian prime minister supports bombing of Lebanon. Christians! Arncha
sick of 'em?
October 16, 2006