17/10/2006

Like shooting swivel-eyed fish in a barrel

Melanie Phillips' column in the Mail is always good for a laugh. Well, I say laugh - I mean 'look at with raised eyebrows and a mouth formed into an O of astonished terror - like watching a schoolbus full of children drive over a cliff'. Taking apart her column is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I'm going to do it today because, well, I likes a bit of fish, dun't I?

Yesterday's column opens with a nice little bit of water-muddying to create an argument. She says:
Suddenly , Britain seems to be developing into a cultural and religious battleground.
She supports this argument by setting up three things that have undeniably happened and pitting them against confected strawman arguments as the opponents on the 'battleground'. (Notice also that none of the dodgy opposing army in her made up battle are of the calibre of Government Ministers, so the battle would already be one sided, even if the opposing army weren't made entirely of straw, which it is).

First of all, she says, "British Airways is being sued for religious discrimination after it required a Christian woman employee to conceal her cross while permitting other faiths to wear turbans, hijabs or Hindu bangles." which confuses the actual issue and makes it look as though the woman was told not to wear a cross because it's a cross. This is rubbish. She was told not to wear a cross because it's jewellery, and visible jewellery isn't allowed without permission. Wearing a visible cross is not and has never been a requirement in Christianity in the same way that turbans, hijabs and Hindu bangles are for some Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus - hence their not being exempt. Next!

Secondly, she says, "This echoed the controversy earlier this month when the BBC agonised over whether newsreader Fiona Bruce should wear a small cross on a chain in case it might cause offence." What controversy? I never heard about it. Anyway, Fiona Bruce wasn't told not to wear her cross, although the matter was apparently discussed by managers, and she decided to remove it herself.

She carries on with a paragraph that includes a few weird statements that come from that special part of the atmosphere that you can only tune into if you have a Melanie Phillips potato, colander and tinfoil hat:
How can Britain have arrived at a situation where it is seriously argued that a class of children who don’t speak English as their first language should be taught by a shrouded woman whose expression they can’t see and whose voice they can’t even hear properly — while the BBC thinks that wearing the symbol of Britain’s established religion might be offensive?
Quick answer - it hasn't, you bozo.

Longer answer - class of children who don't speak English as a first language? The entire class? Where? Voice they can't even hear properly? How's that then? Got any actual evidence for either of these claims? Thought not. Got any evidence for how the BBC thinks about the matter of wearing a cross, beyond knowing that some execs thought it was a bad idea? Didn't think you'd have that either.

Next:
The source of this confusion is a profound loss of national, cultural and religious nerve. The Christian values that once defined national identity have simply collapsed[...]
Now she's just being silly. I mean, really. Christian Head of State (who is also head of a Cristian denomination), Christian Prime Minister (Christian by law, by the way), largely Christian cabinet, Christian Bishops given automatic seats in the Lords, blasphemy law that applies only to Christianity, majority Christian population - and yet Christian values have collapsed. The who in the what now?

Next:
Those who defend the Muslim veil are grossly misreading the situation. It is not some picturesque religious garment equivalent to the often curious attire worn by members of other religions.
Who's said the 'picturesque religious garment' thing and when? Nobody, that's who. I wonder if Phillips has ever met an opponent who wasn't made entirely of straw.

Next part of that paragraph:
It is associated instead with the most extreme version of Islam, which holds that Islamic values must take precedence over the secular state.
This is just bonkers! Has she forgotten that she herself was arguing that an explicitly religious definition of national identity should take precedence over the 'secular state' just one paragraph ago? Why is it only extremist when people think Islamic values should take precedence over the state, but not when Judeo-Christian values should? She has also clearly forgotten that the UK is NOT a secular state. It's explicitly Christian, as outlined above. Or is it that in the Phillipsosphere, 'secular' and 'Christian' are interchangeable?

Next:
Only a small minority of British Muslim women choose to wear this veil. But unlike other religious attire, it is thus inherently separatist and perceived by some as intimidatory. That is why it is unacceptable.
It's separatist because it's worn by a minority? That's what the 'thus' suggests, but it can't be that, because only a small minority of British Christian women (a minority of one, as far as I'm aware) feel it's necessary to their faith to display a cross, but they're not being called separatist. Or pehaps the 'perceived by some as intimidatory' is the important part of the sentence. In which case, Phillips presumably thinks people who wear hoodies or have visible tattoos are separatists.

Away from the Phillipsosphere and in reality, the actual women in question here were attending constituency sessions with their local MP, thus participating in the democratic process and not actually being separatist, or assisting in a class in a Church of England school, thus participating in wider society and not actually being separatist. In fact, I can't think of a better example of integration than the latter. You know someone holds an irrational prejudice when they can state a view that is directly contradicted by actual evidence.


