Fulfilling the annual ritual of attacking the smallest minority within a minority (women in niqab – subject of a follow-up blog) came with an additional twist this year, spearheading Muslims, their beliefs and manifestations across the media spectrum. The right-wing relished in reproducing defunct diatribe of the Yasmin Alibhai Brown variety. The Guardian meanwhile comforted itself in introducing David Cameron to the concept of empathy, whilst asserting he was right to “raise the often unfavourable position” of Muslim women. The additional twist was Cameron dictating to his subjects that learning English reduces susceptibility to extremism. Whilst there have been a fair few commentaries and responses, the blatant elephant in the room has been completely ignored: structural, flagrant discrimination and racism.
The red herrings in this discourse and Cameron’s Cameronialism exhibited in his Times comment – titled We wont let women be second-class citizens – as such requires deconstruction.
Underpinning David Cameron’s entirely racist spiel are neoconservative assumptions, primary amongst them being the Eurabia myth pedalled by the likes of Bat Ye’or and propagated by British neocons like Douglas Murray, Michael Gove and William Shawcross. In short, the conspiracy theory postulates that Muslim hoards are hell-bent on Arabising and Islamising Europe and weakening Western culture. It is the primary reason why we are witnessing the incessant culturalist attacks on Islam and Muslims – and only Islam and Muslims. From disproven Trojan Hoax plots to non-existent threats of “Islamists” taking over government which inform official government policy, it is the quintessential thesis coveted by the far-right (including Anders Breivik), which is underpinning most of this hate. The neocon response is a reassertion of all that made ol’ Britannia great, and if Cameron’s latest rhetoric is anything to go by, this includes the racism and supremacism which characterised colonial adventures and the “drive to civilise”.
The Female Governor Distortion
The neoconservative traits of deception and spin were on fully display with Cameron’s latest gifts to the Muslim minority of Britain.
Right from the off Cameron perpetuates a lie, which was born from Ofsted’s inspection of a Muslim school. He writes,
“School governors’ meetings where male governors sit in the meeting room and the women have to sit out of sight in the corridor.”
The female Muslim governor in question issued a strong response countering this lie:
“I feel the school allowing me to be part of the governing body with my request to sit as I please therefore demonstrates the school’s strong promotion of both Islamic and British values… The right for a person to choose is a universal value, which the new undefined British value clearly is opposing.”
Cameron however, has no trouble in denying the agency of Muslim women.
Attacking Islam, Shari’ah Courts Deception
Under the cover of Cameron’s civilising mission, he slips in, as he usually does, attacks on orthodox Islam. Thus, among the genuine malpractices which can be found in various communities, Cameron highlighted that “young women [are] only allowed to leave their house in the company of a male relative.” The attack is a play on traditional Islamic ruling which requires women traveling outside a prescribed boundary (e.g. beyond the borders of the city or according to the Hanafis, a radius of 47 miles, for instance), to take with them a travel companion (father, brother, husband, son, uncle, etc) who fulfils the function of an escort.
Far from being “backward” or “exerting damaging control” as Cameron later describes, the purpose is apparent to any woman who has been harassed whilst traveling, or any rich elite/celebrity for that matter who has security guards and drivers wherever they go to avoid unwanted attention. In a society where a sixteen year-old Muslim girls is knocked to the floor unconscious; an eighteen year-old Muslim girl is punched in her face; a forty year-old Muslim woman is punched and literally kicked backwards off a bus; where Muslim women are the targeted victims of valiant white men thoroughly incited by Cameron’s racist rhetoric; and where Cameron has abjectly failed to sufficiently combat stereotypes and protect the Muslim minority against such attacks, the Islamic ruling acts as a much needed deterrent against the “backward Western men” who attempt to physically “exert damaging control” over Muslim women by tearing off their hijabs. The level of relevance this ruling has to Muslims now is the same level of irrelevance Cameron’s arrogance has to a Muslim woman sprawled on the street after a violent attack.
Cameron continues by attacking Shari’ah arbitrations too. Apparently these courts “prevent them from leaving abusive marriages”. Except that they don’t. Firstly, women voluntarily attend these arbitrations. Secondly, when a Jewish man refuses to issue his wife a divorce through the “get”, the Beth Din has no power to nullify the marriage contract. Mr Cameron, we have not forgotten the famous case of Nick Lowenstien, who kept his wife in marital limbo for fifteen years as the Beth Din looked on, merely issuing statements. In contrast, Shari’ah panels can assume the power to dissolve the marriage. Yet of course, it is Shari’ah courts which come in for the PM’s glutton for punishment, without as much as a peep from Cameron about Batai Din.
