There is a myth doing the rounds in all the commentary on the post-Brexit fallout, one that is slowly congealing into something resembling a ‘fact’. This myth is that Labour voters, turning their backs on the party in droves, delivered a Leave win.

Obviously, many voters in hitherto safe Labour seats did vote to leave the EU, and therefore contributed to the result – but the way people are talking these days it would appear to be only Labour that failed to persuade their voters to follow it. But remember that every single mainstream political party bar UKIP advocated remain, and therefore every single one of them failed to a greater or lesser extent – even the SNP, as we shall see.

In fact, as analysis of the referendum vote by YouGov has shown, 65% of Labour voters from the last election voted to remain. This means that more Labour voters voted to remain than those of any party in the UK. (more…)

It is now over a month since the murderous attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo; since the ensuing siege, the solidarity marches and vigils, the seemingly endless outpourings of opinion and comment; and a month since the publication of the special issue of Charlie, financed by the French state to the tune of 3 million copies. The dust has settled somewhat, the news cycle has moved on, but the reverberations continue to thrum in the background.

Typically, the cover image of this special issue was controversial. It portrays the Prophet Muhammad holding a ‘Je suis Charlie’ placard and shedding a tear. The caption above him reads ‘All is forgiven’. If the wording is ambiguous – who is forgiven? Who is doing the forgiving? – the image is ambivalent. It simultaneously distances the Prophet and, by extension, ‘ordinary’ Muslims from the terrorists that committed this atrocity in his name, and at the same it mocks those same ‘ordinary’ Muslims by offending their belief that the Prophet should not be visually represented. This doubleness – some might call it duplicity – warrants further investigation because it raises some very important and awkward moral questions that have not yet been posed.

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My new book, Islam and Controversy: The Politics of Free Speech after Rushdie was published earlier this month, and I thought I would alert people to it, and to a couple of articles I wrote to accompany its publication. There is one I wrote for politics.co.uk  (I’m not totally happy about the title, but that was out of my hands), and one for The Conversation. Please feel free to link, tweet, re-tweet, facebook them or whatever.

With the piece for The Conversation, I have been involved in an in-depth debate with the writer and free speech campaigner Kenan Malik in the comments section. Have a look and see what you think and do feel free to join in. The more that people debate these questions, the better.

On Monday night, as the riots spread throughout London, the Home Secretary – freshly returned from her holiday – looked like the proverbial bunny trapped in the headlights of oncoming disaster. She seemed to have lost the facility of coherent speech, repeating again and again the same mantra: the riots were ‘sheer criminality and thuggery’ which are ‘completely unacceptable’, and for which there can be ‘no justification’. The thing is, what is the point of saying this? It is entirely obvious that the riots were acts of wanton criminal damage, and nobody was suggesting that they were in any way ‘acceptable’ or justified. The argument was reprised by the hapless Nick Clegg on his visit to Tottenham when he said, ‘It was needless, opportunist theft and violence – nothing more, nothing less.’ (By the way, there was an almost classic Thick of It moment when he was confronted by one resident who asked if the cuts would mean that this would now happen all over the UK; Clegg, clearly at a loss, responded with a less-than-resounding ‘Um, I don’t think so…’ Wrong, already.)

The trope that is emerging that there is ‘no justification’ for the riots, or that the violence is ‘sheer criminality’ – ‘no more, no less’ – is a ruse designed to close down explanations. Its purpose is to deliver a paradox, namely that the only explanation is there is no explanation. This suits the politicians very well indeed, because it diverts us away from awkward questions about the relationship of these events to the austerity programme; about the growing inequality and lack of opportunity that have built up over three decades of neo-liberal capitalist fundamentalism; about whether the anger being vented on the streets of the capital might not, in fact, be not so far removed from the anger that so many of us continue to feel about the bankers bringing our economy to the brink of collapse and then getting away with it (and being handsomely rewarded for it too) – after all, it is completely patronising to suppose these young men and women on the streets do not share this completely ubiquitous sense of unfairness; about whether, deep beneath the ‘mindless thuggery’ there might not, in fact, be an explanation after all.

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I don’t often agree with Baronness Warsi: our politics are too different in almost every respect; but, credit where it is due, she gave a brave speech some weeks ago denouncing how prejudice against Muslims had passed the dinner table test and become acceptable in a way other prejudices are not.

So it is disappointing that the Prime Minster’s speech to a security conference in Munich today will further legitimise such prejudices by its illogical, incoherent and contradictory attempt to define “acceptable” and “unacceptable” Muslims not according to their propensity to use violent and criminal means to achieve their political ends, but according to some calculus of cultural proximity or otherwise to some putative (and mythical) set of ‘British’ values – in other words, according to how culturally similar or different ‘they’ are from ‘us’.

As with much else, Cameron’s claim that this marks a radical departure from the previous government’s ‘fear and muddled thinking by backing a state-sponsored form of multiculturalism,’ is a rhetorical ruse which obscures the reality of continuity, for the hallmarks of the previous government’s approach were to blame multiculturalism for creating ‘segregated communities’ that did not share ‘British values’ of liberalism, tolerance and equality etc., etc. They too sought to define ‘moderate’ (good, acceptable) versus ‘extremist’ (bad, unacceptable) Muslims using ‘British values’ and other nebulous terms such as ‘way of life’ as yardsticks. If this were university assignment Cameron would be hauled up for plagiarism.

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The next series of The Thick of It is, apparently, some way off yet, but political comedy is thriving this year already if the responses – both journalistic and political – to the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election are anything to go by. For the record, Labour won this seat in May by just 103 votes, with the Lib Dems coming second. Unfortunately, the Labour MP was the odious Phil Woolas whose musical instrument of choice is the dog whistle. Mr Woolas concocted a pack of outright lies about his Lib Dem opponent, who cried foul and won in the courts. Exit Mr Woolas, enter just about anyone who’s anyone in British politics onto the streets of Oldham (solid Labour) and neighbouring pretty villages (Lib Dem and Tory) in order to contest this first by-election since the election and thus, inevitably, political barometer – and in an interesting marginal that could have gone three ways to boot. You can see the actual results from last night here.

So, enough of the back-story. The first comedians off the blocks were the BBC’s own Lana Kuenssberg and Micheal Crick on Newsnight. Both were heard to say, on national television, that things were ‘pretty tight’ and Labour were nervous. Well, if winning by 10% is ‘tight’ I’d hate to think what these two consider a walkover; maybe even the 99.9% victories enjoyed by certain Arab dictators would struggle to qualify.

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The following book review first appeared in the magazine The Middle East in London, vol.7 no.4 October 2010 p.17.

Emma Tarlo, Visibly Muslism: Fashion, Politics, Faith (Oxford: Berg, 2010)

Emma Tarlo’s first book was entitled Clothing Matters, and this would not have been inappropriate for her latest work because no other items of clothing matter more in our contemporary world than those garments that mark out the wearer as ‘visibly Muslim’. In particular, garments worn by visibly Muslim women have gathered around them cultural and political significances and associations that situate them at the core of some of the key debates of our time: immigration and integration, multiculturalism, the role of religion in public life, political extremism, and, of course, the vexed relationship between ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’. In this timely book, Tarlo shows with great skill, subtlety and nuance how hijabs, niqabs, jilbabs, abayas and so on are not – and never can be – just simple pieces of cloth that wearers either choose to wear or not; rather, they are ‘overdetermined’ markers of identity and otherness; vehicles of history and tradition; emblems of moral rectitude; symbols of oppression; political statements; and ideological investments.

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