Why this fear of Islam?

“It’s fashionable nowadays for Britain’s politicians to complain about immigrants who refuse to assimilate. The more right wing among them infer that the presence of a large Muslim community threatens ‘our way of life’ without going into details as to what that way of life actually entails. Not surprising when Britain has become such an eclectic multiethnic melting pot. There no longer is a stereotypical British way of life other than in the pages of an Agatha Christie or a P.G. Wodehouse novel.

“It’s interesting, too, that those who feel intimidated or threatened in the presence of a woman wearing the veil don’t appear to be concerned by the sight of a nun’s habit, Hassidic garb or side locks, Sikh turbans or the shaved heads and orange robes of Hare Krishna devotees.

“Moreover the current ministerial focus on Muslim assimilation is having the opposite effect. Moderate Muslim leaders resented being told by John Reid, the home secretary, to monitor their children for signs of hate. And reports state that since Jack Straw’s comments on the veil, more and more young women are adopting the niqab in protest – a predictable reaction.

“Indeed, the British government appears to be going out of its way to foment an enemy within in keeping with Blair’s struggle against what he calls an evil ideology. It’s no wonder that British Muslims are beginning to feel demonized and marginalized when their own government calls for mosques, faith schools, community centers and Islamic bookshops to be monitored.

“If British Muslims tend to live in close proximity to one another it isn’t the only community to do so. London’s Stamford Hill was and is more reminiscent of Mea Sharim in Israel than a British city suburb. Brick Lane resembles a corner of Bangladesh while Soho is predominantly Chinese. These ghettoized areas aren’t new. They’ve existed for more than half-a-century in some cases and nobody seemed to mind.

“The governmental message is further having an effect on the attitudes of ordinary people. Reports of Muslim women wearing the hijab being insulted in the streets or suffering the indignity of having their head scarves pulled from their heads are rife. In short, Muslims have become fair game for racists and bigots.”

Linda Heard in iViews, 25 October 2006