Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Tory Intolerance shows its ugly face

For anyone who doesn't read the Northants Evening Telegraph the most important debate currently raging within its pages (and on its web-site) is still going on: Should we ban the Burka?

All the other problems in the UK, and indeed the world, have now been officially solved, so we can now concetrate on this so, so important issue that was kicked off by Kettering's Member of Parliament, Philip Hollohead (sorry Hollobone) who compared the burka to wearing a paper bag over your head. The Evening Telegraph felt this was a bit of a step too far and described it as "insensitive". It wasn't insensitive, it was insulting and intended, quite deliberately, to be so - and to appeal to the worse instincts and prejudices of some the ET's readers. They duely responded as was intended and with such predictable knee-jerk responses, with little reference to fact, logic or indeed basic human rights principles.

Playing the overt "race"-card in a general election is not now acceptable for oh-so-New Conservative Party MPs, but instead a new "coded" game (which, of course, everyone understands is really the same game re-packaged), is being played instead: bash-the-burka.

You can read the opening salvo in this debate at:

It also continues at:


and again at:


In tonight's (9-2-10) Evening Telegraph, after days of prejudice, intolence and even abuse (which was deleted from the ET's web-site eventually!) at last three letters were printed that put across an alternative perspective. I make no apology for printing one of them (from me!):

Mr. Hollobone's explanation for his position on the burka says much more about him than the issue he is pontificating to us on. Why did he find a woman wearing a burka "inappropriate and frankly offensive"? What harm has it done to him? Did he try to speak to her or did he only see the piece of cloth she was wearing? Did he only see the covering and not the human being within? Why did it evoke such strong emotions - look into your heart, Mr. Hollobone, and you may well be frightened as to what you find about yourself! Are we not taught at primary school not to "judge a book by its cover" - as a lesson in understanding prejudice?

A burka is a piece of clothing worn by a very small minority of Muslim women. It is not something I would wear, but it is certainly not offensive, inappropriate or threatening, any more than a Nun's habit, or a Vicar's cassock, or a Sikh's turban or a woman with a scarf, or the Mayor of Wellingborough's garish arctic survival kit that he wears at official ceremonies.

An interesting take on women's "liberation" too. So, you liberate a so-called oppressed minority by ... criminalising or banning what they wear. What a contribution towards increasing freedom and choice - lock them up! Great stuff Mr. Hollobone. I am glad you don't want to "liberate" me from anything!

The more important question is not "should we ban the burka?", but "why has this issue generated so much heat, venom, anger, hostility and downright viciousness and in many cases rampant prejudice?" Are we so weak and unsure about our own identies that we have to attack someone else's? Don't we have more important problems to worry about? Have we not learnt the lessons about what such blind prejudices and populist anger can lead on to?

To be frank I am appalled and horrified by how easy it has been to evoke such an un-British populist outpouring of hatred directed at such a very small minority within our society.



  1. Tell me, how tolerant will you be if the BNP stand in Wellingborough in the general election? Try practicing what you preach and people will have more time for what you say.

  2. On this occasion I have broken with my usual rule of not publishing comments from the BNP.

    My simple answer to this point is as follows:

    I detest the BNP for all that it stands for precisely because of its intolerance and hatred to others. As far as I am aware there is nothing that prevents any decent person standing up to a bully. Indeed the imperative is to stand up and be counted in such circumstances.

    Those who are deserving of tolerance need to show it to others, especially to those who who are vulnerable, expoited, marginalised, and often voiceless and discriminated against.

    I will always be intolerant of intolerance!

  3. Hello,
    Galling, isn't it, to have to listen to the BNP bleating about tolerance as if they sought to represent some sort of oppressed minority.

    Anyway, here's a story for you: A few years ago in Northampton I got into conversation with a woman from France. She was as animated about the burka as some of the Evening Telegraph's correspondents. She said it should be banned on the grounds that it was intimidating trying to communicate with someone that you couldn't see. I said to her, 'You must have terrible trouble talking on the phone.'
    She told me not to be facetious. But I pressed her and asked her what was it about the burka that she found so offensive?
    She said that people who immigrated should just try to fit in to their host nation, as she had done when she arrived in England from France.
    I reminded her that this hadn't always been the French position on international relations. Weren't they once committed to spreading liberty, fraternity egalite around the world, usually at the expense of of the English, stirring up dissent in one or other of their neighbour's colonies.
    Well, she said, you're from Ireland and you haven't caused any offence in Northampton.
    Not yet, I said, but as an Irishman I reserve the right to make a nuisance of myself anywhere at anytime.

    I remember when the sight of dreadlocks was enough to send your average Daily Mail reader into paroxysm of rage, because they were considered a sign of black militancy. Today dreadlocks are a common feature of the UK'c cultural landscape and I suspect that one day burkas will be to.

    As you say, The more important question is not "should we ban the burka?", but "why has this issue generated so much heat, venom, anger, hostility and downright viciousness and in many cases rampant prejudice?"