Forget wars & economic crisis – have an Islamic panic instead!

Don’t think about the crisis in Nato’s Afghan occupation, its “two-tier alliance“, or about the lack of an independent inquiry into the war in Iraq.

Don’t think about the wage restraint, growing inflation, and increasing repossessions – not to mention the possibility of the credit crunch spreading into other sectors of the economy.

No, what you should worry about is what Gandalf’s been saying.

You know – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, Rowan Williams. 

White beard, lispy voice – that’s the one.

Don’t bother with his actual speech (boring!) just let the tabloids tell you what he said:

“In an explosive outburst Dr Rowan Williams, the country’s top Anglican, said there should be one set of rules for Muslims — and another for everyone else.” Something which ” is a huge propaganda coup for extremists plotting to end centuries of the British way of life.” (The Sun)

Is it not obvious what is going on here?

Yes, it’s another Islamic panic – a silly season for the Fourth Estate in which both state and corporate media, print and broadcast, get ants in their pants about Muslims.

Consequently, facts can go fuck themselves as far as the journalists and editors are concerned.

Well, first of all, their ain’t no such thing as “British” law – one single legal system for the whole of the UK. Take note Gordon Brown and minions of the Murdoch empire, I will say this only once: there’s Scots law – applicable in Scotland, natch; there’s English law – which goes in both England and Wales (though there is Welsh law, in both ancient and modern senses); and finally there’s Northern Ireland law, which is relevant to that part of Ireland still occupied by the British state.

But no “British” law. No matter, it is the least of the factual fuck-ups.

Now, onto what Gandalf actually said – as opposed to what everyone says he said…

D.B., leader of The People’s Republic of Teesside, explains:

It is far more likely that what Williams had in mind was something more along the lines of the Beth Din Jewish court, which adjudicates on civil matters only when subjects agree to participate voluntarily, but whom (having done so) are bound in English law to abide by the court’s decision. Hence the court’s decisions carry formal recognition in English law, something the archbishop evidently feels should be extended to certain decisions of other religious courts too. […]

I think it’s fair to say that the proliferation of ethnic and religious courts might allow greater scope for serious matters to simply slip off the radar before they were adequately dealth with, which is why they would ultimately hinder and not help the struggle for civil rights which should be the main project of an anti-racist multiculturalism. However, that’s not the same as the “legal pluralism” which some accuse the archbishop of favouring, whereby there is ‘one rule for some and another for others’. More a case of ‘equal rights for all, but don’t bother asking the state to enforce them because we can settle this privately’ which is not an approach to equality that should be fostered.

Richard of Lenin’s Tomb gives his typically brilliant analysis, thusly:

The reaction to Williams’ statement adequately expresses the three basic coordinates of contemporary Islamophobia, veering between burning resentment about Them getting ’special treatment’, fear and loathing of the ‘Muslim threat’, and finally a vague ‘humanitarianism’ in which whitey rescues Asian Babes from their non-white male captors. The first two being the usual racist discourse, and the latter being a staple of colonial ideology. Incidentally, these reactions are being blended in roughly the same measure in both the crude right-wing tabloids and in the broadsheets. […]

Every time the media goes on another Muslim-hunt, it is almost inevitable that the politicians will find something to say about it that makes it worse. Gordon Brown has attempted to distinguish his government by attenuating the naked provocations of the Blair era. He will not risk another humiliation in a Labour heartland, if he can avoid it. But he is also an opportunist and it would not be at all out of character for Mr “British Jobs For British Workers” to join the offensive. And if he doesn’t, his silence will surely be remarked upon by David Cameron, who is almost as repellent a charlatan as Blair was. The logic of parliamentary politics almost dictates that the two main party leaders have to compete for the lowest common denominator on this question. In Autumn 2006, the Blair government was sputtering to its dismal end, and in its decrepitude launched one attack after another on Muslims. Cameron joined in, and the newspaper editors collectively creamed their pants. Jonathan Freedland wrote: “If this onslaught was about Jews, I would be looking for my passport”. A pre-pogrom atmosphere about Muslims is being cultivated in this country. The liberal press bears a great deal of responsibility for that.

As part of this atmosphere, government minister Phil Woolas has been warning of “inbred” Muslims.

Hmm. Should we give him the benefit of the doubt? As he says, sensitive issues regarding first-cousin marriage.

But why bring it up now, why at this time? Doesn’t it make his supposed concern for sensibilities appear pretended – since he’s brought up the issue in the middle of one of the now-regular Islamic panics?

MPACUK blows Woolas’ cover – he’s a bloody environment minister! And what’s more:

This isn’t the first time Woolas has flirted with Islamophobia; as Race Relations Minister he demonstrated a clear contradiction between his role and approach, blaming Muslim women who wear the Headscarf for provoking “fear and resentment” and disregarding Muslim concerns over foreign policy as “crap” at a public consultation.

Dave On Fire (of Complex System of Pipes andTAYTS) reminds us of another guilty party:

the world of academia, where Manchester University have hired Martin Amis, the thinking man’s vicious bigot, and let go Terry Eagleton, one of few public figures to challenge him, and where Oxford reinforced the BNP’s veneer of legitimacy by engaging them in a public debate. […]

We may also recall the other side of the coin; the burial, last year, of the story of the white fascist would-be terrorist with a stockpile of weapons to put most brown-skinned terrorisssuspects in the shade, and of the Europol report revealing that the former (invisible) kind of terrorist are vastly more prevalent across the continent than the latter.

