Tuesday, March 20, 2007 

Scum-watch: Veiled exclusives.

Light blogging today as I've just had a thoroughly enjoyable visit to the dentist, but I can't pass up highlighting the Sun's sheer joy at seeing that Alan Johnson, the education secretary, has laid out the potential banning of the wearing of niqabs by pupils in school. Of course, it's even better when they're given the news as an exclusive and splash it all over the front page:
VEILS will be banned in schools to help pupils learn and to keep them safe, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has ruled.

His decision will affect thousands of Muslim girls who wear clothing like the full niqab.

He will publish details of his guidance to headteachers in the Commons today. The wearing of full-length robes may also be affected.

Thousands? Really? This is what has always been so perplexing about the whole debate on full veils - the numbers of women who wear them in this country is incredibly low. Only towards the end of the article does the Sun give a ball-park figure:

The ruling will be used to scupper any counter-bid by Muslim parents. It is estimated that 2,500 girls wear full-length Islamic dress in class in England and Wales.

Even here it's not clear whether this figure refers to girls who wear the niqab or who the wear the jilbab, as the Sun willfully conflates the two by bringing
Shabina Begum into the equation.

I actually think that the decision is a good one - some girls may indeed be troubled by the implications of the ban on their own interpretation of their religion, but they can still wear the hijab in school and the niqab outside of it if those are their wishes. I would rather that no one felt the need to cover their hair or body because of what any religion teaches, but the problems posed by the niqab are such that their limited banning in schools is justified. What I don't agree with is the condescending tone taken by the Sun leader, which seems to know better than Muslims themselves about the teachings of the religion:

WHATEVER arguments there may be for the veil, schools are not the place for them.

So we welcome Education Secretary Alan Johnson’s classroom ban.

He cites security, safety and the need for teachers to see a response on the faces of their pupils.

But he could equally have argued veils are divisive, provocative and have no justification under the teachings of Islam.

Divisive? Possibly, but the aftermath of Straw's comments on the niqab showed that it's more the tabloid press and Express readers that find them provocative and divisive. Actual women who wore them and spoke out showed that the casual assumptions made about veil wearers were far from the actual truth. As for no justification, that's a question that ought to be left for the Muslim community itself to debate, not for a tabloid newspaper which has done so much for community relations to state unequivocally.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007 

All too predictable.

With the beginning of the trial of the alleged failed 21st of July bombers under way, and a whole wealth of information being made available as a result of the prosecution's opening statement, today's press had to decide what to make the front page headlines. Would it be the fact that one of the men allegedly pointed his rucksack towards a mother and baby before attempting to set off his explosives? That the men had been under police surveillance? That some of them had previously been in attendance at the Finsbury Park mosque while it was controlled by the now incarcerated Abu Hamza? How about that one of the defendants, Muktar Said Ibrahim while attempting to leave the country to go to Pakistan, was found with £3,000 in cash on his person, or that the man travelling with him, was carrying a manual describing how to deal with ballistics wounds as well as a military first aid kit?

Well, while the Mail at least mentioned a couple of the above, they chose instead to go with this, as did the Scum:

Oddly, the Express, the most vociferous in calling for the veil/burqa to be banned doesn't mention it on their own effort. It's telling however that the other papers thought the fact that Yassin Hassan Omar apparently fled in a burqa the most important part of the evidence given. Amusingly or chillingly, depending on your own preference, they don't give as much emphasis to him being arrested 5 days later standing fully-clothed in a bath with a rucksack again on his back.

The emphasis on the veil/burqa has become such that, as I mentioned the other day, if another serious crime was committed by someone who happened to be wearing one, the resulting furore might make legal restrictions on the wearing of such garments potentially irresistible, especially to a New Labour government faced with angry tabloid editorials about repeated failings at the Home Office. The amount of fear felt about those wearing the niqab is also being raised by such high-profile reporting, when in reality the amount of Muslim women who wear it is tiny. They also face the spectre of being abused and singled out, simply because of their own personal religious beliefs, something which the newspapers and those commenting ought to think more carefully about before pointing the inevitable finger of blame.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007 

Scum-watch: Bring on the suicide girls!

I would have missed this one if it hadn't been for Tim over at Bloggerheads. The Scum, apparently informed of a "secret intelligence report", has this warning for our troops in Afghanistan: the suicide girls are coming for you. (Don't get too excited: they're not those suicide girls.)

FIFTEEN women suicide bombers have been sent to murder British troops in Afghanistan.

Taliban chiefs have ordered them to dress as beggars or teachers and hide devices under burkas, a secret intelligence report has warned.