Cameron contradicts Theresa May by deceptively stating, “we will review the role of religious councils, including Sharia councils”. This cloaks an exemption; the “review” announced thus far is one which is investigating Shari’ah courts. In a further example of express discrimination – and perhaps an indication of the undue influence of pro-Israel lobby – Jewish Beth Din courts have been specially exempted by the Home Office from any review.
Justifying Colonial Impositions
Cameron, citing “blame the raped”, neocon-connected, Tony Blair-advising Ed Husain, effectively justifies his discriminatory, supremacist, not to mention distorted tirade against Muslim women under the cover of a deeply spurious argument:
“…our political correctness stops us from identifying this separatist mentality — terming it “the racism of low expectations”. It helps explain why, for instance, some so-called progressive politicians see fit to host gender-segregated political meetings.”
Those who choose to separate themselves on the basis of sex will most likely not engage politically. And if the aim is to “integrate” (not assimilate), it makes sense to allow the exercising of religious rights of the community. In Stamford Hill we have “public” hospitals catering for kosher diets. The Orthodox Jewish community also adheres to “gender-segregation”, and Cameron even meets its “strict” leaders (who are male). However, it seems donations from the pro-Israel lobby ensures that Cameron’s mouth is kept shut on this particular “racism of low expectations”.
The racism bathed in white privilege is in imposing an assumption of the cultural superiority over and above other cultures, casting other cultures into the category of “low expectation”. This is racism. Imposing this forcefully on “natives”, and then calling those who act against it as promoting some type of racism as Cameron and his pet Muslims are doing, is textbook cultural imperialism.
Integration and One-Sided “Separateness”
A further example of blatant racism and discrimination by Cameron is the one-sided assault on the Muslim community with regards to “separate development”. He writes,
“Segregation drives us apart, not together. And tolerating the development of parallel communities can also mean failing to get to grips with appalling practices such as FGM and forced marriage.”
For a moment, let’s ignore the continued perpetuation of stereotypes in a context which targets Muslims. Firstly, studies (see here also) indicate that Muslims are less “separate” than other groups including Sikhs and Jews, whilst attitudinal indicators such as belonging register more strongly than British Christians.
Secondly, the problem of “illiberal attitudes” is far greater in the white community than it is amongst the “Asian” communities. A two year study published in 2008 and commissioned by the Home Office found that, where “enclavisation” resulted in pupils being almost entirely White (and if religious, Christian),
“A significant number of these students expressed extreme views: they thought their own racial group was superior to others; they were hostile to learning about other faiths and cultures. In short, we encountered a type of White extremism which we believe must be one consequence of continuing enclavisation.”
In contrast, pupils from “Muslim enclaves”,
“expressed commitment to liberal and integrative values that were conducive to sustaining cohesive communities. As far as we could tell, the values of these pupils reflected both those of the home and the mosque and were also the values of the school. In other words, the enclave provided an oasis of liberal values for young Muslims.”
Given that Cameron is asserting “liberal values”, dealing with “White extremism” and the “illiberal” views of the white population ought to be the greater concern. Not so for the white saviour Cameron, whose milieu leads its own separate lives in a society suffering from ever widening financial inequality.
Insulting Muslim Motherhood
Cameron proclaims that all of the above has an “important connection to extremism”, which is that “conservative religious practices” can help a young person’s slide towards radicalisation.” This claim is empirically unsupported, and directly contravenes authoritative studies as comprehensively explained by Dr Nafeez Ahmed. Moreover, the hypocrisy is accentuated by the fact that Cameron actually enthusiastically engages those from the Jewish orthodoxy who also by Cameron’s implication help Jewish children “slide toward radicalisation”. But let’s not let facts get in the way of justifying demagogic racism and feeding society’s bigger problem of far-right “white extremism”.
Cameron then provides perhaps one of the most insulting – and yes, racist – examples to “prove” his point and establish the context for his next proposal:
“Think about the young boy growing up in Bradford. His parents came from a village in Pakistan. His mum can’t speak English and rarely leaves the home, so he finds it hard to communicate with her, and she doesn’t understand what is happening in his life.”
This apparently makes “the young boy” vulnerable to “extremism”. Why is it racist? Because there is a baseless and insulting assumption that Muslim women who do not speak English are somehow deficient in their motherhood. There is an arrogant premise that the supreme language of English is the problem-solving lingua franca between a mother and her child which unlocks complete understanding of the child’s life in British society. Except, as “white” teenage pregnancies, teenage suicides, and juvenile delinquency – not to mention the rise of the far-right – show, Cameron’s argument is quite plainly wrong.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed has already conducted an analysis of how Cameron has twisted numbers to exaggerate Muslim female illiteracy. The fundamental issue yet to be properly addressed is, why has Cameron only sought to identify Muslim, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in his analysis of illiteracy? Did he choke on digging out figures about the Jewish community, especially given that Orthodox Jews already make up significant proportion of the Jewish population, and their attitudes to “secular” work is antithetical to Cameron’s colonialist proclamations against Muslim women?
