Monday, 11 February 2008

It's Islamaphobia, Stupid

Without getting into the detail of the Archbishop’s intervention around different legal systems for different religious groups, the more interesting issue arising from this fiasco is the way it illustrates the extent of Islamaphobia in the UK today, and how rapidly British society is back-tracking on its commitment to respect diversity and to integrate new communities (and some – such as Muslims - who are not so new!).

One would have thought, by the reaction to Dr Rowan Williams’ proposals, that he was suggesting the end of British civilisation as we know it and the destruction of all that is dear. In fact all he was proposing (rightly or wrongly – and I think wrongly!) was that Muslims enjoy the same rights that are currently enjoyed by Christians (as the established church enjoying centuries old traditions of Ecclesiastical Law) and the Jewish community, who have parallel arrangements for dealing with Jewish family or civil law that is at least 100 years old. Having parallel legal traditions for civil law (particularly family law) was well established by the British when ruling India and the secular Indian state still has separate family law jurisdictions for Hindus and Muslims. So his proposals were not radical afterall, just miss-timed during a period in which anything suggesting Muslims may want to do some things differently is seen as either a threat or (in SUN-speak) "daft". Remember the simialr hysteria not so long ago over headscarves and the Burka?

But this row is really about something very different and much more serious. In the current climate it is almost impossible to suggest any accommodation to Muslim sensitivities without being accused of treason or being someone undermining "British" traditions or values (even if its blatently not true). What is being whipped up is Islamaphobia pure and simple and it must be stopped in its tracks! It may be Muslims today (and they are currently the vicitims of a rising tide of racist attacks and vilification), but watch out - other minorities will also come under threat as the frenzy intensifies against “the other”. This is the real danger in the situation and it is time that all people of good will, who believe in a society grounded in toleration, respect for difference, human rights and equality, stand up against those who wish to ferment more hatred, resulting in even more isolation and alienation within the Muslim and other minority communities.

If Dr. Williams can be labelled a “supporter of terrorism” by the SUN, watch out, YOU (and me) might be next. Therein lies the road to tyranny.

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