I am not sure why the recent statement by the Tory Baroness Warsi that Islamophobia is socially acceptable in the UK has attracted so much media attention (especially as she said something very similar last October) but it has. People either totally agree with her or totally don’t and I think the resulting debate perfectly illustrates the problems with her rather sweeping statements. As a Muslim, many would assume that I totally agree with her about rising acceptance of anti-Islam sentiments but I have my own reservations. I realise that numbered points isn’t the best way to discuss this issue but I just wanted to make some clear and concise points about issues I have with her statement so numbered points work best for me.
First of all, I totally agree with Warsi’s concerns about separating Muslims along the extremists (ie. effectively less ‘assimilated’ Muslim) and the moderates (ie. Muslims who don’t make white people uncomfortable) lines. I totally agree because the separation is unfair, arbitrary and totally misguided. A more ‘Muslim’ Muslim isn’t a more ‘extremist’ one- not at all. I think a focus on this issue could have been really useful as it would be a way to tackle those hidden stereotypes people have about what an ‘extremist Muslim’ actually looks like and believes in. However, Warsi seems to have decided to go down a less considered approach for very broad and useless statements which I think are problematic for the following reasons:
1. How it’s helpful to make these sweeping and unsupported statements about rising Islamophobia? Isn’t the root of Islamophobia that very same thing- sweeping and unsupported statements? Maybe it’s just me but I reckon that society is a lot more complex than Warsi is letting on and maybe there isn’t some countrywide conspiracy to talk Islam down at the dinner table… Clearly, anti-Islam sentiment does exist in the UK just as homophobia, racism, sexism and other prejudice does but they don’t exist totally unrelated from each other or in a vacuum- again I don’t see how it’s useful to talk about the issue in such broad terms.
2. What exactly are her statements based on? [If personal experience than that’s worrying because as a Tory peer I reckon she probably mixes with a very difference crowd of people than your average Muslim.] I know this sounds a little pedantic but I don’t see how she can judge that UK citizens find Islamophobia acceptable just like people can’t look into the minds of every Muslim and judge whether they are moderates and extremists… well unless they reckon they can make that judgement based on appearances but let’s not open that can of worms. Also, last summer I did some research about the representation of Muslim women in women’s magazines which challenged my own assumptions about Islamophobia so I’m a little hesitant to make generalisation based on my own personal experiences or the statements of other Muslims (as Muslims we do have more authority to speak about the Muslim experience but we have to take our experiences with a pinch of salt and some consideration…
3. I think that her statements, contrary to her aims of genuinely opening up the debate, is just gonna make everyone so defensive about proving that they’re not anti-Islam that it’s going to make the debate less transparent, honest and more superficial. I really don’t see what positive and productive things could come from her statements (other than temporary fame and a raised profile for her, of course..)
(Image via Newton Graffiti on flickr.)