No Problem with the Veil; Muslims Are Already Dealing with the Radicals in Their Midst

Newsweek International, October 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

No Problem with the Veil; Muslims Are Already Dealing with the Radicals in Their Midst


Byline: Denis MacShane (MacShane, a Labour MP, was minister for Europe until 2005.)

Must one be more muslim than Mohammed?" It's astonishing how often I am asked this question. Europeans are finally waking up to the fact that it is Islamism, not Islam, that is hostile to everything Europe holds dear. Women's rights. Secular law and education. Tolerance of gays and different faiths.

The very principle of reason as superior to superstition, the science of Galileo and the free speech of Voltaire--all is under threat from a totalitarian politics disguised as religion.

Europe is not about to descend into a new war on belief. But there's no mistaking the change in climate. In Britain, Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, touched off a storm by suggesting that Muslim women should not wear a full-length veil. It was socially divisive, he explained, "a mark of separation" rather than community. When Prime Minister Tony Blair subsequently agreed, he only reinforced the impression that the country is heading toward even deeper tension between Muslims and non-Muslims. The trend lines are similar elsewhere, whether in France (with its riots) or the Netherlands (with new laws banning the head-to-toe burqa in public) or Belgium (where in recent municipal elections the anti-immigrant Flemish Bloc nearly won control of Antwerp.)

Yet this disheartening evidence of clashing cultures conceals a far more heartening reality. Consider my north England constituency of Rotherham, 15 percent of whom are Muslims, mainly from the poor Mirpur province of Kashmir. The older men are gentle, pious and focused on family; grandmothers wear the clothes of their villages. But their granddaughters? They're in jeans and T-shirts. Some wear the hijab to cover part of their hair. But the body-length burqa they laugh away as a "Batman" outfit. They are not being sacrilegious. You can hunt high and low in the Koran, they tell me, and find no dress code. The devil may wear Prada, but the founder of Islam did not require Muslims to don the burqa or its cousin, the nose and mouth covering veil known as the niquab .

To the contrary, it is ostensibly modern Muslim men, acting chiefly out of ideology, who have decided that "their" women should be as separate as possible from fellow citizens in Europe. Rows over the veil have been taken up by radical Islamists, who seek to present the issue in terms of an atheistic and sexually crude West denying the religious rights of Muslim women. It's bad enough, they say, that Western soldiers occupy Muslim lands. (Never mind that it's mainly Muslim sectarians who are killing other Muslims.) Now the cultural and family traditions of Islam are being trampled by Islamophobic pols.

Tariq ramadan, lately in the news for being denied a visa to visit America, is prominent among these voices. A grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, he quit teaching at a secondary school in Switzerland after supporting creationism--to the consternation of his fellow schoolmasters. He has since become a public face of Muslim Europe, known for his efforts to convince governments that that their partners in relations with native-born Muslims should be local chapters of the Muslim Brotherhood. …

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