It marks an alarming new tactic in the Afghan conflict, although women suicide bombers have been used in Iraq.

Army bosses say it is almost impossible to detect the killers covered from head to toe. Troops in war-torn Helmand province are also reluctant to search women as it offends local sensitivities.

The bombers are believed to be Pakistani, Arab or Chechen. Many fell under the influence of al-Qaeda after being widowed in recent conflicts.

A military source added: “We’re pretty good at detecting male suicide bombers. But women will be almost unstoppable. Because of their burkas, the first time you’ll know she’s a bomber is when she explodes.”

An MoD spokesman said last night UK troops were “the best in the world at spotting new and emerging threats”.

Firstly, the image used by the Sun of a woman in a veil isn't a burqa, it's a niqab. The burqa is a full face covering, involving a netted mesh where the holes for the eyes on niqabs are, so they've cocked that one up. Secondly, the Sun or the intelligence report is really hedging its bets on where the "bombers" are going to be from. They're either Pakistani, Chechen, or, err, Arab, so from anywhere then. The Christian Science Monitor reports that there have been five suicide bombings involving women in Iraq, and some of those were failures, or from outside the country, including the one by the Belgian convert to Islam Muriel Degauque. You also have to wonder about the one involving the two women shortly after the end of the war; trigger happy troops may well have succeeded in hitting the gas tank when the car failed to stop, rather than been killed by two women in a car bombing.

The majority of female suicide bombers have been either Chechen or Palestinian, in both cases fighting in their own internal struggles, although women have also taken part in bombings in both Sri Lanka and Lebanon, again in their own conflicts. None of them had fallen under the influence of al-Qaida, as the Sun states, although it's possible the ones from Iraq could have done, although again, there's such a disparate number of Islamist groupings there that it would be next to impossible to be certain. It seems odd that female fighters from Chechnya would go to fight with the Taliban, especially to carry out suicide bombings. Veterans of the conflict in Chechnya may have gone to fight with the Taliban, but for women to do so would be extraordinary, which is why this report is so likely rubbish. The only report I can find of any female suicide bombers from Pakistan is this one from the BBC, reporting the arrest of two sisters suspected to be in training, both the nieces of a known militant. With the madrasas and the whole situation on the border it wouldn't blow my mind (groan) if there were potentially willing female suicide bombers, but again it seems this is more based on concern rather than fact.

You also have to wonder about the potential impact such a report has back here at home. Right on queue, one of the commenters, as Bloggerheads notes, screams:


Because one minister with at least half-decent intentions questioned whether there was concern about the women wearing them were forced into doing so, and how other people then reacted. What happened was that the tabloid media then had a field day, turning it into a question about religion and security when the original comment had nothing to do with it. The report isn't suggesting that veiled women over here are going to carry out suicide attacks, but in the current climate, with police officers excusing themselves for failing to catch men like Mustaf Jamma by instead blaming it on them escaping wearing veils, whether there's any truth to the rumour or not, it would only take a major crime to be committed by someone wearing a veil now for the whole matter to explode into a frenzy of demands to ban the garment, and not just from the Express. The whole issue is incredibly sensitive, but you can trust the Scum to pounce no matter what.

Elsewhere, there's this huge piece of congratulatory back-slapping, provided by Jack Straw:

PAPARAZZI harassment of Prince William's girlfriend Kate Middleton was condemned as "appalling" by Commons Leader Jack Straw today.

Mr Straw praised News International - owners of the Sun - for a self-imposed ban on using paparazzi shots of Miss Middleton and urged other news groups to follow suit.

News International has confirmed it will not publish future paparazzi pictures of Miss Middleton - a decision which affects The Sun, the News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times and free newspaper thelondonpaper.

All very noble. But what was the Scum's solution to all Ms Middleton's problems, as suggested yesterday?

Cough up Wills

KATE MIDDLETON is just another civilian who happens to be going out with a Prince.

But as a young woman who may one day become Queen, she needs protection.

Until she is engaged, the cost cannot come out of the public purse. Prince Charles got round this by paying out of his own pocket to guard Camilla Parker Bowles.

Prince William should take a leaf out of Dad’s book.

How kind! Photographers everywhere take notice: you can stand outside someone's house every morning, in effect stalking them wherever they go, and even then your newspaper will demand that their boyfriend stumps up the cash to protect them. One has to wonder how Ms Wade would respond to having the paps seated outside her door every morning, invading her privacy constantly. You'd have to think that she wouldn't much like it.

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