Sunday, October 08, 2006
Lifting the veil on Enlightenment/British/European/Western/liberal values. posted by Richard SeymourDuring the furore over the Danish cartoons, the most excited and infuriated people in the whole world were the Viking Jihadists, Voltairean Fundamentalists and the Muscular Defenders of Western Values. In that wilderness of inanity, Henry Porter of the Observer stood out - and today still stands out - as the most inarticulate, baffled, strident and remonstrative voice. Porter is off on a renewed Islamophobic rant today, as have many of the usual suspects. Those usual suspects also include Rod Liddle, who is perpetually outraged at the strictures allegedly applied to him by black women, who - alongside nefarious liberal allies - actually regulate the discourse in this country to the extent that he can't accuse black women of committing lots of crime. Liddle is a British nationalist who, during his days at Radio 4, tried to crowbar the BNP into every available spot or niche, but so distrustful is he of non-white people, particularly female non-white people, that when he appeared on the BBC to chat with Salma Yaqoob about this 'veil' business the other day, he could hardly bring himself to look at her except to inform her that she was being oppressed by wearing the hijab. He would not be persuaded that Salma was choosing to wear it because she actually wanted to, and would not hear it said that her husband and father were actually quite decent on the whole. Anyway, Liddle twittered on in his oafish way about the things that he is not allowed to say, while the BBC's two presenters advocated for Mr Straw, implying that he too was not being allowed to say what he had in fact said rather vocally. If people like Liddle, and Julie Burchill, and Charles Moore, and Melanie Phillips, and Richard Littlejohn, and any number of self-pitying reactionaries are not allowed to say what they in fact say regularly and for reasonably sums of money, I have to wonder at what point I will get to see them and their paymasters shot at dawn by their alleged oppressors?
Back to Henry Porter. He's at it again today, and this time he's really, terribly angry. He doesn't know where to begin - I really suspect his bombastic editor has had to decide for him today. "Bollocks, Henry, start by saying Straw was right! Then fucking go off on one, chum!" So, Porter starts by saying that Straw was right, and then goes off on one. He doesn't want to deny the rights of Muslim women, but "the veil, like it or not, has become increasingly regarded as a symbol of separatist aspiration and of female subservience". How the jilbab or burqa is regarded - by liberal columnists - is therefore instantly elevated to primary importance. "Many wear it voluntarily," he concedes, but this doesn't cause him to notice that it must therefore not be a symbol of oppression to those people. They, who hide behind mobile tents (and what do they have to hide), have no inherent right to narrate.
He lives in a mixed area, and has finally started to notice those who were presumably no more than mobile street furniture before, and declares: "I object to this one group of people holding itself apart". They who will not integrate, who will not take part, who somehow, inexplicably, withdraw from liberal values. Porter doesn't want to give the impression that he is a rather ignorant and overpaid white guy who avoids ebondark associates like the plague, so he describes his contact with those of darker hue: "I drink coffee in a cafe which is run by an Israeli and his Eritrean wife. I buy newspapers from Sri Lankans, deposit my cheques with a Nigerian in Lloyds TSB, buy fruit and vegetables from Greek Cypriots, eat at a Lebanese restaurant run by Shias, have my hair cut by a Turk and use the chemist run by three young Muslims, whose origin I do not know." This utterly unremarkable commercial traffic is "moving" to Porter. I mean, I've heard of covering one's racist ass before, but I've never heard the excuse "yeah, but some of my best commerce is done with black people". Unsurprisingly, those whom Porter is familiar enough with to have a conversation (the guy who cuts his hair and his wife) agree with him about everything, precisely as imaginary friends always do.
He explains why he singles out female wearers of a particular Muslim garb: "wearing a veil in a largely secular society says something about the woman's position in her marriage and probably prevents her from engaging with that society properly and so enjoying the rights of other women". Once again, what the 'veil' "says" to him, and what it "probably" signifies is of primary importance. But mark the sequel, or non-sequitur: "We have a problem with radicalised Muslims in Europe." The chain of association is thus: Muslim women, veil, radicalised Muslims. That problem, anyway, is that "liberal democracies are already under attack from sections of their Muslim populations" and "radical elements have been empowered by al-Qaeda's terrorist campaign and feel able to insist on the watering down of liberal democratic values in Europe with the hope that Sharia law will eventually be established." So, now we have proceeded from Muslim women refusing to integrate, secluding themselves, being unpleasantly off-on-their-own and hoity-toity, to Muslims bringing in Sharia law.
Porter then goes on to complain of Muslim censorship - even though a number of the cases he cites are not cases of censorship and those that are do not result from Muslim censorshop. But "the Muslim population of Europe is a small percentage of the total. Why should the majority of Europeans have their culture judged and trimmed by this tiny, clamorous minority?" So now it is "the Muslim population of Europe", rather than "radicalised Muslims". Notice, once more, how quickly and with little fuss the shift is made. And to finish off, Porter cites two Danish authors, political moderates, who say we're being terribly naive about the whole Islam thing, and that we are too scared out of our minds by 'political correctness' to recognise the threat. The authors are Karen Jespersen and Ralf Pittelkow, the former a spin doctor for the Danish equivalent of New Labour, the latter a right-wing Jyllandsposten writer, both vocal and hardline immigration-bashers.
But this makes sense: the thrust of Porter's piece is that political moderation now means taking on "the Muslim population of Europe", this "tiny, clamorous minority" who need to have Porter "explain the purpose of liberal democracy" to them. Derangement and paranoia are now centrist political positions. Liberal racism is resuscitated, and the long, dark tyranny of uppity working class black women telling middle class white male columnists what they may say will soon be over. The Muslims, with their integrative predilections, and their clever-clever veils and secrets, plot to bring about Sharia law. But the plot stands exposed, and it will be spoken of whatever the "clamorous minority" says. Such is the message of Observer liberalism today.