14 October, 2006


The illusion of symmetry

In the wake of Jack Straw's recent comments on the wearing of the niqab, some self-appointed spokeswoman for the Muslim sisterhood was interviewed on the jolly old steam wireless – on the Today programme if my ageing memory serves. After coming out with a lot of patently insincere conciliatory waffle – right to comment, right to choose, etc, etc – she went on the counterattack. If Straw could challenge the niqab, then she, as a devout Muslim, should equally well be allowed to challenge White women walking around "half naked", as she put it, presumably meaning short skirts and low-cut tops. Other Muslims have argued in a similar vein.

As recently as five years ago I would have nodded unthinkingly, accepting this self-evident reciprocity. But I have moved on. She is arguing from the classical multicultural position, ie all cultures are equal. I disagree this premise. There is one core culture in the UK, the indigenous British culture. Define or describe "British" and "British culture" how you will, and let's have none of the usual dismissive diversionary bollocks about fish and chips and football hooligans, for the reality is much more complicated than that. But certainly most of us know British culture when we see it. That it is not susceptible to a pat definition that will satisfy the sort of smug undergraduate oik that infests CiF and GUT does not mean that the concept is meaningless.

Recent immigrants have brought with them and continue to a significant extent to practise or, if you'll pardon the dismal cliché, "celebrate", the culture of their homeland. Being easygoing coves, we Brits tolerate this outlandishness – within reason.

But the indigenous and imported cultures are not equal.

More-or-less "revealing" women's fashions are, currently at least, an accepted part of the British and general "Western" scene. Our Muslim sister is free to dislike this, and to express her dislike, but we are not obliged to take any notice of her. The niqab and other features of Muslim life, such as the repellant practice of halal slaughter, are not part of the British culture. There is no right to assert or demand these practices, and certainly no right to demand equal status or, to use a term favoured of the Righteous Left, "validity" as against indigenous cultural norms. Muslim cultural behaviour is permitted in the UK because we choose, being good hosts, to tolerate it; and we set the boundaries within which it will be tolerated.

We are not engaged in intercultural horse-trading here. The bottom line is perfectly clear: this is my people's country and my people's values have primacy. Your culture, and indeed you, are tolerated here on our sufferance and under our rules. If you don't like it, bugger off somewhere else.

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?