Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sky News report on "The Veil Debate"

This report starts by describing popular attitudes to Muslims as being demonisation comparable to anti-semitism and racist views of Blacks; Muslims are apparently the "apparition you use to scare your children with". Its examples for this trend are Tony Blair's support for Jack Straw's comments on the veil and John Reid's call for Muslim parents to watch their children for signs of radicalism. At one point it actually intersperses ministerial comments with fairground ghouls. Painting someone you disagree with as a racist is a lot easier than engaging with their arguments isn't it?

They then skip to the "direct impact on the streets"; an attack on a veiled woman in Liverpool. What isn't mentioned in the report (but is in the BBC story) is that this attack consisted of one, silver-haired so probably old, man tearing the veil from a woman's face while screaming racist abuse. This is a deeply unpleasant act but is shocking rather than brutal, too isolated to be a direct result of an item of national news and does not imply that Jack Straw should have remained silent.

The analysis it offers as to why there has been such a change in the Labour party's stance is, essentially, that these MPs represent bi-cultural communities where political correctness "will not wash". The representative they choose for this un-PC community is a BNP councillor. By doing this the report again tars all those who dislike the veil's social impact, even a majority of Britons, with the brush of being racist BNP sympathisers. Unfortunately by choosing the BNP as a representative of the broadly held view that the veil is a problem Sky News has done that party's PR work for them.

Next up is someone from the Fabian society to argue that this has taken place because Labour can't understand religious diversity. Again, it argues that dislike of the veil can only be a result of ignorance. Strange then that some of those speaking out against the veil have been Muslim.

Finally, it signs off with the notion that the message the government offers to Muslims it hopes to integrate "boils down to 'shop your children to the police and don't wear the veil'" which is absurd. John Reid didn't even mention the police; merely suggesting that Muslim parents should be careful of possible radical influences on their children.

Not a second was given for the opinions of those mainstream voices, people like Salman Rushdie or Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who argue that the veil acts to disempower women, there was no attempt to engage with the idea coming from Jack Straw that it might be an obstacle to interaction between communities and there was no critical examination of the niqab as a part of being a Muslim rather than a cultural/political statement as many have argued. The report was followed instead by an interview with Tony Benn describing this as an example of the 9/11 conspiracists favourite political theory; that governments need to scare their subjects into line.

In place of the debate this report was supposed to showcase we had a wall of ad hominem attacks on the motives of one side. How on Earth can anyone possibly still maintain the view that regulation keeps our news media objective and unbiased? All this report could possibly achieve is to convince Muslims that they are under attack and critics of the veil that debate is being stifled by the main stream media. It will contribute to the atmosphere of distrust that it purports to oppose.

1 comment:

Gracchi said...

Isn't there a real issue here as well about the treatment of Muslim women in the veil issue but also in regard to the language issue and honour killings?