On the 13th of January it was reported that a submission to a government inquiry on radicalisation in faith schools claimed that thousands of Jewish children were at risk of ‘being beaten and prevented from learning English in illegal faith schools’. A day later, a Stamford Hill Jewish school that did not teach English was ordered to close down. Yet we have no mention whatsoever of this particular “connection to extremism” from Cameron.
Cameron elucidating his preposterous claims went further in an interview with BBC Radio 4:
“If you’re not able to speak English… you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh”.
Daesh I assume issues messages in English and Arabic, not in Urdu, Gujrati, Punjabi, Bengali or Mirpuri (as far as I know – and I am not going to research it). But beyond this stupidity is the lurid underlying “civilising the native” discourse. English helps you understand your identity, and cures your vulnerability to propaganda. Again, this is a racist narrative which perpetuates the civilised “West” and “backward other” theme.
Colonialism via Neoconservatism – the Source of Cameron’s rhetoric
The targeting of Muslim women from the subcontinent is not accidental. The source of Cameron’s attack on Muslim women who do not speak English can be traced to arch-British neocon Michael Gove and his neoconservative Muslim securitisation bible. In his book Celsius 7/7, he wrote,
The Cantle report also found that the teaching, and understanding, of English was not encouraged as it should have been… Social and family patterns can also play a part in reinforcing this process of marginalization. There is a greater than average tendency among British Muslims from South Asia backgrounds to marry spouses from the subcontinent… this trend among South Asian Muslims can mean that the family space is less ‘Westernized’ that within other ethnic minority groups. The habits, mores, sexual relations and cultural assumptions within such households are likely to be more traditional, and distant from the rest of contemporary British society. … All these may feed a sense of separateness…”
Gove then goes onto explain that this separateness is then capitalised by “Islamists”. In other words, almost verbatim Cameron has regurgitated Gove’s neoconservative analysis. This analysis draws parallels with the intellectual justifications for colonialism.
The connection between English as being some sort of cure for radicalisation harks back to colonial roots. The Australian professor of language studies, Alastair Pennycook notes,
“Colonialism and postcolonialism struggles have been central to world history over the last two centuries. They have produced and reduced nations, massacred populations, dispossessed people of their land, culture, language and history, shifted vast numbers of people from one place to another. And they are also the ground on which European/Western images of the Self and Other have been constructed, the place where constructions of Superiority and Inferiority were produced. Within this context, ELT (English Language Teaching) needs to be seen not only as a tool in service of Empire but also as a product of Empire. The history of the ties between ELT and colonialism has produced images of the Self and Other…”
Today the English language is used in a political framework which seeks to intellectually cleanse Muslims of “bad beliefs” and bad identities (Islamic ones). Cameron’s neocolonialism is best encapsulated in the 19th Century policy instituted in the Indian subcontinent known as Macaulayism. Named after Thomas Babington Macaulay, it was a policy of destroying indigenous culture and replacing it that of imperial Britain through the education system. The English language was used to achieve this.
Relevant is the colonial rationalisations used to justify this societal destruction.
On 2nd February 1835, Macaulay circulated what has become known as “Macaulay’s minute on India”, which outlined in the most horrendous demonstration of supreme arrogance, the justification for imposing the learning of English:
“The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is, indeed, fully admitted by those members of the Committee who support the Oriental plan of education…. The languages of Western Europe civilized Russia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar.”
In other words, English was constructed as a civilising force for the “backward”; today Cameron’s rationalisations posits English as force for inhibiting “extremism”. The construction of the lack of English in the discourse of “extremism”, or rather state-worshipism, accentuates the “other”, i.e. the “backward”, and the “uncivilised”.
David Cameron and his imperious claims, which forces the placement of religious Muslims outside the cultural “metropole”, exposes the uncomfortably reality that Western liberalism can still cross the boundary into colonialism without much opposition. The liberal journalist and intellectual chatterati like to think they have divulged themselves of the colonialism and racism liberalism manifested in the past. If the last few days are anything to go by, this is patently not the case.
 Gove, M., Celsius 7/7, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 2006, p.125
 Pennycook, A., English and the Discourses of Colonialism, Routledge: London, 1998