Veil debate ‘has fuelled far right’

Veil debate ‘has fuelled far right’

By Louise Nousratpour

Morning Star, 23 October 2006

Anti-racism campaigners welcomed Labour deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas’s warning on Sunday that the debate around the Muslim veil has “emboldened the far right.”

The Dagenham MP said that friends of his who live in the Muslim community felt “hunted” and that hysteria over the issue had reinforced a sense of isolation and insecurity. “I think it has had a terrible effect. It will embolden the far right, no doubt about it, and I know that for a fact locally,” Mr Cruddas warned in an interview with GMTV.

He stressed that the government must go about dealing with community segregation in a “much more systematic way” in terms of public policy about the labour market, housing and health inequalities.

“They should be the terms of debate, rather than a really dangerous bidding war about who can be so muscular around issues of minorities, asylum and immigration, because that just feeds the far right and the centre of gravity just moves off that way,” Mr Cruddas insisted.

A debate about Muslim women wearing full-face veils erupted after Cabinet Minister Jack Straw said that he asked women to remove them when they came to see him in his constituency. The Prime Minister has also branded the veils a “mark of separation.”

In contrast to Mr Cruddas’s comments, Commission for Racial Equality chairman Trevor Phillips defended Mr Straw’s right to air his views about the veil and attacked the Muslim community for turning “the most neutral of comments into yet another act of persecution.”

While welcoming Mr Cruddas’s comments, the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) and the Respect Party attacked Mr Phillips’s “totally irresponsible” remarks. A NAAR spokesman warned that the debate around the veil had created “a hostile climate” which far-right groups like the BNP were exploiting. “The BNP is already calling it a referendum on Islam – ‘vote for us if you don’t like Muslims’,” he added.

Respect MP George Galloway said: “The biggest single issues concerning Muslims are not the veil, but lack of housing, the breaking up of the NHS and criminal foreign policies – opinions that are thoroughly integrated into the wider majority opinion in Britain.” He argued that Mr Phillips had “again proved himself to be the Blairite placeman.”

“He has been berating the victims of racism rather than striking at the root causes of racism and many in the anti-racism movement are questioning why Mr Phillips is still the chairman of CRE,” noted Mr Galloway.