06 October 2006

Choosing sides - 3

These postings seem to multiply in an amoeba fashion but choosing sides is something we all have to do internally as well as externally. Several stories have come up in the last couple of days that require a certain amount of comment.

The Evening Standard today [alas, a website on which you cannot find anything at all] reports two cases of licensed minicab drivers being fined for refusing to take guide dogs in their cars. The reason given was that, being Muslims, they find dogs dirty and offensive.

One of the ladies who was refused to be taken in a cab, which had been summoned by the BBC after she had appeared on News 24, Jane Vernon, complained to the owner of the minicab firm, who, apparently, told her that she should show more respect for other people’s culture. She, in turn, pointed out that the driver had shown no respect for her disability.

Now, this could develop into one of those Human Rights Competitions, as our excellent colleague, Pub Philosopher, calls them but there is a serious issue at stake. It is not dissimilar from the other story that hit the headlines yesterday: the Muslim police officer, with the Lebanese wife who was relieved from his duties outside the Israeli embassy when he raised various personal problems with his superiors. (One rather wonders who leaked the story to the press and just how PC Basha had managed to annoy his colleagues in the past.)

PC Basha and his various supporters, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, who is totally convinced of the British media being in Zionist hands, have not been able to make up their minds exactly why he did not want to do his duty.

On the one hand, there is the question of his wife’s family in Lebanon and, allegedly, PC Basha was worried about their safety. Well, maybe. At least, one can have some sympathy for that, until one recalls that it would take some time and effort for the Hezbollah in Lebanon to work out who he is, to find out when he is outside the Israeli embassy, to work out who his wife’s family are and where they are. In fact, police officers who escort gangland criminals have far greater reasons for being worried.

But that was only one reason and the argument changed very quickly to moral outrage. Apparently, PC Basha was “justified” in being morally outraged by Israeli bombing of Lebanon and, therefore, had every right to ask his superiors to relieve him from duty. I have no desire to go into the rights and wrongs of that bombing. That is not the issue. A police officer has no right to moral outrage when on duty. It is as simple as that.

Furthermore, PC Basha volunteered to serve in the diplomatic protection unit, which is better paid than the ordinary plods are. He need not have done so. What next? Muslim police officers refusing to serve outside No 10 Downing Street because they have been told to disapprove of Tony Blair’s foreign policy?

This is where the saga of the minicab drivers becomes more than just another Human Rights Competition. As the editorial in the Evening Standard points out “the taxi drivers’ acceptance of licences obliged them to carry guide dogs”. And that is really that.

You do not have to be a minicab driver and you do not have to be in the special police unit. But if you are, you obey the rules. That is part of being British or, at the very least, living in this country and being part of this society. There are plenty of benefits but there are also obligations.

The Muslim organizations are doing neither themselves nor other Muslims any favours by shrieking that this is discrimination. Discrimination would be not accepting applications from Muslims to become police officers and stories like that of PC Basha and his vociferous “supporters” will make people think that they are justified in advocating such a development.

While the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, has come out strongly on the police issue, we have had nothing but ridiculous bleating from Oliver Leftwing, the Conservative policy chief on the third story of the day, Jack Straw’s comments about his constituents and the veil.

According to Mr Leftwing, the Leader of the House of Commons seeks to deprive Muslim women of the right to wear the veil. In actual fact, Jack Straw has explained that he asks his female Muslim constituents to lift the veil when they come to see him, ensuring every time that there is another woman present. Should they refuse to do so, he would not insist. However, none has refused so far.

Once again, I refer my readers to Pub Philosopher, who points out the difference between Jack Straw’s polite request and the constant demands we get from “angry” Muslims: cartoons, comments, plays, operas, the Pope, you name it.

Jack Straw is now reported as saying that Muslim women should think of discarding the veil as this would ease communication between various communities. Indeed, it would, as anyone who has had to watch women in veils negotiate streets, shopping or the tube would agree. This is not a particularly new idea, incidentally. Discarding the veil was high on Kemal Atatürk’s priorities and was seen as a sine qua non by all Islamic reformer of the nineteenth and twentieth century.

The veil is not like the headscarf or even the full hiljab, difficult though the latter is for women in the modern world to manage. It is something that separates Muslim women from society. Although we have had outraged comments about the veil being integral to Muslim well-being, these are noticeably, mostly, from men. The few female voices were the inevitable spokespersons, such as Dr Reefat Drabu, chairwoman of social and family affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, who trotted out the usual bromide about problems that alienate women [presumably she means Muslim women] having to do with foreign policy “and no one seems to take any notice of it”. Well, they might if some of those women were actually allowed to speak openly without a quango-queen go-between. But then, they might say the wrong things.

There is considerable debate among Muslim worthies about the veil. The Koran makes no particular mention of it, calling on women simply to draw their outer garments around them when they go “abroad” among people.

The veil is a cultural development and, for a time, existed in many societies who have discarded it. It remains part of the Arab culture, though not in every country. It is not and has never been part of the culture of the Indian sub-continent. Nor can it be possibly part of the culture of girls and women who were born and brought up in Britain.

The indignation is largely bogus. It may be motivated by that famous Islamic “anger” or it may be motivated by a desire to keep women subjugated. I recall an article by Yasmin Alibhai Brown in which she called for a ban on the burqua, which can and often does hide the signs of violence against women.

Another motivation is the desire on the part of some people to prevent true integration of the Muslim population of this country. They may be people who believe that Britain like other European countries must become part of the Islamic world or they may be people who are worried about their own power slipping away as individual Muslims claim their place in British society. Of course, that place involves acceptance of the law as well as various privileges.

Somehow, I don’t think this will be much of a problem for those women of Burnley who were relieved to lift their veils and talk to their MP genuinely face to face.