Culture


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 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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Just a quick post: I’m wondering about two glaring contradictions in Tory thought right now that I just cannot understand. Why introduce a change to the child benefit system that will penalise one income households most, given that Tories have long believed that one parent (read: the mother) should stay at home and not work in order to bring up the kids? (more…)