Now, on the same fucking day, in that bastion of the “liberal” press, the Indie:

“Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) member Steve Allen added fuel to the fire when he told the Independent on Sunday – illustrated with a close-up photo of a veiled Muslim woman – that that there were 17,000 “honour” crimes committed in Britain every year […] But he admitted that this speculative figure was based on multiplying the 500 annual reported cases by 35 – an estimate of undocumented domestic violence incidents for every one reported to the police. ” (Morning Star)

Getting back to Williams, the Star editorial gets it right on the subject of law:

The unfortunate Archbishop has been assailed from all sides ever since and is clearly suffering from shock as a result.

Not only the more reactionary elements of the red-top press have leapt onto the bash-a-bishop bandwagon, but even the more staid broadsheets and his colleagues in the Angllcan and other churches have not been able to forbear from adding their two-pennorth.And all for what? For saying that there may be a place for the sharia code inside the British legal system.

Mind you, our unworldly cleric has only himself to blame. His supporters say that he is an academic rather than a worldly churchman and this is what lies at the heart of his statement.

Well, if that is the case, the academic should be ashamed of himself for making such a sloppy, poorly formulated statement that was so easy to misinterpret.

Laws, for the information of the reverend gentleman, are made and enforced by states.

Those states may well be influenced by established religions in various countries, to the extent that religious observances are conflated with civil laws and, as with Iran and Israel, a confusion arises as to just who is enforcing what upon whom.

Using Israel as an example, that country appears to consider itself a Jewish state.

What that means for its Arab inhabitants has been clear to see and has little to do with any concept of justice or democracy.

Saudi Arabia is another pertinent example, where civil law has been so unduly influenced by religious custom that a whole section of the country, its women, are ferociously oppressed.

But in the democracy that we live in, laws are made by Parliament and interpreted by the courts and therein lies the distinction between law and religious code.

The making of law in a democracy involves its citizens and its legislative body and its interpretation involves courts bound by that law.

For the Archbishop to tag the sharia codes as “laws” was to invite confusion.

This country has a multiplicity of religious communities which all attempt to live by their own codes – to a greater or lesser extent.

But all those codes exist within and under the constraints of British civil and criminal law and thus there is little open conflict between religious code and national law.

Mind you, it is not surprising that one of the princes of the church has made such a fundamental slip-up as to refer to a code of ethics as “law.”

The status of the Christian religion as demonstrated by the “establishment” of the Church of England has led to some very peculiar ideas as to its importance.

And those ideas deform and warp the understanding of the nature of the British state.

Ethical codes are important and they may at times conflict with other codes. But they exist under the law.

They may shape the values which guide the electoral choices of voters, but they are not, of themselves, law.

There is certainly a place within British culture for other codes. The many communities which make up Britain have demonstrated that time and time again, but the understanding of the dynamic which drives this society is not helped by well-meaning, woolly statements from clerics who should know better.

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4 Responses to “Forget wars & economic crisis – have an Islamic panic instead!”

  1. Dave On Fire Says:

    I actually disagree with D.B:

    think it’s fair to say that the proliferation of ethnic and religious courts might allow greater scope for serious matters to simply slip off the radar before they were adequately dealth with, which is why they would ultimately hinder and not help the struggle for civil rights which should be the main project of an anti-racist multiculturalism.

    As the panic-stricken bishop-bashing editorials of the liberal press have reminded us no end, Sharia courts with no real legal authority already pass judgements on poorly-informed and, especially, non-anglophone women. Legalising and regularising the courts would allow the state to ensure compliance with the human rights act, and to insist that the alternatives are always made clear – surely bringing more things onto the radar that currently happen behind closed doors.

  2. a very public sociologist Says:

    Ironically, Phil Woolas was once a minister for race relations. “Was it for the BNP?”you might find yourself asking.

    Galloway’s show over the weekend was excellent on this issue. I’d like to hope there’s a few more thousand Talksport listeners who now won’t mouth off because of Galloway’s presentation of the facts.

  3. Seán Says:

    It’s as if the media is frantically searching around for an issue and a way to attach it to the word ‘Muslim’. The hysteria grows more intense, it seems to me, from day to day. The Times’ headline shouting the word “inbred” on top of all the different headlines we had about a particular minority group in this country over the past few months, just adds to the tensions – and leads one to the unavoidable conclusion that Muslims are under siege in this country.

    Either consciously or consciously there is an agenda. And it isn’t a hidden one.

    And what is the party of labour’s response to this oppressed minority? Phil fucking Woolas’ gob!

    New Labour, New Prejudice.

  4. charliemarks Says:

    AVPS: MPACUK mentioned Woolas’ stint as race relations tsar… Brown’s distanced himself from the first-cousins thing, perhaps because it’s too obvious an attempt to feed the frenzy. As Lenin (of the Tomb) notes, he’s trying to be a bit more subtle about it. I wonder how the issue will play at PMQs?

    Sean: No doubt Muslims are under siege. In the first half of the 20th century the Jewish community in England faced the same media frenzy – with the tabloid papers printing the same sensationalist stories as they do today, but with Judaism taking the place of Islam. The fascists of the BNP and the Front will be boosted by this – they are now totally oriented towards telling working people the enemy is the Muslim community. Recall that there was an increase in assaults on women after Jack Straw’s burka comments, with headscarves being pulled off by racists…


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