Next, we get to see why it is irresponsible and devisive for Government Ministers to make the pronouncements they have over the last few weeks:
Belatedly, there seems to be a dawning recognition in Government of the extreme danger into which British society has been placed both by the doctrine of multiculturalism, [...] Hence Mr Woolas’s remarks, the show of ministerial support for Jack Straw [...]
If Government Ministers spout Islamophobic drivel, extremist right-wing anti Islamic nutjobs will think their views are justified, as evidenced here.

Next:
opinion polls reveal that between 40 and 60 per cent of British Muslims want to live under sharia law[...]
Which opinion polls are these, and what definition of 'sharia law' were they using? Are the poll respondents using the same definition? See, the Qu'ran is much like the Bible in that its text can be interpreted in different ways, so sharia law to some will mean a different thing than to others. A bit like how Phillips wants our society to be more explicitly Judeo-Christian without wanting adultresses to be stoned to death (I presume). The next part of the sentence about areas of cities becoming sharia enclaves is just an unsupported assertion.

I'll skip the next paragraph, because the one following it is so priceless:
Faith schools would be forced to turn away children of their own religion in favour of others who would significantly dilute the cultural and religious identity of the school. And can anyone really see non-Muslim parents being forced to send their children to Muslim schools where — as one Muslim headmaster has already declared — non-Muslim girls would have to wear the hijab?
Right, so, you're a separatist if you're a Muslim who assists at a Church of England school, but you're not if you argure that 'the cultural and religious identity' of faith schools should remain undiluted by separating them from people of other faiths. I think my Melanie Phillips hat needs a coathanger or something, because there is no way I could ever see how actually arguing that people should be separated from one another is not separatist, while actually mixing with another culture is separatist - no matter what you're bloody wearing.

Next:
But the problem lies deeper still. It is not so much separatism as a desire in some quarters to Islamise Britain.
Read that again. Islamise Britain. Now play some creepy music in your head when you read it. Islamise Britain. Scary isn't it? I feel I should say why this is stupid just for form's sake. What quarters are trying to [cue the creepy music - maybe the background music from the old Crimestoppers adverts] Islamise Britain, and are they capable of it? Women wearing the niqab make up about only 5 percent of Muslim women, who make up roughly 1.5 percent of the population, I'd say maybe not, since that translates to about 0.075 percent of the entire population.

Next:
Mohammed Abdul Bari, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain, has said explicitly that he wants to encourage Britain to adopt Islamic traditions, including arranged marriages, and can’t see any reason why anyone should object.
Arranged marriages aren't just an Islamic tradition, you maroon. It amazes me that someone can argue so vociferously for the adoption of one set of religious traditions and at the same time demonise someone else for doing the same thing with their set of religious traditions. Aside from arranged marriages, what 'Islamic traditions' are Mohammed Abdul Bari arguing should be adopted? Are they that different from Judeo-Christian ones? Let's see, shall we? From the actual interview on the Telegraph website, we can see he said:
He thinks that non-Muslim Britons would benefit from having arranged marriages and espousing stronger family values; they would also do well to stop drinking and gambling and to follow many of the teachings of Islam.
Ooh. Scary. Espousing stronger family values and stopping drinking and gambling. That's controversial.

Next:

Unsurprisingly, the MCB is now accusing ministers of being ‘Islamophobic’.
Yes, unsurprisingly. Because they fucking are.

Now, remember the next paragraph, particularly this sentence:
Certainly, it is vital to prevent the demonisation of all Muslims.
Because when she goes on to say:
The recent disturbances in Windsor sounded an urgent alarm. The Muslim owner of a dairy in the town applied for planning permission to turn it into a mosque and Islamic centre. Although the council turned down the application, locals say the owner ignored this and extremist worshippers regularly turned up in the dairy to pray.
She clearly thinks she's not demonising these Muslims by calling them 'extremist' for praying. And when she says:
Trouble flared when a 15-year-old non-Muslim boy was attacked outside the ‘mosque’. When the boy’s mother and 18-year-old sister arrived to remonstrate, they were apparently set upon by people, allegedly from within the building, wielding iron bars and pitchforks.
She clearly thinks she's not demonising these Muslims by completely taking the opposing side at face value and not once wondering whether the Muslims here started an unprovoked attack, en masse. And when she says:
This set in train four nights of disturbances when, according to the police, both white racists and Muslim extremists muscled in and the dairy was firebombed.
She thinks she's not demonising the Muslims by blaming them for being attacked and firebombed.

And that, my friends is bullshit.

Next:
In a further unrelated but disturbing development in the town, four British soldiers returning from Afghanistan were forced to abandon a house they were planning to rent after threats and intimidation by Muslims. And all this in the heart of the Home Counties.
Yes, this would be disturbing. If it in fact happened. The story appears to be made up. From the local paper, we have the story ''No religion was labelled' responsible for vandalism':

REPORTS that soldiers were driven out of a Berkshire village by racists have been disputed by Thames Valley Police. [...] The caller said that the soldiers were not welcome because houses in the road are expensive - around £600,000 - and that the soldiers presence might lower property values. [...] He added: "Inquiries carried out to date conclude that there is no evidence to suggest that this was racially motivated. The MoD has also informed me that Combermere Barracks did not receive any threatening calls from Muslims or people claiming to be Muslims in relation to this incident."


So, in a shocking unexpected turn of events, Phillips believed shonky reports that blamed Muslims without checking the facts. And Muslims are not demonised in a country where national newspapers can publish stories wrongly attributing crimes to Muslims without retracting them.

The next three paragraphs show Phillips yet again argue for religious values to take precedence over the secular in a similar way to her imagined opponents. There is one choice quote here, "Local councils have abolished Christmas as offensive." No they haven't. One local council has started using a different word. Something I think is stupid - but not the same as abolishing Christmas. And that's a move towards the secular values you pretend to revere, you buffoon.

Next:
The most grotesque example of all, however, is surely the proposal to build the largest mosque in Europe on the site of the Olympic village in east London. The most prominent landmark on the Olympic site, it is intended to symbolise Islamic power in Britain.
Really, it's the most prominent landmark on the site, is it? More prominent than any of the sports facilities and stadia? And how does she know it's meant to symbolise anything? Where does she get this from? And saying that plans to build a big mosque are 'grotesque' doesn't demonise Muslims, presumably.
Worse still, it is being funded by the Tablighi Jamaat, said by French intelligence and the FBI to be the most significant recruiters for Al Qaeda in Europe.
I'd like to see the evidence for both assertions. I might dig into it, but it seems pointless to actually make any effort to shoot down this nutjob's arguments when it's perfectly possible to do so without having to.

Next:
And to cap it all, within a mile of the site, the largest church in Europe — the Kingsway International Christian Centre — has been compulsorily purchased and is about to come down.
And it's being pulled down by radical Islamists, is it? Whoops! Didn't think so. It's amazing that someone can say an incident of racial unrest is totally unrelated to wider tensions in the same town while at the same time implying some connection between these two things.

Plus, the KICC is not Church of England, but evangelical. Or, extremist, you might say - if you used the same criteria to describe extremism as Phillips does for Muslims. And there's this from the KICC website:
It is our vision to build a 10,000-seater church building and a four floor office - a state-of-the art facility providing:
10,000 seats for worship; 1,000 place children's church; 600 place teenage church; a counselling and prayer centre; class rooms for Bible School; 100 place nursery; 400-seater restaurant; a fully equipped gym. A place for the total healing of the total man and the total nation. We stand here today to proclaim with confidence that these dreams will come to reality because they are inspired by God.
Presumably, this is not bad.

And, from Wikipedia:
In October 2005 the Charity Commission of England and Wales released its Inquiry Report on the KICC (aka The King's Ministry Trust) [...] On the basis of its initial findings, the Commission concluded that there was serious misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the Charity and that the Charity’s property was at risk. Ashimolowo acted as both paid employee and trustee of the church against UK charity law and was responsible for approving payments and benefits to himself and his wife, Yemisi. Benefits received included free accommodation for himself and family, a £120,000 birthday party including an £80,000 car, over half a million pounds paid out to Ashimolowo's private companies, which were operated from church property and purchase of a Florida timeshare property.
I would say that I presume Phillips thinks this is not bad either, but I bet eight million dollars she wasn't even aware of it, because for Phillips, Christian is good and to be trusted while Islam is to be feared and checked at every turn. That's not demonisation though. Oh no.

Next:
What greater symbol can there be of the retreat of Christianity and its replacement by militant Islam? This is why the argument over the place of the veil and the cross in public life is so significant. This is not about prejudice or discrimination. It is about cultural survival.
What a fucking load of shit. It's about prejudice pure and simple. I've never read such a poorly argued rant, including so many fallacies and such abundant evidence of prejudice as this. Argung for Islamic values is wrong, but arguing for Christian ones isn't. Saying people should be separated is not separatist, but mixing with others is. Ascribing malign intent to the actions of Muslims while ignoring the corruption of Christians is not demonising Muslims. Ignoring plans to build a massive church while assigning evil intent to plans to build a massive mosque is not demonising Muslims. Do me a favour, you crazy effing loon.

2 comments:

John Brissenden said...

Excellent post. Shooting fish in a barrel, as you say, but draining work nonetheless.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Draining it is. The only way to make yourself feel better is with a liberal sprinkling of swear-words.

Cheers though!